As I write this story it’s 2015 – 25 years since my life was turned completely upside down. My life was nearly ruined. My marriage, though always solid, was certainly put to the test. My livelihood was stalled out for a while and nearly completely destroyed. My faith, though strained, was proven through trial and ordeal. I aged quickly in a short time, but as I look back, I can thank God for the experiences and am very thankful that I can look back from a “winner’s perspective”. At the time, I knew it would make a good story someday. Now is the time. – Dan McClain
It was 1990 – not really all that long ago, yet it seems like a lifetime ago. The world was so different then than now. Very few had cell phones, in fact no one that I knew personally – though I did know one or two who had a phone in a bag in their car. That’s right – in a bag – look it up sometime! The internet was out there, though barely, and not in common use yet; neither were personal computers. All this means, of course, no smart phones, no laptops, no tablets, no texting, no email. We spoke either locally or long distance (and got charged extra for that!) over telephones in our homes. Written communications were through the regular mail. Seems like the dark ages, huh? But that was our world, not so very long ago.
DNA testing was new and not very widespread in usage yet, though that would not have helped me, as you’ll see later. Phone records were harder to come by, local ones practically non-existent. Digital cameras weren’t around yet, so photo-shopping wasn’t easy to do. Most pictures really didn’t lie. You saw what the photographer saw – after it was developed. People still tended to believe what was reported on the news.
It was in this world, that “my world” came crashing down….
Part One – Spiritual Warfare
Wham! The heavy steel door slammed shut locking the prisoner inside the dimly lit cell. He had been in cells like this before, but always on behalf of some other prisoner, never as a prisoner himself. The cell looked the same, but somehow felt so very different.
It was a cold concrete box. The only furniture was a steel bunk with a sagging mattress, a wall hung sink, and a toilet. The mattress was covered with a dingy thread-bare sheet and a gray wool blanket, topped by a flimsy pillow. The sink and toilet surely used to be white, but were mostly rust-colored now. The floor was cold, bare concrete. The dim light came from a naked light bulb hanging overhead. The only good thing about the previous visits was that he could leave anytime he wanted. That wasn’t the case this time.
Usually, he would sit on the bunk next to a prisoner and try to help in some way. Sometimes he was a shoulder to cry on, sometimes he was just a listening ear. Often, he was called on for advice and nearly always, he was asked to pray. That’s what ministers do. This time, the minister was the prisoner and he was praying for himself.
Rev. Daniel McClain was on trial for murder and it didn’t look good. Naturally, he was innocent, but the evidence against him was overwhelming and public opinion was running strong in favor of “guilty.” Even some of his church members found it difficult to believe in him. As he sat on the bunk in his cell, Brother Dan, as most people called him, had never before felt so alone.
Nighttime was the worst. He was alone in his new home, so conversation was out. He spent the early evening hours trying to occupy his mind with praying and reading scripture, but instead, he often found himself going over the events of the past few months again and again. Each time that he replayed the scenes that had led to his arrest and trial, he tried to find some clue to the truth, some piece of information that might help uncover the real killer and prove his innocence. So far he had come up with nothing.
Ten o’clock was “lights out”, so there was no more reading. Praying and meditation worked sometimes, but it was hard to keep it up night after night. He would pray for his wife, Kathleen, at home alone. They had started their family early, so now that all three children had married and begun their own families, Dan and Kathleen had faced the empty nest syndrome while still in their forties. They had thought it would be great for it to be just the two of them again while they were still young. Now, with Dan in jail and the real possibility that it could be for the rest of his life, they weren’t so sure it had been the right choice.
He prayed for his church. They had lost so much in the last few months. Just when everything was going so well, Satan had taken a shot at their pastor and hit his mark. Guilt or innocence really didn’t matter at the moment. If Bro. Dan were to be freed soon, the church might be able to recover. As it was, they were barely staying alive. Many had left for other churches; some had stopped going to church altogether, their faith having been shaken. The few that had remained had to spend all their resources just to maintain. Outreach was nearly impossible anyway. No one wanted to join a church on its way down, a church without a leader.
He prayed for all those on the outside that had been helped in recent days to start a new life. Many had found Jesus. Many others, a new lease on life. Dan prayed that would lead to faith in Christ someday. He knew many by name, many others by face. Teenagers, housewives, business men, retirees – sin was an equal opportunity employer paying its wages regardless of age, race, color, sex, or creed. The church had begun to reach them by the score when Satan stopped them cold with the arrest of their leader.
Dan prayed for his fellow prisoners. He had visited some of them before. Now he was one of them. A couple of murderers and rapists were there awaiting transfer, but most of the inmates were in for drug charges, theft, or other petty crimes. The felons and hard-core criminals were usually sent on to the state penitentiary. In the four months Dan had been in jail, he had become well-liked and respected by nearly all of the prisoners and had helped many of them to find peace with God and to try to make some sense of their lives. They had Bible studies nearly every day now and he spent many hours counseling and praying with them. Funny, but the inmates were all sure of Dan’s innocence.
Finally, Dan prayed for himself. Of course he prayed for deliverance, but more for whatever he would need to see this through. He needed courage and strength to face each new day away from his wife and home. He needed grace to forgive and love those who had done this to him or had treated him and Kathleen with scorn. He needed patience to wait for God’s timing when he himself wanted so badly for each day to be the day when he would be proven innocent. He needed wisdom to understand this whole mess so he could learn from it, if not solve the dilemma himself, and of course, to continue to lift up others even while he was down.
He remembered many times at home when he had fallen asleep while praying. He often felt guilty the next morning for having nodded off while talking to God and wished he could pray late at night without getting sleepy. Now that he could, he prayed for sleep to come. It always did, eventually, but usually not quite as quickly as he wanted. Those nights were unbearably long.
The days weren’t so bad. He enjoyed the basketball games with the younger inmates. Some said he wasn’t too bad for “an old man.” He held his own at chess with some of the old-timers, too. A couple of pseudo-intellectuals would occasionally lure him into some great philosophical debate which Dan would skillfully steer into a religious discussion regardless of the original topic.
Several inmates were serious about a relationship with God and Dan was thrilled to lead a Bible study group almost every day. They had a full blown worship service each Sunday complete with singing, testimonies, and a sermon from Bro. Dan. He became the spiritual mentor of several prisoners and listened patiently and tenderly to their problems, advising when asked.
But it hadn’t always been that way. Dan had to prove himself. He had to earn their respect and trust. He did it by being himself and genuine. He won them over by not retaliating to their remarks and behavior when he first arrived at the jail.
They got the newspapers in the county jail, too, and by the time Dan arrived there, they knew all about him. He entered the lock-up to the sounds of cheers and jeers of all kinds, mocking him, even threatening him. He looked straight ahead as he marched past the cells adjoining his new home, trying his best to ignore the insults and accusations hurled in his direction. He remembered the saying he had heard as a young boy about “sticks and stones” and words never hurting. He thought to himself, “I’ll never tell that lie again.” He hurt with every stony word thrown at him.
The next few days brought more of the same, but not all at once like his “untriumphal entry.” The slurs and insults were spread throughout the day, but they still hurt. He was all alone in a crowd. Other than to insult or taunt him, no one spoke to Dan. At mealtime he tried, but they all either ignored him or responded with more jokes and taunts until he gave up trying normal conversations. Though tempted, he never retaliated and every day he tried again.
That must have done it. Or maybe curiosity won out over the desire to taunt. In any case, after a couple of weeks, the jeers and ribbing subsided. Not all at once, but by the end of the second week, it was nearly all over. It was like some sort of initiation ritual or maybe even a test to see how he would respond.
Dan must have passed the test. “Finally,” he thought, “I can have some normal conversations.” He had plenty of visits from Kathleen, his lawyer, and a few church members, but they were brief and limited to certain scheduled visitation hours. He had longed for regular conversations at other times. At last he could talk and would be talked to, not jeered at.
In the beginning, however, conversations were limited to his case. Dan didn’t like thinking about it, much less talking about it, but it was all anyone else was interested in.
“What made you do it?’ some asked.
“What was it like to kill someone?” others wanted to know.
Others wanted details about the affair. “What was she like? Was she the only one? How did he expect a preacher to get away with something like that?”
Dan soon figured out that no one believed he was innocent. No matter how often he answered their questions with denials, they came back with more of the same. He sensed that none of them condemned him, but they all were sure he was guilty. “We’re all innocent!” they said. “Nobody in here ever did anything!” they added with a laugh.
Gradually, Dan was able to start conversations of his own choosing on subjects other than Dan McClain. Occasionally, he was interrupted as he sat quietly and read his Bible. A few inmates wanted to know if what it had to say helped. He thrilled at the chance to share his faith and what scriptures helped him handle this ordeal. In time, they really began to listen.
He soon found that they would open up about themselves and he learned to be a very good listener. They had already been condemned for their sins and they were paying some of the consequences. Now they needed love and forgiveness and Dan tried to give it to them. He also tried to point them to more of the same on a higher level – from God.
As he accepted them, they began to accept him. He was invited to join in the recreation. He was fair at Ping-Pong, winning as often as he lost. He was more successful at chess, but his favorite pastime was basketball. They played pretty rough, but he held his own and soon became a regular.
With each passing day, he gained more respect, both from the inmates and the guards. He became a model prisoner and a good friend. After the first month, he had adjusted pretty well to life on the inside. The food wasn’t much, but he found enough to eat to maintain his health.
Dan had lost several pounds in the beginning of his ordeal when his appetite practically disappeared. He always felt he needed to trim down his 225 pound, 6 foot-2 inch frame anyway, so by the time things leveled off in jail, he actually felt good about himself. He was down to 200 pounds and exercising every day, besides the basketball games.
His hair seemed to have gotten gray over night and he wasn’t sleeping like he should, so he showed the signs of wear and tear this ordeal had caused. Overall, though, Dan thought he had fared pretty well.
By the end of the second month, a few inmates were gathering daily for Bible study with “Bro. Dan the Preacher Man.” Others occasionally stood close by to ‘listen in’ awhile before moving on. A few cornered him at other times for a listening ear or advice. He soon became their unofficial chaplain. He liked that ministry, but wondered if they still thought he had actually killed another human being.
One day he got up the courage to ask his study group. At the end of a particularly good study, Dan paused, then asked, “Do you guys think I’m guilty? I mean, what do you really believe?”
He expected mixed reactions, and certainly an awkward pause while they deliberated for their answers. Instead, the responses came immediately. Regardless of the words chosen, the consensus was unanimous for innocence! Not one of this study group even hesitated a second to state belief in Dan, yet none of them had actually even heard his side of the story. They only knew what they had read in the papers. No one had given him a chance to explain in the early days and once they had gotten to know him, the subject never came up again.
“What about the others?” Dan asked. “Does anyone ever discuss it anymore? Do you guys know how they feel?”
One of the men asked, “What does it matter? Do you really care how a bunch of cons think?”
“Yes, I do.” Dan replied. “It matters to me what people think of me. I probably will never be able to help anyone who really thinks I’m a killer and won’t face up to it.”
Another spoke up, saying, “I can’t speak for them all, but everybody I know says you didn’t do it.”
“That’s right,” added a third inmate, while the rest nodded or voiced agreement. “And I’d say between us, we pretty much know how everyone feels. We all figured you were guilty when you came – that’s the way it is here. But now – well, now we know you and I say there’s no way you killed anybody!”
“Thanks,” Dan said. “It means alot for you guys to believe in me.”
Dan was encouraged to know that there were some people who believed in his innocence. He tried to convince himself that maybe if he were to testify in court, the jury would see, just as these inmates had, that he was telling the truth. He spoke to his lawyer about it, but the lawyer didn’t agree. He tried to let Dan down easy, but had to tell him that it just wouldn’t work that way. The jury would have to decide based on the evidence, not Dan’s appeal, and they both knew that the evidence pointed to “guilty.”
The only real encouragement was the frequent visits from Kathleen. She couldn’t come every day, but came as often as she could. They didn’t get much time or privacy, but Dan and Kathleen lived for those visits. Her faith in him and constant air of hope kept him going. It helped him to know that his partner of twenty eight years was still in his corner. She also brought encouraging words from others and that helped some, too. The bad thing about Kathleen’s visits was that each time, she would have to leave Dan there and he had to face again the fact that he wasn’t free to go with her. Would he ever be free to return to his wife? He was more concerned about her than himself.
He was able to find plenty of things and people to occupy his time, at least during the day. Kathleen, on the other hand, had to face most of her problems alone. The kids had been very supportive, but didn’t live close by and couldn’t actually be around very often. They called frequently and visited when they could, but on a day to day basis, Kathleen was alone.
The church members that had remained faithful to the church remained loyal to her and Dan, but their lives were just as hectic as before and support was sporadic at best.
Dan could tell that she wasn’t eating well and at each visit, her eyes betrayed her sleepless nights. Kathleen was small before all this and Dan feared for her health if something didn’t change soon. Naturally, she said she was feeling fine and eating and sleeping as well as could be expected, but Dan felt she was wasting away. At each visit, he encouraged her to relax, eat sensibly, and get some sleep. They both knew that was easier said than done. She tried to keep busy, but it was actually harder for her than Dan.
Sometimes, Dan was so occupied with ministry, study, and recreation that he almost forgot where he was and why he was there. When it came time to eat or clean up, though, he remembered. When it was time to return to his cell, he couldn’t possibly forget.
He was a prisoner at the county jail, on trial for murder. He had been locked away from his wife and forced to live as a convict. However, the past week had been different. Each day he could dress in civilian clothes and was transported to the courthouse for his trial. The trial wasn’t going well.
Bro. Dan knew, but couldn’t prove that the whole thing had been an elaborate setup to silence his public stand against the pornography in his city and the other pursuits of the criminal element behind it. He could remember all too vividly how it began.
The pastor’s study at Center City Baptist Church, where Dan McClain was pastor was an absolute contrast to the cell that he occupied at the county jail. The study Bro. Dan liked so well was warm and personal. The antique oak desk he had found at an auction and refinished himself was the heart of the room.
Behind it was the comfortable desk chair given to Bro. Dan by one of his Sunday School classes two Christmases ago. In that chair he had sat and listened and counseled more troubled church members and townsfolk than he cared to remember. It had been his seat of learning as he spent countless hours poring over the hundreds of books he had accumulated in his twenty-plus years of ministry.
The books filled the oak shelves that lined the walls behind the stately desk. Bro. Dan loved the look of wood. Under the shelves were cabinets filled with more books, periodicals, and memorabilia from several mission trips he had taken through the years.
Connecting one end of the desk to the shelves behind was a computer desk filled with the computer, printer, scanner, disks, and manuals. Bro. Dan called that the brains of his ministry. He enjoyed the wonders of modern technology and used the computer for study and sermon preparation as well as personal and church records. It was also the command post for the Decency Movement, the organized effort against crime and corruption in Center City that Dan had spearheaded during the past year.
In front of Dan’s desk there were two easy chairs, slightly to the right of center and angled just a little. The opposite angle was taken by a small, wood-framed, cushioned love seat. They all formed a kind of semi-circle facing the desk, making it easy for anyone in any seat to see the others. It was warm and cozy and more like a den at home than a study in a church building.
The whole room could be well lit by ceiling lights or a floor lamp near the desk could light up just the desk area for private, personal study time. Naturally, the phone connected Bro. Dan to the secretary’s office just across the hall as well as to the outside world. Sometimes he felt his study was a cocoon of warmth and safety from the cold, harsh world. But many times, the world intruded upon his retreat.
“Center City Baptist Church,” he answered into the phone. “Pastor Dan McClain speaking.”
The voice on the other end shook as the man humbly asked for help. “I don’t know what to do, Bro. Dan. It’s like a nightmare. It’s tearing our family apart and we need help. Could you come by sometime soon?”
They talked for a few minutes, then the pastor headed for the Saunders’ home across town. Jack and Kelly were regular attendees along with their teenage daughter, Julie. Bro. Dan had noticed some changes over the last several months and had offered to help with whatever it was, but Jack always said everything was okay. At first Dan had attributed the apparent problems to the “raising a teenager” syndrome so many families have to work through. Dan had noticed they had slipped some in their attendance on Sundays, especially Julie. She had also begun to dress more “worldly”, as Jack liked to describe it and had become rebellious and very independent since graduating from high school last year.
Kathleen had tried to talk to Julie a couple of times, but was politely dismissed. She had little success with Kelly as well. Dan and Kathleen both began to sense that there were deeper problems than anyone was letting on, but with no cooperation from the troubled family, there was little they could do.
As he drove to the Saunders’ home, Pastor Dan prayed for wisdom and grace. Jack had said that Julie had gotten involved in some terrible things and that he and Kelly were at their wits’ ends as to what to do. Dan feared drinking and drugs and prayed that Julie wasn’t pregnant. He had already seen far too many teenage girls ruin their lives. Boys, too for that matter.
He had been in the ministry for over twenty years and thought that he was pretty well equipped to handle most any problem, but what he learned that afternoon at the Saunders’ home knocked him for a loop.
The neighborhood and house in which the Saunders family lived hid the problems of their home life. Jack had worked hard for years and had become very successful in business. They had finally been able to realize their dream and build their own home in an exclusive neighborhood at the edge of Center City.
All the houses were large and beautiful with neatly trimmed lawns. The streets were well lit after dark and a neighborhood cooperative employed a security firm to patrol at night. Everyone felt quite safe and secure, protected from the big, bad world. They probably knew differently in their heart of hearts, but had convinced themselves that money and an exclusive environment would insure that their homes and families would be insulated from the problems the rest of the city might have to endure. Apparently the Saunders had been forced back into reality.
Inside the beautiful home, with its exquisite furnishings, Bro. Dan sat in silence as Jack and Kelly took turns sharing their burden. Julie wasn’t home, as usual. Their story broke their pastor’s heart as he spent the next two hours listening and crying as the Saunders shared the horror story that had become their lives. Julie, their beautiful eighteen year old daughter had not only fallen prey to alcohol and drug abuse, but apparently had been drawn into the world of prostitution and pornography as well! Her parents had gradually learned more and more over the last few weeks and she had finally confessed the whole story to them before going out that afternoon.
The summer after high school graduation, Julie had taken a job at a local video rental store. She soon began to date the older night manager who later introduced her to alcohol and eventually drugs. Once their relationship truly had a strong hold on her, he showed Julie the business “behind” the video business. It seems that the owners used the video store as a front for their pornography business. Partly for the money and partly for the thrill of it, Julie tried her hand at some nude modeling, then soft-porn movies.
Her new lifestyle made her more tolerant of such things and what once would have offended, even repulsed her, now seemed harmless and even a little exciting. At first she had just watched others, but soon she became a willing participant. “After all,” her boyfriend said, “nobody’s getting hurt here and we’re all adults.” She liked the sound of that. She was old enough to do as she pleased. It was fun and exciting, and it paid well too.
Julie made plenty of money in her new career and she was glad to have it. She had developed a rather expensive drug habit over the last few months. She was also out on the town nearly every night. The clubs and the drinking took money, too, and she had acquired a pretty expensive taste in clothing. She felt like a glamorous movie star and it was an expensive role to play. The money she earned in pornography took care of her new lifestyle, but her new employers wanted more.
Sin always works that way. The temptations make it all look so good, otherwise there would be little temptation. But in the end, we get stung. Proverbs says there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of it is destruction.
Her employers soon demanded more from Julie. They threatened to expose her to her parents and public ridicule, possibly arrest, if she didn’t participate in their prostitution ring. She reluctantly complied out of fear and soon found herself in so deeply that there seemed to be no way out.
The pressure and fear caused her to drink more heavily and use more drugs. The increased addictions required more money. The only ways to get that kind of money quickly were crime or more pornography and prostitution. She sank lower into the sex for sale business and even lower into despair.
She was rarely ever home anymore and when she was, there was just another fight with her parents. They had learned quickly about the drinking and drugs, but they never even suspected the rest. She said her video store job and her boyfriend supplied the money.
In the beginning, she fought with them because that was the life she wanted. No one was going to tell her how to live her life anymore. Later, she wanted out, but felt trapped. She then fought with her parents because she had become a different person. The drugs, the alcohol, and the sexual abuse had changed her. Julie had become everything she used to hate, certainly no one who could get along with nice, decent Christian people like her parents. They lived in the same house, but in two different worlds, worlds that collided every time Julie was home.
Finally, she broke down and told them the whole truth. They were stunned – more with shock and fear than anger. They stood dumb-founded and heart-broken as Julie ran out of the house that day. Jack and Kelly held each other and cried. They recovered from the shock and disbelief and spent quite some time in prayer. They discussed what to do, but nothing seemed like the right answer. Finally, they called their pastor. Maybe he would know.
When they had finished their story, Bro. Dan encouraged Jack and Kelly to talk to Julie about getting help and going to the police. Understandably, they were scared. They feared for Julie’s life. They feared for what exposure would do to her, even if she wasn’t hurt by the local crime mob. They were afraid for her health if she didn’t get help. But they knew their pastor was right. Julie needed help. They prayed together and said they would talk to Julie about it as soon as she came home.
Bro. Dan couldn’t get to sleep that night. He tossed and turned for over an hour before finally giving up and getting up. He couldn’t stop thinking about Jack and Kelly and how much they must be hurting. He couldn’t shake the picture from his mind of Kelly sobbing uncontrollably at times with her head buried in her hands. He fought images of the lifestyle into which Julie had become trapped. He imagined the worst and he wasn’t far wrong. He spent the next couple of hours in prayer for all three of the Saunders.
His prayer was interrupted. The silence of the night was pierced by the ring of his phone with a call for help. It was the police, asking Dan to go to the hospital to help Jack and Kelly. Julie had tried to kill herself! She had pumped herself full of booze and pills and sped her car off the road into some trees, apparently on purpose.
Dan woke Kathleen and they both quickly dressed and raced to the hospital to be by the side of devastated parents. As Julie’s life hung in the balance, the four adults poured out their hearts to God in the hospital chapel.
Julie’s parents kept a constant vigil over her for the next four days, not knowing if she would live or die. Bro. Dan spent as much time with them as he could, praying, counseling, comforting. He helped them to trust completely in God for the right outcome and to let go and let Him take care of their daughter.
He also helped them to know that they had done a good job raising Julie – this was not their fault. Sometimes God’s children mess up. We are all sinners, even after we give our lives to Jesus. So we sometimes make bad choices. However, God promises that He will forgive us and cleanse us if we will confess our sins to Him. Bro. Dan eased the hurt in their hearts when he assured them that God could give Julie another chance with a clean slate.
Julie did pull through, but it would take a long time for her to recover from the accident and the substance abuse. She refused to talk about her now ex-boyfriend and his associates. The police figured it was partly out of fear of prosecution, but mostly out of fear for herself or her family.
Over the next few weeks, Bro. Dan learned more about the extent of the criminal activities of his city. He talked with the police who seemed to know plenty, but could prove little. They told Dan that they believed much of the drug traffic, pornography, and prostitution in and around Center City was controlled by one man and his mob. That man, they believed but had never been able to prove, was Sam Lawrence. He was constantly under investigation, but they could never get enough proof.
They could catch the “little guys” and occasionally put some of them away, but no one ever implicated Lawrence. Money or fear always provided silence. He walked around free and rich while the Julies of Center City ruined their lives.
Dan was determined to find out more. He went to where the teens were; they would know. Some of Julie’s old friends opened up to Dan about the parties, the drugs, and the pornography. Most of those with drug and alcohol habits got hooked while still in high school. Some earlier than that. Some actually had gotten started at home! Most began because it was “the thing to do.” Their friends did and they wanted acceptance. It was considered cool. Peer pressure is a hard force to fight and far too many give in.
Many supported their habits through crime or prostitution. Bro. Dan learned that there was a large number of high school girls involved in either prostitution or pornography or both. According to her friends, Julie was not a rare case – it happened all the time.
He pieced together a picture of a terrible world that apparently existed right along side his decent world. Oh, he had always known and often preached against the evils of alcohol and drugs. He also knew pornography was rampant in society, but somehow it all had seemed to keep its distance. Dan now knew it was not distant at all, but right there in his own backyard.
It was infecting every neighborhood, school, and church. Children who attend Sunday School on Sunday were drinking beer on Friday nights. Teenagers in the youth choir smoked pot after church. Some of the girls from nice neighborhoods – cheerleaders, “A” students, athletes – sold their bodies to lustful older men in order to buy expensive drugs and designer clothes.
The police seemed powerless to stop it. Too many parents looked the other way or refused to believe their children would do such things. The worst things always happened to someone else somewhere else. Drug traffic, prostitution, pornography and all the robberies, beatings, addictions, diseases, and yes, even deaths that accompany them. One might think these things are the province of big cities only, but reality says differently. Bro. Dan’s eyes had been suddenly opened and he did not like what he saw.
He had found scores of young people on their way down in ruin due to alcohol and drugs. He learned of dozens of young ladies like Julie, duped and trapped into a life of prostitution. He saw young men and women drinking and drugging their lives away before they really had a chance to live. He found parents grieving over lost children. Some were dead already, others were lost to addictions and crime.
He found teenagers already caught in Satan’s trap. Young adults were aging before their time, already reaping the wages of several years of sin. The older victims had lost jobs, homes, and families to pay the cost of a lifetime of addictions. Sometimes, Dan thought it was those who had already been arrested and jailed who were the lucky ones. Maybe they had been taken off the streets before it was too late. Later, when he was forced to join them, he changed his mind.
Center City was a small city of only 35,000 people. One’s first look might notice the smartly manicured lawns, modern architecture, thriving business district, and neatly trimmed neighborhoods. With a closer look, one might discover the more seedy side of town, yet oddly enough, most of the residents never seemed to notice. The Saunders and the McClains had been forced to notice. The question remained – “now that we’ve noticed, what do we do?”
“The Decency Movement”
Bro. Dan’s mind reeled with all the images he had seen and the stories he had heard in the last few weeks. He had been shocked by Julie Saunders’ addictions and subsequent suicide attempt into facing a world he had previously ignored. He spent a couple of hours each week with Jack, Kelly, and Julie. They needed lots of help putting their lives back together. Julie was getting professional help to keep her body clean from alcohol and drugs, but she needed her soul to be clean again, too. She had sunk lower than she had ever imagined possible. It would take time, but her pastor was sure he could help her know that God had forgiven her and that she should and could forgive herself.
Jack and Kelly assured her that they had always loved her and would see her through the healing. They were thrilled to be getting their daughter back! With God’s help, they felt they would never lose her again.
They knew that some of the problem had been that they had not really been as committed to Jesus as they should have been. They had been too busy with their own lives to get very involved in spiritual matters. Trying to “gain the whole world,” they had almost lost their daughter. They had learned the hard way that it was much better to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” and trust Him to add the physical things they needed. This time, things would be different.
Besides trying to help Julie’s family work through healing and recovery, Dan had set out to learn all he could about the local crime gang and all the different ways they were infecting Center City with sin and degradation. He had received quite an education and after much prayer, he decided to wage a war against crime and sin in his city. He had always preached against sin, but it was time to do more than talk. Too many lives were being ruined to settle for sermons alone. There was a spiritual war being fought over the souls and lives of those around Center City and Bro. Dan felt that Christians were losing the war. They weren’t losing because they were out-manned or overpowered, but because, for the most part, they had refused to get into the fight!
He had read time and again that Satan was a lion in the streets seeking prey to devour. Dan had seen that the lion was feasting in Center City. He had preached often that Christians were fighting against powers and forces of darkness, not flesh and blood, and must put on spiritual armor to win spiritual wars. He now realized that armor and weapons did little good unless those wearing them actually got into the battle!
He remembered that Jesus had said the gates of hell would not prevail against His church. Dan realized that the church had retreated into its fort to pray for strength to hold out against the devil’s attacks until Jesus returns. Yet Jesus’ description was of a church attacking hell’s stronghold! Dan began to picture the army of God marching into Center City’s hell and rescuing those Satan had wounded and captured, defeating those he had recruited to be his soldiers, hopefully saving them as well.
He began the fight with a series of messages on Sunday mornings that reaffirmed the scriptural stance against sexual impurity, harmful substances, and violence. He spoke with conviction and compassion as he denounced the sinful practices of his community. He shared the things he had experienced recently, without any names of course. He made sure his congregation realized that he was talking about their city, their schools, and their children, not some big city somewhere else. Satan had a hold on Center City and if God’s people didn’t stand up and fight, they would soon lose their own children and grandchildren. No one was immune!
Bro. Dan made sure that they all understood that Christians belong to God. Their bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit. As God’s children they are to be responsible stewards of His bodies and minds. “Do not be mastered by anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ!” he preached. “If you have been, confess it now. Let God forgive you, cleanse you, and restore you,” he pleaded.
He wanted everyone to be clear on two things: what sin is and what to do about it. “Sin,” he preached, “is anything that displeases God. It is attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions that are contrary to His will. The sins are deeds that come from the rebellious nature that all are born with.” Then he named the sins. He wanted no doubt about where God and his church stood on the issues such as alcohol, drugs, homosexuality, prostitution, pornography, abuse, violence, and crime.
“People are not sinners because they commit sins,” Bro. Dan preached. “They commit sins because they are sinners. It is our fallen nature. We have to let Christ give us His nature in order to overcome. And those of us who already have must reach out to those who are still under the control of the sinful nature, trapped in a life of sin.”
With the mention of each particular sin, Bro. Dan was able to illustrate by pointing specifically to an area of their town. He would describe a teenage hooker he had met outside a local high school. Or he would tell of the drunken brawl some of the boys on the ball team admitted to, resulting in suspensions and injuries. In one message, he shared about an elderly grandmother he met who had been robbed of her social security check by her own teenage grandson so he could buy drugs. She went without groceries until the church stepped in to provide.
Recognizing the sins was the easy part. The hard part was what to do about it. Bro. Dan assured his people that God was a God of second chances. He would forgive, cleanse, and help them start over if they genuinely turned from their sins. Dan stressed repentance, reminding them that God honors a “broken and contrite” heart.
The story of Israel’s King David was a tremendous help. It illustrated perfectly that God’s people can indeed fall into terrible sin if they’re not careful. However, when David confessed, God forgave. Yes, he suffered some grave consequences, but God did cleanse his soul and David became useful to his Lord again. Many of his psalms, written after his fall, still help millions today. God is indeed a God of second chances, as Julie Saunders would testify, though He says, “Go and sin no more.”
God’s Word shined its light into everyone’s life during those next few weeks, exposing the sins that had been hiding in the dark parts of people’s hearts. God’s Spirit began to move in Bro. Dan’s congregation. Teenagers confessed sins and addictions and vowed to help each other clean up their own lives first, then start on their school campuses. Young men confessed pornographic habits and addictions and began a support group to help clean up their minds and their town. Young women pledged to stay sexually pure for their future husbands.
With each sermon came the challenge not only to refrain personally, but to denounce the actions publicly and to get involved helping others. It wasn’t enough to get cleaned up; others needed help , too, and most of them didn’t even realize it yet. God needed witnesses and warriors, not just worshipers. David had asked God to create in him a pure heart and renew a right spirit, and to restore the joy of salvation. Then David would teach transgressors the right ways and turn them back to the Lord. It wasn’t enough to get things right between God and himself. He then needed to help others do the same.
The church newsletter soon contained articles and testimonies about the harmful effects of alcohol, drugs, sex, and pornography. Some came from well-known personalities, but some from people right there in Center City Baptist Church. God’s Spirit began to convict and strengthen. People came forward to help. Men and women of all ages, from various walks of life, began to commit to a life of involvement. At first there was just a trickle of people wanting to help, but soon a river of helpers flowed to the altar then later into the streets hoping to “clean up” their city.
Dan was overwhelmed by the response. He knew it would take organization and training. No army can fight properly and effectively without it; God’s army was no different. Bro. Dan and some of his members decided to organize in order to take the movement out of the church and into the city.
They made a plan of action and worked it. They met with other pastors asking them to inform their parishioners and encourage participation in the fight for decency. They started petitions around town calling for the city council to take action against the sale of pornography and the showing of X-rated movies. Laws allowed liquor sales, but they established patrols which monitored for illegal sales to minors, informing the owners that they were watching and would prosecute any infractions.
They met with the police and were helped to organize neighborhood patrols to watch for and report drug activity. They met with school officials to set up rallies to help with alcohol and drug abuse and sexually transmitted diseases. They couldn’t preach the gospel on public campuses, but they could help people and set up future contact off campus where they would be free to witness as well as help with the problems. The movement grew with each passing week.
Other churches in town did climb on the band wagon and soon hundreds of people in Center City had begun to take an active role in trying to rid their town of its vices. Decency rallies were organized with Dan McClain usually in the forefront, if not the main speaker. Picket lines marched in front of adult bookstores causing a decline in business. Support groups and free counseling were established to help anyone who wanted help in overcoming addictions.
The Movement was sponsored entirely through donations. A few churches, like Center City Baptist, added it to their regular budget. Some businesses helped with donations knowing it would benefit the whole community to be “cleaned up.” This was not just a church movement, it was a community task.
A few wealthy citizens who had seen the Movement help someone in their families donated large amounts of money to the cause. It took lots of capital to rent office space for the counseling centers and keep the phone lines open. Advertising on local radio, television, and billboards was costly, too. Most of the medical and counseling services were donated, but supplies had to be subsidized by the Movement.
The rallies were held in the larger churches in the beginning, but soon outgrew them and the school auditorium or stadium had to be rented. Most of the guest speakers and musicians for the rallies donated their time as well, but the Movement took care of travel and lodging expenses. As the Movement grew, the expenses made it big business, even though it was a non-profit one.
Bro. Dan had put together the organization and naturally had been made president of the group of officers that was formed to run it. They chose a task force to put the Movement into action. The officers took care of the organizing and set the overall goals and plans for accomplishing those goals. They divided the responsibilities for actually working the plans among the members of the task force. The task force in turn mobilized the army of volunteers and made sure the plans worked and ran smoothly. Everything was to be done “decently and in order”, just like the Bible says.
The leadership and responsibilities were spread among several leading churches so no one could accuse anyone of any improprieties and accountability would be built into the system. The task force made sure that everything done was according to law and carried out in the best of behavior. Permits were obtained when the occasion warranted and all public actions were done with model behavior. Private property and personal freedoms were honored at all times. Bro. Dan insisted that everyone connected with the Movement had to be above reproach when acting in any way connected to their cause.
Every move was covered by local media and according to the reports, the Movement was beginning to make a difference. Crime was down slightly, dozens of addicts were healing, liquor and pornography sales were slipping, and drug sales were likely down as well. There was even some hope of new legislation being introduced that would force the closing of adult bookstores and put some limits on the sale of alcohol.
Bro. Dan was encouraged and excited, but also somewhat puzzled. So far there had been virtually no response from the other side. No threats, no violence, not even any public statements. The Decency Movement, as it had been labeled, was moving along unchecked.
For several months, the Christian forces marched, lobbied, rallied, counseled, preached, educated, and published in the fight against smut and crime. Their message was abundantly clear. They wanted the city cleaned up and they offered help to any victim of the trash they were trying to take out of Center City. It was a tremendous amount of work, but every changed life made it all worth while. Finally, the right side was winning the war!
Bro. Dan was careful to give God the credit and praise for the victories, but he was clearly the human instrument God was using to lead His army. He was featured at every rally, asked to be guest speaker at many church and community gatherings, and interviewed on local television and radio stations. Some were beginning to encourage political aspirations for Bro. Dan, but he had no interest in that. His main focus continued to be pastoring his church, though cleaning up the city was clearly a major emphasis as well. Between the two activities, he had become a very busy man, but the miracles he witnessed in people kept him going.
Nearly every week, someone would stop by the church or call Bro. Dan at his study to share how God had touched them through the Decency Movement. One day it was a teenage boy who had been helped to stop drinking. Another time it was a college coed who had been helped out of a life of prostitution. A young couple shared how they had both been into drugs and it was ruining their marriage. Now they were receiving treatment and counseling to remain drug free, as well as how to manage their finances, nearly ruined by the cost of the drugs. By the time they left Dan’s study, they had prayed to receive Christ.
Bro. Dan would pass on testimonies like these in a sermon or in the newsletters (the Movement had its own newsletter now). Some, he even asked to come share for themselves at the next rally. Every church connected with the Movement gained in attendance as people got right with God and began to let Him straighten out their lives.
Dan McClain was very pleased with his church and his community. In less than a year they had rallied together to fight crime and corruption in their hometown and obviously, they were making a difference.
To be continued….