It was pouring rain in Tennessee when I arrived at the Crosswalk Chattanooga Church last Sabbath. I was born in Chattanooga and attended Southern Adventist University nearby, but had never visited Crosswalk. Before I could get out of my car, someone with an umbrella offered to walk me to the door.
Crosswalk Chattanooga was founded in late 2018 as the first satellite congregation in a Crosswalk-branded network of Seventh-day Adventist churches with Southern California roots. The church’s location, a 20-minute drive from the university campus, has made it popular with students.
When I arrived, greeters with “LOVEWELL” t-shirts (the congregation’s slogan) welcomed me inside. I bypassed a long coffee line (the Crosswalk website says its coffee is roasted locally and prepared by trained baristas), and I received a second welcome from some old college friends in the sanctuary’s semi-darkness.
I attended the first of two services, the less popular one, judging by the patchy attendance. The audience seemed mostly young—some college and high school students with a few grandparent-aged couples sprinkled in. The Crosswalk website says the church prioritizes “belonging, salvation, and scripture.” They want to be “radically inclusive,” and part of that is a contemporary worship style with no dress code, theater-quality lighting, and a band.
David Ferguson brought attention to Crosswalk Chattanooga in 2023 when he quit as senior pastor of the 3,000-member Collegedale Church on the SAU campus to serve as Crosswalk’s leader. Ferguson told the Southern Accent that while he was working with the Crosswalk plant team, he realized the opportunity fulfilled a dream he had since college. Leading Crosswalk in Chattanooga allowed him to minister in a way that invoked New Testament simplicity: “helping people where they are.”
Ferguson took the stage and grabbed my attention by launching into an apology. He said he first learned the church was “embroiled in a controversy” when his phone started blowing up the previous afternoon. Fulcrum7, a website that seeks to “inform and encourage Seventh-day Adventists,” published an anonymous attack on the church over the mention of Franciscan priest and renowned writer Richard Rohr, whose name appeared in an invitation to attend the relaunch of a men’s small group Bible study:
“Men’s retreat with Richard Rohr. This workshop will focus on the role of men in society, in the home and in church. In order to help us rediscover passion in masculine identity, Richard Rohr challenges us to encounter our archetype (king, warrior, magician, and lover), and he invites us to grasp the strength of each of these images, along with its dark side. This workshop will last 12 weeks.”
Rohr’s writing on models of biblical manhood had impacted a church member helping with the Bible study, Ferguson said. The lay leader wanted to incorporate the material into the retreat. Rohr was never scheduled to attend the church or the retreat, and the event had not been formally approved by the church’s leadership team.
The Fulcrum7 article condemned Crosswalk for “importing ‘dark’ mysticism from a Roman Catholic priest” and called out Georgia-Cumberland Conference leaders by name. The article didn’t follow professional media protocols like reaching out to the church or the conference for comment. Instead it noted Rohr’s meeting with the pope and opined that this was “entry level occult mysticism.”
The post was removed and the event was canceled due to the confusion. In his sermon, Ferguson repeatedly apologized for the mistake and the overall trouble. But he added, “I will say to you…we’re going to be in [trouble] if we decide we are only going to listen to individuals who are absolutely correct about everything.” Saying that he himself would then have to humbly sit down if there was a purity test, he reassured that of course “we ought to be thoughtful and careful and not compromise.” But, he added, despite denominational affiliations, “I will occasionally quote Martin Luther King, Jr., and Martin Luther.”
I was struck by Ferguson’s direct approach to the situation and his honesty. He took full responsibility for the issue. “If you are looking for someone to blame, look no farther,” he said, gesturing to himself.
In my years as an Adventist, I’ve become used to hearing about local church issues through whispered conversations or gossipy anecdotes from heated board meetings. Hearing a pastor apologize and address a controversy directly from the pulpit was a new experience for me.
But the service I attended wasn’t the end of the issue.
Two days later, Fulcrum7 published another article, making public an email from Georgia-Cumberland Conference president Gary Rustad, Chester V. Clark III, vice president for administration/secretariat, and Kurt Allen, vice president for finance.
The email expressed concern about the website’s notice connecting Rohr’s name with the church, not because of his Catholicism, but because of what they called his “patently pantheistic” ideas, which they characterized as “diametrically opposed to the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the three angels’ messages.”
The conference sent a copy of the email letter to Spectrum in response to a formal request for comment on this story.
The email, addressed to conference pastors, also expressed concern with Fulcrum7. The website’s pseudonymous author, NewsHound, made “no effort to reach out and find the truth of the matter,” the conference letter said. A paragraph critical of the website’s reporting methodology observed, “Fulcrum7 seems willing to stretch the truth to make other Adventists appear apostate.”
Gerry Wagoner, who tops the Fulcrum7 masthead, published a response to the Georgia-Cumberland Conference on his website. A former German Baptist listed at the website’s The Janitor, Wagoner called the conference’s letter a “false witness.” He claimed it was “untrue” that the conference requested that Fulcrum7 “correct the misleading, misinforming article” because Fulcrum7 “never received it.” He said that had they received the request, they would have responded.
When reached for comment on this story, Wagoner declined to comment and quickly hung up the phone.
It was still raining when I left Crosswalk. While waiting for my car to warm up, I reflected on this biblical passage from the sermon: “For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart” (Psalm 11:1).
Ferguson emphasized the phrase, “shoot from the shadows,” saying the situation felt like an attack from the shadows because the accusers did not ask the church questions to clarify. He then encouraged the congregation to respond like Jesus, to face the arrows with love.
I reached out to Ferguson later asking for further comment. He pointed to the audio recording of the January 27 service that I attended and the email from the Georgia-Cumberland Conference as sufficient responses to the issue.
Strange as it seems, the idea of responding with love feels almost countercultural these days. When did love in Christianity become a radical concept, I am left wondering. And why is a public, honest apology so astounding?
My goal in telling this story is not to incite drama, or divide, or create gossip, but rather to highlight the mature approach to conflict resolution I inadvertently witnesse: the loving approach.
As a former editor of the Southern Accent, I learned to listen. Both in my young journalistic practice and in my observation of religious life across the cultural and ideological spectrum, I find that truly hearing people can help to protect against arrows shot from the shadows.