Pastor, a former Seahawk says churches are failing the people

By SALLY MACDONALD Seattle Times religion reporter: March 13, 1999

  Ken Hutcherson posed as a grinning shepherd with a Bo Peep crook for the cover of his book. He runs around town in a shiny black pickup with one of his Rottweilers, Genghis or Khan, panting and sniffing in the back.
  Sometimes he wears reptile‑skin cowboy boots with a thick gold chain where spurs would go.
  You know the Rev. Hutcherson, of the Antioch Bible Church in Kirkland, wouldn't be shy about saying what's on his mind. He's been speaking his mind, actually, in sky-­high letters on huge billboards around the Seattle area, blaming churches for what's wrong with the world and telling Christians it's time they shape up.
  Hutcherson's billboards aren't necessarily controversial. But the underlying message, reminiscent of Pilgrim justice, would leave many Christians squirming: Repent, or else.
  The churches are to blame for "a general decline in morality" by not making members accountable for sins, says Hutcherson, the leader of an independent, evangelical congregation.
  Hutcherson, a two‑season Seahawk linebacker a generation ago, is a yee‑haw kind of a guy who raises dogs, horses and, with his wife, Pat, four kids on land near Redmond.
  But on the subject of sin and what the church can do about it, he turns preacher, railing in equal decibels against cohabitation, envy, homosexuality and domestic violence.
  Hutcherson has bought a year's worth of space at some of the area's most‑prominent billboard sites, paying $5,000 a month. He had to contract for a year to get the billboard he really wanted, one that looms over Highway 520 and is in your face for thousands of Bellevue‑bound drivers every day.
  The first billboard went up in February, over Denny Way near Aurora. Its message: "Antioch Bible Church asks Washington State to forgive the church for losing its saltiness.' "
  That's a reference to Jesus' command to Christians to be salt and light to others. "God said right there in the Bible the church is supposed to be a preservative of society," Hutcherson says. "We're not doing what God has asked us to do."
  The second billboard looms over an auto-supply store in Kirkland. It says Antioch "didn't come to take sides but to do what's right."
  That means his church "isn't here just to agree, whether it's with a church or people," Hutcherson explains. "Antioch is here to do what God says do."
  All the billboards feature an open book ‑ one page black, the other white ‑ and the words "Black and white in a gray world."
  "It means the Scripture is perfectly clear," Hutcherson says. "You don't know the Bible very well if you don't know that."
  Hutcherson founded Antioch 14 years ago. Its first members were 15 friends who'd been in a home Bible‑study group with him. The church, across from the Seahawks' training compound, now draws about 2,000 worshipers each Sunday.
  "We have more pastors now than we had members at first," Hutcherson jokes. "We have so many athletes there, we call it Anti‑jock Bible Church."
  Hutcherson's complaints against churches are no joking matter, though. He first outlined them in a book, "The Church, What We Are Meant to Be" (Multnomah, $18.99), published last year.
  The book's pastel cover features a grinning Hutcherson in black‑and‑white spectator shoes, surrounded by sheep. The words at the top of the cover ‑ "Offensive, uncomfortable, unstoppable" ‑ seem out of place, although they're right in sync with Hutcherson's thundering theology.
  "There's so much wrong with the world and the church isn't doing anything about it, even when it knows what's happening," Hutcherson says.
  "Look at all the people living together. The church says you don't try out relationships. It goes against God's word. Look at all the people who tend toward anger, all the domestic violence. Homosexuality. Just because you're born with it doesn't mean it isn't a sin. Look at the jealousy, envy, strife, every sin you can think of. The church has just gone soft."
  The churches have worked together before on lessons of morality and faith, Hutcherson says.
  He was one of four Eastside pastors who banded together last year to reprimand the Rev. Bob Moorehead, pastor of Overlake Christian Church, who was accused of making sexual advances to young men in his congregation over period of many years.
  And Antioch was among more than 60 churches ‑ evangelical and mainline Protestant ‑ to sponsor an ecumenical prayer gathering for thousands in Marymoor Park the year before.
  "You have seen the churches stand together, consistent against sin," Hutcherson said. "The evangelical churches, any church that believes the word of God, needs to take sides and stand with us on this one."
  Many churches have declared themselves "welcoming and affirming" toward homosexuality and wouldn't be willing to go as far as Hatcherson on that issue.
  Others would be uncomfortable calling "sinners" before the congregation for a public reprimand. It's a practice that has led to what some call shunning, in which the person is ostracized by the rest of the membership. Most churches abandoned that kind of discipline generations ago, if they ever did it at all.
  At Antioch, "it happens three or four time year," Hutcherson says, "usually to people who are getting a divorce for frivolous reasons, or they're living with somebody they aren't married to.”
  Hutcherson admits his solution to societal ills is controversial, but he says most churches would agree with him if they weren't "afraid of running people off."
  "People do get mad and go to the church down the street if they don't like what you have to say,” he said. "But that doesn’t mean the church has to keep putting up with it. I have a healthy fear of God and I'd rather have people be mad at me than God.
  "God don't put up with that kind of stuff.”