In a world where peer-reviewed evolutionists are taken seriously and LGBTQ people are treated as peers, Bob Jones University and Sermon Audio have come up with a conservative evangelical counter-offensive known as The Vault.
The two organizations have joined forces to build a doomsday vault filled with fundamentalist and conservative evangelical sermons in order to try to survive the apocalypse where future Christians might be required to listen to sermons without the internet due to “cancel culture.”
Sermon Audio founder Steven Lee explained at the 2021 Foundations Conference hosted by Bob Jones University that a day could come when “sound teaching” is wiped from digital access and all the sermons broadcast on Sermon Audio no longer are allowed to stream online.
But there is a way to prepare for such a doomsday, he said, a way inspired by the so-called “Doomsday Vault,” a long-term secure storage facility located above the Arctic Circle between Norway and the North Pole. “Its purpose is to house all of the world’s seeds securely so that in the event of an apocalyptic situation or a global catastrophe, the seeds will be preserved to allow nations to grow various foods again.”
Likewise, evangelical Christians need to store their gospel seed, he said. “We would like to build a Doomsday Vault of our own. Except in this vault, we would be housing the good seed, the good seed of the preached word in the event of a catastrophic breakdown in relations with cloud providers and platforms.”
That vault is located on the second floor of the Mack Library on the Bob Jones University campus in Greenville, S.C. It officially opened during the 2022 Foundations Conference held on campus last week.
The largest digital library for fundamentalist sermons ever
Sermon Audio was launched in January 2000 by Lee, who graduated with a computer science degree from BJU in 1995. It is a website “dedicated to the preservation and propagation of sound biblical preaching all over the world.”
During the past 23 years, Sermon Audio has become home to more than 2 million sermons with more than 430 million downloads, at a rate of around 3 million new downloads per month, easily making it the largest digital library of fundamentalist and conservative evangelical sermons in the world.
From a technological perspective, the platform is impressive. Users can search for sermons based on Bible reference, category, topic, speaker, language or date. And churches are able to livestream their services with Sermon Audio, while embedding them on the website.
While there are many nondenominational, Bible and Presbyterian churches that utilize Sermon Audio, the overwhelming majority of broadcasters that list their denominational affiliation are Baptist churches.
According to Sermon Audio’s Statement of Faith, churches that wish to broadcast their sermons on the site must affirm penal substitutionary atonement, as well as be against “women pastors/preachers/elders, etc.”
Some of the popular men featured at Sermon Audio include Al Mohler, Voddie Baucham, Paul Washer, John MacArthur, Todd Friel and many more extreme fundamentalist Baptists who would consider those men to be too liberal.
Lee believes he is participating in a war. “Make no mistake about it. We are in a war,” he declared. “We must remember that in this world there are two opposing sides: The kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. They are in opposition one to another. The world is not neutral. And platforms are not neutral.”
“The world is not neutral. And platforms are not neutral.”
According to Lee, the world might have battle plans for Sermon Audio.
“I want you to imagine a day when those two million sermons are wiped off the face of the digital earth. I want you to imagine a day when the stream of three million sermons per month being pushed out all over the world and that stream dries up, a day when Sermon Audio itself goes off the air. Maybe that doesn’t matter to you. Well, imagine a day when your church’s sermons go off the air or get purged from the internet. What will you do then?”
Lee believes Sermon Audio sermons are “a bit like electricity or running water. We take things like this for granted until we don’t have it due to an ice storm or other interruption and we realize just how vulnerable we are.”
To Lee, the doomsday of losing access to fundamentalist sermons on the internet may be right around the corner. In one Q&A video he predicts it might be as soon as “five, 10 years down the road.”
Cancel culture and social media companies
“If Jesus were alive today, the world would be seeking to cancel him too,” Lee claims.
Then after talking about preachers throughout history being burned at the stake, Lee says: “As we all know, in January of 2021 … we witnessed a stunning example of cancel culture flexing its muscles in digital censorship when Big Tech decided to cancel and permanently suspend President Trump from reaching his 150 million followers and subscribers. In a matter of days, all platforms, all major cloud providers de-platformed a sitting president from being able to communicate directly with the people. This was unprecedented as they un-presidented a sitting president.”
“This was unprecedented as they un-presidented a sitting president.”
While discussing cancel culture in multiple videos on the official website for The Vault, the background video flashes clips of President Trump and of the Parler social media app so many Christian nationalists flocked to after Trump was banned from Twitter.
Lee laments, “Ever since (Trump) went off the air, it has been extraordinarily difficult even for him with all of his resources to regain his voice online.” He believes the way Trump was treated contains “indicators of the future” and that conservative preachers may face the same doomsday scenario because “the church is as powerless as it’s ever been. The world is as bad as it’s ever been.”
“We are already receiving reports … of churches facing this trouble,” he warns.
One notable example of this happening was when YouTube removed a sermon by John MacArthur. The reason they removed his sermon wasn’t due to MacArthur proclaiming good news to the poor and liberation of the oppressed. Instead, his sermon was removed because he said: “There is no such thing as transgender. You are either XX or XY, that’s it. God made man male and female. That is determined genetically, that is physiology, that is science, that is reality.”
YouTube classified MacArthur’s comment as “hate speech” that violates its community standards.
Likewise, Vimeo removed sermons in 2019 from the “God’s Voice” conference hosted by Fairview Baptist Church of Edmond, Okla., claiming the videos promoted conversion therapy. After Pastor James Domen sued Vimeo in 2018 for removing sermons in which he promoted conversion therapy, a Manhattan federal court dismissed his lawsuit.
Ironically, despite their supposed rejection of cancel culture, Sermon Audio reserves the right “to remove any sermon, church or organization that we feel is not in accordance with” its own articles of faith. “All such decisions will be at the sole discretion of SermonAudio.com.”
Real men of genius
In a scene reminiscent of the Bud Light “Real Men of Genius” beer commercials, Lee appeared to invent “Mr. Fundamentalist Sermon Audio Tape Preserver.” Invoking the images of King Uzziah’s reign in 2 Chronicles 26:15, he said: “Cunning men, or men of skill and genius, invented engines or machines of war to sit atop the walls of Jerusalem. In other words, men of genius put their God-given brains to good use by inventing machines to be used for the advancement of the kingdom.”
Lee believes he, his team and the fundamentalist male voices they amplify are the real men of genius to protect the faith from the upcoming evolutionist, egalitarian and LGBTQ doomsday.
While touring the ruins of a church, Lee says, “Monuments are important, especially Christian monuments. They help us. They remind us of God’s mighty acts in a bygone era.” Thus, one monument Lee has built at The Vault is the cassette tape wall, where people can stand and look at cassette tapes of sermons from men on a wall.
Dehumanizing women and LGBTQ people
To know what these fearful male preachers’ message is, you have to know what they’re afraid of losing.
“In case you haven’t noticed, the Bible itself is chalk full of culturally insensitive pronouncements that would easily make it a candidate for cancel culture in a massive way,” Lee reminds his fellow combatants. “Whether it’s God’s view of gender, marriage, the family, homosexuality, creation, the way of salvation, heaven, hell, sin, you name it. There will be plenty to offend without even trying.”
“Just for a preacher to declare that God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them, could land him in trouble.”
Then he adds, “Just for a preacher to declare that God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him, male and female created he them, could land him in trouble.”
In other words, Lee and his real men of genius want to be able to proclaim dehumanizing theology against evolutionists, women and LGBTQ people while promoting young earth creationism and penal substitutionary atonement and threatening people with eternal damnation without any consequences from the social media companies where they post their sermons.
Their plan of control
Lee is explicit that his primary concern is about control.
“We have to be oh so careful when we send out a message that might offend somebody because we might get de-platformed. I’m seeing this. You’re seeing this. What is that, but the loss of control,” he admits.
While video images of oil rigs play in the background, he continues: “You look at this as it pertains to entire nations, when you begin to lose the infrastructure, then you lose control. When you farm out energy to another nation, you lose control. When you farm out your food or your manufacturing to other nations, you lose control. The only solution to such a thing is to secure our own infrastructure.”
Since introducing his vision at the 2021 Foundations Conference on the campus of Bob Jones University, Lee has raised the financial support necessary to build The Vault. As inspiring piano music played, Lee gazed longingly at his server room: “It’s a historic moment for us. Physical servers. Physical racks. Physical infrastructure. This is the only way to guarantee that we maintain control in our ability to propagate the preaching of the gospel. … We are sitting inside a miracle.”
Lee sees The Vault as having four main components:
- Physical ownership of the equipment
- Replication of that equipment in multiple locations
- Penetration into closed countries
- Training the next generation of operators
Using the Bible itself as an example, Lee explains: “It’s like having the physical copy of the word of God in your hand, printed on paper. It’s important to have a physical copy. … Not only do you need to have the Bible in your hand, but you have to make copies of it all over the place.”
Just as the goal of evangelicals is “to creatively smuggle the Bible into difficult places,” Lee sees The Vault as a way of exporting fundamentalist sermons into other countries.
For the Bible to spread long-term, he says Christians had to “teach others to handle and copy the Bible for their generation.” So he plans to work together with Bob Jones University’s computer science department to maintain the servers until the rapture.
The absence of women
After watching a year’s worth of promotional videos for The Vault, I noticed a lot of faces involved with the project. Lee talked about two businessmen who are helping finance the project. He spoke of hiring multiple team members to assist him in overseeing the project. He showed video of a wall with a map of the world to indicate what sermons people were listening to in real time, as well as the face of the preacher attached to each one.
In every case except for one woman on one team of nine men, the faces were all men. And the vast majority of the faces were of white men. In the clip that showed the sermon map wall, every sermon being preached across every continent was being preached by a white man.
The only time I noticed women present in the videos was when they were part of the prayer groups. And the only video that mentioned anything concerning women was a video about the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Yet even that video never even mentioned women.
The offensiveness of the gospel and the foolishness of preaching
Lee talks a lot in his videos about how the gospel is offensive and its preaching considered foolishness by the world. But the culture the gospel was first preached in was all about hierarchies of power and control. So in that context, the message of the Cross was foolishness to those who were perishing, not because people thought penal substitutionary atonement was dumb and liked to make fun of Christians, but because the Cross claimed that the Most High laid down his power and was lifted up on a throne that was a cross.
The preaching of that cross was foolishness in an empire fixated on the hierarchy of privilege and power because it called its followers to lay down their swords by which empires wield power and said that those who live by the sword will perish by the sword.
But the theology of conservative evangelicalism says God Most High demanded perfect submission, became infinite wrath toward everyone, exhausted his anger by crushing Jesus on the Cross in exchange for a relatively few, demands that we believe in a theology of creation and the body that are disconnected from reality, puts men in charge of women and children, excludes LGTBQ people, and threatens eternal conscious torment for all who do not submit.
“In Lee’s own words, The Vault is about control.”
In Lee’s own words, The Vault is about control. Of course, he’s talking about computer servers when he says that. But when you examine his theology, it’s systematically arranged through a paradigm of God controlling everyone and everything in a glory hierarchy. And when you see how Lee and his real men of genius treat women and LGBTQ people, they’re at the bottom of the hierarchy. So when he creates The Vault in order to maintain control, he’s simply living out his theology and ethics of control in the area of technology.
The foolishness of the Cross is due to the reversal of hierarchy. Yet, the entire theology and plan behind The Vault is about the embrace of hierarchy.
If Lee and the leadership of Bob Jones University truly believe they are heading for a doomsday scenario at the hands of the supposedly hateful evolutionists, egalitarians and LGBTQ people in the next five to 10 years, and if they are attempting to raise millions of dollars to prepare for this doomsday, then it would seem reasonable to expect they would have a robust plan.
But Bob Jones University is possibly one of the most unstable institutions for Sermon Audio to team with. Even if we ignore all the racial and sexual abuse scandals of BJU’s history, BJU is currently being investigated by its accreditation agency for allowing a Republican student to complete a two-year master’s degree in just six months while running a statewide campaign full time so the candidate could meet the educational qualifications necessary to become South Carolina’s superintendent over all public schools — in which the candidate never has worked. Additionally, BJU’s President Steve Pettit and other professors donated to the campaign.
After BJU’s board of trustees called a fashion student’s wrap coat project “blasphemous” earlier this year because a group of independent Baptist pastors claimed it made the student look like “a gay man,” members of the board tried to have Pettit removed from the presidency. Bob Jones III voiced support for the board members who were planning not to renew Pettit’s contract, referencing “embarrassing, antithetical things, historically uncharacteristic things,” and calling for the board to “stop the hemorrhage.”
But a large group of mostly Baptist pastors signed a letter to the board claiming that such a change could be “fatal for the university.” It wasn’t until 6,844 people signed a petition and sent letters to the board that a majority decided to keep the president.
With BJU’s accreditation being investigated and with its future on such thin ice as to call for that level of concern, why would Lee stake his doomsday scenario on the security of Bob Jones University?
Even if BJU continues to survive and the LGBTQ community and its supporters in “Big Tech” enact the doomsday scenario, why would these men want to face a doomsday without having any women’s voices involved?
In a video called “My Ark Encounter,” Lee sat down with Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis — who not only built a giant wooden boat in the middle of Kentucky but also plans to build a pretend Tower of Babel — to get Ham’s advice about how to deal with the challenges.
Despite the conspiratorial fears that dominate the messages of Ham and Lee, the church has preached sermons for 2,000 years without the internet. Losing a technological privilege that it’s had for just 23 of those years probably isn’t quite the doomsday scenario Sermon Audio and Bob Jones University think it is.
And ironically, after all the time and money spent on The Vault, Lee doesn’t even plan to use it. Instead, he says they will switch from the cloud to The Vault only after their doomsday scenario happens.
Lee and his real men of genius are convinced they are being attacked in a war just like Trump was supposedly attacked after the January 6 insurrection attempt. But what is crystal clear in all of this is not that these men are preaching the foolishness of the Cross, but that they are simply being foolish.
Rick Pidcock is a 2004 graduate of Bob Jones University, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Bible. He’s a freelance writer based in South Carolina and a former Clemons Fellow with BNG. He recently completed a Master of Arts degree in worship from Northern Seminary. He is a stay-at-home father of five children and produces music under the artist name Provoke Wonder. Follow his blog at www.rickpidcock.com.
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