Helicopters whirled overhead, snipers were poised on the roof of the KMart across the street and on the church roof, and the street was full of people and Indianapolis City Police cars. Wow, surely terrorists had taken over the church and the good guys came to rescue innocent Christians. No, afraid not. The terrorists were all in uniform charged with taking control of a Baptist Church. Inside, about 30 people had spent the night as they had for 92 days but many others had gone to work so only 8 people along with pastors and associates praying at the altar were taken out of the church by police officials.
For the first time in American History, the Federal Government, under the color of law, put a large Baptist Church out of the Gospel business. Well, at least they tried.
It was February 13, 2001 when 85 federal officials (FBI, ATF, etc.) supported by Indianapolis Police Officers (doing crowd and traffic control) raided the Indianapolis Baptist Temple (IBT), known as the 11th largest church in America, according to Christian Life Magazine. Dr. Greg J. Dixon was the long time pastor but his son Greg A. Dixon was now the church leader. The church was being raided not for unpaid taxes as almost everyone declared, but for permitting their school teachers (my daughter was one), administrators, etc., to pay their own FICA taxes. Thousands of American churches have always followed that practice.
It is interesting that the Marion County Sheriff’s Department under Jack Cottey refused to participate in the raid. Jack was a principled man who had also served in the Indiana House of Representatives where I had served.
The Indianapolis church leaders refused to handle the withholding since the government cannot force a church to be a tax collector, the lowest, most hated position in New Testament times. However, no one refused to pay taxes and no taxes were owed. It was simply the Federal Government, then run by newly installed President George W. Bush, letting everyone know that churches must kowtow to Washington or they would be put out of the Gospel business. Federal Marshall Frank Anderson was in charge of the illegal raid and was elected Marion County Sheriff in 2003, serving until 2011. Of course, the Feds had declared the church’s action to be illegal; consequently, the raid was deemed “legal.”
We were seeing the assertion and application of might at the expense of what is right. The IBT discovered that Voltaire was right when he said that it is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong. The church was right; the feds were wrong.
Some local media people were in the church having spent many nights sleeping on the floor and church pews along with pastors from across America. Some of the media had characterized the church people, especially the pastors, as being “patriots” (gasp!), “militia” etc. Some even spoke of guns even though the pastors had made it clear that no guns would be permitted and no violence would take place. But you can’t be too careful; these are Baptists - you know like John (the Baptist) or Jerry (Falwell) or Billy (Graham) - so an overwhelming force was ordered along with the snipers on the rooftops.
You can’t be too careful you know. Some of those Baptists might even thump their Bibles (KJV, of course) and that could be dangerous especially if the thumping were caught on television.
The raid was ordered by former two-term Missouri Governor and U.S. Senator and active Christian layman in the Assemblies of God and the now U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. John also wrote, “Let the Eagle Soar” and sang it after his speech at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 2002 - where both my son and grandson earned their doctorates. The song was satirically featured in Michael Moore’s movie Fahrenheit 9/11. While the lyrics are mediocre, and John’s voice is tolerable, I recommend that John not surrender his license to practice law.
The Christian school building, home to hundreds of students and the 2,000-seat auditorium on 20 acres of prime property, were padlocked and later bulldozed to the ground to make room for a new Charter School. Hundreds of Christian students and thousands of church members were now homeless - thanks to GOP President George W. Bush.
This case had been simmering for seventeen years when pastor Dr. Greg J. Dixon and his son and co-pastor refused to withhold FICA taxes on the church school staff. At the time of the raid, the younger Dixon was pastor and served as pastor until December of 2015 when Matt Roller was called to that position.
Ashcroft wrote a book after he was out of office and dedicated seven pages to the Indianapolis Baptist Temple tragedy. He alleged that the church was guilty of “tax evasion” but that is not true. He admitted in his book that the church employees paid their own taxes from funds “received from the church.” Ashcroft also alleged that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the church; however, that is another mistake - the Court refused to hear the case.
During the raid, Pastor Greg A. Dixon asked one of the marshals if he was not a member of a local Southside, Bible-preaching church that was not taking FICA out of the church staff’s salary - what the Indianapolis Baptist Temple was charged with. He refused to answer.
About that time, another marshal asked Dr. Dixon for the keys to his car that he promised to move to the KMart lot so it would not be impounded. Dr. Dixon appreciated his kindness. The AP carried a story revealing that the church parsonage that had been the pastor’s home for 32 years had been taken by the feds. After the eviction, the media quoted Mrs. Dixon as saying “Wait until you see me in my new home.”
All the principal people involved with the church were highly committed and principled people - not the rebels and anti-government trouble makers as presented by most of the media. Paul Harvey led his national broadcast with a fair and positive report of the raid and most of the other national media dealt with it with their normal critical spin. Congressman Ron Paul wrote a wonderful defense of IBT in his Congressional Bulletin.
About sixty of those who served in the church ministry were audited by the IRS, and it was concluded that they had no tax liability of any substantial degree and all had paid their own tax liability including both shares of the Social Security Tax. This of course means that the valuable property, built and financed over many years by dedicated Christians, was seized to satisfy a bogus tax bill that had already been paid.
Why would our government be so vicious and unethical and illegal? Because government is in the control business and true churches refuse to permit secular control since every theologian is aware of the lordship of Christ over everything. Federal prosecutor Douglas Snoeyenbos was quoted as saying that the “higher ups in the U.S. Justice Department are out to totally destroy the pastor and the Indianapolis Baptist Temple.” He also expressed personal dislike for Dr. Dixon even though he had never met him according to the church attorney. Well, I’ve never met Snoeyenbos and I don’t like him or his name, but then he can’t help that.
The church has a memo from the Treasury Department in the mid-eighties (date illegible) signed by an IRS agent declaring that the pastor of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple “spoke out against the IRS and other government agencies in general” which shows the feds have no respect for freedom of speech, religion, etc. It is perfectly legal and ethical to speak out against various agencies. After all, one can abhor an administration or agencies without hating his nation.
I often spoke out on television and wrote about government intrusion in personal lives and into church matters. I even testified at a congressional hearing in Washington dealing with the IRS attempted takeover of Christian schools. I then published it in my first book, Liberalism: A Rope of Sand
! I also wrote a scalding letter to the FBI about their treatment of Dr. Dixon regarding another incident. I wonder if the feds have a file on me. Or you.
U.S. Attorney Robert Metzler admitted in federal court in Indianapolis on August 23, 2001, that the Indianapolis Baptist Temple owes no taxes if they would only file for an exemption, which shows that this was not a tax issue - but who will control the Lord’s assembly, God or the IRS. He said the same thing in oral argument at the Seventh Circuit on May 11, 2000. U.S. Attorney Metzler said twice before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeal on that same day that “an uncontrolled church is untenable” in America today. But then, thousands of churches in America conduct their affairs just like the Indianapolis Baptist Temple. Will the government begin closing those churches? Are the churches left alone because they are so docile?
Frankly, I am not concerned with an uncontrolled church but I am very concerned about an uncontrolled government. George Washington said, “Government is like fire, a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” Our founding fathers knew what current officials refuse to recognize about federal government: A government out of control is like a forest fire that destroys everything in its path.
So, our government planned a dangerous raid on God’s church against innocent people because the pastors had spoken against pornography, the IRS, and leftists in general and had done so for decades. Moreover, few local pastors, even Baptists, stood with the church much to their shame. Many of those pastors were and still are my friends but they showed cowardice rather than courage at that time.
Hundreds of students in their Christian school and thousands of church members had their rights attacked by their own government officials who had sworn to protect those rights. The large, expensive buildings were bulldozed to the ground. Students were no longer taught by committed teachers and hymns of praise no longer echoed along East Street. Alas, the enemy had won!
But that was the prelude. The story continues. Like the Phoenix (the pagan Greek myth), IBT rose from the ashes. The Indianapolis Baptist Temple is even stronger than before and has multiplied its ministries many times. After the raid, the church immediately moved services to a large new public high school auditorium about five minutes from the original church and school buildings. The wounded church rented similar buildings for five and one half years. Finally, Pastor Greg A. Dixon led the church to lease a large sports building near Interstate 65, only five minutes from the interchange. The church renovated the complex and continued their work of world evangelism.
After serving as pastor until 2015, Pastor Dixon resigned to be followed by a member of the church, Matt Roller. The IBT is alive and well and the disgraced government officials responsible for the illegal raid are (mostly) now has-beens with a badly soiled record. Others have died.
Many will declare that the officials were only doing their job, a defense that is a non-defense. Principled people will never do wrong even if it costs them everything. Bush was wrong to permit the raid. John Ashcroft was wrong to authorize it and should have told Bush that he respectfully would not carry out the church raid. U.S. Marshal Frank Anderson should have informed Washington officials that he would not participate in taking a church away from its members. The 84 other federal agents should have refused to be involved. And the Indianapolis Police Department should have refused federal orders including individual officers. There is nothing wrong in resisting an authority to obey a higher authority. It’s better to be hated for being right than to be honored for being wrong.
Albert Einstein once said, “Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.” Every public official involved in the raid and the critical pastors disobeyed that principle.
After resigning as pastor of the IBT in December of 2015, the younger Dixon said, “International Church planting began in 2002 after our building was taken. What men meant for evil God meant for good! Just as the persecution of the Jerusalem church accelerated church planting in Antioch among other places, the persecution in Indy accelerated church planting again. I woke up the following day and God strongly impressed me to start churches. Not to quit or complain. Start churches.”
The tragedy of the federal takeover resulted in a much larger, more aggressive ministry of church planting in Mexico, Central America, Asia, and Africa. Starting with nothing, Dixon organized Advance, a facilitator that helps churches plant churches. Since resigning as pastor, he travels the nation raising money to start and support churches all over the world and every dollar raised goes to that work. He receives no salary, retirement, or any benefit from his service! 109 new churches have been started in Asia, Africa, and North America which includes inner city Indianapolis and Mexico. Another 100 new churches have begun in 2019 around the world. The goal for new church plants in 2020 is another 200 new churches in cities and remote villages of the world.
A little touted, but extremely effective outreach is Pastor Dixon’s Urban Youth Ministry Training whereby trained volunteers from the church community go into the Indianapolis Public Schools, as they have done for 13 years. The volunteers seek to impress upon students positive values to result in a successful life in a world of confusion. So, while the feds confiscated and destroyed their Christian school, the IBT is going into the public schools with a positive message.
Another ministry is the Transitional Housing Ministry that provides assistance to men in need of housing in the inner city of Indianapolis. Men who were converted in one of the city missions get counseling and a place to stay. Pastor Greg A. Dixon says, “A warm bed helps to make a warm and receptive heart to the Gospel.”
Their Trinity House work is a soup kitchen ministry that provides an evening dinner in three locations feeding over 700 people each month accompanied by a positive message of the Gospel.
Additionally, every July a medical mission trip is taken to Oaxaca, Mexico where 39 churches have been started over the last nine years. The medical team seeks to minister to the health needs of people who cannot afford or don’t have access to medical care.
What the enemy and casual critics thought was a massive tragedy and major failure turned out to be one of the most impressive victories in a hundred years. The victory - yes, victory - of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple over the feds and their critics is another reminder that there is nothing wrong in resisting an authority to obey a higher authority.
The character of a person is not seen in where he stands in a time of comfort but where he stands in times of challenge, controversy, and conflict. The Dixons and the membership of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple stood in the face of great odds and have not only survived but have thrived.
It was a shameful day when the federal government, under a GOP president, raided and bulldozed a very successful church but what the enemy thought to be a blow became a blessing. The IBT raid should be a warning to all Americans: government out of control is dangerous. Furthermore, pastors who are faithful to their calling will be a voice in the wilderness calling a wayward government to repentance.
As to the “scandal” of pastors who are monitored by the feds, maybe that would be true of all preachers if they were fearless spokesmen for truth. The real scandal is that very few pastors are so courageous to make the FBI and IRS keep a file on them.
(To learn more about this unusual ministry go to www.advanceglobal.net