Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Convicted minister continues

In 2005, music minister Bernie Johnson was accused of committing lewd sexual acts at a Southern Baptist church in Texas. He accepted a plea bargain for a conviction on indecent exposure. (It’s case number 250991, Bernard Brett Johnson.)

Johnson moved to a church about 10 miles down the road to become music minister at First Baptist Church of Winnie, Texas.

With his new congregation, Johnson led people to believe that the charges had to do with “an adult affair and not sexual acts perpetrated by him.” This explanation of his was reported in the local paper, The Examiner, and it’s also what a couple people in the community have recently related to me. It’s an explanation that is highly offensive to his victim, and the fact that no Baptist leader does anything about it makes it all the worse.

Because “indecent exposure” can cover a wide range of conduct, I want you to see exactly what was reported about Bernie Johnson and what was captured on videotape. That means this posting is going to be quite explicit. I’m sorry for any offense, but I think this is an occasion when it’s necessary. I want you to see the kind of man that Southern Baptist leaders allow to continue in a position of trust as a minister.

What follows is taken straight from the June 2005 article in The Examiner. Links to this article and two others are at the bottom of this posting.

“Bernie Johnson allegedly exposed himself, openly masturbated and fondled a co-worker on the church property during his tenure as a staff member of First Baptist Church of Hamshire. The co-worker at the Hamshire church, Charline Hargraves, initiated the charges…. Her charges were substantiated by the evidence caught on videotape of the minister committing sexual acts on the church property."

"Hargraves…has been an active member of the church for more than a decade and a full-time employee for more than five years. She is in charge of custodial matters…. Johnson, who has a wife and son, had been on the staff approximately two years when the first incident occurred. Johnson came to the church from a position at the East Texas Baptist Encampment located in Newton…. He also served as an evangelist… and is known as charismatic, engaging and extremely talented."

"Hargraves said in a formal affidavit… ‘Bernie began making sexual comments to me… He later got bolder and bolder… I began to be fearful of being in any place in the buildings alone.’ Hargraves testifies that on one occasion, Johnson… asked her to hold some computer wires to be fed through a hole in the corner bookcase. ‘He was on the floor under the bookcase and he reached up with his hand and grabbed me on the crotch.’"

"Hargraves remembers another incident that she said is indelibly printed on her mind. ‘I was wiping down tables in the fellowship hall and Bernie came up behind me and wrapped his arms around me with his body pressed up against my rear. He began to grind on my rear and said, ‘This is what you want, isn’t it?’ He also grabbed both of my breasts through my clothes.’ According to Hargraves, Johnson grabbed her breasts and attempted to fondle them on several other occasions."

"Hargraves felt she needed her job at the church and depended on it for financial support…. ‘I had no real marketable skills and here he was a staff member, a good musician and singer, excellent with people. He even told me that if I told anyone about what had happened, they would not believe me over him…. But the main reason I did not tell anyone…is that I did not want to have any part in hurting my church… I was so frightened.’"

"The affidavit states that Hargraves was in the church secretary’s office…when Johnson entered the room and sat down… He made a noise to get her attention and when she looked over at him, Johnson had unzipped his pants and his penis was erect and exposed. ‘Another time… he got my attention and when I looked, he was standing up with his erect penis out so that anyone could see it. He was so brazen with his acts.’"

"Hargraves swore that at other times…. ‘he would either be completely undressed or his pants would be down around his knees or ankles. He would ask me to come and touch his penis or to rub it. I said no and fled as best I could….’"

"Hargraves said in the last months of Johnson’s employment… he started masturbating in various parts of the building. ‘He would just ejaculate on the countertop and leave it to be cleaned up. Several times, he got a Styrofoam cup from the coffee stand and ejaculated into it. He would sit it down and tell me that he left it for me.’"

[When Charline Hargraves finally disclosed what was happening to the pastor at First Baptist of Hamshire, he called in a retired police officer, who installed a hidden video camera. Within one week’s time, here is what happened]:

“Bernie came back to the church from a funeral… In a few minutes, Bernie went to the bathroom and disrobed. His pants were completely off and as I walked by, he opened the door exposing his erect penis. He was playing with it and he begged me to ‘come and touch it.’ I said no. He then asked me to ‘come over and perform oral sex on him.’ I said no again. Bernie reached over and picked up a cup and ejaculated into it. The cup and its contents were given to [the police officer]. All of this is on the videotape that has now been turned over to the sheriff’s department.”

In light of this history, why is Bernie Johnson able to continue as a minister in a Southern Baptist church?

The woman who sent me the articles wrote that she had contacted the Baptist General Convention of Texas to get help with trying to get Johnson out of ministry. “But I think that’s going to be a useless tool,” she said. “They just keep a confidential file and nothing else. Big deal if they won’t make it public.”

The BGCT did indeed prove itself to be “a useless tool.” Apparently no one even bothered to tell this woman that the First Baptist Church of Winnie is actually affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and not the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Couldn’t the BGCT have at least provided her with that tiny, basic bit of information?

Of course, there isn’t any reason to think it would have made any difference. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention doesn’t have any effective policies and procedures for addressing clergy sex abuse either. Nor does it have any policies and procedures for informing people in the pews about abusive ministers.

Ditto for the national Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville.

So men like Bernie Johnson simply carry on as Southern Baptist ministers, and no one stops them.
____________________

These articles from The Examiner have a separate pdf file for each page:
June 9-15, 2005, “Minister charged with repeated counts of indecent exposure," first page and second page
July 21-27, 2005, "Defiance of agreement led to exposure charge"
Dec. 30, 2005-Jan. 5, 2006, "Music minister charged with deviant acts in church," first page and second page
_____________________

Additional Note: A reader just sent me this. Here is Bernie Johnson's own website, "Rendered Heart."

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention is hardly in a position to say anything or police any church when one of their prominent board members is a pastor who is a known adulterer.

gmommy said...

Is everyone writing to Oprah????? This could be the way to expose the dirty little secrets of the SBC ministers and leaders.

...or we could just wait for SOMEONE else and be nice and submissive...
Come on people....we can make a difference!!!!

Christa Brown said...

The Oprah suggestion got started in comments under the prior posting. Thanks for keeping it going, gmommy! Here again is the link for where you can email a suggestion that the Oprah Show do a program on Baptist clergy sex abuse and cover-ups.

Anonymous said...

Thank you to C. Hargraves for speaking out about this and to Christa for making it known on this website.

All it takes is common sense to know Bernie Johnson does not belong in a position of authority and trust in an SBC church. What if a child or teen also had been walking by when the abuser exposed himself, fondled the victim or uttered inappropriate and unprofessional dialogue in the workplace. If it was hard for the adult victim to come forth and speak out about Johnson's behavior, how do we know a teen or child has not been exposed to it and is too afraid to come forward? Thankfully someone used a camera to show what the man has been habitually doing. It is irresponsible to allow this behavior to continue in the church and in the workplace. The abuser will continue to deceive as long as you allow, moving on to another church if necessary. He is brazen and dangerous. SBC Executive Committee, please do something.

gmommy said...

Oh no 10:49 anon...
none of the SBC leadership will do a thing to protect the innocent or vulnerable. They are too busy being powerful and rich!

They forgot the basics...like the good Samaritan....too busy flying around to speak in immoral minister's pulpits at $5000 a pop.... and demanding that people GIVE!!!!
OPRAH!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Christa,

Just wondering how strong your outrage would be in this setting:

A pastor confesses to an "inappropriate counseling relationship" which is legal doubletalk for "having an affair." The various Southern Baptist pastors in the area all know the truth as well as many well known people in the community. Noone says or does anything--in fact he has been appointed to more Baptist committees and boards.

Sound like a hypothetical question? NOT HARDLY. This pastor is a member of the board of directors of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Now you wonder why nothing is being said or done on this issue!!!

Christa Brown said...

If a pastor confesses to an "inappropriate counseling relationship," I would say that's doubletalk for "sexual exploitation" by a person in a fiduciary relationship. That's at a bare minimum. It's NOT an affair. It's exploitation by virtue of his role as a person of spiritual trust and also by virtue of his role as a counselor. Both. In Texas and some other states, what he calls an "inappropriate counseling relationship" would also be called "sexual assault" and "felony." That's how the law describes it, and I consider it an apt description.

Sadly, I KNOW that you aren't posing a mere hypothetical question. To the contrary, from all the stories I hear, what you're describing seems almost commonplace among Southern Baptists. And worst of all is that no one stops them, no one holds them accountable, and no one helps the victims when they finally come undone by such abusive exploitation and assaults.

Anonymous said...

After reading about Bernard Johnson, I can't help but think how badly SBC pastors need to be held accountable. Yet Mac Brunson says the greatest need is to be supportive of them. (This from an earlier topic). It is a joke. A tragic joke.

Anonymous said...

What kind of man is immoral, sexually assaults, exposes himself, is an adulterer and gets respect, praise and salary while doing it?

Answer: An SBC minister!

(Jeri, is that dark humor?)

Anonymous said...

Christa,

You are my new hero! Keep up the good work.

BTW, the SBTC board member was having an affair and that's how they chose to parse it and cover it up. They forgot that the town in which it occurred is a town that has no secrets. Even though half the town knows the truth, the other board members of the SBTC also know it and choose to do nothing.

Christa Brown said...

anon 10:49 said: "If it was hard for the adult victim to come forth and speak out about Johnson's behavior, how do we know a teen or child has not been exposed to it and is too afraid to come forward?"

Excellent point! It's plenty difficult enough for an adult to speak about those sorts of violations, and many can't. So how do people imagine that kids will find the words to speak of such things? Kudos to C. Hargraves for her courage! Shame on all Southern Baptist leaders who allow such a man to remain in ministry.

Anonymous said...

I want to apologize for the joke posted at 10:32am. I would take it back if I could but that is not possible. The Lord convicted me because I realized that I become like some ministers when I tell a joke like that. I never want to be that way. All I can say is "I'm sorry".

Helen Wisocki and Curt Szajnecki said...

Christa,
This story is the alarm that should push everyone's buttons to support your efforts to alert Oprah and other media outlets as to the atrocities that are being ignored by our churches. The general public is unaware of what is going on. There's a war overseas, and there's a war going on in our churches. Oprah and the general public has the right to know.

The politicians are calling for change, and we, too, want change in our churches. Oprah has the heart and compassion to create change through her program and contacts. She illustrated this when she dropped everything and flew out to handle the crisis at her school, dismissing the perpetrator on the spot. If only church authorities would follow her lead.

We've been crying out for change for so long that we turned it into a book, "Innocence Betrayed - A Dad's Story of Clergy Misconduct" and a companion workbook to aid in recognizing the signs of the grooming process used by those who exploit innocent and vulnerable victims.


Helen Wisocki and Curt Szajnecki
www.innocencebetrayedbyclergy.com

Christa Brown said...

anon 11:33 - No apology necessary! I laughed at your joke. I KNOW that there's really not anything funny about any of this (and I also know that not all SBC ministers are like this). But at the same time, if I didn't laugh sometimes, I think I'd go berserk. I guess that's kinda what dark humor is. So thanks for giving me a grin.

Anonymous said...

I saw the website of Bernie Johnson and something is not right with him, but we knew that already didn't we? He says he has had a total-being conversion, serves God with all his heart, loves his family with passion and wants to spread God's grace and mercy to everyone on the planet. Since when is lowering your pants, exposing yourself in public, touching another woman other than your wife, masturbating in front of a coworker, and putting your semen on the counter and in cups accomplishing anything godly? I'm afraid his heart has been rendered to someone other than God.

gmommy said...

That web site makes me sick to the core.

Even if this pervert has actually repented...he is not scriptually qualified for ministry any more...if he ever was qualified to begin with.
Sexual perversion and addiction is NOT some "itty bitty " (borrowing from an SBC minister when referring to his personal sins "of the mind and not the heart"...duh..)
sin we can put in a box with other sins.
Sexual perversion is an abomination....it has far reaching consequences for everyone who comes in contact with the pervert....
the facts and history show clearly that sexual perversion is not something one just gets over.

I am outraged that the SBC ministers and leaders have the arrogance to rant in the pulpits about tithing,drinking,divorce..anything at all until they deal with this cancer of a sin they have been ignoring, renaming, misrepresenting, and deflecting from for too long.
Not to mention REPENTING themselves for all the damage their dishonesty and ungodliness has caused so many.

As far as the ministers still in churches that are known sexual perverts...and those that are currently covering for them......they should all be fired, lose whatever ability they have to work in churches...or schools.....and go to jail.
What's so hard about that Paige Patterson?????
Worried it will take time from some of your jungle hunts????

Elisabeth said...

Crap. It just goes on an on. And there is such blindness on the part of leadership, and really, membership too. Nobody likes to think that stuff like this goes on, but it does. And they seem to think that minimizing it, or putting blinders on will make it go away. But it won't. That just makes it possible for it to continue. Why can't people see that?

Christa Brown said...

"Why can't people see that?" That's a question I've asked more times than I can count, and I've never come up with any answer. At least not one that makes any sense.

I agree with Elisabeth that it's not only the blindness of leadership but also of membership. Why do people stay in churches whose leaders have so betrayed them that they put the safety and well-being of kids and congregants at risk by turning a blind eye to information about abuse? I suppose it's because they blindly follow the immoral example of their blind leaders. If people would instead take their families and their wallets and march down the street to a different church, it might send a message that such blind-eyed responses won't be tolerated. But, of course, what actually happenes most of the time is that people just stay in their status-quo pews and sit.

Anonymous said...

Obama's advisor had to resign because she told a reporter that Clinton was a "monster" for stooping to low tactics. SBC ministers get to continue after inappropriate sexual behavior, clergy sex abuse, etc. Much is wrong with this.

Anonymous said...

wow ... i'm sorry, i never saw the information concerning the two polygraph tests that mr. johnson took that proves a much different story.

by the way, i wonder why God let moses, david, paul, peter, thomas, rehab, and others in the Bible as characters of influence and authorship?

Christa Brown said...

"Two polygraph tests." Yeah, right. Uh-huh. Why don't you provide us a link to wherever that information you say you saw is?

Bernie Johnson was CONVICTED.

Anonymous said...

i'm sorry c brown - did not see the last comment of mine - perhaps it is convicting to convict others without a full understanding of all the facts - that's the issue with most people - not too many paople know the whole truth. but be assured the whole truth will come out - that is a promise from GOD

Anonymous said...

the polygraph tests are in sealed security at a couseling agency in colorado, which can only be obtained via a court order from a district judge.

the tests were given by a retired LAPD detective who has given over 10,000 tests.

verdict of the tests says that there was a relationship that lasted over 18 months where both parties revealed themselves.

you did not get that part from the "victim" did you?

Christa Brown said...

"Polygraph tests in sealed security at a counseling agency." Yeah, right. Uh-huh.

EVEN IF polygraph tests were taken (a very big "if" in my view), and EVEN IF the results of them exist somewhere in "sealed security" (another big "if" in my view), I would choose videotape evidence over polygraph evidence. Many pros will tell you that, if someone is a true sociopath, it's often quite easy for them to fool a polygraph. In any event, polygraph tests don't give a "verdict."

Here's what we actually know - Bernie Johnson was CONVICTED.

The nature of the sworn testimony and videotape evidence that was available at the time has been set forth in 3 published news articles. That's where I got my information. The links are in the original posting. People can read it for themselves.

Christa Brown said...

Oh...and just to be clear, Mr. Anonymous... It was a court that convicted Bernie Johnson, not me.

Phyllis Gregory said...

I hate people who make these kind of remarks: "by the way, i wonder why God let moses, david, paul, peter, thomas, rehab, and others in the Bible as characters of influence and authorship?"

As I recall all of these people repented for the things they had done to others. They confessed their sins unlike these sexual deviant perverts who hide well because they look so good.

Please do not compare any of these low-life sexual abusers to the people in the Bible. That shows that you are in total DENIAL.

PG

Anonymous said...

just to let you know
1. he made a full confession
2. had extensive counseling
3. took the polygraph test 2 times to confirm accuracy
4. had and has multiple persons of accountibility
5. has full disclosure of all his activities each and every day.
6. uses the events as a platform to help other men with the same issues.

what else does a human being have to do to gain forgiveness from his peers, which is, by the way, a COMMANDMENT of CHRIST.

Christa Brown said...

"A full confession"??? If you're the same anonymous as a few comments above, you just got through saying that it was "a relationship that lasted over 18 months" with both parties. Is that what his so-called "full confession" convinced you of? In light of the videotape and testimony, confessing to "a relationship" seems a far stretch from "a full confession."

Phyllis Gregory said...

Dear anonymous 3:34 PM,

You must be a member of the SBC executive committee. Your line of reasoning sounds very similar to theirs. It is really amazing how you look at these things.

It seems that you all believe the accused sexual pervert minister (whoever it might be) is innocent PERIOD! I believe you consciously automatically believe that the victim is not a victim, is a seductress, is a whore and a tramp, is worthless. And you believe the minister is a saint, a victim, and that he is just as good as he looks and pretends to be. You all make me sick. Please hear that loud and clear -- not that you give a damn! How did I stay in the SBC church as long as I did.

PG

Marvin said...

I have personal knowledge of this situation and knew Mr. Johnson. I wanted to make that clear so everyone knows that I am not living in another country and not dealing with these issues, but making judgement on them.

I think the problem is that most people cannot seperate the issues. I believe that if Mr. Johnson confesses his sins and seeks forgiveness, then we are biblical obligated to forgive him, pray for him, and help him however we can. This does not mean that we should allow him to continue in a leadership position within the ministry. Some of what was listed for him is commendable. I would like to think that is I were in a sin situation and came to terms with it that I would make myself available to others for comfort and assistance, but this does not mean that I would continue as a pastor.

I am not concerned about whether an affair took place. I am doubtful that it did. (I believe that Mr. Johnson would have submitted the lie detector tests if he had them to substantiate his case.) If we assume an affair took place, then it obviously ended and he did not walk away. This would mean that he is at a minimum an adulterer. If he was an elementary school teacher, and molested one of the kids, we would have an obligation to forgive him and try to help him, but we would not under any circumstances allow him to continue teaching. Why is this different?

My understanding is that Mr. Johnson was married previously and has a daughter, that he does not recognize. This was never disclosed to the church in Hamshire when he was hired. There is no difference, in my opinion, between non-diclosure and lying.

The bible has guidelines for church leaders and Mr. Johnson falls outside of those guidelines. If he was trying to be ordained today he would not be allowed to because of his past, but there is no avenue, that I am aware of, within the Baptist community to remove his ordination.

Put this in contrast to the christian man who may be divorced, or have other previous sins that would prevent him from going into the ministry or church leadership, but they occured prior to him becoming a christian. The bible says that he makes us new men, but we are still accountable for that past and we would not be allowed to become ministers or deacons.

In conclusion:
I believe that Mr. Johnson should be forgiven. I do not believe that his ministry has to die, but I do believe that he should renounce his ordination and step down from any leadership positions within the church.

reformed batholic said...

I'd like to respond to March 13 posting by 3:34 pm anonymous: They
state that...Bernard Johnson

1. made a full confession
2. had extensive counseling
3. took polygraph 2 X's
4. has multiple persons of accountability
5. gives full disclosure of activities each and every day
6. uses his platform to help other men with the same issues

My comments: That's wonderful. I think that's great the man's trying really hard to reform himself/make things right out of a very grave situation. However, here's my question with what's stated. #1 He's made a full confession...to whom? God? FBC Winnie? Ms. Hargraves? FBC Hamshire? #2 had extensive counseling (that's a plus if in fact it's true)...but these aren't problems easily remedied in a few sessions. Statistics show sexual offenders do re-offend and treatment is often ongoing just as with alcoholics or drug addicts. Of course I have no way of knowing the degree of Mr. Johnson's sexually deviant behavior although some who know him well would call it an addiction-- I have no doubt that it is very serious if he's been convicted along with videotaped evidence. #3. He's taken 2 polygraphs-- Many psychologists will point out it's quite easy for someone who is delusional/narcissistic to pass a polygraph with flying colors because they simply don't believe they have a problem or have done anything wrong. And #4. Has multiple persons of accountability (in defense of Mr. Johnson's likelihood to re-offend, that is a favorably strong deterrent to the possibility--) No problem there. #5. Gives full disclosure of activities each and every day. (Again wonderful. I praise it.)
#6. Uses his platform to help men with the same issues. Here's where I raise another question to the language of platform? Would that be pulpit platform acting as a minister? If this is the case then I don't see how that could be correct. I have a hard time believing that in any church a minister could actually talk openly about his sexual exploits/addictions to the men of the congregation. This would have to be done outside the pulpit on a one on one basis if that claim is true. Outside the authority of the church I have no problem with that, but as long as he remains inside the church, how do you advertise such an embarrassing affliction? Easing the blow by lying and saying that it was a mutual consenting affair? Again if you are a delusional narcissist and you think women actually like this type of behavior by not reporting it right away, then the perp continues his acts until they become more and more brazen and harmful. This sounds like what happened in the Hamshire incident. Men do not readily admit to this type issue until they are convicted of a crime, such as in this case. This isn't something easily talked about when you compare it with drug or alcohol addiction. I've yet to see a church banner anywhere that says "come on in all you men w/ a problem exposing yourself and masturbating in front of women." From what i understand, Ms. Hargraves is just the first to come forward and press charges. Apparently this particular minister had quite a colorful history but had managed to stay camouflaged and protected within the church dynamic for some time.

I do applaud Johnson's efforts to reform, most certainly, but as Marvin stated previously, the church should not allow him back into a leadership position as far as church ministry is concerned. Ministers should be above reproach. Mr. Johnson has carelessly destroyed his Christian witness and will never be able to clear his name from something so devastating as this--affair or not. The issue is not about forgiveness as anonymous reminds us we should do. Forgiveness IS the chief commandment of Christ and that we do, 70 X 7. That point I don't think anyone is debating. The problem occurs when a man such as this is allowed to continue to stand behind the pulpit and be expected to influence and lead potential converts to Christ. Once it gets out who he is and what he's done, it causes all kinds of terrible grief. Sexual Sin is VERY devastating, not only to the victim, but to ANY pastor who is supposed to know better. That's why we pay them to lead congregations and teach the Bible to others. Sexual sin basically shatters any hope of a pastor ever being effective for the Lord.

I think Johnson needs to continue healing and treatment, get a regular job if he doesn't have one already, ask forgiveness from all those he hurt, and leave the ministry for good. He does more harm to himself and others by staying in.

People like Christa, Barbara and David, contrary to Paige Patterson's comments, are not on a witch hunt to see who they can destroy. I don't think any of them take pleasure in having to be the hatchet person, but discipline must come from somewhere if it won't come from the institutions themselves. I know many men and women who worked long and hard inside the church to do the right thing and make some agonizing decisions. I applaud those people. But on the other hand you will always have those wretched few who practice such ongoing sinfulness in their own lives that they actually enjoy being around fallen pastors such as Johnson because it justifies their own sinfulness, making them feel better about themselves.

As far as what Christa has put together, I think it's a good idea to blog about it. I can't think of a better avenue for people to share ideas, pains, hurts, vent their gripes, etc, and still have the safety of anonymity. If you'll notice Christa happens to be an attorney, and I'm sure she does her fair share of research.

Kudos to victims like Ms. Hargraves with courage to come forward and speak out against men like Johnson. Also, Kudos to SNAP and stopbaptistpredators.org. So far SNAP, you are the only ones I know putting pressure on the SBC to do more to deal with these type problems in SBC affiliated churches. It's a start and you've at least got them talking about you. That's a good thing.

Just remember, it's the squeaky wheel that gets the oil.

Posted by Reformed Batholic

Anonymous said...

Just came across this and read all and would like to say thank you to C. Hargraves for her courage and please, stay strong! And would also like to say that the SBC sounds like the Assemblies of God...how very sad that this problem of sexual abuse by clergy is so common...more common than I EVER would have imagined until being a victim myself and being the first to come forward and now learning how common it is because of trying to seek help for myself because absolutely no help can be found in the church itself! Thank you, Christa, for this website, for your work, and thank you to all who support her and this website. I get so tired and discouraged sometimes, but I feel like I can continue the fight when I read about others who are fighting also.