“You know what might be the best part of Southwood? The people of it…the church itself. They’re lovely. That’s it, lovely.”
Fort Worth’s Southwood Baptist Church has rotating quotes on its website, and that one was up when I clicked there this morning.
I nearly spewed my Diet Frostie out my nose.
Let’s take a look at how these “lovely” people behave.
Southwood’s pastor James “Jay” Robinson was arrested in June on charges of molesting a 16-year-old church girl.
Before the girl’s dad went to police, he first confronted Robinson after overhearing his daughter’s phone conversation with him. When Robinson denied wrong-doing, the dad went to church leaders. When Robinson continued to deny the accusation, and when church leaders did nothing, the dad took his daughter’s cellphone records to church leaders. They still did nothing.
“We’re going to err on the side of the pastor,” said a church leader.
Ultimately, church leaders refused to fire pastor Robinson. Instead, they voted to put a “reprimand” in his file and they directed him to obtain counseling.
But when the dad talked about it with other church-members, the church leaders decided to retract even that tiny, inadequate measure of discipline for Robinson.
Instead, they issued a threat against those who were talking about the pastor’s conduct. According to the Fort Worth Star Telegram’s account, church leaders said that “anyone who is caught…talking about the issue at church will be removed.”
And guess what?
Church leaders made good on the threat. They used armed guards to remove from church services some of the people with whom the dad had been talking.
The next day, pastor Robinson and seven church leaders sent a letter to members saying this:
“Those who choose to follow the lead of these by gossiping, slandering, causing division and discord, or by holding or participating in sectional meetings, will face church discipline…. It is our desire and prayer that all would repent and be restored, but until that time, those who cause discord in the Church are to be shunned according to Scripture.”
The same "lovely" letter also invited church-members to pastor Robinson’s upcoming wedding. Nice touch, huh?
After that letter went out, the dad went to the police. They conducted a polygraph that showed “significant deception” on pastor Robinson’s part.
Nevertheless, even after pastor Robinson failed the polygraph, “church leaders didn’t waiver in their support” for him. Robinson stayed in the pulpit throughout the 3-month criminal investigation leading up to his arrest in June.
“Everybody is supporting the pastor,” said a man at the church.
Now… finally… the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported yesterday that pastor James “Jay” Robinson has resigned from Southwood Baptist Church. The resignation was described as “an agreement between Robinson’s criminal defense attorney and the church’s attorney.”
I think what that likely means is that church leaders shifted gears from protect-the-pastor mode to protect-the-church mode.
“Lovely” people? “Lovely” church?
That’s sure not what this sad saga reflects.
Perhaps the most that can be said of them is that they’re normal.
Over and over again, we have seen this pattern of how churches circle the wagons around an accused pastor. The people of Southwood Baptist Church behaved as countless others have in similar circumstances.
The pattern is so pervasive that it might be called “normal.”
But there’s nothing “lovely” about it.
See WFAA video of pastor James “Jay” Robinson delivering a sermon.
Update 8/30/08: After all this, James Jay Virtue Robinson wound up pleading guilty to sexual assault on a 16-year-old church member.