Friday, November 6, 2009

Tom Messer is speaker for Florida Baptist Convention

Tom Messer is scheduled as a featured speaker for the Florida Baptist Convention when it meets November 9-10 in Pensacola, Florida. Messer, who is pastor of Trinity Baptist in Jacksonville, is shown on the speakers’ line-up for the Monday morning pastors’ conference.

My question is this: Why?

Why are Southern Baptists of Florida holding up Tom Messer as an example of pastoral leadership?

For starters, Tom Messer’s church isn’t even affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s an independent Baptist church.

More importantly, Tom Messer is the pastor who, reportedly, participated in a huge, long-standing cover-up of the child sex crimes committed by his church’s founding pastor, Bob Gray.

“A TV station in Jacksonville, Florida reports that leaders in a prominent Baptist church in the city knew for years their former pastor was a pedophile, but covered it up for fear public knowledge would harm the church’s ministry, shipping the minister to Germany where he served 10 years as a missionary, possibly with access to other
children.”
At the top of that list of accused cover-upping Trinity Church “leaders” was pastor Tom Messer.

Consider these excerpts from the First Coast News report, “Tape-recording called ‘smoking gun’ in alleged Trinity cover-up:”

“A First Coast News investigation has uncovered an audio tape recording of a meeting at Trinity about a few weeks before Gray's arrest in 2006….

On the tape were . . . current Trinity pastor Tom Messer, and two Trinity leaders, including a Deacon.

To understand the comments on the tape we need to go back to 1992 . . . . Ann Stewart, a former Trinity member . . . [and] a pastor's wife now in North Carolina, says she was molested by Bob Gray when she was a young girl . . . . She says finally, at age 21, she went to Tom Messer, she hoped, to expose the truth. She told about the incidents, she says, but her words were twisted to ‘lie to the congregation.’

In 1992, church members recall, there were crazy allegations against their pastor at the time, Bob Gray.

Dennis Cassell was Athletic Director at Trinity back then. He remembers Gray told the congregation that there was an indiscretion but it was ‘neither sexual nor immoral.’
Stewart says, ‘It was just a cover-up.’

But those words, ‘neither sexual nor immoral,’ have been repeated at Trinity for years, as if Trinity was all above board and Gray had done nothing wrong . . . .

When asked if there was no cover-up at Trinity, Stewart says, ‘No, that's a lie.’

Stewart and the Cassells both listened to the tape.

Pat Cassell, Dennis's wife, says, ‘The victims are vindicated. The kids are vindicated. Tom (Messer) knew and covered it up for years.’

Dennis Cassell says, "The truth is finally out and that's what we've been praying for many years."

What's on the tape?

Messer acknowledges he knows the meeting is being recorded.

Also, Messer is asked about that well-known meeting in 1992 in which Gray said he had done nothing ‘sexual nor immoral.’

A woman, who wants to remain anonymous, says, ‘People sitting in Trinity still do not believe that there is anything that Dr. Gray ever did anything sinful. Remember, Tom, it was an indiscretion. It was not of a sexual nature. That is not true.’

Messer replies on the tape, ‘No, I've never doubted that what he said that first night was inaccurate. I've never doubted that . . . .’

Later in the tape Messer talks again about Gray's statement using the term ‘erroneous.’

To 'John,' Messer says, "You want the erroneous statement that was made by Dr. Gray to be corrected."

'John' also asks Messer, ‘Let me ask you this question because I think it's important. Do you feel like he's disqualified himself from the ministry?’

Messer's reply is, ‘Yes, I do from pastoring.’

"John" says he urged Messer to make a statement in front of the church admitting Gray's 1992 statement was inaccurate and admitting Gray molested children.

Messer on the tape says, ‘I have a draft statement’ . . . .

But Messer says on the tape he can't promise it would happen.

It never did.

'John' says the date scheduled to tell the church supposedly was Sunday, May 21, 2006.

Bob Gray was arrested and charged with capital sexual battery three days before.

Still some want Messer to speak, they say, the truth.

Stewart says she isn't holding her breath, though.

She says, ‘I believe Tom Messer has entangled himself so much with lies and deceit for many years that it's impossible for him to face the people and tell the truth. That would be his demise at Trinity.’”

Ultimately, over 20 people came forward saying they were sexually abused as children by Trinity’s founding pastor, Bob Gray. That’s just the ones we know about. One woman’s claim dated back to 1949. Most of the claims were too old for prosecution, but Gray was eventually charged with capital sex crimes against 3 girls and a boy. He died before the case could be brought to trial, but before his death, he talked openly with the police about “french-kissing” little girls and about how he held them in his lap. He also admitted that the reason he went to Germany in 1992 was because he received a visit from a child protective services investigator and because he wanted “to avoid problems for the church.” (You can read excerpts from the police interviews here.)

Victims talked publicly of Gray’s abuse and of their attempts to tell Trinity church officials about it. One woman said, “The church knew what happened in Gray's office decades ago, years that the victims silently ‘suffered broken marriages and broken lives.’"

Another woman, who said she was molested by Gray when she was 12, told TV reporters that “officials at Trinity knew what was going on but failed to take action.” She said that she herself told church leaders about it in 2004 and again in 2006. On television, she read aloud an email she had sent to pastor Tom Messer.

Still another accuser had a letter on Trinity letterhead, signed by a church official, acknowledging the allegations.

Yet, through it all, pastor Tom Messer two-stepped around the evidence of a church cover-up and remained in the pulpit.

Of course, it probably helped him that, during the midst of the scandal, former Southern Baptist Convention president and celebrity evangelist Jerry Vines spoke as a guest at Trinity and publicly praised the church “without mentioning the fact that a local TV station was accusing it of covering up sexual abuse.”

How do you think that sort of whitewashing looked to the many victims who were seeking accountability?

And now, here we are again with still more Southern Baptist leaders who are propping up and promoting Tom Messer.

Why?

Wouldn’t you think they could present a better example of pastoral leadership than the man who was at the helm of one of the biggest clergy sex abuse cover-up scandals in all of Baptistland?

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

even Adrian Rogers unknowingly provided a convenient cover-up for Paul Williams at Bellevue in Memphis. The covering for perps is very large and the same covering that protects the perp adds to the victims pain.

john said...

Messer will speak at the SBC because his is a large chuc the SBC would love to have back because of the ONEY they could give to tell little children the truth.OOPS! I ment so they can continue the ungodly cover-up of the pain so many little children have experienced.
MONEY MOMEY MONEY Never mind the Godly mandate and the masses who are in need of the simple basic life support.
The SBC will continue to go down hill as the light continues to be brought in to show their misdeeds and waste of Co-operative Program money. All I ask is for every SBCer who really cares to do an inquirey of their own on the wasteful and needless spending of "God's Money"!

Dwayne Walker said...
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Dwayne Walker said...
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Dwayne Walker said...

I'm really not shocked anymore. Kinda just a bit numb. I'd like to see a convention where every preacher who has ever been accused of molesting children, or covering up molesters, appears on the program. We might moving toward that anyway.

The more they put their heads in the sand, the more this seems to be a reality.

I remember being totally shocked when Jerry Falwell publically admitted he recommended First Baptist Church over Trinity Baptist Church. The recommendation was for Tanya Flynt, who just wrote a book accusing Larry Flynt, Falwell's good friend of molesting her as a toddler.

Everybody denied Falwell and Flynt were friends, until Falwell died, then we learned they were in fact friends. Still, I was thinking, "The guy's independent! Why would he recommend a Southern Baptist church over his own 'non denominational' denomination?"

So. . .I actually called Tanya and mentioned the Gray situation. Remember, this is years before Gray had been arrested. I told her I thought it was really odd he recommend this church over Trinity UNLESS the rumors were true. That Gray molested children, and he did not want to gamble on sending someone, known for speaking out loud against her molestation, to a church pastored by someone involved in that particular crime.

She might have had children during that time also. I'll have to look into that. When you look at this way, Falwell might have spared Larry Flynt's grandchild from possible Gray abuse. Isn't that interesting?

Somewhere around this time frame, Falwell went into the Southern Baptist Convention! In fact, I have a Christian newspaper in the garage where that is a headline. There's an article about Falwell joining the Southern Baptist Convention.

So. . .once upon a time, when Southern Baptist Convention preachers got in trouble, they used to leave and become independent and blame their separation on 'liberalism' and 'apostasy'. Today, when independent Baptists get in trouble, they now seem to RETURN to the Southern Baptist Convention.

Guess birds of a feather must stick together?

Anonymous said...

It is about celebrity, numbers and money. Don't be fooled.

Messer is just as culpable as any predator. He protected one for his own benefit.

People who attend the Fla convention and know about the coverup and act as if everything is normal are assessories to child molesting.

Yes, there is guilt by association when we hold up the Levite Priest as good and godly when he walked by the beaten man and did nothing.

Seems the line up for the convention are men who willfully sin with their eyes wide open and call it good: Messer and Brunson.

Anonymous said...

Adrian Rogers paid a fired staff sexual offender $500,000 to remain silent about what he knew about Bellevue. This money was not congregationally approved but was decided in secrecy by Rogers' small nuceleus and lawyers. It was hush money. This is par for SBC.

BaptistPlanet said...

He's talking about leading the church through transition. Seriously. Where is Florida going with this? Not to accountability land.

gmommy said...

Charles (anon 4:21)
Stop making up stuff...you are out right lying. Remember you've admitted already you got the first hint of info about MC and BBC from what others said on the blogs. Then you twisted it up to meet your own agenda against AR.
MC was not a sexual predator. He was an arrogant cheater who sued BBC when he had problems getting another job as a minister. I am personally glad AR said he wasn't qualified for the ministry. You weren't a member and don't know how that particular issue went down but deacons and ministers did know.
Sorry you are still a jealous little man.

Christa Brown said...

"He's talking about leading the church through transition. Seriously."

Yeah, that struck me as pretty hilarious too (in a sick sort of way).

And did you see the topic of Richard Land's talk? It's called "Welcome to pastoring in a persecuted environment."

Oh yeah. Baptist pastors are the persecuted ones. Yeah, right. Uh-huh.

anthropos said...

because SBC does not have an episcopal polity, it is difficult for the convention to implement a uniform procedure to deal with pedophilic clergy. Churches part of SBC are a confederation, so one cannot tell another what to do, but they affiliate with each other based on similarities. They have decided that the majority can vote a church out of the convention over certain issues. Pedophiles should be one of those issues. There was a church in the Dallas area that got voted out of the convention earlier this year because they were too soft on practicing gays in their church. They question should be not why is there not a system in place, but why isn't pedophilia an issue that the Convention will take seriously enough to vote an offending church out over?

Someone mentioned SBC is crumbling because of the cover ups and I half agree. SBC is dying because they won't let anyone in the convention criticize them and they won't have discussions with organizations/churches that don't agree with them. This begins and ends with nepotism, hence condoning cover ups. (or at the very least, ignoring the truth)

Inviting an Independent Baptist to speak to the SBC isn't unheard of and was the norm before the fundamentalist takeover. They used to be part of the World Alliance of Baptists and conversed with the many different kinds of Baptists in the world. It is sad what the SBC has become and where they are going.

I think another solution would be to make sex crimes federal crimes, especially ones involving children. This could help investigators when a perpetrator moves out of state or out of the country.

Anonymous said...

"And did you see the topic of Richard Land's talk? It's called "Welcome to pastoring in a persecuted environment."

Brunson claims he is being persecuted by a blogger!

They make a mockery of what our brothers and sisters in many Muslim and closed countries are going through daily. These silly silly little men.

If they believe criticism or questioning them is persecution they will be the first to cave when the REAL thing comes along and they must decide between their celebrity and wealth or Christ alone.

Lin said...

Anthropos, Great comment!

BaptistPlanet said...

Unless he had a late-breaking change of plans, Christa, R. Land is sowing confusion about hate crimes this morning. He's just doing what he's good at, but being counterfactual may land him in more trouble.

Christa Brown said...

"...but being counterfactual may land him in more trouble."

I hope so, because Land's stuff is "pants-on-fire" preposterous sometimes.

Incidentally, I just noticed that the "biblical authority" on the seal of Land's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is Matthew 5:13-16. What a travesty.

Michelle said...

Hi Christa,

I'm so sorry to hear about this--it sounds pretty similar to what happened in my situation. I taped my pastor talking to me. I did it secretly, on advice from a lawyer, and it was one of the hardest things I did in my legal action.

Anyway, I'm back, and I've been thinking of everyone here. I hope all of you are doing okay.

john said...

michelle.

wlcome home. you are a real trooper!

Anonymous said...

Luke 17:1-2
" 1 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! 2 It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin."

I support Chrita Brown's effort to expose Baptist Predators, and those who cover-up for them.

But just as we are not to look down upon an American because one, or more, American/s did evil .... so too we are not to look down on the Baptists for the evil of the few.

In 1 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul, EXPOSES the fact that there are fornicators in the church membership (verse 1) .... and warns that we are NOT to have any fellowship with wrong-doers who are in the membership (verse 9) ... then wraps up the chapter exorting the church to EXPEL such members from the church (verse 13)

Some men are become baptists because that is the religion their parents bought them up in, some either by invitation or other reason visited a baptist church and liked it and kept on attending, still others -- like myself -- believe dearly what is written in the bible and found the baptist denomination to be the closest to what it really says.

Please do not let the actions of the few affect how you see the many.

Most of the New Testament books of the Bible were directed at CHURCHES ... to correct their ways.

Ms Brown has my praise for her work, and hope many follow in her steps .... yet, do not turn away from the gospel as taught by Baptists, for in it you will find truth, peace, comfort, and eternal life.

Should a foreign tourist become an American hater just because he was robbed in an American city?

Yes, lets have a predator database for baptist leaders ... Yes, lets also charge those who cover-up for baptist predators ...

.... but let the punishment be doubled: for the pain and suffering they cause their victims, and for the stain they place on a great christian denomination!

what say you?

Christa Brown said...

"...the evil of the few."

This evil goes way beyond "the few." In fact, it's that attitude . . . of thinking it's just "a few bad apples" -- that, in large measure, allows the problem to persist. Perhaps the world feels like a safer place when people indulge the belief that it's just "the few," but the reality is that the problem is about the many -- the many who turn a blind eye and do nothing. The problem isn't just a few bad apples - it's the barrel itself and how it facilitates the rot.

"...do not turn away from the gospel as taught by Baptists, for in it you will find truth, peace, comfort..."

For a great many clergy abuse survivors, there is no comfort or peace to be found in the faith of their childhood. That's because all of it is neurologically networked to a nightmare of sexual abuse and degradation. Faith was the weapon for abuse, and so it becomes almost impossible for the same faith to be a resource for healing. For many clergy abuse survivors, their healing . . . and indeed their very survival . . . turns on breaking the chains that bind them to the faith of their childhood.

"...a great christian denomination! what say you?"

What I say is that there is nothing "great" about a denomination determined to be lasteth with the leasteth for the protection of children. There is nothing "great" about a denomination that spouts platitudes while leaving clergy-predators in their pulpits. There is nothing "great" about a denomination that systematically heaps on cruelty to those who attempt to report clergy abuse. But that's the reality of Baptistland. Maybe someday Baptists can indeed be a "great" faith group, but so long as it's a faith that institutionally turns a blind eye to clergy sex abuse, it won't be.