Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"The F-word"

If you were abused in an evangelical faith group, see this movie. You will see some part of yourself in it.

If you’re someone who wonders why abuse survivors don’t just get over it, see this movie. You may begin to understand.

“All God’s Children” tells the story of missionary kids who were abused at the Mamou boarding school in West Africa. They were isolated there for 9 months each year while their parents did what they believed was God’s work. They were part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, an evangelical denomination based in Colorado Springs.

From the opening sounds of “Onward Christian Soldiers,” the film sings a deeply familiar siren song, but it is a song that cast children onto the rocks of horrific abuse. They were the sacrifice in their parents’ evangelical mission to spread the gospel and save African souls.

Of course, the parents assumed the children were in good hands. The school was run by other missionaries who were doing God’s calling, just as they were.

Like so many others in evangelical churches, these children were taught from their earliest days that the only way was to “trust and obey.” After all, everything that happens is for a reason according to God’s plan.

So there in the Mamou wilderness, they lived under the dark cloud of believing that, if they didn’t “trust and obey,” they might cause others not to be saved.

Years later, as adults, when they tried to seek accountability within the faith community, they encountered the endless stonewalling of religious leaders.

One woman talked of the “re-victimization” inflicted by leaders’ refusal to address the issues and by their evasions and lies. “They impacted me as much as being wounded as a child,” she said.

Another described denominational leaders’ recurring theme: “You’re going to hurt the name of Jesus.” Sound familiar? The Mamou survivors were made to feel that their “little problem” of being abused and molested was “minor” and would take attention away from “shining light on the deep problems of the world.”

They were repeatedly told, “It wasn’t God that did this – you shouldn’t blame God.”

But then they were also told: “God’s going to be impacted if you tell the story -- the world’s not going to be attracted to God.”

“Well, you can’t have it both ways,” said one woman. Either God’s a part of it, or He’s not. And if He’s not, then there’s “no shame for God” in the telling of it.

Finally, there was that whole “forgiveness” thing that got thrown at them. Religious leaders wanted them to immediately offer up forgiveness and put it all in the past.

Forgiveness is “the F-word for the evangelical community,” said one woman.

It’s strong language, but if you’re someone who was abused in an evangelical faith group and who tried to report it, you know exactly what she means.

“It’s not that victims are against forgiveness,” she explained. “Victims are against forgiveness as the solution to the problem. Because then the problem will go on and on and on, and as long as every victim gives forgiveness, the organization doesn’t have to address the issue.”

And to that I say, “Amen.”

Against overwhelming odds, the Mamou survivors persisted in seeking to compel religious leaders to acknowledge the systemic abuse and to ensure that others would not endure what they did.

They didn’t achieve “justice” – far from it -- but their stories stand as testimony to the transformative power of truth-telling.

Ultimately, they brought about a denominational “commission of inquiry” that, in turn, inspired the creation of similar commissions in other Protestant groups.

In effect, the Mamou survivors left the beginning of a small trail through the wilderness.
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See the trailer for “All God’s Children.” Find upcoming screenings. Buy the DVD or download.

See director Luci Westphal's review of this review.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Go Dog Go!

video

"Watchdog" is the formerly anonymous blogger who dared to criticize the pastor of one of the most prominent churches in the Southern Baptist Convention, First Baptist of Jacksonville, Florida.

The church made a complaint about "possible criminal overtones" on the blog, and a police detective launched an investigation.

Lo and behold... the detective just happened to be a member of First Baptist and he was also a bodyguard for the pastor, Mac Brunson.

Lo and behold... even though there was no criminal threat of any kind on the blog (which anyone could see by just looking at it), the detective subpoenaed Google to get Watchdog's identity -- information that church leaders had apparently been wanting for quite a while.

Lo and behold... even though the detective had determined that there was absolutely no criminal threat of any kind on the blog, the detective still turned over to First Baptist the information about Watchdog's identity.

Lo and behold... First Baptist of Jacksonville (good Christians that they are) proceeded to ban Watchdog and his family from the church. They had been members for 20 years.

Stinks to high heaven, doesn't it? But this is the sort of over-authoritarianism that we see in many other Southern Baptist churches. They call it biblical. I call it Borgian.

Watchdog has now sued the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, claiming they violated his constitutional rights and that they "fabricated" the criminal case "solely to uncover his identity for First Baptist Church."

Go Dog Go!

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Read more about Watchdog's lawsuit in today's Florida Times-Union. Read more background in my prior posting, "Big Brother meets Big Church."

Thanks to New BBC for the great Mac Brunson video!

More news in the Associated Baptist Press.

Friday, April 24, 2009

"Probably none"

Last Wednesday in Indiana, Baptist pastor Chester Mulligan was sentenced to one year of probation for felony stalking of an underage girl.

Mulligan pled guilty to the felony stalking charge and admitted that he went to several different addresses “and harassed the victim.” It was a plea bargain; sexual abuse charges against him were dropped.

Originally, Mulligan “was accused of having sex multiple times with a then 14-year-old girl.”

Court records allege Mulligan had sex with the girl numerous times… at the church, church office and church baptistry.”

The probable cause affidavit alleged that, when the girl wanted him to stop, he told her that he would “start using her sister.”

Investigators talked to the sister, and she told them that she too “was fondled by Mulligan.”

Police officers questioned another pastor in whom the girl had confided back in 2001, when she was 18. The pastor said he believed her, “because when he confronted Mulligan about the accusations, Mulligan fled Indiana.”

Mulligan went to Oklahoma, where he got work as a chaplain. Then he “accepted the call” to Miami, and he’s currently the pastor of Grace Baptist Church there.

After charges were finally brought against him in Indiana, Mulligan bragged that he was “a well-known preacher” and that “other pastors throughout the country” were contributing to his defense.

I guess all those “other pastors” did indeed help Mulligan’s defense. Prosecutors first filed the charges in 2003, and the case dragged on for all these years. And now, in 2009, he plea bargains to a felony stalking conviction with no jail time.

When asked what impact Mulligan’s conviction would have on his job as a pastor, Mulligan’s attorney said, “Probably none.”

So there you have it, folks. That’s how low the standards are for Baptist ministers.

If a Baptist minister isn’t literally and physically thrown in jail, he can go right back to a Baptist pulpit. No one will stop him.

Mulligan has a conviction on felony stalking of a 14-year old, but because he wasn’t thrown in jail, the conviction won’t stop him. It’s impact? “Probably none.”

He also settled a civil case with the victim. But obviously, if a criminal conviction won’t take a Baptist minister out of the pulpit, then a civil settlement won’t either. It’s impact? “Probably none.”

The victim’s sister told police that Mulligan had fondled her also. So there was at least a second allegation of abuse. It’s impact? “Probably none.”

If a Baptist minister isn’t in jail, then he’s free to stand in a Baptist pulpit… and free to stalk the young.
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Update 4/26/09: Even after pleading guilty to felony stalking of an underage teen, Mulligan still told the Miami press that "he is no stalker," and he again bad-mouthed the teen-victim, accusing her of seeking "revenge." He doesn't sound very remorseful, does he?

Mulligan said his Miami congregation "was aware of his arrest and pending charges when they hired him." "They've stood behind me," he said.

Read it in The Miami Herald ... and try not to puke.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sixteenth Street shows need for Baptist cooperation on sex abuse

The music minister at Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was arrested and charged with sexual abuse of a high school student.

I felt heartbroken when I saw the news. I guess I still wanted to believe that there might be some church somewhere that would be immune to this scourge. But of course, there’s not.

No church is immune, not even one as full of symbolism as this one.

Sixteenth Street is the church where four African-American girls were killed in a 1963 bombing. It became a focal point for rallying people in the fight against institutionalized racism, and Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke there on many occasions.

More recently, Sixteenth Street hosted the first regional meeting of the New Baptist Covenant on January 31, 2009. That’s a new umbrella-style network of Baptist organizations who are trying to unite around social justice issues and to provide “greater opportunities for cooperation among Baptist ministries.”

The largest Baptist organization -- the Southern Baptist Convention -- didn’t choose to be part of the New Baptist Covenant. But more than 30 other Baptist organizations did.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how many Baptist organizations there are. I’ve written about quite a few of them, but I’ve focused most of my energy on the Southern Baptist Convention. After all, with 43,000 churches, they’re by far the biggest group, and if they would only choose to do so, they could set a strong example for other Baptist groups.

But let’s be clear about something. Despite my usual focus on the Southern Baptist Convention, it’s not as if other Baptist groups are doing much about clergy sex abuse either. By and large, they’re not, and that’s a shame.

Though Baptists are often quick to make distinctions among themselves, I don’t think the world at large notices much difference. After all, they all carry the “Baptist” brand. So, when people see a Baptist minister accused of child molestation, they don’t ask whether he was a Cooperative Baptist or a National Baptist or a Southern Baptist. What most people see is simply that he was a “Baptist.”

This reality should give all Baptists all the more reason to work cooperatively toward effectively addressing clergy sex abuse. Besides, Baptist ministers often migrate from one Baptist group to another.

Though the Baptist groups in the New Baptist Covenant may be smaller in number, maybe it’s time for these other Baptist groups to unite in setting an example for the big guys at the Southern Baptist Convention.

In 2008, at the first-ever nation-wide gathering of the New Baptist Covenant, one of the speakers was William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention USA. He spoke of how Jesus “concretized” his mission by seeking to reverse the structures and situations that caused oppression.

“You can’t embrace the mission of Jesus and not encounter the reality of injustice…. He came to change… Justice says we need to change the structures of victimization.”

In Baptist circles, there can be no more “oppressed” group than those who have been wounded by Baptist clergy sex abuse. We are the lepers. We are the ones whom no one wants to see. We the ones whom Baptist leaders pass by, kicking their donkeys’ dust in our faces, and leaving us to bleed in the dirt.

If Baptists want to “change the structures of victimization,” they must change themselves. They must change a structure that uses “local church autonomy” as an excuse for leaders to do nothing when confronted with clergy sex abuse. They must change a structure whose institutionalized self-protection serves only to deepen the wounds of those who seek healing from clergy abuse committed in the past. They must change a structure whose institutionalized inertia betrays the safety of the next generation and assures that many more will be wounded in the future.

The road to change is the road of cooperation. It is the road of cooperation among all Baptists.

In truth, I think Baptists already know this. They know that Baptist cooperation is their best means for more effective ministry. But they haven’t yet applied this knowledge to the reality of clergy sex abuse.

What Baptists desperately need is a cooperatively-funded review board to responsibly assess clergy abuse allegations, to inform people in the pews, and to keep records on credibly-accused clergy. So long as there are ministers with the “Baptist” name who sexually abuse the young, there should also be leaders with the “Baptist” name who will care enough to actually do something.

How I wish that Sixteenth Street might be the turn in the road for change in how Baptists handle clergy sex abuse.

It should be, because the opportunity to unite for change is now. Even as the news from Sixteenth Street weighs heavy, the New Baptist Covenant is having its next regional meeting this coming Friday and Saturday, April 24-25, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
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Update 5/14/09: Sixteenth Street minister Patrick Whitehead pled guilty to a lesser charge of sexual misconduct.

Monday, April 13, 2009

FBC-Jax: "Big Brother meets Big Church"

As reported in the Florida Times-Union, a Jacksonville police detective used the power of the Sheriff's Office to subpoena records from Google to identify an anonymous blogger who has been critical of Rev. Mac Brunson, the pastor at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville.

The church made a complaint about “possible criminal overtones” on the blog, and the police detective launched an investigation. As it so happens, the police detective is also a member of FBC-Jacksonville and a “body guard” for pastor Brunson.

Conflict of interest? Uhhhh…. yeah…. it sure looks that way to me.

But of course, FBC-Jacksonville is one of the largest and most powerful mega-churches in the whole Southern Baptist Convention. Criticism had to be stopped!

There appears to be no record of exactly what criminal activity or “overtones” were used to justify getting the subpoena. The records of the subpoena request were destroyed, purportedly “according to the policy.”

However, it’s undisputed that the detective found no wrongdoing. The blog made no threat of any kind. (Wouldn’t you think the detective could have just looked at the FBC-Jax Watchdog site and figured that out before getting a subpoena?)

Nevertheless, even though the detective found no wrongdoing, he still provided the name of the anonymous blogger to First Baptist Church of Jacksonville -- i.e., to the detective’s own pastor and church leaders.

The church then issued a trespass warning against the blogger and his wife, banning them from the church. I’m told that the couple has three children.

So… the leaders at FBC-Jacksonville finally got what they wanted. They had been upset about the blogger for quite a while, even issuing a rather ridiculous resolution against him. After all, the blog included “criticisms of Brunson’s $300,000 salary… his construction of a ‘lavish’ office suite, accepting a $307,000 land gift from church members… and putting his wife on the payroll.”

The church claimed the criticism was “a violation of Scripture” and of church bylaws. (Remember those bully bylaws?)

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has issued a statement, defending their detective’s conduct. But, in my mind, this official attempt to defend the indefensible only makes the whole saga all the worse.

And exactly how do they explain the fact that they also subpoenaed records from Google about Tiffany Croft’s blog and the New BBC blog?

Croft, who has never been anonymous, blogs about the scandal involving Jacksonville pastor Darrell Gilyard, who is now charged with lewd conduct and child molestation. Despite numerous allegations of “sexual improprieties” at his prior Texas churches, former Southern Baptist president and celebrity evangelist Jerry Vines encouraged Gilyard in his ministry and “agreed to forgive” him for his out-of-state troubles. So, the Gilyard scandal reflects back on Vines, who was pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville until just a couple years ago. Perhaps the church didn’t like seeing criticism of its prior pastor either.

And what about New BBC? That’s a blogger who writes about still another scandalized Southern Baptist megachurch, Bellevue Baptist in Memphis. It’s the church where senior pastor Steve Gaines kept quiet about another minister’s admitted child molestation. Yet, even after it all came to light, Gaines didn’t face any serious consequence; the church still keeps him as its senior pastor.

What possible justification could there have been to subpoena records on an anonymous blogger in Memphis… other than maybe the fact that these Baptist good-ol-boy high-honchos stick together and try to help one another out?

Big Brother meets Big Church.” That’s how one columnist aptly described this over-the-top use of power at FBC-Jax.

About now, I figure you’re probably wondering what the FBC-Jax mess has to do with clergy sex abuse. After all, the Watchdog blog never made any accusations of that kind.

But consider this: If this is how a Baptist church handles criticism about the pastor’s salary, how do you imagine it would handle a more serious accusation involving sexual abuse?

Well, I can tell you how Baptist churches typically handle those sorts of accusations. Essentially, they try to stone the accuser back into oblivion. Church leaders circle the wagons and no one in denominational leadership will intercede. It gets ugly.

Power without accountability leads to abuse of power. It’s a pattern we have seen in Baptist churches all across the country, and it’s a pattern that allows all manner of clergy bullying and abuse to go unchecked.

It’s why Baptists desperately need a denominational review board to foster clergy accountability and to provide a safe place where people can report abusive ministers. It’s the sort of accountability mechanism that most of this country’s other major faith groups already have.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time I’ve raised my eyebrows at a story involving Jacksonville law enforcement and First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. When Jerry Vines was pastor, one of the church deacons was arrested on molestation charges. Even though the deacon originally faced 13 felony counts, he got a plea bargain deal of only one year in jail followed by 5 years on probation.

Victims’ families urged a longer sentence, but according to a news report, the deacon’s “associates” urged leniency. I wonder exactly who those “associates” were. The article doesn’t say, but I can’t help but wonder whether some of First Baptist’s leaders may have been among those who convinced the prosecutor and judge to give their deacon-pedophile a light sentence.

The mother of two of the boys said the light sentence victimized them all over again.

The former deacon was back in court less than a year ago, asking the judge to make his light sentence even lighter by waiving the last part of his probation period.

After the hearing, one of the deacon’s victims told a reporter how difficult it was: “It’s hard knowing this man stalked me and my friends for three years and did the things that he did, and then he can walk around the streets and drive around Jacksonville and carry on like nothing ever happened -- it just kills me.”
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Column updated and revised 4/14/09.

See also: Authorities expose blogger who has been hounding FBC-Jacksonville," Associated Baptist Press, 4/15/09

Monday, April 6, 2009

Baptist leaders' delusion on display

In Waco, Texas, the pastor of Bellmead First Baptist Church is charged with continuous sexual abuse of a child.

According to KXXV-TV News, pastor W. Frank Brown is accused of molesting girls in another state, beginning about four years ago, and then continuing assaults on a victim after moving to Texas. The girl was reportedly 9 or 10 when the abuse began. “Police say the alleged assaults took place hundreds of times.”

In connection with Brown’s arrest, the Waco Tribune-Herald interviewed Tim Randolph, the executive director of the Waco Regional Baptist Network:

Preventing such events in the first place would be ideal, Randolph said. Churches are encouraged to work through the Baptist General Convention of Texas to screen personnel they are considering hiring, he said. Because Baptist congregations are autonomous, they cannot be compelled to go through the BGCT when making hires, he said.

'Steps are being taken,' Randolph said. 'Churches are encouraged to report (accusations and subsequent investigations) and verify people against a database.'

So here’s my first question: Exactly what “database” is Mr. Randolph talking about?

Experts consistently recognize that less than 10 percent of active child molesters have ever been convicted of anything, and so they won't appear in criminal sex-offender databases. And “pastor sex-offenders… rarely have a criminal history.” So again… you aren’t likely to find them in a criminal sex-offender database.

Yet, Baptist leaders have refused to institute any sort of denominational database of credibly-accused clergy child molesters -- or to even bother with assessing the credibility of clergy abuse allegations in the way that other major faith groups do.

Given the low probability of criminal prosecution for a child molester, it is delusional and dangerous for Baptist leaders to persist in thinking they're doing enough by "encouraging" churches to screen ministerial candidates against criminal sex-offender databases. It's not nearly enough, and most other major faith groups are doing a great deal more.

And what good does Mr. Randolph imagine would have likely been accomplished if Bellmead had contacted the Baptist General Convention of Texas before hiring pastor Brown?

For all we know, the church may indeed have done so. But so what? Baptists don’t have any systematic process for keeping track of clergy abuse allegations. Instead, the safety of church kids is essentially left up to a haphazard good-ol’-boy network… and the good-ol’-boys have failed miserably.

Indeed, Mr. Randolph’s remarks seem particularly ironic and inappropriate in light of still another Waco Baptist preacher case that’s currently in the news. Also reported in the Waco Tribune-Herald, pastor Matt Baker has been charged with the murder of his wife, and the investigation wound up uncovering a trail of sexual abuse and assault allegations against him. Yet despite those allegations, Baker was able to move through numerous schools, churches, and organizations -- all affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas -- and no one stopped him. Indeed, even in his final job as a Baptist Student Union director, Baker was in a position funded by the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

So if Mr. Randolph is so convinced that the Baptist General Convention of Texas can effectively help churches screen ministerial candidates, then why can’t the BGCT effectively screen candidates for a job that the BGCT itself funds?

But back to the Bellmead story… if Mr. Randolph is suggesting that the specific problem at Bellmead could have been prevented if only the church had gone through the Baptist General Convention of Texas before hiring Brown, then you have to consider some ugly possibilities.

If that’s what Mr. Randolph is suggesting, then he’s suggesting that the Baptist General Convention of Texas does indeed have pastor W. Frank Brown’s name in its “sexual misconduct” file, and that if only the church had asked, the BGCT may have warned them.

If that’s what Mr. Randolph is suggesting, then you have to ponder the possibility that the Baptist General Convention of Texas had some prior report about Brown, and that it allowed that information to simply sit in a file because nobody specifically asked for it. Meanwhile, it’s alleged that pastor Brown continued to molest a kid hundreds of times.

A pretty shocking possibility, isn’t it?

But if that’s NOT what Mr. Randolph is suggesting, then why is he bothering to suggest that this “event” could have possibly been prevented if only the church had consulted with the Baptist General Convention of Texas? But hey… churches “cannot be compelled” he says.

This seems like a rather mean-spirited thing to say about a church that is likely hurting… particularly if contacting the BGCT wouldn’t have done them any good anyway.

So what do you think? What exactly is Mr. Randolph suggesting with his remarks?

According to his online bio, Mr. Randolph worked at the Baptist General Convention of Texas until just a few months ago. So maybe he actually does know something about what’s in the BGCT’s confidential “sexual misconduct” file -- either from his time working there or from his contacts with others in the building.

Or maybe Mr. Randolph’s remarks are nothing more than another example of how Baptist leaders are more focused on blindly promoting and praising the institution rather than on actually protecting kids.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hope Baptist betrays hope

This story involves an independent Baptist church, but many of you will readily recognize the pattern as being similar to what we also see in Southern Baptist churches: a lack of objective oversight, silencing of dissenters, and church members who “never had any doubts about their pastor.” Though Southern Baptist churches are part of a “denomination,” they profess the same sort of independence and display a similar lack of clergy accountability.

However, independence and unaccountability do not have to go hand-in-hand. Local church autonomy need not preclude clergy accountability.

Southern Baptists -- and other sorts of Baptists -- cooperate on all manner of endeavors. In order to foster clergy accountability and to further the safety of congregations, Baptists need to cooperatively fund a professionally-staffed review board to objectively assess clergy abuse reports and to provide assessment information to congregants.


What follows is excerpted from the Indianapolis Star: http://www.indystar.com/article/20090329/LOCAL18/903290404

Hope Baptist pastor Rev. Jerry Hillenburg accused of sexual harassment

Questions about role of hierarchy follow dramatic church confrontation

Jim Huneycutt's stomach was churning as he waited intently at his perch in the balcony for the pastor of Hope Baptist Church on Indianapolis' Far Westside to rise and move toward the pulpit.

The 34-year-old airplane mechanic was comfortable running the camera that recorded the church services. But what he was about to do -- publicly call out his pastor for wrongdoing in the middle of Sunday services -- was new ground.

Before the Rev. Jerry Hillenburg could take two steps toward his lectern after the offertory music, Huneycutt began a speech that would turn Sunday morning upside down at Hope Baptist.
"The truth comes out today," Huneycutt said to a suddenly hushed congregation. "Pastor Jerry has been accused of sexual harassment." In his hand, Huneycutt waved some papers. They were printouts of text messages the pastor had sent to the woman who was the source of the complaint. "The proof is right here."

Hillenburg … stood his ground and asked if anyone wanted to hear this man out. When no one spoke, he ordered the ushers to remove Huneycutt.

Hillbenburg went on to preach his sermon. He denies the sexual harassment claim. [That’s Rev. Hillenburg in the photo.]

The spectacle at Hope Baptist was part of a tumultuous March for three local congregations whose pastors were accused of sexual misconduct.

If the allegations were similar, the outcomes were not.

The Rev. Richard Winters, the rector at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, confessed to his bishop that he had engaged in a two-year extramarital affair with a member of his congregation. He resigned his position and received a five-year suspension from the priesthood. St. Paul's is the largest Episcopal congregation in Indiana.

The Rev. Jerry G. McCamey, pastor at Calvary Temple Indianapolis for the past 28 years, was dismissed after being found guilty of "moral failure involving sexual misconduct." Calvary is among the largest Pentecostal congregations in the state.

In both cases, denominational officials carried out their disciplinary moves in accordance with specific guidelines intended to protect both pastor and congregation.

But at Hope Baptist and the growing legion of independent congregations… there is no bishop ready to step in, no hierarchy waiting to conduct an investigation or hear an appeal, and no outside accountability.

Price of freedom

In traditional denominations, disputes that are not settled within the congregation are funneled through a structured judicial process with long-established rules…. Don Gifford, superintendent of the Indiana District of the Assemblies of God, said he sees the additional layers of a denomination or a fellowship as additional accountability for everyone.

The risk with being independent comes when the church is organized around the personality of a charismatic pastor who has much greater autonomy than his denominational brothers….

Accountability

Being independent doesn't have to mean an absence of accountability, said Chris Shore, the executive pastor at Grace [Community Church in Noblesville]…. Even at smaller churches, deacon boards can be set up, he said.

Leaders at Hope Baptist, including Hillenburg, said their board has autonomy.

But Huneycutt, a member at Hope church for four years, sees the board of deacons as anything but independent. And that meant the closest he thought he could come to accountability was to call local media and request their presence on the morning he made the public allegations.

Hillenburg, 49, said he did nothing wrong in his behavior….

But the woman has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and it was her complaint that Huneycutt referred to when he went before the congregation.

Deacon board chairman Bill Bruno said he and the deacons looked into the matter. He said they followed a church constitution and the Bible's guidelines for reviewing the case and found no credible proof of harassment.

Most of the church members never had any doubts about their pastor…..

Huneycutt said the decision to call out his pastor has had major repercussions that might have played out differently in a church with an outside hierarchy to review allegations. He and his wife, Tobey, were jeered as they left the church that morning three weeks ago…. [At this link, you can see a photo of Tobey Huneycutt, with her children, being escorted from the church.]

Huneycutt still thinks the friend who came to his family with the allegations of physical and verbal harassment was telling the truth and that his decision to speak up in church -- after the woman had spoken to the pastor and to the deacons -- was in line with the biblical principles….

[Rev. Hillenburg] has engaged Indianapolis public relations specialist Myra Borshoff Cook in the wake of the allegations.

Hope Baptist has scheduled a business meeting… to announce the pastor has been cleared. But Bruno said the meeting, which will be led by a lawyer, will include discussion about possible legal action against "the dissenters."

Huneycutt already has been informed through the mail that he and his wife are no longer members of the church.

Cast out of Hope, they've begun looking for a new church.
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For more on the comparison between clergy accountability mechanisms provided by the Indiana Episcopal and Assemblies of God churches in recent similar cases and the lack of oversight in this Baptist case, see also “Making the Best of a Pastor Scandal” in the Indianapolis Star.

Update 12/6/10: Ex-worker's sex-harassment suit targets pastor, Indianapolis Star