Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mississippi rep seeks secrecy for church

The former music minister of Dallas’ Prestonwood Baptist Church has been charged with child sex crimes in Mississippi.

Back in 1989, Prestonwood officials knew about abuse allegations against minister John Langworthy, but they simply got Langworthy off their own turf, kept quiet, and allowed him to move on.

Now . . . finally . . . over 20 years later . . . and with no-telling how many more kids this minister may have molested . . . Langworthy has been arrested. No thanks to Prestonwood.

I hope parents in Southern Baptist churches will ponder this. Prestonwood is one of the largest churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, and it has a former Southern Baptist president at the helm. This is how little some of the top-dogs in this denomination cared about your kids.

Even after the known abuse allegations at Prestonwood, Langworthy could have gone to any other church in the Southern Baptist Convention. There is no system that would have stopped him. Southern Baptists don’t even keep denominational records on ministers who have been credibly accused of child molestation. They just let accused ministers church-hop their way to new prey.

If a Baptist minister isn’t sitting in prison, he can probably find a Baptist pulpit to stand in. That’s how reckless their system is. Southern Baptists lack even the pretense of any denominational oversight for their clergy.

Morrison Heights Baptist Church
So, despite the molestation allegations at Prestonwood, minister John Langworthy had no trouble in finding a new church. He wound up at another prominent Southern Baptist church, Morrison Heights in Clinton, Mississippi.

Mississippi police have now arrested Langworthy, and as most people would want, the police are trying to conduct a thorough investigation.

Unfortunately, the church isn’t cooperating.

In front of his Morrison Heights congregation, Langworthy made a public confession about what he so euphemistically called “sexual indiscretions” with younger males. The church claims it conducted an internal investigation. Understandably, prosecutors want to know more about what Langworthy may have said to church officials.

But with the help of its attorney, the church is saying “no dice.” It is refusing to divulge the information.

So . . . let me be doubly-clear about this. According to reported news accounts on this, the person who is trying to keep this information secret is not the arrested minister. It’s the church itself and the church officials.

Rather than doing everything possible to cooperate with prosecutors and work for the protection of kids, Morrison Heights church officials are apparently trying to protect themselves.

It stinks.

Even if an argument for secrecy exists within the realm of legal possibility, that wouldn’t necessarily make it the morally right possibility. You might think a church would know the difference, wouldn’t you? The law and morality are different domains. Just because you can get away with something under the law doesn’t mean that what you’re doing is right.

Philip Gunn,
Mississippi House of Representatives
The church’s attorney is a guy named Philip Gunn, who is also one of the church elders at Morrison Heights. This means that Gunn is wearing two hats, as attorney for the church and as one of the church officials from whom the prosecutors are seeking information.

Gunn is also an elected representative for the State of Mississippi. (That’s Gunn’s photo from his state rep webpage.)

Let’s hope voters will remember this! If kids are to be made safer, then kid-safety must be the top priority. It is long past the time when Southern Baptist officials . . .  and their attorneys . . .  should understand this.

Philip Gunn's role in child sex case, WJTV, 11/22/11 ("It's ironic that... Gunn supports a law requiring the supporting of child abuse." In the face of the Penn State scandal, I guess Gunn's talk sounds good for his political career, but he doesn't walk the talk. In the face of allegations at his own church, he has told church leaders that they shouldn't talk to prosecutors about what an accused minister-molester told them.)
Expert disputes Gunn's defense in sex abuse case, WJTV, 11/25/11 ("The law's primary concern is not to protect ministers . . . but to protect children.")
Email shows Gunn's role in sex abuse case, WJTV, 11/29/11 ("Gunn would not allow prosecutors to question church leaders about what they know about John Langworthy's case" . . .and he "tried to take steps to keep abuse allegations against Langworthy silent."  

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