Friday, May 23, 2008

Gracepoint Baptist wants "fresh start"

Walnut Grove Baptist Church has changed its name to Gracepoint Baptist Church.

Why? Because they want “a fresh start.” They’re hoping a new name will help them move on from the ugliness of their recent past.

This is the Memphis church where accused child molester Steven Haney was pastor for 20 years.

This is the church that kept Haney as its pastor even after allegations that he sexually abused a teen in the mid-1990s. Reportedly, 30 families left the church at that time. But Haney stayed the church’s pastor… with the result that at least one more kid has been hurt and probably more.

Just last fall, Haney was charged with the sexual assault of another teen. He has also been recently indicted on federal charges of child pornography.

According to the now-grown young man who testified against Haney, this church’s former pastor called the sexual abuse a “test of faith.”

One of the women who left Walnut Grove after the mid-90s allegations said “thank God” when she learned that Haney had finally been brought up on criminal charges. She also stated her belief that the young men bringing forward accounts of abuse “have gone through hell.”

So why the new name for this church that harbored a man like Haney as its pastor? Is it just a whitewash of the past? Or did the church really work at reconciliation of the past?

How much effort have they made to extend help and healing for the victims of Haney?

How much effort have they made to reach out to other possible victims of Haney?

Perpetrators almost always have multiple victims, and so there could be still more victims who remain mired in quiet shame and self-blame.

What’s particularly sad in this case is that more recent victims might have been spared if only the church had treated more seriously the accusations against Haney a decade ago.

Given the church’s dreadful failure, it should now do everything within its power to reach out to other possible victims and to help them.

A new name may be nice for the congregants. But what about the victims? The church’s new name won’t give them a fresh start.

What would be nicer would be for the church to extend a strong hand of healing for those who were so horribly wounded behind its doors.

And what would be still nicer would be for this church to use the example of its own failure as a reason to work for change within the Southern Baptist denomination so that other kids might be better protected.

Gracepoint’s desire for “a fresh start” is similar to Prestonwood’s desire to put it in “the rearview mirror.” But before they simply move on, churches need to learn and impart lessons so that others can be safer.

Unless Gracepoint takes pro-active measures to deal with its past, learn from its past, and reconcile its past, I can’t help but wonder if the new name is just one more way of sweeping the ugliness of clergy child molestation under the rug.

This name-changing incident also illustrates still another reason for why clergy abuse among Southern Baptists is so much harder to get a handle on than it is with Catholics.

Imagine that another Haney victim may have moved away from Memphis and decided to never look back – a not-unusual response for a person so utterly betrayed by his faith community. Many years later, he decides to try to report the abuse that was done to him in that church.

But where’s the church?

Unlike Catholic dioceses, which typically endure for generations, autonomous churches can readily rename themselves and restructure. It makes it all the easier for them to avoid accountability.


Anonymous said...

Just wondering if you have written or called the church to see what steps they have taken before writing this blog?

gmommy said...

anon 9:56,
Why don't you do that for us and report back.
Or if you know of some facts we don't, please share them.

It's so easy to leave your post hoping to deflect away from the ugliness and leave some doubt about the facts...
or maybe you want to hope this church is handling things differently from the pattern we see over and over.

We would all rejoice to know this church or any of the MANY Baptist churches with staff sexual predators were reaching out to the victims instead of adjusting that rear view mirror.

Jeri said...

Reminds me of Crosspointe church in Pinellas Park, FL. They used to be Pinellas Park Baptist Temple. They took Dave Hyles, known child abuser, adulterer, and pornographer on staff.He had been expelled from Miller Road Baptist Church in Garland TX for his adultery and pornography. After moving to Bolingbroke IL, he became the prime suspect in the death of Brent Stevens, the 18 month old son of David's live-in lover. Lo and behold, at Pinellas Park, it was discovered that Dave was having multiple affairs in the church. His church secretary was later busted for prostitution. After quietly sending him off to another church, Pinellas Park Baptist changed its name to Crosspointe Baptist, and later to Crosspointe.

The only thing they have never done is repent of bringing a known pervert and man of violence onto church staff, in clear violation of the Scripture.

Jon L. Estes said...


So you believe it is better to slam a church for not doing something you have no clue is not being done? You want those who question the the validity of a post to do the homework for the one who makes the accusations?

If those who post things with innuendo or hearsay or question things which answers have not been sought you think this is good discussion?

You are wrong. It is gossip, slander...

A phone call by the one making the accusations can easily be done. You would support the person stating things to back up their statements, am I correct?

Jon L. Estes said...


The only thing they have never done is repent of bringing a known pervert and man of violence onto church staff, in clear violation of the Scripture.

Are you sure of this or just making assumptions?

To not be honest and knowledgeable of our statements can lead us to make victims of others, intentionally or not.

Jeri said...

Oh, I'm sure. Last we communicated, Jonathan Farris was saying it was God's fault. I actually documented his ridiculous and blasphemous statements in SCHIZOPHRENIC CHRISTIANITY, my book about these horrible cases. (PS: You can find it on Amazon. I mean, if YOU are interested in checking the facts.)

Anonymous said...

As usual gmommy jumps in with some smart inuendo. All I was asking if Christa had called or written the church before posting the blog.

Facts are important and inuendo is deceptive.

Christa Brown said...

Gracepoint certainly didn’t have any trouble getting media attention for its new name, and yet there’s nothing in that 5/19/08 Commercial Appeal article (linked in the original posting) about any public plea by the church, begging victims to come forward and get help. There’s nothing in it about the church making any public offer of independent counseling to victims of Haney. There’s nothing in it about the church expressing its grave remorse for having kept Haney as pastor even after the first accusations against him (and even though those mid-90s accusations were apparently troubling enough that 30 families chose to leave the church at that time). And there’s nothing in that article about how Gracepoint will be urging a motion at the upcoming SBC annual meeting for the creation of a “safe place” within the denomination to which people can report clergy abuse to professionals who will look into it. Those are just a few possibilities of what we might have expected to see in a media report if the church were actually DOING something on this issue other than simply touting its new name.

The way to reach out to other possible victims is through PUBLIC media entreaties, because most of the time, the victims aren’t going to stick around in the same church. And it SHOULD be church and denominational leaders who do the job of publicly reaching out to victims. Instead, almost invariably, it winds up being other clergy abuse victims who try to do the outreach work themselves, with virtually no funding or resources. Meanwhile, the very-well-funded Baptist Press and other Baptist publications print stuff calling us “evil-doers” and “opportunists,” etc. etc. (And people like Mr. Estes accuse me of slander…) How much more good could be done if they would instead use their readily available denominational resources for outreach and ministry to those wounded by clergy instead of for slamming them? And how likely is it that more victims will speak up when they constantly see that those who do speak up get slammed? And why aren’t church and denominational leaders reaching out to the wounded instead of constantly thinking that we the wounded should somehow be the ones who do more?

In trying to get attention for the danger of my own perpetrator, who was still working in children’s ministry, I communicated with 18 Southern Baptist leaders in 4 different states. At best, I was ignored. At worst, I was bullied and threatened. This was just a few years ago, but at that time, I was still literally incapable of believing that I wouldn’t be able to find someone somewhere in this denomination who would want to do something. (And remember… my case was EASILY substantiated because another Southern Baptist minister who knew about the abuse when I was a kid is still around.) Since that time, I have talked with, and attempted to talk with, many more Baptist leaders about clergy sex abuse in general, about particular cases, and about the need for assistance for those who have been wounded. Nothing happens. Nothing. No help for the wounded. No warning for people in the pews. I have heard from literally scores of other clergy abuse survivors who have also attempted to report their perpetrators to church leaders, and to local, state and national leaders. Nothing happens. And for many of them, their perpetrators remain in their pulpits.

Perhaps when Mr. Estes has spoken about clergy sex abuse with as many church and denominational leaders as I have – and as others such as Jeri have – and has seen the do-nothing response as often as we have – then maybe he will begin to have some basic comprehension of the nature of this problem. When he has sought answers as often as we have – and from as many people – then perhaps he will begin to understand. When he has repeatedly sought bread and endlessly received only stones, then perhaps he will begin to understand. When he has spoken with over 100 clergy abuse survivors who all relate tragically similar stories of church and denominational nonresponsiveness and inertia, then perhaps he will begin to understand.

But of course… that will never happen. Not many clergy abuse survivors will bother to share their stories with someone who spews forth accusations of “gossip and slander” the way Mr. Estes does.

Anonymous said...

You've got to be kidding if you think that church will print that in their new promotional materials with their new church name. Be realistic...

I do applaud your efforts but sometimes you just ask for things that aren't going to happen. Keep pushing for something at the SBC level but that probably will never happen either but at least you can say you tried.

Christa Brown said...

One more thing, Mr. Estes: You cannot expect to use my own blog to publicly accuse me of slander. If you want to do that, then find some other blog on which to do it.

Just six weeks ago, you closed a comment on this blog with a "promise not to bother you any further." How about keeping your promise?

And as for Anon 9:56 and 2:26 (who I suspect may be someone we've also seen by name), perhaps he should talk to denominational leaders about facts and phone calls. The SBC wrote to me that it had no record my perpetrator was still in ministry - which suggests that he's not. It's a false innuendo. Months later, and with considerable effort on my own part, I found him still working in children's ministry, and he had been all along. Furthermore, he had worked with very prominent Southern Baptist leaders and was highly connected. Even if you want to believe that none of the men I contacted knew where he was at that time (a pretty big "if" given his high-level connections), I still question why none of the many men I contacted - at the SBC, at the BGCT, at FBC-Tyler, at FBC-Oviedo, at FBC-Farmers Branch, at FBC-Atlanta, at GA Baptist Convention, at FL Baptist Convention, etc. - thought it was important enough to pick up the phone to inquire where he went to, or to pick up the phone to tell me who his next employer was.

Jeri said...

Repentance isn't likely to happen either among that crowd of self-serving apostates. But God's own people, even if He has to break their hearts to get them out, deserve to be warned and told the danger they are in. Christianity is really not all that practical. At some point it becomes a matter of acting 1) by faith in God and 2) simply because an action is right in God's eyes.

Once we get to where 1&2 are too impractical to actually do, we'll be fine candidates for SBC leadership roles, provided of course we have been dunked under water and are male. At least on those two points the SBC never wavers.

Anonymous said...

Looks to me like Mr. Estes is still a defender of churches who choose to keep child molestors on their staff.

Wonder why?

Lin said...

"Just wondering if you have written or called the church to see what steps they have taken before writing this blog?"

What logic! Call the place where this has gone on for a long time and expect candor and honesty,

BTW: Perverted sin by a church member or pastor require very public repentance. Paul wrote about it in a letter for all to read about for 2000 years. And he taught the entire church was to repent. Please, please, please read and study scripture for yourself.

These are NOT churches, friend. Not real ones. That is the big myth no one wants to admit.

Jeri said...

Hey, I admit it!

W said...

Just to set your fires to burning on this Saturday I thought I would post this letter from the Dallas Morning News:

"Re: "Accused minister resigns – He arranged liaison with what he thought was a minor, police say," Sunday news story.

Dr. Jack Graham is appalled and disgraced, as he should be, by the actions of Joe Barron, one of his ministers caught in a sex sting involving a young girl.

But as a Christian leader, shouldn't Dr. Graham also have some compassion for the man who obviously is in dire need of help and counsel? Don't get me wrong. I have no sympathy for Mr. Barron, and I hope he's put away for a long time, but I am appalled that Dr. Graham, a man of God, is quick to disassociate himself from Mr. Barron lest he affect the business of his church.

Abandoning Mr. Barron in his time of need is not Christian.

Amanda Davis, Coppell

Normally I disagree with 90% of what you write on here but would sure be interested in what you think about Amanda's letter. I'm sure it won't be good...

gmommy said...

That's typical.
We just never hear about concern and compassion for victims in these church situation. We hear the criticism!
("why did they wait so long to tell someone,...they are tearing the church apart,.... LIES! SLANDER!....")

Just would be so incredible to hear some caring concern for the victims of clergy abuse. But it just makes everyone so much more comfortable when the victims go away.

At BBC, the mic was turned off to prevent a victim of clergy abuse from speaking. The pastor walked right past him to get to the pulpit to pray.
IT's that "rear view mirror" mentality....maybe they teach that in the SBC seminaries....?

Jeri said...

Graham does have an obligation to rebuke Joe Barron and exhort him to repentance. He is also obligated, if Barron does repent, to put him under the care and instruction of the elders, even while in prison, and to elicit from the elders and the victims the actions from Baron that they believe would amount to restitution and demonstrate true repentance.

Yes, Graham and that church has an obligation to Barron. But given the unbiblical, porous nature of Baptist church government, I expect that Barron, if he mouths any type of repentance at all, will also choose to "move on" (something we do not see in Scripture regarding men placed under discipline) and get "a fresh start in a new place" (yet another concept we do not see in Scripture).

Barron is to be pitied, justly. If his church has abandoned him (assuming that anybody in charge there actually behaves as a Christian minister), then he is even further removed from access to the discipline, rebuke, and instruction he badly needs.

Anonymous said...

jeri said:

Barron is to be pitied, justly.




All that man needs is a kick in the pants, NOT pity!

Jeri said...

In the sense that he has been abandoned by the agency appointed by God to preach Christ to him, he should be pitied. I don't pity him for what he did.

But be warned: the same glibness that let a man slip into church office and commit damnable sin has now abandoned him to despair. I do thank God that I have a church that would rebuke and discipline me. I have received a grace and blessing Barron did not receive. And I won't lord it over him. I am sorry that the Baptist church has failed him not once, but twice.

Anonymous said...

Jeri is right. And the way this has been dealt with is one reason why most people in the pews do not really understand the full implication of repentance and restoration on one within a true Body of Christ. It is a long process and tough on everyone in the Body but the outcome can be wonderful. As Matthew wrote about following discipline of a brother: What is bound on earth is bound in heaven. The actions of the Body in these situations has eternal implications.

That is how serious sin is. Paul writes about this in 1 Corin 7 and other places in scripture.

Prestonwood wants to act as if this was just an attack from Satan and they have no responsibility in the matter or action. From a Biblical standpoint, they are dead wrong.

Jeri said...

Yes, although as you may recall, this particular thread is about Walnut Grove, which now calls itself Gracepoint. But Prestonwood, Crosspointe (formerly Pinellas Park Baptist Temple)and Two rivers, for that matter, are the same. They don't use discipline biblically, or they use it as a sword to protect the status quo.

Jon L. Estes said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jon L. Estes said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Christa Brown said...

Mr Estes: I called upon you to keep your prior promise... and you didn't. Consider yourself banned from this blog, and from I hear, I'm not the first blog you've been banned from. In the future, I will delete everything you attempt to post and won't even bother looking at it to assess it. You're wasting your time here.

Anonymous said...

I would agree, as Pastor Estes stated, that making accusations against a church without proof shown is no more than gossip and slander.

I would say that this type of accusation is different than a person accusing someone of abuse.

The difference, as I see it, is that the first (accusing the church) can be verified prior to making an accusatory statement, the abuse should be handled as if true, simply for the sake of the victim.

Just my two cents worth.

To be heard you must learn to listen for without the latter you don't deserve the first.

- Barry

Christa Brown said...

"To be heard you must learn to listen..."

How I pray that there will come a day when Southern Baptist leaders will "learn to listen" to clergy abuse survivors... because EVERY abuse survivor deserves to be heard. But of course, communication is a 2-way street, and it is impossible to communicate with those who cover their ears.

And Barry, if you really believe that abuse accusations "should be handled as if true," - as you say you do - then I would suggest you get to work to make it happen... because that's far, far, far from reality. In fact, that's fantasy from what I've seen in Southern Baptists' handling of abuse cases.

Lin said...

" that making accusations against a church without proof shown is no more than gossip and slander."

What accusations? All I see are questions and pleas. How is that gossip and slander?

(BTW: accusing someone of gossip and slander when they bring up uncomfortable questions is a spiritual abuse technique. They want to control all information and to do that, they must shame the victims and their supporters into not talking about it)

Christa Brown said...

Lin: Thanks so much for your insightful words.

Anonymous said...


A big "AMEN" to your point that calling honest questions "Gossip" is abuse. Many of us who have been victimized are the kind of people who scrupulously want to do what is right, and that label can have the effect of shutting down the questions that need to be asked.

Anonymous said...

The last time I checked, a person was innocent until PROVEN guilty! Mr. Haney has not been to trial, much less found guilty. In fact, new information is coming out that the alleged victim lied to investigators about the abuse. Besides, this alleged victim claims he continued this relationship until he was 21 years old before he realized that he had been abused. I'm sorry but I have a hard time believing that. But let's take the Christian approach and withhold judgment until all the facts are out. Also, will "Stop Baptist Predators" do the Christian thing and step in and help restore Mr. Haney's reputation if he is found not guilty?? And will you also report the name of the alleged victim so others can be warned about this young man? Based on your blog I'd say that you have already made up your mind about his guilt. But be careful, he just might sue you if he is found not guilty!