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:

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….


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.

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


gmommy said...

Those Baptists stand by their matter what.
Kill the messenger who dares to burst their bubble!

Anonymous said...

And some of you jump on the bandwagon and start screaming how wrong the pastor was and is. The only thing is that their deacons reviewed the materials and the charges and determined there was nothing to it. Sounds like the review board functioned exactly the way it is supposed to function.

Just reading the account on this blog I would say the guy and his wife were totally out of line. It is also the church's prerogative to remove them from their fellowship if they so desire.

You're howling is falling on deaf ears.

crallspace said...

Anonymous, what is a "prerogative" ??

These ears aren't deaf. Keep it up and thanks for the blog!

John said...

The only question I have is why the Pastor asked if the people wanted to hear the rest of the accusation? If there was nothing to it, let him rant and then remove him. If there is some truth he sure did not want it read.
There seems to be a lot more to this than what the paper reported. Every pastor has to deal with anointed crack pots during his time. This just seems too clean for me. My police instincts say tell me more.
If it is false, clear him. If it is ture - kick him out.

So Sad said...

Autonomous. Not to God. Jerry's time hurting God's people is over. Former Victim, and I was too young to take a stand. No longer too young and God is stronger in me than ever! Please pray for this situation, and that people who read about it wont be completely turned off to churches, just this one in particular.

Anonymous said...

I would like to hear about other boundary violations stated when these incidents are reported, like how the pastor regards seeing people in private, level of accoutantability he has with laity, humble authority, etc. If these are not present and the preacher lacks character of chivalry, courtesy, and humility most likely they protesteth too much!

Anonymous said...

Note how he sought to get cleared by the church leadership real quick.

This is how it works. If the church leaders think things are ok, then the pew sitter will, too.

They know what they are doing and the pastor has hired a PR person! Exactly where is that in scripture? Oh yeah, the one about wolves. That is exactly what a wolf would do...hire a PR person.

oc said...

"The only thing is that their deacons reviewed the materials and the charges and determined there was nothing to it."

Anon 11:38,
Oh my, the naivete of that comment. No wonder the abusers continue get away with it. I'm sure there was no bias in that little reviewal process, huh?
How obvious does it have to be for you to "get it"?

An analogy. Would you like to keep your position even though your boss is doing wrong? Then don't squeal on the boss or find wrong doing with him. He'll find out and make you squirm and maybe find a way to demote you, or even get you fired. And yes, the world has crept into the church that much. Whether you like to admit it or not. Get it?
Now, if there is "nothing to it", then why not have an outside "review". If there is nothing to hide, let's not hide.

oc said...

And you know what else Anon 11:38?

I would love to know what you would do if one of your loved ones
were in this position. I know what I would do if a "man of God" or ANYONE else were texting my loved ones with sexually harassing messages. I wouldn't let it go with an "internal investigation". I wouldn't let it go with a bunch of yes men excusing the pastor just because he's the pastor. I wouldn't sit still for the cover up. And sorry to say, I wouldn't even be satisfied with breaking his texting finger.

If you would let this go without at least more of a challenge than the deacons review, then I wonder about your love for your own human family and your love for others in the family of God.
I know It sounds harsh. But I'm serious.

And furthermore, our "howling" is not "falling on deaf ears". Our "howling" is falling on His ears. And there's a reckoning coming. For those who perpetrate, and for those who allow it.


oc said...

And those who excuse it.

Christa Brown said...

"That is exactly what a wolf would do...hire a PR person."

Yeah... and the amazing thing is that, in Baptist churches, they usually hire their PR person and their lawyer with offering plate dollars. What a deal, huh? So the pastor typically has a ready flow of cash to use for bullying and intimidating any who raise questions... and for whitewashing it all in the media. Meanwhile, the poor souls who try to bring truth into the light of day don't have a ready supply of offering plate dollars.

Is it any wonder that bullying and intimidation tactics work so well in Baptist churches? Most people just can't afford to fight back against an organization that has such ready funds. And even when the occasional person tries, when a church raises the spectre of legal action against "dissenters", it certainly helps to assure that any others will learn a lesson and will keep their own mouths shut.

Anonymous said...

I am a member of this church and I can tell you with a great amount of certainty that this "man of God" is not innocent. He has admitted to sending the text messages to a select few. And I don't care in what context you read them in, they are innapporpriate for a Pastor to send to a female! Of course he has lied to the rest of the congregation because he thinks that "99% of that congregation is too stupid to come in out of the rain" and those folks, are exact words out of his mouth!! This man has a past and this is not the first time these accusations have been brought to light but then quickly brushed under the rug by weak minded deacons that can't do their jobs and force the acountability on this man like they are empowered by the congregation to do! Shame on the deacons and God Bless those that finally brought this into the light. I support the husband and wife that stood up that day and brought forth this circus 100% because they are putting the Lord's law above all regardless of what it has cost their family!!

Anonymous said...

Why is this guy still in the pulpit? Oh ya, cause anyone who opposes this so-called "pastor" is pushed out or forced to leave this so-called "Church". Hypocrites! Shame on so-called "Christians" for supporting a perverted leader. Hopefully this imposter pastor will be forced out soon or grow a conscience and step down on his own before the next "victim" comes his way. People have been warned just as the Bible warns sinners to repent but they dont listen. Hopefully they will take heed to this warning and stay away from the "Cult" at HBC.

Anonymous said...

I am glad I am not the only one who still cares about this church and what Jerry Hillenburg is doing to people! I wonder who he is victimizing now??? The dust is starting to settle and he is probably getting awfully anxious! Hope it isn't your little girl next. God, Get him out!

Anonymous said...

He (Pastor Jerry) is getting sued again and his congregation still allows him in the pulpit? Can some one explain this to me please? I guess Titus Chapter 1 and 1 Timothy Chapter 3 do not apply at HBCult. Hopefully other people wise up and steer clear of this "so-called" Christian Church.

Anonymous said...

Jerry is still there even though legal case still drags on. I wonder why the case is tacking him so long? Why all the continuances? Should have been a quick case if he was innocent. I assume another victim will be comming forward soon since some time has passed for the dust to settle. Hope its not your daughter or wife.