Sunday, September 12, 2010

Faulty forgiveness theology

A few days ago, Southern Baptist minister Bernie Johnson wrote to ask that I delete all information about him from the StopBaptistPredators site. I’ve posted his email, in its entirety, below.

Bernie Johnson’s email provides a classic example of how some Baptist ministers twist forgiveness theology into a tool for hiding ugly deeds.

And make no mistake about it -- Bernie Johnson’s deeds were quite ugly. He was captured on videotape, and so there wasn’t much room for dispute. In a series of articles, The Examiner reported on Johnson’s deeds, and I gave a condensed version in this posting: “Convicted minister continues.” Click on it only if your stomach feels strong.

The question isn’t about forgiveness. It’s about whether those deeds should disqualify Bernie Johnson from continuing in a position of high trust as a Baptist minister.

It’s also about whether he should be allowed the possibility of moving on to still more churches without people finding out about his deeds so that they might decide for themselves whether this person should be their minister.

Bernie Johnson was already given one chance to have his deeds kept quiet. As reported in The Examiner, the leadership of Johnson’s prior church allowed him to quietly resign and even agreed to pay for his counseling on the condition that he not seek employment in ministry until his "restoration" was complete.

Johnson resigned, but then he got a similar ministry job just 10 miles down the road at the First Baptist Church of Winnie, Texas.

In other words, Bernie decided to do what Bernie wanted and to heck with the condition set by his prior church.

That’s when the woman decided to go to the police. Thank God she did. Now we have a public record along with a newspaper’s reporting on the case.

No. I will not delete the information from the website.

Nor will I give any heed to self-serving sermons on forgiveness that are made by Baptist ministers such as Bernie Johnson.

Here is his email. (Incidentally, I can’t figure out how he comes up with “4 years” since my prior blog posting was in 2008.)

"Dear Christa

For nearly 7 years my family and I have been making attempts to put my mistakes into the past and moving forward in uprightness. For the past 4 years or more your blog as kept the pain ever so fresh. Regardless of any testimony – two people know the truth of all my past events; me and God.

My wife and I, along with our son have worked intimately together to create the wholesome and honorable home God expects us to have. She has forgiven me, my son has forgiven me, my family has, and so has my church family. The only forgiveness I have not received is from you, someone who had absolutely no part in my life or its events. You do not “know” any of the truth of my life or its events. Why do you punish the forgiven? By what authority do you boast of your judgment toward others in matters that are not yours.

I have studied the Bible for the better part of 35 years, I have yet to find anytime where Jesus continued to pass any judgment on someone after they had been forgiven. Not a single instance. Once they confessed, turned from their wicked ways, and followed the course of Christ by picking up their cross and following Him daily – the angels rejoiced, and the Father reestablished the child.

I can’t make you do anything. I can only ask that you delete all the material on me so that my family and I can move on without further pain to anyone. When will enough be enough? 7 years, 14 years, 50 years? I am most grateful to the Lord God Almighty that His grace is ever present, His mercy is rich and new every morning, and that He does have a place for me in ministry now and in heaven later.

Please consider this a most sincere request of mine to you.

Your Friend in Jesus,
Bernie Johnson"


Update 9/23/10: Bernie Johnson has emailed me twice more, on 9/21 and 9/22. Basically, he sermonizes me on GRACE and MERCY (in all caps), tells me "you ought to read the Bible," and rails against me to "see more clearly your sinfulness" . . . as if he had any moral authority on any of this, right? But here's the part that really got me. He denigrates and bad-mouths his victim -- i.e., the woman who reported him to the police -- and I have no intention of repeating what he said. He expresses contempt for his victim. And his words make plain that this is a man who feels no genuine remorse whatsoever.

Another email from Bernie Johnson on 11/9/10: He just doesn't seem to get the message that I'm not impressed with his self-serving sermonizing. In this most recent email, he seems to be claiming that he has turned from "wicked ways," and that this should be "celebrated" rather than having his past posted on a blog. But here's what I think: 1) Why should I believe Bernie has "turned" (and indeed why should anyone believe him?) when, less than two months ago, he was still bad-mouthing his victim? 2) Even if it's true that Bernie has turned from "wicked ways," good for him, but I still don't think he has any entitlement to hold a position of high trust as a minister.


Mojoey said...

Forgiveness? No, this is not about forgiveness, it is about protecting others from a predator. You are doing the right thing.

Mojoey said...

I made a post on this.

Christa Brown said...

Thanks, Mojoey.

And Mojoey's post hits the nail on the head. Bernie Johnson could go be a gardener or any number of other things, but he doesn't have any entitlement to work in a postion of trust and influence as a minister.

Anonymous said...

I don't fault you for putting facts on your site and I would suppose that there are some circumstances where you would delete them or remove names.

It should be noted that allowing him to resign was partly because his victim did not want the matter known to the church and community. I'm not sure if the church/pastor should be blamed for handling the matter quietly if it was at the victim's request. Nothing in the article indicated that the victim was pressured into that arrangement.

In any event, if the church where he committed these acts was aware that he was applying for subsequent ministry positions, they should have called him on it and informed the new church.

After the conviction, the man's ordination should have been revoked by the ordaining church.

At what point should all of us forget it? Perhaps when the victim forgets it.


Ruth said...

I had to refresh my memory about this pervert. Ugggg!
His letter is nauseating on so many levels.
I will say that along with being creepy and perverted he is pretty good at playing a victim and trying to manipulate.
CONSEQUENCES! Bernie doesn't seem to understand that part about sin.
Trying to use the forgiveness guilt on you makes him look stupid to me.
Even if forgiveness was an issue for you (and it isn't) would you erase the facts as if they didn't happen? Would you stop telling the truth?? Should you change YOUR MISSION to protect future victims and expose preacher predators? Of course not!

Hey Bernie!!
Will you think I am also "punishing" you, judging you or "boasting of my judgment" of you if I post the articles about your obsession with your "self" on my Facebook page...and ask my 200 friends to do the same? Then will it be my fault you are a sick perv?
Not impressed at all that you have studied the Bible for 35 years.
God help the vulnerable people you have and will come in contact with under the protection and mask of a church leader and minister.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking that if King David in the Bible, a man after God's own heart, a man whose sins were forgiven still had his sin recorded, then who is anyone else to be so arrogant to think they should get their sin hidden. Just my thought.

Anonymous said...

My mom was molested by a family member when she was a little girl. This family member found Jesus and everything was "forgiven." I was all under the blood.

This thinking is quite common in Baptist circles. Just forgive and forget. Maybe that's how God operates, I don't know. Personally I don't believe in the Christian God. Whatever God may do, humans ought to forgive and forget when it comes to abuse. Ministers who abuse should not pastor again. Abuse is far more than just a mistake.

Thank you for being diligent in keeping the light shining on the evil works of darkness. I may no longer believe but I know a good work when I see it.


Anonymous said...

HE forgot 1 Tim 3 that is also in his bible. the Christian leader must be above reproach to the OUTSIDE.

Bernie, you flunk that qualification. If you were truly repentent, you would get out of ministry. Because you won't...your repentance is suspect.

It would be nice if these pastors either knew the bible or actually followed it

Christa Brown said...

"Nothing in the article indicated that the victim was pressured into that arrangement."

Well let's just put this in context. The woman was the custodian for a church in East Texas with an all-male ministerial staff and all-male deacon body. She needed her job at the church and was financially dependent on it. She felt that she had few other job possibilities and that her marketable skills were limited. Meanwhile, the man she was accusing was a highly respected minister -- a man with a wife and kid -- a man who has been described as being very charismatic. Under the circumstances, I think it is almost impossible to imagine that this woman would not have felt very, very frightened.

Personally, I think it took enormous courage for her to go to the pastor in the first place. And I think the pastor did something good by then getting a video camera installed. However, I also think he was wrong in making an agreement to keep Johnson's deeds secret, that he could have easily given Johnson a very negative reference without revealing the woman's identity, and that he shouldn't have allowed Johnson to simply resign. The guy should have been fired. Duh.

After all that, and after Johnson went in "defiance of the agreement" (as reported by The Examiner), I think it then took even more courage for that same woman to finally decide to go to the police in that town. I have nothing but applause for that woman -- she showed enormous courage. And I think she also showed love for her faith and her church.

Anonymous said...

It is a wonder that the church/criminal hasn't been sued for sexual harrassment.

I agree that there's not much to defend in this case.


Christa Brown said...

Volly on Mojoey's blog had an interesting reaction. Here is the gist of what he suggested as a response to minister Bernie Johnson:

"Christa Brown's response to Johnson's request should be:
You ask that I "delete all the material on [you] so that [your] family and [you] can move on." Move on to what, Mr. Johnson? ... History has shown that people who do what you did rarely say, "Well, that was fun, but since I have a family to support, it's in their interests that I behave better and control my ridiculous impulses." Not bloody likely, Mr. Johnson, and you know it. Yes, it would benefit you, your wife and your children for you to secure immediate employment, at a comparable wage to what you earned before your career came crashing down. But what benefits you and yours is likely to cost countless others dearly in terms of their emotional well-being. I would suggest that you stay home and let your wife go out and be the breadwinner. Women have a much better track record for staying out of trouble. . . . Looks like you should have thought of all this and lined up some counseling before you indulged your inner demons. I'm sorry for your family, but much more sorry for any congregation that hires you based on the false public image you so desperately wish to restore."

John said...

Wow! Now he is the victim! or baby! Now his "name"is being abused. s self-inflicted pain must be a very heavy thing to carry.
I asked myself, "Why don't I feel sorry for him?" Then I realize he is a pervert who seems to enjoy inflicting pain on others and as the Bible teaches should be "marked" ad "given over to the devil"!

Anonymous said...

Wow, I went to school with this guy in the late 1970's, even went to the same church until I got the hell out of there when I was 17. He was charismatic even back then, and very popular with the girls, although it seemed innocent at the time (but what did I know as a teenage kid?). I remember when I quit the church, he really put a lot of pressure on me to rejoin. There was something about him that I found hard to trust. I guess my intuition was pretty good.

The Baptists really messed with my head when I was a child. Now that I'm in my late-40s, I'm finally regaining my equilibrium, with the help of a great therapist. (Although I doubt that I will ever give up my hard-fought right to be accepted as an atheist.) I have long felt that people in the church psychologically abused me, but had blamed only the adults for all those years. I now wonder if I knew some dirt on some of the church kids such as Bernie Johnson but managed to suppress it for all of these years?

I would hope that this guy would burn in hell, except that I don't have much faith in an afterlife of either heaven or hell. Thanks to your website, this guy and others have been exposed as the criminal creeps that they are. We should have no tolerance for these cruel and perverted people who try to hide behind dusty myths and legends to claim the forgiveness of their invisible friend.