Friday, March 22, 2013

Pastor's sexual abuse of kid is blamed on "prostate troubles"

Jack Schaap delivering his "Polishing the Shaft" sermon at the church's 2010 Youth Conference. See video of the sermon.

On March 20th, Jack Schaap, the prior pastor of the 15,000 member First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for sexual abuse of an underage girl whom he had been counseling.

More than 100 letters of support were sent to the judge before the sentencing hearing. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, the letters attested to Schaap’s “decades of good works” and claimed that “stress and health problems, including prostate troubles” had led him “to stray.”

Schaap’s wife described her husband’s “affair” with the girl as “consensual” and said that her husband was suffering from “a severe case of prostatitis.” She asked that the judge grant leniency in her husband’s sentencing.

And though the pastor still had plenty of supporters, the church was apparently not so supportive of the girl. After the scandal broke, she was expelled from Hammond Baptist High School and her family expelled from the church.

The evidence against Schaap was overwhelming. Prosecutors pointed to nearly 700 text messages, phone calls and letters along with photographs on the pastor’s computer.

“In a statement, the victim wrote that Schaap would text her from the altar during his sermons. In another statement, written as a letter to Schaap, she wrote: ‘When you first kissed me I was shocked. . . When I asked you if it was wrong, you said ‘No.’ You told me that I was sent you from God, I was a gift to you.”

Like so many other clergy perpetrators, this is a pastor who essentially used God as a weapon to sexually abuse a kid.

Nine of the offenders with ties to First Baptist
Church in Hammond, Indiana: from top left:
(first row) A. V. Ballenger, Christopher
Settlemoir, Chester Mulligan; (second row)
William Beith, Jack Schaap, Tedd Butler;
(third row) Joseph Combs, Craig Sisson,
Russell Overla (Chicago Magazine photo)
But lest you start thinking that Schaap was just a rogue “bad apple” sort of Baptist pastor, consider the dreadful history of First Baptist Church of Hammond – a history that was recently detailed in a feature article in Chicago Magazine called “Let Us Prey.” Schaap’s conviction is simply the latest in “a string of assaults and sexual crimes committed by pastors across the country” who all “have one thing in common:” they all have ties to the First Baptist Church in Hammond, Indiana.

“According to dozens of current and former church members, religion experts, and historians . . . plus a review of thousands of pages of court documents,” Schaap is part of what some call “a deeply embedded culture of misogyny and sexual and physical abuse” at the church. “Multiple websites tracking the First Baptist Church of Hammond have identified more than a dozen men with ties to the church – many of whom graduated from its college, Hyles-Anderson, or its annual Pastors’ Schools – who fanned out around the country, preaching at their own churches and racking of a string of arrests and civil lawsuits, including physical abuse of minors, sexual molestation, and rape.”
It is a culture that many say is "enabled by cover-ups and cultlike control."
"Cultlike." I know it's a word that a lot of people don't like. But really. "Prostate troubles?" How else do you explain the lunacy of people who offer that as an excuse for their pastor's sexual abuse of a kid?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Boots, biscuits and Prestonwood Baptist

In Texas, we’ve got a saying: “You can put your boots in the oven, but that don’t make ‘em biscuits.”

That’s what I keep wanting to tell officials at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, as I watch them trying to alter the reality of the clergy sex abuse cover-up scandal that’s engulfing them.

When Chris Tynes’ questions were deleted from Prestonwood’s Facebook page, he scheduled an appointment with one of the church’s ministers. As reported by WFAA News in Dallas, Tynes had “discovered that a former music minister admitted to sexual misconduct with young boys while at Prestonwood Baptist Church more than twenty years ago.”

“Sexual misconduct?” You can see from the get-go the sort of minimizing slant that reporter is going to take. We’re talking about a minister who committed sex crimes against children. Some of his crimes are detailed in this court document; they include the molestation, digital penetration, and oral rape of young boys.

Prestonwood officials kept the secret of its minister’s soul-searing conduct for more than twenty years while the minister, John Langworthy, went right on working with kids at another Southern Baptist church. Last January, Langworthy was finally convicted on child sex crimes in Mississippi.

If Prestonwood officials had taken responsible action when they first heard reports about Langworthy’s conduct twenty years ago, a whole lot of kids could have been a whole lot safer.

So, having read multiple news reports about all this – news reports which implicate Prestonwood officials in a long-time cover-up – Tynes was troubled. It looked a lot like the Penn State cover-up. As a member of Prestonwood, he decided to try to get some answers from church officials.

But Tynes’ appointment to talk about it was cancelled, and the minister’s secretary wouldn’t reschedule. Tynes was being stonewalled.

So, on a weekday, he hung out in the mostly-empty church parking lot, sitting on his car. He was hoping to catch the minister when he came back from lunch.

Church security approached, and Tynes was super-polite. (You can see a video and transcript of the encounter here.) They asked Tynes to leave, and he did. Nevertheless, church officials called the cops, and they characterized Tynes as “possibly violent.”

Crazy, eh? That’s how it is in Baptistland.

Prestonwood officials are trying to turn this scandal into a fluffy biscuit hubbub about an odd-ball church-member so as to deflect attention from what it really is – a big stinky old boot scandal about their own twenty-year history of keeping quiet about a minister who molested kids.

Now they’ve dug in their spurs even more and accused Tynes of making “terroristic” threats. Why? Because while he was waiting in that mostly empty parking lot, he twittered to his friends a photo of the minister’s empty spot with the words “my target,” and then in another tweet, he wrote that he had found “my perfect ambush spot.”

Oh my.

You can read Tynes’ explanation here. He took down the postings right away after a friend suggested they might be misinterpreted. And here are my own thoughts on it.

First, Tynes is an ordinary guy. He’s not a trained and paid public spokesperson, like the lawyers and PR people that Prestonwood hires with its endless supply of offering plate dollars from its 32,000 members. And at least Tynes was prompt in offering an explanation. That’s a lot more than I can say for Prestonwood’s senior pastor Jack Graham, whose long silence only raised more questions.

Second, let’s put Tynes’ comments in Southern Baptist context. This is a faith group that has a long history of using militaristic metaphors in its often over-zealous evangelical efforts.

In fact, not too long ago, at one of Southern Baptists’ premier seminaries, the school president, Paige Patterson, “stormed onto the chapel stage” dressed in a military camouflage shirt and stationed as the gunner in a military fast-attack vehicle. (I kid you not – see this for yourself in this photo.) He then fired off a round of blanks from a .50-caliber Browning machine gun. All of this was to illustrate his message about “taking the hill” as they evangelically targeted the households within a one-mile radius of the seminary.

By the standards that Prestonwood is applying to Chris Tynes, that whole seminary should be shut down for making “terroristic” threats against the neighborhood. Heck, they even put their weapons on display.

And for those of us raised in this faith group, we grew up with “Onward Christian Soldiers” from the time we were two. Every summer of my childhood, in Vacation Bible School, I went “forward into battle” and “marching as to war” as we paraded into the church singing that militaristic song. By the standards that Prestonwood is applying to Chris Tynes, I guess the Bible schools should also be shut down as training grounds for “terroristic” activity.

I hope you see the lunacy in this.

But still, I’ve got to hand it to Prestonwood. They’ve sure got some slick spin-meisters. It takes a lot of time in the saddle to be able to spin the story of a mega-church’s clergy child molestation cover-up into a story that boot-stomps the one church member who dares to ask questions.

But Ben Lovvorn, Prestonwood’s director of administration, stuck with the spin-script. “When it comes to protecting our people, we take that very seriously,” he said.

Whoa. We’re talking about a church that, from all appearances, evidence, and news reports, didn’t take the protection of people seriously at all . . . at least not if those people include church kids and their families.

Prestonwood officials can keep trying to cook up some biscuits, but they can’t alter the reality of what’s already in the oven. That stinky old cover-up boot isn’t going away and, so far, it’s getting stinkier with every word they say.

Update: "Pastor says let God judge accusers," Associated Baptist Press, 3/19/2013 (This is a great summary. It contextualizes the Prestonwood saga and shows how Southern Baptist officials will publicly rebuke others involved in child sex cover-ups but won't hold their own accountable. ABP is a press service that is independent of the Southern Baptist Convention.)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Megachurch calls cops on member who speaks out

A Southern Baptist megachurch reportedly called the cops on a longtime church member who raised questions about news stories that church leaders had “failed to alert authorities about credible allegations of child molestation” involving a staff minister and had kept quiet while the minister moved on to work with kids in another church.

As the Watchdog blogger succinctly explained it, the church didn’t call the cops on the child molester – a minister who has since been convicted – but did call the cops on the member who asked questions about it.

That’s Baptistland for you.

Jack Graham
The church is Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. With about 32,000 members, it’s one of the largest churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. Its senior pastor, Jack Graham, is a former two-term Southern Baptist Convention president, and he heads a ministerial staff of about 40.

You’d think there would be somebody in the mega-sized-leadership of this mega-sized-church who would do the right thing, wouldn’t you?

You’d be wrong.

So far, they have not only failed to do the right thing – over and over again – but they have affirmatively done the wrong things – over and over again. For two decades, Graham and other Prestonwood church leaders kept the allegations against their former minister under wraps, and in doing so, they allowed many more kids to be placed at risk of sexual predation. And now, they try to bully a member who simply seeks to ask some questions.

The story has been repeatedly reported in the media. Just take a look at that long list of articles at the bottom of today’s story in the Associated Baptist Press (which, incidentally, is a news service that’s independent of the Southern Baptist Convention). It’s also been reported on WFAA TV and CBS News, in the Clarion-Ledger newspaper, and in numerous postings by numerous bloggers, including myself. It’s a story that shows an abdication of institutional responsibility and an abandonment of moral responsibility.  

So why don’t the people in the pews see this? Why don’t they speak up? Why don’t they demand accountability?

That’s always the mystery, isn’t it? Southern Baptists say they care about children, but in a church with 32,000 members, only one man speaks up.

Chris Tynes
That man is Chris Tynes. Remember the name. I think you’ll wind up hearing more from him. He’s polite, but very persistent. He's not one of the silent many. You can follow the continuing developments in this story on the Facebook page that Tynes has started called People Against Prestonwood’s Silence on Allegations of Sexual Abuse. Ever the optimist, I'm hoping that many more will eventually join Tynes in his efforts.

Meanwhile, I’m still remembering the over-the-top editorial that the Dallas Morning News wrote about Jack Graham back in 2008, when another one of Prestonwood’s ministers was arrested on child solicitation charges. The News heaped undue praise onto Graham for the simple fact that he addressed the congregation after the minister’s arrest. But of course, by the time Graham spoke, the story of the arrest was already making headlines, and so Graham didn’t have the possibility of keeping things quiet in that case. Now, since the news about this two-decades-long scandal has finally come to light, we see what happens when the possibility for keeping things quiet does exist.    

In the end,” wrote the Dallas Morning News editorial, “the real scandal in cases like this comes not from the sins and crimes of sexual offenders. No church will ever be free of that. The truly damaging scandals arise when church leaders mishandle these crises by failing to treat them with the gravity they deserve. Many in church authority have failed their calling and their congregations under similar conditions through defensiveness, dissimulation and deferring hard decisions. Not Jack Graham.”

Yes . . .  Jack Graham.

Thanks to for linking and quoting this posting under Fred Clark's "Smart people saying smart things" column, March 11, 2013.
Thanks also to Deep Thoughts blogger, Mojoey, for spreading the word about this "unholy scandal" in "Baptist hell."