Thursday, April 18, 2013

Dear Ed: Speak up!

Ed Stetzer
This is an open letter to Ed Stetzer, who is the president of LifeWay Research, a Baptist pastor, and a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. LifeWay is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, and according to its website, provides data and research for “enlightening today’s churches with relevant insights.”
Dear Ed:

In the midst of all the news about the scandal involving Prestonwood Baptist Church in Texas, I was reminded about how you took to task the Independent Fundamental Baptists for not speaking up about clergy sex abuse. And I keep wondering why you aren’t also taking members of your own Southern Baptist faith group to task.

There have been so many reports about Southern Baptist pastors committing sexual abuse and about Southern Baptist churches involved in clergy abuse cover-ups. In my spare time, I used to try to keep track of Baptist clergy abuse cases, but frankly, it was more than I could handle. And I was only trying to log the ones that had been publicly reported.

Since LifeWay provides research and data on so many other topics relevant to Baptist life, I often wondered why you yourself weren’t keeping track of Baptist clergy sex abuse cases. I imagine that most parents would find it “enlightening” to learn how widespread the problem really is – and how easy it is for clergy predators to simply church-hop their way to new prey.

But for now, I want to ask you about just one case: Prestonwood. Why aren’t you speaking up about what happened at Prestonwood?

Surely you’ve heard about it. With 32,000 members, Prestonwood is the fifth largest church in the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s headed by pastor Jack Graham, a two-term Southern Baptist Convention president. And it’s mired in a clergy sex abuse cover-up” scandal that just won't let go.
The scandal has been in the news for quite a while now, but in case you’ve missed it, let me bring you up to speed with the short version.

A longtime Prestonwood member, Chris Tynes, recently discovered that “a former music minister, John Langworthy, admitted to sexual misconduct with young boys while at Prestonwood” twenty years ago. Prestonwood officials dismissed Langworthy at the time, but they allowed him to simply move on to another Southern Baptist church in Mississippi, where he continued to work with kids. Langworthy was recently convicted of child sex crimes in Mississippi.

There is no indication that Prestonwood officials ever notified the police of Langworthy’s admission, and a woman who was a staff intern at the church says they didn’t. There are questions about whether Prestonwood officials tried to keep things “under wraps.”

Yet, when Tynes started inquiring about all this, Prestonwood officials called the cops on Tynes, labeling him as “a suspicious person, possibly violent.”

Did you get that? The Watchdog blogger summarized it this way: “Prestonwood Baptist doesn’t call the cops on the molester, but they call the cops on the church member who asks questions about the molester.” So, you’re there telling Independent Baptists to speak up, Ed, but in your own denomination, when a Southern Baptist does exactly that, the church calls the cops on him.

Tynes has now created a Facebook page, “People Against Prestonwood’s Silence on Allegations of Sexual Abuse.” And pastor Graham, who refused to comment when this story was first reported in 2011, still maintains that he’s doing the right thing by keeping silent -- “like a lamb” --  and by refusing to answer questions.

So here’s what I don’t understand, Ed. One of the most prominent churches of your own Southern Baptist denomination has done so much that’s so wrong and so dangerous. Yet, you and other Southern Baptist leaders stay silent.

You lose credibility when you take the easy road of pointing a finger at Independent Baptists without also speaking out about your own Southern Baptist abuse scandals.

So, Ed, I’m quoting your own words right back to you: “Speak up!” Your denomination “has had way too many scandals . . . so speak up now.” “Secrecy and circling the wagons breeds this kind of behavior and is destroying children. . . . Your young pastors are leaving and your children are in danger. It is abuse. It must stop. And it must stop now. Speak up.”

And Ed, it’s not only the morally right thing to do, but it would be the smart thing as well. Twenty-somethings will not be satisfied with the Southern Baptist status quo. They are a generation of young people who believe they can make things better, and who feel a responsibility to at least try. When so many other faith groups have begun implementing denominational safeguards against clergy abuse, young people will see the inanity of Southern Baptists’ self-serving denominational do-nothingness and the hypocrisy of Southern Baptists’ charade of powerlessness. Ultimately, they will reject the dysfunctionality of a denomination that refuses to protect its own children.

So Ed, heed your own words. Speak up!
For the love of kids, speak up!


Christa Brown

Update: P.S. to Ed, 4/26/2013

And take a look at this 4/10/2013 WatchKeep posting, “Of Questions and Cowards,” including its attached transcript of a phone conversation with what is reported to be a Prestonwood deacon, who asserts that Prestonwood tried to “handle it discreetly, as any church tries to do.”

Related posts on this blog:
Boots, biscuits and Prestonwood Baptist, March 18, 2013
People to remember in the Prestonwood/Morrison Heights scandal, February 9, 2013
Baptists should heed mother’s call for accountability, January 29, 2013