Saturday, June 8, 2013

Southern Baptist Leadership Is Lacking

Jack Graham

Jack Graham will be a featured speaker at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual Pastors’ Conference on June 9 in Houston. His topic? Leadership.
So . . . let’s talk a little about the kind of leadership that Jack Graham has shown.

Graham is the senior pastor at the 32,000-member Prestonwood Baptist megachurch in Plano, Texas.  It’s a church that has been mired in a clergy child molestation cover-up scandal that just won’t go away – mainly because the church leadership just keeps digging itself deeper.

For example, last March, Prestonwood officials called the cops on a church member who dared to ask questions about the widely-reported cover-up – an act that only made church leadership look like bullies.  And Graham himself refused to comment back in 2011 when WFAA-News first reported the scandal – a refusal that only served to raise more questions. Two years later, with the cover-up scandal still in the news, Graham tried to use Jesus to justify his continued silence on the alleged cover-up – a justification that looked like nothing more than an evasive “cop-out.”
So this is the kind of leadership that Jack Graham has shown. It’s the kind of leadership that declines any transparency and that acts as though it’s above accountability. More importantly, it’s the kind of leadership that raises disturbing questions about whether church image and crony protection were given priority over kids’ safety – and about whether church leadership violated the law in failing to report to the police information about suspected child sex abuse.     

Graham’s style of leadership on this goes all the way back to the summer of 1989 when Prestonwood church officials received an allegation that the church’s youth music minister, John Langworthy, had “acted inappropriately with a teenage student.” Amy Smith, a former Prestonwood staff intern who was there at the time, has said that Langworthy “confessed to molesting boys in the church.” With Jack Graham at the helm, Prestonwood church officials responded by quietly dismissing Langworthy. They got Langworthy off their own turf, but Langworthy was able to go to work at another Southern Baptist church in Mississippi.
Thanks to Amy Smith’s extraordinary efforts – and no thanks to Jack Graham – this “cover-up” finally came to light some two decades later. With more victims coming forward, Langworthy pled guilty last January to multiple counts of child molestation. However, because his crimes were concealed for so long, he will serve no prison time.
The Southern Baptist Convention has over 100,000 ministers. Yet, this man, Jack Graham, is the minister who gets presented as a model of “leadership” for others to follow – a man who, from reported accounts, kept quiet about a child predator, allowing him easy access to more kids for more than two decades.

I have no doubt but that Graham’s style of leadership provides good-sounding sermons to the masses – because the masses certainly show up at his church. And with 32,000 members in his church, I expect that Graham’s style of leadership also provides hefty contributions to the Southern Baptist Convention’s cooperative program.

But what style of leadership is more important? Leadership that provides impressive preaching and big dollars, or leadership that prioritizes the protection of kids?
Apparently, Southern Baptist officials think it’s the former and so they present Jack Graham as a “leadership” model. In doing so, the Southern Baptist Convention sends this message: “Clergy sex abuse cover-up? No big deal."

Update: In a Jun 7, 2013 press release, the national director of SNAP, David Clohessy, says, "These men should be chastised and disciplined, not held up as models."