"...When He [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." Matt 9:36

"Do not rob the poor, because he is poor... for the Lord will take up their case and plunder those who plunder them." Proverbs 22:22-23

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Moving to a New Phase

In a few days, the matter of First Baptist Jacksonville, the FBC Jax Watchdog blogsite, and the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office (JSO) subpoenas will enter into a new phase.

I have retained legal counsel to pursue the truth of exactly what happened last fall resulting in the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office obtaining my identity through subpoena power, and then disclosing my identity to the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville. The issues discussed on this blog, FBC Jax and the words and actions of its pastor Mac Brunson, will now shift to issues of free speech, free anonymous speech, and federal privacy matters. As will be alleged in the forthcoming legal action, I believe it will be proven the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office (JSO) and the State Attorney's Office (SAO) have played a role in wrongly interfering in one of its citizen's rights to speak freely on religious matters concerning FBC Jacksonville.

From this point on, I am committed to using all legal means necessary to find the truth, and then prevent these types of things happening again in Duval County and elsewhere. Government officials involving themselves in the affairs of a church matter under the pretext of a criminal investigation, for the purpose of identifying and exposing an anonymous dissenter to a large, powerful, religious institution is completely wrong, and unacceptable.

--------------
"Government officials involving themselves in the affairs of a church matter under the pretext of a criminal investigation, for the purpose of identifying and exposing an anonymous dissenter to a large, powerful, religious institution is completely wrong, and unacceptable."
--------------

I have retained the services of the J. Scott Nooney law firm in Jacksonville, Florida in the forthcoming lawsuit for the issues mentioned above. With the aid of this law firm, I fully intend to find the truth, and to hold those accountable for any wrongdoing in that process, and to effect necessary change such that it won't happen again.

This blog will remain open for discussion of these matters.

And anonymous speech is welcome here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Seeking Censure

Readers - read Wade Burleson's latest blog post about a man from Jacksonville who contacted Wade's local baptist association seeking CENSURE of Wade Burleson for his blog posts that the man claims were harmful to First Baptist Church of Jacksonville.


We have no idea who the man was, or if he was even a member of FBC Jax. But as Wade points out:

"...It seems a few churchmen have a knack for trying to intimidate others into silence. In the end, it never works."

So Wade Burleson has posted several articles about the situation in FBC Jax that the person from Jacksonville doesn't like. But maybe this person will post here with their name telling us what his beef is with Wade Burleson, and maybe explain why he hasn't contacted Wade himself instead of going to his local baptist association.

Here are Wade's post regarding FBC Jax:






Thursday, April 16, 2009

Times Union: JSO and FBC Jax - "Troubling Issues"

Below is the staff editorial appearing in today's Florida Times Union. I agree with the Times Union...."TROUBLING" indeed...that our JSO investigated a blog that had no criminal activity and advocated no criminal activity, to the point of finding its author....and to the point of giving the name of the author to the church.

Headline: JSO and First Baptist - Troubling Issues

The case, now closed, involving a police investigation of a blogger and First Baptist Church raises serious issues.

First, there is a perception that one of Jacksonville's most influential institutions used its influence with the Sheriff's Office against a man who had been criticizing it. This raises free speech issues.

Second, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has ethics rules that allows an investigator who works on the security detail of the church he attends to conduct the investigation.

Sheriff John Rutherford has stated that his department acted appropriately in every respect. See his statement on this page [click here].

The fact that an investigation was conducted and that information was shared with the complainant is routine practice, he said.

The investigator who conducted the work was only doing his regular job, the same actions he would take if any other faith group issued a complaint, Rutherford said.

But there are several factors that raise troubling concerns:

Weak link to criminal activity: The church was concerned about stolen mail and photos taken of the pastor's wife. But linking them to a critical blogger seemed a stretch. While the blogger's posts were critical, they did not appear to justify a police investigation.

As Rutherford wrote in his statement, the investigation was shut down because "no criminal conduct or significant threat to the church was determined to exist."

Beef up JSO's ethics code: The code forbids officers from investigating matters involving their families, JSO spokeswoman Lauri-Ellen Smith told the Times-Union, but permits probes involving friends, neighbors and churches.

Conflicts could arise in any area in which officers have close personal involvement. That could include businesses, schools, outside activities, and, especially, their places of worship. In this case, the investigating officer had both a religious and business relationship.

The Sheriff's Office should reexamine its ethics code, perhaps in concert with the city's ethics office, to prevent similar situations from happening.

The goal should be to avoid perceptions of favoritism. This case certainly fostered that perception.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Re-Run: The Danger of Unchecked Pastoral Authority

Below is an article originally posting here on 1/14/09. I believe its worth considering again.

-------------------------

Last Saturday (1/10/09) SBC pastor Wade Burleson wrote an article at his blog about leadership and used Ted Haggard's moral failures as a back drop. What I took away from Wade's article is this: lay leaders do much harm to their churches and ministries, and even do great harm to the pastors themselves, when they give pastors virtually full control of a church, within a system designed for minimum accountability, and very little transparency and openness with the members.

I would say the potential for harm is even greater when we hire a new pastor that has no track record with the lay leaders and the congregation. It makes virtually no sense at all to concentrate power over a mega church and its staff and ministries in one man that is a virtual UNKNOWN to the congregation. I believe this is perhaps our biggest mistake as a church during our pastoral transition after Vines.

Too bad our trustees - most of whom are learned business men and lawyers and leaders - didn't have the foresight to see potential problems of our pastor-led system with a new pastor. We failed to make some important bylaw changes to reduce the power of the new pastor...which would make sense given that he was an UNKNOWN. As we shall see starting tomorrow as we look at the bylaw changes at FBC Jax from December 2007, not only did we give the same power and control of our church to Mac Brunson that our very seasoned and trusted pastors had, but we actually gave him MORE POWER, LESS ACCOUNTABILITY in the bylaw changes of December 2007...while not even making sure the most faithful and trusted members understood the changes and how they impacted their church and their church membership. Shameful. Shameful.

Now I'm sure Burleson didn't have Team Brunson and our lay leadership in mind when he wrote his article, but boy it sure fits our situation and the leadership of Mac Brunson. By the way, Burleson, contrary to slanderous remarks made to our church staff by a certain FBC Jax staff member at our church who has served with Burleson at the IMB...he IS a solid, bible inerrancy conservative SBC pastor...who happened to fall out of favor with the SBC big wigs for using his blog to hold the IMB accountable for decisions he believed were harmful to the SBC. Its a story too long to tell here, but his blog is probably the most read blog in the SBC and a definite must read.

Here are some excerpts from his article cut and pasted here. Please see if any of these statements could or might apply to Team Brunson:

From WADE BURLESON's January 10 blog article:

"We Christians should take an honest look at what it is we think qualifies a person to lead."

"We have pastors who bully those who question them,... and other actions that lead me to believe we have a God-complex among some of our leaders."

Nothing more "bullying" than issuing trespass warnings to suspected bloggers and their wives. Ask the members - there is a aire of fear at the church, that those who question the leadership will be singled out or asked to leave. This entire blog is about the "bullying" and intimidation of Mac Brunson from the pulpit.

"This false sense of moral invincibility has led to a climate where transparency, honesty, and personal integrity are no longer a part of our corporate faith."

Amen. We have to realize that our leaders need accountability. For instance, Mac loves his family so much, he is such a wonderful husband and father (I mean that sincerely), that if not checked he may use his position as pastor to give ALL of them jobs at our church. That is a "weakness" that he has that needs to be checked through some system of accountability like most other churches have through a personnel committee and perhaps a nepotism policy.

"Had people known of his [Haggard's] struggles, they could have held him accountable. Had people had the sense that their leader was fallible, they might have never given him such unbridled freedom and authority."

I think admiting one's mistakes to the congregation would be a starting point. When a lie is told, apologize. When you blasted us to a group in North Carolina, explain your words or apologize. Its OK Mac to let us know you've done something wrong or hurtful.

"The problem with organized Christianity is not the gospel. The problem with organized Christianity is that too many Christians have forgotten that leaders are fallible."

"Yet, in my mind,the true gospel is only strengthened when Christian leaders lose their public sense of absolute authority and spiritual perfection. Anybody who presumes to talk on behalf of God should remember that the treasure we possess (the gospel) is carried in fragile, clay jars."

"The lust for power and absolute authority, the lust for fleshly gratification and paralyzing materialism, and the lust for personal recognition and praise are all inner demons that every SBC pastor and leader faces. The only way to prevent leaders from acting out on such temptations is to realize that these sins are common to fallen man, to never bestow absolute authority or unbridled freedom on any man, and to resist the idea that any Christian leader is beyond being questioned."

This is so true today more than ever. We see this right in front of our eyes at FBC Jax.

"The SBC church, institution or agency that believes the "leader" is beyond simple accountability will find that leader has the capability to ruin the organization. When and if that happens, the fault will reside not only with the leader, but those laymen who were unable to see that a lack of transparency is the first indication that something is wrong."

Exactly. An unchekced leader has the capacity to ruin an organization, and if it happens, the blame falls not just on him, but the laymen, the churchmen, who didn't stop it.

AMEN and AMEN!

The Watchdog has been saying virtually the same thing for months on this blog. As I said Wade may not have had Team Brunson in mind when he wrote that article, but if the shoe fits...

Do any of you lay leaders at FBC Jax get it? Do you realize what you have done by changing those by-laws and giving full authority and power to Team Brunson (which means Mac, Deb, Trey, and Maurilio) with no real accountability or transparency? Do you think you've done them or our church any favors in this?

I pray that some of you staff and lay leaders will read this blog and wake up.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"I Am Not Infallible" Says Mac

Below is Mac's attempt at an apology of sorts at the end of the Easter service 4/12/09. He doesn't say what he is talking about, just that he is alerting the congregation to the fact that he is not infallible. He says:

"I am a sinner...I have faults...I'm not inerrant, and I'm not infallible, and I'm certainly not perfect, and I just want you to know that."

Thanks for clarifying, as we all have thought you were sinless, Mac. And he doesn't say what he's sort of apologizing for - for the whole mess in the newspaper, or maybe for diagnosing me as a sociopath. But he then goes on to say whatever it was he was sort of apologizing for, he did it in the best interests of the church, because he is the great bastion of protection of the church.
Listen for yourself. He has his humble voice on. No stomping. No yelling, just humble Mac.

Friday, April 10, 2009

FBC Jax's Official Response to This Story

Many people might be wondering what is FBC Jax's official response to this story. I believe they delivered their response preemptively back on February 25, 2009 in a special business meeting. This business meeting can be seen in the first video below.

By Blount's own admission in yesterday's paper: "We became concerned enough to ask law enforcement, 'Is there the ability to find out where this is coming from?’" In other words, can you help us find the blogger?

There were no police reports of picture taking or mail stealing. I believe the church's intent in going to JSO was purely to find the identity of the blogger. Why did they want to find the blogger's identity? Was it to help the poor soul who they thought was in deep blog sin so they could go to him in accordance with Matthew 18? No. They instead used the subpoena to know where to deliver trespass warnings to the Watchdog "sociopath" that Mac has declared the Watchdog to be.

Fast forward to February: after they knew my family had already left the church because of the JSO trespass warnings, they decided to take one more swipe. They couldn't just let us go to another church. They couldn't let this tragic story go to waste. The trustees decided to write up a resolution condeming the blogger for his "unjust criticism" of the church, and then warn the other sheep if they get out of line they will do the same thing to them that they did to the blogger.

Listen carefully to this resolution as the President of the Trustees reads it, as it is in lawyerly prose. It really is chilling. You can also read the resolution, as the church has it proudly hyperlinked in the upper right hand corner of their church website.

The message in the 2nd half of the edict: if you get out of line, if you "unjustly criticize", or express "harmful opinions" about the church leadership, FBC Jax Trustees will consider it "an attack against the church of the Lord Jesus Christ", and you will be "confronted aggressively in accordance with scripture". I believe they were so proud of how they easily found out the Watchdog's identity, they wanted to put the fear of God in the rest of the sheep, letting them know they could do it and would do it again if necessary.

The 2nd video below is a sample of Mac's preaching - toward the end he delivers his "shut 'em down" advice to his church leadership...delivered just a week before the reading of the Deacon's Resolution.



Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Story of the Watchdog Blog - Part 1

SEE FRONT PAGE OF FLORIDA TIMES UNION

I realize that many of you reading this are first time visitors to this blog, perhaps directed here by the Jeff Brumley article in the Florida Times Union. This blog post will share a more expanded story - how this blog came into existence, and what the concerns were at FBC Jax that led to its inception.

My initial comment on the article: how sad to read the depths that Mac Brunson has sunk to. A pastor, a man supposedly called by God Himself to love and shepherd Christians, that he would unequivocally declare to a news reporter that I, one of his sheep until just recently, am "obsessive compulsive", and that I am "not stable at all", and the real humdinger that "What you're dealing with here is sociopath". Mac suddenly knows my mental state, when he has never met me, my wife, or my kids. Not one single conversation with the man and he declares me to be a sociopath. People who know me at FBC Jax and my new church and elsewhere know this is not true and just a pathetic attempt by Mac to attack the credibility of one of his critics. The sad truth is that Mac telling a news reporter this lie about one of his sheep speaks more to Mac's lack of character and lack of a pastor's heart than it does my mental state. Thank you, pastor, who never met me or my wife or my kids - for lying about me to Jeff Brumley - but I do forgive you, brother.

Here is the story of this blog, Part 1:

What Were the Concerns?

Back in the spring and summer of 2007 I saw Mac Brunson, the new pastor hired in spring 2006, begin to exhibit actions that raised some concerns with me and several other members. Some did express these concerns in person, some via e-mail, and others with anonymous emails. When those concerns we felt were being ignored, and some members were intimidated by deacons to stop discussing these concerns, and others were asked to outright leave if we couldn't fully support the pastor, I decided to try to effect change at FBC Jax through a blog.

I saw possible abuses at our church shortly after our new pastor arrived, regarding acceptance of a $307,000 land gift just three weeks after he arrived - even though his own Pastor's Guidebook cautions pastors against accepting large gifts! I watched as we spent $100,000 to renovate 3600+ square feet of our newly constructed children's building to provide the pastor and his wife and secretary luxury office suites. I saw the preacher vacate the pulpit unannounced, I heard him say he took several Sunday nights off because he had to finish a book manuscript. I saw us spending money on the A-Group, a church marketing consultant and promotions firms. The head of this firm, Maurilio Amorim, came to be involved in personnel decisions at FBC Jax the first year of Mac's tenure, at a church and city that he knew nothing about. I saw us develop promotions plans to "raise revenue" at our pastors conference through charging for advertising and selling "promotions packages".

I saw long-term pastors leave while we were told that "God called" them somewhere else…only to find that actually they were fired and some were treated very disrespectfully in their departure after decades of faithful service. I saw nepotism on full display, with family members put on staff without the congregation being told their ministry titles or responsibilities.

I saw a video testimony featuring the business owned by the sons of the man who gave the $307,000 land gift be played smack dab in the middle of the preacher's sermon. It looked like quid-pro-quo, pay-for-play, of the worst kind.

I then began to watch the preacher begin to display an attitude toward his congregation of condescension and anger, saying abusive things to his congregation as standard fare in his sermons. I heard of large salaries totaling near $500,000 per year total compensation for Team Brunson. I watched the church sponsor a non-Christian event called "Time to Stand For Israel" that had ties to bio-medical research firms, raising money for an Israeli hospital at which abortions were performed. My wife and I were even in the service on a Sunday night in 2008 when Brunson spoke a very hurtful, bald-faced lie about a seminary professor named Sheri Klouda.

I watched as our trustees made very significant changes to our bylaws in December 2007 without one word of explanation to the congregation.

As I saw these abuses pile up, I couldn't stay silent any longer.

I thought that someone needed to speak up against these abuses and demand the leadership explain them, and stop them. Unfortunately, no one did or no one could.

I knew that if I asked questions, as a mere layman with no power or influence or stature, they would not be answered completely, or worse that I would be singled out as a troublemaker and that not only would I not be able to make a difference, but I and my family might suffer ridicule or bannishment. I did send a few anonymous emails to the pastor that went unanswered. Then Brunson and even Jerry Vines preached about how wrong anonymous emails were. I in no way wanted to leave my church. We loved the church and its ministers and ministries. So, rightly or wrongly, I wasn't about to leave, and decided not to remain silent.

So I started a blog to get some of my concerns considered by others in the church and to provide a place where others could share their concerns.

The Blog Begins

The blog began August 2007. No marketing. No advertising. No strategy. No live streaming. Just a guy who started writing about abuses he had seen at his church. Slowly traffic began to come to the blog.

I thought someone in leadership would wake up and take the mantel and stop the abusive practices, and a blog would no longer be necessary.

I thought the pastor might become aware of the blog, and himself be convicted by a layperson's view of what was wrong at the church and stop his verbal abuse, and would even begin to answer important questions to his congregation.

Boy, was I wrong.

Why anonymous blogging? I preferred to blog anonymously so as not to draw attention to myself, or make the discussion about me personally. I decided to focus on what I saw and heard, and to give a voice to those things I considered abusive. I never wanted the blog to be distracted by who I was, or make myself the issue. And of course self-preservation played a role - some who criticize my anonymity have anonymously called that "cowardice" - but if not wanting my wife and kids to feel the pain of having their husband and dad ridiculed as a troublemaker at their beloved church is cowardice, then so be it.

As it turns out, as I have learned in very recent days and as reported by Jeff Brumley, the lengths to which the church has gone to identify me and intimidate me and silence me confirmed my fears! The church leadership did indeed seek to silent a vocal dissent - a man who saw questionable things going on at the church and demanded accountability and demanded answers on a blog caused all of the power and influence that was at the disposal of the big church downtown - the wealthy pastor, the retired and respected circuit judge, even a few long-time staffers and even JSO officials who go to the church - they all rose to action to find out who this blogger was. It was well known in the congregation that Mac wanted to know my identity so the blog could be shut down, and they had finally had enough and wanted to shut it down.

Did I effect change through this? Yes, there was change. But not the kind I envisioned. The plan to effect change backfired and it resulted in the wrong kind of change.

The Response to the Blog

Instead of the pastor becoming more open and honest, less abusive in his statements and attitudes from the pulpit, it only got worse. He began to talk about church discipline in threatening, certainly less than loving ways.

Instead of lay leaders requiring the pastor to explain some of the issues raised on the blog, and maybe making some small changes in church governance that would be more open and transparent, that would be more inviting of people like me who had legitimate questions, they changed the bylaws to create a discipline committee, retracted a key provision in the bylaws to take away a key component of congregational authority, and they declared all members to have forfeited their rights to ever take legal action against the church for any reason.

Not the kind of change we can believe in.

And they - the pastor and trustees - did this without explaining it to the congregation.

Apparently they were so infatuated with shutting down this ONE LONE voice, a man who had a blog - no budget, no staff, no marketing consultants - he had to be silenced at all costs.

The Search

Unbelievably, the leadership decided they could not ignore one single, solitary voice of dissent. The blog had to be shut down. Posters supporting the pastor claimed it was nothing more than lies and gossip and innuendo. I was slandering the pastor and the people of FBC Jax, they said. I was harming the church they said - while the pastor maintained it was harmless "beauty shop gossip" and that he never reads it. It was not the pastor's own words and actions that were harming the church, it was the Watchdog's highlighting of these words and actions that was the problem.

But the Watchdog had to be found. And the blog needed to be shut down. One voice of dissent was apparently one too many for the church leadership to stand.

The JSO was involved, State's attorney was involved, and apparently some sort of mail stealing or picture taking of the pastor's wife was alleged. This allowed the authorities to obtain subpoenas to force Google and Comcast to reveal my identity, as well as a few other bloggers critical of baptist preachers.

Now they knew who I was. Now what would they do with this information?

The new bylaws had created a discipline committee. Would the committee approach me in accordance with Matthew 18 as the preacher had preached about multiple times during the life of the blog? Would they ask him to stop blogging? Would they go and lovingly confront me with the evidence against me and offer to answer my questions and ask me to shut the blog down for the good of the church, maybe admit some of my concerns were valid and they would address those?

Not a chance.

Mac's sermon references to "biblical church discipline" according to Matthew 18 apparently were just a bunch of malarkey.

It was now they decided to do what Mac had preached about church discipline - they decided to "put the fear of God in me". They said they wanted "reconciliation and restoration." Their actions spoke just the opposite. Instead of biblical church discipline, they decided to intimidate and "shut him down". They said the matter was eccliastical, when they themselves used the public servants at JSO and SAO to find my identity.

The Discipline Letter and Trespass Warnings

On the eve of Thanksgiving, my friend John Blount - a man I have respected and loved ever since I was at FBC Jax - the man who was a wonderful Sunday School teacher to me in the men's department for 5 years - he called me and hung up before showing up at my door along with Kevin King to hand me a sealed envelope and quickly departed, refusing my invitation to come in. When he and Kevin King were at my door, I assumed these two men would inform me I had been identified, might ask me to stop blogging, or may be discuss some of my concerns, and maybe pray with me or for me.

Again, I was wrong.

Their letter said I had been identified to them as the blog owner, and it demanded that I meet with their discipline committee. It also contained trespass warnings for both me and my wife immediately banning us from the church under threat of arrest. I knew I would never meet with these men until they first told me the basis of their accusations and would allow me to bring representation. I wanted to know how I had been "positively identified" by these men. I suspected they had somehow gained access to my Internet records, had invaded my privacy. As I said before, it was my desire, and my right, to blog anonymously. As the popularity of the blog increased, as more and more people became aware of it, my anonymity was now more focused on self-preservation. I knew that I had a first amendment right to blog, and that I also had a right to stay anonymous. I believed I had done nothing wrong, and that they had no right to pry into my private Internet records to find what blog sites I did or did not own.

The committee seemed very afraid to allow any of my requests, so the meeting never occurred. On December 3rd they wouldn't even let me and my wife come to the church to watch our daughter sing a solo with her ensemble because we FIRST had to meet the 6 members of the discipline committee. So we dropped her off and hurried home to watch her sing on the Internet broadcast.

The following Sunday, December 7th, 2008, at 10:00 am the during the Sunday School hour, the church administration executed official trespass warnings with an officer of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office for both me and my wife - the reason for the trespass warning says "church misconduct". I have copies of these officially executed trespass warnings that are on file with JSO. Yes, my wife who did nothing but faithfully serve in that church for many years has a trespass warning on file downtown with the JSO for "church misconduct".

I suspected their deliverance of a 3 page letter, a list of 16 sins, and 2 trespass warnings was more of an attempt to intimidate me to shut the blog down, than it was at an honest attempt at their reported "restoration and reconciliation". I knew also that it was not in accordance with Matthew 18.

So I decided I would not be intimidated by these unbiblical tactics to try to get my blog to shut down. I was not going to be a coward and be bullied by these men because they didn't like what I was writing.

Next - Part 2: The Church Discipline Process