"...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

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Bad Economy is God's Judgment for Non-Tithing Christians!!

Mac has taken his doctrine of "storehouse tithing" to a new level.

According to Mac, God is apparently punishing us for not tithing.

We need to fork over 10% of our income to our churches, and then God will get us out of this economic recession.

Mac is now saying that our extended economic recession is the result of Christians not forking over 10% of their income to their church.

Here is Mac's quote from his Sunday service on 8/23/09:

"Have you ever stopped to think that this whole economic mess in America is not really the cause of Wall Street or the cause of the White House or the cause of Congress, but it might be an act of God on this nation? Would you agree with that, that this very well may be the judgement of God on this nation - the economic difficulty?

Let me give you one that you're not gonna amen:

Have you ever thought that the reason God's put us in an economic difficulty in this nation is because God's people won't prove him with their tithe? Well, more of you amened it than I thought. But I guarantee you somebody's not going to like it. I'm not so sure we're not in the situation we're in because God's people WILL not prove God with the tithe."

There you have it! The solution to our economic woes is right there.

The only person that could make such a ridiculous statement is someone who is out of touch with the suffering this economic recession has wrought on innocent people, even Christians. Recessions in America hurt people and families - it even reaches to developed countries as aid goes down. Its not a stretch to say that people die in developing countries as the result of economic recession in America.

And Mac blames it all on Christians who don't believe his storehouse tithing doctrine. God is exacting a punishment because Christians aren't forking over 10% of their incomes to their mega church to support the lavish lifestyle of their pastors.

That is shameful, and its a blight on the Southern Baptist Convention, and an embarrassment to the city of Jacksonville for such nonsense to be coming forth from the pulpit of FBC Jacksonville.

Did I just say that?

You better believe I did.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Some Interesting Anonymity Cases...

There have been a few interesting legal cases in the past week dealing with issues of anonymous speech on the Internet that I thought my readers might find interesting:

Model Identifies Blogger Who Called Her a "Skank"

Model Liskula Cohen recently filed a John Doe lawsuit to find the identity of a blogger who ran a website "Skanks in NYC". Apparently the lawsuit was over defamation, and the courts ordered Google to release the name of the blogger to Cohen.

Once Cohen found out who it was, she personally called the blogger.

"I said, 'I just want you to know that if I've ever done anything to you to actually deserve this, that I'm really very sorry. I'm sincerely apologetic,'" Cohen said.

So far Cohen has refused to release the name of the blogger.

The Wartburg Watch blog has written an interesting article on Cohen's story, comparing how Cohen handled her blogger with how Mac Brunson handled his.

DC Court of Appeals Sets Guidelines for Protecting Anonymous Speech

In a recent defamation and copywright lawsuit (Solers, Inc. v. Doe), the DC Court of Appeals established a stringent standard for lower courts when a plaintiff attempts to unmask anonymous speakers on the Internet. About the case, the court said:

“[this case] presents us with issues of first impression – whether the First Amendment protects the anonymity of someone such as Doe, and, if so, under what circumstances a plaintiff such as Solers may invoke court processes to learn Doe’s identity and have its day in court."

The court emphasized that a plaintiff "must do more than simply plead his case" to unmask an anonymous speaker claimed to have violated the law.

What is the stringent standard established by the court?

1. Ensure that the plaintiff has adequately pleaded the elements of a defamation claim.

2. Require reasonable efforts to notify the anonymous defendant that the complaint has been filed and the subpoena has been served.

3. Delay further action for a reasonable time to allow the defendant an opportunity to file a motion to quash.

4. Require the plaintiff to proffer evidence creating a genuine issue of material fact on each element of the claim that is within its control.

5. Determine that the information sought is important to enable the plaintiff to proceed with his/her lawsuit.

The court noted that states vary widely in what is required to unmask an anonymous speaker, but the court noted lax requirements in this regard "...may needlessly strip defendants of anonymity in situations where there is no substantial evidence of wrongdoing, effectively giving little or no First Amendment protection to that anonymity."

Sounds reasonable to me. If an anonymous blogger is thought to be breaking a law, defaming someone, let the plaintiff have the backbone to seek the anonymous blogger's identity through due process: file the lawsuit, demand the person's identity through a subpoena so that legal action can be taken against him/her, and give all the parties (plaintiff, defendant, and Internet parties) an opportunity to argue the subpoena's validity.

Besides, what other legal option is there, other than calling the police in an attempt to open a criminal investigation into the blogger - with the hopes that the investigation might lead to subpoenas being issued by the criminal investigator. If someone can do that, well the due process can be by-passed very easily. But of course success requires the criminal investigator is willing to then release the name of the blogger whether or not there was an actual crime committed.

And it would help, presumably, if the investigator has a personal friendship with the plaintiff - most assuredly the identity will be found and given up.

For further reading on the DC Court of Appeals Case:

Baptist Planet - discusses relevance of the case to the FBC Jax Watchdog case.

Citizen Media Law Project

Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fork it Over!

One thing churches and governments have in common: they can raise revenue just by asking people to fork it over.

That must be nice. "Hey, we need more dough. Would you please give us more?"

Here in Jacksonville, we're told by our Republican mayor that they must raise our taxes; they can't cut enough from the bloated city budget during these down economic times, so the answer is in our wallets. The sheriff can't keep the city safe, the city government can't provide needed services unless YOU give more money.

So fork it over. The City of Jacksonville needs more of your money.

General Motors - they were selling American cars at a premium price, earning billions in revenue, but they couldn't stay in business...unless YOU, the American people, give them money via the federal government. Those of you who opted not to buy GM as you have in years past because of their inflated prices and declining quality - the joke is on you, as you ended up giving them about as much money as you would have if you had bought one of their over-priced vehicles.

So fork it over. GM needs your money to stay in business so our economy doesn't collapse.

Now, mega churches like FBC Jacksonville, need more money. Mac Brunson says the church is "5% behind budget", and guess what the solution is: YOU NEED TO GIVE MORE! Yep, need to collect the classic "special love offering" on August 23rd to close the gap. Funny how the answer is NOT let's cut the salaries of the six-figure staff members. Its not cutting the advertising budget and communications and business budgets to close the gap. No cutting of the A-Group's budget or pay cut for Maurilio. Not encouraging the people who have signed up for the "Danube River Cruise with Mac and Debbie Brunson" to cancel their trip and give some of that money to the church.

Nope, the solution to the budget shortfall is found in the wallets of you FBC Jax sand-baggers - you've been holding back. According to Mac, most of you "giving units" aren't tithing, which according to him means you're all stealing from God anyways - so Mac and the leaders have a right to the money that you're holding back from God. Hopefully Mac's prayer was answered that you didn't get a raise, else you would have even less money to give.

So fork it over. God and FBC Jax need your money.

Mac needed "a million dollars in two weeks" last year when you WERE on budget....and now this year he needs almost that much from you during these difficult economic times. Money was found every week to pay inflated salaries, and to pay for TV commercials and media production and camera crews traveling to the Holy Land, and Mac and Deb traveling to Germany and for church marketing services. Gee, its hard to believe they're short on cash now.

Can't they just trust God to provide, and what they get is what God wanted them to get? Does God want them to get by with less? Could it be that God wants a 40% cut in salary for the men on staff earning six-figure salaries? Maybe God is saying "Enough of the TV commercials - my plan for evangelism is not using tithes to pay for producing TV commercials."

To make matters worse, to collect the money, and to entice you to give, they use a marketing gimmick.

They send a letter signed by Mac, the one making an enormous salary and benefit package from the offerings, asking for money along with a special love-offering envelope. They can't just announce: "Hey, we're a bit short, if you have some extra cash that you can stick in your offering, it would be great to make it up this next Sunday." Not good enough. Gotta use the special envelope sent to the 5000 "giving units" of the church. Next year maybe they can include a vial of annointing oil, or the 2-inch square prayer cloth. Its interesting to note the letter doesn't specify any specific actions taken to CUT the budget - like trimming salaries or reducing TV commercials or cutting staff members.

So this Sunday, please write two checks: one for your tithe, and if you would please, write a 2nd check, to put in the SPECIAL envelope we mailed you. One, larger check, isn't good enough. Need two checks. Which replica shall we drop our special offering in - the "chest", or in the "manger?

Special note to the wealthier members: if the Lord has put it on your heart to go minister in the name of Jesus while crusing in luxury sailing on the Danube with Mac and Debbie Brunson next spring, please set aside THAT money and don't give THAT to the church. That's an even "specialer" offering unto the Lord. There's another envelope for that offering, and that envelope and offering will go to Mac's travel agent in Dallas. Mmmm, ain't God good. That offering is due January 9, 2010, paid in full. Don't forget!

The plebe will give it. They always have. They always will...until they wise up. And maybe they will someday.

But in the mean time:

Fork it over.

"Fork ye over all the tithes into the storehouse, so that there may be meat (preferably prime rib) in mine house..."

Monday, August 17, 2009

Another Lawsuit Involving a Jacksonville Church

Apparently there is another prominent Jacksonville church being sued by a church member - over access to financial records.

This time its Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, pastored by the Revs. Rudolph McKissick, Sr. and Jr. FBC Jax members will recall from their history that BBIC is the predominantly African-American church that split from FBC Jax way back in 1877. FBC Jax members will also recall that in 1999, FBC Jax and BBIC had a combined worship service at FBC Jax, where all 4 preachers (Vines, Lindsay, and the two McKissicks) preached, to honor and celebrate the historical connection between the two churches. Very memorable worship service.

According to articles by Jeff Brumley in the Florida Times Union on July 25th and August 16, 2009, several BBIC deacons are suing their church to gain access to financial records of the church, so that church members can be fully informed on how a $22 million dollar loan was spent by church leaders.

In Brumley's July 25th article, one of the deacons filing the suit was quoted:

"This guy [the church's attorney] is just giving us the run-around. They're hoping we're going to go away, and that's just not going to happen."

These deacons sound determined. Even persistent. To the pastor's credit, he did not comment, didn't call these men names, or claim they're mentally ill for their persistance and determination.

Says Brumley in the article:

"They're especially interested in seeing the details about the 2003 purchase of a Jacksonville hotel property for $2.6 million and a $22 million loan obtained in 2006 by church leaders, including pastors Rudolph McKissick Sr. and Rudolph McKissick Jr., court records show."

Hmmm...why not let members see financial records? What could possibly be wrong with that?

On what grounds is the church denying these members from gaining access to financial records of their own church at which they've served and financially supported?

According to Brumley, the church is drawing a distinction between being members of the "church", and being a member of the "corporation" - and guess what: these three deacons are not members of the "corporation" (darn). Now that is a new twist to church financial secrecy - the BBIC members have been writing their tithe checks to the "church", but apparently the money was really going to a "corporation" to which they do not belong, nullifying their rights to demand financial transparency on how money is spent. Oops, minor detail. And how does one "join" a corporation?

OK, let's clarify our scripture:

Jesus said: "Peter, you are the rock, and upon you I will build my corporation."

"And the Lord added to the corporation daily."

"...as Christ loved the corporation and gave Himself for it..."

Although BBIC is not a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, a similar legal struggle occured at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee in 2007 and 2008. Church members wanted access to certain financial records of their church, and they filed a lawsuit after being denied access. These 80 or so church members were accused of being divisive and disruptive to the fellowship, and ultimately were thrown out of their church after a 2nd congregational vote to give 'em the "right boot of fellowship". (the first vote failed, so the pastor, Jerry Sutton, called for a 2nd vote). I blogged about Two Rivers last year here and here.

The sad ending to the Two Rivers saga is this: everyone lost. The members didn't get access to all the records they wanted and they were booted from the church. But on the other hand, in July 2008 Jerry Sutton, resigned as pastor, no doubt over this very public squabble that hurt the church's testimony in the city. No winners, only losers.

If there was a pseudo-winner, perhaps it was FBC Jax who had the benefit of carefully watching events unfold at Two Rivers, and in December 2007 FBC Jax changed their bylaws to eliminate the chance of that fiasco occuring at their church. The amended bylaws state that FBC Jax members forfeit their right to bring any civil action against the church in any court, and they removed the clause allowing the church members to call a special business meeting with a quorum of signatures. Both of those changes will ensure no wayward, recalcitrant FBC Jax member could demand access to financial records like those did at Two Rivers. The moment a lawsuit is filed as was done at Two Rivers and now BBIC, those members could be disfellowshipped for bringing the lawsuit against their bylaws, and a non-member could no longer claim a legal right to financial records. Pretty smart. I'm sure Jesus is very proud. The vast majority of FBC Jax members have no idea their bylaws were changed in this manner, as the pastor or Trustees or Deacons never bothered to explain it to them before asking them to vote on the changes. Strange, but true.

We'll follow the Bethel Baptist story and see what happens there and keep readers posted.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Three Cheers for William Thornton of Baptist Life

Three cheers for William Thornton, a pastor in Georgia and moderator of the "SBC News and Trends" discussion forum at Baptist Life.

William has sent an email to Tim Patterson, trustee chairman of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), expressing his deep concern over the recent "resignation" of NAMB president Geoff Hammond and three of Hammond's direct reports. Its obvious these were not resignations, but firings, but no word is coming from Patterson or the NAMB on the circumstances.

Here is Thornton's letter (with my own emphases) which he has posted openly at BL:

"I’m a pastor who has supported and given to Annie Armstrong and the Cooperative Program for decades.

NAMB’s continuing dysfunctional condition has called into question the efficacy of sending any of my church’s offerings to Atlanta because Southern Baptists deserve better than we have gotten from NAMB. I’m not mad about it but have reached a point where the same platitudes and explanations are no longer sufficient. I daresay that my church can spend our small amount of Annie Armstrong offering a lot better than NAMB can.

To repair the damage from this latest debacle, NAMB trustees need to be completely open and transparent. You can start with being frank and honest with Southern Baptists about why the leader who was highly praised just last May was sacked here in August. You can continue by disclosing how much it is costing us to replace these four employees. I am just a loney voice from the SBC hinterlands but I suggest that all NAMB trustees and staff take a substantial amount of time to shut up, sit down, and start listening to Southern Baptists. God only knows the damage that has been done to North American missions over the past few years. I hold trustees accountable for this.

I have asked the agency for email addresses for all NAMB trustees and would happily say the same things to all of them."

Full disclosure of what happened with Hammond, and the conditions of his departure are crucial, considering the debacle of Hammond's predecessor. For the health of the NAMB, and to be fair to Hammond, the SBC boys are going to have to come clean on what has happend this time at the NAMB that caused Hammond to lose his job so quickly.

Way to go, William. Its refreshing to see a SBC pastor who is not afraid to publicly call for openness and transparency from the SBC power structure....and to tell it like it is.

These guys have to learn that if they want the dollars to flow, whether it be the NAMB agencies or our SBC mega churches - leaders are going to have to start being open, honest, and transparent.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Update From the Watchdog

Hello WD Readers: In this article I want to give you an update on the lawsuits, share some thoughts on where I am going with this blog, and also share my thoughts on the context of issues at FBC Jax in relation to other matters in the SBC.

About the lawsuits: as the readers of the WD blog probably know, we have filed two lawsuits concerning this blog and matters at FBC Jax over the past year or so.

JSO and State Attorney's Office Federal Suit
This lawsuit against the sheriff's office (the city of Jacksonville), the state attorney's office, and the deputy and assistant state attorney is currently in federal court. This is a lawsuit claiming the actions taken by our local law enforcement in opening a criminal investigation into my blog, and then using subpoena power to obtain personal information from Google and Comcast on my blog and about me personally and at least two other bloggers, and then giving that information to FBC Jax was a violation of the First Amendment - both in matters of free speech and state establishment of religion.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss based on something called "qualified immunity", and this week our lawyers have filed a response. The response filed on our behalf was quite lengthy, and is arguing the importance of this case in the matter of free speech, and the clearly established principle in case law that the right to choose anonymity as a component of one's speech is a fundamental part of the First Amendment's right to free speech. I hope to post a copy of this response to their motion to dismiss very soon, as it does state well the matters involved in this case.

FBC Jax and Mac Brunson Lawsuit
This suit was filed in state court a little more than 2 weeks ago, and next week the defendants should be filing their responses to the suit. I will report on that as this case moves forward.

But I do want the people of FBC Jax to know what this suit is about, and what it is not about.

This lawsuit is specifically about two things: 1. The actions taken by FBC Jax leading up to September 28, 2008 in making a police report the day after "Chest of Joash" Sunday, that resulted in a criminal investigation into my blog; and 2. Defamatory remarks made in April 2009 by Mac Brunson to the Florida Times Union concerning my mental health. This lawsuit is not about "disagreements" I have with the church over how they handled their church discipline process, or any of the matters blogged about here. Its narrowly focused on what FBC Jax leadership did, what they said to the JSO that started the investigation into my blog that resulted in them obtaining my name from Comcast as the owner of this blog site.

I know this is an uphill battle for me. Some on my blog predict my demise and have said my head will be handed to me on a platter as a result of these lawsuits. Maybe so. I know it would be easier for me to just drop it all and go away and "shut 'em down". While some people close to me support my decision to pursue these matters in court, there are many people I love and respect, who have my best interests in mind, who have counseled me to drop it all. But for now I will not.

I know there is a good chance we won't get very far in these lawsuits - I don't have the resources that those we are going up against have. I am going up against powerful men and powerful institutions. And I realize my actions have further incensed many at FBC Jax who think this blog is the source of trouble at their church, and who wrongly think I am violating scripture in filing a lawsuit against FBC Jax and Mac Brunson. This lawsuit is about matters involving how the church and the state came together under false pretenses to investigate a blogger who dared to write anonymously about matters that Mac Brunson and the Trustees of FBC Jax did not like. Those of you at FBC Jax who love your First Amendment rights, and who even this week saw how the current presidential administration is seeking to identify, and then silence and discredit and intimidate critics of their health care plan - you should likewise be very concerned that a church might be able to, at the drop of a hat, enlist the help of our government officials in the carrying out of their church discipline process against someone who dared to criticize their pastor and leadership. These are serious matters, and the only place for it to be rightly decided is in our judicial system.

Where is this blog going?
I remain very interested in the goings on in the Southern Baptist Convention, and for the near future I will continue to blog about issues that are of concern to me, especially matters of pastoral authority, spiritual abuse, and financial waste at mega churches - which may include matters at FBC Jax. I will likely continue to reflect on my experiences at FBC Jax while there under Mac Brunson's teaching, and as I gain a fuller understanding of what transpired last year leading up to my letter of 16 sins received in November, and the resulting Deacon's Resolution in February. Not to rehash events, but to educate and inform those outside of Jacksonville - both vocational ministers and laymen - so that what has happened at FBC Jax might be avoided elsewhere.

I will likely use this blog to keep readers updated on the progress of the lawsuits just as I have in this article. So stay tuned.

Watch the "Wartburg Watch" Blog
I want to recomend that my readers begin following the Wartburg Watch blog very closely. The blog authors are posting 5 articles per week, and they are focusing on spiritual abuse in the SBC and evangelical Christianity in general. The WW blog is extremely well written and researched, and if you are interested in understanding better how the events at FBC Jax in the past few years fit into the larger picture of spiritual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention, then the Wartburg Watch is a MUST READ for you. These authors have their own experience in falling into disfavor with an SBC pastor and church, but their focus is much wider than a single church. In the coming weeks, they will be doing some articles on the matters at FBC Jax and concerning Mac Brunson - as well as Steve Gaines at Bellevue Baptist.

So that is my update, readers. My hope is that this blog and others will be used by God to open the eyes of mega church members around the SBC to the spiritual abuse that goes on right in their own church, by their own pastor enabled by his lay leaders, in the way the Word of God is preached to manipulate people, in the way church discipline is misused against critics and dissenters, and how church resources are used to enlarge the ego and pocketbook of their mega church pastors.

As always, your comments and criticisms are welcome here on this blog, and we welcome those who choose to express themselves anonymously on these matters.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What's With the "Coaching" of Christian Leaders?

There is a news report out that Geoff Hammond, the current SBC North American Mission Board (NAMB) president is in hot water, and his trustees are soon to be meeting to decide on his fate.

What are the Trustees' concerns?

Morale at the agency is apparently low. And, this other major "disaster":

"-- that Hammond had stopped meeting with an executive leadership coach trustees had hired to work with him and was seeking a different coach..." (quote from Baptist Press).

What concerns me is not that he didn't use the RIGHT coach, but that this guy needs a coach IN THE FIRST PLACE!

"Executive leadership coach? Our mission dollars are paying for an "executive leadership coach" for the head of a mission agency?

Why do supposedly "God-called" men need to have "coaches" to help them lead and do their jobs? I mean, really. Men that were called to the ministry by God, spent years at seminary in training, whom God called to be pastor or leader somewhere, who now need some "guru" to come in and help them decide how to lead?

Another recent example is a pastor from Houston, Texas, who recently spent three days in Nashville to be "coached" by Maurilio. Maurilio and this pastor openly "Tweeted" during this pastors stay. From the Tweets, we learn that Maurilio is this pastor's "creative coach". On his Tweets, this pastor described Maurilio as "he can really draw it out" - his creativity that is. Both Maurilio and this pastor posted pictures on Twitter during his stay, and they spent Wednesday through Friday designing the pastor's next three sermon series. While there, the preacher experienced a "quality creative breakthrough", and their meetings were described as "creative and strategic exercises".

This pastor and Maurilio "Tweeted" about their fine dining experiences at some nice restaurants around "Nashvegas", even took pictures of their gourmet plates and put them up on the Internet for their Tweeter "followers" to enjoy.

Are not there lay people, or staff members at the church, that can coach the pastor, that can "draw out" his creativity? Must he fly to Nashvegas to work with a marketing consultant? Geoff Hammond - there aren't people in his organization that can help him? He needs an "executive leadership coach"?

I've heard reports that Brunson had a coach of sorts during his time in Dallas - Mike Miller - who was hired to help Brunson manage his time and enhance his leadership skills. Who knows, maybe Maurilio is "coaching" Brunson as well.

This sort of thing - a pastor having to fly to spend 1/2 week with a "creative coach", in order to "draw out" his creativity, to have creative and strategic exercises, and to go to restaurants and just pal around....and then to TWITTER ABOUT THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE...it makes me wonder how much of this is going on with other SBC pastors and leaders who are spending God's money? Is there a market out there for "pastor coaching" like Maurilio does? I thought pastors were "Men of God" that were seminary-trained and that God used to lead the church - but now the trend is that pastors need to spend quality time with a creative coach to figure out what to preach, how to preach, and how to lead?

When I hear of "executive coaches" at the mission board for the president, it makes me glad there is a task force looking at the overall structure of the SBC - but I wonder if these task force members are as disgusted as the lay people are. We hear reports this week that Cooperative Program giving is down 2.65%, or $14.6 million from last year - which in this economy isn't too shabby.

Memo to GCR Task Force: please find and get rid of this wasteful spending, and put accountability measures in place to make sure our mission dollars are not wasted. I think it safe to say: Executive Coaches are not helping Southern Baptists fulfill the Great Commission.

I think it very appropriate to quote Mary Kinney Branson in her book "Spending God's Money":

"The extent of misuse [of money] is directly proportional to the distance between the giver and the spender."

We see it at the national level with our federal government.

And we see it at the national level within the SBC.

And we see it even in our mega churches, where money is spent without the givers having any right to any significant detail whatsoever on how it is spent.