"...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 31, 2010

Crystal Cathedral in Trouble, Schuller's Take Pay Cut, but: "The Schullers' salaries are not available."

"The Schullers' salaries are not available."

This is one of the few lines that does not shock the reader in last month's Orange County Register article highlighting the Schullers' announcement that "the Schullers'" are taking a 50% pay cut for two months to help pay church vendors.

It is no secret that Robert Schullers' "Crystal Cathedral" (Garden Grove Community Church) has fallen on tough economic times since the recession started in 2008. The OCR has chronicled the financial woes of the Crystal Cathedral - it is a story of unpaid vendors and local businessmen and women facing financial disaster when the Crystal Cathedral is not paying vendors.

A couple of disturbing elements of this news story:

1. Mega-Nepotism is Alive and Well

As reported in the OCR:

"Crystal Cathedral founder Robert H. Schuller, his wife Arvella, and their five children and respective spouses will all take a voluntary 50 percent pay cut for the next four pay periods, according to an e-mail from Sheila Schuller Coleman to all cathedral employees."
The glaring part of that statement is not that they are taking a 50% pay cut, but that all of the Schuller's according to this news article, ARE ON THE PAYROLL.

Nepotism is a danger to any organization, that is why most companies have a "nepotism" policy outlining the conditions by which close family members can and cannot work in the same organization. Even Jimmy Draper of the SBC wrote about nepotism back in 2005, and he says it is one of the 5 "landmines" pastors need to avoid:
"This [nepotism] is a very sensitive area. When a minister hires his wife, siblings, children, spouses of his children, etc., it opens up some areas of concern. I believe it is inappropriate unless it comes as a demand from the church itself."
2. Of Course, Salaries are "Not Available"

One line in the OCR article says:

"The Schullers' salaries are not available."

Really? Where are they?

Why are they not available? They only want to tell us of the generous 50% pay cut, but they would not dare to disclose to their church members or the public at large any raw numbers.

Why?

Compensation of mega church pastors who earn six-figure compensation packages are never, ever disclosed. They can't, because they know what would happen to the revenue flow if the donors themselves knew the truth. So people give and give and give.

3. Cutting Ministries Comes Before Cutting Salaries or Staff

While I'm sure the Schuller's are proud of their generosity of giving up 1/2 of their salary for a few months, it is interesting that this did not happen SOONER. Maybe they did take cuts earlier, but the story didn't indicate this is so.

If their wealthy family can afford to give up 1/2 their salary to make up a million dollar shortfall, why did this not happen sooner to help pay vendors?

Are all 12 family members filling essential ministry positions?

The sad reality in today's church - and not just of the mega variety - is that ministry expenditures will often be cut before salaries or professional minister positions that could be filled by lay people are cut....and in some churches ministry gets cut before advertising or marketing expenditures.

Could it be the financial woes at Crystal Cathedral are a sign of things to come for other mega ministries?

Or maybe it's just that the Schuller's didn't preach tithing hard enough.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Coral Ridge Ends "Age Segregated Worship"

This week in the news and blogosphere were reports that Pastor Tullian Tchividjian has ended what he calls "age segregated worship" at the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, and has gone to a "blended" style of worship.

Tchividjian has written a very compelling article about how he arrived at this view that having a church split into "contemporary" and "traditional" services goes against the unifying nature of the gospel. He even says ""[Contemporary and traditional service splits] may be good business but it's bad worship; it's bad church."

What do you think? Is Tchividjian right? Is it "bad church" to have both contemporary and traditional services in a church?

Just a word of personal testimony from a lay person (me) at a church that transitioned into a split worship model last year: as a family with three teenagers (14, 17 and 19), this put a tremendous strain on our family worship. Our teenagers understandably were very drawn to the contemporary service, where as we the parents not so much. The segregation Tchividjian speaks of ends up just not being between ages, but between families as they determine which service they will attend! This was a very difficult time in our family's worship experience as we were at times separated during the worship hour. Our church has since gone BACK to the blended style. I know that our pastor's motives were good and he was trying to reach more young people with the gospel in the contemporary service and I had no problem with that - but now looking back I can see he was also very wise to end the "age segregated" worship on Sunday mornings and return to a blended style.

Whether you agree with Tchividjian or not, I do recommend reading his August 27, 2010 article "This is the Way It Ought to Be" article giving a very compelling reason for going back to a "blended" style of worship. He talks about how unsegregated little children are in their school, and how sad it is that society teaches them by the time they reach high school to separate into cliques and groups.

My take on it is this: Tchividjian has not discovered anything that so many other pastors have known for years!! Look at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville - under Rodney Brooks the church did move to a more "blended" style of worship with a wider variety of music styles, and Jim Whitmire has continued this. Whitmire combines the older hymns with more modern tunes and even modern day hymns - and the church has never been "age segregated" when it comes to worship. To the credit of both Jerry Vines and Mac Brunson, they have taught this to their congregations, to be tolerant of a particular song that might not suit their fancy, and to be joyful and wait for the next one that does! They have resisted the trend to segregate by age and worship style preference on Sunday morning.

As Tchividjian says in his August 27th blog post:

"The gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to look across the aisle and say, "Though this song or style may not appeal to me, I see that God is using it to move you. I love you in Christ and I'm glad you're here."

Amen. I'm glad that Tchividjian has figured this out and made a change at his church. And welcome to the club Tchividjian; many of us Southern Baptists have known for years what you are just figuring out!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

FBC Jax Was Center Stage for Florida Politics Sunday - and Mac Picks Up the Endorsement

FBC Jax and Mac Brunson were front and center in the Florida Republican gubernatorial primary this past Sunday, and several newspapers around the state reported on it. But ironically on this day it wasn't a politician who got a ringing endorsement, it was the preacher, as I'll explain.

Bill McCollum and his wife were present at FBC Jax for the a.m. worship service sitting next to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and a whole team of Republican politicians. McCollum has been in an absolutely nasty, no-holds-barred campaign against his opponent Rick Scott for the Republican governorship nomination.

Why was McCollum sitting next to Huckabee in the service? Earlier in the week Huckabee endorsed McCollum for governor, announcing their intent to visit the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville during their last minute campaign swing before Tuesday's election.

In a clever, roundabout way, McCollum was presented by FBC Jax as the conservative choice for governor. Huckabee sits next to him, and Huckabee comes to the platform to a standing ovation.

The St. Petetersburg Times blog called the church service a "Tallahassee quorum", with politicians Mike Haridopolus, John Thrasher, Steven Wise (FBC Jax member), Adam Hasner, Leonard Bembry, and Holly Benson all present and accounted for. Most, if not all of these, were supporters of McCollum for governor. As is customary Jim Whitmire graciously introduced each one (see the video at end of this post) and had them stand and wave to the crowd after which Whitmire reminded the congregation of their responsibility to pray for their elected leaders.

Maybe this is in part why Scott won Tuesday. McCollum, a career politician and current Attorney General, was the choice of almost all Tallahassee insiders and in this political season the people preferred an outsider not connected with all the career politicians. Not saying this is right, but that seems to be the case. The "Tallahassee quorum" at FBC Jax Sunday perhaps didn't help.

When Mac got up to preach, he first called Mike Huckabee to the stage. While they didn't mention McCollum, the connection was apparent when the church saw the two sitting together when announced by Whitmire. Mac told the story again of how Huckabee had been a blessing back in Dallas during a difficult time. As reported by the St. Pete Times:
"The 2012 White House hopeful received a whooping (for church) standing ovation and pastor Mac Brunson, a person [sic] friend, brought him to the stage to share a few words. (By contrast, McCollum received just polite applause when he was introduced.) In his brief remarks, Huckabee didn't mention McCollum but the connection likely stuck."
While Huckabee didn't mention McCollum, Mike took the mike and instead gave the Brunsons a ringing endorsement of their Christian character. He said when he met them he "fell in love with them", and "they are some of the most authentic, most genuine Christian examples I've ever known in my life." Now THAT, is a strong endorsement from the Huckster. But I just wonder - are the Huckabees and Brunsons that close of friends where Huckabee knows them that well to give such an endorsement? Seems odd to me, unless they are very close friends. Huckabee added that the "platform team" of Brunson and Whitmire is the best in the country. Mac then gave a nice little endorsement of Huckabee's TV show. I thought next they both might plug each other's latest book - or hand out brochures on each other's respective 2011 Holy Land trips ("Walk Where Jesus Walked", while walking with Mac or Huck; sign up here, Master Card and Visa accepted: Mac's Holy Land Trip and Huck's Holy Land Trip).

Ironically, in that evening's service, Mac did give an explanation to his congregation of why he "tolerates" such brazen political displays in the church:
"Now thank the Lord I don't think we have any politicians [here] tonight....I so badly want them to experience and encounter Jesus Christ that I tolerate what we do, if they'll stay here and listen to me preach - with the prayer, that maybe, MAYBE, the word of God will penetrate somewhere."
Interesting comment. Just as he tolerates politicians, probably the politicians at City Hall tolerate the preacher's invocations in their chambers, with the hope that he'll stay and be genuinely concerned about the city's needs instead of vacation excursions and church building renovations. And Mac would probably agree that his Bible sermons don't penetrate very far into the thick skin of politicians. After he preached on unwholesome speech and false attacks Sunday, McCollum continued his bashing of Scott over his company's Medicare fraud case and spending his fortune on political commercials. But Mac's sermon on lying in July didn't penetrate very far into Scott either when he heard it, as he continued the misleading ads including a last-minute ad linking McCollum to a corrupt politician, even putting a phony "mug shot" of McCollum matching the original mug shot of the politician.

But as I said, McCollum lost despite Huckabee's endorsement and their last minute campaign swing through conservative northeast Florida. And if you think this campaign was ugly, wait until Democratic candidate Alex Sink starts going after Rick Scott in the general election - this will be very, very ugly, and I predict a Democratic Florida gubernatorial victory in November.

Here is the video of Whitmire's introductions, followed by the Mike and Mac exchange on the platform.

Mac Loves Mike, Mike Loves Mac from FBCJax Watchdog on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Re-Run: My Favorite Church Parody Video

I put this parody video up earlier this year, but wanted to post it again because it is so darn funny....and true...and extremely well done.

Love the quote before the offering: "...it's between you and God, but....we're tracking it."

And the pastor's many different speaking techniques - love it.

Enjoy, it is courtesy of Andy Stanley's church, Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta. Stanley and his bunch must have a very good sense of humor, willing to poke fun of themselves.

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Making Environmentalists and Muslims Mad at the Same Time

A story is developing where a local open burning ordinance may prevent a Gainesville, FL church from carrying out its "Koran Burning" ceremony scheduled for September 11, 2010.

Hey, why doesn't Dove World Outreach Pastor Terry Jones do this in an environmentally responsible manner? Why make the Muslims AND the environmentalists mad at the same time?

Why not have a Koran SHREDDING service? Everyone can bring their shredders from home, and they can each run the pages through a shredder, then use the shreddings for kitty litter.

Or why not have a "Koran Dumping service" where everyone symbollically throws the Korans in a big 'ole Waste Management dumpster and haul them to the landfill?

As reported by VERTEX News:
"City officials in Gainesville, Florida have denied a burning permit to a local church that wants to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of 9-11. The Dove World Outreach Center announced the planned Koran burning last month on Facebook and urged other religious groups to join in, quote, "in remembrance of the fallen victims of 9/11 and to stand against the evil of Islam." Gainesville officials say book burnings like the one planned by the Dove World Outreach Center are prohibited under the city's burning ordinance. Interim Fire Chief Gene Prince warned Wednesday that the church would face a fine if it went ahead with the burning of the Korans on 9-11. That doesn't appear to be deterring Senior Dove World Pastor Terry Jones. The pastor, who has written a book called "Islam is of the Devil," sent out an e-mail saying the church would "still burn Korans" despite the possible consequences. The Koran burning has been condemned by a number of Muslim and Christian groups. "
Should be interesting!

Sadly, this is eliciting a response from certain militant Islamic groups who are threatening violence in Gainesville over this.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Update on the First Amendment Lawsuit Against City of Jacksonville

Readers: I want to give an update as to where things are going in the lawsuits. There will probably be quite a few legal maneuvers this fall in the federal case, as the discovery process begins to wind down, and I want to let you know where things are, and what is ahead. My descriptions are the best I can do with an untrained legal mind.

Back in March 2009 when I first discovered the existence of the subpoenas into my blog, I said back then that I was determined to find out what took place that led to issuance of subpoenas to identify the name of the Watchdog, which led to my letter of 16 sins and trespass papers for me and my wife, courtesy of FBC Jax. At about the same time the Watchdog story first broke in the newspapers, I submitted a request for our sheriff's office to conduct an internal affairs investigation into the connection between the detective and the church and what I felt was an obvious conflict of interest. What I received in short order was a letter from a city attorney (the same one that now is defending the detective in this case), and no formal internal affairs investigation done at JSO. That letter and its explanation to me of what happened is now an important part of the evidence in this case that has been discussed in many of the depositions.

Eventually I secured legal counsel and several lawsuits were filed, one of which was a First Amendment lawsuit that made its way into federal court against: the City of Jacksonville, the JSO detective that requested subpoenas into my blog and several other blogs, as well as the state attorney's office including the assistant state attorney who signed those subpoenas.

The first amendment lawsuit has been going through the "discovery" process since about March of this year, and discovery will be wrapping up over the next month or so. If this lawsuit ever makes it past summary judgment, and past mediation, it would likely go to trial sometime in 2011.

As you might recall, the judge in this case issued a lengthy ruling back in April in response to the defense's motion to dismiss (see Wade Burleson's post). As I understand it, the judge in this ruling clearly established a First Amendment right for anonymous speech, and the judge said if my allegations in the original complaint were true, that a violation of the First Amendment would have occurred. So the case was allowed to proceed to determine if our allegations were true, and the defense would have a burden to show they did have a legitimate governmental purpose in uncovering my identity. That is what the defense is doing, and doing vigorously as one would expect.

If you've ever been a party to a lawsuit, you know that there is a period called "discovery". This is when both sides send written questions to the parties involved, and from the answers to these there are usually "depositions" taken of people who are witnesses to the facts of the case.

Thus far there have been many depositions. My count is around 23 or 24, that have taken hours and hours. I have sat in just about every deposition given. Depositions are bascially out-of-court question and answer sessions where the opposing attorneys drill you about your knowledge of the case. They want to know what facts the witness has, and what the witness' testimony will be if the case goes to trial. There is a court reporter present, and you are sworn under oath to tell the truth. Lawyers have more leeway in asking questions at deposition than they do in a trial, and at times things get a little heated. The lawyers can go at it too, as there is no judge present, and we've had our share of moments in the depositions with that, and that is something I'll write about someday. But everything in a deposition is recorded and transcribed into the record by the court reporter, just as though it occurred in court.

In this case, the depositions have been a lawyer-fest. At the depositions I have my one lawyer of course, and we are facing at least two lawyers, sometimes three with the city's General Counsel office, two from the Attorney General's office in Tallahassee representing the state attorney's office, and the FBC Jax lawyer is present for most of them as well. There was even an FBI lawyer present during Detective Hinson's deposition.

I gave my deposition first, and they kept me for about 8 hours. My wife's deposition was maybe 3 or 4 hours. The other long deposition was Detective Hinson's, which was about as long as mine.

Most of my extended family members were deposed by the city. They were asked questions about me, about my blog, about my marriage, about their blogging habits, my mental state, and anything else the defense wanted to ask them.

The Brunsons have been deposed. Robert Hinson, the JSO Detective involved, and Steven Seigel the Assistant State Attorney have been deposed. John Blount, the church administrator gave his deposition. Even under-sheriff Frank Mackesy and Sheriff John Rutherford gave their depositions in this case. A few FBC Jax members and a former FBC Jax minister were deposed as well.

During discovery, expert witnesses are disclosed, and they have to give written testimony of their views of the case, and they too can be deposed by the opposing attorneys.

Many of my questions as to what transpired in 2008 that led to the subpoenas, have been answered through these depositions, as you can imagine, at least what the witnesses have said happened in the fall of 2008. This has been an interesting progression of finding out who said what, who did what and why, etc. There have been some quite shocking and surprising elements to the testimony, as I suppose one would expect in a case like this.

But what started out as me wanting answers, for me has progressed to realizing the importance of this case to First Amendment rights of anonymous writers in general, and the rights of bloggers in particular. I didn't really comprehend the importance of the case until depositions were given by the defense witnesses, and as I have begun to understand the defense tactics of the city of Jacksonville lawyers. It is an important case, a very unique case.

In my view, if the defense prevails, this would have an incredibly chilling effect on free speech, especially critical, unpopular speech, on the Internet.

What is next? There is more discovery, probably a few more depositions, then motions for summary judgment I expect will be made, and then court-appointed mediation sometime in the fall. If the case makes it that far, then I expect a trial sometime in 2011.

I'll do my best to keep you posted as I can, although in the fall maybe some of the legal events that transpire in this case and also the case against the church will be in the local media and I'll try to keep my readers outside of Jacksonville updated.

For now, I am committed to continuing writing my views on this blog, regarding matters at FBC Jax and evangelical Christianity, unabated and not intimidated, and with the aid of my lawyer I will continue the fight in this lawsuit.

Yours Truly,

The Watchdog - "...the coward that he is"

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ergun Caner the "Turkish-Born" Former Muslim Trains our Troops on "Islamic Culture"

Well, the Caner Marine training tapes are now out. Go to the link below to watch Ergun Caner speak his stories to our Marines back in 2005.

Jason Smathers has done an incredible job getting these tapes through a Freedom of Information Act request, and up on the Internet for people to see first hand what transpired in 2005 when a phony "Turkish-born" former Muslim was given an audience in front of our Marines. The videos are marked with comments that allow you to skip to hear important parts.

It is one thing to listen to Caner spin his yarns of his days growing up in Turkey when he is front of the guffaw'ing Ohio Free Will Baptist men who are absolutely eating out of his hand. What's the harm: they hear some good stories, hear some great ethnic jokes, get some laughs, and return home to their churches in Ohio.

But to watch a Colonel stand in front of his soldiers and tell them they are about to hear from a Turkish-born Muslim, who came to the states at age 14 through New York, describing him as someone who has seen the "Islamic culture from both sides" just makes my blood boil. These are people who weren't there for a laugh, they weren't gullible Christians on a retreat hoping to be entertained; they were there to try to learn from an expert the culture of the country where they all will have a big target on their chest.

During his talk he speaks of himself as a Turk, familiar with Turkish culture, with half-sisters being taught to read, and cousins in northern Iraq who voted for the first time because of the troops. And he then proceeds to speak to them as one who knows the Islamic culture because of his experiences as a Turkish Muslim - with all of the best yarns mixed in that he spun in front of the churches.

I can't wait to hear what Norm Geisler, Tim Guthrie, Peter Lumkins, and Tim Rogers come up with to defend this, and to read their creative attacks on Jason Smathers for releasing these videos.

Get ready Jason, the attack dogs will be ready to rip you to shreds for continuing to shine the light.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Three Cheers for Jax City Councilmen Crescimbeni and Fussell

Too bad that Clark and Joost got all the headlines last week after the vote to give the Jaguars $4.1 million of our city's money. Their inept decision to leave the meeting early to have a celebratory dinner with the Jags lobbyists embarrassed us all.

The two that should have gotten headlines are Councilmen John Crescimbeni and Ronnie Fussell. These were the only two men on the council who had the backbone to vote AGAINST the deal, and to be vocal about it. Kudos as well to Clay Yarborough, the only other councilmen to vote against the deal. I don't think we'll see these three on the City Council's Ruth's Chris Shuttle, thank God.

No doubt their vote wasn't popular, and I'm sure this season they won't be getting any invites to the Jaguars select skyboxes - but they took the RIGHT position on this. As Tia Mitchell reported, Fussell did not think it right to give the Jags $4.1 million when our city is facing a budget deficit and property tax increases.

Also, Fussell rejected the notion that this $4.1 million dollars was necessary to keep the Jags here in our city. Fussell was quoted as saying:
"It has nothing to do with me being against the Jaguars,” Fussell said. “If 25 percent would make them leave town, I’m sorry — I don’t believe that will happen. and that is what the debate seems to be about."
Amen Mr. Fussell. If the Jaguars lobbyists and Tony Bosselli are spreading the word that we needed to fork over $4.1 million to ensure the Jags will stay, then we should have called their hand. Please don't threaten your taxpaying fans that we must cave in and give you what you agreed would be ours. If the Jaguars are suffering from lack of fan support, why should WE the taxpayers bail them out? Are we here to bail out inept NFL teams that put subpar teams on the field and can't sell tickets? For crying out loud, these guys don't even know their market well enough to realize that in this rabid Gator/Christian town if they signed Tim Tebow they would have sold out the stadium for the next 3 years!

Crescimbeni even tried to add an amendment that would require Jags owner Wayne Weaver to give back the $4.1 million if he moved the Jags to another city before the end of the 5-year Everbank deal. Even THIS was voted down by our city council. Not good enough. Need to give them the $4.1 million free and clear.

Why? What did the Jags lobbyist tell our city officials for them to act so irresponsibly?

Look, I know the arguments as to why we "had" to do this: the $4.1 million wasn't going to our general budget anyways, we wouldn't have been able to use it for teacher's salaries or our libraries, etc. Ron Littlepage summarized the arguments well.

But you know what? It is our councilmen who should have lobbied the Jaguars to tell THEM we need the $4.1 million, and that we WANT TO PUT IT INTO OUR GENERAL FUND. Yes, the Jaguars should recognize that our city is in trouble financially, and their fan base is facing rising taxes and diminishing city services. They came after the $4.1 million because they knew the COULD, and our city officials obliged.

Finally, the votes cast by our councilmen, the comments made by them about having to do this to keep the Jags, and then the sickening sight of Clark and Joost heading to Ruth's Chris to have a celebratory dinner with Boselli and the Jags lobbyist: this SHOULD have the attorney general's office looking into this deal very closely to see just how far the Jag's lobbyist twisted our city officials' arms to get his hands on our $4.1 million, and what conflicts of interest any of the city officials might have had.

And this comment from Councilman Reggie Brown just takes the cake:
“Without this team, let’s face this, folks,” said Councilman Reggie Brown, “people don’t really have a reason to stop here.”
Wow. Well, Reggie, with Councilmen like you and Clark and Joost who don't look out for our financial interests, you're giving our citizens less of a reason to STAY and LIVE in Jacksonville, when options in neighboring counties are looking more attractive day by day.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Prophesy of Doom, But Put to a Happy Tune!

For some Monday morning humor, take a look at William Tapley below as he sings of destruction and hell and damnation - to a light, happy, upbeat tune that you might expect to hear on Sesame Street. He's not trying to be funny, this is part of his ministry.

My favorite verse:

America is Babylon

And her story's almost done.

She rides a beast, the beast is sore,

and now that beast will burn that whore.

It's prophesied, It's prophesied,

When Babylon the whore get's fried.

No wonder the lost world thinks Christians are nuts.

Thanks to Chris Rosebrough, on Pirate Christian Radio, who brought this to his listeners' attention last week.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Breaking News: City Council Announces Ruth's Chris Shuttle

The Jacksonville City Council has just announced an agreement with Ruth's Chris Steakhouse for a Super VIP Express Shuttle to operate from City Hall to Ruth's Chris on Tuesday nights of the City Council Meeting.

The VIP Express Shuttle (shown at right) will be at the ready to whisk away any of the City Council members, General Council, or other hot shot city employees who "hit the wall" in the middle of the grueling City Council meetings, and have to get a quick nibble at their favorite steak house with their VIP lobbyists. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office motorcycle squad will be on hand to provide rapid VIP escort service from City Hall across the river to the restaurant.

The van will be equipped with tinted front and rear windows for optimal privacy, and will be stocked with beverages and snacks - all on a cash-only basis of course. Courtesy phones will be available to place your order on the way to the restaurant so your food and adult beverages are waiting for you when you arrive.

City Council members can call in advance to schedule pick-up service as they return from their vacations on the day of the council meeting if they know they just won't be able to make it through the whole meeting and will need to meet their lobbyists for a steak...or even last minute emergency shuttle service in the middle of the Council meeting when you are bored out of your mind, and you don't want to have to listen to the whiny citizens complain about rising taxes and utility rates, poor storm drainage, and libararies closed on Sundays.

We will even have Internet service for you to email the Council President your request to leave early, just in case the paper gets wind of your early exit.

It's fast and easy, just call 1-800-SKIP-OUT and the Super Shuttle will be at your service.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Jacksonville City Councilmen's Prayer

It is time for an official "City Councilman's Prayer" to be added to council President Jack Webb's prayer policy.

Now that councilmen Richard Clark and Stephen Joost were caught leaving in the middle of Tuesday's council meeting to have dinner with the Jacksonville Jaguars lobbyists immediately following their vote to give the Jags the city's portion of the $16 million stadium naming rights deal, we have drafted an official prayer for Jack Webb to consider.

Keep in mind, part of the reason they had to leave early was because they were just so tired and hungry, they couldn't stay. Ordering food in wasn't an option apparently, they had to bolt for Ruth's Chris Steakhouse with Tony Boselli, the Jag's lobbyist, and a few Jags executives. I'm sure the steak that night tasted like a million bucks (or maybe 4.2)!

Also, keep in mind, they did apologize for their "sin", or at least the appearance of "sin". Not that they sinned, but just they gave the appearance of sinning. Thus our prayer should include a confession, in advance.

I recommend also that the clergy conclude his prayer with a blessing on the steak in case any future council persons need to bolt for Ruth's Chris in the middle of the meeting.

So here is the prayer, courtesy of "City Slicker".

I move that this be read at the beginning of each City Council meeting by the designated "clergy" appointed by Clay Yarborough:

The Jacksonville Councilman's Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,

'Hungry' and 'Tired' be My name.

Thy Kingdom come, but My time is done, in the middle of our meeting.

Give Me this day My daily steak.

And forgive Us our absences, as We forgive those who are absent without approval.

And lead Us not into temptation from lobbyists, but deliver Us to Ruth's Chris with them, cash in hand.

For Thine is the kingdom; but I still love My power, and My glory.

For ever and ever (until the next voting cycle.)

Amen, and Amen

Friday, August 13, 2010

Poor Judgment: Two City Council Members Vote to Fork Over $4 Million to Our NFL Team, Leave Meeting to Go to Ruth's Chris With Team Execs

It is great that our newspaper here in Jacksonville is keeping a close eye on our city officials.

As we saw in Bell, California, there is no end to the shenanigans that will go on, if city officials think no one is watching.

Unfortunately for Councilman Richard Clark - a member of First Baptist Jacksonville - and Councilman Stephen Joost, Tia Mitchell of the Times Union was watching them Tuesday night.

And her story about them was on the front page of the paper this morning.

Tuesday night our Jacksonville City Council voted 13-4 to allow our NFL franchise, the Jacksonville Jaquars, to keep ALL of the $16 million from the new stadium naming-rights agreement recently signed with EverBank. You see, the Jaguars had agreed to give the city 25% of any revenue from such an agreement....but for a variety of reasons, our city leaders decided it was best to not hold them to that agreement, and let them keep our $4 million portion.

Here's the problem: right after Joost and Clark voted to fork over our portion of the $16 million to the Jags, both men showed the incredibly poor judgment of leaving their posts IN THE MIDDLE OF THE COUNCIL MEETING to wine and dine at Ruth's Chris steakhouse with the very same Jaquars executives who lobbied them in favor of the deal.

At least Joost got permission to leave early in compliance with city rules, but as Mitchell reported Clark did not. He just simply didn't show up after the 10-minute break following the vote on the naming-rights deal.

Both men missed two hours of council meeting, 10 votes, and a public comment period. They both are paid $45,000 annually for their part-time position that includes two monthly council meetings.

Good news is that the council president Jack Webb didn't seem too happy about it. "The council was in session," he said. "Social calendars do not trump council business. Period."

Amen, Jack Webb. Several other council persons critical of Joost and Clark were quoted in the paper.

Not surprisingly, Clark didn't admit he showed poor judgement. "I'm not going to constantly look over my shoulder and second-guess everything I do," he said.

Sorry, pal, but you're an elected official, and the Times Union IS looking over your shoulder, and I hope they do second guess every action you take...especially when you vote to give $4 million away and then immediately are found over at Ruth's Chris with the recipients. Kudos to Tia Mitchell and the Times Union for running the story.

Did I just say that? You better believe I did.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

News on Ergun Caner, and the Fake "YouTube Ergun Caner"

Fake Ergun Caner is Gone....GAWN!

But the real Ergun Caner: not GAWN!

Rumors were circulating yesterday on Twitter that Caner had cleaned out his desk and had left Liberty. But Ray Reed of the News & Advance paper in Lynchburg has confirmed that Caner is still on LU staff, but will only be teaching online classes. A spokesperson says his fall schedule is not finalized - which is strange, given the fall semester is so close.

On more important matters, let's discuss the "Fake" Ergun Caner:

Our Ergun Caner impersonator friend from YouTube that produced some very funny, sharp parody videos on Caner in May and June, is bidding us all farewell. He posted a goodbye note here on the Watchdog earlier this week, and he has taken down the 7 or 8 videos he produced from his YouTube account. It is understandable he doesn't want to proceed with any new videos, but I sure wish he would leave the videos somewhere on the Internet for posterity sake.

He says he was not pressured into taking them down, but feels that he has had his say.

Please, Fake Dr. Ergun Caner, I hope you change your mind and leave the videos somewhere on the Internet. And you never know when you might feel the need to shave your head again and team up with "Charles" for another video.

And while you're at it, if you could do just ONE MORE video, a farewell video, and maybe sing us a farewell song in Arabic or Turkish, we would greatly appreciate it.

Tell "Charles" we thank him for his hard work on producing the videos. He needs to work on his screening of emails for the show, but I'm sure he is glad to get back to his music ministry full time.

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

On a different note: I watched the live stream last night of Norman Geisler, who gave a talk at Bellevue Baptist Church on Calvinism. He is 78 years old, and looks younger than that, and his mind is still sharp. He went through many scriptures about how there is both a biblical doctrine of "predestination" and "free will", and they are not contradictory given God's full knowledge of time past and future. He gave numerous analogies to use to think of how they do not contradict. It seems like such a balanced argument. But I also like his style of preaching. Not flashy, no grand stories of himself. Just an old man teaching truth from the Bible. Too bad that's not good enough for churches anymore.

I truly believe Geisler for some reason or another has refused to examine the vast amount of evidence that shows Caner's embellishments, or else he would not vigorously defend him. He obviously is a very smart, learned man whose life work is spreading the gospel. So how he defends Caner with no reservation whatsoever just absolutely boggles my mind.

Monday, August 9, 2010

HP CEO Resigns: Too Bad We Expect More Integrity of CEO's than Our Baptist Leaders

It is now official: CEO's are held to a much, much higher ethical standard than that of Baptist seminary presidents.

Last week it was reported that Mark Hurd, the CEO of technology giant Hewlett Packard (HP), was recently investigated by his board of directors after they received a complaint against him of sexual harrassment.

While the investigation revealed Hurd had not violated any company sexual harassment policies, it did uncover the allegation that Hurd submitted numerous false expense reports in an attempt to cover his relationship with a female contractor.

And he resigned. He is gone. GAWN!

Let's consider the stark contrasts between how HP and Mark Hurd handled their scandal, and how Liberty University and Ergun Caner handled theirs:

1. HP didn't wait for the press to be involved: HP received a credible complaint from a female of sexual harrassment against Hurd. Unlike Liberty, they apparently chose not to dismiss it as long as they could, instead, they acted on the allegation in a timely fashion. Liberty was content on not doing ANYTHING, unless their hand was forced by the secular media. After all, Caner is "God's man", and there's that "touch not God's anointed" verse in the bible.

2. HP didn't consider the religion of the accuser in assessing credibility: Unlike Caner's most ardent defenders, HP didn't attack this woman and call her a liar because of her religion or her theological viewpoints. They didn't accuse her of trying to destroy "God's man". Caner and the band of pastors who have defended him dismissed the allegations against Caner because they came from a "Muslim" and from a "Calvinist", and in their warped world, all words spoken by Muslims are lies, and Calvinist Christian brothers can't be trusted.

3. HP conducted an internal investigation, and clearly reported the results to all who had an interest. HP did an investigation, and then issued a very clear statement as to what they did find, and what they didn't find, and the reasons of their ensuing action concerning Hurd. They knew this was their ethical obligation, to be truthful to those who have an interest in the future of HP. Liberty, on the other hand, was as vague as they possibly could be with their investigation results, not telling anyone what they found in any substantive fashion, leaving room for multiple interpretations of their actions that just fueled more controversy - which in the end is harming their university even more.

4. HP stated what Hurd did wrong, and cleared him for that which they believe he did not do. They did not leave their findings up to interpretation. HP said they found he did not violate the company's sexual harrassment policy, but that they uncovered numerous false expense reports used to hide his relationship with the woman, who was an HP contractor. Liberty on the other hand, in their statement did not address the decade long string of lies told by Caner to thousands of Christians over 8 1/2 years. They did address one specific issue which really was NOT one of the major complaints - whether Caner was or was not a Muslim at one time. On the more serious issues they kept their silence.

5. HP actually held their leader to their established standards of conduct. As stated in their press release, HP found that Hurd did not violate the sexual harrassment policy, but did violate the "HP Standards of Business Conduct" (click here to read them - it is a pdf file) that all HP employees must abide by. What a contrast to Liberty; as pointed out by Wade Burleson here, Liberty has clearly established policies of honesty and truthfulness applying to students and staff alike - that if fairly applied to Caner's conduct, it is hard to imagine that he would not have been found guilty of violating many of those standards. At Liberty, apparently your average run-of-the-mill professor and student are held to a much higher ethical standard than the president of the seminary. How sad is that?

6. Mark Herd gave a written statement, and he stepped down for the good of the organization: OK, maybe that is a stretch - he is getting a golden parachute of millions of dollars, but Herd did give a clear statement of admission of wrong-doing. He didn't address specifics of his sins, but did admit he didn't live up to the ethical standards expected of him. How refreshing, an admission of guilt. Caner, on the other hand refuses to say anything at all. Zippo. Herd's statement included the following:
“As the investigation progressed, I realized there were instances in which I did not live up to the standards and principles of trust, respect and integrity that I have espoused at HP and which have guided me throughout my career. After a number of discussions with members of the board, I will move aside and the board will search for new leadership. This is a painful decision for me to make after five years at HP, but I believe it would be difficult for me to continue as an effective leader at HP and I believe this is the only decision the board and I could make at this time."
7. Herd and his friends are not speaking and blogging about his "haters" trying to bring him down. And his friends are not attacking the woman who made the allegations because of her Calvinistic religious view points. Herd and his friends are not trying to shift the focus from his own actions, to the motives or religious viewpoints of his accuser. Apparently Herd doesn't hang out with blogging wannabe megachurch pastors like those who vigorously defend Caner. Good for him, he selects his friends well.

8. HP did not put the success and talents of their leader above the integrity of their company. OK, maybe they wanted to get rid of Herd anyways, who knows. But do any research on Mark Herd, and you'll see he was a wildly successful CEO of HP by almost any measure. He had the company on the right track: stock was up. sales were increasing even in this brutal economy. But the board apparently knows that the truthfulness and integrity of the leader is most important than these. Liberty did can Caner from the president's position (or maybe not, according to his defenders!), but one wonders if their slowness to respond and reluctance to take firm action is based on Caner's wild popularity and what his dismissal might do to their enrollment.

9. Finally, a Prediction: I'll go out on a limb and predict one of Herd's friends won't start a website devoted to telling us of Herd's integrity, attacking Herd's critics' religion, and soliciting input from other CEO's. Yes, Caner's friend Stormin' Norman Geisler has put up a site to try to defend Caner from the "false and defaming allegations" made against his friend that led to Caner losing his presidency at LBTS. Geisler and others continue to defend Caner by attacking the "Muslim" and "extreme Calvinists" behind the conspiracy to bring down Caner. That, my friends, is life in Baptist la-la land.

So there you have it: when you compare the ethical standards Baptist have for their seminary presidents to that of CEO's, it is not hard to see why there are so many blogs in Southern Baptist as compared to other denominations. There is no mechanism by which misbehaving ordained ministers are held accountable. Blogs will continue to fill that void.

And when you take a step back and look at this - is it any wonder Baptist leaders refuse to take any steps toward tracking the sexual predators in their midst? The free-wheeling, good-ole-boy, no accountability and no transparency culture of the SBC makes that completely out of the question.

But let's hope the SBC and its pastors can learn something from corporate American other than how to market their brand name. Thank you Jesus for our corporate boards that are showing the way of integrity and transparency as an example to our Baptist leaders. Amen.

Friday, August 6, 2010

City of Bell, CA - Servants Will Abuse Finances When There is No Transparency

If you haven't heard of the scandal gripping the City of Bell, California, you should take a close look to see what can happen when leaders who are supposed to be servants of the people operate with no transparency and accountability to the very people who give them the money, and whom they are to serve.

Those of you who are members of mega churches where the total compensation packages of your pastor and family members, and payments to former pastors are a closely guarded secret, take notice: there is a reason why they don't want you to know their salaries.

Because they know you would be absolutely disgusted to know the details of their total compensation.

Bell, California is a case in point: this small town of about 38,000 people, 90% of which are poor Latinos, has a corrupt city government whose leaders voted themselves gigantic raises. The city manager earned about $800,000 per year, the city manager's assistant earned about $375,000, the police chief a hefty $450,000, and the part-time city council members earned $100,000 per year each.

Now that the people of Bell know, they are ticked off. They are revolting against their government officials as well they should. The people trusted their leaders, and the leaders abused the trust by taking unbelievable sums of money from the people they were to serve in order to enrich themselves. Of course the Bell officials did this while the government sought to get even more of the people's money through higher taxes.

Sound familiar? Mega church pastors are notorious for preaching the legalist Old Testament tithing doctrine, that to be a good Christian you must fork over at least 10% of your gross income, undesignated, to your church. God requires it, they say - as a starting point. Then, your spiritual maturity is measured in part by how much you trust the leadership to spend it with minimal accountability. To ask questions about details of how the money is spent, especially on the wealthy pastor and his family, well, you aren't trusting Jesus.

When you read the details of how these clowns in Bell bilked the taxpayers for these outlandish salaries, you realize how absolutely important it is for there to be transparency and accountability when it comes to salaries and compensation packages for those in positions of public trust. Not just government, but non-profit organizations like churches where the income is derived from the generosity of people who trust the organization to spend their money for their chosen cause.

What is just as disgusting is the dollars paid to these people, is their attitude that they deserve it! As reported in the Los Angeles Times, city manager Robert Rizzo says of his nearly $800k compensation:

"If that's a number people choke on, maybe I'm in the wrong business...I could go into private business and make that money. This council has compensated me for the job I've done."

Right. Go out there, big boy, and see who will pay you $800k per year, then come back and tell us about it. Even the Bell mayor defends Rizzo's outrageous salary:
"Our city is one of the best in the area. That is the result of the city manager. It's not because I say it. It's because my community says it."
Unbelievable. They deserve it, they think. But make no mistake about it: these mega church pastors view themselves as talented rock stars, ordained by God himself, and think themselves deserving of the large incomes they draw from their churches, their speaking engagements, books, and gifts given to them by their star-struck followers. Ed Young, Jr, the jet-setting pastor of Fellowship Church views himself as the church's "franchise player", responsible for "raising" the millions needed by the church. Who can forget the image of Jerry Vines and Mac Brunson high-fiving and hugging on the platform during the 2007 FBC Jax Pastor's Conference when Vines was preaching about people complaining about preacher's salaries - and Vines' comment of "you don't pay me enough to be yo preacha, brutha" - easily one of the most uncomfortable sermon moments in FBC Jax history.

The solution? It's so easy. Public disclosure of ALL sources of income of people who are public servants. We do it in Jacksonville, Florida. With about 3 mouse clicks the salary and overtime pay can be obtained for any government employees. Any. From the mayor, to the sheriff, all the way down to the lowest-paid city worker.

The same should be for these "men of God". If they trust God so much, trust God to let their total comp be known. If they fear their salaries being made public, then they are absolutely earning too much. They are using their position to gain financially, wasting God's money that church members faithfully fork over. If they don't do it willingly, I hope the day will come when the IRS demands it.

And not just "salary" should be known of these mega church pastors, but their entire compensation packages. One of the ways the Bell council members were able to earn $100k a year was their "salary" was broken up by parts, a separate income from each board on the city they sat on. So we don't just want base salary of these mega church rock stars, but how much is their salary, housing allowance, travel allowance, clothing allowance, etc. etc. And please, disclose any large gifts you receive from your members, just like our Congressmen must.

One humorous side note on the Bell story as reported by the LA Times:
"Councilman Luis Artiga, who was appointed to the council 15 months ago to fill an unexpired term, said he had no idea how much he would be paid. When he received his first check, he thought it was "a miracle from God." Artiga, who is pastor of Bell Community Church, said he uses about half his salary to pay the church's mortgage."
Yep, praise Jesus, a $100,000 salary for part time work. And yes, Ed Young's jet, a miracle of God, too. And a land gift of $300,000 to Mac Brunson; praise the Lord.

I pray for the day when Senator Grassley or someone else in Congress will finally require these mega churches to disclose detailed financial records including pastor compensation. The day will come, I'm confident, the only question is how much money will be wasted in the mean time.

Lastly, I became aware of the Bell, California story over at SBC pastor William Thornton's blog, where he wrote the following blurb about it:
"Scenes of vein-popping outrage ensued when citizens of the obscure town of Bell, CA found out that its manager was being paid over $800k, police chief about half-a-million, and part time councilmen $100k annually. Rightly so. What would happen if Baptist Press published the total compensation package of all SBC entity heads (and don’t give me a ‘salary’ figure, most clergy are onto that game)? apoplexy? Raised eyebrows? Ho hum? Let’s do it and see. It’s our money."
I agree with William. It is our money. Let's see what the total compensation package for these men who lead the SBC agencies, and the mega church pastors also. Not just "salary" - total compensation.

If they don't want to, let them go with Bell's Robert Rizzo into the private sector searching for the $800,000 salary. The preachers will be shocked when they realize they have to compete in a cut-throat employment market, where no one kisses their hineys and calls them "God's man".

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My Favorite Ergun Caner Story: Preachin' in NC Drunk on Moonshine!!

Below is by far my favorite Ergun Caner story that he has told over the years: how when he was a young preacher in North Carolina, around Christmas time, he had a bad cough on a Sunday morning and ended up that afternoon drinking a jar of moonshine thinking it was cough syrup, and getting up that evening in the pulpit drunk.

As the story goes, Mike, er, I mean Ergun, was too far away from a drug store to go buy cough syrup, so his father-in-law, head of the deacons of the church, told Ergun to come out to his truck as he had some "cough syrup".

Well, unbeknownst to Ergun, what he thought was "cough syrup" was pure grain alcohol in a jar...and Ergun said he drank the whole thing...and, well, listen to the story yourself...this is why I think he has a future in comedy, and could very well be the next Dennis Swanburg if things don't work out at Liberty.

I don't think for a minute that Caner, growing up in the midwest in the 70s, would have been fooled...a typical teenager from the 70's knows what pure grain alcohol is. Now if he was a devout Muslim Turkish immigrant who came here when he was 17 as he led his Ohio Free Will Baptist men's audience to believe during this conference, then maybe he wouldn't know any better. Hopefully Ergun has repented for imbibing an adult beverage, and for allowing himself to get behind the sacred desk inebriated. :)

But this makes for a great story, and it sure had the Ohio Free Will Baptist men rolling in the aisles when he told it.

But it must have been true, because you'll hear Ergun tell his audience, that the story is "God's truth".

Enjoy!

Ergun Caner - Drinkin' Moonshine! from FBCJax Watchdog on Vimeo.