"...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

Friday, December 31, 2010

One Last Pitch: Only Hours Left to Give "Stocks, Bonds, Jewelry, Precious Metals, Land"...but Praise God, 31 Days Left for IRA Rollover Contributions

A few days ago FBC Jax sent out an email to their donors reminding them that they need to make their last contributions to FBC Jax by the end of the year.

That makes sense. Most churches remind people that December 31 is the deadline for making any contributions that can be deducted for the current tax year.

But FBC Jax also made a pitch for more than just cash.

They let their donors know that FBC Jax will take whatever you have: not just cash, but lots of other stuff too! You got it, FBC Jax will take it!

Here is the quote from the FBC Jax letter:
"There are numerous ways you can give: Cash, Stocks, Bonds, Gold/precious metal, Jewelry, Land, Automobiles, Homes, and other tangible assets. Also, recent tax legislation in Washington has extended the ability of those aged 70 ½ and above to avoid taxes on their mandatory IRA distributions through charitable giving. This benefit is available through January 31, 2011 for 2010 distributions. If you would like to talk with someone about how to make a gift through any of these means, please contact...."

And I'm sure they will accept frankincense and myrrh. If you want to read the letter in it's entirety directly on the church's server, click here.

A couple of comments on this:

- for the storehouse tithing proponents, here is a question: would any of these contributions count toward satisfying God's demand to give 10% of my income? Or does the "tithe" only count on my cash earnings from my employer or business? And why does the "tithe" only count for my cash that I earn? Perhaps there is an Old Testament scripture that calls for 10% of all assets?

- Interesting that "Land" is mentioned as a possible non-cash contribution. I would suggest, however, that if you donate land to FBC Jax you actually have two options: you can either gift it to FBC Jax for their needs, or if the Lord so moves you, you can decide to gift it directly to the pastor or some other staff member who might be blessed by your land gift, especially if it is inside a gated community. Since the precedent was set in 2006 with regard to land gifts made directly to a minister, I'm sure no objection would be made by the pastor or the deacons or the board if you made significant gifts - land or other valuable assets - directly to the FBC Jax minister of your choice instead of to the church.

- yes, you can donate cash or non-cash assets to ANY 501(c)3 organization and take a tax write-off. Most people are aware of this. I am not sure that if you have valuables you wish to donate, that gifting them to a religious institution is the most efficient way to do this. Any thoughts on this? Or should the giver liquidate them and give cash? Are there other non-profit organizations who are better suited to receive certain non-cash donations, such as the Red Cross or Salvation Army?

- The mentioning of the IRA refers to what is called the "IRA Charitable Rollover" provision that was just reinstated this month by Congress, and the late date of their action caused them to extend the deadline to January 31. But if you are so inclined, you can actually rollover part or all of an IRA account to a 501(c)3 charitable organization which would include your church. I'm sure that those who are so wealthy that they would be able to make such a gift are very much aware of this provision by their tax accountants. But just in case you're not, now that FBC Jax has told you, you can make that rollover! And now that I think about it...maybe, just maybe, the Lord's wrath is on our country because the very wealthy have NOT yet made their IRA rollover contributions to the Lord's church.

This is the LAST post of 2010. Happy New Year, everyone, see you in 2011!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 in Review: Top 10 WD Stories of the Year

OK, many are posting their "Top 10" stories of 2010. Christa Brown did hers here, and William Thornton posted his here, and Wartburg Watch is coming out with theirs later today.

Instead of my "Top 10", I will restrict myself to just nine, leaving you the readers to nominate one that might be different from these.

#1. Ergun Caner and Liberty: by far the biggest story in 2010 on this blog was the Ergun Caner fiasco. This blog entered the controversy on March 29, 2010 when I posted audio excerpts from Caner's November 2001 sermon at FBC Jax in which he declared to everyone present (myself included) that he was raised in Europe and trained in Islamic Youth Jihad, and "trained to do that which was done on 11 September". I posted upwards of 20 articles during the spring and summer, and the WD blog was quoted in multiple news articles covering the Caner story. I and several other bloggers were contacted by the Liberty University team that investigated Caner as they were seeking documentation and Caner sermons.

#2. Depositions and Settlement of City of Jacksonville Lawsuit: 2010 was the year in which my First Amendment lawsuit against the City of Jacksonville went all the way through the discovery process with hours and hours of depositions of witnesses including myself and many of my family members, FBC Jax leadership, the detective and assistant state attorney, all the way up to the sheriff himself. Most surprising was the revelation that the detective wasn't just a security guard at the church as reported in the news, but was in fact a deacon and even a member of the church's discipline committee. The lawsuit was settled in October 2010, with a cash settlement and the city's agreement to train all sheriff's office detectives on First Amendment issues related to investigative subpoenas.

#3. First Baptist Dallas "Crystal Campus", Demolition, and Grinch: quite a year for FBC Dallas, several stories on this blog concerning the high-pressure tactics used to get committments from church members toward the $120 million new "Crystal Campus", including pastor Robert Jeffress asking people to "lop off a chunk of their assets" for the building program to get closer to Jesus. The church blew up their old buildings when the pastor pressed a Big Red Button, and then they wrapped up the year with their "Grinch List" website that made national news and gave Jeffress face time on most cable news channels.

#4. Ed Young Asks for Account Numbers to Auto-Withdrawl Tithe: Ed Young makes two appearances in the top nine. In an October 2010 sermon that without question was the single most manipulative tithing sermon I have ever, ever heard - Young wrapped up the sermon by trying to get his church members to fill out a tithing committment card along with their checking account and bank routing numbers. The video posted on this blog of this Ed Young performance has to date over 40,000 views, made its way onto YouTube, and even Johnny Hunt even made reference to the video in a sermon in December 2010 when he declared he would never ask for account numbers and prefers to do it "Jesus' way".

#5. SEBTS Grad Publishes Books on Tithing: David Croteau, SEBTS grad and Liberty University professor published a book that came from his PhD research under Dr. Andreas Kostenburger that debunks the modern-day storehouse tithing doctrine, and puts forth a biblical "post tithing" giving doctrine. Croteau has another book coming out next year that has several contributors where various Christian giving doctrines will be contrasted. Croteau is definitely going to make a difference with these books.

#6. Abusive Preaching on Tithing: As churches have felt the pinch of our stagnant economy, some very prominent baptist pastors have mis-used the Bible and the "storehouse tithing" doctrine to guilt people into forking over more money. Steve Gaines and Mac Brunson were featured here multiple times: Gaines accused his non-tithing church members of driving stolen cars and living in stolen homes, and all of the first 10% of charitable giving must come to his church in an "undesignated fashion". Brunson again repeated his assertion from 2008 that our ecomonic recession is God's judgement on America for all the non-tithers, and told church members that if they don't tithe, "God collects" and will take the money through financial misfortune.

#7. Ed Young Jet Fiasco: This one is for the scandal when WFAA reporter Brett Shipp broke a story about Ed Young leasing a private jet, his enormous "housing allowance", and the convoluted business transactions that make it impossible to track the ownership or leasing arrangements of the jet. But the worst part of this story really was the absolutely embarrassing dog-and-pony show when Ed Young flew in our own Florida Baptist Prez John Cross to help deflect the criticism, and John Cross declared that Ed Young's Fellowship Church is the most transparent ministry he has ever been associated with.

#8. FBC Jax Usher, City Councilman Asks for Muslim to "Pray to his God" in City Council meeting: Not a big story on this blog, but one of the most interesting that did get some press around the country. Dr. Parvez Ahmed, a University of North Florida economics professor, was nominated by our mayor to serve on a city human rights committee. During the city council session where Ahmed's nomination was discussed, city councilman and long-time FBC Jax member Don Redman asked the professor to "pray to your God" in the middle of the city council session before the city attorney stepped in to save Redman's hiney. Redman's fear of Ahmed is to be expected, as FBC Jax preacher Jim Smyrl sounded the alarm in 2009 that our grandchildren will all "come under Muslim law" if Muslims aren't converted. Another FBC Jax member and city councilman, Clay Yarborough, told a Times Union reporter he wasn't sure if Muslims should be allowed to hold public office. Scary stuff coming from elected leaders who are evangelical Christians.

#9. Crystal Cathedral Bankruptcy: with tens of millions of debt, a dwindling membership, and many unpaid creditors, Robert Schuller's "Crystal Cathedral" had to declare bankruptcy. But it is through the bankruptcy court that the creditors were able to obtain financial information that any mega church would never in a million years release: total compensation for the pastor and his family members, including six-figure "housing allowances" and compensation packages to which the bankruptcy court objected. Lesson: to date the only way mega churches will disclosed detailed financial records including pastor and family compensation packages, is when forced to do so by a court.

#10: You fill in the blank! I have a few others I might nominate, but would like to hear from readers.

And Wade, I know you aren't blogging, but I sure would like to read your 2011 predictions, as you have done in years past.

Happy New Year to all, and best wishes for a healthy, happy, prosperous 2011!

Monday, December 27, 2010

David Platt on CNN Blog: A Pastor Truly Practicing What He Preaches, Making a Difference

In case you didn't read it, CNN's religious blog on December 23rd featured an article by Dr. David Platt, pastor of the 4000-member Church at Brook Hills entitled "Why My Church Rebelled Against the American Dream." Please click on the hyperlink and read it.

By now most WD readers have heard of Platt - he is a 31-year old graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (after earning a Bachelor's degree in journalism at the University of Georgia, earning two Master's and a PhD from NOBTS), who has written a best-selling book entitled "Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream."

In this CNN article, Platt explains how as a pastor he looked at a world of hurting and starving people and asked: "What are we spending our time and money on that is less important than meeting these needs?", and then led his church to do things like:

- jetisson their plans to spend millions on buildings to expand their "campus ";

- gave away their $500,000 surplus fund to assist churches in India where 41% of the world's poor live;

- trimmed $1.5 million from their church budget to "...build wells, improve education, provide medical care and share the gospel in impoverished places around the world."

- led his church in helping needy, at-risk children in their county by providing adoption or foster care for 160 kids.

In a word, Platt believes that chasing the "American Dream" and following the teachings of Jesus Christ are incompatible. And he doesn't just preach it from the mountain top or from behind a gated community; Platt in fact sold his home in the 'burbs that he bought when he became the youngest megachurch pastor in the SBC several years ago, and instead moved into a two-bedroom house in the inner-city to minister among the more lowly of Birmingham.

Some may disagree with Platt's assertion that most American Christians have morphed the Jesus of the Bible into a "middle class Jesus" who doesn't mind at all our materialism and consumerism. But one thing that you really can't argue with: Platt practices what he preaches and he leads by example. Most wealthy mega church pastors have been trained to justify from scripture their infatuation with more buildings, higher staff salaries and bonuses, newer pews and jet-setting lifestyles and six-figure housing allowances and church marketing consultants.

The typical mega church pastor has helped create this "twisted version of Jesus" that Platt calls it. But while the typical mega church pastor is trying to guilt that extra 1% tithe from their peeps who have little or no margin while they themselves live high on the hog...Platt is actually saying the way to become generous is through true sacrifice of one's American lifestyle, and he dares to LIVE IT. Your average mega church pastor can't preach this, as they would stand the most to lose in lifestyle if they actually called for true sacrifice as Platt does.

It is just so incredibly refreshing to know that one of the premiere SBC megachurch pastors who is making a difference at the end of 2010 is one who is NOT calling for his church members to just give 1% more in 2011 and sign a committment card, nor is he leading his church members to lop off a chunk of their assets to give to his building program, nor is he trying to architecturally lead people to Jesus through a glorious water fountain.

Platt is trying to show American Christians a different way, a different Jesus, a Jesus of the Bible. I hope we all will listen, and take action.

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

Note: Kudos to Mac Brunson and First Baptist Jacksonville for inviting Platt to be one of the speakers at the 2011 Pastor's Conference. Also, if you want to read some interesting perspectives on Platt , The Wartburg Watch has written some excellent articles on Platt here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

"Twas the Sunday Before Christmas" - A 2010 Remix

2010 was certain quite a year for the mega church pastors finding creating ways to convince people to fork over more and more of their money. We chronicled quite a few - Robert Jeffress, Mac Brunson, Steve Gaines, Ed Young, even Perry Noble (although Perry calling church attenders "spiritual whores (hos)" took the cake.)

So I thought in honor of these men's efforts to do God's will and raise revenue at their respective churches, we would do a 2010 remix of the popular poem I posted last year called "Twas the Sunday Before Christmas". Hope you enjoy!



'Twas the Sunday before Christmas
and all through God's church
"Not a churchman is tithing!"
Yelled the preacher from his perch.

The mega church preacher
climbed up into his place
Said our tithe to his church,
Was required for grace.

He had a broad face,
and a little round belly,
That shook when he yelled,
Like a bowlful of jelly.

He pulled off his glasses
and gave a jerk of his head,
Soon gave me to know
I had something to dread;

He spoke not from the Word,
and went straight to his work,
Began to tell the non-tither,
how he was a jerk.

He was dressed all in finery,
Even cufflinks of gold,
He took out his Bible
and Yelled to the fold:

"Now please get out your bibles,
You stupid sheep,
You're holding your tithe back,
You're being way too cheap,

"You owe me and God
Ten - not nine, not eight,
And we'll spend it as we please,
You dare not designate."

We thought from our Bibles,
He would be sure to show,
How point-one times the gross,
is the exact amount we owe.

But ne'er did he exegete
This demand placed on us,
He just told us to fork it over,
No need to discuss.

He said if we didn't agree,
To "Take it up wit da book",
But he didn't tell me where,
I should start to look.

The preacher said "no wonder your kids are so bad",
"But what do you expect,
When they have to live
with a non-tithing mom and dad!

I was ready for more abuse,
It was not stopping there,
So I loosened my tie,
At my shoes I did stare.

"You're driving stolen cars,
America's in the tank"
All because you're hoarding
Your tithe in your bank."

"Your greed has caused God,
To put our nation under a curse,
So be a good American,
And get the tithe check out of your purse."

"If you really loved Jesus,
You'd fill out this card,
For autowithdrawl,
It would make tithing less hard."

I wondered, where in the Bible,
Can I find this stuff,
I've read my Bible,
but apparently not close enough.

Could it be in the KJV,
or the NIV, or perhaps NASB,
No, none of those,
It must be in the Greek, you see.

He said: "You do want to get close,
to Jesus this New Year,
So lop off a chunck of your assets
For our fountain and building right here."

"Divide your income by 10,
And write a check for that amount,
Else on our Naughty List you will go,
Your name inscribed on our fount.

"Be afraid, because
God will take what you owe,
His heavenly IRS,
Will not take an answer of "No"

"When you have crashing cars,
And the dreaded leaking roof,
You will know you should have tithed,
That will be your proof."

So the plates were all passed
down each row with great care,
In hopes that the peeps
Would put their 10% there.

Mama in her new dress,
and me in my tie,
I saw that plate coming,
With a tear in my eye.

I took out my envelope,
With my measely 9 percent
Knowing I was "sinning",
But had just paid my rent.

Here came the plate,
I put my envelope upside down,
Tried to fake a tithing smile,
But wore a 9 percent frown.

Off Deacons, Off Trustees!
please count all the dough
See if there is enough,
For new carpet and pews for each row.

The white-haired man to my left
held on to his wallet
His trip to church today
He was sure to regret.

"I didn't know it", whispered, the old man
With sweat on his brow,
Then the preacher yelled,
"HA, well you sure know it NOW."

I told the old man,
After the show,
"Don't worry its not what you give,
But rather it's Who you know."

The message this Christmas, sir,
is God sent his Son,
He's after our hearts first,
Not a wallet, not one."

"Baby Jesus came into the world,
to show us the way,
Not to tell us what percent
to the pastor we must pay."

The old man grinned,
and nodded his head with a smile,
"I knew that,
I'll see you all in a little while."

"See, at Christmas time,
I've blessed kids with gifts each year,
And not once did I demand,
A tithe in exchange for my cheer."

"I find it quite odd,
These men demand cash as they do,
When God gives His love freely,
To me and to you."

But I heard him exclaim,
'Ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all,
And to all a good-night."

Friday, December 17, 2010

Southern Baptist Mega Church Pastor Linked to Mortgage Scheme Investigated by Feds


As we close out 2010 we see another example of how to mine the Southern Baptist pews for gold. This time it is Pastor Gary Hawkins of Voices of Faith Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia, who brought a man named Fred Lee of "Matrix Capital" into his church to sell his congregation a mortgage scheme that is now being investigated by Dekalb County Police and federal investigators. Hawkins vouched for Lee's integrity to his church members - resulting in Fred Lee collecting $1500 from church members who thought Lee would help them save their mortgages.

Who is Fred Lee? He is a self-professed multi-millionaire living in a $6 million home in Atlanta, and who has a history of trouble with state mortgage agencies dating all the way back to 2002, as reported back in October by CBS Atlanta (this link has more compelling footage, including ex-employees of Lee). But as reported by CBS Atlanta this week, Fred Lee did not successfully modify any of the Hawkins' church members' mortgages, and many lost their homes and went into bankruptcy. One of the church members interviewed by CBS Atlanta said they trusted Lee because of their pastor's endorsement of him, and because the sales pitch was made at their church.

Now some church members, and apparently federal investigators, want to know if the pastor received any kickbacks from Lee or Matrix Capital. The news report says over 1000 church members forked over $1500 to Matrix Capital - for a whopping $1.5 million total take: definitely gold in them thar mega church pews.

Wendy Saltzman, the CBS Atlanta reporter, said the following near the end of the clip:

"Robinson [one of Hawkins former church members] tried to speak to Bishop Hawkins, but he wouldn't answer her questions, and he wouldn't answer our tough questions either...police have spoken to Bishop Hawkins but tell us he was less than forthcoming with records that would have shown if payments were made either to the Bishop personally or to the church."

Gee, the pastor wouldn't answer their questions. I can't believe it.

Gary Hawkins and his mega church are part of the Georgia Baptist Convention, which is part of the Southern Baptist Convention. You will recall the GBC issued a proclamation condemning critical bloggers in 2007, and also disfellowshipped several churches for the dastardly deed of hiring a woman pastor. How long will it take the GBC to issue a proclamation against mortgage schemes, or to dis-fellowship Hawkins' church?

But it is all just another sad example of how Christians can be so incredibly gullible, and how mega church members idolize their mega church pastors. And pastors, please take note: you have no business using your church and your position to advertise for outside ventures to your church members. This is why I wrote in 2008 and 2009 about my concerns over what I saw at FBC Jacksonville with the commercialization of the pastor's conference and selling of "promotions packages" and selling "emcee mentions on the platform".

H/T: Christa Brown and God Discussion

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wade Burleson is Posting Again!

After announcing several months ago that he was done blogging, Wade has resumed writing articles at his old blog web address, with the title of the site changed to "The Online Writings of Wade Burleson for Wade Burleson.com".

Some might say he is "blogging" again, but it seems not...comments are turned off, so it is quite clear he is interested in sharing his insights with readers but not engaging in the dialogue of a blog, and who can blame him. I'm just glad he is posting again, as I'm sure so many readers here are also. My guess is that he is just using the old blogsite to temporarily post his old articles and publish new ones - and eventually will convert them all over to another location as his new website, http://www.wadeburleson.com/, matures - but that is just a guess.

Like Thy Peace, I regularly listen to Wade's preaching through his church website, Emmanuel Baptist Church, and his messages are a blessing.

His first two articles since resuming his writing are very thought-provoking as usual....although if you're reading, Wade, you might want to turn the date feature on the blog site so we know the date of publication of your articles.

Welcome back, Wade!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jeffress Stands Firm on Grinch Web Site, Says We Need to Stand up to the Atheists and Infidels - and Gets a Standing "O"

At the end of the Sunday 12/12/10 First Baptist Dallas morning worship service, addressing his congregation Robert Jeffress stood firm and did not back off from his idea of having the "Grinch Alert" website. He said his stand on Christmas with this web site is part of what Christians must do to stem the premature decay of society, and that he is not willing "to wave the white flag of surrender and give our country over to the atheists and the infidels and the unbelievers."

True to form, he got a standing ovation of support from his congregation after his statement. In case you didn't know, all mega church pastors in the history of Christianity have gotten standing ovations when they have to explain that what they did in the past week which embarrassed themselves and their church was actually all for Jesus.

Here are some quotes from Jeffress' statement to his church (if you want to listen to his entire statement, click here, and go to the 12/12/10 sermon and go to the very end):

"In some ways I wasn't surprised [at the controversy]. I expect the atheists, the unbelievers, the infidels to be that way....if Alan Combes [liberal radio host] is against it I know I'm doing the right thing."

He then expressed concern that some conservative, evangelical Christians have expressed negative feedback on his idea.

"I realize saying Merry Christmas, putting up a Christmas tree isn't going to get anyone into heaven...but I also believe - and I put this in the same category as I do working to keep "In God We Trust" on our coins, saying prayers at public meetings, allowing the Ten Commandments to be displayed in the classroom or in the court room. None of those things is going to save anybody. But I believe our nation overall is going be healthier as a nation with a public acknowledgement of God than we are if we allow the secularists, the atheists, the infidels to remove any mention of God from our public arena, and that's why I'm doing this."

Those darned infidels who aren't saying Merry Christmas! Everyone - get the pitchforks and torches! Off with their heads! Recant, recant you infidels!!

He then mentioned that Jesus declared Christians to be the "salt of the earth", and that salt was a preservative in Jesus' day.

"We want to do everything we can to keep this culture from rotting prematurely.... I don't know about other people, and apparently other people don't agree, but I am not willing to wave the white flag of surrender and give our country over to the atheists and the infidels and the unbelievers. I think there is still time for us to do something, so, that is why I'm doing this."

Yes, Christians absolutely are to be the salt, spreading the Word and standing for right. But that doesn't include making a big deal out of businesses making the choice of saying "Happy Holidays" versus "Merry Christmas". This is not the same as gay rights, or abortion, or keeping "In God We Trust" on the coins. In fact, to suggest that it does, diminishes these other important cultural stances that we take, and makes us look petty and ignorant.

And his last statement as his peeps rose to their feet to give him the customary standing ovation deserved by all mega church pastors: "I think there is still time for us to do something..."

Yes, there still is time to something, like construct a computerized fountain to architecturally lead the infidels and atheists and unbelievers to Jesus, else waterboard them in the fountain until they confess.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

First Baptist Dallas "Naughty and Nice List" - Furthers the Stereotype of Evangelicals as Shallow, Ignorant Boobs

By now you've probably heard of the "Grinch Alert" website put up last week by Robert Jeffress and First Baptist Dallas. It is a site where people can nominate companies who "halt the Celebration of Christmas" and those who "keep Christ in Christmas where he belongs".

This simple little website was a great investment for First Baptist Dallas and Jeffress - probably cost less than $1000 to put up, and it gave him free valuable face time on national media outlets (CNN, FoxNews, CBN) that would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars! If the FBC Dallas marketing consultant came up with this idea, it is time for a Christmas bonus!

Just a few thoughts:

- if we Christians pass judgement at this time of year on a business by whether they've instructed employees to say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, we're ignorant boobs. The business is not there to spread the gospel. They are not there to keep "Jesus as the reason for the season". That is our job, Christian.

- where does Robert Jeffress think the "tithes" that flow into his church for the construction of his new campus and his "knock your socks off" computerized Jesus fountain come from? They come from businesses that create wealth for owners or shareholders who invested in the business, creating jobs for employees, and superior goods and services for customers - and they do it all in an intensely competitive market that will eat them alive if they falter. If a business believes it in their best interest to say "Happy Holidays" to be more inclusive of their clientele - who cares?

- contrast that to how megachurches like First Baptist Dallas raise their funds: by declaring that God requires their members to fork over 10% of their before-tax income with no real accountability in return on how the money is spent. Businesses raise their funds by taking inputs of capital, labor, raw materials, and converting them into goods and services of higher value...thereby creating wealth that enables them to hire employees who can then tithe. Mega churches - they just demand money by order of God Almighty, with threats of calamity if you don't comply.

- I have to point out: these businesses actually pay taxes at all levels of government. They pay local property taxes out the wazoo. They pay taxes on their profits. Their CEO's don't get massive tax exempt "housing allowances". Does Jeffress' mega church pay taxes on their revenues? Nope. How ironic that these taxes paid by business and not by churches are required in part because the modern church has mostly abandoned the call of Jesus himself to care for the widows and the orphans and the poor.

- And to top it all off: I dare say that the businesses on the Jeffress' Grinch list, like Nordstroms, Target and Macy's - they do more real ministry to help people in need than First Baptist Dallas or other mega churches. Look at the charitable work of these companies at their websites, supporting non-profit organizations with cash and volunteers. But that is of no consequence to the boob Christian who just wants the employee to say "Merry Christmas".

One of the most telling examples that shows the shallowness of this website was an exchange on CNN between Robert Jeffress and CNN's John Roberts (see video below):

CNN's John Roberts: There were two entitites that came forward to say that these claims against them [being on the naughty list] are inaccurate....one of them being the "Mi Cocina Restaurant"....they say they're being unfairly targeted - the staff is instructed to say 'Happy Holidays', but they point out they feed 600 children every year at their "Snowball Express" which is for the children of fallen warriors. So for someone to put them on the 'naughty list' seems a little [unfair].

Pastor Jeffress: Again, that is everybody's right of free speech, and free expression. But I said to one of the owners of Mi Cocina who called me, he said 'You know I'm a Christian and we do all of these wonderful things in the name of Christ', and I said 'Why don't you say Merry Christmas then?', and there really wasn't an answer.

Robert, there was no answer because you knocked his socks off with such an ignorant question! A Christian business owner, who does charitable work in the name of Christ, probably gives generously to his church, provides jobs to people who do give to their churches, feeds children of fallen warriors, does not owe you or anyone an answer as to why he doesn't say "Merry Christmas" at his Mexican restaurant! I say to the owner of Mi Cocina: God bless you for your successful business, for your charitable work, for the jobs you provide. Keep working hard, providing quality food at a reasonable price - and whatever you think is the best greeting this time of year for your employees and patrons, I'm all for it and I won't pass judgement!

But the good news: I'm happy to say most evangelical Christians I know absolutely do NOT think like Jeffress. They don't look to judge a business on what kind of displays they have, or based on a sample of one employee who might say "Happy Holidays". Most Christians understand that businesses are secular institutions that cater to a wide clientel, and they work hard to provide superior quality at the lowest price possible. Most rational, intelligent, clear-thinking Christians appreciate hard work, superior quality at a reasonable price, and friendly, helpful service.

And I'll take that any day from a business over a shallow "Merry Christmas", a greeting which might just be offered to me because the person thinks I'm one of those shallow, ignorant evangelical boobs who will pass judgement and put them on the FBC Dallas Naughty List.

------------------
Below is the Jeffress interview with CNN's John Roberts:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Johnny Hunt Addresses Ed Young, Jr. Quest for Bank Account Numbers, Says He Prefers to Do It "Jesus' Way"

Johnny Hunt has recently preached two excellent sermons on money from James 5, addressing the dangers of wealth and hoarding and defrauding. The dates are 11/14/10 and 11/28/10, and can be seen here.

Hunt preaches New Testament giving principles of being generous givers, not hoarders, and instructing his congregation on how they are to be about helping the poor and needy, and how God is concerned with how those in power treat the poor and needy. No self-serving tithing guilt trips. No threats misuing Old Testament scripture about how God will take your money from you anyways, or that you're bringing God's judgement on America if you don't tithe.

Johnny didn't even ask for the account numbers of his church members.

Johnny did mention the YouTube video of a "very well-known pastor" who asked his congregation to give him their checking account numbers so he could auto-withdrawl their tithe. Then Johnny made the following statement in his trademark passionate plea while descending half-way down the stairs from his platform:

"Those of you who watched that video on YouTube, you're probably thinking 'Is Hunt going to do that?' No, I want you to look this way. I've been a pastor 35 years...and just for the record's sake, I don't need your account number, I'd rather have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and if he can't get hold of your heart and get it the way it's supposed to come, we don't need it around here. We need to do it Jesus' way, God's way, the oracles of God."

For Johnny to mention this he really had to be totally disgusted. After all, Ed Young is not some far-out-in-left-field televangelist - he is a fellow Southern Baptist, son of Ed Young, Sr, and whose church board includes the President of the Florida Baptist Convention!

Good for you, Johnny Hunt. In this day of money-grubbing preachers who are misusing scripture left and right to coerce and threaten people to give more money, it is refreshing to see you publicly call out one of the worst offenders.

Below is the video of Hunt's remarks....followed by another interesting excerpt where Johnny describes why HE thinks America is facing God's judgement, and it ain't because of non-tithing Christians! Take a look!


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sheriff's Office Issues Training Bulletin on First Amendment Implications of Investigative Subpoenas

Last month the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office (JSO) issued a training bulletin (click here to read it) to all officers on the civil liability issues to be considered when they are requesting investigative subpoenas from the State Attorney's Office (SAO). The drafting and issuance of this training bulletin was part of the settlement of the First Amendment lawsuit this past October. The bulletin was drafted by Howard Maltz of the city's Office of General Council, who represented Detective Hinson in the lawsuit.

Part of the bulletin deals with blogging, Facebook, and Twitter, and acknowledges the First Amendment right that individuals have to remain anonymous. In our lawsuit, Federal Judge Marsha Morales Howard affirmed the existence of this right established by the Supreme Court, when she allowed the lawsuit to proceed this past April.

Perhaps JSO officers didn't know about the right to anonymous free speech, but thanks to this training bulletin, they know it now.

On page 3 of the bulletin, Maltz says:
"In today's world of Internet blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc., officers must be cognizant of certain constitutional issues that could arise in seeking subpoenas for internet or telecommunications subscriber information. Some people communicate on the internet anonymously and investigations may involve determining the identity to solve crimes. The First Amendment of the Constitution provides for freedom of speech. The United States Supreme Court has held that the right to free speech includes the right of an individual to speak anonymously. Thus, if an officer seeks a subpoena to identity the author of anonymous speech, constitutional implications have to be taken into consideration."
This may be seem like a statement of the obvious and therefore not very profound or significant. Let me explain why the above is important to the citizens of Jacksonville. In the testimony given in our First Amendment lawsuit, by the undersheriff Frank Mackesy, the sheriff himself, Detective Hinson, Hinson's boss, and the state attorney - it was painfully obvious to me that neither the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, nor the State Attorney's Office, took into consideration any constitutional implications of obtaining subpoenas from Comcast and Google to identify the FBC Jax Watchdog blogger in September 2008. Maltz is clearly saying that they MUST be considered.

Maltz continues:
"Courts have held that where the subpoena power collides with the First Amendment rights such at (sic) the right to free speech or anonymous speech, the government must be able to demonstrate 'an overriding and compelling interest in obtaining the material in the subpoena' or risk a determination that the constitution has been violated."
Absolutely. That was what the lawsuit testimony was about: did the JSO have the overriding and compelling interest in issuing subpoenas to get my identity? They argued they did - we argued they absolutely did not (our argument summarized in the motion for summary judgement), and the detective's own actions and testimony we believe showed the government absolutely did not have an overriding and compelling interest in my identity. The church sure did have an interest, but not the government.

And think about the other two bloggers whose personal information was subpoened by Hinson in this case: one was for Tiffany Croft - clearly NOT an anonymous blogger, blogging about the Darrel Gilyard fiasco - and the other was for the Bellevue Baptist anonymous blogger. What compelling governmental interest did the detective have when writing a subpoena for Tiffany Croft or a blogger in Memphis? What possible crime was being investigated? The detective testified that he realized he did not need their personal information until AFTER he had already issued the subpoenas to Google, and when he got their personal information he destroyed it immediately.

And this statement Maltz makes at the bottom of page 3:
"If in doubt regarding whether a sufficient basis exists for issuance of the subpoena, the officer should spend considerable time discussing the issues with the applicable State Attorney."
Amen. In our case, Hinson filled out a subpoena request form to obtain all available personal information from Google of myself, the Bellevue Baptist blogger, and Tiffany Croft. He sent them to the SAO office, where the SA signed them and shipped them off to Google. The state attorney testified that he did not have a recollection of signing them, and did not discuss them with Hinson, and to boot the SAO inadvertantly destroyed the request forms that were sent by Hinson. Hinson should have realized the First Amendment implications of these subpoenas to unmask two anonymous bloggers who had committed no crimes or never threatened to commit crimes, and should have spent "considerable time" discussing them with the State Attorney. From testimony in the case, he spent ZERO time discussing them with the State Attorney involved.

And when he discussed the First Amendment issues with the state attorney, perhaps Hinson should have also disclosed his glaring conflict of interest of being a church member, employee, deacon, and discipline committee member of the church that the blogger was criticizing. I think if Hinson had disclosed these conflicts of interest, the state attorney might not have signed them so readily, but we'll never know.

I thank Howard Maltz for drafting this bulletin and Sheriff Rutherford for realizing the importance of his officers understanding the First Amendment issues when it comes to investigative subpoenas in this Internet age. With this information being passed on to the JSO officers and detectives, accountability has been established.

I hope next the JSO strengthens their conflict of interest policy for their detectives.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Wonderful" First Baptist Dallas Computerized Fountain: An "Architectural Invitation to the Gospel of Jesus Christ"?

"When we were working on designing this beautiful new campus, we were very intent on making sure that our new campus wasn't just utilitarian, that it wasn't just a series of functional buildings without any beauty, but we wanted this new campus to be an architectural invitation to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that is why in the center of this new campus, a wonderful fountain, that would have water that is springing up and gushing down. And at the top of that fountain would be a 66-foot cross, inviting people to the source of living water, Jesus Christ, Himself." Robert Jeffress, FBC Dallas Pastor, 11/14/10
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Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, says he wants their new $120 million church, including their new computerized fountain designed by Fluidity Design Consultants in Los Angeles, to be an "architectural invitation to the gospel of Jesus Christ."

I thought one thing the American church would have learned by now, is that spending money on beautiful architecture - including elaborate water fountains - is not what attracts people to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The large numbers of glamorous cathedrals in Europe that sit empty and serve as little more than tourist attractions are a testimony to that.

That one of the most historic Southern Baptist Churches is unashamedly building a $120 million architecturally beautiful campus including a computerized fountain, speaks volumes to the world about Southern Baptists. While we are saying "Jesus is coming soon", and pushing hard to send more missionaries through the Cooperative Program and the "Great Commission Resurgence", one of our most historic churches is asking for people to sacrifice to build a wonderful water fountain and to generate a computerized video simulation to "knock the socks off" the congregation.

And really, is this not just a glimpse into what churches would do if we REALLY opened up our pocketbooks and all of us began tithing thereby doubling or tripling our church's budget? I believe one of the reasons Christians are hesitant to give freely and fully to their church is that they know that if their churchs' revenues spiked, church leaders would use the money not so much for ministry, but rather to construct a new building, to add more professional clergy, give better end-of-year bonuses to the staff, and construct glamorous features on their campus like fountains, lighthouses on their parking garages, or "crystal cathedrals".

Below is a video where the First Baptist Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress on November 14th introduces the video simulation of the new First Baptist Dallas fountain that he says will "knock your socks off". Sure knocked my socks off! Amen!

FBC Dallas members, go ahead and build a wonderful computerized fountain if you want at your church - even pay to have a simulation video made to get people excited about it - but don't fool yourself into thinking that it will help "architecturally" attract anyone to Jesus Christ. Not one single, solitary soul will be attracted to Jesus because of your water fall.

I remember at FBC Jacksonville how giddy people were in the 1990's over Homer Lindsay Jr's idea of erecting a solid concrete 50-foot tall striped "lighthouse" on the corner of the newest parking garage to attract people to Jesus Christ, the "Lighthouse".

Now, some 20 years or so after it was built, it means nothing, and I mean nothing. In fact, when it was built and the church lit the beacon, the city stepped in because residents said it was an annoyance to have this beacon rotating and shining light in their homes.

And I haven't heard any testimonies of how the lighthouse at FBC Jax lighthouse saved anyone, or even pointed anyone to Jesus Christ. So I kind of doubt the FBC Dallas water fixture will either. But it may serve as a place for the homeless to be refreshed on those hot summer days, before church security chases them away. And it may serve as a source of pride to the members for doing something so wonderful for Jesus.

The FBC Dallas church leaders do understand the criticism they have received over the $120 million project....but their answer: we've already been the most generous church in helping the poor! Two weeks after the fountain video displayed, former FBC Dallas pastor and guest preacher O.S. Hawkins defended the campus project by proclaiming:

"There will always be folks that say 'boy, they could have taken all that money and given it to the poor.' And I defy anybody to find a church anywhere that over the decades has done more for the poor in their Jerusalem, than we have here. In fact in Bethany, that's what they said, isn't it, when Jesus was anointed by the alabaster box that woman brought in. One of those disciples - you know, I don't want to be like him - it was Judas - he said 'boy you could have sold that and given it to the poor'. But Jesus said to her 'You've done a beautiful thing for me'." O.S. Hawkins, 11/28/10

That is quite a statement, that no church ANYWHERE has done more for the poor than FBC Dallas. At least this is an acknowledgment that real ministry should be done as a priority. But I wonder if any churches in Dallas would take exception to O.S.'s claim that no church has helped the poor more than First Baptist Dallas.

And as O.S. says, don't be like Judas and criticize the plans for the campus.

After all, they are just doing a beautiful thing for Jesus.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Conflicts of Interest - Vivid Contrast Between Sheriff's Office and State Attorney - Bravo to Corey and McCarthy

"Perception issues must be considered by all public servants, and Ms. Corey has a very clear and strict policy that employees of the State Attorney's Office must refrain from inappropriate involvement in cases where they have a personal interest. This is necessary to make sure the line between official duties, and matters of personal motive or concern, are never blurred." Dan McCarthy, State Attorney's Office Press Release 11/30/10.
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This past week there has been a very interesting front page news story in Jacksonville about a state attorney investigator's "conflict of interest" and the resulting actions taken by State Attorney Angela Corey and Chief Assistant Dan McCarthy.

Here's the scoop: as the Florida Times Union reported, a state attorney's office investigator, Scott Hughes, accessed a confidential law enforcement database to investigate the father of a local high school football player. Hughes apparently is the offensive coordinator of a rival high school, and he was trying to determine if the player's father had residency in the county where the boy was playing. Interestingly, Hughes was a Lieutenant with the Sheriff's Office until 2009 when he was hired by Corey.

But the good news, as I will explain, is Angela Corey's office has quickly admitted the conflict of interest or at least the perception of one, has admonished the investigator, and has warned everyone else in the office of the penalties if they do the same. (read the press release here).

But I bring this up here because in our recently settled lawsuit with the JSO in Rich v. City of Jacksonville, one of the main points of contention during discovery was whether the investigating officer, Robert Hinson, had a conflict of interest and should have recused himself. Our contention in the lawsuit was that the city had no legitimate governmental interest in breaching my First Amendment right to anonymity by identifying the First Baptist blogger (me) through subpoena power, and that Hinson's conflict of interest as a member, employee, and leader of FBC Jax clouded his judgment and that he was using his investigatory powers to run an errand for his church.

Over and over again in deposition, from every JSO official we deposed, it was stated there was ZERO conflict of interest. That because Detective Hinson was assigned to religious institutions, that there was no conflict of interest in him on his own initiative, with no input from his superiors, deciding to "investigate" a blog critical of his own church and pastor and employer, and issue investigative subpoenas from Comcast and Google to get my name, and then destroying the paperwork all with no input from superiors.

However, as it came out finally in deposition, the conflict of interest Hinson had was much deeper than we ever knew or was reported in the media. He was not just a member of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, and not just an employee of the church, not just a tither to the church as he admitted - but he was also a deacon, and believe it or not...he was actually a member of the discipline committee that was formed through a November 2007 bylaw change pushed through after my blog started and that was tasked with enforcing church discipline on wayward members like myself. Detective Hinson was actually Deacon Hinson, and was appointed by church leaders sometime in 2008 to be on the very discipline committee whose formation I heavily criticized on this blog (here and here).

To make matters even worse, it appeared that Hinson did not disclose this deeper conflict of interest issue right away when the story broke in April 2009 - he certainly didn't disclose it during our 7+ hour deposition of him this past summer, as we apparently didn't ask the right question. His appointment to and membership with the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville Discipline Committee was not discovered until the deposition of John Blount, the church administrator, when we finally asked the question: "Is he [Hinson] a member of the discipline committee?" Answer: "Yes". Could have heard a pin drop in the conference room at that answer - even the city attorney who read his newspaper during depositions stopped reading and took off his reading glasses. :)

So we have two officers: one an Executive Investigator with the State Attorney's office who accessed a criminal database - and a Detective with the Sheriff's Office who pulled investigative subpoenas. The EI was an offensive coordinator of a rival football team trying to determine if the father had lied about residency of his son, which if true could be a crime. The Detective a member, employee, leader and discipliner at the church, investigating a blog critical of his pastor on which no threats were ever made.

Both obvious conflicts of interest, or at least POSSIBLE conflicts of interest that should have caused either man to recuse himself from the investigation to avoid the appearance of impropriety - that is if they believed what they were doing actually was furthering the objectives of the institutions they represented, and they weren't merely doing errands for their personal interests.

But neither man did recuse himself.

But now here's the difference.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office never, ever publicly admitted to the conflict of interest on the part of their detective. I asked them in April 2009 to do an Internal Affairs investigation, in which I assume they would have discovered Hinson's deeper conflict of interest as a discipline committee member, but no investigation was ever done, except for Frank Mackesy having a brief discussion with Hinson and his boss just after the April 8, 2009 story hit the front page of the Times Union in April 2009. This is shocking to me, given the obvious First Amendment issues in unmasking an anonymous critic, and that this wasn't an accessed database, but usage of state subpoena power to force under threat of law for a third party to give up private information.

But thankfully, State Attorney Angela Corey and Chief Assistant Dan McCarthy didn't hunker down, didn't backpeddle, didn't defend the indefensible in this recent case with Hughes. They came out right away and admitted the conflict of interest on the part of their investigator, publicly reprimanded him, and then warned all other members of their office that this behavior will absolutely not be tolerated and can result in dismissal.

Some are saying Corey didn't do enough, the investigator should be fired, etc. Others are not so sure, but are very concerned over Hughes' actions. I say Corey and McCarthy have done the RIGHT thing. They did determine Hughes didn't break any law in accessing the database, but that he should have recognized the obvious conflict of interest and recused himself.

Here is an excerpt from the email Dan McCarthy sent all State Attorney employees yesterday:

"Let me make it very clear…ANY use of confidential databases for unofficial purposes will result in job termination. Ditto for conducting an inquiry in which you have a conflict of interest, or where such a perception could be drawn. Consider this the equivalent of DUI or integrity issues. They will not be tolerated. Period.

We all have worked too hard to have the image of SAO stained by isolated actions which do not meet our professional standards. Character counts…so does judgment. As the purveyors of justice in 3 counties we are held to the highest standard of behavior. Always. Ms. Corey and I want exemplary behavior and personal judgment to define us…not the opposite."

Amen and AMEN! The standard is not just conflicts of interests, but even perceptions of conflict of interest. Thank you Dan McCarthy and Angela Corey. You did the RIGHT thing in this case, and you have helped restore some level of faith that misbehavior of "purveyors of justice" in this town will not be tolerated.

And lastly, let me say: given that both Hinson and Hughes are long-time employees of JSO - this should cause citizens of Jacksonville to demand that the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office beef up their training and their rules pertaining to Conflicts of Interest for their detectives and investigators. At least NOW Hughes now knows there is a higher standard at the SAO than at his previous employer, the JSO.

But based on our meeting with Sheriff John Rutherford last month, I am optimistic that he too will do the right thing in the JSO to clarify the seriousness of conflicts of interest, just as Angela Corey has in the SAO.

Bravo once again, Ms. Corey and Mr. McCarthy.