As we wrap up another year of blogging on the Watchdog, here are my choices of the top 10 stories covered on this blog in 2011.
10. Ergun Caner Controversy Continues, Caner Makes SBC Comeback: In less than a year after Ergun Caner left Liberty University over his decade of deceit, in 2011 Ergun Caner has made a remarkable comeback by getting hired at fundamentalist Arlington Baptist College as the Provost and Vice President. Soon after the hiring was announced, Brett Shipp of WFAA did an outstanding TV news story on the hiring and highlighted many of Caner's exaggerations. But perhaps more remarkable than Caner getting a new job with a Christian college is how he was given prominent speaking gigs in the Southern Baptist Convention. He had a speaking role at a meeting at the 2011 FBC Jax Pastor's Conference, and preached at Ronnie Floyd's Cross Church using it to again paint himself as a victim of "haters". And to top it all off, in the most brazen and nonsensical move, FBC Jax granted Ergun Caner access to the eyes and ears of their middle and high schoolers for a week at camp by hiring Caner as the summer camp preacher. As I posted here, Caner is STILL stretching the truth and not being completely honest with congregations about his past.
9. Year of the Crybaby Pastors: the series of posts I did on crybaby pastors (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) complaining about criticism were very popular. This seems to be a recurring theme amongst mega church pastors, as they have difficulty with the idea that as they use social media to get their messages maximum exposure, their sermons and ministry tactics will be evaluated and criticized using the same social media.
8. Departures and Hiring at FBC Jax: there were two significant departures this year from FBC Jax - Jim Smyrl left on less than friendly terms from FBC Jax and quickly started a new SBC church, and Shelly Baumgarner-Norman, the long-time children's director at FBC Jax left this fall. Smyrl is currently a bi-vocational pastor. The preaching duties Smyrl performed were partially filled by Danny Crosby - who quickly declared in one of his first sermons that the pastor's salary "ain't none of yo' bidness", and he took aim at those who dare to criticize their church and pastor.
7. Evangelist Tim Lee Defends Caner: I published a story in May about Liberty University's trustees actually forcing Caner out in 2010, which prompted evangelist Tim Lee to chime in on the blog to express his disagreement with my article. Lee claimed that he was head of the committee that actually wrote the vague statement by Liberty when he was let go, and Lee declared on my blog that "I was Chairman of the committee that crafted the statement concerning Ergun. We never once found that he lied." As far as I know, this is the only place where someone on the Liberty committee has spoken publicly about the Caner dismissal from Liberty.
6. FBC Jax's Mike Hogan Loses Jacksonville Mayor Race: Long-time FBC Jax member Mike Hogan lost the Jacksonville mayoral race to virtual unknown Democrat Alvin Brown in a close run-off election. Hogan was the hands-down favorite to win the election, and not many gave Alvin Brown a chance. As I documented on the blog, Mac Brunson called Hogan to the platform the Sunday before the election, asked he and his wife to kneel at the altar, Brunson laid hands on Hogan, and prayed a very long prayer asking for "Godly leadership". I called Brunson's laying on of hands and prayer an "ordination" of Hogan as mayor. This stunt to bring Hogan to kneel at the front did not sit well with many in the community. FBC Jax deleted this portion of the service from their website video podcast - but Watchdog readers can still view it here.
5. James Merritt Pushes Suspected Pyramid Scheme: one of the dumbest moves in 2011 by a mega church pastor has to be James Merritt - former SBC President and pastor of Cross Pointe Church - using his church facilities and his own personal influence as a trusted pastor to push the Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing (FHTM) multi-level marketing scheme. After videos of his pushing FHTM in his church went viral, they were taken down and then Merritt issued a statement through a spokesman denying the "rumors".
4. Jax Pastor Accused of Voyeurism: Berean Baptist pastor Greg Neal was accused this past year of video taping women in his office as they undressed. The church kicked out the church member who took video evidence to the police, and then Neal issued a public denial with his bobble-headed members standing behind him. Neal was never charged with a crime because too much time had passed between the actual video taping and the submission of evidence to the state attorney's office. Greg Neal is still co-pastor of the church.
3. SBC Evangelist Sammy Nuckolls Arrested for Voyeurism: Huge story this past year was Sammy Nuckolls' arrest for video voyeurism. Apparently Sammy got his jollies from using a spy pen with a video camera to video tape women. Sammy was once a preacher at Lifeway youth camps.
2. Mac Brunson Complains of His Tough Life, Then Issues Blanket Apology: for nearly 5 months of 2011 Mac Brunson preached out of the book of Job. A good portion of his sermons seemed to focus on how Christians are supposed to handle criticism (see #9 above), and in one sermon he spent several minutes belly-aching to his congregation just how tough his life has been as a mega church pastor having to deal with criticism. He even went so far as to say that he did not want to come to be the pastor, but that he had to come because God "drove" him to Jacksonville. The following Sunday Brunson gave a strange blanket apology for anything he's ever said that has offended anyone.
The #1 story for 2011 will be posted on New Year's Eve, so check back in on Saturday!