2 Samuel 16:9,11 - "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head...let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him."

Matthew 7:15 - “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

Matthew 24:11 - “…and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.”

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

By-Laws Part 4: "Members Waive their Right to...."

So far the Watchdog has posted 3 articles summarizing the FBC Jax by-law changes that were voted on November 28, 2007. This is the last article, addressing an important addition concerning a "right" that all members of the church have waived by joining with FBC Jax.

I believe this last article touches on the most arrogant, egregious change made to the bylaws.
The other three articles:

Now, the last portion:

Under the new by-laws, Article XIV entitled "Discipline", Section 2 is explained a process that must be followed for any church member that has a "grievance" against the church, including Pastor and/or staff. The process involves first Matthew 18 reconciliation, followed by arbitation with the Florida Baptist Convention. But after this process is explained in Section 2, the section closes with this statement:

"By joining this Church, all members agree that biblical conciliation efforts shall provide the sole remedy for any dispute arising against the Church. All members waive the right to file any legal action against the Church in a civil court or agency."

So defining a process was not enough. The Pastor and the Trustees decided to go the extra step and include this clause that members can't bring any legal action against the church.

As students who have learned from Mac Brunson over the last 3 years, we know in order to understand why this change was made we should look at the historical context within which these changes were made. What was happening in Jacksonville, and in the SBC that would make our leaders want to declare that all of its members have given away their right to file legal action against their church without telling them why?

Since our pastor and the president of the Trustees moderating the business meeting didn't explain this clause, or explain why this was necessary, they must not have wanted us to know. So we will be good students of history...and the Watchdog notes two prominent events that may have served as the impetus for such a change to our bylaws:

1. Trinity Baptist Church and the Bob Gray scandal; and

2. Two-Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, TN

Trinity Baptist and Bob Gray

During 2006 and into the spring of 2007, the news about the sexual abuse by Jacksonville's Trinity Baptist Church's former pastor, Bob Gray, was front and center in Jacksonville. This formerly beloved pastor was accused of sexual molestation of little boys and girls at the church's school and church in the 1980's and 1990's. Lawsuits ("legal action") were brought against the church by the victims seeking monetary compensation for the terrible pain and suffering that was inflicted on them by their pastor. Some of the lawsuits were thrown out because of the statute of limitations, but some are still working their way through the courts. Click here for a list of First Coast News articles on the subject.

What is amazing is that Trinity Baptist Church denies any wrong-doing in these matters, even though First Coast News has reported that there was a cover-up and that the current pastor stated he knew of the abuse when it was going on. Obviously their church had a faulty system of church governance and discipline. There was such a lack of accountability between the pastor and the congregation, they put the pastor on such a high pedestal...that it provided a fertile environment for a monster like Bob Gray to operate for years. So yes, the church, the ones that allowed this monster to feast on little boys and girls, shares in the responsibility and liability.

One wonders: does Mac Brunson and our lay leaders who dreamed up this new clause in our bylaws think that these victims are wrong to bring a lawsuit against Trinity? They must, because OUR bylaws now state that we are to bring NO legal action against the church under any circumstances. The question becomes: if our pastor or any staff member or even layperson is accused of sexual molestation, and there is evidence that the church's negligence contributed to it, does the church leadership expect the victims to never bring a lawsuit under any circumstances? If they do, will the victims be thrown out of the church using the church discipline process? Does our church leadership think it wrong and immoral for a Christian to seek relief within our legal system when abusive church leaders harm them and won't admit to their wrong doing? We see that Trinity will not admit to ANY wrong-doing...so legal action is the only recourse available. Is our church leadership seeking to shield itself from lawsuits by this clause in the by-laws? It sure makes one wonder, since the timing of these by-law changes came right after the news of the many lawsuits against Trinity Baptist Church.

Two Rivers Baptist Church

Back in early 2007, a church squabble erupted at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. The Watchdog has blogged about their church dispute several times (here and here). What started out in 2006 as some members having questions about how money was spent and personnel decisions made, grew into a dispute where some 70+ members brought a lawsuit against the church to gain access to spending and salary records at the church after they claim their questions were not answered sufficiently. The lawsuit gained national attention in SBC circles - but the judge threw out the lawsuit but did allow some access to records. The members who brought the lawsuit were voted out of the church for their diviseness. Eventually the hurt ran so deep that the pastor resigned last July and now is a professor at Liberty University.

Perhaps the pastor and our trustees watched the events unfold at Two Rivers Baptist Church, and they feared that some at FBC Jax might make the same maneuver as did the "recalcitrants" at Two Rivers and take legal action to have access to records like pastor and pastor wife salary and benefits, A-Group church marketing expenditures, personnel records related to staff departures, etc. This by-law change gives the church grounds to withdraw the membership of anyone bringing any kind of legal acction, effictively nullifying their right to have access to any church information since their membership can be revoked for having brought legal action. Brilliant move, if the purpose is to let the pastor and trustees now AND IN THE FUTURE know that what they do with the money can NEVER be found out by the people giving it.

OK, what now? The by-law changes are made. The Watchdog still says that a legal challenge could be brought to nullify the new bylaws, unless the church can prove that 2000 members were present and voting on November 28, 2007. Given attendance at Wednesday night services, its likely there were less than 2000 members on that night and without casting ballots, there is no way to prove it.

FBC Jax members should consider:

- this kind of clause empowers abusers (in the present and far into the future) and is another move in the direction of LESS accountability and LESS transparency. This clause makes it rock-solid, 100% certain that no lay person can get their hands on any financial records of the church that the church leadership doesn't want them to see.

- did we really want to forfeit our right, and the right of future church members to bring legal action against the church? Could there not conceivably be SOME reason in the future, whether with this pastor or some other pastor, that would be a reason for the laity to have the force of law at their disposal for church records?

- if through our church's negligence we or our children are harmed, and the church and/or their insurance carrier refuses to settle for damages and a lawsuit is brought...do we really want the church to be able to kick that member out of the church?

- what does this say about the pastor and church lay leadership that they would make this change and NOT desire to explain it to people that they know are voting on it?

- should members resign their membership to preserve their "right" to bring legal action?

- what does this say, once again, about how the leadership views the laity? They lay out a process by which grievances are to be resolved, but to make sure the stupid sheep don't ever bring a lawsuit under any circumstances, we need to tell them in the bylaws that they forfeit their right to bring legal action.

Well, that is all on the by-law changes. Again, if any member wants to read them for his/herself, they can be checked out at the library.

The overall lesson here in these articles for churches, especially mega churches where these kinds of shenanigans are more likely to occur: if you're going to propose significant changes in your church by-laws that affect how the church is governed, how off-budget spending is approved, how church discipline will be exacted on its members, and rights that members forfeit as a condition of membership....MAKE SURE YOU DO YOUR DEAD-LEVEL BEST TO EXPLAIN AND COMMUNICATE THESE CHANGES TO YOUR CONGREGATION BEFORE YOU TAKE A VOTE. If you're not willing to distribute these changes and openly explain them and allow questions in an open forum: DON'T MAKE THE CHANGES!!


Anonymous said...

1. I love FBCJ, but I doubt seriously 2000 people have attended a regular business meeting in a long time, if ever;

2. despite a noted lawyer seeming to lead-out in these affairs at FBC, I doubt seriously that a court would uphold the "waved his rights as a member" provision if it were challenged--at least, for the right reason;

3. a good reason for courts to throw out enforcement of the provision is "lack of new member orientation"--if the WD can't get a personal copy of the bylaws, which new member is going to get a copy or anything close to a complete copy during some kind of orientation session (and, what new member in his right mind would continue as a member if he understood that his tithes were going to support a congregation which really gives evidence of not valuing at all his input or insights?--sort of the "pay up, then shut up" approach that nobody but a nut appreciates);

4. huge amounts of emotional dysfunction and personal insecurity are all over this thing; that's sad, considering that grown men are responsible for it--and other grown men are responsible for perpetuating it;

5. the days of spiritual maturity at FBCJ seem to be over now. Sad, folks.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your bylaws posting.

One "end around" for families who feel they absolutely must join a church like FBC now has become, rather than a good and caring one elsewhere in the city: one parent only joins the congregation with the kids; the other parent remains a non-member in case something untoward does happen and a lawsuit against the church becomes necessary. The best of both worlds, maybe? Sad, but maybe so.

Who are these guys doing this stuff?

Ramesh said...

WD, a very well written post. You had clearly warned us about this aspect of the bylaws changes earlier, here.

Also, Off Topic. Looks like Smyrl's blog is back in operation, here.

Interesting find, as I was perusing Ben Cole's hard to find posts on the web. I found Smyrl commenting on one of the posts, here. (Sorry, permalinks are not setup correctly for that blog. Search for Smyrl within the page.) What a small world we live in!

Anonymous said...

Assuming this clause would be upheld in the courts if some member actually filed a lawsuit -- a big assumption -- it begs the question: why join? Obviously the bylaws would be applicable, if at all, to members only. Certainly the church allows non-members to participate in the various activities and events at the church, and I would suspect that a regular attendee would be treated and considered as a "member" by the staff -- that is, they wouldn't know the difference.

As such, if a regular attendee (non-member) was injured through some negligence, or intentional conduct, at a church-related event or by a church employee, this person would have legal recourse that a member would not! Essentially, these changes encourage people to participate in church functions but not officially join! How absurd!

Perhaps knowledgable members (such as your readers) should send letters resigning their membership but continue to attend and participate as they always have. This would surely at least raise the issue to Mac's attention. Of course, it would also likely result in additional bylaw changes that attempt to bind non-member attendees to some sort of mediation agreement as well. (Not that such an effort would fly in the courts, as I suspect this one would not. But it would be interesting...)

Anonymous said...

"All members waive the right to file any legal action against the Church in a civil court or agency."

What utter nonsense. By declaration a church can't take away what is a legal right. A person might be able to volunteer to give up the right but just putting a phrase in the bylaws doesn't take the right away! Especially since new members are not explained that they must give up this right, and current members were not notified that this right was taken away from them.

And we have some VERY bright lawyers in our lay leadership. Very prominent lawyers that are ver well known and respected. And they put THIS in our bylaws? It indeed is embarrassing.

But again, these lay leaders that came up with this bright idea in our bylaws, are the same ones who stood by while Mac accepted his $307,000 land gift and never explained it to his church, who stood by while long-time staff members WERE FIRED (did I just say that? You BETTER BELIEVE I DID) and shoved out the door, who stood by while Mac lies about Sheri Klouda and are standing by while Mac transforms our PC into a religious commercialized event.

As the first anon said, the days of spiritual maturity are OVER.

Hey Jim...are these bylaws part of "theology driven" ministry? Probably, since the Bible forbids lawsuits, so to put this clause in the bylaws is "theology driven".

They should hope that no one brings a legal challenge to the new bylaw changes since there were not 2000 people present the night the motion was made.

This is the height of arrogance, and its a disgrace and slap in the face of the future members of FBC Jax. While right now we might have the most noble, and righteous pastor and lay leaders who would do the right thing and a lawsuit would never be necessary to force them to do the right thing....but in the future it might be necessary, as it was at Trinity, and as it was with the Catholic Church. As a student of church history, Donald M. Brunson ought to know that of all organizations, churches for some reason like to sweep wrong-doings under the carpet and its been our legal system, yes "LEGAL ACTION" that has forced churches to deal with abuses in the open, forcing them to make restitution with the victims...and most importantly...forcing churches to expose and get rid of the abusers.

Although I don't think this new wrinkle to the bylaws has any legal standing, out of principle I will contact the church to tell them to cancel my membership so that I can preserve my right to bring legal action against the church.

Anonymous said...

Well it's not just lawyers who are leading the church but a JUDGE. A Judge that would allow such nonsense ought to be embarassed. Common sense... a criminal act is way out of the jurisdiction of church bylaws. They really must think the members are totally stupid. Will all new members have to sign a notarized waiver?

FBC Jax Watchdog said...

Correction Anon: JUDGES, plural.

Anonymous said...

Ignorance of the law is no excuse. The bylaws do bind the members since they are available in the premises of the church. Why do you think that lawyers and judges are apart of the trustees? They checked all the civil codes, and seperation of church and states, state and federal court records. It is utter nonsense!!!

Anonymous said...

Question: What if one member driving a car hits and kills another member, say the husband. Can the widow of that husband sue the owner and insurance carrier for loss of income, pain and suffering, etc? This could get messy.

Anonymous said...

Here's one for you. Suppose a visitor was close to an escalator and two members got in a fight. They knocked the visitor off the escalator and he dies. Could his widow sue the two members and the church? Where does this end. There could be potential damages all over the place. Very disturbing.

Christa Brown said...

No one should take any comfort in imagining that this clause wouldn't stand up in court. Maybe it would / maybe it wouldn't. but long before the clause is ever litigated, it will have served its purpose of deterring people from bringing wrongs to light.

Who will muster the money, the time, the energy and the will to litigate this clause in the courts? Most people will choose to go on about their lives, and though they may leave the church, they won't invest the energy it would take to get past this First Amendment issue in the litigation process. So the clause will serve its purpose of preserving secrecy.

For Baptist clergy abuse survivors, there are already huge hurdles to suing the church -- short statutes of limitation, lack of hierarchy in the denomination, lack of record-keeping on ministers, etc. etc. This would be still another hurdle that would serve to keep quiet any information about a clergy child molester. Because, when you squelch the lawsuits, you also squelch the most useful way of getting ugly information into the public eye. But of course, this clause will shield many other types of wrongdoing as well.

Anonymous said...

By the way, the TBC allegations are from the 70s and early 80's - not the 90's.

Anonymous said...

The church has gone a long way since Jesus told them to go out two by two and win the lost!!! His way was the narrow way, but today its the broad way. Hopeless situation especially for those who want to get saved. Too much legalism has come back to destroy the true church.

Anonymous said...

Did Brunson pay taxes on the land gift? If he did NOT, the IRS may be interested. The IRS is VERY interested in the shenanigans that went on at TRBC. Stay tuned....you will probably see more about this soon enough.

Anonymous said...

When A church...any church, becomes this much of a problem, why attend it? If the church, through by-laws, or just general intimidation, sets a barrier between the people and the leadership (pastor) in my opinion, the church ceases to be of much spiritual value to the people. All of the value goes to the preacher, as, he is paid. Having a "Pope like hierarchy", and "legal enforcers", do little to further the cause of Christ, or the ability to grow in Grace under such a lack of trust. Why be a member of a church that has "controls" set on the congregation but doesn't tell them about them. To me it's somewhat like living in a communist country. Secretive and controlling. Not only that you are reprinanded regularly for infractions that most are unaware of. But, to be reprimanded because one has somehow displeased the pastor even to a point of being served trespass papers smacks of either a pastor being afraid of losing "control" of the congregation, or a church that has given over "too much power" to the pastor in the first place. All of this, and to be badgered about paying for it in the form of a tithe, somehow sets one against being willing to allow this type of behavior to enter into ones worship experience. Allegiance is owed to Jesus, not to a man or group of men, just because they demand it. These types of institutions resemble cults more than Christ led churches. Sometimes one must seperate and step away from something to really see it for what it is. Sometimes, what was...is not what remains. People have been brain-washed, that if you don't "go" to church you are going to hell. Not accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior is what sends a person to hell. I have decided not to be part of any group trying to angerily control with abusive power. And I have certainly decided NOT TO PAY FOR IT!

Anonymous said...

Take a close look at what represents itself as a church. Is it Christ centered? Is Jesus the main topic, the reason for this church to exist. Are people getting saved? Are people growing in knowledge of the Lord, and in His Word? Or is strife, pastor personality, anger, control, manipulation of the masses more prominent. What is the main function of the church being examined. Is it a social gathering for the members who must have a place to "go", because they have always "gone there"? Why do the people really attend? Each has their own reason, I suppose, but self-examination may be in order. Does attending this church make me a stronger Christian? Does it help me be a better witness to the lost. Does it make me want to serve my fellow man in a Christian manner. Most of all has it helped me (now..daily) to generally live for Jesus? Is this church kind to it's members? The world is cold and hurtful. Have I or this church hurt anyone through acts or words. Do hurt people find Christian love and caring in this church. Has this church or it's members alienated others to the point of driving them awaqy, even knowing they were fellow Christians. Look closely....and remember, someone once said in history..."Looking at a thing is not always SEEING a thing".

Anonymous said...

Where is the outrage of the congregation, that the bylaws were changed to take away their right to bring legal action against the church?

Does anyone care?

After seeing what was done by Gilyard and Gray, why are the church leaders seeking to take rights away from church members?

Isn't anyone upset that they were not NOTIFIED by the church of this by law change?

This is the final nail as far as I'm concerned about Mac Brunson.

I was a supporter of Brunson and trusted him, but he has done nothing but take our trust and abuse it and throw it in the garbage can.

If he is willing to change our bylaws like this and not have the common decency, the backbone, to tell us about it and explain it to us in a mature, adult manner (and not his condescending childish rants), then I don't trust him to be a 4th grade Sunday School teacher, let alone a mega church pastor.


Anonymous said...

Smyrl's website is back up, but mysteriously his Lifeway article is taken down, and he hasn't put back his Catholic Cult series! Thanks Watchdog for not letting him 'crash' his way out of those articles!

Let's see, which is more e-v-i-l? An anonymous blogger who keeps his posts up and stands by what he writes and provides evidence for what he writes, or an un-anonymous blogger who puts up articles and then deletes them when the heat gets turned up, demonstrating he doesn't have the backbone to stand by what he writes? Come on Jim, put back up your Catholic Cult articles, and put back your "Lifeway without the Life" articles to show us that you do stand by what you write!

New BBC Open Forum said...

Another example.

Anonymous said...

Unlike most of the people posting here I will give my email address and not post as Anonymous. My email is morethannike@aol.com.

If the owner of this blog is in fact a First Baptist church member-- (though the name Gail Saunders is not on the roll of the church)
You should read your Bible. If you have real or valid concerns for the family of God there are real ways to express them. How you are doing it, by openly trying to destroy a Man of God is such vile sin, that the Apostle Paul spent much time discussing such things.
Even if you believe the Dr. Brunson is not called, though many Godly and respected people disagree with you, this is not the way to address these issues.

Romans 16:17-24

Paul wholeheartedly and passionately warns that divisions will destroy the church! Paul admonishes us to discern between standing for truth (which ha snot been proven here to be what you have stated) and causing unrighteous divisions, confusing people’s faith, and relationship to God.

Nothing will destroy a church or ministry quicker than strife, competition, dissension, and gossip, all of which eventually lead to divisions in a church (Rom.13: 13; Gal. 5:19-20). Such dissension causes "offenses,” that is, it becomes a snare or stumbling block to others (v.14: 13).
God hates this malicious behavior. You are not an honest person, as you blasted an email to many people that do not know who you are, specifically to attack First Baptist and Dr. Brunson.
You should know that whatever you are trying to accomplish with your malicious attacks and vile tactics will face many obstacles in the prayers Christians and the Power of God.