In today's Times Union, there is a story about Mike Hogan, one of the leading Republican candidates for the upcoming mayoral elections in Jacksonville. This story is an example of why so many non-Christians have trouble casting their vote for evangelical Christians.
First of all, let me say I like Mike Hogan and his policies and believe he is a fine man and I would have no trouble voting for him. Many of my Christian friends are very much supportive of his candidacy. We need more men like Hogan running for public office. He is a long-time member of First Baptist Church Jacksonville.
However, the paper reports today that back in 2007 he was a character witness at the sentencing hearing for a local youth pastor who was convicted by a 12-person jury for possession of child pornography.
That alone is not troubling. If he has facts about the defendant that should be weighed in the sentencing hearing, then by all means speak up, and Hogan did and good for him.
But the devil is in the details. If you read the transcript of his brief testimony given on behalf of Richard Sweat, former youth pastor at Lake Shore Baptist church convicted of possessing child pornography, Hogan wasn't just pleading for leniency based on Sweat's history, and he wasn't explaining the remorse that Sweat had expressed that should be considered by the judge.
No, Hogan instead testifed to Sweat's innocence. He said Sweat couldn't possibly have done what the jury found he did do. Despite not hearing any of the testimony at trial, Hogan said the 12-person jury had it wrong.
And I find his testimony troubling:
"Your Honor, I also served three years in the Florida legislature, eight years as a City Councilman, 15 years as director of singles at First Baptist Church and have worked with young people almost all my life in church work."
OK, so he lists his experience at FBC Jax as relevant in knowing about Richard Sweat.
"Your honor, the things that I’m about to share are stated without reservation, are the truth, and although from my heart are not clouded by my personal feelings for Richard."
He is about to tell the truth, from his heart, but not clouded at all by his personal feelings. So far so good.
"If I had any thought that Richard was guilty or any reservation whatsoever about his innocence, I would not be here today."
Wow, he knows Richard could not possibly be guilty. How did he know? Was he there for the trial to hear the evidence? No, he was not.
"I am aware of the findings of this court regarding Richard’s actions, and those findings trouble me greatly. However, they are so far out of character for this man as to be bizarre. It would be like taking a trip to the North Pole and never seeing any ice or snow."
OK, Richard Sweat downloading child porn is as impossible as not seeing snow on the North Pole. The jury's sentence would be bizzare, to suggest this man downloaded child porn. On what basis does Hogan make this assertion?
"Richard is a man and as such is flawed and he’s capable of making mistakes; however, there is no evidence in his past that speaks to these problems of which he’s been convicted of. And given the things he’s done and the positions that he’s been entrusted with, a problem such as this would have surfaced."
OK, so if he is downloading child porn, this problem would have "surfaced", and since it didn't surface, he couldn't be guilty? Say what? About as hard as Bob Gray's pedophilia was to surface over at Trinity, right? How could Bob Gray have been fondling boys and girls, certainly that would have surfaced years ago, right? This is about as ridiculous a statement as could be made - and he is making it in front of a judge who has presided over a jury trial where unanimously the man was found to be guilty.
"As I mentioned, I’ve known Richard for over 15 years. I met him through my son, Joshua. Joshua has always chosen friends of great character. His buddies that he’s made from childhood to this day are active in their community, served their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, are excellent fathers, and they’re always faithful and true friends. If I didn’t know Richard, Joshua’s recommendation alone would convince me of Richard’s innocence in this matter."
Oh my gosh. So because his son only chooses the best of friends, and all of his son's friends "serve their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ", that alone would be enough to convince him of the defendent's innocence, because he is the dad of one of his son's friends? Remember, he is in front of a judge saying this.
"I never remember a time that Richard wasn’t infectiously happy and possessed great energy. He reminded me of the story of the little boy who was whistling and singing while emptying a great barn filled with manure. When asked how he could be so happy he replied, Mister, there must be a pony in here somewhere. He was a real joy to be around. He loved doing things for his friends. He was unashamed of his love for and his commitment to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The fact that he went into Christian ministry was not a surprise to anyone."
Why the reference to whistling through a manure barn? Is he somehow implying that the court proceedings or the trial, or the charges were a bunch of bull? OK, so the defendant was a happy, energetic, unashamed Christian committed to "his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ"? So therefore, he must be innocent? Complete rubbish, totally illogical. Embarrassing.
Prosecutor Ron Henry asked Hogan a few questions:
Henry asks: "Mr. Hogan, I appreciate your passion for the defendant, but I have some questions about whether or not you have any training as a psychologist or a psychiatrist?"
Hogan Answers: "No, sir, not at all."
Henry asks: "So, when you say that if he had done what the jury said he did it would have manifested itself in some way is not based on any clinical experience that you have as a psychologist or psychiatrist, is it?"
Hogan Answers: "I know leopards don’t change their spots."
Wow. He didn't answer the question. The obvious point of the prosector is that Hogan is completely unqualified to make a judgement on the matter of Sweat's capability to commit the crimes. But Hogan doesn't care, for HE KNOWS that "leopards don't change their spots"
A leopard doesn't change his spots, says Hogan.
This is the sort of illogical Christian thought that allows pedophiles to roam churches and hang out with kids and to move from church to church. It is precisely what attracts pedophiles and abusers TO churches, because they know that if they can perform as a happy-go-lucky, committed, sold-out-for-Jesus Christian, that even the smartest folk at the church will never suspect their motives and won't believe the victims.
And if they're caught, a pedophile can count on a Christian to argue their innocence or ask for leniency, because the defendent just loves Jesus so much.
I don't know if this will hurt Hogan's chances, as he is one of the front-runners. Probably not. But it is stories like this that cast a negative light on all evangelical Christians who seek political office.