On a personal note, due to various obligations, I took a 10-week break from this blog. The timing seems to be providentially all for the best, though. There have been some rather dramatic developments in that period related to child sexual abuse issues within the Church. Perhaps these show that how churches do or don’t deal with the realities of abuse is getting nearer the surface of defining whether a church, agency, or denomination is trustworthy. (Specifics in a later post on those broader picture lessons for the Church.) So, this may be a better time to complete the other posts I’d planned for this series.
Before writing post #7, I read through #1 through #6 again, and made a few updates in them to clarify details and make corrections. I also added a note in post #6 that there would be more on the elected officials at Prestonwood in this post and that is where I’ll begin.
One PBC Deacon’s Disclosures
As it so happens, Amy Smith’s father Allen Jordan was a deacon at Prestonwood Baptist Church at the time allegations of sexual abuse were made against John Langworthy and he was fired from PBC staff. The relationship between father and daughter became strained because of her activism starting in 2010. She attempted to hold Mr. Langworthy accountable for his actions by warning his current church and school district employers – both of which had him working with minors. Her parents have since told Amy and her husband Matt several times that they will have nothing to do with them and do not want any contact.
Before this final estrangement, Mr. Smith contacted Mr. Jordan by phone. This was on August 20, 2011, approximately two weeks after John Langworthy’s public confession (August 7 at Morrison Heights Baptist Church in Clinton, Mississippi) of “sexual indiscretions with younger males.” Mr. Smith told Mr. Jordan up front that he wanted to talk about Mr. Langworthy for a few minutes and said, “I’m really calling to hear your side of the story. I’d like to know your opinion and your views and want to get it straight from you.”
Mr. Smith recorded the phone call. An edited transcript was posted and linked to over a year and a half later, on April 10, 2013. This was in a guest post by Mr. Smith – “Of Questions and Cowards” – on his wife’s WatchKeep blog. He himself says in a footnote on that post:
“I recorded my last conversation with my father-in-law because it was easier than taking notes. We sent him the audio file. He wrote me that he was thankful I recorded it, then he typed up a transcript (attached), and emailed it to others. I assume he is okay with me posting this until I hear otherwise.”
There are some important things we can learn from this conversation transcript, but first we need to deal with the potentially sensitive issue of Mr. Smith’s having recorded this phone call. According to the Digital Media Law Project, which is hosted by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, Texas is a one-party consent state when it comes to recording of conversations. This means that if only one person involved in wire, oral, or electronic communications consents to having it “intercepted” (recorded), that is legally sufficient. As best I can tell, the relevant provisions of Texas Penal Code § 16.02 were apparently in force at the time of the phone call being recorded in August of 2011. So, the recording may not have been authorized by Mr. Jordan, but it was NOT an illegal recording.
An edited transcript of the call can be found on Scribd. Please note that:
- The names of alleged victims have been edited out.
- The names of parents of alleged victims have been edited out.
- There are a few comments from Ms. Smith that share additional information to clarify or contradict what is being said in the phone call. These comments are clearly marked with an asterisk and are in boldfaced italic print.
Even with those few disputed items in consideration, I am taking the overall conversation at face value as an accurate representation of the actual recollections and beliefs of Mr. Jordan as a deacon in 1989. He was a congregational official during the time of Mr. Langworthy’s tenure on staff with Prestonwood. Surely this call does not answer every question we might have about the specific situation at PBC. But it does say some very important things in the larger context of legal, ethical, and pastoral responsibilities when there is alleged or actual child sexual abuse in a church or ministry.
I am not going to parse the entire transcript, just summarize a few key observations and conclusions. However, before you read my commentary, I am going to strongly recommend that you read the entire transcript and think through the following questions for yourself:
- When we read the transcript at face value, what can we learn about how PBC staff and other congregational leaders (i.e., deacons) viewed the situation?
- What things may the staff and/or deacons have done that they should NOT have?
- What things may the staff and/or deacons have NOT done that they should have?
- Assume that this is an accurate representation of the understanding of one PBC deacon on key questions about the Langworthy situation. What implications do those opinions hold for whether it was actually “handled properly” and “discreetly” as stated in the transcript, and “firmly and forthrightly” as confidently portrayed in the official statement by Executive Pastor Buster presented in an August 8, 2011, breaking news story on WFAA?
My Thoughts on the Transcript Content
In analyzing the content of the transcript, my overall impression is that Mr. Jordan is an important source for a few key details about staff members who were involved in the situation in 1989. Since most current and former staff have refused to talk in specifics, these details are potentially helpful in reconstructing what may have happened. Here is the key section, with edits by Ms. Smith shown in square brackets where she removed a victim’s name.
Matt: What was the – I don’t know if it’s changed, I really don’t – the age of consent? I don’t know what age that is.
Allen: Matt, I don’t know about any of that. You know, if you want to get in to 22 years later, crucifying Jack Graham who had been in Prestonwood four weeks before this happened with John. Jack doesn’t even know John Langworthy. Jack first Sunday was June the 6th, 1989. All this happened with John about the second week of July. Jack barely – with a church that big –knew who John Langworthy was. And so to pack this on Jack like it’s been portrayed is just inaccurate, it’s wrong. There was no cover-up of anything. The parents were talked to of a couple of the senior boys, one not even a junior, a freshman or something in college. The parents were talked to, John’s parents were called in, his wife, his father-in-law, ministers in Mississippi. When John left Prestonwood there was no cover-up. It was fully addressed with the youth at the time as to – that John was leaving because it was a shock to everybody but there was no cover-up.
Matt: What? I didn’t know–
Allen: The attorneys for Prestonwood handled it. Randy Addison was the attorney. He handled the staff. Bill Taylor was the administrative minister. Mike Buster was not there at the time. He didn’t come until a year or two later. Bill Taylor who went on when he left Prestonwood, he went with the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville. His son is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Carrolton right now, Brent Taylor. And Amy was good friends with Brent. And so there was no attempt to legally cover anything up. It was handled with discretion, and with full cooperation of everybody including the primary one man [name of a victim, a minor at the time] that John supposedly had inappropriate activities with.
POSSIBLE POINTS TO THE CONTRARY:
- It is curious that someone from the church talked with parents of a couple of the senior boys, and yet there is no evidence that anyone talked with the police.
- From various other online statements and blog posts, it seems that at least some high school students and parents don’t recall being told specific reasons why Mr. Langworthy was leaving.
Overall, Mr. Jordan also seems very attached to the institution of Prestonwood Baptist Church and its reputation. It seems that he cannot (or will not) acknowledge any possible wrongdoing. The church handled things right, there was no apparent concrete evidence of any further wrongful activity from Mr. Langworthy for 22 years, so leave the past in the past.
Allen: […] So I’m upset, Matt. Bottom line, I’m upset. I think it’s a witch hunt. I think the things Amy’s put out there about Jack and all the things I’ve read – it’s all speculation. You don’t ruin people’s lives and try to ruin a church and a pastor and a lot of innocent lives over speculation. If there’s something concrete, that’s different. But this whole thing started over a suspicion that John may have done something over the last 22 years. But without anybody’s full accurate knowledge, nobody knows that.
Matt: How can we find out?
Allen: Well, I think it’s going to come out, everything I’ve read that’s out there – all the publicity, the district attorney investigating, the police investigating – everybody, all of the blogs, the internet castigating Jack for a cover-up and everybody putting out there that any other victim of John Langworthy to please come forward, then fine, let’s wait till they come forward. If not, then a lot of innocent people have been hurt including Jack that I respect very, very much. It is wrong, and Amy knows that Jack had been there only a few weeks before this thing with John happened. Bill Taylor was the point man at the church administratively and Neal (Jeffrey) was there also. Nobody tried to cover this up with John. Yes, they tried to handle it discreetly as any church tries to do. But to say they just let a wolf go out to start molesting kids and all of that, that’s just absolutely wrong. They even put the tag “sexual predator” on John. It’s libelous, as far as I’m concerned, unless they know something different.
I think you’re dealing in some very serious territory here, Matt. And I say that with all due respect for Amy as my daughter. But there could be some very serious repercussions – I had a good talk with Mike Buster the other day about all of this. And, because I respect Mike, I respect Jack, I respect Prestonwood. And for Prestonwood, to be cast in this limelight is hurting to me personally. We’ve got so many friends there […]
POSSIBLE POINTS TO THE CONTRARY:
- Ms. Smith knows of at least two other alleged victims from PBC, and an additional two have come forward for the first time in less than a year.
- As it turned out, Mr. Langworthy confessed to prior “sexual indiscretions with younger males” and was eventually convicted as a sexual predator.
When asked directly by Mr. Smith why no one at Prestonwood Baptist Church reported the allegations to the police, Mr. Jordan states three times that he doesn’t know – but he still says elsewhere several times that he believes it was handled “properly.”
Allen: Yes, Randy Addison was the attorney for the church, that handled this for the church.
Matt: Did he make –
Allen: He handled it with [name of a victim] and the parents. Matt, you know I don’t want to resurrect all the legal issues of what could have been there 22 years ago. But at the time, the facts on hand, the church handled it properly. There was no cover-up, the youth knew full well why John was leaving, the parents knew full well why John was leaving, and Amy knew full well why John was leaving.
Matt: Why didn’t anyone tell the police?
Allen: Matt, I don’t know that.
Allen: I don’t know that. I do not know why anyone didn’t tell the police. […]
Some Final Thoughts on the Transcript
I find it disturbing that Mr. Jordan was apparently uninformed or very confused on multiple issues about what is legal and what is not – and yet has no problem in expressing what seem to be very strong opinions that the church did things right.
- He comes across as upset at the implication that “children” were abused and he mentions older teenager boys several times. He does not seem to know about age of consent and therefore when sexual involvement is considered against someone’s will regardless of age, if they are still legally a minor. The alleged victims were not adults, therefore it would legally be considered sexual abuse.
- He seems to think that parents have the right to keep molestation quiet, perhaps for the sake of their family. But legally, wouldn’t they still be required to report allegations of abuse? Also, parental refusal to report does not release any other person from reporting who knows or suspects child sexual abuse. The Texas law is clear, especially for mandatory clergy reporting of abuse.
In end, he himself says doesn’t know why the police weren’t told – so how can he actually be clear on whether the PBC staff and leaders involved lived up to their legal responsibilities as clergy or as citizens?
Finally, it is grievous that these families are at odds with one another, and that this phone call may have aggravated the differences. Still, this is an important document for the factual details it presents and for the attitude of at least one congregation leader that it represents. Understandably, many deacons in Texas churches in the late 1980s may not have been informed as to the long-standing legal requirements in their state for mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse by clergy. However, Mr. Jordan does say that Prestonwood had lawyers (note his own use of the plural) who were involved in handling the situation for the church. Surely lawyers in Texas have no excuse for not ensuring that sexual abuse allegations are reported to the police.
Finally, it is important to emphasize again that Mr. Jordan created this transcript himself. If there are future investigations, the accuracy of his transcript can be compared to the recording of the phone call, assuming it has been saved.