PBC/MHBC Allegations and Analysis, and Exploring Systems Solutions
Here’s the plan for upcoming posts (but I don’t have a schedule for the series). First, I will post them as articles. Later, I will re-edit each and paste them into Page 05 Allegations, Analysis, and Systems Solutions, in whichever section they best fit:
- Prestonwood Baptist Church (PBC).
- Morrison Heights Baptist Church (MHBC).
- Southern Baptist Convention.
- Other Insights for Safe and Healthy Kingdom Systems. (For instance, what should seminaries and other leader training programs do to ensure their graduates are committed to creating and sustaining safe, healthy ministry systems – and capable of carrying that out.)
Some parts might end up in Page 09 Resources for Church/Ministry Leaders, or perhaps elsewhere.
The progression of tentative topics in these posts is designed to move from the specifics of this situation to the broader principles and practices we need for safer, healthier ministry environments. There may not be an individual post for each of these bullet points on the lists below. But, I suspect that most of the core issues indicated will eventually be addressed as I “write aloud” about what I’m thinking and learning from my attempts to absorb the digital details I find online.
And in this, please consider that I am an “interested outsider” who is doing this investigative work on these churches for the sake of larger lessons we can find for the Church. That’s my main purpose. Meanwhile, my main perspective is that of an interdisciplinary research writer, and my primary bias here is toward believing the victims and their loved ones, and helping them become survivors. They are too often the “widows and orphans” who end up marginalized when organizational dynamics get caught up in situations like this one.
Also, please note that I am using online sources almost exclusively, seeing what I can glean from them – even from examining the gaps in the evidence. Over my decades as a “citizen journalist,” I have learned to do interviews and to delve deep to find “the previously unasked question.” However, in this case I am using the same sources that anyone with internet access can find: news reports and videos, official websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, other social media, etc. So, until or unless additional official statements come from Prestonwood Baptist Church or Morrison Heights Baptist Church, the default portraits they themselves are choosing to present us with are those determined by digital archives alone. In this PBC Silent No More site, I am endeavoring to collect, analyze, and report as clearly as I can the various facts, allegations, and implications related to this situation.
With all that in mind, here are my tentative topics, along with some of the convoluted circumstances and decisions involved:
Clusters of issues relate to the alleged actions/inactions of Prestonwood Baptist Church leaders:
- Introduction: An argument from silence says nothing … or perhaps says much! Because there are almost no official statements, and few details, from Prestonwood Baptist Church on the Langworthy case, what can we learn from their nearly complete silence? What does it mean when they say nothing rather than clarify, deny, or refute the various allegations against them?
- Also, what can we learn from what is apparently their one and only official comment issued over a 23-year period, especially when comparing it to Texas state legal requirements for mandatory reporting of known/suspected child abuse by both attorneys and clergy?
- Issues related to the firing of now-convicted sex offender John Langworthy, the apparent failure to church leader(s) to report him after receiving an accusation of molestation against him by a victim at Prestonwood, and allegations of using reporting as a negotiating tool for a speedy departure by Mr. Langworthy.
- The legal and pastoral problems of holding an “in-house investigation” – speaking with alleged victims (apparently without parents or their legal representatives present) along with failure to inform parents, accusations of arranging for counseling of victim(s) without parental knowledge or consent, and later refusal to speak with a victim’s parents.
- How apparent failures to report the apparently “credible accusation” against Mr. Langworthy immediately to the police and to notify the congregation creates unintended consequences of potentially incalculable damaging effects. For instance, failure to report to the police potentially put additional children elsewhere at risk from a now-known/suspected pedophile. What if “potential” went to “actual” in this new locale? Also, failure to notify the congregation about Mr. Langworthy delayed the processes for additional victims coming forward, for validation and healing of known victims, and to provide for appropriate pastoral care to help their entire family. What if other actual victims had stepped forward to confirm the abuse and to receive help sooner?
Clusters of issues related to the alleged actions/inactions of Morrison Heights Baptist Church leaders:
Some of the allegations about Morrison Heights Baptist Church leaders parallel those of Prestonwood Baptist Church, even if some of their circumstances were different or their actions were the opposite. Both apparently did some kind of internal investigation, apparently with people unqualified to do so, have kept the details confidential and not complied with laws on mandatory reporting for both attorneys and clergy of known/suspected sexual abuse, and refuse or rebuff publicly posed questions about facts and actions.
- In 2011, MHBC conducted their own “in-house investigation.” They determined that no children at the church had been abused by Mr. Langworthy. They were apparently also wanting to keep him on their staff. However, at some point, one of the victims Mr. Langworthy molested in the early 1980s contacted officials at MHBC, and later filed a report of sexual abuse with the police.
- I have not yet been able to find the specifics of who did the investigation, and what credentials they had to do so, if any. At any rate, that is actually irrelevant because Mississippi, like Texas, had in place at that time a mandatory reporting law for attorneys and clergy. It was their legal responsibility to report known/suspected child abuse when there was a credible accusation. However, leaders at MHBC refused to give prosecutors information from their in-church investigation. [UPDATE June 2013: Actually, whether anyone who “investigated” had any kind of credentials or experience is irrelevant, as it would be utterly irresponsible to conduct an internal investigation before or instead of reporting suspected/known child abuse to the appropriate civil authorities, and doing so immediately.]
- Since Philip Gunn, one of the MHBC elders, was also a church attorney and a member of the state legislature, that further complicates the individuals’ and church’s official refusal to divulge information to prosecutors.
- In the end, officials at MHBC allowed Mr. Langworthy to resign; they did not fire him. He confessed past sexual indiscretions publicly to the congregation on August 7, 2011.
- How some of the allegedly inappropriate actions could have set the stage for eventual abuse, had Mr. Langworthy continued in his employment positions, since the process of “grooming” potential victims happens over time. Other possible unintended consequences of actions sincerely intended.
In moving beyond deconstruction of what’s wrong to (re-)construction of what’s right, what can we learn from the case studies of these two churches to apply to creating safe environments for ministry in the Church?
- Did others in the organizational structure respond appropriately to move from intervention of child abuse after the Langworthy situation to prevention? What did they do? What might they have done better?
- What constructive lessons can we learn from this in order for all of us to do better now at the local church level? At the systems level for denominations or associations? At the cultural level for the Church as servants to our host society, in which sexual molestation of children has become a “barometer issue” of organizational integrity or infamy?
- If there are checklists for addressing known/suspected sexual abuser, and for creating a safe environment for discipleship, how did Prestonwood and Morrison Heights Baptist Churches measure up to the standards on these scorecards? How would our ministries, churches, agencies, associations, etc., measure up?
- How do these systems issues relate to even larger societal issues, and those showing up in entire associations and/or denominations? What lessons can we learn from these macro-level contemporary case studies and how systems issues could contribute to endemic support for sexual predators?
- The Southern Baptist Convention and failure to create coherent sexual predator reporting systems to prevent “ministry hopping.”
- The Sovereign Grace Ministries denomination, where an ingrained culture of authoritarian leaders seems to have conditioned multiple generations of passive parishioners.
- The Calvary Chapel network, and its apparent lack of consistency in disciplining abusive leaders, using the excuse of a loose association model with no central control.
So, that is the tentative topic list and plan.
One last thought: I do not think there will ever be much progress toward prevention of sexual abuse trauma in the present and future, if we’re still conflicted about or covering up our legal and ethical responsibilities to protect people in our past and present. The sentiment here is similar to the caption of the PBC Silent No More Facebook page (which was founded by Chris Tynes, who, by the way, does not produce any of the content of this website). That caption says:
Seeking to hold Prestonwood accountable for protecting ALL children and supporting ALL victims.
It is my hope that any failures our churches have hanging over them from the past can be resolved so there is unquestionable moral authority to minister in truth and justice in the future. May this forthcoming series highlight the kinds of unresolved issues and unanswered questions that dim the light that we should so shine, as congregations of disciples who follow Jesus.