Assumptions for Building the Picture of What Happened
In the last article, we looked at what we might learn from what is apparently the one and only official statement from Prestonwood Baptist Church, offered to the press in August 2011, about 22 years after the events initially put into question about John Langworthy. There are other possible things to learn from the information/evidence available on the internet. However, to use some of that information as “evidence” for investigation, we have to make a key assumption:
The quotes or summaries that reside in online news reports or blog posts are relatively accurate when it comes to the situation of about Prestonwood Baptist Church, Morrison Heights Baptist Church, and John Langworthy.
There is a significant amount of information transmitted from still-anonymous victims and/or their parents as relayed by victims’ advocates like Amy Smith. You’ll have to decide for yourself if Ms. Smith and other advocates are credible in what they say and in their sources. However, in my research, I came to realize that:
Many of these details which expand the picture of what allegedly happened and who allegedly was involved have already been available online for a minimum of one year. AND I could not find any public discussion where details from or about victims and/or parents were disputed, refuted, or denied by leaders of either PBC or MHBC.
Both churches have almost exclusively been silent on the matter, declining to comment when asked, and showing behaviors toward questioners that could perhaps be interpreted as “stonewalling,” such as with Dee Parson’s experience at The Wartburg Watch (see the section toward the end entitled “One final encounter involving Dee”) and, in that same article, Chris Tynes’ experience of being barred from the PBC campus,.
That is their choice, but they do leave online investigators with questions about their silence plus almost exclusively pro-survivor sources for answers and additional questions when their details contradict these churches’ “official statements.” Until and unless leaders from Prestonwood and Morrison Heights Baptist Churches otherwise credibly refute them, I choose to accept at face value the statements of survivors and their family members, whether given directly, through news media, or through victims’ advocates. Each reader is free to decide otherwise, but if you do so, hopefully you can give a good reason for why.
Further Analysis of PBC’s Official Statement
Last essay, we looked at the one official statement about what PBC did in June 1989, given by Executive Pastor Buster for an August 8, 2011, breaking news story on WFAA about Mr. Langworthy’s public confession of “sexual indiscretions’ with minor males.
“In the summer of 1989, the church received an allegation that John Langworthy had acted inappropriately with a teenage student. Based on this allegation, he was dismissed immediately, removing him from all responsibilities with the church. In no way did officials of the church seek to cover up the actions of Mr. Langworthy or silence his accuser. The elected officers dealt with the matter firmly and forthrightly.”
Leaders from Prestonwood had 22 years to present a statement, and that is the one they crafted. Here is some further analysis of the specific language they chose to use.
“Received an allegation …this allegation … silence his accuser.” Use of the singular makes it sound as if there were only one victim at Prestonwood. In the same news report as Executive Pastor Buster’s statement, victims’ advocate Amy Smith contends that there were at least two victims from Prestonwood. A separate Prestonwood insider – a former deacon – notes: “There were several boys involved, and at least one of the victims was 15 when it started” (emphasis added). Also, an additional, previously unknown, Prestonwood victim came forward in October 2012 and filed a report with Dallas police in January 2013. So now there are at least three known victims, apparently.
“Acted inappropriately.” This is a euphemism, as is Mr. Langworthy’s August 2011 admission of “sexual indiscretions with younger males.” In my opinion, both terms soften the harsh reality of molestation and minimize the emotional impact on victims – and I consider that to be inappropriate.
This WFAA article from August 2011 quotes one victim as to some of those specific abusive activities, and victims’ advocate Amy Smith contends that, “For one, it allegedly occurred over the course of 15 months.” So, others might describe these sexual activities in much stronger language than “acted inappropriately” or “indiscretions,” due to the apparent physical contact and time span involved.
“Dismissed immediately, removing him from all responsibilities with the church.” This statement is confirmed as partially accurate by victims’ advocate and former PBC intern Amy Smith. But, according to her, there was a twist. She is quoted in an August 9, 2011, Associated Baptist Press article: “She says Langworthy admitted guilt and begged to stay on through the summer for a youth choir trip but was told to leave town immediately or he would be reported” (emphasis added). So, the implication is that reporting to the police was used as a tool to leverage Mr. Langworthy into leaving.
“In no way did officials of the church seek to cover up the actions of Mr. Langworthy or silence his accuser.” This is their contention; however, the substance of that statement was at issue in news reports of 2011, such as this one by Associated Baptist Press and this one by local news station WFAA, and the matter still remains unsettled. [UPDATE: I would suggest that intentional silence IS IN FACT a form of cover-up. It is withholding facts/the truth that could easily otherwise have led to justice.]
“The elected officers dealt with the matter firmly and forthrightly.” Whatever the vague “firmly and forthrightly” means to the officials at Prestonwood Baptist Church, it does not specifically say anyone ever obeyed Texas state law and reported the allegation to the police. And, given the mandatory reporting law for child sexual abuse – including both by clergy members and attorneys – that non-statement continues to remain a significant problem. Legally, it could have resulted in a misdemeanor. Ethically, what does it imply about the trustworthiness of a non-profit organization if it were proven to fail in adhering to the laws of its host state?
Who Knew? ~ Developing an Alternative Scenario
Who may have known about the abuse, either first-hand from victims themselves or from speaking with Mr. Langworthy, or second-hand from officials of the church? Into the void left by the PBC statement, online sources fill in some information about PBC leaders in mid-1989 and offer an alternate, more detailed scenario. It is built from detailed recollections and allegations of the abuse survivors, their parents, and victims’ advocates, plus news investigative reporters and research on other online sources.
Many dimensions come from statements by victims’ advocate Amy Smith, who was a college intern at PBC in 1989 and who found out in 2010 that Mr. Langworthy had continued working with children after his departure from Texas. Here is one online comment that covers many aspects of the alternative scenario:
Sean, There are multiple victims of Langworthy from his time at Prestonwood, not just the one whose mother has been discussed [in Sean’s previous comment]. Prestonwood staff other than Neal Jeffrey were aware of several. They had some of them talk to church attorneys. [Head Pastor] Jack [Graham] met with Langworthy, heard him confess and fired him but didn’t report the crimes. There are victims Prestonwood isn’t even aware of. One came forward just a few months ago that had never told anyone, ever until last October. He filed a police report with the Dallas police in January. We hope others will also come forward in TX and MS, call police, begin to heal and protect other kids. Amy Smith Facebook comment of March 19, 2013.
So, who may have known? And, if so, what did they do with that knowledge?
- Neal Jeffrey was a Youth Minister at the time of the Prestonwood/Langworthy situation. According to a statement from one victim’s mother, Mr. Jeffrey apparently interviewed at least this one victim about the allegations without his parents’ knowledge or consent, and also arranged a counseling appointment for him – again without parental knowledge or consent. (More about this allegation in a later essay.)
- Any other staff member who received the accusation. One insider source recalls that Bill Taylor was Administrative Pastor at the time the situation unfolded. (Current Executive Pastor Mike Buster joined the staff later.)
- Dr. Jack Graham was lead Pastor at the time. He had only just been elected on May 7, 1989 – about a month before the situation with Mr. Langworthy apparently came to light.
- The legal representative(s) for the church. A November 10, 2010, email from Neal Jeffrey to Amy Smith states in regard to contact from Dr. Phil Burchfield, superintendent of Clinton Mississippi Public School about Mr. Langworthy, who had been working there as a high school choir director: “I also called our attorneys, who were involved in all of this back then, and they were going to discuss what we need to do, and probably call Dr. Burchfield, etc, The attorney guys did not remember all of the specifics of the case, so they were going to go back into their notes etc, and see what needs to be done.” Another source says “Randy Addison was the attorney who handled it for the church and was in direct contact with some of the boys and their families.”
- The elected officials – presumably deacons, unless at that time there was some other kind of governing board over the church’s non-profit business matters. [UPDATE: More about this in the next post.]
Commentary: Implications ~ What Does It Matter?
Wouldn’t it make sense to declaim to the world that a religious 501(c)(3) non-profit organization registered in Collin County in the state of Texas had fully complied with Texas state laws on this matter? And yet, there seems a clear absence of any evidence that anyone directly associated with Prestonwood Baptist Church leadership did so. I have not found a single direct or indirect quote, or press release, or other source statement in past or present news reports, blog articles, commentary, etc., to that effect. Neither have I found a single disputation or correction to any of the many statements saying that church personnel failed to report. Therefore, in the face of no other evidence, it seems perfectly reasonable to me to assume that no such report was made by anyone at PBC. (Plus, if they had gotten the police involved, isn’t it likely that Mr. Langworthy would not have been allowed to leave the state within a week of being fired?)
Surely if PBC leadership had wanted to, they could have taken legally required actions that were documented, and provided a clear official statement. For instance, “The elected officers ensured that the accusation and alleged perpetrator were reported to the police immediately by the person(s) who received the information, and that additional steps were taken to inform the congregation so that other possible victims could receive pastoral care.”
What does it matter that they did not and have not (to my knowledge, at least) done so? That will be a topic in a later essay. But let me at least suggest here that it has a lot to do with (1) creating a safe environment for healing, for both known and as-yet-unknown victims of Mr. Langworthy and their relational networks, (2) the church’s trajectory in the future, and even (3) for the Southern Baptist Convention. Since PBC is one of the largest and more influential SBC churches, how it handles such issues may be used as a role model by others, for better or for worse. The accountability that comes with the authority of influence alone ought to be reason enough for transparency instead of silence. But the victims and their families should have come first – shouldn’t they? If Prestonwood Baptist Church is a “barometer” that indicates pressure toward change in the spiritual weather to instill a pro-survivor and a safe, preventive environment on child sexual abuse, no wonder it’s been a stormy 20-plus years on the PBC/Langworthy situation …
Post updated June 8, 2013, to make minor additions and corrections.