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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Baptist Blogger announced today a unilateral publication cease fire with the administration, faculty, staff, and trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“After a nearly ten-year hiatus, we resumed publication one year ago this week with an open letter to former SWBTS President Paige Patterson requesting an end to the embargo of a 2006 chapel sermon by Arlington pastor Wm. Dwight McKissic.

Over the course of the months that followed, we have disclosed factual information concerning Southwestern Seminary under the Patterson regime, including details of financial irregularities, abuse cover-up, and institutional mismanagement. With the election of Dr. Adam Greenway as the ninth president of Southwestern Seminary, The Baptist Blogger is hopeful these and other matters will be thoroughly investigated, publicly disclosed, and systematically resolved in an appropriate manner.

Therefore, we will suspend until after the next Southwestern trustee meeting (Apr. 8-10) the publication of any information, commentary, or analysis regarding the Fort Worth school to afford its new president the opportunity to make substantive and necessary institutional changes. We trust these changes will be reported as they occur, whenever appropriate, to the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention.”

PREVIEW: Gnashville, Part II


Later today (2/28/19), The Baptist Blogger will publish the second and final installment of our two-part series on the Feb. 18-19 meeting of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. In this post, we will examine the doctrine of church autonomy in light of recent challenges and offer a more compelling proposal for addressing the sex abuse scandal than the hasty and poorly-conceived constitutional amendment passed by committee trustees in this month’s ramshackle meeting in (G)nashville.

UPDATE 2.28.19 @ 4:40 PM ET: We’ve received a phone call that disclosed information pertinent to our planned post.  Stay tuned for the updated version, likely tomorrow morning (Fri. 3/1/19).

In praise of Jeffrey Bingham


In the middle of the night, late last May, a phone rang somewhere in North Texas. The call was to convey a simple request on behalf of the seminary trustees: will you assume interim presidential leadership of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary after the trustee executive committee terminated the employment of Leighton Paige Patterson?

Dr. D. Jeffrey Bingham answered that phone call, and in answering that phone he accepted a calling to guide the Fort Worth school during the most difficult days of its 110 year history.

True enough, Southwestern had known more than its fair share of deep, dark valleys in the last quarter century. But when Russell Dilday was fired in 1994, the school had more than 3,000 full time students, a balanced budget, a growing endowment, a strong faculty, a campus of buildings and lawns well-tended, and a strong reputation among Southern Baptists and the broader evangelical world.

When Paige Patterson was fired, the seminary was a shell of its former self, hemorrhaging millions of dollars and administratively top-heavy, with a campus infrastructure suffering prolonged neglect (apart from the newly built $3 million retirement home) and fifteen straight years of enrollment declines. The faculty and staff was demoralized — at least those whose righteous souls were tormented under the Patterson regime. Indeed, the task of rebuilding seemed — and to some extent still seems — herculean if not impossible.

But Jeff Bingham knew that with God all things are possible. So he said, “yes.”

Over the past nine months, Dr. Bingham has: tightened the fiscal belt to bring seminary expenditures in line with revenues; consistently reassured the seminary alumni and donor community of the school’s core vision and values; instituted reforms to protect students from sexual harassment and assault; restructured academic programs to the benefit of students and the churches they will serve; pruned the faculty of some bad actors and accreditation threats; restored to seminary employees some of the benefits the Pattersons had stripped away; attempted to promote transparency where allowed by the trustees; and generally reminded Southern Baptists that their once-largest seminary was worth a last-ditch effort to save from ruin.

Today, Adam Greenway will be elected as the ninth president of Southwestern Seminary. He assumes that role with a daunting challenge before him. Yet the path before him has been made clearer, the steps more certain, because of the integrity, courage, and resolve of a towering theologian-administrator who has guided the school through the darkest days of her history.


An open letter to SBC President J.D. Greear


My sweet brother:

Welcome to the Big Leagues, by which of course I mean the politics of the nation’s largest protestant denomination. To be sure, this isn’t your first exposure to the ugly side of evangelicalism. You got a taste of it when the sitting president of the convention helped orchestrate the nomination of your predecessor, Memphis-area pastor Steve Gaines. Despite garnering a plurality of the votes on the first ballot in a three-way race — and a nail-biting second ballot that saw neither you nor Gaines win a majority — you withdrew in a show of unity that allowed Gaines to become convention president.

Flash forward two years and there was a fairly clear sense among SBC churches that you would be elected without challenge. Until, that is, the state executive in Louisiana decided to use the convention’s resources to underwrite the campaign of an opposition candidate. Did I mention to you that before he was a state executive he officed for 10 years down the hall from Augie Boto in the Nashville headquarters? Or that both men were trustees of the Executive Committee when they were hired?

Denominational jobs have a funny way of opening up like that for insiders, but I digress.

You found out along the way that not everyone who comes toward you with a big cheesy grin and a back-slapping word of affirmation is sincere. Some of those polyester prophets act like they are a friend — or feign neutrality in a denominational election cycle — but they end up giving nomination speeches against you. In fairness, though, you’ve probably learned they didn’t aim for duplicity in their ministries. They just get co-opted along the way.

In the past couple years, the denominational politburo has thrown everything at you they could. For the anti-Calvinists, they saw in you their favorite bogeyman. But you’re a former IMB missionary who served in the most populous Muslim nation in the world. I remember very clearly when we learned back at seminary that riots had broken out in your city, and that Muslim extremists were protesting outside your apartment and demanding that you be turned over by the local police. Those were some scary times.

And then, some of your detractors have taken issue with the worship style at Summit Church, or the community-wide Christmas program you host in Durham, or the fact that your congregation worships the last Sunday of the year in their homes with their families. Some criticize Summit’s multi-campus model (though you hardly pioneered it), or your preaching style. There are still some who probably don’t like that you wear sneakers on the platform, or don’t tuck in your shirt, or avoid pocket squares and silk stockings and other fussy sartorial embellishments.

But now you find yourself in the eye of the storm, and you’ve drawn the ire of some denominational bureaucrats and the pastors who aspire to become one. And why have they come for you?

Simple. You’ve exposed the rot in the soul of the Southern Baptist Convention. You’ve determined to stand with victims of abuse, to take the shaming that has too often been directed at them, to stand and take the blows and accusations and chastisements they’ve been taking alone. In this, you’ve made the tent of your presidency far outside the camp, and the powerbrokers don’t like it.

One week ago, I sat in the auditorium on the second floor of the SBC headquarters in Nashville listening to your speech. Danny Akin, the president of our alma mater, sat across the aisle from me. There was tension in the air, but also hopefulness that something was about to change.

The room was filled with the mostly old, mostly white, mostly male crowd that has comprised the Southern Baptist Convention’s power base for its entire history. They sat in their swivel board room chairs, leaning back, gently rocking with arms folded and hands resting on their chins while you did the unthinkable.

You called for accountability.

They didn’t like that very much did they?

And so, within hours of your address, they were gathering in little rooms all over the convention office to put the quash on your initiatives, weren’t they? They called you in and sat you down and tried to give you a lesson or two. Phones were ringing. Text messages were flying. Presiding over the meeting was a pastor who’s served on three different trustee boards, including chairman of one before he resigned for moral failure.

But Jesus predicted times like this would happen in ministry, didn’t he? “When they haul you before the synagogue, before rulers and authorities, do not worry about what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you what you should say.”

There is now great pressure on you to back down. Doubtlessly, the machine is frustrated that you aren’t playing nice. That you aren’t singing from their song sheet. That you aren’t reading from the playbook they’ve been using for years.

You see, J.D., some Southern Baptist preachers (and a few denominational lawyers) evidence themselves the very hypocrisies they denounce from their pulpits. For more than a decade, they’ve been busy figuring out how the Southern Baptist Convention can give the appearance of concern for abuse survivors, but never really do anything about it. They say all the right words, but those words mean nothing.

As one public leader has said, “all talk, no action.” Or to borrow from the Epistle of James: “Do you see a bylaw workgroup that has a concern for victims?”

I think you get my point.

More than once in recent days I’ve talked to Southern Baptist pastors who see what’s happening in Nashville and at some churches in our convention and they say, “We have to be weary of wolves that come in sheep’s clothing.”

When I hear that, I can’t get the late Justice Scalia’s masterfully written dissent in Morrison v. Olson out of my mind: “This wolf comes as a wolf.”

Indeed, the wolves are coming for you, J.D., and they aren’t trying to mollify you anymore because they realize you’re not like all those shepherds who came before you. You’re not contenting yourself to enjoy the perquisites of convention office. You’re not offering the tired laments about declining baptisms, and you’re probably not fighting the “culture war” enough to satisfy them. Oh, and you’re probably not on FOX News enough either.

No, you’ve been listening to the cries of victims. Your ear has been tuned to the sound coming out of Ramah, mourning and great weeping for children who are no more. For too long those tears have been met with indifference, and in some instances, outright disdain. To our great shame, we have built our seminary chapels and installed our stained glass windows (some of which honor men who’ve concealed abuse for decades) and walked past the protesters outside our convention meeting with equal parts amusement and scorn.

I remember years ago at the annual meeting in St. Louis when the protesters left the outside curb, dressed like church messengers, and came into the convention hall during the address by then-president James Merritt. In the middle of his message, they stood up and began walking forward, shouting at Merritt until they were arrested at the front of the convention and dragged out of the room. One woman protestor was screaming all the way out.

I remember laughing, and my laughter haunts me. Sure, some protestors are merely seeking to be disruptive. Some use the platform of injustice to pursue their own unjust ends, harnessing public sympathy to get themselves a spotlight.

But that’s not what’s happening now, is it? You’ve met with the victims. You’ve heard their stories. They’re not looking for a spotlight, and most of them are scared to speak. Their wounds are still fresh, and probably always will be.

One night in late April 2018*, I received a call from Oklahoma. The pastor told me of an abuse victim who had been raped on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary by a fellow student. He read me her story — written in the form of a blog post the pastor was preparing to publish online.

After a long discussion, we both agreed that her story was too important to be subjected to the easy dismissal it would receive if published on one of our blogs. So we reached out to a few people, and within days I was on the phone with two reporters from the Washington Post. The rape victim — who did not want to be named — was willing to tell her story. And so she did, and the Post published it.

Very quickly the machine went into overdrive. Confidential student records were accessed, copied, and distributed in an effort to discredit her. Her name was released without her permission. She was dragged, painfully and publicly, like Hester Prynne, into the public square by religious leaders who thought they were doing God a favor. But all they were doing was further harming the weak to protect the strong.

God had other plans didn’t he?

Today, on the campus of Southwestern Seminary are walls of stained glass designed to honor the man at the center of her story. There are other men in those windows, some of whom have now been publicly named in nation-wide stories for their mishandling of abuse cases in their churches. Some have been accused of abuse themselves.

Here’s my point, J.D.  You are at a defining moment in your life. Probably even more defining than the days you spent in Indonesia while a Muslim mob torched cars and demanded your arrest. What you do now — what you say and how you respond — has the chance either to do justice and love mercy or it will reinforce a broken system that serves to perpetuate cycles of abuse.

If you choose one path, you will likely invite even more hostile criticisms, more accusations about your character and motives, and probably endless hours of meetings and phone calls with men who either attempt to seduce you or threaten you to tow the party line.

But if you choose the other, you may get yourself on a stained-glass window somewhere.

Insofar as you choose the former, I am with you in the storm.


*After publication of this open letter, I was contacted by the victim and told it was early May 2018 and not late April 2018 that she began speaking with reporters from the Washington Post. In the interest of absolute accuracy, I am footnoting the letter post-publication.

Baptists and balloting irregularities

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While Southern Baptist minister, former member of the SBC Resolutions Committee, and past-chairman of the trustee board for Southeastern Seminary, Rev. Mark Harris, dries his tears after his son — a federal prosecutor in North Carolina — told state election officials the one-time pastor of FBC Charlotte had ignored warnings about a felon on his campaign staff, we thought it might be a good time to remind Southern Baptists of our own balloting irregularities during the 1979 annual meeting.

Then-registration secretary Lee Porter produced a report that uncovered serious flaws in the credentialing process at the historic convention in Houston, TX.

Click here to read the 1979 Porter Report on Messenger Registration irregularities.

Gnashville, Pt. 1


Somewhere over West Virginia last evening on an American Airlines flight from Music City to the nation’s capital, I was — for the first time in a long time — at a loss for words to express what I had just witnessed. I found myself thinking back on a scene from the movie “The American President,” starring Michael Douglas, Martin Sheen, and Michael J. Fox as the White House domestic policy advisor, Lewis Rothschild.

The president’s poll numbers were tanking — largely over his romantic involvement with an environment lobbyist played by Annette Bening. He was having difficulty regaining legislative traction, and fickle congressional leadership were wavering in their support. At one point, Fox’s character yells at the president in the Oval Office, but Sheen — playing the Chief of Staff — tries to silence him.

“The president doesn’t answer to you,” Sheen scolds the younger advisor.

“Oh yes he does, A.J. (Sheen’s character), this is my president,” Rothschild snaps back. “I am a citizen of this country and in this country it is not only permissible to question our leaders, it is our responsibility.”

He then turns to President Andrew Shepherd, played by Douglas, and says:

“People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they will listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership, and they are so thirsty for it they will crawl through the desert toward a mirage and when they discover there is no water they’ll drink the sand.”

It seems, quite regrettably, that is what’s happening at the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. For nearly a year and bereft of effective leadership, the committee microphone has been up for grabs. Into that vacuum has stepped a mirage of leadership to wrest control of the platform and talk.

And talk. And talk. And talk some more.

In committee meetings. In workgroups. In plenary sessions. So much talking.

And during all the talking — refined and polished and perfectly intoned to sound pious and leaderly — the real leaders of the convention who know something of how the Executive Committee is supposed to work shuttle from committee room to committee room responding to text messages that alert them to the latest crisis on the 2nd or 3rd floor of the SBC headquarters.

For two days straight, the historically well-ordered, thoughtful, and deliberative meeting of the Executive Committee looked like bedlam. While committee members talked, and talked, and talked, sighs and groans could be heard from the gallery and throughout the corridors.

“Please stop talking,” was whispered more than once.

“No, no, no,” one denominational leader sighed.

At one point during a meeting of the Bylaws Subcommittee — chaired by Georgia pastor and onetime NAMB trustee chairman Ken Alford — it seemed like the worst Sunday School class you’ve ever attended. In turn, members took the opportunity to “share” stories from their ministries.

“I wasn’t molested growing up, but I know a boy who was,” one trustee said.

“We had a situation in our association,” another chimed in.

According to Houston Chronicle reporter Robert Downen, who attended his first of what will likely be several meetings of the Executive Committee, the trustees were even talking in the restrooms.

“You know, back in the day you had to prove you were abused, but now you can make an allegation anytime,” one wistful committeeman reportedly opined of better times.

As one pastor put it bluntly in another context: “We might reasonably expect such behavior from our children, but not from our leaders.”

More than once, I thought to myself: “This is what happens when a small-town county lawyer tries to do ecclesiology and a well-intentioned music minister tries to do lawyering.”

Case in point:

After wrangling over whether or not it would be “meaningful” to African Americans to have a stand alone vote on a bylaw change to exclude from the convention those churches that discriminate on the basis of race, the committee followed the appeal for haste made by the EC Chairman, who previously believed removing the confederate flag display was “too divisive.”

The end result is a poorly worded bylaw amendment that was rushed through an ill-informed committee eager to take some action — any action — to show they had done something — anything — in response to the Houston Chronicle story.

Full disclosure: I’ve seen how the sausage is made. I’ve even made some myself. For the past ten years, I’ve had a front row seat to the drafting of major legislation and sat in congressional committee hearings while sensible men and women weighed the effects of one proposed law or another. I’ve watched floor votes go awry, whip counts fall short, and last minute compromises push through everything from auto bailouts to judicial nominees.

Never, in all my experience as a senior legislative advisor, lobbyist, political strategist or communications professional have I seen anything quite as haphazard, reactive, and ill-ordered as the regularly-scheduled meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee in session this week.

No wonder they don’t want to webcast the meetings.

After my plane landed at Washington Reagan National Airport and as my driver took me past the nation’s Capitol, the irony came into focus.

The mostly old, mostly male, mostly white members of the SBC Executive Committee would probably be unanimous in their insistence that Washington is broken. But they should take it from somebody who gets his information from sources other than Fox News and Baptist Press.

Ain’t nothing more broken than the SBC.

Tomorrow, sans rant, we are going to address our primary concern with the SBC’s response to the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the convention in recent weeks.

Stay tuned . . .


To read a selection of our past reflections on the SBC Executive Committee meetings under past leadership and during better times:

BREAKING: SWBTS poised to elect Dr. Adam Greenway as ninth president


Dr. Adam Greenway, dean of the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, Missions, and Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and current chairman of the SBC Committee on Order of Business, has been recommended to the board of trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to serve as the school’s ninth president. The trustees have been summoned to the Fort Worth campus on Feb. 26-27 to vote on Greenway’s nomination. If elected, Greenway, 41, will become the youngest president in the school’s history.

Greenway, a native Floridian, is a 1998 graduate of Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. He received his masters of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (2002) and a doctorate of philosophy from Southern (2007). He also holds a masters in nonprofit administration from the University of Notre Dame and is a certified parliamentarian.

At 33, Greenway became the youngest president in the history of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. He served as a trustee of Lifeway Christian Resources, including two terms as chairman. Last year, Greenway led the SBC Evangelism Task Force after the resignation of Paige Patterson from the committee. Patterson was terminated by Southwestern trustees on May 30, 2018.

In 2003, Greenway married the former Carla Peppers, an Atlanta native. They have two children, Wade (9) and Caroline (3). The Greenways will live on campus in the seminary’s presidential home.

Watch Greenway’s sermon, entitled “A Full Gospel Ministry,” preached at Southern Seminary’s 2013 Heritage Week:


Riddle me this


If Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler can apologize openly, honestly, and definitively for his past support of C.J. Mahaney, why can the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary — either jointly or separately as men and women of honor — not apologize for their misguided support of Paige Patterson?

Sweeping the past fifteen years under the rug will only exacerbate the problem. Come clean. Admit errors. Seek forgiveness.

“For to him who knows what to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

“He who covers his sin will not prosper. But he who confesses and forsakes his sin will find mercy.”



We are surprised that righteous vandals have not already begun throwing projectiles through the stained glass windows at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. If ever a bonfire of vanities were called for, now is the time. The windows are at the same time garish, tacky, and idolatrous. They should have been removed by now. Period.

In the coming days as Southwestern Seminary prepares to elect a new president, The Baptist Blogger is going to write a profile on every living person depicted in the windows. That the call to remove them has not been public, unified, loud, and unqualified by the men and women who are portrayed in them is an indictment on everyone.

So if we cannot shame the trustees into removing them — and they do not see the wisdom of making a clear statement about their future removal before shouldering their new president with the burden — then our only recourse is to bring greater exposure to the continued embarrassment and disgrace their enduring display is to the school.

Seriously, it’s time to smash them into oblivion, and if necessary, grind them into dust and make the whole board of trustees drink down the damning dregs as an act of penance for their unwillingness to stop the Mad Hatter from memorializing such vanity and fiscal irresponsibility.

As long as they remain in place, the chapel of Southwestern Seminary is a temple to men. Seminary students should rather worship in a Fort Worth mosque. At least there they wouldn’t find the kind of pagan self-worship that forces you to honor the creature rather than the Creator.

So stay tuned . . . Operation Ernest T. Bass is about to commence.

BREAKING: SWBTS to hold special called board meeting


Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Board of Trustees will hold a special called board meeting on Feb. 26-27, 2019, for the purpose of voting on a final candidate to become the 9th president of the Fort Worth seminary. The candidate’s name is currently being withheld by the trustee search committee but will be disclosed next week.

The Baptist Blogger is considering whether to purchase a copy of this book as our celebratory gift to every member of the SWBTS faculty and staff.

Developing . . .

Counseling abuse survivors


The overwhelming response of competent Southern Baptist ministers following the Houston Chronicle’s bombshell three-part series on clergy sexual abuse has been encouraging. SBC President J.D. Greear put the Baptist doctrine of church autonomy — which has been used in the past by some leaders to justify inaction — into a proper framework when he tweeted:

Southern Seminary president Al Mohler wrote a lengthy essay that properly places compassionate care for victims as the top priority:

“Our first concern must be for the victims. The dark reality of this kind of abuse leads many victims to hide their trauma—they sit silent in their pews while their abusers publicly preach God’s Word. Southern Baptists, indeed, all denominations, must ensure that denominational structures and policies promote safe places for victims to make their abuse known.”

Boz Tchividjian, a grandson of the late Billy Graham, tweeted:

Tom Ascol, a Florida pastor and leader of the Founders ministries pulled no punches in diagnosing the root problem: many Southern Baptists simply are not even Christian:

“An honest examination of Southern Baptist churches reveals a much deeper problem than even sexual abuse. The real problem is spiritual before it is moral. That is, Southern Baptists have a problem with God. They trumpet their affirmation of the inerrancy of Scripture and unhesitatingly call it the written Word of God. Yet, at the same time the overwhelming majority of their churches blatantly defy the God of that Word.”

And one of Southern Baptists sharper theologians, Dr. Keith Whitfield, laid bare the soul of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination in an essay published by First Things:

As Southern Baptists, we have to come to face reality: These reports show a systemic problem spanning decades of neglect in handling abuse cases in our local churches and through our cooperative structures. While some of these same issues may be present in churches outside the SBC, this is the moment the Lord has appointed for us to deal with them in our cooperative family of churches. The SBC faces a moral crisis as big (if not bigger) than the theological crisis we faced over the “battle for the Bible” in the 1970s–1980s. The theological crisis called us to protect the faith; this challenge calls us to live it.

Indeed, Southern Baptists are taking a deep look into the darkened mirror of their own shame. For the past forty years, leaders of the so-called Conservative Resurgence have championed an epistemological panacea for all the denomination’s ills. “The Bible is without error,” became the rallying cry for upending the convention’s power structures, yet recent months have revealed the degree to which men who led that effort were abusing power themselves. In some cases, they were actively concealing the sexual abuse of women and children.

We were curious, given all the determination to end the cycle of abuse and dismantle structures that have nurtured grievous perversions of Southern Baptist faith and practice, what are Southern Baptist seminaries teaching the next generation of church ministers — this very semester — about ministry to and support for victims?

What we discovered reveals how deep the problem runs.

On the Fort Worth campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary this Spring, a graduate level course entitled “Grief and Crisis Counseling” is being offered on Wednesdays and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. It appears to be the only course offered this semester that deals comprehensively with the issue.

Here’s the course description from the seminary’s class list:

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The course is taught by Dr. Frank Catanzaro, a New Orleans seminary graduate and former music minister who has held professorships at both Southeastern and now Southwestern Seminary. He was recruited for both posts by the school’s former president, Paige Patterson. Today, he occupies the Hope for the Heart Chair of Biblical Counseling, which is named for the non-profit organization led by longtime Southwestern donor and Dallas-based ministry leader, June Hunt.

Last year, as the Washington Post reported on the Patterson rape cover-up scandal, a young mother named Megan Cox wrote an open letter to Sarah Pulliam Bailey, the Post reporter who covered the story. Cox, who now leads a ministry called “Give Her Wings,” had gone to Frank Catanzaro on behalf of a female seminary student whose child was being physically abused by her husband. According to Cox’s letter:

“I then went to the counseling department (Dr. Frank Catanzaro, who is now working under Patterson in Texas), and told him about the abuse of my friend. I had obtained permission from this woman to speak on her behalf. She was so scared. Her child had recently suffered a broken hand at the hands of her father. Dr. Catanzaro said, “This happens all the time. There’s nothing we can do.”

On other occasions, Cox went to Catanzaro for counseling in light of the abuse she was herself receiving by her then-husband, who was a student at Southeastern Seminary. What she reports next is more than troubling, it is sickening:

“Dr. Catanzaro also remarked, “There is nothing we can do.” His casual demeanor was shocking. I also called upon Dr. Catanzaro many times for my own abuse. He told me things such as, “Be more active in bed. Submit more. Pray for him.” He never once gave me the option to leave.”

Let that sink in for a moment. A woman reports that her husband is physically abusive. A Southern Baptist seminary professor prescribes more sex to solve the problem. You’d almost think Catanzaro had been hired by a president known for telling abused women to “submit” to their abusers.

Oh wait. That’s exactly who hired him. Not once, but twice.

Eventually, the abuse Megan Cox experienced got worse. A friend noticed more bruises on both Cox and her children and ultimately paid for her to get away from her violent husband. Later, she was “harassed” for the “sin” of leaving an abusive spouse. Her painful story can be read in its entirety here.

If her testimony is true, and we have every reason to believe that it is, Southern Baptists should be concerned that Frank Catanzaro’s counseling methods are the ministry model being taught at Southwestern Seminary. Because it’s that kind of thinking that has nurtured the destructive cycles of abuse, victim-shaming, and cover-up that have roiled the Southern Baptist Convention this week.

“She had sex with those boys”

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Those words were spoken to me a few weeks prior to 9/11 while I stood in the pastor’s office at New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C. I was using the office during the Sunday morning Bible study hour to put some finishing touches on the sermon I would preach in view of a call to become the church’s next pastor.

The church had dwindled to less than 20 regular members, though that morning we were expecting between 30 and 40 as the congregation gathered to hear the young seminary student whom the search committee had recommended for their consideration. The sanctuary had been built to accommodate 400, so there was plenty of room for growth. The church also had a full baseball field in a neighboring lot, a basketball court, and stood near some of the busiest intersections on that side of Fayetteville. Fort Bragg was an 8 minute drive away.

About 30 minutes before the service was scheduled to begin, a layman named Mike Rhodes came to the office to wire me with the lavalier microphone.

“So nobody has really explained to me what happened to the church,” I said to Mike as he clipped a microphone to my lapel.

“You mean they didn’t tell you?” he asked, incredulously.

“Tell me what?” I responded.

“The preacher’s daughter. She had sex with those boys.”

“What? What boys?”

“In the school. They were 14, maybe 15 years old. She’s went to prison. Made the national news,” Mike told me.

The thud of that realization landed on me hard. How had I gotten to this point in the search process without any disclosure by the committee? Why hadn’t I raised the question of the church’s decline during one of two interviews? I simply had no grid through which to process the information I’d just received, almost casually.

My immediate predecessor, Rev. Carl Rehrer, had been forced to resign the church by the remaining members after the church’s precipitous loss of membership and associated difficulties in the wake of a sex scandal involving his daughter. Years earlier, New Hope Baptist Church had started a private Christian academy. When I became pastor, not a single teacher was certified and there were approximately 30 students in grades K-12. At its zenith, the school had more than 180 students, many of whom had been expelled from the county’s public schools or nearby private schools. New Hope was their last chance to earn a high school diploma.

In 1997, Rehrer hired his 32-year old daughter to teach 9th graders despite the fact she had no teaching degree or certification. In April 1998, the police showed up and arrested her. She was charged with 3 counts of statutory rape, 3 counts of statutory sex offense, and 3 counts of indecent liberties with a juvenile. The daughter, Christian Laurie Rehrer, had met teenage boys through the academy and began hosting some of them after school hours at her home. It wasn’t before long that the boys began talking among themselves and word got out that Rehrer was Fayetteville’s version of Mary Kay LeTourneau.

Originally, Rehrer denied the allegations and her father allowed her to keep her teaching job. But when the arrest happened, she was fired and given two weeks severance. Her father issued public calls for people “not to condemn” the church but to “pray for [his] daughter and her children.” When all the evidence was presented, however, Laurie Rehrer capitulated and pled to lesser offenses. accepting a six month prison sentence with five years of supervised probation. She also had to register as a sex offender.

The church never paid a settlement to or got sued by the families of the teenage victims.

The day Carl Rehrer resigned, the church had lost nearly 100 members in the wake of the sex abuse scandal. Rehrer’s wife stayed as minister of music, and continued in that role for nearly one year into my pastorate. Rev. Rehrer became pastor at another church in the Fayetteville area.

About six months into my pastorate at New Hope — where I was also given the official role of headmaster of the church’s academy — I received an anonymous note. In simple words, the note told me to look into the military record of the school’s only male high school teacher. He was, the note explained, hiding something.

That is where things got wild.

First, I went to look in the office for employment records, both for the the church and for the academy. There were none. In fact, I discovered that some parents had been paying cash for their children’s tuition, receiving handwritten cash receipts, but the amounts did not correlate with deposits to the academy’s account.

It appeared that somebody was embezzling. I thought maybe I was about to discover a long history of financial fraud at the school, and that New Hope would be dragged into another terrible news story. I had inherited a mess, to be sure, but I had no idea how big it was.

One afternoon, I went to the home of Jim Hobbs, an older deacon in the church.  Hobbs, who was not only a charter member of the church but also the general contractor for the building, sat me down in his living room.  His wife, Evelyn, went to get us something to drink.

“He had some issues in the Navy,” Mr. Hobbs told me. “I’m not quite sure what happened, but I know he was discharged. It was all very hush, hush.”

I started to get a sense of what was going on a few days later when I overheard another teacher in the academy tell her colleague that the high school teacher in question had been having “slumber parties” at his house with some of the senior high boys. I contacted the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis and discovered that with a signed Form SF-180  I would be able to access the complete military service record for a consenting veteran.

I told no one of my plan.

The following week, I scheduled an “all-faculty, all-staff” after school meeting at the academy. We had not been keeping adequate employment records, I told them; then I distributed a few forms that each employee needed to fill out so the church could “update our records.”

Included in that stack of forms was an employment application that I asked everyone to complete in the conference room. The form included a section concerning prior military service.

“Have you ever served in the United States military, and if so, what branch?” the form asked. Then the second question: “Were you discharged honorably?” followed by a box to check “yes” or “no.”

When I collected the forms at the end of the meeting, I pulled the one teacher’s military service disclosure form to see how he’d answered. The line was left completely blank. I called the teacher to my office and showed him the form he’d failed to sign. I handed him a pen, and asked him to sign it.

He quickly checked the box indicating he had been honorably discharged, and that’s when I reached in my desk drawer and pulled out Form SF-180. Handing it across the desk, I told the teacher I needed him to sign for me to get a copy of his military service file from the Navy’s archives. He refused.

That’s when I told him that he would either sign the form or I would place him on immediate administrative leave pending an investigation. He grew angry, and told me that he had nothing to hide.

“So sign the form,” I told him. Then I showed him the acknowledgement he signed on the employment forms that stated in no uncertain terms: “The falsification of employment records is grounds for dismissal without compensation.”  If he had lied by checking “honorable,” he could be terminated. The only way for me to verify his discharge status was to get his complete military record.

I then asked him if he’d been having students from the school over to his home without their parents’ supervision. That’s when he got very quiet and just stared at the wall of my office.

I reached into my desk and pulled out another document. This time it was a letter of resignation I had drafted for him.  He had only two options: (1) Sign the Form SF-180, at which point I would place him on immediate administrative leave with pay pending the production of his military service file; or (2) Resign immediately and receive pay for the remainder of the school year, which was around $6k.

He chose to resign. I produced a severance agreement I had prepared, which we both signed, and I escorted him to his office to retrieve his personal things. I did not allow him to access his computer or remove any files. Then I escorted him out of the building and handed him a notice that he was not to be on the church or academy campus during school hours, nor was he allowed to contact students. Additionally, he was barred from discussing the circumstances or conditions of his resignation with anyone. Failure to abide by those guidelines would constitute a breach of his severance agreement and the cancellation of any pending payments.

It turned out that he left the military as one of the early enforcements of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. His dishonorable discharge included allegations of assault on a fellow naval officer, but there was no criminal conviction. There were never any allegations of sexual improprieties with academy students, but reports of his unsupervised interactions at his home with teenage male students were grounds for dismissal without needing a more thorough investigation.

I felt I had dodged a bullet. Within a few months — and with the help of Drs. Greg Lawson and Ken Coley from Southeastern Seminary — I recommended the church close the academy altogether.  A circus of a business meeting, complete with parent protesters, handouts, and lots of name calling, ended with a near unanimous vote of the church to affirm the terms of closure I outlined.  A few months later, I received a message that the former teacher had been hired at a larger church in the area working as a music associate in the youth department.

“Here we go again,” I thought, and called the church pastor to inform him that his new employee was not allowed to work with youth in our church but that no formal complaint about his conduct had been made during my tenure. He thanked me for the information, and I let the matter die.  Somewhere in a locked file closet at 3675 Rosehill Road in Fayetteville, N.C., is a folder containing a full report of the events I’ve just described. If, that is, the file has not been destroyed since my departure in 2003.

The whole experience taught me a few valuable lessons as a 25 year-old pastor. First, I saw how easy it was for lax employment practices to expose a church to otherwise avoidable scandals. Second, I saw the degree to which well-intentioned ministers — thinking they “err on the side of grace” — will knowingly place unqualified and unvetted leaders in positions with access to children. Third, I saw how angry some members of a church can become when they believe the pastor has been “unfair” by terminating a popular employee for matters that you cannot disclose to them.

I also learned this valuable lesson: Keep contemporaneous records and meticulous personal notes.

Today, New Hope Baptist Church still only has about 40 active members.  In the wake of 9/11, the church grew significantly and we baptized a number of servicemen who were deploying in the lead up to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the one year anniversary of 9/11, we hosted a vigil service that had a great turnout, but the church never seemed to live down its reputation in the community. When I would talk to prospective members, I was always asked why we didn’t have any youth in the church.

I could never bring myself to tell them the truth: New Hope had seriously bungled a case of child sex abuse that became national news. The church culture — and the leadership — had provided an opportunity for further abuses. Nobody in their right mind would bring a child into such a context. We did everything to enact policies that would prevent abuse in the future, or at the very least discourage serial abusers from finding safe harbor in ministry leadership at our church.

But the fact is this: Churches and conventions that are careless in this area not only allow, but quite literally invite predators into their midst. It is better that a church have NO children’s or youth ministry whatsoever than to have lax standards for recruiting, training, and monitoring ministry workers.

I should probably add one more detail that is so bizarre I had no option but to laugh.

The Sunday morning the congregation voted to affirm me as their new pastor — and thirty minutes or so after I’d just learned about the cloud of sex abuse that hung over the church — a member of the choir sang a solo before I preached.

The song?

“He touched me.”

To this day, I cannot hear that song without cringing.

Is the SBC Executive Committee either incompetent or indifferent?


If you’ve spent much time as a Southern Baptist pastor, ministry worker, or denominational employee, you learn one reality fairly quickly: The SBC is mind-numbingly slow to respond, typically behind the tech-curve, and somewhat insular. As popular podcaster Marty Duren has pointed out, no greater evidence is needed than the persistent inability for the denomination’s Nashville-based press office to do any substantive reporting. Even when they do, it is only after the news is already broken somewhere else.

Unless, of course, you are a bakeshop owner who’s asked to make a cake for people whose sexual orientation is different from your own or you are a persecuted couple who shielded your son from criminal investigation when he repeatedly molested four of your daughters.

Baptist Press reports, like most everything else generated by the denominational apparatchik, are more often than not unnecessarily tardy, excessively editorialized, and annoyingly sanctimonious. Why, for instance, has it taken bloggers to expose every instance of financial irregularity and administrative perversity that occurred at Southwestern Seminary under the leadership of Leighton Paige Patterson?

To be fair, Baptist Press is woefully underfunded to have a serious newsroom. And financial straits placed on its sponsoring organization, the Executive Committee, in the wake of Ronnie Floyd’s misguided efforts to redistribute Cooperative Program receipts haven’t helped. For years, they’ve been asked to make bricks without straw.  The Floyd committee took away some of the necessary mud and water to boot.

Moreover, Baptist Press is reflective of the larger problem Southern Baptists now see in the mirror with horrifying clarity, albeit somewhat disingenuous alarm. The problem is this: We just don’t do things very well. We don’t communicate well. We don’t evangelize very well. We don’t pray very well. We don’t protect innocence very well.

And we probably wouldn’t create and maintain a convention-managed database of sex offenders very well. Let me illustrate my point.

For nearly five years, I served as the pastor of the Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Tex., during the days of my pre-doctoral coursework at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in nearby Fort Worth and doctoral coursework at Baylor University. It was under the interim pastorate of my predecessor, Rev. Miles Seaborn, that the 40-member church had left the Baptist General Convention of Texas and joined the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention.

The congregation, once a thriving group of believers on Arlington’s northside, was a shell of its former self. There were no young adults, no children, and mostly widows and married senior couples who were committed to the ministry but at a loss for how to turn the church around after repeated scandals involving pastoral malpractice.

Slowly, we started to re-engage the community. I recruited seminary couples with children to commit one year to attend and help re-populate the nursery and kids programs. We started going door-to-door in the neighborhood every Saturday, passing out tracts and invitations to attend neighborhood festivals and Vacation Bible Schools.

But it was harder than I anticipated. Despite two years of consistent effort, we never got more than a handful of young families to join. I grew frustrated, and at times teetered between blaming God and church members for what felt like failure.

Then one day, a married couple who had been attending our church asked to meet with me on a Wednesday afternoon before the mid-week prayer service. That was the day I told myself, “I cannot do this any longer. I want out of the pastorate.”

For the previous several months, this couple — both in their mid-40s — had been faithfully attending Sunday School and church. They knew the Bible, and seemed eager to help with setting up for church events and always pitched in with cleanup after fellowship meals. They never filled out a visitor’s card, and I never knew where they lived. But I knew their home was nearby because they walked to church. A few times, when they had medical appointments or needed a ride somewhere, they would walk to the church and meet me or a deacon. They never invited anyone to their house.

After a while, I asked them about baptism and church membership. They told me they would pray about it, and a few more weeks went by. Then, the day came they asked to meet with me. I presumed it was to talk about joining the church. At the appointed hour, they showed up at the church office.

“We have something we need to tell you, pastor,” the man said. “We have both been in jail.”

I was stunned, but not like I was about to be.  I told them that the church was full of broken people, that we all had a past, but that God was in the business of redemption and second chances.

“It’s not that simple for us,” she said, choking back her words. “We had sex with our kids.”

I remember my mind going entirely blank and a knot forming in my stomach. Seminary had never prepared me for this. We sat there in silence for a few moments. They were holding hands, and I sat across the coffee table in a very pastoral wingback chair.

They proceeded to tell me what had happened, how long it went on, and how it was discovered and reported years earlier. Their children, now in their 20s, were young teenagers when the father began molesting his daughter. It wasn’t long before the mother was performing sex acts on their son. When confronted by authorities, they confessed. The kids were put in foster homes and they both went to prison. As they sat in my office, they told me they were both registered sex offenders. Their reticence to give their home address or formally join the church was out of a fear that we would discover their secret and ask them never to return.

We prayed together. I assured them that all sinners were welcome at our church, but that they needed to understand why they would be precluded from certain areas of the church — the nursery and children’s areas — and excluded from certain ministry assignments. They understood, thanked me, and went home, not staying for the evening’s prayer service.

After the meeting, I reported the conversation to a senior deacon. I also reported it to Rev. Miles Seaborn and my good friend, former SWBTS Trustee R.E. Smith. Later that evening, I went online and searched the Texas Sex Offender registry to read their report. It was all there, in black and white. But I found more.

Within a two mile radius of Parkview Baptist Church — now known as Parkview Fellowship — lived more than 100 registered sex offenders. Our church was literally in the middle of a neighborhood epidemic of child sex abuse. No wonder, I remember thinking, we had difficulty attracting families with children from the surrounding community.

A few weeks later, the wife told me she’d discovered cancerous tumors in her abdomen. She was scheduled to have surgery the next week, and she asked me if I could take her to the hospital and wait with her while she was in the operating room.  I agreed, and went to pick her up around 5:00 a.m. the morning of her surgery. We drove to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, and I sat in the waiting area while she went back for pre-operative care.

About 45 minutes later, she walked out fully dressed and came to get me.

“They aren’t doing surgery today,” she told me.

“Why not?,” I asked. “Let me go talk to them.”

“No, it’s not that,” she said. “I have drugs in my system and they cannot operate.”

Before I’d arrived that morning, both she and her husband had smoked crack cocaine. The hospital attendants had noticed something was not right, asked her about drug use, and determined it was unsafe to perform the surgery at that time. We got in the car, and I drove her home. I don’t think we spoke. They might have attended church one or two more times, but then they stopped coming.

I’d learned something else from my search of the public database of sex offenders. We had not two, but four registered sex offenders attending our church. One was the teenage son of a faithful wheelchair-bound woman who rode her electric scooter to church Sunday mornings, evenings, and for Wednesday night prayer meeting.  Even in the rain, I could see her coming down North Fielder Road wearing a parka and holding an umbrella. Her son would walk alongside her.

And we had another man in his late 50s on the registry who was coming occasionally, only to Sunday mornings, and never staying around for after church fellowship activities or participating in Bible study.

When I left Parkview in August 2007 to join the staff of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., for a one year assignment before moving to Washington, D.C., the church entered a difficult interim period. Rev. Seaborn again provided occasional pulpit supply. A few employees of the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention filled in on Sunday mornings.

And then, they called a new pastor to succeed me from a nearby Independent Baptist Church. A graduate of Arlington Baptist College — founded by legendary fundamentalist pastor J. Frank Norris and the onetime academic home to erstwhile Muslim Ergun Caner — the new pastor of Parkview brought with him to the church a group of teenagers who helped reinvigorate the youth ministry. Attendance grew, the worship style was made more contemporary, and Wednesday night activities expanded to include opportunities for high school and college students.

Then in the early summer of 2010, I received a call from a longtime deacon at the church. “Pastor Eric resigned last night. He’s already cleaned out his office. It was effective immediately. Nobody knows what’s going on.”

A few days later, the truth came out.

The new pastor had surrendered to local authorities, entered a plea agreement for indecency and sexual contact with a child, and received a sentence of 7 years probation with community supervision. As it turned out, he was having sex with a teenage boy in the church and allegedly more than one college-aged male. Soon afterwards, he purchased a local lawn care business and started his life over.

But here’s my point.

Today, the database of Southern Baptist Churches maintained by the convention still lists Eric Owens as the church’s pastor. Nearly nine years after the pastor’s resignation, plea agreement for sexual indecency with a child, and the hiring of a new pastor for Parkview Fellowship, the Southern Baptist Convention still has a registered sex offender listed as the pastor of the church.

Which brings me back to the fundamental question. If the Southern Baptist Convention cannot maintain a database of churches with current information about the ministry leaders, and if the convention’s database reports that a registered sex offender from a decade ago is still a member church’s pastor, then how can we reasonably expect the SBC to maintain another database.

What’s more, despite months of research and reporting, the Houston Chronicle didn’t even know about what happened at Parkview Baptist Church. And if it’s true in this one instance, we can reasonably conclude that this past weekend’s groundbreaking report is only a scratch at the surface.

What is clear is that while the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee has failed terribly on numerous fronts to protect both children and churches– partially because of incompetence and partially because of stubbornness — the tired arguments about church polity will not hold up any longer.

To baptize a famous quote from the late Sen. Barry Goldwater: “Inaction in defense of autonomy is no virtue.”

God have mercy.

RAINER: Protect our children


(Republished without permission, but we’re fairly certain he won’t mind.)

PROTECT OUR CHILDREN: Lessons from Penn State
By Thom Rainer
Nov. 10, 2011.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — Those who have read my articles or heard me speak probably know at least two things about me: I’m an avid college football fan, and I am devoted to my family. I have always respected the football tradition of Penn State. But the university’s sexual abuse scandal has saddened and angered me, because it is everyone’s job to protect our children.

In Coach Joe Paterno’s case, he reported the alleged abuse to his “chain of command,” and apparently absolved himself of responsibility. But those to whom he reported apparently chose to protect their university and themselves rather than the child involved. If that is the case, it’s wrong — and something churches must avoid.

It doesn’t take a football fanatic or a genius to figure out the right thing to do — in all cases — is to protect our children. It is inconceivable to me that someone could witness sexual abuse and then simply report it and leave it to their supervisors. The right response is to intervene by force at the moment, and with the police immediately thereafter.

I write for church leaders, not ESPN. So let me say clearly that church leaders are responsible for protecting all the children who come into our places of worship. It’s our job to teach them about Jesus’ love for them, and we must also protect them from potential predators.

The National Sex Offender Public Website ( reported in 2009 that only 30 percent of all cases nationwide are reported to authorities. That means more than two-thirds of abuse cases are not reported, so that’s where we as church leaders start.

Pastors, youth leaders, lay leaders: If you suspect, or if someone reports to you, the possibility that one of your workers or volunteers has abused a child in your care, stop reading this article and immediately contact your local police. I understand how difficult that might be for you, for your church, for those involved, but your first concern should not be for yourself or even your local church, but your charge is to protect our children. It’s not your job to determine the validity of a claim of abuse. That’s the job of the police. It’s your job to call them. Immediately.

Protecting children also means preparing for their protection by taking some simple but absolutely necessary steps that will avoid problems before they occur.

1. Conduct a background check on every current and future worker. LifeWay partners with to offer this service. Never involve someone in ministry without a background check.

“Of all the crimes against children in the U.S. every year, thousands will occur within the walls of churches and youth centers,” said Matthew Robbins with “With crime and abuse at an all time high, churches must develop hiring programs that work to prevent dangerous situations before they occur.”

2. Implement a six months/two people rule. This simple policy states that anyone working with children or youth must be an active member of your fellowship for at least six months before assuming a position of leadership, and that there will be at least two adults in the room with minors at all times. This rule extends outside the walls of where you hold your services to include no unescorted car rides home. As inconvenient and radical as this approach may sound, these two guidelines show predators that children are not easy targets at your church.

3. Conduct regular mandatory staff and volunteer training. Bring in experts to educate you and your workers about safety “to-dos” and how to recognize the signs of a predator. The Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee provides a number of valuable resources at

4. Require all volunteers to submit an application to serve. This process may seem like a formality, but a proper workflow ensures that the right staff sees every application before placing the responsibility and safety of our children into someone else’s hands. This simple step should be followed up with a face-to-face interview. Churches hold auditions for their worship team. Why not do so for your children’s ministry volunteers?

5. Pray for your workers. Pray for your children. And, pray God will provide the right people.

No church, no ministry, and no denomination is exempt from the risk of predators seeking to harm those who are most vulnerable. It’s our responsibility as leaders to decide foremost to protect our children.

So, let your first impulse be to protect children, not reputation. When that is the priority, all else is secondary. Penn State missed that and more children suffered. Make sure your church never makes the same mistake.

PREVIEW: Breaking down the database issue

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We anticipate posting by tomorrow morning an assessment of the right and wrong way Southern Baptists can report, vet, publish, and track serial abusers. Here’s one line from the introduction:

“Within a two mile radius of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Tex. — now known as Parkview Fellowship — are more than 100 registered sex offenders. I will never forget the day two of them started attending Sunday morning Bible study and worship, or the Wednesday afternoon they sat in my office and confessed to me the incestuous relationships they’d had with their own children, who were by that time adults. A knot twisted in my gut; I struggled to keep my face from showing the disgust I felt. Seminary hadn’t trained me for this.”