|Photo by Dylan Hollingsworth for the Dallas Observer|
Last week the Dallas Observer's cover story "Don't Ask Don't Tell" by reporter Amy Silverstein provided the most in-depth look to date at the issue of child sexual abuse and cover up of this abuse by former minister John Langworthy at my former church, Prestonwood Baptist Church. It's a long read, but I hope you'll take the time. We are very grateful to Amy Silverstein and the Dallas Observer for such a thorough piece giving a voice to these survivors and shining a light for others who feel they do not have a voice.
An Advocate for the Sexually Abused Demands Answers from Prestonwood Baptist Church
The letter was anonymous, just like other warnings that came before it. In late January, it arrived in the mailboxes of advocates who work on behalf of Christian sex-abuse victims. For 26 pages, it offered a rambling defense of a place that shouldn't need one — Prestonwood Baptist Church, a Plano mega-church with 37,000 members, three campuses, decades of mostly good publicity and a celebrity pastor named Jack Graham.
But for the last several years, the church has come under scrutiny from a small, vocal group of Christian critics for its handling of child sexual abuse. None of the critics has been more effective than Amy Smith, the daughter of a former Prestonwood deacon. Five years ago, Smith alerted a church in Mississippi that a pastor on its staff had been quietly accused of child molestation at Prestonwood decades before.
John Langworthy, a former youth minister at Prestonwood, resigned from the Mississippi church not long after Smith spoke up and soon faced criminal charges in that state. He pleaded guilty to molesting five boys between the ages of 6 and 13 in the early '80s in Mississippi. He avoided prison time and is now registered as a child sex offender. Smith was widely credited for bringing Langworthy's crimes to light and causing him to admit to "sexual indiscretions" from the pulpit of his Mississippi church. The case disappeared from headlines soon after, but Smith has stayed on Prestonwood's case, holding rallies outside the church, seeking other victims and publicly pressuring Graham to open up about what he knew of Langworthy's crimes.A Prestonwood/Langworthy survivor's mother speaks to the Dallas Observer:
He still doesn't want to reveal his name, but he recently gave his mother the OK to talk with the . "He just doesn't want it to come back on him or me" she says. "I told him, 'Look, anything I can do to make Prestonwood's life miserable, I want to do.'"A survivor of child sex crimes by Langworthy in the Mississippi criminal case also spoke with the Dallas Observer for this story:
And yet, Prestonwood Baptist Church remains silent, even after Langworthy's conviction.
Boz Tchividjian, Executive Director of GRACE (@netgrace_org), law professor, @RNS blogger, author & speaker, wrote about the Dallas Observer story on his blog.
"Righteous” reputations of churches that don’t care
Earlier this week, the Dallas Observer published a cover story about a former minister who was recently convicted of sexually abusing children in Mississippi. According to the article, prior to this offender getting caught for these crimes, he served as a youth minister in a Dallas area megachurch. The story reports that while serving in that position, a minor who had been part of the youth group stepped forward and disclosed to another pastor on staff that this individual had sexually abused him. The article reported that instead of reporting the youth minister to the police, the megachurch allowed him to leave town where he eventually found employment at another church. Not only did the church fail to report the offense and warn others about this offender, but it made no effort to find out if there were others who may have also been victimized.Why do so many churches fail to do the right thing when they learn that one of their own has been accused of sexual abuse? All too often it’s because the victimized are repeatedly overshadowed by the need to protect a “righteous” reputation. I’m afraid it’s a rationale embraced by so many church leaders because it’s convenient and sounds so “godly”. Here is an example of this distorted thought process:Tragically, this type of response to the evils of abuse destroys lives, emboldens offenders, and produces churches that are rotting at the core. There’s nothing “righteous” about it.
Abuse victims are often overshadowed & marginalized by churches who "need" to protect their "righteous" reputation". http://t.co/yhuFW2hp8D
— Boz Tchividjian (@BozT) February 28, 2015
.@BozT Tchividjian looks at those churches that care more about reputation than the victimized and the vulnerable: http://t.co/IbJUbmHObB
— Religion NewsService (@RNS) February 28, 2015
Read about 3 basic first steps a church should take when learning that one of its own has been accused of abuse. http://t.co/6gNPQtxq7O
— GRACE (@netgrace_org) March 1, 2015
7 REASONS IT'S SO SCARY TO CHALLENGE CHRISTIAN LEADERS
http://t.co/5xUNkkLEwZ @JonHollingswrth @AmyHollingswrth pic.twitter.com/Ai546lj5WT
— David Hayward (@nakedpastor) March 1, 2015
— David Hayward (@nakedpastor) March 1, 2015
"Elders in my congregation knew there was a predator in our midst. But they threatened to punish those who spoke out" http://t.co/hma35eYuAO
— Amy Smith (@watchkeep) March 3, 2015
It took me learning about Jonathan’s other victims for me to speak up. In 2009, I looked on California’s Megan’s Law website, the state’s official list of registered sex offenders. There, I found he had been convicted a few years before for sexually abusing another 8-year-old girl. I felt horribly guilty that I hadn’t spoken up about him earlier. Now, I need to stop predators from doing this again.The only way to end this abuse is by lifting this veil of secrecy once and for all.