Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Of Questions and Cowards


[I’ve asked Amy to let me write a guest post.  I had one condition: she had to let me post it without any input, editing, or contribution on her part.  She agreed; every word below is mine.]

I’ve told our story many times over the last two years.  How nearly thirty years ago John Langworthy molested several boys in his hometown of Clinton, Mississippi.  How he moved from Clinton to Dallas, attended seminary, worked at Prestonwood Baptist Church and befriended my wife’s family.  For years at Prestonwood, he molested several more minors.  I've told how Prestonwood’s leadership discovered the behavior, fired him, but did not report him to the police.  About how Langworthy quickly moved back to Clinton, got jobs at a school and a church.  And finally how my wife looked him up two years ago, learned he had been working with youth, and reported his past crimes to the authorities and the media.

Thanks in small part to Amy and to several brave victims, John Langworthy has been convicted for child molesting in Mississippi.  He still hasn't faced justice for the more recent abuse he committed in Texas.

Every time I tell this story, people tell me how disgusting Langworthy’s crimes are, and tell me to keep supporting Amy.  Many have told her “thank you”, “keep it up” and “good job.”  But sadly, these feelings are not universal.  My wife has also received insults, baseless accusations, legal threats, and even been disowned by her parents for reporting a child molester and calling on Prestonwood to do the same. 
Nowadays whenever I start this story I have to ask, “Do you think an adult that has sexual contact with a 16-year old should go to prison?”  Everyone I've faced says, “yes, of course,” and then wonder aloud why I would have to ask them this question.  That has been the law in Texas for decades.  So why do I ask people this question?

I’ve discovered there are some people who don’t embrace this law.  I’ve discovered that discussing Langworthy’s actions in terms of legal/illegal makes a handful of people very uncomfortable.

One of those people is Jack Graham, Head Pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church.  If I could talk to him, I would ask: do you think an adult that has sexual contact with a 16-year old should go to prison?  According to multiple sources, Langworthy had sexual contact with several boys under 16.  And according to one of your deacons at the time, you knew this when you fired him, but you did not report him to the police1.  If you think men should be prosecuted for this crime, why didn't you report him?  What is your moral, Biblical, or legal standing for not reporting a man who confessed to you that he sexually molested three boys? (more have come forward since you fired him)

Another person is Neal Jeffrey, Associate Pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church.  If I could talk to him, I would ask: do you think an adult that has sexual contact with a 16-year old should go to prison?  Amy reached out to you early in this story, and at least then you expressed regret at how the situation was handled, but since that time you've silently sat on the sidelines.  I recently sent you a letter with some of these same questions and some personal requests, and I have yet to get any kind of response.  Why was Langworthy fired?  Do you fire employees for "inappropriate behavior"?  Or did you fire him because he was having sex with minors?  Did the church’s attorney Randy Addison inform you of the fact that Langworthy’s behavior was (and still is) a felony under Texas State law?

Another person who seems uncomfortable is Mike Buster, current Administrative Pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church.  Mike was not working at Prestonwood in 1989, but has stepped up as the voice of the church on this subject.  If I could talk to him, I would ask: do you think an adult that has sexual contact with a 16-year old should go to prison?  By your own admission, the church “handled” the Langworthy situation “firmly and forthrightly.”  But the question is: did church leadership report what they knew to the police?  If they did, why didn’t you say so?  And if they didn’t, why not? 

Finally, my in-laws have been very uncomfortable discussing Langworthy’s actions as crimes.  They were personal friends of Langworthy’s and my father-in-law was a deacon.  They have been so “hurt” by Amy’s public cries for justice that they have written us that they are “moving on with our lives without you in it” on three separate occasions.  They haven’t returned a call in almost a year, and they have rejected our requests to get together twice.

So If I could talk to him, I would ask Allen: do you think an adult that has sexual contact with a 16-year old should go to prison?  If not, please write your state congressman and tell him that you think the age of consent should be lowered.  If you do agree with the rest of society that scum like Langworthy belong in prison, then why admit Langworthy had sexual contact with a minor, but call Amy’s pursuit a “witch hunt?”  Why say “no children were involved,” “He didn't molest any kids,” and “to say he molested anybody against their will is absolutely false”?  Why have you never once spoken or written a single negative thing to me about Langworthy or his behavior, aside from calling it “inappropriate?”

One of my father-in-law’s claims is that Prestonwood tried to “handle it discretely, as any church tries to do.”  A church that does not report child sexual abuse is skewed – and criminal.  In 1971 the State of Texas began requiring any person who suspected child abuse to report it to the authorities.  Do you think this law should be removed, revised, or ignored?  If so, stop criticizing those who support the law and lobby your legislator to remove child abuse reporting laws. 

I sometimes hear people argue that it is solely up to the victims to report the crime.  They claim that if the victims ask their pastor not to report it, shouldn't the pastor compassionately concede?  I feel awful that these victims had to endure the pain of being molested, and I feel terrible that they have to relive the pain at a public trial.  Unfortunately, this is a necessary process to prevent molesters from hurting more kids.  As a father, I don’t want pastors keeping quiet out of compassion because I don’t want filth like Langworthy working in our schools.  I want him in a prison cell.  The blame here is not with the advocates who call for molesters’ prosecution, but with criminals like Langworthy.

Finally, I believe strongly that the Truth is always something that is public, open, and revealed for everyone.  Only sin, corruption, and shame hide in the dark.  Throughout history, corrupt men hid their deeds under the cover of darkness, with masks or hoods shrouding their disgraceful acts.  Today, it is too easy for shameful men and women to make anonymous online attacks, or hire publicists to draft empty written statements, or piously preach sermons about how Jesus “remained silent”.

Courage is found only in those who rise up, reveal themselves, and stand against the darkness.  It is found in those men and women who, through conviction, show their faces to the world.  They are exposed and vulnerable, but our lives are better for their struggles.   Amy has done all she has done publicly and with conviction, while cowardly men criticize and condemn from the shadows. 

So answer the questions, if you can.  I’ll be here waiting, right by her side.

Matthew Smith


1 – 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.