Prestonwood Baptist Church and the Cone of Silence

After 22 years as the worship pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church, Todd Bell apparently resigned suddenly last week, or so I've heard from a few sources. He has been removed from the staff listing on the church website. *From what I've been told in an email (see below), Jack Graham spoke at the end of the service last Sunday, apparently after the cameras stopped rolling, about Todd Bell's resignation or firing. I'm not clear on which it is exactly.

If Jack did speak openly and transparently that Todd "disqualified himself, " why has he never spoken about how Prestonwood minister John Langworthy disqualified himself too when he suddenly left Prestonwood in June 1989 after allegations surfaced that he was sexually abusing boys in the church? Why has Jack never mentioned Langworthy from the pulpit? Don't all members and parents deserve to know why a minister would leave suddenly because he was accused of child sex crimes?

*UPDATE 3/5/14: I received the following email today with more information.
I was in both services on Sunday at Prestonwood and Jack Graham spent a good 10 to 15 minutes very transparently sharing his grief and sadness over the resignation and the exact reasons for it which he specifically stated verbatim were unfaithfulness to his wife and to the church and his ministry.  It was heartfelt, sincere, transparent and anything but brief as your comments state.  I even taped it for my daughter to hear and we listened to it more than once....not brief and not any trace of an attempt at hiding the truth.
 *Why has he never done the same from the pulpit about John Langworthy's alleged child sex abuse at Prestonwood that resulted in Jack firing him? Where's the truth and transparency there? Why has Jack not even spent one minute sharing grief and sadness for the children harmed by Langworthy?

*Does it bother anyone else that Jack can devote time from the pulpit to address his "grief and sadness" about Todd Bell but not answer the plea from a grieving mother of a Langworthy victim?

(additional information added 3/20/14): Jack Graham apparently had time in 1989 to contact Prestonwood "attorneys who were involved in all of this back then," according to associate pastor Neal Jeffrey. Neal stated in an email reply to me (embedded below) that "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." According to one of the victims who came forward a few months after Langworthy was fired, the attorneys had him and other victims give them a statement about the abuse. Did they report this statement of abuse to the police as required by law? These were attorneys for the church, not the victims.

Truth and transparency should be the standard in all matters in a church, be it matters of consensual affairs resulting in a resignation or illegal sex crimes resulting in the same or a firing. He publicly addressed the arrest and firing of former Prestonwood minister Joe Barron, so why the silence on Langworthy?

Document: "Yes, they tried to handle it discretely as any church tries to do." - a former Prestonwood Baptist Church deacon on child sex offender John Langworthy

A Tale of Two Jacks

Jack Graham and Prestonwood have never reported to the police the known abuse by Langworthy which is required by the Texas mandatory reporting law passed in 1971. Langworthy was allowed to return to his home state of Mississippi where he soon began working as a music minister and a music teacher in public schools, elementary through high school ages, in Clinton, MS for the next 22 years, until he was exposed as a predator when he confessed publicly from the pulpit at Morrison Heights Baptist Church.

World Magazine discussed Prestonwood's handling of Langworthy abuse allegations in a cover story last year titled "The High Cost of Negligence."
Earlier this year Prestonwood Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation of about 15,000 in Plano, Texas, faced questions about how it handled a past allegation of abuse. Its former youth worker, John  Langworthy, pleaded guilty in Mississippi to five of eight counts of molestation involving five boys in the early 1980s. A judge gave Langworthy a 50-year suspended sentence.

 Mike Buster, an executive pastor at Prestonwood, told a local news station in 2011 the church received an  allegation in 1989 that Langworthy had “acted inappropriately with a teenage student.” The pastor said  the church dismissed Langworthy, and that “the elected officers dealt with the matter firmly and  forthrightly.” Buster didn’t say whether church officers filed a police report. WORLD requested further comment, and Buster replied in an email, saying nothing had changed from the church’s original statement.

Langworthy went on to work as a music minister at *Morrison Heights Baptist Church and a high school choir director in Clinton Public Schools. He resigned both positions in 2011.
*Morrison Heights Baptist Church is hosting a Sexual Abuse Awareness Training conference on April 29 with the goal to equip church leaders with the skills and resources they need to keep children safe.

We know there are more victims suffering in silence. We hope that anyone who saw, suspected or suffered wrongdoing by Langworthy or any other perpetrators from Prestonwood Baptist or other churches and institutions will have the courage to break their silence, come forward to law enforcement and protect other kids.
Maybe there's a way out of the cage where you live.

I found my voice. I hope you can find yours too.

Amy Smith's Persistence Brings Justice in John Langworthy Abuse Case

Justice Quest Begins with Phone Call, Ends with Conviction

Jack Graham Explains How to Have Your Best Christmas: Shun Church Critics, Especially Those "Watchdoggers"

It's responses like this that silence and shame victims into silence and enable perpetrators:

Updated 10/23/14- This is my story of how I came to be a leader with SNAP and an advocate for survivors of abuse and the timeline of speaking out to expose the child sexual abuse at Prestonwood:


Christa Brown said…
Hi Amy. Just want to share a bit of Texas law with you. Under the Texas Penal Code, section 22.011, a sexual assault is considered to be “without the consent of the other person if… the actor is a clergyman who causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person's emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman's professional character as spiritual adviser…” I have no clue what happened with Todd Bell and his reported “unfaithfulness” to wife, church and ministry… and from the reported statements here, it is impossible to know. But I do know that, if a minister engages in sexual “unfaithfulness” with an adult congregant, it is sometimes more properly viewed under the law as a “sexual assault” rather than as a “consensual” relationship. But of course, given how often we have seen Baptist leaders minimize the horrific abuse of kids as mere “moral failure,” it’s not surprising that, often, they are also quick to minimize the sexual abuse of adult congregants as “affairs” or “unfaithfulness.” Whether or not that is what happened here is something I don’t know. Love the song!
Amy Smith said…
Great point, Christa. From Spiritual Sounding Board:
Texas is a state in which it is a crime for clergy to have sexual relations with a congregant. The relevant section of the Texas Penal Code are below:
Texas Penal Code Chapter 5. (22.011)

Title 5. Offenses against the person.
Chapter 22. Assaultive Offenses.
Sec. 22.011. Sexual assault.
(b) A sexual assault [...] is without the consent of the other person if: [...] 10) the actor is a clergyman who causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman’s professional character as spiritual adviser.

Texas is a state in which it is a crime for clergy to have sexual relations w/a congregant
Anonymous said…
Hello Amy, My name is Aaron Porter and I am a lead investigator with Professional Investigators International. Our firm does a great deal of abuse and harassment investigations, including several international child abuse cases in major Christian ministries. We have a great deal of appreciation for your work and advocacy for abuse survivors and accountability for perpetrators and enabling organizations. We may be able to help you in your cause free of charge. If you would like to talk with us, please email me at and we can setup a time to talk over the phone.


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