Friday, January 30, 2015

Mega Manifesto: On Behalf of Prestonwood Baptist Church and Convicted Child Molester John Langworthy

Over the last two weeks 26 named individuals have received an anonymous package in the mail.  Inside was a 24 page essay.  I am the subject of this composition.

The anonymous writer spends dozens of pages attacking my truthfulness, motivations, and personal character.  He claims to be a proponent of Jack Graham and the rest of the leadership at Prestonwood Baptist Church.  The letters were addressed to a variety of people: Prestonwood leadership, SNAP leaders, TV and newspaper reporters, bloggers, and others.  He did not send me a copy, but several of my contacts sent me theirs.

This approach is curious, because if this anonymous writer had just sent me a copy, I could have posted it for the entire public to read much sooner.  Take a look.


Among his many ramblings, you’ll find an alarming quote on Page 19: “I am dead serious and committed to exposing Amy Smith’s many falsehoods and stopping her continued and relentless attacks upon Prestonwood and Jack Graham.”  The combination of threatening language (“dead serious”, “stopping her”) and creepy anonymity meant I had to report this to the local police.  They have taken my statement, copies of the letter and envelope, as well as other collateral materials, and they have begun their investigation.  It is a federal crime to threaten someone using the Post Office, and the authorities assured me they take this seriously.

The writer reveals nothing new, quotes no sources, contacted no one involved in the matter, and certainly does not reveal his identity.  I have received these kinds of threats before, and heard all of these same lies.  So why am I posting this particular mega-manifesto?

Because this man embodies several emotionally twisted viewpoints that are shared by the leaders at Prestonwood Baptist Church, as well as other religious institutions that marginalize the victims of child sexual abuse.  I will go through the entire document and address his claims, false facts, personal attacks, and ignorant views.  But the overarching problem with this man, and others like him in church leadership is this:

In twenty-four pages he uses so many negative adjectives to describe me that I chose to stop counting. “Bogus”, “fact-free”, “obsessed”, “scurrilous” just to name a few.  But he doesn’t write a single negative thing about confessed , convicted child rapist John Langworthy.  Quite the contrary, this writer describes him as “high-spirited, engaging, and charismatic”.  And when he finally mentions the subject of Langworthy’s five counts of child sexual abuse, he calls them “indiscretions.”

This is at the core of the problem of religious institutions’ failure to address these crimes: men like him obviously do not see them as despicable crimes perpetrated against the most innocent in society.  These church leaders and their spokespeople minimize the sickening behavior of these felons.  This is a theme that SNAP leaders, volunteers, and countless survivors immediately recognize, and it is shameful that churches still ignore it.  I have spent years taking my story public because the leaders at Prestonwood continue to guide men like this writer to attack people like me.

The writer claims that only one person was sexually abused by John Langworthy during his tenure at Prestonwood, and that the sexual contact began after this person’s 17th birthday.  The entire twenty-four page document rests on this single claim.  Unfortunately for the victims, the families, and this anonymous writer, this claim is entirely false.  I have communicated with three male survivors that John Langworthy molested at Prestonwood, and each of them were minors when the crimes were committed, and Langworthy was in a ministerial position of trust over them.  This has been confirmed by one of the victim’s families, as well as my own father, a deeply involved deacon, who emailed me that one of the victims was 15 years old.  One of the victims chose to speak to a Dallas reporter, and another Prestonwood victim who assisted the Mississippi prosecutor is listed in the court documents

One last item before I address this writer directly.  His almost endless rant is empty of facts or sources.  He never quotes anyone but me (and often incorrectly).  I can only conclude that the writer’s “extensive research” did not include any contact with victims, victim’s families, me, my family, or anyone else except for his friends in Prestonwood Baptist Church leadership.  And the cowardly act of remaining anonymous means that no legitimate news source could use the material, even if they wanted to.

Dear Coward,

[Apologies for guessing your name; you didn’t sign the letter.  As my husband often says, “anyone who makes anonymous attacks on someone else is just a coward”]

I was recently sent several copies of your 24 page letter regarding…well, me.  I gave up after several minutes of trying to count the number of times you wrote my name.  It was harder still to count the number of critical adjectives describing me, my views, or my friends.  And although you chose to not send me a copy, I feel compelled to share your troubling opinions with the world, and address your false claim, twisted viewpoint, and ignorant comments.

As a disclaimer, I will not spend my time picking apart each sentence, though it is tempting and probably necessary to do so.  Aside from a handful of random facts (eg, Prestonwood Baptist Church’s membership rolls), your entire letter is false.

Page 4

This is the first instance where you quote me as saying John Langworthy molested “dozens” of young boys while at Prestonwood and “hundreds” of young boys in Mississippi.  I would ask you to include a URL reference, audio file, or photocopy of me saying this, but you would not be able to.  I never made these specific comments.  It seems you are quoting others who have expressed similar concerns on the allegations of the cover-up of abuse at Prestonwood.

I did decide in 2010 to let people know the fact that John Langworthy sexually molested several members of the Prestonwood youth group in the late 1980s, a fact that turns the stomachs of most people I talk to.  Especially in light of the additional fact that for years he had been employed in teaching children in public schools as well as leading children’s choirs in a large church in Clinton, Mississippi.

In the years since contacting Morrison Heights Baptist Church, Prestonwood Baptist Church and the Clinton School District, I have personally communicated with three victims that were minors, underage, from John Langworthy’s Prestonwood employment, when he sexually abused them as he was in a ministerial position of trust over them.  As if the testimony of several victims was not enough, this has been confirmed by several other sources.  First, one of the victim’s families has told me very clearly that the abuse was when their son was underage.  Second, my father was a deacon at Prestonwood at the time, and he had intimate knowledge of Prestonwood’s response to this crime.  In fact, he emailed me stating that several boys came forward to incriminate Langworthy in 1989.  Also, he stated that he knew one of the victims where the abuse started when the victim was 15. 

The youth described by your letter has told me that he did not come forward until several weeks after John Langworthy was fired from Prestonwood Baptist Church and had already moved back to Mississippi.

Let me also point out that one of the victims chose to speak to Brett Shipp at WFAA, directly emailing Brett a statement to be read on camera.  Also, one of the Prestonwood victims who helped the Mississippi prosecutor is listed in the court documents as a “child” at the time he was molested.

Finally, Prestonwood has tacitly admitted to the fact that John Langworthy’s victims were underage, and that a crime was involved.  When asked by investigative reporter Brett Shipp why they did not report this to the police in 1989, their response was “it was handled.”  They could have answered the question by stating they had no knowledge at the time of any minors being involved.  But they did not.  Like most well-lawyered companies, they wrote a non-answer that was accurate without confessing wrongdoing.  And to this day, Jack Graham could easily preach, speak, tweet, blog, or publicly state that he was unaware of minors involved in the John Langworthy matter.  But he cannot make this statement.  Because it is not true.

“Even the youth’s own mother told Smith in 2013 that her son’s relationship with Langworthy had only been going on for a few months.”

This is not true at all.  She never told me that, and given the obvious fact that you did not contact the victim’s mother or me, I wonder how you came to write this lie.

“The parents did not contact the authorities either since they also knew that no crime had occurred.”

The very nature of this crime often leaves victims and their families with a false sense of shame, guilt and fear.  It is why our society considers these child predators to be monsters.  Not only do they physically and mentally abuse their victims at the time of the abuse, but they infect their victims with lies that they can suffer with for a lifetime.  Many wait decades before speaking about these crimes out loud, and some never do so.

Page 5

Your claim that announcements were made to the school-age departments.  I find your claim disturbing that the leadership felt it appropriate to walk into a room filled with Junior High students and tell them that a member of the staff had been fired for “sexual indiscretions” (your words, not mine).  As a parent, I am horrified by the possibility that “sexual indiscretions” by a minister would be discussed in front of kids.

Even if your description were true, it would have left out a crucial message: that if anyone else in the church was harmed by this staff member, to please report this crime to the police.  Studies show that child predators rarely have a single victim, but instead prey on several children, often at the same time.  If church officials knew of one, they should have suspected others, and done something about it, first and foremost by reporting it to the police for a full investigation.

Page 6

“In an attempt to further portray both Langworthy and Prestonwood in a negative way”

John Langworthy is a convicted and registered child sex offender, with five court-documented victims who ranged in age from 6 to 13.  How in the world could I “further” portray this monster in a negative way? 
As I mentioned earlier in my blog post, you’ve found hundreds of ways to insult my character.  And yet you describe a confessed, convicted child predator as: “very talented, high-spirited, engaging, and charismatic.”  I may never understand what drives you to write such words about this disgusting criminal.  Is it your ignorance of how child predators attract their prey?  Is it your extremely low intelligence?  Or is it that you can commiserate with John Langworthy’s attraction to underage boys?

You claim that my “fishing expedition” came up empty.  I did choose to reach out to several men who were in the youth group during John Langworthy’s child molesting days at Prestonwood.  Three of them told me that they had been molested by John while at Prestonwood, and that the sexual contact occurred when they were minors.

Pages 7-8

“her repeated claims that Jack Graham ‘let loose a monster to molest dozens if not hundreds of young boys’…”

This is not the first example of your inability to research and/or document.  I never said or wrote those words.  Because they are not mine, I can only speculate that these were comments made by others in response to my story.  I have shared the facts of this matter, and those facts put your friends at Prestonwood Baptist Church in a very negative light.

“Both the youth and the youth’s parents…had no issue with it.”

Either through ignorance, unintelligence, or deceit, you have the wrong view of the victims of child sexual abuse.  These victims, and often their families, suffer in silence for years and decades after the abuse.  This is the rule, not the exception.  Stories like Dale Hansen, R.A. Dickey, TeriHatcher and Tyler Perry are just higher profile stories that show how long it can take for a victim of child sexual abuse to go public with the crime committed against them.  You and your friends at Prestonwood Baptist confuse silence with consent.

Pages 9-10

“As it turns out, the Mississippi man knew Langworthy in the early 1980s when he was a young boy and Langworthy was a college student.  They were members of the same church in Jackson and Langworthy had baby-sat on several occasions for the family.”

It was at this point of reading your letter that I started to wonder if you were John Langworthy himself.  Once I dismissed that idea, I started to wonder if you were also a serial child molester.  You write these two sentences so casually; your sentences almost have a down-home feeling to them.  There’s one problem: that baby-sitting was how John Langworthy got access to this “young boy” so he could perform repeated, disgusting, and criminal acts upon him for four years.  You mention briefly that this man “alleged” that John Langworthy “inappropriately touched him.”  These are light words for a heinous felony committed by a man who confessed in court to these exact child sex crimes.

And for reasons I will never comprehend, you completely leave out the other four victims who came forward in Mississippi.  All of them suffered at John Langworthy’s criminal appetite.  Could it be that you left out these men because one of them was abused when he was six years old?  It might make your friend John Langworthy look bad if you pointed your readers to the court documents that detail the criminal sex acts he performed on a six year old boy.

“…and no jail time…”

Your in depth research was either misfiring on this day, or you are deliberately misleading your audience.  John Langworthy was sentenced to five years’ probation, but he was also given a 50 year suspended sentence, meaning he did not serve jail time.

Apparently, in your mind, his criminal violation of these five children is less of a crime because of the statute of limitations issues brought up by his defense attorney.  At no point did John Langworthy mount a defense of his actions.  He simply fought jail time using a technicality.

“There appears to be no basis for Smith’s repeated claims that Graham refused to meet with the youth or his parents…”

Except for the fact that they told me so.

And this fits with the description of Jack Graham and other mega-church pastors.  They like to tweet pictures of themselves with sports stars, politicians, and other celebrity speakers.  But when a member of their church that is not wealthy or influential in the community tries to visit with them, they are handled by middle management.

“it was up to them to do so, not Smith.”

If you knew that a person committed a crime, what would you do?  It appears that you would decide that only the victim has the responsibility to report the crime.  I will assume you make these comments out of low intelligence or pure ignorance, so let me explain why our society has public reporting laws.

The law requires you to report your knowledge of crimes to the police.  For many crimes, such as murder and kidnapping, the victim cannot speak for themselves.  Other crimes, such as rape, child molesting, or elder abuse, leave the victims and their families in such a state that often they choose not to go straight to the authorities.  But this does not mean that a crime was not committed, or that a criminal is not still on the loose.  And the rest of us in society want these criminals in jail because we do not want them to commit any more crimes.

And so, Mr. Coward, it is up to each of us in a free society to stand up for those who have been harmed, and to be concerned for those who are in harm’s way.

Pages 11-14

“Based on my findings, Tynes had most likely met Amy Smith a few weeks earlier when Smith was holding a SNAP protest rally on January 27 in front of Prestonwood.”

Your findings are foolish.  To my knowledge Tynes was not at that event, and I did not meet him there.  I have never met Chris Tynes face to face.

As for the rest of your comments on Chris Tynes, I will let him respond to your rambling comments.  I will state that I do not, nor have I ever, administered the PBCSilentNoMore Facebook page.  And all of the quotes you list in your letter were written by someone other than me.

Page 16

Your letter begins to address the leaders of Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.  You claim that you support SNAP’s mission to help those victims of child sex abuse at the hands of religious leaders.  But there is another layer to SNAP’s mission that you vehemently oppose.  We seek to end the culture that exists in many churches to keep these crimes silent and/or handle them through self-investigation.

Recently we were looking to attend a church.  Before we visited, I found a link to their written child protection policy.  The policy concluded by telling members to bring any knowledge of child abuse to the attention of church leaders, where it would be thoroughly investigated, without any mention of going to the police.

This is simply against the law.  At that church, just like Prestonwood, child abuse should be immediately reported to the police.  It is up to law enforcement officials to investigate claims of child abuse, not a deacon body or pastoral staff.

Pages 17-18

I find it shocking that you claim to know my parents.  I also find it very telling that this would be part of your letter.  This has been the most heartbreaking and difficult part of telling the truth: that my own mother and father would choose their former church over me. 

We spent the better part of a year, long after the story broke, trying to meet with my parents face-to-face.  In a series of phone calls and emails we were either ignored or told no.  My father insists that I have to apologize to Jack Graham and Neal Jeffrey before he ever sees me again.

You write “I know that my parents would treat me the same way if I did what Amy has done no matter how much they love me or my children.”  You have really horrible parents.  Between your parents and the churches you’ve attended, you have failed to see what true love really is.

In one of the most bittersweet moments of this traumatic episode, I had to tell my children that their grandparents had emailed us that they never wanted to see us again.  But it forced me to tell them outright that I would never do that to them; I would always love them unconditionally.  There is nothing they can say or do that would ever make me reject them.  In fact, as I told them, even if they pushed me away, I would pursue them.  If God, in all his perfection, could love me in that way, it is the least I can do to love my children unconditionally.

You urge some of your readers to reach out to my parents to hear their side of the story; this is one of the few things we agree on.  Though they still refuse to speak to me, they are free to tell their story publicly.  Moreover, I wish you would do the same.  You spent a considerable amount of time writing your letter, but I am unaware of you ever engaging me directly.  My phone number, email, and website are certainly easy to find.  I invite you to post comments on my blog.

But be warned.  I will ask you to answer some specific questions, and insist that you give clear answers.  My husband’s favorite is, “do you think that adults who have sexual contact with sixteen year-olds should go to prison?”  I might ask you to explain your theory of how a serial child predator with at least eight victims by 1989 can move to Clinton and immediately start working at a school without being tempted to repeat his crimes?  I also might ask you if you think that the mandatory child abuse reporting laws should be changed, or if we should enforce them?

Finally, thank you for documenting the bizarre and twisted views that still permeate many churches.  Your letter was uninteresting, uninspiring, and stomach-turning.  “Sunlight is the best disinfectant," and “the light of truth and knowledge is our greatest tool to protect kids.”

Sincerely,

Amy Smith

Friday, January 16, 2015

Anonymous Mailer Rants: Prestonwood Baptist Church and convicted child sex offender John Langworthy

It was brought to my attention last July that several contacts of mine had received anonymous mailings at their home or office. Author and speaker Mary DeMuth is among those who received this mailing. She wrote about it here.
In my work with sexual abuse victims, I am used to undergoing attack in subtle and not so subtle ways, but this one made me nervous. Whoever sent this knew my home address. What is strange is that I haven’t written about this case, or publicly commented on it here. I have been angry at institutions that have chosen to prefer the perpetrator over the predator and have written about that here. I also applaud Boz Tchividjian’s brave work in this area.
So yesterday, I received another letter. I kept it as evidence. (Anyone know if I have any recourse?)
The whole thing makes me angry, and this is why: Only cowards send anonymous letters in the mail. If this person feels so strongly about the rightness of the situation, why not dialog here? Why not address me in a public setting? To send “evidence” to my home address is underhanded and bordering on harassment.
If you wrote it, my request is this: show yourself and share your views in public. And by all means, STOP sending me anonymous diatribes.

Today I was made aware that the anonymous mailer has sent a 22 page rant to one of my contacts on the same subject: Prestonwood Baptist Church and convicted child sex offender John Langworthy. I was told that the mailing contains a list of other purported recipients. If someone has put this much time and effort into making their point, why remain anonymous? What does he have to hide?  What sort of a coward writes this kind of a letter and hides his identity?

I decided to post here the anonymous mailing from last summer. I redacted portions that contain information identifying one of Langworthy's victims from Prestonwood. This Prestonwood victim has told me that he came forward to tell Neal Jeffrey, then youth minister, about the abuse by Langworthy later in the summer of 1989, after Langworthy had been fired by Jack Graham because of allegations of child sexual abuse. Langworthy had already moved back to his home state of Mississippi when the victim discussed by the anonymous mailer came forward. This victim came forward to prosecutors in Mississippi and assisted in the conviction of Langworthy there in January 2013 for the felony sexual assault of 5 boys ages 6-13. He pleaded guilty and received a 50 year suspended sentence and is a registered sex offender. See the criminal court documents mentioning this victim from Prestonwood here. This victim's mother gave a statement to the media in January 2013 alleging a cover up by Prestonwood.



The narrative put forth by the anonymous mailer contradicts facts shared with me by my father, a former deacon at Prestonwood who was intimately involved in John Langworthy's dismissal.  A few years ago, after talking to Mike Buster at Prestonwood, my dad reconfirmed that the sexual activity started when the victim was 15, and continued until age 17. These allegations were not reported to police as required by the Texas mandatory child abuse reporting law. In addition, this anonymous letter writer claims there was only one victim, but my father emailed me about multiple boys at Prestonwood that came forward to accuse John Langworthy.  I personally know this victim detailed by the anonymous mailer, and he confirmed the same timeline my dad told me about. You can see my father's written details below.

Anonymous mailer seems to know this victim well as he writes about the victim's story. Anonymous mailer writes that he knows where this victim works now. Has anonymous mailer reached out to this victim? I know that he has not.

I have spoken with another two of Langworthy's victims from Prestonwood, one of whom personally told his story to Brett Shipp at WFAA (linked below). I was in the courtroom in Mississippi the day of the conviction, along with his victims from Mississippi, and one of his victims from Prestonwood. I listened to two of the Mississippi victims give victim impact statements. I will never forget that day.





When a retweet is described as perpetuating the violence: Tony Jones and the Sonoran Theological Group

I am posting an email that I received earlier this week from Amy Jacober, a leader in the Sonoran Theological Group. The email is in reference to the issue of very serious questions that are being raised about Tony Jones, "Theological Provocateur" and a leader in the Emergent Movement and founder of the Jopa Group. The Sonoran Theological Group has an upcoming event, Christianity 21, that is organized by Tony Jones' Jopa Group. 
Tony, Doug and a third friend, Mark Scandrette, rolled into church sanctuaries and basements across the country where religious thinkers lined chairs and stretched out in aisle-ways to talk, argue, laugh, and craft new ways of living faith together. The roadshow brought new allies together and became the first of many efforts to come that combined innovative content with relational events.
Since then, the scope of JoPa’s events has grown to include several annual events and a host of other offerings.
Each year, Church Planters Academy and Christianity 21 will add to the national faith conversation by inviting smart, progressive, and often provocative thought leaders to share their latest ideas and practices.
The questions being raised about Tony Jones are centered on the serious allegations of emotional and physical abuse by his ex-wife, Julie McMahon. I first learned about these disturbing allegations in the comment thread of this post by David Hayward. Earlier this week, the discussion about these allegations ramped up after the announcement that Rachel Held Evans would be launching a new conference "Why Christian" organized by Tony Jones and the Jopa Group.
Nadia Bolz Weber and Rachel Held Evans have announced an all-female lineup at their new conference 'Why Christian?' this September. Held in Minneapolis, the conference will seek to explore why we continue to follow Jesus in the wake of corruption, hypocrisy and televangelists.
Their announcement has been greeted with much anticipation on Twitter:
The subject of the email "retweets" refers to these 2 tweets that I retweeted:







Here is the original tweet in that conversation:




Towards the conclusion of her email, Amy Jacober describes my RT as perpetuating the "violence."

From: Amy Jacober <amy.jacober@gmail.com>
Date: January 14, 2015 at 10:19:34 PM CST
To: watchkeepamy@gmail.com
Subject: retweets
Hello! My name is Amy Jacober. I have referenced your blog many times and recommended it to many readers. I have written about you when you were egregiously treated and prayed for you. 

I was a professor at Truett Seminary. It is a long story but the abuse that takes place in and around Baylor and the seminary is rampant. I had my fill. Upon leaving to care for sick parents, I am part of a small group trying to offer affordable theological education. I spend a lot of time with those abused by churches, academic institutions, and systemic financial problems. It has cost my family in ways that are far too great to detail here. 

Our small start up training the poorest ministers was asked to be a part of a conference where we might meet some people in our community to better serve the needs of untrained leaders. I consult and help churches with things like back ground checks and writing safe sanctuary policies. My world for twenty years has been advocating for the least of these, including spending a great deal of time with friends with disabilities and crying out to my teaching colleagues to address the spiritual and physical needs of these friends so that further abuse does not continue. The name of that conference is C21. 

Today, one of my colleagues at our small start up responded to an accusation that we (STG) support abuse. You retweeted it. We had never heard of any such allegations and were taken by surprise. Wihtin moments, it was misquoted, edited in multiple variations at this point. We should never have responded to the bait. What you have taught me is that speaking up for what is right brings violence, unless you are the person in power. Today, you are the person in power. It has grieved me to my very soul. It has been like living with the abuse of Baylor (your alma mater) all over again. People in power, who do not fact check, sling mud and then think nothing of the lives they are destroying always stun me. Mostly they stun me because I honestly don't think they realize what they are doing.  I know, you know this pattern well. I assume you did not do this maliciously, rather it was an easy soundbite and you bought into it. 

I know you have done good work in the past. I have been an advocate and ally. Please, in the future, do not do this to others. You have just become the very thing you fight against. I have spent much of the day dying inside as I think through all of the young women I have ministered to over the years assuring them that there are responsible, non-reactionary advocates out there and they can be brave. I wonder if I'll have that chance again. I wonder about my very reputation as the retweets keep flying. You are powerful, whether you realize it or not. Please, please, please, before you ever retweet something where a person or organization is being accused that you do not know, do your homework before you perpetuate the violence. 

This is not an e-mail from our group, it is from me alone, Amy Jacober. I'd be delighted to talk if you see fit. What you retweeted is not the full story. I am a part of The Sonoran Theological Group. 


grace and peace-Amy Jacober, PhD, MSW


The audacity and cold-hearted cruelty of celebrity preacher Jack Graham in one tweet










Dallas Voice:
While that was the most famous case of child abuse, there have been other allegations.
In the late 1980s, minister John Langworthy was dismissed after charges of child abuse. Langworthy moved to Clinton, Miss. where he served at Morrison Heights Southern Baptist for two decades
“There, he recently received a 50-year suspended sentence for molesting multiple boys as young as 6,” according to Baptist News Global. “But Langworthy avoided prison time because, in the plea bargain process, prosecutors were concerned about the statute of limitations.”
In December, referring to Langworthy, they posted:
“It still seems unbelievable that Jack Graham was a 2-term President of the Southern Baptist Convention and has been given a complete pass (so far) for his role in allowing a predator to go on a multi-decade rampage raping children across Mississippi. Truly jaw dropping when you think about it.”