Thursday, April 9, 2009

Abuse of Pulpit

My dad told me about this article in my old hometown paper.  First Baptist Church of Jacksonville used a police detective who also serves on the church security detail to investigate Thomas Rich who blogs at  The detective also investigated two other blogs that are critical of other churches but not FBC Jacksonville.  The detective discovered the identity of the blogger who previously was anonymous and even though discovered no crime turned the identity over to church authorities.  Armed with this information FBC issued a trespass order and effectively kicked Mr. Rich out of the church.

FBC is the most prominent church in Jacksonville and it appears that they used that prominence to try to silence a dissident voice.  The detective claimed he turned over the information to FBC authorities for their own "internal action."  If internal action was required, and thus it was never a criminal matter, why was the Jacksonville Sheriffs Office even involved?  It looks like the church misused its position and that the JSO was a willing accomplice in an internal church dispute.  A dispute which should not be the business of the JSO or any other government agency.  It is an abuse of the prominence of a major pulpit to use a criminal investigation as a means of silencing criticism in a church, and an abuse of the power of a police detective to engage in this type of investigation. 

The Southern Baptist Convention is a denomination that is increasingly following an authoritarian model of leadership.  The blogs mentioned in this article and a blog run by a man named Wade Burleson have become thorns in the side of the SBC leadership.  I don't agree with them at all theologically but I support their efforts to bring light and transparency to the actions of SBC leadership.  Though I have recently become more closely associated with the UCC, I was born, raised, and educated as a Baptist.  One of the things I learned from my Baptist life is that God is way more often on the side of the dissidents and not on the side of totalitarian preachers.


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