About eight years ago my husband and I purchased a preconstruction condo in the Santa Rosa beach area of Florida’s panhandle. We had lived in Texas and spent many happy years vacationing in the Destin Beach area. We realized that the location of this condo was a sure winner. At its completion, units were sold out and the price skyrocketed to three times the purchase price. One year went by, and we began to notice that the market values were slipping. About six months after the slide began, we sold our unit for a little over twice what we paid for it, kicking ourselves for not selling when the market peaked. We were the fortunate ones, however. Within a few months, real estate in Florida took a nosedive! We have friends who bought beach front property for close to one million dollars, financed it because they planned to flip it, and were stunned when the market value plummeted to the $400,000 range. This all happened around the time that Mac Brunson came to FBC Jax.
I find it interesting that FBC Jax began the investigation into Tom Rich’s blog the day after their members' commitment cards (a promise to give a certain amount in the coming year) came in 50% lower than expected for the annual fund and 75% lower for the special appeal for an extra million dollars.
What follows is mere speculation…
Could it be that a number of FBC Jax's families took a big hit when Florida real estate values declined and had suddenly become house poor? Had my husband and I kept our Florida condo and the bottom dropped out (as it did) and we couldn’t sell it, we would have been “up a creek.” There is no question that our tithe would have been drastically reduced. If our church had tried to raise "a million in two weeks", we probably wouldn't have been in a position to give.
Now, couple this with Mac Brunson's honeymoon period coming to an end at FBC Jax. Pastor Brunson had been there for a while, and most of his congregation couldn’t help but notice that he was living well. Tom may have blogged about his pastor's lifestyle, but he only wrote about what was common knowledge as far as we can tell. I have to confess, I might have felt a bit resentful about being asked to up the ante when my financial world was crashing. Perhaps FBC Jax members looked at their pastor's lifestyle and thought, “How come he’s recession proof? He isn’t losing a job like some of us are; in fact, he isn't even taking a pay cut. He gets a guaranteed salary of $300,000 plus all sorts of perks and benefits, and he’s ragging on me?!”
Could Mac Brunson have handled this situation better? Suppose instead of putting the wheels into motion immediately to discover the identity of the anonymous blogger (the day after Commitment Sunday!), he and his leadership team had taken a little time to understand why the commitment cards for 2009 fell so short of the church budget. They would have realized in short order that our nation's economy was in serious trouble.
Pastor Brunson could have compassionately proposed the following to the congregation, “Look, I know a lot of you are suffering out there. Many of you have been terribly affected by an unexpected economic crisis. Here's what I am going to do. I have requested that my salary for the next year (or two) be reduced by a certain percentage (say 25%), and that amount can go toward the million dollar goal that I proposed. I'm recommending that we postpone some nonessential programs and delay church improvements until the contributions increase."
Well, as Aslan, from the Chronicles of Narnia was apt to say, “You’ll never know what might have been.” So, Mac Brunson berated his congregation as seen on yesterday’s link and went out hunting for bear. What happened next is a chilling moment in the history of the freedom of speech in the United States.
The Subpoenas — Did they tell you the whole story?
It's incredible to realize that this whole legal thing got up and running the day after Commitment Sunday. However, the reason given for the investigation had nothing to do with Tom Rich’s criticism of his pastor's lifestyle excesses. Did you get that?????? Here is a quote from church administrator:
The Rev. John Blount, executive pastor of administration, said he contacted Hinson directly regarding increased "vitriol" on the blog about the same time mail was stolen from the Brunson home and someone was surreptitiously photographing Brunson's wife. Also, someone had contacted vendors lined up for the church's annual pastors' conference and made critical remarks about Brunson to them, Blount said.
Let’s take a look at a comment left on our blog by one of our astute (all of our readers are bright, of course) readers. Thanks for keeping us informed!
“Mac and Debbie say they were being stalked and their mail was stolen. Seems this was the reason they sought to find out WD's identity. But there is one problem. There is no documentation of any kind that they reported this. Mail theft goes to the PO (post office) for investigation. Apparently, the Post Office was not involved in the investigation … My question is this: Are Mac and Debbie still looking for the stalker and mail thief?”
My guess is that they might have lied about that in order to get the ball rolling on subpoena's. Otherwise, they would still be looking and the PO would have a record of the report of mail theft, right?
The commenter raises a good point. Do any of the lawyers who are following The Wartburg Watch find this disconcerting? We do!
How many of you out there were upset when OJ Simpson was acquitted of the murder of his wife? How many of you laughed when talk show hosts asked OJ if he continues to hunt for the murderer like he said he was going to do? So, is there an ongoing investigation of the supposed mail theft and the alleged stalking of Debbie Brunson? dare I raise this question, why in the world would anyone need to “surreptitiously” take photos of the Mrs.? Does this sounds a bit narcissistic? What steps have been taken to prevent further mail theft and stalking? How many times since the Brunsons learned the identity of our intrepid blogger, Tom, has Debbie been surreptitiously photographed and the mail stolen? These question MUST be answered by the Brunsons! If these incidents never actually occurred, then they may have misled the authorities.
Guess what else happened? They didn’t even inform the bloggers that they had been investigated. This is a shout out to all of you who criticized Tom for not sharing his identity. Why didn’t the church follow Biblical guidelines and set up a meeting to discuss this with the bloggers once their identities were exposed? How about a simple, “Gee, we're sorry for having the local and state authorities investigate you for unjustified reasons. No criminal activity was discovered, so Tom had been falsely accused.
Mackesy tried to justify not contacting the three bloggers because Hinson found absolutely nothing criminal. "The detective hasn't done anything wrong," he said.
Oh, and by the way, do you all realize that the picture of Mac’s house that the Watchdog posted is easily obtained by using Google maps? Surely you've Googled your own house, haven't you? Satellites and the internet have changed the world as we knew it. We understand that poor Tom was accused of a breach of security by trespassing into the gated enclave in which they reside. We're more than willing to explain to anyone who contacts us the quick and easy steps of finding Mac and Debbie Brunson’s house via Google. It's just one more service we offer in the interest of Christian unity. We're sorry that no one at FBC Jax felt the need to diffuse the “gate crashing” rumor.
Now that you understand the accusations used to subpoena Google and Comcast for FBC Jax Watchdog's identity — let's repeat them one more time… Mac’s wife was battling secretive paparazzi and someone was stealing mail — we have another question. If Tom Rich was their man (who was stalking/taking pictures of Debbie Brunson and stealing mail) why did FBC Jax and Robbie Hinson, the detective/bodyguard, subpoena two other anonymous bloggers?
One anonymous blogger operated a web site dealing with issues at Bellevue Baptist in Cordova, Tennessee (near Memphis) which seemed to be critiquing a hidden pastoral pedophile and their pastor Steve Gaines. By the way, Steve Gaines reportedly makes $500,000 a year.
So, did these Tennessee boys travel to Jacksonville and conspire with Tom Rich to sneak into the Brunson's gated community and take pictures of Mac's wife? Did they also steal the Brunson's mail?
Was Tiffany Croft, the other blogger whose identity was discovered by subpoena, stalking Mrs. Brunson and stealing their mail? What would be her motivation for doing that? Let's see… Tiffany attended First Baptist Jacksonville and claims that Darrell Gilyard propositioned her when she was a teenager. Tiffany's pastor, Jerry Vines, and his buddy Paige Patterson were doing everything they could to promote Gilyard. Just how often did Darrell Gilyard preach at FBC Jax? What an embarrassment for the church to realize that they had a criminal preaching from the pulpit?
Here are some associated comments:
Jacksonville resident Tiffany Croft said the aim of her blog is to be an online source of information about the accusations against the Rev. Darrell Gilyard, the former Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church pastor accused of sexual misconduct. Gilyard regularly preached at First Baptist in the early 1990s.
Croft said she also plans to file a complaint against Hinson demanding to know why her blog — which has never been anonymous — was the target of a subpoena to Google.
One final point… What did the actual investigative documents say? Guess what? We’ll never know… Why not? The documents were destroyed!!! The subpoena requests that Detective Hinson submitted to the State Attorney's Office may have listed the alleged criminal activity to be investigated, but those documents were destroyed after 90 days, according to Assistant State Attorney Stephen Siegel, who signed the subpoena. The actual subpoenas do not cite a reason for the request.
What is REALLY going on here? Note what that last line says, “There was no actual reason cited for the request”. Why not? We call on the leadership of FBC Jax to provide a legitimate reason for this investigation that they initiated.
C’mon folks. There is something terribly wrong about all of this. Perhaps a lawsuit is the only way to get to the bottom of what actually happened. Jason, a self-styled public spokesman for Mac Brunson, told us to “butt out” of what is not our business. Hmmm, the shoe seems to be on the other foot now, Jason. What business is it of FBC Jax to investigate an anonymous blogger focused on another church in another state? Since FBC made this their business, we have made the monkey business at FBC Jax our business. This sort of intimidation by pastors on bloggers, aided by the government agencies, could have a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas.
Lucrative Gifts Have Consequences
As you all know, the Brunsons received a choice chunk of land worth approximately $300,000 by today’s estimates. It appears that this lot was part of the bait to lure Mac Brunson to FBC Jax. However, pastors are God’s men, aren’t they? They would never show favoritism to anyone, no matter how much money is involved, would they? Baloney! They are human beings and as such, are subject to the same temptations as everyone else.
Here is an excerpt from FBC Jax watchdog’s blog of 4/8/2009
“I saw a video testimony featuring the business owned by the sons of the man who gave the $307,000 land gift be played smack dab in the middle of the preacher's sermon. It looked like quid-pro-quo, pay-for-play, of the worst kind.”
Now Tom did emphasize that these folks are doing good things. However, imagine how much free publicity this gave them. If Mac accepts free gifts, then it behooves him to not show any special consideration to those who give them. If this event occurred, then I believe it was unethical and probably caused some folks to wonder why their sons (who are probably doing wonderful things as well) are not featured in such a glowing fashion.
Once again I ask, “Could he have done this better?” Suppose Mac Brunson had asked the man who donated him the land to give it to the church so they could sell it and raise enough money to build six homes for Habitat for Humanity. Mac could have told the local news that he wanted to benefit some destitute families and that he had decided to live in a smaller home in order to share his excess with others. Can you imagine what a story that would make? What a witness it could make to the watching world? Perhaps, just perhaps, contributions to the Chest of Joash would have gone up as others followed the lead of their servant leader. But, then again, I’m a bit of a dreamer and believe that things like this are actually possible in Christendom. Are they?