We are still in disbelief that Tom Rich was “outed” by FBC Jax and that his identity was disclosed to many leaders in the church. We will address this matter in greater detail tomorrow.
Today, we want to focus on how the subpoenas were obtained from the State Attorney’s Office in Florida. Please bear with us as we repeat the key facts of the case. Tom Rich had been a member of First Baptist Church Jacksonville for close to two decades. As far as we can determine, he respected Jerry Vines, the long time pastor of FBC Jax. Vines retired in January 2006, and Mac Brunson assumed the helm several months later.
Rich was disturbed that Mac Brunson received a valuable lot in a gated community almost immediately after arriving at FBC Jax. It appeared that the pastor's salary package just wasn't enough. The renovation of a wing of the church into a lavish suite for the pastor seemed extravagant to Tom Rich. Mac Brunson’s “abusive preaching”, especially during fundraising campaigns, really bothered Rich too. He wrote an anonymous letter explaining some of his key concerns. Had Tom Rich signed his name to the letter, he surely would have been kicked out of the church as had befallen other members who spoke out against the pastor.
In August 2007, about a year and a half after Brunson arrived at FBC Jax, Rich began his anonymous blog. He shared his candid concerns about the church he loved. Apparently, dissenting opinions ARE NOT ALLOWED at FBC Jax, even by an anonymous blogger!!! It’s important to note that Rich’s blog is still available for all to see, so if you’re just a wee bit curious, go to fbcjaxwatchdog.blogspot.com and read through some of Tom’s blog posts. They may sound a bit like what you are reading here on The Wartburg Watch.
A little over a year after the Watchdog’s anonymous blog began, Rev. John Blount, executive pastor of administration, filed a report citing “an ongoing Internet incident that has possible criminal overtones”. Keep these last three words in mind. They will prove to be very important to the case.
Shortly after Blount’s report was filed with the sheriff’s department, Jacksonville Sheriff Detective Robert Hinson filed for a subpoena from the State Attorney’s Office requiring Google, Inc. and Comcast to provide all information, including names, screen names and addresses of the anonymous writer of fbcjaxwatchdog.blogspot.com
The investigation was closed on November 13, 2008, because no criminal activity was found. From what we understand, this file has been destroyed.
Robert Hinson informed the FBC Jax pastoral staff of the anonymous blogger’s identity. Then on November 25, 2008, First Baptist issued a trespass warning against Tom Rich and his wife.
We definitely have more questions than answers. Here are some of them.
Isn’t there a serious conflict of interest when someone who is a member of the Brunson’s security detail is the key investigator into potential criminal activity by an anonymous blogger critical of the church where the detective moonlights?
Why was Tom Rich’s name revealed to the 100 or so deacons at FBC Jax since no criminal activity was found when he was investigated?
Why were Tom Rich and his wife banned from the church since the anonymous blog never threatened violence?
Where is the evidence of “possible criminal overtones” that led to the investigation in the first place? Tom was alleged to have stolen the Brunson’s mail. Did Mac and his wife report this crime to the post office? If so, there should be a record of it. Also, someone was “supposedly” taking pictures of Brunson’s wife. Was a police report filed describing this supposed stalker? Sounds narcissistic to us!!! Are the Brunsons still having their mail stolen and is Debbie still being stalked by an anonymous shutterbug?
Why were two other bloggers investigated by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office since their blogs had nothing to do with FBC Jax? One of these bloggers lives in Tennessee! Was this individual conspiring with the Watchdog to steal mail and take photos of the pastor's wife?
Tom Rich has filed a lawsuit against First Baptist Church Jacksonville and others because he claims they violated his freedom of speech. What do you think?