Shun, as you would the plague, a cleric who from being poor has become wealthy, or who, from being nobody has become a celebrity.” —Jerome
And so, this saga ends as it began for us — with unanswered questions…. These last two weeks have offered us a sad and troubling look into the seamy side of First Baptist Church Jacksonville and two of its pastors, Mac Brunson and Jimmy Smryl. As we have made clear from the beginning, we are religious news bloggers from outside the state of Florida and did not have a horse in this race. However, we are left with a number of disturbing questions and a distinct concern that the legal aspects of this situation have implications for ALL religious bloggers throughout the United States.
The road to evangelical Christianity is replete with examples of messy protests on the part of the dissenters and extreme retribution on the part of those in power. And yet, throughout this history, truth was present, and the visible church of Jesus Christ survived.
As we clearly state in our overview of The Wartburg Watch, we believe that Christianity is once again under assault, not only from atheists and the left, but sadly, from within its own ranks. We have pastors who achieve rock star status and believe they are “entitled” to their affluent lifestyles. There are pastors who have an all too high view of their own status, forgetting their own penchant to sin against the body of Christ. We personally have seen pastors drunk on their own authority and hiding their own inadequacies, who “claim” that people are out to “get them.” We have then watched, in horror (no, we do not exaggerate), as these paranoid pastors retaliate by seeking to destroy those who would try to point out “sin in the camp.” Grace and love are merely afterthoughts in a responsive reading. Old Testament retribution is once again in vogue with many second tier church leaders surrounding the pastors and shouting “Touch not the Lord’s anointed!”
Congregants are caught in a self-imposed cognitive dissonance in which they cannot allow for a fallen leader because their pastor has taken the place of Jesus Christ in their worship. How does this occur, you may ask? Here’s one way. We hear quotes from Luther, Calvin, and others thrown around, often more than Scripture verses. Try mentioning that Calvin had faults to some of our new Calvinists whom we refer to as “Calvinistas.” Anger and frantic explanations abound.
We are deeply troubled by the lack of love and grace exhibited not only by the leaders at FBC Jax, but by their followers who seem obligated to defend their pastors in a sort of “my pastor, always right and never wrong” fashion. If their pastor can fail, what will become of them? We have the solution and His name is Jesus Christ. To quote our good friend, Doug Pittman – Doug “serves Christ, not man.”
Recently, Dee had the honor and privilege of speaking with Florida State Attorney Angela Corey. How did this conversation come about you are probably wondering. Dee called the State Attorney’s office, concerned about the freedom to dissent for religious bloggers. The State of Florida is blessed to have such a responsive representative of the law! Angela Corey spent a lengthy amount of time explaining her understanding of this case. She extolled the local law enforcement officers throughout the state who have a yeoman’s task to uphold the freedom and safety of the citizenry. Here is a list of her points.
– Angela Corey was not the state attorney when the subpoenas were issued.
– She feels an obligation to protect high profile members of the community who might be at higher risk due to their public profile.
– Thousands of these types of investigative subpoenas are issued every year.
– However, when there is no criminal activity, these subpoenas are closed.
– Tom Rich was found to be not involved in any criminal activity.
– Tom’s name was given to the church administrator as a courtesy so they could keep an eye on him if he was ever present on the property.
– Tom’s name was supposed to be kept confidential and was not to be announced to any large group of people.
– When Tom Rich’s name was released, it was NOT to be announced from the pulpit in a meeting of deacons/trustees and/or pastors with 50 or more individuals present. Ms. Corey expressed surprise at this action.
– Her predecessor would need to be contacted to establish the reason he allowed for the subpoenas. Ms. Corey was told that “stolen mail” and “pictures being taken of Mrs. Brunson” were the reasons for the subpoena.
– Ms. Corey stated that their main concern was that Tom Rich, by his blog, could incite some sort of retribution against the pastor. This is very important and we will refer back to this later in the post.
– She confirmed that all subpoenas under her administration must clearly state the potential criminal activity since this was not clearly spelled out in the previous subpoenas.
– Ms. Corey could not give me any reason why the subpoena was obtained against a blogger who was critical against Bellevue Baptist Church in Tennessee. I told her that, apparently, Pastor Brunson is friendly with that pastor Steve Gaines.
We will first outline the legal concerns that we have identified over the last two weeks. We believe that these issues are very serious and clearly warrant further investigation by law enforcement officials.
-Tom Rich was accused of being a potential mail thief due to undocumented mail being stolen from the Brunson’s mailbox in their exclusive gated community. No such report was received by the U.S. Postal Service, as documented by Jeff Brumley of the Florida Times Union. Tom Rich was cleared of this dubious claim via the subpoena. Where is the documentation of the mail theft? What precisely was stolen, if anything? How did the Brunsons know their mail was stolen? Were there any witnesses to this mail theft? Was this accusation against Tom Rich found to be true?
-Mrs. Brunson claimed that “someone” was taking pictures of her within the gated community. This raised concerns of stalking and hence, the subpoena. Who documented that this activity actually occurred? Were there any witnesses? Were they deposed? Does anyone else find this claim a bit unusual? Couldn’t anyone snap photos of Mrs. Brunson at her church every Sunday without breaking into an exclusive gated community? Tom Rich was found not to be of concern in this matter. Was this accusation of a stalking photographer indeed true?
-There were two other blog sites that were subpoenaed. According to Tiffany Croft, who published a blog about the full time rapist and sometime pastor (now jailbird) Darryl Gilyard, he (Gilyard) preached at FBC Jax after his predatory history was known nationally. Tiffany said she was told by the authorities that they were making sure that Tom Rich wasn’t the author of her blog. We might assume that this excuse would be the “reason” given for the Bellevue Baptist Church blogger. However, there’s a BIG problem with this justification.
-There were other blogs linked on Tom’s site at the time the subpoenas were issued, including Christa Brown’s excellent blog:
-A critical tithing site called:
And Wade Burleson’s provocative blog:
Frankly, if there were no subpoenas obtained for these blogs, then the reasons for the other two sites are definitely suspect. Couple that with Mac Brunson’s alleged friendship with Steve Gaines, Senior Pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church, and it is certainly reasonable that one might question whether the justification given for this subpoena is suspect.
One of the more disturbing aspects of these subpoenas is that they were obtained to protect a pastor against “possible” criminal acts. We have clearly documented Pastor Jimmy Smryl’s accusations against the Roman Catholic Church and the Muslim community in Jacksonville. He claimed that the children of FBC’s members may come under Muslim law in Florida some day. What gives rise to our concern about this rhetoric from the FBC Jax pulpit is that there were reported acts of vandalism against a Catholic church in Jacksonville in June 2009 after Smryl’s sermons!
This is documented vandalism, as opposed to unsubstantiated claims of stolen mail and stalking/picture taking. If Tom Rich’s blog was investigated for possible and undocumented “inciting” writing, how much more should this clearly documented incident be investigated? We believe that there is potential “inciting” speech going on at FBC.
We believe that further investigation needs to occur due to our concern for Tom Rich’s health and well-being. Mac Brunson called Rich a “sociopath” to a reporter at the Florida Times Union, and Mac’s comment was published for the entire community to read.
There was also a troubling comment posted on Tom’s blog, anonymously.
“Anonymous commented "watch puppy, they say jealousy is a terrible thing…what, are you mad because you got kicked out of fbc…just think about that doctor that was just killed [referring to the late-term abortionist shot in the head in church], he has to answer to God for all of those abortions he conducted… you gonna have to answer to God for all of your blasphemy”" THURSDAY, JUNE 25, 2009
Note the date on this blog comment. It is after Smryl and Brunson’s provocative sermons and comments.
-We find it odd that after Tom Rich’s name was given to the church administrator, his name was quickly spread throughout the exceedingly large deacon board. Tom’s name was supposed to be kept secret by all but a couple of church leaders. One has to wonder if this was the REAL reason for obtaining Tom’s name.
-Ironically, no further mention of stolen mail or “stalking photographers” has been made since the identification of the FBC Jax Watchdog. Why not? Is Mac Brunson going out of his way to make sure that the real criminals are being pursued? If not, why not? We have to wonder if there is any possibility that these undocumented crimes were just hype in order to get Tom Rich’s name. If so, the First Amendment rights of dissenting bloggers who focus on religious issues may be in danger of being abused. If all it takes is an accusation of “paparazzi” sightings to “out” the name of the blogger, we may see more and more of this technique being used.
Secondly, here is a list of general concerns about FBC Jacksonville and its pastors.
-Mac Brunson is living a wealthy lifestyle, yet he complains he is being persecuted.
-We have given a number of ways that Brunson could have prevented the chain of events throughout his tenure by utilizing grace and love, instead of whining and anger.
-Mac Brunson appears to be a mean man. He has given at least one sermon in which he besmirches the names of the wives of former pastors. Here is a link to listen to how he denigrates a dead woman who cannot defend herself. This, perhaps, speaks to his character better than any mcmansion he can build. We believe he should resign his pastorate on this alone!
-This attitude is found in Jimmy Smryl whom we have documented as saying ungracious and even (quite possibly) inciting things about Catholics and Muslims.
-Those who have written on Tom Rich’s blog further demonstrate this graceless attitude. I have been asking for an expression of love for this brother as commanded by Scripture and as demonstrated by the Man from Galilee. None were forthcoming. Jesus clearly demonstrated, even unto the cross, His willingness to “turn the other cheek.” Instead, “an eye for an eye” retribution combined with ugly comments appears to be routine for some supposedly affiliated with FBC Jax.
-FBC takes in a boat-load of money. The pastors are rewarded handsomely for their participation. Their response to the current economic crisis — “Let’s take a cruise down the Blue Danube (FYI – the river’s rather brown so don’t be disappointed) to the tune of thousands of dollars per person.” Is this a church or a frequent traveler’s club?
-Name calling is demonstrated at the highest level of leadership. Head trustee Stroud called Rich a coward. Brunson called him a sociopath. We have documented this in our posts. Can any of these theological wunderkinds show us when Jesus did things this way? In fact, he called rich, religious leaders “snakes”. He showed compassion for those who were not powerful, which reminds us of Tom Rich.
We are very concerned that this sort of vitriolic behavior by pastors is on the rise in the United States. Tom Rich has responded by filing a lawsuit. We believe that his lawsuit is justified because FBC is not following a Christian path in their response to Tom. We have documented time and time again how easy it would have been to stop this train with just a slight expression of grace from the FBC leadership. Just how much is Tom hoping to pocket from his lawsuit? Millions? WRONG! He is suing for $15,000, the minimum amount required to bring this sort of lawsuit. In case some of you (you know, the ones who think Brunson is underpaid) think this is a lot of money, you are misinformed. This sum will not cover basic costs of time and effort.
Here’s the bottom line for us at The Wartburg Watch. We believe that Tom Rich was mistreated by FBC Jax.
We question the reasons for the subpoenas. We are uneasy about Jimmy Smryl’s anti-Muslim and anti-Catholic rhetoric. We are concerned about the possible future violations of the First Amendment rights of bloggers when some pastor alleges he is being wrongly criticized. It seems so easy to get a subpoena. Thankfully, State Attorney Corey is tightening the requirements in this area!
Therefore, we are requesting that State Attorney Angela Corey and the Florida State Attorney General investigate FBC Jacksonville for the following reasons:
– Further documentation of accusations of mail fraud and photo stalking given to the police or the former state attorney for the issuance of subpoenas.
– Further investigation into the claims of mail fraud and stalking, which may be ongoing since it seems Tom Rich is not to blame.
– Potential inciting rhetoric which may affect the well being Tom Rich and his family.
– Potential inciting rhetoric which may threaten the Roman Catholic Church of Jacksonville.
– The public release of Tom Rich’s identity to FBC Jacksonville’s membership beyond the pastor and administrator, thereby raising the possibility that this name was obtained for dissemination, not for the safety of the pastor or his wife.
– The reasons for the subpoena for the anonymous blogger critiquing Bellevue Baptist Church and Pastor Steven Gaines in Tennessee.
We plan to submit our concerns to the stated authorities. We also plan to notify various news media that have considerable resources and avenues to investigate the rather complicated issues surrounding this case. As religious bloggers, we support the right of any individual, including Tom Rich, to express his concerns, whether or not others agree with him. However, we believe that Tom Rich has expressed valid concerns that are in keeping with the rich history of the protests of the Reformation which stood against poor theology and pastoral abuse. We also have found Tom Rich, and his wife Yvette to be thoughtful, engaging, self-effacing and kind Christians who have been deeply wounded by their church’s unChristian response. We have enjoyed getting to know them. Too bad the membership of FBC Jax didn’t take some time to do this as well and, instead, listened to and believed the spouting of a spoiled, rich pastor and his sidekick. May God forgive them…