“And let's stop calling them "sex offenders," as if their crimes had anything to do with sex. (Perhaps Jeffry Dahmer was a "food offender.")” ― Mike Lew link
Last week, I spoke with Jim Pritchard, the Administrative Pastor of Highpoint Church Memphis, regarding their association with Scott Payne, former pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church and The Church at Schilling Farms. I then wrote a series of posts on three victims of sexual predator here, here, here, here, and here. All of these posts were done in conjunction with Amy Smith of Watch Keep.
Pastor Pritchard told me that any instance of child sex abuse is a crime and it should be reported to the authorities. He then stated that the church wanted to bring healing to the victims and felt this could be accomplished by being reconciled with Scott Payne. This was not the intent of the victims and they expressed this in their responses.
However, there was a part of that conversation that kept niggling at the back of my mind. He also said, seemingly out of nowhere, that God could forgive anybody, even a pedophile and that God loves them and can heal them. I remember thinking, "Where did that come from?" and chalked it up to anxiety about the subject matter.
Yesterday, this conversation came back to me when I learned from Amy Smith and the three victims that Highpoint Church Memphis has a man who helps lead worship who was convicted of aggravated statutory rape in 2009 and is on the registered sex offender's list.
Amy Smith posted the following proof.
In an email sent from Highpoint Memphis, you can see him on stage. (He is 5th from the left.)
I placed another phone call to the church and once again spoke with Pastor Jim Pritchard. I asked him if he would like to make a comment about having a man convicted of aggravated statutory rape lead music. He told that he would not be making a comment at this time. I then offered to send him the supporting documents. He said the church would be able to get them "if they needed to."
I am now left wondering of Pastor Pritchard was concerned that I might learn of this situation when he originally spoke to me. If that is so, let me respond.
- God will forgive anybody who is truly repentant.
- Love the repentant pedophile/rapist but love the victims and the potential victims first.
- This sort of crime has lifelong consequences for the victims. Boundaries and safeguards must be put into place.
- Completely trusting the pedophile/rapist in this situation is stupid. You have no idea what is really going on in his life, no matter what he says.
- Pedophilia/Rape is a behavior which is difficult to stop and has a high recidivism rate. Your children are at risk
- If the entire church has not been informed of this situation, do.so.now!
- A truly repentant pedophile/rapist would want the entire church and community to know about his problem in order to keep children safe.
- Highpoint needs to consult Boz Tchividjian (Billy Graham's grandson) at G.R.A.C.E. for help in safely dealing with this matter.
- Church and staff members, get this information out to the attendees if your pastors will not do so.
- Has the church ever prayed for the victim of Timothy Heinz?
TWW and Watch Keep have been writing about child sex abuse and the poor responses of churches for over 7 years. It is beyond imagining why any church leader would attempt to keep the presence of a sex offender in church a secret. Why is the protection of a pedophile more important than protecting the children who are the potential victims?
Here is an update on the previous situation.
Q & A
(Dated November 18, 2016)
First and foremost, we are saddened by the hurt that the victims of this abuse have experienced. We applaud them for courageously sharing their stories, and we encourage anyone who has suffered abuse from the perpetrator in this, or any other, situation to contact law enforcement immediately.
As Dr. Payne has said in his public statements, it is tragic that the church and every adult involved did not handle this situation appropriately almost 20 years ago. Any situation involving suspected child abuse should have been communicated to law enforcement, appropriate steps should have been taken to make sure it did not happen again, and the innocent victims should have received the proper support and counseling. We are distressed that such action was not taken. Highpoint has always been a church committed to helping the hurting, and our hearts and prayers go out to these victims, their families, and so many who have suffered. We welcome and encourage anyone who suffered abuse related to this situation to contact Highpoint Church at the email below, or at 901-207-1213, in order for us to help.
Over the last week or so, there has been a lot of information published on blogs, social media, and TV news outlets about the heartbreaking events that happened almost 20 years ago. Some of that information is accurate, some is not; some of it is a genuine attempt to provide truth in context, some is not. It is our desire to answer some questions that have arisen from our church family as a result of this horrible event.
Since Highpoint did not exist when this abuse took place, what was Highpoint’s response upon finding out about the situation in the fall of 2015?
Highpoint Church was discussing a merger with The Church at Schilling Farms before we had any knowledge that any abuse had taken place. During those discussions but before any agreement had been finalized, Dr. Scott Payne shared Michael Hansen’s letter of October 13, 2015, with the leaders of Highpoint Church in mid-November. This was the first information that Highpoint had received of any aspect of this situation. Mr. Hansen’s letter was specifically directed to Dr. Payne, referencing the issues regarding his understanding of how Dr. Payne had or had not handled the situation.
Pastor Chris Conlee attempted to pursue biblical guidance to bring Mr. Hansen, the other men, and Dr. Scott Payne to discussion and mediation as referenced in Mr. Hansen’s letter, with the ultimate goal of healing. During that process, he had a personal meeting, as well as several phone conversations, with Mr. Kenny Stubblefield, and a conference call with all three men to work toward a meeting with them and Dr. Payne. In addition to those conversations, Pastor Conlee had numerous discussions and meetings with Dr. Payne. All of this was done for the purpose of getting the parties together to start a process of mediation and healing.
However, in the midst of this effort, Chris Conlee and Highpoint Church received a letter, dated January 8, 2016, from a prominent trial lawyer in Memphis who had successfully litigated cases involving sexual molestation in the past. His letter stated that he and another named attorney were now representing the “group of men that were sexually assaulted by a youth pastor/intern at Immanuel Baptist Church.” He also indicated that all further contact was to be with him, rather than the victims. Upon receipt of this letter from the attorney, Highpoint Church had no choice but to cease all further communications with the victims. We then engaged our own attorney who reached out to the victims’ attorney, and the remainder of the communication was conducted between the two attorneys. Our understanding of the situation was that we were facing potential civil action, and in order to protect the church, we refrained from any further communication with the victims. We had no choice but to back away from any involvement, including the original merger plan, based upon the men’s desire to place this in the hands of an attorney. After almost a year went by, our attorney contacted the victims’ attorney and learned he was no longer representing them.
Why did Highpoint not report this abuse to the authorities upon finding out about it?
When we learned of this abuse, the victims were adults. Based upon previous experience of working with adults who are dealing with prior child sexual abuse situations, we know that the authorities will only act if they are dealing with the adult who was abused as a child. Moreover, we felt it would be an invasion of their privacy for us to report this without their permission, especially after receiving the letter from their attorney.
Originally, the plan was for the two churches to merge. Why did that change?
When we learned of the situation regarding the alleged sexual abuse, we had to alter the plans and timetable for the merger as it was originally planned. We certainly did not want to be sued over something that happened before our church came into existence. While our attorneys advised us there was doubtful legal basis to hold us accountable for these actions, we did not want to risk being named in a lawsuit.
As we worked through the legal issues, the elders at The Church at Schilling Farms and Highpoint executed a lease and future purchase agreement on the facilities instead of moving forward with the merger at that time. On January 10, 2016, Highpoint Church conducted its first service in the newly leased facility and the former members of The Church at Schilling Farms and Highpoint Church joined in worship and ministry. It remains our plan to purchase this property if and when all the legal complications are resolved.
Some have criticized us for remaining quiet about this matter and the decision to move away from a merger. Given the sensitive nature of the allegations and the potential that a lawsuit could be filed, we felt it best not to publicize anything that could create additional complications. Since this entire situation has now been made public outside our control, we wanted to provide our church family with all the facts.
What happens now?
As we grieve with the victims, we pray for healing for those affected by this tragic situation, and encourage anybody who has suffered any kind of abuse to reach out to the authorities. We continue to believe that the Church should be a safe place and dedicated to protecting our children, students, and entire church family. We welcome the hurting and remain committed to offering hope and healing in a broken world.
If you have any questions, please contact Jim Pritchard.
Here is the response to this updated statement by Michael Hansen on Facebook.
This morning Highpoint Church/ Highpoint Church released an updated version of its statement (https://goo.gl/F67uKI) regarding sexual abuse that happened at Immanuel Baptist Church (now "The Church at Schilling Farms"). I took the liberty of correcting the updated statement below. They had an opportunity to be our partner in this. They had a chance to be on our side and to help us get the answers we needed in order to finally, at long last, receive justice. They've opted not to do that — instead engaging in protectionist behaviors and feigning interest in healing, something I've never asked for from them.
They're a part of this story because they merged with The Church at Schilling Farms *after* learning about the abuse from a letter I wrote to its pastor, Scott Payne. Now, whether this was a legal merger of two business entities or merely a real estate deal between them is not the point. But they do need to answer questions transparently and publicly about this, because: (1) their own website called the arrangement a merger until at least Dec. 28, 2015; (2) Teaching Pastor Andy Savage called it a merger on Nov. 22, 2015 in an announcement from the pulpit wherein he said "nothing sinister is going on" despite having read my allegations and questions; and (3) Highpoint Church merged their membership rosters (and even combined their HP Collierville Facebook page with The Church at Schilling Farms' account).
Also, it's worth asking whether or not the merger renegotiation was about even more than simply protecting the institution of the church, which Highpoint has now point blank confessed to: was my pain and suffering used as leverage for you to get a better deal?
I also want to emphasize that they knew from the very beginning that we had been working with attorneys. There seems to be an attempt to question our motives by harping on us having obtained legal representation. An artful smear, so to speak, and I'll have none of it.
So here's the deal: On a phone call with Pastor Chris Conlee regarding mediation (not "pastoral guidance," something as an atheist I neither want nor need) — a phone call that we agreed to in spite of the advice of our counsel — I expressed emphatically that any mediation would take place with our attorneys present because we, as victims, had no desire to be victimized all over again. What is so complicated about that? It was on this same phone call that Mr. Conlee conveyed his confused theology that sometimes one person's truth is different from another — meaning that our truth may not match Scott Payne's, but that they're both true. Huh?
You had a chance, Highpoint, to be our partner in tackling the epidemic of child sexual abuse that is happening to this day in the Christian Church. You had a chance to shine a spotlight on Chris Carwile's abuse and the Church's systemic failure. You had a chance to collaborate with us on reform, both internal and within the law, to ensure justice for victims.
Instead, your stance has been ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Let me say this clearly: You blew it.