Jerry Vines, Tiffany Thigpen and Lifeway: Too Many Feathers and Too Much Pain

“It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.” ― George Washington


How many of you have heard the famous Hasidic Tale of Feathers? It describes well what happened to Tiffany Thigpen. Jerry Vines and Lifeway are the ones gossiping. It goes something like this. (There are many versions which end up the same way.)

A person was known to be a gossip in his town. He realized that he was doing wrong and went to his rabbi for help. The rabbi asked him to bring a feather pillow and meet him at the top of a windy hill in town. When the man got there, the rabbi asked him to cut it open and shake out all of the feathers. The feathers blew everywhere. The rabbi looked at the man and said, “Now go and collect all the feathers.The man was sorrowful when he realized the lesson he needed to learn. He would never be able to collect all those feathers just as Jerry Vines and Lifeway will never be able to fully correct the hurtful tale that was told about Tiffany.

In 1982, Jerry Vines came to FBC Jacksonville to serve as co pastor with Homer Lindsey. According to Wikipedia:

In June 1988, he was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, served two terms, and was supportive of the Southern Baptist Convention conservative resurgence. During his first 20 years at First Baptist Jacksonville, he baptized 18,177 people and oversaw the building of an $8 million preschool building, a $16 million auditorium and four parking garages, totaling almost $14 million. Vines also was influential in starting the First Baptist Church Pastors’ Conference which drew thousands of ministers and church works from across the world. Vines announced his retirement from First Baptist in May 2005 and preached his last sermon as pastor of the church in 2006 at the close of the 20th annual Pastors’ conference.

This sounds pretty impressive. However, all of the above accomplishments didn’t last. Within 14 years of his retirement, attendance at the church took a nosedive and many of the buildings are being sold off due to the decline in membership, donations, etc.

Jerry Vines and Ergun Caner: Did this demonstrate a poor judge of character?

Shortly after I began blogging in 2009, I followed the disturbing news of the alleged lies of Ergun Caner. Vines became enamored of Caner and introduced him to FBC Jacksonville shortly after 9/11. Vines appeared to accept the story that Caner was raised to become a jihadist but came to faith in Jesus. Some naive Christians will buy any *good* conversion  story. During this time, Caner, who was known as Butch Caner, began to be called Ergun Caner, a former jihadist. According to Wikipedia:

Vines sparked controversy in June 2002 for remarks he made at a Southern Baptist Convention conference that were critical of Islam. Referencing Ergun and Emir Caner’s book Unveiling Islam, Vines said that “Allah is not Jehovah… Jehovah’s not going to turn you into a terrorist that’ll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people,” and that “Christianity was founded by the virgin-born Jesus Christ” while “Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, and his last one was a 9-year-old girl.”[2] This reference was to Aisha, who is said to have been about nine when her marriage to Muhammad was consummated, according to several hadith, or stories of Muhammad.[3] The comments stirred a brief national debate on “Islamophobia” and the demonization of Islam in relation to the War on Terrorism. Vines initially defended his comments and invited “Muslim scholars to explain their own documents to us all.”[4] He also refused to apologize for the statements or to meet with local Muslim leaders.[4] He was heavily criticized, but was defended by fellow Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell, who wrote a letter supporting him. Falwell was asked about the letter during a 60 Minutes interview in October, and sparked an even greater outrage by declaring that he considered Muhammad a terrorist.[5] He later apologized for his comments.[6] When the story was covered by NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw on February 25, 2003, Vines finally broke his silence on the issue, claiming that his statements had been overemphasized in media reports, and that he had not intended to evoke hate.[7]

Vines’ endorsement of Caner helped launch his career, eventually leading to him becoming the President of Liberty’s Seminary. And then, some bloggers began to write about the discrepancies in Caner’s biography. Caner would eventually resign from that position and see his support diminish as his apparent lies became public knowledge.

Jerry Vines, Darrel Gilyard and Tiffany Croft Thigpen

Vines, a close associate of Paige Patterson, was willing to allow Gilyard to come to preach at FBC Jacksonville. This is after Gilyard’s actions at Criswell College had been exposed to Patterson and Patterson decided to overlook those actions. So, it might appear that Vines decided to mimic Patterson’s attitude towards Gilyard. It would lead to an attack of a beautiful high school student who attended FBC Jacksonville.

Enter Gilyard and Paige Patterson

The Houston Chronicle’s inimitable Robert Downen carefully outlined the timeline of Gilyard in Abuse of Faith: ‘The women are hurting’: Unearthed tapes, letters show Southern Baptist leaders’ support for pastor who faced sex scandal.

While at Criswell, Patterson refused to believe the complaints of 8 women

Don Simpkins was a counselor in the area; he recently told the Chronicle that he was called to a meeting with Patterson, Gilyard and eight women bringing allegations that Simpkins said included sex crimes. He said Patterson grilled the women on their pasts rather than the accusations — and that they were too terrified to press criminal charges afterward.

…Patterson also wrote that he did not want to believe any of the allegations until they could be substantiated by two or more witnesses — a reference to a biblical principle — and that anyone who came forward alone would be unreliable because they were also guilty of impropriety. (Ed. note: That means each woman had to have 2 witnesses to document Gilyard’s actions.This overlooks the fact that there were 8 witnesses to Gilyard’s actions. Does this even make sense??/)

…While enrolled at Criswell, he co-pastored Concord Missionary Baptist Church near Dallas. He resigned in 1987 after at least 20 women accused him of sexual impropriety at a meeting of the congregation,

Patterson worked to rehabilitate Gilyard, claiming he was not *morally culpable* of these accusations. (My mouth is hanging open at such stupidity.)

Gilyard went to a new pastorate….and guess what happened. More accusations. He was forced to leave that church and returned to Dallas. This scenario would be repeated until one day he would be arrested and sent to jail. But that would not happen under the watch of Patterson or Vines.

Enter Vines.

Enter Jerry Vines. According to Downen

The allegations did not hinder Gilyard’s rise on the Southern Baptist preaching circuit. By then, he had drawn the attention of famed evangelist Jerry Falwell, who produced a mini-documentary about him. Gilyard also was promoted by Vines, whom Gilyard later described as a “blessing, inspiration and encouragement.”

From time to time, some pastor will call me and say that you recommended me to him,” Gilyard wrote to Vines in 1989. “You will never know what this means to me.

Sadly, we now know what this would mean to Tiffany.

Enter Tiffany:

Downen writes:

Tiffany Thigpen was a deeply religious teenager and, like many others, she was enthralled by Gilyard, who she said preached at First Baptist Jacksonville “whenever he was in town, which was quite often.” Gilyard soon began grooming her with late-night phone calls and promises of a summer job in Texas, she said.

She said an adult from the church later approached her about Gilyard’s motives, a warning that Thigpen believes spared her the worst when Gilyard allegedly attacked her days after her 18th birthday.

“All the red flags went off, and that probably kicked in my adrenaline to try and fight him,” she said.

Thigpen provided diary entries that corroborate the timeline of her grooming and alleged attack. She says she told Vines soon after, and that he responded by saying it would be would be “embarrassing” for her to discuss publicly and that “these things have a way of blowing over.”

I hope you caught this. Vines told her to shut up. Maybe it would blow over for him. It never blew over for Tiffany.

Gilyard would go on to allegedly molest others, even impregnating another women (the paternity was proven). And Vines? It gets really creepy. Vines’ son was married at Gilyard’s church. Remember this is after what he did to Tiffany. How could they even sit in Gilyard’s church? Apparently, they forgot all about Tiffany and the other young women who were harmed…

Vines kept a distance from Gilyard until around 2003, when Gilyard admitted to his “moral failings,” according to Vines’ autobiography. “He assured me he had been clean since coming back to Jacksonville,” Vines wrote. “I had no other option but to forgive him.”

Despite writing that Gilyard should be barred from ministry, Vines soon rekindled his relationship with his former protégé: He preached at least twice at Shiloh, and Vines’ son, Jon, was also married at Gilyard’s church in a 2005 ceremony that Gilyard officiated, according to their marriage certificate.

Eventually, Gilyard would continue his predatory behavior and was arrested and spent time as a guest of the state of Florida. Upon release, he started a new church and even got a judge to allow his church to have children in attendance, even though he is a sex offender! Probation terms altered to permit sex offender pastor to minister to children

Tiffany would go on to start an anonymous  blog let’s stop pastor darrell gilyard together And just like what happened to Tom Rich, Mac Brunson, who succeeded Vines, would misuse the judicial system to out Tiffany’s identity. Yep, Tiffany was a real threat… Such actions are an embarrassment to FBC Jacksonville.

It is rather obvious to this writer that something is missing in Vines’ soul. He supported the predator while telling Tiffany to *shut up.*

Vines claimed that Tiffany’s assault by Gilyard was merely a flirtation between two singles in his autobiography!!!!

As if this story couldn’t get worse, it does. In 2014, Vines published: Vines: MY Life and Ministry.

I now turn to my old friend, Tom Rich, (FBC Watchdog) who, in 2014, wrote Vines and Lifeway’s B&H Publishing Group Have Some Explaining to Do on Vines’ Gilyard Chapter;

Jerry Vines and his publisher, B&H Publishing Group – a division of the SBC’s LifeWay Christian Resources – have some serious explaining to do on why Vines’ book is not truthful on a pivotal aspect of Vines involvement in the Darrell Gilyard saga: the attempted attack by Gilyard on one of Vines’ own teenage church members back in 1991.

Here is the excerpt from Vines’ book (with my emphases) that I’m going to address:

“There were rumors [about Gilyard]. Accusations of moral improprieties began to surface. All of them were denied by Darrell. Dr. Patterson checked them out as best he could. There were inconsistencies and contradictions in the stories. Some were made by church members who had moral failings themselves. One accuser was a member of the KKK. As it turns out, all the rumors were true. A young person in our FBC, Jacksonville church met with me about a matter of impropriety as well. I didn’t understand it to go beyond some flirtation. They were both single at the time. Perhaps I misunderstood.”

That “young person” Vines refers to is Tiffany Thigpen Croft, a high school senior who Gilyard attacked in 1991 while Gilyard was the traveling evangelist for the high school choir and orchestra of Vines’ church during the spring of 1991.

Did you get that? Darrell Gilyard was supposed to be the “man of God” to give spiritual teachings to Tiffany and her fellow high school students, but instead Gilyard used the privilege – after grooming Tiffany for a period of time prior to that – to attempt a sexual attack on Tiffany. Thankfully Tiffany escaped, and she was able to report the attack to her parents.

And Tiffany reported it to her pastor, Jerry Vines.

Now let’s go back and look at the last sentence again:

“…A young person in our FBC Jacksonville church met with me about a matter of impropriety as well. I didn’t understand it to go beyond some flirtation. They were both single at the time. Perhaps I misunderstood.”

There is almost nothing in that sentence that is true. To characterize Gilyard’s attack on Tiffany as a “flirtation” is an insult to Tiffany and her parents, and every other young woman who has been victimized by an abusive pastor – especially the multitudes that were victimized by Gilyard. When most people use the word “flirtation” or “flirt”, it is in the context of a female “flirting” with a man – this seems as a direct attempt to imply that Tiffany’s own actions invited or in some measure caused Gilyard’s attack.

…Vines says “Perhaps I misunderstood”. How could he have misunderstood, past tense? Tiffany was brave enough to report the details of the attack to her parents and to Vines immediately after it occurred. And according to this 1991 Dallas Morning News article, Paige Patterson and presumably Vines, knew of multiple allegations of Gilyard’s sexual improprieties with young women all the way back to 1987! Let that sink in!!  The obvious question Vines should have answered in his bio: why on earth was Gilyard given the opportunity to be around his high schoolers in 1991 when Vines and Patterson knew of allegations against Gilyard all the way in 1987? To say “perhaps I misunderstood” and that he thought Gilyard’s attack on Tiffany was a “flirtation” defies common sense and is just not believable.

Also in the excerpt above, Vines claims “...they [Tiffany and Gilyard] were both single at the time.”. A very clever way to characterize the situation to make it appear as though Tiffany and Gilyard were very close in age, or peers, or mutually consenting young adults.That could not be further from the truth. Of course Tiffany was single – as are 99.99% of HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS, Jerry!!! But Gilyard absolutely was NOT single at the time. He was married with at least one child. Why didn’t Vines write something like, “…the young person was only a high school senior, and Darrell was a married 29-year old very influential pastor?”  Not that it matters if Gilyard was married – an attack on a teenager is an attack on a teenager – but why would Vines and his editor at B&H get this fact wrong in his book and leave out the important fact of Tiffany being a teenage high school student, and Gilyard a predatory preacher with prior allegations, preying on a very young woman who looked up to Gilyard? Are we to believe Vines and B&H Publishing were so careless that they didn’t fact check this? And even more disturbing: why did Vines not call Tiffany or her parents BEFORE publishing? How about the courtesy of a phone call to Tiffany to let her know what’s coming out, and to make sure Vines has his facts straight?  Where was the B&H editor? Or perhaps this was Vines’ attempt to minimize the validity of Tiffany’s claim and the seriousness of the incident now 23 years later?

Tiffany spoke with Lifeway and Vines insisting the truth be told.

Lifeway:

Tiffany called Lifeway and challenged that part of Vines’ book. Well,  Lifeway said they couldn’t do anything with the books because the books were out and ready for distribution. They sure as heck weren’t going to try to gather any feathers because recalling the books would have resulted in a monetary loss. (Although I don’t think many people were jumping to read his book.)

Lifeway said they would remove it in the electronic edition and remove it in further printings of the book.Whoopee…Remember the story about the feathers?

I do think it would be in order for folks to leave a review or two to be left about this matter….

Vines

Tiffany spoke with Vines about the matter. She got the typical Baptist blowoff. Something along the lines of “Maybe I misunderstood.” Seriously SBC????

Final thoughts:

I believe that Vines played the party line with Ergin Caner and then with Darrell Gilyard. He was a gung ho believer in the conservative resurgence and I guess that truth telling wasn’t part of that resurgence. Why worry about  the abuse of a high school girl in your ministry? Whatever it took, right?

Heath Lambert is not inviting Vines back to FBC Jax Pastor’s Conference. I guess this is a little slap upside the head since Vines started that conference. Then again, Vines is a pal of Patterson. Patterson, rightfully so, is a persona non grata in the SBC and getting rid of folks like Vines is part and parcel of the *new and improved* SBC. I have a feeling Vines would not have been invited back even if Tiffany’s abuse had not come to the forefront. Mixed motives maybe?

Tiffany is quite discouraged about the future of FBC Jacksonville. She isn’t sure that Heath Lambert and the Calvinists will be any different than previous administrations. Is it still all about personal power and politics as usual? One thing is certain, There are too many feathers still floating around and there is still a whole bunch of pain.

PS Special thanks to Tom Rich who helped me remember the timeline of events.


Comments

Jerry Vines, Tiffany Thigpen and Lifeway: Too Many Feathers and Too Much Pain — 19 Comments

  1. Excellent documentation. Thx, Dee. Condolences to Tiffany for the affront to her integrity and well-being.

    This situation brings to mind Weinstein, Cosby, Epstein, and other players in key places in their orgs and industries.

    Thank God that when NBC shut down Ronan Farrow’s story, he walked across the street (his mom, Mia Farrow, tweeted that Ronan doesn’t drive) to “The New Yorker”, which ran the story, and eventually put Weinstein where he belonged years ago, before more victims suffered damage. The prosecution comments it took: She said, she said, she said, she said – many She saids to Weinstein’s He said, to put him away.

    “Miami Herald” Julie Brown was key to stopping Epstein.

    Robert Downen & the “Houston Chronicle” team (mentioned in your post) are documenting predators in the SBC.

    TWW publishes factual information to merit halting the travesty of “church” as a donor-supported hunting ground provided for predators.

    What’s it going to take?

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  2. https://sbctoo.wordpress.com/2018/05/26/why-the-removal-of-paige-patterson-isnt-enough/

    One of the comments at this post, signed by “Bill”, regarding “leadership”:

    “Strangely, He was Pope, and the personification of evil.

    “He had far reaching tentacles down to the Associational level and always theatened anyone that disagreed with some type of retributive action. His cult status and heavy handidness led to his own downfall (God is not mocked).”

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  3. Long before the tentacles of New Calvinism pulled the SBC into a dark abyss, there were bad-boys at the top. Like feathers of gossip in the wind, truth also spreads – cyberspace has made sure of that. The whole SBC mess in Calvinist and non-Calvinist camps alike remind me of Ezekiel’s vision:

    “Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great repulsive acts which the house of Israel is committing here, to drive Me far away from My sanctuary? … He brought me to the entrance of the courtyard; and when I looked, behold, there was a hole in the wall … He said to me, “Go in and see the wicked, repulsive acts that they are committing here” (Ezekiel 8)

    And those were the church leaders!!

    SBC has a spiritual leadership crisis; the American church has a spiritual leadership crisis.

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  4. GJ: Paige Patterson, Thomas White, Bryan Loritts and others are promoting the NEW SBC (Sexual Boys Club). Honorary members include Rick Trotter, Anthony Moore and Darrel Gilyard. “Soon self-serving in a SBC ministry near you”.

    And if the folks who attend these these places continue to attend and foot the bill despite the depredations of the new SBC?
    There’s really no nice way to say it.
    They deserve each other.

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  5. GJ,

    The trafficked boys and girls, men and women, who were witnesses (victims), come forward to reveal trails and patterns and predators and donor-enablers of these “clubs” in the church, media, entertainment, politics, academia, etc.

    Another example:

    julie k. brown
    @jkbjournalist
    NEW: Alan Dershowitz’s attorney confirms that his client has access to Virginia Giuffre’s sealed depositions. Those depositions reveal that she was directed by Jeffrey Epstein to have sex with former Israeli PM Ehud Barak & Victoria’s Secret’s Les Wexner.
    1:45 PM · Jun 23, 2020·Twitter

    However, the church should be on the side of the truth and integrity for minors/students/counselees who are the victim/witnesses. Instead, the church is shielding and supporting and empowering predators.

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  6. Jerry Vines still going strong. Just completed his PhD at SWBTS, preached Father’s Day at Bellevue. Still gets the mega church gigs despite being responsible for unleashing the two biggest frauds in history of SBC: Darrell Gilyard and Ergun Caner. Yes, it was Vines who launched Caner to instant stardom right after 9/11. Caner’s inbound airplane ticket that weekend said mild-mannered Michael Caner, outbound he was “Ergun Giovanni Caner”, trained Jihadist.

    The remaining SBC church goers don’t care about the integrity or lack thereof of the visiting preachers. They love to hear talented orators and story-tellers.

    Jerry just keeps on rollin’.

    http://fbcjaxwatchdog.blogspot.com/2014/04/ergun-caner-professional-wrestling-and.html

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  7. TR: SBC church goers don’t care about the integrity or lack thereof of the visiting preachers. They love to hear talented orators and story-tellers

    Southern Baptists particularly enjoy comedic preachers. Last time I looked at the condition of the American church, folks need to be weeping not laughing when they gather … tears not cheers … agonizing not organizing.

    The SBC is done … it just hasn’t quit yet.

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  8. TR: The remaining SBC church goers don’t care about the integrity or lack thereof of the visiting preachers. They love to hear talented orators and story-tellers.

    I believe the Christianese for this is “scratching itchy ears”.

    Nobody ever went broke or got shunned telling people What They Want to Hear.
    (And when you do it to someone in POWER, you get to sit at His Right Hand as one of the Inner Ring.)

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  9. TR,

    Nope… I was at a “ministry retreat” and the guest speaker called himself a Berkeley “radical”…. So, I was a graduate of Berkeley, and asked him afterwords when he attended… turns out he attended one summer class once…
    i also noticed in our “ informal, pickup” football games, he was the most aggressive, and argumentative person on the field…. I was like, “come on, we are here to get some fresh air and exercise”
    These two observations, added to my questioning the character of people that this ministry elevates…… but he was “dynamic”!

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  10. Headless Unicorn Guy,
    Again, going back 35 years, I remember campus ministries teaching us “ how to give our PERSONAL testimonies”. I remember thinking, wait, its not this suppose to be MY personal testimony?? The argument was, you need to keep it simple, to the point, and exciting to keep everyone attention…

    So, I guess my “honest “ testimony is not good enough…… thinking like this just elevates good BS’ers, which is apparently is what this post is about….. spew the correct line, in a dynamic way, and you get way with a little “action on the side”!! No matter what it does to victims!

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