First Baptist Church, Jacksonville: Another Same Old, Same Old

Not to be, but to seem, virtuous — it is a formula whose utility we all discovered in the nursery.   

CS Lewis

What you do speaks so loud I cannot hear what you say.

Abraham Lincoln!ReadForm&Count=50&Start=101&RestrictToCategory=hypocrisy


I grew up with this guy.  He used to be the pastor at my Grandmother's church, and did roughly the same thing there.  I suppose I owe him though, he's one of my earliest influences in becoming an atheist.” (Referring to Mac Brunson)  See comment #5 by Sara at this link: 


Before we launched The Wartburg Watch, we knew of the controversy surrounding an anonymous blogger who was a member of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida (FBC Jax).  However, our focus early on was aimed at what we considered to be more “important” matters within Christendom.  As the situation at FBC Jax has played out over the last several months, the issues surrounding this case have become vitally important to us.  We cannot stress strongly enough that anyone who believes in religious liberty, free speech, and Christian righteousness and honesty should be following this situation very closely.  It's our intention to spend the rest of the week focusing on this most unusual case between "FBC Jax Watchdog" and First Baptist Church of Jacksonville.  


Before presenting the facts of the case, we want to make a few things patently clear.


1. We have absolutely no ties to Florida.  Furthermore, neither of us has ever lived there.

2.  We do not personally know Mac Brunson, anyone on the Board of Trustees at FBC Jax, or Tom and Yvette Rich.  In other words, we do not have a horse in this race.

3. We initiated contact with Tom Rich after reading about his situation and offered to tell his story on The Wartburg Watch.  Since that time, we have talked with him on a few occasions.

4. We are deeply committed evangelical Christians who were members of Southern Baptist churches up until this year (2009) when we began to take notice of the shenanigans happening within the denomination.  If you have been reading our blog, you already know several of the issues in the SBC that are troubling us.

5. We are attempting to obtain statements from Mac Brunson, Mr. Hinson, and the Florida State Attorney General’s Office.


This story is exhaustively discussed in Tom Rich's blog, which can be found at the following link:


It is our intention to categorize the issues outlined at Tom Rich's web site in order to help our readers understand the incredible breadth of the controversy.  Perhaps our comprehensive look will be of benefit to those who are confused about what is truly going on here.




When we researched and wrote our series about Pray’s Mill Baptist Church in Douglasville, Georgia, we thought we had heard it all.  Get ready…  What has taken place at FBC Jax is even more mind-boggling.  As long time Christians, we are both shocked and disgusted.  Furthermore, we are appalled and taken aback by what has occurred.  We are grateful that we have been Christians for a long time because this situation would shake the faith of any compassionate person.


What follows is addressed specifically to Mac Brunson, trustees of FBC Jax, church leaders, and church members.


We do not live in your state and have no known personal experience with any of you.  This series will be written from the viewpoint of two Christians on the outside looking into your church.  What do we see?  From our vantage point, what we see is incredulous!  We can well imagine how this story will play when the national media latches onto it, and we have no doubt that it will make headlines across the globe.  The scandalous things that have happened will make a fascinating read for both Christians and non-Christians alike.  Our sincere prayer is that you will consider what we are sharing with an open heart and rectify an obvious injustice before a watching world.


Here is a brief overview of what has occurred.  Mac Brunson was called to pastor FBC Jacksonville in 2006.  Within three weeks of his arrival, he was reportedly given a land gift estimated at $250,000 by a member of FBC Jax.  Pastor Brunson built a large home on the lot which is purportedly worth around $900,000.  We will outline other expenditures in our next post.  A member of FBC Jax, Tom Rich, became troubled by what he was seeing in his church.  After realizing that some members were being asked to leave the church, Tom wrote an anonymous letter to Pastor Brunson outlining his concerns.  However, Pastor Brunson wanted the anonymous letter writer to identify himself, and Tom declined because he did not wish to be “thrown" out of the church.


Tom hoped that much needed changes at FBC Jax would be made.  In August 2007 he began blogging anonymously as "FBC Jax Watchdog" about the issues he had with his pastor and his church.  In December 2007 the "Watchdog" criticized the by-law changes that were made at First Baptist Jacksonville.  This seems to be a trend within Southern Baptist churches, so if it hasn't yet happened at your church you might want to do a little research into why they are being altered.  Here's a clue:  the changes to the by-laws appear to be giving pastors all the control.  Then in May and June of 2008 Tom addressed Mac Brunson's erroneous comments about Sheri Klouda.  Remember that Brunson and Patterson are very close friends.  Tom published Klouda's response on his blog.


When Pastor Brunson began to solicit large sums of money from his congregation to benefit the church infrastructure, Tom expressed his deep concerns on his blog.  Apparently, the pastor requested that the congregation "give a million in two weeks".  Can you imagine the pressure that must have been applied to motivate congregants to give over and above their regular contributions?  At the same time, Florida was experiencing a precipitous decline in property values.  The real estate bubble was beginning to burst during this time.  


On September 28, 2008, during the Chest of Joash Service (aka commitment Sunday), commitment cards for 2009 were collected, and the total pledges were only half of the church's budget.  Furthermore, the "give a million in two weeks" campaign was terribly unsuccessful.  Not that much money went into the church coffers.  Haven't we discussed something similar on The Wartburg Watch recently?  We hope you are reminded of Martin Luther who caused great trouble for the indulgence preachers.

Pastor Brunson and the church trustees must have believed that the "Watchdog" alone was to blame for the tremendous shortfall, not the failing economy.  The very next day, September 29, 2008, John Blount, FBC Jax church administrator, called the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office to report "an Internet incident with possible criminal overtones."  At that point the church leaders sought to discover the Watchdog's real name.  Tom Rich didn't even find out about this investigation until recently.  


Robbie Hinson, a sheriff's detective attending FBC Jax, reportedly opened a criminal investigation into the Watchdog's identity by obtaining subpoenas from the State of Florida Attorney General's office.  By the way, Detective Hinson has served as Mac Brunson's personal bodyguard.  Since when do pastors (besides Mark Driscoll) need body guards?  These subpoenas forced Google and Comcast to reveal Tom Rich's name.  The case was closed on November 13, 2008, with a report that simply stated: "Investigation closed, no crime found".  Incredibly, there was no record of any investigations or interviews done by Detective Hinson in the file.  


Tom, and his wife, Yvette, were visited by two church leaders on November 28, 2008, and given a letter outlining Tom’s 16 (!) sins, along with letters prohibiting Tom and his wife from “trespassing” on church property.  He was accused of  "church misconduct".  Ladies, please read the following very carefully… Yvette, Tom's wife, was accused of associating with a church member who was guilty of church misconduct.  Here's a warning for wives at FBC: Be careful, if your husband loses his temper, you are also in sin for associating with him!  EGADS!!!


On February 10, 2009, Tom was contacted by John Blount (church administrator) who informed him that they were taking the matter before the board of deacons.  Tom requested fifteen minutes of uninterrupted time to defend himself against the allegations.  Blount responded by saying that Tom could only discuss two things:  whether he is the owner of the blog and whether the blog is sinful.  Nothing else, period!  If you haven't watched the movie Luther, please be sure to do so.  Again, the similarities are uncanny.  Luther couldn't discuss his concerns about heretical Catholic teachings with Cardinal Cajetan or address them before the Diet of Worms — he would only be allowed to recant.  Martin Luther's refusal to cower before the Pope and his henchmen changed Christendom forever.  Since Tom would not be given the opportunity to defend himself fully before the deacons, he told John Blount he would not attend. 


Tom was reportedly told that he could not come back to FBC Jax unless he met with the trustees. There was a bit of a problem.  Tom had left the church and joined another fellowship by this time.  However, he graciously agreed to do so if he could bring legal representation and/or make a recording.  According to Tom, they informed him he COULD NOT.  Such a staunch position begs the question — Why not?  What were the trustees afraid of since they were following Biblical principles closely…  Didn’t Jesus allow for witnesses?


Tom and his wife had to join their current church by statement of faith since FBC Jax reportedly would not give them a letter of transfer.  (Yawn…been there, had that happen, too).


Here's an important question and its surprising answer which contains a little known piece of information you may be reading here first….  Did anyone at FBC Jax reveal to the congregation that they were trying to discover the names of two other anonymous bloggers?  


Reportedly, Detective/Bodyguard Hinson also got a subpoena to obtain the identity of a blogger connected with Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee.  This megachurch near Memphis has also been criticized by an anonymous blogger.  What's that all about?  We have provided links to two blogs dealing with the issues at Bellevue Baptist Church (which we will discuss soon).


Surprised?  Why would those affiliated with a Southern Baptist church in Jacksonville, Florida want to obtain the identity of an anonymous blogger engaged in publicly criticizing a Southern Baptist church in Tennessee?  And why was this blogger so upset?  In a nutshell, a Bellevue pastor had been molesting his own child for years.  By the way, don't leaders in the SBC claim that Southern Baptist churches act independently of one another?


How about another zinger?  An anonymous blogger who had been reporting on Darrell Gilyard was also investigated by Detective Hinson.  Gilyard is now serving a three-year prison term for lewd molestation of a minor, among other things.  In case you missed it, here's a link to the Jacksonville news report:


Need we remind you that Darrell Gilyard was the darling of some of the Conservative Resurgence crowd, including Paige Patterson, a former SBC President and close friend of Mac Brunson, and Jerry Vines,  a former SBC President and Brunson's predecessor at FBC Jax?   Remember our coverage of Darrell Gilyard, whom some leaders in the SBC labeled as "the next Billy Graham"?  Please refer to our blog post on this deviant pastor who has wrecked many lives during his long career.  Here's the link.


There was reportedly a subpoena of some kind issued to discover either the intent or the identity of the blogger reporting on Darrell Gilyard.  That blogger's name is Tiffany Croft.  Why in the world would FBC Jax need a subpoena to obtain Tiffany Croft's name?  Her identity was discovered prior to Gilyard confession and plea bargain deal.  In the aftermath of this fiasco, Gilyard is in prison, Tiffany Croft is a hero, and those who promoted Darrell Gilyard (Patterson and Viines) appear extremely foolish.  We believe Tiffany Croft is due a number of apologies as well as accolades for her courage in identifying a wolf in sheep's clothing through her anonymous blog.  If you'd like to visit her web site, here's the link:


Justice has now been served with regard to Darrell Gilyard (although he should have gotten more time in the slammer), and those connected with FBC Jax made a terrible mistake by investigating Tiffany Croft! 


If the above subpoenas actually did occur, then there is something very strange going on….  How is FBC Jax tied to Bellevue Baptist Church and Tiffany Croft?  Do the circumstances surrounding the investigation of these other two bloggers need to be investigated by any federal agencies since it crossed state lines into Tennessee?  Is this the beginning of a nationally coordinated intimidation of those who question SBC churches and pastors?  We are deeply troubled.


What follows is a list of concerns that we intend to look at over the next few days.  We would like to save FBC Jax and Detective Robbie Hinson some undercover work.  They may contact us directly at the following address:  


We will be more than happy to answer any questions.  If those connected with FBC Jax would like to share any details or thoughts with us, feel free to use that e-mail address and we will be glad to include pertinent information in an upcoming post.  We personally guarantee confidentiality and promise (cross our hearts!) that we will not hire detectives to hunt you down!!!


Here are a few of the questions we will be addressing:

1. Is it ethical for a pastor to accept lucrative gifts from church members?  Does "living large" help or harm a pastor’s witness?


2. Why did FBC Jax believe it was entitled to know the identity of anonymous bloggers when the church leaders did not follow all of the Biblical mandates in dealing with controversy?


3. Why was “potential criminal behavior” cited as the reason for the subpoenas when there was no concrete evidence of the criminal behavior described?


4. Why did “Mac Brunson's "bodyguard" become the investigative officer involved in obtaining the subpoenas and submitting the charges?  Is there a conflict of interest here?


5. If FBC Jax professes to preach the whole Gospel, why is it afraid to be a light on the hill so that the whole world will see Jesus and praise Him?  If FBC is truly following God, they should be delighted that Tom Rich is talking about the senior pastor and his lifestyle because Mac Brunson is the shepherd of FBC Jax and, as such, is an example of godly behavior.


6. Is there a program in place at FBC Jax that would allow the less affluent church members to receive gifts of lots in gated communities from fellow members, as their pastor did?


Finally, our hearts go out to Tom and Yvette Rich.  I (Dee) have had the opportunity to speak with them at length.  They are delightful people who answered my questions candidly.  There is no doubt in my mind that they are a brother and sister in Christ.  Too bad no one in the "so-called" leadership of FBC Jax ever met with Tom over a cup of coffee to hear his concerns and hash this out.  Too busy filling out subpoenas, we suppose….







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