When Christians Lie: Eric Bonetti Accused of Embezzlement and of Being a Pathological Liar by His Former Church and Pastor.

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Sin has many tools, but a lie is a handle that fits them all. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Years ago, a small group of us approached the pastors of our Reformed Baptist church. We became aware that they had been told that a seminary student had been encouraging teen boys to expose themselves, etc. and decided to ignore it, calling it locker room humor, etc. Well, the die was cast and we became the declared enemies of the church.  Many things were said by some of the pastors. I realize that I was dealing with men who easily abandoned truth to lie about us personally. The head elder spread a rumor about me.  *Her marriage is in trouble.* He had absolutely no reason for saying this, yet repeated it enough that it got back to my husband and me. Several years later, this *elder* eventually met with my husband (I was not invited since I was just the wife) He admitted that he did spread the rumor and asked for my husband’s forgiveness.

Many teen boys were seriously injured by the SEBTS seminary pervert who was eventually imprisoned. Instead of focusing on the problem of hurt teen boys, the church leaders appeared to me to embark on a campaign to discredit us. That also seemed to be their chief concern. It didn’t work. Instead, it caused me to decide to start this blog. Twelve years later, I’m still married, I have this blog and the church subsequently went through some difficult years.

Why in the world would any Christian leader lie about my marriage when we were talking about helping hurting boys? I tell this story to show how easy it seems for Christian leaders to resort to lies and insults to defend themselves and their BFFs. Joe Carter of The Gospel Coalition accused me of libel as well as being a liar. I was one of the first people to write about the problems inherent in Sovereign Grace Ministries. He believed was defending his BFF, CJ Mahaney, by insulting me. I wonder if he thinks Al Mohler is now guilty of libel as well?

What is it in our souls that cause us to lie about others when we are on the spot?

Tom Rich, FBC Jax Watchdog was called a sociopath by Mac Brunson.

Tom has a blog that disclosed the problems with Mac Brunson, then the lead pastor of FBC Jacksonville. Mac Brunson would go on to tell the state attorney he needed to find out who this anonymous blogger was because he was afraid for his wellbeing. This was an absolutely ridiculous lie. The moment Brunson found out Tom’s name, he got an anti-trespassing order against him. The state attorney told me that such an action was not the intent. Brunson publically accused Tom of being “obsessive-compulsive” and “a sociopath.”

Tom did what anyone might do in this situation. He sued Brunson, the church, the state attorney, and the sheriff and deputies who went along with this baloney. He won!! Brunson had to publically apologize amongst other actions.

Pastor Mac Brunson of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville apologized Sunday for certain terms he used in statements about a blogger who criticized his leadership. The apology came at the end of the morning service, and the congregation responded with applause.

In April 2009, Brunson was quoted in a Times-Union story as saying that persistent criticism on FBCJaxWatchdog.blogspot.comindicated the blogger, Tom Rich, had an “obsessive compulsive problem” and was a “sociopath.”

In the apology Sunday, Brunson said that he regretted using the terms and that Rich is not “obsessive compulsive” or a “sociopath.”

Poor *widdle* Mac Brunson. Someone criticized him and he couldn’t take it. He stomped his foot, called Tom names which were psychiatric diagnoses. Mac is no psychiatrist and he lied about Tom. He could have prevented this ridiculous situation but instead took this way too far and lost. He will forever be painted with his foolishness. I thought of Tom when I considered Eric Bonetti’s lawsuit.

Eric Bonetti is suing Grace Episcopal Church, Alexandria, and Bob Malm for defamation.

Shades of Tom Rich! Eric used to work at Grace Episcopal Church which is in a lovely section of Alexandria, VA. However, his priest, Father Malm didn’t see eye to eye with Eric on several occasions. Things began to deteriorate when Eric suggested that there be a financial audit. You can read the story here.

Yes, I originally had that posted here but, in an attempt to bring some calm to the situation, removed it from the blog with the hopes that reconciliation could be achieved. Unfortunately, things have continued to spin around the drain, and Eric and I talked about a way to discuss this situation in an agreeable manner.

Here’s the deal. When anger takes hold of a situation and clergy feel prevailed upon, leaders are tempted to make up things without any proof whatsoever. My experience, along with Tom Rich’s incredible situation at FBC Jacksonville, stand as examples of what not to do.

In this situation, one individual, who was hired by Eric in a previous job, in 2017, claimed that Eric had embezzled money.  Then channeling Joe Carter of The Gospel Coalition, she claimed that Eric was a pathological liar. She allegedly did this in an email to Father Malm, posted below. (Circled in blue.) Then, Father Malm reported this to Bishop Johnston, including a comment that it is *pretty bad stuff.”

Embezzlement is a serious charge, one that has legal implications. Eric has suggested that, if this is true, then she should report it to the police. However, as of this time, law enforcement has not been involved. Why not? If it is true, report it. If not, such a charge could prevent Eric from getting a job.

Calling someone a pathological liar is also problematic. This is a diagnosis that can only be determined by a licensed health professional. Such an accusation can be quite detrimental to the person on the receiving end. Remember, Pastor Brunson had to apologize for calling Tom Rich a sociopath which only a licensed health professional can determine.

Then, Father Malm sent these accusations to Bishop Johnson which spreads these charges beyond a private conversation between two people.

In the end, I think some folks just got bent out of shape and, instead of forgiving and asking Jesus for strength to be kind, decided to add to escalate the situation. I am no lawyer but there are elements of this case that remind me of the unjust actions of the pastor and law enforcement against my good friend, Tom Rich. I think his story is one that everyone should consider. There is no question in my mind that, had Mac Brunson came to Tom and apologized, there would not have been a trial and a subsequent public embarrassment for the church.

I will continue to pray that reconciliation can still be achieved in this situation.

Colossians 3:8-10 NIV

But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Translation: Church leaders, cut it out, and grow up. Act like big boys.


When Christians Lie: Eric Bonetti Accused of Embezzlement and of Being a Pathological Liar by His Former Church and Pastor. — 23 Comments

  1. It’s my layman-level understanding that “sociopathy” is characterized by subnormal conscience and empathy. I’ve read that sociopaths tend to enjoy the exercise of power over others.

    For a powerful person to be deploying this “diagnosis” against a less powerful person as a means of social control … the thought that comes to mind is “projection.” Of course I don’t pretend to diagnose.

  2. It has been my observation that a common tactic by some “Christian Leaders” is to attack the person, personally, that is raising question about the “Christian Leaders” theology/position/perspective. This happens very quickly when the “Christian leaders” position is hard to defend. A great example is “Young earth creationism”…. a debate on the topic usually devolves to a questioning of Questioning person “piousness”.

    It is much easier to defend yourself to the sheep if you can turn the legitimate question into a “attack from the evil world” or “stan”!!

  3. There is another key aspect to Bob Malm’s misconduct, which is that he lies about the timing of his allegations that I embezzled. Specifically, as many parishioners know, I left the job in question while a member of the parish.

    So why did Bob lie about this? The answer seems clear, which is that I had been elected to the church vestry, or board of directors. while at this job. Thus, had he not lied about the timing, the bishop would have asked, “If he is an embezzler, why on earth did you have him serving on your vestry?”

    As the litigation proceeds, it also will be interesting to have Bob Malm name the parishioners who believe that I am a hacker, and to subpoena their records.

  4. In this instance, there is actually a way to keep this out of court, and that would be for the bishop to do their job. And between the bishop and the rector is…the vestry. Where are they? Given the silence from the mitigators and intercessors, who have a responsibility here, have instead circled the wagons, I’m not sure that taking this to court is the wrong way to go about it. If nothing else, it will force discovery – proof of embezzlement would be required. On their way to court, I bet resolution will happen, just as Jesus said.

  5. Eric Bonetti: The answer seems clear, which is that I had been elected to the church vestry, or board of directors. while at this job. Thus, had he not lied about the timing, the bishop would have asked, “If he is an embezzler, why on earth did you have him serving on your vestry?”

    I think a lot of church problems stem from poor governance. If Mr Bonetti was an employee of the church, is he even eligible for a board position? The vestry would be responsible for overseeing the work being done, approving salaries and actions. Definitely perceived conflict of interest issues could arise.
    I’m on the board of a non profit. The companies act of our province would forbid this. At the Anglican Church I grew up in the vestry was made up of church congregants elected to the position but non were involved as paid employees or contractors.
    At the Pentecostal Church I used to attend the head pastor is not only on the board but the chairman no less!
    In the culture of compliance prevalent throughout religious culture, this is recipe for abuse.
    If Christians want to grapple with root causes of systematic abuse, then questioning church governance would be high on the list.

  6. d4v1d: And between the bishop and the rector is…the vestry. Where are they? Given the silence from the mitigators and intercessors, who have a responsibility here, have instead circled the wagons,

    I agree that an issue of this magnitude should be brought to the vestry but if Mr Bonetti was on the Vestry how would you even broach this?
    I’m not saying that anything was going on but I work in regulatory compliance. Perceived conflict of interest only muddies the water. From an outside perspective you can place doubt on if the vestry was compromised. Especially if you have a board member is also an employee who is responsible for finances.
    Where is the annual audit? Does the church not hire independent auditors to review the annual finances?
    On the scant info we have, this sounds like a governance issue. The vestry should request an independent audit. Embezzlement is hard to prove if the financial records aren’t in order. Maybe that’s why they didn’t hand it to law enforcement or the vestry.
    The pastor should called on the carpet for mismanagement. A local Catholic congregation last $400k due to financial mismanagement. Their accountant went to jail but ultimately the priest & board we’re asleep at the switch.

  7. Attacking the accuser is standard operating procedure, as is lying. I have been accused of being mentally ill, delusional, and fitting the profile of a mass shooter as well as threatening, harassing, yelling, shaking, trespassing, accosting, brandishing, etc. So unfortunately, Eric’s experience is by no means unique. In fact, there is a pandemic of this kind of spiritual abuse.

  8. Hi everyone. I was a volunteer while at Grace Church. And you’re absolutely right—both the bishop and the vestry have washed their hands of the matter.

    One of the good things that I hope will come out of this story is just how ugly things can be right behind the scenes in churches—all churches.

    If you were to attend Grace Church, people would be friendly and welcoming. It wouldn’t be until you’d been there a while that you’d see this side of the church. So, take your time with any new church.

    In the meantime, I again encourage Grace Church and Bob Malm to put their money where their mouths are and file a police report. I’ll wait….

  9. PS The job I referred to was the one where I hired fellow church member Kelly Gable, who is the originator of the email. I hired her because she had been unemployed for a long time, and her mother (with whom she shared a home) confided in me that they could really use the money. My board was pestering me to get some help, so it seemed an ideal solution.

    Something about no good deed….

  10. Eric Bonetti,

    The board ultimately needs to keep what is in the best interest of the organization when making any decisions. If you were a member of the vestry and were part any vote to proceed with this hiring, then that’s a big governance faux pas.

    Was the job defined, was it posted, was there any assessment of requisite skills? Did the board consider other options to assist the congregant? Would any member of the church get the same consideration?
    As Robin Thicke said “blurred lines”

  11. Hi Jack, When I hired Kelly, I did so as the executive director of RPJ Housing, a non-profit organization that assisted persons in need with affordable housing. RPJ Housing had no legal connection with the church.

    At issue is the timing of my departure from the job. In her email, Kelly claims that I embezzled from RPJ Housing. Bob Malm demonstrates his actual malice in republishing that defamatory comment when he states that I left RPJ Housing before coming to Grace Episcopal Church. That is a bold-faced lie, and he knows it.

    Your point is good, however — vestries need to understand and honor their fiduciary obligations to the parish. When they engage in self-dealing — whether by pursuing petty jealousies, ignoring internal checks and balances, or failing to act when misconduct such as Bob’s occurs — they place the church in legal and ethical jeopardy. Far too often, Grace church vestry members ignore these obligations. Or, as one former SBC friend mine puts it — “total amateur hour.”

  12. Eric Bonetti,

    I’m particularly struck by the suggestion that you know how to set up surveillance on phones. Lots of folks can install a cam to watch the nanny. Some folks have professional experience in network security. But phones, plural? This suggests a level of expertise and commitment that most people don’t have. How many hours a day were you supposedly listening to calls or tracking locations or whatever?

  13. Eric Bonetti: Hi Jack, When I hired Kelly, I did so as the executive director of RPJ Housing, a non-profit organization that assisted persons in need with affordable housing. RPJ Housing had no legal connection with the church

    Ok. That does clarify the issue. I’m a volunteer board member of a non profit child care centre. Not sure what the laws are in the states but when our executive director needs additional staff, the authorization to hire comes from the board.

    It sounds like the board put pressure to hire this person, which is problematic in itself.

    Conflict of interest can be a tangled web. Even if the church is not legally connected, if the board put pressure to hire based on connections to the church and as executive director (who was also on vestry of the church) the hiring took place to create in essence a charity position that the housing non profit may not even need then problems abound.

    I’m not saying this is what happened. This is how public perception can go when lines between corporate fiduciary obligation & personal desire to help can blur.

    While it’s all done with good intentions, other deeper issues can be masked with the organization losing sight of its mandate.

    It becomes apparent that governance and abuse are inextricably linked.

  14. @Jack Agree. And in retrospect, I did not sufficiently consider the challenges of hiring a fellow parishioner, no matter how good my intentions. If nothing else, the fact that Kelly had been unemployed for a long time warranted more thoughtful consideration on my part. I can only say that my desire to help overrode other factors when I made that decision—a decision that in hindsight was bad judgment on my part.

    It is perhaps telling that Kelly has never shared her concerns directly with me. So at this point my ardent hope is that she WILL go to the police.

    Time to be adults and deal with this in the light of day.

  15. Eric Bonetti,

    I’m sorry you have to deal with all this insanity. It really just isn’t becoming for church leaders to deal with conflicts like this. It is so unChrist-like.

  16. It’s an uncomfortable thought that the speaking of untruths is increasingly a standard tool in the perceptions-management “toolkit” of powerful people in all fields, church included.

    But it’s especially distressing in the church context, since it’s evidence that the people in question do not fear God; “false testimony” being one of the Big Ten “thou shalt not”s. My reflexive reaction to this is “God help congregations whose leaders are like that”, but perhaps that’s a pointless prayer — such situations may already be Romans 1 “giving over” to darkened understanding and its aftermath, and the only thing to be done is to let the disease run its course in that group.


    Perhaps in addition to the aspirational SBC “ordained abusers” list, there is need for an “all denominations” list of church leaders who have been forced to publicly acknowledge their false testimony.

  17. Eric Bonetti: It is perhaps telling that Kelly has never shared her concerns directly with me. So at this point my ardent hope is that she WILL go to the police.

    If she’s still working for the housing non-profit, the question becomes, did she even raise the concerns with her employer? It would be up to the employer to start an initial investigation and bring in law enforcement if needed (I know of a case of this happening). For various reasons (usually to do with reputation) an organization may not pursue the matter – not saying anything was amiss in this case.
    If your accuser did not bring this to the attention of her employer (or did and the employer found no grounds to pursue it), did she breach the confidence of that employer?
    Our non-profit would consider this breach of trust and probably pursue disciplinary action.

    Again that’s based on the info in this post so it’s an opinion not an assessment.

  18. Philip Snyder,

    I’m a bit envious of the colorful list of accusations against you! You must be an interesting guy to get to know — we should have a beer together sometime!

  19. Hi Jack. About nine months after I left, the non-profit shut down, unable to pay its bills. That comes as no surprise, as all three major grants had change of leadership clauses in the agreement, which is not uncommon in small non-profits. Indeed, all three donors had close personal ties to me, and by that time were not feeling all that friendly to the organization, given the ugly rhetoric and divisive comments that emerged.

    Your comments are interesting, too, in that I took over at the organization after my predecessor got himself in trouble over ethics issues. One of the ways I addressed that was by being very transparent, even when it was painful to do so. And there were times when doing so was excruciating but necessary.

    So I would have urged all involved to deal with any concerns openly, in the light of day. Failing to do so is a recipe for disaster in any nonprofit that depends on the trust and goodwill of the public.

  20. HH,

    Volunteer positions aren’t immune to conflicts of interest.

    Many vestry, board & other positions of responsibility are volunteers.

    They still have legal duties often dictated by law.

    The problem is that people believe churches are somehow exempt from these strictures.