Taking a Careful Look at the Federal Lawsuit Filed Against the SBC’s Executive Committee and Four SBC Churches for Mishandling of Six Underaged Sex Abuse Victims.

Woman crying in church. cotonbro@pexels

“Jesus would publicly call out people in the faith community who are guilty for hurting/violating others. He wouldn’t sit back in silence. He wouldn’t bury the evidence. Or cover up abuse. In addition, He would never ignore, condemn, or ostracize those who’ve suffered trauma. He wouldn’t say, “Get over it.” ― Dana Arcuri, Sacred Wandering: Growing Your Faith In The Dark.


I am trying something different. I’m telling this story through the eyes of the lawsuit, quoting directly from the document. I do not discuss the names of the victims or their injuries. I also do not discuss further summations of the main sections of the lawsuit. At the end of the post, I add some of my thoughts on this lawsuit and how it will affect the SBC, which can be summed up as “Grab the babies and run for the hill.”  The other side is considering, “Let’s get this settled along with an NDA.”

Tune in on Friday. There have been some concerning developments at Park Street Church.  I will look forward to hearing from you what you think of some letters/ petitions.


We had predicted that this day was coming. Sometimes, I wonder what took so long. Then again, I suspect that this lawsuit may be the first of many such endeavors. In December, the SBC Executive Committee settled another lawsuit out of court. In my opinion, they were afraid that they would lose. Southern Baptist Convention settles in abuse case against Paul Pressler; case dismissed was written by Liam Adams.

There were the many expected “blah, blah, blahs from the SBC EC, saying they would have won if it went to trial, but it would be expensive. I believe they knew they were in trouble. That was the first such suit. Here is the second.

The Lawsuit

Now, it gets worse, much worse, for the SBCEC. A lawsuit has been filed in Federal Court, claiming sex defendants (underage) were harmed at four churches. The SBC Executive Committee is named, arguing that they were responsible for not training churches in how to handle such situations.

The names of 6 victims

vs.

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF THE SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION; FOUNTAIN VALLEY BAPTIST CHURCH; FAITH BAPTIST CHURCH; AIRLINE BAPTIST CHURCH; and FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, Defendant.

Observations in the lawsuit were spot in, in my opinion.

Included in the document:

The SBC attracts an extraordinary number of abusers.

18. Because of the opportunities to develop deep relationships with its members, the 47,000 Baptist churches that make up the Southern Baptist Convention attract many truly caring and giving individuals; however, at the same time, service in the Baptist Church attracts an extraordinary number of sex abusers, molesters and those who take advantage of their position of authority.

The authority of leaders and the air of infallibility in SBC churches contribute to abuse.

21. Religious figures in the Church and even lay leaders are bestowed with an air of infallibility, and are cloaked with authority which creates opportunity and a pathway for these individuals to misuse their positions of trust and take advantage of the vulnerable.

These unspeakable sexual acts, perpetrated by “holy individuals,” harm the victims in many ways.

22. As a result, when these seemingly infallible holy individuals commit unspeakable, perverted sexual acts with adults or children under their influence, it has an extraordinarily traumatic effect on the victims, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually.

The SBC has given pastors complete freedom to have such encounters with victims.

23. Instead of exercising due care and diligence to protect these individuals under these circumstances from the serious harm described above, the Baptist Church has given pastors, other employees and agents, complete discretion and freedom to have personal, private and spiritual encounters with these individuals.

SAITF: take note! The SBC has done little to train employees to look for or screen abusers.

At the same time, the Baptist Church has done little or nothing to train employees and agents to look for abusers, screen abusers or protect church members and volunteers from the sexual predators who infiltrate its ranks.

I would argue that the lawyers who wrote this lawsuit were on- target with the above claims and observations. There was more.

They continued with their cogent observations.

The Steve Gaines example (the media is focusing on this one): After learning about the pastor’s sexual abuse of his own son, Gaines kept him on staff for six more months until the word got out.

When I first started blogging in 2009, I focused on this despicable story. (Scroll to the bottom for 2009). Here is what TWW reported in 2009. Many of the links are not working 15 years later.

What did the church investigation reveal? Here’s the shocking headline that reveals the answer:
  Bellevue report: Assistant pastor guilty of sex abuse against son

What happened to Paul Williams as a result of this investigation?
 LINK

“Williams…was dismissed without severance after initially being place on administrative leave with pay”, according to an Ethics Daily article. LINK:

Paul Williams, who allegedly admits to having been molested as a child, began sexually assaulting his son in the 1980s (probably during pre-pubescence). According to the church investigation, this illicit activity occurred over a 12 to 18 month period. We don’t understand why the time frame is not more precise. Williams’ son is now approximately 30 years of age and is married with children.”

Back to the lawsuit focusing on SBC pastors as well as Steve Gaines.

Several past presidents and prominent leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention are among those criticized by victims for concealing or mishandling abuse complaints within their own church or seminaries.

c. Some registered sex offenders returned to the pulpit while others remained there. d. Many of the victims were adolescents who were molested, sent explicit photos or texts, exposed to pornography, photographed nude, or repeatedly raped by youth pastors. Some victims as young as 3 were molested or raped inside pastor’s studies and Sunday School classrooms. A few were adults – women and men who sought pastoral guidance and instead were seduced or sexually assaulted.

26. The investigation faulted Bellevue Pastor and then SBC president Steve Gaines for immediately failing to fire a sexual offender in 2006 from Bellevue Baptist Church. Gaines admitted to waiting six months to fire a pastor who had confessed to molestation at Bellevue Baptist Church. The report said the internal investigation found “[Bellevue was] ill prepared for sexual abuse.” See “Abuse of Faith,” supra.

The SBC goes out of its way to protect its own.

27. The investigation demonstrated that the Southern Baptist Church has gone to· great lengths to protect “its own.” It has been the practice of the Southern Baptist Church through its pastors arid other church officials and agents, to conceal instances of sexual abuse and complaints by victims. The Church zealously maintains the secrecy of the horrifying truth of sexual abuse in the Church, by among other things:

Here are some actions of pastors and churches when it came to victims.

Please read the following list carefully. The lawyers got it quicker than the SBC EC, which hid its “secret list” of abusers in the SBC.

• Failing to disclose complaints to law enforcement officials, church members and the public; • Rejecting efforts at reform from a corporate level on the grounds that the local churches have “autonomy;”
• Rejecting efforts by victims to make changes;
• Rejecting prevention policies similar to those implemented by the other faiths such as the Catholic Church;
• Shunning of the victims by the churches;
• Rejecting an SBC official’s requests to study sexual abuse in the church in 2007 and 2018 and vote on preventative measures; • Urging victims of abuse to get abortions in an effort to conceal the abuse; and
• Urging victims to forgive abusers in an effort to conceal the abuse. See “Abuse of Faith,” supra.

28. As one former SBC official said, “There’s a known problem, but it’s too messy to deal with.” See “Abuse of Faith,” supra.

29. Each of the acts set forth above are done to protect and shelter the abuser; obstruct justice; conceal criminal conduct; evade prosecution; avoid being compelled by criminal and civil courts to tum over information or allegations regarding sexual abuse; avoid public awareness and scandal about abusive pastors; and avoid financial loss.

The lawyers then examined the Guidepost investigation. Uh oh… They believe the autonomy excuse was just that: an excuse.

31. The report found that survivors of sexual abuse had been contacting the SBCEC to report child molesters and other abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff; however, there efforts were only met with “resistance, stonewalling, and even outright hostility from some within the EC.”

32. Only a few senior leaders of the SBCEC, along with outside legal counsel, controlled the SBCEC’s response to reports of abuse. The senior leaders were singularly focused on avoiding liability for the SBC to the exclusion of other considerations. In service of this goal, survivors and others who reported abuse were ignored, disbelieved, or met with the constant refrain that the SBC could take no action due to its polity regarding church autonomy – even if it meant that convicted molesters continued in ministry with no notice or warning to their current church or congregation.

The secret list is emphasized, and some of the proof is fascinating.

Mr. Guenther advised that EC staff should not undertake to elicit further information or details about reports of abuse, so that the EC not assume a legal duty to take further action.

f. EC staff member working for Mr. Boto was maintaining a list of accused ministers in Baptist churches, including the minister’s name, year reported, relevant news articles, state, and denomination.

g. In a May 2019 email to Dr. Ronnie Floyd, the then-EC President, EC Vice President Dr. Roger “Sing” Oldham acknowledged that “[f]or the past decade, I have been regularly sending Augie news reports of Baptist ministers who are arrested for sexual abuse, for his awareness. It hasn’t slowed down since the [Houston] Chronicle articles started on February 10.” Mr. Boto responded that: “Yes. We are collecting them, and may even post them in some way, but we’d have to really examine the potential liabilities that would stem therefrom.”

h. Despite collecting these reports for more than 10 years, there is no indication that Dr. Oldham, Mr. Boto, or anyone else, took any action to ensure that the accused ministers were no longer in positions of power at SBC churches. The most recent list prepared by the EC staff member contained the names of 703 abusers, with 409 believed to be SBC-affiliated at some point in time.

The focus on sex abuse is the “work of the devil,” according to Augie Boto, and the Baptist Press helped vilify survivors.

(I think they meant the Daughters of Stan…)

In an internal email, Mr. Boto even equated the focus on sexual abuse with the work of the devil. l. Baptist Press (“BP”), the SBCEC’s communications arm, was also used to portray survivors in an unflattering light and mischaracterize allegations of abuse.

m. While stories of abuse were minimized, and survivors were ignored or even vilified, revelations came to light in recent years that some senior SBC leaders had protected or even supported abusers.

Many will not be surprised to learn that Steve Gaines, Jack Graham, and Paige Patterson are pastors who are part of the problem.

n. Former SBC President Steve Gaines admitted that, as senior pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church, he had delayed reporting a staff minister’s prior sexual abuse of a child of “heartfelt concern and compassion for th[e] minister,” while acknowledging that he should have “brought it to the attention of our church leadership immediately.”

o. Former SBC President Jack Graham, when he was pastor at Prestonwood Baptist Church, allegedly allowed an accused abuser of young boys to be dismissed quietly in 1989 without reporting the abuse to police. The accused abuser, John Langworthy, later was charged with abusing young boys in Mississippi in 2011;

p. Former SBC President Paige Patterson was terminated from his position at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2018 after it was revealed that he told a student not to report a rape in 2003 and, in 2015, emailed his intention to meet with another student who had reported an assault, with no other officials present, so he could “break her down.”

The plaintiffs bravely allow their pain to be specified in the lawsuit.

This is the difficult part to read. It is worth it to understand the pain these victims endured, and I believe their allegations. I do not wish to add to the pain of these victims and will leave it up to the reader to go to their stories starting on page 9 of the lawsuit.

If one reads through the entire document (give it a try), one will learn:

Negligence

  • The SBC EC was negligent in a variety of ways.
  • The SBC EC were mandatory reporters.
  • The victims have been harmed in many ways, including physically, mentally, and sexually, and have experienced a loss of enjoyment in life.

RICO Act

There is much to read in this section.

COUNT IV The Racketeers Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) 18 USC Sections 1961-1968, which includes in this case:

69. The SBCEC engaged in and affected intrastate and interstate commerce, because, inter alia, the SBCEC transferred, assigned, and relocated pastors and other employees to other schools, parishes, churches, rest homes, and medical facilities within the state of Tennessee and outside the borders’ of Tennessee.

70. The SBCEC engaged in intrastate and interstate commerce concerning the investigation, slander, blacklisting, and blackmailing of victims, and/or employees (whistleblowers) who sought to thwart, hinder or stop the illicit activity carried out by the SBCEC, and its’ employees and pastors.

71. Within the SBCEC there was a common communication network by which coconspirators shared information on a regular basis. The SBCEC used the common communication network for the purpose of enabling the criminal sexual activities of the pastors within the Southern Baptist Convention.

72. Each participant in the SBCEC’s racketeering “enterprise” has a systematic linkage to each other participant through organizational ties, organizational relationships, financial ties,

Punitive Damages

And so, the lawyers, on behalf of what I believe to be the abused victims, seek compensation. According to Julie Roys, they are asking for $10 million. I’m surprised they didn’t go for more.

How does this impact the SBC?

This lawsuit may result in something far worse than a $10 million payout.

  • The autonomy of the local churches is in question, and it should be. If this were to happen, the SBC EC would face more lawsuits.
  • Ongoing discussions suggest the SBC is having trouble getting insurance coverage for abuse situations for the SBC EC. I wonder if this is why the SBC EC cannot elect a President. 
  • There are discussions that the SBC could restructure without an EC.
  • If the SBC EC cannot get insurance for abuse coverage, might they force member churches to donate money to a pool of funds to be used for lawsuits?

Prediction: The SBC EC will again settle out of court, with an NDA regarding the settlement. There will be more lawsuits. 2024 is going to be one heckuva year for the SBC leaders.


Comments

Taking a Careful Look at the Federal Lawsuit Filed Against the SBC’s Executive Committee and Four SBC Churches for Mishandling of Six Underaged Sex Abuse Victims. — 39 Comments

  1. “The work of the devil” is “the work” that the SBC EC has been putting in to aid and abet sexual molestation.

    There literally are no words, not even the most foul, that are strong enough to describe their utterly despicable behavior.

    I would like to believe that many of them started out pastoring with (close to) pure hearts. What happened on their way up through the SBC toward their lofty positions that twisted their hearts and souls so much that they became capable of hiding such depravity and allowing it to continue? Not only that, but to then turn around and heap further abuse on the victims! I cannot even begin to comprehend that.

    What evil.

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  2. It seems that local church autonomy is a flexible thing. When a man sexually abuses women, children or youth and destroys lives (or covers up the abuse and/or helps the perp move on) the SBC can’t do anything because “autonomy”. (Please, they all but worship many of the men who covered for abusers, as well as at least a couple of the abusers.)

    But, oh boy!!! Local church autonomy gets thrown out the window if a woman stands in front of a congregation to speak. At this point, I doubt if there would be any local church autonomy if a church called a woman the Pastor of Covered Dishes.
    But, at least that might be a point of comparison that the lawyers representing the victims can use.

    Their priorities are twisted and evil, and this “local church autonomy” claim is just an excuse the the SBC EC hopes will get them off of the financial hook. A large majority of higher-ups in the SBC have made it easy to see that they care nothing about victims, even when they claim otherwise.

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  3. I am so torn about this lawsuit. On the one hand, I never want victims to be re-traumatized, which they certainly will be if this goes to trial. At the same time, I’m tired of churches like the SBC hiding behind settlements and want the truth to be fully known. I trust that justice will ultimately be meted out either now or when Jesus comes back, but long to see more in the here now.

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  4. Afterburne: “The work of the devil” is “the work” that the SBC EC has been putting in to aid and abet sexual molestation.

    According to 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, demons masquerade as “angels of light” and as “servants of righteousness.” Yep, they are in the pulpit folks … they are Sunday School teachers … they are trusted church elders/deacons. The Federal Lawsuit will demonstrate this.

    When Dee says “Grab the babies and run for the hills”, I would add “And don’t rest at ‘any’ other church until you get there.” Churchgoers simply need to stop trusting church leaders until they know that they know they can be trusted. Keep your babies close to you at all times in church.

    But here’s what’s sad about the SBC mess. I doubt seriously if even 10% of SBC’s multi-million membership know about the widespread abuse in their denomination. They are uninformed, misinformed, or willingly ignorant of this issue. I fault pastors at SBC’s 47,000 churches for not having “family meetings” to inform and warn them. They will be shocked when NBC/CBS/ABC airs the scandal … many will grab their babies and run for the hills!

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  5. Max: According to 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, demons masquerade as “angels of light” and as “servants of righteousness.”

    I read that passage as stating that successful Sociopaths are Masters of Camouflage.

    They will be shocked when NBC/CBS/ABC airs the scandal … many will grab their babies and run for the hills!

    Or it all gets spun as PERSECUTION!!!!!!! by the Secular Humanist Media, orchestrated by SATAN himself.

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  6. Max:

    According to 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, demons masquerade as “angels of light” and as “servants of righteousness.”

    The last sentence of verse 15 states:

    “In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve.”

    The actions listed in the lawsuit can only be described as “wicked”.

    These people are certainly not shepherds. The list of actions are those that could only be done by individuals who are worse than thieves. Individuals who callously shear the sheep and leave them out in the cold to freeze.

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  7. It truly is a sad day in the SBC, but it should come as no shock.

    The business of the church is not business. For that matter it isn’t social work, community building, or any of the dozens of other wonderful things churches have gotten involved in.

    The basic premise of the SBC prior to 1979 for most of the people in them, I would guess, was this: people are sinners. People are awful sinners, including me. We need a remedy. That is why Jesus came. IF we repent of our sins and seek forgiveness from God, He will save us. And it wasn’t just pie in the sky. Baptist preachers and teachers and people believed strongly that if you really got saved, you did not need a bunch of rules because God would change your heart. So if you professed your faith on Sunday, got drunk on Saturday and went home and beat up your wife, nobody believed you had actually gotten saved. We waited to “see if it took.” If it was real, or just talk. Did you have cattle or just wear a cowboy hat?

    Then along came the Church Growth Movement. The false teaching spread that the main thing was to get people to join the church, not to get saved. Making someone feel loved and accepted was more important than confronting them with the gospel (not the trademarked gospelly version but the real deal.) If we talk about sin and its consequences and the fact NO ONE will get to take their pet sin, whatever it is, into heaven with them it might offend them. And offending sinners became the worst sin one can do.

    When it started to be apparent that wasn’t working we got the whole Calvinist/Lordship Salvation/John Macarthur thing. You know, if they won’t get truly saved where Christ cleans up their acts, clobber them with rules and oh yeah, legal laws to outlaw the behavior a truly saved person strives not to do.

    It doesn’t work. It won’t work for the fundy side to impose more and more rules. It won’t work for the nonfundy side to try to do the same through lawsuits.

    The only thing that can save or restore the SBC is an old fashioned Holy Ghost revival of folks from the top to the lowliest pew peon. There are simply too many unsaved people running the show both officially and from the pew. And there are simply too many who are saved who are carnal.

    The SBC needs a massive dose of real salvation, real rededication, real repentance, and real born again Bible study and less selling the theology du jour for mega bucks.

    Till then, like Max said, run for the hills. And if the Lord directs you into the mission field now known as the SBC never let your kids out of your sight the whole time. Period. Full stop. Let them sit beside you in SS or Bible Study, stay with you instead of going to children’s church or youth meetings, etc. Never be alone at the church or with church members as adults either.

    Because right now the SBC has been far too infiltrated by the enemy of our souls to be a safe place. No shock, Satan doesn’t attack when we are on his side. So yeah, easy to see why the SBC is taking major hits from that side. It flat out opened the door for the unsaved to take over.

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  8. Has anyone seen a full org chart of the SBC, NAMB, etc? Any organization (corporate, religious, government) that is thick with high-paying, low-work jobs is going to struggle with corruption, because all stand to benefit when a man keeps his job (or pops up somewhere else in a good job) in the wake of a scandal; I protect yours, you protect mine.

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  9. Afterburne: Individuals who callously shear the sheep and leave them out in the cold to freeze.

    “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

    40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[c] you were doing it to me!’
    — From Matthew’s Gospel —

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  10. Anthony: Suppressed sources of Baptist information through control of denominational press.

    Unfortunately, that may be true. Most SBC State conventions have a monthly newsletter/newspaper that is available at local churches. I doubt that bad news of this sort would be headlined. As we’ve learned in multiple TWW reports, SBC is all about control these days.

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  11. OT: In the news, blowing up Twitter or X:

    IHOPKC leader allegedly violated a 14-yr-old babysitter when he pastored a church before IHOPKC.

    Predator. Serialist. Lifelong. Track record. Pattern. Playbook. Pedophile.

    The leader eventually settles for having young women, not minors, he can control in his “ministry”.

    (Pedophiles infantalize grown women, i.e. submission “theology”, to live out their dream of controlling relationships that are legal. Pattern. Playbook. Workaround.)

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  12. Ava Aaronson: (Pedophiles infantalize grown women, i.e. submission “theology”, to live out their dream of controlling relationships that are legal. Pattern. Playbook. Workaround.)

    I can’t help thinking of the first time I heard Mama Duggar’s voice.
    She sounded like Shirley Temple from a 1930s movie; I kept expecting her to break into a chorus of “On The Good Ship Lollypop”.

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  13. n. Former SBC President Steve Gaines admitted that, as senior pastor at Bellevue Baptist Church, he had delayed reporting a staff minister’s prior sexual abuse of a child of “heartfelt concern and compassion for th[e] minister,” while acknowledging that he should have “brought it to the attention of our church leadership immediately.”

    Minister is always more important than a child. I guess I should be more shocked than I am at this admission. But it is so unlike what Jesus taught. Praise God all of this is coming to light, and so glad the Feds are stepping in. (Also glad my dad’s name is not Stan.) 🙂

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  14. In my humble (but accurate) opinion, the mishandling of sexual/spiritual abuse by SBC churches begins by taking the ordination of its leaders too lightly. There have been men in church leadership who simply did not need to be there from the get go. Not properly vetting a pastoral candidate is one thing, but installing them into ministry in the first place has not been taken as seriously as it should be in many churches. There are spiritually unqualified men in the pulpit who are there because they have a touch of charisma, a gift of gab, and a bag of gimmicks … but no Holy Spirit anointing on their lives. There are church elders/deacons who hold leadership positions because they are popular in the community, wealthy, from a ruling church family, or prominent businessmen … but who do not meet the Biblical qualifications for that office. Anything can and does happen with some of these folks, when they are trusted beyond their trustworthiness. (I speak from a 70+ year tenure as a Southern Baptist)

    “Do not hurry to lay hands on anyone [ordaining and approving someone for ministry or an office in the church, or in reinstating expelled offenders], and thereby share in the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.” (1 Timothy 5:22 AMP)

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  15. Max: There are spiritually unqualified men in the pulpit who are there because they have a touch of charisma, a gift of gab, and a bag of gimmicks…

    Or are Owed a Favor or Payoff.

    There are church elders/deacons who hold leadership positions because they are popular in the community, wealthy, from a ruling church family, or prominent businessmen …

    Or can Tithe Seven Figures and are what’s funding the entire church.
    i.e. Bought and Paid For, with the threat of bankruptcy if he pulls out.

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  16. Max: The “Kansas City Prophets” are turning out to be a bunch of perverts.

    Or Manicheans in the mold of those Augustine was mixed up with.
    So SPIRITUAL, so plugged into God, that nothing of the Flesh (especially sexual things) could possibly affect their (exclusive) Salvation. Total Spiritual Pride with Benefits (nudge nudge wink wink know what I mean know what I mean).

    I am always very skeptical about those Uber-Christians who get a Direct Revelation from God (a paranormal experience) every 30 seconds. (I have had only two or three paranormal experiences in my Lukewarm life.) And when (especially when it comes to The End Times), their Prophecies have a LOWER hit rate than the Celebrity Psychics whose Prophecies for the Coming Year show up in National Enquirer.

    “Miracles do not come so cheap.”
    — G.K.Chesterton, “The Miracle of Father Brown” (Father Brown Mystery)

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