By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist megachurch reportedly filed a police report on a church member who raised questions about news stories alleging that nearly 25 years ago leaders of the congregation failed to alert authorities about credible accusations of child molestation by a staff member.
Chris Tynes, a software engineer and member of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, for more than a decade, says he spoke with a detective about a complaint labeling him a “suspicious person, possibly violent” after he was ordered by security personnel to leave the church premises March 5.
Tynes says he showed up at his church anyway, after a staff member who had previously scheduled a meeting with him backed out and relayed a message that there was no reason for them to talk.
Tynes said the whole thing started about a week ago after he watched an HBO documentary about the sexual abuse cover-up in the Catholic Church. With stories like the Penn State scandal and the pope’s legacy still fresh in his memory, Tynes posted on Facebook how upsetting he found the whole idea.
Someone responded by pointing him to a website that aggregates news links about clergy sexual abuse in Baptist churches. There he found articles mentioning his own congregation’s alleged non-reporting of a former music minister convicted in Mississippi who avoided prison in part because it took so long for allegations against him to be brought to light.
Tynes couldn’t find anything about it on the church website, so he sought answers on Prestonwood’s Facebook page. He linked to a story in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger about John Langworthy, 50, a former staff member at Prestonwood who pleaded guilty in January to molesting multiple boys in Mississippi in the early 1980s.
The story detailed a two-year personal quest for justice by Amy Smith, who worked with Langworthy as a college intern at Prestonwood, when Langworthy was reportedly fired for similar allegations in Texas in 1989.
That post was deleted, and Tynes followed up with another posting informing page administrators he had captured a screen shot and asking if they thought deleting his original message was really a good idea.
“I didn’t know what I had opened up,” Tynes said March 8. “I didn’t want to think it was a cover up.”
Before long Tynes was blocked from Prestonwood’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. He followed up with a series of e-mails directed toward church leaders, including one written in frustration asking how he and his family might go about having their names removed from the membership rolls.
That prompted a phone call from a staff member, who said he was unfamiliar with the social-media incident but would get answers and call him back. A meeting was scheduled on Wednesday, March 6, with Executive Pastor Mike Buster, but Tynes said he learned Monday night the meeting was canceled and would not be rescheduled. He went to the church on Tuesday and waited in the parking lot for Buster to return from a meeting, but before Buster arrived, a security team approached Tynes and asked him to leave.
Tynes’ story began showing up in blogs March 8.
“Prestonwood Baptist doesn’t call the cops on the molester, but they call the cops on the church member who asks questions about the molester” the FBC Jax Watchdogs reported.
“Prestonwood Baptist Church doesn’t seem to understand the power of social media yet,” observed the New BBC Open Forum, a blog started several years ago over reports of past sexual abuse at Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn.
A new Facebook page titled People Against Prestonwood’s Silence on Allegations of Sexual Abuse began compiling links about the Langworthy case.
A member of Prestonwood’s communications staff did not respond to an e-mail from ABPNews requesting comment. Blogger Dee Parsons reported on the Wartburg Watch that a church staff member told Prestonwood would not comment on the matter.
Tynes said in a phone interview he is still trying to make sense of the whole ordeal. “I’m just incredibly disappointed,” he said.
Tynes said at first he assumed there must be some reasonable explanation for the allegations in the news reports, and it never crossed his mind that anyone would think he was doing anything wrong by asking.
“This had never been on my radar at all,” he said. “This was all fresh to me a week ago.”
Tynes said he still wants to think the best about Pastor Jack Graham, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention who baptized his oldest son, but he is having a hard time understanding the church’s response.
“I still want to believe that he’s a good guy and really wants to do the right thing,” he said. “I don’t know how to reconcile it for now, but I haven’t gotten to the point where I think differently about that.”
Tynes said he is an optimist and still hopes it isn’t too late for reconciliation. He said he is fortunate to have a social network larger than just Prestonwood, including another church he has attended in the past, but friends he has spoken to at Prestonwood appear to be in denial and disbelief.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the experience hasn’t taken a spiritual toll. Before last week, Tynes said he was generally an easy going, fun-loving guy who never took anything seriously.
“This whole thing has totally changed me,” he said. “I don’t like being this serious all the time.”
Smith, the former Prestonwood intern featured in the newspaper story about Langworthy’s conviction, and now Houston representative for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, described Prestonwood’s actions against a longtime church member as “egregious.”
“In their attempts to silence and intimidate those who dare ask questions seeking answers and accountability, Prestonwood continues to wound victims, enable predators like Langworthy and endanger more kids,” she said. “Secrecy and silence helps only the predators. It’s the light of truth and knowledge that protects kids.”