By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist megachurch claims it called police on a longtime church member not for questioning how church leaders handled a matter of sexual abuse two decades ago, but for posting threatening messages on Twitter.
“When it comes to protecting our people, we take that very seriously,” Ben Lovvorn, director of administration at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, said in a news story broadcast March 14 on Dallas-Fort Worth television station WFAA.
The segment showed screen shots captured from the Twitter account of Chris Tynes, a 14-year member of Prestonwood. One showed a photo of a minister’s parking spot with the words, “My target.” Another said, “I’m sitting in my perfect ambush spot.”
The WFAA story doesn’t say why the 32,000-member megachurch was monitoring Tynes’ Twitter account in the first place. Tynes said March 15 those messages appeared only briefly and were taken down before security guards ordered him off the church campus when he showed up without an appointment to try and meet with a church leader March 5.
Tynes called the postings “a stupid moment of bravado” written in frustration at having to drive to the church after Executive Pastor Mike Buster agreed to a meeting with him but then canceled it and refused to reschedule. Tynes said he felt his only recourse was to ask Buster in person why he canceled their meeting.
Tynes said he had been using Twitter only a few days and had about 10 followers, all close friends. He said one of his friends suggested his choice of words might be misunderstood, and he agreed and took the postings down.
Tynes said the whole thing would be a non-story if church leaders had kept their promise to talk to him about why they blocked him from social media for asking on the church Facebook page if news stories claiming Prestonwood failed to report a known child molester to police in the 1980s were true.
“There’s an appropriate time and place to address concerns, and a Facebook page is not the time and place for that,” Lovronn told WFAA.
Lovronn said the meeting was canceled after, “We learned Mr. Tynes really had no interest in meeting with the church in good faith.”
Tynes said he had not done anything publicly at the point Prestonwood canceled their meeting, and he thought when Buster agreed to meet with him and his wife that it was in good faith.
Tynes was interviewed for the story March 11. He expected to watch it that night but was told two nights in a row the story got bumped due to breaking news. After seeing the broadcast Thursday night, he said he was disappointed.
WFFA framed the story as a case of social media causing discord in a church. It described a church member “using social media to go on the attack.”
“These days reputations can be damaged with the click of a mouse,” an anchor person said leading into the report.
The story said Prestonwood officials were “surprised” to see Tynes writing on the church Facebook page about recently convicted child molester John Langworthy, who worked at Prestonwood Baptist more than 20 years ago but was let go after reportedly confessing to sexual misconduct with a minor.
It wrapped up with the summary, “Hard lessons on both sides about navigating through negativity in an online world.”
Church leaders told WFAA they filed a police report labeling Tynes as a “suspicious person, possibly violent” after he turned from Facebook to Twitter and started making “terroristic” threats.
“I’ve never been called a terrorist before,” Tynes tweeted March 14.
Tynes said he hasn’t accused Prestonwood of anything, but only asked questions about allegations made by somebody else. He said making him the story is Prestonwood’s only defense, adding that even after being publicly declared a terrorist, he still would be willing to sit down and hear the church’s side.
“I would meet with anybody at Prestonwood who is willing to answer my questions about this topic,” he said. “Unfortunately, I’ve been told by everyone I’ve talked to at PBC that Mike Buster is the only one to speak with on this topic.”
“For what it’s worth, I dislike this need for secrecy, to only talk about things behind closed doors,” Tynes added. “My message to Mike Buster would have been to implore him to make this a public thing and truly get past embarrassment and into healing.”
Tynes said in a little more than a week his new Facebook page, People Against Prestonwood’s Silence on Allegations of Sexual Abuse, has already reached about 7,000 people. He said he has been receiving messages of support from all over the country and even a few from overseas.
Prestonwood told WFAA they don’t plan to press charges against Tynes, but he is banned from setting foot on the Plano campus, one of three locations for the multi-site congregation led by former Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham.
Prestonwood didn’t respond to an e-mail request from ABPnews.com for a comment about a story concerning its dispute with Tynes published last Friday. Blogger Dee Parsons said she received a stern-sounding phone call from someone claiming to be a Prestonwood staff member who said the church had no comment and then immediately hung up.