Thursday, April 19, 2007

Prayers for the Hokies

I have been in shock over what happened Monday morning at Virginia Tech. Being a professor on a college campus makes this tragedy even more frightening for me and my colleagues. This could have happened anywhere. In fact, we've had some scares over the last few years (one episode with me personally), always dealt with well by our campus and administration here at Campbell University. Nevertheless, we have all been just a little bit "jumpy" this week.

As I have processed this though, there are four thoughts that I have:

(1) How in the world was this troubled young man able to purchase two handguns and the ammunition for them? I know, he didn't violate any laws. That's precisely my point. Why can the N.R.A. at least not support some kind of national registry and at least a 15 day waiting period with requisite background checks before allowing someone to purchase a firearm? We all know that we live in a world with some people who do not need to own guns. And that has to be balanced with the law-abiding citizen who wants to purchase a firearm for hunting or even for protection. Could there not be some type of balance here? It would seem to me that this would be reasonable.

Related to that, unless I am mistaken, the shooter at Virginia Tech was not a U.S. citizen. He was a permanent resident alien. Should there not be again a federal law that would require all people who want to purchase a firearm to prove U.S. citizenship? Would that not be prudent, especially in a post-911 world?

(2) Why was the shooter still a student at Virginia Tech given all that has come out recently about his psychological condition? There was a 2005 court ruling which determined that he was a potential threat. And, there were faculty members and students who several times sounded the alarm and raised red flags about him. Was there not some procedure in place for removing him from the student body before it ever came to this? Did someone "drop the ball" here?

(3) Why did NBC feel that it needed to broadcast the "Cho Manifesto" to the nation yesterday? Oh, I know. They had a "scoop." They had something none of the other news agencies had and they knew they'd have a ratings winner. So, they promoted it all afternoon yesterday and finally broadcast those disturbing photographs and video yesterday evening. But, I fail to see how any of that really added to the story. I fail to see how any of that was journalism. No reporter went out there and "got" the story. It was a package that came to them that no other news agency had. All that was accomplished was to allow a troubled mass murderer to wreak havoc once again on grieving family members and the entire Virginia Tech community. NBC got it right with Imus (although I suspect that the decision to fire Imus was motivated more by financial issues rather than ethics) but made a serious mistake yesterday.

(4) Finally, I have a student here at Campbell University whose sister is a student at Virginia Tech. She was supposed to have been in that infamous building for class on Monday morning, but as it turned out, she overslept and missed class that morning. However, her two suitemates were both killed. Please keep this young woman in your prayers.

Also, I receive an email from a man named Brent Cloyd each week. He is a used theological books salesman. On Monday afternoon I received an email from him (which went to his entire list) requesting prayer for his niece, Austin Cloyd. She was a student at Virginia Tech. He said that his brother had not been able to raise her on the phone or via email and she was not admitted to any of the hospitals. They were fearing the worst. Finally, I got a follow-up email from him on Tuesday that they had confirmation that she was one of the victims that had been killed. Please pray for the family of Austin Cloyd.

At 11:00 this morning the tower bells on our campus tolled 32 times as we all observed a moment of silence for the victims and their families. I was struck by how long it took for the bell to ring 32 times. It was truly an unimaginable loss for the family members.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Don Imus' Troubles

I have never been a fan of Don Imus. I don't like his show. I particularly have disagreed with some of his political points of view in the past. I don't like the way he makes fun of people. In short, I confess that I simply do not like him. However, the fact that I don't like him gives me no reason to call for his removal from the airwaves. Like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, both radio talk-show hosts with whom I vehemently disagree, Imus has every right in the world under the first amendment to have a show on the public airwaves and to say anything he wants. I am an ardent defender of the first amendment. I believe freedom of speech is the bedrock freedom of our society in America. This includes everything from political disagreeements to calling political leaders various names in mocking humor.

However, I also believe that freedom of speech entails a certain level of responsibility. If you are speaking to an audience of millions, you need to show some wisdom not only in what you say but also in how you say it. If you are going to yell "fire" in a crowded theatre, you'd better be prepared to accept the consequences if people get hurt in the rush to get out.

Which brings me back to Don Imus. On his show last Wednesday morning, he made fun of the Rutgers University Women's basketball team by saying first:

"That's some rough girls from Rutgers," Imus said. "Man, they got tattoos ... ."

He then followed up that comment with: "That's some nappy-headed hos there, I'm going to tell you that."

Finally, his producer Bernard McGuirk said, made reference to a Spike Lee movie and characterized the game as being between the "jigaboos and the wannabees."

Here's where the consequences come in. This is nothing short of hate-filled, racist speech. It is not tolerated except in the very sleaziest of places in our society such as Klan meetings, and back room conversations in the South (or North for that matter). And, so I believe that Don Imus and Bernard McGuirk ought to be summarily fired for this outburst. Other radio talk show hosts have been fired for less. I don't care how popular Imus is. I don't care how much money he makes for CBS Radio. I believe these comments are totally unacceptable for the public airwaves.

For a complete video of the episode last wednesday see this link:

Monday, April 02, 2007

Mega Churches and Shady Finances

If you are a member of a church which does not fully disclose all financial information, you perhaps ought to be suspicious. This has been an on-going dispute at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN recently with a group in the church demanding financial and other records in light of several scandals which have erupted in the congregation surrounding the successor to Adrian Rogers, Steve Gaines. You can read about Bellevue's woes here:

Now, here's another story about still another mega-church whose pastor refuses to disclose how he's spending the church's money. Church member beware. Just because a flashy, smooth-talking person claims to have a "call from God," that does not entitle that person to no accountability. Pastors are accountable. In an episcopal system of church governement, they are accountable to the bishop. In a congregational form of church government, they are accountable to the membership of the local church. Hold them accountable!!!

The story below is from: www.

Shell Games and Secrecy Keith Herron04-02-07

When The Kansas City Star published an investigative story a few weeks ago about the secretive financial oversight of one of the Baptist mega-churches in the area, it was as if a bomb went off in the community.
The news story reported that several hundred members had left the First Family Church of Overland Park, Kan., in the last few years because of the church's refusal to provide members with financial reports of the church income and expenses and the enforced secrecy surrounding the salaries and benefits of the pastor and those family members who are paid staff members.

Accountability issues also involved the broken promises of how funds raised to fund one capital campaign were apparently used to pay for another campaign, while other funds raised for particular projects were either mysteriously delayed or never spent for their stated purpose. Additionally, false explanations were given to the church about how a land deal was consummated according to court records. The members have left over their inability to get answers to their questions about these matters.

Pastor Jerry Johnston exercises tight control over financial disclosure policies by hiding behind the claim that all church financial records are accountable to a board of trustees. According to the story, a lawyer listed in church corporation papers as a board member acknowledged he hadn't been to a board meeting in years, didn't know he was a board member and hadn't attended the church in years.

Former members of a building committee for a recent project left the church out of frustration in obtaining financial reports in order to apply for loan approval to fund the project. They were repeatedly denied the reports and in the end, Johnston covered the loan himself. It is unknown whether he utilized the financial resources of others or underwrote the loan himself. The details are unknown to the members of the church. Within weeks, the entire building committee resigned. It should be noted that Johnston disagreed with the facts of the new story on this point. "Respectfully, I disagree," he said about these accusations.

Members are not given access for the salaries or benefits given to the pastor and staff. Complaints criticize the exorbitant life styles of the pastor and his family listing expensive cars, homes, clothing and the use of an exclusive and high-priced American Express card. Johnston has recently hired a public relations specialist from Dallas to handle all responses to the news stories.

The pastor responded defensively with the warning a few weeks before the story broke that the congregation should expect adversaries to attack them and their ministry. "Whenever God's work is being built, Satan sends opponents, and he energizes opponents," Johnston said. "Beware of Satan as he speaks through different people."

Johnston was apparently referring to the upcoming news story implying that the reporter, a member of another large church in the area, had an ulterior motive to hurt the credibility of the church and its pastor in order to benefit her own church.

The news story also highlighted the duplicity of claims the pastor has a doctoral degree. Johnston uses "Dr. Jerry Johnston" publicly and in all church publications and media, but in fact he does not have such a degree other than the honorary doctorate received when invited by Jerry Falwell to preach the baccalaureate service at Liberty University in 1998.

Johnston was a high school dropout from the Christian high school he attended in Kansas City in the 1970s. He later passed the general equivalency degree but has not earned college or graduate degrees beyond that. He claims he will graduate this spring with a bachelor's degree in biblical studies from the Midwestern Baptist College (SBC), the undergraduate program of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.

While the letters to the editor in The Kansas City Star have been numerous and polarized, it's clear the issue of trust and integrity are central to the story. Many have defended Johnston and the First Family Church as being the victim of a scathing news story that was unfair in light of all the good the church has done in the community while others have voiced their opposition to the strange need for absolute control of such matters.

The news report on First Family's secretive control of their finances has created a community-wide conversation on the issues of trust, disclosure and integrity. In a follow-up article on this issue, a number of local pastors and congregations were asked about their practices regarding financial accountability.

The majority of responses were openly counter to the practices of Johnston at First Family. Nodell Dennis, director of missions for the Blue River-Kansas City Baptist Association said, "The first thing I tell pastors is 'Don't touch the money.'" By that he meant the church should hold itself responsible for creating a system of accountability where the funds are appropriately protected and spent according to a budget system that's open to all members for approval and regular review. Such an open system would create a safe barrier between the minister and the money.

The open accountability of a church's financial reports are a form of sacred trust. Some call it a "covenant" between church members and God that is mutually shared between all members, including the pastor and other ministers.

Dan Busby, vice-president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, says the best way to engender trust in a congregation is to be open about its money. "If there isn't that basic appropriate transparency, then people in and out of the congregation will tend to believe that something is being hidden, whether it is or not," he said.

Churches cannot be healthy where secrets abound and refusing to answer the hard questions has the appearance of being its own answer.

Keith D. Herron is senior pastor at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo.