Wednesday, April 15, 2009

First Baptist Church of Jacksonville Florida: Snakes and Vipers

Please pass this along. I just don't have the time to really go into all that is wrong with this situation, but I would love to see more folks post about this and show FBC JAX that attempts to suppress dissent will lead to a greater dissemination of that dissent. And though I am no longer a Christian, I still believe that it's important to strike a blow against those who misuse the authority they are granted, such as it is, as leaders of churches.

Thomas Rich, a member of FBC, was disturbed by the actions of one Mac Brunson, when he became the senior pastor of FBC. Seeing that the complaints lodged by him and other members of the church ignored, he started a blog to provide a platform from which to express the legitimate concerns of himself and other members of the church.

This situation took a very dangerous turn towards the end of last year, when Detective Robert Hinson of the Jacksonville sheriff's department and member of Brunson's security detail, opened an official investigation to discern Rich's identity and ultimately to quell dissent. Hinson, with the support of his superiors in the department, obtained a warrant from the state attorney's office to force google to reveal the identity of the previously anonymous Rich. Though the investigation turned up nothing illegal and though Rich was never contacted about the investigation, Hinson then revealed to church authorities that Rich was in fact the dissenting blogger.

Rich and his wife, longtime members of FBC JAX, have now been kicked out of the church and there is an official no trespassing order against them. FBC also did their best to ensure that Rich and his family wouldn't be welcome in other Jacksonville churches. Moreover, the church board and the deacon's counsel have passed a resolution to ensure they can quickly and efficiently quell any future dissent against the FBC power structure (see video in the above link).

While I am no longer a man of Faith, I fully understand just how difficult this must be for Rich and his family. Being booted out of one's church family can be and often is very painful - a pain I am all to aware of. And beyond the direct impact on the Rich family, this story has very frightening implications for all of us. Yet another situation where police authority has been abused, in an attempt to quell dissent - this time in the name of a church. I have yet to hear back from Thomas Rich, having only just emailed him, but I have little doubt that he would object to a short letter of support (email at his blog).

I also think it would be appropriate to write the FBC JAX, to voice your distaste for their tactics and to let them know that by their actions, they will be known - that because they chose to act in this manner, the criticisms leveled by Rich will be spread much further than they ever would have. And comments can be sent to the Jacksonville sheriff's department, via this email form - or by phoning them through this link. If you do use the email form, be sure to use the drop menu at the top of the form and use the label general comments. And the State Attorney's office can be contacted at or (904) 630-2400.

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