Steve - it is clear the actions of Mac Brunson and the police and state prosecutor in this matter have really captured the attention of Jacksonville. I see the editorial from yesterday had almost 2000 reads, and 4 pages of comments and was the most read and commented news story for the day - the vast majority of the comments were anti-FBC Jax. What screams loudest is the silence from any FBC Jax people - very few are posting and defending the integrity of their pastor.
It is quite unfortunate it has gone this far. This public travesty which has garnered attention from all over the country, and probably will go national news as the lawsuit progresses, it falls square in the lap of the leadership of the church. To deal with this lone blogger they had many options, and they chose the wrong option strategically - could have ignored it, could have addressed the concerns raised publicly, could have posted responses to the blog on their blogs, could have filed a slander/libel suit to identify the blogger and then demand false information be removed...A.C. Soud admitted in the Deacon's resolution they considered several options.
But they chose the wrong strategy: to contact the police, use past, unreported criminal allegations to tie them to the blogger, to get the police to subpoena his identity. This pulling in of the police into this church discipline matter has now exposed them to be prime witnesses to a lawsuit against the police, and they have exposed themselves to depositions of internal church matters. As William has pointed out, this will go down in SBC history as a case study of how NOT to handle church discipline of a vocal critic. Sadly, ironically, Mac and A.C. Soud viewed themselves as being clever, "cutting edge", in their strategy. It has now erupted into an out-of-control media news storm. Failed leadership to the extreme.
There is no way that any of this would have gone to the local news media if it were just a church squabble. The Times Union interest in this story was only in that the local sheriff's office was found to have been investigating church blogs. That was the point the Times Union was compelled to report this story.
But to make matters worse, after they chose the wrong strategy to involve the police in their church "tussle" as the Times Union reporter called it, they then chose the wrong tactics every single step of the way.
Let's look at their tactical errors, any ONE of them if they had not committed might have avoided this public fiasco:
1. They wrote a letter declaring they found the bloggers identity. Probably should have first gone to meet with him and told him they suspected he was the blogger, and asked him to stop and offered to answer questions and meet with the pastor. Three page letter as a first step? A face to face with one or two men with the blogger would have been better. And biblical.
2. They issued trespass warnings ALONG WITH the letter for Tom Rich. Probably shouldn't have done that. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Didn't the trustees see this?
3. They then decided to ban his wife at the same time. Wasn't there one trustee or pastor who would have seen this as over-kill, and would be seen as vindictive and mean. What is there to gain by filing trespass warnings against a woman in the church for the sin of associating with her husband? This act told Rich undoubtedly they were not seeking reconciliation, but were out instead to hurt him and his family to revenge the hurt they felt the blogger had caused their pastor.
4. They then decided to not give in to a single one of his demands to meet with them - they could have had the meeting in December if they had agreed to allow him to bring a witness or tape recorder, and picked up the phone and told him how he was identified. They decided not to - showing they really weren't all that concerned with meeting with him, and they signaled to him they just wanted him gone forever.
5. They decided to officially file trespass warnings with the JSO against Rich and wife. This was the only public record anywhere with Rich's name on it. If not for this document, the Times Union may not have ever found Rich's name.
6. After they received word he joined another church, they could have rejoiced and said finally, let's wait for the guy to stop blogging now that he is gone. Nope. They had to continue their discipline process against a person no longer a member.
7. They could have decided not to release the name of Thomas Rich to the deacons on Feb 23rd. That was not necessary to get them to ratify the Deacon's Resolution. If they had not released Thomas Rich's name to the deacons as the blog owner, they would have been in good shape as word of the mail stealing and stalking and state attorney would not have reached Rich.
8. At the meeting, they also had to tell the deacons about stalking, mail stealing in reference to the blogger. Big mistake. Then, perhaps the biggest blunder was mentioning the words "state attorney's investigation". They told the deacons to not let that information out of the room, but apparently it got back to Tom Rich that he had possibly been accused of crimes and the state attorney was involved - compelling Tom Rich to then do his own investigation at JSO and state attorney's office to uncover what they had done to him in October.
9. Then, they also had to go before the church to read the Deacon's Resolution. Rich was already gone, joined another church, but they couldn't help themselves. They had to read the resolution and get the church to vote on it. They felt it necessary to make a public example of the blogger, and warn the other members of a similar fate if they did the same thing. And it brings up the quesiton: if they felt compelled to tell the deacons Rich's name, why not tell the congregation also? Their failure to give Rich's name to the church in the resolution was not a show of restraint, but it was a legal maneuver to try to avoid a lawsuit from publicly disciplining someone who had already left the church; but it begs the question: then why release his name to the 70 to 100 deacons, which as I said was a tactical mistake as well potentially a legal mistake.
10. They then proudly displayed the Deacons resolution on their website for about a month. If it was an internal church matter of church discipline, why a public display on their website?
11. Then the pastor had to go and call him a mentally unstable sociopath in the local media.
That, Steve, is the "perfect storm" caused by group think of failed leadership - a group of very smart men who could not see at each step of the way what they were getting their church into, and the great risk they put their church at in every step. It stinks of arrogance and vindictiveness.
And Randy - none of the above has anything to do with Rich not first going to the pastor. That was way before any of this, and irrelevant to their decision making process.
And now there is no going back, the genie is out of the bottle, and now everyone, including Rich, must face the music of unbiblical church discipline run amok. And the city of Jacksonville, along with the SBC, is watching.