When the church doors open, only white people will be allowed inside.
After permit approved for whites-only church, small Minnesota town insists it isn’t racist
City leaders said if they had turned down Asatru Folk Assembly, they would have faced an expensive legal battle.
When the church doors open, only white people will be allowed inside.
That’s the message the Asatru Folk Assembly in Murdock, Minnesota, is sending after being granted a conditional use permit to open a church there and practice its pre-Christian religion that originated in northern Europe.
Despite a council vote officially approving the permit this month, residents are pushing back against the decision.
Opponents have collected about 50,000 signatures on an online petition to stop the all-white church from making its home in the farming town of 280 people.
“I think they thought they could fly under the radar in a small town like this, but we’d like to keep the pressure on them,” said Peter Kennedy, a longtime Murdock resident. “Racism is not welcome here.”
Many locals said they support the growing population of Latinos, who have moved to the area in the past decade because of job opportunities, over the church.
“Just because the council gave them a conditional permit does not mean that the town and people in the area surrounding will not be vigilant in watching and protecting our area,” Jean Lesteberg, who lives in the neighboring town of De Graff, wrote on the city’s Facebook page.
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes Asatru Folk Assembly as a “neo-Volkisch hate group” that couches “their bigotry in baseless claims of bloodlines grounding the superiority of one’s white identity.”
Many residents call them a white supremacist or white separatist group, but church members deny it.
“We’re not. It’s just simply not true,” said Allen Turnage, a folk assembly board member. “Just because we respect our own culture, that doesn’t mean we are denigrating someone else’s.”
The group, based in Brownsville, California, says teachings and membership are for those of strictly European bloodlines.
The church was looking for a new church in the eastern North Dakota region when they came across Murdock. It’s unknown how many members they have worldwide or how many people will attend the new church.
“We do not need salvation. All we need is freedom to face our destiny with courage and honor,” the group wrote on its website about their beliefs. “We honor the Gods under the names given to them by our Germanic/Norse ancestors.”
Their forefathers, according to the website, were “Angels and Saxons, Lombards and Heruli, Goths and Vikings, and, as sons and daughters of these people, they are united by ties of blood and culture undimmed by centuries.”
“We respect the ways our ancestors viewed the world and approached the universe a thousand years ago,” Turnage said.
A small contingent of church supporters in Murdock said the community should be open-minded and respectful to all.
“I find it hypocritical, for lack of a better term, of my community to show much hate towards something they don’t understand. I for one don’t see a problem with it,” Jesse James, who said he has lived in Murdock for 26 years, wrote on Facebook.
“I do not wish to follow in this pagan religion, however, I feel it’s important to recognize and support each other’s beliefs,” he said.
Murdock council members said they do not support the church but were legally obligated to approve the permit, which they did in a 3-1 decision.
“We were highly advised by our attorney to pass this permit for legal reasons to protect the First Amendment rights,” Mayor Craig Kavanagh said. “We knew that if this was going to be denied, we were going to have a legal battle on our hands that could be pretty expensive.”
Americans have become lovers of themselves and forgotten the God who created us! America…. REPENT!
Rosemary Ketchum (who according to Wiki is a Christian) named Ian at birth, and raised in East Liverpool, Ohio, on Wednesday was elected as the Third Ward representative of West Virginia’s Wheeling City Council. Ketchum is the first openly transgender person to win an election in the state.
Ketchum’s campaign focused on issues ranging from opioid addiction to affordable housing. Ketchum also focused on improving infrastructure, providing better resources to law enforcement, helping small businesses flourish and transforming local clean energy consumption and waste management.
We are living in a time where absolute mockery of God and His creation is blatant. There is no fear of God- No desire to be holy- and all sin is justified by taking bible scriptures out of context.
CINCINNATI, Ohio— An apostate assembly that identifies itself as “a loving and progressive faith community” held a drag queen story time last Sunday as the building caretaker dressed in drag to read a book in scheduled children’s time during the Sunday, June 16 worship service.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reports Dan Davidson dressed up as “Sparke Leigh” complete with a purple dress, makeup, high heels, and “a glitter beard” and stood at the Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church door greeting members and visitors and read to the congregation a story about homosexual politician Harvey Milk and the creation of the rainbow flag.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Dan Davidson had previously performed as a drag queen in Seattle, Washington before moving to Ohio and joining Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, led by Stacey Midge. Davidson is a caretaker for the facility.
Last Sunday, Davidson donned a purple dress and high heels and applied a glitter beard as he presented himself as “Sparkle Leigh.” Following the song “God Welcomes All” by the church choir, Davidson took the stage to read the book “Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag” to children and adults alike. Milk is considered the first openly homosexual elected politician in California and worked as a homosexual rights activist. Acquaintance Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag known today as the symbol for homosexual, bisexual and transgender pride.
“Harvey dreamed that everyone — even gay people — would have equality,” Davidson read. “He dreamed that one day, people would be able to live and love as they pleased.”
“Harvey and his friends planned marches to protest inequality and unfair laws. And just days before one of the marches, Harvey had an idea. … We need a symbol that shows who we are and how we feel. … Harvey knew an artist who could help — Gilbert Baker.”
Some in attendance held up their cell phones to reenact the San Francisco candlelight vigil for Milk, as mentioned in the book.
The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the Mount Auburn Presbyterian is in the midst of celebrating Pride Month, and is decorated with pride flags and rainbow candles. One man told his “coming out” story during the service.
Davidson stood near the entrance at the end of the gathering and spoke to the people as they left.
Despite what laws are agreed upon or not, abortion is murder and murdering an innocent baby is wrong! The word “abort” is used instead of “murder” to make it more socially acceptable. Thou shalt not kill!
In an apparent compromise in a case from Indiana, the justices turned down an appeal that asked the court to reinstate a state law banning abortions sought solely because of the sex or disability of a fetus. But the court upheld part of the same law requiring abortion providers to bury or cremate fetal remains.
The case, Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, No. 18-483, had been closely watched because it could have given the Supreme Court its first chance to consider the constitutionality of a state law restricting abortion since Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh replaced Justice Anthony M. Kennedy last year.
Justice Kennedy had been a cautious supporter of abortion rights, while Justice Kavanaugh’s limited record on the subject as an appeals court judge suggested some skepticism.
The modest move on Tuesday left for another day the consideration of state laws limiting abortion that were enacted, at least partly, to challenge Roe v. Wade. Such laws are being enacted at a brisk pace, including one in Alabama banning almost all abortions in the state, without exceptions for rape and incest, and others that bar the procedure after doctors can detect what the measures call a “fetal heartbeat,” which happens around six weeks of pregnancy.
The new laws are intended to give the Supreme Court an opportunity to reconsider Roe.
The court’s decision on Tuesday, issued without briefing on the merits or oral arguments, was unsigned and just three pages long. The court stressed that its decision on fetal remains was not a ruling about abortion rights.
In declining to hear an appeal on the law banning abortions sought for specific reasons, the court said it was expressing no views on the constitutionality of such laws. A split among lower courts is ordinarily required for Supreme Court review, and in this case, the court noted, there was no such disagreement.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have denied review of both issues in the case.
The Indiana law was enacted in 2016 and signed by Gov. Mike Pence, now the vice president. It prohibited all abortions, at any time during a pregnancy, solely sought based on the fetus’s sex, or because it had been diagnosed with Down syndrome or “any another disability,” listing conditions like scoliosis, albinism, dwarfism and “physical or mental disease.” The law also barred abortions sought because of characteristics like race or national origin.
The state law also imposed limits on the disposal of fetal remains, though it allowed mass cremations and did not impose any restrictions on women who disposed of the remains themselves.
A statement issued by Mr. Pence’s office on Tuesday said he “commends the Supreme Court for upholding a portion of Indiana law that safeguards the sanctity of human life by requiring that remains of aborted babies be treated with respect and dignity.”
“We remain hopeful,” the statement said, “that at a later date the Supreme Court will review one of numerous state laws across the U.S. that bar abortion based on sex, race or disability.”
A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, unanimously struck down the provision limiting permissible reasons for having an abortion, though one judge said he did so reluctantly and only because he was bound by Supreme Court precedent.
In 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court ruled that states may not prohibit abortions or place substantial obstacles in the way of women seeking them before fetal viability. Judge William J. Bauer, writing for the majority on the Seventh Circuit, said that ruling doomed the law’s restrictions.
“By choosing not to thoroughly investigate allegations, the Catholic Church has failed in its moral obligation to provide survivors, parishioners and the public a complete and accurate accounting of all sexually inappropriate behavior involving priests in Illinois,”
CHICAGO – Nearly 400 Catholic clergy members in Illinois have been accused of sexual misconduct, but church officials have only informed congregants of a fraction of those who have faced allegations, according to attorneys who represented clergy sex abuse victims across the USA.
A 182-page report, published by the Minnesota-based law firm Jeff Anderson and Associates, includes the names, background information, photos and assignment histories of each accused clergy member.
“The danger of sexual abuse in Illinois is clearly a problem of today, not just the past,” the report concludes. “This will continue to be a danger until the identities and histories of sexually abusive clerics, religious employees and seminarians are made public.”
Anderson said he hopes the report will push church leaders to publicly identify hundreds more clergy who faced allegations.
The men named in the report worked in the Archdiocese of Chicago and the dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria, Rockford and Springfield. Dioceses’ officials pushed back on the report’s findings.
The Archdiocese of Chicago, which serves about 2.1 million Catholics, said it “does not “police itself.”
“It reports all allegations to the civil authorities, regardless of the date of the alleged abuse, whether the priest is a diocesan priest or religious order priest, and whether the priest is alive or dead,” the archdiocese said in a statement.
Andrew Hansen, a spokesman for the Springfield Diocese, dismissed the report as “an impressive professional marketing brochure.”
He noted one of the priests listed in the report, Rev. Frank Martinez, had spent about six weeks in 1985 working as a hospital chaplain in the central Illinois diocese before resigning his position.
The following year Martinez, who was assigned to a parish in Buffalo, Iowa, was accused of propositioning a 15-year-old boy in an Iowa motel room. Martinez was removed from the ministry in 2004. In 2008, he was included on a list by the Davenport Diocese of 24 priests credibly accused of sexual abuse.
“(The report) does not represent, as Mr. Anderson suggests, a thorough and diligent review of the publicly available facts, and it is highly misleading and irresponsible,” Hansen said.
The Rockford Diocese said in a statement it has not disclosed allegations against many of the clergy on Anderson’s list “because the accusations either have not been substantiated or are completely without merit.”Joliet Diocese officials also said that allegations against some named on Anderson’s list have not been substantiated.
“The list includes a number of priests, living and deceased who, at one time or another provided some ministry within the Diocese of Joliet at some point during their priesthood, but are not priests of the Diocese of Joliet,” the Joliet Diocese said in a statement.
Rockford Diocese officials said they were unaware that one former priest named on the list, Rev. Ivan Rovira, had been found to have committed sexual abuse of a child after he left Northern Illinois in the early 1970s. The Brownsville, Texas Diocese earlier this year placed Rovira on its list of “clergy with credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.”
Rovira admitted to Brownsville Diocese officials in 2002 that he had sexually abused a boy during his time working in Texas. He was forced to leave the ministry, and later fled to Mexico, according to the Anderson report.
“Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this list, and the list covers the time frame of 1908, when this diocese was established, to the present,” the Rockford Diocese said in its statement. “An allegation against a priest who had an assignment in this diocese but belongs to a religious order or other diocese is referred to the religious order or other diocese to which the priest belongs and is under its jurisdiction.”
Attorneys culled the names of the clergy named in the report from legal settlements and news reports detailing claims of child sexual abuse. Although lawsuits were filed involving many of the alleged perpetrators, the majority of the claims against the individuals were settled, according to the report.
“We’ve chosen to reveal this information, because the Catholic bishops and religious orders who are in charge and have this information . . . have chosen to conceal it,” Anderson said.
The six Catholic dioceses of Illinois released the names of 185 clergy members who church officials determined were credibly accused of sexual abuse. The Anderson list includes those who were identified by the Illinois dioceses and more than 200 additional priests and deacons.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who left office in January, issued a preliminary report in December that found there are at least 500 clergy from Illinois’ dioceses who have faced allegations of abuse. The church has not publicly acknowledged or thoroughly investigated those claims, Madigan’s report found. She did not name those accused of misconduct.
Madigan launched her investigation in August after a landmark Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed claims against more than 300 “predator priests” who had abused at least 1,000 victims over roughly six decades. The former Illinois attorney general said her office was flooded with hundreds of emails and calls from people alleging they were victims of abuse by clergy in Illinois in the aftermath of the Pennsylvania report.
Madigan is one of at least 14 state attorney generals who have confirmed investigations or reviews after the Pennsylvania report. Madigan’s successor, Kwame Raoul, said before he took office in January that he was committed to continuing the investigation.
“By choosing not to thoroughly investigate allegations, the Catholic Church has failed in its moral obligation to provide survivors, parishioners and the public a complete and accurate accounting of all sexually inappropriate behavior involving priests in Illinois,” Madigan said.
Weeks after Madigan released her report, Anderson, along with other attorneys and clergy sex abuse survivors, launched the “Fight for 500” initiative calling on the Illinois dioceses to release the names of clergy.
The list published Wednesday includes priests and deacons whose affiliations in some cases date back decades. Many of the accused have died.
The report notes the Archdiocese of Los Angeles settled a civil lawsuit in 2007 alleging the Rev. Robert Boley accosted a young girl in the 1980s. Boley moved to a Chicago parish in 1989 and also served at parishes in Darien, Ill., Englewood, N.J., and Louisville, Ky.
“As of 2007, it was believed that Fr. Boley was residing at the Carmelite House in Joliet, Illinois, and working in their archives,” the report says. “Fr. Boley’s current whereabouts, status as a priest, and whether he has access to children are unknown.”
In another case, the report says David Stalzer, an ordained priest in the Joliet diocese, faced a civil lawsuit in 1993, in which he was accused of child sexual abuse while he was working at a diocese parish.
“It is believed that Fr. Stalzer returned to active duty later that year under supervision and purportedly with limited contact with children,” according to the report.
The suit was dismissed in 1994 after the accuser dropped out of sight, according to the Joliet Herald-News. Stalzer died in 2001.
The list includes one priest who is in active ministry, Anderson said.
The priest, who is assigned to a parish on Chicago’s North Side, was temporarily removed from his position in December 2013 after the archdiocese received reports of him molesting a child at another Chicago-area parish where he worked 20 years earlier.
The Chicago Archdiocese reinstated the priest into active ministry months later, after law enforcement found insufficient evidence to prosecute him.
Days after he was reinstated, another man came forward and said he saw the same priest molest a teenage boy at a suburban fitness center. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office opened an investigation, but the claim was never substantiated no charges were filed.
Anderson defended putting the priest on the list even though authorities had not corroborated the allegations.
“(He) may be innocent, but given the fact that are two public allegations that have been made against him, we feel and believe that it needs to be publicly disclosed as somebody whohas been publicly accused and not adjudicated,” Anderson said.
“We will refuse to provide assistance to foreign NGO’S that give financial support to other foreign groups in the global abortion industry”…
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Tuesday the expansion of the Trump administration’s ban on US aid to groups that promote or provide abortions.
Pompeo said he’s extended the ban to include organizations that may follow the rules while simultaneously passing funding along to other groups that don’t.
The secretary said the Trump administration will not allow American taxpayer money to pay for “backdoor funding schemes” for abortion.
“The American people should rest assured that this administration and this State Department and our USAID will do all we can to safeguard US taxpayer dollars and protect and respect the sanctity of life for people all around the globe,” Pompeo said.
Pompeo said the administration was committed to protecting “the sanctity of life” in the United States and abroad and would enforce the policy “to the broadest extent possible” by not allowing foreign non-governmental organizations to skirt the ban.
“We will refuse to provide assistance to foreign NGOs that give financial support to other foreign groups in the global abortion industry,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department. “We will enforce a strict prohibition on backdoor funding schemes and end runs around our policy. American taxpayer dollars will not be used to underwrite abortions.”
Critics say this hurts reproductive and maternal health care in developing nations.
Pompeo denied that claim and said the US would continue to be a leader in such aid. The US spends $9 billion to support global health programs. It wasn’t immediately clear how much would be cut, but pro-choice advocates were furious at the news.
“This administration’s obsession with attacking women’s reproductive health is egregious and dangerous,” Sen. Jean Shaheen (D-NH) said. “Further expanding the global gag rule puts international organizations in an impossible position: provide women the full scope of reproductive health care services or deny critical funding that saves lives. That is unconscionable.”
Pro-life groups welcomed the move.
The Susan B. Anthony Fund praised Pompeo’s decision in a statement, saying: “We are excited to see Secretary Pompeo taking additional steps to ensure that Americans’ hard-earned dollars are actually used for health assistance, not funneled to groups that push abortion.”
The most shameful part of all of this is the number women who are in support of this abominable bill. Women- the only givers of life are in support of baby murder, we are certainly living in the last days! It would be better for a woman to use birth control instead of murdering a baby!
The most shameful part of all of this is the number women who are in support of this abominable bill. Women- the only givers of life are in support of baby murder, we are certainly living in the last days! It would be better for a woman to use birth control instead of murdering a baby!
After an intense debate for and against the proposal, the New York state Legislature passed a bill that makes it legal for doctors and other health care professionals, such as midwives and physician assistants, to perform abortions up until birth for any reason in the state. This really shouldn’t be a big surprise to anyone. Once the bill was passed allowing men to change their sex from male to female, and women from female to male this act (which wont be the final act) was inevitable.
The so-called Reproductive Health Act that abortion advocates have been trying to get passed for 12 years and has been vehemently opposed by religious and conservative groups, passed with a 38-28 vote and thunderous applause in the state Senate chamber. The bill codifies federal abortion rights guaranteed under the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and removes abortion from the state’s criminal code. Which means the American “church” is a useless entity that “goes with the flow” so that their checks will continue to roll in from the government!
“We have a president who’s made it very, very clear that he wants to overturn Roe v. Wade,” state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said at a news conference ahead of the vote, according to the Albany Times Union. “Today, here in New York, we are saying no. We are saying no, not here in New York. And we’re not just saying no. We’re saying that here in New York, women’s health matters. We’re saying here in New York, women’s lives matter. We’re saying here in New York, women’s decisions matter.”
Abortion was legalized in New York some three years before the Roe v. Wade decision, but remained on the state’s criminal code, making it a felony to perform late-term abortions according to the Democrat & Chronicle.
The law defined homicide as “conduct which causes the death of a person or an unborn child with which a female has been pregnant for more than 24 weeks.”
The Reproductive Health Act removes abortion from the penal code, and further notes in part that: “Every individual has the fundamental right to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization. Every individual who becomes pregnant has the fundamental right to choose to carry the pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child, or to have an abortion, pursuant to this article.”
The New York State Catholic Conference said in a statement on Facebook that Democrat New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was expected to sign the controversial bill at a reception in the Executive Mansion immediately after legislators voted to approve it. And Cuomo appeared ready as he celebrated Sarah Weddington, the lawyer nationally known for successfully arguing the winning side of the Roe v. Wade case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Weddington was recognized in the chamber during the vote.
“Sarah Weddington made history in 1973 when she won the Roe v. Wade case at the age of 27. I am so thrilled that this incredible woman is joining us at the bill signing of the #ReproductiveHealthAct, which will protect Roe v. Wade in the State of New York,” Cuomo tweeted before the vote Tuesday.
As the debate over the bill was underway Tuesday, supporters chanted, “Free abortion on demand, can we do it, yes we can.” Those who opposed the proposal chanted back while holding posters with images of babies and signs reading messages such as “I regret my abortion.”
Religious groups such as the Office of Adult Faith Formation of the Archdiocese of New York, called on the faithful Tuesday to pray in anticipation of the bill’s passage.
“New Yorkers, join us tonight, it is important more than ever to pray as we expect that the Reproductive Health Act – Abortion Expansion will become law in the state of NY making late-term abortion legal in NY,” the group noted in a tweet.
America certainly is the “Land of the Free”, free to murder babies without being arrested as long as it’s being done in a clinic that can profit monetarily from the murder.
Virginia’s Democrat Governor Ralph Northam has affirmed that the state’s new abortion bill allows mothers to kill their babies even as they are being born healthy and at full term.
The governor was asked about the recent bill introduced by Vir. State Delegate Kathy Tran made a case to lift restrictions on third trimester abortion. Tran said that her bill would make it legal to kill a healthy baby even as it is being born at full term.
Northam recently made the most shocking of statements as he sat for an interview on a radio show.
He said decisions could be made about the child’s life after the baby was born, maybe even resuscitated, and “made comfortable”! That would necessarily mean after birth.
The governor’s gruesome, murderous opinion was loosed after Tran introduced her bill and a Republican Delegate asked just how closer to the moment of birth would her bill allow “abortion.” Tran replied that abortion could be chosen even as the mother is going into labor and is fully dilated for birth.
“How late in the third trimester could a physician perform an abortion if he indicated itwould impair the mental health of a woman?” Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Va.) asked.
“Through the third trimester. The third trimester goes all the way up to 40 weeks,” Tran responded.
Tran also admitted that there is no time limit in the bill to a time when abortion is no longer a legal choice.
Gilbert pressed saying, “Where it’s obvious that a woman’s about to give birth, that she has physical signs that she’s about to give birth. Would that still be a point at which she could request an abortion if she was so certified? She’s dilating?”
“My bill would allow that, yes,” Tran admitted.
How can anyone say that they love God and support abortion in the same breath? Is America really “God’s Country?”, it certainly is the “Land of the Free”, free to murder babies without being arrested as long as it’s being done in a clinic that can profit monetarily from the murder. Who can be proud to call themselves an American?
… his focus was on a stupid material item- a stupid chalice, an item that doesn’t even have life in it!
In Maryland, Rev. Michael Briese was caught on camera last week in an unbelievable confrontation with relatives of the late Agnes Hicks at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Charlotte Hall, news station WTTG reported.
The feud began when someone accidentally knocked over the church’s sacred chalice before the start of the Wednesday morning service. The chalice looked something like the below photo.
“That’s when all hell broke loose,” Hicks’ daughter, Shanice Chisely said. “[Briese] literally got on the mic and said, ‘there will be no funeral, there will be no mass, no repass, everyone get the hell out of my church.”
Briese could be seen in a very disturbing cellphone video near the casket chastising loved ones over the incident. The family contacted police who escorted them to a funeral home willing to perform the service.
Relatives, however, were devastated that Hicks’ service was not at the church where she was baptized as a young girl.
“This was uncalled for and it really hurt me,” her brother, Larry Hicks said. “It really did, to see your loved one come there to rest and to be shut down like that.”
“I uttered words I never use, and treated people I have lived with and committed my life to serve in an unacceptable manner,” he said. “Instead of care and compassion for the grieving family and friends, my focus turned to anger.”
Editors Note: No, his focus was on a stupid material item- a stupid chalice, an item that doesn’t even have life in it! His true nature came out, he spoke to the black family as if they were animals because that’s what he really thinks of them and most likely of all people of color. I’m sure that his apology wasn’t volunteered but suggested by his overseer. Besides all of the children who have been and are most likely still being sexually molested in the Catholic church, this has to be one of the most disturbing things that I’ve ever heard. May the soul of Ms. Agnes Hicks rest in peace, and I pray that her family will find solace- somehow.
They were ages 15 and 17, they said, when the alleged abuse began at a Southern Baptist church in Fort Worth
On April 8, Pastor John Finley stood before his congregation in Tennessee with an announcement. After 31 years at the church, he resigned.
He held a microphone and read from a piece of paper.
“I made some poor choices and was involved with two females in inappropriate behavior,” Finley said. “There was no sex. Both ladies were over 18. In the best interest of our church, I choose to resign immediately.”
But the women who sent a letter that spurred Finley’s resignation from Bartlett Hills Baptist Church near Memphis have a different story to tell.
They were ages 15 and 17, they said, when the alleged abuse began at a Southern Baptist church in Fort Worth. It was true he hadn’t had sex with them, but he’d done more than kiss them, they said. He touched one’s breasts and put the other’s hand on his naked erection, they said.
The alleged abuse began 37 years ago at Travis Avenue Baptist Church, where Finley served as the youth minister for five years. Travis Avenue is well known in the Southern Baptist community, with strong ties to Fort Worth’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
One of the women said she never told anyone about the abuse until college. The other tried once, telling a youth worker at the church. A rumor even reached a deacon.Still, Finley stayed at the church.
The Travis Avenue of today is pastored by Mike Dean, who arrived in 1991, five years after Finley left. He has worked with both women to confront Finley’s church in Tennessee and now wants his own church to acknowledge what happened, while also trying to make Travis Avenue a place of healing.
“That angered me, that we missed that opportunity to set this straight 30 years ago,” Dean said. “I was just angry that it happened and we couldn’t stop it or didn’t stop it.”
The story of Travis Avenue unfolds against a backdrop of the Southern Baptist Convention’s own recent reckoning with how it deals with abuse. In May 2018, Paige Patterson, head of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was fired over mishandling reported sexual abuse. At June’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, which took place in Dallas, much of the conversation revolved around the treatment of women and how churches ought to deal with reports of abuse.
It took 15 years’ worth of attempts to reach out to Bartlett Hills to get Finley to resign, according to the women and their advocates. Bartlett Hills leaders maintain that the two women were adults when the incidents took place.
Finley’s wife, Donna, told the Star-Telegram there had been no more than kissing and that both women were adults. She said her husband would not comment and provided the name of his lawyer, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
“It’s been life-altering for me,” said Maria, one of the women who said she was molested by Finley. She’s 51 now and has asked to be identified by a pseudonym. “I believe that God has blessed me with a full life and a family and love and friends, but I don’t necessarily think this is the life, originally, that I was meant to have lived.”
The youth pastor
John Finley, now 62, became Travis Avenue’s youth minister in 1981, according to the church’s history book. In his mid-20s, he favored bright shirts with bright ties. The kids called him “John.” His favorites loved him and remembered him as quick with a joke and easygoing, just like a youth minister should be; the boys not in his inner circle bragged about dumping a toilet in his yard.
Sarah Beth — a pseudonym — said she was 15 when her abuse began in 1981. She’s 53 now and up to that point had attended Travis Avenue her whole life.
The first incident occurred on a youth trip bus, she said, when she thinks Finley thought she was asleep. She said he sat next to her and touched her breasts. She froze and waited for it to end.
The alleged abuse went on from when Sarah Beth was 15 until she was 18, from 1981 to 1983, she said. She remembers one time when Finley rubbed her leg on a youth group trip to a Fort Worth buffet and arcade while she played a video game. Another time, she said, he pinned her against his truck door, kissing and touching her. Still another time, she remembers him touching her breasts. Sarah Beth blocked out some of the alleged abuse.
“One time — and I’m not sure what age this is — I remember I was kind of watching it happen. It’s like I wasn’t even there. I was kind of ‘up here,’” she said, gesturing to the ceiling, “and I’m like, ‘Oh, is this happening?’”
As an adult, she said, having had normal relationships, she looked back and thought, “How was that enjoyable to him? I didn’t reciprocate.”
She went away to college in 1983. She’d never told anyone at the church what happened.
When Sarah Beth was at college, Maria, a girl two years her junior, came to Finley’s attention. Like Sarah Beth, Maria was a leader in her grade. She always wanted to do the right thing and considered herself a rule follower.
In August 1984, when Maria had just turned 17, the youth choir was on a bus trip to Colorado. Maria said the group was playing cards and trading seats, sitting on one another’s laps and lying down, and she wound up on Finley’s lap. She didn’t realize it was inappropriate — she had barely even kissed a boy then. So she didn’t think about it, she said, until Finley started touching her from behind.
“You know how when you’re nervous and you can feel your pulse just beating?” she said. “I remember that feeling, and I’m sure my face was red, my ears were red. I just couldn’t believe it was happening. Then he started just kinda raising his knee up underneath me, and I knew then that something was very weird and wrong.”
Little incidents happened throughout the trip, she said: pointed looks, Finley rubbing his arm or leg against hers. To this day, she remembers his blue eyes and the puffy bags under them, staring at her.
When the bus pulled up to drop the youth group back at church, Finley helped unload suitcases. Maria went to get hers when Finley, she said, grabbed her arm.
“He looked at me with his big blue eyes and he’s like, ‘Hey, hey, I love you. You know I love you, right?’” she said. She felt furious. She hadn’t processed what had happened and she felt sure Finley was trying to cover himself.
Mark Leitch was a member of the youth group at the same time as Maria, an active member but not a favorite of Finley’s. On the bus home from that Colorado choir trip, he said, he saw Finley touch Maria’s bottom with an erection.
Leitch told his parents, who didn’t believe him. His girlfriend, he said, told her parents — and her father believed her enough to speak to others. One of the others was a deacon and the father of another 17-year-old in the youth group, who was one of Maria’s best friends.
Amanda — who, on advice of her attorney, has asked to remain anonymous — remembers her parents called her into the kitchen and told her to ask Maria if Finley was doing anything inappropriate with her.
Amanda and Maria went toMcDonald’s. Over soda and fries, Amanda tried to get Maria to tell her if anything was happening.
By the time the church’s ice cream social rolled around a few weeks later, Maria felt like she had to tell somebody what was happening. She asked one of the youth volunteers — a younger adult — if they could talk.
They sat down on the steps on the side of the church, and Maria talked in circles, not making eye contact. She rocked back and forth. Finally she told the youth worker what happened on the choir trip.
Looking back, Maria thinks the youth volunteer didn’t know what to do. The woman’s first reaction, Maria said, was to ask if the man touching her was her husband. No, Maria said, and she told her who it was. The volunteer asked a few details, if it had happened since the trip.
“Thank you for telling me,” Maria remembers her saying. “I’ll check on this.”
The youth volunteer wrote a statement in January 2018 about what had happened. She said she had heard about rumors of Finley and Sarah Beth before Maria approached her. She said she approached Finley in his office in 1984 with the rumor about Sarah Beth and Maria’s accusation.
“He admitted to the relationship with [Sarah Beth] but that it was over,” she wrote. “As far as [Maria] was concerned, he told me it only involved a kiss, and that he would leave her alone.”
The statement was provided to the Star-Telegram on the condition that the woman who wrote it not be identified.
Finley, she wrote, said he would talk to the then-pastor of Travis Avenue, who is now dead. The youth volunteer didn’t know if he ever did. She declined to comment further.
The youth worker told Maria she’d spoken to Finley and that he promised the behavior would end. But the incidents, Maria said, continued, and by then, Finley had warned her not to tell or he’d get in trouble. At that point, she decided it was useless to press it further.
Maria said the abuse happened once or twice a week. Finley, Maria said, made a point of driving her home after youth events. He would grab her and kiss her and touch her in his car. With a few exceptions — once, putting her hand on his penis — she said, he usually touched her.
Sometimes, she said, he would express guilt. He’d kiss her and touch her in a parked car and then move back to the driver’s side, repeating, “I don’t know why I keep doing this. I’m a good person, I love God. I’m a good man. I just don’t do this.”
Maria said she thought, “How come people don’t see this? How come people don’t know this? Surely people see this.”
John Finley left Travis Avenue Baptist Church in 1986. When Maria found out, she was working in a Fort Worth department store with a couple of other friends from church. When a friend told her, she ran to the back room and sobbed.
A 1989 directory from the Tennessee church John Finley would resign from almost 30 years later shows him smiling from a page of staff members in a red tie and a gray suit. He has the same tight curly hair the Travis Avenue kids remember. He’s listed as the church’s minister of education and youth.
‘I knew this day would come’
Away at college, Sarah Beth began telling some friends — several of whom have spoken to the Star-Telegram and confirmed her accounts — what had happened. In the early 1990s, she told her parents. Watching the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings — and Anita Hill being questioned as she testified about being sexually harassed by the soon-to-be Supreme Court justice — rattled her enough that her mother knew something was wrong.
“It felt like, ‘This lady’s saying stuff, and people aren’t believing her,’” she said. “And that’s on the national stage. What’s going to happen to me if I tell anyone?”
In 1994, Maria and Amanda drove to visit a friend’s new house in Fort Worth. Brad Ward had been a member of the youth group and hadbeen told whathappened to Sarah Beth. Ward asked if Maria and Amanda had heard about Sarah Beth and told them that she had been abused by Finley.
Maria started crying when she and Amanda got back in the car. She told Amanda that Finley had molested her, too. Through some friends, she got Sarah Beth’s number, and the womentalked about their experiences.
After she heard about Maria, Sarah Beth called Finley. She confronted him about what had happened. She remembers him saying: “I wish you girls would leave me alone.”
Maria also called Finley. She asked, “Why did it happen?” She described his response as flippant. “It’s just one of those things, and I’m sorry,” he told her.
In the late 1990s, Sarah Beth wrote two letters to Finley’s church in Tennessee, one to the head of the deacon board and one to the personnel chairman. She can’t remember their names now, but she detailed the allegations against Finley and had a phone conversation with one of the men.
From Sarah Beth’s point of view, she’d done what she could. They’d been warned.
The church would be warned again. Scott Floyd is the minister of counseling for Travis Avenue and serves as the director of the master of arts in counseling program at B.H. Carroll Theological Institute in Irving, Texas. Sarah Beth went to him for counseling in 2003 about what had happened to her, and he learned there was another woman who had been abused as well. He heard Maria’s story separately and said he realized there were similarities between the two.
“It disturbed me a lot, and I struggled with it,” Floyd said. “I felt like I needed to do more than just try to help them individually.”
He got the women’s permission to do research. He spoke to Mike Dean, the Travis Avenue pastor, who agreed to let Floyd do anything the women were comfortable with. Floyd spoke to others who had been members of the youth group at the time. And then, with the women’s permission, he reached out to two officials at the church with a letter laying out his findings — and to Finley himself with a letter and phone call.
“The first thing he said to me is, ‘I knew this day would come,’” Floyd said. Floyd provided details about the allegations against Finley on the phone. Finley, he said, denied nothing.
Finley said there was no intercourse, there had been only two girls and that he was repentant. He also said he had not worked with children since being at Travis Avenue (according to the old church directory and Finley’s resignation statement, this is untrue: He worked as a youth minister at the Tennessee church before becoming the pastor).
At Floyd’s urging, Finley agreed to get counseling and allow Floyd to check in with the counselor, Floyd says. Floyd said Finley went to several sessions.
“What I was hoping to do is make other people aware of what he had done in the past,” Floyd said. “I was trying to contain the likelihood he could do anything else.”
Finley would stay at the church until 2018.
What more can our church do?’
On April 3, 2018, just after he resigned from his position as the student minister of Tennessee’s Bartlett Hills Baptist Church, Nick Daniel received a package that had been FedEx-ed overnight to his home address.
When he opened it, he found a letter detailing five years’ worth of alleged sexual abuse by John Finley at the Travis Avenue church in Fort Worth during the 1980s. Finley had hired Daniel at Bartlett Hills.
“This day will serve as a line of demarcation for those receiving this document,” read the letter, written by Amanda and Sarah Beth and approved by Maria, dated April 2, 2018. “It will mark the day each of you became aware that your Executive Pastor committed sexually criminal acts and now have a responsibility to act in order to protect your church and its congregants.”
Daniel was shocked. John Finley had been at Bartlett Hills for 30 years. But the accusations in the document were detailed — and there were enough to make him doubt Finley, Daniel said.
Five other Bartlett Hills officials received identical letters the same day.
The next Daniel heard, Finley had resigned — with a statement different from what the documents said had happened.
“For me personally, it becomes a struggle,” Daniel said. He is now working at another Tennessee church. “I worked with this man for eight years, I never knew any of this. It makes you question your own ability, your own discernment.”
Spurred by the #MeToo movement and its spillover into the church world, Sarah Beth and Maria had decided they were ready to try again. This time, Amanda — their old friend from youth group — took on a role as their advocate.
In January 2018, both women said, they filed reports with the Fort Worth Police Department.
The report filed by Sarah Beth alleges that Finley sexually assaulted her several times from the time she was about 15 to the time she was about 17 years old. The report says Sarah Beth told police Finley kissed her on multiple occasions. Once, while fully clothed, he lay on top of her on the floor, kissed her and became aroused, the report said. On another occasion, Finley put his hand under her shirt and rubbed her breast, Sarah Beth told police.
Maria provided the Star-Telegram with a portion of the report she said she filed with police. It does not identify Finley but says Maria reported that she was assaulted by her youth minister on and off for two years, beginning around 1984. The report alleges the youth minister touched her buttocks, then pushed his knee into her groin. It also alleges the youth minister kissed her, fondled her breasts and asked her to kiss and touch him.
In the letter to Bartlett Hills, Amanda put herself forward as the advocate who would be the point of contact with the church. Ted Rasbach, chairman of the personnel committee at Bartlett Hills, responded to Amanda and declared himself the spokesman for the church.
In an interview, he said he and the other recipients immediately took the letter to Finley. Finley, he said, “acknowledged he had committed inappropriate behaviors but that they were not with minors.” Rasbach, who has been at Bartlett Hills since the early 1960s, thought Finley had been a wonderful pastor. He’d never heard any allegations against him of inappropriate behavior until the letter arrived.
“The communications in the letters had no basis in facts,” Rasbach said.
On April 8, Finley read his resignation speech to the church, saying as much. Backlit by the chancel’s purple lighting, he told the church that he had been involved in “inappropriate behavior” with two women, both over 18, over 30 years ago in another church. “Nothing like this has happened in our church,” he said.
As he walked off the chancel, a congregant called out, “John, John, please don’t do this. We’ve all made mistakes.”
Rasbach provided a transcript of Finley’s remarks.
“I was angry when I saw that,” Maria said. “I was like, ‘How can you sit here and lie? You have the opportunity to come clean.’ ”
Amanda sent an email the day after Finley resigned, demanding that the church correct his resignation speech. Rasbach asked for police reports. Amanda promised to travel to Tennessee with other documents and obtain the police reports. Maria would travel with her, ready to tell her story to the entire congregation. Ultimately, Rasbach replied that the committee decided a visit would be unnecessary.
“We’re not sure what the two ladies are wanting, at this point,” he said. “John Finley has resigned. What more can our church do?”
Donna Finley, John’s wife, picked up the phone at the couple’s Tennessee home on July 3. More than anything, she wished this whole thing would go away.
“I can tell you for certain it was no more than kissing,” she said. Referencing Sarah Beth, who signed her real name to the letter to Bartlett Hills, Donna Finley added, “She should be over this. She cannot live her life trying to destroy my husband.”
Donna Finley said her husband would not comment and deferred comment to his lawyer, Jeffrey Jones, an attorney based in Bartlett, Tennessee.
Jones did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls over the course of the last week. The Star-Telegram sent Jones a list of 34 questions regarding each accusation Maria and Sarah Beth made against Finley, as well as recollections others had of interactions with Finley over the nearly four decades of his time at the Travis Avenue and Bartlett Hills churches.On Sunday, July 8, Pastor Mike Dean informed his congregation at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth of what had happened. He put out a statement from the church, outlining that the church had learned about the allegations in 2003 and had worked since to help Sarah Beth and Maria warn the Tennessee church.
“Our first instinct is self-defense, and yet I knew we needed to resist that,” he said in an interview. “This is something that happened. It happened here at our place.”
The church has more safeguards in place than it did in the 1980s: background checks, windows between rooms, a two-adult policy for staff workingwith children. And the youth minister copies his wife or another worker when texting a student.
He hopes that Travis Avenue can help other churches deal with such circumstances in the future and use the situation to minister to abuse victims in its own congregation.
In December 2017, before confronting Bartlett Hills, Amanda had sent an email through the Southern Baptist Convention’s website asking how to turn in a pedophile. She never got a response. She wrote an email to the Ethics &Religious Liberty Commission — the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention — and presented the situation. She asked for guidance.
“Specifically engaging in this matter is not in the scope of our role, authority or ability,” Lauren Konkol, the commission’s team coordinator, wrote in an email back to Amanda on Feb. 3. “Within Southern Baptist churches, the local church is the highest authority, and we as a denominational organization have no authority to remove or rebuke any local pastor.”
Konkol deferred response to the commission’s vice president for public policy and general counsel, Travis Wussow.
“We’ve been grappling with what is our responsibility, what is our mandate,” he said. “But what autonomous doesn’t mean is we are autonomous from every authority.” Criminal justice, he said, belongs to the state to execute.
The autonomy of the local church — a backbone of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is technically a voluntary association of local churches — can be a sticking point in rooting out abuse. The SBC itself is hesitant to publicly rebuke pastors and churches.
A proposed database of offenders, which has been talked about since 2007, has been repeatedly defeated. In 2008, the SBC executive committee announced it would not support it, citing the “belief in the autonomy of each local church.”
After this year’s convention and its focus on abuse, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has been tasked with studying the viability of creating one. No church has yet been kicked out of the SBC for mishandling abuse, but Roger Oldham, spokesman for the SBC’s executive committee, said it could be done.
“Who has the authority to go to a church and say: ‘Your pastor has a problem?’ There isn’t an authority within our convention with the legitimacy to do this,” said a lawyer familiar with the SBC, who required anonymity to speak freely. “Southern Baptists as a whole have to look at each other and say: ‘Let’s do something about this.’”
After Finley’s resignation, Amanda sent an email to Mitch Martin, executive director of missions for the Mid-South Baptist Association, a Tennessee-based network of Southern Baptist churches, outlining what Finley had allegedly done and the discrepancies in his resignation speech. In an email to Amanda, Martin promised to “discourage John from pursuing vocational ministry” and, if a church came asking about him, he would “tell them that I cannot in good conscience recommend him.”
Martin told Randy Davis, president of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, that Finley had resigned and that there had been accusations made against him. Davis said he didn’t know the specifics. He hasn’t informed other churches about Finley, he said, because he doesn’t have enough firsthand information. He said he wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to alerting the churches in the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s network to an abuser, though.
“It is pressing the envelope of church autonomy, but I believe we need to become more involved in informing our network of churches how they can understand their responsibilities in vetting someone,” he said. “We’re desiring to be very proactive in helping churches to deal with these things openly.”
Maria never dealt with her emotions until she wrote her impact statement to send to Bartlett Hills. For a while, she felt like nobody cared. For years, she carried blame and self-loathing for what happened.
Mark Leitch, the boy on the bus who tried to alert his parents to what he saw happening with Maria, is 51 now and still living in Fort Worth. He’s carried the incident with him ever since, as well.
“As a young man, I felt like I should have done something to protect my friends,” he said. “I just hurt so bad that I didn’t do anything.”
Sarah Beth feels like the alleged abuse — though it was physical — affected her more psychologically and emotionally than physically. As an adult, she asked herself how the abuse kept happening. She was disappointed when she found out recently that a youth worker had been told what happened to Maria and that there had been rumors about her, yet Finley remained at the church.
“Why didn’t anyone check into that?” she asked. “I feel like the opportunity has come up to help other people — to either prevent something or help people who have been hurt. I’m trying to do what I wish someone would have done for me.”