Detroit Pastor Murders Transgender Woman

Pastor kills transgender woman, goes to work then calls police one hour later!

PASTOR

A Detroit pastor was charged this week in the shooting death of a 36-year-old transgender woman found dead on the street Friday.

Albert Weathers, 46, was charged with open murder and use of a firearm after an investigation into the death of Kelly Stough, who was found by a police officer in the Palmer Park neighborhood, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office said.

No motive was given, though prosecutors said they have evidence to be presented in court that Stough’s status as a transgender woman played a role in Weathers’ alleged actions.

Weathers is a pastor of the Logo’s Church, and until this week, was an employee at the Great Lakes Water Authority.

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A spokesperson for the company confirmed to the Daily News that Weathers’ employment has since been terminated, and that he was off-duty at the time of the alleged shooting.

Weathers, who is reportedly married with children, allegedly left the scene of the crime, clocked in at work, and called police an hour later claiming he’d been the victim of an attempted robbery and had shot someone, according to local ABC affiliate WXYZ.

His bond is set at $1 million, though his lawyer David Cripps told the outlet that he will petition for a lower bond on the argument that his client has strong ties to his community.

Stough, meanwhile, was remembered by mother Jessica Chantae Stough as a beloved member of the community who was very loved, and hoped to one day work in the fashion industry as a designer and buyer.

“She has a family who cared about her, who loved her, and I want them to know that transgender ladies – expressly those of color – they’re not just throwaways,” she told NBC News. “People care about them.”

GoFundMe page launched in memory of Stough has raised more than $4,500.

As noted by NBC, Stough once weighed in on the police’s inadequate treatment of transgender people in Detroit in the wake of a 2015 murder of a local transgender woman.

Kelly-Stough
 Kelly Stough (center) with friends

“The police are unaware with our struggle, so they have no sympathy for us,” she told the Guardian, using her stage name Keanna Mattel. “Nobody ever asks, what happened to the person to get here? Unelss you’re just in the middle of the street, dead bleeding, you can flag down a police officer, and they’ll just ride past you like you never flagged them down.”

Fair Michigan Foundation President and Michigan Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel said in a statement that Stough’s murder “reflected the excessive brutality that members of Detroit’s transgender community constantly face.”

Willow Creek Megachurch Paid $3.25M in Lawsuits Over Sex Abuse of Disabled Boys

The settlement showed that despite agreeing to the financial payouts, the church “has denied and continues to deny all material allegations of negligence and damages in this case.”

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Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois reportedly paid $3.5 million in lawsuits over the sex abuse of two developmentally disabled boys.

The evangelical megachurch, which recently saw its entire elders board resign over unrelated accusations that former lead pastor Bill Hybels sexually abused women, made the payments in the lawsuits over several years, court records obtained by The Chicago Tribune show.

One payment of $1.75 million was apparently made in February, while another one of $1.5 million was made last year.

Former Willow Creek volunteer Robert Sobczak Jr., now 24, pled guilty in 2014 of abusing an 8-year-old with special needs at the church, alongside an older boy not connected with the church. A year earlier, he admitted to sexually abusing another disabled boy at the church, believed to have been 9 years old.

Willow Creek said that the experience was “heartbreaking,” and insisted that it has made changes.

“We have worked with law enforcement and security experts to learn how this happened and how we can ensure it never happens again,” the church said, according to FOX 32.

Cook County prosecutors had described in the lawsuits that Sobczak separately took the two boys to an isolated area of the church, where he molested them.

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What is more, the document shows that another church worker had raised concerns in January 2013 that Sobczak was “emotionally unhealthy.” The volunteer was allowed to remain with the program, however, and went on to abuse the second victim.

The second victim reportedly suffered “great mental and emotional harm” due to the abuse he suffered, and underwent therapy.

The settlement showed that despite agreeing to the financial payouts, the church “has denied and continues to deny all material allegations of negligence and damages in this case.”

When the child sex abuse charges first came to light back in 2013, the megachurch said in a statement:

“Willow Creek engages in a rigorous screening and training process for all volunteers and staff in our Special Friends Ministry that includes a detailed child protection application process, checking of references, a national background check, cross checking the sex offender registry, and offering training in child protection. Mr. Sobczak had completed and passed this screening process before he began serving with the Special Friends Ministry.”

Heather Larson, who would go on to become Willow Creek’s executive pastor, before resigning this August over the Hybels scandal, insisted back then that church leadership is “very concerned for the child as well as the family.”

“We take rigorous steps to protect our children,” she stated at the time.

Larson, along with Willow Creek’s entire elder board, resigned earlier in August, admitting that they should have believed the multiple women who accused Hybels of sexual misconduct and abuse this year.

The church initially sided with Hybels, who has continued to maintain his innocence in the face of all claims. It later admitted that its founder had “fallen into sin.”

“While Bill Hybels was our founder and pastor, he was human, broken, and self-admittedly sinful. We believe that his sins were beyond what he previously admitted on stage, and certainly we believe that his actions with these women were sinful. We believe he did not receive feedback as well as he gave it, and he resisted the accountability structures we all need,” said in a statement about the issue Missy Rasmussen, one of Willow Creek’s elders.

Willow_Creek_Community_Church_sign

Pro-Gay Church Plans to Build Worship Space/Brewery & Donate Profits to Planned Parenthood

“There’s nothing in the Bible that says you can’t drink alcohol in a responsible manner,” Pastor Chris VanHall told the station.

Pro Gay Church
 Church in Santa Cruz, Calif., plans to convert former bookstore into a worship space and public brewery.  (Google Street View)

A building in Santa Cruz, Calif., is being converted into a worship space and public brewery by a pro-gay church that plans to donate some of its beer proceeds to Planned Parenthood, according to reports.

Members of the Greater Purpose Community Church now meet on Sundays at a food lounge to pray, listen and drink beer, KNTV reports.

“There’s nothing in the Bible that says you can’t drink alcohol in a responsible manner,” Pastor Chris VanHall told the station.

Planned Parenthood has offices in the former bookstore VanHall plans to turn into a brewery by next summer, The Santa Cruz Good Times weekly newspaper reported.

“A church that serves beer and gives the profits away to places like Planned Parenthood is really exciting to me,” the pastor told the paper.

Santa Cruz’s recent Pride Parade included a contingent from Greater Purpose, the paper reported.

VanHall told KION-TV in a report Friday that on Sundays there will be church in the bar “but it’s going to be before we open to the public.”

The pastor told KNTV that holding services at the food lounge gave him the idea for the brewery.

“I thought to myself, ‘wouldn’t it be great if a church could figure out a way to make a product where they split the profits with local community service organizations?’ We were like ‘hey, we love beer, we love making beer, why not do a brewery?'” he said.

Anyway, he said, his sermons are always better after a couple of beers.

Youth Pastor Resigns 37 Years After Sexual Abuse of Children

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.

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 John Finley, former Travis Avenue Baptist Church youth minister, in the 1980s.

“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.

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 John Finley, former Travis Avenue Baptist Church youth minister, left, on a choir tour in the 1980s.

 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 to McDonald’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.

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 John Finley, former Travis Avenue Baptist Church youth minister, playing pool in the 1980s.

“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.”

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Printed material for Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth from October 4, 1981 is shown in this photo.

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 had been told what happened 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 women talked 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.

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 John Finley, former Travis Avenue Baptist Church youth minister, center, is pictured with members of the youth group. Faces of the other members have been blurred to protect their identities.

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.

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John Finley, former Travis Avenue Baptist Church youth minister, is shown in the 1980s.

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?”

 

Moving forward

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 working with 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.’”

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 A 1982 Travis Avenue Baptist Church Youth Choir tour belt.

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.”

Long-term effects

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.”

Travis church
 This photo shows Fort Worth’s Travis Avenue Baptist Church in the 1980s.

Ohio Pastor’s Affair With Sunday School Teacher Leads To Assault, Robbery and Arrest

According to the police report cited by ABC13, the pastor’s wife told the victim’s daughter, “You wanna know why this happened? It happened because your mom slept with my husband.”

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 Anthony Morris (L) and Zelda Marie Morris (R) are accused of robbing a Sunday school teacher. (Booking photos via Toledo Police Department)

An Ohio church pastor, his wife, and daughter are accused of robbing a Sunday school teacher in the church at gunpoint.

Anthony Morris, 49, his wife, Zelda Morris, 46, and their daughter, Kamali Morris, 19, have each been charged with the first-degree felony of aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, the Toledo Blade reported.

Sunday school teacher Nickema Turner who had an affair with the pastor Morris claims she was at the St. Paul’s AME Zion Church in downtown Toledo, where Morris is a pastor, when she was violently assaulted and robbed. Turner alleges Kamali Morris grabbed her by the hair, and then both pastor Morris and his wife began to push and beat her, according to a police report.

Zelda Morris then allegedly emptied Turner’s purse and began taking some of the items.

Turner resisted and tried to recover some of her belongings, according to cleveland.com, and when it appeared she was getting the upper hand against her two female assailants, the pastor pulled out a gun and said “Bitch I’ll kill you”. It is alleged he pointed it at Turner’s face, according to the Toledo Blade, and made threats.

Two prescription bottles, a Taser, and an iPhone were allegedly taken from Turner’s purse. The iPhone was later recovered, with the screen broken.

The incident took place shortly before Sunday service was set to begin, it was reported, with witnesses on hand who later provided information to the police.

According to the police report cited by ABC13, the pastor’s wife told the victim’s daughter, “You wanna know why this happened? It happened because your mom slept with my husband.”

The three assailants then reportedly fled the church, while Turner was treated at the scene by Toledo Fire and Rescue crews.

The pastor and his wife have been arrested, police said, but at the time of reporting their daughter remained at large.

In a message on the church’s website, Morris describes St. Paul’s AME as “a family-focused, multi-generational ministry. We honor the traditions of the elders, but we are also intentionally contemporary in our Worship Experience.”

Pastor, his daughter, his mistress
 Left, The Pastors Daughter, Pastor Middle, The Mistress (Sunday School Teacher) Right

 

 

 

Pope Accused of Material Heresy for First Time Since Middle Ages

Pope Francis is known for being more liberal than his predecessors, often embracing modernism, which is seen in Catholicism as the antithesis to definite truths, which are God-given, eternal, not to become “provisional and subject to revision.”

In a move unprecedented since the Middle Ages, 62 clergy and lay scholars from around the world have issued a formal filial correction to Pope Francis accusing him of “propagating heresies” about “marriage, the moral life, and the reception of the sacraments.”

“Respectfully insisting” that the Pope condemns the heresies that he has directly and indirectly upheld, the letter suggests that the Catholic leader’s unorthodox views have “caused these heretical opinions to spread in the Catholic Church.” The Pope has yet to respond to the accusations.

According to the National Catholic Register, the 25-page Correctio filialis de haeresibus propagatis (A Filial Correction Concerning the Propagation of Heresies) was delivered to the pontiff at his Santa Marta residence on August 11. It accused him of propagating heresies, including allowing some divorced or remarried Catholics to receive communion.

Pope Francis is known for being more liberal than his predecessors, often embracing modernism, which is seen in Catholicism as the antithesis to definite truths, which are God-given, eternal, not to become “provisional and subject to revision.” In a trip to Lund, Sweden in 2016, the Pope came under Catholic condemnation when he visited the Lutheran Church of Sweden that is said to “accept contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and female clergy, all of which are strictly and unalterably forbidden in the Catholic Church.”

The same year, he made an official statement in Amoris laetitia (Pope Francis’ book, translated as The Joy of Love) calling for acceptance of non-traditional lifestyles and those who practice them, challenging the long-held Catholic condemnation of homosexuality. The Pope has even been compared to Protestant leader Martin Luther, to whom he has given “explicit and unprecedented praise” despite the fact that Luther’s attempts to reform the Church ended in a great schism.

The letter, dated July 16th, 2017, was signed by 62 Catholic leaders, including the superior general of the Society of St. Pius X Bishop Bernard Fellay, former president of the Vatican Bank Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, and German intellectual Martin Mosebach. This is the first filial correction addressed to a reigning Pontiff since Pope John XXII was reproved in 1333 for saying that those who died in grace do not see God face-to-face until the Last Judgment, where Catholic belief holds that those who die in the faith do indeed immediately meet with God.

The letter reads that it is with their “profound grief” but moved “by love for the Church and for the papacy, and by filial devotion toward yourself” that they must address “a correction to Your Holiness on account of the propagation of heresies affected by the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia and by other words, deeds and omissions of Your Holiness.”

Those who signed stress that they are not accusing the Pope of the formal sin of heresy, which is a heretic opinion expressed willfully and deliberately, knowing of its contradiction of some revealed truth. Rather, they accuse him of ‘material’ heresy, in which an opinion unknowingly contradicts the teachings of the Church, leading Catholics into false doctrines.

This is the sixth major initiative since September 2015 in which clergy and lay scholars have condemned the Pope’s liberal teachings and controversial passages in Amoris laetitia that contain “a number of statements that can be understood in a sense that is contrary to Catholic faith and morals.” These previous initiatives garnering hundreds of thousands of signatures from individuals and associations from around the world, none of which have garnered a Papal response.

[written by By  ]

 

Update on the Ikorodu ritual killing: Pastor kills boy, buries head at church’s altar

Eric, who was said to be a friend to the victim’s father, allegedly stole the boy around 11.am on Wednesday, after his father left him in his care. It was gathered the suspect was said to have taken the boy to the pastor’s church where they beheaded and buried him between 2.am and 4.am

Remember the story of the unidentified man (pictured above) that  was allegedly caught yesterday afternoon in Ikorodu carrying the head and decapitated body of a school boy in a sack. Well, here is an update on the story.

The police in Lagos on Thursday arrested a pastor for allegedly beheading a 7-year old boy and burying his head at the church’s altar.
The command’s spokesman, Olarinde Famous-Cole, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) confirmed the arrest to newsmen, stressing that the suspect was arrested with an accomplice at Ikorodu.

Famous-Cole said the policemen arrested one Eric, whose confession led to the arrest of the pastor and the recovery of the boy’s body. “On investigation, one of the suspects, Eric confessed to the crime.

He led a team of policemen to Odokekere/ Odogunyan in Ikorodu area to apprehend Oyekan, who later led the team to where the seven-year-old boy was beheaded and his head buried. “They hid the body inside canal.
The two suspects involved have been arrested and the body and the head of the boy were brought to the station.

It had earlier been reported that the pastor, identified as Adedoyin Oyekan and one Eric were arrested at Odokereke, Odogunyan of Ikorodu on Thursday.

Eric, who was said to be a friend to the victim’s father, allegedly stole the boy around 11.am on Wednesday, after his father left him in his care. It was gathered the suspect was said to have taken the boy to the pastor’s church where they beheaded and buried him between 2.am and 4.am yesterday.
When the victim’s father came back to take his son, Eric claimed he had sent him home. Eric opened up during interrogation and led detectives to the pastor’s place where the child’s mutilated body was buried.

“Investigation has commenced and the case would be transferred to the State Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department (SCIID), Panti, Yaba, Lagos”, Olarinde said.

The suspects were rescued from being lynched by some angry residents of the area after committing the offence at 16, Apata Abo Street, Odokekere, Odogunyan.

The police spokesman said investigation was still on.

written by  Motunrayo Ogundipe

 

Woman Convicted of Aiding Murder Sues to Stop Prison System From ‘Imposing Strong Christian Values on Inmates

Webber-Dunn claims that she has been “damaged” by her encounters with Christian messages at Topeka Correctional Facility, she is seeking an injunction prohibiting the prison system from displaying such messages and symbols throughout the all-women’s prison and “imposing strong Christian values on inmates” throughout the state.

TOPEKA, Kan. — A Thelemite woman who is serving a 40-year sentence surrounding the murder of her husband has filed suit against the Kansas Department of Corrections in an effort to force the prison to stop “imposing strong Christian values on inmates.”

The American Humanist Association (AHA) filed suit on behalf of Shari Webber-Dunn, who follows Thelema, a mystic philosophy developed by occultist Aleister Crowley that is based on the mantra “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” Thelemites identify as anything from atheists to polytheists.

According to the lawsuit, Christian prayers and messages are posted on bulletin boards throughout the Topeka Correctional Facility, with one board including an envelope where inmates may submit their prayer requests.

“Don’t worry: God is never blind to your tears, never deaf to your prayers, and never silent to your pain. He sees, He hears, and He will deliver,” one of the messages reads.

“In happy moments, praise God. In difficult moments, seek God. In quiet moments, trust God. In every moment, thank God,” another exhorts.

Christian films are also broadcasted on facility televisions, and Christian music is played in the background while inmates participate in a crochet program for charity. A large cross is additionally displayed in a basement room used for various gatherings, including Christian worship services.

“Webber-Dunn views the cross as disrespectful to all non-Christians and as echoing the oppressive message that Christianity looms over the inmates at all times and they are powerless to do anything about it,” the suit reads.

In June, Webber-Dunn submitted a request that the Christian messages be removed from the bulletin boards and that the cross be covered when not in use for worship services.

Because she has not received a response, she filed suit this week, claiming that “imposing strong Christian values on inmates … violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

“Defendants’ actions, failures to act, and policies described above lack a secular purpose, have the effect of promoting, favoring, and endorsing religion—particularly Christianity—over non-religion, and result in an excessive entanglement between government and religion, thus violating the Establishment Clause,” the legal challenge reads.

As Webber-Dunn claims that she has been “damaged” by her encounters with Christian messages at Topeka Correctional Facility, she is seeking an injunction prohibiting the prison system from displaying such messages and symbols throughout the all-women’s prison and “imposing strong Christian values on inmates” throughout the state. She is not eligible for parole until 2034.

Historic American statesman Daniel Webster, who held office both in the House and Senate, once said, “If the power of the gospel is not felt throughout the length and breadth of the land, anarchy and misrule, degradation and misery, corruption and darkness will reign without mitigation or end.”

Noah Webster, known as the father of American education, also said, “All the miseries and evils which men suffer from—vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war—proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.”

written by Heather Clark

 

NM Mennonite Church Becomes First in Denomination to Appoint Openly Lesbian Head Pastor

Lea’s hiring at Albuquerque Mennonite comes as she was in her third year of residency at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. She served at Baptist churches in states like North Carolina, Texas and Wyoming. She also served as the interim pastor of Houston Mennonite Church while the church’s pastor, Marty Troyer, was on sabbatical, Mennonite World Review reports.

(PHOTO: TWITTER)

A Mennonite church in New Mexico became the first church in its denomination to select an openly LGBT person as head pastor. The Albuquerque Mennonite Church announced Monday that it selected Erica Lea, an open lesbian, to be its new lead pastor.

Lea is a graduate of Truett Seminary at Baylor University, where she was introduced to Anabaptist theology, and has served in a missionary and pastoral capacity for over 10 years.  According to Mennonite World Review, the church stated that it stands behinds Lea’s “strong call to connect with and serve people affected by current immigration policies and racial, social and economic discrimination — as well as a call to provide a beacon and safe haven for the LGBTQ community.”

Lea’s hiring at Albuquerque Mennonite comes as she was in her third year of residency at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. She served at Baptist churches in states like North Carolina, Texas and Wyoming. She also served as the interim pastor of Houston Mennonite Church while the church’s pastor, Marty Troyer, was on sabbatical, Mennonite World Review reports.

“She is passionate about strong Anabaptist ministry and brings a heartfelt theological commitment to her adopted faith family,” Troyer was quoted as saying. “While she served at Houston, our congregation experienced the best pastoral ministry has to offer: preaching, caring and management.”

“Erica is also passionate about Mennonite emphasis on peace witness and radical hospitality,” Troyer added. “Her ministry is rooted in the belief that all people are welcome, and that community is the deepest expression of God’s desires.”

According to the Mennonite World Review, Albuquerque Mennonite Church consists of about 150 members and officially became a LGBT “welcoming community” in 2007. However, it did not immediately join the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests.

“Our congregation has a majority of attenders who did not grow up Mennonite — who, like Erica, have chosen to join our faith community,” Andrew Clouse, a member of the church’s search committee, stated. “We look forward to finding more ways of articulating and sharing an Anabaptist faith that can flourish in locally derived expressions of Jesus’s call to discipleship, peacemaking and justice. We think Erica is well-equipped to help us do this.”

The website PinkMenno.org lists over 70 Mennonite Church USA congregations that are “willing to state publicly that they are welcoming to all, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

According to Sojourners, Mennonite Church USA claims over 70,000 adult members and several openly LGBT individuals serving in associate pastors roles in churches across the nation.

In February, it was reported that the Allegheny Mennonite Conference licensed an openly married lesbian woman, who is an associate pastor at a Mennonite church in Hyattsville. The pastor, Michelle Burkholder, became the third openly LGBT minister credentialed for pastoral service in the Mennonite Church USA.

But as Sojourners points out, “The membership guidelines of the MCUSA define marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman, categorize ‘homosexual…sexual activity as sin,’ and forbid MCUSA pastors from performing same-sex marriages.” Sojourners notes that the denomination has no plans to revisit its guidelines until 2019.

In 2015, Mennonite Church USA passed a resolution stating, “We acknowledge that there is currently not consensus within Mennonite Church USA on whether it is appropriate to bless Christians who are in same-sex covenanted unions.”

“Because God has called us to seek peace and unity as together we discern and seek wisdom on these matters, we call on all those in Mennonite Church USA to offer grace, love and forbearance toward conferences, congregations and pastors in our body who, in different ways, seek to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ on matters related to same-sex covenanted unions,” the resolution, titled “Forbearance in the Midst of Differences,” states.

[written by Samuel Smith]

Pentecostal Pastor Seeks Asylum in Germany, Fears Being Declared a Terrorist by Russia Gov’t

“Practically speaking, we are back in the same situation. These anti-terrorist laws are some of the most restrictive laws in post-Soviet history.”

(PHOTO: REUTERS/DAVID MDZINARISHVILI)A man passes a church during a sunset in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, July 11, 2017.

A Pentecostal pastor has applied for political asylum in Germany and is living there as a refugee with his family, saying that he is fearful of being arrested and treated as a terrorist back home in Russia.

“It is very dangerous to return to Russia. There, I will be declared a terrorist and put behind bars,” pastor Alexey Kolyasnikov said in an interview with Germany’s Deutsche Welle.

Kolyasnikov, his wife and three daughters have been living in a refugee camp in Leverkusen since July. The pastor explained that he chose to go to Germany because “the Protestant Church here is strong.”

The pastor alleged that he has been investigated by Russian authorities simply for practicing his faith. He revealed that one evening back in 2014, he held a gathering with his Pentecostal congregation at a cafe in Sochi, since they do not own a church building.

Kolyasnikov explained that police officers and members of Russia’s main intelligence agency, the Federal Security Service, appeared during the Bible reading, and accused him of holding an unauthorized gathering.

The pastor said that one young woman, who six weeks prior to the incident started attending the meetings, turned out to be aiding an FSB member, and later testified in court against him.

Kolyasnikov was punished with a fine for  organizing “an unauthorized gathering,” which led to him filing an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights.

A letter sent to the public prosecutor’s office of the southern Russian Krasnodar region revealed that Kolyasnikov was also accused of being part of “pro-West Protestant religious movements” and supporting Ukraine in its ongoing strife with Russia.

The pastor insisted, however, that he condemns all forms of violence and bloodshed, and said that he does not understand why he is being mistreated.

He recalled another incident back in 2012, when an FSB major spoke with him in relation to terrorist investigations in Russia, and demanded that he provide a list of his congregation members, along with their personal details.

A number of Christian pastors have reportedly been arrested in Russia after the country’s notorious “anti-missionary” laws, officially aimed at tackling possible terror activities, took effect last year.

Sergei Zhuravlyov, a representative of the Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church of Christ the Savior, was one of the first Christian leaders arrested last year while he was preaching before the St. Petersburg Messianic Jewish community.

Zhuravlyov was accused of “fomenting negative attitudes toward the Russian Orthodox Church,” and of having ties to the Ukrainian nationalist political party called Right Sector, which is banned in Russia.

The controversial law, which bans evangelism outside of churches, led to thousands of churches in Russia fasting in opposition back in July 2016.

“This new situation resembles the Soviet Union in 1929. At that time confession of faith was permitted only in church,” said Hannu Haukka, president of Great Commission Media Ministries.

“Practically speaking, we are back in the same situation. These anti-terrorist laws are some of the most restrictive laws in post-Soviet history.”

Norway-based group Forum 18 reported in August that evangelical Christians make up the majority of the 181 cases that have so far been prosecuted by Russian authorities under the law.

The report noted that officials have cracked down on prayer meetings at homes, and on posting worship times on a religious community’s website, which police have interpreted as  banned “missionary activity.”

written by Stoyan Zaimov