Monday, December 04, 2006

Pistol Packing Preacher Goes Down in Mayberry

Often when my creativity is at a standstill something likes this comes up to fill the void. You just cannot make this stuff up. According to a Friday, December 1st AP report, via The Christian Post, a North Carolina pastor brandished a gun as part of his sermon. What the membership of Victory Baptist Church did not know was that their pastor was convicted of drug trafficking and firearm possession in 1990.
MOUNT AIRY, N.C. (AP) - The pastor of a Mount Airy church accused of brandishing a gun as part of his sermon is free on bond after being charged with possession of a firearm by a felon.

Jerry Wayne "Dusty" Whitaker, 58, of Mount Airy, was convicted in Virginia in 1990 of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm during drug trafficking.

Members of Whitaker's Victory Baptist Church say they had no knowledge of his criminal background. Whitaker told them he was a retired Virginia state police officer and a retired U.S. marshal who was injured in the line of duty, said Garry Scearce, trustee chairman at Victory Baptist.

Whitaker denies ever telling anyone he was a marshal, but said he worked as a police officer for six years in Montgomery County, Va.

[...]

Whitaker was arrested during church services Sunday. He was released Monday after posting a $20,000 bond.
The Street Prophets asked an appropriate question, "Do Baptists ever get tired of reading this kind of story about their pastors?"

Yes. We do. Or at least I do. Somehow the humor gets lost on me and I just don't laugh anymore.

Consider this story I posted a couple of days ago about another NC pastor using the church credit card to buy improprieties, as well as this one from a few months ago about a pastor using a church's credit card to pay personal bills. The rub there is he had resigned from that church over a year earlier.

It is too much the norm reading these kinds of stories in the news. Considering the preacher from Mt. Airy, it is wise and prudent that all search committees do a comprehensive background check on all prosepective pastors and staff; not to mention nursery and children's department workers (even the lay people). It is a sad commentary on our culture and religious environment that this is a necessity, but might I reiterate this sentence from the AP article: "Members of Whitaker's Victory Baptist Church say they had no knowledge of his criminal background."
Can churches afford such oversight? The legal repercussions are too high.

Sincerely,
Tony

6 comments:

Steve Sensenig said...

Well, I don't want to sidetrack the topic too much, but I would like to propose another alternative.

You wrote: Considering the preacher from Mt. Airy, it is wise and prudent that all search committees do a comprehensive background check on all prospective pastors and staff; not to mention nursery and children's department workers (even the lay people).

The practice of hiring pastors from outside the congregation opens the door for this type of stuff. Paul talks about elders (which is what pastors should be, in my opinion) being recognized from within the body for their faithfulness and godly life.

You were correct when you said that it is a sad commentary on our religious environment. I just think the answer is a bit more radical than background checks and legal precautions.

I'm still shaking my head over this story...

steve :)

Streak said...

I think hiring from outside can be a good thing, in that it can bring in new ideas and a new perspective.

But I also agree there are problems--at least looking from the outside. Oh, and from personal experience when I was in college. The church I attended hired a real idiot--I am sorry, "called" a real idiot. He was horrible. Cried during every sermon, which was just annoying. But he was also abusive and a horrible pastor. And when I say abusive, I don't mean just verbally. His wife had several "accidents" around the house.

Churches are going to make mistakes in their hiring--even if they hire from within. They are human. In the case of my church, however, those who voted for him, or were on the search committee felt like God himself had "called" this idiot pastor. Just about half the congregation felt this way--that God had called this pastor and who were they to disagree. Those who thought it was a human decision (and bad one) (and yes, I am oversimplifying this problem) split the church.

Personally I think seeing pastors as a human decision would be a good start. Second, the level of deference needs to be appropriate--I think Les wrote on this about dictator pastors, but part of that comes from the power given by people in the church too.

I really don't have a third. I am just sorry for the Baptists like Tony that this stuff has become so common.

Tony said...

Steve,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I have been reading TM but had nothing of any relevance to add to the discussion on election, so I skipped out on it.

Anyway, I have Dr. David Black's article on Homegrown Pastors still lodged in my grey matter and am mulling over his words. I think I know what your pov probably is, but if you would like to elaborate, that would be great.

Thanks again. My apologies for the tardiness of my response.

Long day :)

Tony said...

Streak,

I think you should try a little harder expressing yourself; you seem to have a bit of trouble with that.

I must agree that pastors are placed on too high a pedestal. Often the human side is overlooked and when he does mess up there is very little "atonement" for his sins.

Too often unrealistic expectations are placed on pastors' shoulders, expectations that the laity ought to help in meeting. Then when he doesn't meet those, the congregation often responds that he let them down.

Ideally calling a pastor should be a divine/human cooperative, but generally it isn't. I do not think God cannot lead a pastoral search committee, but when credentials are evaluated just as in secular jobs (experience, education, etc.), it leads to business-like decisions and the "what is best" attitude which is workplace ideology. Hiring pastoral staff is in most ways exactly the same as hiring for any other job, though we will say it isn't.

Pastors are people, too, and part of the problem is because pastors live in fish bowls, they mistakenly offer themselves as the ideal family. They can show very little if any transparency, feigning a perfect life at all times. Not that the pastor's family is not supposed to be a good model for the parishioners, but when something does go wrong, "Well, to think, he is a pastor's kid." I think you know the drill.

Then it leads to abuse, all manner of immoral behavior, because he has no outlet to deal with his shortcomings and feels he MUST meet all these expectations. The stress can beat a man down. But, there is no excuse for the stupidity brandished in this post.

Churches are going to make mistakes... Simple, yet profound.

Thanks, Streak.

Steve Sensenig said...

Not sure how much to elaborate. I fear it would take the subject way off from the topic of the post.

I just have to say that when I read stories like this, it doesn't really surprise me anymore. I have personally experienced the difficulties in a church when a pastor hides some secret from his past. In today's litigious society, it is not unreasonable to think that a former church could be sued for libel by that pastor if they actually reveal the reasons (to the hiring church) that he is leaving to begin with.

So, it's a catch-22. Search committees can't find out what they need to know, and yet they feel like they have to "call" a pastor. In my very humble opinion (and this is probably the pov you were guessing was mine), there are more things wrong here than just that the pastor had a criminal past. The biblical record seems to know nothing of hiring a pastor from the outside (sorry, Streak!), or even of hiring a pastor period!

I haven't read Dr. Black's article yet, but I will.

Always enjoyable reading here, Tony. I haven't been commenting on your blog much, but I have been reading and enjoying.

Still hoping I'll get to meet you in person in April. (Are you still hoping to come to the SEBTS conference?)

steve :)

Tony said...

Steve,

I am hoping to go to that conference and if so, I'll spring for coffee!

I greatly respect your views on church leadership, but I am not quite convinced yet :) I do appreciate you humbly sharing your views. I have lately been involved in some conversations where it is roughly akin to getting hit in the head with a brick, so you are a welcome commenter here anytime.

Nevertheless, your humility and grace bring a lot to your pov, and give me much more reason to consider them.

I still get bumfuddled when I read stories like the topic of this post. Pastors get too big for their britches sometimes and feel they are insulated beyond any accountability. Like I commented back to Streak, there is no excuse for this kind of ridiculous behavior. I think he felt like he could get away with it; an even more problematic assumption.

I agree that more is at stake than legal liabilities and the CEO/business approach to church leadership tends to gravitate toward these things; Falwell and Gaines come to mind. An overhaul of that particular model would be a step in the right direction.

I'm glad you stopped by.