The recent news that Christ Presbyterian in Nashville has suspended senior pastor and author Scott Sauls raises additional questions about the Covenant School shooting, Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) governance issues, and Austin Davis’ experiences after he exposed a pedophile at Covenant Church with ties to Mike Huckabee. It also raises alarming questions about the Knoxville City Government and a lack of integrity and accountability in the police department, as manifested by its incestuous relationship with PCA churches in the city and its ongoing refusal to provide records to the news media.
Before we go further, an emphatic reminder: Nothing justifies shooting innocent persons, particularly children. Anglican Watch utterly condemns violence of every sort, including relational abuse and use of the legal system to abuse others. And our hearts go out to all hurt by this horrific tragedy.
As we look at these issues, it’s essential to understand the context.
Specifically, the Nashville police have refused multiple requests for records. That includes a request from this publication, which was denied on the basis that Tennessee law forbids freedom of information act requests when the requestor is not a resident. That is a fabrication; the law permits non-disclosure but does not forbid it.
We also raised the issue of disclosure directly with the department. Specifically, when allegations of child sex abuse arise, parents and the community have a right to the details. We cannot effectively protect children when we do not have details of offenses against children. Indeed, there is an excellent online discussion here of the importance of disclosure for parents trying to keep their children safe.
Moreover, lack of transparency erodes trust in policing. When things happen behind closed doors, far too often the “thin blue line” kicks in and there is cover-up, versus accountability.
Nor do arguments about fear of a copycat shooter withstand scrutiny. With a tsunami of hatred and conspiracy theories available on the internet, anything we might learn about the shooter would amount to a minor footnote in a sea of hate speech.
So, we next come to the issue of the Nashville Police Department’s all-too-cozy relationship with Covenant Presbyterian.
In that regard, there is little doubt that an incestuous relationship exists.
Confirmed reports make clear that the Nashville PD accepted at face value Covenant’s absurd allegations that Austin Davis, the Covenant whistleblower, is a security risk. And rather than owning up to its failures—including operating a “safe house” for children in which a pedophile was in charge—Covenant fought a rear-guard action in the courts to avoid accountability and to punish Davis for having the audacity to blow the whistle on corruption.
Mike Huckabee connection
Then there is the thorny question of Mike Huckabee and his relationship with John Perry.
Perry was both Huckabee’s ghostwriter and pedophile who escaped prosecution due to the passage of the statute of limitation. Even worse, Covenant knew about the accusations, possibly as early as 2008. Yet law enforcement didn’t learn about the allegations until 2012. That begs the question: Given that the allegations involved the welfare of their own children, why did Covenant not immediately call the police? As in run, don’t walk to the nearest police station?
A hint of the answer can be found in Perry’s attempt to brush off the revelations about his child abuse, as reported by UK-based Daily News:
Based on the timeline laid out by Buzzfeed, Perry’s misdeeds did not come to legal authorities’ attention until 2012, though his church became aware of the alleged abuse sometime between 2008 and 2010. It is unclear exactly when they took place.
Perry told Daily Mail Online: ‘I don’t have anything to say for the record, but will tell you that the person behind it has been pursuing a vendetta against his former church for years and this story is one of the means he has used.
‘Having failed there, he has evidently turned his attention elsewhere.
‘I will also tell you that whatever private difficulties there may have been, the parties involved were reconciled and restored years ago, for which I thank God every day.’
On that matter, we declare BS, world without end:
- Perry’s purported “reconciliation” is not how things work. Yes, there may be reconciliation between the parties. Or not. But any true healing comes with accountability, and Perry’s efforts to put the matter behind him reflect an alarming lack of accountability.
- We see what we suspect is the key to the matter, which is the reference to an unnamed person with a vendetta. We’re pretty sure he means Austin Davis, and on that score, there is no such thing as a personal vendetta when it comes to outing a child predator. In fact, we submit that all Christians have an obligation to act in situations such as this.
- This is not a private difficulty. When you hurt a child, it becomes a matter of public record and importance. That effort to minimize the situation should set off alarms in all directions. And a word to
We repeat: There is no such thing as a personal vendetta when outing a child predator. Instead, there is an obligation to do so.
So where does that leave us? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be a police department devoid of accountability and transparency. And a bunch of folks with ties to Mike Huckabee and Covenant Presbyterian who still take no responsibility for their actions.
We also want to point out: We continue to call for Covenant Presbyterian to fix the hurt it has caused to Austin Davis and others.
We’ve called for this before, and we’re going to keep at it.
It is time for Covenant to come clean.
Nor is this post an attack on the church or those who have suffered loss. However, to have health and wholeness, those struggling with this tragedy must pursue all aspects of health and wholeness, including righting past wrongs.
Indeed, if there is anything good to come of this horrific incident, it can and must be a healthier church that doesn’t play games and hurt others to control the narrative. Because as things stand, Covenant is one toxic church, and you may quote us on that.
Christ Presbyterian, Nashville
And so we come full circle to Christ Presbyterian in Nashville.
Several members of Christ Presbyterian have close ties to the Davis debacle. Indeed, at one point, Austin appears to have attended Christ Presbyterian.
Even more importantly, Mike Huckabee’s speechwriter, John Perry, the pedophile at the heart of this mess, is or was a member of Christ Church.
Here’s an image that Davis posted on his blog, which seems to show the great and the (not so) good of Tennessee and their ties to Christ Presbyterian:
But most telling is a pattern of spiritual abuse within the Nashville PCA. This includes the fabrications at the heart of the Austin Davis case, including the claim by the church that the following comment by Austin Davis is a threat:
This next Sunday would be an appropriate time for six years of lies and slander to come to an end.
But read in context, it’s not even arguably a threat. So our take on it is both former senior pastor Bachmann and the church, taken as a whole, are liars. Is there not one honest man or woman in this spiritual sinkhole willing to say no to this misconduct? Not one?
Another example of spiritual abuse is the allegations relating to Bachmann’s departure from Covenant Church:
“Bachmann was found guilty of “inflicting severe injury on the peace and purity” of Covenant, according to church documents. In September 2016, the Nashville Presbytery censured Bachmann by indefinitely suspending him from his office, which did not match the church trial commission’s recommendation.”
And now we have the Jesus-babble coming from Saul as he is placed on a leave of absence as Christ Presbyterian’s rector:
“I verbalized insensitive and verbal criticism of others’ work,” he said, according to a recording of the meeting shared with Religion News Service. “I’ve used social media and the pulpit to quiet dissenting viewpoints. I’ve manipulated facts to support paths that I desire.”
Leaving aside the fact we are glad he verbalized his “verbal criticism” (nothing worse than silent verbal criticism!), we are pretty sure the bit about “manipulated facts” is the same thing as lying. So why doesn’t he man up and tell the truth?
He lied repeatedly. Full stop.
And while we’re on the topic, it bears mentioning that Christ Church is the mother ship to Covenant Presbyterian. Moreover, Christ Presbyterian leaders said they will take steps to reckon with past failures and make amends.
“We recognize the gravity of this moment and acknowledge that leadership in a church like ours does not happen in a vacuum,” Filson said at Sunday’s member meeting. “We are sorry for the ways we have failed to lead well.”
Will those amends include addressing the Austin Davis situation? Given the PCA’s track record, we doubt it. But it needs to happen, both from the local churches involved in this ugly debacle, and at the Nashville Presbytery level.
Larger PCA issues
On a more significant level, there is a problem in the PCA.
Whether it’s falsely claiming that Phil Snyder is threatening Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia, falsely claiming that Austin Davis is a threat, or the denomination’s failure to report pedophile John Perry immediately when news of Perry’s child sexual abuse hit the fan in 2008, the PCA shows serious errors in judgment and gaps in integrity. Specifically, not filing false police reports should be normative for churches, but apparently PCA didn’t get the memo.
Then we come to Covenant’s failure to comply with state mandatory reporting laws.
Even if there weren’t a mandated reporter statute in the state, wouldn’t some sense of moral obligation tell these knuckleheads that they needed to act? Or maybe the desire to protect their own children?
That raises yet another issue: The best time to deal with leadership issues is before they turn into World War III. So why aren’t church leaders dealing with the Sauls and Bachmanns of the church before all heck breaks loose? Or is it that they are trying to do so but aren’t getting any traction?
And why are the PCA churches in Nashville seemingly in such an incestuous relationship with the police department?
For the record, we’re not fans of conspiracy theories. But we have seen multiple instances in which local police departments abandon all common sense and reason when a local clergyperson calls to say, “Someone’s threatening me.” Similarly, ordinarily cogent, reasonable judges suddenly lack any semblance of impartiality or common sense when a clergyperson shows up and claims a church member is threatening him.
And yes, we get that no judge wants to be the one who says no to a request for a protective order when serious issues may be afoot. But there are essential issues of First Amendment rights that arise in these situations. Moreover, it is an egregious abuse of process when clergy attempt to shut down criticism via claims of threatening behavior—not to mention we have yet to see an active shooter deterred by a piece of paper. Much like locks, which only keep out honest people, a court order will have no effect on someone intent on killing church members.
We note that individual presbyteries, dioceses, and other regional church entities could play an invaluable role in preventing individual pastors, priests, and parishes from plunging into invariably destructive litigation with members. That is particularly the case when, as here, churches perpetrate a fraud on the courts. If nothing else, there should be a second set of eyes and a procedure for internal review before clergy go down this path.
Nashville plays games with transparency
Anglican Watch also notes that the City of Nashville has a long and sordid record regarding possible public corruption, police records and transparency. That includes the fun and games from the city over documents relating to the hiring of a police chief, its dishonest assertion that state law forbids sending documents to people outside Tennessee (the excuse it used with this publication), or its efforts to stiff local researchers, the city increasingly appears to be a bastion of worst practices.
As stated earlier, we have difficulty understanding why Nashville works so hard to avoid scrutiny. A hallmark of good governance is transparency, which suggests to us that the city is not interested in good governance. And it shoots itself in the foot by playing silly games with public records.
Meanwhile, we are left asking the questions we’ve been asking the last few months:
- What in the city’s relationship with Covenant Presbyterian is driving it to be so sneaky, avoidant, and dishonest? Yet again, Tennessee statutues DO NOT forbid responding to open records act requests from non-Tennessee residents, contrary to the city’s assertion.
- Why does the city not believe that children have a right to information relating to child predators? Shouldn’t parents have as much information as possible about these issues?
- On what planet does Mike Huckabee think he can smugly brush off child abuse with the whole repentance thing? What does that tell us about Mike Huckabee? Maybe Huckabee needs to spend less time working on his book, “Character is the Issue,” and spend more time demonstrating personal integrity and an understanding of the dynamics of child sexual abuse.
- Why do we continue to see patterns of behavior involving control, spiritual abuse, lying, and oppression of truthtellers in PCA?
- How does Covenant think it wil ever become healthy and whole if it cannot address its sordid past? And no, this is not a case of water over the dam. Sin is sin, and until Covenant and the PCA repent and makes restitution, they continue to sin.
- Why do PCA churches in the Nashville region continue to select bullies and buttheads as rectors?
- Why is the city playing games with the release of the so-called manifesto relating to the Covenant shootings? First, the city claimed the records were part of an ongoing investigation and thus exempt from disclosure. Just one problem—there is no investigation. Now the city is falsely claiming that the records should be withheld because there is an open records act enforcement lawsuit—despite the fact there is no exemption in the legislation for impending enforcement litigation. And the city says that Covenant parents may have a right to object—except that the open records legislation contains no such provision, either. As for the city’s assertions about attorney-client privilege and school security, there is by definition nothing in the shooter’s manifesto that is attorney-client privileged. As for school security, it is a safe bet that the Covenant school is changing security measures in light of the shooting, so that is BS too.
So why the lack of accountability in the PCA? And why the stupid behavior on the part of the city? It very much seems that the city is trying to cover something up.
Given the incestuous relationshiop between area PCA churches and the city police department, it is all too plausible that the city has something to hide. And the PCA definitely has issues it’s trying to hide.
Meanwhile, parents and the public have the right to know the truth about risks to their children. Information, including records relating to the sordid history of pedophile activity at the church, are not just the exclusive province of the church and the police department.
The time to come clean is NOW.