Jack Hyles appeared at my former church, Trinity Baptist of Jacksonville, way back in the 1970s. He warned us (excuse my paraphrase): “The church is under attack! Very soon, you will hear accusations against your pastor (reference to Bob Gray, sitting right behind him), that will be so horrible, and yet it will seem so true! You might want to believe those accusations yourself. Don’t! Resist this temptation!”
It was almost like Jack Hyles was grooming the congregation for the possibility of Bob Gray’s arrest. The ‘prophecy’ was right, just about twenty five or so years too early! My paraphrase of Hyles’ sermon seems to be the basic concept behind A Church Falsely Accused. This book, written by Pastor Bill Wininger, who recently resigned from a church due to allegations of sex abuse against a child more than twenty years ago, was published in 1995 by Revival Fires (a little more than eighteen years ago).
Would this book shed any light into the mind of Wininger? What about the world of the IFB?
This passage is almost prophetic: “He (police detective) informed me that he intended to arrest not only our two church leaders, but he whole-heartedly intended to arrest me as well.”
Fortunately, A Church Falsely Accused is a quick read. Unfortunately, the bulk of it is standard IFB moralizing and sermonizing. If you stick to the first two pages of each chapter (which address the topic of interest) and just skip over the rest of the chapter (which are given to moralizing and sermonizing), it goes by fast. This is standard for just about any book ever written by a fundamentalist.
Wininger starts out talking about his church being caught in a child abuse scandal. He then writes he’s not going to talk about the actual cases nor reveal the identity of the men accused.
Social media was just a dream in those days! Wininger could never imagine that one day anyone, from anyplace, would be able to access the information he ‘cleverly’ attempts to hide. Preying from the Pulpit, the series by WJBK in Detroit (which aired in 1993) can now be seen on Vimeo. You don’t have to wait for the Great White Throne Judgement to see the sins of the so-called righteous. You can now watch the media firestorm he alludes to in his memoir while reading his book.
Tim Leonard, former associate pastor of North Sharon Baptist Church, and Mark Foeller, a graduate of Hyles Anderson, were arrested on child molestation charges. Preying from the Pulpit has one of the victims talking about being lured into a tent where they were allegedly sodomized.
According to Bill Wininger:
One Sunday morning a deacon who was also a bus worker gave one of the children on his bus a hug. The mother of that child called the state police and to complain that her child was hugged. I cannot explain why she chose to do this. Hugging a child has always been an innocent sign of affection and acceptance. A state police sergeant called to inform me of the complaint. He said there was no allegation of fondling or other indecent conduct, only a hug. I told the sergeant that America was in trouble if it was illegal to bring a child to Sunday school and give that child a hug.
He doesn’t address the sodomy charges. Just hugs.
He gets out of talking about sodomy accusations by writing:
Like a runaway train or a snowball rolling downhill, faster and faster, getting larger by the moment, so the allegations grew.
Both men were acquitted. According to Wininger, it was because the bus ministry kept meticulous records. This is partly true in the case of Tim Leonard. One witness was thrown out because bus ministry records destroyed the time line of the prosecution. In the case of Mark Foeller: no one would testify against him.
There is an interesting chapter called What if They Had Been Guilty? He does not tell us to hang child abusers from the rafters. Or to let them serve time. What if they were guilty? You are commanded to love them. Visit them in prison. Take care of their children and widows.
While the men were in jail awaiting trial, we still cared for their families. We watched out for their needs. assisted them financially, made minor repairs on their homes, mowed their lawns, etc. If the men had been guilty, we were prepared to continue helping their families.
He certainly practiced what he preached! Jack Hyles gave Wininger, and the wives of the accused men, an award at his pastor school. You can see this in Preying from the Pulpit.
Wininger does say we should help the victims. No video exists of either Bill Wininger or Jack Hyles doing that.
A Church Falsely Accused seems to be laying the groundwork for making child abuse activism seem like code for ‘get the bus ministry!‘. The reason it is of interest is because the author has resigned his church due to accusations of child abuse from 20 years ago. He has not been arrested. Largely for the reason Foeller got off. Nobody will testify against him.