There have been three deaths within the last three months at the hands of fundamentalist Baptists. Joshua Hathaway at Liberty University was shot and killed on November 19, 2013. Jeremy Whitman and Erik Peter Ungerman from Lancaster Baptist Church were killed on January 19, 2014. In both cases, we are told—perhaps ordered—not to speculate on motives.
This is pretty much standard in most fundamental Baptist churches. There is never a good time to talk about what went wrong in a church. If you notice signs of corruption before a scandal breaks, you cannot say anything because obviously you have a bad attitude and keep seeing crimes and cover-ups in every corner. If a terrible incident happens, like the killings or, in my case, learning your former pastor (Bob Gray) was arrested for multiple counts of child molestation, you’re also commanded to be quiet until the police have finished their investigation.
Once the investigation is completed (if ever), you are commanded to stop living in the past. Ergo, keep your mouth shut! So, whether your motives are preventative, dealing with a current crises, or evaluating the past, the only respectable response for a fundamentalist Christian in a fundamental Baptist church is to keep your mouth shut. Always! Before, during, and after the scandal.
This wouldn’t be such a bad model to follow if we knew the results of investigations would eventually be presented to the public. That’s not quite the case. In fact, the unsaid rule of silence only applies to you and me. Not the pastors, police, or official spokesmen of fundamental groups.
Take for instance, Joshua Hathaway at Liberty. The official word is that Joshua Hathaway had an unexplained mental problem related to finances. Even though some of his friends dispute that (in comment sections of articles), they are chastised. The ‘official story’ of Joshua just plain out going nuts and attacking a security guard with a hammer is spread far and wide. If the fundamentalist leaders and police detectives were to obey their dictums regarding silence, we would not even hear about their theories of Joshua allegedly going crazy due to finances.
Jeremy Whitman, a former pastor at Lancaster Baptist Church in Lancaster, CA, is said to have suffered from back problems, which led him to prescription drugs which led him to chase down Erik Ungerman, shoot him in cold blood and then pull the trigger on himself. This revelation comes from no less authority than the mayor of Lancaster, Rex Parris, and the pastor of Lancaster Baptist Church, Paul Chappell.
The comment sections of articles dealing with the deaths of these men are filled with theories that, quite frankly, make more sense than official speculations. In the case of Joshua at Liberty, it makes sense that Joshua and the guard were horsing around with guns. It went off. Joshua was killed but, to preserve everyone’s reputation, the official story of his sudden insanity is born.
Jeremy Whitman is a bit more complicated. Some have speculated he was working on a book exposing the inner workings of Lancaster Baptist Church. Two articles concerning the shooting have people posting how they were molested as children by authority figures at the church. Was this a subject of Jeremy’s book? Was he writing such a book? In a brilliant show of double standard, those defending the church leap onto such victims demanding to know why they haven’t called the police.
Fact is: some have. And the police, especially in communities where fundamental churches and organizations rule, are notorious for not following up on their investigations. And if we’re not supposed to comment until the investigations are completed, the silence will remain forever. Calling the police is not assurance than an investigation will happen.
Fighting against corruption entails both reporting the crime and public awareness. Somebody must shine a spotlight into the workings of the police and demand transparency and accountability of their investigations. It’s safer to expose fundamentalist preachers than police corruption.
“It’s natural for us to look for a reason, an explanation for such a tragedy, but we must close our views against the destructive forces of speculation and loose talk.” from THE PASTOR’S WIFE.