Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Kansas: Lavish lifestyle & questionable finances mark work of anti-gay pastor

By Diane Silver

The Rev. Jerry Johnston -- who climbed to prominence on the backs of Kansas lesbians and gays -- allegedly runs a church with little to no financial accountability and engages in a host of questionable money deals.

Johnston's church, First Family Church in Johnson County, has also shunned involvement in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, which sets financial guidelines for evangelical churches. Meanwhile, many of the members of Johnston's family are in key church positions and Johnston lives a lavish lifestyle even as he preaches Christian sacrifice to his congregation.

And under the category of petty ego, Johnston bills himself as "Dr," even though he never went to graduate school and never received a doctorate. His so-called degree is an honorary one.

All of this information and much more came Sunday from an investigation published by The Kansas City Star. Kudos to reporter Judy L. Thomas for the work and to the Star for publishing this fascinating series of stories.

Johnston, by the way, is one of three pastors who lead the charge to ban same-sex marriage in Kansas. Another one of the three, The Rev. Terry Fox, abruptly resigned from his church in Wichita recently after he was accused of misusing funds.

The KC Star reports that hundreds of members of Johnston's congregation have left because of concerns about money and the way the church is run.
“What he preaches from the pulpit, he doesn’t put into action,” said Bruce Shalberg, who was co-chairman of a fundraiser that he said raised millions of dollars several years ago to pay off the new church building. “You would have to call someone like that a hypocrite.”
This entire series is well worth reading. I have to admit, once again, to being shocked. I never expected to agree with Johnston's politics or his theology, but naively I expected him to at least be honest.

Johnston, of course, says the criticism is instigated by Satan. What makes this group of articles so damning, though, is the number of former church members and evangelicals who see red flags and numerous concerns in the way Johnston does business. These are folks who agree with him in all ways, except that they have a sense of morality that Johnston doesn't seem to come close to understanding.

Once again, I have to admit to being a bit of an innocent. I was honestly surprised to see that Johnston's books and DVDs don't send money to his church, but instead are sold by a company he owns. This is a for-profit business.

I can't even come close here to quoting all the evidence in these articles, but taken together this information appears to be quite damning. For example, I haven't even mentioned the many millions raised for a school that was never opened and the questionable land deal.

All I can say is that it must be heartbreaking to be a member of Johnston's congregation to realize that he's in it for the money.


Anonymous said...

You are the usual loser journalist that loves to jump on a story that another loser journalist wrote to get your two cents in. Why dont you go spend time in that church and find out what it is all about before writing a bunch of articles that a was nothing more than a smear job with no validity to it! Why didnt Judy Thomas and all of her co-retards take it to the FBI or IRS or courts to be investigated instead of writing something they cant prove!

Diane Silver said...

It's always good to know that people are reading my blog. On the other hand... about you calling us "co-retards" ...

Oh my, I can't even count all the ways that is wrong. First, calling someone a retard is a put down of people with developmental disabilities. I don't think that is even close to being an appropriate thing to say.

If you want to attack me or Judy Thomas feel free. However, don't perpetuate the use of a slur against folks who done nothing except have the misfortune to have a disability.

Second, the real issue isn't what I wrote or what Judy Thomas wrote, but what's happening at First Family Church. The people who are most concerned are evangelicals who subscribe to Johnston's theology. Many are former members of his church.

Here are just a few of the folks quoted in Thomas' stories.

* Bruce Shalberg, former First Family member. He was so committed to Johnston's ministry that he co-chaired a fundraiser that raised millions of dollars. Shalberg left the church, though, when he began to question the propriety of Johnston's actions.

* Former First Family Sunday School Teacher Anne Balmer. Along with her husband, she left the church last year over concerns about money. She said of Johnston: “His whole life is an endorsement of materialism.”

* Dan Busby, vice president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, which sets standards for charities and religious organizations.

The article also notes (sorry don't know how to make this a block quote here):
But among Johnston’s biggest critics are people who either worked for him or were in his inner circle — including former members of his board. Many were major donors, and several said they gave hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Although their backgrounds are diverse, they all shared similar concerns. They believe the church is in dire need of financial oversight.

“Jerry Johnston controls everything,” said Jerry Simmons, a Johnson County developer who served on the church’s building committee and helped acquire land for for its campus west of 143rd Street and Metcalf Avenue.

David Pinson, who is on the faculty at the University of Kansas Medical Center, said he left the church two years ago because Johnston refused to provide any financial information.

“There’s zero accountability,” said Pinson, who taught Sunday school and sang in the choir. “I did put money in the church, but I regret every penny of it.”

Whenever you've got millions of dollars involved, you've got huge temptations for people, no matter who they are. That's why it's important to keep your books open and to be transparent about your business dealings.

That's even more important when the people involved set themselves up as arbiters of morality. My church's books are open. Why aren't Johnstons?

One final thing... Please let me know if any of the people quoted in the article ever say they were misrepresented. I'll be happy to correct my blog.

Anonymous said...

I doubt the FBI or IRS would be interested in a state crime. Maybe we should call Phill Kline's office. He's in Johnson County, right?

Anonymous said...

The finance issue needs to be investigated by authorities regarding tax exempt status for all tapes, videos, books, etc he sells before & after services and Wednesday night dinner/study. Does all the money changing hands then go to Jerry personally? Afterall he does have a company, Jerry Johnstons Productions, Inc. Jeremy, his son, runs a business used to make deals for tv contracts and other media and he gets a percentage. ( of course mail addresses are mail drops for these two companies) I thought he had a position in the church - unethical. First hand I can tell you everything done at that church is calculated; body guards all around him as he does his series on different religions. Why not, he made them all look bad; made fun of them and of course couldn't resist harping on the Muslims. (real smart after 911 so close to that time) Heard his wife had one too. He says they volunteered. They looked professional to everyone else and not known to be around church for anything else. Just made him look so important - a celebrity, which is how he sees himself.
Watched him lure suffering folks into the fold and then make fun of them. Wonder why it is taking so long for others to bring out his true character. It's all about Jerry and love of himself. His wife is good at platforming any entertainment to bring out the best "look" for programs. Seen not only the congregation come and go but others like worship ministers, fellow clergy, etc.(they were all really great too)
I wonder just how many members there truly are. If it is based on all of us still receiving collection envelopes by mail after leaving years ago then it may add up to the hefty figure he touts.
They lure folks in using many guests, fundamental preaching, everything that's good for kids (that's a real good way to get people - everyone wants what is best for their kids). Next they take your money and for the most part ignore you unless it looks like someone with big bucks.
Worse perhaps of all are the tactics used to scare everyone into believing the devil is responsible for any criticizm rendered; and hell is just around the corner so we better do the right thing and do it fast because the World is soon coming to an end. In other words; give big so we can save ourselves and the world. Wonder how much he personally donates via his Black American Express? Good thing he has one; he may have to call on them to bring a plane to get him and his friends (board) out of here!

Anonymous said...

I want to comment on the last post. Your story is very balanced and well-done. I wouldn't even bother responding to the person who left the comment, because they don't care about the truth. I visited FFC for some time, not because I agree with the politics (I do not) but because I share the religion, and had hopes that the church would be a sincere community that valued the things of God. The testimony of the parishoner who left the last message is that this is a congregation of people who have confused conservative culture, politics, and upper-middle class American values with the gospel of Jesus, and when they are threatened, beneath their politics lies the hate at the heart of their message.

Anonymous said...

I was at First Family Church the first day the church was started. I spent plenty of time in the church and I loved it there and I wanted SOOOOO much to ignore the nagging doubts I had. I was there the same time Jerry Simmons was. It took me three years or so to stop being in denial and admit that there was something wrong with the picture.

The one thing about this is seeing my Christians brothers and sisters who were at First Family speak out and say this is wrong, even in the face of current First Family members who are defending Jerry. I think they are just like was was for three years: Blind. I wanted so much to believe Jerry. But after seeing three years of it, I knew he was all talk. He talked the Christian talk, but deal with him on a personal level (or Christie for that matter), and you see that he says and does things that a Christian truly walking with God wouldn't say or do. After a while it all adds and you can't ignore it anymore.

I saw good Christian people come and go just like I did.

I probably don't agree with Judy Thomas on much except that she reported this story 100% correctly and I am glad the truth is finally coming out.

Diane Silver said...

I want to take a moment to sincerely thank the people who have visited here to post about their personal experiences with First Family Church and Jerry Johnston. All of us need to hear your testimony.

As a lesbian and a person of faith, I neither agree with Johnston's politics nor his theology. However, I do agree about the importance of matters of morality, the spirit and the soul.

I also believe that people must be free to walk their own religious, spiritual or secular path. My path may not be yours, but both may help us find peace and a way to work for a better world.

That is why I am personally distressed to see churches turned into money machines. As a gay rights activist, I could sit back and chortle at Johnston's problems. As a human being, however, I see all the people in his congregation who are hurt by a minister who may well have put ego and fortune before faith or the good of his congregation. That is so sad.

My wish is that all the members of First Family, past and present, will be able to find the peace, the faith and the truth they seek.

Anonymous said...

WOW!!!! I am so glad all of this is coming out at last. I visited the church off and on for a few months and saw all of this from day one. So you may be asking, why did you keep visiting? The truth is because my wifes family went to FFC and taught Sunday school and played in the band, so I felt I needed to go with her. Time after time all I heard Jerry talk about was we need money for this, we need money for that. In fact I thought to myself "what the heck, he might as well put a ATM in the foyer or have credit card machines so you could just swipe it to tithe." Needless to say all of my family has quit going with the exception of two but they are seeking a new church home. I would say there is something wrong if the church records are not made public to the members. In fact the church I am a member of now tells you from day one our records are open from the mortage payment to toilet paper in the bathrooms. I would also say there is something wrong when your family members are basically running the church and they all live in almost half million dollar homes in southern Johnson County and driving suv's that the church owns. And by the way when Jerry NOT Dr Jerry because he only has a GED and no actual degree, got up in front of the church and said the church needs to raise money for the new academy and then once the money is raised and oooppsss now the money is there but he wants to spend it on something else, THAT IS AGAINST THE LAW AND EVERYONE WHO GAVE THE MONEY IS INTITLED TO GET THERE MONEY BACK!!!!! Oh and back to the Dr Jerry issue, he only has a GED and says he is graduating in May with his bachelors, that is probably a lie to becuase that is all he seems to do is LIE LIE LIE, I am hoping and praying that the members and visitors who attend "Jerry Johnston and Family Church" soon realize that he is NOTHING BUT A SCAM ARTIST!!!! Sorry for the run on sentences but I just get so worked up about this because I have told everyone I know for the past four years that I thought this was going on and that was just after visiting. I just have one question for those of you that attend the church or used to attend, is it true that there is a clause in his contract that he can never be voted out or forced to leave the pulpit and churh?

Anonymous said...

I have been a member of FFC for a little while. I guess about a year now. I had no idea that the church was not a member of the ECFA. Most interesting to me was that when Jerry had his previous ministry, he was a member, and when he began this church, he decidedly did NOT join. Odd... The scripture seems clear that religious leaders be accountable for what they do with their money. Nothing intrinsically wrong with having a little extra, but Jesus himself said that he had no place to lay his head. As far as we can tell, he never owned a second change of clothing or a second pair of shoes. He never owned a home, much less a donkey. I do not aspire to a life of poverty, however, there would appear to have been some line-crossing done in the FFC family. Honestly, I don't even care if a preacher sells books and makes a profit. That's between him, the people who buy the books, and the IRS. But, when the church is paying for elaborate trips, homes, cars...I think a line has been crossed. Most importantly, even if the church is not accountable to an outside body, it ought to be accountable to ITSELF. The members need to know -- and approve -- where the money goes. Plain and simple. No matter what else you believe.

Diane Silver said...

Many thanks for your thoughtful comments. I know this is a difficult time.

I'm curious. Have you attended the church since the KC Star stories? Is your reaction a common one among the congregation?

Many thanks!

Anonymous said...

Some points about FFC, the KC Star story and questions I've seen about:

1. Unnamed sources in article: Many couldn't leave their names for Judy, I didn't. Why? We were employed by FFC and the have a contract which specifically makes us liable if we ever speak about FFC in a negative way which causes FFC harm. We've already been abused by Jerry and Jeremy - massive time away from our families, at the beck and call of Jerry, even in the middle of the night (2am your phone goes off and you're to answer, jump and go - or else) - last thing many of us want (and, yes, we do talk about what happened there) is to be brought in to a lawsuit with a church that has a budget of 17 million...

2. Just a character assassination of Jerry: Character assassinations only work if the character being assassinated is flawed. If Jerry is a man of God, he has nothing to fear. However, Jerry's god is money. It is evident in his business practices, evident in his spending, evident in his material possessions. It is even evident in his preaching. He preaches a prosperity gospel - give and you will be blessed... Tithe your first fruits or you're stealing from God (have you even read that scripture in context? It was directed to the Levi's) - he makes not giving a sin a man made tradition. Then he mocks people who object saying he doesn't know of anyone tithing who has a problem preaching on the tithe. Well, I know he lied about this as I gave more then 10% (more then a tithe) and had a problem with his teaching, even addressed it directly with him and got "those are good questions, I'll get back with you" - it has been years, still no answer.

If you want to see genuine character assassination, work for the Johnstons and then quit, behind your back, Jerry or Jeremy will totally stab you in the back. I saw this done with my own eyes. Heck, I once mentioned a pastor should have been able to fix a problem in less time and, without even a second thought, they offered me his job - seeing the insane hours he worked, I was like, no way - but they said "if he can't do the job we'll remove him" - without any concern to his family, his kids or his sacrifice to work in a ministry position at lower (crappy) pay.

3. Jerry's funding to start the church: Do you recall that Jerry said he liquidated his prior ministry, against the recommendation of his board? Well he said it was in the $200k-$300k (I forget the exact number) range, official documents put the value of his prior ministry at over $400k, he lied to you about his sacrifice.

4. Jerry's a man of God who preaches the word and he doesn't buy other people's sermons: He lied to you about 1 hour of study per minute on the pulpit. That is totally a lie and EVERYONE who works with him knows this. Perhaps, if you take everyone who works on his sermon (oh, what, you thought HE was doing the work!) and those who edit the video afterwards and post up the stream on the net and the DVDs and CDs, perhaps then it is 1 hour of work per minute of preaching from the pulpit. And if you were in his class on preaching, you would see it really takes a significant amount of time less then what he claims - I still have the notes from that class and his formula for speaking, you would totally lose all respect for him if you knew how his notes are designed to "work" you and move you - not moved by the Spirit, moved by crafty speaking techniques.

4. First Family Church spending. I know for a fact, on several occasions when I asked for people in the church, any assistance was denied (we don't do that, is the answer). I know of the heater mentioned in the article and I know eye witnesses to it. I know of the missionaries, who begged to be left out of the story, and eye witnesses of that too. I've seen many instances where others had to sacrifice for the needs of the people to be fulfilled when FFC had millions and Jerry making over $250k and Jeremy over $100k (yeah, a 22-yr old punk kid making more then over 60% of the flock in the church) - and not a dime from them personally to help. People on less then $35k had to pony up the funds. And, for the record, according to documents I saw, the staff's pay was abysmal - we're talking about full time workers (which, at FFC is 60 hours) making $28k, the highest non-blood pay I saw was $54k for a person who worked 70 hours a week regularly and peaked over 90 hours some weeks. These people didn't go on the six trips a year like the Johnstons.

5. The children's building we were sold was not the children's building we got. We were promised that it would have the touch of the animatronics from the creator of the Rain forest cafe. Sadly, what we got was an idol of a dead man with his name plastered on the outside of the building. We were promised a school to rival Rockhurst (oh, and the funny thing was only the rich of the church where invited to put their children in the school - if you didn't tithe enough money or they knew you weren't rich, you didn't get the personal letter from Jerry about how important it was to enroll your kids) and no school exists. The staff was lied to about why (because, some teachers who were promised jobs had quit to work at FFC and when they found out it wasn't profitable enough, they canned it and had to make an excuse - some lie about the building not being up to spec for a school - something the county denies, the building is fine) - do you recall him bragging about the county calling to check with him to see how many students the school will be so they can adjust the county's plans? I do.

6. Stat lies: Crusades - I don't know if you were there when he did these, but I know this, the people who received those making decisions for Christ would tally up those numbers and then hand it off to Jerry, often, Jerry would triple those numbers, usually at least double them. He mocked the work of the Holy Spirit. The person solely responsible for the tally and handed the document to Jerry is where that comes from. Likewise, Jerry's comments on the summer's vacation bible school was grossly exaggerated, the real numbers were 25% less or 35% less.

If you want to see the genuine character of Jerry and Jeremy, merely demand to see the books.

Even so much as last week, when a person questioned Christian about the books, they were told to leave.

No, given the knowledge I have about the Johnstons, the information I passed to Judy, the scripture which totally undermines Jerry, the article was a softball without teeth, I didn't think it went as far as it should.

Relevant scripture:
2 Timothy 3:1-5
1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!

1 Timothy 6:9-10
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

1 Timothy 3
Qualifications of Overseers
1 This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop,[a] he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money,[b] but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); 6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Luke 12:15
And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness,[a] for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”

Titus 1:5-9

Qualified Elders

5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you— 6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. 7 For a bishop[b] must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.

Anonymous said...

To the Former Employee that just left the extremely long post...were you fired or did you quit? And Why if for any reason other than the things you listed?

Anonymous said...

As to what happened to my employment at FFC, if I responded in truth, I would no longer be anonymous.

I'm trying to come up with a way to explain it, but everything I think of was mostly unique to us, given the information I wrote and the number of people who would fall into my circumstances, it would almost single me out (or, elimination to a probable person would be easily done). Having spoken to a large percentage of the prior employees (FFC refugees!), I'm certain I can't go into details.

It is frustrating as I want to clear up any perception of bias or hatred against the church.

Anonymous said...

You have hatred or sadness about the church? So are you working for a different church now? Or have you given up on working in a church?

Diane Silver said...

First, I want to thank everyone for visiting and posting honestly about your feelings. I know this has to be hard for people who were or are involved in First Family Church.

Second, in reply to the previous poster, I don't think the person who said he or she worked at FFC was saying that he/she hated the church, but that they wanted to clear up the impression that they did.

Just one housekeeping note... I am allowing people to post anonymously, but it might help us keep track of which "anonymous" is which person if you register at Google. You don't have to use your real name. You can use a nickname, but it does help folks know that one person is talking. It's hard to keep all the anonymouses straight!

Finally, I can't imagine how hard it must be to put everything you have into a church and then to learn that it's not being run in an ethical manner. Given the facts that have been confirmed so far about FFC, I don't think I can say that is happening for certain there, although it certainly looks odd. However, if the folks who have been posting here are who they say they are, then the situation at First Family isn't good at all.

My deepest sympathies to you all. I hope you find the peace you seek.

Anonymous said...

I have no hatred in me towards anything, strong dislikes, but no hatred. In the case of FFC, the church (people), I love and am friends with people from the flock. The organization, I dislike - not out of personal animosity, but because they operate in a manner which is harmful to the flock and dishonors the gospel.

Am I sad, well, yes, someone with Jerry's orating ability and charisma could have been used powerfully by the Spirit for Christianity. I'm sad that people will be more loyal to a person then to Jesus. I'm sad that people in the flock will become disillusioned with Christianity based upon the actions of men (be it Jerry or those who are reporting on Jerry's and JJ's actions). I am sad, as those not in church will see this as another excuse not to come or seek out a church home or, at least, a fellowship or other way to worship with fellow believers - or even turn away from being open to believe.

My family is serving at another church, we weren't just paid employees, we also, mostly, volunteered. We continue to volunteer, not only in our fellowship now, but I also assist other ministries in both funding and volunteering. If I let FFC's behaviors deter me from serving again, then Satan has won twice.

Anonymous said...

To identify my posts, please feel free to edit them and append:

nonameffc at aol.com

My posts are:
"I have no hatred in me towards anything"
"As to what happened to my employment at FFC"
Some points about FFC, the KC Star story and questions I've seen about:"


Anonymous said...

So what are the consequences to Jerry and his family thus far? How many pople have left FFC? Has anyone contacted the Attorney General? As church members we need to pull together and request an investigation!

Diane Silver said...

I've been wondering about the consequences myself. Since the stories first appeared in the KC Star, it's been very quiet. I did notice that Johnston didn't appear at his church on Easter, although I don't know if this is the norm or not.

Anonymous said...

Attorney General has been contacted but others caling and writing the AG would be helpful to ensure an investigation is done and if unethical financial behaviour is being conducted it can be stopped!

GayDad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I remember Jerry. He spoke at a camp I went years ago. He was very young but man did he love to preach. I wondered what became of him. Thank you for all your hard work. I think stuff like this needs to be brought out into the open. How many of these Evangelist are going to keep getting away with ripping people off in the name of GOD.