A Statement Regarding Tom and Jennifer Buck

April 19, 2022

On April 7, 2022, our pastor’s wife, Jennifer Buck, published an article at G3 Ministries that told the story of God’s redemptive grace in her marriage to our senior pastor, Tom Buck. On April 11, Baptist News Global (BNG) published a piece which attempted to redirect attention away from this theme of redemption, instead seeking to discredit Tom and his ministry. BNG’s publication misconstrued details which were taken out of context from Jennifer’s private 2018 rough draft of the article, as they were quoted in a screenshot of an anonymous tweet. Due to some political machinations within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) that have been working behind the scenes to tarnish our pastor’s name and discredit his ministry, we as the elders and other leadership of First Baptist Church in Lindale, TX, feel it necessary to provide the following details surrounding these events.

Our pastor and his wife have never been afraid of telling the story of the troubled early years of their marriage. They have been open their entire ministry about their struggles so that they might help other couples find hope in their own troubled circumstances. Jennifer’s rough draft was not the first time specific details about these years had been told. The 2018 rough draft represents Tom’s and Jennifer’s preliminary work as they prepared to share their story to a broader audience. This draft contained details from their marriage as well as additional details that happened prior to Tom and Jennifer meeting each other. That same year, in 2018, Jennifer, along with Tom, took her story to Karen Swallow Prior to seek help editing Jennifer’s lengthy rough draft. The hope was that Karen would help Jennifer make edits so a final draft could be published as a blog post. In addition, they hoped this would lead to publishing a book to tell their story in full.

Shortly after Jennifer sent her the rough draft, Karen had a tragic accident that hindered her from giving Jennifer the help she needed. With the busyness of life and no one to help her edit, the project had been placed on the back burner for Jennifer and Tom.

Just a few weeks ago on March 30, Tom was asked on Twitter by a newly created anonymous account if it was true that he was “an abuser” and whether he had “emotionally and physically abused his wife.” Several survivor activists were tagged in this tweet to draw their attention to the accusation (this was the screenshot tweet that was included in the BNG article).

Tom received a phone call on March 31 asking him if he was “trying to destroy Willy Rice,” who had accepted a nomination for president of the SBC. On April 1, just hours after Willy Rice made a public announcement about removing a deacon in his church after he was contacted by “a pastor in another state,” Tom received a phone call asking him if Jennifer had written a blog post about him having abused her. He was told that what Jennifer had written had been sent to several news outlets. It became apparent that Jennifer’s 2018 rough draft had been leaked. What follows is a brief account as to the apparent reason for these phone calls.

A few days earlier, on March 26, Tom and two of our elders had called Willy Rice regarding a deacon in Willy’s church who had committed a predatorial act in December 2005. Tom knew this man well from the years Tom served as a pastor in Florida. As a mentor and friend, Tom led the man, a teacher, to report to his school that he was engaged in a sexual relationship with one of his students. Tom went with him to make this report. This man was a professing and devout Christian, and his willingness to go with Tom to the school to confess his sin appeared to be the fruit of repentance. In addition, he agreed with Tom’s counsel that he should be forthright about what had happened with any church he attended or joined from that day forward.

When Tom saw a video from Willy Rice’s church and heard Willy introduce this same man as a deacon at Calvary Baptist, Tom was concerned that neither Willy nor the church knew this man’s history, or that they were acting inconsistently with SBC resolutions on matters of this nature. A few days later, Tom called the deacon directly, who reported that the church – and Willy himself – were aware of his history. Since the SBC Credentials Committee and a 2021 SBC Resolution resolved not to allow individuals with a history of sexual abuse serve in church leadership, Tom sought counsel from Rachael Denhollander about how to handle this in a way that was not political, but principled. He believed he had a fiduciary and biblical responsibility to go privately to Willy with the information.

Tom’s desire was to keep this situation private so Willy and his church could address it. Rachael agreed with Tom’s assessment and offered to give him counsel through the process. Though some may assume Tom’s motives here were political, we the undersigned who have had knowledge of this situation affirm that Tom hoped to keep this a private matter. This desire was also clearly stated in the conversations with Willy Rice that followed.

After receiving counsel, Tom and two of our elders met with Willy and one of his staff on a video call to discuss the situation. Both parties agreed to have it recorded. In the conversation, Willy confirmed that he was aware of this deacon’s past actions prior to ordaining him to that office, but had never thought of it as being predatorial. Nevertheless, Willy indicated that certain limitations were placed on his service in the church. Willy was also aware that the deacon led a parachurch ministry that worked with underprivileged children, that he was working in foster care and adoption ministries, and that he had been appointed by Governor DeSantis as an advisor in these areas. Willy said, “They don’t see him as predatorial.” In addition, Willy gave clear indication that he believed the deacon was a believer before committing the act of sexual abuse. All these things heightened the concern of Tom and our elders who made the call.

In the call’s conclusion, Willy informed our elders that he would seek advice from his church leaders as well as “some people I value in convention leadership about it and figure out what to do from there.” The difficult conference call was cordial from beginning to end. Willy expressed gratitude to Tom for handling the situation in the way he did.

After that call, Willy commended Tom multiple times (in an email on March 26, pictured below, and a phone call on March 28) for how Tom had done a “stand-up thing” and how he had “helped his church” in the way he came to him. On the March 28 phone call, Willy communicated that he had come to understand that what the deacon had done in the past was truly predatorial and that the church had removed him from his leadership position.

We believe Tom initiated these conversations in the spirit of Matthew 18, keeping the group of those “in the know” as small as possible. He consistently communicated a desire to keep this matter private and never make it public unless there was evidence of a cover-up or if the spirit of these conversations were misrepresented. Willy himself acknowledged this desire. All of this took a very different turn just a few days later when Willy began to claim publicly that the motives of those who came to him with the information about the deacon were less than pure and seeking “to score points.” From there, the details of Willy’s account began to change as he shared more information with the public.

After receiving the phone call about Jennifer’s rough draft on April 1, Tom and Jennifer were informed that Karen Prior had been approached by someone who had a copy of Jennifer’s rough draft and wanted Karen to verify that she had received it from Jennifer. The person who came to Karen told her that someone was seeking to publish it to cast disparagement against Tom.

Tom and Jennifer contacted Karen, who said that she had refused to verify the rough draft and that she didn’t think it was right to publish. Jennifer pleaded with Karen to tell them who came to her, citing how wicked it was to twist a wife’s words to weaponize them against her husband. Karen refused to give the name of the one who came to her. In the end, she laid the blame at Jennifer’s feet by saying, “They were your words, Jennifer. And my mom said you should never put in writing what you don’t want the whole world to read.”

Tom and Jennifer reached out that same night (April 1) to Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Karen’s boss. They pleaded for his help. Jennifer shared with Dr. Akin that the rough draft contained information that she had since decided not to release to the public. This information had nothing to do with her husband, but were painful experiences she had endured prior to her ever meeting Tom. She explained to Dr. Akin that it wasn’t the details of her and Tom’s marriage struggle that she feared to be known, but she was mortified that private details of sin committed against her before she ever met Tom were being circulated that she had decided not to publicly disclose (Jen still does not give anyone permission to publish those private details or distribute her rough draft). He agreed that the situation was awful and promised to have Karen give them the information within 48 hours. He has yet to provide that information.

Jennifer decided that the sinful actions of a few people, and the ensuing turmoil, must not eclipse her past desire to share a completed, beautiful story of God’s redemptive grace in her marriage with Tom. Others of us gave her counsel that it would be wise to publish the article she intended to publish, which would bring some clarity and perspective to the rough draft, were it to be published elsewhere. Jennifer posted her completed story on the G3 Ministries website, and many people were blessed by it. In Jennifer’s attempt to help people see the redemptive hope of the gospel, sadly, others weaponized it against them.

Jennifer’s rough draft was subsequently released to news outlets and Tom was told never to release the videos of the Zoom call with Willy Rice. We were also shocked to learn that Jennifer’s rough draft has been passed around various SBC circles “for several years,” even within various SBC institutions. All of this took place after the “Caring Well Initiative,” which called for SBC churches to be a “refuge for those who have experienced abuse.”

These actions go well beyond gossip. They indicate an intentional desire to discredit our pastor and harm his wife, all the while harming and distracting the church they serve from her mission. Yet more tragically, the messaging of the accusers has served to undermine the gospel hope that Jennifer’s article communicates. This wicked behavior involves an ever-increasing number of people in the SBC.

In recent days, Tom and Jennifer have gone to multiple individuals in the SBC who have either passed around or received her rough draft. Some lied about having it at all, but eventually admitted their participation in its proliferation. All of them chose to protect the identity of the person who gave it to them rather than help track down the source to bring an end to Jennifer’s nightmare. Because of the intimate nature of some of the details in her rough draft, Jennifer feels shamefully exposed before those who read it, and personally violated by every person who circulated it. The only person with whom Jennifer shared the rough draft was Karen Prior.

Even as we make final edits to this statement, we are receiving word that SBC entity heads are contacting pastors within the SBC to discredit Tom and prevent him from releasing the information referred to in this statement.

Jennifer was betrayed while gathering her thoughts to tell her story. It was Jennifer’s right and no one else’s to tell that story. Her rough draft was held over her husband’s head as a threat to discredit him if he should ever release the video and correspondence with Willy Rice. We believe that Tom handled this in a godly way by going to Willy privately and by desiring to maintain confidentiality regarding his deacon.

Our senior pastor has been very vocal about many troubling issues in the SBC, like ERLC’s endorsement of Living Out, the SBC’s adoption of Resolution 9, and NAMB planting churches with women pastors, to name a few. Tom has developed a “tough reputation,” as Willy said in his e-mail above. But nothing our pastor has said gives SBC leaders the right to seek to destroy our pastor and his wife.

We have no desire to entangle ourselves in a public battle with the SBC. The things we have written here are not speculation, but are based on text messages, emails, video, and witnesses according to Deuteronomy 19:15 and Matthew 18:15-17. We believe the SBC Credentials Committee or the Sex Abuse Task Force, who have committed themselves to protect survivors of abuse, should hold the people accountable who spread Jennifer’s private rough draft without her permission. In addition, we believe the trustee board of SEBTS should look further into the involvement of Karen Prior and Dr. Akin.

To that end, we have sent this statement to the groups mentioned above, and if they would like to review the documented evidence we reference, they are welcome to reach out to us and collect these files. We have chosen not to release them publicly due to the inclusion of private information regarding Willy Rice’s former deacon. We do, however, trust that the Credentials Committee and the Sex Abuse Task Force would respect the need for that confidentiality. We also pray that those who are covering for the people that spread Jennifer’s rough draft would come forward to reveal their sources so justice can be served.

We have all decided that our focus and energy must return to our local church. Gospel partnerships are built on mutual trust, and these events have caused us to lose heart in our partnership with the SBC. SBC churches and individuals within those churches should feel free to raise concerns with one another as they arise. Events like those outlined here destroy this essential element of partnership, and are a danger to churches and individuals who seek to have their concerns addressed. We pray these things will be corrected.