In mid October, Perry Noble made an intriguing statement in one of his sermons that the church had fired one of its employees for “going over the line” against a critic. “Don’t worry,” Noble assured his flock, the guy didn’t blow up anyone’s house.
Noble gave no more details about what his employee had done or who the critic was. He also didn’t reveal the kinds of activities–short of not blowing up houses–the person had been engaged in.
I was the critic, and what NewSpring subjected my family to was much more worrisome than blowing up a house.
It’s a long story. Take a seat. Take a deep breath. This will take a bit of telling.
I’m about to tell you how NewSpring insiders attempted to corrupt my family, sabotage an adoption, destroy my career, and ruin my reputation. This campaign, which became the subject of a police investigation, was conducted with the knowledge and encouragement of NewSpring’s senior leadership.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Two years ago I submitted a column to the Anderson Independent, our local daily newspaper, which criticized a billboard campaign that NewSpring was conducting in our city that presented a bleak and degrading view of parenthood. Predicting the corrosive effects of the campaign on families and children, in particular my own, I asked Perry Noble, the pastor of the church, to take them down.
Before they published my article, someone at the newspaper asked me if I was really sure I wanted to do this. “They’ll come after you and try to destroy you,” I was told. Besides my house being flour bombed and a few people shouting at me as they passed by my office, the reaction wasn’t too bad.
Birth of Pajama Pages
In early 2009, I was teaching a class on Internet communication where I required my students to create and maintain their own blogs. To try to practice what I preached, I dusted off an old blog I’d created a year or two earlier with the URL pajamapages.com (the title a reference to a CBS executive’s dismissal of bloggers as worthless people who sit at home and write in their pajamas). After a few politically oriented posts, I noticed a post on one of my students’ blogs that highlighted a series called “SEXED” that was being promoted by NewSpring’s youth ministry. I took exception to the salacious image and statements that occupied the church’s stage, and said so in a blog post.
Shortly thereafter I noticed a video promotion for a sermon that looked like a condom ad. I wrote about it.
Then there was the youth minister describing the church using a despicable profanity. I wrote about that too.
The more I wrote, the more people started reading the blog. The more I looked at the public output of NewSpring church, the more I found to write about. So I kept writing.
Green-lighting the violent rage
One of the things I noticed was how paranoid pastors at NewSpring were of dissent and disagreement. To show how the paranoia at the top trickled down within the organization, I linked to a post by NewSpring’s creative pastor, Shane Duffey, where he described how he strongly questioned an underling based on his suspicions that the person was not sufficiently loyal.
Through the magic of blog trackbacks, Duffey noticed that I had linked to him a day or two later and mentioned it on his Twitter account. The following conversation ensued between Duffey; Josh Maxwell, a NewSpring security guard; and AH, one of Perry Noble’s personal assistants.
- Duffey: cool… one of my blog posts just got linked by the esteemed AU Prof James Duncan… wow… I’m honored!
- AH: @shaneduffey i am so tempted to read but i can’t. i sin when i read his blog. i have thoughts of making a prof. a _______ dog on a chain
- Maxwell (whose Twitter handle is mrmalph): @shaneduffey seriously, how much would you pay to get rid of that problem?
- Duffey: @mrmalph – ain’t worried about the prof, but thanks…
- Duffey: @AH – don’t read… he just hates on Pastor Furtick, @bcoop & @perrynoble… i’m in really good company!
- Duffey: @AH – also, major props for using my new favorite phrase!
- Maxwell: @garylamb wanna schedule another gang land beating? I have someone in mind and I need a redneck that doesnt care to come along.
- For context, this is the same Gary Lamb who said this:
- Maxwell: On my way to BTFOJD
- Duffey: @mrmalph is one of my most favorite people… Got lots of rage & I like that!
You know what my biggest regret in that church [that I used to attend] is? It’s how I left that church. If I had to do it over again today, this is how I’d have done it. I wish I had walked up in that church with a baseball bat, clocked that [old] woman in her noggin, punched her husband in the face, took a baseball bat to those pews, burnt the organ up, [and] set the piano on fire.
I hope you believe in God because you should get on your knees and cry out to Him like never before because if we find you, I can promise we will kick the crap out of you. It won’t be pretty, it won’t be over quickly, and it will be very painful.
This is a key conversation. Maxwell, whose job was to protect and defend the church, wanted to come after me to damage me. Rather than being chastised, one of NewSpring’s senior leaders encouraged him.
Nothing bad could come from that kind of encouragement, could it?
The Lamb eruption
Besides Perry Noble, my blog also occasionally covered the antics of Noble’s two personal proteges, Steven Furtick in Charlotte, and Gary Lamb in Canton, GA. On June 7, Lamb announced on his blog that he was resigning from his church because he had been engaged in a sexual affair with his personal assistant.
At the time, I had just arrived in New Zealand for a three-week trip to visit my father who was battling cancer (extraordinarily successfully so far). I did a bit of online research into Lamb’s relationship with his assistant and posted an article showing where and when Lamb’s problem may have started. Over the next couple of days I followed up with a few other Lamb-related posts.
I immediately noticed a massive spike in readership to my blog, largely driven by Google searches for Gary Lamb. A lot of people who had been unaware of my blog and its criticism of Perry Noble became regular readers, and–for some–commentators at that point.
Maxwell, though first made aware of my blog by Duffey, was apparently further aggravated by the Lamb posts. His own Twitter comments showed that something bad was going on in his life.
On June 8 he tweeted:
I haven’t wanted to go beat down the door of someones house and drag them from behind their pansy computer for a long time.
The behind-the-computer language is very similar to that used by Perry Noble, who describes a critic as someone “sitting in your underwear in your mothers basement behind a screen.”
The next day, Maxwell tweeted,
Devising a plan of attack. I read the Art of War – well at least half of it – ok, so I only read the preface. I can still do this!
On June 13 he again tweeted:
Madder than crap about an issue. I want to hit someone.
Things started going south very quickly. As I recount the events of June and July, some of the information comes from confessions to a local detective in October. In other words, although I knew at the time what was happening, I did not know who was doing it until much later.
Gay pornographic emails
On June 9 I received an email from “Hundred Thousand” at [email protected] with the subject line: “I think You will recognize.” The message was empty except for a link to a jpg image of hardcore gay sex.
On June 11 I received another email, this time from an account purporting to be Steven Anderson of [email protected], with the subject line “Faith World Baptist.” The email contained five paragraphs of biographical information about Steven Anderson, who is a fundamentalist Baptist pastor in Arizona who has been made fun of on some pro-NewSpring blogs. Beneath the text were three pornographic photographs, one of a naked man, and the other two of hardcore gay sex.
Both messages were sent by Travis Dickson, a NewSpring member and friend of Josh Maxwell (MrMalph).
On June 9, I received an email confirmation of a three-year subscription to OUT, a gay magazine that was to be delivered to my home address. I placed several calls to the magazine from New Zealand and cancelled the request before they put anything in the mail to me. I found out later that Dickson had also initiated this subscription.
Beginning on June 10 through June 11, I received approximately a dozen email confirmations of requests for auto insurance, life insurance and financial planning services. Many of the sales people also called my home, which means the person making the request also provided them with my home phone number. On June 12, I received email confirmations for requests to enroll at two online universities. On June 18, my wife (who remained home in Anderson while I was in New Zealand) received a call that a Ford Flex vehicle was ready for delivery to my house. On the same date, I also received email confirmations of the same thing. As with the magazines, none of these services or products was requested by my wife or me.
The calls continued through July, and I found out from one of the sales agents who called me that he had paid approximately $20 to get my name and number. Not only did the calls serve to harass my wife, they cost third parties real money for a hoax lead.
First Twitter impersonation
On June 10 or 11, Eric Elgin, another NewSpring member and friend of Josh Maxwell, initiated a Twitter account with the handle, jduncandotcom, which included my photograph in the account profile. The posts named my wife and son, the street I live on, and contained insults directed at the president of Anderson University, where I work. It also showed an interest in homosexual sex with Tommy Frederick, a regular poster in the comments section on my blog.
Elgin said that he had intended to startle Maxwell by having his fake account link to Maxwell’s Twitter account as a follower. Elgin said that he soon told Maxwell it was he who had started it, and gave Maxwell the password so that he could start adding his own content to it.
A friend alerted me to the account’s existence, after which I contacted Twitter from New Zealand and had it shut down on June 13.
On June 14, I received an email confirmation request from wikiversity.org that indicated that someone was trying to create an account that combined my son’s name and my street address. I didn’t activate the confirmation link, so the account wasn’t created.
Late-night phone calls
At 3 a.m. on June 18, my wife answered a call and heard a computerized voice say, “Perry Noble has just posted something new on his blog. We need you to read it and tear it apart.” The call originated from Abbyme.com, a site that allows users to enter a phone number and text message. The site then generates a call to the number and a computer-generated voice reads the message. Our caller ID indicated that the call came from Anderson University (it didn’t, but the caller ID is a parameter than Abbyme lets users set).
In early July I received another Abbyme.com call that threatened to cut off my cell phone for late payment. Travis Dickson later said that he had cut and paste the text from a real Verizon message.
At 9 a.m. on July 14, I answered another computer-generated call from Abbyme that said, “You are an asshole. When are you going to post again, you hypocrite?” We’ll come back to this call, and you’ll see how the date and time of this call were particularly sinister.
Forged resignation letter
On June 13, Ben Milstead mailed a signed resignation letter in my name to the provost at Anderson University, where I am a tenured associate professor of communication. On June 16, the provost emailed me to communicate his regret at my resignation. I informed him that it was a hoax and, thankfully, retained my job.
Milstead later explained that he had discussed the plan to send the letter with Maxwell, and they had wanted it to draw the university’s attention to my blog, with the goal of having them censor it or shut it down.
It didn’t work that way, and their assumption demonstrated a poor understanding of the place of debate within a Christian liberal arts institution. University administrators have never talked to me about my blog, either to praise it or condemn it. So long as I’m not speaking for the university–and I’m not–, our robust academic community encourages thinking and debate on a wide range of important issues.
Revived Twitter account
On June 13, the same day that the jduncandotcom Twitter account was deleted, a new Twitter account appeared with the handle, jamesduncanAU. This time, Maxwell noted on the top of the page that the account was a parody, which, under Twitter’s rules at the time, meant that I could not ask for this one to be shut down. The parody note was designed simply to keep the account open. Let me assure you, what followed over the next three months was no parody. It was outright savagery.
Before I tell you just how bad it was, it’s important to note that many NewSpring insiders knew about the account, several even openly following it. Jason Moorhead, Newspring’s chief operations officer, followed the account from its earliest days, a NewSpring communications director also started following the account in July. Both were still following the account in September when Maxwell eventually deleted it and its contents.
Maxwell was aware that there was a large following of church staffers, and at one point even addressed them directly, asking them for ideas on what new content he should add (besides his own brilliant idea of turning me into a transsexual). On many occasions, the fake account directly addressed leaders like Noble and Cooper, who would have had my name and the often-pornographic content of the message flash through their own accounts.
Maxwell’s statement to police claimed that NewSpring staff did not know he was the author. Even so, Milstead, who knew Maxwell was the author and who also followed the account, told me later that no one ever tried to get the author to stop his activity. It was quite apparent that the author was not me, and it was equally obvious that the person behind it was actually a member and supporter of NewSpring church.
Once you see some of the content, you might think, with me, that it is remarkable that not one person’s alarm went off. No one thought that this content, which was publicly accessible, might not present NewSpring in a flattering light. No one thought that my family was worth protecting from this threatening person. All it would have taken was a simple tweet from someone like Perry Noble to tell the person to shut up and delete the account. To my knowledge, no such message was sent.
Maxwell repeatedly mentioned my family in his twitter posts in a way that felt like we were being aggressively stalked. He identified by wife and son by name, and even correctly revealed my son’s age and the location of his school. He also correctly described the make and model of our cars, and described journeys my wife took in our minivan.
The tweets include vile descriptions of my wife’s sexual behaviors and anatomy (you’ll excuse me, I hope, if I don’t quote those ones). When Steven Furtick preached a series on cow tipping, Maxwell invited him to come and tip my wife over. Maxwell repeatedly described my son as abused and someone who wore women’s underwear around the house. He seemed to enjoy threatening me, warning me that I could “only shelter a child for so long.” One post seemed to promise vandalism against my home:
and yep. theres a big bag of poop in my mail box. looks like human turds instead of dog… sick individuals
I had very real fears that something awful was about to happen, so it was at this point that I went to the police.
No family member seemed exempt from his anger. After posting an account of having the privilege to have preached at the same church in New Zealand that my father and grandfather had pastored, and showing a photo of them in the church’s gallery of pastors, Maxwell responded:
my dad and my grandpa look retarded
did i ever tell u that my dad beat me as a child? and he calls himself a pastor… maybe this is where my rage comes from
The most distressing series of messages came in August, when Maxwell started talking about my son’s backyard play equipment. Earlier this year, I built my son a 140-foot zip line in our back yard. It was really something, and my son enjoyed being able to share it with kids who lived on our street, including quite a few kids who filtered into our back yard from the subdivision behind us. Because it was behind our house, you couldn’t really see it from the street, though you could see the platform from which the kids took off. Unless you actually saw kids playing on it, there would be no way to know just by looking at my house that there was a zip line in the back.
So it was a surprise when on August 2 and 3, Maxwell left comments like this:
it would thrill me to see a hundred kids zipping back and forth in my backyard
feel free to come by the house and use my zip line!
It puzzled me how he knew about that. He had also mentioned a trampoline of ours, offering it for sale on Twitter, though it is possible that he saw that from the street (not a terribly comforting idea, but not as threatening as the zip line reference).
Remember that I said that Maxwell’s friend, Jason Moorhead, had followed the fake Twitter account? This particular NewSpring pastor lives just three houses away (500 feet) in the subdivision behind ours. Might he have passed the information about the zip line to Maxwell? You be the judge, but note Maxwell’s message from August 2:
what would you the reader like to see? i know there are alot of you that just read and dont follow. tell me. what would u like to see?
On August 2, Maxwell asks his NewSpring readers if anyone has any ideas to further harass me. Jason Moorhead, a NewSpring pastor, lives just a few houses behind mine, in the neighborhood from which we had welcomed kids into our yard. It was Moorhead who was receiving Maxwell’s messages in his Twitter feeds. The very next day, Maxwell is chirping about kids playing on my zip line. More than just reading, did NewSpring’s pastor feed content to Maxwell? I don’t know for sure, but the only other way that Maxwell knew about kids playing on my zip line was for him to have parked outside our house to watch my son play, or to enter my property to see what was back there. Perversely, the Moorhead theory is the most comforting.
Even so, once we connected those dots, all those possibilities were rather terrifying for my wife. She, quite reasonably, feels violated and unsafe in our own home.
Through his tweets, Maxwell seemed obsessed with descriptions of homosexual sex, especially accounts of acts between Tommy Frederick, a regular commentator on the blog, and me. On repeated occasions Maxwell describes an obscene sex act called a rusty trombone, and fantasizes about me being raped. I am going to leave most of what he said unquoted, but here’s a little sample:
@tommyfrederick i always think of you while i am squeezing turds out of my rectum. why is this?
my butt hurts. wonder if @tommyfrederick came over last night without me knowing! u sly fox!
At one point, Maxwell spun a story about me being abducted by three black men.
after a wild night of chip n dales, booze, cocaine and practical jokes in Homeland Park. we shall end it with 3 big black guys
the black guys have our hands and feet bound together with rope. dont ask how i am typing this. and no im not using my nose.
@tommyfrederick how are you going to leave me bound and gagged in this unknown place and be tweeting pnoble?
@burningp u tell that worthless bag of crap @tommyfrederick that i didnt pull my pants around my ankles for nothing. he needs to b here
never trust 3 black guys with pitbulls that u meet at simones bar. lessoned learned. hope [my wife's name] understands
Maxwell’s posts often involved sex with black men.
i also like the way that Ron [Carpenter] holds a big black … mic … in his hands
At one point, however, black men were excluded from my sexual activities in a series of posts that invited people to a swingers’ party at my house.
oh forgot 2 mention – swingers party @ my house – details coming soon – check the pages of pajamas for details
in anderson? wanna party? send me a message! we have sexy time in a couple weeks.
details coming soon. stay tuned. bi curious welcome. no asian women
swingers party @ the duncan house. couples welcome, even fat chicks. no black dudes please! [The post listed my street and house number] is where its at. be here!
That was an invitation that I took seriously. Given that a Twitter search for any of the terms in that last message could appear to anyone who was looking for sexual misadventure, I slept on the couch that night with one eye on the front door.
Invitation to Murder
In early July, the story that was dominating the news was of a serial killer in Gaffney, SC, which is only about 80 minutes’ drive from Anderson. The killing spree started when a gunman killed a man who had advertised some hay for sale. Maxwell put out three invitations to the killer, who was still on the loose:
if you are looking for some hay please come see @tommyfrederick and i!
@tommyfrederick and i are selling some hay this week
i’ve got some hay for sale if anyone is interested
Perhaps you think that I was over-reacting and reading too much into this stuff. The problem with violent words and threats is that they sometimes become real. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. I didn’t want my family to get hurt, so these threats felt plenty real to me.
The Failed Adoption
In early May my wife and I had received a very welcome call from Julie Dixon, the director of our local Care Pregnancy Clinic, that a young lady had reviewed our family profile and had selected us as the family she wanted to adopt her baby boy, who was due in mid July. We were told that she didn’t want to actually meet us until the delivery, though we received fairly regular assurances from Julie Dixon and our adoption attorney that the young lady was still confident about her decision to have us adopt her baby.
Although I posted a couple of items on my blog that promoted the concept of adoption, I kept the fact that we were about to adopt a secret, except for our family and some close friends.
On Friday, July 9, we got a slightly disconcerting message from Julie Dixon that the birth mother was feeling unsettled, and that she wanted to meet us the following Tuesday. We were also told that the previous evening Dixon had arranged for a group from her church to take her out for dinner and “love on her.”
Anticipating that the mother might give birth at any time–the baby was officially due on the 22nd–we purchased a roomful of baby furniture and equipment. On Monday afternoon we were told that the mother had been admitted to the hospital, so that evening I worked up a sweat installing the baby seat in the back of our van.
Julie Dixon called us at about 8 a.m. on Tuesday to tell us that the mother was going into labor, and that the birth mother wanted us to come in to the hospital to see her. We were to wait for Dixon to call us before we came, though.
Anticipating that call, I answered the phone at 9 a.m. expecting the invitation to the hospital. Instead, it was the AbbyMe.com call I mentioned earlier, telling me that I was an asshole and a hypocrite. Within the hour we got the call from Dixon to come in.
Expecting that the next time we came home it would be with our new son, we packed baby clothes, diapers and all the accoutrements into our van and set off. Our son was loaded up with an armload of books to pass the time while waiting for his new brother.
A few minutes after arriving at the hospital, we were ushered into the delivery room where we spent about 15 minutes talking to the young lady. As we talked to her, she indicated that she had memorized so many details about our lives from the little family portfolio, which she said she had read “hundreds of times.” Our meeting was going very well until a nurse asked us to go to the waiting room while she got an epidural.
Perhaps an hour later, we were told that the birth mother wanted to meet my wife alone. She began by asking my wife if we really wanted the baby. My wife explained that we had the room set up, we had the car seat ready, and that she even had a prescription from her doctor for the hormones to enable her to breast feed. “We couldn’t want this baby any more than we do,” my wife assured her.
The young lady then dropped a bombshell. She said that Dixon had called her into the office the previous Thursday to introduce her to a new family. She said, “I feel terrible because I promised you the baby, but Julie introduced me to this family that she likes.” Seeing that the mother was stressed and conflicted, my wife backed off and said that while we really wanted a baby after ten years of miscarriages and infertility, we mainly wanted the mother to be at peace with her decision. My wife offered to pay for a social worker to come to the hospital to be the young mother’s advocate in whatever she decided, and then was asked to leave the room after about 20 minutes by a lady who was identified as a pregnancy center volunteer.
When my wife told me about what she’d learned and her offer to help, I drove home to get the number of an adoption social worker in Greenville to see if she would be able to come down on short notice. When I got back to the hospital, my wife was waiting for me outside, having been told by Dixon that the birth mother had made a decision, but that we should go home and wait for our attorney to call before we came back.
At 5 that afternoon, our attorney called us to tell us that the mother had selected the other family. We did not know who the family was or why she had picked them, and we didn’t expect that we would ever find out. We grieved the loss and prayed for the mother’s peace and that the new family would fully experience the joy we had been so close to ourselves.
When I called Julie Dixon two days later to see if I could find out at least a little background on what had just happened, she told me that the birth mother had come in to her office the previous week with the new family already selected. I had no reason to challenge her account, but the two stories varied considerably. The birth mother said she had been introduced to the new family at Dixon’s initiative, and she was still apparently conflicted about her decision when we met with her at the hospital. On the other hand, Julie Dixon told us that the mother had made the decision herself and had brought the family in so she could introduce them to Dixon.
Exactly one week later, as a couple of kids from a neighboring subdivision were playing on our zip line, one of the kids’ grandmother came into our yard to see what her grandson had been talking about and spending so much time on that week. I talked to her for a few minutes, and then my wife came out and talked to her some more. She said that her granddaughter was off on a church trip (it was the same week as NewSpring’s youth group’s Florida trip), and she was looking after her grandson in the meantime. She saw our son and asked if we had any other children. My wife said that we didn’t, and that we had almost adopted a baby just the week before.
Our visitor asked, “Did that happen on Tuesday?”
My wife said, “Yes.”
Then our visitor asked, “Was it a baby boy?”
The lady told us that she knew the family that had adopted–a pastor at NewSpring church, she said–and that she was a close friend of the baby’s adoptive grandparents. She told us how pleased they all were.
In the meantime, Maxwell had been tweeting about this as well, though I didn’t realize it until after the adoption. On July 3, almost two weeks before the birth, Maxwell listed my chores for the day, which included “adopt a child.” He followed that with this:
buying a child is hard to do
Why might I need to buy a child? Perhaps if the child I thought I was going to adopt was going to go to someone else?
The day before the birth, when the mother was in the hospital, he tweeted this:
well i said i was taking a break @ pajamapages.com – something must have happened to change my mind.
In late June I had announced that I was going to slow down my blogging because I had important family events coming up. Part of the reason for the announcement was to see if it would get the harassers to back off; it didn’t. Maxwell apparently knew that the family event I alluded to was an adoption, and he was presciently aware that there was going to be no adoption to keep me busy at home.
As I mentioned before, on the day of the birth I got the second Abbyme phone call. That afternoon, Maxwell made a reference to my wife, who he probably expected would be angry, locking me up in a closet since 1 p.m., the very time we had been sent packing from the hospital.
i just drank shoe polish … my wife has had me locked in the closet since 1pm!
Either Maxwell is a medium, or he somehow knew our movements all that day.
Most chillingly, on July 18, just four days after the birth, an anonymous comment was submitted to my blog by someone calling himself Marco Polo that said, “Thankful children’s agencies read Pajama Pages.” I knew what that meant–my blog was the reason the adoption had failed. I traced the IP address of Marco Polo to Ben Milstead, Maxwell’s friend and the person who had sent my fake resignation letter.
Two weeks before the adoption Maxwell seemed to know that we would not be adopting a baby. He knew what we were doing on the day of the birth, and Milstead took it upon himself to explain why a few days later.
Exactly how it all went down, I don’t know, though Milstead shed a little bit of light on it in his statement to the sheriff in October. Said Milstead,
Josh Maxwell told me that Mr. Duncan had tried to adopt but the person making the decision was aware of the blog (independent of that particular adoption) and that it was one of the deciding factors as to who got the child.
When I asked Julie Dixon to explain what Milstead was saying, she refused to answer and referred me to her attorney.
I later found out that Jason Wilson was the new father, which came as a bit of a shock because he was the person that I had been corresponding with at the church to try to set up a meeting to inform the church about what had been happening. (More about meetings and such later.)
When NewSpring’s leaders figured out that I wanted to talk to them about the adoption, they lawyered up as well.
Genuinely fearful of physical harm befalling my family or me, I reported the harassment to the Anderson County sheriff’s office on July 24. The detective who investigated the case, himself a member of Newspring (who disclosed that fact to me at the outset with an offer to recuse himself), served search warrants on Twitter to get the IP of the person who was posting the content, then on Research in Motion to get the name of the subscriber to the Blackberry device that was being used for the account.
The man behind the harassment was Josh Maxwell, a full-time security staff member at NewSpring. Three other volunteers (Milstead, Eric Elgin, and Travis Dickson) also confessed to their involvement in the harassment, though none were as involved as Maxwell.
I met with an assistant solicitor for the county in October to see what charges might be warranted. For various reasons, the solicitor could only press a single charge against Dickson for distribution of pornography. I had already decided that if Maxwell, the main driver of the campaign, was not going to be charged, it wasn’t fair for him to get off while his friend, who was only briefly involved, was held legally accountable. I told the solicitor that I would not press the charge.
When and why did you want to meet with Perry Noble?
When I got back from New Zealand in late June, I emailed Brad Cooper to ask him to set up a meeting with him and Perry so I could tell them about what I considered to be criminal harassment that appeared to be coming from someone on their staff. I trusted Cooper because we had met–at his request–for coffee on April 1. (NewSpring’s statement says this meeting happened in February. This should have been an easy fact to check because I didn’t start blogging about NewSpring or Cooper until March 6.) Cooper asked that we keep our meeting confidential, which is why I have not mentioned it until now.
Cooper did not respond to my June request, so I sent him a follow-up email on July 6. That evening, I received an email from Jason Wilson, to whom Cooper had forwarded my email. Wilson asked me to email him whatever information I had. I responded by reiterating my request to meet in person with Noble and emphasized that I did not want to talk to him about any of the content of my blog, just about the harassment. Wilson continued to insist that I email him, so I dropped my request.
Because I thought that Wilson himself was deeply aware of the harassment I was talking about and was feigning ignorance. You see, I had known all of June that a Jaysizzle had been following Maxwell’s tweets (I didn’t know it was Maxwell at the time). A little bit of Googling revealed Jaysizzle to be Jason Moorhead, the (former) executive pastor of Newspring church. Google’s results didn’t make it obvious that Moorhead’s job title had changed, so, as far as I knew, Jason Moorhead, the executive pastor was very aware of what was happening. When I got an email from Jason Wilson, the executive pastor, asking me to tell him everything I knew, I froze. I confused Wilson for Moorhead, and I certainly wasn’t going to trust someone I thought was a participant in the harassment to do anything to stop it.
The next I heard from Wilson was October 8, the day that Maxwell told them he had been interviewed by the detective, to tell me that they had fired him.
It doesn’t seem like Wilson did anything with my information. If he had simply asked in a senior leadership meeting if anyone knew why I might be complaining about harassment, surely Moorhead could have figured out what I was talking about. Their public relations staffer should also have been able to figure it out. They both subscribed to Maxwell’s sewage.
I do know that he called their lawyer, who told me a few weeks ago that he had been involved with this since the summer. NewSpring’s leaders apparently wanted to protect themselves from me, but didn’t seem to care about protecting me from them.
After I went to the sheriff, I could not and did not talk to them, otherwise I could jeopardize the detective’s investigation. After resolving the issue of whether we would press charges, I contacted Wilson again to ask for a meeting with Perry to fill him in on what had happened. As I noted at the outset, Noble told his congregation not to worry about what Maxwell had done, so it seemed to me that he probably didn’t know the full story. Wilson sent a cursory response inviting me to email him whatever information I had. As you can see, there’s a bit much going on here to fit in an email.
I sent him and Cooper (at this point I figured that Wilson was probably dodging me because of the adoption) a small sample of what Maxwell had said and asked again for a meeting.
I suggested to them that if they wouldn’t listen to me face to face that I might have to tell them about it via my blog. The problem with that, from my perspective, is that I had not told my wife about some of the viler aspects of what had happened or about the adoption tweets. I could not make any information public that would be a surprise to her, yet I wanted to shield her from the emotional pain of learning about the adoption. Once again I emailed Cooper and Wilson and asked them to respond to me a week later by noon on Nov 10, which my wife knew was the time for our spill-the-beans appointment with each other.
After the noon deadline had passed, I knew I was going to have to deliver the devastating news to my wife, so I tried one last time by emailing Perry and his personal assistant directly to ask if they knew that Wilson and Cooper were blocking my request for a meeting. I asked for them to respond by 3 p.m. so that I did not have to reveal this mess to my wife.
Again they missed it, and as I was talking to her I got an emailed letter from their attorney in Texas asking me to correspond only with him.
Unfortunately for us, it was 90 minutes too late.
The next day, I sent the attorney a summary of what I have told you here, and guessed that his client would probably prefer that I not reveal this information publicly. A few days later, the attorney contacted me with a request to meet in person. As NewSpring’s statement noted, on Nov 17 we met and talked for about an hour. We’ve had meaningful correspondence a few more times since then, the last time just minutes before the church published its statement.
The chronology of unsuccessful requests for meetings is important to know, but it doesn’t help answer this question: Why wasn’t NewSpring requesting a meeting with me? On the day that Maxwell was fired, Wilson and Noble knew that I had been correct in my assertion of harassment back in June. Although Wilson did have the courtesy to inform me of the termination, his message contained no apology and no request for further information. Is it too much to expect that a church might be a little curious to investigate just how badly one of their employees had hurt another Christian? Did they not suspect that this bad character might not have told them everything that he had done? Wilson’s email, as well as their statement yesterday, hoped for the restoration of Maxwell and his friends.
Restoration for me? Why bother?
Did you ask them for money?
Remember that I had been seeking a meeting to inform the senior pastor of the church about what some in his leadership team knew and did (mainly, didn’t do) about Maxwell. I guessed that he might be curious.
In response, Noble sent me his attorney. I’m not stupid; you send in attorneys to clean up messes. They’re generally not used for spiritual discipline and accountability. I had asked to speak to the church’s spiritual oversight, and they wanted to talk business instead. The attorney started our meeting by saying that the church had a benevolence fund and that they might be able to compensate me once I told them what had happened. They talked money well before I ever did.
I told the attorney, who had flown up from Dallas for our meeting, that I assumed that his presence meant the church wanted to resolve this privately. Based on that assumption, we then talked about two options.
My first preference was to have Perry Noble take some responsibility for what seemed to be a systemic culture of hate that existed from top to bottom in his staff (Maxwell to Moorhead). I reiterated that my main purpose in presenting this information to Noble was to have him see just what his characterizations of his critics had wrought. Since Noble had partially acknowledged that there had been trouble a few weeks before, I thought there was a chance that he might be willing to explain a bit more. Having seen how much we had been harmed, I thought there was also a chance that he might be willing to compensate my family to restore what we had lost.
My suggestion to the attorney had several key components:
- Noble would recognize that his preaching and blogging had sent signals to his staff that they could attack me with impunity. (The attorney laughed at the prospect of Noble ever doing that.)
- Having taken some responsibility for his staff’s actions, Noble would tell my story in broad strokes. At the same time, he could say that he and I had been reconciled and that we had been compensated for our loss and troubles.
- We would mention the boasting that surrounded the failed adoption, though we wouldn’t connect the Wilsons to the story.
- I suggested that this could happen on a Sunday morning (as it did with his first announcement), at a press conference, or in a post on his blog that linked to a statement on mine that would confirm our new reconciled relationship.
- As a part of this deal, I would agree to hold the church, its staff and volunteers legally blameless so that I would not be able to move any of these issues to a civil court for a redress of the libel, harassment and emotional distress that we’ve endured.
This was an effort at reconciliation, and it was my wife’s and my personal preference, as I made clear to the attorney. For some reason, Noble seems to have completely got the wrong end of the stick on this offer. His statement yesterday accuses me of wanting to “share the pulpit” so that I could publicly “denounce” the church.
How crazy do they think I am?
The proposal, which I acknowledged to the attorney was probably an idealistic pipe dream, was that Noble and I would have met and resolved our differences. Noble could then, as a part of his announcement, introduce me to his church as his new friend. The idea was that all of the words would come from Noble; I wouldn’t say anything at all. The idea was that he could say, and I could nod, that we had had forgiven one another.
At the end of the meeting, the attorney asked me about money. How much money did I think was warranted as compensation? I told him $1.5 million.
Here’s why I asked for such an astounding number:
- I expected the number to deflate significantly in the process of negotiation. Anyone who negotiates any of these types of settlements knows that you don’t start with your bottom line. After taking the initial figure to Noble, I expected that the attorney would want to come back and earn his fee by knocking me down by a bunch of dollars. I think it’s a bit much for NewSpring to be huffing and puffing about a figure that they asked be put on the table, but that they didn’t care to negotiate over. Report the number that I walk away from, and then complain that that’s what I demanded. They have no idea what I would have settled for. Also, demanded really isn’t the right word. They said no, right? (The attorney’s email to me announcing their rejection of the options and their simultaneous public announcement were coordinated to the minute.)
- I figured that roughly half of what we negotiated down to would be given to God and government.
- I wanted to expedite another adoption. Adoptions themselves are very expensive. The other consideration is that, especially for older couples–my wife and I are in our early 40s–the adoption process is a little bit like a financial beauty contest. Birth mothers pick families for all sorts of different reasons, but an important one is the financial profile of the adoptive family. Having money to spend on an expensive adoption, and having a more healthy net worth would both work in our favor.
- We feel like we’ve lost a home. We wanted money to move out of our current house and buy a new one. When my wife learned about the sex-party invitation and the zip-line references, she felt profoundly exposed and violated. Mr. Jaysizzle continues to live in a house we can see from our back yard.
- We lost a baby. That’s an emotional scar that will last for the rest of our lives. Compensating folk for emotional costs is not completely unheard of.
- Did you read what they said about my wife and son (and you saw but a small fraction)? How much would you have asked for if that had been done to your family? It wouldn’t be $50. How much is your family’s honor worth to you and to them?
The attorney guessed that Noble probably wasn’t going to go for that, so, if publication wasn’t an acceptable option, the only remaining option was to resolve everything privately with no admission of responsibility from Noble or NewSpring.
Two considerations drove our discussion on this prospect. First, would the amount be large enough to encourage Noble to think twice about demonizing his critics so often? If you’re familiar with civil judgments, you know the difference between personal damages and punitive damages. That was the basic concept I was angling for. Having explained what I thought was reasonable (again, assuming they were going to come back with a lower counteroffer) compensation for my personal damages, I suggested that we double that amount for this second option, hence the $3m.
The second consideration was whether NewSpring could trust me to keep my word, which was something the attorney was worried about. The solution to that was to spread those payments out over ten years, contingent on my honoring the deal. So, start with your $3m, adjust it with a low-ball counteroffer, halve that with what goes to God and government, then divide that by ten.
Yes, it’s still a lot more money than most of us have ever seen, but perhaps it’s not as breathtaking as when you first saw it on NewSpring’s blog yesterday.
Was this extortion? No. I waited until the investigation had been completed and the solicitor’s office had had a chance to process criminal charges. Everything I have to say was once public, though perhaps not many people saved it before it was deleted. I was negotiating with the attorney that they sent to me to try to settle legal matters out of court to avoid the expense, heartburn and publicity that would be involved in taking that route. At their request, we were also calculating appropriate levels of personal compensation. People will disagree about whether my number was appropriate, but they were the ones who asked for a number.
As outraged as Noble seemed to be in his announcement yesterday, you should know that it took the church more than two weeks to decide to reject either one of these arrangements. In fact, the attorney called me back the day after our meeting to make sure he understood the parameters of the deal. On Tuesday this week, he asked me to specify the details in writing so he could send the proposal to the church’s liability insurance company. (Were they just setting me up for yesterday’s announcement? Perhaps. It was that document that was the source of all the quotes in NewSpring’s announcement.) If my claims are really so hollow and outrageous, why not reject them with the phone call the very next day? Why did Noble need so long to make his decision?
Why are you making this public?
Because it’s my last remaining option to inform Noble about what he and his church staff have done. It certainly wasn’t my preferred option.
The Biblical standard for dispute resolution is to deal with each other privately first, which even NewSpring’s statement acknowledges that I tried to do. Here’s the sequence from Matthew 25:15-17:
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ”˜every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Despite my best efforts from June on to talk to people I could trust, the private meetings just weren’t going to be allowed to happen. Perry Noble is the church, so there was no higher authority to appeal to if he refused to listen. (Just so you don’t misapply this verse, I do not consider Noble to be a pagan.)
As for the propriety of attempting an out-of-court settlement, we can find that in Matthew 5:25:
Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court.
I have been repeatedly struck by the leadership’s profound lack of curiosity about what happened. Why didn’t Wilson ask around the office suites in July about what was happening? Certainly a lot of people knew.
Why didn’t Wilson ask me about what had happened when he fired Maxwell?
Even the attorney didn’t really seem to want to know. Before our meeting, he asked me to bring as much documentation as I had to prove my claims. Throughout our meeting, I held a folder stacked full of all sorts of things, including the sheriff’s incident report and the four signed confessions, yet he didn’t ask to see one page of what I had. To this day, I doubt that NewSpring’s leadership even knows what’s in those confessions.
When we talked, the attorney argued that NewSpring had done everything it could to investigate what had happened and that they’d fired Maxwell as soon as they figured out that he was the culprit. By the end of July, even I (with the help of some good friends) had fingered Maxwell as the person behind the Twitter account, and I didn’t know who he was. We’re to believe that it was impossible for them to figure it out?
As for patting themselves on the back for finding and firing him, there’s not a lot of credit to be had there. After being interviewed by the detective and signing his confession, Maxwell told his superiors at the church that he was in trouble, prompting his termination. That weekend, Noble told us all not to worry about what he had done, and the attorney told me that when he showed Noble the content of some of Maxwell’s tweets just a few weeks ago, Noble was shocked.
Whence the shock? Noble seems to have had very little idea why he was really firing Maxwell, and no one bothered to ask me to find out.
Do you blame the Wilsons for the failed adoption?
Although there were plenty of people around Wilson who knew what was happening, I have no reason to believe that he knew who the birth mother’s original choice was. We are happy for them and we prayed for them when it happened, even though we didn’t know who the Wilsons were. We are happy that the boy who was just hours away from being our son is going to grow up in a family that is zealous for Jesus. God knew before this baby was conceived that he would be a Wilson, not a Duncan. We’re at peace with that.
We also have no regrets about the birth mother’s decision. If she ever reads this, we want her to know that we genuinely believe that she made the right decision. She met both of us and chose the Wilsons because they were a better family for her child. That’s as it should be.
Who is responsible?
Josh Maxwell, primarily.
Eric Elgin and Travis Dickson, who were active primarily at the outset, though both had knowledge of Maxwell’s activities throughout.
Ben Milstead, who sent the resignation letter and mentioned the adoption failure in an anonymous message to me. Unlike the folk in the church’s leadership, Milstead has been a standup guy about taking responsibility and restoring relationships. Though he and I both regret what he did this summer, we have met in person since then and had a cleansing dialog. Ben continues to post comments on this blog, usually disagreeing with me, though in a courteous manner. We occasionally correspond with each other privately through email, and, remarkably enough, I would count him as a friend. It was my experience with Ben that gave me some hope that perhaps I could come to the same level of friendly, respectful disagreement with Noble that would be the basis for that first option that I outlined earlier.
Shane Duffey, NewSpring’s creative pastor, who saw Maxwell start to go into a violent rage back in late May. When someone so high up in leadership compliments a junior staffer who has such obviously violent intentions, he must take some responsibility for what that staffer does. Duffey’s message: to get in the leadership’s good books, destroy James Duncan.
Jason Moorhead (aka Jaysizzle), NewSpring’s chief operations officer, who apparently monitored Maxwell’s tweets throughout and perhaps-knowingly or unknowingly–gave him content for his campaign. Every time that Maxwell logged in to the fake account, he could see that Moorhead was following him, as was their public relations staffer, though she joined a bit later. Perhaps Maxwell expected that Moorhead would rebuke him for what he was doing. Every vile tweet that Maxwell added that didn’t trigger Moorhead to “unfollow” must have told him that he was doing well. From June through September anyone who visited Moorhead’s Twitter page could see a JD icon in the list of Twitterers that Moorhead followed. How many people in the church used Moorhead’s public involvement as a green light to take delight in what was happening there?
Milstead told me that he actually talked to Moorhead, a fellow follower of the account, about whether it was such a wise thing for them to be following the account so publicly. Perhaps it wasn’t, though neither thought it problematic enough to stop following.
The many anonymous NewSpring insiders who found Maxwell’s messages entertaining. In my debriefing with the detective, he told me that Maxwell knew that there were many people inside the church who were reading his tweets, though most didn’t know that it was Maxwell who was behind it. Milstead told me the same thing. All it would have taken was one person to see the damage that this person, who at times was obviously tweeting from inside NewSpring’s services, was doing to the reputation of the church. That no one thought that it might be a good idea to have Wilson or Noble send this person a direct message through Twitter to ask that he stop is something that will puzzle me for a long time.
Jason Wilson, the executive pastor, who apparently did nothing, besides calling the Texas attorney, to investigate my complaints about harassment.
Perry Noble, the senior pastor, who continues to demonize his critics. I’ve argued before that when you portray your critics as being unsaved enemies of the church, you do give the green light to people like Maxwell to do what he did, and to all the mid-level folk who took vicarious pleasure in what he was saying. This is what I hoped, and continue to hope, that Noble will see. Words mean things, and meaningful words often result in real-world actions. Maxwell and friends acted entirely consistently with Noble’s teaching on how to deal with criticism.
As I’ve noted before, even when Noble took time to coach his church on how to deal with critics, he sandwiched his lesson in a story of fantasized violence against a young woman and referred to me as a “so-called” Christian. If Noble is going to learn anything from this summer, he doesn’t appear to have learned it yet.