In the last post I reviewed Perry’s sermon from July 12, 2009, which was preached in the early and intense days of the harassment campaign by his staff and volunteers. The focus last time was on what Perry was saying to himself and to me, but there was one other important audience member: Josh Maxwell, the staff member behind the tweets.
What did Perry know about him, and what was the relationship between the tweeter and the pastor?
Because I am a little bit hamstrung in how I can tell you this story, I need to give you a bit of legal context first: We alleged in our complaint and in my post from December 2009 that Perry knew about the harassment campaign early on and read at least some of what Maxwell was tweeting. NewSpring’s official position is that they deny this, and they also deny that anyone in leadership knew that the perpetrator was Maxwell. On this second point, I have never doubted or contradicted them. Our argument has always been that they knew that someone from NewSpring was doing it, even though they might not have known exactly whom. Part of our negligence claim rested on the argument that they could have very easily discovered Maxwell’s identity had they wanted to.
In this post, I want to concentrate on the interaction between Noble and Maxwell, who at the time was writing under my name on Twitter. We know from publicly available records that Perry, who did read and respond to incoming personal tweets, received the following messages in my name in his Twitter account:
- dear @bcoop @perrynoble @garylamb @stevenfurtick i apologize for being a short, fat, low life, obsessive compulsive, snaking eating… 9:26 AM Jul 11th
- assuming @perrynoble will talk about Jesus today – ill find some way to rip him. and if i dont @tommyfrederick will 1:05 PM Jul 10th
Brad Cooper, NewSpring’s youth pastor who carried my request for a meeting to Noble, had also received the following tweets that weekend:
- @bcoop i was hoping to see shirtless preachers! still waiting i suppose. xoxo 9:00 PM Jul 9th
- @bcoop shirtless run at midnight. my house, down midway to harriett, to Ingles, loop back through Oakmont, end @ hospital. 10:53 PM Jul 9th
- hope ur preaching bare back @bcoop. 8:51 AM Jul 10th
- running naked @ 12pm with @bcoop (hopefully) 10:42 AM Jul 10th
- @bcoop u are one BAMF! i hope u take my offer of going for a run one day… maybe the noble PN can join. it would be super fun 9:22 AM Jul 11th
The particularly interesting feature about Cooper’s tweets are the references to him preaching without his shirt on. Coincidentally, that was one of the “rumors” that Perry used as an example of the kind of thing that he has had to refute. Here’s Perry’s sermon the very next day:
You do need to defend truth in love. We do not have an underground parking deck at our campus. I do not preach with my shirt off. I don’t know if you’d heard that one; I did. Like if I did that, people would be ooh. You do not have to show your tax return to join the church. How many of you have heard that one? [People in audience raise their hands.] Look at that. See that’s just not true. [Emphasis added.]
Where had he heard that rumor? Cooper? Directly from the Twitter feed? From his assistant pastor, Jason Moorhead, who was following it? Notice how he only asks the audience if they’d heard the tax-return rumor (I’ve heard it myself), but he didn’t assume that many people had heard the shirtless rumor. I had never run across it before.
It is reasonable to conclude that Perry had at least some awareness of the account by the time he started his July 12 sermon. Some may be been first hand, some may have come in reports from others.
By the time he preached his final sermon that afternoon, he had spoken to Steven Furtick, who had also received some of Maxwell’s tweets, besides the one from Saturday that he and Noble had received together. A few examples from that weekend:
- @stevenfurtick come to SC and u can tip my wife. shes a beast! 9:00 AM Jul 10th
- @stevenfurtick w.w.j.d.d. aka what would james duncan do? 8:59 AM Jul 10th
So, on the weekend of July 11 and 12, Perry is talking with Brad Cooper and to Steven Furtick, who have all received off-color messages from Maxwell. The fact that they were coming in my name (jamesduncanau) would have also made them hard to overlook; they all knew who I was. The chance that Noble didn’t know about or talk about Maxwell’s Twitter account that weekend seems quite small.
Besides, Perry and Cooper both know that I’ve complained that someone on NewSpring’s staff is attacking me. Let’s say they dismiss my claim and don’t think it’s someone on staff, there’s someone affiliated with NewSpring and quite infatuated with Noble who’s running wild. This is the key. Perry has to know this as he preaches about fighting critics.
During that sermon, Perry tells about wanting to assault someone who criticized him in Sam’s. Maxwell reasonably assumes the story is apocryphal and that Perry’s really talking about me, so he sends Perry this tweet:
In response to the shirt rumor, Maxwell offers this:
During the Sam’s story, Perry complained that people hated him for no other reason than that he preached at NewSpring. Maxwell responded:
Take a look at the video of the 6 p.m. sermon. Perry talks about shirts at 1:24:00 into the sermon, which, assuming the service started on time, would have been at 7:24. Maxwell’s reply is at 7:25. The people-hate-me bit comes at 7:27, and Maxwell’s tweet is stamped at 7:28.
Maxwell is tweeting the pastor live from within the service while he’s working.
(The 6:51 p.m. apology was probably a response to the story from an earlier service. As a staff member, Maxwell had to attend all services on Sunday. Perhaps he was bored at this point.)
Now, none of this necessarily tells Perry that the person behind the tweets is a staff member, but the messages ought to be a clue that the person is at least a NewSpring member. Actually, if anyone there was really interested in figuring out who the person was, the 6:51 tweet would tell you that this was someone who had been in multiple services, so it would most likely be either a volunteer or a staff member. How else does he apologize for being a character in a story that the pastor hasn’t yet told?
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Perry does read Tweets that are sent to him (something I established here), including these ones from Maxwell on Sunday night. Assuming the tweets stood out as somewhat unusual, it’s obvious that someone who has heard the sermon has not taken the “don’t fight them” message to heart. On the contrary, Maxwell is echoing and extending Perry’s own temper tantrums.
So, by Sunday night Perry has been told that someone on his staff is attacking me, and he knows that someone in his church is operating a vile Twitter account in my name. What did he do? Best I can tell, nothing.
What should a responsible leader have done?
- Send a direct message to the rogue Twitter account an tell the author to shut it down. By the obvious fact that the author is a NewSpring member, Perry ought to have had some confidence that even a gentle and private pastoral rebuke would have immediate results.
- Investigate the identity of the Tweeter. A cursory glance at the tweets before this weekend shows a lot of interaction with hotgymdiva, who, if they’d visited her Twitter profile, announces herself as Michelle Rice-Hooper and a NewSpring member. Again, a quiet pastoral inquiry with her would probably encourage her to reveal Josh Maxwell’s identity. They could have uncovered Maxwell’s identity with five minutes of work. It was very easy.
- Warn me. Perry knew that I was being attacked, though he didn’t necessarily know whether I was aware of of this particular instance of it. Even if he doesn’t care for me personally, it’s pretty obvious that Maxwell is also quite interested in my wife and son. They at least deserve his protection.
It’s obvious from Perry’s sermon from Sunday that he had decided to let me fend for myself. According to his rhetoric, I’m not a real Christian (watch his fingers put quotations marks around “Christian” in the July 12 sermon when he describes the bloggers and bitter “Christians” that attack him), so he owes me no duty of care. I get that.
What I don’t fully understand, and what is most scandalous, is the way he abandoned Maxwell. They knew that one of their flock was losing control trying to protect Perry and NewSpring. The reason I had to go to the police was that it was quite obvious that Maxwell was escalating his threats, and I genuinely feared for the safety of my family and of our property. Maxwell, if he hadn’t already committed a crime, appeared to be on track to doing something very dangerous and irreversible, but whatever harm Maxwell did to us was also going to cause legal harm to himself.
(For what it’s worth, my attitude towards Maxwell after all of this is not one of anger or bitterness. Instead, I feel sorry for what he has gone through. As I’ll demonstrate in a future post, as far as he knew, he was doing exactly what his pastors wanted him to do. After his identity was revealed, his pastors turned their backs on him professionally, personally and legally. Truth is, they’d turned their backs on him in June and July, even though he was still anonymous to them. They just wanted him to stay anonymous, just one of the 20,000.)
Didn’t Pastor Noble and Pastor Duffey and Pastor Moorhead and Pastor Cooper have a spiritual responsibility to protect one of their flock? Why didn’t they exercise their roles as God’s shepherds? Why did they just passively watch a NewSpring member ruin his life attempting to destroy my family? Was whatever happened to Maxwell justified as acceptable collateral damage in their shared goal of seeing me silenced?
I can’t tell you what their words were, but their inactions speak loudly enough.