"The reason why offenders get away with what they do is because we have too many cultures of silence. When something does surface, all too often the church leadership quiets it down. Because they’re concerned about reputation: ‘This could harm the name of Jesus, so let’s just take care of it internally.’ Jesus doesn’t need your reputation! When somebody says that, it’s a lie. Keeping things in the dark and allowing souls to be destroyed by abuse, that shames the Gospel. Jesus is all about transparency.” Boz Tchividjian, grandson of Billy Graham and President of G.R.A.C.E.
On a picturesque hill in southern Nashville, Tennessee, a knoll the old-timers named Red Bud Hill, sits a beautiful building called Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA). On weekends, hundreds of people gather for worship services at this facility, one of the leading PCA churches in the south. Throughout the week, the building is occupied by the staff, faculty, and students of The Covenant School. The land around the church and school once belonged to the family of Amy Grant (the Burtons), but it is best known as the location where Union forces amassed to stop the advancing Confederate army during the last major Confederate offensive of the Civil War. This December 15-16, 1864 Civil War battle is called by historians The Battle of Nashville.
Today, Red Bud Hill is the location of another battle of Nashville.
Belle Meade, Brentwood, Franklin, and other Nashville suburbs. The fight has led to verbal sparring in the classrooms and hallways of the prestigious girls school, Harpeth Hall, as well as other private schools in Nashville. The interesting twist to this particular civil case is the allegation that wealthy and influential Covenant Presbyterian Church leaders "unlawfully intimidated" Austin Davis and his family. Specifically, the allegation is that in 2008 Covenant Presbyterian church officials sought to intentionally ruin Mr. Davis' good name and reputation by falsely accusing him of being 'mentally unbalanced,' telling civil authorities, members of the congregation, and others that he was "a security concern" and was "threatening to bring harm to the congregation or its members by use of force, including but not limited to guns." This slander, according to the allegation, was designed to discredit Austin Davis and to allow church officials to conceal from public view the "heinous and repetitive" sexual molestations of a minor by one of the church's officers (see Complaints 18-24).
|Attorney Duncan Cave|
This is no ordinary church conflict. My purpose in writing is to familiarize the reader with Austin Davis and his family and to encourage people to review the appropriate data and records, and to refrain from making a judgment against Austin Davis or Covenant Presbyterian without performing personal due diligence.
|Austin Davis at Covenant (May 2014)|
After graduation from college, Austin Davis went back to Memphis to work on writing his first novel rather than going to law school. Austin loved reading and history and wanted to make writing his career. During this time, he met the great Civil War historian Shelby Foote, and the two became lifelong friends. Though Shelby was a declared agnostic, Austin would enter into deep conversations about God with Shelby, especially toward the end of his life. "I was blessed to be his friend and to pray with him all the way to the bitter end, including in the critical care unit, as Shelby laid down his weapons to end his 'war' with God and came to peace with the Almighty." Shelby Foote taught Austin never to throw away any document, letter, or other evidentiary material and to record everything with the meticulous note-keeping and documentation of a historian. That training would serve Austin Davis well later in life.
|Austin and Catherine Davis, Daisy and Drew (2000)|
|George Digby, Austin, and the Digby Vols|
|Pastor Jim Bachmann|
In 2002 Austin Davis, as Chairman of Covenant's Mercy Committee and an officer of the church, began to question church leaders as to why The Book of Church Order was not being followed in the discipline of a church member named Greg Lurie. Austin believed that following the church-approved rules and procedures provided checks and balances for church power. Without them, church leaders had the unchecked ability and mean to destroy a person's life, particularly when church leaders desired to protect the reputation of another church leader and/or his family.
Favoritism, Cronyism, and the Book of Church Order
Greg Lurie Appeals to the Nashville Presbytery
That afternoon, Sunday, March 3, 2002, Greg Lurie emailed the Presbyterian Church of America requesting their denominational help. Greg felt that Covenant Presbyterian's pastoral staff and elders were making unilateral decisions about him without hearing from him. These decisions were based on erroneous information and false assumptions given to them by his wife and her father. Because Greg's father-in-law was an elder and friends with the other men in the Session, Greg felt that his side was not even being heard. Unbeknown to Greg at the time, that Sunday morning in church, church leaders came to Catherine Davis's classroom where she taught the five-year-old Sunday School class and told Catherine that if Greg Lurie came to pick up his daughter, Catherine was not to give the child to her father under any circumstances. "I was a little shaken by what I heard," said Catherine. "I went home and asked Austin, 'What has Greg Lurie done?'" Austin felt it was his responsibility, as Chairman of the Mercy Committee, to find out what was going on within the Greg Lurie family. It would be more than a week later before he had a chance to talk to Greg.
By that time, Greg was not in the mood to visit with anyone from Covenant. From Friday, March 1, 2002 to Friday, March 8, 2002, Covenant Presbyterian pastors and elders, according to Greg Lurie, "had steamrolled me." When Austin entered the picture in the middle of March 2002 to try to help Greg restore his marriage, he went to Greg and later to his wife as an officer of Covenant, fulfilling his role and responsibility as Chairman of the Mercy Committee and deacon of Covenant Presbyterian.
"At the time I didn't know much of what was going on." says Austin, "I wasn't sure whether or not to believe what the pastoral staff and elders were saying about Greg. Greg definitely was not sure whether or not he could trust me, because I was an official from the church. However, after visiting and helping Greg over the course of several months, I developed two serious concerns with our church pastors and Session over how Greg's situation had been handled: (1). First, the Book of Church Order had not been followed. Why was process not given to Greg, a member of Covenant? (2). Second, Greg's own children were taken from him without his direct knowledge as to where they were or how long they would be away. It was sometime later when Greg was finally told they had been taken to "a safe house," the home of another officer of Covenant. How could pastors have this kind of 'authority' over a man's family? I was concerned for this man's young children. I wanted some answers. When I first began to ask questions, I was told by one of the elders and a pastor of the church, 'Austin, don't stick your nose in this business unless you've been called to it.' That made me think through my calling. I had been called. It was my responsibility to 'care for the flock" as a deacon. I learned as a boy that honor was more important than reputation. The honorable thing to do was to ask the questions that needed asking, regardless of the rich and powerful people who wanted me to shut up. For the next four years I kept asking the questions that nobody seemed to want to answer."Greg Lurie's marriage was never able to be reconciled, and the divorce was finalized on March 31, 2004. Austin Davis continued to ask his questions, moving from asking them verbally during private committee meetings to placing his concerns in writing to other officers of the church. To get a sense of the humble and respectful spirit Austin Davis displayed as he voiced his questions and concerns about process in dealing with members to the Covenant Presbyterian's pastors and elders, you can read Austin's December 3, 2003 letter to them. Less than a month later, on December 31, 2003, Austin writes a detailed and well-reasoned letter appealing to Covenant Presbyterian's Session to follow the Book of Church Order. Through Austin Davis's encouragement, Greg Lurie continued to attend Covenant Presbyterian throughout 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006. When Austin Davis heard that Covenant was possibly removing Greg from the church rolls on December 31, 2004, for alleged non-attendance, Austin wrote another letter dated December 3, 2004, asking Covenant's church officers to again to follow the Book of Church Order and not play favorites with members.
Austin Davis' Continuing Concerns with Covenant Presbyterian
In 2005, Austin exchanged letters with the Covenant pastor who had counseled Greg Lurie and his wife, attempting to express his concerns that the emphasis of Covenant's pastoral counsel with couples facing marital difficulty should be restoration, not divorce. Because the Lurie divorce had been finalized by 2005, Austin's letters expressed his general concerns with the number of divorces at Covenant and the pastoral response to them, and the letters were written by hand, sent to one pastor only. In response, the Covenant pastor gave Austin's letters to the Session (pg. 3) and then wrote Austin saying, "Your problem Austin is not with me. It is with the entire session and pastoral staff. We stand united..."
Austin felt that his only chance of correcting the problem of Covenant Presbyterian skirting the Book of Church Order in Greg Lurie's case, not to mention future cases leading to the Session showing favoritism to certain members, was for Austin to address the entire church body regarding his concerns. For nearly four years, Austin had written only to the Covenant Presbyterian officers and pastors in his role as a fellow officer of the church, but by 2005/2006, he determined the church needed to hear from him directly regarding the issues. Not surprisingly, his requests to personally speak to the congregation were refused. After again reading the Book of Church Order, Austin had an idea. He offered his resignation as a deacon of Covenant Presbyterian in May of 2006, believing that the Book of Church Order gave a resigning officer the right to address the church regarding the reasons for his resignation. However, after offering to resign his position as a Covenant officer, his request to address the church was still denied. Finding all avenues closed to resolve what Austin believed to be a serious matter within his church, Austin wrote a letter dated June 9, 2006, to the Nashville Presbytery, requesting that they "investigate serious offenses of the pastors and Session ... of the church I dearly love." The following Sunday, the Covenant pastor involved with the Greg Lurie counseling "aggressively engaged" Austin Davis and his family in response to Austin's letter to the Presbytery. Just a few days later a church 'court' determined that Austin needed to repent for causing "considerable pain and unrest...to the congregation of Covenant."
|Austin, Drew, Catherine and Daisy Davis (May 2014)|
For several months the Davis family did not attend Covenant Presbyterian. Then, a few Covenant friends and an Ethiopian evangelical minister began to encourage the Davis family to reconcile with the leadership of Covenant. Close friends knew there were problems with the leadership, but they didn't know all the specifics. All they did know was the Davis family was being missed at church. They urged true Christian reconciliation. With so many friends at Covenant and with no desire to be in leadership again, Austin Davis followed the advice and encouragement of his friends and wrote an 'apology' to the Session. Austin wrote it in March of 2007 and sometime during the summer of 2007, Austin and his family began attending Covenant again. In August 2007, the Covenant pastor who had been most intimately involved in the Greg Lurie divorce took a new position in a PCA church in Chicago. (Note: This former Covenant Presbyterian pastor had a relationship with a woman that was not his wife while in Chicago and is no longer with the church). After the pastor left Covenant, and after the Davis family had been faithfully attending for several months, Austin requested readmission to membership for himself and his family in a letter dated November 27, 2007. The Session denied Austin's request in a response that is dated November 29, 2007, a letter signed by the clerk of Covenant Presbyterian's Session and containing the following statement to Austin:
"We encourage you to pursue membership in a church whose leadership you can trust and follow."However, Austin Davis and his family continued to attend Covenant as they had done since 1992, the year of their marriage. A Covenant friend of Austin reached out again to the Session of Covenant Presbyterian in January of 2008, proposing a resolution whereby the women of the Davis family could be readmitted to Covenant Presbyterian as members provided Austin would agree to the following statement:
"Membership is reinstated if I do not pursue this matter (an investigation of Covenant leadership) with the Presbytery, and once membership is granted I will not challenge, fight or dissent with leadership again."Austin Davis AGREED to those terms. That shows Austin had no vendetta and just wanted to get back to worshipping at the church where he had been a member for over 15 years. However, a wise Covenant pastor who himself later left Covenant Presbyterian over disputes with leadership refused to allow Austin to sign the agreement because of the phrase the Session insisted Austin sign- "Once membership is granted I will not challenge...or dissent with leadership again." That pastor wisely felt that Austin to agree to such a statement would be foolish. The pastor told Austin, "You can't sign this because no Christian should bind his conscience."
A Dark Secret at Covenant Presbyterian
In the summer of 2007, a youth worker at Covenant Presbyterian was told by a high school junior-to-be that she had been repeatedly sexually molested by her adopted father when she was a young girl. This youth worker reported the allegations of abuse to a pastor at Covenant Presbyterian and confirms that pastoral staff at Covenant knew of the abuse allegations in 2007. For several months the adopted father of the girl, a man who happened to be a church officer at Covenant and the owner of 'the safe house' where the pastors placed the four children of Greg Lurie in the spring of 2002 without Greg Lurie's knowledge, repeatedly denied that he had sexually molested his minor adopted daughter.
However, at some point in early 2008, around the time Austin Davis was willing 'for the sake of peace' to sign a statement that he would "never challenge ... or dissent with (Covenant Presbyterian) leadership again," the father of the girl 'confessed' to church officers his acts of child molestation. The confessed child molester was assisted by Covenant leadership to enter a sexual treatment clinic. Upon returning home from treatment, the wife of the confessed child molester filed for separation. Nearly a year later, on March 13, 2009, the wife of the confessed child abuser filed for divorce, giving one of the reasons for the filing as:
"The past acts of abuse and molestation of the parties' minor child." (Allegation #8)Ironically, in the summer of 2007, when Covenant leadership became aware of the allegations of molestation against one of their church officers, I stepped to the microphone at the Southern Baptist Convention and made a motion that ...
"A database be developed containing the names of all Southern Baptist ministers who have been credibly accused of, personally confessed to, or legally been convicted of sexual harassment or abuse, and that such a database be accessible to Southern Baptist churches."Though I am not a Presbyterian, my motion was rooted in the knowledge that there is a tendency within religious denominations to 'conceal and cover' sexual abuse by church officers and ministers out of concern for the "reputation" of the church. TIME Magazine declared that the failure of my motion was 'one of the Top 10 most underreported stories in the nation that year.'
When the church officer at Covenant Presbyterian 'confessed' to his molestations in the spring of 2008, there seems to have been no effort by Covenant Presbyterian leadership to 'make known' or 'reveal' the sins of their church officer. There is no police report. There is no public record. There are no discovered church court minutes recording his sins. The Tennessee Department of Child Services, the Davidson County District Attorney's Office, the Tennessee Attorney General's Office, and other civil authorities can produce no record that they were ever notified by the Covenant Session in 2007, 2008, 2009, or 2010 of the child molestations.
In addition, the child molester continued to attend Covenant Presbyterian without notification of the church body of his confessed actions, meaning there were no boundaries in place to protect children.
What does happen at Covenant Presbyterian Church after the confession of the child molester from April 2008 to July 2008 seems shocking, and it forms the basis for the lawsuit by Austin Davis against Covenant Presbyterian, the Nashville Presbytery, and the National PCA.
The Person Exposing the Problem Becomes the Problem
Austin Davis gives up on becoming a member of Covenant Presbyterian. However, because his kids attend school with many young people in the church, and because his wife and mother-in-law (Nancy Fleming) have so many connections in the church, Austin gives his blessing to the women in his family without him, going through membership classes and he will just sit on the sidelines and attend Covenant without being a member.
However, on March 26, 2008, after completing the required membership classes, Nancy Fleming and Catherine Davis were denied membership by three members of the Session. The reasons given were "the lack of trustworthiness and Christian character" of Austin Davis. Nancy and Catherine were shocked. They were hurt. No, they were very hurt.
One of the Session members in that March 26, 2008 meeting later 'denied' the men refused membership to Catherine and Nancy, but Catherine says, "He's flat out lying. In fact, after we were denied membership, I called the church office the next morning to confirm and I was told, "Pastor Jim Bachmann will not allow you two to become members."
After six years of attempting to reason with the Session, after fighting off repeated attempts to stop him from asking questions about the lack of due process for Greg Lurie (and others), not to mention being stiffed when asking questions about the safety and welfare of Greg's kids, and now hearing an emotional wife and mother-in-law tell him that they were denied membership at Covenant Presbyterian because he could not be trusted and lacked Christian character, Austin Davis made a decision.
For the first time ever, Austin decides to make known his concerns about church leadership to a broader audience, approximately 100 members of the church. Austin breaks his silence on May 29, 2008. Austin attaches three letters to his "Commonwealth" letter and sent packages to members of Covenant Presbyterian: He attached his April 19, 2008 letter to the clerk of the Covenant Session where he questions why his wife and mother-in-law are denied membership; he attached the April 24 letter from Session members, a letter where Austin is said to write continuing 'errors, inaccuracies, and distortions (and by even sending this letter to Covenant members, Austin shows he is never afraid of the truth), and; Austin attaches his May 15, 2008 letter to the new members of the Session, recounting the last six years for them (since they presumably are in the dark about past problems).
Remember, this is the FIRST time Austin writes to members at large of Covenant Presbyterian Church. You can sense his hurt (over the rejection of his family), but you still can hear his concern that Covenant Presbyterian Church does the right thing. Austin is not afraid to expose problems at the church because he believes the church of Jesus Christ should always do the right thing.
For the next month (June 2008), Covenant leadership has to put out fires from members asking questions. Austin's letters make sense. People who have been previously in the dark begin to ask questions. Covenant leadership takes the standard approach, "Austin Davis is not trustworthy. You can't believe what he says. He's been a problem for years. He's a troublemaker." In dysfunctional systems, the person exposing the problems becomes the problem.
After waiting nearly a month, Austin responds to the charges that he is untrustworthy by writing a June 25, 2008 letter to Covenant Presbyterian members that says:
"If the facts and evidence supporting my letters are uprightly determined to be untrue by the leadership of Covenant, I call for Pastor Jim Bachmann to publicly declare the letters to be a lie to safeguard the Lord's Commonwealth which he has vowed to shepherd and protect.
If the facts and evidence supporting my letters are uprightly determined to be true by the leadership of Covenant, I call for immediate public repentance, restitution, and reconciliation to the glory of Christ and His Church.
This next Sunday would be an appropriate time for six years of lies and slander to come to an end."
At last! The church would be able to publicly address all the issues Austin Davis has sought to address for the past six years! After six long years, approximately 100 members of Covenant Presbyterian are now aware of the issues! Why was there a lack of due process for Greg Lurie and others in the church who are opposed by people of 'power and influence' within the church? What is the reason for children being taken from their fathers and placed in a church-designated 'safe house' without their fathers' knowledge? Why so many marriages at Covenant Presbyterian end in divorce after counseling with the pastoral staff? Why is Covenant Presbyterian's Session and pastoral staff not following the Book of Church Order?
The issues would be publicly discussed Sunday, thought Austin! It was not to be.
There Is the Possibility of a Shooter, A Mentally Unstable Person in Our Midst
The last sentence of Austin's June 25, 2006 letter to the church - "This next Sunday would be an appropriate time for six years of lies and slander to come to an end" - was a sentence taken and twisted by the leadership at Covenant Presbyterian.
They began to tell people Austin was 'obsessed,' "mentally unstable," a "possible shooter," and a threat to the congregation and the pastors. The pastoral staff was instructed by Jim Bachmann to wear bulletproof vests. A "security team" was hired and established a perimeter around the church. A picture of Austin Davis was distributed to key personnel. Pastor Jim Bachmann and a handful of others in leadership at Covenant Presbyterian began to act as if Austin Davis was a modern John Dillinger.
The clerk of the Session of Covenant Presbyterian sent a threatening letter on Friday, June 27, 2008, to Austin Davis, telling him if he came to church, he would be 'trespassing' and he should refrain from 'further harassment.' There are, however, no minutes of the Session meeting to authorize such a powerful injunction against a man and his family who had been attending church at Covenant for nearly two decades.
Austin was taken aback by the letter, and he was not going to go to church, but his 13-year-old daughter at the time, Daisy, reminded him that 'church is for everyone,' and he shouldn't let somebody threatening him keep him from attending God's house. On Sunday, June 29, 2008, after praying in the parking lot with his wife, son, and daughter, Austin Davis walked into Covenant Presbyterian as he had done for over 18 years, accompanied by his family. He was accosted by men with guns, separated from his wife and children, and threatened to be thrown in jail if he ever set foot on the property again, even though the Nashville police were never called to the church property. The actions were taken by a 'private' security team. The entire experience was humiliating, and it is best described by Austin's mother-in-law, who recounted the incident as well as other intimidation tactics against her granddaughter Daisy in this letter.
The Police Come to Austin's Home to Check His "Mental Condition"
Three nights later, on Wednesday, July 2, 2008, a detective and a sergeant for the Metro Nashville Police Department arrive on the front porch of Austin Davis' house at 8:05 pm to "check on his mental condition." The police stay for two hours; according to the Davis family, it is the "most traumatic, terrifying event in our family's history." The intimidation was real; the fear was palpable. Covenant leadership, according to what Davis' felt that night, was out to ruin Austin Davis' character and reputation, manipulating civil authorities into believing he was a "mentally unbalanced" stalker personality.
After almost 15 months of continual fear that somehow, someway, church officials would find a way to take Austin's children away from him and to imprison him for 'harassment,' Austin was able to communicate with a very helpful FBI agent who encouraged him to speak out on the intimidation he experienced. Austin wrote an excellent letter on July 31, 2011 to the clerk of the Covenant Session, requesting an explanation for the intimidation tactics Covenant used against him during the events of June/July 2008.
Austin's investigation into the events of June/July 2008 have turned up some interesting and strange facts that seem to indicate collusion between powerful church officials and civil authorities in Nashville, Tennessee. Those strange facts include odd police reports with no originating calls, connections between the investigating officer and the man (a lawyer in the church) who confronted Austin and threatened him with arrest on Sunday, June 29, 2008, and some very strange police behavior on Wednesday, July 2, 2008, the day the police showed up at his house, In short, Austin is alleging that the church manipulated the police through false statements to unlawfully silence a man who was asking questions that could wind up embarrassing the church.
If Austin's allegations are true, then the church's actions are 'unlawful.' Thus, the court battle was waged by Duncan Cave. The circumstances regarding police involvement in attempting to 'silence and intimidate' Austin Davis are documented in a host of files dated from 2008 to 2014. The reader can judge for himself the validity of Austin's claims.
The Child Molester Goes Free
Interestingly, on the night of July 14, 2008, two weeks after Austin Davis was accosted and threatened with arrest as he walked into the church, the Session of Covenant Presbyterian was updated on the "Austin Davis security concern" by Pastor Jim Bachmann, the police officer who checked on 'the mental condition' of Austin on Wednesday night, July 2, 2008, and a powerful attorney within the church. The entire Session and Diaconate were provided 'background on Austin Davis.'
'Background on Austin Davis.' It makes you wonder what was said about Austin Davis that night. I would propose that this post provides 'background on Austin Davis.'
At that same Session meeting, the 'resignation of a man from the Diaconate was 'accepted.'
That man is the one who confessed to child sexual molestation. The minutes of the Session record no background being given on that man.
For two additional years (2008 - 2010), that confessed child molester is allowed to walk freely through the buildings, halls, and classrooms of Covenant Presbyterian Church and The Covenant School.
For those same two years (2008 -2010) Austin Davis is under perpetual 'threat of arrest' for harassment of the leaders of Covenant Presbyterian Church.
Finally, in June 2010, Covenant Presbyterian Church "excommunicates" the confessed child molester. The 'ex-communication' occurs during the same summer Austin Davis, after 15 months of silence due to intimidation from church officials, and with the encouragement of a helpful FBI agent, begins to again ask questions of the Session. When the child molester is excommunicated from the church, the official stated reason is that he has been:
"...committing a heinous and repetitive sin against his family and has not shown evidence of repentance."
An Update on the Austin Davis Family
Austin Davis has lost his job because of the controversy. Austin has no money anymore to his name. He's going before bankruptcy court this week. He needs $3,000 to protect his house, and he doesn't have it. Austin is low-key about money, only talking about it with close friends and family. Somehow, in some way, God intervenes. Austin Davis has lost his reputation because of the allegations against him. Austin's not lost his reputation with those who really know him. I've received several phone calls from friends of Austin who have known him since his Memphis University School days and Ole Miss days, and everyone, to a man, tells me, "I've never known a more principled, honest man than Austin Davis."
Austin's not perfect. He's gritty. He's hard-headed and stubborn. He can say "damn" or "hell" occasionally, but Austin Davis loves Jesus. He's real. He's got a soul. He fights for what is right. He's an anti-religious, non-pretentious Christian. He's my follower of Jesus. Someone told his mother-in-law that her son 'was the most hated man in Nashville." Maybe so. But God loves Austin Davis because Austin Davis loves His Son.
Some Christians will gripe and complain about Austin Davis filing suit against Covenant Presbyterian Church. When a church falsely alleges one of its own is a potential 'shooter' and a 'crazy nut,' that church ought to thank that person for taking them to court -- it's far better than their stated expectations.
In closing, I would encourage the reader to peruse the appropriate documents and do your due diligence before you choose a side in this present-day battle of Nashville. As you read through the relevant and pertinent documents, ask yourself three important questions:
(1). Does a church have a responsibility to make known the identity of a known 'child molester'' to its congregation and community for the protection of children, or is it appropriate to cover and conceal the identity of a child molester for the protection of the church's and/or molester's reputation?
(2). Is it possible for an institutional church to use its power and influence to destroy the character and reputation of a person with little influence in the church, and if so, what 'checks and balances' are in place to prevent the subtle but powerful effects of spiritual and religious abuse, and why should Christians fight to ensure these checks and balances are in place?
(3). If you've been moved by Austin's story, would you consider how the Spirit of God might lead you to help the Austin Davis family?
In His Grace,