FBC Jacksonville settles defamation lawsuit

A defamation lawsuit against a Florida Baptist mega-church has been settled under confidential terms, according to the formerly anonymous blogger who filed the complaint in 2009.

By Bob Allen

First Baptist Church of Jacksonville Pastor Mac Brunson apologized at the close of the April 1 morning worship service for once labeling former longtime church member Tom Rich "obsessive compulsive" and a "sociopath," the Florida Times-Union reported April 2.

“Mr. Rich is not obsessive compulsive and is not a sociopath,” Brunson said in a statement quoted in full on the FBC Jax Watchdog blog started anonymously by Rich in 2007, a year after Brunson moved from First Baptist Church in Dallas to replace retiring FBC Jacksonville pastor Jerry Vines. “I regret making those statements. I want to apologize to Mr. Rich and his family. I also want to apologize to you and the church."

The Watchdog’s criticism of Brunson’s leadership led to Rich’s identity being exposed after a police detective serving on First Baptist’s security detail got a subpoena and he and his wife being voted out of membership. In 2009 church leaders filed trespass warnings against the couple, who had been members at the church for more than 20 years.

Rich told the Florida Times-Union he could not comment about whether Brunson’s statement Sunday was part of the settlement. In 2010 the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office paid Rich $50,000 as part of a settlement in another lawsuit saying their investigation violated the First Amendment.