ON AUGUST 12, 1987. DELBERT Phillips moved through the crowded church sanctuary, carrying photocopies of his pastor’s police record. Around him the Wednesday evening service at Richardson’s large Canyon Creek Baptist Church had disintegrated into shocked murmurs and tense exchanges. Many worshipers, knowing nothing about months of bitter fighting among church officials, sat startled by the letter just read to the congregation from nine-year pastor Terry Smith. In the letter. Smith announced a voluntary leave of absence and an internal investigation into accusations of seduction, embezzlement, bullying, and deception that he admitted had “created a cloud over my role as pastor.”
Making his way through the stir, Phillips, a deacon of the church until he was forced from office just three days earlier, found newspaper reporters and gave them copies of what church members and the press had sought for days in court records. Phillips had two documents, one with “MUNICIPAL COURT COPY/NOTICE TO APPEAR” printed across the top and the name, address, and signature of Terry David Smith below. The other, a Piano Police General Offense Report of “Theft under $5,” lent a touch of absurdity to circumstances already strange enough. It read: “On September 20, 1982 around 1640 hours security personnel for Skaggs apprehended a shoplifter outside of the store after suspect attempted to leave with three capsules of contraceptives, which the suspect did not pay for.” Just up the street five years earlier, the report showed. Canyon Creek’s pastor, Terry Smith, had been caught stealing three packs of “Fourex Skins contraceptive condoms, estimated value $4.59.” He had later paid an $85 fine and kept the matter to himself.
While they seemed almost comic, the photocopies meant to several longtime Canyon Creek members a final, tangible something-a visible trace of what they saw as a dense, hidden web of wrongdoing and even crime, woven by a pastor and his inner circle in the church that some of these worried members had helped to found. They hoped that this one authenticated rumor, this one undeniable transgression that Smith had so elaborately denied, would spark the will in other church members to fece the disturbing stories about Terry Smith that had piled up over recent months. Surely, they thought, all the evidence would at last be heard, and a dark chapter of the church’s short history brought to a close.
IN SEPTEMBER OF 1972. SEVENTY-FOUR founding members gathered at a Richardson elementary school to bring Canyon Creek Baptist Church into being. Savings had been drawn, insurance had been borrowed against, second mortgages signed, and church bonds hawked, all to finance a down payment on the seven-acre corner lot on Custer Road. Agreeing with Perry Purtle, the church’s first pastor, the founders had chosen to go it alone as an independent Baptist congregation, unhindered by doctrinal ties and financial dependence on the Southern Baptist Convention or any other organization. “We wanted to work just on faith so if we made it, God would get the credit,” says one founding member. Adds another: “We didn’t want anyone telling us what could be preached. We didn’t want to have to answer to somebody else.”
Within six years, more bond sales had financed a rapid expansion of the church and its small Christian academy, every house in Richardson and Piano had been visited and some revisited by members, and twice the church had won awards as the fastest-growing congregation in the nation. As time passed, however, some members became wary of Purtle’s growing ties to outside fundamentalists: eventually, as energy and attendance began to lag and offerings dropped. bills and interest payments to creditors began to go unpaid-to the point, as then-deacon Morse Fenner recalls, that “there was no money and no way to meet the budget.”
When Perry Purtle resigned, church leaders knew they needed new direction. In July of 1978 they offered the pulpit to Terry David Smith, a boyish pastor in Longview, Texas, ten years out of Knoxville’s Tennessee Temple with a bachelor of arts degree in Bible. The smooth, well-groomed Smith, with his attractive wife and two small children, seemed an ideal match for the suburban congregation and proved well suited to an immediate task that demanded confidence above all else.
On the advice of church trustees. Smith announced the financial crisis to the members and faced creditors with a campaign of reassurance, promising bond holders and banks that all financial obligations would be met on time. Inspired by Smith, members renewed recruitment efforts and again dug deep to come up with cash, slowly filling in the deep hole left by years of “rolling” bonds sold to cover the cost and interest of earlier issues. The effort succeeded, and according to Fenner, “nobody lost any money.” With the books balanced, membership rolls began to grow and bad memories receded. Terry Smith settled in as the man who vanquished the odds and moved Canyon Creek Baptist Church to stable maturity-as the congregation was often reminded from the pulpit. And, former member John Winkler remembers, the church began to believe that “Terry Smith could do no wrong.”
By Christmas of 1986, all appearances at Canyon Creek gave just that impression: membership was more than 800, contributions were estimated to be more than a million dollars a year, Canyon Creek Christian Academy now offered a high school and a new gym for some 500 students, and among the church trustees and deacons were some of the area’s rising businessmen and lawyers. Trustee Charles Ferguson, president of an airline-services firm and a founding member of the church, remembers being troubled only by some complaints from parents of schoolchildren, complaints that seemed partly to indicate capricious administrative habits. Dispatching them through customary phone calls and letter-passing, Ferguson began to wonder just what might be going on behind the scenes.
A late December phone call to his office increased Ferguson’s suspicions, he says. A former church secretary who had served for a time as Terry Smith’s personal secretary before being fired abruptly that September asked to speak with Ferguson, and they agreed to meet at a coffee shop in a Richardson hotel. Ferguson suspected financial misbehavior to be behind the request, thinking the woman might have seen something odd in the office. Instead, she claimed she had suffered six months of repeated sexual harassment by Terry Smith, who, she said, had suggested obliquely that he and the secretary “had a chemistry between us” and that they ’ought to become friends.” Later, she told Ferguson, Smith started sneaking up behind her and fondling her. The ex-secretary said she confronted the pastor, only to be told “something reassuring” each time. Eventually she started to avoid him altogether.
The story went on, The woman told Ferguson that when her marriage broke up in August of 1986, she had followed church convention and gone to tell Smith of her impending divorce. She said that upon hearing the news, Smith stood up, circled his desk to move toward her, and said. “What you need is a sexually aggressive man in your life.” She remembers that “I started crying and ran out. I didn’t even go to church that night.” Not long after, Smith called her in and asked what her plans were, declaring that “it wouldn’t look right” for her to work under him once she was single again. He then fired her. Now, she told Charles Ferguson, she wanted to make a formal complaint to the board of trustees.
Ferguson said the woman’s accusations struck him like “a bombshell”-and he would not be the only one to feel the shock. Eventually, charge piled on charge until Smith took a leave of absence while a church committee looked into charges of sexual and financial misconduct. The allegations split the church into sharply divided factions. with elders long loyal to Canyon Creek on either side of the schism. Eventually, many of the anti-Smith faction were forced out of the church. Today, a solid majority of Canyon Creek members remain loyal to their leader, but many of his former flock remain convinced that Smith is a hypocrite and an adulterer, if not a crook. A vendetta of sorts continues against Smith, which would be comical were it not so ugly: his house has been egged, taunting slogans painted on his doors, packages of Kool-Aid (a cruel reference to the cult leader Jim Jones) delivered to his office. His children have awakened more than one morning to find condoms drooping from their trees, To this day, many newcomers to Piano and Richardson are mailed a “warning” against Smith, which details the charges and advises them to avoid Canyon Creek Baptist Church. The wounds are far from healed.
TERRY SMITH ADAMANTLY denies any of the charges against him. insisting that he has neither manipulated church finances to his benefit nor had any romantic involvement with church members. He believes that the problems stem from a power struggle inside the church, with some members disgruntled because they did not enjoy the close relations and easy access to Smith that they had had with his predecessor.
Following his meeting with the woman, Charles Ferguson tried to bring her complaint to the board’s attention, only to be “jumped on for meeting with her” by trustees John Wheeler, Harold Harvey, Charles Tucker, and Joe Pederson. Two board members-Burt Riley and Morse Fen-ner-agreed with Ferguson and conceded the need to hear the complaint. A vote was called, a majority of trustees professed strict allegiance to Smith, and the former secretary and church member was denied the chance to appear and speak. Though the matter was formally dropped, it strained or severed ties between the pastor and several church officers and left a growing number of church members thinking that something was being buried. Two similar stories turned up and were quick to circulate.
Mary Miller, another of Smith’s former secretaries and a married church member. claimed she had had a nearly identical bout with Smith a year or so after his arrival at Canyon Creek in 1978. “He would do something like kiss me on the back of the neck, or grab me around the waist-or maybe higher,” Miller recalls. “I really didn’t know how to take it, especially with him being a pastor.” Finally, she says. Smith left no doubt about his aims, calling Miller into his office and pulling her on top of him against the back of a large, leather office chair. “He asked me-just outright asked me-if we could make love, and I said no,” Miller says. Smith persisted, turning small talk into blunt passes. “I’d be leaving the office and would ask if there was anything else I should do,” Milter says. “And he’d say, ’Well, you can go back into the office and raise your skirt, and I’ll be right there.’” Not wanting to acknowledge that Smith “wasn’t real,” and unwilling to withdraw her active family from the church, Miller stayed on.
But questionable incidents continued, Miller says, during her months of employment at Canyon Creek. Arriving fifteen minutes early one morning, she met a recently widowed woman hurriedly leaving Smith’s office. To Miller, it seemed that the woman was pulling her bra together beneath her raised sweater. Miller says Smith castigated hen, insisting she never arrive early for work again. Miller also says that Smith began spending time behind closed doors with Debbie Coleman. a recently divorced member who often asked Miller about Smith’s marriage, his likes and dislikes in women, and whether Smith seemed to like Coleman. Smith instructed Miller not to tell his wife when Coleman called or visited. After months of resisting advances and observing Smith’s habits, Miller says, she warned a teenage girl working part-time that Smith’s frequent calls to see him in his closed office could mean trouble. When Smith found out about the warning, Miller was fired immediately and ordered by Smith to leave the church, she says.
Debbie Coleman’s story-which she says she tried to tell in 1982, before leaving the church-came to light in the spring of 1987. A former model. Coleman says she had sought counseling from Smith when her husband left her alone and pregnant. According to Coleman. Smith began calling her at night, asking if he could drop by her home; she says the visits became regular and as frequent as four times a week, with the two often making love in her boys’ bedroom to avoid discovery by her estranged husband. They also met, she says, at a North Dallas hotel. “I got caught up in it because my husband had just left me,” Coleman says. “But it’s like you’re possessed by this man: all you think about all day long from the time you get up to the time you go to bed is Terry Smith.” Coleman says that when she mentioned the affair to church members, “Nobody believed me. . .I lived in hell for almost four years, sleeping with Smith two or three times a week, even when I was pregnant.” Smith denies any romantic involvement with Coleman or any other female church members.
As weeks passed, some church members began to suspect that Smith’s own behavior might be in conflict with his frequent and harsh denunciations of the sins of the flesh from the pulpit. “I would go to Sunday school and also in his preaching hear him teach so hard against adultery,” says one churchgoer who eventually left, “and I thought, ’no, he couldn’t do that’. . .but we knew things were not going well and we had begun to lose so many good families.”
After several weeks of tracking down women who had left the church since Smith’s arrival, members collected the names of “seven other women,” Burt Riley says, who had either had affairs with Terry Smith or been sexually harassed by him. Keith Harding, then a deacon, ignited Smith’s temper by asking point-blank about the rumors of the pilfered condoms, only to be told, “Show me the police record, and I’ll resign.” Harding accepted the denial for the moment, but he began to look more closely into the various rumors.
Meanwhile, another Smith-Terry’s younger brother Tim, appointed principal of the academy in 1985-was attracting his own set of critics. Parents, teachers, and school staff were complaining of two years of what they saw as arbitrary, petty, and deceitful administration. One former administrator offered a laundry list of problems, charging that teachers were intimidated and manipulated, required to tithe out of their salaries and to attend church functions whether they were members or not; records for transferred or withdrawn students were often withheld retributively; staff members were fired and students expelled and punished arbitrarily, with little attention given to the veracity of charges. The administrator says that when she quit her position and removed her own child from the school, she was denied severance pay and given that removal as the reason.
One mother of four students, Billie Jo Cole, grew so exasperated with Tim Smith’s vague explanations for erratic readmission decisions (all students reapply annually) that she began taping their telephone conversations and threatening the school with a lawsuit. According to Allyson Peoples, a teacher at the academy from 1983 through 1986, “It was a good school with good people, but when Tim Smith arrived, it went downhill fast.” Peoples says that by the spring of 1987, many of the school’s best teachers were gone, having left along with popular administrators in the months after Tim Smith’s appointment.
The Smiths even interfered in student elections, Peoples says. Tammy Smith, Terry’s daughter, won Homecoming Queen, Peoples says, despite an agreement among her classmates-including her own boyfriend-to test administrators by voting enbloc for another candidate. With complaints and distrust thick in the air as the 1987 school year ended, the number of reapplying students dropped off dramatically.
THE MOUNTING ACCUSATIONS AGAINST the Smiths grew to include not just sexual but financial matters, and soon another Smith became the object of rumor: Ruthie Smith, Terry’s wife, who had served as the church’s financial secretary for nine years. Church bylaws called for two trustees to sign any check drawn on a church account, but a practice of allowing just one signature-along with the pastor’s-had been in effect for several years. According to Charles Ferguson, trustees would normally sign the checks Ruthie Smith presented after church services, flipping quickly through the stacks of computer-printed checks and rarely asking questions. But when drafts of large amounts appeared, made out to no one and without invoices, Ferguson says he complained and eventually refused to sign any more “blank checks.” Other, more cooperative trustees were then sought out.
By early May, deacons Keith Harding, Miles Morrison, and Bob Brittle, who were among the most vocal critics of Smith, were denounced by the enraged pastor in a mid-May deacon’s meeting-Harding as a “criminal, a crook, a fraud, and a cancer” and Brittle as “a liar, a coward, and a betrayer,” according to Morrison’s letter of resignation. The three resigned their positions and left the church, with Morrison blaming official “stonewalling11 of their search for “more information .. .on the pastor’s past, and that of his brother.” Harding, the father of a child with severe cancer, began receiving anonymous threats by telephone, blaming him for Terry Smith’s misfortunes. “Keep your mouth shut,” he was told. And: “You’d better make sure your daughter’s not around, because your house is going to get torched.”
By July 1987, tensions at Canyon Creek were greater than ever. Trustee and deacon boards were deeply divided over the mounting accusations, with some members now recalling suspicious financial practices and demanding a full accounting. Secretaries and staff reported sizable paychecks drawn from both church and school payrolls for various Smiths and business manager Roger Hagmann-a former deacon under Terry Smith in Longview who was offered the position at Canyon Creek when his business failed. Ferguson says now that had the deacons known the Smiths were drawing checks from both payrolls, the payments would not have been approved. Cash Christmas bonuses of $2,000 and $2,500 to Terry and Tim Smith raised fears about the family’s tax practices. The deacons also heard that Social Security matching funds were missing and that church members’ wedding expenses were paid as tax-deductible donations. But contrary to Smith’s own claims from the pulpit, all financial information was sealed in church computers, with access codes known only to Smith and Hagmann. Charles Tucker, trustee and church treasurer, had done little but approve Smith’s financial information for years, and in July, when he demanded that Hagmann tell him exactly what the pastor made, he was told that Terry Smith’s approval was required.
Fearing that the trustees had “let things get out of their hands,” deacon Delbert Phillips began gathering what information he could, concentrating especially on the pastor’s salary, thought officially to be near $100,000 annually. Smith handed out a single sheet with twelve lines of financial information at a meeting on July 8, but Phillips says the information raised more questions than it answered, with figures wildly out of line with earlier budget reports. In a letter to trustees, Phillips said that “in my opinion, CCBC finances have become a deep, dark secret in spite of all the careful planning done for checks and balances. . .Is CCBC a democracy today or has it somehow slipped into an autocracy?”
According to former trustee chairman Morse Fenner, Smith now began to strike back at his accusers. He “had tried several times to have the trustee board dismiss (Charles Ferguson]-just to demand his resignation,” Fenner recalls. “He had gone through me as chairman to get it done.” When Smith left town for a few days, Canyon Creek Baptist trustees met and agreed to call for the first outside audit of the church in years. They also moved to force Smith to disclose the amount of his salary, to arrange for the women alleging abuse by Smith to appear and speak, and to confront the pastor with the story of the condom theft, now widely accepted as true.
A background search on the Smiths was begun and in midsummer produced more than expected. Billie Jo Cole uncovered school principal Tim Smith’s 1976 dismissal from Saginaw, Michigan’s Sheridan Road Baptist Church and school following the discovery that Smith had conducted an extended relationship with a seventeen-year-old student, whom he took to Florida for several months, leaving his wife and children behind and devastating the church. At the same time, Ferguson traced a tip back to Lake City, Georgia, where a Baptist pastor confirmed having counseled a young woman he described as “suicidal.” She had been involved several years ago with a third Smith brother now living in Richardson, former Forest Park, Georgia, pastor Tom Smith. The Georgia pastor was told by the woman that in 1979, Terry Smith came to Atlanta to speak at the high school of his brother Tom’s church. Tom asked her to have sex with Terry as a favor, and the woman complied. Soon after, said the Lake City pastor, Tom Smith resigned from his church when he was discovered to be involved with another woman, a married church member. He left to join his brothers in Texas.
IN LATE JULY CHARLES FERGUSON LEFT town for a week just as the pastor returned, and Terry Smith took advantage of the absence to harangue the trustees about loyalty and demand Ferguson’s removal from the board. Then, at the August 2 morning service, Smith delivered a blistering, combative, hour-long sermon about the sanctity of the office of “God’s Man,” the pastor. Terry Smith declared himself accountable to no one but God.
“God has given [tithes] to me, not you,” Smith said. “God’s told you to give it, but God’s given it to me!.. .It is my reward!” Rambling and screaming, he mocked members of the congregation as “failures” and castigated those who didn’t tithe, mimicking their objections: ’”I pay your salary.’ No, you do not! ’I’m going to quit giving.’ Fine! Big deal! Right! You don’t have to deal with me. you’ll deal with God! We’ve had tens of families leave our church and stop giving, thinking that I would not get any more money-I’ve gotten a raise every year I’ve been here! Their leaving hasn’t hurt me a bit!” He warned that “next time you have a need, I’m going to look up and see what you’re doing-I’m going to look up and see what your contributions are! “When I go to the hospital, I expect flowers.’ Well, let’s see if you’ve paid for them! ’I want some counseling.’ Well, let’s see if you’ve made a donation for that!” To clinch his point, Smith cited divine authority: “I didn’t say it! GOD said it! Take that dumb look off your face!”
Tensions within the church increased. According to Morse Fenner, on Sunday morning, August 9, Fenner and fellow trustees Harold Harvey and John Wheeler approached the pastor and suggested he resign for the good of the church. Smith, indignant, said, “all right, you preach this service-I’m gone.” But he was called back by the wavering Harvey and Wheeler. Ruthie Smith then entered the office and upon learning the reason for the encounter, exploded at Fenner, calling him a “wimpy little man” and ordering him to leave the church. Smith stayed and preached. In the choir loft, Ferguson was given a dressing-down by deacon Bob Clancy, who he says told him, “we don’t need you-take your money and your family and get out.” That evening, in a closed meeting after the service, Fenner, Ferguson, Riley, Phillips, and deacon Thad Conn were accused obliquely of “disloyalty to the pastor” and, over the objections of several present, were voted out of office by a small number of assembled members in a stand-up, roll-call vote overseen by Terry Smith.
The discouraged outcasts gathered at Ferguson’s home with their families, amazed at the actions of their former friends and convinced that their church had become a personality cult. But the next day, according to another, “our phones were ringing off the wall and people were coming and going all day.” Church members who knew little of the controversy were shocked to hear of the forced removal of founders and longstanding members, and word of allegations began to spread rapidly beyond the circle of officers and their families. More than ever, pressure rose for the pastor to answer the charges against him.
Oddly enough, matters came to a head when church member Jim Carroll, who had offered strong support of Smith up to this point, set out to prove the condom story was false. To his surprise, Carroll says, he came upon police and court records showing that Smith had indeed been cited, in 1982, for stealing three packages of condoms from a Piano grocery store.
Unknown to Carroll, Smith had confirmed the incident to church deacons a week before. According to deacon Delbert Phillips, Smith told the deacons that he had been given the painkiller Percodan following dental surgery. Suffering from a painful “dry socket,” he had gone to the store to buy condoms, for use in his marriage, and to have a prescription filled. Smith still says that he “doesn’t know why.” but he put the three boxes of condoms in his pocket before going to the pharmacy counter. Then, he says, he forgot about the condoms and left the store. A store security guard stopped him on the way to his car. Embarrassed and hoping to conceal the incident, Smith says, he later paid his fine and told nobody about it.
But that is not the only version of the condom episode. According to Janet Fishpaw, a Canyon Creek member, Smith said he’d had the condoms in his hand when he came upon a woman from the church. To avoid embarrassment, he pocketed the contraceptives. After leaving the store, he remembered them and was on his way back to pay when the guard stopped him.
Terry Smith denies ever giving this second version of events. Police records of the citation contain no mention of painkillers or prescriptions. Another perspective is offered by Rodney Neal, the security guard who apprehended Smith. Neal, a state trooper for fifteen years and now a Collin County criminal investigator, saw it this way: “He caught my attention at the condom rack, and he looked at several items,” Neal says. “This alerted me, someone who picked up a single item that could be concealed. And he started walking around with it. Then he began to walk randomly around the store, and it took him a while to find an aisle nobody was on, which is pretty much the modus operandi for a shoplifter. And he concealed it-put it in his coat pocket and walked around the end of the aisle… he headed immediately to the center of the store and out the north door.” Neal remembers the day clearly. After all, as he puts it, “it’s not every day you arrest a preacher for stealing rubbers.”
A SURPRISE MOVE BY SMITH CAME Wednesday night, August 12, before a tightly packed congregation that included reporters from The Dallas Morning News and The Piano Star-Courier. After an opening hymn, deacon and church counsel Kenneth Bier-macher announced the deacons’ formation of an investigatory board composed of current officers, whose task would include hiring a private investigator and arranging for an independent audit. (Terry Smith says that he requested the formation of the committee and the investigation; some deacons at the time recall the decision as their own, made despite the displeasure of the pastor.)
“If you have information, bring it forth,” Biermacher said to the congregation. “If no one is willing, we’re not going to accomplish anything. The committee is not here to hide information or hinder progress but to gather and provide facts. We are going to have to live with the facts, good or bad.” The two-week deadline for the committee’s report, which would then be taken up for consideration by the board of deacons, was said by Biermacher to be “flexible,” and could be moved if necessary. He then read a letter from the absent Terry Smith that announced the pastor’s leave of absence, but the letter did little to clear the air, striking a strangely ambiguous tone: “If I am guilty, it will be proved,” Smith wrote. “If I am not, I will be vindicated.”
As Terry’s brother Tim Smith took the podium to lead what was announced as “an old-time prayer service,” members of the congregation began to stand and speak, demanding to ask questions about the committee. They were squelched. “There will be no questions,” Tim said loudly and firmly. “Either sit down or we’ll just close this down!” Unable to stem the rising voices, Smith declared, “Everybody, you’re dismissed-go home and pray!” and walked quickly up an aisle and out of the sanctuary. Many inside were stunned. As the lights dipped on and off to encourage those present to leave, a Morning News photographer began to photograph the tense exchange, only to be grabbed by church officers and pushed out of the sanctuary; reporters were also told to leave. The members filtered out, some hopeful, some suspicious.
The suspicions proved correct. Though the next day committee chairman Jim Reid did hire a private investigator and arrange for an audit, only three people testified before the committee. First came Burt Riley, a former trustee. Riley revealed an earlier proposal to intimidate the women who had allegedly been involved with Smith by meeting with them individually and “interrogating” them. The plan, he said, had been hatched by Joe Pederson, now a member of the very investigating committee looking into the charges. Riley also recited the allegations of financial malfeasance. Abruptly the hearings were called to a halt, and on Saturday, August 15, the deacons met with Biermacher to plan a hurried conclusion to the investigation. Over the objections of Reid and Biermacher, the deacons prepared to announce the conclusion of their work and call a vote to invite Terry Smith back the next day. They began calling sympathetic members to get the word out.
In the meantime, Terry Smith had stood his ground by presiding at the Friday funeral of a church member, held in a cemetery chapel to respect his leave of absence from Canyon Creek. To the surprise of those attending-both “followers” and “dissenters” alike, as they had begun to refer to themselves- Smith positioned himself by the coffin and made his own receiving line of those filing by, When dissenters passed, says Keith Harding, “We’d put our hands out and he’d just shake his head and look away.”
By now, Jim Reid appeared to be the only committee member willing to follow leads at all costs. His own short investigation had been convincing enough, he believed, demonstrating that “there was no accountability for anybody away from the immediate family. . .even the trustees admitted that they didn’t know what was going on.” Hoping to seize the moment before the deacons took the floor, Reid reported first to a crowded sanctuary Sunday afternoon and listed the categories of allegations, recommending that the committee continue work it had only begun. However, when deacon Cliff Lyons took the podium, he labeled the condom theft “inadvertent” and dismissed the other allegations as insubstantial.
Some dissenters say Lyons then began calling on members to speak, watching for fellow deacon John Ramer in the rear to indicate those to be chosen. But Reid doubts there was much significance in the sequence of speakers, pointing out that he had stood at the podium for as long as twenty minutes, detailing all that he and the committee had uncovered. “I think the audience understood fully,” he says. “It was not a witch hunt- everyone knew what they were voting on.”
Finally the motion was made to vote on Smith’s return. Sure of their defeat, the dissenters, including Jim Reid, filed out to the emphatic applause of the three-quarters of the assembly left behind. The following vote was overwhelming, with only three “no” votes and ten abstentions. That evening, Smith returned to the pulpit “triumphantly,” as Reid put it. Ken Biermacher, however, surprised many by resigning that night from his positions as deacon and church counsel, leaving Canyon Creek for good. Now, most of Smith’s critics were gone.
The tumult had its price. Church membership was cut by a third according to some accounts-Smith’s own estimate is one-sixth-and reported offerings were down by as much as half within a few months. Even in March of 1988, the church bulletin reported a weekly offering of $19,004.50, a drop of some S3,300 from the weekly average of a year before. Several dissidents organized a loosely knit campaign to oust Smith. They established a bank account for contributions to sustain the effort, considered filing lawsuits, and even searched the church trash regularly for evidence of wrongdoing.
IN HIS ONE PUBLIC REBUTTAL OF THE charges, a short interview with D writers this past June. Smith said that all the allegations against him-other than the condom theft-are lies, fabrications woven by jealous, disaffected members who wish to settle petty scores by seizing control of the church from its otherwise well-liked rescuer. As Smith sees it, financial oversight increased during his years as pastor, including the requirement of trustee signatures on checks. In his view, the first hint of unhappiness was “a certain restlessness” in January of 1987, at which point Charles Ferguson called other trustees’ attention to charges of sexual misconduct that Ferguson himself dismissed, as did the board with him.
As similar rumors surfaced, Smith says, some officers announced their acceptance of the claims but never explained what those claims were, just as the women said to be making them had never appeared to speak. Smith denies committing any sexual misconduct and insists that his only physical contact with members is placing a comforting arm around a troubled soul.
Smith says he doesn’t know why so many formerly happy church officers and members, many of whom claim never to have met one another, would join together in a conspiracy against him. Possibly, he suggests, the problems stemmed from the church’s refusal, in 1986, to pay Charles Ferguson’s son the salary he wanted to serve as music director. Nor does he know why the women he allegedly seduced or sexually harassed would risk their names and reputations in a public confrontation with him.
As for the question of motives, the anti-Smith dissidents have their own puzzlements: why would a churchful of otherwise reasonable people-including lawyers, dentists, builders, CPAs-be so loyal to Smith as to ignore what seem to be serious allegations? Some former members, who never pass up a chance to criticize Smith, believe the loyalty has to reflect some kind of underhanded ties.
They claim that Smith often advises members not to inform spouses of serious transgressions and then warns the congregation that he “has something on everyone.” And, it is said, several trustees and deacons are linked with the Smiths or the church in business or employment: trustee and builder John Ramer has sold, at a discount, expensive homes to Terry and Ruthie Smith, Tim Smith, and Roger Hagmann-and he is said to be the only member to have his receipts for tax-deductible contributions written out personally by Terry Smith; trustee Joe Pederson is Terry Smith’s personal accountant; three deacons have wives or relatives who teach at the church, as does business manager Hagmann; deacon Don Nix is Terry Smith’s dentist, and so on.
Still, such links, even if real, may not account for churchgoers so fiercely loyal that one Canyon Creek couple threatened to turn their back on their own kids after the children criticized the pastor. “If you have any unkind words to say about Terry Smith. then you’re not welcome in our home,” the youngsters were told. And why would a Dallas businessman and deacon declare. “I don’t care if Terry Smith has had ten or fifteen affairs, he’s still God’s Man”?
Some ex-church members blame not just Smith but the independent church structure, which seems to place one man-the pastor-in a preeminent position; members are not beholden to a set of doctrines or a historical record so much as they are loyal to “God’s Man.” One former Canyon Creek officer says that “among independents, the pastor often demands unquestioning authority. I took an oath I’ll never take again-absolute loyalty to the pastor.”
Charles Ferguson also feels that he has learned a lesson. “The idea of a pastor as the unquestioned authority is a phenomenon of independent, fundamental churches,” he says. “Unfortunately, this system of no checks and balances works beautifully for those who have something to hide.” Adds Jim Reid: “There are some people who would walk off a bridge if told to. and to be shown that Terry Smith is human would just shake their faith too much. . .We were all snookered.”
Perhaps that is the answer: if one knows who God’s Man is, one need only line up behind him and stay in place. Terry Smith regularly asks members point-blank if they are “loyal,” implicitly identifying himself and his office with their faith. At the tense meeting of deacons in mid-May of 1987, says Delbert Phillips, Smith asked those present to go one by one around the table and declare their “100 percent loyalty”-this time expressly to him.
Smith is said to make common use of this deference, insistently overseeing church programs himself. Bible studies other than Sunday school are discouraged, and even a new members’ class was closed. A youth “rec room” is said to have closed due to Smith’s disapproval, and the women’s ministry and men’s groups-usually staples of church life-are small and inactive compared with other nearby churches. Says Mary Miller, “I just thought he didn’t want people getting together to talk-to compare notes.” Several former members recall being ordered by Smith to leave the church for disloyalty, despite the requirement in the church constitution of a general vote of the congregation to refuse membership. Former deacon Keith Harding says that “Terry told me that he could get rid of a family by just preaching to them from the pulpit and intimidating them.”
TODAY, CANYON CREEK IS FAR CALMER than in the summer of 1987. But it may be the calm before a second storm. Withdrawn members have compiled detailed accounts of questionable practices within what they call “the only family-owned-and-operated independent Baptist church in Texas’-and have handed much of it to the Internal Revenue Service. They say that church financial records show repeated “reimbursements for overhead” of an even $5,000. with no record of expense or recipient, along with unspecified and previously unknown accounts with balances of more than $30,000 and $60,000. Former members who invested, at Smith’s appeal, in a Dallas-based church-computer firm are waiting to learn why the venture quickly failed in 1986 and erased their capital, while a parent company appears still to thrive and the president remains in town (though his disappearance had been cited as the cause of the failure). Former member Dan Smith (no relation to the pastor), who lost almost $50,000 in the investment, is said to have threatened Terry Smith before being paid back for $30,000 of church bonds lent to the pastor as collateral for a personal investment: the pastor finally sent a single check for the money-drawn on a church account. Dan Smith says. Recently, attention has focused on a $20,000 church trip to the Holy Land in 1986 that Canyon Creek paid for after Terry Smith announced-incorrectly-that members could then deduct their payments to the church as charitable contributions.
Smith’s pay remains a mystery. He says that each week he receives $925 in salary, $750 as housing allowance and S200 in car allowance-a total of $100,000 annually, including Christmas bonuses. Former members and a former secretary say this leaves out his reimbursements for federal income tax, social security taxes, and personal expenses paid for on church credit cards (including furnishings and expenses from trips to Hawaii and the Bahamas). Also omitted is the additional $1,900 per month Terry and Ruthie Smith were allegedly paid from the academy’s separate payroll. Phillips says that “no one really knows, but I once figured out that he makes in excess of $160,000 a year’-a figure that would put Smith well above even Oral Roberts’s salary of $98,000 and Jerry Falwell’s $100,000. (Smith’s daughter now attends Falwell’s Liberty University on a “President’s Scholarship” designed for children of church workers, who generally have low incomes.)
Despite all the digging, mailings, accusations, and defections, however-even with income and membership fallen, school enrollment down, and morale low-Terry Smith and Canyon Creek have survived as one. Some members say they know nothing of any turmoil, and others insisting with member Pam Lareau that the difficulties are “a family matter. .. it seems like the Lord’s taking care of it because he’s blessing the church, and members are being added and people being saved.” Mercedes Guitierrez says Smith “is an excellent preacher… maybe we should have paid more attention to his behavior, but it’s not really our personal business.”
Member Janet Fishpaw thinks “there hasn’t been enough evidence presented to me to say that 1 don’t want Brother Terry preaching over there anymore.” though his salary does worry her. “I’ll be honest with you,” she says, “It’s not that I begrudge him the house he lives in and the cars he drives. . .But the money end does bother me… I think any minister that lives the style he lives and drives the cars he drives and wears the jewelry he wears leaves himself open for criticism-right or wrong.” But while the taint of controversy (passed via anonymous mailings) cost him a February speaking engagement at a Christian college in Florida and has led to cancellations by visiting speakers, the pastor remains in charge at 2800 Custer Parkway-and still lives in his luxurious home in Preston Springs. Smith claims that “more people are being saved than ever” and that financial oversight has been enlarged by the fusion of the trustee and deacon boards and the retention of an outside auditor-a Roman Catholic, he says.
Can Terry Smith & Co. ride out their woes, or will unanswered questions continue to sap the church? A final test could be possible legal action against Terry Smith for violation of trust: a former counselee, with her own story of seduction by Smith, has surfaced in recent months. The woman’s attorney, Jerry Lastelick. would not allow his client to be interviewed. But he said that she had suffered “physical, mental, and emotional anguish and stress” as a consequence of Smith’s “sexual improprieties.” Lastelick, a former head of the Dallas Bar Association, claims that “rather than referring my client to a professional, Terry Smith undertook to counsel my client, and by deception and fraud commenced a series of sexual liaisons which caused my client’s depression to deepen and heightened her feelings of guilt.”
Despite these new problems for Terry Smith, some former Canyon Creek members doubt that Smith can be dislodged from his position. The IRS file on Canyon Creek is said to have been transferred from the criminal to the civil investigative branch, raising the possibility that Smith could settle with the agency by paying any owed tax. Furthermore, the dissidents know [hat legal action is expensive, seduction is hard to prove, financial records are well protected and easily destroyed, and an army of believers is on hand to declare their faith in God’s Man. As Keith Harding puts it, “no matter what, he can weather it… He’ll get those people crying and supporting him, and it will just make that bond stronger. And as long as the money’s coming in and he can take it, he’ll go on.”
God said his servants are to have the best and that ought to be our desire!. .. When only 25 percent of the people in this church tithe, 75 percent of the people of this church are robbing me and my family, -you ’re not only robbing God, you ’re robbing me and my family!
-sermon, August 2, 1987
I am not accountable to you as the people of this church… My accountability is to God, and we have to understand that!
-sermon, August 2, 1987
You can look into my life and scrutinize it and get a magnifying glass and then get a telescope and whatever you want to do and I want to tell you all you’re going to find is FILTH! Because there’s no good thing in me!
-sermon, August 23, 1987
We’ve got to understand that God’s law is that we’re innocent until proven, proven, proven, proven guilty. But when someone is proven guilty, we’ve got to cry for justice.
-sermon, March 27, 1988
We should have gone down the tubes two months ago; we did’t and we’re still here. God’s meeting with us, and God wouldn’t do that if there was something wrong here.. .We’re going to be twenty times stronger when we get back than we were when we started, and that’s God’s purpose.
-sermon, November I, 1987