Key Witness in Flowers case is accused of three murders


That’s Odell Hallmon telling a jury in Winona, Mississippi, that Curtis Flowers confessed to killing four people in a local furniture store in 1996.  Now it’s Hallmon who stands accused of killing three people in a town 20 miles south of Winona.

The difference is that Doug Evans, the DA who prosecuted Curtis Flowers 6 times before getting a final conviction, won’t have to create a case out of thin air to convict Hallmon–there is actual evidence.  You can find more about Hallmon’s role in convicting Flowers here.

But it gets worse.

In the first of the six Curtis Flowers trials (no capital case has been re-tried six times) Hallmon testified that Flowers had confessed to the murders when the two men were cellmates in the state penitentiary in Parchman, Mississippi.

In the second trial, Hallmon reversed himself.  He and his sister Patricia had learned that a reward of $30,000 was being offered to anyone giving evidence leading to a conviction in the case and they wanted to cash in.  So, when Hallmon and Flowers were locked up together, Patricia told Odell what to say and how to say it.

Then Odell, by his own account, got out of prison and was forced to live with a mother and a sister who were angry with him for turning on the family.  So Odell recanted his recantation and hasn’t budged since.

But it gets worse.

The state’s case against Flowers is entirely dependent on the testimony of Patricia Hallmon (she goes by several names, but we don’t want to further complicated this Byzantine story).   This isn’t obvious on first blush because the state put up several witnesses who testified to seeing Flowers on the fateful morning when four innocent people died at the Tardy furniture store.  But Patricia gave Doug Evans and his associates precisely the story they were looking for.  Her testimony established the template on which everything else rests.

A janitor at a clothing factory testified that his gun was stolen out of his glove compartment the morning of the murders and ballistics tests suggested that the bullets fired at the furniture store could have come from the make of gun the janitor described.  But since the authorities figured Flowers as the gunman long before they had a shred of evidence associating him with the crime, they needed to tell a jury how he pulled it off.  And that’s where Patricia comes in.

Patricia Hallmon told investigators that she had seen Curtis Flowers leave his house early, early in the morning, return an hour or so later, then head out in the direction of the furniture store shortly before the killings went down.

The state’s “investigation” of what came to be known as “the Tardy murders” was based entirely on Patricia’s timeline.  Police officers went door-to-door along the route Patricia’s testimony required, first from Flowers’ home to the clothing factory, then from Flowers’ home to the furniture store.  Testimony makes clear that potential witnesses were shown a picture of Curtis Flowers and a handbill advertising the $30,000 reward.

Most of the folks who lived along these routes were exceedingly poor.  For them, $30,000 was a princely sum–more money than they had ever earned in a single year or, in most cases, any given two or three year stretch.  Still, it took a full year to find enough witnesses to make the case.  True, they all disagreed on what Curtis was wearing (as in, there is no overlap in their descriptions whatsoever), and none of these people (Patricia Hallmon excepted) came forward of their own volition.  But they were willing to say what the state needed them to say: “I saw Curtis Flowers on his way to the factory.”  “I saw Curtis Flowers in the vicinity of the furniture store.”

I could elaborate on the credibility issues dogging the various witnesses, but this post isn’t about them.  (If you want more, you can find my voluminous blogging on this case here.)

Now you see why the case against Flowers stands or falls with the credibility of Odell and Patricia Hallmon.

Did this delightful brother-sister act spill the beans on Curtis Flowers as good-hearted citizens eager to do the right thing; or did they create their stories out of whole cloth because there was $30,000 on the table and they knew what the authorities wanted to hear?

Subsequent events don’t merely tilt in the direction of the second option–it is now obvious that Patricia and Odell are psychopathic liars whose testimony at trial can’t be taken seriously.

Still not convinced?  Consider this . . .

Short months after Curtis Flowers was sentenced to die, Patricia Hallmon was indicted in federal court for filing fourteen fraudulent income tax returns claiming $481,798 in bogus deductions.  She was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to three years in federal prison.

The link above may be the only public record of Patricia’s legal problems and, even when the story was briefly noted in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger no questions were raised about Patricia’s credibility as a witness in the Flowers case.

And little brother Odell is charged with committing three brutal murders (and attempting a fourth).  Since the suspect has turned himself in, a surviving victim may live to tell her tale, and Hallmon possessed a simple motive (he got out of prison in August and after nine months, his girlfriend sent him packing) Doug Evans and friends won’t need to summon more testimony from the ether.

Meanwhile, Curtis Flowers remains in Parchman prison awaiting his date with the executioner as his attorneys take his appeal to the federal level.

Will the Mississippi press connect the dots connecting Odell and Patricia?  Will reporters reexamine their blase assumption that Flowers must be guilty?  Will the court system consider any of this to be legally relevant?  (Don’t laugh, there’s a good chance they won’t).

This story from the Clarion-Ledger is a good start.


Joshua vs Jesus: Why white evangelicals love Donald Trump

trump-at-prayerAlmost 80 percent of white American evangelicals plan to vote for Donald Trump, a twice-divorced womanizer who made his name building and gilding casinos. A man who insults Hispanics, Muslims, African Americans, women, and anyone else who disagrees with him. A man who rejects foundational Christian principles such as love for enemies, radical forgiveness, turning the other cheek and unqualified hospitality.

Let’s admit right off the top that if the vote was restricted to white people Trump would win in a cake walk. In mid-July, 66 percent of registered white voters were planning to vote for Trump, and in some Southern states the figure is close to 90 percent. So, white evangelicals are no more pro-Trump than white folks generally.

Still, shouldn’t we expect that, strictly on moral and theological grounds, disciples of Jesus Christ, red and yellow, black and white, would pass en masse on a man with Trump’s résumé?

No, we should expect nothing of the kind.

For all its apparent diversity, American evangelicalism is dominated by two theological systems, both of which are uncomfortable with the radical words of Jesus.

The Reformed river is fed by John Calvin, a brilliant biblical theologian who ruled Geneva with an iron fist in the mid-16th century. Calvin’s God was sovereign and unchanging (the theological term is “immutable”). If God told Joshua to massacre the Amalekites, man, woman and child, who are we to quibble? However things may appear to a flawed and fallen humanity, Calvin taught, God’s decrees are just and true by definition.

A sovereign and immutable God has one limitation: he can never change his mind. The New Covenant inaugurated by Jesus could not be substantially different from the Old Covenant bequeathed to Moses. The genocidal carnage of Joshua and the Sermon on the Mount may appear irreconcilable, but God can’t change the rules without changing his character. So, Jesus and Joshua don’t just share a name; they share a theological vision. They have to. The unchanging character of God demands it.

The Victory of Joshua over the Amalekites, by Nicolas Poussin

When your theology forces you to reconcile Joshua and Jesus, the New Testament teaching on enemy-love, non-resistance, unqualified hospitality and radical forgiveness become inconvenient.

The only popular alternative to Calvinism in American evangelicalism is dispensationalism, a systematic attempt to account for the divergent traditions within the Bible without surrendering the principle of biblical inerrancy. Although God does not change, dispensationalists say, he occasionally changes the rules.

Old School dispensationalists like C.I. Scofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer had a clever solution to the Joshua-Jesus problem. The kingdom teaching found in Matthew, Mark and Luke (including the Sermon on the Mount) were never intended for the Church. Jesus came into this world to establish the kind of earthly kingdom anticipated by the Old Testament prophets, but Israel refused to cooperate. The Church, according to this interpretation, is a kind of Plan B, or “parenthesis,” that will persist until the church is raptured to heaven and the millennial reign begins on earth.

Everything Jesus said about non-violence, enemy-love, and turning the other cheek was never intended for “the Church age,” Scofield and Chafer taught, but will be in full force when Christ sets up his thousand-year reign.

You will be relieved to learn that some Calvinists (like Russell Moore) and some Dispensationalists (like Darrell Bock) are trying to find a middle ground between Reformed and Dispensational theology that makes more room for the teaching of Jesus. Neither Moore nor Bock will be voting for Donald Trump in November and that’s what you would expect. The closer you get to the Savior, the harder it becomes to embrace the Donald. You can love the man, forgive him, struggle to understand him; but you can’t vote for him.

Unfortunately, Russell Moore and Darrell Bock are evangelical outliers. The rhetoric flowing from popular, made-for-TV evangelicalism has assumed a desperate quality. America will only continue to be exceptional if she continues to be Christian, preachers say. If not, our beloved country will become a toxic slough of secularity — Sweden writ large.

It’s the children of light versus the children of darkness and somebody has to lose.

The premonitions of doom issuing from the religious right are reminiscent of Psalm 44, which begins with a celebration of God’s victories in the days of Joshua:

Through thee we push down our foes;
through thy name we tread down our assailants.
For not in my bow do I trust, nor can my sword save me.
But thou hast saved us from our foes,
and hast put to confusion those who hate us.

Suddenly, without a hint of transition, the mood changes:

Thou hast cast us off and abased us,
and hast not gone out with our armies.
Thou hast made us turn back from the foe;
and our enemies have gotten spoil.
Thou hast made us like sheep for slaughter,
and hast scattered us among the nations.

Or, to quote Donald Trump’s paraphrase, “We never win anymore.”

Psalm 44 was likely written about the same time the book of Joshua assumed its present form: shortly after a remnant returned from Babylonian captivity to a heap of ruins that once was Jerusalem.

Books like Deuteronomy and Joshua were written to answer the “why” question. God told us to exterminate the inhabitants of Canaan down to the last sucking infant; but we made our peace with the infidel, marrying their daughters and worshiping their gods.

In Ezra and Nehemiah, the returning exiles divorce their foreign wives and build a big wall around Jerusalem, a line of demarcation between saints and sinners.

Old Testament texts like Joshua and Nehemiah get more attention in America’s white evangelical churches than the words of Jesus. The man who talks about recovering American greatness by building a wall is speaking a language conservative white Christians can understand.

In praise of compromise: reflections on a very strange election.


Way back in April, Barack Obama told a CBS reporter, “The single most important question I’m asked these days from other world leaders is ‘What’s going on with your elections?’” I don’t rub shoulders with world leaders, but my Canadian friends have been plying me with similar questions. “Why,” they ask “does a singularly horrid man like Donald Trump have a decent shot at the most powerful elected office in the world?”

Is Donald Trump a horrid man?


Will LGBTQ Inclusion be the death of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship?

Suzii Paynter
Suzii Paynter introduces the Illumination Project

In a recent reflection piece stimulated by America’s birthday, David Gushee shared this snapshot of a divided America:

“We are at least two different countries — a conservative, largely white, somewhat older, largely Christian country with a center of gravity in the South and Midwest and a progressive, multiracial, younger, increasingly secular and multifaith country with a center of gravity on the coasts and in our big cities. These countries do not understand each other. Or like each other. At all.”

As deep divisions over LGBTQ inclusion surfaced at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly in Greensboro, N.C., I found myself asking if Gushee’s portrait of division might apply to the CBF as well.

The CBF, if you’re wondering, was created in 1991 when a highly organized group of fundamentalists imposed its will on the Southern Baptist Convention. Like Israel in Babylonian captivity, the CBF has been defining and re-defining itself ever since.

The flash point at the Greensboro meeting was the CBF’s 2000 decision to prohibit the intentional hiring of non-celibate gays and lesbians by the “denominetwork.” Here’s the most offensive portion of that statement:

“The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship does not allow for the expenditure of funds for organizations or causes that condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice. Neither does the CBF organizational value allow for the purposeful hiring of a staff person or the sending of a missionary who is a practicing homosexual.

“As Baptist Christians, we believe that the foundation of a Christian sexual ethic is faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman and celibacy in singleness.”

Then, in case that sounded a bit too much like the fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist Convention, a proviso was appended:

“We also believe in the love and grace of God for all people, both of those who live by this understanding of the biblical standard and those who do not.”

When the CBF formed in 1991, 44 percent of Americans believed that homosexuality should be illegal while 48 percent were in favor of legalization. We aren’t talking about same-sex marriage here; the issue was whether gays should be outlaws. Nine years later, when the CBF’s hiring guidelines were adopted, the numbers had shifted slightly, 54 percent being in favor of legalization while 44 percent still wanted to outlaw consensual same-sex activity.

In 2001, 57 percent of Americans opposed the idea of same-sex marriage while 35 percent approved; fifteen years later those numbers have flipped with 35 percent in opposition and 57 percent in favor.

In short, a statement that sounded “safe” in 2000 now sounds harsh, antiquated, out of touch and, well, hateful.

What caused the sudden explosion in support for gay marriage? Three things come to mind. First, a portion of the gay rights movement concluded that the old “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” rhetoric, however therapeutic it might be for those within the LGBTQ community, wasn’t working for straight America. Instead, we have been treated to portraits of “normal” looking, middle-aged men and women who have been living in committed same-sex relationships for decades and are longing to get married. Who would want to rain on a parade like that? Not me. In an age when lifelong commitment can be hard to find, these people were committed.

Secondly, as the LGBTQ community gradually emerged from the closet, straight Americans suddenly realized that brothers, sisters, great aunts and Janet in accounting were gay. This personalized the issue. We liked these people and wanted to see them happy.

Finally, we are gradually realizing that sexual orientation is not a choice. When I graduated from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1978, only 13 percent of Americans believed that some people were born with a same-sex orientation. I was part of that 13 percent largely because I had the privilege of studying Christian ethics under Paul Simmons. By the time the CBF released its ban on hiring gays and lesbians, a full 40 percent of Americans understood that orientation was not a choice. Among college educated people the figure was closer to 60 percent.

Leading voices within the Southern Baptist Convention continue to inveigh against the gay rights movement, but we have witnessed a significant shift in tone. Even Al Mohler, who once reveled in vivid depictions of gay debauchery in wicked San Francisco, is no longer talking about homosexuality as a self-selected “lifestyle.”

We have said to people that homosexuality is just a choice. It’s clear that it’s more than a choice. That doesn’t mean it’s any less sinful, but it does mean it’s not something people can just turn on and turn off. We are not a gospel people unless we understand that only the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ gives a homosexual person any hope of release from homosexuality.

Russell Moore isn’t convinced that even the gospel can affect a “release from homosexuality.” “The utopian idea if you come to Christ and if you go through our program, you’re going to be immediately set free from attraction or anything you’re struggling with, I don’t think that’s a Christian idea,” Moore told reporters when Exodus Ministries gave up on gay reparative therapy in 2014. “Faithfulness to Christ means obedience to Christ. It does not necessarily mean that someone’s attractions are going to change.”

Mohler and Moore argue that persons “suffering” from same-sex attraction can be incorporated into the church of Jesus Christ so long as they remain celibate. That kite won’t fly, and the leadership of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship knows it. If same sex attraction is a fact of birth it must reflect the creative intention of God. The Creator doesn’t make mistakes.

Has the CBF devolved into mutually suspicious camps? I don’t think so. But we are divided on the issue of LGBTQ inclusion and, to the extent we find ourselves at cross purposes we fit the definition of enemies — at least on this one burning issue.

And what do Christian enemies do? We love one another. It’s easy to love people who agree with you, Jesus tells us, but you must love those who disagree with you. Even when they call you names and question your motivation. Forgiveness isn’t enough; we must love our enemies the same way we love ourselves. And if we can’t pull it off the first time, we keep trying until we get it right.

And that’s what the Illumination Project proposed at the Greensboro gathering is trying to achieve — loving conversations that shed more light and produce less heat than when less deliberative religious groups take votes on LGBTQ inclusion.

But for dialogue to have a chance certain conditions must be met.

First, we must suspend our anti-gay hiring policy immediately even if we don’t have a replacement handy. There is currently no clear consensus among us and our policies should be consistent with this deep uncertainty. But can we all agree that the 2000 statement no longer speaks for us?

Secondly, in obedience to Jesus, we must stop accusing our opponents of bad faith, cultural conformity or homophobia. All participants in this dialogue are seeking the mind of Christ and we must proceed accordingly.

More than anything else, we need to hear from members of the CBF who belong to the LGBTQ community. We need to hear their stories and listen to their dreams. We’ve got to let these people testify.

Much is said in the Illumination Project document about the CBF’s global and interracial identity. North Americans and Western Europeans may be rapidly evolving on LGBTQ inclusion, but Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and the Muslim world are not.

The most recent Pew study reveals that, by 10 percentage points, women are more likely to favor gay marriage than men, that white non-Hispanic Americans have “evolved” on the issue far more than African Americans and that college educated Americans are three times as likely to accept same-sex marriage as those with a high school education.

Pew also reports that, although gay marriage may be a settled matter in New England and the Pacific states, a slight majority of Southerners remains opposed. While 60 percent of urban Americans favor same-sex unions, the number drops to 40 percent in rural areas and there are many small towns in the South where supporters of same-sex marriage keep their opinions to themselves.

If the CBF wishes to become a truly international, inter-ethnic, inter-regional and interracial community of faith we must listen to a multiplicity of voices and that multiplicity of voices must listen to one another. For as long as it takes. And it may take a long time.

Finally, we can’t talk about LGBTQ inclusion without talking about the Bible.The religious leaders of the day found a principle of radical exclusion in their Bibles. Jesus read the same Bible and discovered a gospel of radical inclusion. Who are we listening to?