Columnists > Voices

Murder, she wrote

The strange and sad case of felon/theologian Judy Brown

Issue: "Rick Santorum: Penn Station," April 30, 2005

Pentecostal denominations have taken the lead in women's ordination among evangelicals. That is not surprising since women such as Aimee Semple McPherson were the founders of the Pentecostal movement. Judy L. Brown was a minister in the Assemblies of God, which ordained women as far back as 1918.

A successful preacher, missionary, and church planter, Ms. Brown earned a doctorate, developed Sunday school curriculum for the denomination, and joined the faculty of Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo.

A popular professor, Ms. Brown taught courses in Bible and preaching for the school's pastoral training program. She went on to make her mark as a theologian. She wrote books on preaching and Christian education. She edited the Old Testament section of The New Spirit-Filled Bible. And her book Women Ministers According to Scripture was adopted as a textbook at Princeton University. That title made her a spokesman for evangelical feminism.

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Then in 2000 Ms. Brown moved to Salem, Va. She served as the minister of Salem Worship Center and befriended a fellow pastor, Ted Smart, of the Word of Life Center, a congregation of the Foursquare Gospel Church. When Ms. Brown was diagnosed with a heart condition and told to slow down, Mr. Smart invited her to move in with his family.

At some point, Ms. Brown began a sexual affair with Mr. Smart's wife, Toby. In 2003, Ms. Brown bought a house next door to the Smarts. The lesbian affair continued, but Mrs. Smart refused to leave her husband. According to the Roanoke Times & World News, Ms. Brown forged a letter from a parishioner and planted other evidence to make it look to his wife like Mr. Smart was having an affair. Nothing worked.

Then, on Aug. 25, 2003, when Mrs. Smart was out of town and after their son left for school, Ms. Brown broke into the family's basement. She threw the switches on the fusebox, shutting off power in the house. Mr. Smart went downstairs to investigate. Whereupon the theologian hit him on the back of the head with a crowbar.

Though she hit him two more times, Mr. Smart, bleeding, fought her off, made his way upstairs, and called the police. When they arrived, they found Ms. Brown on the front lawn. In the basement, they found a Wal-Mart bag containing a large trash bag, three pairs of latex gloves, a washcloth, and a butcher knife.

Investigators determined that Ms. Brown had planned to kill her lover's husband, dismember his body, and dispose of it, so that she could have Mrs. Smart all to herself.

District Attorney Fred King said, "This is the most unusual case we have ever handled." Ms. Brown's own defense attorney, Chris Kowalczuk, told the Roanoke Times & World News, "It is certainly not often that I stand in a court where the defendant has been an editor of a Bible." But Ms. Brown was found guilty of malicious wounding and burglary with the intent to commit murder. On March 26, 2004, Circuit Judge Jim Swanson sentenced her to 30 years in prison, of which she only has to serve eight.

But a mere prison sentence is not enough to keep a theologian from publishing. She contributed a chapter titled "God, Gender and Biblical Metaphor" to a major defense of evangelical feminism titled Discovering Biblical Equality. The book was edited by Ron Pierce, Rebecca Groothuis, and Gordon Fee, and was published in November 2004 by InterVarsity Press.

Information that the author of that chapter was the crowbar-wielding theologian spread through the Christian blogosphere. On April 7, InterVarsity withdrew the book, promising to release a new edition without Ms. Brown's contribution. "Although God does forgive and even use the writings of confessed murderers and adulterers like King David," said IVP publisher Robert Fryling, "the Bible also has clear moral guidelines for Christians who shepherd others. Because this includes authors of Christian books and because we take this seriously at IVP, we made the decision to stop publication."

What can we conclude from this lurid mix of feminist theology, homosexuality, and attempted murder? It would be wrong to generalize from this case to make conclusions about all evangelical feminists or all female Pentecostal preachers. But it is more evidence-as if we needed any more-for total depravity and the mystery of iniquity.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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