By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
Changes to this story were made on 1:30 pm PT on Wednesday, September 9, 2015 and 10:15 pm PT on Thursday, September 10, 2015. See end of story for details.
Content warning: sexual abuse of children, physical and sexual abuse of an animal.
Over the last few days, Doug Wilson and Christ Church have received mounting attention and criticism over the case of Steven Sitler. Sitler, a homeschool alumnus who attended New Saint Andrews College as a student and Christ Church as a parishioner, was sentenced to life on September 26, 2005 for molesting children. Sitler had a long history of sexually abusing and preying on numerous young children, allegedly including children at R.C. Sproul Jr.’s Highlands Study Center in 2003. You can read a comprehensive timeline of events and evidential documentation here, though be warned that the court documents contain detailed descriptions of child sexual abuse.
Despite Sitler’s crimes, Doug Wilson — who served as Sitler’s counselor and petitioned Sitler’s judge for “measured and limited” civil penalties — continued to welcome Sitler in his church after his sentencing. Furthermore, in spite of Wilson becoming aware of Sitler’s history of sexual predation on March 11, 2005, it was not until eight months later in November that Wilson informed the leaders of Christ Church about Sitler’s crimes and not until nine months later in December that he informed the families of Christ Church in general.
On May 8, 2007, Sitler was released on probation. A mere one month later Sitler was arrested again for violating his parole due to using binoculars to spy through an underage girl’s bedroom window. He was again released on probation. Four years later, Doug officiated a wedding between Sitler and a young woman in their community, even though the two became engaged after only their second date. Wilson apparently considered it prudent to bless the union between a serial child molester and a young woman who barely knew a serial child predator — and against the wisdom of a court judge, who determined that it would not be wise for Sitler to “reside with his wife and child in the future if in fact they have children.” Nonetheless, a few short years later, Sitler and his new wife had a child, a young boy.
Tragically, Sitler’s situation resurfaced this last week and the concerns of that judge appear newly justified. A news report by the Moscow-Pullman Daily News revealed that Sitler cannot have unchaperoned contact with his infant child. This is because of new disclosures that, when Sitler had contact with his son, “actual sexual stimulation” occurred. From the Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
A Latah County 2nd District Court judge ordered Tuesday that a convicted sex offender, Steven Sitler, must continue to have an approved chaperone present, within his direct line of sight, at all times he is around his infant child in the wake of new disclosures of “contact resulting in actual sexual stimulation.” …The incidents in question occurred while Sitler was chaperoned. “In some extent the state’s worst fears appeared to be realized by some of the recent disclosures in the polygraphs,” Thompson said. “The actions that he has engaged in and disclosed are a compelling basis that he cannot have anything close to a normal parental relationship at this time with his child,” Thompson said. “Everybody would love for Mr. Sitler to become a normal person, but the fact is he is not. He is a serial child sexual abuser.
This new information has rightly brought revived attention to the role Doug Wilson and Christ Church played in handling revelations of child molestation within their community. Everyone from GRACE’s Boz Tchividjian to Spiritual Sounding Board’s Julie Anne Smith to Love Joy Feminism’s Libby Anne has raised important points and questions concerning Wilson and Christ Church’s severe and horrific mishandling of abuse (as well as continued refusal to own up to their mistakes). However, while it is important that we revisit and bring new light to the case of Steven Sitler, it also important that we shine new light on a less-known child molester who was similarly aided and abetted by Doug Wilson, Christ Church, and New Saint Andrews College: Jamin C. Wight. This is particularly necessary because one of the Wight’s victims is now an adult and has spoken out publicly about her abuse and how cruelly Wilson and his community treated her as a victim and survivor.
Like Sitler, Jamin C. Wight was a homeschool alumnus. Wight was attending Greyfriars Hall, a ministerial training program founded by Doug Wilson that, according to the program’s website, “consists of approximately three years of study with two colloquia a year under the oversight of the board of elders of Christ Church.” Between the years of 2000 and 2003, Wight — who was 24 years old at the time — groomed and sexually abused a young girl who was only 13 years old when the abuse began. (Wight was only charged for abuse that occurred over 1 year, from 2001 to 2002, but the abuse survivor today says the abuse actually happened over a span of 3 years, from the time she was 13 until she was 16.) Like Wight, the 13 year old girl was also homeschooled. Wight was a boarder at the home where the girl lived, the home being part of Wilson’s student boarding network among Christ Church’s parishioners.
The abuse wrecked havoc on the abused girl. She began experiencing insomnia, stomach ulcers, and panic attacks; she suffered serious behavioral problems, mood swings, and painful flashbacks. In 2004, when she was 17 years old, she confided in a friend about the abuse. That friend convinced her to go to her parents and the police and press charges. This began a long and difficult process for the abuse survivor, a process which reached fruition on August 17, 2005. On that day, after receiving word of the abuse, the girl’s mother filed a criminal complaint against Wight. A warrant for Wight’s arrest was issued the next day. On August 24, 2005, a search warrant was issued the Latah County, Idaho district court for Wight’s personal possessions that provided evidence of the abuse. Court documents show that on October 28, 2005, Wight was arraigned and informed that three charges were being brought against him, one count of Sex Abuse Against a Child and two counts of Lewd Conduct With a Child Under Sixteen Years of Age. Wight pled not guilty to all three charges. Then on May 12, 2006, Wight’s charges were reduced to a Felony Offense of Injury to a Child. Wight pled guilty to that much-reduced charge and was able to made a deal such that he only had to serve 4-6 months in the North Idaho Correctional Institution.
During his court hearings, documents reveal that Wight and his legal team attempted to argue that the 13 year old girl he had groomed and abused had consented to their sexual activities. Wight also tried to publicly make a case that a conviction for his crimes would put a damper on his plans to become a Christian youth minister. The prosecuting attorney had to file motions to prohibit both of those lines of argumentation.
Joan Opry, a Moscow, Idaho-based reporter for the digital newspaper New West, attended the sentencing hearing. Opry reports that, “The judge spoke at some length about the immaturity of many of the home-schooled young men of his professional acquaintance — men in the loosest sense of the term. Men in age only.” This remark by the judge has more chilling implications, as Wight’s victim, now an adult survivor, puts the remark in a different context:
Sadly, my story did not have a just ending. My abuser, who was originally charged on 3 counts of “child sexual abuse”, “lewd and lascivious acts”, and “forced sexual contact”, was convicted of “injury to child”- the same term that would have been used had he slapped a child on Main Street. We were encouraged to go to mediation rather than to trial, and at the last minute the visiting judge decided the sentence/label of ‘sexual offender’ was too harsh. He equated what had happened to a “homeschool teenage love affair”, despite the fact that my abuser was 10 years older than me. As a result, rather than being labeled as a sex offender (which was the only outcome I desired), his charge was lowered and he was sentenced to 4 months in Cottonwood prison and a few years on probation (which he was released from early a few months ago).
Court documents show that both Doug Wilson and Peter Leithart, New Saint Andrews College’s Dean of Graduate Studies and writer for First Things, were aware of Wight’s crimes no later than August 2005. At the time of the crimes as well as the court hearings, the victim and her family were members of Wilson’s church Christ Church and Wight was a member “in good standing” at Leithart’s church, Trinity Reformed Church. (Yes, even after Wight’s crimes were made public, Wight continued to be “in good standing” at Leithart’s church.) Yet it was not until November or December (at least two months later regarding Wight and eight months later regarding Sitler) that Wilson alerted his congregation about the predators in their midst. Furthermore, court documents also reveal that Wilson and Leithart fought to keep their conversation with Wight about his crimes out of the court records. This is perfect example of what not to do, as Boz Tchividjian points out:
A church that cares will inform its members of the allegations knowing that sexual offenders often have many victims. It will also encourage them to immediately report any suspected abuse to the police. A church that cares will not limit its efforts to only current members. It will reach out to those who previously attended the church and had interactions with the perpetrator and may have been targeted for abuse. A church that cares will not sleep until each and every person victimized by the offender has been found.
In the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)’s October 19, 2006 Intelligence Report on Doug Wilson and Steve Sitler, entitled “Idaho Pastor a Hard-Liner, With an Exception or Two,” Wight’s case makes a brief appearance. In that article, after describing Wilson’s mishandling of Sitler’s case, SPLC mentions an anonymous father and daughter and the abuse they experienced and how Wilson also mishandled their case:
Five months after Sitler’s confession, another man who had been boarded by a Christ Church family while he studied to become a minister there was arrested and ultimately pleaded guilty to lewd conduct with an underage girl. When details of the matter came up on a local blog run by a disgruntled Wilson follower, part of the pastor’s response was to liken the blogger to “a sucking chest wound.”
The father of the girl in the second incident told the Intelligence Report that church officials tried to keep that quiet as well. At one point, he said, they threatened to bring him under church discipline for failing to protect his daughter. “It would be like me getting robbed and the police coming over and arresting me because I didn’t have five locks on the door, only one,” he said. “It was just bizarre.”
After SPLC wrote about the Wight case, Wilson took to his blog one month later on September 19, 2006, to publicly attack the father of the abused child. Wilson claimed the father was “neglecting” his daughter because the father dared to make public Wilson’s mishandling of Wight’s abuse:
Let’s just say that I have never seen quite so striking an example of a father neglecting his daughter. But this is not one that you have to take my word for. Just look at the previous paragraph. This is a father who was willing to talk to Intelligence Report about this particular incident because he doesn’t believe his daughter has been through enough. And the ghouls at SPLC were willing to print it.
Fortunately, we can easily resolve this question — was the victim’s father or pastor more neglectful? — because the daughter has publicly spoken up about her abuse. And her account is chilling proof that Wilson, not her father, is the one who made truly horrific errors.
The young girl groomed and sexually abused by Jamin C. Wight is now an adult. Her name is Natalie Rose Greenfield (I am using her name with her permission). She began publicly blogging in 2010 about Wight’s abuse and Wilson’s mishandling of that abuse. Her first post was on July 29, 2010. Greenfield writes,
I was molested as a young teen. A man living under my parent’s roof, paying his rent by helping with the remodeling of our home, in training at Greyfriar’s Seminary to become a pastor, groomed me, sexually abused me, and molested me from the time I was 13 until I was 16 years old. He was 10 years older than me. A true monster; I was made to feel worthless, as though no one but he would ever love me… I was forced into sexual acts time and time again that no young girl should ever be subjected to.
Greenfield began to break free from Wight’s grip when she confided in a friend about the abuse. Greenfield explains that,
When I was 17 years old, a friend whom I had confided in (and who I am forever grateful to) convinced me to go to the police and press charges against my abuser. After much persuasion from her, I went to my parents and to the police.
Tragically, while Greenfield received the support of her family, she received little support from her pastor and church: Doug Wilson and Christ Church. In fact, the actions taken by Wilson and his church only added salt to the wound, as they chose to abandon Greenfield and her family and instead stand by Wight. According to Greenfield,
The process that followed was long, painful, traumatic and awful. During this time, I was offered little to no support from the church I attended, in fact, on the day of the sentencing my former pastor and my abuser’s pastor sat on *his* side of the courtroom, successfully compounding my own feelings of guilt and shame. I felt terribly alienated and many times regretted [ever] saying anything about the abuse. Sadly, my story did not have a just ending. My abuser, who was originally charged on 3 counts of “child sexual abuse”, “lewd and lascivious acts”, and “forced sexual contact”, was convicted of “injury to child”- the same term that would have been used had he slapped a child on Main Street. We were encouraged to go to mediation rather than to trial, and at the last minute the visiting judge decided the sentence/label of ‘sexual offender’ was too harsh [emphasis added].
Yes, you read that right. The child abuse survivor’s pastor, Doug Wilson, sat on her abuser’s side of the courtroom during the trial. And Wight’s pastor, Peter Leithart, similarly joined the abuser’s side. I cannot think of a better example of what GRACE’s Boz Tchividjian himself experienced as a sex abuse prosector as described in Kathryn Joyce’s American Prospect article, “The Next Christian Sex-Abuse Scandal”:
“When Tchividjian requested to take on all the district’s child sex-abuse cases, the other prosecutors happily obliged. In time, he established a sex-crimes unit that handled hundreds of cases over eight years. All too often, he says, a pastor would come to court in a supportive role, almost always sitting on the perpetrator’s side of the aisle, not the victim’s. The Wisconsin case made Tchividjian think back on those pastors. He began to realize that he had a calling of his own: to teach the Protestant church to be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.”
But Wilson, Christ Church, Leithart, and Trinity Reformed Church didn’t just sit on Wight’s side. They also allowed him to remain in good standing at and continue to attend church. This understandably forced Greenfield (as well as her father) to feel she had to leave. Greenfield tells Homeschoolers Anonymous in a comment that, “My father left the church after everything that had happened. I also left. My mother and younger sister are still active members of the Christ Church.” Despite her mother and sister staying, Greenfield says that she enjoys “a full and loving relationship with both of them.”
Furthermore, Wilson and Christ Church believed that Greenfield was just as much at fault for the sexual relationship as Wight (they believed Greenfield, at 13 years old, consented to the relationship). They consequently placed Greenfield under church discipline. Wilson emailed Greenfield and said he would have to withhold communion from her until she meet with the church elders to discuss why she left the church. However, as Greenfield tells Homeschoolers Anonymous in a comment, “I wouldn’t do so. I was so traumatized and averse to the idea of interacting with the leaders of the church I don’t even think I responded to any of his emails.”
Meanwhile, since Wight “repented,” he was welcome with open arms. Greenfield writes,
In the decade since Wight abused Greenfield, Wight has run into trouble with both his church as well as the law numerous more times. In 2013 Greenfield wrote that,
The criminal [Wight] is now under church discipline for abusing his wife and children. I’ve also recently found out the girl to whom he was engaged when I went to the police about the abuse (2 years after the abuse ended, right before I turned 18), was also abused by him for the duration of their relationship, which ended promptly after I went to the authorities. Who knows who else he’s abused in his life. I once watched him hold a dog by the neck and smash its head repeatedly against a concrete wall because it didn’t lie down when he commanded it. Minutes later he embraced the dog and madly licked its mouth and tongue.
Katie Botkin, cousin to Geoffrey Botkin’s famous “stay-at-home” daughters Anna Sofia and Elizabeth, also makes reference to Wight’s later crimes:
Doug Wilson’s denial of the realities that made such a situation possible [another Christian Patriarchy and homeschooling advocate, Doug Phillips, sexually assaulting his nanny, Lourdes Torres-Manteufel] only ensures that such things will continue to happen, perhaps even in his own community. They already have, of course. I’m thinking specifically of the case where a young teenage girl was molested, and Wilson saw fit to accept the abuser’s “repentance,” and refused the girl communion because, naturally, she wasn’t a victim either; she was a fornicator, and her refusal to admit to such a charge meant she was unrepentant. Unshockingly to probably everyone but Doug Wilson and those who think like him, the same abuser, who for a long time was a member in good standing at Wilson’s church, has now been charged with various domestic violence suits in Latah County, and his own children are being sheltered from him by the courts [emphasis added].
In light of these recent revelations, Greenfield reminds readers that these later crimes could have been prevented. If Wilson and his church had not alienated and traumatized her, if Leithart and his church had listened to her cries and warnings, these other victims could have been protected. Greenfield writes,
I think this might be the part where I say – I told you so. And not to the innocent individuals who trusted and were consequently in a position to be harmed by the criminal, but to those who I so desperately reached out to, those who I begged to protect others from the horrors I suffered, those who told me it was my fault for not saying no, or my father’s fault for not knowing better, or my mother’s fault for not teaching me to be more ladylike. To those who wrote letters to the judge presiding over the case heralding the character of the criminal and requesting leniency in the sentencing, to those who wrote letters on behalf of the criminal and in them criminalized a young girl, to those who welcomed the criminal back into society whilst shunning and scorning the victim, to those who found it more convenient to close their eyes to something they did not want to see rather than face the truth and take a stand, the sad fact of the matter is that you, each of you, perpetuated abuse.
It is sad, and it is a fact. Doug Wilson, Christ Church, Peter Leithart, and Trinity Reformed Church, by failing Greenfield and her family, perpetuated abuse — and consequently failed another woman and another family as well. While Greenfield cannot change what happened to herself or what happened to this other woman and her family, she hopes that by speaking up now, she can save others from future harm:
For speaking out about my abuse I’ve been told that I’m ‘hungry for drama’, ‘living in the past’, ‘sensation seeking’, and a ‘pot stirrer’. I’ll bear each of those labels if it means one hurting girl will read this blog and know that her value is greater than what she’s been made to believe by an abuser and that she, too, can speak out, or if it means that one man in a position of power will look closely at his own motives and make the changes necessary to, insomuch as he is able, ensure the safety and well being of those who look to him for guidance.
What happened to Greenfield is a tragedy. And how Wilson, Leithart, and their churches responded is not only an atrocity; it’s also a sin. It is an atrocity because their response only caused a young woman more pain and trauma, and no justice. And it is a sin because Wilson, Leithart, and their churches refused to follow the path of Jesus by caring for a hurt and wounded sheep. Instead they welcomed a wolf back into their fold and slammed the door on the wolf’s victim. What this communicated to that victim, now a brave survivor, is clear. As Greenfield asks, “How can an army of people turn away a young girl who needs their love more than anything?”
How indeed. That is a question that Doug Wilson, Peter Leithart, and every member in their churches and communities who failed a broken young girl will have to answer before God.
To conclude, I’d like to share Greenfield’s courageous declaration of fearlessness and freedom. I hope her courage in sharing her story can inspire other survivors to bravely speak up, too:
UPDATE, Wednesday, September 9, 2015, 1:30 pm PT:
Several corrections were made this story after Greenfield, the abuse survivor bravely speaking up about Jamin Wight, pointed out inaccuracies. First, we stated that that Doug Wilson and Christ Church refused communion to Greenfield; however, they actually withheld communion until Greenfield was willing to meet with the church elders, something she refused to do as a result of the traumatizing nature of the whole ordeal. Second, we stated that Greenfield and her family left Christ Church. This is only partially true. While Greenfield and her father left the church, her mother and younger sister stayed. Our story has been changed to reflect these clarifications. You can read Greenfield’s comment in full here. Accuracy and truth in reporting is important to us at Homeschoolers Anonymous, so we are grateful to Greenfield for helping us meet these standards.
UPDATE, Thursday, September 10, 2015, 10:15 pm PT:
References to Greenfield’s name as “Natalie Rose” have been changed to “Natalie Rose Greenfield” as she preferred we use her full name.