Once again the spotlight is being taken from the only place it has ever belonged.
Once again accusations against my parents for allowing a ‘secret courtship’ to occur between my 14 year-old self and my abuser have been plastered all over the Internet. Comments about my physical appearance as a young teen are being used to redefine the nature of the criminal activity. A severe and dangerous contorting of my story by people who were not there is taking place and while this means a very uncomfortable re-shaming for myself and my family, the deeper concern is what it means for future victims. The marginalization of a serious and devastating crime does not bode well at all for others who will suffer abuse in the future.
The church’s lack of acknowledgment of mishandling the situation and causing further devastation to myself and my family and to the individuals my abuser would go on to hurt is disheartening and deplorable. It is tarnishing not only Pastor Wilson’s reputation but the reputation of every pastor in the CREC denomination and every last member of those churches, for that matter. Another such pastor reached out to me earlier this morning, one removed from this particular situation, and he expressed his severe disappointment in how I and my family were treated and are continuing to be treated. He wanted me to know not everyone in the CREC feels this way and that there is serious questioning happening from within.
I have heard from myriads of others, some within the denomination and some not, who are appalled at the way sexual abuse within the church is handled. Personally, I have experienced a wide range of emotions concerning all of this but the overwhelming emotion recently has been sadness – sadness that a pastor’s gross misunderstanding of abuse, consent, and criminal behavior has resulted in such harm and shaming and will inevitably result in harm to others who are abused. I am sad that he cannot humbly admit wrongdoing and begin to rebuild a system which is broken, a system which perpetuates abuse and marginalizes victims, which in turn creates a ripple effect of devastation and pain.
Doug was not in my home when my parents discussed allowing Jamin to court me.
Doug was not in the room when they spoke about whether or not we should be allowed to hold hands. I imagine he may have something in writing from them, perhaps asking advice or seeking guidance on the situation and this may shed light on the foolishness and naivety of some of my parent’s choices. The fact that my parents trusted a dangerous and conniving criminal to respect the boundaries they had set is no secret and yes, it’s embarrassing. They have sought my forgiveness heartily over the years and I have unconditionally given it. But I would like to also point at that neither was Doug in the room when my father said, No. I am not comfortable with this. There will be no courtship. There will be no hand-holding. Do not touch my daughter and do not foster a relationship with her. Doug was not with my father as time dragged on and he began to become suspicious of Jamin. He was not in the hallway with my father where he sat on a chair in the middle of the night watching my bedroom door to make sure I was safe and protected. If only he had known my father’s heart, and yet he is quick to place blame on two parents who were deceived and manipulated by a calculated criminal.
The fact that my parents were deceived does not change the nature of Jamin’s crime.
The fact that my parents had moments of naivety does not merit letters from a pastor requesting leniency for a man who the prosecuting attorney called ‘a textbook pedophile’ and place a massive amount of blame on a father already broken by the news of his daughter’s abuse. The fact that I was beautiful and stood taller than my abuser does not lessen or change the sickening nature of what he did to me. The fact that I was infatuated with him and lived to please him does not mean that I was asking for it. Nobody asked for it.
In a response published on the widely viewed Christian publication, The American Conservative, earlier today, Doug calls what happened ‘sexual behavior’. A conveniently softened term for the abuse that took place.
Doug says about he and the elders, “we wanted him (Jamin) to pay the penalty for that criminal behavior, which was a species of statutory rape.” What Jamin did was severe far beyond statutory rape, though it did include that. Jamin targeted, groomed, and molested me for several years while manipulating and deceiving every other person around him in order to cover his crime. Jamin is a sexual predator in every sense of the word.
Doug writes “The reason we did not want it (the crime) treated as pedophilia is that her parents had bizarrely brought Jamin into the house as a boarder so that he could conduct a secret courtship with Natalie. So Jamin was in a romantic relationship with a young girl, her parents knew of the relationship and encouraged it, her parents permitted a certain measure of physical affection to exist between them (e.g. hand-holding), Natalie was a beautiful and striking young woman, and at the time was about eight inches taller than Jamin was. Her parents believed that she was mature enough to be in that relationship, and the standards they set for the relationship would have been reasonable if she had in fact been of age and if the two had not been living under the same roof.”
This paragraph is so full of untruths it makes my head spin.
I’m not sure if Doug is deliberately twisting the truth or if he is basing his version of events on incomplete information (my sincere hope is that it’s the latter), but these allegations are simply false. As I said before, he was not there for any of this. There were discussions of this nature but the truth is that Jamin and I did not develop and maintain a romantic relationship under the encouragement of my parents. It is false, and from where I stand it is dangerously close to slander. Additionally and most importantly, why the hell does it matter? These grandiose and desperate attempts to take the attention away from what matters and place it where it does not belong is truly frightening and it’s hurting real people.
Doug is spending an awful lot of time and energy saying things like this “But please note well: Things like her height, apparent maturity, and parental knowledge of the fact of a relationship are simply irrelevant to the morality of Jamin’s behavior. They are irrelevant to the criminality of his behavior. They are irrelevant to whether Jamin was selfishly manipulating a young girl, preying on her for his own selfish ends. They are irrelevant to whether it was statutory rape or not. But such things were not irrelevant to whether it was pedophilia.” when he should be spending time and energy saying “We messed up. We defended a really bad guy. I wrote to a judge and an officer on his behalf and it directly effected the outcome of the sentencing. We failed the victim, we didn’t extend to her the love of Christ and offer her the resources she so desperately needed. We blamed her parents disproportionately, we talked about her physical appearance and said it changed the nature of Jamin’s crimes. We are deeply sorry and we want to learn how we can educate ourselves and how we can do things differently in the future so that more innocent people are not hurt and shamed and subsequently driven away. We want to learn from this mishandled situation.”
Will that ever happen? I hope so very much that it will. I hope we can stop talking about the things that don’t matter and start talking about things that do, like how we can spot potentially abusive situations before they escalate and destroy lives, how we can educate our youth to have strong voices about their own bodies and sexuality, how we can create a system in which criminals are not readily trusted and given opportunities to re-offend, how we can foster an environment in which victims feel as though they are unconditionally supported and cared for, free of suffocating judgement and blame…This what truly matters.
Doug sums up the way he feels about his role in my situation “…it is also a snarl where it is possible to look back with a clean conscience.”
He has no regrets and clearly no intention of apologizing. He has twisted the truth. He has shone a light in a place where there is nothing of relevance to see, and in so doing has pushed into the shadows a hideous truth that promises to grow and swallow Lord knows how many more innocent victims.
That is the story we need to listen to. That is what we should be talking about.
Content warning: detailed description of child sexual abuse.
I’ve debated whether or not to share the following letter publicly. It was given to me last week and out of respect for certain members of my family that don’t wish to have any further publicity over all of this, I’ve kept it to myself and a few close friends. But at some point every day for the last week I’ve been struck by the nagging reminder that this is no longer about me. It’s not about my family or the painful past experiences that tore us apart at the seams. I’ve said it before, I don’t share all of this for my own personal gratification or because I’m stuck on being a victim. This is not me unwilling to heal and licking my wounds for the world to see. I share for the others. For my children, for your children, for other women or men who lost their voices when they were young and never quite found them again. By the grace of Divine Love I found my voice, and I wouldn’t sleep at night if I knew I had the power to help others and chose not to because it’s uncomfortable to talk about around the dinner table. Nobody likes talking about sexual abuse or children being hurt, and certainly no one wants to admit they could have done better or made wiser choices and thus prevented more innocent individuals from being hurt. I’m choosing not be in the latter category, so I’ll continue speaking.
Pictured below is a letter Doug Wilson wrote to the officer on my case on August 22nd, 2005. In it he tells of a ‘secret relationship’ which my parents knowingly allowed Jamin and I to enter into. He says this relationship was hidden from the broader community and though my parents didn’t realize there was ‘sexual behavior occurring’ between Jamin and I, they were aware that we were interested in each other and invited Jamin to live in our home. Doug goes on to say that it is important to note what kind of criminal this information makes Jamin. He says “I do not believe that this in any way paints Jamin as a sexual predator.”
Oh boy. I’m not entirely sure where to begin with this one.
Jamin expressed an interest in me to my parents when I was 14 years old, months after he’d begun grooming me and had already instigated a physical relationship with me. To say I had a crush on him would be an understatement – I was completely infatuated with him, as is common for abuse victims, and had been since shortly after I met him at a church event when I was 13 years old. (No one knew the depth of my affection for him, of course, I think told my parents I thought he was pretty cool.) My parents told Jamin he could wait for me if he wanted to and they’d reassess the situation when I was 18 years old. It was made exceedingly clear that in the meantime there was to be no ‘relationship’ whatsoever. As far as my parents knew there was no relationship, and from what I can tell any “confession” they made to Doug was taken out of context and/or deliberately twisted. There’s not much more to be said about this, honestly. My parents were naive and foolish, yes. They trusted him to respect the house rules regarding their daughter, partly because he’d been vetted by their own pastor as a seminary student. He didn’t follow the rules. I’ve written about this before, here. It doesn’t change the game.
What confuses me is how this information has any relevance to Jamin’s long term physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse of me (before, during and after the time he lived in our home) or how it constitutes Doug writing to the magistrate judge and requesting leniency for him, or how it justifies Doug blaming and shaming my father (and mother) the way he did. Doug painted a picture in which the blame is dangerously shifted to my parents and away from a criminal. Ultimately, he was rather successful at his part in this, as Jamin’s charge and sentence were greatly reduced and he went on to criminally abuse more innocent victims after a very brief stint in jail.
I feel the need to rehash this particular line that Doug typed: “I do not believe that this in any way paints Jamin as a sexual predator.” Not a sexual predator? Forgive me if I’m beating a dead horse or being too loud about an uncomfortable topic, but Jamin is most certainly a sexual predator. Let me describe a scene to you, one scene of many, many more just like it. It’s late afternoon in an old house on B Street in Moscow. A 14 year old girl goes bounces down the stairs of her family’s 8-bedroom mansion to get her favorite pair of jeans from the laundry hamper. A 24 year old man follows her down the stairs and enters the laundry room behind her. He sneaks up behind her and grabs her by the shoulders, she shrieks, then giggles. “Shhhhh! C’mere!” He says. He pulls her by the hand into the dungeon-like bathroom adjacent to the laundry room. “Jamin, stop! My mom will hear us!” the girl protests. “Then be quiet” he says, pushing down firmly on the top of her head until she buckles to her knees. She knows what he wants, it’s what he always wants and she hates it. She begins giving it to him and a minute later they hear footsteps coming down the long basement stairs. The man shoves the girl away from him, she falls backward into the laundry room and he closes the bathroom door to finish the job himself. The girl jumps to her feet, wipes her mouth and runs up the basement stairs, shaking nervously as she passes her mother on way. A close call.
But according to the pastor of Christ Church, Jamin is not a sexual predator. What is he, then? An opportunist? If only my parents had kicked him out when he expressed interest in me, than he wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to hurt me? Anyone can see this is preposterous. Jamin’s crimes were premeditated and he would still have had access to me at church and in various other settings (he did, in fact, manage to ‘still get to me’ after he’d moved out). I could tell a hundred more stories about what he did to me but they’re all sickening so I’ll leave it at one.
So what now? Why am I blogging about this again? Because we need change and it’s not happening yet. The church needs to change the way it handles sexual abuse, and until the leaders are willing to come forward and say we were gravely wrong and we want to learn how to do better we will continue to face this problem again and again and we will hear from more victims and more lives will be destroyed as this is repeatedly swept under the rug. This is not just about Doug Wilson and the other leaders of Christ Church and Trinity Reformed Church that stood behind a dangerous sexual predator and welcomed him back into the fold, believing his cries of repentance. This happens in churches everywhere. It’s an epidemic of the worst kind and it is destroying countless lives. Churches everywhere claim they know how to handle abuse within their congregation, and the church certainly can play an important role in the healing of victims, but so much more is needed. Resources, education, trained professionals, and the willingness to step back and say “we need help”.Needing help is not a weakness, and that lie only adds insult to injury for those harmed by abuse.
So what can YOU do?
Stand with me. Demand change. Share your own story of abuse within the church and if you don’t have one or if you aren’t ready to share yours, then by all means share mine. Demand that the leaders of churches stop pridefully deflecting blame and ignorantly shaming victims while they stand behind predators. Urge them to show the love of Christ to the victims.
We can’t afford to let this one slip away into the night. It will only grow.
Here’s the letter Doug wrote to the officer (click images to enlarge):
Update: Peter Leithart offered a sincere, compassionate statement today regarding his involvement in the Jamin Wight situation, which you can read here: goo.gl/wkrMas. I appreciate Leithart’s statement and hope it will encourage Sumpter, Wilson, and others to reconsider their current tactics and stances. I have accordingly changed several parts of this post that referred to Leithart.
Toby J. Sumpter is the Pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, Idaho. Trinity is the “sister church” to Doug Wilson’s Christ Church and is a member of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches (which Wilson started and presides over). More relevantly, Trinity is the church that homeschool alumnus and convicted child molester Jamin C. Wight attended while he preyed on a 13-year-old homeschooled girl.
One of the accusations leveled against our community has been our lack of care for the victims of abuse. And wound into that accusation is the assumption that instead of caring for children and victims, our refusal to cow to the accusatory catcalls is necessarily just an act of self defense, defending leaders and pastors instead of the vulnerable little ones.
Sumpter’s apologia thus aims to prove otherwise: to prove that he, Wilson, and Leithart are the true defenders of abuse survivors and that the people with actual academic and professional training and experience of abuse prosecution and survivor advocacy are the ones harming survivors. He argues that pastors are not just pastors; they are spiritual “physicians”:
I’d like to begin with the nature of pastoring and spiritual healing. Like Jesus, the Great Physician, pastors are physicians who care for the souls of their people.
He then launches into an analogy about emergency situations, using the tragic terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 as the analogy’s foundation. He talks about footage of the tragedy that he recently watched:
Yesterday was the fourteenth anniversary of 9/11, and I caught a few minutes of footage and interviews from survivors last night on the news. The footage of the trade towers collapsing and the men and women running (one pushing a stroller) is pretty haunting to watch as the smoke and dust billows out and down the streets of New York City. Then there are the wounded walking with blood on their faces. I watched a reporter run up to one man and put a mic in his face and ask what happened. But as the rescue crews dig in looking for survivors and medical professionals come on the scene to give aid, one of the first things they do is start putting up the yellow tape. In order for the emergency crews to do their work they’ve got to create a safe and secure space for that care to take place.
“In order for the emergency crews to do their work they’ve got to create a safe and secure space for that care to take place.” I actually think that is an important and helpful principle. But Sumpter takes it in an odd direction:
Pastors and elders are the emergency crews that frequently arrive on the scene moments after explosions. And when reporters show up and start accusing the rescue workers of harming people, it’s not helpful in the slightest. Maybe they even point to the wounded coming out of the rubble, they catch snippets of conversations on the radios, and then they set to their blogs reporting half truths and raising suspicions that the rescue crews are actually protecting the terrorists. Why are you protecting terrorists? Don’t you care about the victims?!
Imagine you’re a fireman, a nurse, a police officer in that situation. Yes, of course it is important for there to be true accountability. Yes of course firemen and law enforcement and medical teams could use their positions to do harm. But you don’t actually provide any true accountability by stirring up an angry mob outside the yellow tape, and rarely do you even get a complete picture by shoving a microphone in the face of one bewildered survivor. And please don’t read into this metaphorical scene as though I’m assigning certain people certain parts. I’m not. I’m just painting a scene that generally corresponds to the kind of work pastors have to do.
Sumpter makes clear with his last few sentences that he doesn’t want us to “read into” this scene he is painting. He’s not “assigning certain people certain parts.” “I’m not,” he insists. Except he is. He began his scene by saying that, “Pastors and elders are the emergency crews that frequently arrive on the scene moments after explosions.” Who are those emergency crews? They are “a fireman, a nurse, a police officer.” In “emergency situations,” then, pastors fill multiple roles: putting out fires, healing physical wounds, and punishing criminals.
In contrast to these good, helpful people (the pastors), Sumpter describes the evil, unhelpful people: “reporters.” And he obviously has in mind all the people calling Doug Wilson and Peter Leithart out because, when describing “reporters,” he slips ups and says, “then they set to their blogs reporting half truths and raising suspicions.” Well, reporters report on news sites. Bloggers blog. So the evil, unhelpful people Sumpter has in mind must be the people writing online about Doug Wilson and Peter Leithart. They are accusing Wilson and Leithart of mishandling abuse cases by inappropriately protecting child molesters, or as Sumpter puts it, “raising suspicions that the rescue crews are actually protecting the terrorists.”
Sumpter is being entirely disingenuous, then, in pretending that he is “just painting a scene that generally corresponds to the kind of work pastors have to do.” He is clearly describing how he feels about the current controversies over Doug Wilson and Peter Leithart’s mishandling of Steven Sitler and Jamin C. Wight‘s crimes. In his mind, he and Wilson are just trying to care for the victims of a terrorist attack. As CREC pastors, they’re the only ones — in Sumpter’s scenario — who have the ability to put out fires, heal wounds, and punish criminals. Anyone else — including actual news reporters like Katie Botkin, actual survivors of those child molesters’ crimes like Natalie Rose Greenfield, the actual parents of those survivors like Gary Greenfield, people with actual child abuse prosecution experience like Boz Tchividjian, other pastors who provide actual training in child protection like Mike Sloan and Beth Hart, or survivor advocates like myself who create child abuse prevention curriculums for homeschooling families — are apparently just running around for no purpose other than to make false accusations. And we clearly have no idea what we’re doing because, no, only the CREC pastors know how to be firefighters, nurses, and police officers.
The problem with Sumpter’s metaphor — and more importantly, the problem with Sumpter’s theological claim that pastors are not just pastors but prophets, priests, and kings in emergency scenarios — is that it denies the Christian doctrine of the body of Christ. We find this doctrine articulated in 1 Corinthians 12:
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ… The body is not made up of one part but of many.
The Christian doctrine of the body of Christ teaches that God gave different gifts to different people. God did not make everyone a teacher — and that’s probably good. As the Apostle James writes, “Not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (Incidentally, this is a lesson that Sumpter and Wilson would do well to revisit. Instead of acting like they are being unfairly persecuted because their actions entered public light, they should remember that they chose to become teachers and thus “will be judged more strictly” — and that is how it should be.)
God gave different gifts to different people. Not everyone is a foot in the body of Christ. Not everyone is a hand. It would lead to great confusion and pain in a body if a foot told a hand it had no purpose being a hand and that it, the foot, would take over hand duties. And then also took over ear duties. And eye duties. And mouth duties.
In the same way, pastors have the role of teaching and mentoring individuals and families within their faith communities. Unless otherwise trained, pastors are not to usurp the duties and roles of other parts in the body of Christ. Pastors are not to usurp the duties and roles of a child abuse prosecutor. They are not to pretend they know how to be a counselor to an abuse survivor with PTSD. They are not to act as if they need not listen to the advice of a survivor advocate. Each of these individuals has a duty and role within the body of Christ and those duties and roles are distinct from the pastor’s role.
In Sumpter’s analogy above, pastors should not play emergency crew. Pastors should play pastors. And they should step aside and let the emergency crew members do their jobs. And when they are later pastoring their churches, if questions about how to be a better pastor to those impacted by the emergency arise, they should give the floor and pass the microphone to those who actually know: the firefighter, the nurse, and the police; the child abuse prosecutor, the child abuse prevention teacher, and the professional survivor advocate.
Stay within your field of expertise.
Of course, Sumpter will have none of that. He refuses to acknowledge that as a pastor, he might be ignorant about things that are not under his jurisdiction and sphere of knowledge. He proclaims that,
Faithful shepherds imitate the Good Shepherd who lays His life down for the sheep. And they often lay their lives down by standing up to the paparazzi, to the reporters, and to the internet mobs that want to rip open the wounds that have healed, that are willing to risk further complications and secondary infections to satisfy their lust for knowledge and power, that want to diagnose your problems and offer you their home brew solutions from three thousand miles away.
And by “home brew solutions” Sumpter means the professional and informed advice of child abuse prosecutors like Boz Tchividjian and the professional and informed advice of pastors actually trained in child abuse prevention like Mike Hart and Beth Sloan. In all honesty, it is Sumpter (and Wilson and company) that prefer the “home brews.” They prefer to stay within their echo chamber and not let the other parts in the body of Christ do what God inspired them to do. They refuse to let the hand say to the foot, “You are doing a really bad job at hand-ing. Please let me help you.”
Stay within your field of expertise.
I’d like to conclude with one final observation. In his final thoughts, Sumpter says the following:
One astute observer replied to my last post pointing out that according to Tolkien, orcs were originally abused and tortured elves. And I have no doubt that some of our loudest, shrillest opponents truly are victims of great hurt and pain. And so I say to you, my friends, if you can hear me through the fray: Jesus our Savior bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.
I know who Sumpter is referring to because it’s me. This is the context:
This is the context: Sumpter was calling those who disagreed with him “orcs.” Or to be more specific, Sumpter’s actual words were, “orcs, hags, and trolls,” “a mob of angry orcs,” and “orcs…screaming for blood.” In other words, Sumpter chose to focus on the handful of bottom-of-the-barrel internet commenters that every blog has instead of the sincere, thoughtful critics like Tchividjian, Sloan, Hart, and Julie Anne Smith — even Michael Reagan and Jefferson Bethke. (You can even go look at my previous posts on the subject; I have not used a single personal insult and I have not name-called once.) And then he chose to smear the sincere, thoughtful critics by pretending there was little difference between the groups. And to this I responded with the aforementioned comment:
Considering this context, I’d like to point out the audacity of Sumpter to pretend this tweet somehow made his case. Sumpter said,
I have no doubt that some of our loudest, shrillest opponents truly are victims of great hurt and pain. And so I say to you, my friends, if you can hear me through the fray: Jesus our Savior bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.
Hear him through what fray? Well, probably the fray of Sumpter calling them hags and orcs and trolls. So yes, I hope you can hear the true message of Jesus through Sumpter’s personal insults. I hope you can know the message of Jesus is actually one of love instead of the message of derision and ridicule that Sumpter models. And I hope that Sumpter one day realizes that if he really thinks his critics are “victims of great hurt and pain,” he should stop gleefully rubbing salt into their wounds.
As a child, I absolutely loved Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time series. One the moments that has always stuck with me throughout my life was the “Naming” passage of the second novel, A Wind in the Door. In that passage, Echthroi — evil personifications of nihilism — try to “X,” or erase,” the protagonist Meg Murray. The Echthroi are overcome by the process of “Naming,” which L’Engle describes as re-integrating a character with its true, best self.
I would suggest that this is a better (and more Christlike) tactic for engaging people whom Sumpter finds “orcish.” If indeed they act out of great hurt and pain, then it would be more loving to speak to them as if they are not monsters, but human beings. Hurting human beings, yes, but human beings. People who are desperately trying to keep other people from being hurt like they were.
If Jesus encountered such people, I believe he would Name them, not X them.
The twittermob has been circulating numerous untruths, among them that Steven Sitler is a child rapist. He was actually convicted of one count of Lewd Conduct with a Minor under 16 years of age (Idaho Code 18-1508).
Yes, of all the actually important and relevant aspects of the current dialogue about child molesters Steven Sitler and Jamin C. Wight, Wilson chooses to focus on this. The fact that Steven Sitler was not convicted of “Child Rape” but rather “Lewd Conduct With a Minor,” the implication of which is, of course, that “Lewd Conduct” is somehow less egregious. Thus these evil twittermobs are the real abusers, falsely accusing poor Sitler of something he never did.
Well, yes, Steven Sitler was never convicted of Child Rape. Yes, Sitler was convicted of Lewd Conduct With a Minor. And yes, in Idaho, those two charges are distinct (though advocacy groups and other states like Washington State consider them the same). But let’s look at the Idaho statute Wilson cites to determine what Lewd Conduct with a Minor actually is. This is from Idaho Code 18-1508:
LEWD CONDUCT WITH MINOR CHILD UNDER SIXTEEN. Any person who shall commit any lewd or lascivious act or acts upon or with the body or any part or member thereof of a minor child under the age of sixteen (16) years, including but not limited to, genital-genital contact, oral-genital contact, anal-genital contact, oral-anal contact, manual-anal contact, or manual-genital contact, whether between persons of the same or opposite sex, or who shall involve such minor child in any act of bestiality or sado-masochism as defined in section 18-1507, Idaho Code, when any of such acts are done with the intent of arousing, appealing to, or gratifying the lust or passions or sexual desires of such person, such minor child, or third party, shall be guilty of a felony and shall be imprisoned in the state prison for a term of not more than life.
Wilson wants us to believe, in other words, that Steven Sitler isn’t as bad as a rapist. No, all Sitler did was force a young child to engage in all sorts of other sex acts that are… “better”? “Less bad”?
And we do not have to guess as to what Sitler actually did. Because the father of one of Sitler’s abuse victims did tell the Idaho court what Sitler did to his child. This is a September 7, 2005 letter written by a victim’s family to Idaho Judge Stegner. ** Content warning for explicit description of child sexual abuse. **Click the image to enlarge:
In other words, Steven Sitler lured a 2 year old child into an isolated area and forced that toddler to perform oral sex on him.
And somehow this is important to Wilson to clarify… why? Why is it only important to Wilson that he wins these little semantic games with people bringing sincere and heartfelt concerns to him regarding his and his church’s actions? So he wins on this technicality. So what? What does Doug Wilson want? Does he want us to give him a round of applause for having the courage to say what no one else did: that poor Steven Sitler is falsely accused? That Sitler never raped a child? That Sitler instead only forced a 2 year old to perform oral sex on him? That somehow that’s a relief? That somehow that makes Wilson a courageous champion of truth?
If Wilson actually cares about the God he claims to love, he should set aside his pride and his desire to play games of technicality. Because at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter to anyone except the Idaho court system whether Sitler “raped” a child or “forced oral sex” on a child. You know why? Because both are egregious cases of child abuse, for God’s sake!
I’d like to conclude with an excerpt from Mike Sloan and Beth Hart’s important article, “Doug Wilson’s Failure to Safeguard Children,” which I highly recommend you read here. Sloan and Hart write,
Where are the voices of the leaders of Reformed churches and Reformed networks who can gain a hearing from Doug Wilson and influence thousands of other pastors in their denominations and circles of influence? Where are the voices from The Gospel Coalition? Crossway, why are you giving a voice to a man who will not use his voice for voiceless? Who is asking Wilson, “Where is your grieving heart for this baby and the other victims? What child protection training are you putting in place or experts are you consulting so this does not happen again?”
UPDATE, September 12, 2015, 2 pm PT:
Doug Wilson has issued a clarification on his post. An image and the text of the clarification follow:
Important clarification: When I say above that Steven was convicted of one count, I was not meaning that this was his only offense, and neither was I seeking to minimize the egregiousness of his behavior in those other instances. That is why I argued, just below this, that the father in Texas who killed the molester he walked in on was fully justified. I should have made my meaning more clear than I did, which I could have done by putting the Texas paragraph first, and linking it expressly to Steven’s offenses. My apologies to any friends who missed my meaning here, and who thought I was trying to trim and be cute on Steven’s behalf. Such a misreading would be my responsibility. I believe there was at least one scenario where Steven could have been killed on the spot, and no injustice done.
Content warning: discussion about child sexual abuse and victim-blaming.
In 2005, on behalf of the elders of Christ Church, pastor Doug Wilson wrote a letter to a member of his church, Gary. Gary is the father of Natalie Rose Greenfield**, the young woman who was sexually abused by one of Wilson’s students from 2000-2003 when she was 13-16 years old. I previously wrote about the story of that child molestor, Jamin C. Wight, a homeschooled alumnus.
Today, Greenfield made public the letter Wilson wrote to her father in 2005. To be honest, it made me sick just to read it. The way Wilson blames Gary for his daughter’s abuse, the way he tries to manipulate Gary into extending mercy to Wilson’s 24-year-old, youth ministry-bound child molester, is simply inexcusable.
With Greenfield’s permission, I am sharing a copy of the letter below. Click the images to see larger versions:
I think the most telling excerpts are these:
Although we believe the sins were very different, we also wanted to let you know that we have considered whether or not we should suspend you from the Supper for your dereliction of your duties as a father…
As Jamin is discovering, sinful behavior can have (and should have) destructive consequences. But different kinds of sins destroy in different ways, and we would urge you to have a merciful heart toward him, just as you would have others show mercy to you.
Wilson’s intentional comparison between Wight’s sins (carefully grooming and then sexually abusing a child) and Gary’s so-called “sins” (not detecting Wight’s careful grooming process and thus being unaware that Wilson’s student was molesting his 13-year-old girl) is one of the most victim-blaming pieces of writing I have ever had the misfortune of reading. And then Wilson doubles-down with the manipulation by urging Gary to have “a merciful heart toward” the man who molested his little girl, because, hey, Gary needs mercy to for his “sins,” too. If that’s not the most glaring example of religious abuse, I’m not sure what is.
Greenfield has written commentary about the letter’s context, which I would encourage you to read here. I want to highlight a few sections here. First, Greenfield points out that her father was actually wise in putting distance between himself and Greenfield and Wilson and Christ Church after the fact because of how destructively the latter was handling the situation:
How my father could be placed at a similar level of blame to this monster is completely unfathomable to me. My father’s response was shock and injury, and while I know there were many previous instances of him realizing this church was not a place particularly well-versed in exhibiting the love of Christ, I believe this was something of a nail in the coffin for him, as would be expected. I recently spoke with my father about the details of his additional communication with Doug concerning my abuse and it is true that my father told them to stay away from his family, but not until after he saw the despicable way the situation was being handled. In hindsight, perhaps it’s a good thing I wasn’t much ministered to.
Greenfield also identifies key failings in Wilson and Christ Church’s response, namely, that they were sorely ill-equipped to respond to child sexual abuse within their midst. And from Wilson’s current self-centered defense, it appears that not much has changed:
I knew I was being blamed for a good deal of the ‘sexual sin’ in my abuse from Jamin (not strictly from Doug but also from many other individuals in the church, mostly men and many of whom I had previously considered to be like older brothers to me, who wrote to the judge citing varying degrees of unladylike behaviors and temptress-like qualities I possessed as a 13 year old girl), and while the damage the deafening silence did to my psyche was extensive, it’s now clear to me they had no idea what they were doing. Not a clue. Doug’s daughter, Rachel, admitted as much when we met for coffee late last year to discuss her father’s involvement and my misgivings. She wasn’t privy to many of the details surrounding the situation but her general impression was that nobody really knew what to do for me. Considering their utter lack of knowledge in dealing with sexual abuse, I shudder to think of what support would have looked like, had I received any.
Katie Botkin also wrote commentary about the letter, which I also would encourage you to read here. Botkin asks some important questions:
Why would Wilson hold Gary accountable for Jamin’s crimes? And ask that Gary be merciful in Jamin’s court proceedings? I don’t know, but I’m guessing it had something to do with image control. It looks pretty bad if your seminary student is convicted as a child rapist.
Botkin also observes that,
By refusing to answer any questions about these cases and by refusing to apologize for his own actions, Wilson isn’t protecting “the sheep,” he’s protecting himself.
But it’s not just that Wilson is trying to protect himself. Honestly, this situation (and the Steven Sitler situation) have grown beyond the point at which Wilson has any control anymore over how they get portrayed. Yet Wilson still refuses to humble himself before God and those among God’s people he has hurt and alienated. Wilson’s unwillingness to compassionately and openly dialogue and reflect on his mishandling of these abuse cases points to an even deeper problem:
Doug Wilson continues to sacrifice the least of those among him to further his self-imaged empire. Wilson is walking a road far from the Samaritan’s footprints, and I shudder to think where that road will end.
** I am using Greenfield’s name with her permission.
I posted yesterday about Steven Sitler, a convicted serial child molester who attends Doug Wilson’s Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, and is back in court over concerns about the safety of his infant son. My post was long, and quoted at length from a number of sources. When readers pointed out that the court’s finding that “(Sitler) has had contact with his child that resulted in actual sexual stimulation” likely referred to Sitler being sexually aroused by his son rather than to him molesting his son, I edited my post to reflect this language. I’ve now had some time to mull over the situation, read the comments on my post, and peruse the responses of Wilson’s defenders.
In this post, I want to boil things down to what I see as the root of the issue.
In 2005, Sitler was caught molesting a child in a Christ Church home where he was boarding. Wilson encouraged the victim’s parents to report the situation to the police, and when Sitler subsequently confessed to him he conveyed this information to the appropriate authorities. Nevertheless, Wilson made two mistakes that summer.
— Wilson wrote to the judge to ask that Sitler’s sentence be “measured and limited,” arguing that Sitler was “genuinely repentant” and that he was capable of being a productive member of society. Wilson does not have any training or background in psychology and should have trusted others expertise in this area.
— Wilson failed to tell his congregation about what had happened for a full eight months. While Sitler was no longer living in Moscow, Idaho, at this time, Wilson’s congregation should have been told that they had had a child molester living in their midst because there might have been additional victims yet unidentified.
After Sitler was convicted and served his time in jail, he returned to Moscow, Idaho, and once again attended Christ Church. Wilson has written that Sitler always had a chaperone with him, as a stipulation of his probation. And you know what? I don’t have a problem with this. While I question the short length of Sitler’s prison term, I do not have a problem with a church allowing a convicted pedophile attend their congregation if careful steps are taken to ensure further predation does not take place.
When Wilson defends himself by talking about the importance of thechurch ministering to the broken, etc., I think he is missing the real locus of anger here. People aren’t upset that Wilson allowed Sitler to continue attending his church when he got out on parole. People are upset that Wilson married Sitler, a convicted child molester, to a woman in his church knowing full well that they intended to have children. In fact, the Department of Corrections opposed Sitler’s decision to marry in large part because Sitler had told his probation officer that he and his fiancee, Katie Travis, intended to have children.
Wilson and his defenders have argued that Wilson did no wrong in supporting Sitler’s marriage because the judge gave it his go-ahead. However, as others have pointed out, there isn’t much precedent for allowing judges to prohibit sex offenders from marrying to begin with. Indeed, Sitler’s lawyer (a member of Christ Church) argued during the hearing that the question before the court was marriage, not children. The judge affirmed that Sitler would almost certainly be a danger to any children he might father, and noted that should the marriage produce children it might be necessary for the court to bar Sitler from living with his wife and offspring.
Wilson ought to have set both Sitler and Travis down for a long, hard talk about the realities before them. He could have discouraged Sitler from marrying given the danger he would present to any children he might father. He could have discouraged Travis from marrying Sitler given the danger he would pose to any children she might bear. He could have told the couple that should they decide to marry anyway, they should never have children. Instead, he officiated at their wedding and asked God to bless them with children.
And now here we are. Sitler’s wife gave birth to a baby boy last spring, and Sitler is now back in court over the danger he poses to his infant. It appears, from what has been released, that Sitler has become sexually aroused by his infant son and that his wife, Katie, has failed to report relevant information on the subject to the court, which suggests that she cannot be trusted to keep her infant safe.
Sitler being sexually aroused isn’t a crime and isn’t actually the problem. He’s a pedophile. He will always get aroused by children, just like people attracted to sexually mature people will get aroused by people they can never legally or morally engage in a sex act with. The problem is he is sexually aroused by his infant son with whom he lives and he has a history of actually abusing young children while other adults are at home even when he is a casual visitor. His wife cannot, even if they never have another child, succeed in her task to have eyes on him at all times. If nothing else, she has to sleep, pee, and shower. When they, inevitably, have more children and as this one grows, her task becomes even more impossible.
There is an extremely high risk that Sitler will reoffend in this situation. He already is having sexual feelings to his infant son. Even if he doesn’t want to do anything wrong, and he may not, he almost certainly will if he continues to reside in the house. A repentant offender would accept this and move out, but a repentant pedophile wouldn’t have set out to produce a family that will always have to be on guard against his predation. The court and the state child welfare authorities would be criminaly derelict in their duties if they continued to put this child at risk by letting Sitler reside in the home, even if Sitler hasn’t actuallt committed a crime or violated his probation yet.
Could Wilson have prevented this situation? Perhaps not. But he could have discouraged Sitler from marrying, or at the very least discouraged him from bearing children, and he should now be encouraging Sitler, for the good of his child, to move out and live separately from his wife and son.
Our ministry to Steven, in other words, has not been conducted at the expense of any children in our church community, or in a way that puts any of them at risk.
This is simply not true. Wilson’s ministry to Sitler has put his infant son, who is by definition one of the children in Wilson’s church community, in serious danger. Both Sitler and his lawyer are in Wilson’s congregation. Wilson could easily call them in and urge them to listen to the court’s concerns. He could urge Sitler to remove himself from temptation, to move out of the house and thereby place his son’s safety over his own wellbeing. Indeed, Wilson could place both Sitler and his lawyer under church discipline, arguing that they are failing to uphold Christ’s command to protect and value children. All of this could be done in the context of ministering to Sitler.
I’m not upset that Wilson has chosen to minister to a convicted serial pedophile. I’m upset with how Wilson has chosen to minister to a convicted serial pedophile. But rather than actually listening to these concerns, Wilson would rather throw up his hands and call those critical of the way he has handled the situation “bitter.” Meanwhile, the safety and wellbeing of Sitler’s infant son hangs in the balance.
Content warning: discussion of child sexual abuse and marital abuse and rape.
Nancy Wilson is an advocate of Christian Patriarchy, an ideology popular within the Christian Homeschool Movement as well as the broader Reformed Fundamentalist culture out of which that movement sprang. Nancy is married to Doug Wilson, one of the founders of New Saint Andrews College, Greyfriars Hall (a ministerial training program), and the Association of Classical and Christian Schools and pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. (Note: for the sake of clarity, future references to Doug Wilson will simply be Doug and future references to Nancy will be either Nancy or Wilson.) Doug’s 1991 book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning is considered one of the seminal texts of the Classical Christian Education movement. Some would argue his book launched that movement, though that claim is historically myopic and ignores other seminal texts like Dorothy Sayers’s The Lost Tools of Learning. Both Doug and Nancy Wilson do, however, hold significant influence within the Classical Christian Education movement. Furthermore, even though the Wilsons prefer private Classical Christian schools to homeschooling, their teachings about both Classical Christian Education as well as Christian Patriarchy (and its subsequent traditional gender roles) have been popular and significant within the Christian Homeschool Movement.
Over the last few days, Doug and Christ Church have received mounting attention and criticism over the cases of Steven Sitler and Jamin C. Wight. Sitler is a homeschool alumnus who attended New Saint Andrews College as a student and Christ Church as a parishioner. Wight is also a homeschool alumnus who attended Greyfriars Hall. Both are convicted child molesters who molested children in Doug’s various academic and religious communities. (You can read a comprehensive timeline of events and evidential documentation of Sitler’s case here, though be warned that the court documents contain detailed descriptions of child sexual abuse.) And during both of their trials, Doug chose to sit on their sides of the courtroom rather than on the sides of their victims and the victims’ families. Furthermore, despite Sitler’s crimes, Doug — 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. And in spite of Doug becoming aware of Sitler’s history of sexual predation in March 2005 and Wight’s history of sexual predation in August 2005, it was not until December that Doug informed the families of Christ Church in general.
In response to the mounting attention and criticism, Doug wrote an open letter on behalf of himself and his fellow elders at Christ Church. His letter, which contained 1,853 words, was focused entirely on defending and justifying his and his church’s actions as well as dismissing detractors as promoting “false allegations” that “are simply slander.” Wilson positions himself and his church as martyrs in line with Jesus because they are being criticized for extending “grace” to Sitler, saying, “To be vilified for standing for grace is itself a grace.” Not a single sentence in the open letter was dedicated to expressing concern for, anguish or compassion over, empathy towards, or protection of the victims and their families. This is telling, “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34).
In light of Doug’s open letter, it seems important and helpful to place that letter within the larger context of the Wilsons’ belief system concerning sexuality and sexual responsibilities within a Christian marriage. To that end we shall turn to Nancy Wilson’s 1997 book The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman. In this book Wilson articulates her and her husband’s philosophy of marriage and sexuality as it pertains to Christian women. Though the book is written entirely by Wilson herself, Doug wrote the book’s Foreword and in that he makes clear he fully endorses his wife’s ideas, saying, “As Christian women consider how they might stand as godly helpers to their husbands in this high calling, I can do nothing better than commend this book to them.” Furthermore, Doug admires that Nancy “has been writing on marriage and family for a number of years, and in reading her I have never had to wonder at hypocrisy. There has been none” (p. 11) Nancy Wilson practices what she preaches to others, and what she preaches to others is laid out in The Fruit of Her Hands.
Wilson begins her book with a dire proclamation. Quoting 2 Timothy 3:1, that “in the last days perilous times will come,” Wilson declares that American women have been “captivated by the lies promulgated by the modern world and have succumbed in many ways to the humanistic mindset” (13). “What are some of the lies she [American women] has been told?” Wilson asks. She then provides a list stereotypical for Christian Patriarchy adherents: couples do not want giant families, women act too much like men, and of course the belief system Christian Patriarchy most seethes against: feminism. But the two most relevant “lies” on Wilson’s list are: 1. “Marriage is partnership.” And 2. “The most important thing is to have a healthy self-image and to have your deepest needs met” (14). In other words, Wilson believes women are under captivity when they believe their marriage is a partnership rather than a dictatorship and when they believe a healthy and fulfilled sense of self is most important to having a successful marriage.
How do women become ensnared in these lies? Wilson argues that “this sort of thinking creep[s] into our households” for a number of reasons. The most notable are first, because “the media indoctrinate us daily”; and second, “by way of the latest feel-good psycho-babble,” and by this Wilson means counseling, psychology, and therapy. Wilson says that these resources are detrimental to a Christian wife for the following reasons: “Here she can talk about all of her needs and frustrations. Here she can learn how to cope with lack of fulfillment. Here she can learn how to get back on speaking terms with her husband and children” (15). In other words, when Christian wives have a separate, safe place apart from their husbands to privately process their needs and frustrations, to learn how to protect their inner selves, and to learn communication skills to heal relationships with their husbands and children — then women fall under captivity. This is because, to Wilson, having a separate, safe place apart from one’s husband to privately process matters ensnares women into thinking lies — namely, that their marriage is a partnership rather than a dictatorship and that a healthy and fulfilled sense of self is most important to having a successful marriage.
In contrast to the “humanistic mindset” that teaches women that marriage is a partnership and that a healthy and fulfilled sense of self is important, Wilson sets forth what she believes is the biblical mindset. This mindset is, of course, Christian Patriarchy, in which women are to submit to their husbands, show deference to their husbands’ decisions, and work hard to please their husbands emotionally and sexually. While the entire book is worth analyzing, this post will focus specifically on Wilson’s messages to women concerning their sexual relationship with their husbands. These messages are found in Chapter 7 of the book, “Lovemaking.”
Wilson commences with the declaration that sexuality within marriage is “a protection against sexual immorality” (87). Taking literally the Song of Solomon’s metaphor of the bride as a garden (Song of Solomon 4:12: “You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride”), Wilson then compares a wife, her body, and her sexuality to a garden (and the wife’s husband to a “gardener”). Using a metaphor of a garden, Wilson’s language and images range from abstract to explicit to troubling. “The garden is a private place for only the husband and wife,” she writes. “It has a high wall around it called the marriage covenant” (89). A wife’s husband “is the garden tender, and the wife becomes a source of great joy and delight to the husband as he spends time in the garden he faithfully tends.”
While encouraging women to think of themselves as gardens, Wilson begins to guilt them. Women need to “take a more eager interest in making it a lovely garden that her husband delights to spend time in.” She warns women that untended gardens tend to not be enjoyed by visitors, whereas lovely gardens make visitors feel welcome. Wilson says wives must be like the latter: “You want your husband to feel that way when he visits you.” Thus a wife should not “resent her husband’s sexual advances as intrusive.”
Wilson then takes a turn towards the troubling. Using the garden metaphor for a woman and her body, Wilson strips away the agency of that woman and dismisses enthusiastic consent as important to relationships. Women who find their husband’s sexual advances as intrusive are “hanging a sign out on the garden wall that reads in large letters, ‘No trespassing.'” But, and this is the troubling part, “But of course a husband is never trespassing in his garden, though he can be made to feel as though he is an intruder” (89, emphasis added). With this one sentence Wilson completely disregards as possible the concept of marital rape. A husband can never be intruding on his wife’s body, because his wife’s body is his. Wilson then shifts blame on a wife who is being coerced into sex with her husband: while the husband’s sexual coercion is not sinful, the woman’s reluctance — which makes her husband “feel as though he is an intruder” — is sinful.
Wilson next considers legitimate reasons for a wife saying “No” to sex and dismisses them as illegitimate. For example, if a wife has no sexual desire: Wilson does not suggest that the woman learn about her body and her sexuality and find out how to communicate to her husband how he can better please her or help her feel sexually open with him. Rather, Wilson dismisses women as incapable of understanding their own bodies: “Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made. Who can understand them? Certainly we cannot understand ourselves very well” (93-4). So women just need to buck up and not “consult your feelings” as to do so is selfish. “Does your husband always ‘feel’ in the mood for a heart-to-heart chat?” she manipulatively reminds women.
Another legitimate reason for a wife saying “No” to sex that Wilson dismisses as illegitimate is a past history of sexual abuse. Women who “have had bad sexual experiences” and “have suffered at the hands of others sexually” need to simply (a) realize their own sinful role in their own abuse and (b) get over the abuse already and forgive their abusers:
“We are not to drag our past around like a ball and chain. We have been delivered from our past sins… If you have suffered at the hands of others sexually, you must extend forgiveness… Forgive those people in your past who wronged you sexually and do not allow their sin to ruin your life… How many times did Jesus say we should forgive those who sin against us? Countless times” (94).
Wilson rubs the final dash of salt into the wound by saying the following to these women who suffered abuse: “Don’t make your husband suffer for wrongs others committed” (95).
One might wonder why Wilson places such a high value on a wife being always ready to satisfy her husband sexually. This is because, as Wilson first established regarding sexuality within marriage, it is “a protection against sexual immorality” (87). Wives and their sexuality are a “potent instrument in God’s hand” (97). When a woman’s husband is “an unbeliever or a disobedient believer” — for example, if one finds one’s self married to, say, child molester Steven Sitler — Wilson encourages women that their being constantly submissive to their husband’s sexual demands, their being constantly submissive to their husbands’ sexual coercion, is something God uses to bring that unbeliever to conversion or that disobedient believer to repentance. Wilson writes,
“If you are married to an unbeliever or a disobedient believer, you must determine before God that you are going to attempt as best you can to fulfill all your obligations as a wife in a godly fashion. This means you must apply all the Word’s teachings on sex whether your husband does or not. Esther won over the king and was greatly used as a result… God can use the sexual relationship as one of the means of winning him back to obedience or winning him to Christ” (97).
In his open letter concerning Steven Sitler, Doug objects to certain detractors, saying, “We do not believe that marriage is an automatic ‘fix’ for the temptations to molest children” (emphasis in the original). This is true, but only in a limited sense. The Wilsons have never claimed that “godly” sexuality is a cure for a sexual disorder like nepiophilia or pedophilia or a protection against criminal activity like child molestation. However, they have claimed — as we just saw — that “godly” sexuality can be a productive tool in bringing a disobedient believer back to obedience to God. Doug reiterated this in a new blog post today:
“Do I think that marriage is an ‘automatic’ cure for the temptations of pedophilia? Of course not. Marriage is not an automatic cure for anything. But the apostle Paul does teach that marriage, approached rightly, is given by God as one of His assigned helps against immorality (1 Cor. 7:2)” (emphasis added).
Thus insofar as the Wilsons believe nepiophilia, pedophilia, and child molestation to be manifestations of disobedience to God, they do believe that Sitler’s wife’s sexuality can be “one of the means of winning him back to obedience or winning him to Christ” — which, in Sitler’s case, would take the specific form of forsaking nepophilia, pedophilia, and child molestation. Doug’s objection, therefore, is so deflective and hairsplitting it is insipid.
These messages that Nancy Wilson has taught and continues to teach — messages that her husband Doug endorses and also teaches — shed an important light on the developments arising out of Christ Church, New Saint Andrews College, and Greyfriars Hall. Though we may find the messages troubling, they help us better understand why Doug, Nancy, and the other members of their academic and religious communities in Moscow, Idaho seemed to have little to no problem with marrying a young, vulnerable woman off to a serial child molester after only their second date. In the Wilsons’ minds, giving Steven Sitler an outlet for his sexuality — giving him a woman who is taught that she cannot say no to her “gardener” who has full rights to her bodily “garden” — could begin a spiritually redemptive process that could bring the serial child molester into repentance and obedience to God. Even if that involved sexual coercion (what we would all consider marital abuse and rape), to the Wilsons that is not a problem. To the Wilsons there is no such thing as sexual coercion; there is only the sexual submission of a wife to her husband. This is the broader context in which to understand Doug’s infamous statement that, “The sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.”
To the Wilsons, marriage is not a partnership but a dictatorship. The husband, or patriarch, is the sexual dictator. That sexual dictatorship is divinely ordained and a woman’s body is ordained by God to serve as an instrument of redemption, her bodily rights sacrificed for a greater spiritual good.
And you know what’s even more troubling than the theology itself?
The fact that so many young women are being raised and taught in their homeschools around the U.S. to think that this is what God actually wants for them.
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 Reporton 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.”
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). After serving his sentence he was free to go. Free to live and roam wherever he pleased, which just so happened to be right back to Moscow, back to his lovely old church, back to MY town, where he now lives a normal life, owns his own construction company, and eats at his favorite downtown restaurants… Now I see him once every week or two and though I no longer attend the church in which it all took place, many of the friends I still associate are friends with he and his family. While on facebook today I received an invitation to attend the baptism celebration for his most recent child. Years ago, I received letters from the church after I left telling me I was under church discipline and could no longer take communion there, meanwhile my abuser was welcomed back into the fold with open, loving arms…And people wonder why I left.
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.
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:
I will say it now; I am not ashamed, I will not keep quiet, and I care not what anyone thinks of me – I have only myself to answer to… My daughter will know my story and I will equip her with the tools to protect herself.
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.
I read a disturbing article yesterday that sent me reeling. I think we always want to hope for the best in people, but after having seen this pattern taken place so many times, those who were familiar with the story could see the inevitable train wreck before it took place. Our fears were in fact confirmed this week, and I am heartbroken.
Many times when we hear of breaking scandalous stories, the focus is on the perpetrator and those who enabled the abuse. The background to this story can be broken down into several important topics, and I hope other bloggers will cover some of the other aspects to this story. But for this initial post, the victims will be the primary focus, as they should be. They are the ones we need to protect and defend.
In Fall of 2003, Steven Sitler moved from Moscow, Idaho to attend New Saint Andrews College (NSA). Sitler attended Christ Church, pastored by Doug Wilson. When he came to Moscow, ”No one knew at the time, however, that Steven Sitler was also a serial [child molester] who preyed upon boys and girls, ages 2–12, and who left a trail of victims in at least two other states prior to his arrival in Moscow” (Source).
In March of 2005, the parents of one victimized child notified Doug Wilson, who advised them to retain the Christ Church’s attorney to accompany them as they notified legal authorities of the crime. This marks the beginning of Sitler’s legal issues.
About this time, Doug Wilson began counseling with Steven Sitler. To make a very long story short, Sitler was convicted, served time, took a plea deal, and will have supervised parole for the rest of his life.
A note of interest is the letter that Doug Wilson sent to the judge essentially defending Sitler and asking for leniency. Yes, you read that correctly – leniency for a serial child molester! Doug Wilson told the Judge Stegner he had been providing counseling to Steven Sitler for only SIX times, gave him some books to read, and assignments to do between sessions. He stated that at the beginning of their counseling sessions, Sitler didn’t know the nature of his problem, but was later convinced that Sitler was open and honest when he confessed his thought life and behavior. The final paragraph of Wilson’s letter reads:
I am grateful Steven was caught, and am grateful he has been brought to account for these actions so early in his life. . . . At the same time, I would urge that the civil penalties applied would be measured and limited. I have good hope that Steve has genuinely repented, and that he will continue to deal with this to become a productive and contributing member of society.
Ed Iverson and Doug Wilson Encourage Courtship and Marriage of Steven Sitler
Fast forward a few years and time served, and now a young lady is on the scene. Let me introduce you to Katie Travis. Katie had posted her personal story online, but it has since been taken down. But it is possible to piece together her story from others who have quoted the words from her online journal.
Katie moved to Idaho to attend New Saint Andrews College from Fallon, Nevada. She lived with the family of Ed Iverson whom she had known several years before arriving at NSA. Mr. Iverson was NSA’s librarian and also an elder at Doug Wilson’s church, Christ Church. Reports are conflicting as to their relationship, whether he was her grandfather by blood or acted as a father figure, but it is clear that she looked to him as a respected father figure, and he readily assumed that trusted role in her personal life.
At the age of 23, Katie was at the prime of life, single, and ready to find a husband and start a family like all young ladies who are brought up in Patriarchy. In Christian Patriarchy circles, women are encouraged to marry young, so 23 years was pushing it. Several reports indicated that Katie felt the pressure to find a husband in short order because most of her friends were courting or married. She asked Mr. Iverson to assist her in finding a spouse, and he eagerly agreed.
Are you picking up on this culture? Katie asked a family friend to find someone to court. He was to choose for her, not the other way around. And this was normal and what Katie wanted.
On August 18, 2010, Mr. and Mrs. Iverson invited Steven Sitler to come to their home for dinner. This dinner was set up for the express purpose of introducing Steven and Katie for the possibility of a future courtship. “Ed Iverson’s description of Katie was that, though NSA was tough for her, she persevered through and she was, “pretty good looking, too” (Source).
While Doug Wilson and Ed Iverson were obviously fine with this possible courtship and marriage, it’s important to note that the Department of Corrections did not support the idea of marriage for Steven Sitler at all.
Steven posted his account of their joyous meeting on the internet:
“We met on August 18th, 2010 at the insistence of Mr. and Mrs. Iverson. One week later we were writing emails like it was going out of style. On Katie’s first visit back to Moscow in October, we had our first date, after which I asked her father if I could start courting her. I got the pleasure of spending Christmas break with Katie’s awesome family and decided on a whim to ask her to “merry” (misspelling intentional, more on that later) me on our second date. Of course it wasn’t really a whim, I had been meticulously planning it for months. She was shocked… and speechless, but finally she said yes, and the rest, as they say, is history. I love you., Katie” (The Real Doug Wilson Encouraged & Presided Over the Marriage of a Serial Pedophile).
“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.”
This was the train wreck we feared. The article stated that Katie was now disqualified as a chaperone “for failure to report disclosures related directly to the couple’s son and Sitler was required to move out of their home” (Source).
Ok, this is just sad for all involved. I have a lot to say about Doug Wilson but I’m biting my tongue for the moment. What I’d like to discuss is Katie.
Katie’s World as Wife and Mom
Katie and her infant son are victims of her husband’s criminal behavior. Imagine Katie being in a town away from parents and her own pastor and trusted father figure selected a serial child molester for a husband. They had to convince her that Steven had repented. Who was she to second guess Mr. Iverson and Pastor Wilson? They wouldn’t do anything to harm her, right?
In these circles, Katie would be expected to serve and submit to her husband and bear his children. But how does that work when the State says he can’t be around children? Doug Wilson knew this before he married them. Professionals warned that marriage was not a wise idea, but the State had no laws to prevent it from happening.
The article states that “the Idaho Department of Corrections would try to remove his wife and parents as chaperones.” This suggests to me that Katie and parents were not responsible in guarding the baby. Do you see this never-ending conflict? Katie of course wants her husband to have a relationship with his son, but yet she also has to police him? How does this work in a home where she is to obey her husband as head of the home? What an awkward position to put grandparents in, watching Steven like a hawk. There is no relaxing in this home, there is always a threat if Steven is in the premises.Life Sentence
When Ed Iverson and Katie’s parents agreed to the courtship of Katie and Steven, and then Doug Wilson agreed to officiate in this fiasco of a wedding, they pronounced a life sentence on Katie and her child, and extended family. She will never be able to live as a normal wife and mother. This infant has already been sexually violated. Imagine the emotional stress in the home, always looking, trying to be vigilant, yet also trying to find a sense normal. There is no good thing in this situation, and Doug Wilson as pastor failed this young woman and her child. This is shameful behavior for a pastor who is supposed to be shepherding and protecting. What kind of shepherd intentionally puts sheep in harm’s way? One who is arrogant to think he can determine whether a serial child molester is repentant or not.
The actions by Doug Wilson, I believe, also constitute as spiritual abuse. Katie put her trust in her spiritual leader to guide her and protect her. He asked for leniency for Steven – that is not protecting her. Wilson married them. That was also not protecting her. How might this affect how she trusts spiritual authority? If her pastor told her this, will she be upset at God for allowing it to happen? There are so ways this could lead to a real crisis of faith. I pray it doesn’t.
I sure hope Doug Wilson apologizes to this family for the harm he has caused them. What a disgrace not only to this family, but to the world as they once again see how Christian leaders mess up so badly.
Late last year, Doug Phillips, the president of Vision Forum Ministries, publicly admitted to an inappropriate extramarital relationship and resigned. Shortly afterward, the Vision Forum board of directors decided to shut down the San Antonio ministry. In the months since then, World Magazine has reported additional terrible details about Phillips’s alleged behavior toward a woman under his care.
The story made even secular news. For years, Vision Forum and Doug Phillips had enjoyed oversized influence in homeschooling circles as leaders of the “Quiverfull” movement, encouraging Christians to have (and homeschool) large families as a way of exercising influence in the world.
They were champions of “biblical patriarchy,” the principle that family life (and ultimately society at large) should be organized under the authority of divinely ordained fathers and husbands. According to one manifesto prepared by Vision Forum, “the erosion of biblical manhood and leadership,” caused by modern ideologies that undermine God’s authority, “leads to the perversion of the role of women, the destruction of our children, and the collapse of our society.”
To be fair, Vision Forum’s view originated in a specific theological tradition to which most members of the “Religious Right” probably do not belong. And it leads to some conclusions that many Christian conservatives find repellent. Yet some of Vision Forum’s teachings have been disproportionately influential in the American homeschooling movement. And they are especially important for understanding the movement’s relationship to the painful history of American racism.
What sorts of conclusions did Vision Forum draw from its theology? First, there are the obvious ones.
Vision Forum advocated very well-defined gender roles. Through its for-profit merchandise catalog aimed at homeschooling families, it distributed books like an updated version of William Gouge’s Of Domesticall Duties, a 1622 treatise on family life. (A sample of the original wording: “Mildness in a wife hath respect also to the ordering of her countenance, gesture, and whole carriage before her husband, whereby she manifesteth a pleasingness to him, and a contentedness and willingness to be under him and ruled by him.”) The online store sold a two-DVD set called “Tea and Hospitality with Michelle Duggar,” inviting viewers to “celebrate the fruit of the womb with [mother-of-nineteen] Michelle!”
Vision Forum also sold homeschooling families highly gender-specific toys like an “all-American boy’s crossbow” and a “Princess Virginia” dress meant to encourage a girl as she “identifies with Mommy and experiences how unique and wonderful it is to be a girl, to be a daughter of the Most High King—to be His little princess!” Vision Forum’s entire merchandise catalog encouraged as much differentiation as possible between boy leaders and girl followers.
Interestingly, there was also a pronounced nationalistic dimension to gender in this catalog. Vision Forum boys and girls were always American boys and girls. Although many evangelical bloggers and journalists have been highly critical of Vision Forum’s attitudes toward gender, they have often overlooked this.
Vision Forum promoted American nationalism on the basis of their brand of Calvinist covenant theology, which implied that an authoritarian family structure would regenerate God’s special covenant with the United States of America. Yet militant identification with the United States—and especially with its early history—is evident everywhere in Vision Forum’s catalog, especially in its merchandise for boys.
Even more important, however, is that Vision Forum promoted a vision not just of male leadership in the family and the nation, but more specifically a vision rooted in an ideology of white male mastery. And it promoted not just American nationalism, but Southern nationalism—the nationalism of the Confederacy.
To be clear, Vision Forum was not an avowedly racist organization. It did not directly or consciously advocate white supremacy. But it did deliberately promote nostalgia for the white supremacist social order of the Old South.
In fact, one of Doug Phillips’s first books, published in 2003, was a short edited collection of writings by Robert Lewis Dabney, a Southern Presbyterian theologian. Its subtitle is The Prophet Speaks. Dabney, though technically an opponent of secession, was an enthusiastic defender of southern slavery. He served in the Confederate army as a chaplain and as an aide to Stonewall Jackson, and after the war, he published A Defence of Virginia, and through Her, of the South. This book defended human slavery, endorsing the notion that God instituted black slavery through the “curse upon Canaan” after Noah’s flood. Dabney also published an admiring Life of General Jackson and later a pamphlet denouncing racial integration in Presbyterian churches.
None of this meant that Doug Phillips consciously endorsed white supremacy. In his collection, instead, Phillips printed excerpts of Dabney’s later diatribes against public education and feminism. Yet Phillips was clearly enamored of Dabney as a person and as a cultural figure.
“Perhaps no Christian leader of the nineteenth century,” Phillips wrote about Dabney, “filled the role of prophet with greater proficiency.” He even wrote that “for those individuals who long for the days in which a gentleman could hold the door for a lady without some indignant feminist snorting at him, Dabney’s writings will seem refreshingly virile.” As for Dabney’s pro-slavery views? Phillips just coyly asked his readers to consider “the context of the War itself.”
Indeed, the depth of Phillips’s personal admiration for Dabney—and for Stonewall Jackson—was evident in several of the items for sale by Vision Forum. They included a reprint of Dabney’s biography of Jackson, a collection of Jackson’s letters, and even a doll meant to remind girls of Stonewall Jackson’s “godly wife.”
With this doll, Vision Forum strayed deep into what I call “Plantation Chic”—nostalgia for the prewar, slaveowning South. “Stately homes, horse-drawn carriages, and beautiful dresses were special delights for Southern young ladies,” sighed the catalog. “Now you can attire your doll in the feminine and delightfully flouncy styles of the mid-1800s!”
Even more revealing was the Vision Forum “Beautiful Girlhood” doll collection. It featured four dolls—two black and two white. The white dolls were both named after the ideal of freedom; Vision Forum called them Liberty and Jubilee. One of the black dolls was simply named Abigail. And the other black doll? Her name was Fidelia, helpfully translated as “Faithful One.”
Meanwhile, Vision Forum sold various history books and audio albums that discussed the Civil War itself. The online descriptions were vague, but these materials had the usual earmarks of what historians call the “Lost Cause” interpretation of the war—the discredited claim that secession was not about slavery, that the North was oppressive, and that most African Americans actually preferred to be slaves.
For example, Vision Forum’s books sometimes referred to the war as “the War between the States,” a term preferred by many Confederacy defenders. They fixated on the supposed nobility of southern “Christian warriors” like (of course) Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. And they seemed to imply that slavery’s role in the war was not what most historians say. (One blurb in Vision Forum’s print catalog warned that “most of what we ‘know’ about it is actually revisionist history.”)
As an American historian, I can say with confidence that Vision Forum was wrong about this. In the 1860s, Confederate leaders said without any hesitation that their goal was to protect slavery.
According to its official secession declaration, South Carolina left the Union because northerners called slavery “sinful” and had elected a president (Abraham Lincoln) “whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.” My home state seceded because its leaders thought the federal government was “destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slave-holding States”—specifically, the institution of slavery. Mississippi seceded in order to defeat “negro equality,” declaring that “our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.”
Confederate leaders talked a lot about how the federal government was supposedly taking away their rights. But the key right they had in mind, according to their own words, was the right to own black people. They insisted that white men had this right not only in their own states but also in free states and territories, even if the whites there objected. To protect this “right,” they not only decided to leave America but also deliberately fired on a U.S. military post. In the American Civil War, the Confederacy formed to defend slavery, and then it fired the first shot.
But Vision Forum’s pro-Confederate position probably shouldn’t be surprising, given Vision Forum’s close resemblance to (and relationship with) the better-known ministry of Idaho pastor Douglas Wilson.
Douglas Wilson, an unbelievably prolific writer, may be the best-known advocate today of a conservative Calvinist vision for patriarchal family life and gender roles. He is still quite influential in the homeschool movement. He’s also notorious for writing two books on slavery, Southern Slavery: As It Was and Black & Tan, both of which are available online.
These two books about the Old South include condemnations of racism. But they deny that slavery is wrong. “Was slave ownership malum in se, an evil in itself?” Wilson asks at one point in Black & Tan. “The answer to that question, for anyone who believes the Bible, is that it was possible for a godly man to own slaves, provided he treated them exactly as the Scripture required.” Wilson also calls proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney a “virtually prophetic” man, just as Doug Phillips did. Wilson acknowledges and condemns Dabney’s racism, but he apparently has almost nothing to say about Dabney’s views on slavery itself.
All of this leaves us with an important question. Why would Christian homeschooling advocates who claim not to be racist promote this kind of nostalgia for the antebellum South? Why would they encourage us to idolize the Old South’s slavery-based plantation culture, its slaveowning white men, and its self-serving views about the federal government?
Oddly enough, it seems fairly clear that racism isn’t the place to start. Although fondness for the antebellum South often does result from racism, I don’t think it would be helpful to assume that’s the key reason for Vision Forum’s views. There is little direct evidence that Vision Forum was consciously racist, and there’s quite a bit of evidence that they didn’t want to be racists. If nothing else, blaming racism is the least interesting thing we could say about what was going on in their ministry.
But we need to recognize that in real-life America, slavery is inextricable from racism, and so is the history of the Confederacy. The association between slavery and racism isn’t accidental or irrelevant. When you claim the right to own an entire category of people as slaves, you cannot see them as equal human beings.
And we also need to see that Vision Forum’s nostalgia for a white slaveowning society was directly related to its nostalgia for an authoritarian code of sexual ethics. The right to own slaves may not have been the point of Vision Forum’s preaching, but the nearly absolute authority of the male householder, commanding all other members of the family, certainly was.
No amount of talk about “complementary” roles for men and women can conceal what Vision Forum was actually eager to announce: that its key concern was patriarchy—a system of governance, not just a distribution of responsibilities. From that perspective, the Old South represented a convenient image of white manhood and womanhood. To Vision Forum, the Confederacy’s fate served as perhaps a hint of why authoritarian manhood seems endangered today.
In addition, the failure of the Confederacy may be a convenient explanation for the supposed decline of Christian civilization in what Vision Forum claims was a providentially founded Christian nation. For them, the Civil War can serve as the moment when God chastised his people in America (just as he did the ancient Hebrews) for straying from their appointed course. It also seems to represent what can happen when a society fails to cohere—when its authority structures, and thus its values, fail. It explains what went wrong in God’s own nation.
We need to recognize that this authoritarianism is a vision of slavery and death. We can empathize with people who yearn for a lost culture. We can try to understand their anxiety and alleviate their fears. But we must call their vision what it is and offer another way.
See the introduction, especially pages 8-10.
Though this name has highly offensive proslavery implications, Vision Forum seems not to have realized it. In fact, the doll seemed to be designed with freedom in mind. Fidelia, the online catalog said, “can brave the voyage to New England as Priscilla Mullins, help Lewis and Clark find the Northwest Passage as Sacagawea, serve tea at the White House as Dolley Madison, and stroll the deck of the Titanic as Nan Harper.”
Here’s Wilson’s comment in fuller context: “The issue is whether a Christian man could have lawfully owned a slave in 1850 America without being necessarilyguilty of a moral outrage. Was slave ownership malum in se, an evil in itself? The answer to that question, for anyone who believes the Bible, is that it was possible for a godly man to own slaves, provided he treated them exactly as the Scripture required. In a sinful world, slave ownership generallyis sinful, and it is a system that invites abuse. Over time the gospel will overthrow all forms of slavery. But again, the kingdom arrives like yeast working through the loaf, and not like a coup de main. In the meantime, to have the likes of the abolitionist Charles G. Finney (who said that it is impossible to be on the right side of God and the wrong side of the slavery issue) hurling his taunts at Abraham and Philemon is a bit thick.” Douglas Wilson, Black & Tan: A Collection of Essays and Excursions on Slavery, Culture War, and Scripture in America(Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2005), 69. For Wilson’s remarks about Dabney, see pp. 79-94.