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Thursday, June 10, 2010

More on the Alleged Cover-up of the Rape of a 15 year old girl

In two prior posts (see here and here), I have written about the rape of a 15 year old girl by a church leader at Trinity Baptist Church of Concord, NH. A couple of my former colleagues have written me in private emails criticizing me for posting this information. I have been told that I am "petty" and that I am taking "glee" in reporting this incident. Why am I posting this information on my blog?
1) I believe that the Bible teaches that women have an inferior status to men. In the OT, women were seen as the property of either their husband or their father. I have two posts on the OT God condoning rape (see here and here).

2) I believe that fundamentalist evangelicals, people who believe the Bible is inspired and inerrant, still cling to this idea of women being inferior in status to men. I realize that they would vehemently deny this to be the case but I think it is evident in many of their teachings such as the notion that women are to be submissive to their husbands, women are not to have leadership positions in the church, and so on. And I think that the way the victim was treated in this particular case also illustrates my point.

3) I am particularly interested in this case because it involves persons and institutions that were part of my orbit when I was a believer.

4) I would like to see justice done and the victim's honor restored. I think she is owed an apology by several of the players in this tragic incident.

So, I will continue to report on this case until it is resolved.

It appears that the Pastor of the Church, Chuck Phelps (later the President of Maranatha Baptist College) and Matt Olson (now the President of Northland Baptist College) conspired together to ship the girl from New Hampshire to Colorado. Phelps claims that the police never asked him where the girl was and thus charges were never brought against the rapist, Ernie Willis. Willis continued on in the Trinity Baptist Church for years after this crime. Phelps and Olson claim they did nothing wrong. I think they were negligent in not seeing to it that Willis was prosecuted. This was not just a "church matter," it was a crime. While Phelps and Olson probably did nothing legally wrong; I fail to see how one can conclude that they didn't do something that was morally wrong. Phelps had the victim stand up in front of the church and apologize for her action. Once the victim was moved to Colorado, Olson had the victim write a letter to the rapist's wife apologizing for "violating her trust." Neither man saw to it that Willis was prosecuted.

The current pastor of the church in Colorado where the victim was sent, Tri-City Baptist Church in Westminster, Will Senn (I am not making his name up), has issued a letter trying to clear the name of his church in this fiasco. You can read it here. Here are the comments that one blogger made about Pastor Senn's letter:
1) He never says that Willis raped Tina. A reading of this letter would cause the reader to assume, which is also what Phelps engineered the church at that time to assume, that 15 year old Tina had engaged in consensual sex.

2) He never allows that Tina had no say in giving up her baby. She was allowed to select which of the final three candidate couples should have her baby, but there was no other decision given to her.

3) He declares that Tina was not being hidden in Colorado, yet Tina and her brother both say that she was being hidden.

4) He directly says, ” Dr. Chuck Phelps does not believe that Tina was responsible for being allegedly raped.” But the Concord Monitor says, “Phelps said he told her to “be responsible, don’t allow yourself to be around a person you know to be dangerous. She knew this person was dangerous after the first time, but she continued to be around him….She needed to be responsible.”

5) He directly says, “In addition, Dr. Chuck Phelps urged Tina and her mother to talk with the police, but they would not.” Tina was actually instructed to never tell anybody about what happened. And if Phelps was so determined that they should talk to the police, why did he not wield the sword of church discipline at them? After all, he had already made Tina take responsibility for being raped. Surely he could have made her responsible to go to the police.

6) He refers to the “media attack on Dr. Chuck Phelps, Dr. Matt Olson or Tri-City Baptist Church.” Actually, the news media is reporting the story, and Phelps has been given ample opportunity to give his side. The fact that he just keeps digging himself deeper every time he talks is not an attack from the media.

The current Pastor of the Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, NH, Brian Fuller, is to be commended for now taking a different approach on this matter.
Fuller's 38-minute sermon is devoted mostly to explaining the need for the church to face the harsh criticism from this scandal without lashing back, take a hard look at themselves and what was done in 1997 and what it says about them now, and see what restitution needs to be made and what change needs to occur at their church.(source)
A statement on the Trinity Baptist church's website says the following:
In reviewing the events of October 1997, the present leadership is seeking answers for the victim, our congregation, as well as our entire Concord community. The prayers of our entire church are for justice to be served to the alleged perpetrator, and that mercy and care will be extended to the victim.

Below is a video clip from "The Young Turks" on the situation:

HT: Jeri Massi


  1. A couple of my former colleagues have written me in private emails criticizing me for posting this information. I have been told that I am "petty" and that I am taking "glee" in reporting this incident.

    Odd. I saw no glee in either of the previous two posts. And I fail to see why putting up a post on a news item of interest to the blogger is "petty."

    I mean, I maintain a blog that's nominally about history, but I've gone long, long stretches without ever mentioning history on it. My policy is that as the owner of the blog, which is presented free and absent of ads, tip jars, etc., I get to write about whatever I damn well please and if you don't like it, um, waa?

    Sorry, that was a bit of a side-track. When I started talking about my own departure from religion on my blog one of my goals was to act as an translator between those of the faith and those who were curious onlookers in to that bizarre, closed world. It is to the church's benefit to present a happy, productive face to the rest of the world.

    But like the children in an abusive family there are many things that happen to the congregation behind the closed doors of the church. I never witnessed anything remotely to the level of what Tina Johnson experienced, but I participated, both as victim and perpetrator, in any number of situations that were downright, well, un-Christ-like in my time in church. And it's my firm belief that those of us who were insiders should, if so inclined, throw the doors open so the light can shine in to the dark corners.

    I suspect that's the underlying reason for the criticism. It's not, "You're being a real jerk there, Ken." It's, "You're making us look bad, stop it!"

    Not that you need to hear it from me, but keep up the good work.

  2. I'm guessing these former collegues are religious. No wonder they see your posts as taking enjoyment in th story - they have severely warped views of reality.

    And as the first commentor says, they also probably just feel embaressed about the situation and don't want attention drawn. The "you're taking pleasure in this" attack sounds like a straw man argument. Attack the character of the person, rather then their arguments.

  3. Holy shit, I live up here in NH right next door to Concord. And to think, NH is the second most SECULAR state in the nation. That's just sick...

    I suppose this is petty just in the same way that systematic pedophilia protection is gossip in the catholic church?

  4. I guess private emails aren't really private after all.


  5. A couple of my former colleagues have written me in private emails criticizing me for posting this information. I have been told that I am "petty" and that I am taking "glee" in reporting this incident.

    The kind of people who blame a 15 year-old girl for rape are certainly capable of trying to make you feel bad for telling the truth about them. Kudos to you for sharing the details widely.

    I think she is owed an apology by several of the players in this tragic incident.

    Sadly, I don't think that such an apology would mean anything. Do you really believe that people like this are capable of feeling real remorse? If so, I maintain that you believe in miracle.

  6. A big point for me is to disabuse people of the idea that so-called "Godly" people are actually living on a higher plain than the norm. I grew up in that whole world of "God's men" being put on pedastals. I saw many who were so obviously into power. There was nothing humble about them.

    Ofcourse they don't want it exposed that they are just like other men in politics, business, whatever-in that they want to hide what makes them look bad. They want to hide what "rocks the boat." Why? Because people might start to get a clue that in general they are just like the unsaved-they are not different. And you'd think they would be, considering the Holy God of the universe supposedly lives within them and guides their decisions.

    Now I'm sure there are people here and there in Christianity who will incovenience their lives, their church reputation, etc. in order to do what's right. But they are not what we seem to have here.

    And anybody who brings light to the stuff in the Bible that is wrong or doesn't make sense-well, you're rocking the boat, causing problems, you should just drop it. They imply that there's something wrong with YOU-not the church, not the pastor or leaders, not the Bible, not the doctrines, etc.

    They want to intimidate you, make you feel disloyal for pointing out wrongs done by church leaders more into covering their butts and the perpetrators' butts, than caring for the true victims.

    Congregations shouldn't put up with this stuff. But I think the problem is alot of the time, they have no clue what goes on behind the scenes.
    So the real problem is that they trust their pastors and elders WAY too much. And WHY do they do that? Because they think the pastors are so holy and Christlike and godly.

    That ain't necessarily so.

  7. DC: I guess private emails aren't really private after all.

    He didn't exactly say, "Bob Jackson, who I've known for 23 years and currently lives at 123 Fake St., Willinghamthrampshire, VT, sent me an email that said [insert text here]."

    Actually, as someone who has received a few such emails and mentioned them on my very own little blog here and there, I'm a strong proponent of doing exactly what Ken did. I've noticed that there's a certain level of pressure that some who are still in the flock like to put on those who left. It takes on this very patronizing, "You shouldn't be doing this, don't you know how very wrong you are to be doing this?" tone that's face-level friendly but is really quite passive-aggressive.

    Bringing to light that such things happen serves two purposes in my mind.

    First, it's an announcement to the people who are sending the emails that they cannot bully you in to silence. Because, really, that's what those emails are about. Ken has been very up-front about his reasons for discussing the issue and from the context of the opening paragraph I get the distinct impression that making the posts neither picked the pockets nor broke the legs of the people who emailed. So it's simply a case of concern troll being concerned, which can be dismissed.

    But that brings me to point two: this happened to Ken. Similar things happened to me. I'm entirely positive that it also happened to NW Ohio Skeptic. A lot of people who read my blog popped in at one point or another to say that they liked the way I shared my feelings on leaving religion because they, too, were going through their own departure and didn't know anyone else who was. There are plenty of people who post here and probably a lot more who lurk who are undergoing a similar change.

    And there's a really good chance that at least some of them are being passive-aggressively bullied by some meddling busybody. By sharing the fact that these thing happen to him, Ken lessens the sometimes oppressive meddling of the self-appointed life choices judges. I consider that to be a Mitzvah.

    I'm guessing you don't, though, and would refuse to acknowledge that my point of view is valid. To forestall any of the standard objections to what I just said, I really don't care. Any argument that can be boiled down to, "You're making us look bad!" is one that gains no traction with me.

  8. I sent one of those emails and I assure you there was no bullying either in intent or content. Despite our worldview differences, Ken and I have had friendly relations for many years. I was surprised at the reference.

    I am of a mind that Ken is right to expose the issue. What was done, and how it was covered up was inexcusable. I believe this us incongruous with Christianity. There aren't any excuses.

    My concern (and you have already stated your disagreement with my view) is that this whole approach is still ad hominem at it's basic nature. Jesus himself said there would be wheat and tares. The presence of tares doesn't illegitimize wheat.

    But not all Christianity has the low view of women that fundamentalism has. Google Gordon Fee, a respected NT scholar who presents a sound textual basis for egalitarianism.

  9. "But not all Christianity has the low view of women that fundamentalism has."

    I think that most of the readership here knows that. Moreover, I don't think that's any sort of good reason not to point out that fundamentalism, by and large, *does* have a low view of women - or to point out specific instances where that view creates and/or exacerbates some very bad behavior.

    "My concern (and you have already stated your disagreement with my view) is that this whole approach is still ad hominem at it's basic nature."

    I also disagree with your view, though I can see see enough similarity to understand your concern. If our host were making the argument that Christians are bad people, and therefore you shouldn't listen to anything they have to say, that would be (a generalized) ad hominem.

    However, the argument being made (at least as I read it) is that, socially, these sorts of fundamentalist organizations are structured in a way that allows and perhaps even encourages these sorts of abuses; and, theologically, that incidents like this tend to contradict the claims that (this brand of) Christianity makes about how becoming a Christian makes you a better person. That's not even remotely an ad hominem.

    As to your initial comment ("I guess private emails aren't really private after all."), well... I would never have known that you sent one of those e-mails if you had not said so yourself. There is nothing about our host saying "I have received this specific criticism in regard to my previous posts" that violated your privacy in any way that I can see. So, to me personally, your response ("I guess private emails aren't really private after all.") looks not only inappropriate, but also whiny and manipulative.

  10. incidents like this tend to contradict the claims that (this brand of) Christianity makes about how becoming a Christian makes you a better person. That's not even remotely an ad hominem.

    That's as succinct an explanation of the idea as I can conceive of. But to add to the point, the very idea of the ad hominem is actually removed by the terms put forth by the people who are the subjects of these posts.

    See, the ad hominem attack works thusly:

    1. My opponent says the sky is blue.
    2. My opponent molests collies.
    3. Therefore, the sky is not blue.

    Now, at this point it doesn't actually matter if your opponent engages in the acts described in point 2. We know the sky is blue, it's a demonstrable fact verifiable by anyone. Since I have no other recourse (due to being, y'know, wrong. There's also the possibility that I don't know how to debate or that I am, in all actuality, an idiot and have to resort to childish name calling to get my point across), I have to attack the credibility of my opponent. Now, if my opponent is blind, then pointing that out is not an ad hom. However, some (real or invented) moral failing on the part of my opponent isn't an appropriate attack on his credibility.

    But let's consider the claims made by the exact sort of Christian of whom this story is about.

    1. The Bible is the sole/best/whatever arbiter of morality.

    2. Only by following the Bible can you be moral.

    3. Pastors are called by god to ministry and are closer to god and/or better able to interpret the Bible.

    At this point if you find a pastor engaging in morally questionable activity or helping to cover up morally questionable activity and point it out, you are not engaging in an ad hominem attack. You are, in point of fact, undercutting the very claims made by your opponent. In short, any time an argument for the truth of a source is built on moral grounds, attacks against the morality of its proponents cannot - by definition - be considered ad hominem attacks.

    By the same token, the moral failings of a pastor in New Hampshire cannot be used to judge the validity of the Bible or its stories. For that matter, they cannot be used to judge, say, Catholicism, the Eastern Orthodox, or the Nestorians. Different groups of Christians have different ideas about what humanity's ability to resist immorality and what the response to such failings should be.

    But for anyone who says that being a Christian means you're a more moral person than a non-Christian, all I have to do is point out that I have never in my life raped an underage girl (or anyone else, for that matter) and then forced her to apologize to the congregation for her shortcomings. Nor have I been made aware of another person doing it and covered for them. That's not an ad hominem, that's a direct answer to truth claim.

    So, to me personally, your response ("I guess private emails aren't really private after all.") looks not only inappropriate, but also whiny and manipulative.

    This, by the way, is where the "passive-aggressive bullying" idea comes in. You don't have to steal someone's lunch money to be a bully. All you have to do is try to convince them to silence themselves through threats. And, "Stop it, people will think you're a jerk," is very much a threat, even if it's passive-aggressive and whiny.

  11. Gentlemen,

    I prefer that we refrain from getting too personal in our evaluation of each other's arguments. I think we all have good motives even if we see things differently. I know DCGriff and he is not trying to "bully" me but he misunderstands the nature of my argument and my motives.

  12. DCGriff,

    I wonder what Fee does with the OT? I know he is a NT scholar so maybe he just ignores it?