I don’t know everything about these cases in the CREC, that’s what people say. I don’t know what the elders know, and I’m just stirring the pot needlessly. So I should just stop talking about it.
Here’s the truth: I’ve known far more about these sexual abuse cases than what I’ve published or commented on, and with Natalie deciding today that she was comfortable sharing a letter Doug Wilson wrote back in August of 2005, I can now discuss it publicly. Natalie’s story behind the letter Doug wrote is laid out here. In this letter to an officer who was involved in collecting evidence for the court case, Doug notes that “I do not believe this situation in any way paints Jamin as a sexual predator,” claiming that he was privy to “confessions” from the family that proves Jamin Wight is not a sexual predator — namely, that the family knew there was a romantic relationship between 24-year-old Jamin and 14-year-old Natalie. Knowing how much pain the family has already gone through I’m not getting all that far into the details, but it is relevant to point out that this particular vein of victim-blaming set the family at odds with one another (such things plant the seed of doubt and paranoia — maybe someone else made the confession and now is denying it?) and helped to drive them apart. Suffice it to say that as far as I have been able to figure, no such confession was ever made. Certainly what Doug claims to the court is true is not in fact true — and if it was true, legally speaking, it should have made zero difference. 14-year-olds can’t legally consent to sexual relationships with 24-year-olds, even if, for the sake of argument, the 14-year-old’s family is shoving the two together aggressively. But regardless of the fact that this assertion should have made zero legal difference, it seems to have had an impact on Jamin Wight’s sentencing.
So why would Doug assert such a thing, under privilege of his role as a confessor — that a big chunk of the blame of this statutory rape case lay with the family? Did Jamin convince him this was true? Does Doug want the parents and the victim to be at fault rather than (only) the perpetrator? Did Doug have some other reason to assert all this to the court? Again, I don’t know, but I can say: follow the money trail of the break up of this particular family and observe how Doug ties in.
In any case, I’m happy that these things are finally being brought into the light of day.
I first encountered Doug Wilson 15 years ago, as a 19-year-old several months out of homeschooling. I was attending an event with my new housemates, whom I’d picked to live with because they were all good Christian girls like me. I spotted him across the room, surrounded by a crowd of starry-eyed students who obviously had dreams of some kind of Christian Oxford and who laughed at all his jokes. I hung back and watched. By all accounts I wanted to attend a Christian Oxford myself, having longed for the real thing since I was six years old. By all accounts, I should have been right there with them, starry-eyed. But I wasn’t. They were laughing too hard, and he wasn’t all that funny, and it was setting off quiet alarm bells in my head. Why, I wondered vaguely, did he feel the need to surround himself with such a rapt, inexperienced audience?
Over the last 15 years I’ve attended CREC Bible studies, made CREC friends, lived with them, worked with them. I had to pay attention because I reported on the Southern Slavery As it Was controversy, and I wanted to be accurate. I married someone who was part of the NSA zoning complaint, and things got weirder from there. Afterwards, even more than usual, people felt comfortable talking about the things they’d dealt with growing up in the CREC, or marrying into it — and not just the stories everyone knew. They had very few people to talk about this stuff with: their friends currently in the CREC didn’t want to hear it, interpreted their pain as “sin.” The people who had never been abused in the name of religion were puzzled by it. Their eyes would glaze over. Why do you still care about this stuff, they’d ask. Why can’t you just move on?
Why can’t they move on? I think for some, it’s a grieving process. Their parents, their spouses, their loved ones hurt them repeatedly and called it goodness — spanked them bloody because “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Raped them bloody because “render to the husband due benevolence.” This is more traumatic than dealing with death, in some ways. It requires re-evaluating your belief system, your belief in your parents, your loved ones. Your belief in your pastors or your elders. Your belief in the sacredness of your texts.
If the gospel is a cudgel used to beat down the least of these, the gospel should be overthrown. If the gospel lifts up the least of these, before and above the strongest of these, the gospel should be embraced.
Where Christ Church, or any church, uses the gospel as a cudgel, it should be called out. In the past, elders who disagreed with Christ Church on how to treat the poor and the hurting were shuffled off into oblivion. And now Christ Church is attempting to do the same thing with its congregants.
The elders of Christ Church far overstep the bounds of sane intervention in many, many cases I’ve seen or heard of them getting involved in, and they do not want anyone talking about their failures in the process — to the point that many do not want to publicly speak out against them. Doug Wilson writes ominously on his blog about how people “’like’ articles and posts they shouldn’t, and don’t seem to be aware that what they are doing is quite visible and consequential” — and, in fact, a number of people in his congregation or on the fringes of it have liked things calling the pastors out, only to get reprimanded for this. When your elders and pastors monitor your social media for likes or dislikes of their regime and decision-making, this should be raising alarm bells like crazy.
The expectation that people stay silent on these issues doesn’t stop with monitoring social media. One anonymous person detailed that her now-ex somehow recorded her phone conversations (likely for reasons related to the break up of their relationship) and gave them to the Christ Church elders who were counseling her — something I independently verified. By her own admission, she hadn’t acted well all the time, but let me just say, the temptation to act out against people who are spying on you in the name of “keeping you from gossip and slander” can be pretty strong even in the best of times. And frankly, it doesn’t matter what this person was saying about the Christ Church elders or anything else: it doesn’t give them the right, legally or ethically, to listen in to private conversations she had.
My friend says, “I spent years running from Jesus, and they were sucky years. But a church here in Moscow Idaho loved me and took me as their own. They didn’t care if I went to church high or dressed like a bum — they genuinely cared. For some reason, I kept hearing through someone who went to Christ Church that I needed to apologize to one of the elders if I truly had been saved. Long story short, my pastor encouraged me to write an email and put this chapter behind me.”
This is what she wrote: Hi there [name redacted],
I’m sure you’ve heard through the grapevine that I was saved some months ago — I’m doing really well and faithfully attending [specific church], as well as meeting with my pastor on a regular basis and I’m very thankful for their support through the last five or six months! It’s been a roller coaster of emotions and different things getting “cleaned up” as you can imagine. I did want to fix things with you, and to be honest I know it will sound like I’m trying to avoid apologizing specifically but I’m not. I have forgotten a lot of things that I probably should apologize for, it’s just been a long time and I’ve been through ten thousand more things since then. I do know you spent a lot of time with [redacted person’s name] and I, and I know it was probably miserable in most ways due to my behavior. I was not a believer, I didn’t trust anyone but myself and my own desires and I know I slandered you, the church, your help — I lied, I was a drunken mess and I would like to ask your forgiveness for these things. As well as anything I’ve done that I can’t remember! 🙂 I’m very excited to move on with my life with a clean slate and be a part of [church’s name] ministry — I hope you and your family are well!
The elder’s response: Wow. That’s great news! I’d love to talk with you. How about Monday at 1:30?
Her response: Hi there
Well what is the reason to meet? I just want to put this chapter behind me and move on and to be honest a meeting with you scares me so I’m not inclined to do that.
The elder’s response: Hi [redacted name],
A couple of things spring to mind: First, I suppose I thought the reason you wrote was to repair our relationship. The Bible tells me that if a person comes to me and says they repent from the sin they have committed against me, I’m supposed to forgive them (Lk. 17:3-4). I’m happy to do that with you. However, I don’t consider an email full of vague generalizations, “coming to me and asking for forgiveness.” It looks a lot like just the same old lying, sinning, controlling, and conniving [redacted name], doing what she’s always done.
Second, I was looking forward to hearing how you “got saved.” I think that would be a wonderful thing. I was all for it and very encouraged to hear that things have changed for you. Your response to my invitation rocked me a bit. “What is the reason to meet?” Well, to let me rejoice with your new life, to repair the ruins of our relationship, to encourage me that God is gracious and works in the lives of people who don’t deserve it.
This little exchange has done one thing for me. It inspires me to write something on what it means to “get saved.” What you got was not saved if I scare you. There was nothing scary about me when you were meeting with me before. Now that you’re supposedly on my side, you’re afraid of me? Give me a break. Coming to Christ means dying to yourself (Mk. 10:21). This means that nothing in your life matters more than receiving the blessing of God in repairing the relationships you’ve destroyed by sinning against folks. You’ve not done this, therefore, you are not saved!
Just so you know, I’d love to have this chapter of your life behind me as well. But this is not how it happens.
So, this Christ Church elder is claiming that in order to be a Christian, you have to meet with him and apologize for a list of specific sins, even if you find him potentially terrifying thanks to all those conversations he was listening in on. In fact, if you’re scared of him, you’re “not saved.” If you don’t want to meet with him, you’re “not saved.” That sounds totally like the gospel. Just kidding! It sounds like threatening someone with hellfire if they resist your control-freak behavior.
Fortunately, this person’s current pastor stepped in and wrote this elder that “there is no need to restore the relationship with you specifically in order for her to repent, forgive, and restore her to good standing within the congregation, which is the goal of all this.”
He goes on to say “fear does not call someone’s salvation into question. That is simply silly. Whether or not you see that you are intimidating to her is of no consequence. Nor is whether or not you meant to be. The truth is, she is scared of you. And I will testify first hand that this is not an attempt to run from responsibility. She has owned as much as she knows how to own. But you scare her. I would not be a good pastor to let her run into what she and I both deem as ‘harm’s way.’”
But things don’t stop there. Shortly after I read through this exchange for the first time, a strangely familiar-sounding letter popped up on the CREC Center For Biblical Counseling’s webpage, embedded in a “fictional” story about a really bad sinner who needed to get forgiveness from this great guy he’d wronged.
So, let’s recap: the CREC’s tactics for “Biblical Counseling” include shady information-gathering to keep tabs on “gossip,” threatening your former counselees’ salvation if they don’t agree to meet with you, and publishing their letters with a few slight changes if they piss you off.
With that in mind, I don’t feel bad at all publishing these particular letters and asking people: is this how you want your counselors and elders acting? And at what point will you break your silence about these and other injustices, even where the people the pastors and elders are mistreating are “sinners”?