Monday, November 28, 2011

Thanksgiving, Belated

Dear Fundamentalism -

Thank you for everything you taught me.  Without you, I wouldn't be the person I am today.

Without you, I wouldn't have learned the importance of sound doctrine.  Because of your heterodox handling of, among other things, the sovereignty of God, the nature of sin, and the nature of salvation, I better learned the orthodox view.

Because of you, I've seen firsthand the worst possible way to deal with abuse victims.  Because of how badly you failed, I have learned the importance of abuse advocacy and know reporting laws a lot better.  (By the way, this should absolutely terrify you.)

Thank you for being so blatant in your contradictions. Unfortunately, it took me 25 years to figure it out myself; now that I have, I can't believe it took me that long.  You claim you believe salvation is by faith alone and not works; then you turn around and question the salvation of anyone whose works you disagree with.  You emphasize the importance of separation on issues as trivial as clothing and music yet fail to separate from abusers, rapists and those who protect them. You preach about honesty and then lie on national TV about unbiblical policies. You make it impossible for someone to afford to work for you without both husband and wife working, and then condemn mothers who work out of the home or in "traditionally male" occupations. Your overemphasis on separation and standards finally went beyond the pale and shattered the whitewashed facade.  Thank you for pushing the envelope so far.  It's easier to see the underlying logical fallacies when reality starts to resemble cariacature.

Thank you for being different enough from God that I didn't leave Him along with you.  Because of your inconsistencies and lies, your assertions that you alone represented God, His teachings, and the purest form of Christianity rang hollow.  And when that noisy gong and clanging cymbal insisted one too many times that it was instead a symphony of love, I finally threw away my counterfeit tickets and discovered the True Composer's performance was all around me.

So thanks to you, the wine is sweeter, the dance more joyful, the music freer, and the love more poignant.

From the bottom of my heart,

Clara English

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The New Year

Today, I celebrated Advent for the first time.  I made my first Advent wreath.  We will light our first Advent candle tonight. 

Since leaving Fundamentalism, I have discovered a wealth of Christian tradition that I never knew a thing about (and if I did, I disapproved of it).  How foolish and arrogant!  These are things that Christians have been doing for hundreds - if not thousands - of years.  They developed as pictures of Christ; signposts to point to Him; celebrations of the amazing Gift of God.  Fundamentalism dismisses these beautiful traditions, calls them "unchristian", and then replaces them with its own ersatz off-key cantatas and poorly-done guilt-laden church programs.  How sad to have separated so far from the lessons learned through the ages and to treat so much richness like so much rubbish.

The church today was festooned in blue.  The pastor's stole and chausable were rich royal blue; the deacon's stole was a glorious midnight blue with a sparkling embroidered gold star.  An advent wreath with one lit candle hung from the ceiling.  The service, while always beautiful, sparkled even more.  In the service we were taught that Advent is the beginning of the Church calendar; a season of expectant waiting for the gift of Christ.  A season of hope.  A season of renewal.  A time to begin anew.

As our nights grow longer and our days grow short,
we look on these earthly signs - light and green branches - 
and remember God's promise to our world.
Christ, our Light and our Hope, will come.
Listen to the words of Isaiah the prophet:
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light;
on those who lived in a land as dark as death
a light has dawned.
You have increased their joy
and given them gladness.

May it be so, Lord Jesus. The darkness of Fundamentalism has been so deep.  Oh, may it be so.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Alma Mater, Alma No Longer

Yesterday's discussion was to help clarify the discussion to follow.  As concluded yesterday, the one true glaring issue that perpetuates this controversy is Mr. Phelps' apparent inability or refusal to admit or apologize for any wrongdoing.

On Monday, Bob Jones University posted a statement online regarding their decision to keep him on the board despite an ever growing backlash among alumni and the community.

You know, if you didn't do your research, and especially if you approach it from a specific mindset, you might be fooled by this.  I understand that.  That was me in the past. But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let's just analyze the document.

Part 1: Setting the Stage

The first two paragraphs indicate the University heard the criticism and wants to humbly address the concerns.  It also says they want to do it in a spirit of forgiveness. 
"We try to listen and determine if there is something we need to change—and if there is—we change it. If we humbly listen to our critics, analyze the situation and don’t find cause for change, we then, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, determine whether or not to answer the criticism."
You know, this sounds great.  And if this school didn't have the history it did of stubbornly ignoring valid criticism to their detriment, I might even believe it.  But I'll try and give them a chance.  Let's see what else they have to say.

So how we handle disputes—with forbearance and forgiveness—has everything to do with bearing the identity of Jesus Christ.
Just who is the forgiveness and forbearance for here?  Pay close attention to this as we continue this analysis.  This is important.

We must speak the truth and speak the truth in love.
If they would listen to the people standing up and speaking the truth, I would be ecstatic. 

In 1997 a tragic incident took place in Concord, N.H. involving members of a church then pastored by Dr. Phelps. A 15-year-old girl in the congregation was raped by an older man who also attended the church.
This is refreshingly strong language.   Bravo.  But that part about the 15 year old girl then being put up in front of the congregation and being given some of the responsibility for being raped "in a compromising situation"?  Yeah, you forgot that minor detail.  Boo.

It was only this past summer—2011—that this man was charged and convicted for his crime.
 What a tragedy it took so long.  Whysoever did that occur?

We are grieved by the sin committed against this lady who was a young teenager at the time. And we are grieved that she will live with the horrible effects of this sin against her throughout her lifetime. Sin is real and so is its damage that only God’s grace can heal and restore.
This is good as well, insofar as the statement takes it.  Clearly we're only talking about the rape here, not the aftermath. The aftermath is the reason people are concerned with Mr. Phelps being on the board, yes?  Do you see how we deftly ignored the real problem by pinning it on something both sides agree on?  Ernie Willis' actions are not the reason Mr. Phelps is under scrutiny.  Mr. Phelps' actions are the reason Mr. Phelps is under scrutiny.

I'm glad to hear they are so grieved.  I'm interested to see if their actions correlate appropriately. Because if I were grieved for Tina in their place, I'd take some pretty specific actions.
Part 2 : Setting the Spin

Six paragraphs in, we finally get down to business. 
Bloggers have posted a wealth of information about this incident and how Dr. Phelps handled it. Dr. Phelps has been accused of not reporting the crime to officials, sending the girl out of state to hide the situation, harboring a criminal and protecting a sexual predator.
Ah, those pesky bloggers.  If only a national investigative news organization had looked into this, or the local news in Concord had covered and had a running twitter feed at the trial; or if even the police had (finally) gotten involved.  If only those people had known, then it wouldn't be poor BJU vs. The Bloggers. 

We believe that the biblical way to approach this information is to get all the facts before judging Dr. Phelps or his actions, including going directly to him for answers to questions.
Boom!  There it is.  You almost had me, BJU.   Do you see the sleight-of-hand?  Anyone? They said "get all the facts before judging".  Who did they go to?  They went to Mr. Phelps.  Is he the source of "all the facts" here?  Really?  Who was the main person Mr. Phelps offended?  IT WAS TINA ANDERSON.  DIDJA TALK TO TINA?  HUH?  DIDJA?

While the University maintained regular contact with Dr. Phelps since the matter came to light, we have recently spent time on Dr. Phelps’ website——and reading what the bloggers are saying. To verify facts and get our questions answered we called him and he answered our questions.
Any former or current students want to comment on how much their own testimony was valued when *they* were hauled in front of the Administration for an "investigation"?

After speaking with him and weighing the criticisms against the facts...
Facts according to whom?

...we have concluded that some of what is posted on the internet about this incident is true, but the majority is a little bit of truth mixed with a lot of opinion and speculation.
Yes, there is a lot of opinion and speculation. I agree.  Yet if these opinionated speculative people hadn't have been paying such close attention to this, the average person would not have the wealth of facts they have available now - and Mr. Willis would still be scot-free.  These people watched Mr. Phelps change his answers on his website.  They documented him stumbling on the witness stand and giving mind-bogglingly bad answers to straightforward questions.  There's plenty of incontrovertible evidence if you open your eyes.

Did Dr. Phelps do everything perfectly? No—nor would anyone make perfect judgments in similar circumstances.
How many times do I have to say this?  Nobody expected him to do everything perfectly.  What people are shocked and grieved at is the blatantly poor treatment of an abuse victim and a perpetuation of injustice with NO ATTEMPT AT AN APOLOGY.   Beyond that, it's not just a few minor things he "didn't do perfectly".  There were great big WRONGS.  What people expect is an admission of the wrong and an attempt at restoration.  And did you notice that BJU almost admitted he did something wrong here?  Careful gents.  You admit something went wrong and then you have to apologize and make it right.  Can't have that, now can we.

He has openly admitted this on his website.
Really?  Where?  Admitted what? I saw no apology.  Did you?  All I saw was some weak statements of "regret" and that he might do things differently now.  "Regret" is not repentence.  "Regret" is what you feel about eating lasagna when you have morning sickness and then unfortunately have to see it again.

The biblical principle is to go to the person directly and get facts before reaching a judgment.
Red herring!  This was a public matter.  Tina's "correction" or whatever you want to call it was shamefully public.  The trial was public.  I remember being taught in Fundamentalism that the scope of the offense helps determine the scope of the rebuke. But you go right ahead and keep breaking your own rules by repeating that old saw, gentlemen.  Because you do that too many times and people start to wake up.

What answers do you think Mr. Phelps would have given those who contacted him personally?  The same unsatisfying and vaguely disturbing answers he has on his website?

Dr. Phelps has offered to talk to several of his critics and even shared his phone number, but not one has called to talk with him directly.
Love it.  100% guilt trip.  Can't you see your Italian grandmother saying that?  You never call, you never write...

Part 3: The Shame of Social Media it can be used to tear down a person’s reputation with little verification of fact.
Feel like a broken record here.  The stuff everyone agrees happened is horrific enough.  Let's deal with that appropriately first and not excuse it because the "really bad stuff" is just speculation, shall we?

Part 4: The Shame on You

In conclusion, we cannot overlook the human side in all of this.
  • A teenage girl was raped—this is a tragedy.
  • A rapist is in jail—this is justice.
  • A faithful pastor is being pummeled in social media and his family maligned—this is unjust.
  • Our God is being grieved.

Every time you criticize Chuck Phelps, God kills a kitten is grieved.  See how the erroneous assumption is put on par with the two correct conclusions?  Clever.

The one-sentence distillation of this entire document?  "Please forgive Chuck Phelps and move on, because we're not taking him off the Board."


To forgive someone, there has to be a wrong to forgive.  Neither Mr. Phelps nor BJU have admitted any wrongdoing.  So, for what are we to forgive him?  If there is nothing to forgive, why are we being asked to do so? And if there is something to forgive, then why has he not apologized?  

*sigh*  I'm just so confused.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Good Vision Part 2

Ok, Fundy readers.  We need to have another talk.  About Chuck Phelps.  Again.  I'm sorry.  But a certain University has forced my hand.

(I also apologize in advance for being very screechy.  This is an important topic that should be pretty cut and dried for anyone with even a shred of an unseared conscience.  Shouting may not be the answer, but it's all I can do right now.)

The most common response, hands down, that I have received regarding concerns about this whole mess is "But have you read Chuck Phelps' website?".  I find this a bit puzzling, frankly. I'm not sure why his is the only explanation that counts.  And I'm not sure why people automatically assume I haven't.

Yes.  I have read his website.  It doesn't help his case much.  Why do his defenders act like it's the final word?

I have some simple questions for those who say that reading Dr. Phelps' explanations clarify everything.

1.  Why do you criticize those with concerns about Phelps for reading only one side of the story when that's exactly what you just did?  Why are Phelps' statements the only true ones?

2.  Did you know that he changed his website and contradicted some earlier statements when the 20/20 episode and the trial happened?  I don't personally have screenshots to prove it, but enough people out there were watching. In fact, his statements before the trial were brought up at the trial and made him look pretty bad.

3.  Speaking of getting the full story - why aren't we primarly looking to the trial transcripts?  That's where the real information is. That's where the conviction came from.  Chuck Phelps can say what he wants on his website and to University administrators doing an "investigation", but the statements he made under oath and with documentation from the time are likely the most reliable. And clearly the most damning.

Obviously, for my Fundy readers, it's going to take a line by line/precept on precept approach here.  So, let's dissect

"Specific Answers to Tough Questions"

1.  How old was Tina when she told her mother....etc.

2.  Was Ernie Willis a deacon?
Yes, some original bloggers breaking this story were initially wrong about this detail.  AGAIN, WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?  Does it make what happened ok because he wasn't?

3. Was Tina Anderson "disciplined" by Trinity Baptist Church?
I love the oily answers to this one.  I've heard this tone before; it's a virtual paternal pat on the head.Sorry, I don't fall for that any more.

Have any of you ever seen anybody brought up in front of the church to apologize for something and it was NOT a discipline session? No?  You sure?  Me either.   And a number of people who *were* in that service remembered it as a discipline session as well, not a "loving" session.  I've got my 2 or 3 witnesses contradicting what you're saying, Mr. Phelps.  Never mind that it has already been clearly established that the two incidents were presented as separate - Mr. Willis "broke his marriage vows" (translation: COMMITTED RAPE); Ms. Anderson "got in a compromising situation" (translation: GOT RAPED).  Just this alone should make anyone livid. 

As a sidenote, did you notice the number of times Phelps excuses something he did because "it's what Tina wanted to do"?  SHE WAS A 16 YEAR OLD RAPE VICTIM WHO HAD ALREADY BEEN SEXUALLY ABUSED BY HER FATHER.  SHE MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN THE BEST DECISION-MAKING SOURCE.  THAT WAS YOUR JOB TO GUIDE HER, MR. PHELPS. YOU WERE THE ADULT.

"Today, I would not allow such personal needs of a teenager to be presented to a congregation in an open forum.  I certainly regret that the well-intended actions taken in 1997 have been reinterpreted 13 years later as a purposeful shaming allowing many accusations to be brought against the good people of Trinity Baptist Church and against me, as the former pastor."

Let us make two things clear.  First - this is not an apology.  Not even close.  An apology would read, "This was wrong.  In fact, it might have been the worst possible way to handle this.  I am sorry that my actions, even if well-intended, caused so much harm to both Tina and the cause of Christ.  I have asked her forgiveness in private and in public for this."  If you don't believe me, contrast Phelps' attitude with what Joe Paterno said about his actions.
"This is a tragedy," Paterno said. "It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more." 
That is an apology, for those of you who have never seen men in authority do such a thing.  Mark it well.

Second - read that section again. Carefully.  Whose reputation is Mr. Phelps most concerned about?  If he were concerned about the cause of Christ, his response would have been different.  If he valued Tina like he says he and his church did, his response would have been different.  No, he is upset that people have said bad things about him and his church.  In my not-so-humble opinion, this reveals a lot about Mr. Phelps.
4.  Did you report?
I think he probably did.  And frankly, from my experience in Fundamentalism, if he did he was light-years ahead of what most pastors would have done.  It's small consolation, however.

5. Did the police follow up?
Anyone who has done any work among the abused is not surprised that the police didn't follow up.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "I reported and the police dismissed my claims or talked me out of reporting."  In fact, it's a minority of times where the police have acted in the best interest of the victim in my experience.


As someone who has reported abuse myself, I sure as hell followed up.  If I had heard that one of the reports I made was dropped or not followed or I was not contacted back, I would not have shrugged my shoulders and said "oh well".  This is a sorry excuse.  His statement, "...I believe that today I would be far more aggressive with other community professionals to assure that justice was served." is again, NOT AN APOLOGY.  An apology would say, "I'm sorry I wasn't aggressive enough and let this injustice perpetrated by the police stand.  I have asked Tina's forgiveness for this."

6.  The question regarding letting Willis stay in the church
This is another red herring.  Yes, it is true that the church is a "hospital for the sick", as Mr. Phelps claims.  Yet in the hospital, if someone has a contagious disease that will damage other sick (or well) people with whom they come in contact, they are put in isolation and prominent brightly colored signs warn everyone who enters their room of the danger and how to protect themselves.  Mr. Phelps failed to put up those signs, and this is what the critics are truly concerned about.  And the juxtaposition of Tina being removed and isolated as though her victimization would damage her school-mates - well, that's the truly sick part.

7. Do you believe that you should have been more forthcoming in sharing the details of this matter when it occurred?
Well, now he gets all concerned about legality and propriety.  Sorry, but it's a little late.  The whole ostensible public support-group-session was antithesis of legality and propriety.  Pull the other one, it's got bells on it.

8.  Was Tina's move to Colorado a beneficial experience?
This is a distraction technique, and I have heard this kind of nonsense from more than one person trying to excuse their bad behavior.  "Well, no permanent damage was done."  They point to Tina's accomplishments as proof that what they did was ok rather than considering she turned out ok by the grace of God and *despite* their ham-handed treatment of her.

9. What was your part in the adoption process?
Translation: "Tina wanted this.  It was her choice.  She was perfectly happy at the time.  What is your problem?"  Yes, God redeemed this awful situation and brought good out of it.  But Mr. Phelps was a great deal of the awful, and it's really bad form for him to try to claim some of the good.

"According to Tina's Mom" - this document I'm not even giving the time of day. The document is full of Phelps-worship and vicious insinuations.   Her behavior is unfortunately common in cases of abuse - the non-offending parent protects the abuser rather than the abused.  I've personally seen this behavior before, and it marks her statements as very untrustworthy.

The "More Answers" section is basically he-said/she-said.  It's difficult to definitively say who is right here based on the public record.  However, as I said in my first treatment of this topic, there is enough horror already documented that these points are just coals to Newcastle even if they are true.  But one thing I do wonder - where's the mentioned "Statements Released to 20/20" document, eh?  The one that contradicted some of the trial testimony?  Yeah, that one.

"After The Trial"
This document is the icing on the whole bizarro cake. In it, Mr. Phelps finally uses the strong language he has avoided at every turn prior to this point.  I do appreciate that he finally calls rape what it is; would God he had been so clear and sure 13 years ago.  However, one statement disturbs me greatly:
"...the release of this information (his notes) no doubt played a very important part in bringing this matter to justice."  
 You mean the notes he fought to keep from being presented in court, claiming clerical privilege?  Those notes?  And now he's taking some credit for the conviction because of them?  Unbelievable.  Where was this concern for justice 13 years ago, Mr. Phelps?

So in conclusion, Chuck Phelps' website is no defense. In fact, anyone who examines it in light of the public record finds much of it to ring hollow and raise even more disturbing questions.  By no means is any part of it even close to a much-needed apology.

And that's the one action that would go the longest way towards silencing the critics.  An apology.  Just apologize for the mistakes and poor choices.  I can't count the number of sermons I heard in fundamentalism stressing the importance of repentance in forgiveness and restitution.  There has been no repentance, public or private. Yet he is defended as a humble man who merely had the misfortune of being the object of a smear campaign.  Unconscionable.

Next up?  A discussion of Bob Jones University's astounding statement regarding their decision to keep Chuck Phelps on the board.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Independence Day

A year ago today, I was asked to leave.

It was the Friday before Thanksgiving.  I was approached and told there had been "too many complaints" about me.  I asked what kind of complaints they were, and the subject was changed.  This person started to say that my "feelings" about the Institution were well known - and then seemed to realize they'd said too much and quickly went to yet another topic.  I was told I was brusque, unkind, and "steamrolled" those around me.  Again, no examples were forthcoming.  I was finally told I clearly had too many philosophical differences with the Institution, and I should think about whether or not I belonged there.  And then I was told we would discuss it further after the holidays - around January sometime.  (A long time to let the axe dangle, eh?)

I was devastated.  Completely crushed.  Suicidal that weekend, frankly.  I realize now that this "talk" was intended to keep me off balance and make me feel uncertain of myself.  We all have self-doubt, and master manipulators prey on this natural tendency quite well.

Over the weekend I talked to a few friends to get their perspective to make sure I was being objective, and they were all shocked at what had been alleged. 

Fortunately, by the time the weekend ended, my survival instincts kicked in and I woke up to what was really going on.  I wasn't a failure.  I wasn't bad at my job.  I wasn't mean to people.  I had merely made the wrong people uncomfortable. 

The next week, I was fawned over by this person.  "How are you doing?" they simpered in the hallway.  Another classic emotional manipulation manuever - they cut the legs out from under you in private and then pretend to be your friend and care for you in public.

For the next several weeks, I had an unusual number of compliments from uninvolved people about how I did my job.  I mean embarrassingly nice things. One after another.  Also during that time, I was organizing some of my old documents and ran across some papers from my past secular institution education.  They were letters of recommendation praising my interpersonal skills.  One was a letter to me from classmates (we all wrote down each other's good qualities and turned them in to the instructor; he compiled them and handed us each our own list).  Again, this list refuted, nearly verbatim to the point, much of what I had been accused of. It became obvious God was confirming that I had been lied to. 

Late January rolled around, and I was approached again.  "What is your decision?" was the opening salvo.  Unfortunately, since I had already realized the initial chat had been a threat, I replied that I was leaving instead of questioning, "What do you mean, what is my decision? Decision about what? You said we would talk further after the holidays about my problems - what am I supposed to be deciding?" But no, I took the coward's way out and let it slide. 

I still wish I had had the courage to confront this person about what they did.  This person has been manipulating for so long though, it would have been a dangerous proposition.  Maybe someday when I'm healthier emotionally.  I'm getting there.  Talking about this doesn't give me the pit in my stomach it once did - I can even laugh about it.

But seriously, in a sense, this person was right.  I *did* have some serious philosophical differences.  I believe that disabled persons have a right to basic accommodations and should not be told they're being selfish for asking for them.  I believe parents should not beat their children.  I believe teachers should not physically assault students.  I believe the victims of sexual assault/abuse are not at fault for the crimes perpetrated against them and  the police need to be involved.

And if standing up to Important People and confronting wrong on these issues makes me disloyal and a threat, then so be it.

I'd do it all over again.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Penn and the Sword

At Penn State, the public at large becomes aware of a sexual assault cover-up, and heads roll.

At Bob Jones University, the public at large becomes aware of a sexual assault cover-up, and the primary person involved in covering it up remains part of the school's Co-Operating Board of Trustees.

And the Chancellor of the University's reply to one concerned alumna?

Dear [Alumna]:

The Bob Jones University board of trustees is made up of God-fearing men and women. For them to remain on this board they must be walking with God and living righteously. Their personal and ministry integrity is the requisite above all others which qualifies them to be members in good standing.  None would be retained whose life or ministry was found to be in violation of the Scriptures.

Kind regards,

Bob Jones III
Chairman, Board of Trustees
Bob Jones University

When a secular University at least attempts to make something right while a "Christian" University denies there's even a problem, there is something deeply, inherently wrong. This is unacceptable. This is ungodly.

Amos 5
1 Listen, you people of Israel! Listen to this funeral song I am singing:

7 You twist justice, making it a bitter pill for the oppressed. You treat the righteous like dirt.

10 How you hate honest judges! How you despise people who tell the truth!

12 For I know the vast number of your sins and the depth of your rebellions. You oppress good people by taking bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
13 So those who are smart keep their mouths shut, for it is an evil time.
14 Do what is good and run from evil so that you may live! Then the LORD God of Heaven's Armies will be your helper, just as you have claimed.
15 Hate evil and love what is good; turn your courts into true halls of justice. Perhaps even yet the LORD God of Heaven's Armies will have mercy on the remnant of his people.

18 What sorrow awaits you who say, "If only the day of the LORD were here!" You have no idea what you are wishing for. That day will bring darkness, not light.

21 I hate all your show and pretense— the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.

23 Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.

May God bring justice.