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.


  1. Thank you so much for your clear articulation on this! Much needed and very much appreciated.

  2. I also love this analogy from Rachel Oblak on Facebook for those who say that we are judging Pastor Phelps too harshly:

    A man murders another church member, and the pastor finds out about it. Of course, he tells the murderer that he was wrong to have killed, but really it's the dead person's fault for having put himself in a compromising situation in which murder was possible. Since the murderer is a good man in good standing in the church, the pastor is concerned for how this will effect the murderer's reputation and ministry; therefore, he helps the murderer dispose of the body so that no one will find out. Sure, he reports the dead person as a missing person, but he fails to tell the police that he knows more. In fact, he implies that the dead person may have committed suicide. When it comes out that this pastor helped cover up a murder, a prestigious religious university elects the pastor to the board in a show of solidarity. After all, he didn't commit the murder. It's unfortunate that it happened in his church, but you can't hold him responsible for how he handled it. All of use make mistakes sometimes, right?

    Do you see how ridiculous that sounds when the crime is murder? Why is helping cover up a rape suddenly not a big deal? It's not that we want Phelps held accountable out of some illogical hatred. He did something terribly wrong, harmed a victim by taking the side of the perpetrator and helping the perpetrator, and has proven to be unrepentant for his actions. Surely it's not being too harsh to demand that someone who harmed a child by refusing to seek justice for her rape be held responsible for his actions. If I were to respond as Phelps did for Tina, I might remark that it's lucky he doesn't live in a place that follows Jesus' prescription for those who harm children (the millstone around the neck). Luckily, all we're asking is that BJU remove him from the board and that he be held accountable for his part in Tina's victimization.

  3. You explained quite eloquently what I believed about his answers, particularly that first question. When I first read that first question, I took it as "When was she raped?" When I read it again, his intentions and self-vindication became obvious. Thank you for exposing the kind of man (pastor) Phelps really appears to be.

  4. Something that disturbs me from the court transcripts from day 3:
    Re: Willis' statement about going up to her bedroom when the rape occurred. If she really had invited him up to her room and done everything like he said she did, then why do they claim she was only 1% at fault? She would be more like 50% or more at fault then. We know he lied on the stand, but wouldn't that put reasonable doubt on his testimony?