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Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice…

When he was 38 years old, Ernie Willis (allegedly) raped 15 year old Tina Anderson, his family’s babysitter. I say “allegedly” to cross all my legal Ts and dot my technical Is. She was already at risk — her stepdad was in prison at that time for sexually molesting Tina. And she found herself pregnant, (allegedly) carrying Ernie’s child.

When she and her single mother told her pastor — Bob Jones University Board Member, Chuck Phelps — his response was to put her in front of the church for “discipline,” shuttle her out of state to Colorado away from the investigation where she birthed her child and put her up for adoptionWillis admitted his own paternity of the child on the adoption papers, but the courts will sort through the rest of the details in good time. You can read the linked articles to catch up on the specifics. Phelps gives his version of the events here and here.

While we wait for justice, we who are close to fundamentalism are reeling. One friend of mine had to speak. She cannot use her name (yet). She is a working-outside-the-home mom who sees the effects of fundamentalism’s “hard patriarchy” first hand.

As a recovering fundamentalist, the Tina Anderson/Trinity Baptist Church case has had a particularly profound impact on me. It has taken me some time to figure out just what I found so compelling, however. It isn’t as though I haven’t dealt with poorly-handled sexual abuse situations in Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) circles before; in my current line of work I stumble upon them more often than I care to think about. While I cannot adequately express my sadness at what happened to her, her ordeal has finally opened my eyes to a deeper issue.

There is much teaching on the submission of wives to their husbands in fundamentalist circles. In extreme cases, submission is taught as complete floormat-hood for every woman to every man; in less extreme circles, it’s taught in a manner that does not appear to go beyond the biblical teaching – or at least not very far beyond it. Yet sermons on the topic have always bothered me, no matter how progressive the take on the concept. I struggled to uncover the problem, and I honestly couldn’t identify it. All I knew is that my heart would scream over and over that Something. Is. Not. Right.

The Tina Anderson case has finally revealed the reason for the struggle. Despite their assurances that what they were teaching did not mean that women were inferior in any way just because they were required to submit, in reality, the vast majority of IFB leaders do not truly believe that men and women are “equal but with different roles”. They say they do. Many probably even believe they do. Yet their actions consistently prove otherwise.

Again and again, when a case of sexual abuse or rape occurs in IFB circles, it is minimized, covered over, or in some other way hushed up. The woman involved is told to forgive, forget, and move on – or, shamefully, even to confess “her role” in the crime. The man is rarely disciplined or brought to justice – and if he is, the woman is also punished. If the woman struggles with PTSD flashbacks from her attacks, she is told she is indulging in pornographic thoughts. If she struggles with anger over the injustice of what happened to her, she is bitter; if she wishes to pursue justice via legal means, she is unforgiving.

Why?

Because the woman is not truly seen as equal. It’s the only explanation that accounts for the consistently bad response in these circumstances – a response that is then justified by misapplication of scripture. If you still don’t belive me, I invite you to consider your reaction to the concept brilliantly illustrated at Stuff Fundies Like. It was a revelation for me as well.

The reason the Tina Anderson case was and continues to be handled in an appalling way? Tina is a woman, and the rapist and authority figures in the case are men. It’s that simple. And now that I’ve figured it out, I will never feel guilty for my heart’s cry again.

We’ve got trouble, folks. In Fundy City and beyond. Trouble with a Capital T.

27 thoughts on “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice…

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    Seriously???? A flashback is a “pornographic thought.” In my years dealing with this I have NEVER heard that. This reflects ignorance at a level until now undiscovered. It takes a lot to surprise me, but this one has me mouth open and speechless.

  2. Yup, Jim, it’s nouthetic. I am choosing to picture and replay immoral actions. They may have been done to me, but now I am an active participant in thinking on things that are not pure and of good report. And of course I need to confess these thoughts and begin replacing them with scripture memory or getting involved in acts of serving my church in ways that are appropriate for a woman. Put off, put on principle. Reoccurring nightmares about the abuse are a result of the sin of unforgiveness.

  3. This mirrors the Emma Sterritt case in the Free Presbyterian church. I spoke with both Emma and her parents and was sickened beyond words at the treatment of this then 12-year-old babysitter after she was assaulted by the son of an elder in their Toronto church. Men–pastors and elders, smearing a little girl victim, protecting the perpetrator, and doing it in God’s name. It is an outrage.

    1. Hello Val! I am researching into the case with Emma S. Very sad situation. I am curious as to the details surrounding the case as I know it was many years ago, so info is hard to find. I have several articles on hand, but find them to be somewhat sketchy. I really wanted to try and get the police report, and possibly a court case report if that were open to the public. I certainly do not want to open old wounds for this courageous woman. I have four daughters of my own, and this has come to light for us because we have had issues within this denomination, although not with pastors, elders, or deacons. I just sense an element of glossing over things, which I find important, to be an issue. For me at least it is. Thanks! My “mom radar” is on high alert now.

  4. Tears. I’m sad this morning for the bondage this group has so many people in. The crimes perpetuated and covered in the name of God are so.very.wrong. But I’m also amazed at how many people’s eyes are being opened, one person at a time. Let the walls come down. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

  5. What continues to blow my mind was the response of the regular “Sharper Iron” crew to the articles written on giving pastoral counsel in sexual abuse cases. Of the 67 responses on the first thread I read, uncomfortably close to 50 lay blame directly at the feet of the “alleged victims.” When you can’t even bring yourself to admit that there *are* victims of sexual abuse… Sad. Pathetic. Heart-rending… sad.

  6. I have mixed emotions on this story. I find it appalling that a rape victim is subject to church dicipline. Legally there is no such thing as consential sex between an adult and a child of 15.

    The pastor did turn the case over to the authorities. If the girl did leave town and not pursue prosecution the solicitor has no case. What I don’t think that Jeri demonstrates in this case is that the girl was rushed out to Colorado to cover up the alleged rapists actions. If the church diciplined him for his actions, and turned it over to the authorities what more should they do? What I don’t know is if the alleged rapist was allowed to remain as a memeber in good standing in the church. Somehow I think that he was not.
    Chuck Phelps was a class mate of mine in school. By in large I respected him as a person with good judgement. Jeri does a good job of documenting cases of Hyles type of abuse. I do not think this exactly fits the same stereotype.

  7. I have seen this picture of this poor little girl several times and every time it breaks my heart! Look at that sad face! She has definitely been crying! Was this picture taken right before she was FORCED to give away her own child?!

  8. Yes, Margaret. That’s why she’s in tears.

    @Sid — I said this on Facebook, so I’ll just in essence repeat it here. The summary of the case that you give has not yet been proven. I understand as Phelps’ friend you want those facts to be the case, but the investigation is ongoing. Time will tell.

  9. My parents and sister go to Phelp’s current church. When it came out a few weeks ago, and after the church had made a statement, my sister told us point blank that it was the girls fault. “if she didn’t want it, she wouldn’t have let him in her house”

  10. “It isn’t as though I haven’t dealt with poorly-handled sexual abuse situations in Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) circles before”

    I think I’d lump sexual sin in there as well. All of it. Fornication you name it. They handle all of it horribly. But yes I’ve seen first hand how horribly they handle sexual abuse situations. Somehow the woman always bears some of the fault. This situation is a worst case. I hope it opens the eyes of people. Unfortunately there is so many obvious wrongs that the real problem tends to get glossed over. This case isn’t about shuttling off Tina and making her stay quiet. It is really about mistreatment of women in general and a complete bastardization of the gospel as it relates to sexual sin. The doctrine is what needs to be fixed. I hope and pray that will be the end result of this. Tina’s story needs to be about a fundamental shift of doctrine. I fear that it will only lead to IFB being more “careful” in these situations.

  11. Mark, you’re probably right–the end result will be admonitions to be more careful at how these situations could “appear.” Appearance is always the main concern. How I wish I could have heard, “Just do the right thing no matter what anybody THINKS about it.” After all, that’s what Jesus did. But with such a wrong headed emphasis on “appearances” I think we have seared our collective consciences and have confused ourselves on what is actually moral and good.

    This picture makes me cry every time I see it. I see a very young horribly mistreated child who looks like she’s crying herself. She has been away from her mother throughout the entire pregnancy and her baby is just about to be stolen from her. And that’s not even mentioning the crime against her that got her pregnant in the first place. How anyone could blame the child in this picture and force her to do what these “men of god” forced her to do is evil. The crimes of the IFB just take my breath away and may even be worse than physical rape she endured.

    My heart longs to hear how Tina, her mother, and her daughter are really doing. I search every day for news that the religious perpetrators have asked Tina and the world for forgiveness. I desperately hope for justice and jail sentences for all Tina’s rapists.

    Thanks, Camille for the analysis. You’re exactly right. All through my time of BJU abuse, I listened to the justifications by the administration and couldn’t quite figure out what wasn’t right. This is it. They were telling me one thing while they systematically did another. They told me they were doing the right thing as they unceremoniously, ungraciously clobbered me. They did evil to me and insisted it was God’s will for me.

    God help all victims of injustice done in God’s name. We need it.

  12. Hi all,
    I am late in the game on this one. But as a pastor, this story has angered me more than anything in years. My heart goes out to Tina.

    @ Sid,

    While I applaud Chuck for turning this over at the beginning he still did not handle this well. Just because Phelps told authorities doesnt mean he did all he had to. If a person did this in my church, before I and the other leaders would consider him repentent he would have to turn himself in. Anything short of that, is not repentance. It is obvious that did not happen – Willis still pleaded not guilty (not what someone who is repentant does).

    This has been one of many things about this case that has bothered me from the moment this story broke.

    @ Everyone else,

    The more of these stories that break the angrier I get. What I am doing to channel that anger is to take steps to make sure we do all we can to protect people in our little church.

  13. Recovering fundamentalist. Guess that is what I am. Oh the scars and the pain and I am just getting to the point where I can begin facing it all. I appreciate your blog so much and yet I have a hard time reading it because it brings up so much pain on so many levels. Thank you for being faithful to point the way to freedom.

    Tammy

  14. “The summary of the case that you give has not yet been proven. I understand as Phelps’ friend you want those facts to be the case, but the investigation is ongoing. Time will tell.”

    I guess time will tell does not count in your opening post? It seems that you already have your mind made up on how everything really happened. Maybe you should have waited for the real facts to come out and then write about it.

    Right now I am siding on Chuck’s side of the story and give him the benefit of the doubt. Although I agree with you that there will be real trouble if your opening post proves indeed true.

  15. I guess time will tell does not count in your opening post? It seems that you already have your mind made up on how everything really happened. Maybe you should have waited for the real facts to come out and then write about it.

    No need to be passive-aggressive, PvR. I have the facts from Tina enough to know and enough to speak. Sure, you don’t like it. That’s not a surprise.

    Right now I am siding on Chuck’s side of the story and give him the benefit of the doubt. Although I agree with you that there will be real trouble if your opening post proves indeed true.

    Of course you are. All the facts I presented in this post are verified by the press and the police report. Anything that hasn’t been proven is modified by the adverb “allegedly.” So yeah, it’s true.

  16. You are correct that there are a lot of facts in your opening post. But the presentation of those facts have a little spin on them.

    The way I see the facts:
    1.Girl was (allegedly) raped by man and got pregnant.
    2.Girl went to Colorado
    3.Girl had baby adopted
    4.Girl comes back 15 years later and accuses the man of rape.

    The way that Tina recounts those events and the way that Pastor Chuck recounts those events are different. And those will have to be sorted out in court. If you say that what Tina said were all facts then you will have to say that what Chuck said were all facts too. And we both know those two accounts don’t add up a 100%. And honestly there are probably some holes in both stories. Chuck is definitely not above reproach in this matter either to say the least.

    Having said that I do appreciate you and stuffundieslike and other websites in making me aware of these things since I was unaware of it until I came across your site today. Sorry I am late for the party. I do want to know how this concludes and how people will react to this.

  17. PvR, I respectfully, yet emphatically say that you are missing the point completely.

    The facts that make this case particularly appalling are not up for debate and do not depend on with whom you side.

    The most important issue at stake for fundamentalism here is that the victim was blamed for the crime and forced to apologize.

    Let that sink in.

    The VICTIM. Was BLAMED. For the crime perpetrated AGAINST *HER*.

    Fine. Yes. The criminal investigation is continuing and details being fleshed out, and reserving judgment on those details is wise.

    However, there are plenty of undisputed facts that are outrageously shocking. Why those have been and continue to be ignored is beyond me.

  18. The idea that the victim was blamed is appalling. The idea that she was forced to write a letter of apology is appalling. The idea that she gets 1% of the blame is appalling. Making her believe that she brought the rape onto herself in any way is appalling.

    My only hang up here is that Chuck Phelps denies that the blame was ever put on her in any way. So now I am left with a choice. Do I believe Chuck Phelps or the girl?

    This is a serious question I struggle with right now: Am I allowed to be outraged against Chuck Phelps even though in my mind I can’t prove he blamed the girl in any way? The reason I say I can’t prove it since it is his word against hers.

    Am I missing a fact somewhere? Is there a third party that can confirm some of the claims made from both sides?

  19. PvR, did you read the original article? Did you see the part where it says the only reason the police learned about the case was because an ex-member of Phelps’ church, not someone that Tina Anderson knew, tipped off a Baptist abuse survivors group on Facebook? How is that not sufficient third party confirmation?

    1. According to Chuck he went to the police TWICE. This should be easily verifiable in the court case. Like I said the court will hopefully shed some light on this.

  20. PvR, I don’t understand how you can say that Chuck Phelps didn’t blame her.

    He made her stand up in front of the church and apologize. That’s blaming. How can that be anything but?

    1. This is another instance of: She said one thing, he said another. her word vs his word. How can you tell who is telling the truth? If you have that magic ability please send me some of that, please! No but seriously it takes trust to believe either story. Right now I don’t trust either of them. So I am hoping a third party can actually verify what really went down.

  21. I’m very late to this so I don’t know if you will see this, PvR, but …

    <>

    The huge error in this is that any sexual relationship between an adult and a child is rape. Period. So it doesn’t matter how ‘Pastor Chuck’ recounts those events. It was rape. She was a victim.

    1. She was a victim of rape and that doesn’t change.

      But we are discussing whether Chuck’s response was appropriate or not. And that question can only be answered by knowing the facts. Right now it is her word against his word. I don’t think you can take everything that both have said as facts since they contradict each other.

      You are allowed to take sides based on what has been said. But I personally can’t do that at this point since I rather wait for the court to decide what is true and what is not true.

      I am not defending Pastor Chuck. Clearly he did not follow through in getting the alleged rapist arrested or to get him to voluntarily go to the police. If you are expecting that guy to be arrested and nothing happens…surely you would follow through and make it happen. That’s my biggest hangup.

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