I keep hearing a rumbling in the distance somewhere, the yonder droning on of what I believe sounds like survivor blogs, cackling and clucking about Douglas Wilson and pedophiles. Here are the facts (so it seems):
- A pedophile named Steven Sitler had become a part of Christ Church, where Douglas presides.
- When Sitler’s crimes were exposed to Wilson over a decade ago, he encouraged those who had discovered it to go the authorities, which happened. Sitler was then prosecuted and convicted and eventually, released.
- Sitler seemed, to Wilson at least, to be penitent
- Guidelines were enforced concerning Sitler’s attendance and involvement at Christ Church, including having to attend with a trained chaperone to keep an eye on him
- Writing a letter to the judge during the sentencing phase of Sitler’s trial, Wilson wrote that he was pleased Sitler “would receive hard consequences in real time” and was “grateful he would be sentenced for his behavior” but that he desired the punishment to be “measured and limited.”
- Wilson officiated the wedding between Sitler and a young woman in the church, who was privy to Sitler’s past and cognizant of the realities of being married to a sexual offender
- That young woman was living in the home of an elder, and supposedly had asked they help her find a husband. It’s been speculated (actually, stated by Sitler himself) that the elder was instrumental in setting her up with him, who had asked and received permission to court her from her parents.
- There were legal hoops for the two to jump through in regards to certain government agencies fearing that there was just cause to worry that Sitler would re-offend, possibly with whatever children may come from his own marriage.
- Essentially, it seems, the court gave reluctant approval to the marriage, with a warning that should children enter the scenario, there may be uncomfortable but necessary restrictions placed upon the situation in the future.
- As a part of the requirements thrust upon them by the court in regards to the child produced within matrimony, Sitler was required to take a polygraph which he failed. Other developments may prohibit Sitler’s wife or parents from serving as chaperones for the child.
Ordinarily, the guffawing and chortling from Survivor Blog land doesn’t bother me much, but it invaded the solace of our Pulpit Bunker this Saturday evening. A good-hearted sister wanted to know what on earth Wilson was thinking and why we haven’t evacuated our Bunker, raiding our armory of its pitchforks and torches, and hitching up our wagons and steeds to head to Moscow for an old fashioned lynching. Her concerns seemed to echo that of genuinely nice survivor blog gal, Dee, over at the Wartburg Watch.
What parent would encourage and participate in such a marriage? (I would have popped him one, kidnapped my daughter and fled to the Tortolas).
What sort of pastor and church leader would fix up a naive young woman with an admitted, convicted, multiple victim pedophile?
What will happen to the children who will surely be born into this mess? I hope the courts are watching very, very carefully.
How will their children feel as they age and learn that their mother deliberately exposed them to danger?
How will they feel if they are removed from the home because of their potentially dangerous father?
Is Katie receiving therapy?
How could Doug Wilson ever be held up as any sort of “expert” on Christian marriage after this situation?
What does this say about Wilson’s views on women? What does this say about Wilson’s views on pedophilia?
Does Doug Wilson believe that Katie should submit to a serial pedophile because hs is a male?
Does Sitler have authority over Katie?
There are more than a few survivor blogs asking the same questions. Are they fair questions? Sure. You bet. Maybe asking what Doug Wilson’s views on pedophilia are is a bit demure given his pretty clear opinion that the civil magistrate should be killing them off like flies at a picnic, if we had a “Biblical Republic” to begin with. That aside, these are fair questions.
But…here’s the thing. The Survivor Blogs’ sensational (and probably true) headline, “Pastor Marries Pedophile to Young, Impressionable Girl, Who Goes On to Possibly Reoffends With His Own Son” is great for click-bait, but it’s a little less helpful for the realm of ecclesiology. In other words, when the (rightfully) emotional screeching stops, how do the men leading the church (in case the Survivor Blog gals weren’t already mad enough at me, I thought I’d make that gender specific) figure out what should have been done and what we should be doing in regards to analogous situations that less-notable pastors will similarly face. That’s the point of this post. Okay, we have the facts…now what?
First, a disclaimer:
I think child-molesters and rapists (of any age of victim) should be put to death. I have testified in defense of capital punishment to the Montana House Judiciary Committee, and if I had my way, we would add sexual assault and molestation to the list of crimes which deserve a tall tree and short piece of rope. I do not want to minister to child molesters; I would rather they hang.
Here are some problems, however, when the civil magistrate doesn’t give people a good killing when they need it.
1. We have to minister to people. That doesn’t mean they have to be present around children or they get to help at Awana. But we can’t not minister to people because they’re icky.
2. We have to affirm that people can be changed by the Gospel – and that includes pedophiles. It doesn’t mean that the Gospel changes everyone. Some people are false converts. Some, even worse, operate as wolves and use the Gospel as a cover for their sin. And some people are genuine converts who are only freed of their former passions in time, and it is not instantaneous.
3. We have no Scriptural mandate (or permission) to deny marriage on the basis of past sins. I can’t find an exception. Can you? This doesn’t mean we should encourage marriage of someone like Sitler, however. But should they desire marriage, and the other party desires marriage, and their parents’ mutually agree, how does the church forbid marriage among confessedly penitent individuals? We can and should forbid marriage between an unbeliever and a believer, but there’s no Scriptural reason to forbid marriage between two professed and penitent believers. Certainly it’s within the right of the elder to not officiate, but can the church forbid that marriage?
4. There is, within a Biblical ecclesiology, enough authority wielded by the elders to mandate draconian-level safeguards if necessary. Now, to earn my Captain Obvious cape, the truth is that such a couple could leave the church and not be subject to its’ discipline – just like the Sitler’s could have got married by the Justice of the Peace rather than Douglas Wilson. That aside, the elders could require such safeguards as mandating that potential future children never be alone with the offender, and if they are, both spouses should be subject to immediate and public church discipline and authorities notified of the infraction. Family and friends could and should be notified of the couple’s commitment to this. Or, a commitment could (and probably should, in my opinion) be made to non-abortive conception control methods and a life without children. Some – perhaps our Survivor Blog friends, ironically – would argue that these things would be an overreach of church authority, when this level of oversight might be the only thing that can provide accountability in a marriage that would have been approved by the state with or without church consent.
5. We can’t lose sight of who is to blame for this situation – and his name is Sitler. And if the accountability and reporting ball was dropped by his wife and other mandatory reporters, we can throw them under that bus as well. The wife only dodges that bullet if she is some kind of mental simpleton with a genuine cognitive disability and the Christ Church elder arranged her marriage without her approval or opinion (and her parents were happy to dismiss her away to a predator, and she had no say in the matter). That would be really stupid on their part, and not sure how it would be in her best interest. I don’t know that to be the case, regardless of how this has been characterized in Internetville.
Here’s the truth – even though Survivor Blogs are often feminist church H8rs who seem to be looking for an excuse to attack the “evils of patriarchy” (or whatever it is they’re griping about these days), they sometimes serve a real but unpleasant purpose, like leaches in 19th century medical practice. They are the parasite that sucks the dark, noxious poison out of the bloodstream of evangelicalism and swell up like a tick (or a…leach) and allow us to recognize the problem. And frankly, how we deal with sexual predators, gauging their repentance, providing necessary safeguards and how we protect people who aren’t even born yet should be addressed and thought out by the wiser church statesmen among us. Sitler’s case demonstrates that.
And yet, before we break out the catapult and trebuchets to storm Christ Church in Moscow, I would ask the accusers of Douglas Wilson, “What would you do?” Are you prepared to make the Biblical argument that committing a sexual crime consigns you to a life of singleness? Are you prepared to make the Biblical argument that those who have committed a sexual crime have no place in the Church, or that they cannot become genuinely repentant or be changed by the Gospel? If you are not, it seems that the crime committed by Douglas Wilson is his shameful lack of omniscience – and how dare he not be omniscient.
There are no easy answers. But without providing some answers about what the solution is, this entire endeavor will have diminishing returns.
[PS I like to think, in spite of my constant jabs at them, the Survivor Blog gals know down deep that I don’t dislike them as much they think]