Elizabeth Vargas’ Year-long Investigation into the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church Airs on “20/20,” Friday, April 8, 10-11 PM ET

Elizabeth Vargas’ Yearlong Investigation Into The Independent Fundamental Baptist Church, Airs On “20/20,” Friday, April 8, 10-11 PM ET

Try to imagine the pain and humiliation of a teenage girl, just 15 years old, who says she was forced to stand in front of a New Hampshire church congregation and confess her “sin” of being pregnant. She says not only was she forced to confess her pregnancy, but also to ask for their forgiveness – with no mention of the man she says sexually abused her. After all, she says, the pastor told her it’s better than being stoned to death as the bible describes. That is what Tina Anderson alleged happened to her at her ultra conservative Independent Fundamental Baptist, or IFB, Church. The IFB has thousands of congregations across the country, but many people have never heard of it. That was, until another woman, Jocelyn Zichterman, began a public campaign – armed with nothing but a computer and memories of her own alleged abuse that she says church beliefs can foster. And survivors are now coming out of the woodwork, to say she’s not alone.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

That should be pure joy... and completely fair, too, I'm sure.

Louise Dan's picture

As someone said on the other thread on this subject, this is going to be self inflicted pain. Phelps could have led in repentance and self correction. Instead, he surrounded the wagons in self protection. Sadly, the Wilds and BJU are going to be affected by this as well. The Wilds just had him in as the lead speaker on some kind of youth conference, which defies my ability to explain.

Matt Walker's picture

Louise,

Your comments about Pastor Phelps and what he did are completely without merit. You've obviously believed the young lady's side of things without giving him any consideration at all. Please, please hesitate for a moment, and consider that maybe Pastor Phelps did the best he could with an incredibly difficult, legal/moral/ethical situation. After having spent three hours with him last summer (just after this story broke) I know his side of the story and it's compelling. I know that in his shoes, I probably would have done as he did. There are so many laws governing these things, that after considering the legal issues and then the Biblical ones as well, I think he did what he could. Unless you know something new about what happened here, I think you should give Pastor Phelps the benefit of the doubt.

Matt

rogercarlson's picture

Matt,

I have great respect for you. But I think you are dead wrong on this one. Just with the facts out there, there is no excuse for at least some of the things Chuck did. Even looking at how Brian Fuller has handled this will show that there were things that could have been handled better. I think I am being generous. Had He been humble enough to at least admit that last year, this story Friday night might not have even come out. I have followed the facts of this case very carefully and am VERY disappointed in Chuck Phelps.

Aaron,

You are probably right that it wont be fair. But I am hopeful that it will. Elizabeth Vargas is a smart reporter and has done good work in the past. I know it will be painful, but I hope and pray it will at least be fair. But you very well could be right.

Roger Carlson, Pastor
Berean Baptist Church

Ron Bean's picture

The heart of the matter is that an adult man willingly had a sexual relationship with a minor. That is both a sin and a crime.

For the record, twenty five years ago a similar instance happened in a small fundamental Baptist church. The pastor escorted the man to the sheriff's office and, after his arrest and trial, the perpetrator went to jail.

Quote:
Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I'd have the facts.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Peter Laitres's picture

I am sickened by how many fellow Christians want to throw Dr. Phelps under the bus. It is very easy - and wrong - to sit back and armchair quarterback events from 10-15 years ago. As a fellow pastor my heart goes out to him. We can only make decisions based on the information that we have AT THAT TIME. This is hardly a cut-and-dried case.

If you've been in ministry any length of time at all, you have been confronted by situations where people can have very fanciful recollections of things that didn't happen, or were completely different that what they say. It seems to me the women making the most noise here have an ax to grind against fundamental churches.

I know Chuck Phelps personally and he is a decent, godly, gracious Christian man. Please at least give him the benefit of the doubt and refrain from passing judgment until you know ALL the facts.

Twitter: GodsLaw1 *** www.peterlaitres.net ***  

“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” - Galatians 2:21HCSB

Louise Dan's picture

Matt Walker wrote:
Please, please hesitate for a moment, and consider that maybe Pastor Phelps did the best he could with an incredibly difficult, legal/moral/ethical situation. After having spent three hours with him last summer (just after this story broke) I know his side of the story and it's compelling. I know that in his shoes, I probably would have done as he did. There are so many laws governing these things, that after considering the legal issues and then the Biblical ones as well, I think he did what he could. Unless you know something new about what happened here, I think you should give Pastor Phelps the benefit of the doubt.

Matt, I'm not saying that he wasn't conflicted over what to do or earnest in what he did do. It was still wrong. We all make mistakes with the best of intentions. We still must repent.

Aaron Blumer's picture

So we're going to "retry" Chuck Phelps again with just as much evidence as before (almost none).
Why do people find it so hard to admit that they really don't know what happened or why?

It's really not that hard. Watch....
I really don't know what happened or why.
See, that wasn't so hard. More people should try it.

I'm sure glad it isn't my job to sift through a few vague statements, a few second hand reports, and a tanker load of blog blather then pass judgment on cases! (Come to think of it, who's job is that? Hmm.)

Louise Dan's picture

Aaron, a lot has been established by multiple witnesses. What do you think people are accusing him of that is still in question? For me, the issue is 1) bringing a minor who had been raped up for church discipline and 2) allowing the rapist to continue in the church without recourse. Are you still in doubt as to whether either of those actually happened? Maybe enough first hand witnesses will be interviewed by 20/20 to convince you of at least that much.

Ron Bean's picture

It seems that we know what happened. What puzzles me is this: If I knew a man had had sex with an underage girl and I called the police and they did nothing, I wouldn't accept their response.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Matt Walker's picture

Louise,

Your two facts are her two facts and have only been established by people who are speculating as you are here. The facts...at least pastor Phelps perspective has never been given publicly because he is unable, legally, to do so. He has been advised that to go public would be a problem legally. I talked with him and like pastor Carlson, I was skeptical of pastor Phelps but wanted to hear him out. His argument is compelling. No he probably didn't do everything exactly right but his situation was incredibly difficult.

Matt Walker's picture

Were called more than once as I have heard.

Louise Dan's picture

Matt, I strongly disagree with you. It is not HERE that I get my information. The situation has been established by multiple witnesses. In fact, it was not Tina who brought this public but another Trinity church member present at the church discipline. I have read written accounts by at least two other members who were there in person at the time. And even Brian Fuller himself has not denied that this happened.

Louise Dan's picture

Last post. I am getting too worked up. But being warned against speaking publicly due to legal concerns is hardly compelling. The only person he could implicate is himself. And the only way he'd implicate himself is if he did something wrong.

Aaron Blumer's picture

Louise Dan wrote:
Aaron, a lot has been established by multiple witnesses. What do you think people are accusing him of that is still in question? For me, the issue is 1) bringing a minor who had been raped up for church discipline and 2) allowing the rapist to continue in the church without recourse. Are you still in doubt as to whether either of those actually happened? Maybe enough first hand witnesses will be interviewed by 20/20 to convince you of at least that much.

Last I knew, just about all of that was in dispute. But I have to admit I have very little interest in the case. I have not paid any attention to it since we beat it to death here last year. As far as I know, there have been no new news reports or any results of investigations. We had conflicting versions of whether it was "discipline," what sort of role the perp. was allowed in the church, etc., and still do.

The thing with "multiple witnesses" is that you have to weigh testimony not just count it. That's why courtrooms cross examine and instruct jurors to ignore this or that. I'm not in a position to weigh the testimony. It has not been gathered and presented in way I can handle that way.

I don't think anybody is saying no mistakes were made on the church's part, including Phelps. So I guess that's established. Beyond that, it would be nice if definitive evidence could end all the speculation and we could move on. If 20/20 can achieve that, more power to them. But they have shown a fondness for making anybody who is even traditional (much less Bible believing) look bad. I'm not optimistic.

Aaron Blumer's picture

Louise Dan wrote:
But being warned against speaking publicly due to legal concerns is hardly compelling. The only person he could implicate is himself. And the only way he'd implicate himself is if he did something wrong.

Not true. History is full of examples of people's testimony being used against them when their words are used contrary to their intent or when the audience is particularly hostile. This is why defense lawyers advise even innocent clients to let the council do the talking. The legal system is very complex and somebody as innocent as lilies can step on a mine by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time... especially to the press.

Susan R's picture

Even Vargas is careful to use the word 'alleged'. The problem with this and other cases is that there is no way to verify much of the information that comes down the pike. It's very much "he said-she said". And eye witness testimony is http://criminaldefense.homestead.com/eyewitnessmisidentification.html not unassailable . I have no doubt that this incident was not handled properly, but I seriously can't see how any of us can claim to know exactly what went down.

There was a case here not too long ago where several families united against a pastor because of some accusations of sexual abuse, but when the case was investigated by authorities, it fell completely apart, and all charges were dropped. So much for the reliability of multiple witnesses, and now an innocent man who spent a year being harassed and practically tortured has lost his church and his reputation. No one is lining up to repent to him, or make reparations, or help him find a job, I can tell you that.

BTW, it is SOP for those involved in a case to refrain from speaking about an ongoing investigation. Ulterior motives should not be read into silence about an open case.

What was amusing is the reference to how many churches there are in the IFB. If that's supposed to be a flash of brilliance, none of us are going to need sunglasses for this report. After seeing the CBS report years ago about 'the dark side of homeschooling', I'm not going to be putting any stock into the information presented by the news media.

Anna Walker's picture

What if this was your daughter? She was 15. He was well over twice her age. Why should this even be an issue? Sexual abuse is NEVER the victim's fault. And, the victim should NEVER be blamed. Both of those things are being done. She is still being accused of it being consensual and the very fact that she had to stand before the church and confess shows her being blamed.

I ask you. What would Jesus have done? He is our example. The Pharisees wanted to stone the woman in adultery and Jesus said, he who has no sin throw the first stone. This precious broken child (and yes, you are STILL a child at 15), was stoned. She was innocent, yet the Pharisees stoned her. Jesus as our example would not have judged her. A) because she was an innocent victim and Cool because he loves His children. For those of you who are choosing right now to stone Tina because you believe either she is lying now or it was consensual, why don't you look at your own life before throwing stones.

I hate that we will defend a person simply because he is "God's" man. The problem is -- he is "just" a man. No matter how godly someone is. They still make mistakes. They still sin. They are human. And, I believe that this situation was handled inappropriately. Being a pastor does not equate perfection. The best thing that can and should be done with this situation is that Dr. Phelps and even everyone here on SI, recognize the mistakes and aim to make policy changes in our churches so that this situation NEVER EVER occurs again.

Susan R's picture

Anne- I don't think any here is 'stoning' Tina. What most are concerned about, at least from what I can tell, is that we don't know how the situation was handled after the fact. I have no doubt about Tina's story as far as the rape was concerned. In no way, shape, or form was any of this her fault. What we don't know for certain is how it was handled by the church and law enforcement. There are too many conflicting stories, and to my knowledge none of us has the ability to sort these things out with any measure of accuracy. That is what the legal process is for. When Phelps is allowed to speak openly or in court about what happened, then a fuller picture might present itself. Meanwhile, I think efforts should be focused on prosecuting the perpetrator of this heinous act. Phelps may have botched the whole thing as far as the church was concerned, but the man who raped Tina is the criminal here. Let's not forget that.

Jay's picture

Anna Walker wrote:
I hate that we will defend a person simply because he is "God's" man. The problem is -- he is "just" a man. No matter how godly someone is. They still make mistakes. They still sin. They are human. And, I believe that this situation was handled inappropriately. Being a pastor does not equate perfection. The best thing that can and should be done with this situation is that Dr. Phelps and even everyone here on SI, recognize the mistakes and aim to make policy changes in our churches so that this situation NEVER EVER occurs again.

No one here is defending Phelps because he's a 'man of God'. There's a massive difference between defending someone who is 'the man of God' - like what happened at Jack Hyles' church - and what we're all speculating on.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Mike Durning's picture

I posted elsewhere my opinion that there are factors in how we structure our churches and in our view of authority that do lend themselves to this. It wasn’t one of my finest posts in terms of proving my point, but maybe we need to watch this 20/20 special with a little more of an open mind. They may miss the boat on the immediate case under discussion, yet still recognize something in our churches that we desperately need to understand about ourselves.

The discussion here about the New Hampshire case leads me to post some pastoral concerns:

Speaking as someone who has been in on a few of these situations, at one level or another:
1). All of us need to be very carefully planning our own policies on how we will handle these things.
2). We need to acknowledge that the victims of such treatment are understandably injured, and frequently carry scars of this injury. The result is that their interpretation of what we say and do may be anger-tinged, even if we do everything right. In fact, their interpretation WILL be different as adults than it is as the victimized child or teen. We need to accept that they may question how we handled things later, even if we do nothing wrong in how we handle them.
3). Hindsight is 20/20, and all of us will look back at how we handled these situations and realize that there was something we could have handled better.
4). Following Roland Pittman’s posts on one of the related threads, I have to share his concern that we let Biblical and Pastoral concerns guide us, rather than merely letting the modern child abuse industry’s (for lack of a better term) paradigm control our action. And no, I don’t agree with Roland’s posts in general.
5). Two times in my ministry years, I have run across cases in which a child/young teen attempted to seduce an adult. Be warned: this is not simply a case of an immoral child or young teen. Invariably, there is a molestation matter lurking in the background history somewhere. Dig, dig, dig, for the good of the kid.
6). In certain families, the “old guard” (grandparents, or even older parents) will oppose involvement of authorities. Be prepared to lose them from your church. Or, alternately, preach on this matter, and pre-inform folks in your congregation of what your church would do. Let them think about how they would handle it before the pressure is on them with people they love involved.
7). Here’s the one that will have some of you shooting at me, but we need to think it through. The moral/ethical sphere and the legal sphere share some areas in common, but do not necessarily completely overlap. For example, let’s talk about the limits of responsibility of teenaged victims. On a legal level, a teenaged victim under that state’s age of consent for sexual activity is not in any way culpable for their behavior in such situations. The moral sphere is more complex. If the perpetrator stirs in their targeted teenager desires that they otherwise would not have had at that time, that is not the teenager’s fault. In the eyes of the Lord, I’m certain that the “millstone principle” applies. It is not their fault, because they are too immature to be consensual, I grant. But if a teenaged victim willingly engages in activity that they knew was morally wrong based on upbringing and moral instruction from God’s Word, at some point, realization that they are doing wrong begins. The resources of the perpetrator to manipulate them through kindness, faked love, lust, or fear, are many. The victim is not prepared to cope with those feelings; the conflict between feelings and moral responsibility frequently overwhelms them. In addition, the damage done by violated trust is deep. At this point, there are two extremes to be avoided. Extreme # 1: I place some blame on the teen, who knew God’s law, and violated it anyway. This may be what resulted in the forced public confession in the one case – if such a forced confession ever occurred. Personally, I would have apologized for her being pregnant, stating that she had been victimized, rather than expecting her to “confess”. Extreme # 2: I accept the “victimization” mantra of modern society, pack the child off to a counselor, and wash my hands of the matter, completely ignoring the profound pastoral implications of the complex moral, emotional, and ethical dilemma forced on this teenager at way too early an age. This is ALWAYS a mistake.

The proper response will not only do all the things we all know should be done (i.e. notification of authorities, notification of any uninvolved parents/guardians, advise and assist with counseling matters, sensitive revelation to church leadership and/or membership as necessary, removal of church personnel involved in perpetrating or covering, review of church policies that may have been insufficient in such matters). The proper approach will involve making sure that the pastoral/discipleship issues involved in the teen victims life are all addressed over time, as the teen’s recovery continues and as they can handle it. This is a process that may take years in some cases. Such issues include 1). What to do in the future when those in authority expect me / manipulate me to do the wrong thing, 2). What to do when my emotions and my conscience are in conflict, 3). What does love really mean? 4). What is God’s designed intention for sex within the loving marital relationship? 5). What does it mean that a person in leadership over me in God’s church (if this was the case) did this? 6). What does it say about our fallen world that this happened to me? 7). How can I accept that God loves me when He permitted these things to occur? 8). What has this event done to me, and in what way can I use it for good in the future? 9). Distinguishing between suspicion, hearsay, testimony, and fact when someone is accused of something in the future.

Some of the above pastoral/discipleship concerns will also exist in child or pre-teen victims, to varying degrees, depending.

I’m not saying that addressing these matters is the top priority. But the matter doesn’t end with a few sessions with a psychologist. It goes on for years.

Bob Hayton's picture

Great post, Mike. Along these lines, I wanted to share a link to a ministry that helps churches make sure their policies and plans are robust enough to truly protect against abuse in today's society. This ministry also helps churches when something like this comes up, counseling them how to handle the scenario.

http://www.netgrace.org/ http://www.netgrace.org/

You can also listen to an informative interview of the director of this ministry, Basyle ’Boz’ Tchividjian, here:

http://reformedcast.com/2010/11/15/episode-10-abuse-in-the-christian-env... http://reformedcast.com/2010/11/15/episode-10-abuse-in-the-christian-env...

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Aaron Blumer's picture

What so often happens with this topic (and others that are emotionally charged) is that what is not in dispute gets lumped in with what is being debated and then arguments are offered against the former and folks act like they've made a case against the latter.

So I have a bowl of apples. I toss in a rotten potato. Then I point out that the potato stinks and argue passionately (preferably in all caps) that apples are obviously terrible things, fruit baskets are pure evil, and all fruit basket makers should go to the salt mines?

Nobody here is saying that 15 yr old gals are entirely, or even mostly, to blame for sex with middle aged guys.

  • Some have questioned whether guilt is really an all-or-nothing thing in every case.
  • Others have questioned whether maturity necessarily conforms to the law and children suddenly become adults at midnight on the eve of their 18th birthdays.
  • A few have even wondered if maybe they were accused of a crime or of covering one up, they'd prefer to be seen as innocent until proven guilty.

Now I would never think about any of those possibilities, myself. I'm not that much of a glutton for Internet thrashing. But some people have wondered.

One more... a few have even had the audacity to wonder if modern social science ought to be where we get are interpretive grid for these matters.
But I would never ask that question. It's not proper to be curious about things like that.

Rachel L.'s picture

If I were one of the apples, I'd be pretty anxious to get the rotten potato out of my bowl and away from us other "good apples."

Anna Walker's picture

The premise that we struggle with is who is at fault here and who shares part of the guilt. From the victim's standpoint, to even have a hint of blame is horribly traumatizing. Because, the abuser often grooms the victim and will tell the victim that it is her fault -- that she wanted it etc. And, it reinforces the trauma when outside people start to question, oh, did she have just a little part in it. Maybe she knew it was wrong and didn't stop or didn't tell someone or horror of horrors -- did she enjoy it? I know you think I'm way off base. But, I STILL sense an underlying current of blaming Tina for what happened. Do you men have daughters? Do you realize that (yes, even if this society) a fifteen year old girl is still a child? It doesn't matter how she dressed. She could have been half naked parading town and it still would not be her fault that she was raped. A man has the choice whether to lust after a woman or not. He has a choice. Have you guys SEEN the pictures of Tina from this situation. She wore ankle length jumpers. JUMPERS! I am sorry, but you can't be seductive to a guy wearing that. It doesn't matter what a girl wears, a guy can choose to see what he was. He can still undress her with his eyes and let his brain go to the far reaches of depravity.

Anna Walker's picture

If this was an isolated incidence, then maybe I might view it is one angry victim with a vendetta. But, this is not isolated. It happens a lot. We need to stop playing mind games and trying to pass the buck. Who cares if he handled it slightly right, but not perfect. Let's stop and admit, someone dropped the ball here. Let's learn from this and make sure it never happens. Key item #1 no matter the age of the victim, she has not a single ounce of fault at all. None. Key item #2 support the victim and her/or HIS family Key item #3 report it and make sure you do everything you can to assist the police investigation and encourage justice.

So, because someone has been hurt by abuse and how it was handled, we should disbelieve what they say because oh, their interpretation is off. Um, excuse me. If we are truly pastors who desire to shepherd our flock and guide them, we need to listen and see if there are areas that we have failed. Listen with a desire to grow/change from what may have occurred. Yes, most abuse victims are passionate. They have to be. In order to survive this kind of trauma, they must overcome insurmountable odds. Don't judge them simply because they have a strong personality.

Yes, hindsight is 20/20. Let's learn from history and not make the same mistakes. Let's not be so protective and afraid to admit error. We need to learn from the ABWE handling of their situation. They admitted wrong and were humble. That will go a long ways towards allowing closure for those victims. Did Dr. Phelps handle the situation perfectly. If he did, then we not be having this conversation. Let's use this as a good thing. A growing thing in our lives and churches.

It is not your place to determine what part the girl had in it. Whether she morally knew it was wrong or not. Discussing this kind of trauma is horrific to relive. And, many pastors feel it is necessary for them to basically interrogate the girl to find out exactly what happened. That is not your place. Your job is to report it to the authorities, provide the girl counseling and be a support to her. This is not the time to cast judgment, because oh, you should have known better.

I know you are probably just tuning me out here. But, I beg of you, listen and be willing at least in your own heart to admit that we fail miserably in our treatment of abuse victims. And, I have no intentions of destroying anyone, I simply want to see this maltreatment end. Jesus loves the broken and the hurting. His churches should to.

Susan R's picture

Anna Walker wrote:
The premise that we struggle with is who is at fault here and who shares part of the guilt. From the victim's standpoint, to even have a hint of blame is horribly traumatizing. Because, the abuser often grooms the victim and will tell the victim that it is her fault -- that she wanted it etc. And, it reinforces the trauma when outside people start to question, oh, did she have just a little part in it. Maybe she knew it was wrong and didn't stop or didn't tell someone or horror of horrors -- did she enjoy it? I know you think I'm way off base. But, I STILL sense an underlying current of blaming Tina for what happened. Do you men have daughters? Do you realize that (yes, even if this society) a fifteen year old girl is still a child? It doesn't matter how she dressed. She could have been half naked parading town and it still would not be her fault that she was raped. A man has the choice whether to lust after a woman or not. He has a choice. Have you guys SEEN the pictures of Tina from this situation. She wore ankle length jumpers. JUMPERS! I am sorry, but you can't be seductive to a guy wearing that. It doesn't matter what a girl wears, a guy can choose to see what he was. He can still undress her with his eyes and let his brain go to the far reaches of depravity.

I don't think it is fair or reasonable to attempt to interpret an 'underlying current' on an internet forum. It is very close to violating the Comment Policy, which prohibits assigning motives or focusing negatively on the participants in the threads. Let's stick to the issues.

NONE of us here have enough accurate, verifiable information to determine who did what and why. For instance, Willis admitted to social workers that he was the father. Those social workers knew that Willis was 14 years older than Tina, so why didn't they do something?

I would like to point out that it is not wise to completely remove the fact that our behaviors place us at risk. There is an element of responsibility we all have to not do things that are unwise or endanger us in some way. We teach our children how to avoid risky situations, such as not going into bathrooms alone, or getting into someone's car. We can say all day long that it isn't the child's fault that they were abducted because they got into a stranger's car, but if they have been taught not to get into a stranger's car, at what point do we say without igniting a firestorm of hysteria that the child was responsible for that act of disobedience?

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