The Independent Fundamental Baptist churches have been accused of covering up sexual scandal. Elizabeth Vargas on 20/20 aired a documentary accusing the IFB churches of hiding pedophilia in their churches. The documentary entitled Compassion or Cover-Up? Teen Victim Claims Rape; Forced Confession in Church aired on April 11, 2011.
One of the three girls interviewed was Tina Anderson. Anderson’s step dad, Daniel Leaf sexually molested Anderson between the ages of 9-11. Leaf went to prison for a year for child abuse and after his release again abused Anderson. Anderson was finally freed from his abuse when Leaf went to prison a second time for molesting a minor.
At the age of 14, Anderson once again encountered an abusive man, for whom who she babysat, in an IFB church. Ernest Willis raped Anderson twice. Once during a driving lesson and the other time in her home. Willis was convicted in May by a jury in Concord, NH.
Anderson said her pastor, Chuck Phelps, made her make a confession before the church in New Hampshire. Phelps denies this. Phelps’ statement to Alan Goldberg, the Executive Producer of 20/20 must be read for his documented side of the story. Willis was allowed to attend the church and Anderson was sent to Colorado. Anderson said her mother sent her there because Phelps wanted her to leave the church. Phelps says this was totally the mother’s decision.
Chuck Phelps immediately and properly reported the rape accusation to the authorities who did not respond. Phelps states that Elizabeth Vargas and 20/20 outright lied in the documentary. For example, the documentary alleges that Pastor Phelps asked Tina to go to prison “to forgive” her step father. There is documented evidence, in a letter from Mrs. Leaf, Tina’s mother, that Phelps did not ask Tina to go but was required to go to the prison to meet the requirements of the reunification process for the New Hampshire Department of Children, Youth and Families. It was the DCYF that sent her to see her step father.
But not all think Elizabeth Vargas of 20/20 is a liar. Pastor Bob Bixby, who has left the IFB, thinks the IFB pastors are chastised saints. His post is entitled The IFB Churches in Tonight’s Expose Are not Martyrs, but Chastised Saints. Here is an excerpt from Bixby’s Penees: Musings of a Contented Misfit:
Tonight Elizabeth Vargas from 20/20 will air an exposé of Independent Fundamental Baptist churches. From what little I’ve read, it doesn’t seem like she understands the word “independent,” but nonetheless I’m inclined to think that there is a systemic inclination to abuse and cover-up in these circles because of the unbiblical views of authority and autonomy in what is clearly a movement (or, in sociological terms, a “collective”) called Independent Fundamentalists. I am not exactly sure what to expect from Vargas, but having cut my teeth in the exact circles some of the exposed churches are from (and actually having been in and knowing people quite well who were in them), I can expect a circling of the wagons, we v. them isolation, and victim rhetoric as if they are being targeted by the bad, liberal media. Chuck Phelps will be deemed by some as a martyr and many will be more irate at the victims than at the atrocious malady of abuse that finds fertile ground in the sub-culture of fundamentalism.
Bob Hayton, also a former IFB pastor, shares the same view of Bob Bixby from Hayton’s Fundamentally Reformed: While all IFB churches aren’t abusing and covering up abuse, they do nevertheless share a propensity for it. The preacher as “man of God” teaching, the emphasis on authority and control, the lack of openness by church leaders, often no accountability for senior pastors, no denominational checks and balances, a persecution mindset and remnant mentality, a tendency toward externals and legalism, emphasis on corporeal punishment — all this can combine to make IFB churches in general susceptible to such abuse. IFB churches need to admit this and work to safeguard their churches from the horrific evils of physical and sexual abuse. I know many of them do, but more can be done to take a stand against this widespread problem. Sadly, the case in New Hampshire is but the tip of the iceberg.
In Part 2, I give Kevin Bauder’s suggestions for dealing with these scandals.