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Rape Victim Apologizes to Church?

Jun 09, 2010 — Categories: ,

That’s right. In 1997, a fifteen-year-old girl was raped (allegedly) by Ernest Willis, an adult church member. As a result, she became pregnant. She was instructed by her pastor, Chuck Phelps, to come before the church, confess, and apologize for getting pregnant, and then she was kicked out of Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, NH.

That’s right. In 1997, a fifteen-year-old girl was raped (allegedly) by Ernest Willis, an adult church member. As a result, she became pregnant. She was instructed by her pastor, Chuck Phelps, to come before the church, confess, and apologize for getting pregnant, and then she was kicked out of Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, NH. The rapist came before the church and apologized for being unfaithful to his wife.

Just when I think that I have heard it all, I am once again astonished by the stupidity and cruelty of a church’s treatment of a victim. And while I am tempted to file this under “no comment,” I hope this can be yet another teachable moment for faith leaders.

After she was kicked out of the church, she was sent to another state to have her baby. Even though a report was made to the police at the time, they did not pursue an investigation because they didn’t know where the victim was. Some people knew where the victim was. Some people also knew that the rape had been reported to police as a consensual act between a man and a woman although the victim was a juvenile. Why didn’t they tell the police the full story?

Now at age 28, this rape survivor has come forward after reading about other similar cases; realizing for the first time it wasn't her fault that she had been raped, she told the police. Charges have been filed against Willis for rape and having sex with a minor. Fortunately, the statute of limitations has not run out. He will be prosecuted. I applaud the victim’s courage in coming forward. But again, I wonder if the church that kicked her out will now support her and offer her an apology?

A pregnant child victim of statutory, forcible rape is brought before her church to be “disciplined.” She asked for help and support; she got humiliation and punishment. When Jesus said, “Let the little ones come to me and forbid them not, for to these belong the kingdom of heaven,” I don’t think this was what he had in mind.

Her whole church should have been her advocate, her support. They should have made sure that her assailant was brought to justice in the criminal justice system. They should have reassured her that she was not to blame and that they would support her choice of dealing with the pregnancy.

Their pastor’s confusion and fear about the nature of the “sin” in this situation instead took them in a direction that revictimized this young woman, avoided dealing with the perpetrator, and magnified the injustice she had already experienced.

Jeremiah would have said this: “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored? . . . O that my eyes were a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain daughter of my people! O that I had a shelter in the desert that I might leave my people and go away from them.”

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
Founder and Senior Analyst, FaithTrust Institute
Author of Sexual Violence: The Sin Revisited
www.faithtrustinstitute.org

Document Actions

Apology to the church?

Posted by Marvin Eckfeldt at Jun 10, 2010 11:36 AM
Marie, I am glad you did not follow your "no comment" first inclination and brought this tragedy to our attention. I want to believe we have come farther than this - but ending the silence and then speaking up has to happen again and again and again. When will we ever really "get it"? Thank you for your personal dedication and work on behalf of victims, their families, the church and our communities. You and Faith Trust are making a difference.
With appreciation, Marvin Eckfeldt

tragedy and spreading sorrow

Posted by Ann Klavano at Jun 10, 2010 02:58 PM
This was a very powerful story. As an abuse survivor I feel great sorrow for the young woman. As a pastor in training I also feel sorrow for the church congregation. Evil and abuse should be named and exposed, not covered up. A church trained that protecting the status quo is more important than justice has not heard the word of God. Jesus' liberating message of standing with the weak and poor was obliterated.

Rape Victim

Posted by Eileen Norrington at Jun 10, 2010 04:58 PM
Thank you for your wise commentary on this situation.

15 year-old rape victim's forced apology

Posted by Debra Michels at Jun 15, 2010 11:47 AM
Dear Reverend Marie,
Thanks so much for your words and your quote from Jeremiah - what a wonderful application of his words!

At least this church didn't stone this young woman to death, as happens among some Muslim congregations!

Is there any way we can help this woman, like with donations or anything?

Abused for reporting

Posted by Teresa at Jun 15, 2010 12:09 PM
The poem I'm linking below is from my web site "From the Child: A Child's Perspective on Child Abuse"...it was written after several girls in the church I grew up in reported the abuse we were experiencing from the youth group leader-the girl who reported was blamed....too often the story repeats itself. I applaud this woman's courage in seeking justice and pray she didn't give up on God even though the church compounded her abuse!

 http://fromthechild.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/27-her-fault/