Comment Thread Update:
Ryan Sather just removed a comment that my comment below was a reply to.
Listen, Ryan. Allow me to just deal with your first comment, about your strong effort to avoid being sucked back into this. At the time I write this, there are 499 comments, and just over 4% of them are by you (posting as JP). And don’t bother denying it — your real name is part of your email address.
This is not surprising to me because your accusations have been disingenuous from the beginning, and driven by some other motive entirely.
Your dishonest way of posting is manifest. The other day, under the Thanksgiving post, I called you Ryan
under the handle JP to see what you would do. You said, and I quote, “Heh?”
You are welcome to continue to post under your Christian name, but because of your trolling deceitfulness, I will block any pseudonym posts that have ryan,sather as a prefix.
I am sure there are ways for you to get around this, but these are my house rules regardless. You might try
[email protected] Probably not taken.
In my post last Monday on the Jamin Wight situation, near the end of it I linked to a couple of “performance art” videos by Wes Petersen, Natalie Greenfield’s husband. This was a game changer for a number of people in the middle, but there were also some die-hards who objected. In addition, some folks in the middle had questions about the propriety of me doing something like that, with others having questions about the relevance of it.
Questions about propriety are the simpler of the two, so let me deal with that briefly. If the claim is that a link to such images is indecency, I grant it. But it was not indecency on my part. I gave plenty of fair warning, and the point of my linkage was not to incite lust or scorn, or anything like that. I wanted people to be aware of the nature of the world from which these accusations were coming. Too many Christians think that to see such images is “automatically” sinful or corrupting, regardless of intent. But when Phineas took aim at a couple copulating, he was seeing a couple copulate. That did not make Phineas a voyeur, despite what he was seeing. He was not looking at anything for personal gratification — he was taking aim. So take the fact that the videos were appalling to many of my readers, as they ought to have been, and set that off to the side for a moment. It will become apropos in just a moment.
So how were the videos relevant? Wasn’t that just an ad hominem attack on somebody who wasn’t even in the picture ten years ago? I do think this is a reasonable question, and it requires a careful answer.
The abusive ad hominem is a fallacy that occurs when you introduce an irrelevant personal characteristic into a debate as a way of distracting people from the actual issue at hand. It really is a fallacy, and people really shouldn’t do it. For example, if someone says that he believes that a bowling ball dropped from a bridge into the bay will fall at a rate of 9.8 meters per second squared, it is not to the point to reply to him that you don’t believe a word of it because his teeth are crooked. You are changing the subject from the topic to the man, which is what the fallacy of the ad hominem refers to. But the problem is the arbitrary change of topic, the distraction, not the critique of the man. This is because sometimes the character of the man is the topic.
This is what an attorney seeks to do when he sets up to impeach a witness. His argument certainly is “to the man,” but that is not a problem because the character of the witness is the central point at issue. Nobody is changing the subject. If Witness A says that he saw Defendant B pilfering from the till, and if Defendant B’s attorney produces a series of witnesses who testify that Witness A has been fired from three previous jobs for making false accusations against cashiers, this argument “to the man” is not an irrelevance. When character is the point, when reliability of a witness is what you need to know, anything that would establish the unreliability of that witness is not an irrelevance at all.
And it is in just this way that the videos are extremely relevant. There are many details of application, to be expanded on below, but here is the center of it, the hinge. Natalie has said that the sexual outlook of Christ Church is suspect, not normal (A). I linked to the videos to show that here is something demented that Natalie does believe to be normal (B). Now, given B, do you still want to trust her on A?
In other words, the future performance art of Wes was certainly irrelevant to what we did or did not do ten years ago. I cheerfully grant it. But Natalie’s view of such performance art is not irrelevant at all. She approves of the videos now, and she is accusing us of certain things now. How reliable is she now? What is her worldview about all such matters now? What kind of paradigm is producing her assessments?
Let me make it concrete. BozT has a ministry that helps ministries safeguard their ministries against possible abuse. Suppose Natalie and Wes were professing Christians, and GRACE came in to review the youth work at their church. Suppose they were shown these videos, and were also told that Wes was the coach of a wrestling club that the church sponsored. Would any red flags come up? Would this be something to follow up on? Would a GRACE review tag this? Would a GRACE review have a problem if Natalie was teaching Sunday School and approved fully of such videos? If so, then it appears we agree my link to the videos is relevant. If not, then I wonder why anyone would ever want to use GRACE’s services. Incidentally, as it happens, Wes was in fact a wrestling coach last year for young people through Moscow Wrestling Club.
NB: None of this is intended to say or to imply that Wes or Natalie are abusers of children. It is to say that they would not be my go-to witnesses for an accurate assessment of abuse.
But Natalie has mounted a strong challenge to us and our ministry, saying that a sexual abuse case (hers) was mishandled by us. She has made this case in such a way as to appeal to a large number of Christians, who have simply believed her account while assuming that her definition of what is sexually normal lines up with theirs. But it doesn’t. She stands by the videos, and says that they are perfectly fine, nothing to be ashamed of.
This puts her in a completely different world than the one her conservative Christian supporters were assuming she was in. And it is a world they cannot function in. Moreover, it is a world, an outlook, a paradigm, that they simply cannot support.
That is why, from this time on, any conservative Christian who says that Natalie’s account of her abuse and its aftermath needs to be taken at face value needs to fit that supposed reliability together with Natalie’s current support for the videos. If she thinks that they are normal, then she really is from Portlandia. And since she is from Portlandia, what does she think about transgender children? same sex mirage? open marriage? And might any of this have any relevance to her evaluation of how we handled her abuse case?
Of course it is relevant. She wrote highly of our care for her at the time of the abuse, and we have those letters. We know what she was saying then. She did not develop any retroactive animus toward what we had done until after the church suspended her from the Supper because she had gotten engaged to a non-Christian man. In other words, our first difference with her was over a matter of sexual ethics. Since then, that difference has only widened. She has married an unbelieving man Jamin’s age, and she is fully supportive of these artistic pursuits of his.
So the gulf has widened. But not everyone was aware of this gulf. The Christian community here in Moscow was aware of it because Wes and Natalie moved to Portland, and were very public in their embrace of that town’s vibe, and all that goes with it. Many of us have seen how she presented herself over the years — but in addition to that we have also noticed how she has recently been carefully curating her persona, her profile, in order to make it more palatable to Christians elsewhere. She grew up in a Christian home, and so knows the language. But she has nevertheless fallen away from the faith, and has been very much a daughter of Portlandia. I would link to some examples — as egregious as the videos — but she has taken them down. She has scrubbed a number of things from her online presence, and that was done for a reason. But for some reason, they neglected to take down the videos.
The end result of all this is that you can see Natalie’s supporters online trying to crowd-source a coherent response, and they are having trouble. They are completely at odds with each other. One group, the conservative Christian part, says that the videos are appalling and disgusting, but that they have nothing to do with the case. The other half says that the videos really “are too” performance art, and that I am a dirty bird for seeing anything wrong with them. These two groups cannot work together so long as this is on the table, and that is why I put it on the table. Their previous cooperation depended on the Christian side of the room not knowing what was actually going on.
If Natalie has two lives, two personas, two sets of friends, two circles that she travels in, it is not blackmail to let one set know about the existence of the other. Both lives are public. The videos I linked to were public, and had been public for years. I didn’t put them up, I didn’t release them. I simply linked to them. I said to one group that perhaps they might be interested in the outlook of the other group. If two people are standing on opposite sides of the same room, how is it blackmail to introduce them to each other?
Christians like Boz Tchividjian, Ryan Sather, and Andrew Sandlin were taken in by Natalie. They ought not to have been taken in — they had a moral responsibility to do far more checking than they did — but they were in fact taken in. Now that the videos are public to all of us, and now that Natalie has identified the real nature of her worldview by standing with those videos, certain questions are now permanently fair game. If any Christian group seeks to stand with Natalie, they will have to stand with some other unsavory things as well. This is why Andrew Sandlin has (apparently) taken down his earlier posts supporting Natalie’s story. Good.
Correction: I am reliably informed that Andrew’s posts have not been taken down. Not good.
So do you think that someone who believes such behavior to be normal should be an arbiter of normal?
Important Related Note: A Retraction
Despite all our differences, truth is far more important than winning or scoring a point. In several places in this controversy, I have said that I learned about the mess when the mother of Jamin’s fiancé called me because Natalie had called Jamin’s fiancé to tell her about it. Natalie claimed I was lying, and that she never made such a call. I spent a few days tracking it down, and I now believe Natalie is correct about that call. The mom called me because Jamin called her from jail. I don’t know how the wrong story got into my head, but it did. It wasn’t a lie, but it certainly appears to have been false, and so I have apologized to Natalie for the error.
One additional qualification here. There are some aspects of this timeline that might need to be adjusted in the future because some things don’t add up and my memory is murky about some of it. So bear with me.
Zoom-in On the Timeline
Natalie has said that I wasn’t there when the secret courtship was arranged, and that I therefore couldn’t know the boundaries her parents set for it. I grant that I didn’t know the exact boundaries of the secret courtship, but I did know the fact of the secret courtship, and I got it first hand from Natalie’s parents when everything came out. That fact was documented in writing at the time. That is what we were dealing with. Other witnesses on the fact of the secret courtship are available as well, including even Rose Huskey. The fact of the secret courtship is not really in dispute. A few months ago, Natalie tried to deny it, but her story has shifted since then.
In the course of saying that I did not know how much her father did to protect her after he became suspicious of Jamin, Natalie recently said something that reinforces the fundamental concerns we had about Gary’s negligence.
“Doug was not with my father as time dragged on and he began to become suspicious of Jamin. He was not in the hallway with my father where he sat on a chair in the middle of the night watching my bedroom door to make sure I was safe and protected. Shortly after this night of intuitive suspicion on my father’s part Jamin was kicked out of our home permanently.”
In short, long before Natalie told her parents the full story, Gary came to believe that Jamin was a scoundrel and a threat to his daughter, to the extent that he was willing to sit up all night outside his daughter’s bedroom, and to evict Jamin as a boarder because of it. And yet he said nothing to us about it — which meant that Jamin continued in his hypocritical status as a Greyfriar thanks to Gary’s silence.