As many of you know, the fracas this last week over the Steven Sitler situation occurred (for the most part) on a listserve discussion here in Moscow called Vision 20/20. I subscribed to it for the course of a few days, and then when it appeared that continued discussion in that setting would be counterproductive, I unsubscribed again. I am posting here all the substantive comments I made in that forum, and I am doing it here for archival purposes. If anyone comes here wanting to find out what happened, they will have a substantive record of what I said. Those who want to hear the other end of the phone conversation can get that out of the archives of V2020. I think I got all my main posts, and they should be in pretty good chronological order, starting from the bottom.
Well, that fax to First Step was something new. I want to make one last observation about what has transpired here, comment on the fax, and then be gone.
My interest in resubscribing to this list, first to last, was to protect the victims and their families, and to get this group to admit that their right to privacy outranked this listserve’s right to chatter about it indignantly. The family had no interest in becoming a political football. They had no interest in having court records from their tragic case made public. They had no interest in having you do to them what you have now done to them.
One of your number, one of the sane ones, wrote me privately to offer help on working with families in our church because he works in this very sad area. His offer was well meant, and kindly received. He said that it is well-known in his circles that reporting this kind of thing happens at a much lower rate among religious conservatives. After this reaction from the usual vitriolic ones here, is it hard to imagine why?
Between the two of us, Peter Leithart and I pastor a community that is the size of a small town. Do you think that this kind of thing could ever possibly happen again? And if it did, I would seek to do the same thing again — get the crime reported immediately, provide help, counsel and protection for the victim and families, and restore a climate of calm in which forgiveness and healing could begin to occur. But if the family involved in this new hypothetical case knew (and how could they not know?) what had happened to the last family who did what their pastor had asked, what do you think my chances are going to be?
You should encourage those who seek to do the right thing. You should not punish those who do the right thing. As a criminal, someone like Steven is being punished, as he ought to be. But you people (or rather, the small, malicious, and very vocal pack among you) have arranged to punish the victims, all while loudly proclaiming how interested you are in “protecting families.” But if you really had their interests in mind, then why do you not do what they so reasonably asked, and shut up? When a family is thinking about reporting something like this, what might make them hesitate? Those who have experience with this (as I do) know that one of the big questions always concerns whether or not the process involved in reporting it could become as bad as the abusive experience itself. In this case, it has, thanks to Michael Metzler, and his apologists and enablers.
If I am counseling these hypothetical parents a year from now, should I print out all your posts, put them in a notebook, and ask the family to read through them? Full disclosure? If I say that I want you to report this, but “this will probably happen to you too, if you do,” what effect do you think this would have on them? Take all the posts from Michael, Joan, Keely, Jackie, et al. and ask yourself — could this kind of discussion occur about you? Yes, it probably would. If you asked them to stop it, please, would they? No, not a chance. Not if the situation provided them with a clear shot at Christ Church.
We are dealing with an out-of-control pack of ghouls. They are ghouls for different reasons. Michael’s reasons are emotional, Bill London’s are political, Keely’s are theological, and Joan’s are literary. But after the first twenty-four hours, when it initially looked as though the general pattern of posting was going to follow my pleading and drop the subject, all the old habits and antipathies then kicked in. The central subject and central concern was overlooked (the victims and their families), and your emotional renegades began bellowing about this and that, and demanding timelines and details. As Don Henley put it, “Kick ’em when they’re up, kick ’em when they’re down.” If any of you think that I am incapable of defending in detail what we did at every step of this story, you are mistaken. But I will not do that because of what it would do to the families. I have already been forced to talk about it to an extent that (in a decent community, one with an operating sense of shame) would have been unnecessary. I am convinced that since you clearly will not honor so basic a request as this, for me to stick around and upbraid you for it will simply inspire you to continue in your sadistic pattern.
And so this leads to the fax. If you think that this outrageous behavior has not made a lot of people angry, then you have really misjudged this thing. It is one thing to demand a “free speech” zone so that people can bash Bush, and liberals can pretend they are speaking truth to power. It is quite another to have an “accountability-free” zone that reserves the right to do to the victims of child abuse what a handful of you have done in this reprehensible display, and all on First Step’s dime.
I know there are many of you who are not sympathetic with what is being done with the unmoderated space provided by First Step. Looking at the fax, that would appear to be an understatement. We keep thinking, surely they would draw the line at this. But then nothing happens, and the victims of child abuse are run through the FirstStepFreeSpeechGrinder.com. But one of the things that the broadband revolution is giving us (in increasing measure every year) is choices and options.
The rule of thumb is always to have the application of grace and justice, forgiveness and consequences, be as public as the nature of the sin requires it to be — and no more. Because Joseph was a righteous man, he resolved to put Mary away quietly. Love covers a multitude of sins. At the same time, this is clearly not a solitary absolute because there are other competing claims, equally legitimate. In the case we are discussing, the protection of others is one of those claims. Civil justice for past crimes is another.
Steven Sitler’s crimes were contained within a limited circle. A certain select number of visionaries claim to have been gifted with telepathic powers, and so they somehow know that every last child in our church was at risk. But we had (and have) no reason to believe this to be the case. When he was discovered, everyone who needed to know (legal authorities, potentially affected families, et al) were promptly notified, and all according to Hoyle. As the process unfolded, and Steven was convicted, it became necessary to broaden the circle of those who knew about it. Conviction of a crime like this is a public event, Steven was known in our community, and we did not know how the sentencing would go. It was quite possible that as a result of the sentencing Steven would wind up living among us again, and this required broader notification, which was given as soon as it became necessary. Not before.
But take another kind of situation. If a well-respected deacon in a church began robbing banks occasionally, and he was arrested, his resignation from the deacon board could not be announced to the congregation under the heading of “events overtook him.” When the sin is public, or private sin disqualifies a man from public office, you don’t spread it any further than his arrest or resignation already spread it. But you do have to address the issue (with as much discretion as possible) in order to comfort and help all the people already affected. I trust that at least makes the principle clear.
But remember where we are. If you are Michael, you take a tragic situation like the Sitler case, and you throw bloody meat into the water (despite ignored warnings), not because you wanted to draw sharks, for heaven’s sake, but rather because you wanted to see if that kind of meat floats. When the inevitable sharks came anyway, and began their visionary activities, it rapidly became obvious to me that some people I am responsible for were getting hurt. And that was why I decided that Michael needed to get popped a couple times, in public, to slow down or possibly stop his disgraceful public behavior.
Doing this does not question the “basic dignity of a man made in the image of God,” but rather presupposes it. Michael is certainly created in the image of God, and bears the name of Christ in his baptism, as do you. I would love to be in fellowship with Michael, and with you. And because you and I are both created in God’s image, and both forgiven by Christ, we should be able to get together and discuss our differences calmly enough. Can I buy you a beer?
According to your worldview, aren’t pedophiles simply being what they are also? What do you believe the age of consent should be, Ralph?
With regard to your other comments, Steven got no in-house legal help, and I no more control the sentencing practices of Idaho’s legal system than I do the comings and goings of WalMart.
Wayne Fox and I differ on many substantive things, as the whole world knows. But the issues regarding his post below are not in that category, having more to do with basic literacy and basic math.
1. At the very beginning of the directory that Wayne Fox cites, the following statement appears. “This directory includes members from both churches and those who attend on a regular basis, but are not yet members . . .” (emphasis added). NSA students regularly retain their membership in their home churches, as was the case with Steven Sitler. His name was in the directory because it is an address and phone directory, not a membership list. Thus, my statement.
2. In the math category, I have no idea where Wayne could possibly have gotten the figure of 120 victims. This is not said as a defense of Steven’s activity — if there had been only one victim, he should be right where he is today, which is in jail. But Wayne still needs to reel it in.
I don’t mind being called “Doug” at all. Let me address your points in order.
1. Two members of our community did do some awful things. But the only risk that anyone faced occurred before those sins were discovered. After those sins were discovered by the church, no one was at risk at all. The reason no one was at risk after these discoveries was that we did what responsible churches are supposed to do in such circumstances.
In your follow-up email, you ask this: “give me one good reason to think that you, Doug Wilson, do not believe that you and your congregation are above and beyond the laws of our community?” Here is the good reason. When a child molester is discovered, the laws of our community require that it be reported to the appropriate authorities, which is exactly what we did, within hours. The law should not require, and in fact does not require, an announcement to the public that someone is accused of child molestation. Rather, we have courts, and a legal process, that we are supposed to follow. You can know that we will do this in the future from how we have carefully done it in the past. In the Sitler case, we scrupulously followed the law. The things you are apparently wanting us to have done would have been unethical and probably illegal. So how can you know we follow the law? Because we do.
2. The notorious “gambling ring” was shut down by us as soon as we found out about it, and we promptly notified our congregation about what we had done. What was it you wanted us to do? One of our slanderers has dubbed it “a casino,” which makes it sound like they had blinking lights on the roof, and billboards by the highway. It was actually some dumb college kids in Misdemeanorville who still had some growing up to do. Fortunately, they appear to be doing so, while some of their obsessive critics do not appear to be so fortunate.
3. You should note that the questions about zoning and boarding houses are (at the very least) debatable issues. And until recently, one of the items you could have added to your list was the battle over tax apportionment, in which debate Logos School, CCM, NSA, and Christ Church were all vindicated this last week by the State Board of Tax Appeals. So perhaps a better question would concern why all these zoning complaints, children taking wine for communion in the Kibbie Dome complaints, slavery booklet complaints, tax apportionment complaints, perjury complaints to the Attorney General, boarding house complaints, and Greyfriar hypocrisy complaints ARE ALL COMING FROM THE SAME SMALL BAND OF PEOPLE.
4. Consequently, we can say that of course there is reason for concern. But it has been, from the very beginning, a manufactured concern.
Joe, can you see how, from our perspective, this is all just harassment simpliciter?
Michael is grieved and baffled at the consequences of his actions. Little kids playing with matches in tinder dry forests often feel the same way, which in no way alters the consequences. Michael needs to apologize for intruding himself into a situation that was way over his head, where he didn’t have all the facts, and for failing to understand what a naif he has been. His anonymous friend who had him post this salacious material has perhaps lost a friend over how the information was used on the Internet? “Oh, dear, what are those people doing out there?” It appears that Michael’s friend was born yesterday, and Michael was born the day before that.
Keep it simple, Michael. The request for privacy that you refused to honor was a reasonable and heart-wrenching requests from someone who has already been through enough. Read through what you posted below, and then read through all your cyber self-centeredness of the last week. It is hard to suck and blow at the same time. The only way out is to drop it. Stop grieving over not dropping it. You are being pathetic, and you need to ask for help from somebody.
Not a problem. Getting back from Slovenia always does the same thing to me.
Let me address your a, b, and c first.
a. Those who contradict what someone says in defense of his own innocence have the burden of proof. In the last forty-eight hours, I have been accused of some truly horrendous activities in this space. The fact that the accusations are lurid doesn’t make them false, but the fact that they are accusations does mean that the one making them assumes the burden of proof. The discussion does not start on that famous “level playing field.” If someone here claimed that I had put Sitler up to his crimes, is it up to me to disprove this allegation?
b. Anything you read from me on the legitimacy of deception was written about the legitimacy of deception in war and war-like conditions — telling the enemy pilot that your tank is a bush when it in fact is not a bush, and telling the Gestapo that you have no Jews hiding in your basement. Would I lie to the Gestapo in such a circumstance? You bet, and with a clean conscience. Rahab and the spies, the Hebrew midwives lying to Pharaoh, and so on. But is it legitimate to lie to fellow parishioners, citizens, family? No, not at all — it is breaking the ninth commandment.
c. If you are baptized in the triune name, then I would consider you a baptized Christian. Whether or not your beliefs or practices line up faithfully with that baptism would be something about which I would have no idea. But assume for the sake of discussion that we would differ on what constitutes faithfulness to Christian baptism. How would that relate at all to whether or not I let Steven Sitler prey on additional victims for a couple years in order to keep my crazy little empire going?
Do I report any and all illegal activity? Well, what are we talking about? 37 mph in a 35? Running at the pool? Jaywalking? Smoking dope with visionaries to get them to calm down a bit? Adultery? Tearing labels off mattresses? I clearly don’t have the MPD dialed in, and I don’t believe that I have ever met a pastor who has reported all potentially illegal activity he may have heard about. I cannot imagine a better way to get the authorities extremely annoyed with you. Pretty soon they would be looking at me the way that city staff must look when Charlie Nolan comes in to file a new complaint about how I am combing my hair these days. So let me turn this around. Joe, do you report to the authorities all violations of the law that might come to your attention?
The case for the need for Citizen Ament to recuse himself is really straightforward. I don’t think he should be asked to recuse himself from the council’s legislative functions at all. That is what elections are for. He won his seat, and he should have the right to say as many silly things as he wants while sitting in it. But the setting from which we were asking him to recuse himself was a judicial one, where the council was hearing an appeal. Legislators can be partisan; that is the point, really. But judges must not be. And Citzen Ament had demonstrated in numerous ways that he is not qualified to sit in an objective, non-partisan judicial capacity.
Thanks for the interaction all. I am going to stay subscribed for one more day, and if nothing new turns up, I will follow the inspiring example of Joan and unsubscribe. But by this I must hasten to add that additional colors or font sizes from Wayne Fox do not count as something “new.” And I further maintain that said colors and fonts do not determine anything, one way or the other, with regard to my alleged mendacity.
Your grasp of the facts in this case are about as firm as your knowledge of where my property lines are.
1. Yes, I was notified in writing by Sitler’s home church about what they had done in response to the information that came to them from us. They had done it in part because Steven was there at home, awaiting trial. He was suspended from the Lord’s Supper by them, and not allowed to come to church because of the children there. But we were not responding to a problem uncovered there, they were responding to a problem uncovered here. You appear to have this backwards.
2. Yes, Sitler received counseling from me before the charges were filed, but not before the authorities were informed of his crime. And in the course of that counseling, additional crimes were confessed, and were consequently confessed by Sitler to the authorities. What possible problem could you have with this?
3. With regard to your third point, no announcements were made to anyone before the civil authorities were notified. You say, somewhat coyly, that “records prove that.” Oh? What records? And no, the authorities were not notified by me directly. Of course not. I already said what happened. The parents found out, they talked to me, I urged them to report it immediately, which they were already intending to do, and the legal aspect of the whole thing was turned over to the civil authorities within hours of finding out. Jennifer’s post earlier confirms that as well.
4. Your fourth point is beside the point. From the time Steven was caught, down to the present, he has been given no opportunity whatever with children. None. Zilch. For the overwhelming majority of that time, he was not in Moscow at all. He was in his hometown awaiting trial (where parents were appropriately warned), he spent time in Cottonwood in the prison there, and he is now in the jail here. Everything that needed to be done to protect children was done. Stop hyper-ventilating.
5. One of the reasons I like to work together with men of integrity like Dean Wullenwaber is that I know that there will be no attempts to get guilty individuals off on bogus technicalities. If you think that Steven should have an attorney, then why not an honest one? If you don’t want someone like Steven to have an attorney, then why don’t you just say so?
Why do you think I knew you would be posting my letters? Because you have done that same kind of thing in the past? Does that make it right? Because when asked to keep a private communication private, your narcissism consistently trumps every other consideration? On your account of this, you put the victims (still, mercifully, unnamed, no thanks to you) on the public stage again by publishing that correspondence. You say that you had other reasons for doing this — right, and those reasons were defending your own ego, which consistently prevents any kind of consideration of other people. They are going through anguish again now, because of you. I am their pastor, and you are not. I know what you have done to them, and you do not. You brought this state of affairs about by publishing my private emails to you, without my permission, and you were then asked to take them down by someone whose request would have been honored immediately by anyone with a functional sense of decency.
This is something you still need to do, even though most of the damage is already done. Why don’t you do it?
When people sin, other people suffer. Sin destroys. When people within the Christian community sin hypocritically and with a high hand, their fellow Christians suffer. And whenever this happens, unbelievers are given free rein (by God Himself) to gloat about it. When King David sinned like this, he became the object of scorn in the songs of drunkards, and, it has to be said, he deserved every stanza. So we do not protest the chortling at our expense — God is delivering no injustice to us. All His ways are good. If a Greyfriar student does something sexually grotesque, like Jamin did, or goes off on a pharisaical jag like Michael Metzler, it is certainly a personal embarrassment to me, as well as an embarrassment to the whole program. But ministerial training programs can survive embarrassments — what they will not survive is a lack of integrity which refuses to discipline for such things.
But when we discipline for such things, we try (as much as possible) to keep the discipline surgical, and limited to the offender. We try to avoid the approach taken by Jackie and Joan, Tom and Michael, which is to dump Agent Orange on the whole jungle. “Remember, only you can prevent forests.” You, Joan, because of these juicy morsels just delivered to us all, are in a position to demand that we nuke the whole jungle, that we tell the whole story. Now, when we tell the whole story here, do you want us to tell the whole story? Do you care if anyone else gets hurt? If not, and I hope not, we might be able to come to an agreement. If your only purpose is to get me to agree that Jamin was a hypocritical Christian while in the Greyfriars program, I grant your point readily. You are quite right.
And for the sake of accuracy, if anybody still cares, Jamin left the Greyfriars program on his own before we discovered what he had been doing. But when he was discovered later, we placed a letter in his file noting that he would have been dismissed immediately had the information come out while he was still enrolled. Although he has repented, he has still disqualified himself from ministry. Now if he had only had the sense to have a sexual affair with another man, Joan might currently be agitating for his reinstatement. What a strange world we live in.
Joan, anything else you want?
You say that the posting you were asked to take down was simply the correspondence between me and you, and that in those posts I mentioned the harm to the victims’ families that would come from all this. But I mentioned this in private emails to you, which you took upon yourself to then publish. I expressed my concern for the victims’ families privately, and you then published to the world what I had written to you. And you were then asked by someone directly harmed by your action to take them down, which you have not, as of five minutes ago. Michael, you are the emotional equivalent of a sucking chest wound, which makes it difficult for you to see what the honorable course of action is here. You did not and do not have my permission to publish those private emails. Someone directly harmed by your action has asked you to remove them. Why have you not done so?
For the rest of you, you need to face up to what Michael (and J. Ford, and Tom, and others) are trying to do with this. Are you going to let it happen?
I thank Jennifer MacFarland for her post and timeline, and I hope that will settle it. I hope I will not have to post anymore on this. Please, everyone, just drop it.
Only one kind of thing could have induced me to come back into this discussion group.
Michael, in order to defend your reprehensible behavior in this, you have already discussed a conversation your wife had with someone in the victim’s family on your blog. Although you did not identify them by name, you doing this distressed that family greatly. Way to go. The mother of some of the victims has called you up and begged you to take your postings down, and you refused. Way to go again. I am not using these people as a shield — you are using them as a spear. You were told by that mother that you were not “hurting Doug Wilson, you are hurting us.” What is wrong with you? How could you refuse a request like that? I can easily envision a circumstance (like this one) where you would face a grim choice indeed — that of accepting the humiliation of public refutation, or continuing to keep the issue confused by dragging them into it (and then blaming me for involving the victims, as you have already sought to do). Think about this; we have now both made claims about the victims’ families. I have done so because your pathetic behavior made it necessary. So how are we going to check who is telling the truth about them without making them go on the record? You are the one who has created this awful situation, and you need to take responsibility for it. You have published privileged information in the past, and I have no reason to believe that if your astounding emotional insecurities are in any way threatened that you will be trustworthy with this kind of information in the future. On this issue, the only honorable thing for you to do is to apologize like a man, take down your postings, and shut up.
Tom, when Steven was caught he was reported to the legal authorities within a matter of hours. In the aftermath of that initial discovery, in counseling sessions with me (allowed by the state), he confessed to me his previous activities back before he had been caught. I told him that he needed to make a full confession of all that to the court, which he agreed to do. So we found out about his crimes in 2005. We did not know in 2003 what he was doing in 2003. We found out in 2005 what he was doing in 2003. As soon as we knew, within hours, the legal authorities knew. Your malice toward me (and that of J. Ford), is causing to you to make wild, unsubstantiated and libelous claims about how children were endangered by our behavior. It was just the reverse. Ant the transparent attempt to roll this issue in with the boarding house/zonng complaint shows what the real interest in this is.
I repeat my request. The families involved do not want this. They do not want their story in the papers (which it now is, thanks to Michael). They want everybody to drop it. What about it?
Let’s take just one thing at a time. J. Ford claims that I knew about Steven Sitler’s activities for two years without doing anything about it. In the real world, where all this actually happened, the civil authorities were contacted immediately, and no children were endangered by him from that moment to this. Steven left Moscow immediately, and was allowed by the civil authorities to wait for his trial in his home town, which is why the people there were informed right away. When people here needed to be informed, they were — by responsible people who put the interests of the victims and their families first, unlike Ford, Metzler, and the cohort of anonymous cowards who post to Metzler’s blog.
So I want to put this question to Moscow’s progressives and liberals who have watched a mania about me on the part of some become an unhealthy public obsession. This mania is about to chew up some innocent people. Do you approve of this behavior? What is your mechanism for dealing with this kind of manufactured libel, all wool and a yard wide? Bill London, you are the quasi-moderator here. Does your commitment to free speech on this forum have any way of protecting the victims in this tragedy? What are you going to do to keep one of the crazies here from posting their names, all for the sake of making some obscure and telling point against me? What responsibility does FirstStep have to protect the victims’ names? What responsibility does this forum have when one member of it accuses someone of complicity in perverse and criminal activity for two years, when what was actually done was to involve the police immediately? Does J. Ford’s libelous post get to just remain there? Is anybody going to do anything about this? Are you people totally without shame?
To all those who have been discussing this enthusiastically, with about a third of the facts, and those creatively arranged, I would make this request. Michael Metzler, J. Ford, all you visionaries, this is a request I am making on behalf of the victims’ families. Please stop this discussion right now. Drop it. All you are doing is gearing up for the second round of abuse. Sitler provided the first round, and godless chatter here and elsewhere is providing the second. When I talked to the victims’ parents about what Michael Metzler had done on his blog, and what was being done here, do you think the response from them was more like, “Oh, good,” or “Oh, no”? Which response do you think it was? Honestly, which? If you guessed the latter, you would be right, and that should dictate what those with any sense of decency remaining will not write about from here on out. Once again, the victims’ families feel quite helpless, and Metzler’s blog and this forum are the reason for it. Do the right thing.