Update: Laura Turner has quietly corrected her article in line with at least one of my criticisms of it, but without acknowledging that she was doing so. Just so you know.
I do need to respond to this article, but I am also in two minds about it. In order to interact with this stuff at all, you have to make a distinction between different kinds of people involved. On the one hand you have people on the other side of the country who are just getting in their leftist licks, at places like Jezebel. On the other hand you have the hurting and lost people who, when the controversialists are done using them, will be left alone to count the fragments of what they thought they were supposed to get.
What I think I will do is simply walk through the timeline of what happened in the Greenfield/Wight situation, doing this in a similar way to how I responded to Rod Dreher’s attack on us. The Jezebel article addresses the Sitler situation also, which I already addressed here. With my earlier timeline response, I was dealing with Rod Dreher and The American Conservative, from whom I expected a lot more, and in this place, I am dealing with Laura Turner and Jezebel, from whom I expected a lot worse. Oh well.
Dreher emphasized Sitler, and included some of the Greenfield case, while Turner does the opposite. So what I intend to do here is simply walk through what actually happened in the Greenfield situation.
There are several key facts to remember as you read through the Jezebel narrative and also through what follows. First, what was done to Natalie by Jamin was atrocious, with long term consequences that are simply heartbreaking. This was one of those wounds that just won’t stop bleeding. My prayer for Natalie really is that she might find peace and true healing, and find it soon.
Second, Turner casts me as a big, bad patriarchalist, with her definitions of that word every bit as scary as the word sounds. But she left out of her account the glaring fact that we suspended Natalie’s father from the Lord’s Supper for his abusive mistreatment of his family, and for claiming that his authority over his family was virtually absolute. There was a patriarchalist in this tragic story who was much closer to Turner’s description, but we were the ones who disciplined him for it. And Turner is the one glossing over what he did to the women in his family. Why is that okay?
Third, there are many falsehoods throughout the story — incidentally, Turner did not interview me for the story, but did I need to say that? — and here is one of them. Turner says that all NSA students and Greyfriars live with families. I don’t know who made that up, but somebody did. It is not true at all. And there are many other things I could say about the article, but we don’t have all night. Update: she edited her article in response to this paragraph.
But one of the falsehoods is big enough that it needs to be flatly denied in its own paragraph. “The Greenfields and Wilson went back and forth on whether it was appropriate for a 23-year-old to court a young teenage girl, until Natalie’s father Gary finally said no to any sort of romantic relationship between Wight and his daughter.” Even on this (misleading and false) account, Turner ought to have said what position I was supposed to have been advocating back then. Was she trying to insinuate that I was trying to foist Jamin off on the Greenfields? Or was I saying that it was totally crazy? Hint: my views are that a secret relationship between a 23-year-old and a 14-year-old is beyond irresponsible. In real life, I found out what had transpired in the secretly-arranged courtship years after the fact in 2005, when the relationship and the attendant abuse became public. So the relationship began in 2002, the parents knew about it at that time, set boundaries for it at that time, boundaries that they thought were being honored, and the reality of what actually happened blew up a few years later.
So then, here is the timeline. In 2005, I received a phone call from a woman in the Tri-Cities whose daughter was engaged to Jamin. She told me that Natalie had called her daughter, Jamin’s fiance, and told her about what Jamin had previously done to her. That’s how I found out about this.
The Greenfield family filed a complaint against Jamin and I reported what had happened to our board of elders (8/18/05).
About a week later (8/22/05) I wrote a letter to the officer investigating the crime, a letter that followed up on a interview he had conducted with me earlier. In that letter I said:
“Jamin’s crime and sin in this was of a particularly egregious nature . . . and his behavior involved a great deal of calculated deception.”
“We have verbally instructed him (and have followed it up with a letter) that he is responsible to own his crime and take full responsibility for the consequences of it.”
In that same letter, I mentioned the foolish courtship set-up. I noted that the Greenfields had acted foolishly “by inviting Jamin to move in with them, encouraging and permitting a relationship between Jamin and Natalie, while keeping that relationship secret from the broader community.”
The same day I wrote Jamin a letter, in the course of which I said this. “We want your first thought in all your practical choices to be the protection of the Greenfields, and particularly Natalie” (8/22/05).
As the case against Jamin moved forward, we were concerned with the attitude and behavior of Gary Greenfield. He had shown great foolishness in the way he allowed the courtship in the first place, and we were concerned that he was not showing great wisdom in how he pursued Jamin. We did not want him to swing at Jamin and hit Natalie. So I said in a letter to Gary that “we remain very concerned about the possibility that this whole legal process could proceed in a way that continues to leave Natalie unprotected” (9/1/05).
For example, during the relationship Natalie had kept a journal of love letters to Jamin which are currently sealed by court order. If the case had gone to a full trial, then those letters would quite possibly have been used in the defense. That is the kind of thing we were wanting to head off for the sake of Natalie. The Greenfields agreed with wanting to protect her this way, and it was at their request that the journals were sealed. Now was wanting something like that a desire for real protection? I think so, but it was entirely possible that Gary could pursue the case in such a way that such protection would fail and fail big. This is the kind of thing we were talking about.
Two weeks later, I wrote another letter to Gary (9/15/05). Incidentally, such letters were not a substitute for personal conservation, but were a way of confirming what we had said personally in our conversations. I for one am very glad we used that procedure. I have letters I can quote from. In that letter, we said the following:
“Your sin did create a vulnerability for Natalie, a vulnerability that Jamin took sinful advantage of. What we are doing is exhorting you to make protection of Natalie your highest priority in the months to come, because we are convinced that she will need it.”
“The problem was that you had a young man in his twenties living in your home, in a relationship that you knew about with your fourteen-year-old daughter. You kept this relationship secret from others, which contributed to Natalie’s vulnerability.”
“Again, Jamin is in no way justified by any of this, and we have no problem with his prosecution.”
In the following months, Gary’s behavior became increasingly erratic and the family was increasingly worried. I sought to meet with Gary about it and he refused. I suspended him from the Lord’s Supper for four weeks over his refusal to be accountable for his treatment of his family. Our session of elders then sustained that suspension from the Supper (3/30/06). That suspension was made indefinite the next month (4/13/06).
Gary was demanding that his family move out of town with him, but his behavior was unsettling, erratic and scary. I reported to the elders that I had “counseled Pat to remain in Moscow until we have assurances of her safety, welfare and protection” (5/25/06).
I wrote to Gary about a week later. In that letter, I said:
“You have no right to treat your wife the way you are doing, and you do not belong to a church that will ever grant you that right” (6/3/06).
At this point, I want to stop and ask Laura Turner what I should have said to Gary in that letter instead of what I did say. Does Turner think that churches should grant men that kind of authority?
As already mentioned, Gary was suspended from the Supper, but we were by now involved in preparing to excommunicate him. (In our form of church government, excommunication is the final step of church discipline.) In the course of preparing for that trial, I was given a copy of a letter that Natalie had sent to her father. In this letter, she was explaining why his authority was not absolute, and why she did not need to move with him. She said:
“[Doug] is my pastor and I will seek counsel from him when I feel it necessary. God put him over me as my shepherd and he has been a great encouragement and help to me . . . I love my church and my community” (6/6/06).
It is crucial to note this was a year after Natalie had made her abuse at Jamin’s hands public, and it was a month after Jamin’s final sentencing trial.
She concluded the letter to her father this way:
“I have written this on my own accord using my own, adult, thinking mind. I have not been persuaded, manipulated or coerced into anything. I stand on my own two feet and my feet are planted on my rock, Christ the Lord.”
Now what Jezebel is in effect maintaining is that we had a responsibility to not believe the Greenfield women, and to believe Gary instead. But we did believe Natalie, and we did believe her mother. We had (and have) independent confirmation that they were speaking the truth to us. And now, ten years later, Jezebel is attacking us for our “patriarchalism,” when what we were actually doing was disciplining an out-of-control patriarchalist.
A week and a half later, Natalie wrote to me directly, a plea for help. This plea for help is one that Laura Turner is now saying that we should have coldly ignored. Natalie described her father’s treatment of her this way.
“He said I did this to us. He said I’m sick with ulcers because I’m rebellious and sinful. He called today to ‘chat’ and when I told him how sick I’ve been, he said, ‘oh, really, hmmm, that’s too bad, isn’t it? . . . Did I do this? He said I did this . . .” (6/15/06).
The blaming, and the shaming, which did in fact happen, and which is gut-wrenching even to think about, was terrible. But we didn’t do it. We were in the middle of disciplining the man who was doing it.
So here is a summary of the disciplinary proceedings against Gary Greenfield. He was suspended from the Supper in March of 2006 for his refusal to meet with the elders regarding questions of his treatment of his family. This was a four week suspension. The suspension was made indefinite in April because of his continued refusal to meet. His behavior was terrible, including toward Natalie. Charges were drawn up for an excommunication trial in July of 2006. Those charges included “unrepentant mistreatment,” “harsh and abusive language,” “vandalizing the family business,” “refusal to supply financial support,” and “claiming the authority of a husband and father [was] virtually absolute.” When he joined the Eastern Orthodox church, we set aside the formal trial (for the sake of the family), and considered his departure while under this suspension as tantamount to excommunication. The reason we did not go through the process of a full trial is that there was a concern that Gary would retaliate against his family (financially), something he had shown himself fully capable of doing.
So I know for a fact that Natalie was not lying to me back then about her father. I believed her account then, and I still believe it today. There were other witnesses to what Gary was doing, and a careful record of everything was kept.
In the years since, it is Natalie’s account that has shifted. I am very sorry for her, and ache over the grief she has gone through, but the documented reality is that at the time of her abuse — first one kind from Jamin, and another blaming kind from her father — she knew then that we were on her side. She says now that we were not, but at the time she said we were, and was telling us that her father was mistreating her. The only way for her to deny this now is for her to confess that she was falsely accusing her father to us. Was she? I don’t believe so.
I don’t know exactly what changed, but it wasn’t our attitude toward abuse. The reality is that we discipline men who treat women that way. We did then, and we do now.
A simplistic approach to this sorry story is to present it as a choice between believing Natalie or not. It is actually a choice between believing Natalie ten years ago, with corroborating evidence, or believing Natalie now with no corroborating evidence. Her story has changed, away from the documented facts, and as long as she persists in this, real healing will continue to elude her.
There are other things that could be said about the years since then, but I think the above provides a basic outline of what actually happened thus far.
So I would like to conclude this section with an honest set of questions for Laura Turner.
Why should we have left the Greenfield women unprotected from an abusive husband and father? Why should we have disbelieved their verbal and written reports to us? What evidence do you have that should have made us want to set those reports aside? And if we had left the women unprotected a decade ago, do you think it is at all possible that you might be persuaded to write an article attacking us for that? So what do you want? Do you want us to believe women who report mistreatment, or do you not? I know that feminists don’t like jokes, and that is really unfortunate, because your feminism is one.
I am very sorry, but one more thing needs to be added to the timeline. I said a moment ago that I don’t know the exact nature of what changed, but in 2007 Natalie was suspended from the Supper because she had gotten engaged to a non-Christian man (7/19/07). Natalie is now married to Wes Petersen, not a believer, and that is a big part of what has changed. I wish her well, and I wish him well, and want nothing but God’s blessing on the two of them. But despite my best wishes, they are not well now. Those who know their situation know they are lost and hurting people. Natalie has recently scrubbed her Facebook history and her blog to make her overall story more palatable to those Christians she has wanted to tell her story to, but certain unfortunate facts were missed.
Regular readers of this blog know that I am not a big fan of trigger warnings, but this next point really does require one. Please note that I am not making anything public. These videos were made public a couple years ago by Wes himself. They were public then and are public now. These are “performance art” videos of Natalie’s husband, entirely naked, that he filmed of himself. Don’t click if it concerns you because you can’t unsee them. Wes and Natalie wanted them public, and I am simply providing links to them — here and here.
Update: The first link above to their posting of “The Bridge” video has now been taken down by them. You can still see it here, but only if you need to. Caution still advised. The relevance and/or propriety of these links has been questioned in the comments below, but surely the relevance is obvious? This behavior is something that Natalie currently believes is normal. Notice that they took down the first video, but not the second. That one must be okay then, one they are still prepared to defend. This is the worldview perspective that is criticizing our handling of sexual abuse cases. And this is what Boz T has identified his GRACE ministry with. This is what Ryan Sather has identified CRU with — that and his mocking dismissal of women who were abused. The whole thing is kind of a tawdry spectacle — evangelical leaders in bed with Jezebel. What would Elijah say? Update concluded
So just ask yourself this: what would happen if videos like this had been made by anyone else around here — by Jamin, by one of our Greyfriars, by an NSA student, by anyone related to me? You get the picture.
Is this what it takes to have Boz Tchividjian have his ministry link arms with you? Would Boz recommend that any ministry hire any man who had filmed himself doing something like this as a youth minister? When we tried to tell Boz’s organization privately that this is the kind of thing they were dealing with, all we got back from GRACE was the threat of a lawsuit. Christians suing Christians before unbelievers, just like in the Bible.
Linking to these videos is not retaliation, and it is not provocative. It is not gasoline on the fire. This is the kind of thing I have been laboring to prevent, not for my own sake but for the sake of others. I told Natalie in an email a while ago that it was not possible to dig up half a corpse. But if you insist, if you demand, if you keep it up, if you finally get your story on Jezebel, the rest of the corpse comes too. So this is where we now are. You wanted the whole story, and we are almost there. Unfortunately, for all you angry Internet personnel out there, this is just one more instance of you swinging at one person like me and hitting Natalie instead.
One last thing. If someone wants to read some accounts from other women in Moscow who have also been victims, but who processed it in a way much more conducive to healing, I would like to recommend this web site. There are no comments, and the women involved are not debating with anyone, or answering anyone. They are simply telling their stories. Because they are not attacking anyone, but simply giving their testimonies, their names are withheld. The stories are compelling, just like the truth.