In 1997, a 15-year-old girl in Concord, New Hampshire, became pregnant after being raped repeatedly by Ernest Willis, an older man she knew from the Trinity Baptist Church in Concord her family and the Willis family both attended. The girl told her mother after she was made pregnant: the mother told their pastor, Chuck Phelps.
The Trinity Baptist Church website has this careful message on its front page:
In reviewing the events of October 1997, the present leadership is seeking answers for the victim, our congregation, as well as our entire Concord community. The prayers of our entire church are for justice to be served to the alleged perpetrator, and that mercy and care will be extended to the victim.
Pastor Chuck Phelps had the rape victim go up for “church discipline” because, he told her, Willis may have been 99 percent responsible, but she needed to confess her 1 percent guilt in the situation, and that she should be happy that she didn’t live in Old Testament times because she would have been stoned.
A witness from 1997 remembers “I can still see the little girl standing up there with this smile on her face trying to get through this.” The next day the witness, Fran Earle, called Mrs Phelps, who said the victim had decided not to press charges for statutory rape. Earle, who left the church in 2001, said it was “regular” to see young girls who were pregnant called to the front of the congregation to be humiliated in this way.
Statutory rape has a statute of limitations of 22 years from when the victim turns 18 in New Hampshire, so the police are now investigating Ernest Willis. Chuck Phelps, now senior pastor at another Baptist church in Indianapolis (with no message on its website for the victims of its Pastor), says that he did not “participate in a cover-up”. He simply had the rape victim kept in a “prophet’s chamber” (a guest room over the garage used to host travelling ministers) at the Phelpses’ Concord home until she could be “relocated”. “I just know that they made me stay at their house, and I wasn’t allowed to see any of my friends or talk to anybody. I had to stay there until they shipped me away.” After she moved to Colorado, a minister there asked her to write a letter to Ernest Willis’s wife, apologising to her for “abusing her trust” by having sex with her husband. Church members there monitored her phone calls and didn’t allow her to be with people her own age. When she gave birth in March 1998, Chuck Phelps urged her to put her baby girl up for adoption. After about a year she returned to Concord for about six months, living with her mother, attending Trinity Church, and seeing Ernest Willis in church regularly: he was still a church member.
They say “We’re interested in your comments and questions.” They also say: “Colonial Hills Baptist Church is a family of caring Christians, a place where people feel like they are coming home. Through fervent prayer, the passionate and practical declaration of God’s Word, carefully presented and God-focused music, and a sincere love for the individual, Colonial Hills Baptist Church desires to help you and your family grow in Christ.”
Presumably, Ernest Willis and his family were “helped to grow in Christ” by Pastor Chuck Phelps. Wonder how many other rapists he’s “helping” at his new church?
Update, Sunday 10th April 2011
If you live inside the United States, you may be able to watch a 20/20 documentary on the ABC website (20/20 4/8: Victim’s Forced Confession)
Chuck Phelp’s new church, Colonial Hills Baptist, now has a message up on its website:
ABC’s 20/20 has featured a documentary having to do with independent fundamental Baptists. What occured in Concord, NH while Pastor Phelps was pastor was a part of their focus. Pastor Phelps now has a website available to provide accurate information. Please go to www.drchuckphelps.com for more information.
This 20/20 program is what ABC describe in a news release as a “yearlong investigation” into “a religious subculture many Americans have never heard of, yet has thousands of churches across the country . . . churches that critics claim can foster physical and sexual abuse.” Anchor Elizabeth Vargas said yesterday the 1997 incident at Trinity is “a big part of our hour” but other churches are also examined. (Concord Monitor) It would certainly be interesting to do a follow-up with the church in Indiana, to find out how many rapists have received the benefit of Pastor Phelps’ spiritual support there.