Colonial Hills Baptist Church has a biography of their senior pastor that is significant for what it omits:
Dr. Charles Phelps is our senior pastor. Prior to coming to Colonial, Dr. Phelps served as a youth pastor in Minnesota and Colorado, as a senior pastor in New Hampshire, and as a college president in Wisconsin. He has traveled to numerous mission fields, colleges, seminaries, and churches to teach and preach the Bible. Pastor Phelps is a passionate, practical Bible teacher and preacher. He ministers faithfully to our church family along with his wife, Linda. They have five children and one grandson.
In 1997 Pastor Phelps was the senior pastor at the Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, New Hampshire, when he discovered that a church member, Ernest Willis, had raped (on at least two occasions) a 15-year-old girl, the daughter of a church member, and the girl was pregnant. Under New Hampshire law, Willis had committed a felony – a Class B Felonious Sexual Assault – a crime for which he has since been found guilty (verdict Friday, he hasn’t yet been sentenced but it could be up to 54 years). This was the case even if, as Willis persistently claimed, the girl had consented to sex: she was under 16. (Exceptions can be made for two kids more-or-less the same age fooling around with each other, but Willis was then in his late thirties and married: the girl was his kids’ babysitter.)
There were multiple people affected by Willis’s rape of the girl. There was Willis’s wife (they are now divorced), their children, the girl herself, the girl’s mother. (I don’t know if the girl’s father was a church member.) Supposing that, 14 years ago, Willis had been arrested for rape and Phelps had stood by the girl and given his testimony in support of her. One can assume that even an anti-rape Pastor Phelps would have been against abortion, so I’m not going to fantasise that the girl would have been able to make her own decision about that: but suppose she had a supportive mother who hadn’t made her give the baby up for adoption, or if the adoption had been with local parents and as open as possible, so that the girl was not (as actually happened) permanently separated from the baby she’d been forced to have? (I can’t say what decision the girl might have made about abortion if she’d been genuinely free to choose, with a supportive mother to back whatever decision she made, but I can be pretty sure that Pastor Phelps would never have supported abortion nor envisaged a “solution” that included abortion, so let’s assume not.)
Phelps would have been faced with a congregation aware that one of their number was being charged with rape of a babysitter; the man’s wife would have had to deal, there and then, with knowing that her husband was a rapist who molested teenage girls: and the girl herself, pregnant with the rapist’s child. The situation would necessarily have continued for months, maybe for years – really, for as long as any of the people involved remained members. (Adoptive parents might have been members of the same congregation, or known to members of the congregation, too.)
Whereas, I can see the temptation to Phelps: if he got the pregnant girl out of the way, got the girl and Willis to apologise to the congregation thus making it partly the girl’s fault and therefore allowing Mrs Willis to tell herself it wasn’t altogether her husband’s fault, and got the baby adopted out of state and to parents not known to anyone in the congregation, then – he could tell himself – everything would be over and done with in weeks. The girl would be out of the way in Colorado having her baby, when she came back she wouldn’t talk about it, and there wouldn’t be any messy lingering upset. Perfect solution, so long as the girl kept her mouth shut and Phelps wasn’t concerned about justice, or kindness to a raped girl, or protecting other vulnerable teenagers from Ernest Willis – or even with being honest with Mrs Willis, that her husband was a rapist of teenage girls and there could be no excuse for him.
Pastor Phelps’s defense in court was that he did report this to the police, though he also says he told the police that the girl didn’t want to come forward. The two phone calls, he claims, were made on Oct. 8, 1997 when he found out that the girl was raped and pregnant, and on Oct. 9, the following day, when he told the police the girl didn’t want to come forward.
Pastor Phelps says he told the girl “I read to Tina from Deuteronomy 22. The passage is about a maiden in a field and she is accosted by a man, the maiden screamed and no one was there to help her. Then the passage refers to a maiden in a city who is accosted by a man, she didn’t scream. There is the appearance of complicity.”
Chuck Phelps (his new Colonial Hills church says he “especially enjoys teaching pastoral ethics, church management, church growth, and discipleship”) got the girl to read an apology for her misbehaviour to the congregation. Then he had her sent away to another state to have the baby, have the baby adopted, and then return to the New Hampshire Church, where she’d continue to worship alongside the man who’d raped her, Ernest Willis. This kind of abuse, revealed by one brave woman who opted to come forward, doesn’t seem to concern Phelps’ new church.
A lot of people responded to my previous post on this subject. I thank you all now for commenting: I’m sorry I didn’t reply to your comments. Several spoke of how this matched their own experience of Christian charity – caring for rapists more than for their victims.
Chuck Phelps set up his own website to excuse his behaviour: www.drchuckphelps.com. He claims that neither he nor the girl’s mother told her not to press charges. But clearly, even according to his own testimony, he made no effort whatsoever to support the girl against the rapist. Ernest Willis was also a member of Phelps’ congregation. Phelps had a responsibility to him: a responsibility which Phelps seems to have thought he fulfilled by protecting the rapist from the legal consequences of committing a felony. It does not seem to have occurred to Phelps, ever, that he had a moral responsibility towards Willis or towards his other victims, to ensure that Willis was arrested by the police and charged with the crime Phelps knew he had committed: the burden of his defense is that the 15-year-old girl, whom he admits he’d told was “complicit” in her own rape, was solely responsible for ensuring that charges were brought against Ernest Willis, and it’s entirely her fault, not his, that the rapist was left to go free for 14 years.
What’s missing from the website now (I first looked at it a few months ago, soon after the 20/20 broadcast) is a defense by Chuck Phelps that the whole horrible situation was worthwhile because the girl had a baby and the baby was adopted: she didn’t have an abortion, and the couple who got a baby were made happy by this. I don’t know why Phelps took this down – perhaps because someone with more self-awareness realized that it made Doctor Phelps look very, very complicit in the sexual abuse of an underage girl. Perhaps Phelps was still hoping, at the time he first set up the site, that Willis would be found not guilty and he could dismiss the girl whose rape he’d condoned, all those years ago, as just another silly slut. (His website still cites a letter from the girl’s mother which claims her daughter is only doing this for the money: I don’t think he quite sees that abuse from an abusive parent is not exactly helping his case.) But it did strike me as a classic pro-life justification for rape and sexual abuse.
Colonial Hills Baptist Church says it 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.” They even have a Facebook page. But their senior pastor condoned the rape of a fifteen year old girl, and continues to excuse his behaviour then. His church appears to think the problem can be resolved by giving him a separate website, hoping perhaps that people won’t keep associating their pastor with the rapist in New Hampshire.
Apparently their sermon for today, May 29, is “designed to strengthen saints and convict sinners. This morning’s message is entitled, ‘God is Able to Keep You Eternally Secure.'” Phelps doesn’t seem to have regarded justice, or kindness, or protecting the vulnerable, or honesty, as anything a pastor ought to be concerned with. But security, yes: he does seem to have cared about that.