So You Protected a Pedophile: A PR Guide For Churches Under Fire
[CN: Child Sex Abuse, Abuse Apologia]
Recently, Douglas Wilson’s pastoring of his church in Moscow, Idaho, was critiqued roundly from various online watchdog groups. Julie Anne wrote a comprehensive post on her blog about the events.
Essentially, Wilson “counseled” a known serial pedophile, urged leniency and “limited” punishment in a letter to the judge, welcomed said pedophile back into the church fold, encouraged and facilitated (with the help of a fellow congregant) the pedophile’s marriage to a young woman, and officiated the wedding. Now that the marriage has produced an infant son, a judge doing a yearly check in as part of the man’s probation has determined his wife basically to be unfit for the role of supervisor over her husband’s interactions with their son, meaning that any interaction the man has with his son will have to be overseen by an outside party. This restriction was imposed because the man admitted to experiencing sexual arousal around his own son. Allegedly, abuse of the infant son may have already taken place.
The man still attends Wilson’s church, every Sunday, and does so with the blessing of his pastor. He was married under pastor Doug Wilson. And neither the church nor Wilson have provided any evidence aside from their word that this man is being “rehabilitated,” the testimony of which is based on word from the man himself.
So how does Doug Wilson respond to the controversy? In a way that provides a pretty great primer for how you want to respond if your aim is to protect abusers and to deny your own role in facilitating a potential abusive and heart-wrenching situation.
Here’s what you should do if you don’t actually care:
1. Minimize your own role as much as possible. Don’t even engage with the narrative of the story about how you personally acted as a counselor to this man and continued to have repeated contact with him and his family. Don’t mention the fact that you were the pastor at their wedding and there are literally photos of you with them, blessing their marriage. Pretend you, as pastor, did not play any kind of realistic role in this man’s life or in promoting the narrative that he has been redeemed or changed.
2. Confuse the conversation with theological mumbo-jumbo about how we all make mistakes and we’re all sinners with burdens we have to carry. So what if this congregant touches kids! You got mad at your Dad that one time! It’s all the same – it’s all sin! There’s no need to treat his sin any differently from a person who drinks or bets the house on the ponies. Grace covers everything and if you insist on continuing to punish him for his sinful desires, then you’re the ungracious ones!
3. Speaking of ungracious, accuse the people reporting this story of being slanderers and unbelievers who just want to tear a good church down. Legitimate concerns? Pshaw. These people just want to shit on the Word of God! And since they’re pointing out things in your church where you pastor, then these people just want to see God fail! It’s all about how the Devil gets his hands around people’s hearts and turns them into bitter, unbelieving hags. There can’t possibly be legitimate concerns because you are God’s chosen and God’s chosen can do no wrong.
4. Praise the pedophile for having courage and strength in the face of all those who want to slander him. But make sure you immediately deny any intimate involvement in the man’s life or any particular knowledge. Those harpies are just out for blood and it’s a wonder this man hasn’t cracked and after all he’s just another sinner, but look are how wonderfully he’s handling this burden of being allowed to skate on the magnanimous GRACE of Doug I mean God.
5. Quote the Bible so that everyone knows you are the Man of God here and everyone else is just secular hypocrites. Context and actual application don’t matter! Just throw them out there to bolster your position with extra awesome Scriptural endorsements!
6. Make this about persecution, not about legitimate concerns for the safety of the man’s child and his family. The world hates you. This is the first and foremost principle of the Caring Pastor Who Just Wants People to Shut Up About That Pedophile Guy Already. Any criticism that doesn’t come from a source you already vetted and sanctioned is base, immoral slander that is the persecution Christ told us about. This pedophile – and you, as the pastor! – have now practically achieved sainthood for your understanding of how Awesome and Magnificent Grace is and all those slanderers can go dip their heads in a lake because they’re just Satan’s tools persecuting you!
7. Refuse to actually have a conversation about what needs to be done. Instead, turn everything into an altar call. This is all just about the blood of Christ, not about the potential enabling of an abuser (I mean, sinner) and the use of theology to cover potentially heinous crimes. This isn’t about the individuals at all! This is about God’s grace and love and the ways in which his blood covers our sins and so we don’t necessarily need to worry about that sinner over there because we can totally believe that he is working hard to be redeemed (even though the particular Calvinist theology we espouse directly contradicts such a thought).
There! That should be everything you need to respond effectively to any scurrilous questions about who may or may not be using your church as a cover for their crimes and the hard questions about what redemption actually looks like.
Remember, you have to deliver all of this with an arrogant air and a stance of never backing down, lest people think you might have some shred of humility or empathy for other human beings left. The possibility that you might actually have done something wrong must never be admitted and it must never be approached as a possibility. Dig your heels in, and all those slanderers will just continue to wallow in their own tears, devastated by the majestic surety that everything you do and say is gold!