Doug Wilson and child safeguarding

In this article I am going to engage with perhaps the least easy to read and write about of the concerns raised about Doug Wilson, I’ve titled this “Doug Wilson and child safeguarding” which is perhaps an understatement of the issue but I’ve titled it that way not to minimise the issues but rather to try and avoid the title itself being a potential trigger of PTSD for readers who may have been subject to childhood abuse. 

The issue here centres on two specific cases. The first concerns a man called Stephen Sitller a paedophile who was convicted of numerous, serious offences.  The concerns raised are that despite the significant concerns raised, Wilson allowed Sitler to continue to attend church and further to marry a young lady from the congregation and for them to have a child together despite concerns that this presented a potential danger to the child.  Further that, as with the other case, Wilson wrote on behalf of Sitler to the court.  Wilson has responded by writing to the congregation at Christchurch, Moscow, Idaho to say that whilst Sitler is welcome to attend the church, he does so accompanied by a chaperone. However, from what I can tell from the available reports, he neglects to mention that the chaperones are his wife and his mother in law both of whom failed to report on serious concerns and further abuse allegations when they arose.[1] 

The second case concerns Nathalie Greenfield,  a young girl who was 14 at the time and Jamin Wright, a student in his 20s who lodged with Nathalie’s family.  Jamin engaged in a reltionship with Nathalie which seems to have to some extent been allowed by her parents and which is described by Wilson as a “secret courtship.” Again, Wilson is reported to have written to the court’s in support of Wright. Furthermore, when Greenfield went public about her experience in later years, Wilson’s response was to:

  • Argue that Greenfield’s testimony was not reliable because of performance art videos that her Christian had produced.
  • Claim that Greenfield had been happy with his pastoral care until disciplined for marrying a non-Christian. Again, he is seeking to undermine her credibility and suggest that she is motivated by bitterness.[2]
  • Attempt to persuade Greenfield to be silent by suggesting that raising her grievance was unfair to her mum. 

In correspondence with Nathalie, he goes on to argue that her case was not comparable with the Stephen Sitler situation. He recognises that a crime of “statutory rape” has been committed but insists that other factors should be brought into consideration. I am going to quote Wilson directly here:

“As my letter makes plain, Jamin was guilty of sexual behavior with a girl who was below the age of consent. She was underage. Our letter acknowledged fully that Jamin was guilty of criminal behavior, and we wanted him to pay the penalty for that criminal behavior, which was a species of statutory rape. The question before the court was what kind of criminal behavior it was, not whether it was criminal, and we instructed Jamin that he needed to take responsibilty for what he had done. But what he had done was very different from subsequent reconstructions that Natalie has been periodically posting.

In short, his crime was not in the same category as Steven Sitler’s crimes at all. Steven’s behavior was with young children and was simply predatory. Jamin’s crime was that of engaging in consensual sexual behavior with an underage girl. 

So — Jamin was in a romantic relationship with a young girl, her parents knew of the relationship and encouraged it, her parents permitted a certain measure of physical affection to exist between them (e.g. hand-holding), Natalie was a beautiful and striking young woman, and at the time was about eight inches taller than Jamin was. Her parents believed that she was mature enough to be in that relationship, and the standards they set for the relationship would have been reasonable if she had in fact been as mature as she seemed to them.

What we wanted the court to know was simply this: it is simply not possible to have it both ways. If you are pressing charges of child abuse, you are saying that Jamin failed to respect the fact that Natalie was a child. But this was the same failure that he shared with her parents, who thought she was a remarkably mature young woman. That fact ought to be recognized on all sides. Jamin was brought into the house in order to make Natalie the object of his romantic intentions, and to do so more conveniently. He certainly abused that trust sinfully and grotesquely. He abused it in criminal ways, and the time he spent in prison for it was no miscarriage of justice. However, the time he has spent on the Internet, characterized as a pedophile, by people who were entirely ignorant of the facts of the case, and whose only interest in it was finding a rock to throw at me, is the very definition of injustice.  “[3]

I want you to get a sense of what Wilson’s argument is here. He is in effect saying that whilst a technical crime has been committed that the issue is not really that serious.  The basis of his argument is that the relationship was consensual and that in effect Nathalie seduced Jamin and that her family supported this. Let’s name this for what it is, it is victim blaming. It is excusing sin and it is seeking to impose shame and guilt on the victim to silence them. 

We need to remember here that the point of statutory rape is that the child is not able to give consent.  This is based on the law of the land and it is based on the fact that a young person aged under 18 is defined as a child  Furthermore, we need to remember that what we observe in terms of predatory behaviour is the grooming and manipulation both of victims and families. Finally, it is shocking to suggest that any complicity by Greenfield’s parents in Wright’s behaviour somehow excuses him.

So, what we see here is a confusion of ethics leading to a serious failure of pastoral care and a young person put at risk but this has been further followed up with behaviour that was bullying and abusive towards Greenfield by Wilson in order to gaslight, intimidate and shame her into staying silent. 

I want to raise this here because I suspect that most people within the UK conservative evangelical context will be aware that Wilson has some iffy theology on infant baptism (not just tht he is a paedo-baptist but that his position would be questioned by other paedo-baptists) and justification. Some may be aware that there have been other concerns raised about possible plagiarism, issues about his views on slavery and maybe even that there was some controversy around child-safeguarding.  However, I suspect that a lot of people will not be aware of the actual cases behind this and haven’t been trawling the internet to find out more because Wilson is not a key leader in the UK church but rather is simply seen as a provactive writer with some controversial views, someone we won’t always agree with but still worth hearing from time to time.

However, I think we need to be a little bit more alert, not just to Wilson himself but to the kind of views and ideas that circulate form a common theological and philosophical root.  If we don’t start to understand the distinctive underpinning philosophy, then we might miss the different ways in which the problematic aspects of it might present themselves in the future and indeed may already be doing so. I think we have seen some of this here in the UK with recent negative reactions to safe-guarding agencies and reports. We also see something of this coming through in the response of some to Government regulations relating to COVID-19.

Once again, I think what we are seeing is that the issues are presented as family and then perhaps church matters. Whilst a technical offence has been committed and so the law of th eland has to be considered, what really matters to Wilson is the sanctity of parental authority within the home and from his perspective, the father had already made his judgement.

The consequence of this is that a philosophical concept, not scripture is elevated to the point that as with slavery, it takes precedent  over the immediate welfare of a victim. Furthermore,, again we see that there is confusion about what the Bible actually says about authority, submission and marital/sexual relationships.  I think we also need to bare in mind my observation in the previous post that Wilson interprets, the Deuteronomy case of pre-marital sex as rape and therefore holds open the possibility of marriage as a solution to rape.

My concern remains that Wilson should not be seen as some kind of provocative shock jock, occasionally causing offence and a bit iffy on his theology. Rather, we need to be alert to the whole system of thinking that underpins this.  It is important that we are explicitly clear that there is no place for this in our churches.


[1] On this case see, Steven Sitler Update: The House that Doug Wilson Built | The Truth About Moscow (moscowid.net)  and Steven Sitler | The Truth About Moscow (moscowid.net)  see also Wilson’s statement on this case: An Open Letter from Christ Church on Steven Sitler | Blog & Mablog (dougwils.com)

[2] For these two points see Justice and the Ad Hominem | Blog & Mablog (dougwils.com)

[3] My Email Exchange With The Pastor Who Defends My Rapist (natalierose-livewithpassion.blogspot.com)

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