Rod Dreher on Doug Wilson's Scandal in Moscow

UPDATE: Doug Wilson has responded to Dreher’s article at American Conservative. Dreher then provides a helpful analysis.
 
In response to several requests, I have been researching Christ Church in Moscow, ID. As time permits, I have read blogs, court docs, and emails from concerned brothers and sisters about the church pastored by Doug Wilson. Most of what I have reviewed has been extremely disturbing.
With the publication of an article by Rod Dreher today, I may not need to do much more. On the American Conservative website yesterday, Dreher brought together many of the facts of the situation which involves child abuse and what appears to be a dysfunctional church in Moscow, ID.
In essence, it seems that the leadership at Christ Church in Moscow, ID have exercised extremely poor judgment in encouraging a serial abuser to pursue a kind of therapy via marriage. In the face of evidence that Christ Church’s pastor, Doug Wilson, provided remarkably unwise advice to the abuser and a young woman who married the abuser, Wilson has gone on the defensive. Cited by Dreher, Wilson said in defense of conducting this ill-fated therapy by marriage:

 Moreover, if everything is on the table, we do not believe the church has the authority to prohibit or “not allow” a lawful marriage.

To which Dreher countered:

Really? The church has no authority to prohibit a lawful marriage? I suppose same-sex couples in Idaho can show up at Christ Church and expect Pastor Wilson to marry them, then. This, and the claim that the church can’t withhold marriage from anybody, as long as both parties know what they’re getting into, is a pretty shameless example of passing the buck for a disaster. Wilson subsequently praised himself for the way he’s conducted himself in this matter, saying that persecution is a sign of his righteousness, and sneering that his wife celebrated the criticism coming their way by buying him a bottle of single-malt Scotch.

Wilson’s brazen self-defense is in contrast to a former pastor of Christ’s Church daughter church, Peter Leithart, who has apologized for his part in another case involving abuse.
Wilson has helped pioneer the classical schooling movement and has some disturbing views of American slavery. Wilson believes slavery, while not a moral good, was more benign than American abolitionists depicted. Lost causers and Confederate sympathizers love it.
According to some near the situation (speaking to me anonymously), things are getting more and more unsettled in Moscow with some of the empire unraveling. There might be more Scotch in Wilson’s future.
On a related note, Wenatchee the Hatchet has a post on connection between Mark Driscoll and Doug Wilson.
 

Over the Top Reactions to Gays and the Duggars

I read two op-eds this morning which took the same approach to different groups.
First, Jenny Kutner at Salon demonized the religious beliefs of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. Second, Matt Barber beat up on gays in an op-ed attacking the Boy Scouts of America’s president Robert Gates. Both authors, from opposing ideological perspectives, attempt to explain the factors behind child sexual abuse. Neither succeed.
Kutner finds the Duggars beliefs unacceptable and links the patriarchal beliefs to sexual violence. She ends her op-ed by saying, “Beyond that, though, there is the entire culture undergirding rape culture and victim-blaming, and the outcome is shaping up exactly as one would expect.” The implication is that Josh Duggar’s religious training directly contributed to his sexual offenses. 
On the other hand, Matt Barber leaves little doubt that he believes sexual abuse of boys is more likely if openly gay adult males are allowed to be scout leaders. He massacres social science data to craft a straw man which he savagely beats down. In fact, the consensus of social science research does not support his illusory correlation.  
Barber cherry picks his data and Kutner doesn’t offer any. The problem here should be clear. Both people have pre-existing views and they shape these vivid cases to support them. The confirmation bias is strong in these articles. In the face of horrific or confusing events, most of us fall back on our pre-existing biases and stereotypes instead of looking at the situation dispassionately.
It is certainly not wrong to inquire about the relationship, if any, between certain religious beliefs or sexual orientation and child abuse. Researchers should not be afraid to ask hard questions. Personally, I intend no defense of one or more Duggars. I reject the Quiverful movement and what I know of the Duggars’ beliefs about gender. I am inclined to agree that there could be problems in viewing women in keeping with Bill Gothard’s teachings.
My interest is in how we seek answers to important questions and how we discuss those important questions without demonizing entire groups of people. In my view, without research or evidence, Kutner’s incendiary language about religious beliefs is about as helpful as Matt Barber’s self-righteous rant about gay scout leaders.
 
 
 

Former Staff Members: Faith Christian Church Members Taught to Spank Infants to Curb Rebellion

Two former staff members of Faith Christian Church in Tucson AZ provided more details about the procedures church leaders told members to use to drive out rebellion from infants. The Arizona Daily Star reported the procedures described by former member and staffer Rachiel Morgan. According to the Star report, church pastor Stephen Hall taught members to spank babies as young as 8 weeks if they raised up their heads while laying on their stomachs.
Wanting to learn more about this claim, I spoke today with Rachiel Morgan. She told me that the techniques were taught in small groups by the elders and that her ex-husband was exhorted to spank his six month old baby in front of church elders to determine if the spankings were hard enough.
Another former staff person, Jeff Phillips told me that the techniques were taught to “drive out the rebellion” in the children. He said, according to church pastors, “The only way to recognize rebellion in a child that small is to place the child on his belly to put him to sleep.” If parents worried about infants suffocating or SIDS, they were told “to live by faith and not worry that our baby would die in the crib if he was on his belly.”
Both Morgan and Phillips described similar tactics. According to Phillips, parents were advised:

When putting the child down, if the child lifted his head, you were to push his head down and say “no” firmly. If he lifted his head again, you were to spank him on the backside with the rubber eraser end of a pencil or a cardboard tube from a clothes hanger. You were supposed to strike the baby hard enough to make him cry. You repeated this process until the baby complied, usually by falling asleep.

I wrote the email provided by Faith Christian Church to allow them to give their side or to rebut these charges but there has been no answer.
Morgan and Phillips described other concerns including financial ones with the ministers of a 400-500 member church getting six figure salaries while most staff were living off donations which had to be shared with the church leadership. Membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability was used by campus non-salary staff to raise money for the church. Morgan and Phillips knew of no investigation on the part of the ECFA; according to the former staffers, the church pastors gloated about the credibility they had due to membership in the ECFA.
 
 

Top Ten Posts in 2013

Here are the ten most visited pages on the blog for 2013. Two posts were written prior to 2013 but continue to be quite popular. I designate them in the list below by the year of publication.
1. On The Allegations of Plagiarism Against Mark Driscoll
2. Janet Mefferd Removes Evidence Relating to Charges of Plagiarism Against Mark Driscoll; Apologizes to Audience
3. Ingrid Schlueter Resigns from Janet Mefferd Show Over Mark Driscoll Plagiarism Controversy
4.  John Piper Calls Out Famous Guys (Like Mark Driscoll) on Ghostwriting
5. Was the National Rifle Association Started to Drive Out the KKK?
6. A Major Study of Child Abuse and Homosexuality Revisited (2009)
7. Mars Hill Church Alters Statement of Mark Driscoll Plagiarism Controversy
8. Narth Loses Tax Exempt Status
9. Mars Hill Sermon Series Battle Plan Reveals Source Behind Mark Driscoll’s Book on Peter
10. The Trail of Tears Remembered (2011)
Clearly, posts about the controversy surrounding Mark Driscoll and allegations of plagiarism and ghostwriting were popular. With Driscoll’s apology the attention left the issue, even though he did not address several other instances in other books. To some degree, he was probably also aided by Christmas break and the Duck Dynasty hullabaloo. I was surprised that the most popular post about David Barton was about his claim that the National Rifle Association was started to counter the KKK. There are so many other claims that are even more outrageous. As far as I can determine, donations to NARTH are still not deductible. The two posts from past years have consistently shown up on the top ten lists since they were published.
The move to Patheos has been smooth thanks to the great folks there and I want to thank readers for making the switch and welcome all the new readers here.

The Sovereign Grace Ministries Scandal

I have only recently learned about the lawsuit alleging wide-spread child abuse at Sovereign Grace Ministries, a neo-Calvinist denomination based in MD.  Check here for local coverage of the lawsuit, much of which was dismissed earlier this month.

I don’t know what to make of this yet, as I am still reading about it. However, the story is pitting some evangelical heavy weights against each other.
Christianity Today is covering this scandal and notes that Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Justin Taylor, and Ligon Duncan have come to the defense of SGM founder C.J. Mahaney.  On the other side, supporting those who allege abuse, are Rachel Held Evans, Scot McKnight and Liberty University professor Boz Tchividjian.
For summaries of the situation, the following sites seem to have good coverage.
Rachel Held Evans
SGM Survivors
Internet Monk (Update)
Wartburg Watch
World Magazine
Christianity Today
Given the seriousness of the allegations and the notoriety of the those who are taking sides, this set of events could be the foundation of a major disruption in the evangelical world.
 
 
 

Top Ten Posts – 2011

To reflect on 2011, I have listed here the ten most popular posts in terms of visits this year. Two of the posts were written in prior years but were visited frequently this year. In addition to being popular, I think they are representative of the stories and issues which I wrote about this year.

1. The Trail of Tears remembered

2. Uganda update: Anti-Homosexuality Bill on tomorrow’s agenda

3. Committee chair says Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill may not be considered

4. What would dominionists do with gays?

5. A major study of child abuse and homosexuality revisited (2009)

6. NARTH is not primarily composed of mental health professionals

7. Only the gay die young: Examining the claims of shorter life expectancy for homosexuals (2007)

8. The evangelical blackout of research on sexual orientation

9. William Penn founded the Quakers and other tall tales from David Barton

10. Was the Jefferson Bible an evangelism tool?

Article on sexuality in Uganda’s Independent

This morning, The Independent, a Ugandan daily, published an article from me on sexual orientation and the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Titled, “What makes someone gay and can people change orientation?” I wanted to provide an honest summary of the issues surrounding causation and change.

The article begins:

Defending the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Hon. David Bahati told the BBC, “It’s [homosexuality] not an inborn orientation, it’s a behaviour learnt – and it can be unlearnt.” Is this true?

Hon. Bahati’s assertion is not consistent with current research on sexuality. While much is being learned about sexuality, the reasons why sexual attractions take the direction they do for any given person is not well known. There are many theories but no clear answers. I think this is a surprising fact for many people.

I am not going to post the rest here because I want you to go visit the Independent, rate the piece and perhaps even make a comment.

UPDATE: Oh my, I made an error in the piece which will not be corrected until the morning in Uganda. Here is a comment I just left under the article:

Thanks to Uganda Talks for posting this column. There is one correction that I need to post.

In the section describing the Exodus International study, I wrote:

Just over 20% of subjects remaining in the study reported some degree of movement from straight to gay but most did not.

However, that sentence should read instead:

Just over 20% of subjects remaining in the study reported some degree of movement from being attracted to the same sex toward developing attractions to the opposite sex, but most did not.

I am very sorry for any confusion caused by the error.

Early childhood stress is associated with elevated herpes antibodies

Reading in the area of early childhood stress brought me to this article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science:

It is well known that children need solicitous parenting and a nurturing rearing environment to ensure their normal behavioral development. Early adversity often negatively impacts emotional and mental well-being, but it is less clearly established how much the maturation and regulation of physiological systems is also compromised. The following research investigated the effect of 2 different types of adverse childhood experiences, early deprivation through institutionalization and physical abuse, on a previously unexplored outcome: the containment of herpes simplex virus (HSV). The presence of HSV-specific antibody in salivary specimens was determined in 155 adolescents, including 41 postinstitutionalized, 34 physically-abused, and 80 demographically-similar control youth. Across 4 school and home days, HSV antibody was higher in both postinstitutionalized and physically-abused adolescents when compared with control participants. Because the prevalence of HSV infection was similar across the groups, the elevated antibody was likely indicative of viral recrudescence from latency. Total secretory Ig-A secretion was associated with HSV, but did not account for the group differences in HSV-specific antibody. These findings are likely caused by a failure of cellular immune processes to limit viral reactivation, indicating a persistent effect of early rearing on immune functioning. The fact that antibody profiles were still altered years after adoption into a more benevolent setting with supportive families suggests these results were not caused by contemporaneous factors, but rather reflect a lingering influence of earlier life experiences.

Here we have an indication that early stressors leave a mark so to speak on immune functioning. Those promoting the pathogen theory of sexual orientation might wonder if this finding provides any support. Not sure, but I doubt it, in light of the recent finding that physical abuse and neglect do not relate to adult sexual orientation. For men, but not women, sexual abuse did associate with adult sexual orientation. Abuse compromises the immune system with durable consequences. Physically abused and neglected children have compromised immune systems but are not more likely to report homosexual behavior. Seems like this would be a group more likely to demonstrate homosexuality since anything attacked by the immune system would have an easier time of it.

Sexual abuse and sexual orientation: A prospective study

Online now ahead of publication is a report from H. Wilson and C. Widom of a prospective study of the relationship between sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect and sexual orientation in men and women. Published to subscribers January 7, 2009 on the Archives of Sexual Behavior website, the abstract provides a glimpse into the many findings reported here.

Existing cross-sectional research suggests associations between physical and sexual abuse in childhood and same-sex sexual orientation in adulthood. This study prospectively examined whether abuse and/or neglect in childhood were associated with increased likelihood of same-sex partnerships in adulthood. The sample included physically abused (N = 85), sexually abused (N = 72), and neglected (N = 429) children (ages 0-11) with documented cases during 1967-1971 who were matched with non-maltreated children (N = 415) and followed into adulthood. At approximately age 40, participants (483 women and 461 men) were asked about romantic cohabitation and sexual partners, in the context of in-person interviews covering a range of topics. Group (abuse/neglect versus control) differences were assessed with cross-tabulations and logistic regression. A total of 8% of the overall sample reported any same-sex relationship (cohabitation or sexual partners). Childhood physical abuse and neglect were not significantly associated with same-sex cohabitation or sexual partners. Individuals with documented histories of childhood sexual abuse were significantly more likely than controls to report ever having had same-sex sexual partners (OR = 2.81, 95% CI = 1.16-6.80, p = .05); however, only men with histories of childhood sexual abuse were significantly more likely than controls to report same-sex sexual partners (OR = 6.75, 95% CI = 1.53-29.86, p = .01). These prospective findings provide tentative evidence of a link between childhood sexual abuse and same-sex sexual partnerships among men, although further research is needed to explore this relationship and to examine potential underlying mechanisms.

Beyond the result reported above there is much of interest here. I want to describe some how sexuality was measured and then make some general observations. This study will get more than one post.
One of the weaknesses of research on sexual orientation and social factors has been the lack of long term prospective studies. Most research into abuse and sexual orientation is based on retrospective self-report. This study is a significant improvement in that the authors had documentation of childhood sexual and physical abuse and neglect regarding 908 children from juvenile and family courts in a midwestern metropolitan area. The cases were reported and processed between 1967 and 1971. The authors then interviewed as many of these individuals as possible and included interviews with a matched set of control participants. The control group was matched with the abuse group on age, sex, race/ethnicity, and approximate social class at the time of the abuse. The average age of participant reports for all cases was 6.3 years.
At follow up, when the participants were in their late 30s and early 40s, they were asked if they lived (at the time of the interview) with a person of the same sex in a sexual relationship, whether the person had ever cohabited in a same-sex relationship, had ever had a same-sex sexual partner and whether the person had such a partner with the past year. Attraction was not directly assessed which is an unfortunate aspect of the study. Primarily the authors were interested in sames-sex sexual behavior, which may or may not indicate enduring attractions.
Among males, 2.9% reported a same-sex partner within the last year and 6.4% saying they had such a partner at some time in the past. Percentages were similar for women (2.1% and 6.8% respectively). Similar differences were reported for cohabitation and any prior same-sex relationships. Nearly all participants reported sexual partners of both sexes. Only five men (1.3%) and one woman (.24%) reported exclusively same-sex relations. It is highly likely that some of these individuals would identify as straight but had engaged in same-sex relations at some point in their past.
The main significant finding was reported in the abstract: “men with histories of childhood sexual abuse were significantly more likely than controls to report same-sex sexual partners.” There was no relationship between child sexual abuse and sexual behavior for women. Also, “child physical abuse and neglect were not significantly associated with increased likelihood of same-sex cohabitation or sexual partnerships” (from paper, pg 7). While sexual abuse is associated with an increased likelihood of same-sex behavior, this is not a study that shows homosexuality is caused by sexual abuse. Also, the study does not indicate that sexual abuse leads to homosexuality. In the control group, 5.3% said they had engaged in same-sex relationships, whereas in the sexual abuse group, 27.3% did. More on this in the next post.
This study is a significant challenge to reparative drive theory. Reparative theory, on display recently on the Dr. Phil Show, proposes that gender disturbances are caused by a poor relationship with the same-sex parent. Although this study does not directly test a specific set of family dynamics, it is plausible based on reparative concepts to predict that abuse and neglect might be more frequent in homes where dad is uninvolved or hostile to the children. Dr. Nicolosi frequently says he has never met a gay man who had a good relationship with his father. One would expect a significant elevation in these circumstances but none shows up here. Regarding parenting and sexual orientation, Wilson and Widom write:

These results were consistent for men and women and support the conclusions of Bell et al (1981) that early parenting experiences, positive or negative, play little direct role in the development of sexual orientation. Among women, we also found no associations between childhood sexual abuse and same-sex relationships.

This study, along with the recent work from Andrew Francis casts more doubt on reparative drive theory as a general theory of same-sex attraction. In a future post, I want to address additional implications of this study, especially regarding the complex question of how sexual orientation may be related to sexual abuse. The pattern of findings in the Wilson and Widom study can be interpreted in several ways. More about that soon.