Rod Dreher

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View From Your Table

Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia

I believe this is the first VFYT ever from Serbia. M_Young was there, and sends it in, with the photo below, and this text:

Here are a couple of views from the ‘Terraza’ cafe in the Kalemegdan — the Turkish fortress in Belgrade. One has the Sava and Njegos tower (or ‘tower of the brave) in the background — the Turks imprisoned largely Orthodox ‘freedom fighters’ there, and killed the Greek Revolutionary Rigas Feraios there. The other (off kilter, its hard to get a good VFYT) is of the ‘Ruzica’ Orthodox chapel’s spire/cross, built by the Serbs against the wall of the Turkish fortress. On the table was a bottle of Knjas Milos mineral water with ice (!) and lemon bit (!!). Really hit the spot on a hot Belgrade day.

One of these days, I really have to go see the Balkans.


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The Sleepover Problem

Greetings from New Orleans, where I’m about to give a Benedict Option talk at the Christian Legal Society’s annual conference. Early this morning, I went across the street from the hotel to have breakfast at Lüke, and to make notes for my speech. I found myself sitting next to a young lawyer, not a member of the CLS, but a man in town for a wedding. We made small talk, and he told me that his wife works in the juvenile justice system.

“We don’t have kids yet,” he said, “but I tell you, from the things my wife sees in her work, we are never, ever going to let our kids spend the night outside our home. Their friends can come to our house to spend the night, but we aren’t about to let our kids go anywhere else.”

“That’s interesting,” I said. “My wife and I have had the same policy since our kids were small, and I was writing about the Catholic sex abuse scandal as a journalist.”

I explained that in looking into the dark world of child sex abuse, I found that it was impossible to tell who was going to be the abuser. The lawyer said yes, that’s exactly it.

“My wife says you can’t tell who the bad guys are just from looking at them,” he said. He mentioned a recent case where he lives in which a mother and a father were arrested for bestiality, and making bestiality porn. They looked like perfectly normal people, but in fact they were monsters.

Boz Tchividjian, a former sex crimes prosecutor who now leads a terrific Christian ministry dedicated to fighting sex abuse within Protestant church communities, has said:

Years of investigating abuse cases — “we spend our days swimming in Christian cesspools,” he says — has left him hypervigilant. Megachurches with thousands of volunteers unnerve him, and after working on too many cases where girls were molested by someone in their best friend’s family, Tchividjian and his wife no longer let their daughters spend the night at friends’ houses, let alone church camps or “lock-in” church-basement sleepovers. “But for my wife,” he says, “I don’t trust anyone 100 percent—I’ve seen too much, too many scenarios. What I have to wrestle with is how do I deal with that? How do I balance that tension, between not trusting anyone and knowing that we have to function in life? You have to figure that out for yourself. But know this: Offenders exploit trust.”

So, what do you think? Are people like me, the lawyer at breakfast this morning, and Boz Tchividjian, overreacting? How do you handle it in your family?

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The Chaotic Pope Francis

So, now the Vatican says that the pope’s meeting with Kim Davis should not be read as a papal endorsement of her cause. OK, fair enough; it seemed to me that it’s entirely possible that he could have met with her and encouraged her to be strong without endorsing her specific actions. From the WaPo:

In a formal statement, the Vatican said Friday that Pope Francis’s meeting with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis “should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.”

The statement, issued by the Rev. Federico Lombardi, director of the press office of the Holy See, said it was not a “real audience,” suggesting that she was among a group that gathered to greet him and send him off.

But here’s where it gets weird. The Vatican statement also said that the “only real audience

That friend was a gay Argentine man and his same-sex partner of 19 years. CNN has the story:

Yayo Grassi, an openly gay man, brought his partner, Iwan Bagus, as well several other friends to the Vatican Embassy on September 23 for a brief visit with the Pope. A video of the meeting shows Grassi and Francis greeting each other with a warm hug.

In an exclusive interview with CNN, Grassi declined to disclose details about the short visit, but said it was arranged personally with the Pope via email in the weeks ahead of Francis’ highly anticipated visit to the United States.

“Three weeks before the trip, he called me on the phone and said he would love to give me a hug,” Grassi said.


“That was me,” Grassi said, adding that he wants to publicize the meeting “to show the truth of who Pope Francis is.”

Grassi said that Pope Francis taught him in literature and psychology classes at Immaculada Concepcion, a Catholic high school in Sante Fe, Argentina, from 1964-1965. Grassi said that he is now an atheist.

OK. But this is just bizarre. It takes about 15 hours to fly from Buenos Aires to Washington, DC, and about the same time to fly from Buenos Aires to Rome. It’s not like Francis was going to be in this hemisphere, so it would be more convenient for Grassi to get to him in DC versus Rome, if Francis wanted his hug. It is far-fetched to believe that this just “happened.” What is Francis’s game?

[UPDATE: Ah, my big mistake. I didn’t realize that Grassi no longer lives in Argentina, but in Washington DC, as National Geographic reports. I regret the error. — RD]

One thing we can say for sure: whether it’s the fault of the Pope or the Vatican press office, the Holy See’s media operation is a disaster. John Allen says:

Without necessarily blaming the pope’s own media team, which seemingly was caught as off-guard as everyone else, there have been three separate breakdowns in communications strategy:

  • Apparently believing (or perhaps just hoping) that the pope’s brief encounter with the Kentucky clerk wouldn’t leak out.
  • Not being prepared to respond immediately when the news did break, thereby creating an interpretive vacuum.
  • Issuing a belated statement saying the pope did not intend to endorse Davis’ position “in all its particular and complex aspects,” but leaving unresolved precisely what he did mean by it.

One predictable consequence is that just as the past 48 hours were consumed by speculation over who put the pope up to the meeting, the next 48 will probably be marked by conspiracy theories as to who put him up to issuing the statement.

Another is that liberals will take a maximal reading of the statement, suggesting the pope has disavowed Davis, while conservatives will argue it simply means Francis hasn’t written her a blank check. Perhaps intentionally, the brief text could lend itself to either interpretation.

For a pope who by rights should be basking in the after-glow of a bravura outing to Cuba and the United States, it’s a fairly depressing scenario.

Read the whole thing; it’s worth it. Allen apparently filed this before the gay atheist hug story, which only makes it much, much worse. In his piece, Allen says that the Vatican needs to put the Kim Davis thing to rest by making a clear and unambiguous statement “on what exactly the Church understands by ‘conscientious objection,’ and the sooner the better.”

On an earlier thread, a reader linked to this John Rao column in a 2014 edition of The Remnant, the traditionalist Catholic newspaper. Excerpt:

In the Fall of 2013 a well-known Catholic intellectual from South America, a highly recognized university professor, Lucrecia Rego de Planas, who knows Bergoglio well and who worked with him, among other things, gave a portrait of the man.

“Bergoglio wants to be loved by everyone and please everyone. In this sense one day he will talk on TV against abortion and the next day he will bless the pro abortionist in the Plaza de Mayo; he could give a marvelous talk against the Masons (Masonic Order) and, an hour later, eat and drink with them at the Rotary Club…….this is the Cardinal Bergoglio whom I know close up. One day busy in a lively chat with Bishop Aguer about the defense of life and the liturgy and the same day, at dinner, having a lively talk with Mons. Ysern and Mons. Rosa Chavez about base communities and the terrible obstacles that are presented by the Church’s dogmatic teachings. One day a friend of Cardinal Cipriani and Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga speaking about business ethics and against the New Age ideology and little latter a friend of Casaldaliga and Boff speaking about the class struggle and the “richness” of Eastern techniques which could contribute to the Church.”


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Killing the Christians


The lunatic in Oregon made some martyrs:

In one classroom, he appeared to single out Christian students for killing, according to witness Anastasia Boylan.

“He said, ‘Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second,’” Boylan’s father, Stacy, told CNN, relaying his daughter’s account while she underwent surgery to treat a gunshot to her spine.

“And then he shot and killed them.”

Another account came from Autumn Vicari, who described to NBC Newswhat her brother J.J. witnessed in the room where the shootings occurred. According to NBC: “Vicari said at one point the shooter told people to stand up before asking whether they were Christian or not. Vicari’s brother told her that anyone who responded ‘yes’ was shot in the head. If they said ‘other’ or didn’t answer, they were shot elsewhere in the body, usually the leg.”

Lord, have mercy. I hope that if I am ever asked that question by a crazed gunman, I have the courage to say yes. In an extreme sense, the point of the Benedict Option is to form Christians who are prepared to say yes, come what may.

The president said, in response to the shootings:

“We’ve become numb to this,” he said. “We talked about this after Columbine, Blacksburg, Tucson, Newtown, Aurora, after Charleston.”

He added: “What’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere, will comment and say, ‘Obama politicized this issue.’ This is something we should politicize. … This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America.”

Is that really true? Cards on the table: I am not a Second Amendment absolutist. I have no problem in principle with most gun control measures. I think we should make it harder for people to buy firearms. That said, I think it is an illusion that we “allow” this to happen in America. The Sandy Hook shooter used weapons that his mother had legally acquired, in a state that has some of the stronger gun control laws in the nation.

We also “allow” in America speech like this:

On an interesting note, I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.

That’s from a blog post the Oregon shooter posted in August, about the murderer who killed the TV crew on live television. The FBI is looking into whether he was the person who posted a warning yesterday on 4Chan, telling people in the Northwest not to go to school that day. If you follow the link, you’ll find anonymous commenters encouraging the anonymous poster to shoot, and offering him advice on how to do it successfully. We let them say such things because of the First Amendment. Should we politicize that too?

It’s a terrible problem. I wouldn’t mind strengthening gun laws, and I wouldn’t mind making it possible for law enforcement to track down and come down hard on people who make those kinds of remarks online. For the president and others to believe that these things happen only because of weak gun laws is simply false.

The Washington Post has a good Q&A about gun violence in America.  Yes, America is an unusually violent country among industrialized democracies, but the overwhelming majority of shooters bought their guns legally, and gun violence is in fact declining in America (though instances of mass shootings have been rising). Says the Post, “Yet this country is a far less violent place than it was 40 years ago, with the rate of deaths due to assault declining by roughly half.”

It is a very complicated problem, and we seem especially unable to think clearly about it. I believe the president had an all too human reaction to claim that we “allow” incidents like this because he wants to believe that we can control them. It’s far scarier to face the plain fact that we cannot. That’s no reason not to take prudent and reasonable measures to prevent them, but to speak as if the only thing stopping massacres like this is political will is deeply misleading.


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Oh, the Places You Should Go

James K.A. Smith, on examining the latest offerings at Wichita’s Eighth Day Institute, says, “Seriously, isn’t this like Mission Control of the Benedict Option?” I cannot disagree. It is astonishing that a place like this exists at all. Actual people can go to these events.  I’m planning to go to their 2016 Symposium in January, and I see now that one of the speakers will be Hans Boersma, an Evangelical theologian whose book Heavenly Participation is one of the volumes I’m reading as I write the Benedict Option book. First Things said this of the book, in its review:

This concern for the “deep and permanent unity of the faith . . . the mysterious relationship of all those who invoke the name of Christ” animates Hans Boersma’s Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry . The book aims at a ressourcement on three interrelated levels. First and foremost, Boersma seeks to remind Christians of their heavenly destiny: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). Second, writing as an evangelical theologian, Boersma suggests that the best hope of healing the tragic split of the Reformation lies in a recovery of the sacramental vision that was the consensus of patristic and high medieval theology: “A common rediscovery of the depths of the Great Tradition will, as a matter of course, lead to genuine rapprochement between evangelicals and Catholics.” Third, Boersma seeks to retrieve and extend the theological vision of the twentieth-century French Catholic ressourcement . The key figure here is de Lubac, whose writings on the relation between Church and Eucharist, the tradition of spiritual exegesis, and the theological anthropology of Thomas Aquinas provide essential resources for overcoming the modern separation of nature and grace.

The central idea unifying this threefold ressourcement is “sacramental ontology,” a vision of the created world as participating through Christ in the mystery of God. Boersma argues that the sacramental ontology of the Great Tradition allowed for an affirmation of the truth, goodness, and beauty of the created order while safeguarding the infinite difference between creation and God.

I have been in Waco, Texas, these past two days, giving a talk on Dante, and participating in a panel on the Benedict Option, both at Baylor University. I’ve also been spending time with some old and new friends in and around the Honors College here, and the Great Texts program. As a father who will be looking at colleges with my firstborn in a year, I don’t exaggerate when I say how simultaneously thrilling and comforting it is to visit the honors programs at colleges like Baylor, Villanova, and Union University — all of which I’ve been to in the last month — to meet Christian professors who deeply care about the Great Tradition, and students who are eager to learn. I would be deeply pleased if any or all of my Orthodox Christian children joined the honors program at any of these colleges. It has been my impression that all of these programs prepare young people for the future by anchoring them deeply in the wisdom of the past.

(Plus, in Waco, you can have breakfast at a local oupost of Torchy’s Tacos, with Alan Jacobs. So there’s that.)

Some of you readers are no doubt headed off to Geneseo, NY, today, for the Front Porch Republic hootenanny. Look at the speakers and the topics they’ll have. How can you not want to be there? While in Geneseo, keep an eye peeled for the great Dantist Ron Herzman, who teaches at the university there; you don’t want to miss an opportunity for a Brush With Greatness.

I will be talking on Saturday morning at the annual conference of the Christian Legal Society, in New Orleans. The topic? The Benedict Option.

But now, it’s off to the airport. Time was just too short in Waco, but any pilgrimage that concludes with dinner at the home of the great Ralph C. Wood and his generous wife Suzanne lacks nothing in the way of perfection.

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View From Your Table

Waco, Texas

Waco, Texas

At Torchy’s Tacos have breakfast with Alan Jacobs (across the table) — the start of a great day at Baylor.

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Famous Black Radical Makes Chic Move

Ceçi n'est pas Baltimore-Ouest  (King Tut/Shutterstock)
Ceçi n'est pas Baltimore-Ouest (King Tut/Shutterstock)

Did you know that Ta-Nehisi Coates has decamped for Paris for a year? Turns out he’s living in the Marais and dining out with a correspondent for the Financial Times. Excerpt:

There’s also a tradition of American writers who come to Paris to escape the US. Baldwin, one of Coates’s role models, said the city gave him the gift of ignoring him. For a black American, that felt like freedom. “I feel that, too,” Coates agrees, “which I think is different to saying there’s no racism here. But when I talk to people here, the first thing they sense is about [my] Americanness. That’s the mask I have on for them. It’s an incredible experience. This is the first place I’ve been where I felt people saw something different. It allows for greater comfort walking down the street.” The fragility of the black American teenage male’s body being a particular theme of his books, you can see another reason why Coates has brought his son to Paris. Piquantly, the boy, Samori, is named after a west-African military leader who resisted the French colonists.

“I think there’s something else, too,” he adds, as we eat the unadorned fresh seafood with little of the usual embarrassment of strangers sharing a plate of food. “There are a lot of guns in America. I’m not saying there’re no guns here, but significantly fewer. I think you feel that in the public space. When I walk down Canal Saint-Martin and I see people with open bottles of wine, sitting there, in my American eyes I think about that in a public space and I think about people getting shot. Somebody gets too drunk, bumps into somebody and then somebody pulls out a gun.”

Well now. First off, good for him. If I had hit the financial jackpot like TNC has done with his work in the past year, I would do the same thing. As you know, I did a much more modest thing with some of the advance money for Little Way, taking my family to Paris for a month in a rented apartment. A whole year? Wow. Fantastic!

That said, it’s funny that he is financing a year in a chic Paris neighborhood from the proceeds of a nihilistic bestseller denouncing America is a hellhole for black people. America made TNC rich! It’s even funnier, if you ask me, than a dude financing a month in Paris from an advance on a book about embracing the simplicity of small-town life — because of the radical chic element.

I think that TNC remark above about how unlike the French, Americans can’t have a bottle of wine in public without somebody pulling a gun, inadvertently reveals the parochial narrowness of TNC’s vision of his own country. In non-ghetto parts of America, it is generally the case that people can and do enjoy drinking in public without fear of gunfire. He’s generalizing the criminal pathologies of the kinds of neighborhood in which he was raised, and applying it to the entire country. This is the kind of thing that makes his writing about race and America so frustrating.

I’m on the record as judging his Between the World and Me a bad book, mostly because it is tendentious, and does not ring true. I am also on the record a couple of years ago saying that I wish somebody would pay TNC to go live in Paris for a year and write about that experience. So now it looks like it will happen. I hope he rediscovers what attracted me to him as a writer in the first place: his ability to look at old things with fresh eyes, and to convey the pleasure of discovery. For instance, I love in the FT interview how he owns his hokey passion for Paris (a hokey passion I share), and I love how he admits that he loves Paris in particular for the food. James Baldwin wrote beautifully about how he went to Paris to escape American racism, but found out that it’s impossible to escape human frailty. He was unjustly imprisoned in France for eight days, and discovered that even in his dream city, one has to face the reality of arbitrary power being brought to bear against one. I think that is what TNC has tried — with some success — to help white Americans understand about the black experience. I would add, though, that the state is not the only actor capable of using force arbitrarily against individuals. But that point is for another day.

Maybe TNC will come home from this incredible blessing of a year in Paris with the ability to see his own country more clearly.
UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that in this blog, I made several unwarranted assumptions about TNC and his year in Paris. Let me make this clear: I know that he is working while he’s in Paris, and I do not for a second believe that he didn’t earn this year in Paris from his work. I did not like BTWAM, but the man is a writer, and he earns his living fair and square. I regret the impression that I meant otherwise. I genuinely look forward to the book he writes out of this experience. As I said in this space a year or two ago, that’s a book I will want to read.

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The Invisible Poverty of ‘Poor White Trash’

James Miller would like to know why nobody gives a rip about the desperation of white people who live in chaos and poverty. Excerpts:

The racial privilege status of white trash makes them unattractive to the media because being penurious and pale-skinned is not respectable. While poor minorities are viewed with dignity and sympathy (as they should be), the same doesn’t apply to Caucasians. The white working class is, as Baptist minister Will Campbell put it, “the last, the only minority left that is fair game for ethnic slurs from people who would consider themselves good liberals.” Since the Progressive Era, the U.S. government has made it a goal to forcefully equalize society between races, classes, income scales, and gender. But to Campbell, “poor whites have seen government try to make peace between various warring factions but they have not been brought to the bargaining table.”

The result is pockets of despair in many parts of the country, most predominantly the South. And while it’s true that poor whites have always existed in America, the callous disregard for their difficulty we see by blue bloods in the Acela corridor is new. People like Kim Konzny have been stripped of dignity and left to fend for themselves without the assistance of the media or Washington elites. Unlike impoverished blacks who hold tight to faith and community, they are without an honorable sense of identity. If they cling to the Bible, they are seen as brainless, flat-earth bumpkins. If they somehow succeed in getting out of the trailer, they are demonized and told they’ve earned nothing because of “white privilege.” If they try to stick with their own kind, they are called neo-segregationists.

It’s a lose-lose for poverty-stricken whites searching for solidarity. So instead they anchor their life to cigarettes and booze. They are taught to hate themselves, to think that life in a dirty, dented trailer is all they should expect, and to not have a stake in their future because the rest of the country doesn’t want them.

Read the whole thing. And if you haven’t yet, read Stephanie McCrummen’s amazing WaPo narrative “An American Void,” and Kevin Williamson’s equally amazing, but more polemical, National Review piece on “The White Ghetto.” 

This morning, I had a conversation with a college teacher who lives in a rural part of Texas, an area where there is a lot of white poverty. There are a lot of methheads, he said, and despair. There are also white working class people who are doing their best to keep it together. The teacher said that in his conversations with the people in his area of late, they reveal a deep distrust of and hostility to the media, and to the American establishment. They believe that the deck is stacked against them, profoundly.

They will never be part of the meritocracy, these bitter clingers. And nobody cares, or even feels the need to pretend to.

I’m thinking of the atrocious “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” that now-cancelled reality show that highlighted the trashy antics of a working-class white Southern clan. Can you imagine a similar TV show whose raison d’etre was poking fun at poor or working-class black or Hispanic grotesques? No, I didn’t think so. Why do you suppose that is?

UPDATE: Several readers tell me that there are such shows. I had no idea. Depressing. I’m so glad I’ve checked out of popular culture.

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Dante and Me at Baylor

horizontaldanteHey! If you are in or around Baylor University in Waco, come out to hear me this afternoon talk about How Dante Can Save Your Life. I’ll be appearing at 4pm at the Alexander Reading Room, which is inside Alexander Residence Hall at 1413 S. Seventh St. It’s free and open to the public — and there will be copies of the book on sale, which I will sign if you ask me to, and don’t force me to drink Dr Pepper.

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Doug Wilson’s ‘Reluctant Response’

Yesterday I posted a long item critical of the way people in the Moscow, Idaho, church community around Pastor Doug Wilson handled two cases involving young men who sexually abused minors. I offered Doug Wilson the opportunity to respond in this space. Below, his unedited response, which I’ve split into multiple paragraphs, in part, for easier reading:

A Reluctant Response

By Douglas Wilson


While I would have preferred that a response would have been unnecessary in the first place, I am grateful to The American Conservative and to Rod Dreher for the opportunity to respond in this place. At the same time, not wanting to overstay my welcome, I want to address three basic areas and be done.

Was All This Necessary?

The first thing I would like to do is provide a link to what I said on my blog about the hasty and precipitous nature of this attack. While Rod mentioned in his response that he linked to a number of sources, he did not have access to the information below, and didn’t check with us to find out if such information even existed or was available. It did exist, and it is available.

A Sitler Timeline

The second thing is to fit a Sitler timeline into one extended paragraph. This is not scintillating prose, but the actual record matters. Every point in this paragraph is taken from a transcript of every reference to Steven Sitler in our elder minutes from 2005 to the present.

Steven was caught in March of 2005. I counseled the father of the victim to turn Steven into the authorities immediately. That happened the following day, and Steven was arrested. He was immediately expelled from New St. Andrews College.

The following week I informed the elders that Steven’s home church in Colville, Washington (OPC) had suspended Steven from the Supper and did not allow him to attend church services there (he was now back home in Colville).

On July 7, I reported to the elders that Steven had pleaded guilty. In October the elders were informed that Steven was sentenced to a 6-month treatment program, with the possibility of additional prison, and was registered as a sex offender.

In December, our elders met with one of the victim families to arrange for a no-contact order by consent, anticipating the time when Steven would be back in Moscow.

On June 15, we received Steven into membership at Christ Church via transfer from the OPC church in Colville. Steven was still under suspension from the Supper, a suspension which Christ Church continued to honor and maintain. We brought him into membership with the proviso that he have no contact with children in the church. The following September, with the concurrence and blessing of his former pastor in the OPC, we lifted his suspension from the Supper. He had been suspended for about six months.

In May of 2007, I reported to the elders that Steven had been released from prison. He was a member who was not yet allowed to attend our regular services, so we arranged for some of our Greyfriar students to hold services with him Monday evenings, and to serve him communion.

In November of 2008, one of our elders reported to us that Steven’s probation officer was considering letting him attend our church services Sunday morning. The state decided by January of 2009 to allow him to attend, provided he was constantly attended by a state-trained chaperon. The church also applied a second layer of the same standard, and in addition required that he not attend any service where any of his victims were present. We presented this arrangement to our congregational heads of households meeting, and there were no objections. This meant that Steven began to attend services about three and a half years after he was caught.

Two years later, in April of 2011, I reported to the elders on Steven’s upcoming wedding, and the minutes noted that I was also going to mention it at our heads of households meeting. In May of 2011, I reported to the elders on the wedding, where I had officiated.

Not mentioned in our minutes were the following facts, which can be corroborated by other means. After his arrest and before his trial, I spent a number of sessions counseling Steven (he would come down from Colville, about 132 miles away, to meet with me). During that time, other offenses were uncovered, going back to his early teens (he was around 19 at the time of his arrest). Under my direction Steven confessed those to the authorities as well. I wrote a letter to the judge prior to Steven’s sentencing, wherein I told the judge I was grateful that Steven was experiencing “hard consequences,” and I urged the judge to have those hard consequences be “measured and limited.” I did not ask for leniency. Steven was given a life sentence, which means that since he is out of prison now, he is on probation for life. Also, a judge authorized Steven’s wedding before it occurred. The Sitler pregnancy, which occurred years later, was not a violation of his terms of probation. And to this day, Steven attends church to worship with us. He is attended by a chaperon every time, comes in and sits quietly before the service, and leaves shortly after the service.

Now I can understand how another session of elders might have made different judgment calls along the line. This was a thorny issue in many ways. But a review of the documented facts hardly shows us treating this issue in a cavalier or casual way. We coddled no one, and we have shown extraordinary concern for the safety of the children in our congregation. When I look at this from the vantage point of years, I certainly do not see perfection. Reasonable men could have chosen different options than we did. But what I can do is look at all of this with a clean conscience.

The Wight Situation

The other main object of attention in Rod’s post was the situation with Jamin Wight and Natalie Greenfield. We are in the process of reconstructing a detailed and documented time line for that situation as well. But in brief, Jamin was one of our Greyfriar ministerial students who was exposed in 2005 as having been engaging in criminal sexual behavior with Natalie Greenfield a few years before. His behavior was criminal, hers was not.

Because most of the information in the Sitler case was public, I have been able to talk about that more freely. But for a long time now I have refused to talk about everything I knew in the situation with Jamin. This is because there was no way to talk about the details without spreading the hurt to others. I knew the things I did because of my work as a pastor in the situation, and I wanted to keep my standing commitment to be discreet with any such information, and to do so as long as possible. But since others have been spreading the hurt for me, and the letter that I wrote to the officer investigating the crime has now been posted online, it has now gotten to point where if I speak, I might be able to help minimize the hurt that is careening around the Internet.

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. In a letter to the victim’s father, dated September 15, 2005, I wrote, on behalf of the elders, that “Jamin is in no way justified . . . and we have no problem with his prosecution” (emphasis added).

But the question before the court was what kind of criminal behavior it was, not whether it was criminal. We had instructed Jamin, who was professing repentance, that he needed to demonstrate it by taking full responsibility for what he had done. But what he had done was very different from what was potentially at stake in his trial. Our elders had no problem with him being charged for the crime of sexual behavior with a girl who was not capable of giving legal consent (she was 14 and he was 23). At issue was whether he was going to be charged as pedophile, and placed in the same category as one who was molesting little children. But we believed 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 sexual behavior with an underage girl.

The reason we did not want it treated as pedophilia is that her parents had bizarrely brought Jamin into the house as a boarder so that he could conduct a secret courtship with Natalie. 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 of age and if the two had not been living under the same roof.

But please note well: Things like her height, apparent maturity, and parental knowledge of the fact of a relationship are simply irrelevant to the morality of Jamin’s behavior. They are irrelevant to the criminality of his behavior. They are irrelevant to whether Jamin was selfishly manipulating a young girl, preying on her for his own selfish ends. They are irrelevant to whether it was statutory rape or not. But such things were not irrelevant to whether it was pedophilia.

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 simply needs to be recognized on all sides. I do not argue this to intimate or hint that her parents were in any way aware of the crimes Jamin was committing. What they were unaware of, Jamin did need to go to prison for.

Nevertheless Jamin was brought into the house in order to make Natalie the object of his romantic intentions, and to do so more conveniently, out of the eyes of community accountability. The arrangement became public years later, and with much harm done. Jamin was trusted by Natalie and her father. He certainly abused that trust sinfully and grotesquely—and took terrible advantage of it. 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.

The first letter that Natalie posted on line from me was addressed to her father, and it admonished him for failing to protect his daughter. There was outrage that I had dared to admonish the “father of the victim.” But the father of the victim had approved an extraordinarily foolish arrangement that left his daughter vulnerable. Two weeks later I wrote her father another letter on behalf of the elders, and this letter has not yet been published online. In this second letter I said, “We simply want to make sure that Natalie is protected by you in the coming months . . . What we are doing is exhorting you to make protection of Natalie your highest priority in the months to come, because we are convinced that she will need it” (emphasis added). Unfortunately, that did not happen.

We found out about the abuse of Natalie years after the fact. In the areas where we could act, we did act right away. Jamin was disciplined for it immediately (e.g. expelled from Greyfriar Hall). We supported his prosecution. We exhorted Natalie’s father repeatedly to protect his daughter. This is yet another situation where reasonable men could easily have made different choices. But it is also a snarl where it is possible to look back with a clean conscience.

Up until recently, Natalie’s account has been dangerously incomplete and misleading. We were letting it go for the sake of others. As things have spilled out, it is much closer to the full story now. The whole thing was tragic and grievous. The damage it has done should be clear to any observer, from sea to cyber sea. In the midst of all of this, it is our heartfelt prayer that Natalie will return to Christ—the only place where the kind of wounds she received can ever really be healed.


I don’t want to make any rash promises, and so I won’t. No telling what the Intermob might start yelling for later on, and another set of answers might become necessary. The mob is ever hungry for new victims, and doesn’t really care about the old ones. But as much as they demand answers, they frequently show a singular lack of curiosity when actual answers are offered. My hope is that the readers here will not fall in that category.

And Rod, if I may turn to you directly here at the end I would appreciate the opportunity. We invite you to visit us here in Moscow. We will pay the plane fare, and have you speak in some public forum on a subject of your choosing with a suitable honorarium. We will treat you kindly and show you around. I would hope that it might help place some of the things you have read in a better and far more accurate context.


I thank Doug Wilson for his detailed response, which does make the record more complete. I particularly appreciate his making clear to readers who did not look at the correspondence published on critical websites that he (Wilson) acknowledged clearly the wrongdoing of the two young men in question. As to whether or not he asked for “leniency” (my word) for Steven Sitler, you read Wilson’s full letter, and you be the judge. Here is the particular paragraph:

I am grateful Steven was caught, and am grateful he has been brought to account for these actions so early in his life. I am grateful that he will be sentenced for his behavior, and that there will be hard consequences for him in real time. At the same time, I would urge that the civil penalties applied would be measured and limited. I have a good hope that Steven has genuinely repented, and that he will continue to deal with this to become a productive and contributing member of society.

I also appreciate that Pastor Wilson encouraged Sitler to confess other sexual offenses against children to the authorities when they came to light in spiritual direction (“During that time, other offenses were uncovered, going back to his early teens (he was around 19 at the time of his arrest). Under my direction Steven confessed those to the authorities as well.”).

That seems to be true, based on this 2006 Defense Review Hearing Memo, which notes that Sitler “withheld nothing” from investigators, and told them about “much more [acts of pedophilia] on multiple occasions to multiple people.”

So everybody knew that Sitler had, in the words of one evaluator, “a significant problem with pedophilia.”

On May 27, 2011, a parole officer for the Idaho Department of Correction wrote to the Latah County Prosecuting Attorney saying the department could not support Sitler’s intention to marry. Here is that letter.  In it, the officer says that given Sitler’s stated intention to start having children within a year of his marriage, the department would face the problem of having to separate the Sitler family “because we cannot allow him to be unsupervised with children.”

And yet, Pastor Wilson married them, knowing that Steven Sitler, by the confession he made to the police at Wilson’s urging, was a serial pedophile.

This is I do not understand. Nor do I understand the kind of church culture in which an elder of the church sets up a young woman who is anxious to get married with a convicted pedophile. And nothing Pastor Wilson wrote here makes it any more understandable.

On the Wight matter, there can be no doubt that the abuse victim’s parents behaved foolishly in letting the 23-year-old Wight into their home to court their young teenage daughter. Wilson, in the letter to the judge, acknowledged Wight’s wrongdoing, but said he did not think Wight’s deeds made him a “sexual predator.” The blog posts of Natalie Greenfield, the victim, tell a different story (this one, for example). Seems like sexual predation to me.

Pastor Peter Leithart, who at the time headed the daughter church of Doug Wilson’s Christ Church congregation, recently apologized publicly to the Greenfield family for errors in pastoral judgment in the way he handled the Jamin Wight matter. He wrote, in part:

It is clear now that I made major errors of judgment. Fundamentally, I misjudged Jamin, badly. I thought he was a godly young man who had fallen into sin. That was wrong. In the course of trying to pastor Jamin through other crises in his life, I came to realize that he is deceptive and highly manipulative, and that I allowed him to manipulate me. A number of the things I said about Jamin to the congregation and court at the time his abuse was uncovered were spun in Jamin’s favor; I am ashamed to realize that I used Jamin’s talking points. Though I never doubted that Jamin was guilty, I trusted his account of the circumstances more readily and longer than I should have, and conversely I disbelieved the victim’s parents (to the best of my recollection, I had no direct contact with the victim, who was a member of Christ Church). I should have seen through Jamin, and didn’t.

As a result, I didn’t appreciate how much damage Jamin did and I was naive about the effect that the abuse had on the victim’s family. I recently asked her and her parents to forgive my pastoral failures, which they have done.

I suppose it’s possible that Leithart, who was Jamin Wight’s pastor, made severe errors of judgment, but Wilson, who pastored the victim and her family, did not. It would be interesting to learn what Leithart and Wilson today think of the way each other handled the matter.

Anyway, I am glad that Pastor Wilson wrote a response, even if I am not personally convinced by it. And I appreciate the invitation to Moscow, but I will pass on that.

UPDATE: Several readers have sent me notes saying that it is inaccurate to describe Doug Wilson as “Reformed,” explaining that he has his own vision of Reformation Christianity that is not considered orthodox by established Presbyterians.

A reader sends a link to the audio recording of Steven Sitler’s court hearing, in which the judge approved his marriage plans.

Another reader points out that Natalie Rose Greenfield, Jamin Wight’s victim, has responded to the above piece by Doug Wilson. Excerpt:

Doug was not in my home when my parents discussed allowing Jamin to court me. Doug was not in the room when they spoke about whether or not we should be allowed to hold hands. I imagine he may have something in writing from them, perhaps asking advice or seeking guidance on the situation and this may shed light on the foolishness and naivety of some of my parent’s choices. The fact that my parents trusted a dangerous and conniving criminal to respect the boundaries they had set is no secret and yes, it’s embarrassing. They have sought my forgiveness heartily over the years and I have unconditionally given it. But I would like to also point at that neither was Doug in the room when my father said, No. I am not comfortable with this. There will be no courtship. There will be no hand-holding. Do not touch my daughter and do not foster a relationship with her. Doug was not with my father as time dragged on and he began to become suspicious of Jamin. He was not in the hallway with my father where he sat on a chair in the middle of the night watching my bedroom door to make sure I was safe and protected. If only he had known my father’s heart, and yet he is quick to place blame on two parents who were deceived and manipulated by a calculated criminal. The fact that my parents were deceived does not change the nature of Jamin’s crime. The fact that my parents had moments of naivety does not merit letters from a pastor requesting leniency for a man who the prosecuting attorney called ‘a textbook pedophile’ and place a massive amount of blame on a father already broken by the news of his daughter’s abuse. The fact that I was beautiful and stood taller than my abuser does not lessen or change the sickening nature of what he did to me. The fact that I was infatuated with him and lived to please him does not mean that I was asking for it. Nobody asked for it.

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