Women Accuse Evangelical Pastor Of Abuse Years After Being Advised To Preserve Silent
Seventeen years in the past, two youngsters approached a Southern Baptist church in Indiana with allegations that their youth pastor had used his place of authority to sexually abuse them.
Megan Frey and Jo Anna Hendrickson declare that again then, the church’s chief tried to brush the experiences underneath the rug. The 18-year-olds have been allegedly blamed for getting “duped,” their households have been pressured to maintain quiet, and the accused pastor, Wes Feltner, went on to determine a stable profession in ministry.
Over the previous few days, fearing that yet one more Southern Baptist church is refusing to heed their warnings in regards to the pastor, the women have began talking up once more.
However this time, they’re bringing with them the power of the #ChurchToo motion, which seeks to lift consciousness about abuse in Christian communities. And they’re hoping that by going public, they’ll assist create change within the Southern Baptist Conference, America’s largest Protestant denomination.
Hendrickson, who’s a part of a Southern Baptist church in Evansville, Indiana, advised HuffPost she’s talking out to teach the denomination in regards to the nature of pastoral abuse and to ensure that nobody else will expertise what she did.
“This not nearly Megan and I, or Wes Feltner,” Hendrickson mentioned. “That is a couple of huge drawback in our church buildings and it has been an issue for means too lengthy.”
The Southern Baptist Conference has made addressing sexual abuse a prime precedence after it was rattled by a number of scandals lately. In September, the SBC organized a high-profile convention meant to offer church buildings recommendation on stop abuse and assist survivors.
Feltner, who obtained his grasp’s in divinity from a Southern Baptist seminary, is at present lead pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Minnesota, which isn’t an SBC church. The allegations towards him resurfaced after he turned a prime candidate for a senior pastor place at a Southern Baptist church in Tennessee, First Baptist Church of Clarksville.
Feltner advised HuffPost he believes he’s dealing with a concerted effort from a small group of people that need to stop him from working in ministry.
“They accuse me of ‘pastoral abuse’ based mostly on occasions that occurred 17 years in the past after I was a single younger man working as youth chief in a church in Indiana. They’ve broadly circulated statements of two women whom I dated with the permission of their mother and father after they have been 18 years outdated,” Feltner advised HuffPost.
He mentioned he and his household have been dealing with a “withering barrage of on-line assaults and private threats,” and that he would reply to the women’s allegations after his present church wraps up an investigation into the matter.
“I agree with among the information alleged within the statements and deeply remorse the harm I’ll have brought about them. However among the allegations are usually not correct,” he mentioned.
Megan Frey claims that Wes Feltner took her on a visit to Las Vegas in 2002.
Frey and Hendrickson allege that the abuse occurred in 2002, after they have been each 18 years outdated and attending First Southern Baptist Church in Evansville, Indiana, the place Feltner was a youth pastor. Each say they initially approached Feltner for counseling after going by way of unhealthy breakups with former boyfriends. Each additionally declare they have been emotionally manipulated by the pastor and that he requested them to maintain the encounters a secret from their church.
Frey claims the counseling classes quickly remodeled into conferences with Feltner at his home, then shared bubble baths, intercourse and a visit to Las Vegas. Sexual contact with the pastor started whereas Frey was nonetheless in highschool, she says.
Hendrickson alleges that Feltner initiated a bodily relationship along with her within the fall of 2002, whereas he was additionally pursuing Frey. She says Feltner advised her “he felt God main him to pursue me” as a result of she was additionally all for ministry.
“The bodily facet of our relationship progressed shortly, however did contain sexual activity,” Hendrickson advised HuffPost. “After I expressed my issues to Wes Feltner about how shortly issues have been shifting bodily, and never [publicly] with our relationship, he would dismiss it, and defend his actions by saying this was who he’s.”
Each women mentioned that their respective mother and father have been conscious of their relationships, however trusted Feltner with their daughters since he was a pastor.
Jo Anna Hendrickson
Jo Anna Hendrickson is pictured with Wes Feltner.
Issues got here to a head at a church youth retreat within the winter of 2002, when one other youth chief found that Feltner was pursuing relationships with the 2 teenagers. The state of affairs was dropped at church management, who the women mentioned “merely dismissed all of it,” blamed the teenagers and pressured them to maintain silent.
HuffPost has reached out to First Southern Baptist Church for remark, in addition to the present church of its pastor on the time.
The Minnesota church the place Feltner at present works, Berean Baptist Church, introduced a third-party investigation into the allegations on Wednesday. When reached by HuffPost, the church’s elder board declined to call the specialists who’re conducting the evaluation or to say if Feltner is being faraway from his place whereas the investigation is underway.
Right here is our response to the current accusations: pic.twitter.com/6WbORl1X7M
— Berean Baptist, MN (@BereanMN) November 6, 2019
The Tennessee church the place Feltner is at present searching for a job, First Baptist Church of Clarksville, didn’t reply to HuffPost’s requests for remark. Frey and Hendrickson have criticized the chief of that church’s pastor search committee for calling them “adversaries” and showing dismissive of their complaints.
After listening to in regards to the women’s allegations, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary suspended Feltner from a place as adjunct professor.
Hendrickson mentioned she was “grateful” for the responses from Berean and from SBTS, however that First Baptist Church of Clarksville’s response has been “lackluster and alarmingly dismissive.” Its method towards the allegations is a part of why she selected to talk up publicly, she mentioned.
“Megan and I had given statements, photos, and dates to the pastor search committee, however they have been nonetheless selecting to maneuver ahead,” she mentioned. “I couldn’t simply preserve quiet about one thing that might harm so many.”
Frey and Hendrickson consider that Feltner shouldn’t be able of authority or management over any congregation.
Wes Feltner is listed as a pastor at Berean Baptist Church on its web site on Nov. 9, 2019.
Abuse survivors and advocates have been talking up on-line over the previous few days in assist of the women. Though Frey and Hendrickson have been legally adults on the time they allege the abuse happened, Feltner’s advances have been nonetheless unsuitable, in keeping with Amy Smith, a blogger and longtime advocate for sexual abuse survivors.
Smith identified that in 13 U.S. states, it’s a crime for clergy to have sexual contact with individuals they’re counseling. A type of states is Minnesota, the place Feltner’s present church is situated. (Indiana and Nevada don’t seem to have such a regulation on the books.)
Smith mentioned that Feltner violated his place of belief as a youth pastor when he “preyed” upon teenagers in his care. She believes he “disqualified himself” from ministry again then and may have been banned from the pulpit ever since.
“A sexual relationship between a pastor and congregant, even adults, is rarely consensual given the imbalance of energy,” Smith advised HuffPost. “It’s a violation of authority, belief and energy, preying upon susceptible individuals.”
So deeply grateful for the voices of those brave women.
SBC. We’re ready so that you can converse up in regards to the abuse, and the coverup, once more in your midst.
This may be finished nicely. Prioritize the sheep over the wolves, the reality over legal responsibility. Do it proper. https://t.co/eCd25662of
— Rachael Denhollander (@R_Denhollander) November 5, 2019
Thanks @Truthinlight84 and @mrsdafrey83 for bringing reality into the sunshine regardless of these misleading makes an attempt to silence you. You’re solely an adversary to those that need to stroll in darkness. I stand with you and hope justice and righteousness will prevail. https://t.co/uJ943DDglT
— Wade Mullen (@wademullen) November 5, 2019
RE: Wes Feltner as a pastor candidate for First Baptist Church of Clarksville, TN: There are not any acceptable gradients within the abuse of energy. Learn my op-ed in right this moment’s Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle. https://t.co/yPzT5VU8Rt
— Susan Codone (@SusanCodone) November 7, 2019
The tales of those women are extraordinarily disturbing. We’ve received to do higher when this stuff come to gentle.
— Karen Swallow Prior (@KSPrior) November 5, 2019
Trying again, Frey mentioned she believes that Feltner’s profession in ministry continued this lengthy due to a scarcity of accountability buildings within the SBC.
The SBC views itself as a community of Baptist congregations, every of which is impartial and self-governing. Abuse survivors and advocates say that this doctrine of autonomy has thwarted their makes an attempt to battle sexual abuse in SBC church buildings, reminiscent of by way of the creation of a denominationwide intercourse offender database.
“Accountability was wanted right here, however missing,” Frey mentioned of her case. “This clearly paints an image for necessity of a stronger construction and legal guidelines for abuse instances inside the SBC.”
“In spite of everything, on the core of the difficulty is a human being — regardless of the setting, regardless of the age,” she added. “Abuse is abuse.”
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