I wanted to write an open letter to those who helped tell the stories of Rachel, Jocelyn, and Tina. In May ’10, Tina’s story broke to the public. The wide-reaching impact of her story we never imagined. We never realized that Tina telling her story to the police and the arrest of Ernie would cause such an uproar all over the country. We were warned but we were still surprised. Many, many shows, networks, newspapers, and others called for interviews. We accepted three. One was on Memorial Day weekend, another from a local network after the trial was over, and the biggest from 20/20.
We accepted 20/20’s request because we were sure of your journalistic credibility and the seriousness of this story would not be taken lightly. My wife and I were not disappointed and we know there was a lot more that could have been told. There was a lot more information that you dug up while researching that could have had us glued to the TV for another hour or two. If you were doing an in-depth analysis of IFB churches and the abuses that could be found in those churches, it would take hours upon hours to tell the experiences of all the people you could have talked to.
I wanted to thank you for how much work you all did. Originally we were told that the story would air in September ‘10 and then it was pushed to January ‘11, then March and then finally aired in April 8, 2011. Waiting for that story to air was tough. When the newspapers hit with the story, it was big and so we were much more aware of what could happen when it hit TV.
I want to thank Alan Goldberg for his professionalism, kindness, thoroughness, and so many more things. He came to our house at the end of June ’10. He hung around with us for about 48 hours filming and asking lots of questions. The biggest thing that I admire him for is how he handled our church situation. He wanted to film us going to our church. Well, we didn’t have one. We had visited a couple of churches and there was one we had been to twice and suggested we do it there. He called the pastor to ask permission to film in the church. The pastor had met us once but he called us (and we appreciate this pastor for doing this) and he made sure it was ok with us before he gave Alan permission to come. Alan was not planning on staying long but we asked him to stay and we are glad that Alan did. We also appreciated Alan because he kept us informed of how things were coming along.
I want to thank Elizabeth Vargas and everyone else involved with interviews, research, filming, and all the work that was involved in presenting the stories of Rachel, Jocelyn, and Tina to the public. I’m sure that a lot of the things that you uncovered surprised you. People can tell that you were surprised by the answers you received as you are interviewing them. I wish I could say that I was surprised. I was fortunate not to have experienced the depth of some of the abuse that has happened in some of these churches but I’ve heard too many stories and experienced the culture of the IFB in many churches and I understand how the environment can lead to abuse, if it hasn’t already. Unless a person has grown up in an IFB environment, they are surprised when we tell them our stories and the things that we’ve been through. When we’ve told people in our current church what happened in the past, they can’t believe the way the situation was handled. Our current pastors thought 20/20 did a great job and were shocked. We have plans to meet with them soon to see what steps they will take if abuse happens in our current church.
I also want to apologize for all the letters, emails, tweets, comments, blog posts, etc. that have come from people claiming to love and serve God and have used it for justification for attacking Elizabeth Vargas and the 20/20 news story. Some accused you of having an agenda and then going out to find people to support what you think. The facts of the story have been substantiated through multiple sources. The only agenda you had was to tell Tina’s story and then substantiate it through research. That’s exactly what you did. You had two other women from different churches from different parts of the country tell you their experiences to show that what happened to Tina was not an isolated event. Unfortunately, it happens all too often.
The biggest thing that the IFB seemed to be upset about was being lumped together with other IFB and labeled a cult or has cult-like tendencies. I saw more concern for their reputation than addressing the problems in IFB churches. They want to band together at conferences, fellowships, colleges, seminaries, camps, meetings, etc. but when something ugly happens or sin exposed or someone exposes a problem with an IFB church or organization, they want to retreat to their “independent” church and say that it does not involve them because “we don’t have any say in what happens over there.”
It was not 20/20 that stated all IFB churches are a cult. You did reference a website that states all IFB churches are a cult and one or more of the people that you interviewed stated they are a cult or had cult-like tendencies. You allowed them to state their opinions and they are entitled to them. Based on your research and the thousands of stories of abuse all over the country, it would be pretty hard to prove them wrong.
I understand their anger and frustration about being lumped together. One of the “rules” of arguing or debating is that you don’t use “always” or “never” because that is what people will get hung up on. They’ll think of the one time they didn’t do something or the one time they did do something and miss the whole point of the argument. In this situation, if the word “most” or “almost all” had been used, the statement would have been dismissed as not referring to them because not everyone is doing it and we are one of those that are not.
IFB churches and organizations will say, “I’m not a cult” but they need to examine why people are saying it. Nobody likes to be lumped together with anything that is negative. Someone might be able to find an exception to the rule of “everybody” but if a pastor(s) in a church demand a high level control over their congregation and ministries, and have what some would consider cult-like tendencies; the atmosphere of these churches will lead to abuse. This abuse will come in many forms, such as: financial, spiritual, verbal, physical, emotional, and even sexual. IFB churches don’t consider themselves a cult or even abusive but if they keep going down the path that a lot of IFB churches seem to be going down, they will be a cult. I doubt that anybody who has been in a cult sees it as a cult while they are in it; they just see themselves as being right.
Thank you, 20/20. Some got the message. Because of your presentation, individuals and families in churches have been able to examine their surroundings and have chosen to make a difference. Some have brought attention to the pedophiles in their church and are making changes to protect their children. Some have chosen to speak out about their own abuse and are trying to heal from the wounds that have been hidden for so long. I hope people will share some of the changes that have happened in their own lives and in their churches.
There were some that claimed you were being unfair or unbalanced in your approach to this story. They assumed that you ignored evidence that conflicted with what they assumed was your bias. They must not have noticed and should watch it again. I want to thank you for trying to tell both sides of the story. You gave a chance for Brian Fuller to explain his side of the IFB movement. He gave the standard lines that most pastors would have given you if you had been able to interview them. You saw him squirming when he was confronted with the pedophiles in his own church. The last that I heard, those men are not part of the congregation at Trinity any more. I want to thank you on behalf of the children at Trinity. This story made church members aware of who attended their church. This also helped them make changes in how they protect their children. They say they were doing it in the past but now it’s in writing.
Several times throughout the program a statement was made by one of the people being interviewed and viewers of 20/20 were shown or told what (such as Phelps’ statement to 20/20) and who (Phelps’ wife) disagreed with a statement. 20/20 tried to interview Matt Olson, Chris Leaf, and Chuck Phelps to get their point of view but they refused. You finally had to surprise him in person to get a statement from Chuck Phelps. Several IFB people had chances to give their side of the story. Only one person had enough courage to stand up for their church and the IFB. I’m sure 20/20 tried to interview people from Marquette Manor to get the other side of Rachel’s story. I’d be curious to know who on the pastoral staff turned down interviews with 20/20.
Thank you, 20/20. I believe that you did a great job. I pray that the stories you heard, the information you dug up, the sermons that you heard preached, the hateful responses you received from those professing to believe in God did not harden your heart about God. I pray that you understand that the Creator God, the Jesus who came to earth to die for our sins and rose again, does not condone the sins that are found in many churches. I believe that the story you told of Rachel, Jocelyn, and Tina is part of a wake-up call to the churches that are called IFB. I believe that if the sin of abuse, that is in many of these churches, is not addressed through “sackcloth and ashes,” these churches will see God’s judgment.