It’s been almost two years since we received the phone call from the police asking about Tina’s rape at 15 and the events that surrounded that horrible situation. Little did we know how her story becoming public would change our lives. The police gave us a choice. Tina could come to NH and she could give her statement in person or she could write out her statement and send it to them. We reached out to numerous church leaders in at least three different states and asked for advice. The responses from all of them varied but the most surprising to me was the responses from my own church, the one I grew up in. I expected full support for Tina and my family. The advice, reactions, and the different things that happened behind the scenes helped open my eyes that there was a problem in fundamentalism.
I also started doing a lot of reading. I came across Stuff Fundies Like and Darrell Dow’s Blog. I would start at the beginning and read their journey in, through, and sometimes out of fundamentalism and I related to the struggles and confusion of what I had been taught compared to what I encountered in the “world.” Sometimes the comments are more enlightening than the actual post itself. I started coming across blogs that talked about abuse in the church, such as: Stop Baptist Predators, Blog on the Way, Elizabeth Esther, Emotional Abuse and your Faith, FBC Jax Watchdog, IFB Deception, and others. I don’t agree with everything that these people post but they helped me think about different issues and to view things from an angle and made me aware of some of the issues that people encounter when they go to church. I also came across blogs that shared the story of their lives and the abuse that they encountered, such as: Flotsam & Jetsam, Stitching up the Seams, HGC, and many others. Their stories gave me a bigger perspective on the lives of others outside of my family and the issues that they faced. As time went by, I noticed that more and more people were finding their voice, even if anonymously. More and more people were standing up to say, “That’s enough. I must stand up against abuse. I can’t sit on the sidelines anymore.” I saw more blogs pop up or I saw more posts by people who were already blogging but now they were addressing the issue of abuse in fundamental, Baptist churches. Blogs, such as: Chuckles Travels, Pensees, Desert Petrichor. There are also multiple blogs regarding BJU, such as: BJU Hurts, BJU Accreditation, Chance Rants, which in our circles, BJU has been a major influence in the IFB. I also came across a number of blogs that discussed issues and topics from the IFB viewpoint that only reinforced the decision I made for my family to leave the IFB “notwork.” I also started reading a lot on Sharper Iron and the very aptly named Fighting Fundamental Forums, which showed me and others their true colors towards those people who dared to disagree with them. Again, the comments were another confirmation to me that leaving the IFB was the best decision for my family.
We have now entered 2012. The past year has been full of ups and downs. 20/20 aired six months after they told us it originally would air. The more they researched, the more information they uncovered. I was surprised that the show was only an hour. Of course, the firestorm of IFBdom hit and the hatred that spewed from various IFB sites toward Tina and others really surprised me. It made me realize a few things, which I wrote about here. While having to deal with the lies, character assassinations, twisting of facts, and people’s assumptions and their version of the “truth,” we (especially Tina) also had the stress of the looming trial of Ernie Willis.
That trial was probably the most stressful thing that Tina has gone through during our marriage, other than being married to me. That’s a whole new level of stress on her. Anyway, what a roller coaster of emotions that she went through with giving her testimony, hearing others testify, having people she knew and didn’t know show up to support her, intimidation tactics, legal maneuvers, etc. I can only imagine how she felt. I know I felt very anxious and tried to keep my mind on my job while also keeping up with the events of the trial. We thank all those who supported Tina during this time and this also includes the people from our church that came to take care of our three kids while I went to work during the day. The timing of the trial also caused Tina to miss our son’s kindergarten graduation. You can imagine Tina’s disappointment.
Blog activity regarding Tina’s story seemed to wind down by the end of summer. The sentencing of Tina’s rapist happened in September and the blogs started up again. Activity died down again and then the news that Chuck Phelps was on the BJU Board and things picked up again with the primary focus being on BJU, Chuck Phelps, with the use of Tina’s name again. What’s been amazing to watch is where Tina’s story has impacted lives. We knew it would be talked about but we didn’t realize how much. We hoped it would impact and inspire people to stand up for victims but we didn’t realize how polarizing it would become. It’s hard to take a hard look at yourself and realize that you have been doing things that are harmful to others and unscriptural but it’s much harder for a church or religious organization to do that. Human nature screams “defense, defense” instead of “be open, vulnerable, honest, and willing to change” when confronted with mistakes or sin.
After Chuck Phelps was not on the BJU Board any longer, things quieted down for the holidays. That’s been a blessing. Discussions are still going on in various places but hopefully the story continues to encourage victims of abuse to seek help, advocates to be supportive, pastors to examine their methodology and ways they may be condoning abuse, church members to stop defending or making excuses for abusers (whether pastor or layman) in their congregation, and colleges to evaluate their policies of reporting abuse and teach their students proper responses to abuse, such as: reporting, love and support, compassion, and acceptance instead of blame.
I know this is not the end of Tina’s story. It’s bound to pop up again in the public eye. I’m just wondering what will happen next. At the beginning, I told Tina that I’m going into Marine mode, hence “Tina’s Marine.” I’m here to support and defend her. Our prayer has always been for God to move in ways that only He can move. We’ve seen that happen. We’ve chosen to be used by Him for whatever His purpose. We have also tried not to be a hindrance to Him by seeking our own form of justice or manipulation of who’s impacted by Tina’s story. Our goal was to help see justice, which we’ve seen happen on a number of different levels. Only God knows what other justice God has planned. Our goal was to show others that they are not alone and to encourage others to speak up. Each day more and more are encouraged to speak up for themselves and others. It makes our journey worth it.
"God's grace and goodness towards us is so immeasurably great, that without great assaults and trials it cannot be understood" ~ Martin Luther