It is not my intent to start blogging again, at least not any time soon, certainly not of the kind necessitated in 2006. I have been writing two books since 2008, one of them a Memoir, and I have been able to do this largely in the comfortable privacy of my home, or, at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, minded by nothing more than a handful of seagulls. I plan to keep it this way. I find that this approach increases literary productivity. It also helps blunt the memories pastor Douglas Wilson has blessed me with. Please be assured that my last post was not an easy task.
However, I have been unable to put out of mind Douglas Wilson’s current bullying, shaming, threatening, and libeling of Natalie, a recent member of his flock. That alone I might have walked away from, but Wilson is offering all this as direct reprisal for Natalie’s public comments about the abuse she endured from one of his ministerial students – abuse that was just obliquely confirmed by a letter from Peter Leithart. So what to do?
I have decided to offer some of my experience with the other child rape scandal, involving pedophile Steven Sitler. In that case too, Wilson preached the protection of victims, while eagerly harming those victims most close at hand. Rob Dreher at The American Conservative gave Pastor Wilson a large space to respond to criticism regarding both instances of child rape, but regarding Sitler, Wilson’s response left Dreher confused,
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.
The following events of summer, 2006, will certainly not offer a full explanation, but I think they will at least help make it all bit more understandable.
Simon [name changed] had been pursuing me for some time over a case of child rape. Local critics of Doug Wilson were visiting the courthouse and building the best case they could, but molding Pooh was Simon’s most important work. He told me that Pooh’s Think was the best place for this news to first break. I explained that I wanted nothing to do with it. To this, Simon began his gentle bullying. Did I not understand the gravity of this?
To me, writing about this was not consistent with the purpose of Pooh’s Think. What I had accomplished was specific: I had remained a loyal member of Wilson’s community while protesting specific corruption from Wilson himself. And I protested the corruption primarily by defending those who Wilson was attacking – Brian McLaren, an X-elder, X-members – while simultaneously publicly defending Wilson and my fellow congregants where I thought public attacks were unjust or unsound. I did not assume evil, but rather probed and investigated always in the hope that I had seen the extent of wrongdoing. The momentum building over this child rape case was different. It seemed to be little more than the search for anything capable of unleashing violent public sentiment. This was my explicit thinking at the time and the same reason I refused even a journalist student at the University in search of a story.
But Simon finally provided me an argument that grabbed my attention: This story was going to break no matter what, and if I broke the story, I would have more control over the backlash. Simon now had a draft of a public announcement that Evan Wilson, Doug Wilson’s brother, allegedly Okayed. Perhaps out of sheer exhaustion, I finally agreed to look at what Simon had written. After I read it, I was relieved to know that this huge headache could go away by simply posting a short Announcement that was actually meager in what it implied about Doug Wilson’s delinquency.
I forwarded the announcement to Wilson as soon as I posted it. Unexpectedly, Wilson began pelting my inbox with moral outrage and ridicule. I published this and my replies on Pooh’s Think as it proceeded, so our exchange amounted to a public debate. I promised Wilson I would immediately remove the Announcement and publicly apologize as soon as just one of the many gross errors he alleged were specifically pointed out, but Pastor Wilson refused to provide any specific information as the Announcement gained more traction on-line. It became obvious that Wilson wanted the Announcement up and he exited the debate only after he began the rhetorical attack he would maintain publically for months, years even: By posting this Announcement I had harmed the victims’ families. Precisely how I had harmed the victims’ families was never made clear, but as we will see, Wilson was determined to insure the victim’s families were harmed, even if he must accomplish this all on his own.
As I recall, the only person responsible for bringing the words “victims” or “victim’s family” into the public discourse was Wilson. As others pointed out, this was a brazen use of ‘human shields’ to divert attention from his own failure to communicate the presence of a serial predator to the larger community. I hated what was happening. I did not want Wilson and the foundations of the beautiful world of our ‘Kirk’ to be little more than pure evil.
Wilson published his own counter-announcement two days after the Announcement at Pooh’s Think. The public claim – it was a bit more than an insinuation – was that I was just as bad as this serial predator who had raped countless young children in multiple states. I was a “sick” enemy, locked in a psychological prison for which there were “no visiting hours.” The serial predator, however, was now a forgiven friend. What had this rapist done to earn approval? He submitted to Wilson. Simon’s 40 part series addressing Wilson’s response to the Announcement was eventually hacked and destroyed, along with my entire original blog, but even this did not cause Wilson to remove his counter-announcement, with its incessant mention of the victim’s families.
The actual reason why Wilson and my friend Roy, the President of New St. Andrews, did not notify the public or the student body of the predation is obvious and banal. But the faux reason Wilson and Roy provided curiously paralleled the way Wilson was now seeking to ignite his next war: “[W]e didn’t want the victims, who were children, to suffer,” Wilson told a reporter.
Recently, during a quick fact check, I happened upon a newspaper report of Roy’s claim that the publicizing of the local child rape and the criticizing of Wilson’s response to it “is almost as reprehensible as the act.” I think Christopher Hitchens captures the more appropriate sentiment, one I hope is shared by Roy in his less defensive moments: “[If] I was suspected of raping a child . . . I might consider committing suicide . . . If I had actually committed the offense, I would welcome death in any form that it might take. This revulsion is innate in any healthy person, and does not need to be taught.”
Soon, the phone call came that would complete my investigation of the person and work of Douglas Wilson. A woman spoke with shaky voice, an almost hysterical voice, and yet, with strange firmness.
“I wanted to call you and ask you why you are doing this, why you would do this to us.”
“I am not sure I know what you mean.”
“What you are doing on your blog. That you would use other members of the church like this.”
“I have tried to be very careful the last six months about what private information I released. No one knows who you are. But I would be happy to remove any reference from my blog for you. I am sorry this has upset you. Have you discussed this with anyone else, like your elders?”
“Yes, we met with Doug Wilson this afternoon,” she replied.
I did what I could to control my anger.
“Listen,” I began, still gently but firmer, “Nobody is discussing details about you or your particular case. Everyone is only thinking about their own children. But now that I realize your anguish over this, I would be happy to remove the public announcement. I will remove anything, everything . . .”
“No, you do not have to do that,” she interrupted. She now spoke slowly. She seemed disoriented and the anger was gone from her voice.
“Well, then would you be willing to tell me what you would like me to do different and what to change in what has been posted? Anything you say.”
“I am not sure. I would have to read it again.”
“Ok. Please read it again and call me back anytime, and let me know.”
“Ok, I will do that” she said. But these words seemed hollow; I did not anticipate I would hear from her again, and I did not, even though Wilson continued to publicly reference the new plight of the “victims’ families” living in Moscow because of what I was “doing.”
Wilson had this mother of some of the victims into his office not to comfort her, but to outrage her. This was his sole argument he had committed himself to publicly. The families of the victims were now on the public stage in so far as Wilson daily put them there, but now he needed to make sure they keenly felt it.
Wilson started writing to the local discussion board Vision 2020 again, and he publicly referenced this phone conversation. Wilson addresses me:
And you were then asked by someone directly harmed by your action to take them down, which you have not, as of five minutes ago. Michael, you are the emotional equivalent of a sucking chest wound . . .
In another post to all “Visionaries,” Wilson revealed, accidently it seems, what his intentions were in meeting with this woman. He wanted to inform her about what I had “done.” “When I talked to the victims’ parents about what Michael Metzler had done on his blog, and what was being done here, do you think the response from them was more like, ‘Oh, good,’ or ‘Oh, no’?” (my emphasis). Again, I was the one privileged to know the immediate result of the pastoral care this woman received during that meeting.
Curious details started to surface, such as Wilson’s letter to the judge requesting the judgment be measured and limited. The Southern Poverty Law Center would later take this up, noting the monstrous incoherence of wishing the death penalty for adulterers and homosexuals but asking for a limited ruling based on already very limited non-Mosaic laws regarding serial child rape. A parent of one of the victims, whether local or from one of the other states where this rapist preyed I do not know, wrote the Judge about what was really causing them ‘harm’:
. . . she was only two years old . . . It was painful enough to be told of the perversion that [he] committed against [our daughter] yet now we have watched for the last six months as an admitted child molester has been living in the comforts of his parent’s home, whiling away the days that should be spent in jail.
Wilson never notified the larger community or the student body of New St. Andrews of the predation, but it was also confirmed that the insufficient communication to the Kirk congregations – I, a father with young children, was not informed – was itself postponed for eight months. But for me, Wilson’s chosen response to the Announcement was the real scandal. He was not only willing, but eager, to trample underfoot the weakest within his care for only a small amount of his own political gain.
A few years later, the Kirk encouraged and facilitated the courtship and eventual marriage (permitted by the Judge after debate) between this paroled serial predator and a young woman connected to the Kirk. When visiting Leithart’s church during our visit to Moscow in 2011, we witnessed an elder, Patch, standing before the congregation, beseeching God to bless this new happy union. Walking down the aisle later, Patch darted a snarling glance at me.
I will not offer here an analysis of Wilson’s intentions and motivations, or the social-psychological mechanisms that he co-opted with astounding success – this was when the majority of the Kirk community was finally steered to fear and abhor me. But I will at least give you a clue, or that is to say, pass along the same clue Wilson provided me offline: Girard. “It is all in Girard.”