Dr. Peter J. Leithart Buries Sapphira

A couple people have asked for my thoughts on Pastor Douglas Wilson’s latest platform-building success. The current buzz regards Jamin Wight’s and Steven Sitler’s inclination to rape young children in Pastor Wilson’s care. One of the victims, Natalie, has taken a remarkable public stand about the care she received from Pastor Wilson after the abuse was revealed. In 2006, I refused to mention Natalie’s story on Pooh’s Think, and I have so far left Natalie and her abuser Mr. Wight out of my Memoir altogether. After all, Pastor Wilson might have had a point about Natalie the Seductress – as her pastor, he would know – and not too much blame can be given a young man allegedly thrown a-top a virgin by her own parents. I had my doubts about this narrative, but I was too embattled and too weak to investigate and risk further reprisal from Pastor Wilson.

Natalie was Sapphira, dead and buried, forgotten by the world, and I was one of the many fools that helped shovel the dirt. But somehow, Natalie managed to resurrect herself, taking on the pain and the remembering, demanding the world to listen. As of two days ago, my wife having mentioned this post of Natalie’s, I am finally listening too.

I will never fully understand the perverse, meaningless horror that Natalie had to endure, but thankfully, Natalie has, as necessary, worked to give her readers at least a glimpse. Her story is about surviving the long-term physical and psychological torture of a predator, but it is also a story about her community’s response to the revelation of that abuse. She was refused normal empathy and in fact shamed for tempting the rapist – the rapist, in turn, received exorbitant defense – and even now, her very own pastor, Douglas Wilson, is publicly lying about her in the hopes to trivialize her suffering and silence her dissent. Still, I do not think anyone in this discussion has so far considered how deep the roots of this social violence go. This was evidenced by the approval Dr. Peter J. Leithart has just procured by his one-time participation in the public conversation. Leithart moved one commenter “to tears” by his “honesty, sincerity, and humility.” Even Natalie and her parents have apparently accepted Leithart’s ‘apology.’ In what follows, I ask you to take a second look at Leithart’s short letter.

Even limiting ourselves to the evidence internal to the letter, we have good reason to think that Leithart is offering little more than preemptive defense, not an expression of genuine contrition:  He didn’t know about the abuse when it happened; he did not really ‘side’ with the rapist; it was his ‘duty’ to sit with the rapist in court (instead of the victim); he did not ignore or excuse anything; and it was good that the rapist remained a “member in good standing.” At the end of the letter, when Leithart finally gets to his own wrongdoing, he confesses only “misjudgment,” specifically, the sin of believing the best of a repentant sinner, a sin that looks awfully similar to saintly behavior. “I thought he was a godly young man who had fallen into sin. That was wrong.” No, it wasn’t wrong, not according to the context Leithart provides.  Leithart has given us no reason to think he actually did anything wrong here – we all have untrue (‘wrong’) beliefs we are not culpable for. Perhaps the praise Leithart procured is not too surprising. That was the point of writing the letter, was it not? I think we’ll know when Leithart is ready to tell the truth when his words have at least the potential to damage his ability to make money as a spiritual guide. Leithart is on record saying false things in the rapist’s defense, and for that, he says he is “ashamed,” but given his complicity in his community’s violence towards dissenters, coupled with pathological protection of submissive pedophiles, I do not believe him. I think ‘embarrassed’ and ‘worried’ are probably more apt.

Leithart also offers sweeping concern about our ability to publicly discuss the evil done to little children. He emphasizes his reluctance to say anything online – his friends had to tell him to do this – since his words could give “fuel” to irresponsible people, presumably those who falsely attack religious leader Douglas Wilson, with whom Leithart is still politically aligned. Implied is that all current debate on this is “overheated.”  “The internet” is probably not a good place to “expose evil,” since using the internet leaves those most damaged without a voice – an absurd claim. If Leithart’s claims were true, then he has simply given us reason to think that Natalie is simply wrong to take her story to the internet in the first place. In fact, Leithart followed up elsewhere with the argument that all such matters should be adjudicated by church leadership and never by broader society, a quite perverse stance to take after the global child rape scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. And when Leithart does get around to forthrightly defending the integrity of another person, other than himself, it is not the victim, and certainly not the victim’s right to have a voice. Leithart defends the victim’s abusive pastor, Douglas Wilson.

The primary problem here is the abuse from Leithart’s and Wilson’s community in Moscow towards Natalie after the rape was finally revealed, especially from those in social power (i.e. leadership).  Leithart saves this for the end: “I disbelieved the victim’s parents.” He does not admit that this positive action from him caused anyone further harm. Just the opposite, since he had “no direct contact with the victim.” He further adds, in a way sure to mislead anyone not very familiar with his religious community in Moscow, that the victim was the member of a different congregation. Actually, so I claim, Leithart was at that time helping Pastor Wilson silence and harm Natalie’s father while keeping control of his crucial Main Street business, Bucer’s Coffee House and Pub.

I still have a few questions. Was not Leithart at the court proceedings? Did he not hear any testimony, see any evidence? And why does he say he disbelieved only the parents? They were not witnesses to the crimes. Is not it Natalie he disbelieved?

A little over a year ago, I finally asked Leithart to consider the harm he did to me during that same 2005/2006 period. He refused to listen, and the irresponsible internet had nothing to do with it: I approached him off-line, and to my current knowledge, what you are reading here is the first time I have ever posted something critical of him – a painful thing to do since I love him.

(On this general topic of abusing the victim after the abuse, please see my post here. And I would recommend some pages in Liar’s Club as a way to further communicate a young girl’s experience of oral rape.)

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