The Presiding Ministers’ Report: “effectiveness as a contender for the faith”

Bad Religion: “separatist . . . fundamentalists . . . paranoia, crankishness, and all the other pathologies of the religious ghetto”

“The state is investigating whether or not the baby boy born to the pedophile and the woman that Wilson married has been molested by his father . . . and Doug Wilson thinks this is a matter to be laughed at, while raising a glass of Scotch to spite the critics? That is insane.” Rod Dreher

Previously we considered an understatement by the CREC Review Committee in the Presiding Ministers’ Report on the Sitler and Wight Sex Abuse Cases [PMR]. They described Douglas Wilson’s pastoral malfeasance as a “serious mistake.” By comparison, Randy Booth described his plagiarism as a “serious mistake” — serious enough to require his resignation from the office of CREC Presiding Minister Pro Tem. Doug Wilson’s “serious mistake” didn’t even merit a rebuke. How did the two offenses differ? Randy Booth failed to cite his sources; Douglas Wilson refused to warn kirker parents of predation. Mr. Booth’s failure hurt no one; Mr. Wilson’s failure cut off any chance for parents to determine if the predator touched their children, which shows the difference between a “mistake” and “malfeasance.” A mistake is an error, possibly accidental; malfeasance is deliberate wrongdoing of a public duty. But while Randy Booth walked the plank for his “serious mistake,” Doug Wilson simply walked.

Today let’s consider an overstatement that the CREC Review Committee inserted into the PMR:

Pastor Wilson’s effectiveness as a contender for the faith has been noted by many, including Ross Douthat of the New York Times.21 That is all good. But when it comes to matters such as the Sitler and Wight cases, especially when victims are involved, an entirely different voice needs to be heard — one clad not in battle regalia, but in a humble linen tunic. Not only is this glorifying to God and the right thing to do, it is a kindness to victims, as well as to internet onlookers, who may already be confused by the allegations, and who will likely become even more confused by pastoral responses made with sword and mace. Had biblical humility and prudence been placed more to the fore — and that is what our suggestions are trying to express — we believe it would have placed Pastor Wilson and the entire controversy on a higher road.

21 See Douthat’s book, Bad Religion. (PMR page 18)

I quote the whole paragraph to set the context. An unknown writer, or ghostwriter, slipped the first sentence into this section, placing it where it does not belong:

“Pastor Wilson’s effectiveness as a contender for the faith has been noted by many, including Ross Douthat of the New York Times.”

This calls attention to the disconnect between the sentence and the subject of the PMR. Two sexual predators committed horrible crimes against Kirk children & their families — what does that have to do with Doug Wilson’s so-called “effectiveness as a contender for the faith”? Assuming arguendo that Doug Wilson is an effective “contender for the faith,” what does that have to do with “Pastor Wilson’s Blogging Responses”? — the subsection where the line appears. As we shall see, the Review Committee did not engage one single blog post that Doug Wilson wrote in response to either of these two scandals. Instead, they mildly corrected him for saying “small breasted biddies” and “lumberjack dykes” — even though he wrote neither as “Blogging Responses” to the subject of the PMR. But more to point, if he’s such an effective contender, why didn’t he contend for Natalie as opposed to the man who abused her? Why didn’t he contend for Katie Travis before her marriage or for her son after she gave birth? This “effectiveness as a contender for the faith” sentence flops around like a fish out of water. It struck me as creepy groveling at the feet of an extremely fragile egomaniac who lacks the emotional capacity to handle teeny-tiny criticism in a public report. So I looked it up.

Douthat–Dreher Connection
The CREC Review Committee or their ghostwriter embellished a line by New York Times columnist Ross Douthat from his book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. Ross Douthat wrote the book in 2012 — three years before Rod Dreher put on the map with his blog post Scandal in Moscow. You might recall that Rod Dreher repudiated Douglas Wilson and Christ Church for their role in the Sitler–Travis wedding and for pooh-poohing the incomprehensible danger that faces the Sitler child every day. Rod was appropriately scandalized. You might also recall that, before he wrote Scandal in Moscow, Rod Dreher considered profiling Douglas Wilson and Christ Church in his then-upcoming book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York: Sentinel, 2016).

I call these facts to your attention because Rod Dreher’s Benedict option (concept, not book) controls the context for Ross Douthat’s quote that the CREC Review Committee referenced in the PMR (click the pics to enlarge):

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, page 280These perils help explain the appeal of a second possible source of Christian renewal: not a renewed engagement with the postmodern world and a more successful quest for relevance, but an extended period of withdrawal, consolidation, and purification. The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher has dubbed this the Benedict option, after the saint of late antiquity (and namesake of the current pope) whose monastic rule helped preserve both Christianity and Greco–Roman culture and with them, the seeds of civilizational renewal amid the Roman Empire’s slow collapse. The Benedict option tends to assume that Christianity (whether Catholic or Protestant) must contract before it grows, with faithful believers forming communities that stand apart from postmodern culture and inspire by example rather than engagement. . . . (Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics [New York: Free Press, 2012], 280)

Ross Douthat gave examples of separatist communities, or subcultures, that reflect Dreher’s so-called Benedict option — Latin Mass Catholics, “neo-Anabaptists,” Mormons, and “the Christian home-schooling movement.” Then he complimented Douglas Wilson in a parenthetical example:

At their best, such separatist movements can offer believers a kind of liberation from many of the temptations discussed in this book — worldliness and partisanship, the cult of Mammon and the worship of the nation-state. Such communities have a vibrancy and solidarity that other strains of American Christianity often lack, and frequently a greater intellectual sure-footedness as well. (Of Christopher Hitchens’s many Christian debating partners, none was more eloquent and effective than Douglas Wilson, a Reformed pastor associated with New Saint Andrew’s, a Moscow, Idaho college dedicated to providing a classical Christian education to a largely homeschooled student body.) . . . . (ibid. 281)

Douthat described an eloquent & effective debating partner for Christopher Hitchens, but he didn’t say, “effectiveness as a contender for the faith,” contra the Presiding Ministers. Douthat applauded Doug Wilson’s performance when he shared the stage with Hitchens; the Review Committee praised a spiritual gift that Douthat did not note. To prove this, read Douthat’s next reference to Mr. Wilson in the following paragraph, which the Presiding Ministers did not acknowledge:

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, page 281But the separatist Christians also risk falling into the same traps that snared the fundamentalists of the 1920s and 1930s — paranoia, crankishness, and all the other pathologies of the religious ghetto. (When he wasn’t tangling with Hitchens, Douglas Wilson was known to describe himself as a “paleo-Confederate” and flirt with theocratic sentiments.4) What’s more, they risk effectively giving up on those cobelievers who aren’t capable of opting out of their existing communities and churches and schools. . . . (ibid.)

4 Molly Worthen, “The Controversialist,” Christianity Today, April 17, 2009. (Endnote on page 312.)

Ross Douthat didn’t affirm Doug Wilson’s “effectiveness as a contender for the faith.” He warned against “separatist Christians” suffering from “paranoia, crankishness, and all the other pathologies of the religious ghetto.” And he specifically identified Pastor Douglas Wilson of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, as an example of this. (For the Kool-Aide drinkers, “paleo-Confederate” and “theocratic sentiments” are not compliments; Douthat waves these terms like freak flags.) Ross Douthat wrote this in 2012, three years before serial pedophile Steven Sitler fathered a child while under Douglas Wilson’s pastoral care. What would he say about that?

The CREC Review Committee overstated Ross Douthat’s comment and they didn’t reference his full context. If they had represented Douthat honestly, they would have said that the “pathologies” festering in Doug Wilson’s “religious ghetto” smell far worse than Douthat observed. In their defense, however, the Presiding Ministers probably didn’t read the book or write the line. And since Rod Dreher inspired the context for Review Committee’s reference, his last word about Douglas Wilson fits well here:

Randy Booth, the co-author of A Justice Primer, is the man Wilson appointed to investigate the way he and his church handled accusations of sexual abuse within the church. Credibility? None left. Not a shred of it, if ever there was. (The American Conservative, Doug Wilson & Serial Plagiarism, December 10, 2015)

Bad religion indeed.