The former pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Concord, N.H. has recently resigned from the board at Bob Jones University, after alumni demanded his termination for the way he handled the 1997 rape of a teenage girl in his church.
His decision is fully explained in a posting on the Bob Jones website. “Phelps resigned his board seat because he did not want anything to distract (Bob Jones University) from its mission,” the statement read.
The Rev. Chuck Phelps was Trinity’s head pastor from 1989 to 2007. And in 1997, a 15-year-old female member of the congregation named Tina Anderson accused Ernest Willis, a married church member, of raping her repeatedly after he impregnated her.
Phelps refused to take any action against Willis at the time. Instead he requested that Anderson stand before the whole congregation and ask forgiveness for accusing him. However, Phelps claimed he did contact police, but Willis now 52, was not brought to trial until 2011. According to court records, police could not seem to locate Anderson.
Phelps reportedly assisted Anderson in leaving the state after the incident and moved her to Colorado, where she had her baby and gave it up for adoption.
This investigation remained closed until last year when Anderson came forward with her story. With the encouragement of other former Trinity Baptist members she decided to speak out on the rape, which resulted in Willis being convicted of the crime in May, 2011. He was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in prison.
Alumni of Bob Jones University caught wind of the situation and began organizing a petition to remove Phelps from the school board after learning of his return. He served as a board member until 2007 when he left to become the president of a Wisconsin Baptist College.
In 2009, Phelps was invited to rejoin the board and attended his first meeting in May 2010. However, his name did not appear in the school year book until May 2011. This was when Camille Lewis, a petitioner, and alumnus of the school learned of his status as a member and quickly became concerned over Phelps having authority over minors.
The petition she assisted in promoting reads, “Phelps gave comfort to the rapist…; made the young girl apologize for her part in getting raped; sent her away with her mother’s help…. And allowed the rapist to remain in the church.”
For some Christians these actions are completely unacceptable for a leader in the church.
Brandon Ward, a New York City youth pastor commented on the actions of Phelps to The Christian Post. “I think it shows a lack of judgment on the pastor’s part – but ultimately a strange sense of justice,” he said. “The church, more than anything should characterize God’s heart in discipline and in showing mercy – and this pastor got it backwards on both counts. The man should have been publicly reprimanded and excommunicated, and the church should have begun the healing process with the girl.”
Bob Jones University officials learned of the petition and responded to it late last month. According to Bob Jones officials, they spoke to Phelps and determined that he had made some mistakes handling the rape of Anderson, but some of the accusations that were presented by the petitioners were unfair and untrue.
“The university has always expressed the fact that it grieves for Tina Anderson in this situation,” said Brian Scoles, Public Relations Manager at Bob Jones University to CP. “We’re certainly not pleased that a young girl had been raped.”
However, what actions the university would have taken if Phelps had not resigned from his position on the board was something Scoles could not answer.
Board Chairman Dr. Bob Jones III also expressed his feelings towards the resignation of Phelps in post on the school’s website. “We are grateful to Dr. Phelps for his many years of loyal service to his alma mater as a member of the Board of Trustees,” said Dr. Jones III.
Students who attend Christian universities and colleges expect leadership to be credible since the standard is supposed to be higher for them. The decisions made by Phelps concerning Anderson throws up red flags for any future students who would study under him.
“Sounds like the pastor didn’t want this to cause chaos throughout his church,” said Jodi Palermo, a student at Nyack College in New York City to CP. “The pastor and the elders should have taken every measure to ensure this poor girls safety and to excommunicate the man who did this and bring him to authorities. This man should not be a pastor or any sort of leader in any church. God’s justice and love was not shown at all.”
Phelps has also worked as an adjunct professor at Bob Jones University. Scoles recently told the Concord Monitor that he did not know if the Rev. would continue teaching after his resignation from the board.