The Rev. Wes Feltner, lead pastor of preaching and vision at the multi-campus Berean Baptist Church in Burnsville, Minnesota, has resigned from his post amid an investigation into allegations from two 35-year-old women who say he manipulated them into sexual relationships while they were teenagers 17 years ago.
“After much prayer and deep consideration for his family and the mission of Berean Baptist Church, pastor Wes Feltner has submitted his resignation,” elders of the church read from a statement to the congregation last weekend, according to the Star Tribune. “Pastor Wes and his family are entering a period to seek healing and we will walk with them during this process.”
Feltner and his wife have three children and reside in the south metro area of the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
Berean Church officials said earlier this month that they had hired an outside firm to investigate the claims of JoAnna Hendrickson and Megan Frey, who allege in separate narratives on a website they created that Feltner used his position of authority to dupe them into explicit relationships while he was their youth pastor at First Southern Baptist Church in Evansville, Indiana.
“After 17 years of guilt, shame, blaming myself and questioning every authority, I can see that I did not ask for it, and I did not initiate it. I was not too immature or naive. I was a youth asking for help … I was manipulated. I was sexually abused,” Frey concluded in her account.
Both women, who were about 18 when they got involved with Feltner, shared similar stories of how they went to him for counseling about relationship issues that evolved into prolonged sexual relationships.
“Unbeknown to us, Wes would have JoAnna over to his home a couple nights a week, and then have me over the opposing nights. Many nights, he would have the youth group over for a movie or games, etc., and I would then have to pretend to leave, drive to Bethel Temple Church to park in the lot, and await his arrival, after everyone had left his house, usually around 10 p.m.,” Megan wrote in her story.
“At a point in our [almost 9 month] relationship, I began questioning it all as I felt a change in his behavior and found an earring and a hair pin on the floor by his bed. This was especially alarming alongside a pregnancy scare, to which he responded that he’d marry me and it will all work itself out soon. A noticeable pattern of change had developed [months prior] in his moods and sexual behavior toward me. He went from caring, attentive, sharing bubble baths and candlelight to sexually ‘rough’ and dominant behavior. I was young and naive enough to think this was how older people appropriately handled intimacy,” she added.
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Feltner’s betrayal was only discovered at a youth winter retreat in 2002 when both women discovered, through mutual friends of their youth pastor, that they were both involved in a messy love triangle.
When their parents confronted the church’s pastor about the alleged abuse of Feltner’s authority, they were urged to keep things quiet, the two women allege.
“JoAnna’s and my parents met with pastor Don Moore to discuss the betrayal and lies that were exploding before us. Wes told Joe Donahue [his friend in ministry] that ‘he was a dead man,’ and ‘his ministry was over!’ In response to Wes’ behaviors that evening, a few men from the church went to Wes’ house and removed all guns and risk of him hurting himself,” Frey wrote.
“Meanwhile, at the church Pastor Don simply dismissed it all, saying that allowing the church to know what had happened and telling the truth would only allow the church body to see myself and JoAnna for the blame we deserve, and that we needed to protect the church. This meant, ‘what had happened will not be made public, and we should not talk about it,’” she said.
Hendrickson, who also said she blamed herself for a long time for the alleged abuse she experienced after seeking help from Feltner regarding her ex-boyfriend, says she is no longer doing so.
“Just because he made sure we were 18, and legal, did not make it right! We trusted him, and the parents of First Southern entrusted their youth to him. And he abused his authority as a minister,” she wrote.
Feltner, 41, told the Star Tribune that some details of the accusers’ narratives were true but not all. He said he offered to speak with the women with the help of a mediator but they declined. Once the investigation is over, he said, the allegations will be addressed in more detail.
Church elders further noted in a statement that it was “necessary to complete this investigation to be able to speak into the healing process for Wes and for all involved. We also know that this season has opened wounds in our faith family and we are developing a plan to make resources available to help heal our faith family.”
Feltner was reportedly in the running for a pastor position at a church in Clarksville, Tennessee, the Tribune said, but he was dropped in October after officials there heard the women’s stories. He was also suspended from teaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.