Pastor Bob Bixby posted Laurie’s Observation:
I have some insight on the situation from my own time at Trinity Baptist Church and also my involvement with Tina and Tom and their mother, Chris. I first met Tina and Tom while on a visit to Glendale AZ where my dad was stationed at Luke AFB. My family attended the same IFB church as Chris and the two children. My mom was a teacher at the Christian School and had both of the children at one time or another. The name of the church has changed since then in the aftermath of the pastor’s (James Colyn) conviction for child sexual assault. He is a registered sex offender in TN the last time I checked.
My mom knew Chris and spent more time with her than I did. I was a college student at BJU at the time and only home for Christmas and other breaks. Chris was married to Daniel Leaf–not the father of the two children. During the time that they were in AZ, Dan was arrested and convicted for child abuse. You can find his criminal record here: http://www4.egov.nh.gov/nsor/Display.aspx?offenderID=2522
I became reacquainted with Chris while Daniel was in prison in AZ. She moved with Tina and Tom to NH to be near her family. By this time I was married and attending Trinity Baptist Church. I helped Chris a lot during the time Dan was imprisoned. I helped her clean her apartment, wash laundry, and also babysat the children for free. I first offered to take care of them when I observed their current babysitter (someone who lived near me) was using physical correction of them that I thought was harsh and inappropriate. I told Chris about the situation and offered to help. Knowing what I did from my own interaction with Chris and Daniel in AZ and my mom’s observations, Tina and Tom needed someone to provide security and love for them.
When Daniel was nearing the time to be released from prison, I spent quite a bit of time helping Chris get her apartment in order. I had several lengthy conversations with her about Daniel coming back and whether or not he could be trusted alone with the children. I wanted her to have a safety plan and asked her to promise me that she would not allow him to injure them again. Obviously I did not have the power to enforce such a decision, but Chris knew that I was volunteering with DCYS in a parenting/mentoring program and that I was a mandatory reporter if I ever observed any signs of abuse.
(I’m giving this detail for full disclosure lest someone from Trinity Concord give it in an effort to discredit me) In the summer of 1991, while I was in Maine visiting a friend, I went to a movie with her and another friend and also had a wine cooler. I knew that was in violation of my terms of employment as a part time teacher at Trinity Christian School, but made the choice to participate anyway. The pastor in Maine at the time, Dave Pennington, found out and told me he would tell Chuck Phelps if I did not. So, upon my return to Concord, I told Chuck and he accepted my resignation from the school. I remained active at the church and spent a short time in counseling with Linda Phelps and my husband remained on staff at the Christian school.
It was after this point that I saw Tina and Tom less often since I wasn’t employed at the school anymore, but I did see them at church, and continued my friendship with Chris. As best as I could tell when I saw them, I did not see bruises, but I always saw them fully clothed. Chris would not answer my specific questions about whether or not Daniel ever hit Tina and Tom, but would just tell me everything was okay. I made a good faith effort to keep an eye on their welfare.
In the summer of 1993, my husband and I moved to another state for him to begin work on his doctorate. Just before that move, Daniel was arrested and convicted of a felonious sexual assault of a young girl (6 years old if memory serves me correctly) at a McDonald’s restaurant. As you can see from his sexual offender record linked above, he has several other convictions. At one point Daniel was also investigated by DCYS for child abuse because of extensive bruising. The children their injuries were from a belt with metal eyelets/rivets in it.
Fast forward to the fall of 1997. A friend at Trinity with whom I remained in contact, called to tell me that Tina had been brought before the church for discipline (there were several calls over a span of a few days–the first one came the Sunday night of the church discipline). I use the words church discipline because they are the words my friend used, and the scenario was familiar to me because of similar sessions I had witness while at Trinity.
This friend’s sister was a neighbor to Chris and Tina and Tina had told that neighbor that Ernie Willis had raped her. It wasn’t until after the church discipline that my friend realized the church was going to take an action with which she disagreed (sending Tina away and keeping Willis in apparent good standing). Because of my earlier connection with Chris, Tina and Tom, I wanted to make contact with the family and offer to help rather than Tina being sent away to the home of strangers. My friend could not get anyone to tell her where Tina was taken and I was never able to establish contact with Tina until years later after the police located her.
I’ve read numerous comments from people that are using Chris as a bolster for Chuck Phelps’ testimony. I am sad to point out the obvious since her children still love her, but Chris has on multiple occasions brought a convicted abuser of her own children (not Daniel’s–he was the stepfather) back into her home. In addition to that, she knowingly brought a convicted child sexual offender back into her home and allowed him to be in unsupervised contact with her children. That is not the decision of a loving, godly woman. Chris selfishly chose her own satisfaction over her own children’s welfare. How does that make her a reliable witness in this situation?
Tina and Tom both thrived on the attention they received in our home. They clearly showed signs of a need for positive attention, affection and a father figure. I mentioned that I washed laundry often. I offered to do that because the children’s clothing often smelled. It pains me to have to speak in this way, but in spite of my own failing the summer of 1991 that caused me to resign from teaching at the school, I had always been a member in good standing at Trinity. I loved Tina and Tom. I kept the dress code Trinity required, followed the music guidelines established in Kurt Woetzel’s class, sang in the choir, helped in a myriad of ministries. I was the model Christian School teacher’s wife.
I’m not perfect by any means, but Chris abdicated her own responsibility as a mother to provide a safe environment for her children. She expressed to me on more than one occasion that she wanted Daniel back because she “needed” him and for other reasons that do not seem appropriate for me to repeat. But clearly–by the simple fact she kept bringing him back into her home, she was not putting the needs of her children first.
By Tina’s own testimony, Ernie Willis had become a confidante of sorts –someone she trusted and confided in about the abuse she endured at the hands of her stepfather. I saw Tina several times upon our return trips to NH to visit with my husband’s family. She was a sweet, kind girl–thoughtful, quick to give me a hug when she saw me, excited to see our new baby the year he was born. She wasn’t a seductive temptress. She wore the standard modest jumpers, and really, seemed like a late “bloomer” in my opinion.
By her own account, Ernie forced himself when she said no. That is rape. Before I saw the 20/20 show, I had a conversation with a woman with whom I am very close. She said to me of her own abuse, “I just wanted to forget it. I mean–surely it didn’t really happen? Maybe I imagined it.” Those are very similar words to the ones Tina used in recounting her own experience.
It was not Chuck Phelps’s role to investigate and figure out whether or not Tina was telling the truth. Why did he allow Ernie to confess to adultery in front of the church? Phelps has not disputed that fact. The church members on the 20/20 show all agree what his “charge” was. If Phelps really believed and reported it as rape, then why did he not take Ernie to the police station? Those of you that are fathers and pastors–would you have such a man sitting in your congregation around other young girls? Would you allow two phone calls to be enough action on your part?
I cannot help but ask those questions. It seems reasonable to conclude that at that time, Chuck believed what he is saying now–that the sex was consensual and not rape. Again–it was not his role to decide that back in 1997, but his action allowing Ernie to remain in the church, knowing he was not arrested, certainly seems like he was all too willing to assign guilt to Tina.
I’m writing about what I know from my own relationship with Chris, Tina and Tom because the things I am saying are just not out there anywhere I can see — at least where pastors and fundamentalists are reading. This for me and my husband goes well beyond “taking sides” to confessing sin. I failed by not creating a big stink over this after I got a call from my friend telling me Tina was sent away. I should have called the police myself. My answer at the time to my husband was “what can I do?” I was an adult, and I should have tried harder.
I am not in a fundamentalist church today, because the continual stress of external “standards” and a rules based church instead of a church where the gospel message –freedom in Christ was preached–finally led my husband and I to make a change. My own family has been touched by sexual assault and child abuse in every single fundamentalist church we attended. Sadly, it was covered up at each one. In spite of that, and all of my siblings and I treasure a deep and abiding relationship with God today. We’ve all taken different journeys in our own healing, but we are whole and happy in our families, all serving God in different ways.
I guess that last paragraph was for full disclosure too. I’m not holding anything back. I may not meet your standards for a “good witness.” I am just appealing to you all to please think about whether or not Tina may read what you say. David Doran, you may not remember me from all those years ago at BJU, but I want to thank you for interjecting what feels like a voice of reason over at Sharper Iron. I have been truly grieved by what I’ve read there. I just can’t help but think that if it had been a different girl–the daughter of a leader in the fundamentalist movement–that maybe this would be treated differently. But you know–if that were the case, she would not have been a perfect victim to be groomed by a pedophile for rape. If the church in question were anything other than a big church in the movement (I was there–I know how much of a leader Trinity is in New England with the Leadership Conference and other things like the NEACS), say–someone other than Chuck Phelps–would this be handled differently?
God will get the honor and glory due to His name because He is God. He doesn’t need ABC to promote Him and His purposes cannot be thwarted by ABC. The power of the Gospel message cannot be hindered by the sin of men. If that were the case, the Gospel would have perished long ago. He uses imperfect people all the time to accomplish His plans. As believers though, we can choose to allow this 20/20 episode to push us to embrace truth. It can push us to confess, repent, and restore while making restitution. If Chuck says in his statement, that he wouldn’t have a young girl come before the body like that now, then why not simply apologize?
I think we all have to accept responsibility in these matters so such a thing never happens again. Fortunately, and for our own comfort, Tina says now, “We made it through and God is good.” Doesn’t it say something that ABC ended the broadcast with that statement?