New West: “Two Child Molestation Scandals Break Over Moscow’s Christ Church”

New West | June 14, 2006

Two Child Molestation Scandals Break Over Moscow’s Christ Church

By Joan Opyr

Steven James Sitler was a student at New Saint Andrews College. Jamin Wight was enrolled in Greyfriars Seminary. Both of these institutions were founded by Pastor Douglas J. Wilson of Moscow’s Christ Church.

What happened? In legal terms, Greyfriars Seminary student Jamin Wight pled guilty to one count of felony injury to a child. He was sentenced to four years with retained jurisdiction and is now serving 4 to 6 months in the North Idaho Correctional Institution at Cottonwood.

Both inside and outside of the courtroom, the story is sad and it’s complex. At the age of 24, Jamin Wight began a year-and-a-half long sexual relationship with a 14-year old girl. Wight was a boarder in the house where the girl lived. He was attractive — he’s tall, blonde, and the living definition of clean-cut. The girl was readily accessible and perhaps flattered by Wight’s attention. He was handsome, he was older, and he was enrolled in Doug Wilson’s seminary — in short, a dream husband for a Christ Church girl.

I don’t know how or when it all went South. Wight is now 28; the girl is 18. I attended his sentencing hearing, during which the judge spoke at some length about the immaturity of many of the home-schooled young men of his professional acquaintance — men in the loosest sense of the term. Men in age only.

I’ve read the court documents in the Wight case. The victim is shielded. She’s not named but is instead referred to by her initials. I am sympathetic to those who say that this is not enough; that in a town of 21,000, it doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to learn where Wight boarded and with whom. The story, however, is telling, and in light of the Steven James Sitler case, it needs to be told.

Sitler is a serial child molester. He admits to having sexually abused children ranging in age from 2 to 12 across three states: Virginia, Washington, and Idaho. Sitler attended New Saint Andrews College for eighteen months, during which time he boarded with a Christ Church family. New Saint Andrews students are encouraged to board in local Christian homes. In practice, this means that seventeen or eighteen Christ Church families run unlicensed boarding houses within the City of Moscow. This is a separate but serious legal issue, and one I have written about before.

On July 6, 2005, Steven James Sitler was arrested. For his defense attorney Sitler retained Dean Wullenwaber, who has acted in the past as legal counsel for New Saint Andrews.

In April of 2005, two months before Sitler’s arrest, Sitler’s home church in Colville, Washington, Emmanuel Presbyterian Church, informed its congregation of Sitler’s offenses. The Colville church’s pastor and elders then offered counseling and support to Sitler’s victims and their families.

Doug Wilson did not inform the rank and file of Christ Church. He claims on his blog that he notified a meeting of the Christ Church Heads of Households in November or December of 2005, some eight or nine months after Sitler’s confession, but some in attendance seem to remember this and others don’t. Wilson asserts that he acted with perfect pastoral concern and propriety, but other blogs have taken Wilson and his timeline of events to task. What is clear is that Wilson did not inform Christ Church members of the exact nature of Sitler’s offenses until eight months after Wilson himself learned of the problem.

On August 19th, 2005, three or four months before notifying his parishioners of Sitler’s crimes, Doug Wilson wrote a letter on Christ Church letterhead to Judge John Stegner. In that letter, Wilson requested leniency for Steven Sitler, writing:

“I would urge that the civil penalties applied would be measured and limited. I have a good hope that Steven has genuinely repented, and that he will continue to deal with this to become a productive and contributing member of society.”

Steven Sitler is sitting right now in the Latah County Jail, serving a one-year sentence. Twice a week, Sitler drives himself, unsupervised, to his court-ordered therapy in Clarkston and Pullman. For 18 months, Sitler was a member of the Moscow community. He was a student in good standing at New St. Andrews College. He was not then and is not now a registered sex offender: his face won’t appear on websites like Watchdog until he’s released back into the community — a community Doug Wilson seems to believe should welcome the return of Steven Sitler not as a criminal; not as a serial pedophile; not as a dangerous man, but as a repentant sinner.

Doug Wilson has written that he believes Sitler was delusional when he was molesting children. Wilson has no training in psychology or counseling, not even ministerial training. Wilson is not ordained. In response to criticism that he did not warn his congregation or the greater Moscow community in an adequate or timely fashion, Wilson writes: “I am a pastor. I cover up sins for a living.”

Is this what pastors do? Is this what reporters do? The Sitler and Wight cases were not broken by the local news media: they were first exposed on a local blog. Many in the community — and many in Christ Church — first heard about both Sitler and Wight on Moscow’s Vision 2020, an Internet chat group.

Now that the filthy cats are out of the filthy bag, what’s the reaction from Doug Wilson and New St. Andrews College? And what do our local newspapers have to say? The Lewiston Tribune first reported the Sitler and Wight cases not as crimes but as scandals. The headline was “Church officials say rumors about sex offender are ‘ludicrous.’” Ludicrous? The rumors referred to were on Vision 2020, but was that the real story? Was it the gossip or was that two young men pled guilty to sex crimes against children, and that one of these men was a student at New St. Andrews and the other at Greyfriars Seminary? How was it that the local news media managed to miss this?

I have some ideas. Doug Wilson and Roy Atwood, the President of New Saint Andrews, are very good at spinning. Atwood is a former Professor of Communications at the University of Idaho. Between them, Wilson and Atwood have thus far managed to avoid any acceptance of responsibility for Sitler, for Wight, or for how the stories have broken. They have instead managed to turn two Daily News stories, one written by David Johnson and the other by Omie Drawhorn, into a sordid tale of a church under siege by liberals, secularists, and the bogeyman of last resort, “the homosexual agenda.”

David Johnson’s Tribune piece ends with the following observations:

“Wilson and Atwood said the Internet entries that began appearing . . . on blogs and the local Vision 2020 community bulletin board . . . are most likely from people who continue to attack the church and college on a number of political fronts.

‘These people are taking a tragedy and using it to advance a petty political agenda,’ Wilson said.

‘This is the kind of thing that they try to make political mileage out of and that is almost as reprehensible as the act,’ Atwood said.”

Aliens at Christ Church would be ludicrous. Claims that Bigfoot stood in the pulpit, that the elders ate puppies, or that Christ Church in fact condoned pedophilia would be ludicrous. No one has made those claims. What has happened, what is undeniable, is that New St. Andrews College has disgorged a serial child molester, and Greyfriars Seminary has produced a man guilty of felony injury to a child. The only thing ludicrous in this whole sorry mess is the naivete evident in our local newspapers.

Moscow-Pullman Daily News reporter Omie Drawhorn ended her piece on Sitler and Wight with NSA President Roy Atwood opining sadly:

“‘Society is becoming more tolerant of sexual sins and perversions,’ Atwood said. ‘Homosexuality and other forms of sexual perversion are becoming mainstream.’”

It’s time to stop spinning. It’s time to put out the kick-stand and get off the gyroscope. A serial child molester attended New Saint Andrews for 18 months. He boarded with a Christ Church family. He was welcomed into Christ Church homes — homes full of vulnerable children. Steven Sitler confessed his crimes to his pastor in Colville, and he confessed them to Doug Wilson. The Colville pastor chose to warn the members of his congregation immediately; the Moscow pastor did not. Instead, Doug Wilson allowed members of his church to find out about Steven Sitler and Jamin Wight in the worst possible way: through gossip, through rumor, through inaccuracy and innuendo. People who should have been told this news by their minister were instead left hanging fire — never receiving an adequate explanation or a humble apology, but only a full bucket of spin.

This is not the Doug Wilson Show. This is not the time for any pastor worthy of trust to be playing the bride at the wedding or the corpse at the funeral. This is owning up time. This is when a good shepherd would try to focus on the families. According to Watchdog, there are 20 registered sex offenders in the immediate vicinity of the 83843 zipcode. As far as I know, Doug Wilson and Christ Church are not responsible for any of these 20 offenders, except insofar as we are all responsible for one another, and we all have an obligation to our children to be protective and vigilant.

When it comes to Steven Sitler and Jamin Wight, however, Doug Wilson does bear a peculiar burden. He is not to blame for what either man did, but he is open to fair criticism for his respective responses to their actions. Why the eight-month delay in informing his congregation about Steven Sitler? Why no mention of Jamin Wight? If Doug Wilson was worried about the possibility of bad press, then he sadly miscalculated. He’s now got bad press. In spades.

[Note: Three corrections have been made to my original post. First, I incorrectly identified the newspaper in which David Johnson’s article appeared. It was The Lewiston Tribune and not The Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Second, the judge in the Sitler case was John Stegner. Finally, Doug Wilson has quite properly pointed out that he notified the Colville, Washington church of Sitler’s crimes and not vice versa. I regret the first two errors, but they are minor. The latter error is more serious, and I apologize to Mr. Wilson for getting that piece of the puzzle wrong. I have changed two sentences in the article to reflect the correct ordering of events. Steven Sitler first confessed to Doug Wilson, and Doug Wilson notified the pastor of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Colville. The pastor and elders of the Colville church then notified their congregation. The point still stands that Pastor Wilson did not notify the Christ Church congregation in Moscow until eight months after Emmanuel Presbyterian took action.

Doug Wilson makes several other complaints about this article, all of which may be viewed on his blog. I will not address them here as I do not believe they are substantive. Instead, I direct readers to Michael Metzler’s blog, Pooh’s Think. Mr. Metzler is a former Greyfriars Seminary student and, until very recently, he was a member in good standing of Christ Church. Mr. Metzler has gone into the Sitler and Wight cases in great detail, and he has analyzed and parsed Doug Wilson’s claims and responses in far more detail than would be appropriate here. It makes for fascinating reading. I commend Mr. Metzler’s work and also the work of Thomas Hansen’s Not on the Palouse.]