Denial: Not Just A River In Egypt

11 June, 2008

Back on 5 June, I posted a short piece about a Florida youth minister who has been accused, by two teenage girls with whom he worked at a previous church in Pennsylvania, of inappropriate physical contact.  I posted it not because I have anything against either church (I had never heard of them before I read the newspaper article).  I did not post it because I have any personal connection with the Kingston, PA, church, other than being real close geographically.  I did not post it because I think Neiswender is guilty or innocent.  I posted it because I have a real problem with people who abuse their authority; because I wondered why the Pennsylvania church didn’t say anything to the Florida church; and because (and this was the biggie for me) the apparent hypocrisy of Christian moralizing and the drumbeat of cases similar to this one.

I figured (silly me) that I would get a couple of comments and that would be that.  I figured the postfocusing parallels between Afghanistan and Iraq would get lots more comments.  I was wrong.  To date, the Afghanistan post has had one (count ’em, one!) comment.  The quickie about Neiswender has garnered 34. 

A chunk of those posts have been defending Mr. Neiswender.  Florida Youth Member said:

I am a current member of Brian’s youth group in Florida and as someone who has worked with him extra hours on the worship team and gotten to know him very well, and as a female, I know that he would never EVER do anything of this sort.

She also blamed Satan.  She was the only defender who had (or admitted to) any personal contact with the accused. 

The others?  Just Another Christian blamed the girls.  He said that they “liked it for attention”  and made the point (which may be valid) that “this happens to Christians everyone forgets that they are just people.”  Just Thinkin also blamed the girls — they were ‘needy.’  By Real Folks compared the case to the Duke lacrosse case of a few years ago, again, implying that it never happened.  The only three professed Christians who commented either blamed the girls or denied that it had happened.

Okay, folks.  Time for a ‘what if’ thought experiment.  What if the person involved had been a counselor at a secular youth camp?  Would we see counselors immediately either denying the event or blaming the victims?  It is possible, but I doubt it.  What if it had been a public high school basketball coach?  Or a non-believer?  Or a cop?  Would people be denying the event or blaming the victims?  Seriously, Christians:  if the exact same thing had happened at a Unitarian Church (just for an example, do not read anything more into this example) and the offender happened to be an atheist (yes, it is possible for an atheist to be a member in good standing of a UU church), would any Christian, or any other person, jump to the conclusion that it never happened or that it happened but it was the victim’s fault? 

I see two possible reasons for this.

First, despite the contrary arguments of Be Real Folks, Christians do claim that belief in god (specifically the Judeo-Christian Abrahamic God as reinterpreted by the New Testament) is essential to morality.   Pastors (and ministers, priests and preachers (I’m not sure whether Christians think Imams or Rabbis or Buddhist Monks are moral)) are part of the link between parishioner and God. The formality and amount of link varies by denomination, but it still holds for most.  The thinking may be (and I stress may be) that a pastor, who sets the moral standards for his flock, cannot have done this (a general ‘this’ covering everything from marital indiscretion to siphoning money off the collection plate to sexual crimes) because he is a good Christian and Christians are, because they believe in the right version of God, by definition, moral (notice the circular reasoning there).

Second, take a look at PhillyChief’s post Theist Trick — Scotsman’s Fallacy over at You Made Me Say It.  Read it and then come back.  I see the possibility of the Scotsman’s Fallacy in some of the responses to my original post.  In short:  “He couldn’t have done it because he’s a Christian.”  Then, if (notice I use the word ‘if’ not ‘when’ — I am not judging him!) he pleads guilty to a lesser charge, or is found guilty by a judge or a jury of his peers, it will become “He did it, so he’s not a Christian.”

I was surprised by the reaction to my post.  I was even more surprised that the four self-proclaimed Christians who commented (only one of whom admitted to actually knowing him) about my post and the case itself used three basic themes:  the girls are lying, the girls are to blame, or it was Satan.  None admitted to even the possibility that he may have done it.

If anyone has any other explanations for this curious coincidence, I would be happy to entertain them.  Unlike some, I freely admit that I do not have all the answers (and I usually don’t have the questions, either).

And they say denial is river in Egypt.



  1. You said that, “Christians do claim that belief in god (specifically the Judeo-Christian Abrahamic God as reinterpreted by the New Testament) is essential to morality.” And I agree. Many Christians I know don’t believe it’s their religion that makes them moral; behaving morally for them is a choice.
    For those who insist, though, that atheists can’t be moral or that atheism leads to immoral behavior, it raises an interesting question. Are they saying that the only reason they behave morally is because they’re being watched over? Are the people who insist that atheists must be criminals saying that, if they renounced their belief in God, they would immediately stop living moral lives?
    I think the argument that being a “true” Christian automatically and is the only way to be good while believing anything else makes a person criminal is a case of projection and a sign of deep insecurity.

  2. Are they saying that the only reason they behave morally is because they’re being watched over?

    I think their answer is we can’t KNOW we’re REALLY moral without being told what morality is by their god. The fact that we might happen to act moral anyway doesn’t matter.

    Are the people who insist that atheists must be criminals saying that, if they renounced their belief in God, they would immediately stop living moral lives?

    That seems to be the rationale from many, at least the ones who ask things like “if you don’t believe in god, why don’t you just get a gun and shoot people?” or “if you don’t believe there’s a god, what keeps you from just killing yourself now?” It sure implies that, for them, if they didn’t have their god belief, they’d shoot people or kill themselves. Scary.

    Another thing about that youth minister story – he simply should NEVER be alone with underage girls. Hell, maybe he shouldn’t be alone with any kids and by alone I mean he should have another adult present, preferably a woman. I do know of teachers who suffered false accusations, so I’m not completely unsympathetic to the possibility he may be a victim, but the story seems to hard to believe that he was. Anyway, the situation should never have a chance to happen. That’s irresponsible.

  3. Philly: Good point with your comment on the possibility of false accusations. While some commenters on the other post made a similar point (or at least attempted to make a similar point), they missed the idea that, in today’s society (especially with the possibility of misunderstandings) the two adult rule is a good one. Where I work, we have a children’s program. Even with the parents present, we always have two employees (or one employee and one volunteer) to protect ourselves.

  4. Just to second Philly’s excellent point about false accusations, I used to be a Boy Scout and there was a rule when we were either in meetings or on camping trips that a minimum of two adults had to be present at all times. I never thought about the possibility of accusations of any sort (I was so naive!) but having two adults present made sense from a practical standpoint as well. While there’s very little risk of a serious accident during music lessons (less so than on a camping trip), having two or more adults around just makes sense for so many reasons.

  5. Blaming the victim is a popular pastime in America when the victim is a woman. Its nice to know the Christians like to play too. Although, would they be so quick to blame the victim if it was a nice Christian, church going girl and the man was her atheist tennis coach? I would imagine that the brains of Christian men would explode..do we defend our fellow Christian or continue to blame women for getting themselves raped?

  6. As a counselor to rape and sexual abuse victims and an advocate for them this infuriates me. As a former victim it horrifies me. As someone who used to call herself a Christian it makes me feel justified in my reasons for wanting nothing to do with the ignorance and hypocrisy I see over and over and over.

    Excuse me. I am going to go throw up now.

  7. Chris: I remember the two adults rule from my days as a scout (cub and boy). I’d forgotten.

    Sabrina: I like your example. I wish I had thought of it while writing the post.

    Walking Away: My mother worked for years with abused children as an art therapist. Even with children, the blame the victim routine is in evidence.

    When I was in Middle School, a girl (12 or 13) got pregnant. The father was her 40-year-old uncle. Her parents said that the baby was god’s punishment for her sins. Her sins? Seducing her uncle and causing marital discord in the uncle’s family. But it was ‘her fault.’ Blecch.

  8. Woah..god’s punishment? I thought that was a big no-no in Christian circles..didn’t Obama say something close to that in regards to his own daughters (about not wanting to punish them with a baby while refusing to give them information on how to prevent one)? And didn’t the Christian wacko-right get all offended and up in arms for dare suggesting that god’s “precious little blessing” could ever be a punishment? tsk, tsk.

  9. TAG!

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