Trinity Baptist Church sex scandal

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Trinity Baptist Church

The Trinity Baptist Church sex scandal was a United States sex scandal that came to national attention in 2011. The scandal centered on the way that Trinity Baptist Church, an Independent Baptist (also called "Independent Fundamentalist Baptist") church in Concord, New Hampshire, and its former pastor handled the 1997 rape and subsequent pregnancy of one of its members, a minor girl, by her employer. The employer was another member of the congregation who hired the girl as a babysitter for his children.

Tina Anderson rape incident[edit]

In 1997, Tina Anderson, a member of Trinity Baptist Church, was raped by church member and father Ernest Willis, whose children she babysat; she was 15 years old at the time.[1] She became pregnant, and Anderson later testified that she had confided her pregnancy to Willis, and that Willis offered to pay for an abortion but when rejected by Anderson, Willis suggested punching Anderson in the stomach to induce a miscarriage, which she also rejected.[2]

Chuck Phelps was the senior pastor at the time.[3] According to a 20/20 documentary about the incident, Phelps allegedly forced Anderson to "confess her sin" before the congregation, covered up the crime by sending her to another Independent Baptist family in Colorado during her pregnancy, and had her give up her child for adoption.[2][4]

The people around Anderson told her not to talk about it, and the case remained unaddressed until Anderson received a call from the Concord police in February 2010.[5] Matt Barnhart, a former Trinity Baptist Church member who had witnessed Anderson's "church discipline" session in 1997, had reported the session on a blog (Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) cult survivors). The blog founder Jocelyn Zichterman followed up with Barnhart and upon learning Anderson's identity and location she contacted the Concord police.[6] Willis was arrested in 2010.[2]

In June 2010 Brian Fuller, the pastor who followed Phelps, expressed deep regret about the way the church had handled the incident and disgust that Willis was allowed to remain a church member for seven years following the incident.[7][8]

On April 8, 2011, the incident was featured on ABC's 20/20, as part of a show about religious abuse including other cases of rape like Anderson's, in Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches.[5] In response to the 20/20 episode, Phelps posted a statement to his website in which he said that Anderson was 16 at the time of her pregnancy, said the accused rapist was never a church officer, and said that Anderson was never forced to make a statement before the church.[9] On April 8, 2011, the church released a statement saying that in 1997, it had "immediately notified" the New Hampshire Division of Children, Youth and Families about the incident but regretted how "the incident was handled," confirming that the "victim stood before the congregation," and which said that "the accused remained in our congregation awaiting arrest by the Concord Police Department."[10]

Before trial, Willis pleaded guilty to one count of statutory rape but denied he forcibly raped Tina Anderson twice in 1997. She said it happened once while he was giving her driving lessons and again at her home weeks later. Willis testified that the two had sex on only one occasion and it was consensual.[6]

The trial started in May 2011.[1] On May 27, 2011, a jury found Willis guilty of three counts of forcible rape and a count of felonious sexual assault; and on September 7, 2011, a judge sentenced him to 15 to 30 years in prison.[2][11] In a victim impact statement at sentencing, Anderson said that Willis destroyed the person she was and filled her with shame and guilt.[6] Willis appealed his conviction to the New Hampshire Supreme Court; the court denied his appeal.[12]

Despite the media outcry, Phelps remained on Bob Jones University's Board of Trustees until an online campaign finally led to his resignation in December 2011.[13][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Ben Leubsdorf (April 8, 2011). "'20/20' to feature Trinity accusation; Former parishioner says she was raped". Concord Monitor. Retrieved April 20, 2011..
  2. ^ a b c d Suzan Clarke and Alice Gomstym for ABC News via 20/20. Sept. 6, 2011 Former Baptist Church Member Ernest Willis Sentenced to Prison for Rape of Teen Parishioner
  3. ^ "Dr. Charles Phelps". Maranatha Baptist Bible College. Archived from the original on May 27, 2010.
  4. ^ Trent Spiner (June 19, 2010). "Man accused in rape admitted paternity; Adoption records released by woman". Concord Monitor.
  5. ^ a b Goldberg, Alan B.; Deutsch, Gail; James, Susan; Dooley, Sean (10 April 2011). "Teen Victim Claims Rape; Forced Confession". 20/20, ABC News.
  6. ^ a b c "Man guilty of raping teen church member". Associated Press / NBC News. May 27, 2011. Retrieved May 27, 2011.
  7. ^ Ben Leubsdorf (June 16, 2010). "Pastor finds '97 response regrettable; Congregant allegedly raped girl, 15". Concord Monitor. Retrieved April 20, 2011.
  8. ^ Susan Donaldson James (June 3, 2010). "15-Year-Old Allegedly Raped, Then Forced to Confess to Church". ABC News 20/20. Retrieved May 24, 2011. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  9. ^ "Specific Answers to Some Difficult Questions". Chuck Phelps. Archived from the original on April 12, 2011.
  10. ^ Statement by Trinity Baptist Church, April 8, 2011.
  11. ^ "Newser - Headline News Summaries, World News, and Breaking News".
  12. ^ Tuothy, Lynn (April 21, 2013). "NH court rejects new trial in church rape case". Associated Press. Archived from the original on July 13, 2015.
  13. ^ Greenville News, December 3, 2011.
  14. ^ "Dr. Chuck Phelps resigns from BJU Cooperating Board". Bob Jones University website. December 2, 2011. Retrieved December 14, 2011.