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Wes Feltner, the youth pastor at First Southern Baptist Church in Evansville, Indiana, was a top candidate to be the senior leader of another Southern Baptist church. The problem is that two women say that when they were 18 years old, Feltner sexually abused them.
Two women, Megan Frey and Jo Anna Hendrickson, were dealing with difficult break-ups and confided in Wes Feltner, who allegedly took advantage of them sexually seventeen years ago.
Frey claims the counseling sessions soon transformed into meetings with Feltner at his house, then shared bubble baths, sex and a trip to Las Vegas. Sexual contact with the pastor began while Frey was still in high school, she says.
Hendrickson alleges that Feltner initiated a physical relationship with her in the fall of 2002, while he was also pursuing Frey. She says Feltner told her “he felt God leading him to pursue me” because she was also interested in ministry.
Two teenagers claim that back then, the church’s leader tried to sweep the reports under the rug. The 18-year-olds were allegedly blamed for getting “duped,” their families were pressured to keep quiet, and the accused pastor, Wes Feltner, went on to establish a solid career in ministry.
Dr. Susan Codone, a professor and Southern Baptist, summarizes the situation perfectly in a piece for the Leaf Chronicle:
Predators groom adults — the caretakers and gatekeepers — before they groom their younger targets. They convince the adults of the authenticity of both their charisma and character so that the adults will defend and protect them, or at least misdirect the warning signs when allegations come. A predator signals his behavior patterns by changing jobs frequently, moving significant distances, and being charismatic, friendly, and persuasive; someone you might call a good guy — or even a pastor.
If Feltner had interviewed for the position of a middle school girls soccer team coach, these allegations would have shut down his eligibility. The church’s standards should not be any lower. All of us must protect the church by hiring pastors using Biblical qualifications and listening when warnings come. Repentance and forgiveness are not parallel with restoration to ministry.
Last week, one pastor heading up the search committee gave a sermon in which he said various pastors throughout the church’s history were accused of misconduct and this situation was no different. Without saying their names, he called the women “adversaries” of the church. He obviously doesn’t understand that people like Feltner and other sexual abusers are the real adversaries of the church.