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Wes Feltner’s Character is Exposed in His Sermon and His Response

by | Nov 6, 2019 | Advocacy, Articles, Emotional Abuse, Healing from Spiritual Abuse, Learning, Waking Up | 50 comments

Almost two years ago I wrote an article HERE (It has 8.5 thousand shares and 167 comments) exposing some problems with a sermon I heard at Berean Baptist in Burnsville, MN. I didn’t write the name of the church at the time because I wasn’t trying to embarrass a church. I didn’t write the name of the man who preached the sermon because I wasn’t trying to embarrass a man. I simply wrote what was said in the sermon, step by step, and how that kind of sermon comes across to victims of abuse sitting in the pews. 

My goal was twofold. First, I wanted to help victims recognize the manipulation of God’s Word so they don’t get quite so swept under by the strong current. Second, I wanted to give the leadership at this church, which I was attending at the time, the opportunity to recognize how they are subtly enabling abusers while shaming victims. I assumed a Christ-loving, people-loving church would want to know.

I always go into things giving Christian leaders the benefit of the doubt. Trusting they are as spiritually (and emotionally) grounded and mature as their position implies. But the older I get, the more I realize I’m naive to do so, as this case may indicate.

This morning I opened my phone to this article: https://www.theleafchronicle.com/story/news/2019/11/05/first-baptist-clarksville-pastor-abuse-wes-feltner-berean-baptist-claims/4158696002/

(You can download a PDF copy HERE.)

From the Leaf Chronicle (linked) Megan Frey, then 18, with Wes Feltner in Las Vegas on Aug. 19, 2002. (Photo: Contributed/Megan Frey)

I believe Megan Frey and JoAnna Hendrickson. I believe they are brave, and they are telling the truth, and I believe their stories are not isolated. Men who abuse their power sexually typically don’t change without serious, long-term intervention.

And because it’s pretty disgusting when church leaders and communities use the Word of God as their cloak and dagger, now seems like the right time to share openly about my own private experience with Wes Feltner, which I believe demonstrates that he perhaps has not had a changed heart, but rather has grown more sophisticated and covert in his power and control.

After I published the article HERE about the sermon Wes Feltner preached, I sent an email to Wes Feltner and the others on the leadership team at Berean Baptist. Here is that email:


May 1, 2018

Dear staff of Berean Baptist,

I have been attending your church for over two years, having been excommunicated from Bethlehem Baptist for divorcing my emotionally and spiritually abusive ex-husband of 25 years.

Brent Birdsall was kind to call me a few months ago and reassure me that I was welcome to worship at Berean with my children. I appreciate having been given a refuge from the treatment I experienced at Bethlehem.

I am a writer, business owner, life coach, and advocate for women of faith in abusive marriages. I work full time with hundreds of abuse survivors online in groups and in private coaching. I’ve read over 150 books on the subjects of emotional and spiritual abuse and interact with thought leaders in this field. I’m writing a book this year on the subject of abuse and the church.

I attended this past Sunday’s 11:15 service, and what I heard alarmed me enough to write an open letter to you on my website. I didn’t name your church because frankly, what I heard is the kind of stuff preached from pulpits all across America. It doesn’t really matter what the specific name of the church is, and I didn’t just write it for you. I wrote it for all conservative churches.

But mainly, I wrote it for 100 women who were sitting in the pews with me on Sunday. I wrote it because I care about their hearts. I wrote it because they left your church bleeding, and I’m going to assume that wasn’t your intention.

If I thought you would respond like Bethlehem did, I would have walked out Sunday and never come back. Maybe I’m a sucker for punishment, but I’m hoping you’ll take what I have to share seriously, because the spiritual, mental, and physical well-being of hundreds of women and children in your church are at stake. That’s not hyperbole. That’s just pointing out the tip of a massive iceberg that mostly lies hidden beneath the surface of every conservative church in America.

I made a video of my message just for you so you can “meet” me – rather than just read my words in an article. When you’re done, I’d like to invite you to to go over to my website where the article is published and read the comments from long term Christian victims of intimate partner abuse who were kicked in the gut by their churches when they tried to get help.

I put this article up yesterday, and as of this email there have been over 7,000 views, almost 90 comments, and over 700 shares on social media.

I strongly believe this is a front line spiritual battle on planet earth that is as old as time, but right now, God is doing a tremendous thing all over the world in this area. I remember reading a book once where the author said, “If you want to do God’s work – look where He’s working and GO THERE.”

I’m inviting you to go there.

Wes, I realize my article will be hard to read. It might be mortifying, and I hope it is – in a good way. I have respect for you, and this doesn’t change that, assuming you just don’t understand this dynamic. It’s understandable. Most pastors and people helpers don’t, and that’s not the problem. The problem is when they don’t WANT to. Hence the population of comments on the article.

I’m hoping you will not be offended in a way that causes you to reject the message. I’m praying God will break your heart and bring you to your knees in sorrow. When I said that at Bethlehem, I was accused and defined in appalling ways – so I’m fully braced for more of the same, and I’m good with that, too. (You lose everything once, and you get sort of kamikaze because you have nothing left to lose.)

But I don’t think you will respond in arrogant defense. I think you’re going to want to know more. And if that’s the case, I’d like to work WITH your church on my book. Because my target audience is you. I’d like to pick the brains of your team and find out what they know, what they don’t know, and what they want to know. I’d like to write a book that tells them what they NEED to know. [Side note: I did go on to write that book, and it’s called Is It Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage: A Christian Woman’s Guide to Hidden Emotional and Spiritual Abuse.]

I’d like to see your church be a catalyst for change. To set an example. To be a leader in this battle on the side of righteousness rather than the side of the enemy. This is not an easy, cut and dried issue that can be solved by attending a seminar. It’s complex in ways that are mind-boggling. It’s a satanic stronghold that requires extreme amounts of humility and compassion. I hope you’re up for investigating further.

Thank you for your attention. The video message for you is a private link (it is not available to the public) HERE. The article with comments is HERE.

Warmly,

Natalie Hoffman


Nobody on the leadership team responded (the silent treatment is common in these kinds of situations. I don’t take it personally anymore, but it can tell oodles about who you’re really dealing with.) However, within a few hours, Wes sent me this email without copying any of the others.


Natalie,

Thanks for the email.  There is a lot I’d like to say but I do not believe email is the wisest forum for this discussion.  If you are sincere in wanting to dialogue about what was said, what was not said, what was meant, and what I truly stand for, then I am inviting you to have a face-to-face meeting to discuss this issue.

Biblically, if I said something that truly offended you, we should have met personally before you tried to represent who I am, what I teach, and what I stand for.  That said, would you be willing and available to meet at the church this Thursday night at 6:00 or 6:30?  I assure you I am sincere about addressing this issue in a godly manner.  Please let me know if this Thursday will work for you.


I’m going to do some speculative analysis for the benefit of those who have dealt with church abuse before or are dealing with it now, but first I need to give a very important disclaimer. Here it is:

I can’t say anything factual about Wes Feltner’s personal motives or thoughts or intentions in my analysis. Nobody can do that. However, I can use his emails (in which he uses common, standard covert abuse tactics) to reveal objective tactics commonly used by people who abuse their power. These tactics have been written about in many books and articles and are well known in the survivor community at large. Is it possible his use of tactics was totally mistaken and innocent? Sure. He could be a humble, Christ-like man of God accidentally tripping into abuse tactics unknowingly. Sort of like he may have accidentally tripped into the having sex with girls in his youth group as Megan and JoAnna have claimed. It would be odd, and I’ve never come across this before, but stranger things have happened on planet earth. Nevertheless, since he did use certain tactics, I will draw attention to them. 

You need to know I’ve received letters like this before. And I’ve read dozens of letters survivors have received and sent to me for analysis. They all predictably use the same tactics. It gets kind of same-old, same-old. I really wish someone would spice things up a bit.

“Let’s Not Have Anything in Writing or Recorded, please.”

I do not believe email is the wisest forum for this discussion.” I wonder why? Because it leaves a paper trail? Because you can’t get away with bullshit when you’ve got words on paper? Notice the use of the word “wisest.” This assumes an email conversation is unwise, but it’s only unwise if you’re trying to manipulate someone. If you are in danger of being manipulated, it’s always wisest to keep communication in writing. Survivors, take note.

“I Want to Be Face-to-Face with You.”

Their power increases when you are face-to-face, and they know it. They are skilled at looking and sounding charming in person while using subtle intimidation tactics that let you know they are bigger and better than you.

I made the mistake of meeting with religious leaders in the past. They could say anything they wanted to, and I had no proof. Finally I got smart and insisted on the meeting being recorded. They refused. They didn’t want to be accountable for the conversation, so I left and never looked back. People who don’t want to be recorded or to have their words in writing are telling you something. Listen carefully and believe them.

“If You Are Sincere, You Will Do What I Want.”

This is a covert manipulation tactic to get you to automatically agree to their terms. You are sincere, so it follows that you will do what they say. But, no. It doesn’t. Because I was sincere, and I didn’t agree to a face-to-face meeting. On the other hand, if he was sincere, why wasn’t he gentle and kind in approaching me as an abuse survivor who is trying to help others? Caring, empathic people ask others what they are most comfortable with, but he didn’t. I wonder why?

“Biblically…”

Spiritual abuse starts this way. “Well, the BIBLE says…” and then comes the control part. (This is a dead give-away.)

“If I Offended You, You Should Have Done What I Say You Should Have Done.”

That’s what abusers say to victims all. the. time. Seriously, if controllers want to continue to get away with crap, they need to read up on this so they can get better at their disguise. There’s just too much information out there now, and it’s going to get harder and harder to stay under cover. I know. It’s so hard to be like Jesus and the devil at the same time. (Maybe I should re-title this article…?)

“I Do Things in a Godly Manner.”

Here’s the thing. In my 53 years of life I’ve learned that godly people just act godly. They don’t talk about how they act godly. Enough said.

So here’s a better response to a survivor who cries out on behalf of herself and other survivors. Just for fun. See how easy this is?

Dear Survivor,

Thank you for taking the time and emotional energy to come to church, listen carefully, take notes, and then respond. Thank you for showing me where I am not seeing my sisters and their pain so I can do better. So I can consider them and filter my messages through their eyes and hearts when I am preaching. Thank you for sharing what you learned with your readers so they and other pastors can learn from my mistakes, and I appreciate that you graciously and tastefully did it without exposing me or my church in the process. 

My team and I are interested in learning more. Would you be able to put together a group of women who have experienced this type of abuse and meet with our leadership team so we can hear from you about how we can better meet your needs as well as use your stories to reach others with the love of Jesus? 

Gratefully,

Pastor

Gosh, what I wouldn’t give to meet a pastor like that. Now back up and compare this to Wes Feltner’s email.  I had to respond to what Wes actually wrote, and here’s the email I sent back to Wes:


Hi Wes,

Thank you for your response.

My goal wasn’t to represent or expose you or Berean, personally, nor did I do that.  I’m attempting to communicate to you and other religious leaders the vast difference between what you say and what abuse survivors hear.  My hope was to bridge that gap.

I’ve taken a typical message preached in churches across America (it happened to be yours because I happened to be in your pews) and exposed some of the nuanced ways that message impacted survivors. It wasn’t the truth of what you said. I agreed with that. It’s how you said it and what you left out. My goal is twofold. First, I purpose to help survivors. To tell the truth about their experiences when they can’t – because they are terrified of religious leaders, and you can see from the comments (I hope you read them) that their terror is not without foundation.

Second, and most important, I purpose to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ in whatever opportunities God gives me. When the weakest and most vulnerable are being abused in the name of God, that’s a problem. I hear the stories every single day. Many of these women and children have left the church completely. They love Jesus. They fear the church. This is not the gospel.

I’d like to accept your invitation to meet with you, but first I need to know what your goal is. When the conversation is over, what do you hope to have accomplished? What would cause you to feel that it was a productive use of your time? If we have similar goals, then I’m open to meeting. I’m not free this Thursday night, but I do have availability next Monday and Thursday evenings. My husband, Tom, would like to be part of our meeting as well.

Warmly,

Natalie Hoffman


Wes responded within a few minutes with the following:


Thank you for your reply. In regards to your questions:

What will the conversation be about?  Clarity over what I said in the sermon and how it was represented.  While I do not want to go into details through email, I believe strongly that your characterization of what I said is grossly out of context.  If you truly respect me as pastor, as you said in your email, then I believe you owe me the opportunity to clarify what was said.  And honestly this should have been done before you posted a blog based on Matt 18.

What do I hope will be accomplished?  Reconciliation.  It is clear you felt offended by the sermon and it is clear that I feel I’ve been grossly slandered (even if not mention by name).  If the two of us are Christians, then we must biblically seek reconciliation.

Until these two goals are met it will be difficult for us to continue with the important and necessary dialogue you originally emailed me about.  That’s a dialogue I am more than happy to have but not until there is been Christian reconciliation.

Your husband is more than welcome to attend and please know that I will have an elder (and possibly my wife) attending with me.  Please let me know what time next Monday or Thursday you would be willing to meet.  Thank you.


In this email he doesn’t indicate a desire to listen – but to defend himself. Pretty common for controllers. Again, he plays on the idea of respecting him. Also, I owe him. Also, I disobeyed the Bible. (They can really pack a lot of crap in one short email, am I right?) But he wants reconciliation (on his terms). I don’t even know this guy – but if I want to be “biblical” I need to reconcile with him? Um, we have no relationship to reconcile. I had to swallow a bit of bile that came up in my throat when I read this.

BUT – I loved this next part – so he’s more than willing to talk about my concerns after we are reconciled for the offense of my bringing up those concerns. I literally laughed out loud when I read this. Coffee might have spurted all over my countertop. Maybe some of that leftover bile. I can’t remember.

And then finally, he wants me to know my husband can come, but he’s gonna one-up that and bring out one of his elders and maybe even his wife. (Oh man, I would have liked to have gone to that meeting just to meet her and slip her a note letting her know about our community.)

Well, I couldn’t be a snark to him, although I was sorely tempted. Here’s my response:


Hi Wes,

Let’s pretend you are a medical doctor who just gave a medical talk to a room full of people, some of whom have a medical condition that makes your advice dangerous to follow.

Now let’s pretend someone brings several nearly-dead people to your office the next day along with reports of an epidemic breaking out – caused by some of the advice you gave in your talk.

They beg you to look at the patient and consider the symptoms of hundreds of others in your city so you will be able to help solve a problem.

Here’s how you responded:

Before we can talk about these dying people, I want clarity over what I said in the talk and how it was represented. I believe strongly that your characterization of what I said is grossly out of context.  If you truly respect me as a doctor, then I believe you owe me the opportunity to clarify what was said.  And honestly, this should have been done before you went public and tried to help anyone. 

Is your goal to help a few people? My goal is reconciliation.  It is clear you felt offended by the lecture and it is clear that I feel I’ve been grossly slandered.

Until I get to clarify myself and you get to repent of your bringing up a problem, it will be difficult for us to continue with discussing the problem.

Your husband is more than welcome to attend and please know that I will have a member of the hospital board (and possibly my wife) attending with me.

Shepherd, instead of looking at the problem and hearing the bleats of the sheep over on my website, you’ve chosen to make this about yourself.

This isn’t about reconciliation. Contrary to your assertion that I’m offended – I’m not. You didn’t sin against me in your sermon, nor did you sin against anyone in your congregation. (I’m not going to reiterate here what I’ve already written about what you DID do. Please refer to past emails as well as the article for that.)

You are saying I have “grossly slandered” you, but that’s untrue.

Slanderthe action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.

I’ve not mentioned you or your church publicly, and I haven’t attacked you or your character.  I’ve critiqued the words of a public sermon and tried to demonstrate how those words sound in the ears of an abuse survivor. I’ve brought a problem to your attention.

It’s tragic that you haven’t heard their voices. Tragic for them. Tragic for the gospel. And tragic for you.

I’m incredibly busy with my work, and I imagine you are as well. Our goals for a meeting aren’t the same, therefore it would be a waste of our time.

I wish you the best,

Natalie Hoffman


Then, because this entire conversation was held behind the backs of his leadership team, I sent them a follow up email which included the conversation so they would know how their senior pastor handled things.

A few days later, Brent Birdsall, the missional strategies pastor, ran interference on behalf of his senior pastor and called me on the phone. We had a wonderful conversation. Brent was a good listener, kind, and respectful. After about an hour, we hung up, and I felt at peace with things. Did anything get solved at Berean? No. I think Wes is running that ship. (Although, if this big church in Clarksville hires him in spite of the allegations, I may consider Berean to be a safe place to return to. There are some amazing people there. We’ll see what happens.) But I felt I had done my part, and at least one person acknowledged my hurting sisters and me as human beings. I knew that was all I could expect at that time.

I left Berean after that. I couldn’t stomach watching him preach anymore. (I had a hard time before this, quite honestly. I never let him shake my hand at the door because I watched how he ogled pretty women, and maybe it’s just my personal hang ups and I need to be more understanding and open-minded, but I’m uncomfortable with that in a pastor.) And of course, now that some women are coming forward saying he had a problem keeping his unit in his pants in the past (while he was a pastor), I’m glad I kept my hand shake to myself. Just in case.

You can listen (or download the transcript) to my commentary on this experience in episode 43 of the Flying Free podcast: When Abusers Demand Reconciliation

Fly Free Beautiful Butterflies,

Natalie Hoffman

UPDATE: These women have their own website where they tell their story in greater detail. You can read it HERE.

50 Comments

  1. nancy

    I went to Celebrate Recovery to deal with codependency with my addict son. My husband joined me after a lot of begging. We went for 2 years before I found out that my husband was a sex addict and had been long before we dated. I thought I was marrying a Godly man. looking back now, I see that his addiction affected our marriage from the honeymoon onward. I found out about the depths of his addiction through a disclosure that required 3 polygraphs. After hearing about his past of homosexuality, sex with underaged girls (this was the 70s so I don’t know if it was illegal then), emotional affairs with women, sexual stuff with animals AND his masturbating with my little daughter in the shower with him (she was grown by then), I had to leave. I shared what he told me with my sponsor who was also a leader in CR. At first I felt supported. ……What ended up happening is that when I left the house we lived in, he jumped in to volunteer at CR, serving pizza and was made a co-leader of the men’s purity group. He says he stopped porn and masturbation. Any hope of working through this (since he was getting intense sex counseling) was dashed when after 20 months of counseling, I found out that he was secretly going to a meet up group for singles. (Well, he claims it wasn’t secret because his men knew about it and said it was okay since we were separated over a year.) We were still in marriage counseling! He still goes and shows no remorse for any of his behavior towards me. My daughter claims he molested her for years when she was little. He didn’t admit that, just the one shower incident. I can’t see or hear his voice without getting sick and our mediator suggested that we take turns going to CR so that we both could find healing. Instead, he said his ministry was too important and he would go every week. At the next mediation session I told him I was angry and I needed CR for my healing. He said, “I’m not responsible for your healing. God is.” I know that is true but it still sounds off to me…I don’t know why. He continues to go to CR, serve pizza at the beginning and co lead the purity group at the end. I can’t go without seeing him. (Its not a huge CR) The leaders know about the mediators suggestion. I have pled my cause with one of the leaders. (the one I talked to after the “sexual disclousure”) They are silent. I feel betrayed by them and now have another huge hurt to work through and forgive. Am I off? Am I expecting too much that he be asked to come every other week so I can continue to go to the group that had walked with me through my son’s addiction, my emotionally destructive marriage and want to walk with me through the divorce.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      If your daughter is willing to testify to what he did to her (which is repeated rape of a child – a crime in our country), he could be prosecuted and put in jail where he belongs. Then you can go to your group in peace. I feel horrible for your daughter. She has to live with the ongoing destruction in her life because of what he did to her – and he is just living his merry little life. It’s so wrong on so many levels.

      Reply
  2. Norm

    I am commenting on this blog post as a man reading this, so first let me say I am doing so in humility knowing that I will never understand what many of you have been through. But I wanted to let you know that this opened my eyes in at least one way that I think is crucial and that I hope will drive how I deal with any situations where there is either pastoral abuse or perceived pastoral abuse that I may be a part of going forward (even if just on the periphery).

    When I first read Wes’s response to your email to the church leadership, I rolled my eyes at the Matthew 18 reference (because it’s become almost cliche in how the church wants to use it in situations like these) and at the “if you’re sincere” comment, but over all, to be honest, I was in agreement with the “let’s meet face to face and talk about this” point of the email. As I read further, however, and saw his subsequent responses, I began to see the points you were making and I started thinking more about how would a woman who had been abused in the past would respond to what was written and said.

    I could have a written an email similar to what Wes wrote….and genuinely meant it and genuinely wanted to help heal. I could have written it suggesting an in-person meeting (because I prefer talking face-to-face over email). I would have suggested she bring someone, but I could still see me saying that. And never once think that “Hey, that might not be the healthiest or most comfortable way for her to deal with this.”

    Here’s what I learned – Rather than trying to drive the conversation in a way that feels comfortable (or, I would even say, *right*) to me, let her share what would be a comfortable and safe way for her to deal with the discussion. My prayer is that even though I don’t understand what many have been through, that God will allow my eyes to see things as they do and be able to respond in a way that is more concerned with loving the broken than making sure the t’s are crossed and i’s are dotted.

    If I’m totally off-base in my thoughts above, I invite you to share how you feel something like that should be handled (face to face of course 🙂 ).

    Thank you for this post, I really do believe it has helped to equip me on how to better respond to these types of issues as a man.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I like your response. You are self-aware and able to look at this situation from several perspectives. That’s wisdom, and I’m glad to see it. Wes is not like you. It’s human nature to project our own world view on others, so if we are open minded and respectful of others, we assume most folks are like that. Then we get surprised when we find out they aren’t. I am comforted by the fact that the gospels say Jesus knew “what was in man.” He was never surprised by their betrayal. Their selfishness. Their lies. Etc. He wasn’t a skeptic or a negative person. He was just honest and real – and He knew the truth. I can see you are striving to be that way as well. Thank you for commenting.

      Reply
  3. April

    For those on here that go to Berean: Is the church releasing any specific information about who is actually doing the investigation? Where to call if needed (like Tabernacle did)? Are they investigating the events of 17 years ago or investigating if there are more recent events?

    Reply
    • Krissy

      I am a member at Berean and the elders have been very vague about the details which has been very concerning for me and my husband. Today at church, two of the elders addressed the congregation with and update. Wes’s official letter of resignation from Berean was read as well as an update on what Berean is continuing to do on this matter. They will continue the investigation and help Wes and his family heal through this process. All still very vague. Berean is the Lord’s church, He knew this was coming and there a lot of hurting people. I just get on my knees and remember God’s faithfulness.

      Reply
      • Natalie Hoffman

        I always find it fascinating that the concern is on helping the one who violated others through cover ups and lies and sex now gets the “help to heal.” I wonder what the church is doing to help the victims and their families heal? What are they doing to help the congregation heal? The Berean people have been mind-mapped (see David Schnarch’s work Brain Talk) by Wes. This is traumatic, and it needs to be addressed. But the typical response in situations like these is to gloss over the hard stuff and move on. The victims are the people of Berean. And yes – his family (I feel horribly sad for his wife) as well. But Wes is not a victim. He doesn’t get to be the victim. The fact that he is being made out as a victim is disturbing on so many levels.

        Reply
  4. Kristin

    This is so hard for me to digest. I put Wes Feltner on a pedestal. We moved to another state 18 months ago, but came back to MN, 11/08/19. I was so excited to hear Pastor Wes’ sermon, in person. I thought we were friends. I sat on the front row at the 9:30 service. I told him I would be at the service. Some background, my husband and I gifted him $5000.00, in the form of a check made out to him, not Berean, before we moved. He’s knows us. He didn’t even take the time to greet us. I told my church friends he has changed. He was VERY theatrical, a GREAT actor. All this to say I am so disappointed, heart broken and now know the only person to put on that pedestal is God.

    Reply
  5. Muchalone

    I was an active member of Berean for 15 years…a few of them were good, but I struggled there for several years. As you have said, there are many wonderful people there. Sometimes, it’s hard to connect with them…especially with the ones who are overly eager to tell you how wonderful they are. We left about a year after Feltner came. He was making fast and sweeping changes to church policies. On the surface, none of the changes were anti-Biblical. I simply couldn’t keep up. The real problem was not the changes, but the secrecy that ministry directors used to avoid dealing with any objections to the changes. The secrecy felt creepy to me. It was a problem for my kids. It made serving impossible. We left.
    I am saddened by the current situation there, but mostly I am incredibly relieved that I have the privilege of participating in worship at a welcoming church with humble leadership.

    Reply
  6. Krissy

    I believe I was spiritually and mentally abused by the Senior Pastor at my previous church. That abuse led me to Berean in 2004. I loved my church and felt safe and fed. When Wes came to Berean I was excited for the church but it wasn’t long before I started seeing red flags. He didn’t seem to put up any guard rails around his ministry. Is it wise to go on mission trips to China without your wife and in mixed company including pretty young women? Something just seemed wrong about it to me. The other thing that happened was I invited my friend to church. She was a fairly new believer and very pretty. I caught him looking in her direction alot. I kept screaming inside, “stop looking at my friend, she is a guest here!” There have been a number of other things over the years that bothered me about how Berean was handling its rapid growth but really not worth mentioning here. I believe it will work itself out if like you said, the growth was about God and not the man behind the pulpit. About 6 months ago I asked my husband if we would consider looking for a new church family. It was heart breaking. Berean has been my home for 15 years but I said, “maybe we should leave before the bottom falls out.” Well, here we are and it is so grievous on so many levels. I know that I will be steady and persevere in my faith but the harm is so far reaching and pervasive. Thank you for speaking up on this very troubling issue.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I watched him looking at women as well. It made me extremely uncomfortable. I still have no idea what his wife looks like or where she is in his life or in the life of the church. I can’t find anything about her on his website or Berean’s website.

      Reply
      • Lewis

        As a member at the time of the church where Megan and Joanna were abused, I had peripheral knowledge of their abuse. I am ashamed that I did not speak up to defend them and to prevent Wes from moving on to other churches. At the time, I was not confident enough to stand up to the misuse of power. As Krissy, you, and others have observed, Wes has a good eye for pretty women. At the time the abuse occurred, Megan, Joanna, and Stephanie were the prettiest young women in the church. I do not believe it was by chance that he was involved with all three. Even before I knew of the abuse, I (as a man) felt uncomfortable with Wes’ teaching because to me he seemed too supremely confident that he knew the absolute truth and others should believe in his version. Pastors, by their mission, must be persuasive so that others believe; however, persuasion is only a short step from manipulation. In addition, he appeared to me to “buddy-up” to influential people in the church. This apparent playing favorites seemed to me to be currying favor.

        Reply
      • Krissy

        In the five years Wes has been at Berean, I saw his wife and kids one time and that was when Wes was introduced as the new pastor. It seemed odd to never see her. There is no Biblical mandate for a pastor’s wife to serve in ministry in the church. I believe that if she has children than her ministry can be in the home. I didn’t want to judge because I didn’t know the circumstances and I never asked. I often thought though where she was attending church because we are not supposed to forsake the assembly of the Saints. I guess this is just another question mark in the long line of questions marks about Wes.

        Reply
        • Kari

          I can’t stay silent and listen to this gossip any longer. Pastor Wes’ wife and children REGULARLY attended Berean. In fact, I can’t recall a Sunday I didn’t see them. She volunteered in our Wednesday night children’s Ministry for YEARS! Their children were very active and involved at Berean, and I saw them at church constantly. She is a loving, wonderful wife and mother, as well as a devoted Pastor’s wife. She chose not to be in the limelight, and that is her RIGHT. She served quietly and humbly in several areas at Berean. This all needs to stop. You have no right to make these untrue statements and fictional assumptions about Stephanie or this family.

          Reply
          • Natalie Hoffman

            Krissy just stated her own experience – she never saw Wes’s wife. I never did either. I never heard her mentioned. It doesn’t mean anything more or less than what we experienced. It’s a big church, so if we didn’t see her, we didn’t see her. In my past experience at different churches everyone knew the pastor’s wives and children. They were an integral part of the pastor’s ministry as his family. So based on my personal experience and observations over 50 years, I find this slightly odd. But again, that’s just me. And possibly Krissy.

            Now if Krissy or someone else was claiming that Wes’s wife never went to church, that would be different. That would be an assumption and very likely an untrue assumption, and to spread that around is gossip. But she wasn’t saying that. And nobody here has said anything negative about Wes’s wife or his family. In fact, I hope it is implied that we, here at Flying Free, are supportive of Wes’s wife and family, because they are also victims who deserve to be seen. But I don’t have any facts about his family. The only things discussed in this article are factual statements based on factual events and factual, provable (email) interactions Wes was involved in. I know this is hard to realize, but that’s how abuse hides. And when we are loyal to people who have used and abused other people instead of to the truth about that reality, we enable egregious sins against human beings made in the image of God.

            Exposing abuse will stop when the abuse stops. But many of us cannot stay silent and watch abuse any longer. So you can continue to fight the exposers of abuse. That’s your right. But we will continue to fight abuse. And that’s ours.

            Reply
    • jesse lockettel

      Sorry for hurt

      Reply
  7. Angie

    Ps. FYI just in case you think I’m just being dramatic or haughty…I have the “lobotomy scars” but found my brain under a rock after suffering much harm. It still needs rewiring. But God is faithful and is a patient, loving shepherd. Trust the Holy spirit within you and those nudgings that say “this doesn’t seem/feel right”. We are brainwashed to ignore that. Peace to you.

    Reply
  8. Angie

    Signs that you are in a cult or brainwashed with lies about who God is and what acceptable behavior even is : you are ok as a parent to let your teen start a relationship/pre-marriage with a man currently in a relationship with someone else. And be ok with keeping it secret. The article may have said they felt uncomfortable BUT….(God says it’s ok?!?!)
    That’s why these responses from others defending the pastor are of the same insanity. When they realized it was wrong and went in for help from abuse and harm… better double up on the intimidation and brainwashing. “Get those people rewired or get them out of here!” I don’t say it to shame the parents or others. They (ALL OF US) need to see it for what it is. Brainwashing. Abuse. Intimidation. Parroted responses by other brainwashed members. At MINIMUM they defend a man who is their youth pastor in a relationship with 2 “just legal “ girls and another woman. (I personally believe these women) In actuality, the church is defending a crime. These same people would wag their finger at the “unsaved” engaging in the same behavior and pronounce them heathens, reprobates. FYI God doesn’t have double standards. Check for your lobotomy scars people. Your brain has been removed!!!! I’m enraged at constantly hearing about all of these children being harmed. Will the “ true church” please stand and shout from the rooftops! This is wrong! When we are no different than the world or in my opinion, worse, why does anyone have to wonder why young people and others are leaving the church. Or want nothing to do with Christianity. It’s GROSS hypocrisy! And they don’t even learn from others who handle it wrong. ARROGANCE! Thank you Natalie for being one of the voices in the wilderness.

    Reply
  9. Kristy Donahue

    Thank you for publishing the emails! Thank you for being a voice for those who are victims and helping to educate! I am so very proud of Megan & Joanna. These women have unselfishly shared their story to protect others and prevent more abuse and cover up. 1 Corinthians 13:6…We rejoice in the truth! God bless you!

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    I go to Berean Baptist Church. I was molested at 13 when flying to see family alone. My brain blocked it out until I was 31 and triggered by something I read and it all came flooding back.
    I’m in a healthy and loving marriage of 18 years and I am safe… but I get triggered reading about abuses of women and children in the news… so you can imagine my absolute horror of these things that our Lead Pastor did and was never brought to justice for, that a few clicks of my phone search revealed.
    I’m just numb.
    We are hurting. Please pray for us.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Many people are praying for you! God knew this was going to happen, and He cares about Berean. I believe that’s why He is removing a fraud in your midst.

      Reply
  11. anonymous

    Wow, thank you for posting your interpretation of his response to you and dissecting it for us. I just received a “thank you” card from a narcissist and in it he was praising himself for finally being able to pay back a debt he owed. 5 years later. Of course, he only started paying it back after I asked our pastor to talk to him about it, he couldn’t handle being exposed. And he initially agreed to paying us interest for the business loan, but he didn’t. Seems he conveniently forgot that part.

    Anyway, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what bothered me about the card, but reading this post helped a lot. Thank you for helping me see things clearly. I can also look back at other instances in my life where if I had known these things, I wouldn’t be in my current situation. I guess “when the student is ready the teacher will appear.”

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I’m so glad this was helpful! It’s amazing how just unraveling one thread can unravel an entire ball of tangled yarn.

      Reply
  12. K

    Megan and JoAnna, I see you, I hear you, I believe you. Thank you for your courage and for being willing to turn on a light in this dark corner, light that comes at such great personal expense.

    Natalie, thank you for posting this. From my little spot on the planet – a standing ovation for your insights, especially into Wes Feltner’s responses.

    I wanted to write to respond (gently) to Sara (who left a message on November 7th, 2019 at 10:509PM).

    Sara, if you look at the second response that Natalie posted from Feltner, you’ll see that he has narrowed down Natalie’s concerns for the abused, and he ignores her purpose altogether. He only sees her input as an attack on himself. I’m an abused woman. Once you know what to look for, the red flag here just cannot be ignored! Abusers protect themselves. Abusers use power posturing to protect themselves. At the very least, a shepherd who doesn’t want to learn more about binding and healing the lame sheep under his care, but is only interested in protecting himself, is not a shepherd. He’s called a hireling.

    If you do take the time to go to Megan and JoAnne’s blog, you will see (right on the first page) what happend when Megan took her concerns to First Baptist in October. Her contact details were shared – in trust. This is what the blog says happened:

    “The email Joe sent to the Chairman and the committee member contained Joe’s email address and Megan’s personal cell phone number, but no contact information for JoAnna. This email is believed to have been forwarded to Wes Feltner, because Megan received a voicemail on October 11, 2019 from a personal injury attorney in the Minneapolis area claiming to be “with Berean.” Joe received an email from the same lawyer, but JoAnna was not contacted. The voicemail stated it “was not a threatening call,” but that Megan was “treading on laws.” He requested that she call him back with her attorney present so that he could explain the laws to her. An email received on October 26, 2019 from the same attorney confirmed that he was in fact working for Wes Feltner (not the Berean church as previously stated).”

    Do you see the pattern? We should all be asking how Feltner was given this information in the first place – but just look at what he did with it! He is very quick to use Matthew 18, when he can see an advantage to himself, but if he is genuinely a principled man, why didn’t he pause and follow the teaching of Matthew 5v23-24 (just as an example)? Instead he used this contact information and hired a lawyer – just to remind Megan about “laws”. And yes, despite the lawyer’s disclaimer, there is threat implied. The lack of honesty in who was actually being represented is also troubling. Whose idea was that?

    This behaviour is called bullying. It is not loving, it is not kind, it is not the act of a man who loves peace. It is the act of a man deeply committed to himself. And in character, it’s the same man who responded to Natalie.

    I do commend you Sara, for entering into the discussion and not just closing your eyes and pretending that none of this is happening. Thank you. One of the hardest things we can ever do, is face up to the fact that maybe we were fooled. Every single women writing to Natalie on this blog has had to face that reality. We married one man, and woke up married to another. I pray that God uses this time to teach you things on a broad scale, so that these issues may never come back to haunt you personally. I don’t wish on you any of the pain that births sites like this one, or that of Megan and JoAnna.

    To the anonymous poster from Clarksville – there is meant to be an independent investigation starting at Berean (https://mobile.twitter.com/BereanMN/status/1192143209964736512 – although the wording in this is a bit troubling). You may want to get some folks together and to keep an eye on that! My heart is with you, and I pray that your body finds a true shepherd!

    And to Natalie – just THANK YOU.
    You are appreciated.
    So much.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Beautifully written, K. Thank you for taking time to share your wisdom here.

      Reply
      • K

        Bless you, Natalie!

        Debbie Murrie – who responded to the Berean’s Twitter post about an outside, independent investigation being conducted, linked to this website: http://www.adultsabusedbyclergy.org/statelaws.html

        (Just for anyone who reads Megan’s story and thinks – “Well, she WAS 18 …”)

        And one more article: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/jared-c-wilson/genuine-repentance/ (Please note, I’m not plugging the whole blog, but this particular article was a lifeline for me, I pray it may help someone else spot a phony ‘repenter’.)

        I admire the restraint you showed, with the original blog post (Dear Baptist Church …) remaining so innocuously anonymous on your site, while you had the back story of what it had generated sitting on your computer. I personally found the exchange incredibly triggering.

        YUCK.

        Reply
  13. Karen Goodwin

    Natalie:
    I am horrorstruck. I think that might be the best word. Maybe dismayed? Hopeless? Overwhelmed?
    There seems to be so much abuse in the organized church, and willingness to cover up abuse occurring to vulnerable members of those churches, and willful ignorance from the rest of the flock even when advocates are shouting the news from the rooftops, that I’m left dumbstruck.
    I don’t think I want to join a church anymore. Maybe I can find a small group of women for an in-home Bible study instead, and call that “church.” I don’t think I could ever really trust another man in the pulpit. He probably just wouldn’t get it. Or would be one of the abusers.

    I am so grateful for your work, though. I learn so much when you deconstruct what was said, and show the manipulation in their words. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      There are a growing number of Christians who no longer attend an institutional “church.” I hope you’ll be able to find some authentic Christian fellowship with healthy believers in some type of setting.

      Reply
    • Healing

      You don’t have to be in a church to be following God. But if you desire to be in a church, God can guide you to a good place for you. I believe that because He did it for me. After leaving an abusive church where I stayed for 15 years, He guided me to a wonderful church that has helped me to heal. When I told the pastors there about the spiritual and emotional abuse I experienced from the senior pastor at the former church, they each told me to just focus on Gods love as He healed me. Since my abuse was from a pastor, they said that they were available if I ever needed them, but they would give me space because they didn’t want to trigger me in my healing process. Each time I would go to them for anything while healing, they thanked me for trusting them and recognized what a gift that was. They really got it. I’m still healing but my relationship with my new pastors is amazing. I never thought I would want to be in a church again, but God led me to a safe place and asked me to trust Him. I’m so glad I did.

      Reply
      • Natalie Hoffman

        I’m glad God led you to a new church and that your new pastors are wonderful, but God doesn’t work in everyone’s lives in the same ways. Some are called to trust God in the dark with no support for a while. Some are called to trust God without the help of spiritual mentors or pastors. Thankfully Jesus is our High Priest, and we can rest in Him when others fail.

        There are many factors that go into finding a safe church, and it can be much more complex that what is stated here. I believe we all have a beautiful opportunity to empathetic and understanding toward one another no matter where we are on our faith journey.

        Reply
  14. Robert Simpson

    Natalie,
    Thank you for sharing this and explaining the manipulation by the wolf pretending to be a shepherd.
    Re: “ Although, if this big church in Clarksville hires him in spite of the allegations, I may consider Berean to be a safe place to return to. There are some amazing people there. We’ll see what happens.)”
    I think Berean needs to dismiss Feltner in short order and publicly warn other churches to even begin to show integrity, otherwise they are not safe. You have communicated with the “leaders” there and only one had the decency to listen to you, and they have never accepted your offer to bring survivors together and meet with them.
    Again, than you for your writing and advocacy. May God continue to bless you and your ministry.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      True nuff!! Thank you for your support, Robert.

      Reply
  15. sara

    Hi Natalie!
    I have been going to Berean for about a year and a half now. I am a 22 year old gal, single, and have never experienced any kind of abusive relationship before. With that being said, I want to tread lightly because I mean absolutely no offense by my questions, I am just seeking clarity. This is shocking news to me, Here are my thoughts/questions: do you think his response to your emails were out of defense, because of everything coming to light and probably attacks/hateful words that I assume he is receiving (not saying it was right by any means! just curious if it could be interpreted that way as well?) Also wondering, and maybe since we don’t know the full story…but if this happened 17 years ago and change has truly occurred…wouldn’t you have already gone and asked for forgiveness years ago? That makes me believe change has not occurred. It’s hard to not know the full story, and it’s hard for me to know how to respond. On one hand, I’m not perfect either, but leaders/elders are called to meet biblical qualifications (Timothy and Titus) and pastors are humans with past and current sins as well. So where is the line drawn as to what’s acceptable and whats not in this case… is my confusion making sense? I would love to hear your thoughts and insights regarding all of this!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I can’t speak to what Wes has or hasn’t done in regard to Megan and JoAnna, but according to their testimony, nothing has been done. You can read their story in their own words here: http://www.broughttothelight.org/

      My email exchange happened two years ago before any of this came to light.

      As far as what is acceptable or not acceptable for pastors to do while in ministry, I suppose everyone has a different opinion. He thought it was acceptable to carry on two sexually motivated relationships with girls in his youth group while dating the woman who is now his wife. In my personal opinion, I think that disqualifies him from serving as a shepherd. He is still qualified to be a man deserving of honor like any human being. But he isn’t qualified to be in a spiritual leadership position. But others may disagree with me.

      I see first hand the devastation caused to victims and families years after men have abused their spiritual power in the name of Jesus. And the fruit is not love, peace, kindness, gentleness, self-control, hope, deeper faith, or anything positive.

      Abusers can be extremely charming and gifted. They are like pied pipers. But when they are exposed, it is wise to throw our support in favor of victims so abusers cannot add to their list of victims in the future. I believe the good people of Berean have been mind mapped and victimized. If God is behind your growth, it won’t matter if Wes leaves. But if Wes is behind it, then you’re worshiping the wrong god. I pray for healing for all of you.

      Reply
  16. Annonymous

    I’m a member of the church in Clarksville that he’s supposed to be coming to, and believe me, there are a lot of us really angry. For starters, we were told “adversaries” were coming up with stuff. Conveniently, the usual live broadcast had ‘technical difficulties’, so not everyone was able to watch. When I called yesterday, I was rudely greeted by a volunteer when I started asking questions. I’ve said this to several of my friends, but I believe there is more than just this issue with Wes about to come out. I also truly believe that the head of the search committee must step down. Once he does, another pastor will be found.

    One last thing, the church has been fasting one day a week for a new pastor to be found, and I feel like this revelation of Wes’ past is an answer to the fasting. He is not supposed to be here, and if they go against our wishes, they will lose membership. This man is anything but contrite about what he did, and that shows in the Berean church’s response. These women have proof. Everything else aside, what youth minister takes an 18 year-old from his youth group alone to Las Vegas? Ridiculous.

    Thank you for bringing this to light, it may save this congregation heartache.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      I sincerely hope it does. God has another man for your church, and I hope you find him.

      Reply
  17. David

    Thank you for posting this.

    One of the things that really jumped out at me was how similar Wes’ email responses to you were to those of my former pastor in a situation were I believe a climate of spiritual abuse was being fostered.

    The key elements were: Wanting no record of communication via Email; wanting face-to-face meetings were he would bring in other people without my knowledge; manipulation/changing stories/outright lies; rejection of any possibility of being in the wrong; focusing on my attitude/questioning of his authority instead of on whether or not that authority or his teaching was actually true/helpful.

    Our situation did not, and I trust, does not involve sexual abuse, but the same pattern exists with the pastor in question.

    Reply
  18. Anna

    Wow-This says SO MUCH about who Wes Feltner is. He’s arrogant, haughty, prideful and in the course of your brief emai interactions, was controlling & manipulative. He’s dangerous, for sure. Thank you for sharing the details of your personal experience with him. It is very telling in light of the stories these brave women have come forward to tell, and Wes’ response to them. He is clearly unrepentant and unfit for Christian ministry.

    Reply
  19. Rebecca Farris

    Reading the emails from Wes was like reading emails from several abusive pastors I’ve encountered – all who turned out to be porn addicts. You’re so right — same old, same old.

    Reply
  20. Louise

    Another excellent article.

    Speaking from my personal experience (my past mistakes), Natalie was wise to suggest that her spouse attend the meeting.

    For me, there were 3 red flags about Feltner’s request to meet with Natalie. First, I believe a pastor who truly wants to dialogue might suggest a meeting – but not in his office. His office is a place of power/authority. The meeting should either be in a neutral venue or at a place of Natalie’s choosing. If he wants to resolve matters, he should want her to be comfortable, at ease. Second, the date & time should also be up to Natalie, but of course subject to the pastor’s availability. Third, having the pastor’s spouse & an elder attend was unnecessary, intimidating & does not indicate a desire to truly dialogue & resolve matters. Rather, it indicates that the pastor requires a cheering section & intends to “win”. And it is 3 persons (pastor, his spouse, elder) against 2 (Natalie, her spouse), which certainly doesn’t indicate a desire to resolve matters.

    Talk about a controlling pastor!

    Reply
  21. D

    Wow! My pastor boss sexually abused me and upon discovery it was labeled an inappropriate relationship and my sin announced with my resignation to the church body. When my husband figured out it was abuse, he began emailing the elders. They would say nothing in emails except that they would love to meet face to face. When they admitted “face to face” that they knew it was abuse, they later denied it and said we misunderstood. They later sent a 2nd email about me and told congregation “rest assured” they had handled it all correctly. “Rest assured” is covert abuse—don’t think for yourself, we leaders know what to do—nothing to see here. Elders are narcissistic as abuser pastor. I guess whole system was toxic and why abuser was never fired before abusing me.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      Unreal. I’m so sorry this happened to you. It’s all wrong.

      Reply
  22. Meg Frey

    Thank you for standing with us and bringing this to the light!

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      You’re so welcome. I am praying there will be justice.

      Reply
  23. Sheila Wray Gregoire

    Natalie, you handled that like a champ! Thank you for publishing these emails and letting us see what was going on behind the scenes. And thank you for trying, in a gracious way, to bring this to the attention of the pastor, even if he ignored you. Now we understand why. This is an important part of the story of this man, and I hope it gets wide circulation.

    It makes me wonder: This pastor firmly stood behind the marriage permanence doctrine, and ignored the pleas of abuse victims. Then we find out he abused people himself. I wonder how many others who callously disregard abuse victims have similar skeletons? It is an epidemic.

    Reply
    • Natalie Hoffman

      This is what we are seeing across the board. Often when church leadership takes the side of the abuser, it is because they are, themselves, guilty of similar abuses – and God is starting to expose them. They identify with the abusive one and project all of their dysfunctional, warped thinking on the victim.
      When I see people rushing in to defend this man and vilify the victims, I suspect it is because they are either completely ignorant or they are identifying with the abuser.

      Reply
  24. Debbie

    Oh my goodness, I remembered that blog! You hit it out of the park on how we who have been in abusive marriages felt like! Like you I was in an emotional, mental controlling abusive marriage. Now this comes out. Your gut, really the Holy Spirit , was sure guiding you! Unfortunately if you go to the churches Facebook page they delete all comments from those like me who have pointed out the need for any investigation that takes place needs to be done by the authorities because of state law and clergy. The only comments that are kept up are of course the ones that are praying, they should be, I think we all need to pray for their church and also the church that is considering hiring him. Of course also the “he did no wrong and it’s just the devil attacking” ones are kept up too. I have heard the church in Clarksville is considerably smaller. That has caused several other survivor advocates to wonder if something has happened at Berean that maybe he (and others) are trying to hide.

    Reply

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