Wes Feltner, a pastor and adjunct professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), has been suspended from his position at SBTS following allegations of sexual abuse that surfaced on social media. Elders at the church Feltner leads say that while there are “conflicting views of events and circumstances,” they are taking the claims seriously by engaging outside professionals to assist them with fact-finding.
“I was a youth asking for help…I was manipulated. I was sexually abused,” writes one of Feltner’s accusers.
The Allegations Against Wes Feltner
Megan Frey and JoAnna Hendrickson have gone public with claims that 17 years ago, Feltner, a youth pastor at First Southern Baptist Church in Evansville, Indiana, engaged in inappropriate relationships with them. While both girls were 18 at the time, Frey was still in high school, attending the youth group, and says her relationship with Feltner was sexual. Hendrickson was a youth intern under Feltner at the time their relationship started, although she had also attended the youth group prior to graduating high school.
Both Frey and Hendrickson looked up to Feltner as the church’s youth pastor. He was 24 when he pursued a relationship with both Frey and Hendrickson (simultaneously, but unbeknownst to the girls). According to Frey’s and Hendrickson’s accounts (which include pictures), Feltner told both of them they needed to keep their relationship with him secret as he was trying to untangle himself from a relationship with another member of the church, Stephanie Todd.
The two girls learned of each other’s relationship with Feltner at a youth retreat when they confided in the same person that they were in a relationship with Feltner. Joe and Kristy Donahue were youth ministers working at another church. Feltner and the Donahues linked up to have their youth groups participate in camp together and the whole story came to light when the girls told Kristy about their respective relationships.
When the girls and their parents went to the leadership of their church, they were told it would be best to keep things quiet for the sake of their own reputations. Feltner was allowed to move on to another church, seemingly without any repercussions. Hendrickson says the church that hired Feltner after this incident would not talk to her mother or Frey’s mother. Feltner also married Stephanie, to whom he is still married.
Today, Joe Donahue is a pastor in Arizona and is using his Twitter account to bring attention to the allegations. Both Frey and Hendrickson say their relationships with Feltner caused emotional and psychological damage. Hendrickson believes the relationship damaged her desire to move into a ministry career, while Frey believes the relationship caused her various physical ailments related to stress from the abuse.
SBTS Position and Pastorate on the Line
Al Mohler, president of SBTS, says a response team found the allegations to be “credible accusations of misconduct” within an hour of becoming aware of them. In a statement, Mohler said he learned of the allegations on Monday, November 4, 2019, and “immediately” sent the information to the response team. After an initial investigation into the allegations, Mohler says “all teaching responsibilities for this individual were suspended and classes reassigned to other instructors.”
Mohler also said the seminary reviewed Feltner’s dissertation, “Pastoral Influence Tactics” and decided it was acceptable for continued public access.
Feltner currently serves as a pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Burnsville, Minnesota, but he is being considered for the lead pastor position at First Baptist Clarksville (FBC) in Tennessee. According to the Leaf-Chronicle, FBC’s pastoral search committee reached out to Feltner’s alleged victims to hear their side of the story, but it doesn’t appear to have gone well.
In a video posted to YouTube by Donahue, a leader of FBC, Paul Batson, is seen calling Feltner’s alleged abuse victims “adversaries” and making a case for Feltner on the basis of other leaders who have had suspicious pasts.
Batson has since apologized for the use of the word “adversaries.” According to the Leaf-Chronicle, he said:
My biggest regret from the pastor search update … was the inadvertent use of the word adversaries. From my notes I meant to say “has people opposed to,” and instead I said “has adversaries.” … It was wrong, and I am sorry for how it might have portrayed them.