Mother Kirk can be a joyous, faithful community. But the conservative congregation also is at odds with Moscow’s more liberal population (surrounding Latah County voted for President Biden in 2020). Depending upon whom you ask, the town hosts either a Calvinist utopia or a patriarchal cult in which women must submit or face discipline at home and at church. At the center of it all is notoriously controversial Douglas Wilson, the firebrand pastor who’s been presiding over his Mother Kirk fiefdom for more than 40 years.
Depending upon whom you ask, the town either hosts a Calvinist utopia or a patriarchal cult in which women must submit or face discipline at home and at church.
She called a kirker friend about it the next day. The friend attended a Christ Church plant—a seedling congregation based in Christ Church’s doctrine and culture—and “she said the same thing was going on in her marriage.” Marital rape, it seemed, was normal. So, Jean didn’t report it. Jean’s husband raped her over and again a couple of times a week for about a decade, either with violence or by waiting until after she took a prescription sleeping pill. Sometimes, “I’d wake up with him having me or I’d wake up the next morning and be bleeding or see the signs.” Jean has since been diagnosed with PTSD from sexual assault.Years into her marriage, Jean went to several pastors at Trinity Reformed, a Moscow Christ Church plant, and told them her husband had been raping her. Although they did notify Christ Church leaders, because her then-husband’s father was an elder who could be disciplined if his son continued to sin, the pastors at Trinity, “all told me not to report it and that I was wrong. These pastors told me a wife is not allowed to tell her husband no.”
“These pastors told me a wife is not allowed to tell her husband no.”
A Man Penetrates, Conquers, and Colonizes
The idea is pervasive. In Wilson’s wife Nancy’s book, The Fruit of Her Hands, she describes wives as lovely, enclosed gardens cultivated for marital sex: “But of course a husband is never trespassing in his own garden.” In 2017, Jean says, another member of the church told her a man is allowed to rape his wife. Other survivors within the Christ Church community have stories of a culture of allowance around abuse. Former church member Natalie Greenfield was 14 when Greyfriars Hall student Jamin Wight, who was in his mid-20s, started sexually abusing her. In 2005, when Greenfield reported the abuse to police, Wilson asked the investigating officer to give leniency to Wight. Wilson cast their sexual interactions as the result of a parent-arranged courtship—something Greenfield maintains is untrue—but, according to emails gathered in an extensive analysis of Wilson by researcher Rachel Shubin, the judge seemed to accept Wilson’s narrative and rejected a more stringent plea agreement under charges of sexual abuse of a child. After Wight’s conviction (on a lesser charge of “injury to a child”), Christ Church plant Trinity Reformed emailed congregants thanking those praying for Wight. Following his release, Trinity funded $3,000 toward sending Wight on a Haitian mission trip. In 2013, Wight was charged with attempted strangulation of his wife and later found guilty of domestic battery.
“Of course a husband is never trespassing in his own garden.”
Mother Kirk and Spiritual Takeover
Kamilla Niska, who is now 25 and attended Christ Church and Logos through 11th grade, describes being spanked with a wooden paddle in 6th grade, once by a female administrator, once by a male principal. (In a copy of the 2012-2013 Logos parent/student handbook, provided to VICE, the Discipline Policy states: “The principal may require restitution, janitorial work...spanking, or any other measures consistent with biblical guidelines which maybe appropriate.”) Raised by an adoptive, single mom, Niska says she “didn’t get touched by adult men,” so being bent in a prone position, hands on her principal’s desk as he struck her, haunted her dreams. Other boundaries were violated. Later, in 10th grade, when Niska was covertly seeing a boy at Logos, Nancy Wilson started pulling her into classrooms to talk, and asking if they’d done anything physical. Were they in a relationship? Was she keeping pure?
“He just wants to sit there and listen to everything that transpired between these two teen lovers, like all the graphic detail.”
Lordship in the Home
Like his father, Doug Wilson articulates those lessons in his book Reforming Marriage, writing: “Wives need to be led with a firm hand” and that “it is tragic that wholesale abdication on the part of modern men has made the idea of lordship in the home such a laughable thing.” In Federal Husband, Doug Wilson asserts men must assume full spiritual responsibility for the household, including any wifely negligence to submit in: “spending habits, television viewing habits, weight, rejection of his leadership, laziness in cleaning the house, lack of responsiveness to sexual advances.” Such a husband must confess failure in leading his wife, outline clear expectations, and repeatedly point out her failures. If she complies, “he must move up a step, requiring another of her duties be done.” If she continues to rebel, it’s appropriate to call in the church elders.
“If the wife did not concede, she was in sin.”
According to Medina, Nancy confirmed this had been her dad, that he’d confessed to it, as well as inappropriately touching her. (In a request for comment for this story, her father confirmed “on a few occasions” watching her in the shower from the window.) About a week later the family was called into Doug Wilson’s office to hear her father’s confession. Her father recalls now that he’d confessed to inappropriate behavior toward his eldest daughter a year or two earlier in Wilson’s office. At this meeting, Medina’s father asked her to forgive him for looking at her in the shower and “other stuff that you don’t know about,” but that her father felt he didn’t need to detail since she wasn’t fully aware. She remembers back rubs that strayed to her butt, the sides of her breasts. Her father says he does not recall this, but deferred to Medina’s memory. (While unclear whether criminal under Idaho law, unwelcome touching could potentially have violated the law against lewd conduct with children under 16 or other statutes.)In response to a request for comment on this and other interactions with church members and students, Nancy Wilson said, “Like thousands of churches, we do provide counseling and input for people, but it would be utterly unprofessional for us to reveal even their names—still less the content of the conversation.”In Wilson’s office that day, the family cried and held hands. Today, her father says his behavior was his own choice, not caused by Wilson, and that Wilson counseled him to avoid being alone with Medina. Yet Medina remembers Doug Wilson telling her something she’s never forgotten. If down the road, a bird or something hit the window when she was in the shower, she may think about her dad watching her, and that wouldn’t necessarily mean she was bitter, she was told, but she should confess bitterness right away. Medina also remembers Nancy Wilson telling her in their subsequent counseling sessions that her father hadn’t done anything illegal. When Medina would mention, for example, a hug where his hand strayed to her butt, Nancy Wilson suggested she give him the benefit of the doubt. “That’s the Christian thing to do,” she was told.Domestic violence
“It is tragic that wholesale abdication on the part of modern men has made the idea of lordship in the home such a laughable thing.”
If you think you may be in an abusive relationship, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit their website, thehotline.org.Sexual assault
If you need someone to talk to about an experience with sexual assault or abuse, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), where trained staff can provide you with support, information, advice, or a referral. You can also access 24/7 help online by visiting online.rainn.org.Sarah Stankorb is a writer living in Ohio. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Marie Claire, Glamour, O Magazine, and the Atlantic, among others.