After Culpeper

The Lambs of Culpeper, Part Five airs on the podcast today. Please tune in. This article concludes my journal of my visit to the victims/survivors of the Charles Shifflett pastoral abuse case in Culpeper Virginia, which I undertook in June 2006.

I visited the Lambs of Culpeper in June 2006. In December of 2006, Shifflett pled guilty to seven felony counts of child endangerment and indecent behavior. Six of the counts were reduced to misdemeanors as part of his plea agreement, and he was given probation. He returned to his second church, First Baptist of Culpeper, a free man, to continue his life as though he had never destroyed the lives of so many children.

About six months later, in April or May of 2007, one of the Lambs from Culpeper emailed me a link to the Star Exponent. I read that new charges: state tax fraud and insurance fraud, had been brought against Shifflett and his wife.

Shifflett faced 51 counts, and his wife about half that number. Shifflett’s lawyer dragged out the legal proceedings for as long as he could. But at last, in June 2008, Shifflett, already a convicted felon, accepted a plea deal in which charges against his wife were dropped or suspended, and the charges against him were reduced to 21 counts, for which he pled guilty. I have heard from some of the people closer to the case that, at that point, Shifflett expected to remain free until his sentencing hearing in October. But Judge Cullen, the Circuit Court judge (not a local Culpeper person), shipped Chuck off to the pokey to wait for sentencing, and there he sat, until October.

In October 2008, Shifflett was sentenced for 20 various counts of fraud and embezzlement against his previous church, insurance companies, and state agencies.

On paper, Shifflett was sentenced to 100 years in prison, 5 years for each count, and an additional 12 months for a charge of making false statements on a state tax return. He also must pay back a total of $40,000 to insurance companies and the state.

In reality, Shifflett was sent to prison for four years. The judge suspended most of his sentence.

This is a story in which there really are no good guys, except for the Lambs whom Shifflett beat and abused and molested as children. Most of them did not show at the trial. However, the people from Shifflett’s first church (where the abuses occurred) were there: men and women who bought into the Hyles mindset of holiness-by-dress-code. They had stood by for the decade or so in which Shifflett did exactly as he liked when he reigned supreme: berated church members, drove off any who disagreed with him, openly tormented a black child who attended, and preached the gospel of Jack Hyles, while also making no effort to hide his willingness to beat children over the smallest of infractions or no infractions at all.

Nobody witnessed the sexual abuse of children, but many people witnessed every other abuse. They watched Shifflett enslave school children, treat them as though they were worthless. They knew he was responsible for injuries: a broken collarbone, a broken foot, both of which went untreated until parents came to pick up children. They knew all of this and never interfered. Why? Because Charles Shifflett was their pastor, and they were going to be 100 percent loyal. He could do anything, and they would stand by him. That was the Bible according to Jack Hyles, which they also embraced. It wasn’t until Shifflett himself stormily resigned and the threat of a criminal investigation loomed that the deacon board acted. (There were no elders, as Calvary has concluded, in spite of the abundant evidence of a plurality of elders necessary to govern in Scripture, that elders are not biblical.)

Since Shifflett’s departure from Calvary Baptist, the church has mostly lamented its own condition and done nothing, as a church, to repair the damage it has done to those Lambs, or even make any public acknowledgment of its wrongdoing, or even offered an open apology. I had secured a promise from Archy Seale to help the Lambs, and I had even sent Bible study books to him and them. But Seale never kept his promise. Like so many Fundamentalists, when I had shown up with a microphone and the consent of the community backing me up, they put on a good show of humility and desire to help. But after I left, they went back to business as usual. (Ironically, Seale runs a prison ministry through the church. Maybe Shifflett or any of the dozen other Hyles-Anderson convicts can give him some pointers.)

At least a third of the church, in fact, after Shifflett had stormily resigned from Calvary, followed Shifflett to start a new church, First Baptist of Culpeper, where the prevailing motto seemed to be “We don’t care what he’s done, he’s our pastor.” And yes, many members there have said those exact same words: brazenly and shamelessly.

So the Dumb and Dumber IFB churches squared off at the courthouse on sentencing day, and yes, there was at least one pushing match, and deputies had to separate the two groups at least once. Perhaps I am incorrect in what I assert about Calvary Baptist. But for years they kept their bizarre and cult-like religion within their own walls, ignoring the growing mountain of evidence that they were embracing a charlatan’s counterfeit of Christianity. And when it all came out, they made a good job of putting on long faces before the public, and acknowledging that harm had been done, but they never got down to the business of examining the nonsense they had believed and endorsed. And then, in public, they decided to be open about their complete disregard for what the Scripture actually teaches about Christian conduct. And they got into a shoving match.

So they did make some progress since Shifflett was pastor, just not in the right direction. Their sins against their own children have still not been addressed, and now they seem to hate Shifflett for having done precisely what they empowered him to do.

Meanwhile, reader comments in the Culpeper Star Exponent indicate that the two groups were eventually guided outside the building, where the current Shifflett followers (First Baptist) proceeded to utter threats about those from the previous Shifflett followers (Calvary Baptist)who had testified against Shifflett, saying they had better “watch their backs.” That’s a quote picked up from an observer, but back when I recorded the LAMBS OF CULPEPER, I recall the threats made against the young people who came forward to speak against Shifflett for molesting them. One young lady had the tires of her car slashed. Fundamentalists don’t repent of actions like this, nor do they call for repentance for actions like this. Violence and other sins are given a pass in the name of Loyalty, that IFB virtue that is not mentioned anywhere in Scripture.

Those Shifflett followers who are disputing the incredibly light sentence seem to base their objections on these faulty premises:

Shifflett is innocent because other people did it too.
Shifflett is innocent because he did other stuff that was good.
Shifflett is innocent because our church is bigger then your church.
Shifflett is innocent because other men, completely unrelated to this case, have been falsely imprisoned.

I’ve seen this type of reasoning before, in many previous IFB church abuse cases. It’s another tribute to the shifting, relative ethics that have gotten such a foothold in Fundamentalism.

If you want to read the best synopsis of the courtroom antics, check out the Free Lance Star.

If you want to read the parade of astounding comments, click here (1) and here (2).

And if you’re ever in Culpeper Virginia, go the PCA church.

And what about the rest of Fundamentalism? No other pastor, anywhere, has censured Charles Shifflett, rebuked those who follow him, or spoken a word from the pulpit on behalf of those Lambs. Nobody has offered them the consolation of Christ. Nobody has taken their side against two churches who have endorsed the way they were treated.

*Shifflett has an honorary doctorate from Hyles-Anderson College

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