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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

From pulpit, Lee Chatfield’s father declares ‘the truth will come forward’

Rusty Chatfield
Rusty Chatfield, pastor of Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church and the father of Lee Chatfield, used his sermon last weekend to warn congregants not to believe “everything you read in the newspaper.” (Bridge file photo)

Jan. 21: Michigan school run by Lee Chatfield’s family didn’t report past abuse claim
Jan. 12: Citing likely suit, Lee Chatfield accuser demands church, school save info

Following allegations that former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield groomed and sexually assaulted a teenage girl at the Christian school where he taught, Chatfield’s father is ratcheting up his defense of his son.

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Pastor Rusty Chatfield, founder of the Northern Michigan church and school where Lee Chatfield’s accuser first met him, used part of his church service this past weekend to rail against the press and an unnamed “enemy,” telling congregants: “You can't believe everything you read in a newspaper, on the internet or whatever.”

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While never naming his son or the now-former student at Northern Michigan Christian Academy, a school affiliated with Rusty Chatfield’s Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church, the pastor told congregants “you should know what I'm talking about – you cannot believe that. The truth will come forward.”

Contacted Tuesday, Rusty Chatfield declined to answer questions from Bridge Michigan about his sermon, saying only, "The most important thing in the world is to know the Lord Jesus Christ is your Savior. I can't make any comments. If you listened to it (the sermon), good."

In an article Friday, Rebekah Chatfield, 26, told Bridge that Lee Chatfield began sexually assaulting her when she was 15 or 16 years old and a student at the family run Christian school near Burt Lake. At the time, she was the girlfriend of Lee’s younger brother Aaron. Rebekah and Aaron told Bridge that Lee and Rusty Chatfield later  pressured the young couple to marry when they were 19.

Lee Chatfield
The sister-in-law of former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield has accused him of sexually assaulting her beginning when she was a teenage student at the Baptist school where he taught and coached. (Bridge file photo)

Rebekah Chatfield said the assaults continued for more than a decade and she felt she couldn’t tell anyone because she was in many ways dependent on the Chatfield family.

Lansing and state police have launched a criminal investigation after she filed a police report last month. Michigan House leaders, meanwhile, have ordered members and staff to preserve any records related to Chatfield’s conduct while in office or his use of government resources. 

Lee Chatfield, who campaigned on a public image of a conservative family man of faith, denied that he assaulted Rebekah Chatfield but admitted to a “years-long” consensual sexual relationship with her when they were both adults. He also admitted to multiple other extramarital affairs.

Lee Chatfield has not made himself available for interviews. Rusty Chatfield, though, has issued brief public defenses of his son. He told Bridge in a phone call Friday that “the allegations are false,” before hanging up. He did not specify which allegations he was referencing. Like his son, he has not made himself available for questions about Rebekah Chatfield’s account.  

But in his sermon, which was videotaped and posted to his Facebook page Sunday, Rusty Chatfield spoke at length about truth and lies, sin and salvation.

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“We are in certain circumstances,” he told congregants, “as all of you know, which I'm not going to refer to specifically. We are in certain circumstances now that, yeah, we are in the spotlight,” he said, adding that “the enemy, he wants to distract us from the work of God.”

The pastor then returned to the theme of a “truth” that will eventually be revealed, interspersing quotes from scripture with commentary on “the anonymous source thing…with no one verifying the truth,” adding, “that’s what sells newspapers.”

Bridge’s Friday report relied on no anonymous sourcing. Rebekah Chatfield agreed to be identified in the article, saying she wanted to provide courage to other young women to come forward who might find themselves in a similar situation. In hours of interviews over several days, Rebekah Chatfield answered every question put to her by reporters. 

She could not be reached Tuesday to respond to Rusty Chatfield’s statements in his sermon.

Get help

If you are a victim of domestic abuse or sexual violence, get help by calling the national domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or chat online here with the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence. You can also find local domestic violence aid services in your county by clicking here.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, there are people who can help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (800-273-TALK) 24/7. The group also lists resources for anyone who may be contemplating suicide: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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