Doug Lay was beloved among his students at St. Louis Christian College. The student body voted him 2015's Teacher of the Year.
But the bookish English professor was nowhere to be found among the well-wishers who gathered at First Christian Church of Florissant earlier this month for the college's graduation ceremony.
Lay's conspicuous absence was no accident: He'd been banned from the church's premises in April, one month after he'd started raising questions about the way the church's senior pastor, Steve Wingfield, handled allegations of sexual abuse.
In a meticulously researched report titled "Is It Enough: Sexual Abuse Within the Church: A Case Study at First Christian Church of Florissant," Lay accused Wingfield of ignoring warnings about a youth minister named Brandon Milburn. A former student of Lay's, Milburn had once been a rising star in the north county megachurch. Last year, Milburn was unmasked as a serial child molester.
As documented in a Riverfront Times investigation, Milburn started hanging around First Christian Church of Florissant, or FCCF, in 2005. That's also where he found his victims, two eleven-year-old boys, whom he abused repeatedly between 2007 and 2009.
Lay's questions about FCCF's pastor put him in a tough position: His employer, St. Louis Christian College, depends on financial contributions from area churches to stay afloat. That includes the deep-pocketed FCCF, which last month filed a defamation lawsuit against Lay for publicly airing his criticisms of Wingfield and the church.
Two weeks after the graduation, Lay announced through his lawyer that he would be leaving the college after a 17-year career.
"There will be likely those who will attribute my resignation to pressure from you," Lay wrote in an open letter to Guthrie Veech, president of St. Louis Christian College. "I want to emphasize this is my own decision and done in recognition of the difficult position this whole situation places you and the institution in."
But Lay wasn't telling the full story. In fact, Veech and St. Louis Christian College had faced pressure to do something about Lay and his public campaign against Wingfield -- pressure that the college president confirms started months before Lay's resignation.
On March 23, Veech was waiting at a departure gate in Lambert International Airport when he received a call. On the line was Steve Wingfield's brother, Paul Wingfield, the lead pastor at White Flag Christian Church in south St. Louis County. He sounded pissed.
"The phone call was very quick," Veech recalled in an interview this week. "He was very concerned about the attacks on his brother and on the church."
According to Veech, Paul Wingfield declared that White Flag Christian Church could not support an institution tied to an agitator like Lay. He told Veech that his church was halting contributions to the college, effective immediately.
Shortly after the call, Veech responded to a Facebook message from Titus Benton, a former middle school minister at FCCF. Benton had relocated to Texas in 2011, but following Milburn's 2014 arrest he joined Lay in publicly demanding Wingfield acknowledge his failures as a church leader -- specifically, that Wingfield had failed to heed warnings in 2012 that Milburn was sleeping in the same bed as a teenage boy and, in addition, had exposed himself to other minors.
Veech confided to Benton about the call he'd just taken.
"Today the college was threatened by a W," Veech wrote -- with "W" meaning Wingfield.
Veech continued: "So sad. I had no idea they would hit the college. I guess the Ws figure they can't do much to the victims or those who speak out for the victims so they will hit the college since these folks are connected here...They are going to try to crush SLCC. Not sure enough of them support us, just two. Now only one. If FCCF stopped supporting us it would hurt."
Benton, who provided Daily RFT with these chat transcripts, responded: "That is so petty."
"You can call it whatever you want," Veech wrote back. "Well we will check everything out and have already started but good bye money. This is bullying. I don't like it."
Turn the page for more on the college's response -- and why mediation between Lay and FCCF failed.
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