The church flyer promoting former state representative Rod Jetton's speech was heavy on inspiration and light on details.
"Rod's candid way of explaining his mistakes and pointing out the dangers of putting his career in front of his faith and family will be of great benefit to fathers focused on accomplishing their professional goals," the flyer read. Hosted by First Baptist Church in Arnold, Jetton's speech was to take place during a men's-only prayer breakfast on August 15.
The flyer continued: "His ability to identify the early warning signs of pride, bitterness and paranoia in his life are exactly the type of cautionary advice anyone who is experiencing success needs to hear."
But it wasn't pride and bitterness that tarnished Jetton's legacy as a lawmaker and Missouri House Speaker: In 2009, after leaving office due to term limits, Jetton was charged with felony assault when a woman alleged that a night of sadomasochistic sex had turned dangerous and violent. Jetton later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge. (A year later, Jetton found himself the subject of a federal investigation into whether he'd been bribed to weaken a proposed regulatory bill.)
For David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the fact that Jetton was being trotted out as a moral lighthouse, at a church no less, was an outrage.
In an email sent last week to First Baptist Church, SNAP urged the church's leadership to withdraw Jetton's invitation:
"Please don't claim this invitation is about forgiveness," the email read. "We can forgive a drunk driver but shouldn't give him school bus keys. We can forgive someone who commits violence but shouldn't give him a gun. We can forgive someone who assaults someone but shouldn't give him a speaking role in a church."
Clohessy and SNAP received a response a day later. Jetton's speech had been axed.
"We contacted Mr. Jetton to inform him of our prayers for him and his future, but he would not be speaking at the Men's breakfast," senior pastor Kenny Qualls wrote in an email. "Yes, I am so grateful our God in His grace forgives, but the horrible sin of abuse has consequences."
But Jetton getting booted from a church speaking engagement isn't much of a consequence. Since his career nose-dive five years ago, Jetton has managed to craft a brand for himself as a self-help speaker and author. He's contributed blog posts to the Recovering Politician website, and last year published a book chronicling his fall from member of the Missouri political elite to pariah.
Jetton did not respond to emails sent to his marketing company, Targeted Communications.
Like the church flyer, Jetton's essays and blog posts barely acknowledge the incident that led a 35-year-old Sikeston woman to press charges against him in 2009. At the time, the recently divorced Jetton and the woman allegedly agreed on a safe word, "green balloons," before engaging in rough sex. She later told police that after drinking wine with Jetton she started "fading" in and out of consciousness, and that Jetton repeatedly struck and choked her.
These details are noticeably absent in Jetton's writings. Instead of confronting issues like sexual assault, consent and how to engage in ethical BDSM, Jetton presents his failures in broad terms, peppering sentences with vague sentiments about losing his "balance" amid the high-pressure environment of Jefferson City.
For example, here's an excerpt from a chapter Jetton penned for the crisis management anthology The Recovering Politician's Twelve Step Program to Survive Crisis:
I don't know if you believe in God or not, but I do! In December of 2009, God finally had enough of my hypocritical ways and got my attention. After spending the night with a lady I had reconnected with on Facebook, I was charged with felony assault. The press, along with my enemies, had a heyday.
That's it. No mention of the safe word, the circumstances of that night or the specifics on what he did to the woman. There's also no apology, a particularly stunning omission considering the chapter Jetton authored is literally titled "Own Your Mistakes, Take Responsibility and Sincerely Say 'I'm Sorry.'"
Instead, Jetton focuses on himself.
My troubles gave me a chance to analyze my weaknesses. With my pride stripped away, I was able to honestly evaluate my past actions. I saw how foolish I had been to put my family on the back burner. I learned how bitterness towards my enemies made me a bitter person toward everyone around me. The hardest thing for me to admit was that I wasn't the same friendly and caring guy who had gone to Jefferson City in 2000.
Granted, Jetton isn't the only former Missouri politician building a career on the back of past scandals. But his case is a striking example of how self-serving contrition and religious branding can obscure even the most troubling legacy.
"Maybe Jetton has turned his life around," SNAP's Clohessy wrote in the email to First Baptist Church last week. "Even so, giving him a position of prestige rubs salt into the wounds of victims of sexual violence. And it discourages and deters others who have seen, suspected or suffered such violence and are considering reporting it to authorities."