Give Me That Old Time Religion II
My last blog covered a portion of an article about a so-called “Christian” home for “troubled teens. As promised, this is a continuation of that blog.
As previously noted there were several rather sad stories about the abuse suffered by teenagers in a program called New Beginnings Ministries. The writer of this story, Kathryn Joyce, noted that there are several of these kinds of “homes” that are part of an “Independent Fundamental Baptist” community that is “a web of thousands of autonomous churches linked by doctrine, overlapping leadership, and affiliations with Bible colleges like Bob Jones University.” Not surprisingly, these churches fall into the fundamentalist religious doctrine that emphasizes strict obedience and a strong authoritarian attitude in general. It is fear driven, consistent with the classic doctrine of deterrence. It is no wonder so many scandals have surrounded such institutions for so-called “troubled teens.” I emphasize this term for a reason, namely that it is my opinion that it is not the teens who are “troubled” so much as the parents! But the parents, seeking a simplistic solution to their “troubled teen” and resort to “tough love” approaches.
According to Joyce, New Beginnings and other Christian “reform schools” can be traced back to a Texas radio evangelist named Lester Roloff. Roloff founded the Rebekah Home for Girls in Corpus Christi in 1967. Here they used disciplinary tactics that were eventually used by dozens of other “schools” that came later. Eventually reports of gross abuse began to surface. Among the rules that were strictly enforced included such things as “talking about ‘worldly’ things (such as television shows, secular literature, or old friends),” “looking at boys in church,” and even “speaking.” Among the punishments were spanking, “sitting (suspended above the floor, as if there was a chair beneath them) with the back against a wall and without the support of a chair, arms outstretched with the palms flat against the wall,” solitary confinement, doing various exercises outside no matter what the temperature was, and spending weeks hanging their heads without speaking or making eye contact with anyone.
Reports of abuse eventually began to surface and the state of Texas investigated. For 12 years Texas tried to close down the institution and Roloff fought them all the way, calling his efforts the “Christian Alamo.” Rebekah Home for Girls was finally closed but two of the people who worked for Roloff (Wiley Cameron and his wife Faye, who incidentally was prohibited by the state of Texas from working with children) moved to Florida, where they opened “New Beginnings.”
Meanwhile, a Rebekah spinoff called New Bethany Home for Boys and Girls had opened in Louisiana and was under investigation based upon complaints from former inmates who complained about the severe punishments. Testimony from other former inmates confirmed that this was not a pleasant place to be, to say the least. The location of this “home” was a “remote compound bordered by a rural highway and ringed with barbed wire.” Their “studies consisted of memorizing Scripture (mistakes were punishable by paddling) and a rote Christian curriculum. Discipline ranged from belt whippings to being forced to scrub pots with undiluted bleach…”
A group of former inmates of New Bethany created their own web site called the New Bethany Survivor Forum to document their experiences.
New Bethany finally closed after numerous investigations, but various related “homes” continue to exist. More investigations have been ongoing, including one by the Government Accounting Office. The GAO “found thousands of allegations of abuse, some of which involved death, at residential treatment programs across the country and in American-owned and American-operated facilities abroad between the years 1990 and 2007. “
There’s more to come, which will be in Part III.