"The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it." -Albert Einstein
Alex Hannaford Link
Once again we ask our readers to bear with us for the rest of the week. I will be assisting in an annual retreat from medical and dental students, along with some allied health professionals. The focus of our group is to help caregivers to recognize and apply faith in their practice of health care. It’s one way I am looking out for myself since I am rapidly approaching my dotage and want great faith based practitioners out there! Deb will also be away so we will be managing this by quick checks of the blog.
Last week, a reporter in Texas, who thought TWW might be interested in an alleged child abuse story about a Christian community in Waco, contacted me. My first I thought, “Oh no, just another wacko group with wacko theology. “ But the more I read, the more surprised I became. It is, in my opinion, another wacko group but their theology is being lived out in many evangelical churches tabour which we have been writing. I had an eerie sense of déjà vu while reading this.
Here is my wish for our readers as you slog through this stuff. Think about groups that you have been involved in and ask “Did my church believe or practice any of this stuff?” You may find that there is a very fine line between normal and abusive.
Here is a link to Alex Hannaford’s article, "Heritage of Abuse" in The Texas Observer in February and updated in April.
Here is link to Brett Shipp’s story, Waco Religious Commune Accused of Masking Abuse" on WFAA. Read or watch the video. Take some notes as you do. I will provide some observations after the video.
My first thoughts come from the article, Heritage of Abuse, by Alex Hannaford and linked to before the video.
Here is the opening statement from the article.
“A Texas Observer investigation has found allegations of child sex abuse involving at least six members of the Homestead Heritage community. Three members have been convicted of sexually assaulting minors. A fourth has been charged and will likely soon plead guilty. The Observer found more allegations of sexual abuse of children that have never been reported to the authorities. Church elders failed to promptly inform law enforcement of sexual abuse of children, as required by state law. Church policy, according to internal documents, states that religious matters within the community are not “the proper province, of the corporate State and its investigative, police and judicial services.” In fact, our investigation has exposed a litany of tragedy: families broken apart, child abuse and allegations of mind control, cover-ups and secrecy.”
1. Acccording to Hannaford, this ministry got started in the 1970s.
It is important to remember that, during this time frame, the abusive shepherding movement was still going strong. TWW has written two posts on that movement here and here. What other ministry have we written about whose leaders got their start during tho same time period?
2. Over the years it has changed it’s name approximately 5 times.
Now, why does a ministry change its name, a lot? And which current day ministry has changed its name a few times?
3 .Women wear long dresses and long sleeves. The children are all home-schooled
4. Apparently the group claims a “plurality of elders. As usual, the devil is in the details. Apparently Blair Adams is at the top of the food chain and the elders are beneath him. He also gets to choose the elders.
5. “There appears to be frank patriarchy in which the fathers are above wives and children.
6. The group projects a happy, wholesome image. Kids playing, members merrily working together. This image is so ingrained in the Waco area that they appear ot have successfully duped outsiders, in cluding Dr Roger Olson, of whom I am a fan.
“According to Hannaford In 2005, Roger Olson, a professor of theology at Baylor University, wrote a gushing piece about Homestead Heritage for Christianity Today, headed: Where Community is No Cliché. The story served as an introduction to the church to anyone outside Texas. Olson described the sect as a mix of “Pentecostal fervor with Anabaptist simplicity and accountability his “close questioning” detected “no aberrant teachings about God.” Olson also noted that “the group made decisions by consensus; babies were typically born at home.” Hannaford claims that Olson refused to speak with him about his article.
7. ”Anyone who leaves the group, is shunned and denounced as being the spirit of the antichrist.”
8. Outsiders are not allowed to attend the church on Sundays because it is viewed as a time for church discipline. Some examples, according to a member, would include“ sullen countenances, wearing cowboy boots with tall heels, plucking eyebrows or eating chocolate.” (Editorial note: Dee would be gone first day, guilty of all 4 offenses-her Dixie Chick boots click clacking their way out the door).
9. Apparently, one had to confess ones’ sins to a leader in order to be forgiven. Can we say “Redemption Groups” anyone?
10. Corporal punishment is practiced for children. One member reported to Hannaford that Adams would “quoting scripture as he went into some detail about what fathers should use to beat their children with; what kind of switches to utilize and what they could be made of.” There were also reports of a child being locked in a room for weeks.
11.This was the most poignant statement in the article .”After he left, Adam Alexander went to church for a few years but then stopped. “I believe in God but I don’t believe in religion,” he told me. “The two controlling factors in life are fear and love, and I think churches have so much potential to be a positive thing, but in the end they end up controlling people by fear.”
Next, we move to the Shipp article, link above for a few more insights.
12. Adams rules by fear and authority. According to Shipp “The doctrine is that the leadership is put in place by God himself and speaks authoritatively, as speaking the very word of God.” Where have our readers heard this one before?
13. They practice the infamous Church covenant approach. All members, according to Shipp “must sign a covenant of silence.
According to Homestead’s membership contract, the aspiring members agree "to never bring before the public outside our church… any accusations or wrongdoing or any charge, lawsuit or court action." Agreeing, "that all disputes be settled within the confines of the church."… And in return… "the church agrees to never expose a member's shortcomings and sins to any outside it's covenant."
Remember our rule here at TWW. Never, ever sign any covenant that has not been vetted by your personal attorney. In fact, we believe it is the better part of valor to not sign a covenant even if it means that you attend your church as a non-member. (The 9 Marks boys are having seizures as they read this.) If you have signed it, you may find yourself on the receiving end of some nasty “discipline.” We have written about church covenants, including how to get out of one, here and here.
14. According to Shipp there are reports of child and teen sexual and physical. “ News 8 has learned that in the past seven years, five individuals, either members of, or with close ties to Homestead, have been convicted of sexually abusing a child within the Homestead community”.
15. The community reportedly asks the victims to forgive their abuser and the community spends time ministering to him. The victim claims that she was ignored. And even sent back to live with him.“ The step-father was never reported to law enforcement, despite state law requiring church officials to report child abuse within 24 hours.”
16. One convicted abuser explains the discipline procedure in the Shipp article." They tried to remedy the situation,” Delong said. “I think, within the church first because that's scriptural – that's what's in the Bible.
17. Finally, and our astute readers knew this was coming. Guess what the ministry calls the members who are speaking out?? That’s right “bitter.” Hmmm, I know a former church who called Dee by that name. I wear it with pride and consider it is the wind beneath my kite.
Finally, SNAP has released a statement here.
"We call on local law enforcement to investigate Homestead Heritage. And we urge current and former members of that community to find the courage to violate the harmful secrecy edict and, for the sake of innocent, wounded and vulnerable kids, tell police and prosecutors what they know and suspect about possible child sex crimes there."
I commend Alex Hannaford and Brett Shipp for their dogged pursuit of this group. When the church will not police itself, maybe God appoints the media to do what the church will not. By the way, Brett Shipp did the expose of Ed Young Jr.’s ridiculous lifestyle and has written on our good friend, Tom Rich.
I bet this will prompt much discussion since much of what apparently transpires at this community is seen in regular old SBC, Reformed, and nondenominational churches around the world. I am not so sure we should call this group a cult. If we do, the finger might point right back at us.