“Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.” ― Dave Pelzer link
Today we leave the progressives and lurch to the far right in the form of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptists (IFB). Here is a link to explain this group. How many of you remember the following incident?
In 2010, a former member, Tina Anderson, accused Ernest Willis, another former member, of raping her twice in 1997 when she was 15 years old. At the time, the pastor of Trinity was the Rev. Chuck Phelps. (He and his successor, Brian Fuller, are graduates of Bob Jones University.) Anderson charged that Phelps forced her to "confess her sin" before the congregation, covered up the crime by sending her to Colorado during her pregnancy, and had her give up her child for adoption. Anderson's mother has consistently supported Phelps, crediting him with the "purest of motives".
Fuller, the current pastor, expressed regret about the way the church had handled the incident and also regretted that Willis had been allowed to remain a church member for seven years following the incident.
On April 8, 2011, the incident was featured on ABC's 20/20. On May 27, 2011, a jury found Willis guilty of "forcible rape"; and on September 7, 2011, a judge sentenced him to 15-to-30 years in prison. Lawyers on both sides "acknowledged in final arguments that at times it seemed that Trinity Baptist Church and its former pastor, Chuck Phelps, were on trial as well." In December 2011, Phelps resigned as a member of the Cooperating Board of Trustees of Bob Jones University during an online campaign that advocated his removal.
What many people do not realize is that the IFB runs a number of homes for children and teens. Today we are going to focus on one called the New Bethany Home for Girls. (In the beginning they did have boys but that changed.)
A couple of weeks ago, TWW received a call from a woman who is devoted to exposing the horrible stories of abuse that surrounds this home. She preferred not to use her name although she has testified and reported on the abuse. She wants us to know that her story is mild compared to others and does not want this story to be about her. It is about the many who suffered, and continue to suffer, because of this establishment. We do know who she is and how to contact her.
Here is a brief history as reported by NOLA.com/Times Picayune
For three decades starting in the early 1970s, New Bethany took girls no one wanted. It was the outreach ministry of Mack Ford, a high school dropout who worked for a time as a tire repairman before he said he heard God's call to preach.
He once told attorneys he was inspired to build New Bethany after meeting two blonde twins who had been impregnated by their father, a drunk.
"We are reaching out as a mission project to the incorrigible, unwanted rejects," Ford told attorneys in a 1997 court deposition. "Destitute, lonely, prostitutes, drug addicts … These kids haven't been loved and haven't had a chance in life."
Until its final closure in 2001, hundreds of children and young women from across the state and country arrived at the high chain-link gates of the school, tucked off a rural highway in north Louisiana about 50 miles east of Shreveport.
Let me jump in here with an explanation from Anonymous. She says that the home was not just for troubled girls. Girls were recruited from IFB churches to come and grow in the faith under the tutelage of Ford and others. The Home would bring a choir of girls to various IFB churches. The local pastors would recommend the Home to families who wanted to guarantee their daughters would be drawn "closer to God." Unfortunately, for many, it was a nightmare straight from the pit of hell.
She also reports that judges in the surrounding area would refer wayward girls to the home so they could get straightened out. Apparently it was a state approved facility. Anonymous believes that there were undocumented children who were being sent to the school as well. Ford claimed that the school was rescuing kids from gangs but this has never been proven according to Anonymous.
Some churches would send girls there in order to get them away from the men that were sexually abusing them at home. She said these girls were blamed for their abuse because they "seduced" their abusers. This was played out in the Tina Anderson situation described at the beginning of this post. It has also occurred in other IFB churches as well. How sick is that?!
Anonymous went to the school for 8 months and was considered a short termer. She wanted me to convey that her parents and pastor had no idea of the abuse that was ongoing at the school. Her parents have apologized to her and she enjoys a close and loving relationship with them for which she is grateful. That was not the case for many of the girls.
Unfortunately, the girls at this school reported suffering abuse: sexual, physical and spiritual, since its very inception. They were ignored. Anonymous explained that the school tightly controlled any information about the abuse from leaving the school. They were allowed a couple of phone calls a month which were brief in nature and monitored closely. The same went for any written correspondence.
Anonymous told me that when she arrived at the school, she was not allowed to speak to any girls, except her assigned helper, for one month. In fact, she claims that one punishment for any sort of disobedience was not being allowed to speak to anyone for a full month. The threat of "going to hell" was also used on a frequent basis. For example, they were told that if they wore pants or cut their hair, they would go to hell.
They were forced to memorize chapters and books in the Bible and be prepared to say them at a moment's notice. She said that they could be quizzed as they got out of bed in the morning and frequently through the day. If they forgot any lines, punishment would ensue along with threats of burning in hell.
Reports of Abuse were reportedly ignored by the police.
Girls who ran away from the school described brutal paddlings and harsh physical punishment to anyone who would hear, but the opportunity to interact with outsiders was rare.
Residents who wanted to get the word out say doing so first required scaling a tall chain-link fence, crawling over the inward facing barbed wire at the top, and running through dense woods to find someone — a driver, a cop, a state trooper, a social worker — who might believe them.
One resident told investigators her head was slammed against the wall repeatedly by another girl while Ford's wife, Thelma, stood by and watched, according to court records. Another told authorities she had refused to take off her jewelry as instructed and Mack Ford slapped her repeatedly across the face until she was quiet. A girl who didn't eat her meal told an investigator she was tackled and held down while a staff member forced peas into her mouth. When the girl spit them out, they were shoved back in until she started to gag, then was paddled 15 to 20 times until she became hysterical.
Anonymous told me that she was once paddled on her backside until she was totally black and blue. She was never sexually abused but the girls in the Home allegedly spoke of being drugged and forced to have sex with men, including Ford. She personally witnessed one of the house mothers dragging a girl down the corridor by her hair. She also witnessed the house mother telling girls to pile on top of a disobedient girl and keep her pinned down for hours. She also heard the housemothers and leaders calling the girls "whores".
Anonymous also witnessed the return of one girl who had scaled the fence which she said could be electrified. The girl was covered in blood from running through the woods. She was forced to run in place all day while the blood from her wounds covered her legs. She was crying so hard that the drippings from her nose covered her upper chest.
NOLA published a comprehensive timeline. Here are a few items from that report. Although this house has been shut down, the grand jury has declined to indict any of the involved.
Louisiana Department of Health and Human Resources tries to close the school for refusing to allow state inspection and licensing. A district judge rules the state lacks the authority to do so.
May: L.D. Rapier, manager for New Bethany Home for Boys in Longstreet, La., is arrested and charged with cruelty to children after four boys who ran from the home say they were beaten. Ford is quoted in a wire story saying the school is being harassed, the boys can't be trusted and the school uses "old fashioned ways — discipline." The school is soon closed and the charges against Rapier are dropped.
October: New Bethany Home For Boys in Longstreet home is relocated to Walterboro, S.C.
March: Woody Jenkins, then a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, writes an article for the Christian Law Association Newsletter stating that New Bethany, which had 250 girls, was not only cleared of charges that girls were abused there, state officials conclude that "no abuse occurred in the case in question" and "the home was found to be operated in an outstanding manner."
June: A graduate of New Bethany Home for Girls who says she attended the school for two years sends a letter to law enforcement, then-Gov. Dave Treen, Jenkins and other elected state officials saying she witnessed abuse.
June: Twenty-eight students are removed from New Bethany Home for Girls in Arcadia, La., following complaints of abuse by two runaways. Though all girls are given the option of leaving, 24 at first remain. New Bethany staff members refuse to cooperate in the investigation, decline to identify themselves and take photos of state workers. According to court documents, interviews with 47 girls produce information that supports allegations of abuse, extreme emotional abuse and threat of further harm or injury: "Many of the residents were exhibiting great anxiety." Ford denies allegations of abuse, but says the home does use a wooden paddle for discipline.
July 7: Social services director for the state of Louisiana signs an affidavit saying that he has reasonable cause to believe children have been abused and that male residents were hidden from the facility prior to investigators arriving at the home. He demands a full list of names of kids enrolled as well as employees, volunteers and patrons, and says it is imperative that he interview Ford and other staff. Judge Robert Butler signs an order authorizing him to enter the facility and conduct interviews.
July 12: New Bethany files a motion for protective order from Butler's order.
May: Ford files a federal lawsuit against the State of Louisiana, requesting a permanent order to keep government officials from interfering in New Bethany operations.
January: The Associated Press reports that New Bethany Home for Girls has closed, at least temporarily. Ford's wife, Thelma Ford, cites reorganization of the nonprofit. "After 21 years," she says, "everybody deserves a break."
July: A judge dismisses Ford's federal lawsuit. Both parties are ordered to bear their own costs and attorneys fees
June 21: State fire marshal and child welfare investigators arrive at New Bethany Home for Girls. Welfare workers want to interview about 80 of 200 students about allegations of abuse and neglect. They are turned away.
July: Joanna Wright, 53, of Houston, Texas, drives to Arcadia, La., to make a report with the Bienville Parish Sheriff's Office claiming sexual abuse by Mack Ford.
August: Simone Jones, 46, makes a report with local law enforcement at Elk County Sheriff's Office in Kansas claiming sexual abuse by Mack Ford.
December: Jennifer Halter, 39, of Las Vegas, Nev., travels to Arcadia, La., to make a report with the Bienville Parish Sheriff's Office claiming sexual abuse by Mack Ford and others.
January: District Attorney for the Second Judicial District announces the grand jury declined to indict.
Where do the survivors go from here?
- Anonymous is hoping that more of the former residents will file police reports.
- There is a Facebook group for Survivors of New Bethany.
- Theresa Frye, a former resident of the school is actively helping others. There are other homes just like New Bethany in which abuse has occurred.
She joined with national groups like Survivors of Institutional Abuse and HEAL, which offer resources and support for people who say they were abused in religious boarding homes similar to New Bethany.
The Wartburg Watch actively solicits stories from survivors of abuse in these types of homes. If anyone wants to tell their story, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Finally, we have been shocked by the numbers of abuse claims which have come out of the IFB including the recent stories out of Bob Jones University. To read more about the IFB and abuse, we highly recommend Jeri Massi's Schizophrenic Christianity which has been re-released. This book caused me to have trouble sleeping.
We thank Anonymous who continues to pursue justice in this situation.
It is time for the IFB to wake up and decide what is more important: protecting our children or making sure girls wear skirts. It's far easier to enforce a dress code than it is to attack institutional sin. May God have mercy on the children who were (and maybe are) being abused in IFB homes today. Any adult who knows of this abuse and does nothing about it should remember these words by Jesus and tremble…
"If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6 Bible Gateway NIV)
Lydia's Corner: Exodus 26:1-27:21 Matthew 25:1-30 Psalm 31:1-8 Proverbs 8:1-11