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Category: Quote of the Day

Quote of the Day: VICE Feature Story Investigates Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) Group Homes

lester roloff
Lester Roloff, the man responsible for countless pain, suffering, heartache, and abuse

Kimi Cook was 15 years old when she arrived at Lester Roloff’s Rebekah Home for Girls in Corpus Christi, Texas. Eager to end the teenager’s relationship with an older boyfriend, her parents pitched the place as an accelerated boarding school. Cook—who had previously done well on tests despite cutting classes at her San Antonio public school—eventually agreed to a month-long trial period.

Within hours of arriving, Cook learned she was no longer allowed to wear jeans, listen to rock music, or use tampons. She would also be required to attend church daily, memorize and chant from the Bible, and scrub her room early each morning. Disobedience was met with strict punishment ranging from revoked snack privileges to receiving “licks” with a wooden paddle, being put in an isolated closet, or being forced to kneel on linoleum for hours on end.

When she was allowed phone calls, Cook pleaded with her family to save her from what she remembered describing as a “jail” and “prison camp.” But three months in, she learned that no help was coming. As Cook recalled, a relative “explained to me that by signing the admittance paper, I had signed myself over into the care of the Roloff homes.”

By the time Cook started there, in 1983, the Southern Baptist Rebekah Home for Girls had already been the subject of state investigations spanning the previous decade, instigated in part by parents who witnessed a girl being whipped at the facility. In fact, Roloff had already temporarily closed the school—and the other homes he operated in Texas—after being prosecuted by the state on behalf of 16 former Rebekah Home for Girls residents. (Roloff grew even more notorious for exclaiming in court, “Better a pink bottom than a black soul.”)

After losing his last Supreme Court appeal in 1978, the Rebekah Home for Girls became the site of the “Christian Alamo,” where religious leaders formed a human chain around the place to defend against attempts to remove girls from Roloff’s care. The issue was eventually “resolved” by Governor Bill Clements, who Roloff himself had campaigned for. With an ally in office—Clements once said the closures amounted to “nitpicking” by his predecessor—Roloff transferred ownership of the homes from Roloff Enterprises to Roloff’s People’s Baptist Church; under this religious auspice, a state court ruled Roloff’s homes could operate without a license.

Roloff himself died in 1982, but by then he had established a strong tradition of exploiting the religious freedom loophole to shield suspect youth residential facilities from outside scrutiny. Somehow, that same loophole still exists across much of America today.

Cook escaped the school she hated when her older brother was killed in a car accident 11 months into her stay. The home was closed again in 1985 following pressure from the state, but reopened yet again in 1999, after Governor George W. Bush introduced religious exemptions for youth residential home regulations. The school operated until 2001, when a supervisor at Rebekah was convicted of unlawful restraint; finally, Texas laws were changed to require licensure for all youth homes—including religious ones.

Rebekah closed permanently in 2001, but at least some of its ex-employees helped found the New Beginnings Girls Academy in Missouri. This residence remains in operation despite state investigations into allegations of abuse. (VICE was unable to reach New Beginnings officials in connection with this story.)

Though Texas laws were changed amid the Roloff saga, many other state governments around the country lack the legal power to oversee religiously affiliated residential schools. Unlike personal religious exemptions, where an individual might argue that a law requiring, say, medical intervention, vaccination, or anti-discrimination violates his or her religious freedom, these facilities don’t need to apply for special treatment. In many states, such exemptions are written directly into the laws meant to regulate residential youth facilities—that is, religious schools are never subject to the rules in the first place.

….

In 2010, Clayton “Buddy” Maynard’s Heritage Boys Academy in Panama City, Florida, closed following allegations of racial discrimination and severe corporal punishment. When the prosecution lost witnesses in 2011, a criminal case against Maynard was dropped; in 2012, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Maynard was once again housing children at Truth Baptist Church in Panama City. This past May, a GoFoundMe page raised $500 in support of Maynard and the “Maynard Family Children’s Home.” Currently, he appears to operate the Truth Baptist Church in Panama City and, according to his Facebook profile, a “Truth for Troubled Youth Ministries.” (VICE was unable to reach Maynard for comment for this story.)

The same whack-a-mole pattern of scattershot oversight can be found across much of the country. Bobby Wills’s Bethesda Home for Girls in Mississippi closed in the 1980s following allegations of beatings with wooden boards, with operators moving on to the now closed Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy in Missouri. Alabama’s Reclamation Ranch was raided a decade ago following allegations of torture, yet founder Jack Patterson—who, according to his Facebook page, is a proud disciple of Roloff—continues to run an addiction-focused rehabilitation facility under the same name, now associated with Lighthouse Baptist Church. (Patterson has denied allegations of abuse at his facilities.) Yet another Baptist pastor, Michael Palmer, battled legal oversight over multiple decades and across multiple state and country-wide jurisdictions: In 1991, Palmer closed Victory Christian Academy after the state of California pushed for licensure.

One former student who attended Victory Christian described extended abuse at the school, including something called the “Get Right Room,” a small space where girls were punished with a version of solitary confinement. “You were brain-washed into thinking the abuse was good because the staff and the Lord loved your soul,” recalled Cherie Rife, now a holistic health practitioner in Irvine, California. Alleging that she was singled out for being a lesbian, Rife pointed to the religious justification that loomed above it all: “[Their] Baptist interpretation was used for fear and control and shaming.”

Palmer later helped found Genesis by the Sea, a facility located in Baja California that was closed in 2004 by the Mexican government; though the ensuing investigation asserted that claims of abuse were unsubstantiated, the school never reopened. Instead, Palmer redirected his attention to the Florida Panhandle and yet another residential reform home for girls: Lighthouse of Northwest Florida, which he closed in 2013 following an investigation into allegations of rape at the facility.

As Newsweek reported, Restoration Youth Academy in Prichard, Alabama, was yet another home operating under a modern incarnation of the Lester Roloff approach until 2012. The facility remained free from oversight until Charles Kennedy, the now retired captain of the Prichard Police Department, received a phone call from the mother of a boy who said he’d been abused at the facility. When I spoke with Kennedy, he recalled what he found at the home: a naked boy locked in a closet, widespread allegations of physical abuse, severe exercise, and sadistic mind games. Staff had even encouraged a suicidal student to shoot himself with a gun he didn’t know wasn’t loaded, Kennedy said.

— Nile Cappello, VICE, How Christian Reform Schools Get Away with Brutal Child Abuse, December 6, 2017

I hope you take the time to read all of Cappello’s story. As sickening as the story is, other Baptist group homes escaped Cappello’s investigatory eyes. These homes continue to this day to psychologically and physically harm vulnerable IFB teenagers. I have written several posts on these homes:

Teen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your Sin

How Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Churches Deal with Unwed Mothers

Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls

The Dogma that Followed Me Home by Cat Givens

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Quote of the Day: Is God Punishing Evangelical Christians?

god of wrath

I haven’t believed in the god of the Bible in decades. It was a relief to dismiss credulity in that vicious deity who rains woe and tragedy upon us for daring to displease him. I mean, really, when does that ever…oh wait.

Cue the white evangelicals in the 21st century.

And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them — Ezekiel 2:17

And there it is:

  • They had spewed so much venom upon the millennials that their own children abandoned the pews in droves. This second Exodus now continues unabated, with Gen Z and a growing list of evangelical super-stars like Joshua Harris and Jon Steingard joining the defectors.
  • Their tolerance and cover-up of rampant sex abuse in their churches were exposed, prompting the Southern Baptist Convention to do absolutely nothing to counter it.
  • Their women went into revolt, following Beth Moore and others out of complementarianism, and sometimes out of the church altogether.
  • Their academic citadel, Liberty University, turned against its own superstar chairman, Jerry Falwell Jr., in a lurid drama involving pool-boy sex, dishonest business practices, and a drunken photo with a woman not his wife.
  • Adherents to the New Apostolic Reformation had the bitter experience of watching their beloved prophets crash and burn over “God’s promise” for the 2020 election.
  • White evangelicals who reject the New Apostolic Reformation as unscriptural had the bitter experience of seeing how many of their fellow believers were actually apostates at heart.
  • Their embrace of Donald Trump failed to result in “retaking America for God,” branding them instead with a reputation for lies, cruelty, and insurrection.
  • Their numbers are nearing freefall.

Basically, they’re about as far away from Jesus’ teachings as you can get. And simultaneously, they seem abandoned in Valley of the Shadow of Death.

….

And oh boy, did Yahweh ever unleash misery upon them for all those sins. Since white Evangelicals fancy themselves the new Israel, how could all this punishment not be an expression of God’s wrath? For their sins and embrace of lies, cruelty, and moral depravity have made a mockery of Jesus and Yahweh throughout the whole land.

So could all this be God’s doing? Are the white evangelical churches God’s new Israel and is he pummeling the life out of them for their sins and failures? Is this a divine reckoning? It just fits so nicely. I mean, this is exactly what Yahweh does, isn’t it?

But is the god of the Bible the only force in the universe that issues a reckoning? No, He is not.

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. John F. Kennedy

The story of human civilization is littered with the nations, gods, peoples, religions, empires, companies, and cultures that were eradicated by invasions, earth changes, evolution, extinctions, inventions, or just the march of new ideas and cultures. There isn’t much among us that lasts forever.

At the dawn of this century, the older generations of white evangelicals waged a jihad against their own children. It was a shit storm of abuse and vitriol that exceeded even their own parents’ campaign of the 1960s. In such generational wars, however, the elder cohort is doomed from the outset.

For this is a special kind of sin, not just against God, but against evolution. Contrary to the popular saying, survival does not favor the fittest, but the most adaptable. Those who try to stop the world’s center from spinning away from themselves are fighting the battle of the dodo. And in this case, the fallout is a spectacle for the ages.

No, Yahweh is not punishing white evangelicals — History is. This is not a divine reckoning, it’s a historical one.

— Beverly Garside, ExCommunications, White Evangelicals’ Travails Almost Make Me Believe in God Again, August 9, 2021

Quote of the Day: Was Hitler a Christian?

adolph hitler christian

Historian Tim O’Neill has published a comprehensive, enlightening article on whether Adolph Hitler was an atheist, Christian, or pagan. Evangelical apologists and atheists alike love to tar the other with claims that Hitler was an atheist or a Christian. As O’Neill makes clear, Hitler was neither. What follows is the conclusion of O’Neill’s article. I hope you will take the time to read the entire article.

Hitler was not an atheist. Exactly how he conceived of the God he believed in is unclear thanks to his often incoherent and contradictory statements on the subject, but he did believe in a God and rejected atheism. Hitler was not a pagan or an occultist. He held some strange ideas, but they tended to be more pseudo scientific than mystical and he was something of sceptic about such things and prided himself on his rationalism. Hitler was not a Christian. He clearly had a conception of Jesus that he admired, but it was based on dubious and often crackpot ideas of Jesus as a man and it was not based on any of the key doctrines of Christianity. Despite Richard Carrier’s tangled attempts, there is no coherent and reasonable way to define Hitler as a Christian in any sense.

The Nazi attitude to Christianity was complex and evolved over time. In the Party’s early years it could not afford to alienate the majority Christian population and so worked hard to make Nazism as compatible with Christianity as possible and to present Hitler as, if not a believer, then not an enemy of Christianity. Once in power this general approach was maintained, though some elements in the Nazi leadership became far more overtly anti-Christian. Himmler, Goebbels and, especially, Bormann were clearly anti-Christian but were restrained for the sake of morale during the War. Most historians agree that Hitler too was largely anti-church, though Steigmann-Gall believes this was a later development. A great deal of evidence indicates that the Nazi elite intended to suppress Christianity as a major threat to Nazi ideology and objectives in the long term

No-one wants Hitler on their team and many want him to belong to “the other side”. As it happens, Hitler’s beliefs on religion as on many things are not neatly categorised. But on the question of “atheist, pagan or Christian?” the only accurate answer is “none of the above.”

— Tim O’Neill, History for Atheists, Hitler: Atheist, Pagan, or Christian? July 14, 2021

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Quote of the Day: Is God Omnipresent?

god is omnipresent

The divine superpower of omnipresence is totally made up. The God of the Bible is both all-knowing and all-powerful. So, does he need to be in your house to hear what you have to say? No. He already knows what you have said and you will say. Does ne need to be anywhere near anything to exert his power? Since he created the entire fricking universe from wherever he was, clearly he doesn’t need to be anywhere to exert his power. So, why do we attribute the power to this god of being everywhere all of the time, when it clearly is not needed? (It also undermines having to go someplace, like a church building, to have him hear you.) The reason is having a supernatural eavesdropper is a tool to control the behavior of church members, a human tool to control human behavior. Ask anyone who had lived in a closed society (East Germany, North Korea, the Hamptons, etc.). You never say anything you don’t want reported because you never know who is listening in. And, gosh, (gosh is a truncation of the exclamation “land of Goshen” a Biblically-cleansed exclamation) if this superpower was invented by human beings, I wonder about the rest of those powers.

— Steve Ruis, who blogs at Uncommon Sense

god-is-omniscient
bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Quote of the Day: What Kind of Worm Are We?

earth worm

Whenever I read about how we humans are as low as worms, I think of the enormous uber-destructive sandworms from the fictional universe of the Dune novels. Then I think about how my father, who grew a fantastic garden, prized ordinary garden worms for their work in aerating the soil. Humans can be both these things. Personally, I don’t mind being the latter: someone who lets life-giving air at the roots of others. I fail too often, but keep trying.

The problem with the Christian doctrine of the utter ghastliness of humans is that there’s no path for us to ever get better. We must have salvation through an external source (Jesus) and then the internal residence of external motivation to be better people (Holy Spirit). That is not a growth trajectory, that’s a form of possession. It’s a complete denial of the preciousness of the HUMAN spirit, and profoundly destructive.

— Karen the Rock Whisperer, comment on the post titled How God Reminds Us Every Day That We Are Little More Than Worms and Slugs.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

Bruce Gerencser