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Tag: Child Abuse

The Pastor as Gatekeeper and Why Evangelical Churches Continue to be Rocked with Scandals

gatekeeper

As the Black Collar Crime series makes clear, Evangelical churches have just as big of a problem with sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault, and sexual misconduct as Catholic churches do. Thanks to the internet and increasing awareness of sexual abuse, people are now more willing to speak out, and if warranted, report their assaults to law enforcement. Some victims are turning to civil courts to extract justice from their abusers and those who facilitated a climate where sexual predators could prey with impunity. Churches and their leaders are learning that it is quite expensive to ignore or cover up allegations of sexual impropriety.

I am convinced that we have yet to see the full depth and breadth of criminal conduct that has gone on behind the closed doors of countless Evangelical churches. As I think about the fifty years I spent in the Christian church, including twenty-five years pastoring Evangelical churches in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan, I am increasingly grieved over how little churches and pastors did to address allegations of sexual misconduct. Victims were routinely disbelieved or accused of lying. Why Deacon Bob would never do such a thing, Sally. Why are you lying? Sometimes, victims were believed but told to forgive their abusers. Jesus forgave you, Sally. Shouldn’t you forgive Pastor Billy Bob? Other times, predators were run out of the church, and told never to come back. He’s gone now, Sally. It is time to move on. That is what Jesus would want you to do. What rarely, if ever, happened was the arrest and prosecution of offending pastors, youth pastors, evangelists, missionaries, deacons, worship leaders, Sunday school teachers, and congregants.

I can only remember one instance where a predator was accused, arrested, and convicted of his crime, and this only happened after he was caught a second time sexually assaulting a teen boy. Even then, after “justice” was served, he joined up with a new Evangelical church and is “faithfully” serving Jesus. As a pastor, I regularly attended pastor’s conferences and meetings. It was not uncommon to hear whispers and stories about this or that pastor being accused of sexual misconduct. I would hear stories about pastor so-and-so abruptly leaving his church, only to find out later that he was caught at a motel with a church teenager or was fucking the choir director’s wife. One pastor was having sex with his secretary in his church office every Saturday while devoted members were out knocking on doors, inviting people to come to church and hear their “godly” on-fire pastor preach.  He was run out of the church, but later surfaced, as Jack Hyles’ son David did, in another community busily “serving” Jesus.

Years ago, a concerned congregant told me that an unmarried man who had been attending our church was inviting young boys to spend the weekend with him on his farm. I investigated the issue and concluded that the man was probably a pedophile. What did I do? I ran the guy out of the church. I angrily told him that I knew exactly what he was. I also called the pastor of another Evangelical church the man attended and told him about the allegations. He agreed that the man, who is now dead, was likely a pedophile. Both of us thought we had done our duty by protecting church children from a predator. However, neither of us reported it to law enforcement, knowing that doing so would embroil our churches in controversy and harm the reputation and “testimony” of our respective churches. I now know that I did not do all I could have and should have done.

There were other instances of allegations of sexual misconduct or physical abuse, where I reported matters to the appropriate authorities. Later in my ministerial career, a man confessed to me that he had viciously murdered his girlfriend. I immediately called the police, who I knew were looking for him, and he was arrested. The man is now serving a life sentence in an Ohio penitentiary. Early in my ministerial career, my father-in-law, with whom I worked as assistant pastor, came to me and told me that a congregant had confessed to shaking his infant baby to death. At the time, the cause of death had been attributed to SIDS. I told my father-in-law that he should immediately report the crime to the police. He did, and the man was arrested and convicted of manslaughter.

Over my ministerial career, I became aware of child abuse on several occasions. One church member beat his children with a 2×4. One man who rode our church bus with his children, chained them to a radiator when they disobeyed. Another bus family allowed their young children to watch porn in the mornings while they slept in. I could go on and on . . . . Often, I reported these things to law enforcement or Jobs and Family Services (JFS) Other times, I tried to work my pastor magic. In retrospect, I should have reported every abuse report to the proper authorities.

child sexual abuseThe common thread running through the anecdotal stories above and current allegations/crimes is that often pastors serve as gatekeepers for their respective churches. Congregants are encouraged to bring ALL reports of sexual misconduct or other criminal behavior to their pastor. It is up to the pastor, then, to decide whether the authorities should be called. Keep in mind, pastors are not lawyers, nor do they have investigatory authority and skills as law enforcement professionals do. Unfortunately, pastors are often treated as a jack-of-all-trades. Most Evangelical pastors are not qualified to provide competent, professional counseling to congregants, yet, countless congregants are counseled by pastors who know little more than to quote Bible verses. Pastors are often considered vast repositories of wisdom and advice. Few congregants ponder whether their trust is misplaced. When pastors hear of accusations that could tear their church asunder, their natural inclination is to protect their churches’ reputations, thinking that in doing so they are protecting God.

Pastors wrongly think that they and their churches are indispensable parts of their local communities. Why, if scandal rocked the church, it would ruin our “testimony,” pastors think. There are souls to be saved and chicken dinners to be served. And just like that, pastors rationalize keeping wraps on all sorts of sexual misconduct, including the sexual and physical abuse of children. Where, oh where, are pastors who are willing to sacrifice everything to stand alongside victims of abuse? Is it not better for a church to close its doors than for it to silently stand silently by while sexual crime goes unpunished? No pastor, deacon, Sunday school teacher, or congregant should be above the law. Yes, making allegations public can and will cause harm to churches and the families of abusers. But, the only way to stamp out sexual abuse in churches is for people in the know to be willing to report allegations to law enforcement and child protective services.

It is time for churches to take the gate keys away from pastors and other church leaders. It is time for congregants to be instructed to take their allegations to law enforcement and let them determine whether crimes have been committed. The duties of pastors are simple: preach, teach, and eat chicken and pie at potlucks. When pastors hear whispers of sexual misconduct that could be criminal in nature, they should not pass Go, nor should they collect $200. These men of God should IMMEDIATELY pick up the phone and call law enforcement (and if a police officer attends the church, he should NOT be the person to whom the alleged crimes are reported). Pastors shouldn’t investigate, call a board meeting, accuse the perpetrator, or pray about it. All of these things can wait until law enforcement has been contacted. The only people who matter are the victims. Yes, an allegation doesn’t equal guilt, but it not up to pastors and other church leaders to determine guilt; that’s for police and prosecutors to do.

Local prosecutors can help prod pastors and churches along by prosecuting them if they fail to report alleged sexual abuse. Many states consider pastors and church leaders mandatory reporters, who are REQUIRED to immediately report sexual abuse allegations; not investigate and then report, not pray and then report, not get your ducks in a row and then report; not huddle with the church board and then report. Throwing a few pastors in jail for not reporting might help other pastors “see the light” concerning sexual abuse.

The days of covering up allegations of sexual abuse are over. Pastors and churches who ignore this, do so at their own peril. From jail time to million-dollar awards, pastors and churches are learning that not only did Jesus take a dim view of those who harm children, so do those of us who believe that children deserve protection from those who dare to prey on them in the name of God.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

How Should Churches Handle Allegations of Abuse?

child abuse

How should churches handle allegations of abuse? Let me state right up front that I do not think churches should “handle” anything.  This is what gets churches, pastors, and church leaders into trouble to start with. Instead of immediately doing the right thing when someone makes an allegation of abuse, pastors and church members often:

  • Consult with the pastor
  • Consult with the deacons or some other church board
  • Call a denominational leader and ask what they should do
  • Consult with a few church members to chart a course of action
  • Pray about it
  • Seek out counsel from other pastors
  • Wait to see if the “problem” goes away
  • Interrogate the individual or the person making the allegation
  • Investigate the “character” of the person making the allegation
  • Bury the “problem” in the deepest sea, never to be seen again

All of these things are the WRONG things to do. Period. End of debate. No discussion. Far too often, the church or pastor is more concerned about protecting the church’s testimony in the community than protecting the person who might have been abused. As a result, it often appears to the community that the church is more interested in its own reputation than ending and prosecuting any abuse that might be going on.

In most states, pastors and church leaders are required by law to report suspected abuse. It is not up to the church or the pastor to decide if the allegation is true. That’s what the police, prosecutor, and child protective services are for. They will investigate and act accordingly. Even in cases where the abuse took place years before, once a church or a pastor has knowledge of the allegation, both have a moral, ethical, and legal responsibility to report it. A failure to do so can, in many states, leave the church or pastor criminally liable (and I wish more prosecutors would charge and prosecute pastors and church leaders for failing to report).

Once an allegation has become common knowledge, it is in the church’s best interest to make a public statement about the allegation. Yes, it is up to the police and the courts to determine guilt, but the church can state exactly what has been done in response to the allegation. They can further state what they will do to make sure that abuse does not happen in the future. It is not enough to just tell the church, the board, or write a generic letter to church members.

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I know of one church that has had several problems with rape and sexual abuse in their bus ministry. The pastor of the church has never fully disclosed to the church the complete details of what happened. Outside of several news stories, the public has no idea about what the church did or didn’t do in response to the abuse. The pastor says to the church members, trust me, and he says to the world, it is none of your business.

Churches like this want people to come to their church and they want people to trust them. However, the sex abuse scandals in the Catholic church, the Evangelical church, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, and countless unaffiliated churches, are a poignant reminder that no one should, by default, trust a church or a pastor. I, for one, would not let my children or grandchildren out of my sight while attending church. I know too much and I have heard too many stories. (Please see Black Collar Crime Series.) If this makes me untrusting, cynical, or jaded, so be it. Better to be this way than naïvely turn people I love over to someone I don’t really know in the hope that they are what they say they are.

Some churches give the illusion that their place of worship is safe. They tell new families: we do criminal background checks on every worker in the church. While this is certainly a good idea, a one-time background check accomplishes what? If the person has never been arrested or convicted of a crime, his or her background check would come back clean. Background checks are little more than a band-aid over a festering sore.

I know of one pastor who refuses to do background checks. His rationale for refusing to do them? After a person is saved, past sins are “under the blood.”  The person, no matter what he or she may have done in the past, is completely forgiven by God (after all, God forgave David, the adulterer/murderer, right?). This kind of naïve thinking is why churches are havens for predators. It is not hard to stand before a congregation and give a wonderful testimony of God’s saving grace, yet be a child molester. It is quite easy to learn religious lingo. My family and I could dress up this Sunday, go to church, and everyone would likely think we are wonderful Christians. We know the talk, the walk, the songs. We know how to do Evangelical. Yet, in real life we are atheists, agnostics, Catholics, and Buddhists, and most of us are ― shudder to think of it ― Democrats.  Anyone who has spent any time at all in church can easily fake it.

But, Bruce, the Holy Spirit will let the church know they aren’t real Christians. Do you really want to trust the welfare of church children and teenagers to the Holy Spirit?  Are you really saying that a Christian could NOT be a pedophile, abuser, or predator?

I am often asked about how I handled abuse allegations when I was a pastor. Simple. I reported them each and every time. When I heard of an allegation of abuse, even if it was a second-hand report, I immediately called Children’s Services or law enforcement.  Years ago, we had a couple with a baby living in our church basement (they had been homeless). One day, I came into the basement and the baby was screaming uncontrollably. I went to check on the child and I asked the mother why the child was screaming. She told me she didn’t know. I suggested she should take care of the child. Her reply? When she was done eating she would get around to it.  This, along with several other things I had noticed, was enough for me. I called Children’s Services and they came out the next day to investigate. The couple was told that any further complaints would result in them losing the child. They knew I had reported them and they were furious. Me? I couldn’t have cared less about what they thought. It was the baby who mattered.

We operated a bus ministry for many years. There were several instances where abuse was suspected and I reported it. In one case, an older woman was throwing booze and sex parties for church teens. When I found out about it I told their parents and reported the woman. It was a no-brainer, even if every boy in the church thought the parties (and the sex with her) were wonderful.

Years ago ― well everything is years ago now ― I helped my father-in-law start a church. One day, the infant of one of our church families suddenly died. It was ruled as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Weeks after the death, the grieving father came to my father-in-law and confessed that he had shaken the baby to death. My father-in-law came to me and asked what he should do since the man told him this in confidence. I told him he had to report it to the police. He did, and the man went to prison.

When I was counseling people, I made it clear that if they were going to confess to abuse or a felony, I was obligated to report it. I have never believed that what is said in confidence to a pastor must always remain so. When a young man confessed to me that he had murdered his girlfriend, I encouraged him to turn himself in, and then I let the police know what he had told me. I later gave a sworn affidavit in the case, Fortunately, the man pleaded guilty and I did not have to testify. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Granted, these are exceptional circumstances. The people I pastored knew that they could trust me with their secrets. As long as their secrets didn’t involve abuse or a felony, their secrets were safe with me. People often have a need to unburden themselves of past actions and “sins,” and they do so by talking to a pastor, a priest, or a good friend. When people write me and tell me their stories I always let them know that their correspondence with me will be kept confidential. However, if they confess to murdering their spouse or molesting a child, I would report it immediately,

This does not make me a saint. However, when it comes to dealing with abuse and helping those who have been abused, I am always on the side of the abused. My mother was sexually abused as a child by her father, raped by a brother-in-law, and sexually molested by a Christian psychiatrist (and they all got away with it). I have a family member who was sexually abused by her IFB father. (Her abuser has been in prison for over 20 years.) Add to this the horror stories I heard while counseling church members and the emails I now receive from people who have been abused, I hope you will forgive me if I am passionate about this issue.

As far as I am concerned, it is quite simple for churches or pastors when it comes to how to handle allegations of abuse. REPORT IT IMMEDIATELY. Then take the necessary steps to make sure that abuse does not happen in the future. It is tragic that some churches are magnets for sexual predators. In these churches, it seems that every few years a church member, pastor, deacon, youth pastor, bus worker, or Sunday School teacher is being accused of abuse. Perhaps churches such as these should be forced to have the equivalent of what we have here in Ohio for drunk drivers. Some judges require people convicted of DUI to get yellow license plates. Perhaps repeat offender churches need some sort of yellow license plate that warns the public that the church has been a haven for abusers or predators.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

UPDATED: Dr. David Tee Says “Mind Your Own Business” Over Post on Evangelical Child Abuse

dr david tee
The “Sketchy” Dr. David Tee, AKA David Thiessen, AKA TheologyArcheology

“Dr.” David Tee continues to express butthurt outrage over virtually everything I write. Tee, whose real name is David Thiessen, is an Evangelical preacher who lives in the Philippines or South Korea. Yesterday, Tee sent me an email about my post titled Why Do So Many Evangelicals Abuse Their Children? Carolyn, my editor, replied to his email.

Tee: You [Bruce Gerencser] quit Christ and the church. Learn to mind your own business.

Carolyn: You barged in on Bruce’s blog uninvited. Take your own advice and learn to mind your own business.

Tee: Hiding behind a woman’s skirt now? You made your contact form open to everyone. I would have had more respect for you if you weren’t a quitter, coward, and liar. Learn to mind your business and leave the people you quit on alone. You raised your kids your way, let Christians raise their kids their way. You are not in charge of how kids should be raised.

Carolyn: You seem to think that people are forced to read Bruce’s blog. Bruce does “leave people . . . alone.” His remarks are only for those who read the blog. And they don’t even have to believe him or follow his advice. But they choose to read his writing.

Bruce will have a hard time “hiding behind [my] skirt.” I don’t generally wear skirts or dresses. I am his editor and I try to help him keep up with his emails, which are many. If you want to consider that hiding behind my skirt, so be it. That’s your perception. And I don’t think Bruce cares very much what your perception might be.

I wonder why you keep letting Bruce live rent-free inside your head. If you dislike his blog so much, one would think you would be better off moving on.

Tee did not respond to Carolyn’s last email to him. Instead, he took his outrage to his blog. Titled, Mind Your Own Business, Tee stated [all grammar in the original]:

This is getting far more difficult to do these days. far too many people post their personal business on the internet basically every minute of the day. It can be very difficult to not comment when people put personal stuff in the public sphere.

….

Atheists have this same problem and while we are not going to quote from his rant, BG has stepped over the line and stuck his nose in where it does not belong. The link is in his initials.

It is the same old story with atheists. They apply their subjective thinking to any aspect of life and think they know better than anyone else, including  God. Of course, they distort the issues, especially when it comes to corporal punishment.

There is nothing wrong with spanking a child or even using a switch. As long as the punishment fits the crime and does not cross the boundary between discipline and a beating.

Atheists rarely see the difference and have interfered in parental rights far too often. They think their way is the only way usurping God’s authority in this matter.

Unfortunately, the secular authorities usually agree with those atheists who are up in arms against proper discipline and the world is a worse place than it should have been.

On the other hand, many believers misunderstand God’s word and go too far in their application of biblical teaching when it comes to discipline.

The go-to verse for using spanking, a switch, a belt, or a rod does not say that those forms of punishment are to be used. The verse simply says that those who fail to discipline or use discipline will spoil their child.

We have no problem with Christians using spanking, a rod or a switch, etc., when they discipline but we do have a problem when they go beyond God’s instructions on how to discipline.

The application of punishment needs to be fair, just and does not provoke children to wrath. it is also to lead the child or offender to repentance. It is not supposed to harden their hearts to the point they cannot be redeemed.

Jesus used corporal punishment against the money changers. His discipline fit the crime those men were committing. They didn’t do it again that we know of.

Discipling children is one area many people have a hard time keeping their noses out of. They think their ways of discipline is [sic] better than someone else’s and they let them know about it.

….

The atheists’ subjective opinion does not matter nor is it better than God’s way. The concept of abuse is also subjective and in both topics, the atheist is not right nor has a monopoly on how those issues should be addressed or labeled.

The atheist is the one who is deceived and blind, not the Christian. it is up to the Christian to set the example and show the unbeliever how discipline should be done. If the atheist disagrees, too bad.

They are free to discipline their children as they see fit but they have no right to tell the believer how it should be done. Nor do they have the right to stick their nose in where it does not belong and remove the child from a believer’s home.

They would not like that done to them thus they should not do it to people they hate or disagree with. Sticking one’s nose in where it does not belong only causes more trouble and makes everything worse, not better.

Following God’s way correctly will make things better, not worse. God knows what is best not the deceived atheist. This is just one area where people should mind their own business.

Those without sin can cast stones but those who are with sin, whether they admit there is such a thing or not, should not interfere. Their ways are not better than God’s and they do not know more than God.

Come to find out, Tee actually sent two more emails to Carolyn:

Your words mean nothing and you certainly do not understand the real world. You do not even know what ‘hiding behind someone’s skirt’ really means

if you dislike me so much, why do I keep getting pingbacks from BG’s website? I think you have everything backward as I stop thinking about BG when I stop using his words as an example.

Since BG quit Christ and the Church, he should find a different topic to write about. He doesn’t know what he is talking about.

and

Uhm, BG, you are using copyrighted photos without permission. You owe me $1000 for the copyright violation. That fee will cover all the photos you have used or will use in the future. I will expect an electronic money transfer shortly

These two emails were innocently missed by Carolyn, but Tee thinks there’s some sort of conspiracy going on:

Caught you in another lie. I checked my records and I did respond to her last email. Why don’t you tell the complete truth for a change instead of manipulating the situation to fit your desired results.

Oh, and you owe me $1000 for unauthorized use of my copyrighted photos. Your use does not fall under the fair use exemptions.

*sigh*

In the past, Tee has defended Christians who abuse their spouses and sexually molest children. He is a staunch defender of miscreants such as Ravi Zacharias and Bill Cosby. He shows little to no interest in caring for or supporting victims. Why is that? And now he supports abusing children.

What are we to make of the fake “Dr.” Tee? In 2012, a woman left a comment on a post about Tee that said:

dr david tee 2

Other posts about “Dr.” David Tee

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Domestic Violence Is Not Grounds for Divorce

David Tee Defends Christian Rapists and Sexual Predators

My Final Response to “Dr.” David Tee

Evangelical Zealot “Dr.” David Tee is Infatuated with Bruce Gerencser

The Evangelical Who Shall Not be Named Thinks He Treats Me Just Like Jesus Would

The Evangelical Who Shall Not Be Named Still Doesn’t Get Why I Write the Way I Do

Bruce, You Are a “Quitter”

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: The Bible Records the “Exact” Words of Jesus

David Tee Says I’m a Quitter and Have Nothing to Offer People

David Tee Says I Am Envious and Jealous of Evangelical Churches

Christians Say the Darnedest Things: Secular Scientists are Con Men

NO COMMENT: When Science and the Bible Conflict, Bible Right, Science Wrong

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

Lori Alexander Says Beating Children is God’s Approved Way of Controlling Children

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Several years ago, Christian Fundamentalist Lori Alexander took to her blog to promote beating children as God’s approved way of controlling children.  In particular, Alexander objects to Dr. Spock’s no-violence approach to effectively raising children into responsible adults. Alexander will have none of that. Beat your kids, she says. God demands that parents use a rod on the backside of rebellious children. Not beating your children means you love them more than you love God; that you are more concerned with their welfare than you are being obedient to the violent tribal deity of the Bible.

Here’s some of what Alexander had to say:

Dr. Spock: “[Physical punishment] certainly plays a role in our acceptance of violence. If we are ever to turn toward a kindlier society and a safer world, a revulsion against the physical punishment of children would be a good place to start.” (p. 173)

Lori Alexander: This is in direct contradiction to what God tells us in His Word. “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15) “Oh, but the rod isn’t a physical instrument,” people will tell me. Really? Please study all of the verses that mention the rod and you will see that this isn’t true. How does God discipline us? Is He only positive and encouraging? No! “For whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6). Chasten means “to correct by punishment; to punish; to inflict pain of reclaiming an offender; as, to chasten a son with a rod.” Scourge means “to afflict for sins or faults, and with the purpose of correction.” Who are we to think we know better than God? No, God doesn’t mean that we should physically abuse our children in any way. [actually, he does] We use the rod of correction as a tool to make them obey and this teaches them self-discipline which benefits them for life. Many things in God’s Word have been taken to extremes and have caused harm for people. This is not God’s way. His way ends in peace and goodness not in evil and harm.

Spock: “My other reasons for advising against physical punishment are, in brief, that it teaches children that might makes right, that it encourages some children to be bullies, and most fundamentally, that to the degree that it results in good behavior it’s because of the fear of pain. I have a strong belief that the best reason for behaving well is that you like people, want to get along with them, want them to like you.” (p. 173)

Alexander: On the contrary, pain and fear are great motivators for good as I shared in the above verse about how God disciplines us. My children were all spanked when they sinned against us or others and none of them were bullies or got into physical fights with others. They were kind to others, respected authority, and were a joy to raise. A one year old can’t comprehend “liking people” as much as they can quickly comprehend a small amount of pain that is swiftly administered for disobedience.

Spock: “I don’t think physical punishment is necessary or particularly effective.” (p. 215)

Alexander: It sure has been for centuries before you wrote your book, Dr. Spock. Children were much better behaved than they are now. God’s ways will always trumps man’s ways.

Spock: “All schools should be friendly, creative places like the best I’ve seen. We should wean ourselves away from physical punishment.” (p. 33)

Alexander: When I went to elementary school, the principal had a wooden paddle in his office and he used it! Children were well-behaved for the most part. There was nothing going on like there is in the schools today. A swat on the back side is a quick, effective method against disobedience.

Spock: “Recently I visited a small private school . . . with the idea of asking children . . . what advice to parents they’d like me to incorporate in the forthcoming revision of Baby and Child Care. In a thoughtful mood, the class was unanimous that parents should not hit their children. . . One child added that if you’re crying and your parent tells you to stop and then hits you when you don’t stop, it only makes you cry more.” (p. 229-233)

Alexander: And asking children how they should be disciplined is a wise thing? If he asked adults how they would like their government to run, I’m sure some immature adults would say that they shouldn’t be put in prison for abusing drugs, driving drunk, and getting tickets for speeding and running red lights. Children do NOT know best how they should be raised. Why not interview parents of adult children who are now upstanding citizens and ask how they raised their children instead?

Spock: “I hope American parents can outgrow the conviction . . . that physical punishment is necessary to bring up well-behaved children. . . There are parts of the world where it has never occurred to any adult to strike a child. I have known personally or professionally dozens of families in which the parents never lifted a hand–or otherwise punished or humiliated their children–and yet the children were ideally cooperative and polite. Children are eager to be ever more grown up and responsible.” (p. 13)

Alexander: Yes, I am sure parents can raise good children without ever spanking them but it takes a lot more time, energy, and effort and to tell you the truth, I haven’t seen many who are successful at it. In order for spankings to work, a parent must be consistent, firm, and loving. It doesn’t work without these three key ingredients. [In other words, busy parents beat their children so they will have time to do other important things such as reading the Bible and going to church.]

Spock: “There are several reasons to avoid physical punishment. It teaches children that the larger, stronger person has the power to get his way, whether or not he is in the right. Some spanked children then feel quite justified in beating up on smaller ones. The American tradition of spanking may be one reason there is much more violence in our country than in any other comparable nation.”

Alexander: No, it teaches children that they must obey and respect the authority in their lives, whether they be parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, and government which is a good thing. My children never beat up on the smaller ones. If they did, they would have been spanked and would have never done it again!

The patriarchy lives on, and the children cry.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

Connect with me on social media:

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

UPDATED: Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Trent Holbert Charged with Sex Crimes

pastor trent holbert

The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Trent Holbert, pastor of The Ridge Church (its website is currently down) in Black Mountain, North Carolina, was charged last week with one count of indecent liberties with a child and two counts of statutory sex offense. The Ridge Church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Kentucky today reports:

Trent Holbert, 41, former pastor of The Ridge Church, was arrested last month and has been charged with one count of indecent liberties with a child and two counts of statutory sex offense, the Biblical Recorder reported. He was previously the pastor of Epoch Fellowship Church in Owenton, Ky., as late as 2017.

….

Both The Ridge Church and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina have released statements condemning Holbert’s alleged actions.

“Trent Holbert has resigned from his position as the head pastor of the Ridge Church,” said a statement released Friday from church elder Drew Wheeler. “Our hearts and prayers go out to the family of our former head pastor and the families of all of those involved. The care and protection of children and minors is a biblical and moral mandate that is taken seriously by the Ridge Church. We do not condone such actions as the alleged, and our prayers are with the victims of any such abuse.”

The North Carolina convention’s statement, released Thursday, said leaders were “deeply grieved” by the charges.

“As a pastor, Trent has been a speaker at convention-related events for adults in the recent past,” the statement said. “He underwent background and reference checks prior to his participation in those events. We are not aware that he had any contact or dealings with minors as part of those events. The care and protection of children and minors is both a biblical and moral mandate that we take very seriously. We are praying for everyone who has been impacted by these alleged heinous crimes. N.C. Baptists are offering support to the local association and the church as they face these challenging times, as well. We stand with any and all victims of abuse and are committed to cooperating with authorities during their investigation. We encourage you to contact the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office if you have any relevant information.”

According to WLOS news, on May 18, detectives with the Special Victims Unit of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at Holbert’s residence. During the execution of the warrant, Holbert was arrested and charged with contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, and electronic devices were seized from the home.

Oh, the Southern Baptists are “deeply grieved” by Holbert’s alleged criminal behavior. Yet, these same Southern Baptists refused to seriously address clergy sexual abuse at their latest national convention. Further, Southern Baptists refuse to establish a database of church leaders who have been accused of sex crimes. What Southern Baptists should be deeply grieved over is their immoral inaction on clergy sexual abuse.

Holbert’s church bio page (which has been scrubbed from the church’s website) states:

Pastor Trent is a gifted communicator and a relational junkie. He loves people and gets his fix from being a positive part of their lives. His ministry mindset is holistic. He believes that God’s plan and design for humans doesn’t stop at spiritual needs. He holds a degree in theology, but as a certified personal trainer and holistic health coach, Trent teaches us how to know our Creator better through optimal physical, emotional, and spiritual health. You can hear him weekly on the Fit For the Kingdom Podcast.

If convicted, Hobert’s bio can be updated to say “gifted communicator, relational junkie, and child molester.”

Black Mountain News article on Holbert starting The Ridge Church.

In October 2021, ABC-13 reported:

Newly returned warrants allege Trent Holbert groomed the teen by first befriending her parents who joined The Ridge Church.

Investigators said, because the parents had limited means, Holbert offered their daughter a bedroom in his home and began buying her undergarments as the two started a relationship.

Warrants also allege Holbert asked the teen’s parents to sign a parental waiver so that he would be able to take care of her in case they died. Investigators said Holbert called DSS on the teen’s parents as well, accusing them of neglect. Warrants show a DSS worker found this claim to be unsubstantial.

On May 18, 2021, detectives with the Special Victims Unit of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at a residence on Tucker Road in Black Mountain. During the execution of the search warrant, Holbert was arrested. He resigned from the church in June.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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Why Do So Many Evangelicals Abuse Their Children?

jesus spanking sinners

Now there’s a title sure to get everyone’s attention!

Why do so many Evangelicals abuse their children?

The reason is primarily a theological one (though they might not even realize it is).

Most Christian sects believe in some form of original sin (depravity).

The theology goes something like this:

  • Every human is born with a sin nature (original sin)
  • This sin nature is inherited from the daddy of the human race, Adam
  • Humans  have no choice in this matter

So, from birth, children are sinners. They have no choice in the matter. They are what all human being are — sinners.

The implications of this belief are huge.

The Bible says:

A baby is born speaking lies

The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Psalm 58:3

A baby is conceived in iniquity and sin

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Psalm 51:5

A baby is the enemy of God

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. James 4:4

A baby is alienated from God

The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies. Psalm 58:3

A baby is born into the world under the wrath of God

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Romans 1:18

I am sure someone will object to some of the verses I just quoted. “Those verses apply to ADULT sinners.” 

Really? Have you thought out the implications of your theology.? Is there any difference in God’s eyes between a baby sinner and an adult sinner? Does God have a sin chart he uses to keep score and rate the quality of the sins committed?

I thought in the eyes of God that every sin is the same. Sure, the consequences are different from sin to sin, but God sees every sin as an affront to his Holy nature. Every sin is an act of rebellion against God. In his eyes, there is no difference between when a baby “lies” about being hungry, wet, etc.  just so he can get his mother’s attention and a serial killer who murders five people. Sin is sin. Sinners sin. That’s what they do.

Ugly isn’t it? When you shine the clear, bright, light of reason on the doctrine of original sin it reveals its hideousness for all to see.

Some sects realize there is a big problem with the whole notion of original sin, so they invent doctrines to address it:

  • Catholics and many Protestants baptize infants, washing away their original sin. They are then safe until they reach a place of accountability for their sin.
  • Some Baptists and Evangelicals teach that while babies are indeed born sinners, they are not accountable for their sins until they reach the age of accountability. Some churches say accountability begins at age twelve. Others say it is an indefinite age, and once children can understand the difference between right and wrong and understand the penalty for sin (death and Hell), they are then accountable for their sins.
  • Some Calvinists, especially Reformed five-pointers, baptize babies as a sign of the covenant between the parents and God. Baptized children are raised as children of God until they prove they are not.

In Baptist and many Evangelical churches, an emphasis is placed on evangelizing children. The theory is that if you don’t win them when they are young you risk losing them to sin, Satan, and the world. Most children raised in churches like this make professions of faith at a very young age. My wife was five and I was six when we made our FIRST (certainly not our last) professions of faith. It is not uncommon to hear testimonies about little Johnny coming to his mother asking her about being saved. And right there by the bed they knelt and Johnny prayed out loud and asked Jesus into his heart.

The programs of child-evangelizing churches reflect the importance of making sure children become born-again Christians. Sunday school, junior church, and youth group are geared towards children becoming Christians, and most importantly, staying in the church. Without children in the church pipeline, attendance and offerings dwindle, as is the case in many Evangelical sects today.

Why do children need to be saved? For the same reason adults do. They are sinners. They are rebellious towards God. They are the enemies of God. They deserve judgment and Hell, or so say Evangelicals anyway.

One of the tools that God allegedly gave to parents to use with their children is the rod of correction. Spanking, whipping, beating, and hitting children are all used to teach them that sin has consequences. In a very warped and perverse way, children are told their moms or dads hit them because they love them.

After all, the Bible clearly teaches that God whips his children because he loves them. Who wouldn’t want to follow in the steps of Jesus?

If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? Hebrews 12:7-9

◉ My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth. Proverbs 3:11,12

This is aptly illustrated in the death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus accepted and endured the violent wrath of his Father. Why? Because he was bearing our sin (substitutionary atonement). Our sin deserved the wrath of God and Jesus took that wrath upon himself. In other words, God beat his son Jesus for what we did.

Is it any wonder that Evangelical parents think it is normal, even spiritual, to spank, whip, beat, slap, or hit their children?

The Bible teaches it is a parent’s duty to beat his or her children.

◉ Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge. Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. Proverbs 23:12-14

◉ Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him. Proverbs 22:15

Video Link

There are two major cultural influences that encourage the abuse of children.

First, while we are NOT a Christian nation, we ARE a Christian nation. The teachings I have mentioned in this post are believed and practiced by many American families. Every day, the news has another story of parents who abused their children. I wonder if the abusers are ever questioned about what religious training they received? I suspect religious indoctrination and conditioning played a big part in their disciplinary practices.

The Christian ethos runs deep in our culture. Being whipped for transgressions is thought to be as American as baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet. Paddling school children for misbehaving is finally becoming a thing of the past in America, but many of us can remember a day when someone getting paddled was a common, everyday occurrence (as I experienced first-hand). We call it corporal punishment, but its real name is child abuse.

Listen to older Americans as they complain about how unruly kids are today and how disrespectful they are: “Why when I was a kid my momma got a peach switch and beat me when I misbehaved.“ “When daddy got home we knew we were gonna get it with his belt. We learned to behave because Daddy beat us.”  “A little beating never hurt anybody.”

What’s the message that the Bible, God, the church, and older Americans are sending? That violence is a good and necessary tool to use when children disobey (sin). I should note, in passing, that this thinking permeates our culture. Our government leaders do this every day when they say, in their justification of war, that violence will bring peace.  Through violence we whip countries that sin against us until they stop doing so. In short, violence begets violence. Violence never begets peace, At best, it brings a cessation of hostilities. If we want true, lasting peace, we must be peacemakers, and our peacemaking must begin at home with our children and families.

Second, preachers have a huge influence over families. Their sermons on the family, parenting, marriage, and children have deep, abiding influences.

How often have church children heard from their pastors: Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord. Colossians 3:20

Of course, verse 21 is NOT heard as often: Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

While preachers will say they are just repeating what God said, their interpretations and applications of verses that advocate beating children often provide a blueprint for child abuse. For those of us raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches, books written by men like John R Rice and Jack Hyles provided us with the Biblical justification for violence against our children.

In many instances, it was generational abuse. Our great-grandfather beat our grandfather, who beat our father, who beat us, and we, like those before us, beat our children. It’s an ugly chain of violence, one that must be broken.

As I scoured the internet for source material from the God wants you to beat your children perspective, I was humored by how nuanced they have become. This is the right way, this is the wrong way. This is “biblical” discipline, this is child abuse. I see their justifications and explanations as an admission that the Evangelical church has a huge problem with God-sanctioned, Bible-approved, pastor-encouraged child abuse. Countless Evangelical how-to books have been written, yet parents continue to violently abuse their children, sometimes even putting them in the hospital or killing them. Thanks to the Internet, we now know that abuse in the name of God happens far more often than Evangelical church leaders would dare to admit.

Here’s the advice Focus on the Family gives about spanking

This is an extremely practical method that will save you a lot of second-guessing. Remember the point of a spanking: It’s to sting, to provide a painful deterrent to misbe­havior, not to injure.

The Bible never implies that the rod of discipline should be violent. It offers no specifics about how hard a spanking should be, and there’s no reason to assume that it’s talking about a brutal form of punishment. Just the opposite, in fact. A parent who reaches back and swings hard is acting out of anger and frustration, not out of love and desire for the child’s welfare. That’s unbiblical by anyone’s definition.

When you spank, use a wooden spoon or some other appropri­ately sized paddle and flick your wrist. That’s all the force you need. It ought to hurt — an especially difficult goal for mothers to accept —  and it’s okay if it produces a few tears and sniffles. If it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t really discipline, and ultimately it isn’t very loving because it will not be effective in modifying the child’s behavior.

Have the child lean over his bed and make sure you apply the discipline with a quick flick of the wrist to the fatty tissue of the buttocks, where a sting can occur without doing any damage to the body. You want to be calm, in control, and focused as you firmly spank your child, being very careful to respect his body.

From Michael and Debi Pearl’s book, To Train Up a Child:

“One mother, while reading an early manuscript of this book, was being pulled on by her whining twelve-month-old daughter. When the mother came to the part (above) about not allowing a child to whine (“If they are tired put them to bed.”), she decided to apply what she was reading. She put her daughter down and told her to go to sleep. The sleepy child responded by crying in protest. Following the book’s instructions, she spanked the child and told her to stop crying and go to sleep. The child had previously been trained to spend an hour intermittently crying and getting up, only to be fussed at and laid back down. Nevertheless, the spanking subdued the crying and caused her to lie still. The mother continued her reading, and after a while she looked up to see that the child had very quietly slipped to the floor to browse through a book. The mother smiled at how sweet and quiet the child was. Without interruption, she continued her reading.

Reading further, she contemplated the fact that the child had not obeyed. “But she is being so good and is not bothering me,” the mother thought. She then realized the issue was not whether the child was bothering her, but whether or not she was learning to obey. She rightly concluded that by allowing the child to quietly sit on the floor at the foot of her bed, where she would eventually go to sleep, she was effectively training the child to be in rebellion to the rule of law. Out of love for her child, the mother inconvenienced herself and shattered the quiet solitude by spanking the child and again telling her to stay in the bed and go to sleep. An hour later the waking child was cheerful.”

“Select your instrument according to the child’s size. For the under one year old, a little, ten- to twelve-inch long, willowy branch (striped of any knots that might break the skin) about one-eighth inch diameter is sufficient. Sometimes alternatives have to be sought. A one-foot ruler, or its equivalent in a paddle, is a sufficient alternative. For the larger child, a belt or larger tree branch is effective.”

Here’s what John Piper says about spanking:

Would Jesus spank a child? If so, where would you point someone biblically who can’t imagine him doing this?

If Jesus were married and had children, I think he would have spanked the children.

The place that I would go to help a person see that he would, when they can’t imagine that he would, is Matthew 5 where he said, “Not a jot nor a tittle will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished.” In other words, all the Law and the Prophets stand until they’re done. And the Law says, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” That’s a paraphrase. The book of Proverbs says, “If you withhold the rod, you hate your son.” Jesus believed the Bible, and he would have done it.

Now, that does not address the heart of the issue. The heart of the issue is: Why does this person feel this way? What worldview inclines a person to think that you shouldn’t spank a child? Where does that come from?

Well it comes straight out of this culture, I think. There’s a sign that used to be on the side of the 35W bridge, on the right as you go north. And the sign simply said this: “Never, never, never, never, never hurt a child.” That’s all it said! And spanking is equated with hurting children. It’s against the law in Sweden to spank a child. And it’s against the law, I think, in some states in America. I’m not sure.

Well, I will go to jail over that issue! Talitha is to the point where I don’t think in terms of spanking my 13-year-old daughter anymore. But I did when she was little.

I could give a whole theology of spanking here, but maybe I’ll just boil it down. Why does this person feel squeamish about spanking? My guess is that it is a wrong view of God.

Deep down, does this person believe that God brings pain into our lives? Because Hebrews 12:6 makes the direct connection: God disciplines every son whom he loves, and spanks everyone that he delights in (my paraphrase). And the point there is suffering. God brings sufferings into our lives, and the writer of the Hebrews connects it to the parenting of God of his children.

This is a wrong view of God! God uses suffering to discipline his children. So do we.

Now, you don’t damage a child. You don’t give him a black eye or break his arm. Children have little fat bottoms so that they can be whopped.

When my sons were three and four years old, at their worst stages, drawing with orange crayons on the wall, they knew what was going to happen. So one day, just to give you an illustration of how this works emotionally, I found an orange mark on the wall in the hall upstairs from a crayon. Just about Barnabas’ height. And he’s three or four.

So I get Barnabas. I say, “Come here Barnabas. Did you make that mark on the wall.”

“Yes.” At least he’s honest.

I said, “We have a rule against that. You know you cannot draw on the wall with your crayons. You’re old enough to know that.”

“Yes.”

“So what should happen?”

“A spanking.”

I said, “That’s right.” So I take him in the room, and whop! And he cries easy, so he cries. And when he’s done crying, there’s a big hug. And I say, “Don’t do that again, OK? Daddy loves you and we don’t mark on the wall, OK?”

Three minutes later he is bouncing off the walls, happy happy happy.

Now if I had said to him, “You go into your room and you sit there and you stay there until you feel appropriately guilty, and then we’ll see if you come out and do the right thing,” what a wicked way to punish a child!

Spanking is so clean! It’s so quick! It’s so relieving! A kid feels like he has done atonement and he is out of there and happy.

To these modern ideas of timeout, or sitting in the corner, I say, “Bologna! Give me a spanking! I want to go play!”

I just think spanking is really healthy for children. It is a measured deliverance of a non-damaging act of mild pain that makes the child feel the seriousness of what he’s done. It is not beating. It is not abuse. There is a clear difference. The very word “spank” exists because there is such a thing as a loving way to whop a child on his behind or his chunky thigh.

According to Baptist Mom, Nicole Munoz:(link no longer active)

Spanking teaches a child to develop inner self-discipline.

Spanking is punishment for a crime, payment for a debt. In other words, once paid, they have a clean slate. Spanking takes away the guilt, because the crime has been paid for.

Spanking properly prevents abuse because the parent does not build up anger toward the child and then explode on the child.

Spanking is the most effective tool for child discipline.

Spanking insures a good parent-child relationship.

Spanking works.

Spanking is Biblical, Christian behaviour.

Spanking teaches a lesson and decreases child violence.

According to David Stewart:

The Bible teaches that a parent who loves their child will spank them. Proverbs 13:24, “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” Proverbs 29:15, “The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” America’s prisons are filled with youth and adults whose parents didn’t agree with God. No parent is right with God who allows their children to run the streets, not knowing where they’re at all times and keeping tabs on them. It is every parent’s responsibility to protect their child, to keep away from bad influences. The Devil knows that children are very impressionable and he has a bid for your child!

God put that padded area in the back for a reason. A child should only be spanked on the buttocks, which is why God made that area well upholstered. Child abuse is a sin. No parent should ever knee-jerk their child in anger. A good ole belt across the rear-end hurts like heck, but won’t break a bone. Sticks or boards are hard and should not be used. Hard objects should not be used, which may cause injury. In the old days, parents would make a flexible switch from a small tree branch. Perhaps you think that whipping your child is abuse, but not disciplining a child (so that they grow up to spend their life rotting behind bars in prison as a criminal) is a thousand times worse!…

According to Jack Hyles, in his book, How to Rear Children:

The Bible is clear that little children are born in sin. Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Psalm 58:3, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.” Because of this God has given parents to children to discipline then, to spank them, and to teach them the awful results of wrong. The plain teaching of the Scripture is that the parent who disciplines his child does the child and parent a great favor. Let us notice these favors.

The parent who spanks the child teaches him to have wisdom. Proverbs 29:15, “The rod and reproof have wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” The child is taught the wisdom that sin does not pay and that it brings displeasure, discomfort, and heartache. He will learn to associate wrong with punishment and thereby flee from it.

The parent who spanks his child provides himself with a happy future. Proverbs 29:15b, “. . . .but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” Oh, the heartbreak endured by parents who have failed to discipline their children. Many such are decaying old folks’ homes across the nation and around the world. They sit by silent telephones and search through empty mail boxes made so by the ungrateful child whose life is bringing shame and reproach to Mother and Dad. While these lovely souls pine their hearts away in remorse, their old-fashioned counterparts enjoy security, protection, provision, and love from those whom they spanked and disciplined as children.

The parent who spanks his child guarantees him a clean life. Proverbs 20:30, “The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil; so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.” In other words, the parent who disciplines cleanses the child from evil character and inward sin. The child has been taught that sin brings trouble. He learns to fear and hate it. Someday he will rise and call his parents blessed.

The parent who spanks his child offers for himself more opportunities for service to God. In writing to Timothy in I Timothy 3:4,5 Paul says that a pastor should be one who “ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” He also disqualifies from the office of deacon one who does not control his children properly. I Timothy 3:12, “Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.” Hence, one who does not follow God’s plain teaching about discipline is not qualified to hold either of the offices in the New Testament church. God will not use men who disobey Him in this vital matter. One reason God blessed Abraham so mightily is the fact that he could trust him to “command his children and his household after him,” according to Genesis 18:17-19…

The disciplining parent adds years to the life of his child. Exodus 20:12, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” What a favor the parent has done to the child when he disciplines and spanks him. He literally adds years to his life.

The parent who corrects his child will probably save the life of the child. Proverbs 23:13 says, “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.” Now at first reading we might be led to believe that the teaching of this verse is that the rod itself will not kill the child and certainly this is true if administered properly, but there is another teaching here: The child who has been spanked and taught that doing wrong brings bad results, tragedy, and punishment will less likely brawl or be killed in a car wreck because of drinking while driving. He is not as likely to die of some terrible disease caused by sin. In other words, he will be taught to live a safer life than he would have lived had he not been disciplined. Ah, how fortunate is such a one.

The parent who spanks the child keeps him from going to hell. Proverbs 23:14, “Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.” A child who is spanked will be taught that there is a holy God Who punishes sin and wrong. Hence, he will learn to heed authority and obey the laws and rules. When he then hears the Word of God he will obey what he hears and will accept the Gospel as it is preached. The parent has kept his child from hell by teaching him truths that can be learned only by discipline and the use of the rod.

The spanking parent teaches his child how to equip himself better for the future, for he will obtain a better education. When the child has been taught to respect authority, obey the rules, and keep the laws before he starts to school he then transfers this obedience and respect to his school teacher. Because of this he receives a better education, better equips himself for life, and will be of more value to society and reap a larger financial reward. Hence, the parent who disciplines his child Scripturally is putting money in his pocket and success in his future.

Jack Hyles gave this spanking advice to parents:

Let the child realize that you are simply representing God in the execution of the punishment. Explain to him that parents represent God before their children and that they are ministers to execute His judgment. Psalm 103:13 says, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.” So God is like a father and He chooses fathers and mothers to represent Him in the punishing of little children. Let the child realize that if you as a parent do not punish him properly, you are being disobedient to God and committing the same sin the child is committing. Explain to him that you are a child of God and if you refuse to obey God in the execution of His judgment upon your children, God will pour out His wrath upon you. For you to be a good child of God requires that you be a good parent to the child. Let him understand this. He will get the idea that God is a holy and just God, One Who loves and yet One Who wants us to become out best. For this to be so He must punish us when we are deserving.

Sometimes spanking should leave stripes on the child. Proverbs 20:30 says, “The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil; so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.” Our natural man rebels a such punishment, but we are reminded in I Corinthians 2:14 that the natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit. Hence, we have to trust the God Who knows more than we and obey Him.

I can recall when I was a boy we had a peach tree in the back yard. I do not ever recall seeing a peach grow on that tree. When I think of the old peach tree I think of Mother walking back from it with a branch in her hand, peeling the leaves off as she came. I then recall her using that switch to spank my little bare legs. I can still see the stripes often left by that switch, and I thank God for every one of them. Today I call her “blessed” because of her faithfulness to the teaching of God and her willingness to obey Him. Placing stripes on me as a child kept me from bearing more painful ones as an adult. Ephesians 6:4 says, “And, ye fathers. . . bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” The word “nurture” means “chastening.” It is the same word that is used concerning the scourging of Christ as He was beaten with the cat-o’-nine-tails. The wise and spiritual parent obeys God and follows His commandments, not his own reason.

Begin early in spanking the child. Susannah Wesley said she spanked John and Charles before they were a year old. Certainly the wise parent will start by at least this age. Proverbs 19:18 says, “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.” This means there is a time in a child’s life when no hope is left. During the formative years, yea, the infant years, the child should be spanked. As soon as his is old enough to walk away from his parents he should be spanked if he does not walk where they say he should walk. As soon as he is old enough to understand what they say he should be spanked if he disobeys what they say. This Scripture admonishes us that even when a child is so young that his crying reaches our sympathy, and though it is hard for us as compassionate parents to spank one who seems so innocent, we should nevertheless discipline him. Parents should not have to remove vases and delicate glass ornaments from living room tables. A house need not become disorderly and full of riots because a baby has come. Start early in disciplining the child.

The parent should build such a close relationship that the worst part of the spanking is the broken fellowship between the child and the parent. I can still recall how disappointed my mother’s face looked when she spanked me and I can recall how I dreaded displeasing her even more than I dreaded the spanking, (and believe me, I DID dread the spanking). When the love and affection is close between the child and parent and the relationship is what it ought to be, the worst part of a whipping is the broken fellowship. In other words, when the parent is not disciplining, the relationship should be so wonderful, the fellowship so sweet, and life so happy that the severance of that in itself is terrible punishment for the child to endure.

The spanking should be a ritual. No mother or father should jerk the child up and in a fit of temper administer a spanking. In fact, no punishment should ever be given in a fit of temper. The ritual should be deliberate and last at least ten or fifteen minutes. (In the long run time will be saved using this method.) It should be a ritual dreaded by the child. He should not only dread the pain but the time consumed in the ordeal.

The punishment should always be far in excess of the pleasure enjoyed by doing wrong. The child should realize he will always be the loser by far and that the discomfort will be so multiplied that soon he will have forgotten the pleasure derived from the wrong.

The parent should state very clearly to the child the wrongs and the punishment for each one. As near as possible these wrongs should be listed with the punishment that is to be inflicted for each one. If the punishment does not seem to correct it, then perhaps it should be increased. Some parents have made lists of possible wrongs and have carefully gone over this list with the child explaining exactly what each punishment would be. The punishment is inflicted without exception so that the child will know exactly what to expect.

Before punishing the child tell him clearly what wrong he has committed. Talk sternly and deliberately without a display of temper. Let him know exactly what he has done wrong. Then require that he state to you exactly what the wrong was so that what he did is very clear to you and to the child. Then, ask him what the punishment is. By this time he will know. Let him know that to be just and righteous you must inflict the punishment reminding him that you are doing it in the place if God against Whom he has really sinned.

Never give a child that for which he cries. The baby who cries for attention and gets it will become a child who cries for a toy and gets it, then a teenager who whines and complains for every whim and gets it, and then a young adult who will demonstrate and riot in order to get his wishes. Riots are not started in the streets but in the crib.

The spanking should be administered firmly. It should be painful and it should last until the child’s will is broken. It should last until the child is crying not tears of anger but tears of a broken will. As long as he is stiff, grits his teeth, holds on to his own will, the spanking should continue.

After the spanking tell him why you did it. While he is still crying have him sit down. Explain to him again what the crime was and that you had no alternative but to obey God and punish him for the crime. Ask him again to repeat to you what he did that was wrong. Allow the impression of the association between the wrong and the penalty to be cut deep in his mind.

Then the wise parent should assure the child of his love and explain the reason he spanked him was because of that love. He should then have the child remain in the room alone. (All spankings should be administered in privacy and with a closed door.) The parent should have a brief prayer with the child. Lead him to realize his sin was against God. Ask the child to pray asking God to forgive him. He should then have time to be alone in the room to think over his wrong for a few minutes. After two to five minutes the parent may open the door and allow normal activity to resume.

Jamie Pritchett, the author of Kid’s Need Lots of Love and Spanking, wrote:

…But I also knew people whose children were absolutely delightful to be around. They did not interrupt; they did what their parents asked immediately and politely – even cheerfully; they happily played independently of their parents; and between parents and children, pride, adoration and love were mutual and obvious.

These were the kind of children I wanted and I knew I could be a great mom to children like these. But how do you get a well-behaved child? You can’t just put in an order for one and expect to receive it.

I had already observed many times which discipline methods did not work to bring about polite and obedient children. So I sought to find out what parents of well-behaved children did differently. Whenever I met someone whose children were well behaved (and whose family was close and loving), I would ask, “How do you discipline your children?” Invariably, the answer was some sort of controlled spanking for disobedience and then some sort of loving explanation as to why the child received a spanking. Also, invariably, that method was started early in childhood (about age one), and tapered off by age nine with a rare spanking after that – because by then spankings were rarely needed.

Most of the people I interviewed were Christians following the Biblical directive of discipline with the “rod.” I looked up all the Bible verses concerning child discipline. There were several, but some were particularly pertinent. “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15) How true! And we have all seen it! “Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” (Proverbs 29:17) Also true. All the children I had observed who had been disciplined according to those Biblical directives were the type who would delight any parent’s heart.

For me, the method of discipline seemed obvious. I wanted polite, affectionate and obedient children. I would do what worked and what I had seen proven over and over again. When my twins were born I was doubly glad that I had researched so thoroughly because caring for twins is so exhausting and stressful in the early years. I know I could not have coped with one ill-behaved child, much less two! I started disciplining my girls when they were about a year old, and I’ve never regretted using this method. At age 13 my daughters are polite, well-behaved at all times, and we are very close. Every stage of their lives has been a delight – even through the “twos” and now into early adolescence.

Sadly, sadly, I see in the newspaper and on television these days: “Don’t ever strike your child!” or “Spanking is child abuse.” And I wonder where these people are coming from! By my definition (and millions of other parents) a “spanking” or using the “rod” as some people term it, entails a couple of swift whacks on the child’s clothed behind with a ruler, wooden spoon, or paddle. And that’s all. No ranting or raving. No screaming or raging. No harsh or hurtful words. No sarcastic or cutting remarks. Just a quick spanking and then a few minutes lovingly telling the child why he was spanked, how much he is loved, and how to keep from being spanked in the future…

…All discipline systems are not alike. There are some discipline methods that sound great and are “politically correct”. But do they work? Do they produce polite, obedient and cheerful children? Unfortunately, most do not. The method that I’ve described – spanking under control, followed by a loving talk, does work. (From Mark and Sallie Benedict’s Christian Parenting Network)

Evangelicals will object to me calling “Biblical discipline” child abuse, but it is clear, at least to me, that hitting, whipping, beating, spanking is just that.

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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IFB Preacher Mack Ford is Dead

mack ford new bethany home for girls
Abuser and molester Mack Ford is dead.

Repost from 2015-2016. Edited, updated, and corrected.

Notorious child abuser and molester, Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preacher Mack Ford died February 11, 2015. Ford, for many years, operated New Bethany Home for Girls in Louisiana, along with group homes for boys in other states.  If you do not know anything about Ford, please read Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls.

I have mixed feelings about the death of Ford. On one hand, I am glad the son of a bitch is dead. Others like him: Olen King, Ron Williams, and Jack Patterson, to name a few, are getting old, and death will soon come calling for them too. Lester Roloff,  the man who taught these abusers everything they know about establishing and operating IFB re-education camps, died in a plane crash in 1982. Death will someday come for all of these abusers and the world will be better off without them.

I feel sorry for the dear friends of mine who were abused by Mack Ford and the staff at New Bethany. Like hound dogs on the trail of a rabbit, they did all they could do to bring Mack Ford to justice. Now, he is beyond their reach. Like Bob Gray, a lifelong child molester and pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, Ford died before he could know what it was like to be locked up with no hope of escape. I want my friends to know that I appreciate their doggedness, their willingness to continue to go after those who abuse and molest in the name of God.

There is still much work to do. As long as there are unregulated, unlicensed Christian group homes open for business, we must continue to expose their evil work. We MUST convince state and federal legislators and regulators that these types of homes are dangerous, and are a threat to the safety and welfare of anyone sent to them. While no one would suggest that licensing and regulation is a cure-all, it is the first step in cleansing the land of abusive group homes. We can do better, and we must!

Rebecca Catalanello of the Times Picayune had this to say:

The man who founded New Bethany Home for Girls, where some former students said they were victims of abuse, has died.

Mack Ford, 82, was found dead inside his home shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 11) by a relative, Bienville Parish Coroner Don Smith said.

Ford’s death appears to be from natural causes, but Smith said his office will be conducting an autopsy.

Ford, a high school dropout turned Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher, opened New Bethany in 1971 on a former penal farm turned convalescent home off Louisiana Highway 9 in Arcadia, La., about 50 miles east of Shreveport.

Over three decades until it closed its doors in 2001, New Bethany took in sometimes hundreds of girls a year, according to newspaper accounts and court documents. Ford marketed the school as a home for wayward youth — “a mission project to the incorrigible, unwanted rejects,” he told attorneys in 1997. “Destitute, lonely, prostitutes, drug addicts.”

But many of the former residents who found themselves behind the barbed wire gates of the compound have relayed — to police, media, social workers and others — stories of harsh, physical and mental abuse that included beatings, solitary confinement, and, more recently, sexual abuse…

…Simone Jones, 47, one of the women who said Ford molested her when she was a teenager, said that she learned of his death late Wednesday from Michael Epps, the Louisiana State Police investigator who spent a year looking into the sexual abuse allegations that he took to a grand jury.

“I’m angry,” Jones said. “No justice … There are hundreds of people who are never going to see any type of justice be done.”

Ford’s death comes four days after the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office began investigating whether there may be a connection between New Bethany and an unidentified woman who was found on Jan. 28, 1981, in a wooded area stabbed to death.

The woman, now known as “Bossier Doe,” was wearing shoes and socks not unlike those required of New Bethany residents at the time. A name, “D. Davies,” was written inside her shoes with marker, just as former residents say they had to do.

State officials attempted to close the school in 1980 after Ford refused state inspection. They later raided New Bethany in 1988 and again in 1996 following complaints of abuse at the home — efforts that Ford fought in court, maintaining the state was violating his civil rights because it opposed his fundamentalist Christian views.

“The bureaucrats don’t want us to teach them our faith,” he said in a 1988 sermon following the state’s removal of 28 residents from the home.

But neither he nor anyone else at the girls’ home was ever prosecuted for any of the reported abuse, despite numerous confirmed reports documented by state social workers.

In addition to the girls’ home, Ford opened several boys homes, including in Longstreet, La., and Waltersboro, SC. In both of those locations, abuse allegations resulted in criminal charges, though not against Ford.

In 1981, Longstreet school manager L.D. Rapier was arrested and charged with cruelty to children after four boys ran from the home and told authorities they’d been beaten. The charges were eventually dropped.

In 1983, South Carolina authorities closed the Waltersboro home after they found a 14-year-old sleeping in a windowless padlocked cell, where he had been for several days. Two employees there were charged with unlawful neglect of a child and kidnapping, and they eventually pleaded to a lesser charge of false imprisonment.

Ford continued to live at the former New Bethany compound, located at 120 Hiser Road, in Arcadia, until his death…

…Ford’s estranged son-in-law, former Louisiana College vice president Timothy Johnson, said that Ford’s wife, Thelma Ford, resides in a nursing home.

Thelma and Mack Ford would have been married 66 years this year, according to court documents. Together, they had seven daughters, and adopted two more children, a boy and a girl.

Johnson said that Ford’s family members are unlikely to speak publicly about Ford or his legacy largely because of the great backlash they may face by former New Bethany residents and other critics.

“To do so gets you written about as being complicit or protecting a rapist,” Johnson wrote in an email message…

…Teresa Frye, 47, a resident at the home in 1982, said she was still processing news of Ford’s death on Thursday morning.

For years, Frye has been involved in an ongoing effort to help reconnect former New Bethany students and to raise awareness about the conditions so many children faced in similar boarding homes.

“I’m numb,” Frye said. “But I’m starting to get angry.”

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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New Bethany Home for Girls: The Dogma that Followed Me Home

guest post

I first published this post by my dear friend Cat Givens years ago. Edited for spelling, grammar, and readability.

When I was growing up in northeast Ohio, my family attended a Baptist church. It was one of those places where you’d meet every Sunday morning and then again Sunday evening. Bible study on Wednesday night. Soul-winning every Tuesday evening. Thursdays were youth group nights, and on Friday or Saturday we may have some other activity and then back again on Sunday.

We learned about heaven and hell. They preached a lot about hell.

I can remember being taught as a young child to tell everybody I came in contact with about Jesus and how to be saved. If I neglected to tell someone, then on Judgment Day this would happen: the person I did not tell would be led before the Lord God. I would be sitting behind God with the rest of the saved people. God would turn the person I neglected away, saying he did not know them. As they were led away, they would see me behind God and scream, “WHY? Oh, WHY didn’t you tell me?” And as they were led away to be cast into eternal fire, damned for all eternity, their blood would be dripping from my hands. Pretty heavy stuff for a kid, huh?

I was a bit of a rebel in my teens, and I’d run away when I got the chance rather than face the consequences at home for my actions. Finally, when I was almost fifteen, my parents were at their wit’s end. I was in the Detention Home for running away yet again, and they sought out help from the “experts”. A nice lady at the United Way told my parents that doctors were having success with rebellious children by hospitalizing them and giving them intense psychotherapy.

My parents met with the doctors, then the doctors met with me. “Yes, they could help me,” they assured my folks. They told Mom and Dad I could be transformed into a willing obedient child and would change my “criminalistic way of thinking”.

I was sent to a local hospital’s psych ward, housed with mostly adults (this was 1974, and there were no children’s wards at that time here). I was locked up with a bunch of strangers. I was shot full of “behavior modifying” drugs which made my physical movement robotic. I also received electroshock therapy treatments. Thanks a lot, Dr. Vallaba! Some of the men abused me while I was in there. I thought I fell in love with a man who said he and Bob Dylan shared a soul.

After the doctors had used up all my parents’ insurance money, they wanted to send me to another hospital in Connecticut. However, Mom and Dad had been talking to the preachers. They had another idea. Off to a girl’s home in Louisiana for me: New Bethany Home for Wayward Girls. I would remain there for a year.

Surely, this would save my soul and make me a compliant teenager, my parents and preachers thought. Unfortunately, at New Bethany, the same type of hellfire and brimstone attitude prevailed. I was not allowed to wear pants, as that was considered a sin. I couldn’t listen to any music besides Southern Gospel, as that was also a sin. I couldn’t talk about my past, as I had no past. I had to be called by my first and middle name because I was to become a new person.

There was an Evangelical preacher who ran the place, Rev. Mack Ford — an acolyte of Lester Roloff. He and his wife, Thelma, founded the home, taking in rebellious teens from all over the country. They also took in the unwanted girls whose parents abandoned them there. We were required to comply with every rule. Not doing so resulted in us getting whipped with a belt. That was the easy punishment. If a girl acted out, often she would be forced, after lights out, to stand in the hallway on her tiptoes with eggs or tomatoes under her heels. If she slipped and squished one, she’d get a whipping with a belt or hit with the switch. Runaways from the home were usually caught, and then, after a sound whipping with a belt from Bro. Mack would be handcuffed to their beds, and a ‘trusted girl” would be given the key. Their meals were served at their beds. These rebellious girls were only uncuffed for bathroom and shower breaks. Once Bro. Mack determined they had sufficiently repented, the cuffs were removed.

Everything we did was strictly controlled. We were told not to trust our conscience, as the Devil could be in there, so only trust the Bible. And trust Bro Mack.

Every day after chores, we would have chapel. There we would learn about hell, how the love of God brought us to this place, and how we must repent of our evil ways and change. Then we had breakfast. After more chores, off to school — a trailer down the street with one teacher and learning packets. It was an ACE school . . . Accelerated Christian Education. (Please see My Life in an ACE School.) After school, it was time for chapel again, and then lunch. Then chores and free time, and then chapel and supper. Even our bathroom breaks were timed, and we actually had to count the toilet paper sheets, begging for more through the bathroom door if we needed it. We were often awakened in the middle of the night. Sleep deprivation — what Brother Mack called “breaking down the will” — was the norm. I could go on and on, but I think the picture is clear. This was a brainwashing Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) cult, and we were the subjects.

After nearly a year, I got to come home. And yes, I was changed. I was a good little obedient Baptist teenager who addressed her parents and all adults as “sir” and “ma’am.”

At my new Christian high school, I was more conservative than most of the staff! We would only have chapel once a week at this school, unless it was “spiritual emphasis week.” During “emphasis” week, we would have chapel every day. Chapel was where we were told about how the devil tries to get every teen to be worldly and do evil. We were ripe for the danger of hellfire! We must be saved. We must repent if we do anything displeasing to god. I recall Mr. Russell, the gym teacher, leading us in prayer, asking God to kill us rather than let us live to set a bad example!

Throughout high school, I loosened up quite a bit. I still believed the dogma, but wasn’t quite so hung up on the rules. I began to read the Bible for myself. It didn’t read the same on my own as it did with a preacher interpreting it for me.

After graduation, I began to think more for myself.  I sought out a therapist who helped me overcome the guilt and confusion.  Gradually, I was losing the dogma and forming my own spirituality. I found god in nature and other human beings. I read about other religions and philosophies, realizing there are many paths to enlightenment. I enjoyed comparing the teachings of my youth to the myths and stories from other cultures and religions. I saw beauty and truth in many forms and rejected the hellfire and brimstone from my upbringing. Or so I thought.

I recently found a movie that was shown to us “wayward girls” at New Bethany. It was about the communist takeover of the United States. I really wanted to see this film again as an adult without expecting a great revelation and insight. The movie, along with another about hell, arrived the other day and I watched them. The acting was way over the top, and the subject matter was absurd. There on the screen, a little boy had a bamboo stick driven through his ears so he could no longer hear the gospel. Communists on horseback terrorized citizens, and the blood and guts spilled! Demons tormented people in hell, and worms ate at the burning flesh of the damned.

What happened next is what shocked me the most. As the choir sang “Just As I Am” and the preacher pleaded with the congregation to come to the altar and get right with God, I felt uneasy and a little sick. Fear and dread took hold, and then the panic! What if it was true? Would my children go to hell and be tormented for all eternity because I chose to raise them as free thinkers?

Mind you, this is NOT how I believe, yet here it was, all this dread and fear and worry. I felt horrible and confused. It was as if a great wave had pummeled me, and I was breathless! I contacted a woman raised similarly and found that she, too, suffered from this occasionally. First, we discussed brainwashing and conditioned response, and then I began to examine more carefully what had happened to me (and others).

It was twenty-plus years of dogmatic teachings that took my emotions and spilled them out in front of me like many dice. I realized that this memory’s emotional effect needed to be changed. I found discussing these reactions with my therapist to be helpful, as were his words of encouragement.  I reminded myself that it was out of love for my children I chose to NOT subject them to this stifling negative dogma. And I’m glad of it, as I would never want them to feel the way I did right then!

What good is spirituality if it does not lift one up? I examined what I actually do believe, and did some reading from some positive authors. I watched the movies again with my husband, and we laughed and shook our heads. The effect was more benign but not gone away completely, so I shall work on these memories some more, bringing in more humor and love. Still, I am amazed this dogma has followed me for so many years.

Has anything like this ever happened to you?

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

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

mack ford new bethany home for girls
Mack Ford

As many of you know, I have long been an advocate for those abused at Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) teen group homes (re-education camps). These homes, some of which are still in existence, routinely used violence to force teenagers into “Biblical” submission. Some of the residents were sexually violated. Where was the state, you ask? Sitting on the sidelines, often ignoring the cries of those beaten, abused, sexually molested, and raped.

One such home was the New Bethany Home for Girls, owned and operated by IFB preacher Mack Ford. Ford, who died February 11, 2015, was a protégé of famed abuser Lester Roloff.  The New Orleans Times-Picayune published numerous articles about New Bethany. Unfortunately, many of these stories are no longer available.

Over the years, the victims of Mack Ford and the staff at New Bethany have tried to bring their abusers to justice. Unfortunately, Ford wore a Teflon suit, and nothing seemed to stick to him. Weeks before he died, a grand jury declined to charge 82-year-old Mack Ford.

Rebecca Catalanello, in a Times-Picayune feature article, had this to say (link no longer active):

A grand jury has declined to indict a man accused of raping girls who were under his care at a notorious religious boarding school in north Louisiana decades earlier.

Mack W. Ford, 82, of Arcadia, was the target of what law enforcement officials describe as a year-long investigation into reports he molested young residents at his now-shuttered New Bethany Home for Girls.

A written statement released Tuesday (Jan. 6) by Bienville Parish District Attorney Jonathan Stewart, said “the grand jury was given research and information regarding the statute of limitations with regard to each alleged act and, after deliberation, returned a no true bill.” A no true bill represents a grand jury’s decision not to indict.

Three women who lived at the home in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s traveled from three states to testify before a grand jury Dec. 18 about their experiences with Ford. Other witnesses testified Oct. 15 and Dec. 29, according to state officials.

The women said their grand jury testimony was the closest they felt they had come to achieving justice for the crimes they said were committed against them as young girls in the place Ford once described as “a mission project to the incorrigible, unwanted rejects.” But after a Louisiana State Police investigator notified them by phone Monday evening that Ford would not face charges, the former residents sounded variously dazed, outraged and despondent.

“If he had been indicted for just one thing, it would have been justice for so many people,” said Simone Jones, a 47-year-old police dispatcher in Kansas who told police that Ford raped her in 1982 or 1983. “Why does this man continue to walk free?”

The grand jury convened almost exactly a year after Jones and other former residents journeyed to Bienville Parish to support Jennifer Halter, an ailing woman from Las Vegas, as she fulfilled a dying wish to report Ford, who she said began molesting her shortly after she arrived at the school in 1988 until her 1990 departure. Their trip was documented in an April NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune series that chronicled decades of abuse allegations at the home for which no one was ever prosecuted.

Ford, who still resides at the former New Bethany compound at 120 Hiser Road, has declined to comment about the allegations against him. He could not be reached by phone Tuesday morning, nor could Jesse Lewis Knighten, a nephew who court records show assumed power of attorney for Ford in January 2013.

Halter and Jones said that Mike Epps, an investigator with Louisiana State Police, told them Monday evening that the grand jury decided that the crimes they described were not prosecutable under current law.

“The reason given in the short-term was not that the grand jury didn’t believe us. It was because of the statutes,” Jones said.

Jones told police she was 14 when Ford approached her while she was doing chores, asked her if she was “a pure lady,” unbuttoned his overalls and then forced her to perform oral sex.

Jones said that Epps explained to her Monday that though current law considers oral sexual intercourse to rise to the level of “forcible rape” in some circumstances, at the time she said she was victimized in the early 1980s, the law only considered it “oral sexual battery.” Forcible rape has no statute of limitations, while sexual battery does.

“They let us down again,” Halter said. “I can’t understand why it’s OK for these people to do what they do and walk away like nothing was done wrong. It’s like laughing in our face all over again. What is justice? When is enough enough?”

Halter told police that Ford was chief among her abusers during her time at the home. In interviews with NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, she described repeated abuse, including frequent sexual contact by Ford during choir trips he chaperoned to churches in nearby towns and states — information she said she also reported to police in 2013.

Louisiana State Police Capt. Doug Cain said Epps would not be able to discuss the investigation or the grand jury’s decision. “We have to respect the court’s decision,” Cain said.

Former residents who were aware of the latest police investigation, recalled decades of abuse allegations recorded by state social workers and local police that never materialized in criminal charges.

“This has gone on for years,” said Tara Cummings, a resident at the home from 1982 to 1983. She said that if the statute of limitations was an issue, the state attorney should not have convened a grand jury to begin with…

…Ford created New Bethany Home for Girls 44 years ago on a plot of land 50 miles east of Shreveport, on more than six acres he bought for $30,000 from a 60-year-old widow, according to court records. The site had served as a penal farm and later a nursing home before he turned it into a home for what he called “wayward” girls.

New Bethany was affiliated with the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist church. Residents were subject to strict rules, harsh punishment and maintained restricted access to the outside world, according to interviews, news reports and legal documents.

“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 they haven’t had a chance in life.”

Ford was a high school dropout-turned-tire-salesman who said he was inspired to open the school during a retreat in Arkansas. There, he once said in a court deposition, he met two little blonde 12-year-old girls who had been impregnated by their father and was inspired to help such troubled children.

Until its closure in 2001, the school took in hundreds of children and young women from across the state and country.

To some who heard of New Bethany’s mission and others who encountered the school through its traveling girls’ choir it appeared a worthy charitable cause. But records, interviews, news reports and other documents show residents also went to extraordinary lengths to escape the home.

Stories of physical and mental abuse plagued New Bethany for almost as long as it was open, documents and news stories show. Girls who ran away from the school described brutal paddlings and harsh physical punishment. They were rarely allowed to call home and when they did, their calls were monitored, according to accounts.

Runaways often scaled the tall chain-link fence, crawling over the inward facing barbed wire at the top, and ran through dense woods to find someone who might believe them.

State and local officials escorted girls from the property during several raids. But the home was repeatedly allowed to reopen and reenroll children.

Ford became known for his resistance to outside interference. He filed federal civil rights lawsuits twice after state officials from child protective services and the state fire marshal sought to inspect the facility or question children and staff about their complaints of abuse. A federal judge in 1992 dismissed a lawsuit in which Ford asked the government to keep officials from interfering in New Bethany operations. Seven years later, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision determining there was no evidence that state officials were plotting to shut down New Bethany, as Ford complained…

…Joanna Wright, 54, of Houston, sounded tired when she spoke about the grand jury decision this week.

Wright, a preacher’s daughter, arrived at the home in the mid-1970s at age 14, excited for an experience outside what she describes as her insular, fundamentalist upbringing. But she said Ford soon began molesting her and, in 1977, forcibly raped her on the New Bethany compound.

Wright said news of the non-indictment left her feeling numb. She said she had told authorities about what happened to her on several occasions — she said she told a social worker about it in 1993 and spoke to a district attorney in 1998 — and nothing ever came of it.

But in July 2013, haunted and frustrated by her experience and the experiences of those she knows, Wright reached out to Jump, the assistant district attorney in Bienville Parish, and told her she was ready to make a police report in person.

On July 11, 2013, Jump wrote back:

“We are a long way from being able to arrest him. I have to sift through this stuff and talk to someone who was raped at the home and is willing to testify to that fact. And then determine if I can win the case. I don’t think it would be good for anyone [sic] of the victims to go through with what it would take to convict him if we can’t convict him. I will do my best and anything within my power to see that justice is done. But unfortunately justice for some of the victims will not be served on this earth. He will have to answer to God.”

I am personal friends with a handful of the women who were incarcerated (and I mean incarcerated — against their will) at New Bethany. I know from talking to them that their time at Ford’s group home left deep, horrible, lasting scars.

Video Link

Video Link

Mother Jones published several articles about New Bethany Home for Girls: Survivor Snapshots From Teen-Home Hell and Horror Stories from Tough-Love Teen Home — both written by Katheryn Joyce.

Victimized No More is a great repository of information about Mack Ford and New Bethany. Sadly, many of its links are broken due to the Times-Picayune removing (or moving) Mack Ford and New Bethany stories from its site.

Times-Picayune articles:

New Bethany Home for Girls endured 30 years of controversy, leaving former residents wondering why

New Bethany Home for Girls: Timeline

Previous posts about Mack Ford and New Bethany Home for Girls

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

The Dogma that Followed Me Home by Cat Givens

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Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 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.

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Bruce Gerencser