If you’ve been following my series on Christian reform homes, you’ll have noticed the name Lester Roloff popping up. It is, as Abigail McWilliam puts it, the common thread uniting reports of abuse from ‘troubled teen’ homes across America. Everything comes back to Roloff. Almost all of the homes we’ve discussed were founded by him or one of his former employees and associates, and all of them run on the model of Roloff’s original Rebekah Home.
If you haven’t been following, the reform homes have a pattern: They are single-sex boarding schools on compounds surrounded by chain-link fences topped with barbed wire. Punishments are extreme: extended periods of solitary confinement; kneeling on hard surfaces for hours, sometimes with pencils under your knees; and whippings and beatings of the cruelest kind.
And they all use Accelerated Christian Education. In return, ACE produces educational materials specifically praising the convicted felon and his reform homes.
I think I’ve already played the “if you only read one story about Christian reform homes, it should be this” card, so I won’t say it again. But, if you only read two stories about Christian reform homes, this should be the other one. Pamela Coloff’s 2001 article captures the history of the Roloff homes, as well as the contemporary situation. You’ll need to read this as background for the post I have planned for this Monday, which I think will shock even longtime readers of this blog.
It’s long, so here are some excerpts (though I do think the whole thing is worth reading). Be warned, it features descriptions of extreme punishments used on children. For space reasons I’ve edited out the stuff about how George W. Bush aided and abetted the Roloff homes on their mission, but those of you who already love Bush for the great legacy left by his presidency will find more to appreciate here. In short, Bush passed a law that allowed places like the Roloff homes to operate in Texas without state accreditation.
The Rebekah Home for Girls sits on a lonely stretch of south Texas farmland, a solitary spot where, amid the switchgrass and sagebrush and fields of cotton, young sinners are sent to get right with God. On a warm Saturday in May 1999, a sixteen-year-old named DeAnne Dawsey unexpectedly found herself at its doors. Her mother had said only that their family trip to Corpus Christi would last the day, and DeAnne had no reason to doubt her. Summer felt within reach, and DeAnne was relieved that her sophomore year of high school, which she was in danger of failing, was about to end. She was a slight girl with blue-gray eyes and dark brown hair who always wore a diamond-studded heart necklace. An inveterate flirt—”All she thought about was boys,” her mother would later lament—DeAnne never ignored an admiring glance. Normally she was too restless to stay still for long, but that morning she was in a dark mood: She and her boyfriend had quarreled the night before, and she sat brooding in the back seat of her mother’s car, lost in thought.
She was so preoccupied that she shrugged off a telling remark that her grandfather, who was traveling with them, had made after leaving Houston. Like DeAnne’s mother, he did not know much about the Rebekah Home for Girls or its history: that it was the most famous, and infamous, of the homes for troubled teenagers founded by the late evangelist Lester Roloff; or that punitive “Bible discipline” was the method used to chasten girls who had fallen from grace; or that the home had been the center of an epic, twelve-year battle between church and state—culminating in a standoff that Roloff called the Christian Alamo—in which the maverick preacher and his successors fought to avoid regulation by the State of Texas. But DeAnne’s grandfather felt guilty enough for lying to her about the purpose of the day’s trip that he turned in his seat to face her. “I’m sorry we’re doing this to you,” he said softly. “I’m so sorry.”
“Libby, you could be an engineer. You have the mind for it.”
My dad made this comment while we were in the car, driving by a factory of some sort. I was probably around sixteen.
Most of the Christians that read this blog seem to get it. They know that when someone has been abused by Christians, that is not the time for evangelism. It is the time for supporting victims and standing up against injustice. But sometimes we get a reader who is more concerned about the image of Christianity™ than they are about caring for people. Or someone who thinks that a victim might be low-hanging fruit for conversion. Evangelicalism: Spreading itself by preying on the weak.
Typically, the critic will take offence and claim that the blog suggests all Christians are abusive (which it never does). Why have I not specifically mentioned in every post that not all Christians are like this? How could I attack Christianity like that? To which my response is: What the hell is wrong with you? You can read a blog post about a girl being raped, and your first concern is that it might make your religion look bad. You know what actually makes religion look bad? Covering up rape, you morally bankrupt fuck.
I am proud to present this post by Anaïs Chartschenko. If you are likely to be triggered, be warned that this piece refers to rape.
Every time I apply for a job I have a pang of fear. Some jobs want to check your references. I am not afraid because I have a criminal history. I am afraid because my whole high school experience was a fraud. You see, I was home schooled. At first, I had big, thick text books with spines that smelled nice. I didn’t mind this as much, even though I was mostly left to my own devices to do my school work. I wanted to be smart. Discipline was not an issue. I wanted to go to college. I now see my naivety. I should have paid more attention when church members kindly informed me that college wasn’t for me or that god had other plans…
Before long, my mother had switched the whole curriculum up. I now was to do ACE which came in shockingly simplistic booklets, called PACEs. I was told it was much better, and I could work at my own pace. PACEs, get it? So for three years I stared at the PACEs, carefully filling in bubbles with my number two pencil. I can’t explain the boredom. I can’t explain the anger I felt with every depiction of a submissive woman making dinner. The curriculum featured multiple choice questions with only one right answer. There was no critical thinking involved. Read the rest of this entry
I recently woke up in the middle of the night, gripped by a sudden panic. What if I’m wrong?
If I’m wrong, I’m going to hell.
I’ve spent the last several years campaigning to raise public awareness of fundamentalist Christian schools that I consider abusive. I went to such a school myself, so I have a dog in this fight. If what they taught me is true, then I have spent these years fighting against God himself.
The fear claws at me for a while, and then in my groggy state I manage to remember some stuff:
If the strict Muslims are right, I’m equally doomed whether I’m a Christian or an atheist, yet that has never given me a moment’s worry in my life. My fear is not spiritual, or rational. It’s cultural.
And anyway, the notion of a just and/or loving God sending me to infinite punishment for finite sins is self-contradictory. It can’t be true.
Panic over, I go back to sleep.
I haven’t believed in God for seven years. I’ve openly identified as an atheist for four of those, but there are still situations where I have flashbacks to my fundamentalist past. Read the rest of this entry
I’ve blogged before (more than once) about how ACE’s policies put children at risk of abuse. By teaching children to obey no matter what, and by not educating children properly about when (or how) to say no, they leave children vulnerable. I’ve discovered evidence that this is a bigger problem than I previously thought. We’ve already heard from Christopher and Anaïs that sexual abuse is a reality for some ACE students. The company should be doing more to equip students against it. Instead, their staff training instructs ACE supervisors to view children as unreliable, and to ask their parents to treat them the same way. Read the rest of this entry
I have a new favourite blog: Anaïs Chartschenko’s Whisper Collector. Like just about everything I recommend, it’s not fun reading, but she’s a belting writer and her story needs to be heard. She’s a former ACE home schooler and a rape survivor (although, as her blog shows, she is absolutely not a victim). I repost this with her permission.
I walked into the youth chapel at the church. Something was different: there was a box of donuts on a folding table in the center of the room. All of us descended on it eagerly. There were some kids who had such strict parents that they did not get to eat sugar. They were the most deflated. I stared into the box, taking in donut after donut- glazed, creme filled, maple bar- all varieties with one common theme. A big bite had been taken from each one. Dejected, we slumped in our chairs. No one was willing to risk eating a communal donut. We had all been warned about the dangers of sharing food a million times over. We did not want herpes from a donut, no sir. We were adept at going with out. We had already gone without dancing (the prom), learning science, eating meat, reading novels, watching movies, or any of the long list of things that were not allowed. Read the rest of this entry
Jack Chick sez: Pornography triggers sexual perversion.
This shameful tract is no longer in print, and isn't even available on the Chick Publications website. However, it is included in the book Hot Topics, in which Chick and the equally insane David W. Daniels tackle six of the "hottest issues of our times," most of which seem to involve different permutations of gay people and child molestation.
Lisa Kelly first commented on this blog mentioning that her bad experience of ACE had pushed her into the education business. “It was one of the driving things that made me seek to become an educator – so that I could encourage children and people of all ages to think for themselves and explore their *own* reasons for being and doing.”
Lisa and I have forged similar paths. I’m doing a PhD in education; she’s an Ed.D. I thought it might be nice for you to hear from someone else in the profession just why educators don’t think much of ACE. So here we go. Read the rest of this entry