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A very fundamentalist sex scandal

Previously on Leaving Fundamentalism: 

  • Pastor Jack Hyles indulges in immoral sexual activity and covers up abuse.
  • Preacher Bill Gothard receives 34 allegations of sexual harassment and four of rape.
  • There are links between Hyles, Gothard, and Accelerated Christian Education founder Donald Howard.
  • All three are represented by the lawyer David Gibbs Jr, who’s made a career cleaning up after preachers.
  • It turns out quite a lot of this sort of thing goes on in fundamentalist Baptist churches,

So, this blog being this blog, you probably thought the last post was going to end with me telling you about a sex scandal involving Accelerated Christian Education’s Donald Howard. But you were wrong.

I saved it for this post.

[Be warned, this post will again feature discussion of sexual abuse that you might find upsetting or triggering]

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The philandering fundamentalists

Please be advised that this post contains discussions of sexual abuse.

In 1970, Pastor Jack Hyles, of First Baptist Church, Hammond, Indiana, called into his office one Jennie Nischik, wife of one of the church deacons. Soon after, Vic and Jennie Nischik began experiencing marital problems. Eventually, Vic confronted Hyles with “evidence of an improper relationship between Hyles and [Vic’s] wife”. On hearing this evidence, Hyles, who had been pressuring Vic to leave, instead created an arrangement whereby the Nischiks lived in different rooms of the same house and never had any physical contact. Hyles continued his affair with Jennie for more than a decade. Eventually, Vic complained to Hyles that his room was damp and affecting his health, and said he was going to move back in with Jennie in the master bedroom. Rather than allow this, Hyles paid to have a new room added to the Nischiks’ house.

This is just one of the allegations that have become Hyles’ legacy.

Meanwhile, in 2014 Bill Gothard, founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), was placed on “administrative leave” while they investigated claims of historic sexual abuse dating back to the 1970s. Thirty-four women have made claims of harassment, and one woman says she was sixteen when Gothard molested her.

Welcome to the world of Independent Fundamental Baptists (IFB). IFB types don’t believe in church hierarchy. They’re not usually part of any official denomination. They believe God invested all authority in the Pastor, and so bishops, archbishops and other formal church structures are unbiblical. This means that when scandals like the above break out, all the others can say “Nothing to do with us!” Unlike abuse scandals in the Catholic church, abuse in the IFB is usually portrayed as an isolated occurrence.

Is there in fact a link between all this?

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My meaningless diploma

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.

Anaïs Chartschenko

Anaïs Chartschenko

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

Children: Don’t believe a word

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

An invitation for abuse

I had a great time at Leicester Skeptics last night, and someone asked a particularly good question.

They said they’d been involved for a number of years in a job that involved the safeguarding of children. In their line of business, ACE’s emphasis on submission to authority would be an immediate red flag for abuse. Any system which teaches unquestioning obedience is ripe for exploitation. Was I aware of any instances of abuse, and did I have any comment on this?

Well, yes, I am aware of at least one instance of sexual abuse in an English ACE school.

But the second part of the question reminded me that it is official ACE policy to ask parents to side with the school against their children. Here’s the text from ACE’s Administration Manual:

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Religious exemption at some Florida children’s homes shields prying eyes

Excerpts from a Tampa Bay Times article, by Alexandra Zayas, October 26, 2012. Read it in full, and see the Times’ video.

Trigger warning: Almost everything.

They shaved him bald that first morning in 2008, put him in an orange jumpsuit and made him exercise past dark. • Through the night, as he slept on the floor, they forced him awake for more. • The sun had not yet risen over the Christian military home when Samson Lehman collapsed for the sixth time. Still, he said, they made him run. • The screaming, the endless exercise, it was all in the name of God, a necessary step at the Gateway Christian Military Academy on the path to righteousness. • So when Samson vomited, they threw him a rag. When his urine turned red, they said that was normal. • By Day 3, the 15-year-old was on the verge of death, his dehydrated organs shutting down. • Slumped against a wall, cold and immobile, Lehman recalls men who recited Scripture calling him a wimp. And he thought: Maybe, if I die here, someone will shut this place down. • Not in Florida.

In this state, unlicensed religious homes can abuse children and go on operating for years. Almost 30 years ago, Florida legislators passed a law eliminating state oversight of children’s homes that claim government rules hamper their religious practices.

Today, virtually anyone can claim a list of religious ideals, take in children and subject them to punishment and isolation that verge on torture — so long as they quote chapter and verse to justify it. Read the rest of this entry

ACE teacher jailed for sex attacks (UK)

From Fleetwood Today, 19/6/2010:

A TEACHER who molested a teenage girl more than 25 years ago has been put behind bars.

Graham Wilcock subjected his victim to numerous sexual assaults while he was a 25-year-old teaching assistant at Emmanuel Christian School in Fleetwood.

He would later become deputy head teacher in charge of the senior school.

The attacks spanned two years in the 1980s from when the girl was 13 to 15 years old.

His victim kept the assaults secret until the 1990s when there was an inquiry into his actions and he was sacked from the school but not barred from teaching.

Last year the woman – now in her 30s – contacted police after seeing a picture of her attacker and deciding she wanted the offences brought into the open.The 50-year-old was doing charity work in Romania when he was informed detectives wanted to speak to him regarding the abuse but returned to the UK to admit his guilt.

The school was the first in the UK to use Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), a method aimed at re-introducing Christian standards into the classroom.

(Full article).  Read the rest of this entry

More ACE survivor stories

Tomorrow, I will be posting my last blog about ACE for the foreseeable future. I’ll explain why in that post. I will still be accepting guest posts on the subject.

Now seems like a good time to wrap this up with a few more ACE survivor stories submitted as comments on the blog. Immediately after this I’ll post a compilation of comments in favour of ACE.

Jennifer Hoy

My mother enrolled me into an ACE school in 6th grade. At first I liked it but as I got older I began to see how ridiculous the PACE system was. The paces were so outdated. Everything we were learning was supposedly through the Biblical perspective. We had to wear uniforms. The girls could only wear skirts or gouchos. No pants! The teachers were just members of the church. No formal training. Reading some of the other posts I have to agree that this type of set up was very isolating. The only good thing I can say is that it taught me to work well on my own. I graduated Valedictorian in 1989. I did not go to college. I was afraid to try because I thought they would laugh at my diploma! I am 42 and am still learning things that I should have learned in high school. I feel that I was robbed of my youth and education. I feel I could have been so much more in life. The school and all of it’s forced beliefs have affected me in so many ways. I am still a Christian but my views of what that really means has changed. I would never send my kids to this type of school. These schools are a waste of time.

James M.

Hi Jonny.

Just discovered your site today. I attended ACE schools in the US off and on from Kindergarten through 7th grade. The experience was, as you say, horrendous, and as an educational system, utterly worthless. I just wanted to add that in the schools I attended, the “office” model was not just used in the mornings, but was an all day long experience. There was no relief from this stifling arrangement save for a few 10-15 minute long breaks and the lunch hour. Occasionally, the “supervisor” would address the group, and we would turn around in our chairs to listen, but that was the only social interaction allowed while in the learning center. I’m curious as to what other kinds of work were allowed in your ACE experience.

I could go on for days about the horrors of ACE, but I’ll stop here. Thanks for this blog. I’m sorry you had to endure the nightmare that is ACE, but it’s comforting to know there are others out there who understand the abuse I endured under this asinine system.

Christopher (this one is longer but worth the read. It’s one of the most powerful survivor stories we’ve had. Trigger warning: sexual abuse)

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