Left: Lester Roloff as he appears in my high school yearbook.
Anderson Cooper 360 did a two part segment called 'Ungodly Discipline' about life in the fundamentalist girl's home, Hephzibah House. It included a violent description of a forced gynecological exam by an unlicensed HH worker, the practice of shunning, talking about how you're not going to make it in the outside world and how authorities just do not want to step across the boundaries into the hurdles of parental law and church/state separation.
This is not limited to Hephzibah House, or even the IFB movement. There are many teen lockdown facilities, accused of abusive tactics, across the country. Some have been endorsed by people ranging from Dr. Phil to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Independent Fundamental Baptists occupy a special rung in the Inferno for their creative use of the teen behavioral modification industry. Many of the homes are classified as ministries of churches. That way, few will challenge their abusive tactics because government officials do not want to be seen allegedly broaching the wall of separation of church and state.
Is this hypocritical or what? The same people who called 'separation of church and state' a lie from the devil whenever their rights to proselytize in public schools are challenged are now digging that phrase back up to hide decades of abuse.
Lester Roloff was mentioned in the Anderson Cooper report. I remember a week long revival in my church, Trinity Baptist of Jacksonville, Florida, that was held by Roloff. A banner with the words 'separation of church and state' was stretched across the auditorium.
When I look back to my Christian school days, it's difficult to forget the revival meetings conducted by Lester Roloff. His meetings usually turned into sing a longs. Perfect when logic or reason won't hold the congregation's attention!
I could never figure out his cues to the girls! It seemed his girls would jump up and sing at a moment's notice before Roloff started singing. Did they work this out prior to the meeting? Were the Roloff girls able to absorb the thoughts of their leader the same way the women who followed Charles Manson were able to cue their courtroom antics?
Bob Gray, pastor of Trinity, called them 'Baptist Nuns'. His nun comment actually was a reference to the girls who stayed at the Victory Home for Girls in Florida. They attended school with us at Trinity Christian Academy and, thus, were spared the educational difficulties experienced by those subject to Accelerated Christian Education. At least, they were able to get into most community and state colleges in Florida.
When I think of Gray's term 'Baptist Nuns', I realize that's exactly how I regarded the Roloff girls! As 'Baptist Nuns'! I now realize that unconscious way of looking at Roloff girls was part of the problem. Gray, as readers of this blog know, was arrested for multiple accounts of child molestation. Years before his arrest, I spoke with someone about the rumors of Gray's crimes. "You have to understand, one of them has a troubled background." That sentiment would eventually be posted on the Fighting Fundamentalist Forum after his arrest.
The 'troubled background'? Her deposition revealed she had been forced into Roloff's Bethesda Home. Her mere presence at the facility, regardless of circumstance, would now be used against her to show that she had a troubled background.
Survivors from the different homes are finally coming together thanks to social networking sites like Facebook.
There were those who spoke out in the 1970s. They were interviewed for a 60 Minutes report on Lester Roloff. Those who came out of the Roloff schools in that era did not have the option of an internet. If they wanted to keep in contact with others, they needed to have a good memory for last names and access to a telephone book. Those coming out of this system have spoken of a practice called being 'put on separation' in which close friendships are discouraged.
It became easier to find people after the internet. There were message boards and news groups to post at. One needed to be knowledgeable concerning search engines and key words. There was also the reality, as I found out during the early days of this blog, that if you start making waves you can get kicked out by the powers that be. This would severely limit your ability to acquire information.
Facebook put an end to the ideological monopoly held by self styled gurus and message board owners. No more would you need to go through a message board to contact an individual. Facebook made it more democratic and even though you can still get booted off groups you can make contacts with individuals within the group. It's very difficult to maintain control over a whole group of people using Facebook since no one has veto power over who can or cannot enter a discussion.
Naturally, there have been critics of Facebook. Critics have charged teen home survivors with not having a sense of fair play, fighting all the time and that's just from their supporters! Harsh words have been spoken by activists against other activists. It's easy to get panicky when flame wars spring up. If we don't address them, are we aiding in a cover up? If we do, are we expressing division? Are we providing another reason we may delay progress?
Alexis Parks, in her book American Gulag, writes that a teenager's challenge to parental and social values must be treated with "respect, honest dialogue, and an example of tolerance and self-questioning." Parks writes, "Striving for independence is a necessary a stage of development as crawling is to an infant."
What is true for an individual is probably true for groups. An individual can't change unless s/he wants to. A group or nation can't change unless the majority of people want to. That can't happen without a national dialogue. We can't reason with the nation unless we can first reason with ourselves! That's the stage we're at now.
We're doing a pretty good job of piercing the national media. ABC News and Mother Jones have produced articles and profiles of survivors and both have mentioned a convention the Survivors of Institutional Abuse plan on having in February 24-26 in 2012.
This is an on-going process. Speaking as someone who, although never in a teen lockdown facility, did experience IFB education, I can say that many of us weren’t brought up learning the Seven Effective Habits of Successful People. We were not taught to work and play well with 'heathens'. Those prejudices were instilled in us during our formative years. Of course, we're going to have some growing pains! That's what all this is.
We need to accept that nothing is going to come quickly or easily. If we want success, we must sometimes make decisions based on cold reality. We're going to have to develop a degree of toleration for different viewpoints. Most of us have been alone as we carried the battle on our shoulders for decades before we even realized there were others in the battle. There are others in the battle. Some with more experience. Others with more passion. Most with their own ideas about how the battle should be fought. Some of us won't be in the battle for the long term. It will be like tag team wrestling. You're it!
Baptist Nuns or Troubled Girls? It's the Baptist equivalent of Madonna/Whore.
They are neither nuns nor 'troubled girls'. They are adult women with the same problems all of us, male or female, have when it comes to dealing with trauma while living in America during a recession. Nevertheless, the shared trauma must be addressed.
CNN: Anderson Cooper 360 Ungodly Discipline
ABC: Biblical Reform School Discipline: Tough Love or Abuse?
MOTHER JONES: Horror Stories From Tough-Love Teen Homes.
SIA Organization: Survivors of Institutional Abuse.