4 Jun 2011

Brother of home church pastor pleads guilty to physical and psychological child abuse for using corporal punishment

Wisconsin State Journal - June 1, 2011

Pastor’s brother pleads guilty to child abuse for corporal punishment of kids


The brother of a Black Earth church pastor who advocated corporal punishment for children of church members pleaded guilty Wednesday to child abuse and causing mental harm to a child.

A plea agreement would have asked Dane County Circuit Judge Sarah O’Brien to place John R. Caminiti, 45, on probation for three years with no jail time, but O’Brien instead ordered a pre-sentence investigation to be conducted by the state Department of Corrections. She will set sentencing for a later date.

O’Brien said she wasn’t necessarily rejecting the sentencing recommendation, but instead wanted more information so she could make a better-informed decision.

Caminiti is the brother of Phil Caminiti, the pastor of Aleitheia Bible Church in Black Earth. The church, which holds its services in private homes, advocates the use of corporal punishment using such things as wooden dowels and wooden spoons to discipline children, following the principle of “spare the rod and spoil the child.”

John Caminiti pleaded guilty to causing mental harm to a child, admitting to “shunning” a teenage son by confining him to his bedroom for four weeks for having feelings that the boy described as pressure and fear, according to a criminal complaint. The boy said he had been told not to have feelings, the complaint states.

During the time he was confined to his room, the complaint states, the boy was not allowed to go downstairs or do school work, and meals were brought to him in his room. The boy was ordinarily home-schooled.

Caminiti also pleaded guilty to two counts of child abuse, for using dowels on two of his other children when they were disobedient.

In all, eight people associated with Aleitheia Bible Church have been charged with child abuse for their use of corporal punishment on their own children and others. Phil Caminiti, 54, faces eight counts of conspiracy to commit child abuse. His son and daughter-in-law, Matthew and Alina Caminiti, also face several child abuse charges.

Church members Timothy and Maria Stephenson and Timothy and Andrew Wick are also charged with child abuse.

This article was found at:



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  1. Preaching Virtue of Spanking, Even as Deaths Fuel Debate

    By ERIK ECKHOLM, NYT November 7, 2011

    PLEASANTVILLE, Tenn. — After services at the Church at Cane Creek on a recent Sunday, a few dozen families held a potluck picnic and giggling children played pin the tail on the donkey.

    The white-bearded preacher, Michael Pearl, who delivered his sermon in stained work pants, and his wife, Debi, mixed warmly with the families drawn to their evangelical ministry, including some of their own grandchildren.

    The pastoral mood in the hills of Tennessee offered a stark contrast to the storm raging around the country over the Pearls’ teachings on child discipline, which advocate systematic use of “the rod” to teach toddlers to submit to authority. The methods, seen as common sense by some grateful parents and as horrific by others, are modeled, Mr. Pearl is fond of saying, on “the same principles the Amish use to train their stubborn mules.”

    Debate over the Pearls’ teachings, first seen on Christian Web sites, gained new intensity after the death of a third child, all allegedly at the hands of parents who kept the Pearls’ book, “To Train Up a Child,” in their homes. On Sept. 29, the parents were charged with homicide by abuse.
    More than 670,000 copies of the Pearls’ self-published book are in circulation, and it is especially popular among Christian home-schoolers, who praise it in their magazines and on their Web sites. The Pearls provide instructions on using a switch from as early as six months to discourage misbehavior and describe how to make use of implements for hitting on the arms, legs or back, including a quarter-inch flexible plumbing line that, Mr. Pearl notes, “can be rolled up and carried in your pocket.”

    The furor in part reflects societal disagreements over corporal punishment, which conservative Christians say is called for in the Bible and which many Americans consider reasonable up to a point, even as many parents and pediatricians reject it. The issue flared recently when a video was posted online of a Texas judge whipping his daughter.

    Mr. Pearl, 66, and Mrs. Pearl, 60, say that blaming their book for extreme abuse by a few unstable parents is preposterous and that they explicitly counsel against acting in anger or causing a bruise. They say that their methods, properly used, yield peace and happy teenagers.
    “If you find a 12-step book in an alcoholic’s house, you wouldn’t blame the book,” Mr. Pearl said in an interview.

    But he acknowledged that the methods are not right for out-of-control or severely overburdened parents.

    In the latest case, Larry and Carri Williams of Sedro-Woolley, Wash., were home-schooling their six children when they adopted a girl and a boy, ages 11 and 7, from Ethiopia in 2008. The two were seen by their new parents as rebellious, according to friends.

    Late one night in May this year, the adopted girl, Hana, was found face down, naked and emaciated in the backyard; her death was caused by hypothermia and malnutrition, officials determined. According to the sheriff’s report, the parents had deprived her of food for days at a time and had made her sleep in a cold barn or a closet and shower outside with a hose. And they often whipped her, leaving marks on her legs. The mother had praised the Pearls’ book and given a copy to a friend, the sheriff’s report said. Hana had been beaten the day of her death, the report said, with the 15-inch plastic tube recommended by Mr. Pearl.

    “It’s a good spanking instrument,” Mr. Pearl said in the interview. “It’s too light to cause damage to the muscle or the bone.” ...

    read the full article at:


  2. Texas' top court suspends judge in beating video

    By CHRISTOPHER SHERMAN, Associated Press November 23, 2011

    McALLEN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Supreme Court suspended a judge Tuesday whose beating of his then-teenage daughter in 2004 was viewed millions of times on the Internet.

    Aransas County court-at-law Judge William Adams was suspended immediately with pay pending the outcome of the inquiry started earlier this month by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, according to an order signed Tuesday by the clerk of the state's highest court.

    The order makes clear that while Adams agreed to the commission's recommended temporary suspension and waived the hearing and notice requirements, he does not admit "guilt, fault or wrongdoing" regarding the allegations. His attorney did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

    Adams' now 23-year-old daughter Hillary Adams uploaded the secretly-recorded 2004 video of her father beating her repeatedly with a belt for making illegal downloads from the internet.
    William Adams has not sat on the bench since the video went viral. It has been viewed more than 6 million times on YouTube.

    The public outcry over the video was so great that in a rare move the, State Commission on Judicial Conduct announced publicly Nov. 2 that it had opened an investigation. A statement from the commission then said that it had been flooded with calls, emails and faxes regarding the video and Adams.

    William Adams appeared in court Monday for a day-long hearing regarding the custody of his 10-year-old daughter. His wife had sought a change in their joint custody agreement, and another judge imposed a temporary restraining order effectively keeping William Adams from being alone with his younger daughter until he reached a decision. An order was expected in that dispute Wednesday.

    As Aransas County's top judge, William Adams has dealt with at least 349 family law cases in the past year alone, nearly 50 of which involved state caseworkers seeking determine whether parents were fit to raise their children. A visiting judge has been handling his caseload.

    After reviewing the investigation conducted by local police, the Aransas County district attorney said too much time had passed to bring charges against William Adams.


  3. Man accused of cruelly punishing teen at parents' request

    The Chino Hills man is arrested. He struck the boy 'approximately 12 times with a metal pole, which was about 1 inch in diameter, on the back of the legs, causing injuries,' officials say.

    By Monte Morin, Los Angeles Times
    December 11, 2011

    A man accused of striking a 15-year-old Irvine boy with a metal pole after the boy's parents asked him to discipline the youth on their behalf has been booked on suspicion of felony willful cruelty to a child, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

    According to investigators, the parents found a lighter in the boy's possession and suspected that he had been smoking. The boy, who was not identified because of his age, was taken to the home of Paul Kim, 39, of Chino Hills, who attended the same La Habra church the family attended. Authorities said other families had used Kim to discipline their children.

    Kim reportedly questioned the boy about the lighter and suspected that the teen was lying to him. "After receiving permission from the victim's father to use corporal punishment, Kim struck the child approximately 12 times with a metal pole, which was about 1 inch in diameter, on the back of the legs, causing injuries," the department said Saturday in a prepared statement.

    Authorities were notified Tuesday when a school official in Irvine noticed that the boy had severe bruising on the backs of his legs. The school official filed a suspected child abuse report with Child Protective Services, and officers with the Irvine Police Department interviewed the boy and his parents at their home.

    Kim was later arrested by the Sheriff's Department's Crimes Against Children Detail. He was released Thursday on $100,000 bail.

    The Sheriff's Department has asked that anyone with information about any similar acts by Kim call the Crimes Against Children Detail at (909) 387-3615.


  4. Why Spanking Does Not Work

    A new analysis concludes that spanking fails to alter kids' behavior in the long term. What it does instead is amp up their aggression.

    By BONNIE ROCHMAN |TIME | February 6, 2012

    Want your kid to stop whatever dangerous/annoying/forbidden behavior he’s doing right now? Spanking will probably work — for now.

    But be prepared for that same child to be more aggressive toward you and his siblings, his friends and his eventual spouse. Oh, and get ready for some other antisocial behaviors too.

    A new analysis of two decades of research on the long-term effects of physical punishment in children concludes that spanking doesn’t work and can actually wreak havoc on kids’ long-term development, according to an article published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

    Studying physical punishment is difficult for researchers, who can’t randomly assign children to groups that are hit and those that aren’t. Instead, they follow children over many years, monitor how much they’re spanked, and then take measure of their aggression over time. “We find children who are physically punished get more aggressive over time and those who are not physically punished get less aggressive over time,” says Joan Durrant, the article’s lead author and a child clinical psychologist and professor of family social sciences at the University of Manitoba.

    In fact, regardless of the age of the children or the size of the sample, none of more than 80 studies on the effects of physical punishment have succeeded in finding positive associations. “If someone were to hit us to change our behavior, it might harm our relationship with that person. We might feel resentful,” says Durrant. “It’s no different for children. It’s not a constructive thing to do.”

    Children who are spanked may feel depressed and devalued, and their sense of self-worth can suffer. Harsh punishments can wind up backfiring because they can foster lying in children who are desperate to avoid being spanked. Later in life, physical punishment is linked to mental-health problems including depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol use. There’s neuroimaging evidence that physical punishment may alter parts of the brain involved in performance on IQ tests and up the likelihood of substance abuse. And there’s also early data that spanking could affect areas of the brain involved in emotion and stress regulation.

    Yet, as I wrote last summer in a story about the first real-time study of parents spanking their children, some research has found that up to 90% of parents say they use corporal punishment:

    Despite a battery of disciplinary techniques, including the infamous “time out,” redirection and the increasing emphasis on positive discipline (try substituting “hold the cup carefully” for “don’t spill your juice”), spanking and slapping are still pretty popular.

    Moms and dads who spank do so because they believe it’s effective, and research actually shows that it is — in the short term. A child reaching for a tempting object will stop if he gets swatted. “It does work in the immediate moment, but beyond that, in most cases, it’s very ineffective,” says George Holden, the study’s author and a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University. “The most common long-term consequence is that children learn to use aggression.”

    Case in point: one mother in the study hit her toddler after the toddler either hit or kicked the mother, admonishing, “This is to help you remember not to hit your mother.”

    “The irony is just amazing,” says Holden.

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  5. continued from previous comment:

    In some countries, spanking is not a choice. Durrant is currently living in Sweden, where she’s researching child-and-family policies and the evolution of that country’s law prohibiting physical discipline of children. In 1979, Sweden was the first country to pass such legislation; now 32 countries — including much of Europe, Costa Rica, Israel, Tunisia and Kenya — have a similar law.

    Neither the U.S. nor Canada has gotten on board. “Whenever I mention the law, there is an assumption that this is government telling me how to raise my child,” says Durrant. “[But in Sweden] they see it as a way to make sure children get the best start possible in life.”

    Parents who spank often do so by default. Many, particularly those who were hit themselves, find that spanking is the only disciplinary tactic in their toolbox. Doctors are in a position to change that by educating parents about the stages of normal child development, recommending alternative ways to discipline and referring interested parents to appropriate resources and parenting classes. In Sweden, for example, new parents are hooked up with support groups and given information about developmental stages.

    As a result, parents understand their children aren’t being intentional obstructionists; it’s just par for the course. “When children see someone resolve conflict with aggression, they are more likely to learn that behavior,” says Durrant. “Two-year-olds are the most aggressive people in the world. They don’t understand the impact of their behavior, and they can’t inhibit themselves. So the more a child sees someone resolving conflict with aggression, the more aggressive they become.”

    A young toddler who upends her cereal bowl on her head probably isn’t being ornery; she’s just curious to see what will happen. Durrant likes to use her son as an example. When he was 3, he dropped his dad’s toothbrush into the toilet. Another parent might have yelled, but Durrant’s academic background helped her realize that he was just experimenting: he dropped objects into water floating in sinks and bathtubs with nary a scolding; why not toilets too? “I explained what goes into toilets and then said, Do you think Daddy is going to want to put that toothbrush in his mouth now?” Message transmitted with no yelling.

    P.S. Durrant’s son never dropped anything verboten into the toilet again.


  6. Childhood abuse may stunt growth of part of brain involved in emotions

    Alok Jha, The Guardian UK February 13, 2012

    Being sexually or emotionally abused as a child can affect the development of a part of the brain that controls memory and the regulation of emotions, a study suggests.

    The results add to the growing body of evidence that childhood maltreatment or abuse raises the risk of mental illnesses such as depression, personality disorders and anxiety well into adulthood.

    Martin Teicher of the department of psychiatry at Harvard University scanned the brains of almost 200 people who had been questioned about any instances of abuse or stress during childhood. He found that the volumes of three important areas of the hippocampus were reduced by up to 6.5% in people exposed to several instances of maltreatment – such as physical or verbal abuse from parents – in their early years.

    "The exquisite vulnerability of the hippocampus to the ravages of stress is one of the key translational neuroscience discoveries of the 20th century," wrote Teicher on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Early clues of the relationship came when scientists found that raising stress hormones for extended periods in rats reduced the number of neurons in the hippocampal areas, a result that has since been replicated in many non-human primates.

    Other work has shown that people with a history of abuse or maltreatment during childhood are twice as likely to have recurrent episodes of depression in adulthood. These individuals are also less likely to respond well to psychological or drug-based treatments.

    In the new study, Teicher's team scanned the brains of 73 men and 120 women aged between 18 and 25. The volunteers filled in a standard questionnaire used by psychiatrists to assess the number of "adverse childhood experiences".

    Overall, 46% of the group reported no exposure to childhood adversity and 16% reported three or more forms of maltreatment, the most common being physical and verbal abuse from parents. Other factors included corporal punishment, sexual abuse and witnessing domestic violence.

    The sample did not include people on psychiatric medication or anyone who had been exposed to other stressful events such as near-drownings or car accidents.

    Andrea Danese, a clinical lecturer in child and adolescent psychiatry at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry, who was not involved in the study, said Teicher's results took scientists a step closer to understanding the complex relationship between childhood maltreatment and brain development. "The large sample size allows for reliable detection of even comparatively small effects of maltreatment on the brain, whereas the recruitment from the general population allows for a less biased interpretation of the study, which builds on previous research often carried out in psychiatric patients."

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    The high-resolution brain imaging analysis allowed Teicher to home in on minute areas of the hippocampus and explore the association between maltreatment and this brain region in finer detail than ever before. "This is important because not all areas in the hippocampus are equally sensitive to the effect of stress mediators, such as cortisol and inflammatory biomarkers," said Danese. "Thus, the authors took advantage of this gradient to indirectly test the mechanisms through which childhood maltreatment could affect the brain."

    One limitation of the study might be that it required the volunteers to recall their childhood experiences, added Danese. "The findings are based on the perceptions and memories that participants have of their childhood rather than on objective events. This may be problematic because some groups of individuals could be more or less prone than others to report experiences of maltreatment. This 'recall' bias has been described in individuals with a history of depression, who may be more likely to report abuse."

    However, Teicher's team was able to test whether a history of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder might explain his observed effects of childhood maltreatment on the hippocampus, and showed that the results were independent of these factors.

    Danese said future studies would need to clarify further the direction of the effect. "Although the authors report that childhood maltreatment is associated with smaller hippocampus regions, it is possible that these abnormalities pre-dated and possibly facilitated maltreatment exposure. Longitudinal and twin studies will help to clarify this issue."


  8. Jury Convicts Pastor In Child Abuse Case

    Pastor Says He Acted According To Biblical Teachings

    Channel 3000 Wisconsin April 09, 2012

    MADISON, Wis. - Jurors have convicted a Black Earth pastor of conspiracy to commit child abuse for advocating the use of wooden rods to spank children.

    The Dane County jury took about two hours to find 54-year-old Philip Caminiti guilty of eight counts Wednesday.

    Caminiti, pastor at Aleitheia Bible Church, was found guilty of instructing members of his church that infants and toddlers were not too young to be struck on the bare buttocks with wood dowels to teach them to behave.

    Caminiti told investigators his actions were in accordance with biblical teachings.

    Closing arguments in the trial focused on the pastor's influence on members of the Aletheia Bible Church.

    Prosecutors argued that Caminiti instructed his congregation to use wooden rods and dowels on their infant and toddler children in accordance with a literal interpretation of the Bible.

    "And if these people are going to get the to right side of heaven, where apparently only they are going, it is on the bottoms of those babies that they're getting there," said Dane County Assistant District Attorney Shelly Rusch during closing arguments. "And I ask you not to sign on to that sacrifice."

    Jurors were tasked with deciding whether Caminiti's child-rearing influence reached beyond his own home.

    "The whole issue about whether you agree with their parenting style is not really the question," said Caminiti's attorney, Yolanda Lehner, during her closing arguments.

    Caminiti now faces up to six years in prison and extended supervision and a $10,000 fine for each of the eight child abuse conspiracy counts.

    Emotions ran high for Caminiti's family members, but the defendant remained pleasant, hugging his attorney after the verdict, and leaving the courtroom without public comment.

    "It's the first conspiracy case I prosecuted," said Rusch. "I do child abuse, sexual assault primarily. And there are no conspiracies in the land of child abuse and sexual assault. It's typically a drug-related crime, so it was very new to me, and new to the state of Wisconsin."

    Caminiti remains free on signature bond but was ordered not to leave Dane County. Sentencing is expected in about two months.


  9. Spanking may be linked to later mental disorders

    Positive reinforcement techniques preferred for discipline

    CBC News July 2, 2012

    Adults who were subjected to physical punishment such as spanking as children are more likely to experience mental disorders, say Canadian researchers who encourage other forms of discipline.

    Monday's issue of the journal Pediatrics includes a study on the proportion of illnesses such as depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse as well as personality disorders that may be attributable to physical punishment.

    Physical punishment was defined as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping and hitting in the absence of more severe maltreatment of a child through physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect or exposure to intimate partner violence.

    "It definitely points to the direction that physical punishment should not be used on children of any age and we need to be considering that when we're thinking about policy and programs so we can protect children from potentially harmful outcomes," said study author Tracie Afifi, who is in the department of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba.

    Afifi hopes the findings from the study that involved more than 34,000 U.S. adults will make parents think twice about spanking.

    Afifi acknowledged it's not a causal effect and the study design can't prove the link, but she said the statistical association is clear.

    "Parents need to be aware of this relationship," Afifi said.

    A surprising finding was that increases in education and income were associated with higher odds of harsh physical punishment, the researchers said.

    "It is important for pediatricians and other health-care providers who work with children and parents to be aware of the link between physical punishment and mental disorders based on the study," Afifi's team concluded.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposes striking a child for any reason and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that physicians strongly discourage the use of physical punishment.

    The authors suggested a more explicit position that spanking, smacking and slapping should not be used with children of any age.

    Spanking is outlawed more than 30 countries. It is legal for parents to use physical punishment on their children in Canada and the U.S.

    "Everybody's tempted when kids are bad, but there are other ways of teaching your kids the right behaviour," said mother Nikki Quinn of Halifax.

    Afifi recommends children be disciplined with positive reinforcement techniques, which have been reviewed and supported in medical literature.


  10. Spanking: Parenthood's Dirty Little (and Common) Secret

    by Claire McCarthy, M.D., Huffington Post July 2, 2012

    This week a study was released saying when children are disciplined using harsh physical punishment like spanking, they are at higher risk of depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental health problems -- even if they aren't otherwise abused or maltreated. This is scary, because I just recently read an article in the Boston Globe that said that 70 percent of Americans think that spanking is sometimes necessary -- and 90 percent of parents of toddlers spank them.

    Ninety percent?

    Clearly, as the article pointed out, this is happening behind closed doors. If you even talk about spanking your kid, let alone do it in public, there's a reasonable chance that social services will be knocking on your door.

    Although I wouldn't have guessed 90 percent, I certainly know that parents spank their kids. As a pediatrician, it's part of my job to talk with families about discipline -- and in those discussions, spanking comes up relatively frequently. And when those investigators go knocking at my patients' doors, as part of their investigation they call me. So I've had lots of conversations with families about spanking.

    What has been very clear to me is that the vast majority of parents who spank do it in an effort to do the right thing. They aren't out to hurt their kids; they are good parents. The Globe article quoted Dr. Murray Straus, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire who studies the effects of corporal punishment on kids, as saying that people think that spanking will work when nothing else does. From what I've heard from parents over the years, this rings true to me.

    Parents see spanking as a way to make their children understand that they are really serious about something. My mother spanked me as a child -- but she reserved it for two circumstances: when I did something dangerous (like running out into the street) or when I told a lie. These were the things she most didn't want me to do, and she saw spanking as the way to get that message across.

    But research shows that actually, spanking isn't more effective than any other form of discipline -- and it can end up having effects that parents really don't want. It's not just mental health problems like the current study and other research show. Spankees are also more likely to have trouble controlling their temper -- not surprising, given that so often parents do it in moments of frustration or anger or both. It's not exactly setting the best example for temper control. They may even have a lower IQ.

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  11. continued from previous comment:

    The most common "side effect" of spanking, though, is that spankees are more likely to hit other children. This makes sense to me, and is something I talk about with parents a lot. When you spank a child you are teaching them that hitting is okay -- especially that bigger people can hit smaller people. Is that a lesson you really want them to learn?

    Now, not every kid who is spanked turns into a depressed, angry high-school dropout who beats people up. There are plenty of kids who turn out just fine. But if it's not more effective, and there are other ways to discipline your child, why take the risk?

    I don't spank my kids. But that doesn't mean I haven't thought about it in those moments when I have either been pushed to the absolute limit of my anger or frustration -- or when one of my children has done something that has scared the bejesus out of me and what I wanted more than anything was to be sure that they never, ever did it again.

    But I don't do it. My memories of being spanked are filled with humiliation and pain, and those aren't memories that I want my children to have.

    Until I read the Boston Globe article, I didn't know that many countries -- like Sweden, Germany, Spain and Venezuela -- have banned spanking. Attempts to do anything similar even on a local level here in the U.S. have fallen flat pretty quickly.

    Although I understand why spanking is parenthood's dirty little secret (nobody wants social services at the door), I wish we could find a way to talk more openly about it. If we don't talk about it, we don't get the chance to help people understand why it can be harmful -- and help them learn about other ways of discipline. If we don't talk about it, we miss a chance to reach out to stressed parents and give them support. Parenthood is really hard work -- we do better at it when we have help.

    We all want our kids to be safe, well-behaved and to learn right from wrong. I think we can do that without spanking -- especially if we work together. Only if we work together.

    To see the links embedded in this article go to:


  12. Spanking debate raises bigger questions about parenting

    By Sandy Banks, Los Angeles Times July 20, 2012

    Since my column on spanking last weekend I've been mocked by old-school advocates of spare the rod, spoil the child. And I've been lectured by parents and therapists who blame spanking for crime and social ills.

    The only thing the two sides seem to have in common is absolute certainty that their way is the only right way to raise children.

    I wrote about a study in the journal Pediatrics that concluded that children who are physically punished by their parents — hit, slapped, grabbed or shoved — are more likely to suffer from mental and personality disorders as adults.

    It's become the latest indictment of spanking, a parenting tool that even its biggest proponents can't claim to love.

    Some readers accused researchers of tilting the results by lumping spanking in with hitting and slapping.

    It's part of an "anti-spanking crusade" that has left us "surrounded by narcissistic, ill-behaved and self-absorbed young people," wrote Giuseppe Mirelli of Westwood.

    And several teachers complained that education suffers because of foul-mouthed, disrespectful students who haven't been sufficiently disciplined at home.

    Teacher Mark Overstreet said he has "heard a number of students [middle school and elementary] tell their parents … that they would call the police if the parent spanked them."

    But others said the findings condemning spanking were common sense and common knowledge.

    "Anyone with half a brain," one father wrote, "would know it's wrong to hit a child."

    Still, facts aren't always strong enough to dislodge the forces that shape real-life moments.

    "There really isn't any 'debate' about spanking or hitting children," acknowledged David Dozier, a San Diego State University public relations professor with a PhD from Stanford.

    Spanking is "degrading, humiliating and terrifying" and can set a family's "moral compass" for life, he said.

    Yet, as a frazzled single parent in the 1980s, he took to spanking his two young children. Years later, "after lots of therapy," he said, he apologized to his daughters.


    My inbox was like a peek inside families and homes, where differences in philosophy and temperament produce wildly varying parenting norms.

    Parenting is a battleground, and the prospect of a spanking is equivalent to the threat of a nuclear bomb which, "when wielded properly, need never be used," wrote a Costa Mesa father.

    "Parents who discard the tool from their arsenal, especially those who announce it, put themselves at a disadvantage," he said. "Unilateral disarmament is unhealthy to the parent/child relationship."

    continued in next comment...

  13. continued from previous comment:

    On the other side was the man who said he had never punished or even spoken sharply to his two children, now college students, and they "have never been in trouble or had any other social issues."

    "People who think that parents aren't supposed to be their kids' best friends are idiots," he declared.

    San Diego psychologist Jerry Adams didn't go that far, but he does consider punishment a parental dead-end. And he's not just talking about spanking.

    Reprimands, time outs, social restrictions — they are all part of a flawed approach to parenting, one that isn't very effective in "teaching responsible behavior," he said.

    The polarizing debate over spanking obscures a bigger issue, he said.

    Punishment doesn't help children learn to make good choices, said Adams, who has spent more than 20 years counseling families and teaching parenting classes. Discipline should rely on positive reinforcement.

    Adams backs the claim with his blog, raisehappykids.com, which advises parents to ignore inappropriate behavior and reward good choices instead.

    It's not rocket science. But his process involves a heavy familial investment — daily meetings, detailed "targeted behavior" charts, endless monitoring, maintaining, reforming.

    I imagine any parent organized, consistent and patient enough to keep that routine going for long is the sort of super-parent who wouldn't have needed to punish anyway.


    Studies are good, and so is expert advice. But in parenting, no one size fits all.

    The daring child needs moderation, the fearful child encouragement. Some children are delightfully cooperative, others frustratingly defiant. It's the parent's job to figure out what works best and steer them toward maturity.

    That's both freedom and responsibility. And it's what makes spanking so perilous. A smack on the butt in one home might be a string of beatings in another.

    So why not just be done with it and outlaw spanking in this country?

    That was a frequent refrain among readers. Most used Sweden as an example; it's the poster child for enlightened, nonviolent parenting.

    Sweden was the first country to outlaw spanking. In 1979, it banned corporal punishment of children and dozens of countries followed.

    Sweden was also a pioneer in mandating paid time off for parents. The country has one of the most generous parental leave policies in the world.

    You would have to be blind to not see the link.

    Parents in Sweden are guaranteed 16 months of paid time off in the first eight years of a child's life. It can be taken in bits and pieces, and has to be split between both parents. More than 85% of Swedish fathers spend some time as stay-at-home dads.

    That reflects a sort of family-centered agenda that the U.S. is a long way from emulating.

    Over the years, I had a series of young Swedish women living with my family. They were kind and gentle with my children — and horrified that we expect new parents to be back on their jobs within weeks.

    The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not mandate paid time off for new parents.

    Our federal laws provide only for three months of unpaid leave. That's an option that many families can't afford, particularly in this fragile economy.

    Good parenting can't be constructed from discipline formulas and expert advice. It requires being in sync with your children, in tune with their lives.

    If we really want to talk about ending spanking, we first need to look at what we ask of families.

    I don't think we need more studies. We need a cultural imperative that values children.


  14. Texas school OKs opposite sex spankings after principal breaks rule

    By Joshua Rhett Miller, Fox News September 25, 2012

    A Texas school district has decided to change its corporal punishment policy rather than apologize after a male vice principal paddled two high school girls, prompting complaints from their parents.

    Board members of Springtown ISD voted unanimously late Monday to change the district’s policy, which now requires a female administrator to be present if a male school official spanks a female student, MyFoxDFW.com reports.

    A debate over the district’s policy erupted after the mother of two girls attending Springtown High School noticed bruises left behind by the paddling doled out by Assistant Principal Kirt Shaw.

    "I did give him permission to swat her,” said Cathi Watts, whose 16-year-old daughter, Jada, suffered bruises on her backside that were visible for more than a week. “I didn't give him permission to bruise her.”

    Watts said the marks she saw on her daughter prompted her to call Child Protective Services.

    "She told me the story and I looked at her butt and I was floored. The imprint of a paddle, the imprint," Watts said.

    Another student at the school, Taylor Santos, 15, allegedly let a classmate copy her homework, prompting Shaw to discipline the girl with a large wooden paddle, which he swung with a violent, upward motion, according to the girl's mom, Anna Jorgensen.

    “She was telling me it was numb and that it burned,” Jorgensen told FoxNews.com on Monday. “And it looked like a burn. She slept on her side that night. She was more humiliated and embarrassed than anything, but the more she and I thought about it, it wasn’t fair and I thought I needed to do something about it.”

    Jorgensen told FoxNews.com her daughter initially received two days of in-school suspension for allowing another student to copy her work. When she was offered the chance to take a paddling in lieu of the second day of suspension, she submitted.

    “I really don’t think he had to hit her that hard."

    Shaw first had the girl call her mother to approve the punishment, which is required. Jorgensen said she agreed, but had no idea the whack would come from a man — or be so severe. Jorgensen said her daughter, a cross-country athlete who weighs just 95 pounds, was left with large, blistered wounds on her buttocks.

    “I really don’t think he had to hit her that hard,” she said. “I’m not saying he went in to intentionally hurt my
    daughter, but intentional or not, it did happen.”

    Springtown ISD Superintendent Mike Kelley defended the use of corporal punishment in the school system.

    “We only use corporal punishment if the parent or guardian requests it,” Kelley told FoxNews.com prior to Monday’s vote. “We have not deviated from that practice.”

    Watts, meanwhile, still believes the district’s new policy puts her daughter and other female students in a bad situation.

    "If I put a mark on her head and send her to school [child protective services] is gonna knock on my door,” Watts told MyFoxDFW.com. “No authority, no school official should be able to bruise my child.”


  15. Culture Of Abuse, Misogyny Detailed In Chicago Magazine Profile Of First Baptist Church Of Hammond

    By Chuck Sudo, Chicagoist December 12, 2012

    If you want to know about the culture that allowed former First Baptist Church of Hammond pastor Jack Schaap to transport a 16-year-old girl across state lines in order to have sexual relations, then head to Chicago magazine’s website immediately. http://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/January-2013/Let-Us-Prey-Big-Trouble-at-First-Baptist-Church/index.php

    Chicago’s Bryan Smith wrote a detailed investigative piece that reveals a culture of misogyny, sexual and physical abuse and literal interpretations of the Bible at First Baptist that precede Schaap’s crimes by decades, were tolerated by the church’s deacons and may have been carried forward by graduates of the church’s Pastor Schools and graduates of its university, Hyles-Anderson College.

    Jeri Massi, who documents sexual abuse of children among Christian fundamentalists, told Smith the sheer volume of allegations connected to First Baptist is “astonishing.”

    Examples from First Baptist “take in everything: pedophilia, violence, defamation of the innocent to protect the guilty, heresies against Christian doctrine, defiance against lawful authority. . . .” And all this barely half an hour’s drive from downtown Chicago.

    Websites dedicated to tracking the suspected crimes of Christian fundamentalists have documented a dozen cases across the country of preachers whose actions have led to a litany of arrests and civil lawsuits. Few are as high profile as Schaap, who agreed to a plea deal in September and said at his hearing he was not aware of the federal laws against transporting minors across state lines to have sex. But Schaap was merely following in the footsteps of his father-in-law, Jack Hyles, who transformed First Baptist from a sleepy Indiana church into the 14th largest church in the country.

    Hyles did so with an iron fist and an authoritarian manner that would make dictators look like consensus builders. Hyles advocated corporate punishment of children as a Godly duty.

    Spanking “should be deliberate and last at least ten or fifteen minutes,” he continued. The blows “should be painful and should last . . . until the child is crying, not tears of anger but tears of a broken will.” They should “leave stripes” if need be. The age at which such punishment should begin? Infancy.

    Smith spoke with Linda Murphrey, Hyles’ middle daughter, who described parishioners as “zombies.” Smith also touched upon the methods First Baptist used to bring children to its bus-based “youth ministry” that still is in effect today. When the word of God didn’t work, recruiters used things like ice cream, goldfish and pony rides to attract kids. If these men weren’t involved with a church they would have had to register as sex offenders. (Disclosure: As a 9-year-old, I briefly attended First Baptist services via the youth ministry and the methods Smith lists only scratches the surface.)

    When infidelities such as extramarital affairs were revealed by members of the church, Hyles and his deacons would lay the blame on what a man’s wife did to lead him astray. Jack Hyles was named as a defendant in a 1997 lawsuit filed by a 42-year-old woman who attended the church, who claimed she was raped and beaten multiple times between 1991 and 1996.
    We wrote when Schaap was arrested of his tendencies toward misogyny and sexism in his sermons; he often referred to a relationship with God in a sexual context. Chicago’s Whet Moser discovered a video of one of Schaap’s sermons titled “The Polished Shaft.” As you can see, Schaap touches on all the interpretations of the phrase. see video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Tr0UpQXYkGs

    Schaap will be sentenced for his crimes in January; he faces at least 10 years in prison.


  16. The following article is an update to a story reported in the first comment above on this page at 7 November 2011 12:41

    Sedro-Woolley parents guilty in death of adopted Ethiopian girl

    Associated Press September 9, 2013

    MOUNT VERNON — A Sedro-Woolley couple were convicted Monday in the malnutrition-and-hypothermia death of a teenage girl they had adopted from Ethiopia.

    A jury found Carri Williams guilty of homicide by abuse as well as manslaughter. Larry Williams was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter. The jury also convicted them both of assault of a child. The jury couldn’t reach a decision on the homicide by abuse charge for Larry Williams, and the judge declared a mistrial on that count

    Larry and Carri Williams face a maximum life sentence, the Skagit Valley Herald reports.

    Hana Williams died in the backyard of the family’s home in May 2011. Prosecutors said she was starved, beaten and forced outside as punishment.

    Defense lawyers argued that questionable parenting practices don’t necessarily amount to a crime.

    Hana is believed to have been 13, but no documentation of her birth in Ethiopia was available. The trial was postponed several times and her body was exhumed in January in an effort to determine her age. Tests on her teeth and bones gave varying estimates, and experts were unable to agree on her age.

    Her age was significant because the homicide by abuse charge applies only if the victim was younger than 16.

    Hana Williams was adopted in 2008.

    UPDATE, 4:38 p.m.| Reporters in the courtroom are tweeting:

    Larry Williams not found guilty of homicide by abuse. Jury was not able to reach a verdict on this count.
    Larry Williams guilty of first-degree manslaughter.
    Larry Williams guilty of first-degree assault of a child.
    Carri Williams guilty of homicide by abuse.
    Carri Williams guilty of first-degree assault of a child.

    ORIGINAL POST | MOUNT VERNON — A verdict has been reached in the trial of a Washington state couple accused of homicide by abuse in the death of their teenage daughter who was adopted from Ethiopia.

    The case against Larry and Carri Williams of Sedro-Woolley went to the jury Friday in Mount Vernon.

    The two also are charged with manslaughter in the death of Hana Williams in the backyard of the family home in May 2011. The girl died of hypothermia and malnutrition. Prosecutors say she was starved, beaten and forced outside as punishment.

    Larry and Carri Williams also are charged with first-degree child assault, for allegedly abusing their son who also was adopted in 2008 from Ethiopia.

    They have pleaded not guilty to all charges. Defense lawyers told jurors that questionable parenting practices don’t necessarily amount to a crime.


  17. Breaking Their Will: The Sick Biblical Literalism That Leads to Child Abuse and Even Death

    Authoritarian parenting and abusive practices are all too common in some Evangelical households.

    By Valerie Tarico, AlterNet September 24, 2013

    In 2008, Hana Williams was adopted from an orphanage in Ethiopia and brought to the United States where she died at the hands of her Bible-believing American parents. Their notion of Christian discipline required breaking her will, http://religiouschildmaltreatment.com/ a remarkably common belief among conservative Evangelicals. To that end, they frequently beat her, shut her in a closet, and denied her meals. Ultimately, she was left outside where she died of hypothermia exacerbated by malnutrition. They were convicted of manslaughter this month.

    In carrying out their obsession with child obedience, Hana’s adoptive parents drew tips from Tennessee preacher Michael Pearl, whose spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child book, To Train Up a Child, has been found http://religiouschildmaltreatment.com/2011/11/the-real-michael-pearl/ now in three homes of Christian parents who killed their adopted children. The title comes from a stanza in the book of Proverbs: Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.

    M. Dolon Hickmon is the author of an upcoming novel called 13:24 http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1324book/13-24-a-hard-rock-thriller-about-child-abuse-survi that includes religiously motivated abuse. Hickmon was raised by parents who subscribed to this kind of discipline, and he knows first-hand about deep and long-lasting scars from Bible-based childrearing. Hickmon left his 6,000 member megachurch after a pastor seized on Father’s Day as a prime occasion to teach the congregation how to shape and sand wooden spanking paddles. For Hickmon, the sermon triggered memories of the beatings he had suffered as a child—administered by Christian parents and justified by biblical teachings.

    While struggling to hold together his faith, Hickmon sent a letter soliciting advice from an online ministry run by the authors of a popular Evangelical parenting manual. He wrote as if he were a father experiencing marital conflict because his wife interfered when he hit their terrified, screaming six-year-old. In reality, Hickmon was describing his own childhood experience. (You can read his letter, which is full of intentional red flags, here http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nolongerquivering/2013/09/a-survivors-conversation-with-christianity/ ) The response: Your wife is at fault in coming to your son’s defense. Your son uses her. Either she stays out of the way, or you will have to stop being a real Dad.

    Mercifully, secular courts don’t agree that inflicting physical wounds is an acceptable part of parenting. Hana’s parents have been convicted for her death at their hands and will be sentenced in October. Their seven biological children and adopted son—they had also adopted a boy from Ethiopia ironically named Immanuel, meaning “God is with us”— are now safe from their abuse. It is noteworthy, though, that American children are being made safer by secular institutions, not adherence to ancient texts and traditions.

    Child protections have become established in most countries, and conversations about child-friendly religion are gaining ground. http://awaypoint.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/child-friendly-faith/ Even so, many children are subject to patriarchal http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2012/02/what-is-christian-patriarchy-an-introduction.html groups that take parenting priorities from the Iron Age.

    continued below

  18. Evangelical Christians, fearing that their religion is losing ground, have ramped up recruiting activities targeting high school and college students but also young children. Their tool bag includes afternoon club programs and enticing camps. Some churches, like that of TV’s Duggar family, promote a high birth rate, adding young sheep to the fold the old fashioned way. Many churches encourage members—even those who already have numerous children—to adopt. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/22/opinion/sunday/the-evangelical-orphan-boom.html

    Kathryn Joyce’s book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption http://www.npr.org/2013/04/16/177350912/how-evangelical-christians-are-preaching-the-new-gospel-of-adoption exposes Evangelical ministries that have resorted to even lies and bribes to pursue their mission of getting children into good Christian homes. A more common criticism is that Evangelical adoption priorities fuel construction of aid-dependent orphanages rather than addressing the underlying systemic issues that cause maternal destitution and death, leaving children parentless.

    Many Evangelical families provide a balance of love and structure and moderate discipline that helps kids thrive. But even well intentioned and loving parents can be thrown off by a church or books that hold up spare the rod, spoil the child as advice from God. When parenting practices derive literally from the Iron Age texts of Bible, the price can be enormous.

    As a child, M. Dolon Hickmon collected bits he’d heard in sermons and adult conversations, trying to understand his fear and hurt. Ultimately he decided the fault lay in himself:

    Here are the messages I gleaned from the church of my childhood: that beating children is acceptable—good for them, in fact; bruises and welts are of little consequence; that fear is desirable, as is pained screaming and broken sobbing. I’d heard that kids were to be whipped for the least act of disobedience, with belts and sticks and plastic racecar tracks; on bare skin, and as often as an adult thought was necessary.

    A child abuser, on the other hand, is someone who doesn’t love you. A parent who never gives hugs because he is angry all the time. A child abuser is a drinker, a druggie, or at best some kind of wild animal. An abuser has no reasons or explanations. He just burns kids with cigarettes and gives them broken arms.

    My abuser loved me and hugged me, and he overflowed with explanations. I once got an hour-long lesson on disobedience for leaving a crayon on the floor. While the belt clapped with the measured rhythms of chopping firewood, I struggled to commit verses to memory and to answer quizzes on the metaphysical meanings of the word honor in scripture. . . .

    I tolerated being degraded, because that was what I thought a Christian child was supposed to do.

    Children generally have a hard time protecting themselves from abusive caregivers. Children who are made to believe that God is on the side of the abuser and that they deserve to suffer are all the more unable to fend off physical and psychological wounds. To quote Pat Benetar’s song “Hell is for Children,” love and pain become one and the same in the eyes of a wounded child.

    continued below

  19. As of late, critics have been raising awareness of the link between certain kinds of religious parenting and abuse. Janet Heimlich, author of Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment, recently founded the Child-Friendly Faith Project, http://childfriendlyfaith.org/ a national nonprofit organization that educates the public about the impact that religious, spiritual, and cultural beliefs and practices have on children.

    We now know a great deal about how children flourish and how adults can manage parent-child conflict for positive outcomes. Psychologist Laura Kastner distilled two decades of parenting research into seven basic principles, which provide the structure for her book, Wise-Minded Parenting. http://www.parentmap.com/article/wise-minded-parenting-7-essentials-for-raising-successful-tweens-teens When asked to comment on recent tragedies, Kastner suggested that we may have learned a thing or two in the millennia since our sacred texts were written:

    Our growing knowledge of child development suggests that authoritative parenting grounded in mutual respect works better in the long run than threats and force. It is a shame that factions among us still support the use of the “rod” when we have abundant evidence that non-violent parental strengths are the key to building success and character.

    Tragedies like the death of Hana Williams prompt soul searching. For example, the case has prompted calls for adoption reform. But what shape should reforms take? We cannot exclude prospective parents on the basis of their religious affiliation, nor should we. Many adoptive parents are inspired by their faith to step up and do the hard sustained work of loving and raising orphaned children despite their special needs and challenges.

    And yet beliefs matter. They can override compassion http://www.wisdomcommons.org/virtues/22-compassion and common sense, http://www.wisdomcommons.org/virtues/139-common-sense as Hickmon’s experience so clearly shows. Encircled by like-minded believers, parents and children may get little exposure to outside parenting practices. This means that religious leaders have tremendous power to either cause suffering or to help families develop skills that are grounded in a genuine understanding of child development. As we collectively muddle our way toward a better future, we need to engage in a thoughtful, complicated conversation about parental power and children’s wellbeing, and the positive and negative roles religion can play in finding a balance that helps kids flourish.


    Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. http://www.wisdomcommons.org/ She is the author of "Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light" and "Deas and Other Imaginings." Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

  20. A Survivors Conversation With Christianity

    by M. Dolon Hickmon, Patheos September 12, 2013

    Six years ago I sent a letter to the husband-and-wife authors of a well-known Christian parenting guide. Criticized for its emphasis on corporal punishment and for being circumstantially linked to at least two child-abuse deaths, their book has nevertheless attracted a faithful following. As a result of their book’s polarizing effect, the guide’s authors have for many years featured in public spanking debates.

    When I wrote to these authors, I was newly reconverted to the faith of my childhood. It was to be my second go-around with Christianity. The first ended at the age of seven, when I realized that my prayers were doing nothing to keep my abuser from terrorizing my brother and me with the belt. As a second-grader, I struggled to understand how a living God could be so utterly disinterested. I resolved the dilemma by blaming myself. By puberty, I was privately thinking of myself as an atheist.

    Still, when I contacted the married authors through a form on their ministry’s website, I was Christian. How that came to be was complicated. Fittingly enough, the story began with an act of God.

    Hurricane Charley was supposed to dump lots of rain, but miss my part of Florida by hundreds of miles. Instead, the eye passed directly overhead. Due to the inaccurate forecasting, malls and schools were closed, while shelters never opened. My refuge was the thirty-year-old mobile home that I shared with two other guys. We joined our neighbors in covering windows. By afternoon, the TV was showing intense destruction farther south.

    The eye was twelve miles away when our power failed. We waited in stifling heat and darkness. The wind rose to a roar. We heard sounds of flying branches and peeling siding. Our carport blew away, and debris punctured the outside walls. Finally, a gust of wind picked up the entire trailer. I felt a floating sensation as we were lifted into the air. Then pop, pop, pop, as the wind tugged against metal tie-down straps. The house settled and was snatched up again and again. A corner of our roof flapped, then opened like a sardine can. Objects the size of tractor trailers could be heard blowing down the street.

    We’re going to die.

    I tried reasoning with myself, but my self insisted.

    Storms kill people in trailers all the time.

    Panic made me want to do something stupid, like run outside. At nearly the same instant, my friends,
    who had been barely speaking for the last week, faced each other and apologized.

    After that, nobody talked.

    I faced mortality from what I believed to be one minute away. With my toes dangling over eternity, I never prayed. Rather, the experience reminded me of a particularly fearsome whipping, back when I was no older than seven.

    Afterward, I couldn’t shake the memories that the ordeal had triggered: the belt; tears on carpet; my voice begging. Over weeks, more recollections emerged: my older brother wetting the bed; the belt; humiliation; him pleading.

    I called my brother on the telephone. “Could these things have happened?”

    He laughed. “That’s the least of it.”

    Memories haunted me, and at the center, there was our old church and my abuser’s worn-out Bible. I lost my job, all my friends, then my mind. Therapy didn’t work. Medication didn’t work. Nothing worked.

    I tried suicide.

    An uncle fetched me from the hospital. I hadn’t seen him in twenty years. He’d become a jail chaplain, the kind who wore a braided beard and motorcycle club patches on a black leather vest. His advice:

    Forget everything you know about Christianity—start again.

    I was exhausted. I wanted someone to take care of me. I turned to Jesus.

    I joined a church, played guitar at the prison, and taught Bible studies to inmates. Before long I was leading a men’s fellowship. There were benefits to keeping busy, but the nightmares and flashbacks never stopped.

    continued below

  21. My re-deconversion began at a Wednesday evening church service. Children were told to remain with their parents, rather than leaving for Sunday school. An associate pastor then used his Father’s Day speaking slot to explain the process of cutting and sanding your own wooden paddles. Parents didn’t have to worry, he explained, because the handles would break off if you hit your children too hard. Paddling could leave marks, but if you hugged your kid afterward, that was fine.

    I sat in the pew, heart racing. It was the lesson that my childhood pastor had given, thirty years ago. It was why I’d thought being beaten into submission was normal. It was the reason I’d never complained to anyone.

    My uncle had convinced me that our old church was strange. He’d insisted that in all his years, he’d never heard anything like it. But here were the same lessons, preached to a six-thousand-member congregation.

    I was angry, then confused.

    I knew this pastor! He seemed decent. He knew how to juggle.

    I approached him after service, and he agreed to a meeting in his office. I relayed a few details of the maltreatment I’d suffered and told him how the evening’s sermon had affected me. He attended, seeming as if he might cry. But when I asked him if he could see how his advice promoted physical abuse, he didn’t get it.

    “I said discipline in love and never in anger! I said that you must make clear what was done wrong and hug the child afterward. In this way, the child’s dignity is increased.” The pastor smiled beatifically, as if that settled that.

    I answered, “My abuser loved me, and I always knew what I’d done wrong. His attitude was not anger but grim determination. He was taught that beatings would work–and that if they didn’t, his only choice was to beat harder or longer. He hugged me when I was done crying. That made me feel worse, not better.”

    The pastor showed me verses from the book of Proverbs; told me those verses were promises—and God couldn’t be a liar. I was willing to believe, but things had happened to me that his verses could not explain.

    The pastor’s voice took on the tones of debate; but for me, there was nothing to argue. He’d chosen not to believe my explanation of events—but I couldn’t choose to have had a different childhood.

    He suggested that we agree to disagree. From that, it was clear that he hadn’t grasped the stakes: on the question of whether or not to spank, and if so, when and how, it is possible to share a faith and yet differ. But his sermon had reopened the fundamental religious dilemma of my childhood. My faith was critically wounded, though it would take years for me to be able to explain why.

    After that meeting, I pored over a century of Christian parenting counsel, including tomes by James Dobson, Richard Fugate, Larry Tomczak, Roy Lessin, and Michael and Debi Pearl. They presented similar views, with nearly identical scriptural underpinnings. Yet when I compared my memories of abuse to the authors’ instructions, there was nothing added or left out.

    This matters, because abused children rifle through our books; they hear our sermons and eavesdrop on adult conversations. I know because that is what I did. From these and other inadvertent sources, I tried to discern whether my brother and I were in need of protection.

    Here are the messages I gleaned from the church of my childhood: that beating children is acceptable—good for them, in fact; that bruises and welts are of little consequence; that fear is desirable, as is pained screaming and broken sobbing. I’d heard that kids were to be whipped for the least act of disobedience, with belts and sticks and plastic racecar tracks; on bare skin, and as often as an adult thought was necessary.

    continued below

  22. A child abuser, on the other hand, is someone who doesn’t love you. A parent who never gives hugs because he is angry all the time. A child abuser is a drinker, a druggie, or at best some kind of wild animal. An abuser has no reasons or explanations. He just burns kids with cigarettes and gives them broken arms.

    My abuser loved me and hugged me, and he overflowed with explanations. I once got an hour-long lesson on disobedience for leaving a crayon on the floor. While the belt clapped with the measured rhythms of chopping firewood, I struggled to commit verses to memory and to answer quizzes on the metaphysical meanings of the word honor in scripture. Afterward, I was too sore to sit or lie down.

    The Bible says, “Don’t exasperate your children by how you treat them.” But I’d been told that it was an adult’s job to make me regret the bad things I did. So instead of feeling exasperated, I pitied my abuser. After all, I was forcing him to do something that he assured me he did not enjoy.

    I tolerated being degraded, because that was what I thought a Christian child was supposed to do. I believed that in time I would come to appreciate my abuser’s good intentions. Instead, what dawned during my twenties and early thirties was that I was emotionally ill from being traumatized.

    Adults can debate whether my abuser was angry, in some calm, deliberate way; we can say that inflicting emotional injury is the opposite of administering loving discipline; we can draw fine lines between childishness and disobedience. However, such subtle thoughts are lost on a five- or nine-year-old.

    The cautions that bracket pastors’ paddling advice are inadequate—not because a few wackos might take the wrong portions literally (though many have), but because abused children certainly will. The evangelical boilerplate protects churches from lawsuits, but it doesn’t tell the youngest Christians that they must protect their bodies and sanity by making an outcry when they are maltreated.

    If God inspired my pastor’s sermons on child-whipping, why hadn’t he spared a word for that stoic kindergartner, shifting uncomfortably on his insulted bottom? Did God not realize that I’d been grasping at every mention of the subject of spanking, because the dread of being whipped was a physical illness that followed me night and day?

    God’s omission is something that I still have trouble reconciling.

    But I hadn’t formed such a thought when I wrote to the authors of that controversial parenting book. At that time, I was still Christian. But I couldn’t ignore the feeling of outraged disgust that grew with each word of that parenting book that I read.

    My soul said: This is wrong.

    It said: With backward glances and furtive fingers, abused children will read this. They will hear these ideas bellowed from pulpits, now and for the rest of their lives. As children, they will blame themselves for being beaten, and as adults they will wonder how a decent God could let a defective and incomplete message to continue going out in His name.

    It took years to distill that gut feeling into the words you have just read. The process involved spending hours per day studying and writing about every facet of spiritual and physical child abuse, PTSD, and corporal punishment. Halfway through, I realized that posing the right question would require an accurate depiction of abuse and survival.

    The essay I’d been planning turned into a novel.

    The result is a psychological thriller, called 13:24. It follows the son of an evangelical parenting expert as he progresses from a childhood in the church to a career as the singer of a Gothic heavy metal band.

    A murder investigation involving a fourteen-year-old fan leads to a long-delayed confrontation between the rock singer and his minister dad.

    continued below

  23. Though it reads like pop fiction, the book delves deeply into the political, cultural and scriptural underpinnings of religion-related child abuse, offering fresh insights, which are intended to add light, rather than heat, to public discussions of the role of the church in preventing child abuse.

    Below is the note I sent to the married Christian authors, formatted as a request for advice. The circumstances I described are representative, except that I am not the father in the story.

    I am the little boy who could not stop screaming.

    My son is six years old, and he cries excessively when I correct him with the Rod. I know the crying is unnecessary because he begins before I’ve even hit him. He falls on the floor and screams murder if I even look like I might be ready to spank him.

    I’ve shown my wife how he freaks out when I have not even touched him, but she insists on interrupting every time I spank. She’s taught him that he can get out of being disciplined by making a lot of noise. I spank at least twice a week, more often if needed. I use my belt, which is how my dad disciplined me. As I’ve said, my son is very theatrical. I have told him that he can either stand up or lay on the bed for his spanking. He chooses to stand, then hops around as if I am killing him. I aim for his butt, but with him moving I am getting his back half the time. He also likes to fall down and cover his butt by kneeling or squatting. If he won’t get up, I give him a few strokes on the back to encourage him. Sometimes even this doesn’t work and I wind up chasing him around the bed.

    My wife insists that I am spanking too often and too harshly. She gets upset if she sees a welt or a small bruise, especially above the waist. My son is quite the little actor. I’m glad we don’t have any neighbors nearby because by the sound of his screaming you would think a murder was going on!

    Aside from being plain annoying, his behavior is creating problems for me and my wife. She is so overprotective that my authority is undermined. The kids (I have an older son also) are carrying on like monkeys and she will not let me spank, or when I do, she will not let me do more than a couple of “love taps.”

    I tried spanking them when she was out of the house, but of course my younger son reported me to his mother and we had a fight. That one ended with her packing her suitcase and going to her sister’s house.

    I am at my wit’s end trying to figure out what to do about my wife’s meddling and my son’s screaming! Please help!!

    The response, from the female half of the writing duo, was brief:

    Your wife is at fault in coming to your son’s defense. Your son uses her. Either she stays out of the way, or you will have to stop being a real Dad.

    Exactly what our pastor told my mother thirty years ago.

    —M. Dolon Hickmon is the author of 13:24 – A Story of Faith and Obsession. Set against a backdrop of murder and heavy-metal music, 13:24 examines lives touched by spiritual child abuse and malicious physical punishment. Written with input from experts in relevant fields, it is a fast-paced crime thriller that entertains as it informs.

    Learn more at the book’s website: http://1324book.com


  24. Boy Hit With Ruler, Spoon Daily For Years In 'Misguided' Attempt At Discipline

    By The Canadian Press April 10, 2014

    PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. - A British Columbia man who was once described by a judge as "evil incarnate" and is already serving a lengthy prison term for sexually assaulting his stepdaughters has been sentenced for strapping his stepson nearly every day for six years.

    The man, whose name cannot be published, pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon for hitting his stepson with a ruler and a wooden spoon starting when he was seven and lasting until he was 13.


    The stepfather was sentenced in January to 16 years for sexually assaulting the boy's two older sisters, after he forced them to have sex with him, made sexually explicit photos and videos, and forced one of the girls to engage in sexual activity with the family dog.

    In the case involving the boy, a transcript of his sentencing hearing, which was posted to the B.C. Supreme Court website Thursday, says the man physically assaulted the boy over a period of time after the year 2000 near Prince George.

    The stepfather, who is now 56, had married the children's mother and was living with the family.

    "(The stepfather), in what can best be described as a very misguided attempt at discipline, severely strapped (the boy) on the buttocks on an almost daily basis," Judge Kathleen Ker told a sentencing hearing in Prince George last month, according to the transcript.

    At first, the stepfather hit the boy over the child's clothing, the judgment says. When the boy turned 12, the man strapped his bare bottom.

    Each session involved at least 20 straps, the judgment says, increasing as the boy grew older. Occasionally, he would hit the boy as many as 90 times in one session, the judgment says.

    At the time, the children's mother was out of the country, making the stepfather their primary caregiver.

    Following the man's guilty plea, the Crown and defence submitted a joint proposal for a one-year sentence, to be served at the same time as his sexual assault sentence.

    The sexual assault conviction was entered last year, after the man stood trial in Prince George. He was sentenced in January of this year.

    In that case, the court heard the man repeatedly sexually assaulted two stepdaughters, again after 2000, from when the girls were 11 to 12 until they were both over the age of 16.

    A court ruling issued last year said the man repeatedly fondled the girls and forced them to have sex. He read them sexually explicit stories and showed them pornography, and eventually took photos and video of them.

    The man forced the eldest girl to engage in sexual activity with the family dog, the earlier ruling said.

    The stepfather's biological son also pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the oldest of the two girls.

    Like the physical assault on the boy, last year's ruling notes the stepfather was able to repeatedly assault the girls, in part, because their mother was often away. The man timed the sexual assaults around the mother's schedule, the ruling said.

    The ruling also said the stepfather used religion to control the household.

    When the man was sentenced earlier this year, Judge Selwyn Romilly had harsh words for him.

    "I have been a judge for almost 40 years. This offender is one of the most evil men that I have encountered during my long tenure on the bench," said Romilly.

    "The man is evil incarnate. He is a monster. It is said that the devil can cite scripture for his own use. That is certainly the case here."

    Romilly ordered the stepfather to be registered as a sex offender.

    Sentencing decisions in both cases required the man to submit a DNA sample and prohibited him from owning firearm for 10 years.


  25. Pastor and church members plead guilty to beating 13-year-old boy

    by CAITLIN OWENS, Los Angeles Times July 7, 2014

    The pastor and two members of a Corona church pleaded guilty Monday to state charges of beating and threatening the life of a 13-year-old boy, who was forced to dig his own grave, authorities said.

    Lonny Lee Remmers, 56, Nicholas James Craig, 24, and Darryll Duane Jeter Jr., 30, tortured the boy in the church-run group home where he lived, according to a witness report in affidavits for search warrants.

    Remmers was then the pastor of Heart of Worship Community Church and ran the group home where Craig, Jeter and the victim lived. It was unclear Monday whether Remmers was still the pastor.

    The March 2012 incidents included Craig and Jeter driving the victim to the desert and forcing him to dig his own grave. They then made him get in and threw dirt on him. They were responding to Remmers' instruction to "scare" the boy, according to the affidavits.

    While the boy was showering, one of the men rubbed salt into the cuts on his back, according to Steven Larkey, who lived in the group home and provided the witness report in the affidavit. He told investigators he could hear the boy screaming and saw blood all over the shower the next day.

    The victim was later tied to a chair with zip ties and placed in the shower. Mace was sprayed on his face, causing it to bleed, and he was not allowed to rinse off for about 30 minutes, according to the victim's account in the affidavit.

    At a Bible study later that evening at Remmers' home, Remmers asked the boy to sit in the middle of the group and then squeezed his nipple with pliers.

    The boy, his mother and sister were members of Remmers' church. His mother and sister lived in a women's group home, but the boy said he had been moved to the men's home as a disciplinary action.

    Remmers entered guilty pleas to inflicting bodily injury on a child and assault with a deadly weapon. He will receive a sentence of up to two years in state prison.

    At a minimum, he will receive the same sentence as Craig and Jeter, who each were placed on three years of formal probation and must complete a year in custody. They each pleaded guilty to charges of child abuse and making criminal threats, according to the Riverside County district attorney's office.

    "There were new developments, which we will not be discussing, that caused us to believe this was the best disposition for all those involved," said John Hall, spokesman for the Riverside County district attorney.

    Remmers' sentencing date is scheduled for Sept. 26.


  26. Pastor brags about punching ‘dangerously bright’ kid

    by Michael Stone, Progressive Secularist Humanist January 10, 2015

    Sometimes Christian love requires violence: In a disturbing video clip, a pastor brags about punching a “dangerously bright” kid in the chest for “not taking the Lord serious.”

    In the video, an unnamed pastor talks about his days of being a youth pastor, and explains how he assaulted a “smart aleck” kid for “not taking the Lord serious.”

    In the video the pastor says: "I punched him in the chest as hard as I could. I crumpled the kid."

    The clip ends with the pastor explaining: “There’s times that that (assaulting children) might be needed.”

    The problem is not only with the pastor who believes it is fine and dandy to assault children, and then brag about it. Perhaps even more troubling is the “good Christians” listening to their pastor justify child abuse without objecting.

    It is frightening to think of how many Christians would agree with this pastor, and see nothing wrong with this sort of child abuse as long as it is in service to the Lord.

    And that’s what they call Christian love.



  27. Married church minister ran bottom spanking cult

    Grown women were persuaded to strip naked so a senior minister, 72, could spank them over his knee for his own pleasure, court hears

    The Telegraph. September 18, 2015

    A church minister used the Bible to justify spanking vulnerable women on their bare bottoms to satisfy his own sexual desires, a court heard today

    Howard Curtis, 72, former senior minister of the Coulsdon Christian Fellowship, south London, allegedly ran a "cult" where grown women were persuaded to strip naked so he could spank them over his knee for his own pleasure.

    Married Curtis and his "inner circle" used "unorthodox" teachings to instill discipline and drive out evil spirits in both women and children who had come to him for help, it is said.

    His abuse of their trust continued as he moved "from one woman to another" and his confidence grew, Croydon Crown Court heard.

    Curtis, who left his role as a senior minister at the independent Baptist church in June 2013, is faces 12 charges involving seven victims.

    The former leader of the church, a role he left in May 2012, is charged with five counts of cruelty to children under 16 years of age, two counts of indecent assault, and four of sexual assault.

    Additionally he faces one count of assault by penetration, while the offences are said to have occurred between January 1969 and July 2013.

    Jane Osborne, prosecuting, said: "Howard Curtis was the pastor of a religious body, or organisation, called the Coulson Christian Fellowship, and had been in that position for some time.

    "The church had a small congregation that followed him. In more recent years he had become more independent of any religious body, and was the church was effectively run by him.

    "It was run and administered on a full-time basis by the defendant, his wife Marilyn, as well as his inner circle - part of a close-knit structure.

    "In reality he ran this organisation much more like a cult within a church."

    Ms Osborne continued: "The background to this case focusses around this defendant, the church he was involved in and the people who attended that church over the years.

    "This case is in very broad terms about the abuse by this defendant of the trust placed in him by vulnerable people who attended his church.

    "It is also about the abuse of women and children - in the case of the women, abuse that was for his own pleasure.

    "What you are going to hear is how a number of grown women, already vulnerable when they came to his church from domestic and sexual abuse, financial desperation and depression, came to the defendant for help.

    "But when they did so they were taken advantage of by him. When each of those women sought his help, he offered it to them.

    "He suggested he would be able to counsel them and they believed he was an experienced and seasoned counsellor.

    "What in fact took place was an abuse of the trust they had placed in him.

    "He would spank them over their bare bottoms, getting them to strip naked during the counselling under the guise of helping them get over their former abuse."

    continued below

  28. Jurors heard Curtis would also smack children in his congregation excessively, "but not in a way to warn or chastise them.

    "He would put them over his knee and hit them hard until they cried and, in some cases, marks appeared, in what the Crown would say amounted to cruelty",
    Ms Osborne continued.

    "His teachings were unorthodox: there would be Bible studies led by him and he would interpret the wording of the studies to suit his own purposes.

    "He would conduct something known as 'deliverance ministry', said to be casting out evil spirits from a person, and he would tell people that discipline needed to be administered to people, in particular to women.

    "This would be done by striking flesh with a bare hand.

    "It was from those teachings that he used to subject those women who had come forward for help to his abuse.

    "The defendant effectively moved from one person to the other, taking advantage of them for his own pleasure.

    "His confidence and level of abuse grew as he discovered these women were unlikely to complain about what he did."

    The court was told Curtis also had a "vision, a message from God" that he would establish a church with 1,000 members in Cane Hill psychiatric hospital in Coulsdon, south London.

    Hard-of-hearing Curtis, wore a dark suit and grey tie today and was aided by a pair of headphones, while he was supported by his wife who sat in the public gallery.

    Curtis, of Wallington, south London, denies all charges.

    The trial continues.


  29. NY teen fatally beaten during church 'counselling' session

    Mother, among 6 people charged, too timid to stop beating, lawyer says.

    The Associated Press Posted: Oct 14, 2015

    A woman charged with beating her teenage son to death inside a church felt helpless to stop an intervention that spiraled into violent punishment by others, her lawyer said Thursday.

    As the encounter turned violent, Deborah Leonard didn't have the emotional strength to oppose others in a church where she had worshipped for 30 years, attorney Devin Garramone said.

    "It looks like she went along with it and it spun out of control," he said. "This woman is so meek and timid, she didn't have the temerity to stand up to them and say, 'You're not punishing my kid. You're not doing this."'

    Leonard stands charged with manslaughter in the death of her son Lucas, 19, but Garramone said he believed other people caused the fatal injuries. Six people have been arrested in the beatings of Lucas and his brother Christopher, 17, who were pummeled with fists and kicked at the Word of Life church in New Hartford during what police describe as a spiritual counselling session to urge them to confess sins and seek forgiveness.

    Garramone and police say they aren't certain why the boys were being punished. But whatever the reason, the brothers are victims, police Chief Michael Inserra stressed.

    Insular church

    "We want to understand why this happened, how this session got so out of control that it cost the life of a young man," he said in an interview Thursday. "I think once we do, it will put the community at ease."

    The small, insular church also served as home to some of its members. The parishioners so firmly kept to themselves that when a fire broke out a few years ago, they extinguished it themselves and didn't want to let firefighters in, Inserra said.

    After Lucas Leonard was taken to a hospital Monday, police came to suspect his younger brother had also been hurt, but their relatives wouldn't tell officers where Christopher Leonard was, the chief said.

    Only after searching for hours and contacting a former church member did police locate him in a room on the second floor, Inserra said. The teen emerged after speaking to police by phone.

    "The membership of this church, they're devoted to the church" and to spiritual leader Traci Irwin and pastor Tiffanie Irwin, Inserra said. "And they, a lot of times, wait to be told what to do."

    The spiritual leader and pastor, who are mother and daughter, respectively, have not been charged.

    The brothers suffered injuries to the abdomen, genitals, back and thighs during an hours-long attack, authorities said. Deborah Leonard "had no idea how far it would be taken," her lawyer said.

    Seclusion sparks suspicion

    She and her husband — the boys' father, Bruce Leonard — have pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. Four other people, including the victims' sister, Sarah Ferguson, 33, have pleaded not guilty to assault. Lawyers for the father and the sister haven't commented.

    The congregation's seclusion had long sparked suspicion in its rural area about 80 kilometres from Syracuse, and Inserra said church members occasionally complained to police about harassment by local youths. But overall, the church was a quiet presence, he said.

    Housed in a former school building, the roughly 30-year-old church had perhaps 40 or more members at its peak but now counts closer to 20, Inserra said.

    Tara Litz, who used to live nearby, remembers being puzzled by the members' seeming secrecy and chanting in the night. But they would also offer her bread, cakes and invitations to join in church activities, she said.

    "They were always very kind to me," she said.

    In nearby Clayville, a village of 350 people where the Leonards live, neighbours recalled a highly religious family that kept mostly to itself.


  30. Mom too weak and timid to stop son’s fatal beating during church ‘counseling session,’ attorney says

    By Lindsey Bever, The Washington Post October 15, 2015

    The red brick building is quiet now, though a sign on the door still tells visitors: “Welcome to Word of Life.” Inside one room of the former schoolhouse, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard, there is “cold coffee still in Styrofoam cups and a half-eaten pork sandwich sitting on a counter.” In another, according to the newspaper, a notebook is open, showing what appears to be sermon notes.

    Some who live near the mysterious Word of Life Church near New Hartford, N.Y., call it a “cult,” telling the Syracuse Post-Standard that they often hear members singing and chanting in the middle of the night. The men, they say, walk around in “long, black trenchcoats.”

    “There was just a really weird vibe about the place,” a former neighbor, Adriane Hectus, told the Utica Observer-Dispatch.

    It was inside the building where, police said, a couple allegedly beat one of their teenage sons to death and seriously injured another, with help from parishioners.

    New Hartford Police Chief Michael Inserra told reporters Wednesday that following a church service on Sunday night, 19-year-old Lucas Leonard and his brother, 17-year-old Christopher Leonard, were forced to sit through what parishioners called a “counseling session” that turned violent. For hours, the teens were physically punished “in hopes that each would confess to prior sins and ask for forgiveness,” Inserra said.

    Their mother’s attorney now claims she was too “meek and timid” to stop it.

    As a result of the beating, Lucas Leonard was pronounced dead Monday at a nearby hospital, sustaining blows to his abdomen, back, genitals and thighs, police said. Inserra said autopsy results showed contusions to his torso and extremities.

    His brother, Christopher Leonard, remains hospitalized in serious condition.

    Their parents, Bruce Leonard, 65, and Deborah Leonard, 59, from Clayville, were charged with first-degree manslaughter, Inserra said at a news conference Wednesday. The two are being held in Oneida County Jail on $100,000 bail. Four fellow church members were charged with second-degree assault and are being held on $50,000 bail. Police have not given a possible motive for the attack.

    Deborah Leonard’s attorney, Devin Garramone, told the Associated Press on Thursday that she “had no idea how far it would be taken” and was too weak to put an end to it.

    “It looks like she went along with it, and it spun out of control,” he said. “This woman is so meek and timid, she didn’t have the temerity to stand up to them and say, ‘You’re not punishing my kid. You’re not doing this.’ ”

    At some point, parishioners noticed that Lucas Leonard was not breathing, Inserra said. Early Monday afternoon, family members drove him to the nearby St. Luke’s Hospital, and medical personnel called police, reporting a possible gunshot wound.

    The teen was pronounced dead at the hospital.

    Inserra said police determined that he died from blunt-force trauma, not a gunshot wound.

    After hours of interviews, investigators discovered that he had been assaulted at the church.

    continued below

  31. State and local authorities swarmed the scene. Police in a “military” vehicle parked outside and armed officers laid down in the grass and aimed rifles at the building, witnesses told the Syracuse Post-Standard.

    Authorities obtained a search warrant and made a “tactical entry” into the building, police said. Inside, officers found Christopher Leonard and transported him to a nearby hospital.

    Police said several other children were also discovered in the building and were turned over to child protective services.

    Police arrested Bruce and Deborah Leonard as well as four others: David Morey, 26; Linda Morey, 54; Sarah Ferguson, 33; and Joseph Irwin, 26.

    Attempts to reach church members were unsuccessful.

    Authorities have identified the church as “Word of Life Church,” though a sign on its building reads “Word of Life Christian Church.”

    Asked about claims that it was a cult, Inserra told reporters: “I’ve heard that term on the street and I’ve even read it in the news.” But, he said, a police investigation hadn’t yet shown it to be true.

    “There’s always been weird things going on,” Julie Howard, who lives near the church, told NBC affiliate WKTV. “You always hear dogs, they’re breeding dogs. …

    “The cult thing over here has been going on for a while — I guess around 30 years. It’s their own religion, everybody stays in their own religion. It’s like one big happy family of about 30 of them.”

    Bruce Leonard’s attorney, Don Gerace, told The Post his client was born and raised in upstate New York. He has worked as a farmer and, more recently, a teaching assistant at a local high school. He has no prior criminal history, Gerace said.

    Gerace said Bruce and Deborah Leonard have been married for more than 20 years; for the past eight years, he said, the two have attended the church. Gerace also would not comment on claims that the church was a cult.

    “People are entitled to their own opinions,” he said.

    At an arraignment Tuesday, the couple pleaded not guilty. A hearing is set for Friday for the court to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a grand jury.

    Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing police investigation. But he distinguished between “murder” and “manslaughter” charges, explaining that murder requires intent to kill; manslaughter requires only intent to harm — and to show that the injuries lead to death.

    “I’m sure there will be more charges,” he said. “There are a lot of things going on. … There are more people who could be charged too.”


  32. Congregants Were Abused and Shamed at Church Where Fatal Beating Occurred, Ex-Member Says

    By BENJAMIN MUELLER, New York Times OCT. 16, 2015

    The founder and longtime pastor at Word of Life Christian Church shamed congregants from the pulpit, dredging up old sins and recounting them at Sunday services in humiliating detail, a former member said.

    He demanded they redo the floors and fix the plumbing in his living quarters, day after day for hours, until they felt numb from sleep deprivation. Members who raised questions were put on church discipline and forbidden to speak to others.

    And the founder, Jerry Irwin, taught hate, using racial slurs during sermons, according to the former member, Chadwick Handville.

    In the aftermath of the brutal beating at Word of Life Christian Church in central New York that left one teenage congregant dead and his younger brother seriously injured this week, investigators have been trying to understand how that violent episode may have grown out of what some described as a church culture of secrecy and isolation.

    Mr. Handville, who defected from the church in 2000 after a decade of praying and working there and who now lives in Phoenix, offered the first detailed public account since the teenager’s death of what happened behind the church’s locked gates and thick row of hedges.

    “Everybody who’s gone there is a victim of abuse,” he said in a phone interview on Thursday. “This was a cult. This was not a church; I don’t care what words they use on the building. The spirit of that place was not freedom.”

    He added, “It ruined a lot of lives.”

    Mr. Handville, 47, a licensed massage therapist and writer who remains deeply religious, said he had been a member of Word of Life Christian Church for several years when Mr. Irwin returned to New Hartford, N.Y., in the early 1990s and retook control of the church, which occupies a three-story former schoolhouse. (Mr. Irwin had founded the church in the 1980s before he briefly moved away and ceded leadership, Mr. Handville said.)

    The pastor kicked out the old, gentler leadership and made himself answerable to nobody, Mr. Handville recalled.

    “Soon he became the only authority in that church, the sole authority,” he said. “Then things broke down: respect for each other, respect for the law, respect for other people.”

    Mr. Irwin decided to take over the third floor of the former schoolhouse as living quarters for himself, his wife, Traci Irwin, and their children, Mr. Handville said. He said that the pastor forced congregants — there were roughly 30 serious followers — to do the physical labor required to overhaul the space and add a play area for the children.

    That included redoing the floors, plumbing, electrical wiring, gas lines and structural work, Mr. Handville said. Mr. Irwin also demanded that parishioners mow the grass, paint walls and perform routine maintenance work. He often forced them to break building codes and flout guidance from inspectors, Mr. Handville said.

    Mr. Handville said he would sometimes arrive at the church after trying to spend time with his wife or children, or from working his day job, only to be forced into more hours of physical labor at the church. Depriving congregants of sleep appeared to be part of a plan to control them.

    “They sleep-deprive you because you become open to suggestions, usually what they’re teaching you,” Mr. Handville said. “They’re breaking you down so they can build you up the way they want to.”

    continued below

  33. Mr Irwin died several years ago. He handed leadership to his wife, who the authorities said was the current spiritual leader; congregants call her Mother.

    Their daughter, Tiffanie Irwin, 29, is the pastor. The authorities said she called the teenage brothers to a counseling session at the church after Sunday services because she was concerned the older brother, Lucas Leonard, 19, would leave the church.

    Mr. Leonard was pronounced dead the day after being beaten, and his brother, Christopher Leonard, 17, remained hospitalized with serious injuries. Their parents, Bruce T. Leonard, 65, and Deborah Leonard, 59, have been charged with first-degree manslaughter. One of Mr. Irwin’s sons, Joseph Irwin, 26, was among four other church members who were charged with assault in the beating.

    Messages left for members of the Irwin family this week have not been answered, and a lawyer for Joseph Irwin did not respond to a message left for him on Thursday.

    Mr. Handville recalled Bruce Leonard and his wife as frequent targets of Mr. Irwin’s abuse, even though he said the elder Mr. Leonard was a hard worker who loved his children and always made time for them.

    “They were always on church discipline,” Mr. Handville said of the Leonards. “They were always bullied spiritually.”

    He said church discipline meant that Mr. Irwin forbid other congregants to sit next to offenders at church, to talk them or to go to their houses for dinner.

    “You were kind of being shamed or shunned, what Jerry would call out of a rebellious state,” Mr. Handville said. “He used that technique often.”

    He said he never knew Mr. Irwin to strike or hurt members, and said he never saw anyone physically abused at the church.

    But, Mr. Handville said: “I felt threatened spiritually, I felt threatened emotionally. He was very manipulative and very sly.”

    The church emphasized serious Bible study. Mr. Handville said at one point he had half of the book memorized. But, he added, “There were sometimes racial slurs.” He said Mr. Irwin would also “speak harshly” to congregants at regular services, speaking about past sins in an effort to humiliate them.

    “We were always told we were so rebellious,” Mr. Handville said. “I think that was so that we would do what we were told — plain and simple.”

    When parishioners challenged Mr. Irwin’s methods or asked him unwanted questions, as Mr. Handville did toward the end of his tenure, Mr. Irwin lashed out, he said.

    Mr. Handville said he was put on church discipline shortly before he left. He and his family were living in a mobile home owned by another parishioner, who evicted them under pressure from Mr. Irwin, he said.

    He has since moved to Phoenix and made a clean break with the church, undergoing counseling and relearning a gentler form of Christianity, he said. He said he forgave Mr. Irwin for the pain he inflicted upon the church.

    But Mr. Irwin apparently did not forget him; Mr. Handville heard from other members that he remained the target of angry Sunday sermons even after he left.

    Kendra Szabo contributed reporting from Phoenix, and Susan C. Beachy contributed research.


  34. Parents fatally whipped teen who wanted to quit church, New York court hears

    Associated Press in New Hartford, New York October 17, 2015

    A mother and father whipped their 19-year-old son to death with an electrical cord during an all-night spiritual counseling session triggered by his desire to leave their church, a a New York court has heard.

    Lucas Leonard was subjected to a 12-hour ordeal by his parents, sister and fellow church members at the Word of Life Christian church in New Hartford, New York, on Sunday, police and witnesses alleged.

    His 17-year-old brother Christopher was also beaten and was admitted to hospital in a serious condition.

    The parents, Bruce and Deborah Leonard, are accused of manslaughter. At a court hearing on Friday, a judge ruled there was sufficient evidence to sustain the charges.

    Four other church members, including the victims’ 33-year-old sister, Sarah Ferguson, have been charged with assault. Their hearings will be held later. All six defendants have pleaded not guilty.

    Church deacon Daniel Irwin testified at the hearing that he saw Lucas bleeding and in apparent agony. “Lucas was rolling himself back and forth on the floor and making a sustained, monotone moaning,” he said.

    He said he received a text message after services ended at 8pm on Sunday saying the Leonard family would be part of a counseling session with the church’s pastor, Tiffanie Irwin, his sister. Irwin said he was not told what the session was about and didn’t participate.

    Watching through a window at around 10pm, Irwin said, he saw Bruce Leonard hit Lucas up to six times with what appeared to be a belt and hit Christopher. The young men winced, Irwin said, but Lucas did not try to defend himself.

    Their mother hit Lucas with a cord out of anger over “things that he had said”, investigator Todd Grant testified. He said he had not asked her what those things were. A neighbor, James Constantine, said Lucas had talked about moving on and had mentioned that he might join the army. Another investigator, Jason Nellis, said the mother told police the group took turns hitting Lucas and holding him down.

    Irwin said that around 10am on Monday panicked church members ran up to him and said they thought Lucas was dead. Irwin said he dashed into the church to find Lucas lying motionless on the floor, and Lucas’s father and brother and Irwin’s mother, church spiritual leader Traci Irwin, trying to resuscitate him. Lucas was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

    The defendants include Daniel Irwin’s brother, Joseph Irwin. Asked after the hearing whether Daniel Irwin or any additional relatives could face charges, the Oneida County district attorney Scott McNamara said prosecutors “are looking at everybody that’s involved”. He later said he anticipated more people could be charged. Traci and Tiffanie Irwin have not been charged and have not commented.

    Bruce Leonard’s attorney argued during the hearing that prosecutors had not proved the couple intended serious injuries to their son. Deborah Leonard’s lawyer said the mother felt helpless to stop an “intervention” that she had not expected to become so harsh.

    The roughly 30-year-old Word of Life church once had perhaps 40 or more members but now counts closer to 20, authorities said.

    There are thousands of small, independent Christian churches around the US, many of them following a very strict fundamentalist theology, said David Bromley, a religion professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. Their beliefs can lead to strong resistance when a member wishes to leave, he said.

    “If you get into a very conservative group where there is only one way and God’s wrath is about to be unleashed on humanity and we’re the faithful remnant, then leaving the group is a very serious condition, from the point of view of members,” Bromley said.


  35. NY church descended into fear before teens fatal beating, ex-members say

    Many current members fear talking publicly about ultraconservative Word of Life Christian Church

    The Associated Press October 17, 2015

    Former members of the upstate New York church where two teens were viciously beaten, one fatally, paint a picture of a once vibrant and joyous house of worship that had declined into a place of fear and intimidation under new leadership.

    "When I first arrived, it was warm and welcoming. It was encouraging. It was helpful," said Chadwick Handville, a massage therapist in Phoenix, Ariz., who left the Word of Life Christian Church in June 2000 after 10 years that included a stint as a worship leader and trustee.

    Things went downhill after founder Jerry Irwin returned from some time away and reclaimed his position as pastor, Handville said.

    "What was off the wall was his attitude toward others," Handville recalled. "It wasn't happy. He accused every male of lusting after his wife."

    Personal attacks

    Handville said Irwin's preaching was filled with personal attacks on parishioners, whom he forced to work long hours renovating the Irwin family's apartment on the third floor of the former school building that houses the church in New Hartford.

    "He did have good points," Handville said. "Through him I was able to memorize half the Bible. He taught me a lot. What he failed to teach me was how to use what I read — how to treat people."

    Handville said many current and former church members are afraid to talk publicly about the church for fear of recriminations.

    In a letter to the Post-Standard of Syracuse, former congregant Nathan Ames said the church started out as a fast-growing Pentecostal church, but declined after Irwin reclaimed leadership. Ames described Irwin as controlling and intimidating.

    Church Killing
    Deborah Leonard is also facing a first-degree manslaughter charge in the beating death of her son, Lucas. (New Hartford Police Department /AP)

    Since Irwin's fatal stroke several years ago, his wife, Traci, and their children — Tiffanie, Daniel and Joseph — have been in charge. Ames said they continued in the style of the founder.

    Six church leaders and parishioners now face charges including manslaughter and assault for a brutal beating in the sanctuary last Sunday that left Lucas Leonard, 19, dead and his brother Christopher, 17, in hospital.

    Church members Bruce and Deborah Leonard, parents of the victims, face the most serious charge of manslaughter. Deborah Leonard's daughter, Sarah Ferguson, and Joseph Irwin, both face assault charges.

    continued below

  36. Police say the beatings arose out of a "counseling session" that may have been related to Lucas Leonard wanting to leave the church.

    The New York Times reported Daniel Irwin told investigators that his sister Tiffanie, the pastor at Word of Life, told the church congregation that some members were practising witchcraft. The paper reported that Irwin said Lucas Leonard was one of them and that he was going to make a voodoo doll of a church leader.

    New Hartford police said there is "no evidence that we are aware of that supports that Lucas Leonard was engaged in any such activity."

    The roughly 30-year-old church has declined to about 20 members from 40, police Chief Michael Inserra said. Remaining members are devoted to their pastor and often "wait to be told what to do," Inserra said.

    Traci and Tiffanie Irwin haven't been charged and haven't commented.

    David Bromley, professor of religious studies and director of the World Religions and Spirituality Project at Virginia Commonwealth University, said there are thousands of similar small, independent Christian churches around the country. They're typically very conservative, following a very strict fundamentalist theology with a literal interpretation of the Bible.

    "Every now and then, one pops up that has gone awry," Bromley said. "That's statistically not shocking because there are so many of them."

    'Charismatic leaders'

    The trend toward independent, conservative churches coincides with a decline in membership in mainline Christian churches. "A lot are forming in reaction to the liberalization of mainline churches," Bromley said.

    The churches generally start with a pastor, sometimes branching out from an existing congregation, who starts out with a group meeting in a home or rented storefront. Many disband after a few years, but some flourish. As with any organization, leadership may take a bad turn, Bromley said.

    "There are certainly cases of charismatic leaders who abuse their power," Bromley said.

    The theology of a congregation may lead to strong resistance to a member's wish to leave the group.

    "If you get into a very conservative group where there is only one way and God's wrath is about to be unleashed on humanity and we're the faithful remnant, then leaving the group is a very serious condition from the point of view of members," Bromley said. "Essentially, if you leave you're walking into Satan's dominion and your soul is lost."

    There are cases where groups use physical restraint to prevent a person from leaving, he said.

    "These cases look very bizarre to outsiders," Bromley said. "To scholars, they look like rare, radical events that occur in groups that are tightly organized and very conservative."


  37. A Sociologist Explains the Cult Behavior in this NY Murder Church

    by Diana Tourjee, Broadly OCT 17, 2015

    Two parents and other church goers were arrested for killing their teenage son. Dr. Bernadette Barton explains how cult practices produce violence.

    The World of Life is blackened by death. A teenage boy was admitted to an Upstate New York hospital last Monday with fatal injuries. Physicians initially believed them to be gunshot wounds. But Lucas, 19, wasn't shot. He was beaten to death by the congregation of his church. His brother Christopher, 17, suffered similar assault and survived.

    Their mother and father, Deborah and Bruce Leonard, were among six members of the World of Life cult who were arrested for the attacks. According to CNN, the brothers wanted to leave the faith, potentially motivating the ritualized assault. After his arrest, Bruce Leonard tried to justify beating his child to death with a claim that the boys were suspected by church leadership to have molested children, but police say the claim is "unfounded."

    Dr. Bernadette Barton is the Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies at Morehead State University (MSU). She explained that, "what makes this story particularly unique, is that they're so isolated." According to Dr. Barton, this isolation enables abuse. The World of Life is sequestered within an old high school building, where members live, worship, and raise children who are hidden from the surrounding community.

    "When a group is isolated," she said, "they're not beholden to a larger organization. If they're part of a hierarchy, they'll answer to other folks, so there are more likely to be other eyes on abuse and interventions into it. The more isolated a group is, the more likely violence can emerge."

    Dr. Barton has witnessed the devastating effects of these dogmatic subcultures in her work. In 2012 she published a book, Pray the Gay Away, the product of her half decade long research into religious-based homophobia in the Bible Belt. She works in Morehead, where anti-gay-marriage villain Kim Davis is stationed, and this coming Monday, the sinister cult Westboro Baptist Church is coming to picket her university. Though Morehead University is ranked as one of the top educational institutions in the country, WBC is opposed to their liberal curriculum. "I believe they called our president a 'fag-enabler.'" Dr. Barton said. "They likely would never have considered picketing Morehead State were it not for all the Kim Davis drama."

    "We say phooey on your ranking!" WBC writes on their site's poorly designed picket schedule which, in addition to MSU, includes a visit at the end of the month to "sin teacher" Janet Jackson on the Kansas City leg of her world tour.

    Though the Westboro Baptist and World of Life cults are extreme examples, Dr. Barton says that these kinds of conservative religious organizations are all over the southern United States. "There are little tiny churches all over the south that practice pretty extreme dogma, that are isolated and control their members through fear."

    continued below

  38. According to Dr Barton the phenomenon of turning one's individual power over to a higher governance is common in these communities. "Many would say that the fundamental world is a world unto itself with it's own rules, and it's own morés, what is of the material, secular world is not important."

    Those alternate morés might include overtly violent practices, as in the fatal beating of Lucas Leonard, but even passive attitudes and beliefs can be violent. "I call it physical, psychological and spiritual violence," Dr. Barton explained. She describes what she calls the "sin/fall" paradigm, a religious system of belief and control in which practitioners are threatened with eternal damnation unless they conform to the group's strict ideology. These systems of belief, she added, are hierarchical, branded as the one right path for all people, and are inherently violent. "It excludes people, creates a climate of fear, scares participants, makes people monitor their own and other's behaviors and thoughts, enables physical and sexual abuse, while absolving all individuals of wrong-doing since all of this is done (presumably) by divine order."

    Dr. Barton does not believe that all individuals within these sin/fall congregations are necessarily violent, but she says that the "theology and the culture encourage and enable violence both overtly and by non-action. In my opinion, simply living with the threat of hell--no matter how gentle all other elements of one's worship--is psychological, emotional and especially spiritual violence."


  39. Witness Says Clash Over Witchcraft Preceded Fatal Beating at Church

    By JESSE McKINLEY, BENJAMIN MUELLER and RICK ROJAS, New York Times October 16, 2015

    NEW HARTFORD, N.Y. — On Sunday night, toward the end of a daylong church service, Tiffanie Irwin, the pastor at Word of Life Christian Church here, turned to her congregation and made a stunning accusation.

    Someone among them, she said, was practicing witchcraft.

    Lucas Leonard, a 19-year-old whose family was immersed in Word of Life’s secretive practices, said that he was the one, that he wanted church elders to die and that he had considered making a voodoo doll of a church leader.

    Those revelations were some of what one member of the church, Daniel Irwin, told investigators after Mr. Leonard was beaten to death by a group of fellow congregants — including Mr. Leonard’s parents and half sister — during a so-called counseling session that began on Sunday night and stretched into Monday morning.

    The account of Mr. Irwin, 24, a Word of Life deacon whose family leads the church, provided the latest possible explanation of what had precipitated the attack. Mr. Leonard’s younger brother, Christopher, 17, was also beaten for hours but survived. He remained hospitalized on Friday and was cooperating with the authorities.

    The police reiterated on Friday that the beatings had grown out of concerns that Lucas Leonard wanted to defect from the group. They have also rejected assertions that he had been punished for molesting children who also belonged to Word of Life, a reclusive sect whose former members have called it emotionally manipulative and cultlike and whose unusual activities in a former schoolhouse had long puzzled residents in this central New York town.

    A statement made by Mr. Irwin to the authorities that had not been made public, but was reviewed by The New York Times, suggests that church members may have been unsettled by Mr. Leonard’s open admission of practicing witchcraft. Mr. Irwin was also a central witness as county prosecutors presented evidence during a preliminary hearing on Friday and offered disturbing details about the attack.

    Sitting on the witness stand chewing gum, Mr. Irwin recalled seeing Mr. Leonard’s father, Bruce, beating the teenager with an electrical cord. The attack, in a sanctuary at the rear of the church, ended when it did — at 10 a.m. the following day — because, Mr. Irwin said, “Luke was dead at that point.”

    Bruce Leonard, 65, and his wife, Deborah Leonard, 59, shackled hand and foot and wearing orange prison jumpsuits, were in court just a few feet from Mr. Irwin on Friday. Both have been charged with first-degree manslaughter; neither looked at Mr. Irwin during his testimony.

    Four other church members, including Sarah Ferguson, the victim’s half sister, and Joseph Irwin, who is Daniel Irwin’s older brother and also a deacon in the church, have been charged with assault. All six were in court on Friday, including two other congregants, David Morey and Linda Morey, who have been released on bail.

    Daniel Irwin said that shortly after the counseling session began, he could hear a voice being raised in the room. Five children — one of them the Leonards’ youngest son, and the others Sarah Ferguson’s children — were being looked after in a nearby room. He led them to a different part of the church building, he said, “so they wouldn’t be afraid.”

    Mr. Irwin, who lived in a residential portion of the church building with other members of his family, said he was not involved in the beatings. But he saw Lucas Leonard at various points during his ordeal, including early on Monday when, he said, the teenager’s leg was bloodied but he was coherent.

    “He didn’t seem overly injured,” Mr. Irwin said. “He was walking on his own.”

    continued below

  40. The last time he saw Mr Leonard conscious he said was sometime after dawn, and his injuries had become more severe. He was on the floor on the main sanctuary, a former gymnasium at the rear of the church building, but “alert enough to answer questions.”

    “I remember that he was rolling himself back and forth on the floor and making a sustained monotone moan,” Mr. Irwin said.

    By midmorning, the situation had turned dire, when Joseph Irwin and Mr. Morey, who had been in the counseling session, ran into the residence in a panic. “I went back down to the main sanctuary,” Daniel Irwin said. “I saw Luke Leonard lying on the floor.” Mr. Irwin’s mother, Traci, and Bruce Leonard were trying to resuscitate him, Mr. Irwin said.

    But they stopped after about 10 minutes. Church members tried to to load Lucas Leonard him into the van, but they were “hysterical at this point,” Daniel Irwin said.

    “I grabbed Luke and carried him outside,” he said. But he was pronounced dead at a hospital on Monday.

    In a police interview with Ms. Leonard, Sgt. Todd Grant, an investigator with the State Police, said he gave her the cord for his laptop computer and asked her to demonstrate how she had hit her son by slamming the cord against a table. The hitting was “very hard and violent,” he testified on Friday.

    Ms. Leonard also told him that Ms. Ferguson had joined in the beating. “Sarah was even angrier at Lucas,” Sergeant Grant said, “and she hit him even harder.” She was upset, he added, “for things he had said during the course of the night.”

    Mr. Irwin also said in statements to the authorities that at some point during the night he was told by another church member that Lucas Leonard had admitted to abusing children in the church.

    But the police have consistently rejected that suggestion. “There is absolutely no indication of any sexual abuse to any of the children,” said Chief Michael S. Inserra of the New Hartford Police Department.

    It was not uncommon for church leaders to plant rumors about congregants from the pulpit, several former Word of Life members said, sometimes alleging that a parent had been unfaithful or that a young member had inappropriately touched another child. The rumors were often outlandish and false, the ex-congregants said, but that did not keep them from splitting families apart and spreading fear of the longtime pastor, Jerry Irwin, the family patriarch. Mr. Irwin died several years ago, but the memory of his reprimands remains fresh, former congregants said.

    “He would verbally attack you,” said Nathan Ames, whose family belonged to the church when he was born in 1989 and who said he had been driven out by Mr. Irwin in 2001. “Sometimes he would drop hints he was talking about that person, and sometimes he would just say their name. But if someone left, he would bash them so much. He would spread these lies: ‘Oh, I saw them watching TV. This person wanted to rape my daughter. This person wanted to sleep with my wife.’ ”

    Though Mr. Irwin testified that he had never sat through an entire counseling session, he said it was not typical for violence to take place during such events. He said he had never before seen anyone physically beaten on the church grounds.

    He recalled that as he saw Mr. Leonard laying still in the sanctuary on Monday morning, his own sense of urgency at the situation distorted his perceptions.

    “It seemed like I was looking through a pipe,” he said. “Everything seemed weird to me.”

    Jesse McKinley and Rick Rojas reported from New Hartford, and Benjamin Mueller from New York. Nate Schweber contributed reporting from New Hartford, and Susan C. Beachy contributed research.


  41. A cult? A sect? What do you call a church that murders its own?

    GETRELIGION, By Julia Duin

    Their faces look like something out of some grade B film: the wife looking like some hick gun moll and the white-bearded husband appearing like a cross between an Old Testament patriarch and Idaho survivalist.

    The locale, it turns out, was upstate New York; New Hartford, to be exact, where several people have been arrested for the beating death of a 19-year-old and the near beating death of his younger brother.

    Media have descended upon the town in the past week, talking with neighbors, attending the arraignment, polling the local Catholic priest and even wandering about the building itself. Was this group a church? A Christian sect? A doctrinal cult? A sociological cult? A compound? A commune? The phrases “reclusive church,” “ultra-secretive,” “shadowy,” “sect” and “cult” sprinkle multiple reports of a congregation gone off the rails.

    Memories of other congregations run amok (Waco, anyone?) mark yet a notch in the popular imagination of religion as inherently dangerous. We’ll start first with the Daily Beast's take:

    On Sunday night, an ultra-secretive New York church turned into a living hell. Two teenage brothers were brutally beaten – one of them to death – by their own family members and fellow churchgoers who wanted them to “confess” to their sins, authorities say.
    Police charged the boys’ parents with manslaughter and four other participants with assault in the chilling incident that killed Lucas Leonard, 19, and left his 17-year-old brother, Christopher Leonard, in serious condition.
    To neighbors, New Hartford’s Word of Life church is a “cult.” Those who live nearby point to the fence separating the red brick building – a sprawling former high school – from the community. Some say they’ve heard chants late at night and glimpsed men wearing long black trench coats. Others claim the gated church was breeding dogs, which were constantly barking.
    But one former congregant, who was excommunicated from the mysterious flock, denied it was a cult.

    It’s that last sentence that makes the Daily Beast’s report interesting, in that they spend give a lot of ink to an unnamed source who says violence was never part of the church.

    “From the people that I knew, from the behavior that has been shown, something extreme… [must have] pushed them to that point to snap and do what they did,” said the exiled member, who was reeling over the allegations.
    When she was in the church, counseling sessions only involved conversations, never physical attacks, she said. “It didn’t get heated,” the insider said. “I witnessed a couple of them, so I know first-hand. No one ever laid a hand on anyone.”

    In all the coverage I’ve scanned so far, the Beast is the only one I’ve found that gave the congregation any benefit of the doubt.

    continued below

  42. Less so was a New York Times report that was accompanied by a photo of a snake. The caption: "A neighbor's ball python slithered through a yard on the street where the Leonard family lives." Really? Obviously this congregation was not a candidate for Church of the Year, but to run an unrelated snake photo of a reptile gamboling about in a neighbor’s yard is below the belt.

    From the Times, we learn:

    Interviews with investigators and defense lawyers on Thursday yielded a portrait of a controlling, meddlesome church whose members sought to handle any problems internally.
    The meeting was orchestrated by the pastor, Tiffanie Irwin, 29, who called the teenagers into a sanctuary of the church’s three-story former schoolhouse, the authorities said. Her mother, Traci Irwin, is the congregation’s spiritual leader, and the congregants refer to her as Mother.

    In another Times’ story, this one on Oct. 14, we at least get photos of the accused couple rather than someone's yard décor. Their interviews with neighbors and police officers revealed this:

    Not much was known about the church’s need for secrecy, though it was intensely private: On Halloween, neighbors said the perimeter of the church – partially hidden by a tall, thick hedgerow – would sometimes be guarded by members, dressed in dark clothes, apparently to prevent vandalism or pranks.

    With no church officials able or available to defend themselves, what's left are the neighbors. ThePost-Standard, which is based in Syracuse, did near-saturation coverage and basically reported whatever anyone cared to say about the group. Their Oct. 13 story starts as follows:

    NEW HARTFORD, N.Y. – Neighbors near the Word of Life Christian Church, which became the site of a manslaughter and assault, describe it as a 'cult' whose members are often only seen after 3 a.m. and can be heard singing strange chants from the school-building-turned church…Neighbors said Tuesday the church has come across as mysterious and suspicious for many years, though they'd never been inside. One woman said she most often only sees church members at night, sometimes at 3 a.m., and she hears chants emanating from the building.

    I would have liked the reporter to have probed a bit more as to what the “chants” sounded like. Chants in themselves are not evil and Orthodox and high church Episcopal congregations employ them.

    But at least in this piece, the reporter actually walked inside the now-abandoned church building and took notes on what he found.

    The Syracuse paper latched onto whomever would talk about the deranged family of the murdered and injured teenagers. There’s the rescue of the family’s abandoned pets where the main person quoted in the article is never given a title. Was this a neighbor, a police officer or what?

    There’s also a story about police rebuffing rumors of voodoo and witchcraft on the part of the defendants. The police were commenting about this New York Times piece claiming that witchcraft was at the center of the boys’ beating deaths.

    continued below

  43. That horrifying story which police didn't say was factually wrong – is the most detailed account of what happened during the 10 hours the 19-year-old was being beaten to death. By later in the week, former parishioners were surfacing like crazy, appearing in stories like this one that describes the ordinary beliefs these church members started out with.

    The church’s history begins with pastor Richard Wright, who founded the church with Irwin and was known as a charismatic and passionate pastor.
    Jerry Irwin, the founder, was "more of a prophet or an overseer," (former member Nathan) Ames said, and did not have a knack for counseling congregants or igniting spirituality.
    Wright was well liked, and the church was growing, Ames said. Gatherings began in a basement at a home in Richfield Springs and then church members bought the school-house building in Chadwicks. The gymnasium was turned into a sanctuary, the classrooms into residences.
    The church "started out as a good, God-fearing Pentecostal Church and was rapidly growing. Great things were happening, miracles, prophecy, and people getting set free," Ames wrote in the letter. "There was no beating and or molestation going on."

    So, rather than join everyone else who's writing up what a freak show this congregation was, we learn that the original intent of the group some 20 years ago was benign.

    Personal note: In the early 1980s, I lived two years in a covenant Christian community that some thought was a cult (it wasn't) and experienced the weird labels people pin on groups that keep to themselves. Obviously it's game over when abuse, much less murder, is involved. But I hope somewhere, someone can write up what went so wrong with this church and why the neighbors, who were pouring out of the woodwork this past week, never publicly voiced their concerns before.

    The bottom line: If half their observations: Weird ceremonies at night, drumming, chants, black trench coats and so on are accurate, why are we only learning about this now?

    I say this because there's been some spectacular evangelical church splits and losses in recent years, all of which have been reported on by a sea of bloggers. Places like the Maryland-based Sovereign Grace Ministries, whose fall was abetted by various blogs spilling out secret documents, didn't go unnoticed thanks to the Internet.

    Surely, some of us thought, abusive churches can no longer stay under the radar thanks to social media. Now we've learned that one did. Maybe, just maybe had someone been reporting on this church beforehand, the junk therein might have been brought to light without someone getting killed. Sometimes journalism can save lives. In this case, it came too late.


  44. Survivor of Word of Life Church Beatings Testifies in Court

    By JESSE McKINLEY, New York Times October 21, 2015

    NEW HARTFORD, N.Y. — Speaking in a voice barely above a whisper, the surviving victim of a brutal assault inside a secretive church described on Wednesday how he and his brother were interrogated and beaten by relatives and church members, sometimes while restrained, after the pastor asked them to explain “what we had done.”

    His testimony, which lasted about 20 minutes, presented a harrowing inside view of the attack.

    The victim, Christopher Leonard, a slight, shaggy-haired 17-year-old, was released from a hospital last weekend. His brother Lucas Leonard, 19, died after the beating.

    On Wednesday, he walked unassisted into the Town of New Hartford courthouse wearing sneakers, dungarees and a fleece pullover, and alongside a representative from the Oneida County Child Protective Services, to testify at a preliminary hearing against his half sister, Sarah Ferguson. Ms. Ferguson is accused of assault in the attack, which lasted for more than 12 hours on Oct. 11 and 12 at Word of Life Christian Church.

    “Joe Irwin came over grabbed me by the sweatshirt, counted to three, and then he punched me in the stomach,” he recounted in his testimony, referring to Joseph Irwin, the son of the church’s longtime leader, Jerry Irwin, who died in 2012.

    He described being beaten with “a black cord about four feet long,” folded once or twice. Asked where Ms. Ferguson had struck him, he said, “Everywhere except my head.”

    “It hurt,” he said, adding that the pain of the injuries continued “the whole time I was in the hospital and afterward.”

    The lead prosecutor in the courtroom, Dawn Lupi, first assistant district attorney for Oneida County, asked if he tried to defend himself. “I held out my hands to stop the whip,” he said.

    Bruce T. Leonard, 65, and Deborah Leonard, 59, the teenagers’ parents, have been charged with first-degree manslaughter in the case. Ms. Ferguson, 33, faces felony assault charges, as does Joseph Irwin, 26. Two other congregants — David Morey, 26, and Linda Morey, 54, of Utica — were also charged with assault, and have posted bail.

    Word of Life, a reclusive sect, is controlled by the Irwins, who live in the church building, a three-story former schoolhouse on the edge of this town in central New York.

    With his head down, Christopher said that at the end of a daylong service on Oct. 11, Tiffanie Irwin, the church’s pastor and daughter of Jerry Irwin, called on the brothers to stand in a small sanctuary area in front of the church’s leadership and the Leonard family and answer questions.

    Asked why, Christopher paused before answering.

    “To talk about what we had done,” Christopher finally said. He was seated 10 feet from Ms. Ferguson.

    In a statement made to the authorities, Daniel Irwin, a Word of Life deacon and brother of Tiffanie Irwin, said that on Sunday evening, Ms. Irwin had accused someone in the church of practicing witchcraft.

    According to Mr. Irwin’s statement, Lucas Leonard admitted that he wanted church elders to die and that he had considered making a voodoo doll of a church leader.

    continued below

  45. The police and prosecutors have said Lucas Leonard wanted to leave the church, and have repeatedly rejected assertions that he or his brother had been punished for molesting children at the church, something Daniel Irwin also suggested Mr. Leonard had confessed to in his statements to the authorities.

    New Hartford police have dismissed both the suggestions of witchcraft and of molestation as rumors “instigated by a member or members of the Word of Life Christian Church.”

    On Wednesday, Ms. Lupi did not ask what Ms. Irwin’s questions or the brothers’ actions had been, and she successfully objected to a defense question regarding their nature. But Christopher said he and his brother had reluctantly answered some of them and refused to answer others before being attacked.

    At times, he said, he was restrained by Joe Irwin and David Morey.

    The two brothers were eventually separated; Christopher was moved to a larger area of the sanctuary building — a former gymnasium at the back of the church — and told to sit in a corner, wearing headphones and earmuffs, which muted the sound of his brother’s interrogation.

    Then Christopher was taken back to the small sanctuary. Hours later, Christopher said he saw his brother again “in the middle of the larger sanctuary.”

    “I’m pretty sure Luke collapsed,” he said, adding, “He was on the ground moaning.”

    “I knew something wasn’t right,” he said.

    Christopher said he saw his brother was not breathing and tried to give him CPR, as did his father and Traci Irwin, the church’s matriarch, who had been summoned from the residential portion of the building. Christopher said Daniel Irwin eventually moved Lucas’s motionless body to a vehicle, and he was driven to a hospital. He was pronounced dead on the afternoon of Oct. 12.

    Christopher also went to the hospital with Daniel and Joseph Irwin and David Morey, but did not go inside. He later was driven to a Home Depot parking lot near the hospital, he said, where he tried to rest but instead vomited. Finally, he was returned to the church, where Daniel Irwin made up a “mattress and a blanket and pillow for me” and “brought me some food and water.”

    That evening, he spoke to the police on the phone and left the church.

    Tom O’Brien, the lawyer for Ms. Ferguson, had little comment on the charges but said he expected evidence for the defense to come out at trial.

    Scott D. McNamara, the Oneida County district attorney, said he would not comment on the facts of the case but suggested that Tiffanie Irwin could face charges when the case went before a grand jury, which is likely to happen before the end of November.

    “We are looking at everybody who was involved in this incident,” Mr. McNamara said, adding that he could pursue charges like depraved indifference to murder or gang assault.

    Mr. McNamara said he was impressed by Christopher’s bravery in facing his half sister, who is one of his alleged assailants. “We asked a lot of a very young man,” he said, adding, “I can’t imagine the stress he was under.”


  46. Word of Life Churchs Path From Bible Group to Lethal Sect

    By BENJAMIN MUELLER, New York Times October 22, 2015

    Children sat facing the bare classroom walls inside Word of Life Christian Church, separated from one another by plywood dividers and forbidden to so much as swivel their heads to get a teacher’s attention.

    Instead there were flags beside each homemade desk: an American flag for bathroom requests, and another with a red cross to ask for help with schoolwork. Some children’s arms hung in the air for 20 minutes before they were called on, a former student said, especially when Tiffanie Irwin was teaching. She was only a teenager, but she had the blessing of the church’s pastor, her father, who berated fidgety students from the pulpit and taught their parents to spank them so it stung.

    “It was really sick,” the student, Nathan Ames, 26, said. “The way she spoke to you was very degrading. You were like a little pawn in her eyes.”

    A week ago last Sunday, Ms. Irwin, 29, now the pastor, stood before part of her congregation in New Hartford, in central New York, and accused someone among them of practicing witchcraft, a witness told the police. Lucas Leonard, 19, said he was the one. The secretive group had dwindled in numbers since Ms. Irwin took over after her father’s death in 2012, and the authorities said she feared that Mr. Leonard would be the latest to defect.

    Ms. Irwin summoned him into a counseling session, where the authorities said he was punched, kicked and whipped with an electrical cord for more than 12 hours until he died. His parents have been charged with manslaughter in the attack, which also left his brother Christopher Leonard, 17, seriously injured.

    Ms. Irwin’s brother, Joseph Irwin, a deacon in the church, is among four other members charged with assault.

    Ms. Irwin has not been charged, but a prosecutor said the investigation into her role was continuing. The police and prosecutors have dismissed the suggestions of witchcraft as a rumor “instigated by a member or members” of the church.

    Mr. Leonard’s death has pulled a veil from a church that for two decades has hidden what former members describe as a culture of shame, abuse and paranoia, spread by leaders who exposed congregants’ supposed dalliances, split their families and coaxed them into long hours of physical labor.

    But the mystery of how a living room Bible study group became a breeding ground for a gruesome killing continues to hang over the area, confounding even former congregants who spent years behind the building’s tall hedges. Rather than slowly dissolving, as so many unaffiliated churches of its kind do, Word of Life tightened its grip on the various facets of members’ lives, including their private phone calls and marriages, and made leaving feel like a step into the abyss.

    “Unless you live through something like that, it’s hard for anyone to grasp,” Mr. Ames’s cousin, Elizabeth Ames, said. “So many people go, ‘Well, why didn’t you leave sooner?’ You don’t realize you’re breathing carbon dioxide until you breathe oxygen again.”

    People of all stripes once showed up at the living room Bible study that became Word of Life, many of them disaffected members of other churches drawn by the group’s stripped-down style of worship. It was the late 1980s, and Ms. Irwin’s father, Jerry Irwin, was the founder and soft-spoken pastor.

    “They wanted what the Bible says; they didn’t want all this other religious tradition,” said Janet Sylvester, who joined her two brothers in the group in the early 1990s after having a child as a single woman. “It was back to the basics.”

    continued below

  47. The group of about a dozen called itself City on the Hill. They dropped pamphlets on neighbors’ doorsteps. And when Mr. Irwin, a brooding man with a dark beard and broad shoulders, left to take over a church in Rochester, it developed a friendlier public face under new leadership. Ministers came from other congregations to speak, and a local rabbi visited. The church eventually bought a brick three-story schoolhouse to accommodate its swelling crowds.

    The message was strict adherence to biblical teachings, with one early member writing to a local newspaper to denounce a growing acceptance of “homosexuality as a godly ‘alternate lifestyle.’ ” Members described it as a refuge from what they viewed as decaying secular norms.

    But pastoral politics intruded on Word of Life. Mr. Ames said Mr. Irwin’s relationship with the church became strained when he heard from a loyalist that members were denigrating him in his absence. Mr. Irwin asked the new pastor, Richard Wright, to send him recordings of church services so he could monitor them, and grew angry when they never arrived, Mr. Ames recalled.

    Ms. Sylvester said, “I almost wonder if he was jealous of Rick because once he left, Rick really got the church up higher.”

    When Mr. Irwin returned to Word of Life in the mid-1990s, it was as a prophet who claimed to be able to see and hear inside people’s homes, former members said. One of his visions was to move his family into the sprawling third floor of the schoolhouse. Over time he drove Mr. Wright from power.

    “The freedom that you felt was slowly going away, and the fear was slowly increasing,” Ms. Sylvester said. “And the fear wasn’t necessarily a fear of him; it was a fear because he represented God in your eyes. So your fear was toward God.”

    Closing Off

    Gates went up outside the schoolhouse, and other ministers were no longer welcome. Members began letting phone calls go to voice mail, feeling the need to get Mr. Irwin’s approval before taking a call. Parishioners were often barred from taking communion because he said they were in too much sin. One member said Mr. Irwin used racial slurs during sermons, though others did not recall that.

    Members’ lives slowly became less their own, the former members said, as the building around them transformed into a sort of altar to the Irwin family’s whims. The third floor, where Mr. Irwin’s family took up residence in the late 1990s, became “pretty much a mansion,” Mr. Ames recalled. One room held a trampoline, and another a small basketball court. The bathroom had a whirlpool bath. It was so big the Irwins bicycled through the hallways.

    The rest of the building had the institutional feel of the old schoolhouse, with colorless walls, cubby holes and water fountains. Its sanctuary was an old gymnasium that fit 200 people but rarely sat more than 30, with a three-step stage and a plain podium.

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  48. But upstairs there were also animals, dozens of them scattered through old classrooms. The Irwins bred birds, accumulating at least six doves, two huge golden macaws and several parakeets, Mr. Ames said. In the next room were the rabbits, and later on the Irwins began breeding Parti Yorkshire terriers, too, calling their operation Kajun Kennels.

    It fell to young girls in the church to clean rabbit excrement from the cages. Older members were given the task of building and maintaining the living quarters.

    One night Ms. Ames’s father was holding a utility light for other members during a roof repair. In the darkness he came too close to the edge and fell onto a grassy patch. Despite not knowing how badly he was hurt, church leaders put him on a board and drove him to the hospital themselves, later learning he had broken his arm.

    “Jerry would say from the pulpit, ‘You can’t trust the police; you can’t trust firemen,’ ” Ms. Ames recalled.

    Another member, Chadwick Handville, said Mr. Irwin asked them to redo his floors, plumbing, electrical wiring and gas lines into the night, the kind of request that began as voluntary and soon came to feel to members like an expression of God’s will. Some projects forced them to break building codes, Mr. Handville said.

    “They sleep-deprive you because you become open to suggestions, usually what they’re teaching you,” Mr. Handville said. “They’re breaking you down so they can build you up the way they want to.”

    Marriages and Rumors

    Mr. Irwin arranged several marriages that he said he envisioned as God’s will, ex-members said, almost all of which ended in painful divorces. He was just as quick to invent rumors to turn husbands and wives against each other.

    He often went after the men, accusing them of trying to sleep with his wife or hug his daughter too closely, in what members said seemed like a strategy to make their wives loyal to the church over their marriage. Mr. Ames said his brother was once asked by Mr. Irwin to spy on their father.

    Women who stood up for themselves were ostracized, undermining their ability to defend their children as conditions worsened, Ms. Ames said. Her family left the church after her mother “was accused of wearing the pants in the family,” she said, and her father was made to choose between his wife and Mr. Irwin. Her father leaned on Scripture — a strategy another former member compared to “fighting fire with fire” — and decided he could not leave his wife over such a trifling threat.

    Parishioners who defected were turned into cautionary tales. Mr. Irwin would play the phone messages they left announcing their departures for other congregants in his living quarters. Mr. Ames got word after his family left in 2001 that Mr. Irwin, speaking at a Sunday service, had accused him of French-kissing his cousin at age 3 or 4. He called the claim ridiculous.

    continued below

  49. Such intrusions into members’ personal lives are not uncommon in authoritarian church settings, said David Bromley, a professor of religious studies and sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, but they have grown increasingly difficult to sustain as the Internet furnishes new forums for sharing grievances and plotting escapes. Dr. Bromley said churches sometimes tried to cement their control by expelling people seen as unfaithful, offering prophecies that made members fearful or sowing anxiety about their spiritual standing.

    Members said Mr. Irwin was charismatic enough, and his encroachment gradual enough, that they became helplessly entangled in church life by the time they woke up to his manipulations.

    Looking back, members who came of age in the church, like Ms. Ames, said they were thankful for a childhood free from distractions, such as television or romantic crushes. But Mr. Ames said the discipline went too far, as when Mr. Irwin showed parents the plastic back-scratching rod he used to spank his own children, saying it was the best implement because it “stung the most,” Mr. Ames recalled.

    Mr. Irwin told children stories of being raised by an abusive, alcoholic father, an experience they came to blame for his aggression. Ms. Sylvester said he had occasionally cried out during prayers about a previous wife who had left him and taken their children.

    He also had untreated diabetes, which a former member who was close to him said exacerbated his temper. The ex-member, who did not want her name to be associated with the controversy, said he centralized power upon his return because of stories he had heard during his absence of “some really ridiculous, unacceptable things happening,” such as members’ cheating on their wives and stealing money.

    A lawyer for Joseph Irwin did not respond to messages seeking comment about the Irwin family.

    Ms. Irwin’s ascension in 2012, after a heart attack that suddenly killed her father, only intensified verbal attacks on members. Facing more petty accusations, several members defected in quick succession. “Her way of dealing with grief has always been to lash out,” said the former member, who left during that period.

    The beating of the Leonards has left congregants to reckon with a multigenerational family drama now thrust onto a national stage, and a community to wonder how a three-story schoolhouse turned into a crime scene without their noticing.

    An animal rescue worker was called to the Leonard family’s home this weekend, just south of the church, after neighbors complained of a putrid smell. Among piles of old pizza boxes she found four starving dogs, their coats smelling of mold and two lonely parakeets — the same kind the Irwins once raised and gave to members.

    Susan C. Beachy and Jack Begg contributed research.


  50. When Religious Violence Cant Escape Exemption

    A recent case of violence in a small, closed church highlights the role of religious exemptions in the American legal system.

    by FRANCIE DIEP, Pacific Standard October 23, 2015

    Last week, police announced they're in the process of investigating the Word of Life Christian Church, a small, independent congregation in upstate New York, after several parishioners are alleged to have brutally beaten two younger members, one of whom—19-year-old Lucas Leonard—died of his injuries. The other victim, Lucas' 17-year-old brother Christopher, required hospitalization. Now facing manslaughter charges: the brothers' parents, who allegedly took part in the beatings.

    The case brings fresh attention to the operations of small, radical churches in the United States, which are often protected by special religious exemption laws. In the September/October issue of Pacific Standard, journalist Julia Scheeres reported on another independent church, the Twelve Tribes, which believes that frequent and hard corporal punishment is good for children's development. Former Twelve Tribes members who had grown up in the group talked to Scheeres about being beaten many times a day, for small infractions such as not raising their hands at the dinner table. In her piece, Scheeres argues that U.S. lawmakers' deference to religious groups' lobbying—to keep corporal punishment legal, and to allow them to pull their children out of school early—left children in the Twelve Tribes vulnerable to abuse for years. In 1984, authorities in Vermont raided a Twelve Tribes community, where they rounded up the children, to later ask a judge for permission to check for signs of excessive corporal punishment. But the judge rejected the prosecutors' request: "The Twelve Tribes hailed the decision as a victory for religious freedom," Scheeres writes. "God had delivered His people."

    continued below

  51. From what we know, the Word of Life case seems more clear-cut than the 1984 Twelve Tribes raid. Unlike some states, New York doesn't have state-level religious-exemption laws, which takes away one possible defense for the church members. In addition, because the case was much more violent, the defendants may have a hard time finding legal protection, despite religious exemption laws. "Their religious liberty is not violated in any way if they're subjected to criminal law after killing children," says Marci Hamilton, a professor at the Yeshiva University School of Law.

    For Leslie Griffin, a religion and law expert at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas, the seeming strength of the prosectors' side only highlights how clear-cut the case against religious groups must be to stand a chance in court. "It's a reminder," Griffin says, "of all those laws out there that are protecting parents [who harm] their children." Griffin pointed us to a list of states' religious exemption laws—maintained by the advocacy group Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty—offering protection to parents against charges if their children suffer injury or death as a result of the parents' religious restrictions on medicine or health care.

    Since many of these laws specify that parents can't be prosecuted for withholding health care, they probably don't apply to the Word of Life case. Overall, however, the health-care laws are a part of a controversial aspect of the American legal system: how Americans allow religious folks to exempt themselves from certain laws, in the name of religious freedom. There's the clause in the Affordable Care Act allowing religious employers to decline contraceptive coverage, for example, and state laws that critics argue could by utilized by businesses to decline service to same-sex couples.

    For Scheeres, among those exemption laws that most urgently need to be repealed are ones involving children, like Christopher Leonard. "Children are defenseless against abuse. They don't vote. They don't organize," Scheeres writes. "They rely on adults for protection—and sometimes it's those same adults who violate their rights."


  52. Pastor, victim’s father among 7 charged with teen’s death at NY church

    Reuters | November 25, 2015

    ALBANY, N.Y., Nov 24 (Reuters) – Seven people were criminally charged on Tuesday for their alleged role in the fatal October beating of a teenager during a counseling session at an upstate New York church.

    A grand jury charged Bruce Leonard, 65, with second-degree murder, alleging that he fatally beat his 19-year old son Lucas and badly injured his 17-year-old son Christopher over the course of 10 hours following services at the Word of Life Church in Chadwicks, New York, about 50 miles east of Syracuse in an attempt to get them to confess their sins.

    Leonard faces 13 criminal counts including second-degree murder, first-degree manslaughter, kidnapping and gang assault, according to an indictment released by the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office.

    The church’s pastor, Daniel Irwin, the victims’ sister, Sarah Ferguson and four fellow parishioners were also indicted on lesser charges for their alleged roles in the attack.

    In October, Bruce Leonard and his wife Deborah Leonard, 59, were charged with first-degree manslaughter in the death of their son.


  53. Vancouver based group pushing to scrap Spanking Law in Canada

    Spanking Law again under microscope with change of government in Ottawa


    We spoil our kids, just ask our parents. Should we spare the rod, too?

    With a new governing party in Ottawa and National Child Day only six days in our review mirror, a Vancouver-based children’s advocacy group has renewed a 30-year-old call to rid the Criminal Code of Section 43, better known as the Spanking Law.

    “It’s really a human-rights issue,” Kathy Lynn, chairwoman of Corinne’s Quest, said. “That spanking is legal is crazy, and it’s also not necessary.”

    Ireland last month became the 47th country to outright ban the spanking of children.

    Canada has not.

    “In the past we have had laws that permitted assaulting servants, apprentices, prisoners, wives and children,” Lynn said. “The only people left who you can legally assault are children.”

    The Supreme Court ruled on the Spanking Law in 2004 and, in a 6-3 decision, said a parent’s spanking doesn’t infringe on a child’s constitutional right to security, nor is it cruel or unusual punishment.

    Among those who want the law rescinded are medical and legal associations, and human-rights activists. Those for keeping the law on the books include some teachers’ unions and school boards, some parents’ rights groups and the Justice Department.

    Even the name, Section 43, has an Orwellian ring to it. You see it surface on social media from time to time: My parents used a wooden ladle on me and I turned out OK.

    It’s basically the defence NFL superstar Adrian Peterson used a year ago after he was suspended for using a switch on his four-year-old son. (A switch, as Wikipedia delicately puts it, is a thin branch stripped of leaves that is “most efficient — i.e. painful and durable — if made of a strong but flexible type of wood, such as hazel.”)

    The Supreme Court has ruled that that kind of spanking — using a belt, switch or any other weapon of choice — is no longer legal in Canada.

    continued below

  54. Nor is slapping your kid in the face or punching her in the head.

    What is legal is an open-hand slapping of the buttocks, bare or clothed, of a child who is between the seemingly arbitrary ages of two and 12.

    The Justice Department didn’t respond to a Province request to discuss the issue, but in appearing before the Supreme Court it argued that allowing spanking is a valid compromise between the rights of parents and children.

    The Supreme Court also ruled spanking is OK as long as it isn’t degrading, inhuman, due to a caregiver’s frustration or harmful, but is corrective, trifling and a transitory use of force. To which critics ask, what’s the point then?

    Regardless, that’s as far as the state should intrude into the realm of child-rearing, groups such as Real Woman feel.

    “We have been against the removal (of Section 43) all along,” Diane Watts of Real Women said. “Section 43 is about reasonable discipline, the reasonable use of force to discipline children, but not hurt children. Section 43 protects parents against being charged with assault when they use reasonable force.

    “We don’t get into whether spanking is good or bad, but we are in favour of retaining Section 43.”

    The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which Canada ratified in 1991, says corporal punishment is any use of physical force intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.

    The countries that have passed laws to ban all forms of corporal punishment are:

    Ireland, Benin (2015);

    Andorra, Estonia, Nicaragua, San Marino, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Malta (2014);

    Cabo Verde, Honduras, TFYR Macedonia (2013);

    South Sudan (2011);

    Albania, Republic of Congo, Poland, Kenya, Tunisia (2010);

    Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Republic of Moldova, Costa Rica (2008);

    Togo, Spain, New Zealand, Netherlands, Venezuela, Uruguay, Portugal (2007);

    Greece (2006); Hungary (2005); Romania, Ukraine (2004); Iceland (2003); Turkmenistan (2002); Germany, Israel, Bulgaria (2000); Croatia (1999); Latvia (1998); Denmark (1997); Cyprus (1994); Austria (1989); Norway (1987); Finland (1983); Sweden (1979).

    — Source: Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org/


  55. Quebec Baptist minister alleged to have confined, beaten 5 boys

    Claude Guillot, 65, faces 12 charges related to allegations dating from 1983 to 2014

    CBC News December 09, 2015

    A Baptist pastor from the town of Shannon near Quebec City is facing 12 charges of assault causing bodily harm in connection with the alleged confinement and beating of five young boys in his basement between 1983 and 2014.

    Claude Guillot, 65, was arrested Wednesday morning and was due to appear in court Wednesday afternoon to be formally charged.

    Court documents allege one boy was forced to stand for 41 days facing a wall, with limited access to water.

    Another alleged victim is said to have been punched regularly in the face and abdomen as part of "discipline" practices.

    The oldest accusations date back to 1983 and concern incidents alleged to have taken place in Victoriaville, concerning a five-year-old boy.

    All of the alleged victims were entrusted to Guillot by the children's parents, who attended the evangelical church of Quebec-East.

    Quebec's association of evangelical Baptist churches distanced itself from the allegations facing Guillot when they were first reported earlier this year.


  56. Spanking over nude Snapchat photo leads to assault conviction for parents

    Religious couple hit 14-year-old daughter on buttocks with mini hockey stick and skipping rope

    By Jason Proctor, CBC News January 28, 2016

    A religious couple in Salmon Arm, B.C., have been convicted of assault for "spanking" their daughter with a mini hockey stick and a skipping rope after learning she had sent nude photos of herself to her boyfriend on Snapchat.

    In a case that tests issues of consent, discipline and parental responsibility, provincial court Judge Edmond de Walle found no excuse for the parents' behaviour.

    "In this day and age, any reasonable parent would be concerned about a teenager sending nude pictures of him or herself via a cellphone or any other electronic device. The pitfalls and dangers of such activities are well-reported. Such behaviours can lead to bullying and even suicide," de Walle wrote.

    "To suggest that responding to such acts by a teenaged daughter (14 going on 15 years), by spanking her with an object, would be educative or corrective, is simply not believable or acceptable by any measure of current social consensus."

    2 options: grounding or spanking

    The incident occurred in 2015 on Valentine's Day.

    It came to the attention of police when the daughter showed bruises on her buttocks to two of her girlfriends, who in turn reported what they had seen to the school principal.

    According to de Walle's ruling, the father had previously confiscated the daughter's cellphone because of her renewed relationship with the boyfriend.

    But she was still able to use an iPad.

    "On reviewing the text messages on the iPad the father discovered messages that referred to his daughter sending nude photographs of herself," de Walle wrote.

    "The daughter believed that the photos only lasted a few seconds after transmission using the Snapchat site."

    The father confronted the daughter and told her "she needed to respect herself and not throw herself at boys."

    He then discussed what form of punishment would be appropriate. "The daughter subsequently recalled that her father offered her two options: to be grounded for a really long time or to be spanked."

    continued below

  57. She opted for the spanking.

    According to the decision, the father struck his daughter two or three times with a plastic mini hockey stick about 45 centimetres in length. He then told his wife what had happened.

    "The mother became upset and picked up a skipping rope that was in the garage," the decision says.

    "She hit her daughter two or three times on her buttocks with the skipping rope. The mother said she was doing this because she loved her daughter."

    The hand is for love, not discipline

    On the stand, the father, who had no criminal record, described his family as Christian. His father used to discipline him with an orange plastic spoon.

    "He testified that the hand is used for compassion and love, not for discipline," de Walle wrote.

    "In other words, the father believes that an object, not the hand, must be used when administering discipline."

    Legal arguments in the case centred on a child's ability to consent to an assault from a parent and the consideration that goes into "corrective force" used by parents as discipline.

    The judge found that the parents were in a position of authority, and she wasn't offered a choice beyond grounding or assault.

    "Although the complainant chose a 'spanking,' it was not a fully informed consent with an appreciation of all the consequences," de Walle wrote.

    As far as discipline is concerned, the Supreme Court has set out considerations whereby "corrective force" is deemed reasonable as opposed to assault: It must be intended for educative or corrective purposes, and the force has to be reasonable under the circumstances.

    The law generally accepts that those rules don't apply to corporal punishment used on children under two or teenagers.

    In the case at hand, de Walle found the father had clearly intended the spanking as punishment for sexting.

    "The parents took no educative or corrective steps by seeking out expert help or any other assistance," de Walle wrote.

    "Their actions were solely punitive and not corrective. In my view, the actions of the parents were also degrading."

    The judge also found the use of weapons — "namely the plastic mini hockey stick and the skipping rope" — was not reasonable under the circumstances and amounted to excessive corporal punishment.

    He found both the mother and the father guilty of assault. The couple have yet to be sentenced. Their next court date is in March.


  58. NOTE see related article in the comment above at 23 September 2015 at 14:38 Married church minister ran bottom spanking cult


    Spanking pastor Howard Curtis, 73, of Bloxworth Close, Wallington, facing jail after being found guilty of sexual assault at Coulsdon Christian Fellowship

    Daniel O'Mahony, Reporter - Croydon Sutton Guardian-Mar 29, 2016

    An evangelical pastor who led his church as "cult" is facing jail after being found guilty of sexually assaulting female parishioners.

    Howard Curtis, 73, former senior minister at Coulsdon Christian Fellowship (CCF), spanked “completely naked” women in his congregation as part of a doctrine known as "Christian Domestic Discipline".
    During a trial at Croydon Crown Court, Curtis claimed the assaults - which included “hitting or tapping his victims in the genitals” - formed part of a mental health treatment inspired by a “spiritual” interpretation of the Bible.

    On Thursday a jury unanimously found Mr Curtis guilty of seven counts of sexually assaulting a female and one count of child cruelty during his time at the CCF between the early 1980s and July 2013.

    Curtis, now of Bloxworth Close, Wallington, was cleared of five further counts of assaulting a child as well as one count of assaulting a female over 13 by penetration.

    During the four-week trial the jury heard evidence from a former CCF parishioner who said Curtis had physically restrained women during private "counselling sessions" intended to deliver his worshippers from "evil spirits".

    The witness recounted an occasion when Curtis whispered "I could turn you on" while giving her a neck massage. She also described how the pastor had spanked the bottom of a three-year old boy after shouting the child was a "defiant spirit looking at him".

    Another former church member told the jury that family members had urged her to leave CCF, in Chipstead Valley Road.

    But she said: “When you’re in a cult you don’t realise you’re in a cult until years after you’ve left and you look back and think, ‘Why didn’t I leave years ago?’ Cross-examining Curtis, prosecutor Toby Fitzgerald said there was “no other Christian doctrine [that] requires or allows the pastor of a church to smack the bare bottoms of adult female members of its congregation”.

    Curtis agreed, but cited an interpretation of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament as justification for the doctrine.

    He added: “Just because you and other people don’t think it’s right doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to believe it. Otherwise it’s against freedom of religion."

    The pastor promoted the doctrine in his later years at the church. But he admitted that his wife had not agreed to it as part of their own marriage.

    Asked about a parishioner he was said to have forced to submit to spanking, the former pastor said: “She wanted to experience to see if it helped her with her depression – which it actually did. The woman feels very relaxed and very free.

    "It reduces the tension – I don’t really understand why but that’s what happens."

    Curtis will be sentenced at Croydon Crown Court on April 22.


  59. Ohio church cant claim insurance coverage for boys beating

    By Randy Ludlow. The Columbus Dispatch | May 12, 2016

    An Ohio megachurch is not entitled to collect $1 million from its insurer toward a $3.1 million settlement with the parents of a 2-year-old boy beaten by a daycare worker, the state supreme court ruled on Thursday (May 12).

    The justices unanimously rejected a bid by World Harvest Church in Columbus to collect the amount from Grange Mutual Casualty Co. following a lengthy battle in Franklin County courts.

    An abuse and molestation exclusion in Grange’s insurance policy with the church on Gender Road bars coverage of the damages, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor wrote in the court’s opinion.

    Church lawyers had argued that the boy’s injuries inflicted in 2006 did not stem from abuse, but rather from excessive corporal punishment.

    The justices overturned the Franklin County Court of Appeals, which had found that Grange was responsible for providing coverage for damages and legal fees.

    Michael and Lacey Faieta were banished from World Harvest Church after they claimed their son had been injured by daycare worker Richard Vaughan.

    They sued in 2006, contending the church intentionally inflicted emotional distress by failing to investigate their claims that their son was beaten with a ruler and that it was negligent in hiring and supervising Vaughan.

    World Harvest contended at trial in Franklin County Common Pleas Court that the incident never took place and that the welts and bruises on the boy’s body, including his penis, were the result of a skin rash.

    A jury awarded $6 million in damages, but the amount was reduced by a judge to $2.9 million to reflect caps on damages. The church then settled the case in 2009 for $3.1 million, including post-judgment interest, and sued Grange Mutual. Vaughan, who was not charged with any crime, was found responsible for about $82,000 in damages.

    When the church settled the case in 2009, Rod Parsley, pastor of World Harvest Church, took to the internet with a fundraising appeal to help the church deal with a “diabolically, demonically inspired financial attack.”

    “Will you help me take back what the devil stole?” Parsley asked.

    Lawyers for World Harvest Church and Grange Mutual did not respond to requests for comment on the ruling.