I got bored yesterday and started reading the Internet, as I often do. Before long, I was reading about a scandal at tiny Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. Having familiarized myself with Front Royal when I worked at a church camp up that way, I was interested in the story about young women who were allegedly sexually assaulted there. But, as anyone who’s ever surfed the Web knows, one thing leads to another, and before I knew it, I was reading about yet another controversial “teen help” program for girls.
Someone had written a blog post about Hephzibah House, a “school” located in Winona Lake, Indiana. I found the post because I had searched for Hyles-Anderson College, a school in Hammond, Indiana, affiliated with the Independent Baptist Church. I have written about Hyles-Anderson College before. It’s a place where young men go to become strict, fire and brimstone Baptist preachers, and young women go to learn how to be good wives and helpmeets. But when I added the word “horror” to “Hyles-Anderson College, I stumbled across this blog post about Hyles-Anderson College and its connection to Hephzibah House.
The blog entry is posted on No Eden Elsewhere, which appears to be a blog mostly dedicated to the subject of clergy abuse. The person who wrote the post happened to catch a two day expose on the Dr. Phil show about the horrors of the Hephzibah House. If I were living in America right now, I probably would have seen the show myself. It originally aired on January 13th and 14th 2020, and featured the son of the founders, Ronald E. and Patti Williams, who implored viewers NOT to send their daughters to the school.
It appears the Hephzibah House is still operating. There is a very simple, Blogspot-esque Web site that is still available to inform parents about the school. According to that site, the girls are not spanked. However, according to the survivors on the Dr. Phil show, corporal punishment is a major ingredient in the school’s recipe for “straightening out” young girls, aged 13 to 16 years, 8 months. Why don’t they take girls older than 16 years, 8 months? Because the minimum stay is 15 months. Do the math, and you see that 16 years, 8 months is the latest a girl could attend the school and spend 15 months there before she turns 18 and can legally walk out of there.
The above video is a harrowing description of how girls were allegedly disciplined at Hephzibah House. I can believe the woman’s account, since I have become well versed in the practices of similar schools. Corporal punishment, and abusive correction methods such as forcing girls to copy and memorize Bible verses or write sentences, are pretty common at these types of places. The description of the abuses at Hephzibah House might have been “spiced” up a bit for ratings purposes, but my guess is that it didn’t have to be spiced up too much.
Years ago, I chatted with a couple of people who attended the now defunct Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy in Patterson, Missouri and they had similar stories. I also read about the former Victory Christian Academy in Jay, Florida, which was later rebranded Lighthouse Christian Academy and has now closed. Below is a video about a woman who went to Victory Christian Academy– a survivor of the school, so to speak.
For the life of me, I don’t understand how these supposedly “Christian” people can run such obviously abusive “schools” that employ blatantly heavy-handed methods of getting their charges to obey. I was always taught that Christ was about love, tolerance, and acceptance, as well as mercy. These schools are all about pain, punishment, and humiliation. And typically, these places don’t allow any freedom of expression. In the above Dr. Phil clips, the guests talk about how they weren’t allowed to speak, unless they were asking permission to go to the bathroom or something.
And in the above clip about Victory Christian Academy, the former student, Mackenzie Millar, talks about how she wasn’t allowed to write the truth about how life at the school really was in her letters home. She speaks about the “get right room”, a room the size of a closet where girls were forced to stay for hours. The rooms were nasty and stinky, because girls would urinate on themselves. Meanwhile, they were forced to listen to Lester Roloff’s abusive fundie sermons, blasted at them. Mackenzie also talks about how the floors were equipped with sensors that would sense when girls got up. Likewise, in the Dr. Phil clips, the participants talk about how the floors had sensors and there were microphones everywhere, so the staff could hear every whisper. Creepy! Also, most of the girls at the school stopped having their periods.
I see the Hephzibah House uses the School of Tomorrow (Accelerated Christian Education) curriculum, which is a Protestant fundamentalist educational curriculum that is often used at these types of schools. Another popular curriculum is Abeka (formerly A Beka Book), which was developed at Pensacola Christian College and named after, Rebekah Horton, the wife of the school’s founder, Arlin Horton. Years ago, I used to hang out on The Student Voice, a newsletter and forum run by former PCC students, many of whom were kicked out of the school and wanted to share their stories. I also read about what it was like to work for A Beka Book at PCC.
The school administrators, of course, were very angry about the site, which used the domain http://www.pensacolachristiancollege.com. They sued to get the site’s owner to relinquish the domain, and students who were caught reading or contributing to it were expelled. Having been an active member on that site for awhile, I can attest that it was not a scandalous place. There was no swearing allowed, and the contributors, by and large, were intelligent and thoughtful people who were clearly Christians. But they rebelled against the school’s extreme teachings and policies. Here’s a blog post by a woman named Samantha Field, who attended PCC and has written about why people shouldn’t go there. At least people who are going to college generally have a choice as to whether they will attend. There is still a messageboard in existence, although it’s not all that active anymore. At one time, I was a member, but I don’t know if I still am.
I know there are some people who believe that these kinds of schools, where brainwashing is the name of the game, are helping them “get right with God”. In fact, one of Dr. Phil’s guests supports Hephzibah House, and says it’s not a bad place to be. I’ve read accounts from other people who claim these types of schools, where students are beaten and force fed their own vomit (see Mackenzie Millar’s podcast video for that story), have “saved their lives”.
I am also sure that many of the parents who send their kids to these kinds of schools feel like they have no other choice. I’m sure, in many situations, parents feel like they’ve lost control. But so many of these facilities are legitimately hellholes. The methods employed are abusive and damaging, and they destroy people. It’s shocking that in this day and age, in the United States, these types of schools are allowed to exist with very little oversight. Discipline methods that would merit a visit to parents from child protective services are apparently widely employed without consequence at these places. And the young people who endure them come out with lasting damage from the abuse.
The more I hear and read about these places, a few of which have been shut down, the happier I am that not only was I not raised in a strict religion, but I am also way beyond the teen years. The kids that go to these places are treated worse than prisoners. At least in prison, religious indoctrination is a choice.