Biblical Reform School Discipline: Tough Love or Abuse?


"She looked like the most pitiful thing standing in the little snow boots I bought her -- mud-covered with a thin skirt covering her knees with dirt on it...Her face was ghostly white, her eyes bugged out and hair was pulled back. My tiny girl had a horrible look on her face...the most awful expression I have ever seen on the face of my children. I gasped and held my breath."

Jeannie Marie said that when she held her daughter, "she was so weak and faint...and her body went limp. There was nothing left to her."

She said her former pastor at Tabernacle Baptist, Don Martin, had recommended the school as successful, but it was not as advertised.

Martin said that a previous pastor had financially supported the school in the past, but he never made such claims to Anne's mother.

"If someone in our congregation did, that's another thing," he said.

"As far as I know, they come highly recommended," Martin said of the school. "I know they have to be strict -- or it doesn't do much good to send wayward ladies to a school. But I don't know how strict or what they do."

He said allegations of physical punishment in these IFB reform schools were "pretty much nonsense" and the family's claims were "fabrications."

"My sense is people send children there and they want them to come back as model citizens, and if something goes wrong, they want to blame the school. I think they tried to help, but that doesn't mean a thing if there is not good support."

William McNamara, New Beginnings' director, refused to answer questions about the program and allegations that it was abusive.

"We love them," he said of the students. "I cannot speak to any of those things -- the truth will be known."

He referred to his lawyer, Wes Barnum, who did not respond to written questions sent by email or a follow-up telephone call.

New Beginnings began as the Rebekah Home for Girls in Corpus Christie, Texas, in 1968, but was shut down by the state in 1985 after numerous investigations of abuse and its refusal to submit to state licensing.

Under changing names, the school moved temporarily to Devil's Elbow, Mo., before relocating in Pace, Fla., and eventually to its present home in La Russell, Mo.

The school was run by Lester Roloff, an independent fundamental Baptist preacher who broke from the Southern Baptist Convention in 1954 and founded a series of reform facilities, known as Roloff Homes, for what he called, "parent-hating, Satan-worshiping, dope-taking immoral boys and girls," according to a 2000 investigative report in Texas Monthly.

His antidote to these rebellious teens was anchored in scripture and included kneeling on hard floors, physical punishment with paddles or leather straps or the "dreaded 'look-up,' an isolation room where Roloff's sermons were played for days on end," said the magazine.

Roloff died in a plane crash in 1982, but his ministry still exists in adult programs as part of the People's Baptist Church in Texas and other adult facilities around the country.

"We do not tolerate child abuse of any form," said August Rosado, a spokesman for Roloff Homes.

He said the Texas church was no longer affiliated with New Beginnings and now serves only adults who are struggling with addiction.

Some Former Students Report Post-Traumatic Stress

Brittany Campbell, now 25, says she was at Rebekah through its transition to New Beginnings from 2001 to 2005. The school moved to Missouri in 2007.

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