The Christian Alamo

Missouri is recapitulating recent history in Ireland. It has these “faith-based” institutions – or prisons, to be blunt – for teenage girls, which go in for ferocious discipline coupled with secrecy, and Missouri…looks intently in the other direction.

Authorities in the state are  barred from inspecting the homes or even keeping track of them. (New  Beginnings has operated under multiple names in Florida, Mississippi,  and Texas.) “It’s hard to understand it, but faith-based is just taboo  for regulation,” says Matthew Franck, an editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who authored an investigative series on the state’s homes in the mid-2000s. “It took decades of work to get  just the most minimal standards of regulation at faith-based child-care  centers,” he adds. “I just knew that when certain lobbyists would stand  up to say, ‘We have a concern about how this affects faith-based  institutions,’ the bill was immediately amended—it was a very Republican  legislature—or it would immediately die. That’s still true.”

That is terrifying, especially when you read about what goes on there.

The girls’ behavior was micromanaged down to the number of squares of  toilet paper each was allowed; potential infractions ranged from making  eye contact with another girl to not finishing a meal. Roxy, who  suffered from urinary tract infections and menstrual complications, told  me she was frequently put on redshirt, sometimes dripping blood as she  stood. She was also punished with cold showers, she said, and endless  sets of calisthenics after meals.

There are a lot of these places, though it’s unclear exactly how many.

New Beginnings is emblematic of an unknown number of  “troubled teen” homes catering to the Independent Fundamental Baptist  community—a web of thousands of autonomous churches linked by doctrine,  overlapping leadership, and affiliations with Bible colleges like Bob Jones University.  IFB churches emphasize strict obedience and consider teen rebellion an  invention of worldly society, so it’s little surprise that families  faced with teenage drinking, smoking, or truancy might turn to programs  promising a tough-love fix. Fear of government intrusion—particularly on  account of the community’s “spare the rod, spoil the child”  worldview—is so pervasive that IFB congregations are primed to dismiss regulatory actions against abusive facilities as religious persecution.

Well quite – they’re afraid the gummint will tell them to stop hitting the child with the rod, so they paint themselves as martyrs to religious persecution. The teenagers they’re torturing, on the other hand, are just sinners.

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