Many of the central distortions and fabrications in the WFAA broadcast are addressed in our video, “For the Sake of the Children…” and also in our Brief Facts about the WFAA Story. This “Reality Check” is intended only as a supplement to the video and mainly addresses some of the other problems not mentioned in the video (this is still by no means an exhaustive refutation of every error or misrepresentation). We recommend watching the video and/or reading the “Brief Facts” before reading this section.
1. WFAA: “Videos posted on the Homestead Heritage website present to the public the wholesome image, bolstering its perception as a beloved staple of the community for two decades.” “But the wholesome, carefree appearances portrayed on publicity videos, according to some who have left, is a facade, masking a quiet culture of abuse.”
These statements leave the impression that the only window the public has into our lives is the videos we post on our website. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Perhaps Brett Shipp feels this way because we have now specifically declined him access to our community based upon our experience with him (see The Genesis of the WFAA Story), but anyone else from “the general public” can easily verify that our lives are accurately represented in our videos. In fact, many more people witness our lives than watch our videos. We were open to the public for many years before we even made any videos. Our preference has always been for people to come see for themselves—the videos were only done to help those unacquainted with us due to distance or time constraints to see further into our lives, not to hide our lives.
(One of our members recently noted [somewhat tongue in cheek] that if we had been under the illusion that our lives were “carefree,” the damage caused by these outrageous and slanderous media reports is certainly serving to correct that impression.)
2. WFAA: Brett Shipp presents Isaac Alexander speaking about our founding minister, Blair Adams: “He was to be feared. You didn’t talk to him, you didn’t even look at him.”
Ironically, this is exactly the opposite of another ex-member’s testimony given to Alex Hannaford. In the Observer story, Hannaford gives “John’s” description of a community meeting: “And throughout, John said, all eyes were firmly fixed on Adams. ‘He was the greatest thing that ever lived. If he walked by and patted you on the shoulder, it was as if God shined down on you.’”
So one witness says, “You didn’t even look at him,” while the other says, “All eyes were firmly fixed on” him. Both are simply attempts to conform our community to the stereotypical template of a cult, which must present the all-powerful, alternately feared and worshiped leader. Both accounts present subjective impressions, and neither is true, as hundreds of others who know Blair Adams well would testify.
(It also should be noted that Isaac Alexander is Adam Alexander’s brother. We’ve addressed Adam’s story and his hateful agenda in our Response to the Observer.)
3. WFAA: Brett Ship says the Beechners left Homestead Heritage after 15 years “when Bob challenged Adams, whom he says professes to [be, sic] a messenger of God.”
Bob never “challenged Adams.” In fact, Blair Adams had very little relationship with Bob and didn’t even realize he had left Homestead Heritage until sometime after the fact. (Bob’s wife, Katherine, actually continued to attend for quite awhile after Bob left.)
Bob’s distorted claim that Blair Adams presents himself as “a messenger of God” has already been addressed in our answer to the Observer story. (Bob made the identical claim in that story—click here to view our response.) We pointed WFAA to our response to the Observer long before they aired their story.
4. WFAA: Brett Shipp presents Bob Beechner saying that Homestead Heritage “doctrine is that the leadership is put in place by God himself and speaks authoritatively, as speaking the very word of God.”
While this sounds overbearing and authoritarian when placed in the context of allegations of criminal abuse and such, if viewed from a different angle, it actually reflects fairly orthodox Christian belief. After all, most traditional Christians would agree that “God himself” has ordained that men should help lead and shepherd His church on the earth, and that the task of those men is to minister the “word of God,” to the best of their ability, to those under their care.
We have always believed that this authority to lead the church must only be voluntarily submitted to by those in the church, and never be coercively imposed by the leaders themselves. But Bob would insinuate the opposite about our community—that “brutal discipline” creates an atmosphere of “fear” that compels people to follow the leadership. Those truly acquainted with our church and its literature (as Bob himself was) know that any such coercion would be contrary to our core beliefs.
5. WFAA: “Before gaining acceptance into [Homestead Heritage], adults go through several months of screening and ultimately must sign a covenant of silence.”
Shipp’s use of the term “screening,” especially when placed in the context of the theme of his story, gives the intentional impression that we take great pains to filter out people who we’re afraid might tell the police about all the alleged crimes that go on in our community. This impression is augmented by his false claim that the culmination of the alleged “screening” is that prospective members “must sign a covenant of silence.” (We address in our video and elsewhere the false representation of the document he refers to.) This is, again, a completely false impression. “Covenant of silence” and “screening” are Shipp’s terms, not ours, and these terms are deliberately chosen to invoke a cult stereotype in the viewer’s mind.
We do take membership in our community very seriously, and this is reflected in the fact that we carefully teach and prepare prospective members to make sure they fully understand all the commitments involved before they join (which includes a commitment to expose sins in the proper context, but certainly not to hide crimes). Again, this is not so unusual—many churches have some form of catechism process to instruct newcomers about their beliefs to make sure there is mutual understanding before they join.
More to the point, we might ask what “screening” process Brett Shipp employed when selecting his 9 witnesses for this story? How did it come to be that almost 90 ex-members who signed a petition against his mischaracterization of our community were not interviewed to give a different side, even though some specifically offered to do so?
6. WFAA: “News 8 has learned that in the past seven years, five individuals, either members of, or with close ties to Homestead, have been convicted of sexually abusing a child within the Homestead community.”
News 8 only “learned” of four of these convictions because they were exposed and reported by our ministry, and reported in the public media at the times they occurred. The fifth perpetrator was a minor child of Bill DeLong’s, who had been gone from our community for some time when he committed his crime. This situation definitely did not involve “a child within the Homestead community.” We only heard about his crime through the grapevine after his arrest.
If nothing else, this demonstrates Brett Shipp’s ignorance and/or carelessness that he would lump in a fifth case that had nothing to do with any members of Homestead Heritage.
7. WFAA: “Homestead officials” “say all [five perpetrators] turned themselves in at the insistence of church officials, who fully cooperated with police.”
As noted above, we have only commented on four cases, not five, since the fifth had nothing to do with us. But there is also a crucial omission here: Shipp knew that “Homestead officials” also said they reported all of these cases. (Click here to view on this site.) This fact was verified with law enforcement in a matter of hours by another station. (Click here to view KCEN broadcasts.) In fact, we’ve made clear that in one case, the perpetrator did not turn himself in—he was simply reported by Homestead members and ministry and then arrested at his home by law enforcement.
8. WFAA: Brett Shipp attempts to show a contradiction by saying that our website says, “Only one group leader knew of the abuse,” and then contrasting this with Bill DeLong’s interview with Shipp in which DeLong speaks in the plural: “‘A group of the men, the elders there, the brothers, they began to really find out what the best course was, and I know they make everything a matter of prayer,’ Delong said. ‘It wasn’t like they were trying to break the law. They were really trying to find out what to do within the church first, to keep everything covered.’”
First of all, our website does not say “only one group leader knew of the abuse”—this is Shipp’s paraphrase. We have never claimed that the lay minister involved was the only soul who knew about the problem. Obviously at least his wife also knew about it, and a couple others also knew there was a problem of some kind (though they didn’t know any particulars). What we’ve made clear is that no one on our eldership board knew anything about it until about a year later, and it was reported within 48 hours of their finding out.
In his recounting of events from eight years ago (prompted and guided by Shipp’s questions, of course), Bill DeLong is apparently assuming that his situation was shared with church elders. But in reality, out of respect for the privacy of individuals, we don’t make a practice of sharing detailed sins with one another, even among ministers, unless there is a need to. Obviously, in this case, there was a need to, but the lay minister didn’t realize the extent of his responsibility. A few others in the church knew there was some kind of serious moral problem, but didn’t know the details of it or that it involved anything criminal.
DeLong also inaccurately represents our beliefs by saying that we try to remedy everything in the church first “because that’s what God says to do.” As is made clear in our video and other material on this site (not to mention other church materials, including the book Shipp quotes), we’ve always believed that while it’s not the role of the church to advertise to the public every sin a member might commit, criminal matters, on the other hand, are the proper sphere of the State.
Shipp cuts off his interview where DeLong says that the elders were trying to “keep everything covered.” Given his central accusation against us, Shipp obviously intends to use DeLong’s terminology to imply that the elders’ main focus was to keep DeLong’s crime hidden from the law. But given that DeLong started his sentence by making clear that he knew our church leadership would never be trying to break the law, it’s clear to us that DeLong is in fact using the term more like one might say, “I need to get my job covered for a week while I’m out of town.” Such usage would not imply that the speaker wanted to hide his job, but rather that he was recognizing his responsibility to make sure that all the needs involved were being taken care of. DeLong knows that our church ministry has always done all we can to meet the needs of our members in every way we can. In this sense, our ministry and counsel to the victim, to the perpetrator, to their family, as well as our financial assistance to the family, and even our decision to report DeLong, were all efforts to fulfill our responsibility to “cover” the situation.
Finally, for obvious reasons, Bill DeLong should not be looked to as a representative of our community beliefs or practices. His behavior places him among those who have strayed the farthest from our beliefs, as someone who has proven least capable of enacting or representing our ideals, not someone who would speak accurately for us.
9. WFAA: “Homestead officials have declined to comment on camera about their handling of Delong’s case.”
This is a misleading representation of our actions and the reasons why we declined an interview. In truth, “Homestead officials” didn’t just decline to comment on camera about Bill DeLong’s situation—we refused an interview of any kind. Brett Shipp leaves viewers to conclude that we were afraid to discuss this topic with him, when in fact we did discuss it with both him and his management in great detail. Our reasons for refusing an interview are detailed in The Genesis of the WFAA Story.
In addition, one only needs to look at our website, which we pointed Shipp to months before the story, to realize that we have provided detailed commentary on our handling of DeLong’s case, not only to Shipp, but to the public. In fact, Shipp’s selective quoting of a sentence or two from our website actually demonstrates (no doubt inadvertently) that we did provide specific detailed information about this case, and that he read it—yet he still misrepresents it.
10. WFAA: “Delong’s victim said [he/she] was kicked out of church but allowed to return home, where the abuse continued.”
This is yet another example of carelessness in handling very sensitive subject matter: the WFAA video says “he” (the perpetrator) was “kicked out of the church,” but their online text version says “she” (the victim) was. This is not a minor distinction. After six months of working on this story, is this the kind of accuracy we should expect from a prestigious news organization?
If it was intended to be “she,” this entire statement would simply be false. DeLong’s victim was not kicked out of the church—she was just a young child at the time, and her mother and siblings remained part of the church for quite some time after the incident.
If it was intended to be “he” (as we suspect), then this still leaves another serious error: Shipp’s story leaves the impression that the abuse continued during the delay in reporting, but, as mentioned in our video, this is contradicted by all publicly available court records that reflect the investigations from that time. These court records were published on our website and we specifically pointed WFAA to our site, for relevant information months before Shipp’s story aired.
11. WFAA: “Attorney Greg Love...said the stories of abuse at Homestead fit a pattern. ‘When you get these closed communities and part of the fabric of that community is, information stays on the inside, behavior stays on the inside, how we do things stays on the inside,’ Love said. ‘Even if those behaviors are injurious to a child, and you are discouraged from bringing in the outside, you really find children at risk.’”
Love’s “expert analysis” is based, of course, upon Shipp’s distortion that we are “secret” and “closed,” which is perhaps the most obvious falsehood in the whole story. Furthermore, Love’s principle about “closed communities” that don’t share all their information with the public could just as easily be applied to marriages, families, social clubs, businesses or any other private organization—the question is where to draw the line between what information should be public and what is appropriately private. By framing the whole discussion with his false claim that we don’t report crime, Shipp has simply set up a straw man and then shoots it down with his “expert opinion.”
In other words, by itself, Love’s subjective declaration that the alleged abuse in our community “fits a pattern” doesn’t really contribute any confirmation to Shipp’s story because it’s based only on what Shipp has told him, which, as shown, is hardly an accurate picture. Love’s pronouncement proves nothing and simply begs the question. (It doesn’t take a lawyer to deduce that if people are hiding behavior that is injurious to a child, then you have children at risk.)
Furthermore, though Love’s tautological statement attempts to argue that “closed communities” are exceptionally prone to produce abuse of children, even if we were to grant him such a definition of our community, should we not also at least take a realistic look at more commonly accepted public institutions, such as the public schools, and see how their rates of crime, abuse, immorality and social dysfunction compare to our community? The contrast would be starkly and overwhelmingly in favor of our traditional, family-oriented environment.
12. WFAA: The lead-in anchor to part two of Brett Shipp’s story introduced the segment with these words: “Leaders of a religious commune near Waco are denying allegations they ministered to a child molester rather than report him to police.”
This is a misleading statement. In no way have we ever denied that there was one case in which a lay minister in our community decided not to report a child molester to police. We have explained that our eldership board did not know about the situation until about a year later, at which time they immediately reported it to law enforcement. This information was publicly available on our website long before Shipp’s story aired.
13. WFAA: “A News 8 investigation has already uncovered evidence that church elders failed to timely report allegations of sexual abuse of at least two children within the Homestead community.”
It’s a bit of a stretch to say that News 8 “uncovered evidence” that church elders failed to timely report allegations of sexual abuse of at least two children. In one case, not only did we fully disclose the reporting delay to authorities at the time we learned of it, we even published the facts about the delay on our website months before WFAA’s story and directed them to it for information. In the second case, their “evidence” is the word of an anonymous witness—hardly the “documented” “corroborated” “authenticated” evidence they claim. (See the Brief Facts about the WFAA Story for further revealing information about this “anonymous” witness.)
14. WFAA: “Some former members say the brutal disciplining of children is an on-going threat, due to a private pact between church leaders and parents to brutally discipline children who don’t conform to church doctrine. It’s an allegation church leaders deny.”
This is preposterous and simply false. WFAA claims that “every major allegation” in their story has been “unimpeachably corroborated by documents or witnesses to events under scrutiny.” Where is the “documented” evidence for this alleged “private pact”? Does Brett Shipp consider the existence of this alleged “private pact between church leaders and parents to brutally discipline children” to be “corroborated” by “witnesses” simply because more than one ex-member is willing to say it exists?
And finally, where is the evidence that “church leaders deny” this alleged “private pact” with parents? “Church leaders” have never denied this “pact” because we’d never even heard of it. Now that we’ve learned about this absurd accusation from WFAA’s broadcast, we most definitely deny that any “brutal” behavior of any sort has ever been allowed, much less encouraged or required, in any form. Again, nonviolence is central to our Anabaptist beliefs.
15. WFAA: Brett Shipp presents several witnesses claiming that “bruises,” “welts” and “marks” are commonplace on our community children due to their parents’ “brutal” discipline.
In an email to one community member, Shipp even added “blood” to this sordid list of alleged injuries (which were all invariably inflicted with the infamous “peach switch,” it seems, according to the ex-members’ tales). All of this is presented, of course, as anecdotal “evidence” of Shipp’s fanciful idea of a “private pact” that parents allegedly make to “brutally discipline” children.
Such treatment of children would certainly be contrary to our beliefs and practices as a community. One aspect of these anecdotal allegations that makes them difficult for us to dismiss out of hand as entirely fabricated, however, is the fact that in every case the fathers that are alleged to have done this abuse have long been removed from our community for different reasons (and in several cases, the mothers, too). Thus, it is difficult for us to vouch for what might have gone on in their own homes, given that significant problems surfaced in all these cases that necessitated their removal from our community. In other words, even leaving aside the questions of exaggeration or fabrication, the parents in question are hardly representative of our community’s position or standard.
But even beyond all this, two significant contradictions to these allegations of severe abuse arise from Shipp’s own select witnesses, as noted in the following two points.
16. WFAA: Jeremy Crow described in detail the beating his parents allegedly gave his five-year-old brother: “One would beat him until they couldn’t raise their hand, and then the other would take over.”
First of all, as noted in our video, in this unbelievable story, which is the only specific reference to alleged physical abuse, Shipp’s own witnesses specifically contradict each other. While Shipp admits that “Crow’s mother denies the severity of the allegations,” he doesn’t allow viewers time to actually read what she wrote in the email he flashes across the screen. In fact, she denied the central aspect of Jeremy’s tale. She wrote: “We didn’t beat him until we couldn’t beat him anymore and then the other take over” (emphasis added). So in Shipp’s “unimpeachably corroborated” story, his own witnesses impeach one another.
Additionally, in the text version of WFAA’s story, Shipp actually modifies Jeremy’s description to read: “One would beat him until they couldn’t beat him anymore and they would raise their hand and the other would take over.” This rendition could possibly be taken to indicate that the parents’ reason for stopping was that they couldn’t bear the emotional stress of continuing to beat their child, and they raised their hand to signal their resignation. But what Crow really says on the video is that “one would beat him until they couldn’t raise their hand.” He actually intones that pure physical exhaustion was the only limit to their sadism, and this was allegedly overcome by a “tag team” approach so the punishment could continue unabated even when their strength failed them. We will leave it to the reader to judge if Crow’s tale sounds plausible.
Again, also keep in mind that those accused, Crow’s parents, were both removed from our community years ago for other problems.
17. WFAA: Mark “Kierian” [sic] claims, “There were actually meetings on how to beat your kids without leaving marks.”
Shipp’s six-month “laborious quest to track down and authenticate” all this has unfortunately left him unable to spell or pronounce Kieran’s name correctly. He also incorrectly states that Mark Kieran was “one of the original members” of our church, when, in fact, he didn’t join until years after the church began.
More seriously, because the existence of terrible abuse is a presupposition in Shipp’s narrative, the viewer is left with an ominous feeling about Kieran’s story of these alleged meetings for instructing parents. Apparently, the intended impression is that our community teaches and promotes terrorist tactics, such as those employed by the KGB or the Mafia, about how to injure people without leaving any trace of evidence (“marks”). The implication is that we teach people how to hide abuse.
(Ironically, these alleged instructional meetings would appear to have been quite unsuccessful if one took the word of the rest of Shipp’s witnesses, who go on and on about all the alleged “bruises,” “welts” and “marks” they say they witnessed.)
We’ve never had any such meetings. But again, if we remove Shipp’s presupposition of abuse, Kieran’s story becomes inane. In fact, it could more plausibly be interpreted that such meetings were to teach parents not to be abusive in their discipline—in other words, if you leave marks, you’re going too far. In fact, advice of this nature has likely been given at times to members of our community, though, contrary to what Kieran describes, no meeting has ever been held for that purpose.
18. WFAA: Becky Crow “recalls how the men at Homestead were conditioned to exercise dominance. ‘The more forceful he could be in disciplining his children and his wife, even in public, the more he showed his authority,’ Crow said.”
We have to admit to laughing a little bit about this one. While voicing Crow’s absurd claims of a macho, he-man, chauvinistic society, Shipp shows fuzzy video footage of men hauling timbers and stones for a construction project (taken, of course, from our alleged “publicity videos” that supposedly demonstrate our “carefree” life). Maybe we shouldn’t laugh, given the threats being made against us due to these slanderous reports, but it’s such a wild departure from the gentle people that we know and love, it’s sometimes hard to take it seriously. The intended impression seems to be that of a top-dog, chest-thumping, cave man culture where brawn and brutality is your ticket to the top of the totem pole.
Elsewhere claiming that we have a “quiet culture of abuse” that is hidden from “the general public,” Shipp continues his pattern of contradictions with this ridiculous picture of an alleged competition to demonstrate and display male prowess “in public.”
Again, all these insinuations of violence and force could not be further from our teachings and practices that we have consistently demonstrated and shared with others for nearly four decades.
19. WFAA: “Bob and Katherine Beechner said they left Homestead ten years ago after Adams[’s, sic] authority became too punitive toward children, including their 14-year-old son. ‘It became increasingly intimidating and coercive, to the point that our own son—we saw him slipping away,’ said Bob Beechner. ‘He had planned to run away.’”
Bob’s story makes it sound like Blair Adams chases children and teenagers around the community with the dreaded “peach switch.” This is patently absurd and false. Again, where is the evidence for this ridiculous claim that is disputed by everyone that knows Blair Adams, both inside and outside our community? The only“corroboration” of this ludicrous portrayal is found within this handful of people with an ax to grind. (And even with them, not a single one besides Bob indicated that Adams was personally abusing children.)
If Shipp would claim “documentation” of Adams’s alleged belief in “brutal discipline” by misquoting from his book, then we point the reader to our video “For the Sake of the Children…” for an explanation of how Shipp twisted Adams’s words to the exact opposite of their original intent.
20. WFAA: Towards the end of Shipp’s story, Isaac Alexander says, “No one should allow their kids to go through a social experiment like that, if you will. Like where it’s this perfect community from the outside, but there’s so much darkness on the inside.”
Our community lives by traditions of belief and lifestyle that reach back for centuries and which have historically produced the most peaceful, nonviolent people the world has ever seen. The fact that our chosen path now stands quite apart from an increasingly troubled and chaotic world that has veered away from our morals and values does not make us a “social experiment.” Indeed, only people with no sense of history could fail to realize that this term could more appropriately be applied to modern techno-industrial society—which has truly never been tried before in the history of the world, at least not on the scale we see today.
Alexander’s comment about “so much darkness on the inside” is, of course, simply his subjective opinion. No doubt it’s included because it conforms perfectly with Shipp’s story line of (to quote the trailer) “a seemingly perfect community” that masks “horrors” of “abuse.” Given that Shipp only shows his viewers tiny snippets from his six months of interviews, it’s impossible to tell how much of his select “witnesses’ ” testimony was prompted (or even scripted) to fit his narrative.