Response to Brett Shipp and WFAA
Featured Video: For the Sake of the Children…
What’s Really behind WFAA’s Report on Homestead Heritage?
The Genesis of the WFAA Story
The background and events behind the WFAA story
Our Statement for WFAA
The statement we gave WFAA
An examination of WFAA’s online rebuttal of our statement
Waco Trib: Guest Column about the WFAA Story
The guest column as published in the Waco Tribune Herald, May 13, 2012.
The WFAA News 8 feature on our community, titled “Secret Lives” in the trailer, is a sensationalistic pseudo-“exposé,” based on the atrocity stories of embittered ex-members. Even the title of the feature is a ludicrous misrepresentation, given that we now have over 60,000 visitors come through our community every year.
The points presented below are intended only to provide a brief overview of some of the problems in Brett Shipp’s “exposé” of Homestead Heritage. They are by no means exhaustive. Please see the video “For the Sake of the Children…” and the Reality Check on Brett Shipp and WFAA for more detail.
Please also see the links in the sidebar to view the history and background of this unwarranted media onslaught, as well as the written statement that we gave Brett Shipp for use in his story. See also our main Response to Slander page on this website for more videos and other content related to this and a similar story by the Texas Observer.
Brief Facts about the WFAA Story
In WFAA’s written response to the statement given by Homestead Heritage for use in Brett Shipp’s story, WFAA claims that “every major allegation” in their story was “unimpeachably corroborated by documents or witnesses to events under scrutiny.” How can this ostentatious claim be legitimate, given the following facts?
1. Titled “Secret Lives” in the trailer, the story claimed Homestead Heritage is a “gated compound,” a “secretive and tightly controlled religious environment” behind a “locked gate” where “the general public is not allowed inside.”
Homestead Heritage is open to the public six days a week, year-round and hosts more than 60,000 visitors annually.
2. Brett Shipp claimed Homestead’s “1,000 member congregation” is “located on a 500 acre gated commune,” giving the impression that members are isolated from the outside world.
Less than one third of its members live on the Homestead farm; the rest live on privately owned parcels.
This video was taken from Homestead’s website. WFAA manipulated this and other Homestead videos for sinister effect by changing them to black and white, playing them in slow motion, applying a black tunnel effect and black digitized screen filters and so forth. The distorted videos were used behind Shipp’s accusations that were exactly opposite of the actual content of the original videos. In this one example, Shipp shows a fuzzy, black and white, slow-motion video of people inside the community church building while he says, “the general Public is not allowed inside.” The original footage shows that it was in fact a standing ovation at Homestead’s 2011 Easter concert, which was attended by more than a thousand people from “the general public,” including state senators and judges, Texas supreme court justices and a former president of the United States.
But 89 former members have signed an online petition against Shipp’s story, stating that its central premise is false. Shipp does not even mention the existence of any testimony contrary to his story (much less provide an interview for balance), even though dissenting ex-members outnumber his 9 select witnesses 10 to 1. Shipp certainly knew of these dissenting ex-members, for Homestead specifically pointed WFAA to this public petition several months before the story aired.
Shipp omitted the fact that Homestead reported all the verified crimes mentioned in his story (except for one that had nothing to do with Homestead Heritage). The McLennan County sheriff’s office has verified this fact, yet Shipp’s self-described “laborious quest to track down and authenticate allegations” failed to produce any testimony at all from law enforcement. Local station KCEN HD (Channel 6) easily obtained this testimony in a single day.
This document never refers to crime at all and only forbids lawsuits between church members. As said, Shipp also failed to mention that church ministry reported all the crimes he referenced. This fact alone proves that Shipp’s interpretation of the document is wrong. Homestead pointed WFAA to all this information months before his story aired.
7. Shipp quoted from a book by Blair Adams to support his accusation that Homestead encourages abuse of children.
Shipp extracted two fragments out of this book and twisted their meaning to the exact opposite of the original intent. Shipp presents the quotes as if Adams is instructing parents to “use force” to discipline children, when, in fact, the sentence begins with, “Some would claim…” The sentence was presenting a hypothetical position that Adams was arguing against, which is made clear by surrounding context in the book. (Shipp has the entire book.) This same book also specifically refutes Shipp’s claims about the church document mentioned above.
8. Shipp told of a “private pact between church leaders and parents to brutally discipline children.”
Shipp offered absolutely no evidence of this alleged “pact.” Such a thing has never existed at Homestead and would defy their core beliefs.
9. Shipp prominently featured Becky Crow’s allegation that Homestead has engaged in human trafficking.
Not only did Shipp fail to report this heinous allegation to law enforcement, he gave absolutely no evidence for it. Homestead immediately reported it to the Sheriff’s office, and it turned out to be a fabrication.
10. As “evidence” of his claim that Homestead Heritage has a practice of not reporting crimes against children, Brett Shipp presented an anonymous victim telling an atrocity story of childhood abuse by her stepfather.
Though Homestead Heritage knows the identity of this woman, the cloak of anonymity conveniently conceals from other viewers some essential facts: First of all, whatever might have happened with this woman’s stepfather when she was 15 would have taken place at least 30 years ago—before the woman or her stepfather had anything to do with Homestead Heritage. Furthermore, this woman was later a member of Homestead Heritage for about 20 years, and has to this day never voiced to the church any complaints about whatever might have happened in her past. Apparently, this woman has still never reported her stepfather to law enforcement for his alleged abuse, but nonetheless, 30 years later she is suddenly blaming Homestead Heritage in public for not reporting it. And Brett Shipp, who knew the woman’s identity, still presented her anonymous story as representative of life at Homestead Heritage.
11. Brett Shipp claimed in an interview with the Texas Observer that he’s “never had to work so hard to corroborate allegations of an important story.” He described his six-month investigation as “a laborious quest to track down and authenticate allegations.”
For all that effort, the story was very sloppy, even in regard to basic factual information. For example, the report erroneously showed Homestead as located in “Hutto, TX” (90 miles away), mislabeled Jeremy Crow as “Isaac Alexander” and misspelled and mispronounced Mark Kieran’s name. In addition, there are glaring factual discrepancies between the online text and the video version of the story.
Public court records reflect that all law enforcement investigations found no further abuse. Homestead pointed WFAA to this information months before Shipp’s story aired.
The victim’s parents and all her siblings (most of whom are ex-members) completely disagree. In addition, the CPS officials handling the case were amazed at the support the victim and her family received from the church. How else could Shipp have “corroborated” this allegation if not through these sources? Yet they clearly deny it.
Almost all of Brett Shipp’s selected witnesses have publicly attacked Homestead for many years and some can even be easily shown to have a strong anti-Christian bias. For example, a few weeks before Shipp’s story aired, one even posted a comment on the Homestead Heritage website saying he hopes this media blitz “blows the lid off your whole shame Christian ‘church.’ . . . I am now a staunch atheist who can refute every one of your god claims.” He also sent a message to Brett Shipp’s fraudulent Facebook page thanking him for doing this story and voicing his “hope” that it would bring “the charade of a wholesome Christian community crashing down.” How much clearer can an agenda be?