I've written quite a lot on the subject of coercive "behaviour modification" facilities in past--including legislative efforts to stop the industry in its tracks as well as exposes of their heavy usage as a dominionist "parallel economy" alternative to legit mental health andinfo on gross abuses in these facilities.
Over the next few days, we are going to focus on a specific chain of these facilities (which have been compared to Abu Ghraib)--Teen Challenge, a chain of Assemblies-run "faith based rehabs" that was the target of a "get out of jail free" deregulation of the "kiddie gulag" industry in Texas by none other than George W. Bush.
In a continuation of the series we began yesterday, we focus on an aspect Teen Challenge shares with its parent denomination--a history of rampant coercive tactics and spiritual abuse.
As if the beatings weren't bad enough...
There are a number of disturbing signs that, much like the Assemblies (of which Teen Challenge is one of six "US missions"), Teen Challenge is prone to use of spiritual abuse and coercive tactics--and there are multiple reports to back this up, sadly.
In yesterday's post, it was noted that a requirement of Teen Challenge was that parents agree to (among other things) this note:
Parents must agree "that God desires that they resolve their dispute with one another within the church and that they be reconciled in their relationships in accordance with the principles stated in I Corinthians 6:1-8, Matthew 5:23-24, and Matthew 18:15-20."
Of note, there is some interesting scripture-twisting Teen Challenge uses to shut down debate that matches similar scripture-twisting in its Assemblies parent. 1 Corinthians 6:1-8 describes a process of refusing to take church matters before "ungodly" authorities but to have them handled internally by the church--used frequently in the Assemblies to shut down debate, especially since in the Assemblies there effectively is no way to disagree with persons in a position of authority above you. (In context, it's actually part of a longer narrative in 1 Corinthians 6 decrying general immorality in the church.) Matthew 5:23-24 is an interesting bit of scripture-twisting of the chapter that includes the Beatitudes--stating that disputes between persons should be resolved before worship, and in context meant as a message by Jesus essentially promoting total pacifism including avoiding speaking unkind words to others. Matthew 18:15-18 describes a process of in-church correction to be followed by public accusation in church and finally formal shunning; this has also been used in Assemblies churches (especially those using a "cell church" model) to almost completely shut down dissent even among pastors.
In fact, Teen Challenge is considered potentially coercive by exit counselors (being a member of what amounts to an entire family of "Bible-based coercive groups" that turn out to be Assemblies churches or frontgroups--other members of the "Assemblies complex" independently regarded as coercive include Youth With A Mission; most "Messianic Jew" groups operated by the Assemblies; the Hillsong Assemblies of God complex in Sydney, Australia; the "Pensacola Revival" at Brownsville Assembly of God and the "Third Wave" Joel's Army/Joshua Generation movement; and Paul Yonggi Cho's Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea--a pattern of abuses so consistent, especially when reports of abuse at other Assemblies churches and fronts are added in, that an increasing number of exit counselors consider the Assemblies of God in toto a coercive religious group).
Notably, a report to the Arizona Department of Corrections by exit counselor Rick Ross(who is one of the notable experts on religious abuse within "Bible-based" groups and within neopentecostal dominionist orgs in particular) notes that the primary goal of Teen Challenge's program was religious recruitment and that it had characteristics in common with many coercive groups (including Assemblies-linked "conjoined twin" Campus Crusade as well as Scientology and the Moonies); we'll focus more on that report in an upcoming article on practices within the group.
Reports from survivors also confirm probable coercion--not just reports to exit counselors, but reports in media. Here are examples from reports sent to Ross by survivors of Teen Challenge:
"I was at Teen Challenge in Pensacola, Florida for two months, and it was very much like a cult. A lot of brainwashing there. It made my problems worse, rather than better. I don't recommend Teen Challenge for anyone. One leader threw bibles at the residents and carried around a baseball bat to scare us. Not good. And a lot of other bad things too.""I am a mother of a 24-year-old son that I had to rescue out of the Teen Challenge...We were misled, told it was a drug rehab. I had to hire an attorney, as once Teen Challenge found out that my son was requesting a program change (as he could not sign onto their hyper-religiosity) they began mentally abusing him more and even told him he was 'spitting in the face of Jesus' and said 'pack your bags. I'm sending you to prison.' So much mental abuse. I have heard from others that Teen Challenge has no qualms about submitting a 'bad report' to probation to have you thrown into prison/ jail for 'non-compliance' if they even suspect that you are not 'part of God's army.' They ostracized my son for not 'speaking-in-tongues.' When I informed his 'counselor' that my son was struggling with being ostracized for not 'speaking-in-tongues,' the counselor personally told me that 'speaking-in-tongues is a gift from God! Anyone can have it, if they want it. Your son just doesn't want it because he is rebellious against the holy spirit.' I feel that anyone who is court ordered to Teen Challenge becomes a target for being 'broken for Christ.' I am completely flabbergasted by the whole nightmarish experience, the lies I personally was told, the attempts to sabotage my son's program switch request, the mental abuse, to name a few. Teen Challenge Exposed.com has more info from a man who went through the same program my son was is in. I snatched my son out of there and put him in a secular program. My heart swells for those left behind. I want organizations like this exposed, as I feel that the majority of the public does not know the real story. Had I known, we could have avoided it.""Teen Challenge (in MANY people's opinion) is a cult! Beware! The residents are only hyped up on hyper-religiosity to replace drug addiction. Teen Challenge does NOT believe in ANY other rehabs.(i.e. 12-step programs) They make up rules as they go along. And punish you at their whim for 'breaking' them. They put residents on 'Behavior Modification' which adds more time you must do to complete the program. The longer you are there, the more money they make off of you.(as you work long hours at various jobs) When they "overheard" my desperate son (24 years old) pleading with me to request a program change with his probation officer, they attacked him the next day, told him 'there were no bars on the windows', told him to pack up his stuff and then they DROVE him to a bus station and abandoned him there. With no money. It would have only been 24 hours that a warrant would have been issued for my son 'failing' the program. Then the counselor LIED to me, saying 'your son ran away to score drugs. He told me so'. I had to hire an attorney. Those that are court-ordered to be there are abused and the staff is empowered by the fact that they can ultimately put that person in prison!!!! My son's roommate was bi-polar, and they took away his meds because they said 'Jesus heals'."
(The last two reports were from a mother of a survivor of a Teen Challenge facility in California--the same facility that the author of the watchdog site "Teen Challenge Exposed" is also an escapee from.)
The same commenter has also noted explicit promotion of extremely concerning and abusive tactics which are a part of core Assemblies theology--notably, the promotion of not only Scientology-esque "deliverance ministry" (up to and including abusive involuntary "exorcisms") but also explicit promotion of Joel's Army/Joshua Generation "God Warrior" theology of the same sort as promoted not only by Assemblies of God leadershipbut also the neopente dominionist anti-LGBT hate group "Watchmen On The Walls"(which also has known Assemblies support):
Yes Rebeca you are right about the speaking in tongues. My son did not "receive the gift of speaking in tongues". His counselor told him AND ME that "anyone can have the gift, but your son is REBELLIOUS and refuses the gift!"... They would circle around him at their private church meetings (not the "water-downed" ones on Sunday for public to attend) and he said they would rub oil on his head and scream and call out demons to try to get him to speak in tongues.(like the Jesus Camp you referred to.) They began to ostracize him when he did not speak, and even put him in in "behavior modification" where he was not allowed to speak to others. Also, the time (weeks) he was in behavior mod was added to the time he had to serve to "complete the program". You are also right about the recruitment pressure. They told him that they were building the "true army of god" and god would show them which ones to weed out.And they tell everyone that god called them to do another 1 year training called TCMI for Teen Challenge after they do their 1 year 4 months (more time usually due to behavior modification time-outs). AND they don't believe in other secular rehabs, so if you indicate that you would like to be referred to another program, they believe that it's better to be in prison (to be broken for "Jesus") than lovingly work with referring you to another program. All they have to do is LIE to probation and say you were "non-compliant" and fail you. It IS SCARY how they mis-use their power.
As noted, Teen Challenge does not advertise openly that it is an Assemblies of God ministry--however, multiple analyses have shown its primary purpose is recruitment, and in fact recruitment into Assemblies ministries in particular. (In fact, there is a very good argument to be made that Teen Challenge may in part act as a "missionary mill" for the Assemblies--more on this in a future segment.) This is in general regarded as a danger sign by both exit counselors and watchdog groups monitoring abusive "behaviour modification" facilities, and in particularhits almost all of the warning signs of an abusive facility by International Survivor's Action Committee.
Some examples of the sorts of pressure people are put under with the Teen Challenge program are detailed by a survivor and critic and reported by other walkaways and survivors:
"Teen Challenge is just like a "cult" operation, training its participants to perform tasks mindlessly without question for the staff authority. I had a bunk mate next to me that was pscytsophrenic and was constantly under pressure to be "prayed over" to be healed so he would not have to take his medication that helped to stop the voices."
. . .
"My 24 year old son was just granted a program change from Teen Challenge. I had to hire an attorney, as they do NOT believe in any other rehabs. (NOR do they believe in 12 step programs) Once they got wind that he had requested me to ask probation for a change, they told him "Pack your bags, I'm sending you to prison". How Christian of them, huh?They primarily teach healing by Jesus Christ, pressure you to speak in tongues, pressure to recruit you to be "trained" by THEIR religious program (TCMI) to be a staff member. It is NOT a drug/alcohol rehab, as all they offer is hyper-religiosity to replace drug addiction. The residents and interns work and make them money. My observation from my son's ordeal is that if you don't succumb to the brain-washing, you will be ostracized and mentally tormented. Those that have a prison/jail sentence looming, (if you "fail" your program) empowers them. It is IMMORAL how they give probation "bad reports" for those that don't sign up for the "speaking in tongues", and these poor souls who suffer from addiction end up in prison. Residents are told that they need to be "broken" some more in jail, and that they will return."
As noted above, the pressure to enter the TCMI program--essentially to be trained as an Assemblies youth pastor--included literally asking people to sign over their paychecks if they didn't join TCMI:
On graduation day in November 2006, the speaker told the graduates who didn't sign up for TCMI that to show their appreciation for what Teen Challenge "had done for them," they were to sign over their very first paychecks to Teen Challenge. Students were told that once they enter Teen Challenge, they should not even consider leaving, because seven times the demons of addiction would come back and get them, and, after they do their prison time - if they live - God will call them back to Teen Challenge. They were left with the caveat that one "can never run from Teen Challenge." There is a simple solution: Don't ever go there in the first place.
It is not just with recruitment that Teen Challenge tends to be deceptive. Teen Challenge has apparently attempted to use exemptions meant for "halfway houses" for people with mental disabilities to set up "kiddie gulags" (though, notably, not without communities fighting it in some cases).
There is evidence besides exit counselor testimony to the Arizona DOC that Teen Challenge primarily exists as an Assemblies recruitment front. One particularly telling bit of info is the fact that the director outright bragged to Congress about converting Jews to essentially "kosher neopentecostals":
During the hearing, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) asked Castellani if Teen Challenge hires non-Christians as employees. Castellani said, "No." During later questioning, Castellani was asked if the group takes non-Christians as clients. He said yes, and then boasted that some Jews who finish his Teen Challenge program become "completed Jews."
("Completed Jews" is a euphemistic term used in Assemblies circles for "messianic Jews"--aka Jewish people who have converted to neopentecostal dominionism but who still keep the High Holidays and Jewish cultural traditions and identity. Legitimate Jewish groups do not consider these people to be Jews; it should also be noted that the Assemblies of God may well have the most aggressive "missions outreach" of any denomination designed specifically to convert Jewish people to another religion.)
There also appears to be concern re its transparency--not news to those who've read this article so far, but apparently the Better Business Bureau has some concerns on this. (Sadly, these are probably minor compared to the other major concerns re Teen Challenge.)
And sadly--much as has been the case with the very facilities at the target of the Congressional hearings on HR 5876--Teen Challenge is among those programs that have literally turned out to be fatal due to abuse and neglect. The step-parent of a man who died as a result of abuse and neglect at Teen Challenge's Florida facility speaks out in a story that sounds frighteningly similar to the very testimony given yesterday by other parents of kids who died in other programs:
My stepson Vincent Sarli was a heroin addict and we sent him to teen challenge in pensacola fl - he had just gotten out of the hospital from peritonitis and had a wound in his side. Mike Barfield the intake director in Pensacola kept saying get him down here and we will take care of him - My stepson was 41 yrs old and had two children - He wanted to come stay with us in jacksonville florida but Barfield insisted on getting hm to pensacola.
We got him a flight from NY to pensacola on Friday Jul 14 06 and after he arrived he was left in the airport for two hours - finally one on the other residents was sent to pick him up and no intake or evaluation was done - Barfield went home and he was thrown in a room. His roomate couldnt even find a piece of gauze to change the bandage on his side.
On sunday am at 11:00 the director Pastor Van Horn passed his room and asked why he was in bed obviously the intake director told no one about his medical problems - he told the pastor he was sick and the pastor didnt even ask what was wrong he just contined to church. What a concerned Christian!!! So much for caring for the sick.Shortly after this Vincent asked to call us and was told he couldnt use the phone until 4:00 pm those were the rules.Some time after this his roomate returned to the room and found Vincent hanging from a belt in the closet.
This situation can be documented by reading the pensacola police dept file #06-018290 dtd 7-16-06.