Yes, I’ve been away six weeks or so. I have a lot of catching up to do. Here’s an article from even longer ago, from Mother Jones of all places, regarding the legacy of Lester Roloff of all people [link].
I honestly thought all the Roloff-sponsored girls’ homes went the way of all flesh when Roloff himself died in a plane crash in 1982. Turns out I was wrong. Also, Roloff’s situation turns out to be not as simple as it was presented to me way back when: at least some of the marquee conversion stories of the women in the Rebekah Homes were overstated at best, and there were discipline practices at the homes that sound to me like torture:
Karen Glover, a Navy veteran who attended Indiana’s Roloff-inspired Hephzibah House as a girl, described what she calls “the bowel and bladder torture.” The girls were given bran, made to drink lots of water at breakfast, and then denied bathroom access until lunchtime. There was no apparent reason for this treatment, Glover says, save reminding the girls who was in charge. Dave Halyaman, assistant director of Hephzibah House, would not respond directly to Glover’s claims. Instead, he offered to put me in touch with two pastors who had daughters there. “We have our critics, but also people who think very well of us,” he said.
I hesitate to say this, but it doesn’t sound like Dave Halyaman understands that fidelity to the truth doesn’t mean presenting a competing version of the truth in the hope it will overshadow an unpleasant or unwelcome truth. That’s what is unhelpfully sometimes described as “spin.”
This seems to be a common approach in fundamentalist circles, to respond to a direct question with an irrelevant counter-proposal. And yes, I am sort of creeping up on the Chuck Phelps situation here.
I would encourage readers to read through the article I’ve linked above. It troubles me somewhat that topics like this are not much discussed inside the community. I can’t convince myself that Kathryn Joyce is entirely engaging in propaganda here, and it bothers me a lot that people in the community don’t devote more effort to self-policing.
I don’t know how I missed this before, but the Lester Roloff film Freedom’s Last Call is available intact at Google Video.
As fundamentalists becoming evangelicals we got involved in politics because of fear stories.
At its heart each story was about losing rights we thought we were guaranteed as Americans under the Constitution: freedom of religion, conscience, assembly, etc. The details varied by issue and story: tax exempt status, government oversight of church organizations and functions, school prayer, religious expression at public occasions, etc. They took place against a background of Cold War church persecution stories, particularly behind the Iron Curtain. We told ourselves these stories for several reasons, including to cultivate a feeling of kinship with the modern persecuted Church, but they tended to galvanize our sense of ourselves as American Christians (or “Eisenhower Christians”), blending our two identities and seeing an assault on one as an assault on the other. We had in a sense participated in the Cold War ideologically, taking our stand against godless Communism, and and somewhere along the line got our American identity mixed up with our sense of ourselves as Christians.
In retrospect a lot of our sense of kinship with the Cold-War-era persecuted Church was pretty shallow; it had a lot to do with reading books about real bravery in the face of persecution (Brother Andrew) and fictional portrayals of persecuted Christians. In my case in particular, Myrna Grant novels about young believers in the Ukrainian underground church helped reinforce the impression that the Cold War was primarily a struggle for religious freedom.
As a result, though, we chose our political affiliation because we were afraid of the ACLU, because they sued to stop school prayer, and certain elements of the federal government because of the ongoing case against Bob Jones University, not for preaching the Gospel, but for violations of civil rights. There were at least a handful of other cases as well, including the case against Lester Roloff, where we saw religious persecution but the legal question was more about government oversight of non-religious functions of religious institutions: health and safety, corporal punishment, fire codes, etc.
But I think I would argue that what had happened was that we had hyphenated our Christianity and our nationality, and we got involved in politics not because of doctrinal or moral issues, but because we believed our rights as Americans had been violated.
The other issues that became hot-button issues: the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion, political correctness, gay rights, etc. were initially other people’s issues, and we adopted them as we got more involved politically. They were part of the process of becoming the Religious Right, and making common cause with people we suspected were going to Hell: Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants first, then later Jews and Mormons. Our political handlers sold us on the importance of these issues as they tried with mixed success to turn us into a coalition.
Lester Roloff was one of the most important men within East Coast Fundamentalist Baptist circles in the Seventies and very early Eighties (along with John R. Rice, Lee Roberson, Bob Jones, and Jack Hyles) and helped set the standard for the kind of civil disobedience that was part of fundamentalist culture between about 1970 (when the Nixon-era IRS notified Bob Jones University that it was about to lose its tax-exempt status) (link) and the founding of the Moral Majority in 1979.
In 1976 Roloff spent five days in jail for contempt of court rather than let the state of Texas license the reform schools (for lack of a better term) for boys and girls he ran under various names. Some kind soul has posted in its entirety the Roloff documentary Freedom’s Last Call on YouTube in seven installments. Here’s the first:
Among the charges leveled against Roloff at the time was that the homes overworked the kids, fed them a raw-food vegan diet, and used corporal punishment. The early segment focused on food is fascinating; this is a film produced by Roloff’s organization, but he comes across as awkward and uncomfortable.
This is a fascinating little time capsule, and I wish it were available on DVD. If it is I can’t find it anywhere.