Just because parents appear to be “good Christians” doesn’t mean they’re not abusing their kids

Just because parents appear to be “good Christians” doesn’t mean they’re not abusing their kids

Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images


When the parents of David Turpin learned that he and his wife Louise had been allegedly torturing their 13 children, they were “surprised and shocked,” because their son and daughter-in-law were “a good Christian family.” 


We hear it time and time again. People express shock and disgust that parents who appear to be religious have been abusing their children.

In the horrific case of the Turpin family, police found the 13 children, ages 2 to 29, shackled to furniture, severely malnourished and pale, living in filth, and injured. Many appear to have cognitive issues and nerve damage, a result of abuse. The children were so thin, police drastically miscalculated their ages; they thought a 17-year-old girl was only 10.

According to the children’s grandparents, James and Betty Turpin who live in West Virginia, David and Louise had so many children because “God called on them” to do so. James and Betty thought that the children had appeared thin and were aware that they had been given “very strict homeschooling,” Also, the grandparents said the children had been trying to memorize long passages of the Bible. Some even had been trying to memorize it in its entirety.

The grandparents hadn’t seen the home-schooled children in 4 or 5 years. But based on what they knew and had observed, did nothing stand out as a red flag? Were they not at all concerned about the way the parents were raising their children? Or were they satisfied just knowing that the children were being raised in the Christian faith?
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Left Behind: When will Baptists catch up with #MeToo?

Left Behind: When will Baptists catch up with #MeToo?

Andy Savage (Credit: Christian Today)


At a Southern Baptist mega-church in Memphis, pastor Andy Savage admitted to having a “sexual incident” with a 17-year-old girl twenty years earlier. The congregation’s response? Silence? Boos? No, a standing ovation.

The admission came after the now-grown woman, Jules Woodson, posted a January 5 #MeToo account on social media, describing conduct constituting sexual assault. Woodson said Savage offered to take her home after a church event and instead drove her down a dark dirt road to an isolated area where he had her perform oral sex on him. Savage was then a youth pastor at the Houston-area Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church.

Woodson wrote that she was motivated to come forward after seeing Savage’s social media posts in which he decried Matt Lauer and other men accused of sexual assault and misconduct. Soon after the post was published, Woodson painfully recounted her story for a local Memphis TV station.

Shortly after the alleged assault, Woodson reported Savage’s conduct to associate pastor Larry Cotton, but like so many other victims of clergy-perpetrated abuse, the teen received little support. “He said something to the effect of, ‘So you’re telling me you participated?'” Woodson told the Austin American-Statesman. “This wave of shame came over me, greater than I had ever felt before.” Read More »

Looking Forward: A Message from CFFP President Jaime Romo

Looking Forward: A Message from CFFP President Jaime Romo

It’s about time we begin to turn the world around
It’s about time we start to make it the dream we’ve always known
It’s about time we start to live the family of man
It’s about time, it’s about changes and it’s about time
It’s about peace and it’s about plenty and it’s about time
It’s about you and me together and it’s about time


As we look forward to 2018 and our continued efforts to fulfill our mission, these lyrics from a 1983 John Denver song ring true today. It’s about time to not only name abuses that happen when people misuse religious authority, but to gather our voices, our vision, and our shared strengths to transform the practices of maltreatment of vulnerable individuals, particularly children.

The Child-Friendly Faith Project began with a clear vision to educate and raise awareness of religious child maltreatment or RCM. Over the years, we have organized conferences, developed educational resources, and have been called on to support survivors. As we have grown, we have lent support to change legislation in Idaho that protected child medical neglect under the guise of “religious freedom.” And we have had the privilege of supporting those who grew up in, and were abused at, Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. Read More »

Advocating for Survivors of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch

Advocating for Survivors of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch


“A sense of safety is vital to a child’s ability to reach his or her full potential.”

— Website of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch



If you are a member of the media and would like to interview CFFP founder Janet Heimlich or a Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch survivor, call 512-825-2835 or email us.

The Child-Friendly Faith Project has been advocating for men who grew up at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch from the 1960s through the 1990s. The privately funded, residential facility is located outside of Amarillo and houses boys whose parents or guardians can’t, or won’t, take care of them.

The men, as child residents at Cal Farley’s, suffered ongoing physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. After leaving the ranch, many men struggled to find work. They have struggled with addiction. Some have gotten into trouble with the law. Others have committed suicide.

Click here to read our “Healing Through Truth” proposal delivered to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch on April 21, 2017.

Early this year, we reached out to Cal Farley’s CEO Dan Adams and asked that the institution fulfill requests made by the survivors, such as issuing a public apology, making restitution, and being truthful in its marketing. Ultimately, most of the requests were denied. On December 20, a feature story exposed the abusive past of this nearly 80-year-old institution—a past that had been kept secret, until now.

“For a child, living with chaos and unpredictability often creates a feeling of powerlessness or a ‘learned helplessness.’” (Website of Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch)

How we got involved

If you grew up in Texas, particularly in North Texas, chances are good you know about Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch. For decades, there had been murmurings that the place was very strict. In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for children to be told, “If you don’t behave, you’ll be sent to Cal Farley’s.” But it wasn’t until I wrote a favorable blog post about the institution that I learned the harsh truth about its history. Read More »

Sexual abuse and a pastor’s suicide: What Dan Johnson’s death means for the #ChurchToo movement

Sexual abuse and a pastor’s suicide: What Dan Johnson’s death means for the #ChurchToo movement

Kentucky State Senator Dan Johnson (Photo credit: USA Today)

One of the most shocking revelations of the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements has been the death of Kentucky State Senator Dan Johnson. The 52-year-old first-term legislator and ultra-conservative preacher took his own life two days after it was reported that he had sexually assaulted a teenage girl in the basement apartment of his church.

For all of his preaching, the pastor of the Heart of Fire Church in Louisville was no saint. The man church members called “The Pope” repeatedly lied about his accomplishments, had been indicted for arson, and partied heavily.

Johnson was anti-gay and anti-Muslim, and he posted racist memes on Facebook. Some were so offensive, he was rebuked by the Kentucky Republican Party. For example, he posted an edited image of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama with ape-like features. In one post, he wrote, “Allah sucks. Mohammed sucks. Islam sucks. Any of you Hadji’s have an issue with me saying this, PM me and I’ll gladly give you my address. You can come visit me, where I promise I will KILL YOU in my front yard!!”’ 

Remarkably, though, those actions did little to slow down Johnson’s political career, perhaps because the public was distracted by scandals surrounding other state officials’ alleged sexual misconduct. (Johnson also ran a dirty campaign in which he mercilessly slandered his opponent.) He was elected in 2016. Read More »

An Open Letter to the Alabama Baptist Pastor Group

An Open Letter to the Alabama Baptist Pastor Group

More than 100 Alabama Baptist pastors have signed a public statement denouncing “sexual abuse, assault, harassment, and exploitation of women.” Christa Brown, a survivor of sexual abuse, an outspoken critic of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a board member of the Child-Friendly Faith Project, responds.

To Baptist Pastors of Alabama:

I am puzzled. You have joined in on the #MeToo movement to make public your opposition to sexual abuse, harassment, and assault, yet you have avoided any mention of the elephant in the room: Roy Moore.

Moore, a Southern Baptist churchgoer and US Senate candidate, has been accused by multiple women of having sexually harassed and assaulted them when they were in their teens and he was in his thirties. One of the women said she was abused by Moore when she was 14.

The people of Alabama have an important decision to make: whether a man with multiple corroborated allegations of sexual abuse, including allegations involving minors, is fit for the US Senate. Yet your statement of generalities says nothing about the man that Alabamians are hearing about in the news every day. Read More »

What does your religion say about hitting children?

What does your religion say about hitting children?

Where does your place of worship stand on the issue of corporal punishment of children? If you attend a conservative church, synagogue, or mosque, especially if it’s in ons of the southern “bible belt” states, chances are it supports hitting children as a form of discipline.

When the school district in Three Rivers, Texas, recently reinstated corporal punishment, one religious organization objected: the Satanic Temple. It put up billboards that said, “Never be hit in school again” and “Our religion doesn’t believe in hitting children.”

As the organization states on its website: “We believe in the inviolability of the human body and the right to personal sovereignty. Being hit, held against your will in isolation, or physically restrained clearly violate these fundamental tenets.”

To support students in schools that allow physical punishment, the Satanic Temple offers a pre-written letter that students sign and then give to their schools, informing them that “their deeply held beliefs do not allow for them to be hit in school, physically restrained, placed in solitary confinement, or deprived access to a bathroom.”

While not a conventional religion, the Satanic Temple’s billboard campaign is an example of how faith communities have sometimes dared to get involved in one of the most controversial childrearing issues. Read More »

Why we shouldn’t be surprised that many religious conservatives support Roy Moore

Why we shouldn’t be surprised that many religious conservatives support Roy Moore

There’s a lot being said about Roy Moore, the 70-year-old Christian, gun-toting hothead of Alabama who recently won the US Senate primary and has been accused by numerous women who say Moore sexually abused them when they were in their teens and Moore was 32. The youngest alleged victim was 14.

What’s also making news is the fact that many people in Alabama have come to Moore’s defense. But not just those who agree with Moore (he claims the alleged victims are lying, it’s a political conspiracy, etc.). We’re also hearing from folks who say that, even if Moore did try to have sex with the girls, he did absolutely nothing wrong.

Add to that, Moore’s supporters in this Bible-belt state are using religion to justify that stance. Read More »

As bad as the Harvey Weinstein scandal is, religious organizations accused of abuses could learn from Hollywood

As bad as the Harvey Weinstein scandal is, religious organizations accused of abuses could learn from Hollywood

The entertainment industry seems to get it: Harvey Weinstein couldn’t have sexually abused so many women without help from the enabling culture of Hollywood. Why is it so difficult for religious organizations facing abuse scandals to come to a similar realization?

Many in the entertainment industry know that the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was not just one bad apple who single-handedly raped and sexually harassed dozens of women for decades. Now that the scandal has finally made the headlines, it’s obvious that Weinstein had help.

Many people were complicit in Weinstein’s alleged crimes on some level. There were lawyers, publicists, and industry executives who knew about the rumors, or had full knowledge of the abuses, and chose to ignore them. Weinstein company officials were aware of payoffs their CEO made to victims dating back to 2015. Weinstein’s assistants set up meetings with him and would-be victims. Agents of abuse victims, instead of encouraging them to report the crimes, advised them to keep quiet. And media outlets sat on stories about the abuses rather than publish them.

There’s been plenty of criticism from within the entertainment industry about how Hollywood’s culture enabled Weinstein’s abuses and those of other sexual predators.
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Remembering Barbara Blaine, Founder of SNAP

Remembering Barbara Blaine, Founder of SNAP

CFFP Board President Dr. Jaime Romo shares a remembrance of Barbara Blaine, who died on Septermber 24, 2017 at the age of 61. Ms. Blaine founded the advocacy group, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

In 2002, as an assistant professor at a Catholic university, I attended a conference on the East Coast just as reports of clergy sexual abuse were breaking in the Boston Globe. The stories sparked my own repressed memories of having been groomed and sexually abused by my pastor and his diocesan employee friend some 30 years prior.

These memories were uninvited, unwelcome, and overwhelming. I had no idea how to move forward at the time. Fortunately, I was connected with the Los Angeles gathering of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Read More »