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Fairhaven Church Protests


Fairhaven Church protests:

News link: ... i-say.html

Church scandal: Parents to blame, I say

JERRY DAVICH [email protected] October 9, 2011 11:00PM

Updated: October 10, 2011 1:58AM

The deafening church bells rang loudly for more than 30 minutes straight as protesters across the street yelled in defiance.

“Shame on you!” screamed Kim York, who attended Fairhaven Baptist Church in Chesterton from 1974 to 1982. “What you’re doing is wrong! Stop preaching lies!”

Even 30 years later, York is still seething about her childhood years spent at the church, which just celebrated its 41st year in operation.

On Sunday, Oct. 2, the 46-year-old Bass Lake believer joined dozens of other protesters to demonstrate against the long controversial but “old-fashioned Bible-believing church,” as it literature states.

“By reading and understanding the Bible, we can know how to get to heaven and how to live a successful life until we arrive,” the church’s website states. “It has instructions on how to have a wonderful husband-wife relationship, how to successfully rear children, and how to cope with the stress of these times.”

The Bible must be coming in handy these days as the church comes under fire from dozens of former members and students claiming allegations of abuse, physical attacks, and over-the-top corporal punishment in the name of God.

Passing motorists honked in support. Protesters screamed to raise awareness. Fairhaven buses filled with kids from outside of town streamed from the entranceway. Church security guards patrolled the street. And a Fairhaven helicopter circled overhead.

Yes, it was quite a scene. (For a short video of the Oct. 2 protest, amid the ringing church bells, visit my Facebook page.)

“They’re turning the church bells on to silence us, but it won’t work,” screamed David Gonzales, 22, of Portage, a former student of the church. “We’re not here to close down the church. We’re here to raise awareness to what is taking place inside the church.”

Gonzales, whose family still attends Fairhaven, is one of several former students who appeared in a Sept. 22 CNN investigative report titled “Ungodly Discipline,” exploring allegations of systemic abuse, physical assaults, and out-of-control punishment.

“If our protests stop just one child from being abused or harmed then what we are doing is all worth it,” said Alison Lavery of Hobart, who attended the church from age 4 to 19, when she was allegedly kicked out for secretly dating another church member.

“We lived in fear on a daily basis, and the swats we received left bruises,” she added.

The church’s senior pastor and founder, the Rev. Roger Voegtlin, has been a longtime advocate for using tough-love biblical scriptures and principals for child rearing. In 1974, he was jailed for such practices, but he reportedly won against all charges.

“Spanking is not abuse. Not spanking is abuse. And then you’re going to spank them – five, six, seven, eight good ones. You make them burn,” Voegtlin preached on Nov. 22, 1998, in a 7,562-word sermon titled, “How to Raise Godly Children.”

“I’m not saying this, God is saying it. I’m just illustrating it. I’m just saying exactly what the Bible says. I couldn’t make it any stronger,” he told church members. “When the Bible talks about raising children, it talks about discipline. We are a soft generation, and we’re raising a softer generation.”

In contrast, the protester’s online petition counters by stating, “The Holy Bible does not teach anyone to physically or emotionally abuse children. The Holy Bible does not teach public humiliation. The Holy Bible does not teach us to lie about and cover up our transgressions.”

Voegtlin and other Fairhaven officials did not respond to several pointed questions for this column. But I did hear from three different attorneys who felt compelled to vouch for the church’s “fine upstanding leadership and congregation.” I thought that was very interesting.

According to the Porter County Sheriff’s Police, there have been 207 incident reports at the church dating back to 2003. Most of those are 911 hang-up calls, typical of such public locations as a school involving vandalism, an arson, and other minor incidents.

Only one report, in 2006, involved a student being “accosted” for not being allowed to use the bathroom.

“When she got up from class to go anyway, (Fairhaven) staff surrounded her and pulled her into another room,” Porter County Sheriff David Lain said. “Officers arrived and took statements, looked at any physical evidence, and determined that the student was being disruptive and there was no sign of physical harm.”

But I’m convinced that physical harm has taken place at the church. I’ve heard rumors, whispers, and allegations of such things for decades.

Only now has a relatively small group of former students come forward to voice their feelings. And, still, they have fears of retribution.

“I am not standing against God or the Bible or even Fairhaven as a church,” said Samuel Bain, who spent 25 years at Fairhaven. “(Church officials) have been given every chance to deal with the legal and moral laws they have broken with total disregard for the civil law and human rights for 41-plus years. Wrong is wrong.”

“Here’s to hoping the church wakes up and realizes that their own children they are sending to hell are just as precious in the eyes of God as the hundreds they bus in every Sunday,” said Bain, who is now 30 and lives in Naperville. Ill.

Bain said his sister is a teacher at the church’s academy, and his father is still on the church’s deacon board. Still, he created an invitation-only Facebook page called Facehaven for former church members to vent their fears, feelings, and frustrations.

“I am not scared any longer. The abuse must end,” said 40-year-old Catherine Selter, who was adopted as a young girl by Voegtlin but who left the church at age 19.

Selter, who lives in the Louisville, Ky., area, has one goal these days: “For Voegtlin, and his son, Jeff Voegtlin, to be held accountable for their abusive actions.”

“Roger Voegtlin promotes child abuse. Jeff Voegtlin not only promotes physical abuse and dishes out physical abuse, but I know for a fact he also dished out some sexual abuse. It has taken me almost 25 years to be in the right frame of mind to stand up against it.”

The church averages 2,000 members for its Sunday school, according to its literature. I don’t doubt this. For decades, Fairhaven buses traveling on region roadways have been as common as crosses inside a church. The same goes for the ubiquitous sales of candy bars by Fairhaven youth, allegedly to support their programs.

Protesters claim the candy sales are for less wholesome endeavors, though they haven’t yet substantiated their allegations. Nor have they proved every claim of abuse, physical attack, or other devious acts.

But even to a long-time casual observer such as myself, the swirling smoke of allegations must have a spark of truth behind it. The recent protests simply ignited this powder-keg issue.

In Roger Voegtlin’s Nov. 22, 1998, sermon, he asked church members, “Can you imagine the welfare department sitting in the back of this auditorium listening to me preach? Can you imagine the Gary Post-Tribune sitting in here? Can you imagine what they would write?”

Yes, I can. Personally, I blame the parents of these former students, and the parents of any children who still attend Fairhaven and who may be subjected to such treatment – in the name of God.

Many of these parents sadly obey church doctrine over their own instincts and common sense. And I’m told they (wrongly) believe if they question the church, then they in turn question God.

What a shame.

What a joke. What a lame excuse for any parent.

What would Jesus do? How about what will these parents do now that protesters have courageously alerted them to this issue, which may lead to a possible lawsuit and state-regulated oversight?

“The Bible is simple,” Voegtlin told his believers. “You can’t understand the King James Bible? Then I feel sorry for you.”

I may not understand the Bible as well as him and others, but amid the deafening church bells, the angry protests, and the claims of abuse in the name of God, I’m reminded of a poignant yet powerful biblical verse: “Jesus wept.”

Some video clips of the protests:


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