Statement from Homestead Heritage to Wfaa, and Wfaa's Response
April 27, 2012
Statement by Homestead Heritage for WFAA
Though we at Homestead Heritage have given dozens of media interviews in the past on all facets of our community, including our beliefs, our way of life, and even answering criticisms from former members, we chose not to grant an interview for this story. Our decision was due to the known agenda of the former members who instigated this story, the way the reporter approached the story, and our desire to protect the privacy of the innocent victims and families involved.
Though we disagree strongly with the approach of this story and have ample reason to doubt that it will be presented truthfully, we feel no personal animus towards the former members who accuse us or towards the media personnel involved. Our goal with any who may differ with us has always been reconciliation, not polarization. This is one reason why we feel the public media is not an appropriate forum for airing grievances, as that course inevitably tends to drive wedges deeper. Nonetheless, we also feel an obligation to let the truth be known and to do what we can to defend the honor of Jesus Christ and His work on the earth, whether that be in our own community or in any other individual or church expression. Thus we felt it appropriate to offer some explanation of our position in these matters.
First of all, we've become all too familiar with the character and agenda of the disgruntled former members that are the source of these slanderous and inflammatory, yet typically subjective and unverifiable, accusations against us. We've always discussed with anyone on a personal level any questions on any topic, provided they were asked respectfully and they didn't become an inquisition. But we were concerned that countering in a public media forum a laundry list of false, sensational accusations and distortions would, at best, simply lend credence to a characterization of our community that was misleading in the very framing of the questions, not to mention as a whole.
Furthermore, we felt that the reporter's methods and manner in pursuing this story demonstrated a bias and commitment to a preconceived story line. After numerous attempts to communicate our concerns with the reporter and upper management through email, phone and a lengthy personal meeting, the responses we received only increased our concern that the reporter's goal regarding an interview with us was, at best, only to give an appearance of "fairness" and "balance" that would lend credibility to his predetermined story line. We were concerned that the impression of unbiased, even-handed reporting that would have been facilitated by our cooperation in a dialogue directed and edited only by those committed to this misleading story line would not bring the viewer closer to the truth. Therefore, we have chosen instead just to give this statement and to present our full response on our website at: www.homesteadheritage.com/slander
As to the allegations of abuse we're told this story centers on, we want to make clear that for our nearly 40-year history, our church ministry has always condemned and never tolerated any physical, psychological, mental, emotional or sexual abuse of anyone, much less abuse of children. Criminal behavior of any kind is expressly forbidden. We find our spiritual roots in the 500-year-old peace-loving Anabaptist tradition, which stresses simplicity and an absolute commitment to nonviolence. Nothing could be more grievous to us or antithetical to our entire way of life than innocent children abused by criminally cruel and selfish adults. All our church members, as well as family, friends and neighbors who know us and our children well, and even numerous former members of our community, would attest to the truth of this statement. (In fact, 85 former members have signed a petition protesting any media story that would associate our community with such behavior. See: www.homesteadheritage.com/petition) The only exceptions to this good testimony find their source in a few disgruntled and dishonest people whom we've put out of our community because they would not live according to our freely chosen values and morals.
Jesus said that it's not the well who need a physician, so we've always made it our goal to try to help those who need it most. At the same time, we've wanted to protect our children from the social ills so prevalent in today's world. Given the realities of human nature, it is admittedly sometimes more than difficult to do both, and we are very aware that this calling to reach out to dysfunctional individuals and families makes us vulnerable to their personal failings, and, consequently, we're also vulnerable to malicious attempts to smear our whole community's reputation with the personal failures of those we're trying to help. Out of the thousands of people we've reached out to help over almost forty years, we have encountered a few cases of criminal abuse. In all cases the perpetrators came to us originally from broken homes and/or severely dysfunctional backgrounds, and none were ever in a leadership position of any kind in our church. In every case, law enforcement can verify that it was our ministry that revealed the crime and made sure it was brought to the attention of legal authorities. They can also verify that we fully cooperated with their investigations, including the sheriff's department, the district attorney's office and CPS. (For further detail, see: www.homesteadheritage.com/slander)
For the sake of the innocent victims and families involved, we're very grieved that these painful situations, already thoroughly dealt with by the appropriate authorities, are now being rehashed in the media just to lend credence to an agenda to characterize our whole community as abusive. Our concern for the privacy and well-being of the victims is another reason we declined an invasive interview on this topic. In every case, our church ministry and community have been very involved in meeting the practical, emotional and financial needs of the victims and their families.
We believe the very purpose of the church is to reach out to all who stand in any need of God, especially to those with broken lives, in order to bring them the hope of change and renewal. Yet it's also our duty to maintain as pure and safe an environment as possible within which to raise our children. And this obligates us not only to expel and report criminal behavior, but also to remove from our community anyone who repeatedly exhibits any socially destructive behavior that endangers or hurts others. This is exactly why we asked most of those who now accuse us to leave. We're painfully aware that our firm stance makes us vulnerable to bitter blame shifting. But even if we're slandered and misrepresented because of it, we hope to stand firm in our commitment not to compromise our Christian mission.
We simply hope that we might be known not according to what Gandhi once called the "drain inspector's report"—the behavior or stories of those who have rejected and departed from our way of life. Rather, we ask that we be known by the fruit and behavior of the hundreds of us who actually love and enjoy our community life. We've been open to the public for over 20 years, and we now have over 50,000 visitors annually. We encourage viewers to come visit us, ask questions, meet our children and see for themselves. See our website for details: www.homesteadheritage.com/slander
WFAA-TV respectfully disagrees that interview subjects in our stories are "disgruntled former members that are the source of these slanderous and inflammatory …accusations." In fact, not one former member making critical remarks about Homestead as part of our investigation sought out our reporter. In every case, those willing to share their allegations of abuse and trauma were cautiously approached by Brett Shipp. Most were reluctant to speak on the record for fear of alienation from friends and family still closely associated with Homestead. In no case was it evident that any of our sources harbored "an agenda" as described by Homestead leaders. Every major allegation was unimpeachably corroborated by documents or by witnesses to events under scrutiny. We also reject the assertion that Shipp's "methods and manner in pursuing the story demonstrated a bias and commitment to a preconceived story line." An acceptable way to combat that assumption would be to grant an interview and or afford our reporter the opportunity to ask important questions and respond to specific allegations. WFAA has, for several months, given Homestead officials repeated opportunities to speak on the record in a recorded interview to tell their side of the story. They repeatedly declined to do so citing an inherent bias in Shipp's reporting. Our mission in pursuing this story with vigor is simple. We were dealing with credible evidence that children have been and continued to be abused in a closed environment where members allegedly foster that abuse by "agreeing to never expose a member's shortcomings and sins to any outside its covenant." Those are not WFAA's words. That is language taken directly from the contract prospective members are asked to sign before being accepted into the church.