A Louisiana megachurch has been accused of forcing teens who attended their $ 5,000 Christian leadership program to practice until they got sick or dirty.
The ‘220i’ leadership plan, led by Bethany Church between 2005 and 2013, is also said to have hosted night-time battles between attendees and allowed homophobic and racist statements.
Other allegations made during the 10-month camp include the greasy shame of interns who weigh regularly and those who are considered overweight, who are “ publicly shouted and on a restricted diet. ”
Photos show attendees – who slept in dormitories – carrying heavy logs and participating in boot camps where leaders reportedly would “ drive past on golf carts to shoot paintball guns at interns to further darken them. ”
Youth pastor Joel Stockstill is also said to have supervised the training on his Segway. Stockstill, his late wife, Amy, and current wife, Amie, are said to have been behind the alleged abuse on the student ministry.
A mother told NBC she was forced to ‘save’ her daughter from the ‘cult’.
Others describe being forced to cut their family ties and having their “clothes, our hair or makeup, even our weight” checked. They also say that “extravagant gifts” were encouraged for leaders.
Joel Stockstill, his late wife, Amy, and current wife, Amie, are said to have been behind the alleged abuse at the student ministry. Amie and Joel Stockstill are in the picture
Youth pastor Joel Stockstill is said to have supervised the training on his Segway
Gume Laurel, 34, said: ‘It was a cult mentality.
Describing the alleged racism, he added, “They basically separated all the black male interns on one floor and everyone else was on another floor.”
Laurel also describes leaders using insults such as homophobic “f *****” and the N word.
The church has denied the allegations, saying they “ condemn bullying related to racism or sexual orientation ” and insisting that there were no nights of fighting or public shame.
The ‘220i’ leadership plan, administered by Bethany Church between 2005 and 2013, is also said to have hosted fight nights between attendees and allowed homophobic and racist statements
They said in a statement, ‘This very disciplined program that was completely voluntary for the participants was not perfect and we chose to end it 8 years ago.
As we contemplate the program, it pains us to know that while so many lives have changed for the better, it is clear that the one-size-fits-all approach to physical and spiritual discipline has been ineffective in some areas . ‘
DailyMail.com has contacted Bethany Church for any additional comments.
But Joel’s brother Jonathan, 40 the current head pastor of the church, also posted on Facebook late last month to publicly apologize for the program.
In that post he wrote: “While this ministry brought positive fruits, there were also leadership and cultural shortcomings that led to painful experiences for many.
It is clear to me now and to the current leadership of Bethany Church that in many ways we have significantly missed the purpose of that program.
Jonathan Stockstill, the current church chief pastor, posted to Facebook late last month to publicly apologize for the program
While our intention was to train young leaders, and it produced positive fruit, it has been tainted with the bad experiences of many.
‘So we recognized that it was not a good culture and we quit the program almost ten years ago, but now we realize how much pain it caused.
As Bethany’s chief pastor, I would like to take responsibility and repent for anyone who has had a negative experience. Please forgive us. ‘
In response to the post, a former attendee wrote, “This program made me feel inadequate and like I wanted to die. In fact, I tried to kill my life a year after leaving 220i. ‘
Another said, ‘From the group weightings, to the forced training, to the sleep deprivation, to the verbal abuse, public humiliation, etc.
The only fond memories I have are of meeting other resilient young interns who were simply looking for Christ. It took me a long time to recover spiritually from 220i and I’m not even sure I did that at all. ‘
Jonathan Stockstill wrote, “ It is clear to me now and to the current leadership of Bethany Church that in many ways we have significantly missed the purpose of that program ”
Bethany Church was founded in 1963 by the Stockstill brothers’ grandfather, Roy, pictured, in 1963. The church now has more than 8,000 members
And a number of those who attended and spoke to NBC described “ brainwashing and submission. ”
One said: “They were chasing the passion and desire of young people to change the world. But once you got there, it was brainwashing and submission to the church. ‘
Another said, “They spoke to us as if they were God.”
Bethany Church was founded in 1963 by the Stockstill brothers’ grandfather, Roy. There are now more than 8,000 members.
Joel and Amie have not commented on the claims.