This Baton Rouge church program is accused of abusing teens with extreme ‘boot camps,’ ‘fight nights,’ and shame

Local News

“What happens in the program, stays in the program,” one mother said former interns were told.

(NBC NEWS) – Teenagers pitted against each other during “fight nights” staged by a youth pastor running a Christian leadership training program.

“Boot camps” where the trainees learn the way of the Cross by exercising until they vomit or soil themselves — and by hefting heavy logs on their shoulders through the sweltering summer heat.

Participants who are Black or suspected of being gay taunted with racist and homophobic slurs and female interns fat-shamed.

These are just some of the alleged abuses that were described for this article by more than a half-dozen people who took part in the “220i” leadership program that the Bethany Church, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, ran from 2005 to 2013. The program promised to turn participants — referred to as interns — into minister material while also providing them with marketable skills like media production.

Among those interviewed was a mother who felt the program was a cult from which she had to “rescue” her daughter.

NBC News reached out to them after the church’s current lead pastor, Jonathan Stockstill, posted an apology on his Facebook page on April 28 for the “painful experiences” many of the 500 or so young Christians endured in the program whose stated goal was to “train young leaders.”

“While there was some positive fruit that came from that ministry, there were also leadership and cultural flaws that led to painful experiences for many,” he wrote. “It’s obvious to me now and to the current leadership at Bethany Church that we significantly missed the mark in that program in many ways.”

To read the complete NBC News article click here.

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