WACO — Church leaders at Homestead Heritage, the religious commune north of Waco, are allegedly encouraging parents to brutally discipline their children.
A News 8 investigation has already uncovered evidence that church elders failed to timely report allegations of sexual abuse of at least two children within the Homestead community.
Now some former members say the brutal disciplining of children is an on-going threat, due to a private pact between church leaders and parents to severely discipline children who don't conform to church doctrine. It's an allegation church leaders deny.
Homestead Heritage is a 1,000 member congregation located on a 500-acre, gated commune north of Waco, where God and family come first. But the wholesome, carefree appearances portrayed on publicity videos, according to some who have left, is a facade, masking a quiet culture of abuse.
Over the past six months, story after story of physical abuse has been recounted to News 8 by former Homestead members who say they left when conditions became intolerable.
Isaac Alexander said his family was forced out of the church, but only after a relative alerted Child Protective Services of his father's on-going, physical abuse.
"My father would use paddles and belts to punish me and my brothers,” Alexander said. “The worst would be fresh little peach tree branches or fishing poles. He would leave marks, absolutely. I mean we are talking you couldn't sit down for a couple of days."
Another former member whose identity we agree to protect, recalls similar beatings at the hands of her father.
"You'd get beat with a peach tree switch to where you couldn't sit down for days,” said the alleged beating victim. “You'd have bruises, welts, you'd get sent to your room for a week and not be able to come out."
Former member Jeremy Crow said he will never forget the night his parents beat his 5-year-old brother.
"One would beat him until they couldn't beat him anymore and they would raise their hand and the other would take over,” Crow said. “And they would beat him. And we could hear him screaming for quite a while and then the screaming would stop and we would hear them say, 'say thank you.' And then it would start over again."
While Crow's mother denies the severity of what her son describes, she did say they "spanked too hard, and for things that we shouldn't have" often using a "peach or other kind of switch."
Crow's mother, the wife of a former church leader who left ten years ago, recalls how the men at Homestead were conditioned to exercise dominance.
"The more forceful he could be in disciplining his children and his wife, even in public, the more he showed his authority,” Crow said.
Others we talked to say harsh discipline is embedded in the doctrine of Homestead Heritage founder and leader Blair Adams.
In the 1980's Adams authored "Who Owns the Children?" It’s a 600-page treatise attacking government intrusion on parental rights. In it, Adams asserts that "God specifically tells us to use force in disciplining our children."
"Spanking a child," Adams writes, "…will deliver his soul from hell."
Bob and Katherine Beechner said they left Homestead ten years ago after Adams authority became too punitive toward children, including their 14-year-old son.
"It became increasingly intimidating and coercive, to the point that our own son - we saw him slipping away,” said Bob Beechner. “He had planned to run away."
Mark Kierian, one of the original members, left Homestead 11 years ago.
"There were actually meetings on how to beat your kids without leaving marks and encouraging you to break the will of kids when they are young," Kierian said.
Blair Adams and church elders have declined our repeated requests for an interview.
Homestead officials did issue this statement, "For our nearly forty-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."
But those words ring hollow for many who escaped what they say is a traumatic secret behind the innocent eyes of those who suffer. Isaac Alexander was at first reluctant to speak with News 8 about his experiences while growing up at Homestead.
"I think that's the important thing, that's why I'm talking to you today, is that no one should allow their kids to go through a social experiment like that, if you will,” Alexander said. “Like where it's this perfect community from the outside, but there's so much darkness on the inside."
Following News 8’s Thursday night presentation of our investigation into activities at Homestead, a national sexual abuse survivors network called for McLennan County authorities to conduct a criminal investigation.
“We urge current and former members of that community to find the courage to violate the harmful secrecy edict and, for the sake of the kids, tell police and prosecutors what they know about possible child sex crimes there,” said Barbara Dorris of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).