Dark Christianity
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May 2008
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dogemperor [userpic]
Another sad case of religiously motivated child abuse

(This will be posted to DailyKos and Talk2Action later this weekend, but getting this out now)

A trial is presently underway in a case of a Tennessee 8-year-old who appears to be the latest sad case of what I have referred to as "death by chastening rod"--cases where kids are literally beaten to death by dominionist groups which have a strong belief in "deliverance ministry". Sites like Stop The Rod have been bringing a lot of awareness to this, but sadly these cases continue and--all too often--the abuse is not discovered until the kid ends up dead or maimed.

Details behind the cut. Warning to walkaways, victims of child abuse, and especially victims of "deliverance ministry" linked abuse--the below is likely to be triggering.

From Court TV News (Court TV is carrying the case live):
MARIETTA, Ga. (Court TV) - An 8-year-old boy is dead because of the "horrible abuse" inflicted on him by his parents, strict disciplinarians who followed severe religious doctrine, a prosecutor told a jury Tuesday.

Sonya and Joseph Smith were watching an online church service offered by the Remnant Fellowship Church on Oct. 8, 2003, but their 8-year-old son, Josef, was misbehaving, according to prosecutor Eleanor Dixon.

Josef wasn't being obedient and wasn't praying.

The Nashville, Tennessee-based church encourages parents to physically discipline their children and maintain strict dietary control.

Dixon said Josef's then-13-year-old brother told police that his parents decided to punish Josef by putting him in a small wicker box with the lid closed, then tying electrical cords around it to prevent him from escaping.

After the church service was over and the Smiths undid the cords, they noticed "Josef wasn't exactly breathing," Dixon said.

Doctors determined he was brain dead, and he died a day later at the hospital, Dixon told jurors.

The couple has been charged with four counts of murder, five counts of first-degree cruelty to children, three counts of aggravated assault and two counts of false imprisonment.

Josef had threatened his family and carved the words "hate you" and "kill" into the walls of their Georgia home, Dixon said, but the Smiths never sought professional help for him.

"The evidence will be there was no trip to the doctor and no trip to the counselor," Dixon said. "There was beating after beating after beating and then he died."

The prosecutor said Josef's brother will testify that his parents regularly beat the boy, using everything from a 12-inch glue stick used inside a glue gun to coat hangers to a wooden board they c alled "the butt-buster."

She said the couple also used a cord that connected washing machines to the wall to abuse the 8-year-old.

Dixon said the doctors who treated Josef and performed the autopsy will testify that the boy had both fresh and old scars on his body that show that he was abused over a period of months. This evidence resulted in the multiple charges of assault and cruelty to children.

The prosecutor said Josef's older brother told police that his parents locked Josef in a closet for hours and monitored him via a video camera the couple placed inside.

"This was not a time-out. This was isolation," Dixon said.

The Smiths' attorney, Manubir "Manny" Arora, told jurors that, although pictures of the 8-year-old's injuries "are so bad it may make you sick to your stomach," the boy did not die of those injuries.

Arora told the jury the medical examiners performed a "deficient autopsy" in which they failed "to independently verify what they were saying."

"As bad as the bruises on the body look, they did not cause his death," Arora said, noting that he plans to call experts who did further analysis.

The defense attorney claims Josef's brother changed his story about the night of the incident over time. Initially, the teen never mentioned the wicker box, but instead told police he had been chasing Josef a few days before the boy's death when Josef fell and hit his head on a banister. The wicker box story came two years after the incident, Arora said.

When approached about the wicker box, Sonya Smith voluntarily told police that her mother possessed it, Arora said. A full police analysis of the box revealed nothing linking it to Josef's death, the attorney claimed.

From a a second Court TV report, it appears that even babysitters of the poor child were encouraged to join in on the abuse, as a brave witness notes:
MARIETTA, Ga. (Court TV) - A former babysitter for 8-year-old Josef Smith described how the boy's father disciplined him during testimony at the man's murder trial Wednesday.

Prosecutors claim Joseph and Sonya Smith abused and murdered their son on Oct. 8, 2003, at their Georgia home.

The couple has been charged with four counts of felony murder, five counts of first-degree cruelty to children, three counts of aggravated assault and two counts of false imprisonment.

During the spring of 2003, Laura Boone said she was babysitting for the Remnant Fellowship Church in Tennessee for the congregants' children when she saw Joseph Smith standing in the corner with his crying son.

The Smiths are members of the Nashville, Tennessee-based group, which encourages parents to physically discipline their children and maintain strict dietary control.

Boone, now a high school senior, said she approached them to see if she could help.

"I thought maybe the dad had a toy or some food or something that would make him feel better," Boone testified. "I asked him what he wanted me to do if the kid continued to cry when he left, and he just looked at me and said, 'Hit him hard'."

Boone told jurors that when she said she wouldn't hit the boy, the father said again, "No, really hit him hard."

She testified that when she repeated she wouldn't strike the boy, Joseph Smith took his son into an adjacent room and started to beat him.

"You could just hear him hitting him and the son wailing, either spanking or hitting, but very hard," Boone testified.

After the father left, Boone said, Josef Smith cried and was very shy for the rest of the day.

Earlier Wednesday, several jurors winced as they viewed the autopsy photos that depicted the countless bruises covering the 8-year-old's torso that prosecutors allege were inflicted by his parents.

The panel got a better idea of how those injuries occurred during the testimony of a detective who interviewed Joseph Smith in the hours after the boy died.

Detective Steven Gaynor said that Joseph Smith claimed he loved his son, but had trouble controlling him.

According to Gaynor, Smith claimed that his son regularly changed the sound of his voice and said, "I'm Legion, soldier of the devil," and that he wrote "I want to kill you" on the walls of their home.

"[Joseph Smith] told me he often stayed up at night because they were afraid of their young son," the detective testified.

Gaynor said he was surprised to learn that Smith never had his son treated for these alleged behavioral problems.

According to Gaynor, Smith said that on the day he died, his son "was out of control and was disciplined and sent to his room."

Smith claimed that the child escaped from his room and stole the family's computer modem and damaged his mother's bathroom by pouring lotion and toothpaste all over it.

Gaynor told jurors that Smith said he often had to physically restrain the 8-year-old and whip him with a 12-inch glue stick.

Smith said he locked Josef in his room again and ultimately allowed his son to join the family as they watching a Webcast of a service from the Remnant Fellowship Church.

Soon after watching the service, however, Smith told the detective, "Josef began having difficulties."

"[Joseph Smith] told me the family was down on the floor kneeling, bowing down to pray, and Josef began makes some strange noise," Gaynor testified.

"But Dad said he thinks he's just being Josef," he continued. "So Joe Sr. gets up, but Josef stays down and thinks he's still joking, and tells him to get up and pray."

When Smith reached down to lift up Josef and he told the detective his son was "warm to the touch, wet with sweat, and unresponsive."

Smith thought his son was overheating and he "carried him out to the carport and laid him down on the concrete hoping it would have a cooling affect, but it didn't, so he called 911," according to Gaynor.

When Cobb County fire and rescue responded they found the 8-year-old lying on his back in the dining room, not breathing and without a pulse.

After being rushed to the hospital, doctors soon determined he was brain dead, and he died a day later.

Testimony continues Thursday.

Doing a bit of backgrounder research, I found that Remnant Fellowship is apparently a neopentecostal dominionist group founded by Gwen Shamblin--who is most (in)famous for promoting fad "Bible-based" diet programs (specifically the "deliverance ministry"-based "Weigh Down Workshop"). Not only is the group one of the most blatantly dominionist and overtly "Joel's Army" groups I have ever seen, but explicitly states that no other Christian denominations are actually Christian; "Weigh Down Workshop" is essentially a fad diet combined with a heavy emphasis on "name it and claim it" and "deliverance ministry".

In fact, the church has an entire webpage dedicated to damage control and spin. The reason for *this* is because damned near every single group that does any sort of research at all on coercive religious groups has noted the org is in essence a Bible-based cult, among them: Rick Ross Institute, Religion News Blog (which notes specifically the spiritually abusive components as well as its criticism of its apologetics; reportedly walkaways from Remnant Fellowship are deemed the "demon seed" (showing it practices "serpent seed" theology) and ex-members are shunned, reportedly the church has attempted SLAPP-style lawsuits against critics (in *exactly* the same fashion as Scientology and Amway have tried to shut down vocal critics by suing them into the poorhouse) and may have engaged in frank vote fraud in local elections), SpiritWatch (the target of the SLAPP by Remnant Fellowship), FACTnet (of note, a person reporting on a Remnant/Weigh Down seminar notes one of the specific seminars is called "Strongholds"--this is a dominion theology term (specifically in claiming that pretty much doing ANYTHING not vetted by the name-it-and-claim-it leader "opens doorways and strongholds for Satan in your life")), and others. In fact, even sites for people wishing to investigate weightloss programs warn that Weigh Down is operated as a recruitmnt front for Remnant Fellowship.

There is also an active walkaway community for Weigh Down/Remnant Fellowship walkaways and survivors, and there is a real risk that this could be one of the few churches actually taken down due to religiously motivated child abuse--court evidence to be presented includes an interview between cult founder Gwen Shamblin and the mother of the murdered child on the effectiveness of "chastening techniques" and which indicates Shamblin herself specifically told the parents of the poor child how to literally beat the hell out of him.

Current Mood: sick