A Louisiana megachurch has been accused of forcing teenagers who attended their $5,000 Christian leadership program to exercise until they were sick or soiled themselves.
The ‘220i’ leadership scheme, run by Bethany Church between 2005 and 2013, is also said to have staged fight nights between attendees and allowed homophobic and racist slurs.
Other accusations leveled at the 10 month long camp include the fat shaming of interns with regular weigh ins and those deemed overweight being ‘called out publicly and put on restricted diets’.
Pictures show attendees – who slept in dorms – carrying heavy logs and taking part in boot camps where it is alleged leaders would ‘drive by on golf carts to shoot paintball guns at interns to haze them further’.
Youth pastor Joel Stockstill is said to have supervised the workouts riding on his Segway. Stockstill, his late wife wife, Amy, and current wife, Amie are said to have been behind the alleged abuse at the student ministry.
One mother told NBC she was was forced to ‘rescue’ her daughter from the ‘cult’.
Others describe being forced to cut ties from their family and their ‘clothing, our hair, or make-up, even our weight’ being policed. They also say ‘extravagant gifts’ were encouraged for leaders.
Joel Stockstill, his late wife wife, Amy, and current wife, Amie are said to have been behind the alleged abuse at the student ministry. Amie and Joel Stockstill are pictured
Youth pastor Joel Stockstill is said to have supervised the workouts riding on his Segway
Gume Laurel, 34, said: ‘It was a cult mentality.
Describing the alleged racism he added: ‘They basically separated all of the black male interns onto one floor and everybody else was on a different floor.’
Laurel also describes leaders using slurs like homophobic ‘f*****’ and the N-word.
The church has denied the allegations against it, saying they ‘condemn bullying related to racism or sexual orientation’ and insisting there were no fight nights or public shaming.
The ‘220i’ leadership scheme, run by Bethany Church between 2005 and 2013, is also said to have staged fight nights between attendees and allowed homophobic and racist slurs
They said in a statement: ‘This highly disciplined program that was totally voluntary to participants was not perfect and we chose to end it 8 years ago.
‘As we reflect on the program, it pains us to know that although so many lives were changed for the good, it’s clear the one-size-fits-all approach to physical and spiritual discipline was not effective in some areas.’
DailyMail.com has contacted Bethany Church for any additional comment.
But Joel’s brother Jonathan, 40 the church’s current lead pastor, also posted to Facebook at the end of last month to publicly apologize for the program.
In that post he wrote: ‘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.
‘It’s obvious to me now and to the current leadership of Bethany Church that we significantly missed the mark in that program in many ways.
Jonathan Stockstill the church’s current lead pastor, posted to Facebook at the end of last month to publicly apologize for the program
‘Although our intention was to train young leaders, and some positive fruit came from it, it is stained with the bad experiences of many.
‘As a result, we recognized that it was not a good culture and discontinued the program almost ten years ago, but have now realized how much pain it caused.
‘As the lead pastor of Bethany, I would like to take responsibility and repent to anyone that had a negative experience. Please forgive us.’
Responding to the post one former attendee wrote: ‘This program left me feeling inadequate and like I wanted to die. In fact, I tried to take my life a year after I had left 220i.’
Another said: ‘From the group weigh-ins, to the forced workouts, to the sleep deprivation, the verbal abuse, public humiliation, etc.
‘The only fond memories I have are from having met other resilient, young interns who were just looking to serve Christ. It’s taken me a long time to recover spiritually from 220i and I’m not even sure I have completely.’
Jonathan Stockstill wrote: ‘It’s obvious to me now and to the current leadership of Bethany Church that we significantly missed the mark in that program in many ways’
The Bethany Church was founded by the Stockstill brothers’ grandfather Roy, pictured, in 1963. It now boasts more than 8,000 members
And several of those who attended and spoke to NBC have described ‘brainwashing and submission’.
One said: ‘They preyed on young people’s passion and desire 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.’
The Bethany Church was founded by the Stockstill brothers’ grandfather Roy in 1963. It now boasts more than 8,000 members.
Joel and Amie have not commented on the claims.
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