The arrest earlier this month of Jonathan Young, 34, a Sunday school teacher charged with 13 counts of sexually abusing children, has opened a floodgates of stories of abuse within the Firstborn Baptist Church in Benson, NC.
According to this WRAL report former church members are stepping forward with harrowing stories about the church, which they describe as a cult.
One former church member – Cherith Roberson, 32 – said:
There’s this culture of fear and you have to obey the ultimate leader and authority. And it starts from the beginning. It was taught, it was preached about, that you break a child’s spirit. And you do that by whatever means necessary.
Roberson’s family joined the church when she was seven. Her little sister, Beka Foust, was just five.
The sisters said they were told what to wear, what to believe, and were not allowed contact with anyone on the outside. And they said there were serious consequences for breaking rules.
They would put me in the closet with a light out and I would just sit there all day. I was allowed to eat once.
There was a lot of physical and emotional abuse that went way beyond spanking. From spanking, to beating, there was a huge paddle in the church school that I attended.
They said church members were publicly humiliated from the pulpit and children were beaten so others could hear their screams.
The sisters said they had to come forward after Young was charged earlier this month – but were surprised that he was the one arrested.
I grew up with him. We were like siblings. It [his arrest] was the worst thing you could hear. It was someone we cared about and loved and trusted.
The church’s pastor is Kemp Young, great uncle of the man charged. He said:
I’m heartbroken by it all because it’s unbelievable. I hate if anyone is hurt on either side, but the young man is ruined now. I hate it and I don’t know what else to say about it.
Young declined a WRAL request for an interview on Tuesday to discuss the new accusations. He told WRAL he refuses to dwell in negativity and that the news channel is not getting credible feedback about what the church is really like.
Both women said several of their peers confided over the years they had been molested by men at the church.
I know there has been a culture of covering up this kind of activity since the 1980s, at least.
They said abuse victims and their families were asked to leave, while the men stayed on in leadership roles, perpetuating the abuse.
If you look up the definition of cult in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure the picture of this church would be right beside of it. It’s definitely a cult.
WRAL has spoken with five other former church members in-depth about these allegations: three women and two men, and their experiences are very similar to what the sisters experienced.
One of the women said she and others were sexually abused by church leaders.
The Johnston County Sheriff’s Office said the scope of its investigation has widened since it charged Young earlier this month.