WACO, Texas - Homestead Heritage, just outside of Waco, has been revered as a model of Christian values. But is it a Utopian commune, or as some suggest, a extreme group of believers putting children at risk?
Videos posted on the Homestead Heritage web site present to the public the wholesome image, bolstering its perception as a beloved staple of the community for two decades. The estimated 1,000 members, crafting a pristine portrait of communal bliss.
But many who have left the church and its 500-acre, gated compound, paint a much different picture. One of a secretive and tightly-controlled religious environment...
According to Homestead’s membership contract, the aspiring members agree "to never bring before the public outside our church... any accusations or wrongdoing or any charge, lawsuit or court action." Agreeing "that all disputes be settled within the confines of the church."... and in return... "the church agrees to never expose a member's shortcomings and sins to any outside it's covenant."
The greatest sins, some former members say, are committed against children and teens. From emotional to physical, even sexual abuse.
News 8 has learned that in the past seven years, five individuals, either members of, or with close ties to Homestead, have been convicted of sexually abusing a child within the Homestead community...
Becky Crow, a former pastor's wife who left the church ten years ago, tells News 8 the abuse was common.
“Many heartbreaking stories of broken lives have been shared with me,” Crow said. “Some have not only been raped, they have been sold for other's sexual perversion by the ones who should have protected them."
Attorney Greg Love has represented abuse victims across the country, and said the stories of abuse at Homestead fit a pattern.
“When you get these closed communities and part of the fabric of that community is, information stays on the inside, behavior stays on the inside, how we do things stays on the inside,” Love said. “Even if those behaviors are injurious to a child, and you are discouraged from bringing in the outside, you really find children at risk."