Do it in the name of heaven,
You can justify it in the end.
—One Tin Soldier by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter
As more and more revelations come to light about the treatment of residents of the New Bethany Home for Girls and Boys in Arcadia and similar homes run by Rev. Mack Ford and wife Thelma in other localities, many serious questions remain unanswered.
- Why, for example, have the Fords and employees of the home never been charged with felony child abuse?
- How can a man (and dozens more like him scattered across the U.S.) mete out such barbaric treatment of children in the name of a Savior who’s every utterance of love, peace and forgiveness is in direct contradiction to the policies of these institutions?
- How can the doctrine of separation of church and state trump state laws enacted to protect children who are unable to protect themselves from inhuman, sadistic and yes, anti-social treatment?
- And most puzzling of all, how is it that Rodney Alexander and Neil Riser would each hire the grandson of New Bethany’s founder and who, along with his father, Ford’s son-in-law, sat on New Bethany’s board of directors?
Besides the Arcadia home, the Fords also ran homes for boys in Logansport in De Soto Parish and in Walterboro, S.C. One by one, the homes were eventually shut down by authorities, the Arcadia home in 1998 (some reports indicate that New Bethany boarded girls there as recently as 2004), but only after inestimable mental, spiritual and physical damage had been inflicted on hundreds of children, many of them in their early teens.
New Bethany is situated in a secluded spot deep in the piney woods south of Arcadia where the children’s screams could not be heard. Its remote location kept the facility out of the public eye and allowed Ford to give outsiders a look on his own terms—at church services, in a controlled environment, where the neatly scrubbed girls would sing and give emotional testimonials about past drug abuse and promiscuity (many of those “testimonials” contrived by Ford) and how New Bethany had turned their lives around—all orchestrated for the maximum emotional impact so as to extract “love offerings” from those in attendance.
Ford resisted state inspections, claiming that he accepted no state funding and that he was not licensed by the state and was therefore not subject to state regulations under the doctrine of separation of church and state.
On one occasion a state inspector did manage to breach the normally chained front gates of New Bethany but that inspector died suddenly a short time later.
Ford used his death as evidence of God’s intention to protect New Bethany from state regulations, saying that the inspector had been struck down by God and a similar fate would likely await other state inspectors.
Still, the clock was ticking and eventually it was the State Fire Marshal’s Office that would prove Ford’s undoing. Not that he didn’t try to thwart state efforts. Ford, following the lead of those like him at other homes, would learn when inspectors were due and would force the girls to move items away from exits and windows and to clean up the facility. He also would go to the extreme of physically transferring girls and boys to a like facility in another state.
And now, 15 years after New Bethany in Arcadia was finally shut down—hopefully for good—we learn that Timothy Johnson, Ford’s son-in-law and a former vice president at Louisiana College in Pineville, is a volunteer in State Sen. Neil Riser’s campaign to succeed retiring 5th District Congressman Rodney Alexander.
Even more baffling is the fact that Ford’s grandson and Timothy Johnson’s son, Jonathan Johnson, is on the payroll of Riser’s campaign after having worked for Alexander for about a decade.
Alexander’s office said Wednesday that Jonathan Johnson, who made $75,000 a year as Alexander’s State Director, was on “unpaid leave,” and would not return until November. Apparently Jonathan Johnson is confident that he will continue working after next month’s primary and the November general election for Congressman-elect Riser.
But the fact remains that if these two men sat on the New Bethany board, they would have had to have known what was going on at New Bethany—the beatings, the mind control, the harsh punishments, and the rapes by Ford that so many of the former residents have come forward to claim.
If, in fact, Timothy Johnson did remove a former student-turned-staff member after she tape recorded a Ford sexual attack on her as claimed, then he not only had knowledge of the incident, but is complicit in concealing a violent crime.
And yet, despite all that we now know about New Bethany’s facilities in Arcadia, Longstreet and Walterboro, S.C., the only prosecutions occurred in South Carolina and even then the perpetrators were allowed to plea bargain their punishment down to probation.
So, why didn’t Louisiana authorities act?
That’s an excellent question for which there are no ready answers. Perhaps authorities were intimidated at the prospect of grappling with God. Authorities in Bienville Parish have claimed they were unaware of the rape allegations but several victims say that is simply not true, that they knew and did nothing.
One administrative employee at New Bethany said he, along with then-State Rep. Woody Jenkins of Baton Rouge, wrote legislation that exempted church-affiliated facilities such as New Bethany from state regulations.
If that indeed is the case, then the entire Louisiana Legislature that passed the bill is also complicit in any crimes that took place—as is the governor who signed it into law.
The responsibility for the agony and suffering of hundreds of girls and boys who were forced to endure the sadistic—and that’s the only word for it—treatment at the hands of Ford and his staff can be laid at the feet of Ford, his family and staff members, Bienville Parish law enforcement, the legislature and the governor’s office.
Next: If you support the education reform programs of Gov. Bobby Jindal and Superintendent of Education John White in their push for more church-affiliated charters and their fundamentalist curriculum, you may want to first examine how some of these schools operated in Arcadia and continue to operate in other parts of the country.