People are talking about religious child maltreatment

I have just returned from Seattle, a trip that was fun, inspiring, and also sad. Initially, I had planned to celebrate the release of Breaking Their Will with friends and others at a dinner party and then hold a talk and booksigning at a church. Those two events went off without a hitch, and I’ll tell you about them in a minute. However, just before I was set to leave, several people emailed me about a tragic criminal case that was unfolding just outside of Seattle. Due to the high-profile nature of the case, I found myself talking to members of the media about religious child maltreatment.

The dinner party was spectacular. Dozens of people came together to sip wine and share a meal together. Not only did I have a chance to reconnect with old friends, but I also spent time with illustrious individuals who have been educating the public about harmful religious practices. Valerie Tarico was my generous host. Some of you may remember that I blogged about Valerie’s book, Trusting Doubt, which, along with her Youtube channel, compassionately points fundamentalist believers toward a path paved with critical thinking.

Me with Ophelia Benson

I also got to know Ophelia Benson whose Butterflies and Wheels blog I enjoy reading. Ophelia’s many followers appreciate her no-nonsense approach to exposing religious abuses. Another person I had been looking forward to meeting was Andrew Himes, who grew up in a prestigious fundamentalist Baptist family. Andrew’s book The Sword of the Lord is named after the newspaper his grandfather founded. After learning that Andrew’s family knew two powerful and, as they concern children, dangerous religious leaders whom I write about in my book—and that Andrew had memories of meeting both of them when he was young—I peppered him with questions.

Rich and Deanna Lyons with My Daughter

On Sunday, I was interviewed by Rich Lyons, who, along with his wife Deanna, produce the Living After Faith podcast. I appreciated that, during the interview, Rich revealed his own experiences growing up in a strict, Pentecostal community in Texas and how he continues to struggle with self-esteem issues common among many raised in that faith. Afterward the interview, he and Deanna were kind enough to give my daughter and me a tour of some of Seattle’s landmarks, including The Shanty restaurant (we all needed breakfast) and the Space Needle.

Hana Williams

That evening, I spoke to a group at the University Temple United Methodist Church, and later that night, KOMO-TV broadcast a segment on the criminal case I spoke of earlier. It concerns parents who were recently arrested for what could only be described as punishing their 13-year-old adoptive daughter to death. Evidence shows that Carri and Larry Williams were followers of the Tennessee-based, pro-spanking minister, Michael Pearl. As in two other cases in which children have died at the hands of Pearl’s followers, Hana Williams failed to survive her parents’ alleged persistent demands that she unquestioningly obey them. Fortunately, the media was not shy about investigating the religious angle. In addition to the KOMO news story, I was interviewed by Jeff Hodson of the Seattle Times, and blogger Samuel Martin asked me to write a guest post.

The Hana Williams case cast a dark shadow on the trip, but the connections and events that took place were affirming. I left the Northwest feeling that many Americans are open to talking about religious child maltreatment as a first step to trying to eradicate it.


  1. That detail in the Seattle Times story – that Hana and her brother were shut outside while the biological family celebrated Christmas inside – that’s so cruel I can hardly stand it.

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