“We are taught to never call police:” Former Montcalm Co. church members share alleged abuse stories

CARSON CITY, Mich.-- More former members of the Church of Carson City are coming forward and sharing their stories of alleged abuse and torment.

Claims of how the church allegedly hid accusations of child sexual abuse for decades first aired on FOX 17 on Tuesday. Those claims came to light after a woman was arrested for vandalizing the church last month.

More people are coming forward adding to the long list of those who have left what’s commonly called the 'Shermanite Church' by locals. Their stories give more insight into what life was allegedly like as a Shermanite.

Peter Michelsen and his two sisters shared their stories of alleged sexual abuse and torment with the Church of Carson City on Tuesday. Now, three more people are sharing their stories with FOX 17.

"There was a lot of tongues and prophecy that goes on," said former member Dan Newhall.

Newhall joined the Church of Carson City in 1991 when he was 24 years old. That’s where he met his wife Angela. They were married almost 20 years.

"We had to pay the 10 percent tithe of our income," said Newhall.

Newhall says the elders were very involved in the church members' finances. Aside from being required to give 10 percent of your income, he says you had to consult with the elders before making any sort of financial decision, like buying a house or a car.

Newhall says he eventually was forced out of the church and his wife of almost 20 years was required to divorce him. Two of his children stopped speaking to him and he shares custody with his youngest son. Newhall says part of it had to do with his job as a nurse.

"The minister told me I needed to give up my nursing degree and go get a regular job and still don’t know what that is, a regular job," said Newhall.

Newhall's story is much like another woman’s who wishes to remain anonymous. The 46-year old still has children in the church and fears what will happen to them if she shows her face.

"It was 40 years," she said. "It was my entire life”

The woman grew up in the church, got married at 18 and had four kids.

"We had no communication with the outside," she said. "If you had a neighbor, you couldn’t talk to the neighbors, no computers."

She says she also wasn’t allowed to see a doctor as a child.

"If you cut your finger you just prayed, fasted and hoped that god would heal it," she said.

She says that rule changed after a little boy died of meningitis and never got proper medical attention.

"Now that I’m out here I can see that," she said.

She says women were forced to wear long skirts and dresses, could not cut their hair and couldn’t wear makeup. She also says they couldn’t work, vote and had to be submissive to their husbands.

"The man is in control completely," she said. "Women, as much as the man wants it, he can have it."

She says abuse was often never reported because to her, it wasn’t an option.

"We are taught to never call the police," she said. "The police are not to be trusted. If anything happens, you call Bill Hubler or one of the elders and they will handle it amongst themselves.”

Kirt Wright shares a similar story to Dan and the woman: also allegedly forced out of the church and divorced by his spouse of 20 years. He moved to Carson City with his mom when he was 13-years-old and was immediately immersed in the lifestyle.

"Before I knew it, everything we did was with those people," said Wright. "We didn’t associate with anybody else outside of that little tight-knit church community.”

Wright barely has any photos of his life as a Shermanite. He says having photos was considered vanity and frowned upon.

In 2012, he decided he wanted to be a volunteer firefighter, something he says he wasn't allowed to do because he’d be spending time with people outside the church and would need to trim his facial hair, which was a huge deal breaker.

"They were literally telling me like we are between you and God and you have to go through us to get to God," said Wright.

Wright says being part of any organization other than the church was not allowed.

"We couldn’t say the 'Pledge of Allegiance' there, we couldn’t pledge our allegiance to anything but God," said Wright.

Now that he’s out, Wright now proudly displays the American flag outside his home.

"It’s freedom," said Wright. "When you first pull away from bondage like that, it was reversed there. They told us, 'Everybody else outside is in bondage and we’re free' and then they said, 'If you leave here you go into bondage', but I left there, and I left bondage and got freedom and I knew that and that feeling, I’ll never forget it.”

FOX 17 questioned church leadership about these allegations on Monday. They denied them, said they weren’t true, and said they were never made aware of any allegations of abuse.

The Montcalm County Sheriff's Department received claims of abuse in 2014, but didn’t have enough evidence to move forward.

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