TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White
Part Nine: I Am Ashamed Of TeenPact, by David Chapman
I have really struggled to write about TeenPact. My history with the organization goes back to 1996, when I first attended a Georgia state class as a student, in only its third year of existence. I continued to serve as a staffer through 1998, working on the early state classes in Alabama, New Mexico, and New Hampshire. Then, after college, the most intense part of my TeenPact history occurred between 2002 and 2004, when I served full-time with the ministry, first as a traveling “Assistant Director” (a position we later renamed “Program Director”), then as Operations Manager—basically second-in-command to the founder/president—at the ministry’s headquarters located in rural northeast Georgia. I had a long relationship with the ministry in its first decade and with many of its most influential early members. Please note: I have had almost no contact with the group in its last ten years and I am certain the ministry has changed drastically since I was involved. From what I see of its website, however, most of the core values have remained.
As a former insider, now ideologically opposed to TeenPact in every way, I thought that I might write scathing exposés about how ministry leaders in my day skirted ethics, exploited underage labor, underpaid their full-time staff, used ministry resources to support local, state, and national politics, and so on. But my many false starts on these topics all felt wrong. I was myself culpable in a few of these. I taught these practices to others. I was an ideologue, the same as all the others in the ministry. Compared to my office mates at TP HQ, I was paid rather obscenely well for a recent college grad with no experience and no particular expertise (I had been a piano performance major).
The truth is this: I am ashamed of my time at TeenPact. I don’t acknowledge it on my resumé. I describe it to my current colleagues as “the time that I worked for the right-wing conspiracy” and then I say little more. I wish I didn’t even have to talk about it, because I wish it had never happened. But strangely I also feel compelled to write about it, especially since my therapist has recommended doing so for my ongoing depression.
When I read others’ stories, I note key differences between their memories and mine. They remember being told their blouses were too busty or their attitudes were somewhat less than obnoxiously enthusiastic. Ministry leaders like me assessed these black sheep as rebellious and obstinate, definitely not TeenPact staff material.
In truth, they simply saw through the B.S. rather more quickly than I did. I was in charge of TeenPact. I told my staffers all these things myself and instructed them to say such things to their students. I was not the first nor the only person to teach these things at the time, but I certainly helped perpetuate them as a ministry leader.
My memories of TeenPact are certainly angry and righteously indignant, as are so many others’, but for me they also involve overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame.
I recently realized that this malaise was the root of my writing block when a familiar name started popping up on Facebook via my new network of Homeschoolers Anonymous friends. I’ll not identify her specifically, but she was one of my interns while I was in charge of ministry operations. It occurred to me that, if she and others like her have ex-TeenPact (XTP?) stories of their own to tell, some probably involve me. Seeing this former intern’s name made me realize how inappropriate it would be to criticize the ministry when, for her and others, I may have been part of the problem.
Perhaps this is not her opinion at all, or perhaps it over-inflates my importance. But I once googled mine and the ministry’s name to see what mildly incriminating evidence might be out there. I found a message board where someone said something like: “ugh, TeenPact… that David Chapman and I did NOT get along.” Thousands of students like this person, as well as hundreds of staffers and dozens of interns, passed through the ministry while I was in charge of it. Many of these became TeenPact zealots (ministry leaders expected no less). Many did not drink the Kool-Aid and some of these might cite my leadership as part of the reason, as this anonymous commenter did.
I fear the day when my work at TeenPact comes back to bite me. Some day, some former student or intern of mine will say something reprehensible in public (Sarah-Palin- or Glenn-Beck-style) and I will have to endure knowing that I contributed to that person’s disgusting ideological education in some way.
Or else someone will write their own exposé and name me as the villain in the story.
For the record, I am thrilled beyond words (proud, even?) whenever I learn that former students and interns of mine have repudiated much of the TeenPact ideology and are forging their own path through adulthood. I am impressed that they are doing so much earlier than I did. In fact, I’m a bit jealous of them. I was still toeing the line for TeenPact into my late twenties.
There are recordings floating around that would truly embarrass me if they resurfaced: speeches, lectures, and sermons I gave while still in thrall to the conservative, evangelical, Republican, nationalist, homeschooling movement. If anyone has those, I beg you to destroy them. You might still like them, but almost everything I said was wrong. I repudiate and disown them. If anyone finds them and is disappointed in me, please understand that they were the work of an immature and stunted thinker. I’ve grown a bit since then.
Also for the record: I am now a liberal, an agnostic, a feminist, the parent of a child in public school (no regrets!), a pessimist, and a humanist. As of May 2013, I can also say that I am a Ph.D. Soon I will be one of those college professors that I was always warned about by homeschoolers, evangelicals, and conservatives like those in TeenPact.
I do want to say more in future posts about why I became disillusioned, about the things I observed during my time in the ministry, about the terrible ideas that I helped to instill in others, and about the ways that TeenPact and organizations like it failed me.
But I was once TeenPact.
I was acting and speaking in the best way I knew how, but I was wrong.
And for that I am ashamed… and I’m sorry.
To be continued.