Dear Michael Farris, Sexual Abuse Isn’t a “Basic Strength” That “Can Get Out of Control”

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator


“You have planted wickedness and harvested a thriving crop of sins. You have eaten the fruit of lies — trusting in your own way, believing that your great armies could make your nation safe.”
~ Hosea 10:13


On Sunday, HSLDA’s Michael Farris made his first public statement on the recent controversies surrounding Doug Phillips’s clergy sexual abuse and Bill Gothard’s sexual child abuse.

Take a look:

I continue to hear distressing news about the moral conduct of Christian leaders and speakers some of whom were/are popular in the homeschooling movement. Of course, anyone can sin–including me. But I cannot be so gracious about protracted patterns of sin that reveal a deep hypocrisy.

From my own observation there is a central problem that often accompanies these kinds of failures. All leaders have to have a certain amount of ego strength to be able to withstand the slings and arrows of the naysayers who attack anyone who attempts to lead. But, that basic strength can get out of control. Consider it a danger sign when the leader never shares the spotlight with other leaders in the organization. Consider it another danger sign when the leader does not have anyone in his organization with both the power and the character to tell him “no” at times.

Mike Smith has been at my side at HSLDA from the beginning and he now leads the organization day to day. Chris Klicka was a significant part of our leadership team for many years as well. And I guarantee you that both Mike Smith and the HSLDA board tell me “no” on semi-regular occasions.

I am also reminded of the statement of Dick Armey when he was asked what his wife would say if he was caught in an affair like Bill Clinton. He said, “She would say ‘how do I reload this thing?’ as I lay there in a pool of blood.”

Having a wife who is a good shot is also a great asset.

(Farris’s statement is archived on HA as a PDF here and a PNG here.)

Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s review what exactly the “distressing news” is concerning individuals who “were/are popular in the homeschooling movement”:

While in a position of hegemonic spiritual leadership, Doug Phillips pursued a sexual relationship with a young woman who worked for him and was under his authority. This is clergy sexual abuse.

Bill Gothard has sexually harassed and molested over 30 young woman, including children, for decades. He personally admitted “defrauding” young women decades ago. This is child sexual abuse.

Taking advantage of, harassing, and/or molesting children and young adult women isn’t simply “sin” or “hypocrisy” which “anyone” can fall into. Taking advantage of, harassing, and/or molesting children and young adult women is criminal behavior. It is sexual abuse, plain and simply. This isn’t a question of people’s fallibility; it isn’t a question of “ego strength,” unless you somehow believe leaders are innately abusers.

And it sure as hell isn’t a question of “basic strengths.” Sexual abuse isn’t a “basic strength” that “can get out of control.” It’s not something that comes from “too much of a good thing.” Michael Farris’s attempts to spin these situations away from criminal activity and into the realm of “we’ve all fallen short” is self-serving, inexcusable, and horrifying. It is yet another example that he is in denial about abuse within the movement he himself helped to build.

Making this statement of his even more ironic and tragic is that a mere day later after Farris praised himself for accountability and looked down on other leaders for not taking “protected patterns of sin” seriously — just one day later — the New Republic released a devastating look at how Patrick Henry College has handled sexual assault cases on its campus, entitled “Sexual Assault at Patrick Henry College, God’s Harvard.”

The basic premise?

Patrick Henry College, which Michael Farris founded and is currently the Chancellor of, does not take protracted patterns of sexual assault seriously.

Patrick Henry College has ignored, minimized, and threatened abuse survivors and people standing up for them. Just like Doug Phillips and Vision Forum. Just like Bill Gothard and IBLP.

And yet Farris still has the gall to praise himself for treating “protracted patterns” differently.

The hypocrisy did not go unnoticed. Homeschool alumni took to Farris’s page to call him out for making such a statement about Phillips and Gothard right when the story about PHC was coming out. Farris’s response was predictable, considering it was completely deja vu from HSLDA’s handling of the #HSLDAMustCampaign: he quickly deleted the evidence of his original statement (which, again, HA archived as a PDF here and a PNG here), deleted comment after comment after comment after comment by homeschool alumni, and blocked homeschool alumni from his public page.

Honestly, Michael Farris has run out of time to play these games.

He has spent decades ignoring the growing, obvious, and publicly verified problems — and what did he do? He remained silent. He has never publicly condemned the abusive teachings of Doug Phillips. He has never publicly condemned the soul-crushing system of Bill Gothard’s ATI. (In fact, he himself brought Inge ATI’s Inge Cannon to HSLDA and HSLDA continues to feature Gothard’s homeschool curriculum on its website.) He has refused to this day to acknowledge the concerns of homeschool alumni and parents that homeschool communities need to take abuse more seriously specifically because of reasons like this.

And when when he finally breaks his silence, it is with this? Yet another attempt to sweep everything under the rug by saying these abusers were just “too strong” for their own good, that praise God he has two (?) people at HSLDA who stand up to him (but one is deceased?), and then he closes with a joke about domestic homicide?

Not once, not even once, does he say, “What these men did was abuse, and it was wrong, and we as a community need to take abuse seriously.”

Not. Once.

Not once does he say, “I am sorry that I gave platforms to and partnered with these individuals that have caused so much pain for so many people.” Instead it’s “basic strengths” that “got out of control” and basically people should be more like him or lol their wives will shoot them.

Even with this short-lived statement, Michael Farris still refused to call these men out by name. He was still afraid to directly criticize Bill Gothard. He is still hiding.

Homeschooled children deserve better from you, Michael.

If you continue to refuse to call abuse abuse, you’re contributing to the exact same culture of silence from which Phillips and Gothard fed — the exact same culture of silence that you intimately built and continue to defend.

22 thoughts on “Dear Michael Farris, Sexual Abuse Isn’t a “Basic Strength” That “Can Get Out of Control”

  1. gloraelin February 18, 2014 / 1:23 pm

    I have many words regarding this, but most of them would burn the page down. Instead, I will just say: Michael Farris is a slimy piece of slime and while I am not surprised at what’s coming out, I wish I was. I am tired of hearing all this shit, because it means there are so many more victims/survivors. If only we could reach them all.


  2. L February 18, 2014 / 1:32 pm

    For some reason I continue to be surprised at what cowards all these shapers of my childhood are. Disgusting.


    • Headless Unicorn Guy February 18, 2014 / 2:20 pm

      They’re all just semantic variants on “ME MAN! YOU WOMAN! WOMAN SUBMIT! GOD SAITH!”


  3. paul bowman February 18, 2014 / 1:42 pm

    Farris clearly does not say, in what’s quoted above, that sexual abuse is a basic strength gone wrong. He’s not addressing the sexual abuse itself there, but the organizational problem and the psychology that protects sexual abusers who use ‘ministerial’ authority to abusive ends.

    Whether Farris’ own organization is guilty of what he’s addressing in others’ is another question. I’m not defending him. I’m just interested in good reading here. You can’t press your case against anyone effectively if you’re so eager to find fault that you don’t bother to read her or his words reasonably well.


    • R.L. Stollar February 18, 2014 / 1:51 pm

      I never said that Farris said sexual abuse is a basic strength. I said that “Michael Farris’s attempts to spin these situations away from criminal activity and into the realm of ‘we’ve all fallen short’ is self-serving, inexcusable, and horrifying.”

      The action of spin is specifically the action of omitting what the actual failure of Phillips and Gothard was/is.

      Farris referenced a “central problem” where “leaders have” a “certain amount of ego strength” and “that basic strength can get out of control.” That reference was concerning “these kinds of failures” — contextually, situations involving clergy sexual abuse and child sexual abuse. But he absolutely does not mention the contextual situations — that’s exactly what’s wrong here. And I completely disagree he is addressing the organizational problem and the psychology problem. Unless he somehow thinks “having someone in his organization with both the power and the character to tell him ‘no’ at times” would actually stop a repeat child molester.


      • Headless Unicorn Guy February 18, 2014 / 2:19 pm

        Sounds like “mistakes were made” (but nobody actually made them) and “It all depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”


      • paul bowman February 18, 2014 / 2:23 pm

        I’m just looking at your headline, man. Maybe your headline and your article part ways in some respects. But you say it in the headline and again after the Farris quote: “Sexual abuse isn’t a ‘basic strength’ that ‘can get out of control.’ It’s not something that comes from ‘too much of a good thing.’” But what Farris calls a basic strength liable to getting out of control — I’m not agreeing with him, just reading his words here — has to do with what he calls leadership, not with the abuse that this scheme of leadership facilitates and protects. He is talking about how organizations provide for abuse to happen and go on happening. You don’t have to agree with what he thinks about how things can be run so as to prevent abuse (sexual or other) to see that failure to run things right is in fact what he’s talking about in the quote you provide here.


      • R.L. Stollar February 18, 2014 / 2:44 pm

        Sorry, I obviously failed to help clarify. 🙂 Consider this a language critique. Farris is looking at x and saying, “The problem with x is y.” But the problem with x is x itself. In fact, to look at x and say “the problem x is y” is actually part of why x is a problem to begin with — because people aren’t willing to directly engage x as x. The actual situations that Farris is referencing are situations involving clergy sexual abuse and child sexual abuse. To look at such situations and take the action of launching into a conversation about leadership is a continuation of the problem at hand. You cannot look at situations of clergy sexual abuse and child sexual abuse and start talking about ego strengths. That’s not just a misdiagnosis; that’s tone-deaf and cruel. So, yes, absolutely, Farris is saying “ego strength” (not sexual abuse”) is a basic strength that can get out of control. But the problems Farris references aren’t problems of healthy ego strength gone awry; they are problems of criminal behavior. And Farris is protecting a system of abuse by loading the language (by saying “ego strength” instead of sexual abuse). I am specifically unloading that language here.


      • paul bowman February 18, 2014 / 3:50 pm

        That is a bit clearer. Thanks. I’m not close to this situation, so I’m cautious about conclusions, but I think you’re probably right in your essential objection to the stance this quoted statement seems to represent.

        My feeling, though, is that if your essential objection is to misdirection, his attempt to lead attention away from the raw reality of the crimes of people he’s supported or partnered with, then your problem with the quote itself really comes down to his preference for (or substitution of) religious language & framework — “sin,” “moral conduct,” “hypocrisy” — instead of what we generally take to be the more definite language of law and civil accountability. The way you’ve gone about making that point complicates and obscures, to my mind. And the headline remains confusing at best.


  4. Erik February 18, 2014 / 6:08 pm

    @R.L. Stollar, yes you did say that Michael Farris said that. It’s right in the title: “Dear Michael Farris, Sexual Abuse Isn’t a “Basic Strength” That “Can Get Out of Control”” You said it. So firstly, let’s have a little honesty here (you denied saying it in your comment above). And no, Micahel Farris did not say what you claim. He didn’t say anything close to that. Please reread his quote without your spin. He said there’s a problem that often accompanies this type of failure. You may disagree with him but stop with the gross misquotation. I think you’re desperate for something to sound controversial.


    • R.L. Stollar February 18, 2014 / 6:30 pm

      I’m afraid you’re the one engaging in “gross misquotation,” considering the title of the piece isn’t “Michael Farris Said Sexual Abuse Is a ‘Basic Strength’ That ‘Can Get Out of Control.'” So, no, I didn’t say it. Hence my denying I said it. But as paul has pointed out, it is possible the headline is confusing to some people. I have no problem granting that.

      As far as desperation goes: I’m pretty overwhelmed with the heartbreak and tragedy of the abuse coming to light from Doug Phillips, Bill Gothard, and Patrick Henry College. I personally have too much controversy to process, both emotionally and mentally. But I appreciate your kindly expressed concerns.


    • Teresa February 19, 2014 / 12:09 am

      Erik, I actually did find Michael Farris’ statement to be “controversial”. Or at least ridiculous. Two quick quotes should get to the heart of the matter:

      Libby Anne:
      “His response to these scandals, rather than addressing the problem head on, is to focus on covering for himself.”

      Erik, did you notice this? I did.

      R.L. Stollar:
      “Not once, not even once, does he say, ‘What these men did was abuse, and it was wrong, and we as a community need to take it seriously.'”

      Huh. I wonder how he managed to leave that part out. Oh wait, I see… too busy talking about himself.

      Because everyone knows that’s what’s REALLY at stake here.


  5. Iella Lecirri February 18, 2014 / 6:48 pm

    Let’s get over the headline and focus on the content of what’s really going on here.


  6. SarahS February 18, 2014 / 8:01 pm

    Its interesting… I made the connection right away when I read the headline. It was clear to me even before I read the article what Farris had probably said, and what you were objecting to. But I guess that’s b/c I know how to translate the lingo. Good post.


  7. SarahS February 18, 2014 / 8:02 pm

    The photo you chose is another clue.


  8. jb February 20, 2014 / 1:32 pm

    Farris said ego was the basic strength can get out of control, and did not at all imply that sexual abuse was a basic


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