HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Lena Baird” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author.
< Part One
Women’s voices weren’t the only ones silenced.
LGBT students were condemned, or presumed to be nonexistent.
In a class called “Principles of Biblical Reasoning,” we read a book on natural law by J. Budzizewski. The author argued that all physical acts have inherent, universal meaning, and that a specific sex act between men was literally equivalent to valuing death instead of life. We discussed it in the abstract, without any acknowledgement that we might know gay men. Lesbians were not even mentioned. I cannot imagine how painful that classs must have been for gay or lesbian students. As a straight cis-woman, my voice was often silenced, but at least my existence was acknowledged and (selectively) validated.
Even straight male voices were sometimes silenced. I think it was my junior year when a male student wrote an op-ed for the student newspaper. It was called “Is Bono a better Christian than you?” He argued that concern for the poor might be an essential part of Christianity. While Bono was trying to help the poor, many evangelical Americans focused on less important things.
Apparently, this was a radical statement. The following week, Michael Farris (then-President of PHC) delivered a chapel message in response to the op-ed. He informed the entire student body that Bono was definitely not “a mature Christian.” Mature Christians, according to Farris, do not drink, smoke, or swear. Bono (again, according to Farris) does all of these things. Therefore, he’s not an a mature Christian, and no one should view him as role model.
Even at the time, I thought this was heavy-handed and misguided. What’s the point of a student paper, if students can’t express their opinions? Was this opinion really so shocking that it had to be refuted, publicly, without any opportunity for discussion? Was it really the college president’s job to tell us what to think?
This episode was a harbinger of things to come.
Disagreeing with Farris was dangerous—not just for students, but also for professors.
I was a senior the year of the Great Schism, when several professors who disagreed with Farris left the school (one was fired, several others resigned in solidarity). That story is well documented elsewhere, but it was a dramatic upheaval for the college. When I was a student, I had classes with almost every professor on the faculty, and the few whose classes I didn’t take still knew my name. Eight years later, there are only three professors at the school who would recognize me, including Farris.
I was upset by the professors’ departure. I liked and respected them. Many of us had come to PHC thinking we had all the answers. These professors challenged us, pointing out that we weren’t asking the right questions yet. They encouraged us to respect other points of view—to really understand and engage with other ways of looking at the world, instead of just quoting Bible verses. I didn’t feel like all my questions were addressed, but in their classes, I did not feel dismissed or silenced.
Farris responded to their resignations with personal attacks. He immediately went on the defensive, informing the student body that these professors did not have “a high view of Scripture.” He repeatedly attacked their faith and their character, essentially calling them bad Christians. He did everything in his power to silence them, and to tell the student body that there was only one right side, only one valid opinion: his.
My first two years at Patrick Henry, I had more freedom and more friends than I’d had since I was ten. My high school years had been lonely and isolating, and I was starving for friendship. While some classes were frustrating, others were led by excellent teachers, and I enjoyed the readings the class discussions. I even enjoyed the challenge of final exams, once I realized they weren’t going to kill me.
But by my senior year, I felt lonely and isolated again. Through a summer internship, I’d glimpsed an exciting world outside the small bubble of PHC. When I returned to campus, I felt trapped, like I was returning to a place I’d outgrown. I was also clinically depressed, and didn’t know it. I was processing trauma.
I was asking questions no one wanted to hear.
When things went wrong, my friends said: “God is in control.” They seemed to find it comforting. I didn’t know how to tell them that the idea of a sovereign God made everything worse. If God not only didn’t stop traumatic events, but actively caused them to happen, God was a monster. I couldn’t say that to them. So, once again, I was silent.
I think there were other students I could have talked to; but by senior year, I felt locked into my particular clique on campus. I was one of the good kids—one of the studious, rule-following lit majors. The “rebellious” kids had their own clique, and I’m sure they regarded me with suspicion. I thought some of them seemed cool, but I didn’t know how to reach out, and didn’t want to be disloyal to my friends. I’d broken a few rules, in my quiet way. I drank at my summer internship. I watched French art films on my college-issued laptop (nudity and sex scenes were against the rules). I’d started swearing, mostly in my head, but occasionally out loud. Once, in the dining hall, I almost dropped my tray, and a quiet damn slipped out. I looked around in terror, afraid that someone had heard me and that I would be called to the Dean’s office for a reprimand. Fortunately, no one was listening.
After graduating, I kept trying to be the good Christian girl. It was the only role I knew how to play, but it chafed, like an outgrown pair of shoes. One evening, in a worship service, the pastor preached about David and Bathsheba. He got to the part where the prophet rebukes David, and I realized the prophet—speaking on behalf of God—was rebuking David for stealing another man’s property. Bathsheba was property. She was like a pet lamb.
In a quiet moment of de-conversion, I decided the prophet was wrong, and the God of that story was wrong, too. I was no one’s property. And I was sick to death of silence.
I entered that room thinking that I was still an evangelical Christian. I left it knowing that I was a feminist, and that I would rather have my own story—with all its doubts and questions—than the stories I’d grown up with, where the Bible was infallible, and women’s voices were devalued, and answers preceded and superseded questions.
Life hasn’t been easy since then, but I am finally free. In becoming myself, I became everything a PHC alumna is not supposed to be. I’m single. I’m not a virgin. I’m a feminist. I support marriage equality. I’m pro-choice. I voted for Obama (though I preferred Jill Stein). I don’t smoke, but I enjoy wine (red) and beer (stout), and tequila makes me believe that, while God may not be in control of much, she does love us.
And yes: I still believe in God—just not the patriarchal, sovereign, infallible God of the homeschool world.
I believe in God because I believe in love, and I believe in love because I’ve experienced it. Because I know people, gay and straight, agnostic and atheist, Buddhist and Lutheran, female and genderqueer and male—who live their lives with love, with freedom, with honesty. People who tell their stories, and accept the stories of others, without judgment. People who have given me the freedom, at last, to tell my own story with my own voice—and to be heard.
End of series.