It’s True, Dungeons & Dragons Ruins Your Life

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Written by Luna Lindsey. Additional reporting by M. Dolon Hickmon.

I was once one of God’s elect, chosen to come to Earth in these latter-days to usher in the Second Coming of Christ.

Now I’m a spiritual mutt, belonging to no religion, believing in no gods, and “speaking evil of the Lord’s anointed.” I’ve become exactly like Korihor, a Book of Mormon villain, who winds up smitten by God for his unbelief.

How did I fall so far? Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), of course.

The first time I heard about D&D, I yearned to play it. I was a homeschooled teenager with few friends. Even among my peers at church, I didn’t feel accepted. My one respite from constant loneliness was reading novels of fantasy and science fiction.

Dungeons & Dragons held an almost irresistible lure. Here was a game where you could pretend to be a different person. You could solve puzzles and explore mysterious and magical realms. It sounded perfect!

But D&D was forbidden. Like tarot cards, Ouija boards, and even ordinary playing cards, anything to do with magic or mysterious symbols was presumed to be imbued with evil forces. Wicked spirits clung to those D&D figurines, to the strange books and polyhedral dice. They lurked, waiting for a chance to creep into the minds of young people, to possess them, or worse — to drag them away from God and into a life of sin and sex, addiction, devil worship and human sacrifice (in roughly that order).

Such were the images of the game in my impressionable young mind: a collection of scripture fragments, urban legends and fearsome admonishments from my mother. The cover of the Player’s Guide revealed this truth: pictures of scary monsters! Scary things are evil. Because evil is scary.

I’d been told that D&D taught kids to cast actual spells. Someone was just bound to accidentally summon a demon; it only follows. As my mother always said, it’s all fun and games until someone joins a coven. (Then it’s just fun.)

D&D is the gateway drug to Satanism, I had no doubt.

The demonization of D&D started in the 1980s. Patient Zero is now thought to have been a woman named Patricia Pulling. The aggrieved mother of a teenaged suicide, Pulling blamed her son’s tragic death on a pretend curse which had been placed on his character during a role playing game he’d played at school. When her lawsuit against the high school was tossed, Pulling took a forty-hour course and became a private investigator. After much sleuthing, she discovered other murdered or suicided children who were also D&D gamers. With no other relief at hand, she resorted to the best possible course of action: write a pamphlet calling for a ban on make-believe-monster-slaying, fictional-spell-casting, and pedantic rules-lawyering with mysterious, multisided dice. (Does anyone even know what those things are for?!)

The curious can read Pulling’s entire pamphlet for themselves.

Al Gore had not yet invented Facebook, but mimeo’d copies of Pulling’s pamphlet spread like chicken pox at day care. Faster than you could click ‘Share’ on a cat-in-a-shark-suit-on-a-roomba meme, Pulling’s inventions became the one point of doctrine upon which Baptist, Catholic and Mormon moms could all agree.

Television networks broadcast credible-sounding news reports (like this 60 Minutes piece), saying that D&D caused suicide. They were ubiquitous enough that I saw at least one when it aired. The ‘logic’ usually went something like this: players became so involved with their characters that they lost all track of reality, and when their character died, they were left with no reason to live.

Or maybe, the deeply superstitious speculated, kids were actually being possessed by demons, who (for some reason), wanted to immediately kill off the host they’d just spent centuries trying to attract. Hey, you can’t expect demons to be any more logical than the religious leaders who invent them, right?

For many parents, then and now, this was God’s literal truth, as can be seen in this unedited footage from an actual D&D game.

D&D remained forbidden fruit; just one more thing I wanted that I couldn’t have. Like wanting to stay up late enough to watch ‘Doctor Who’ on PBS. Or to date boys before I was 16. Or even to wear shorts in 105 degree summer heat.

Then life happened. I met a guy, and we got married. I got pregnant, then divorced, and I became the worst thing any Mormon girl could be: a divorced single mother. Divorced! I was used goods at the ripe old age of 20. All without so much as having ever rolled a natural 20. (Those cursed dice again! What are they for?!)

So there I was, a twenty-year-old with a wee baby on my hip. LDS singles who’d avoided me before my marriage now barely spoke to me. Afraid they might catch a bad case of divorce—or worse, sex!—people steered wide when we passed in the halls at church activities.

I needed friends.

My interest in science fiction drew me to RadCon, a fan convention. This outing would be risky: people would be playing D&D! By going, I’d place myself within temptation’s grasp. Burdened with the guilt of “crucifying Christ anew,” I went anyway.

Finally, after years of dreadful yearning, I walked among scattered tables festooned with nerds, stray game pieces, and cold pizza, trying to decide which would be my first tabletop role playing game.

Not D&D, of course. That was the Big One; a horror reserved for degenerates who’d surrendered to some demonic over-mind.

No. My first game would be something safe. To me, that meant science fiction. Fantasy games were inherently malevolent, with their wizards and monsters. But sci-fi would be totally okay.

No magic spells or demons; just robots and computers.

I lingered in front of the table for Cyberpunk 2020. Finally, I decided: This is the one. Nerves jangling with fear and excitement, I sat down. Immediately, my conscience screamed: This was the top of the slippery slope that I’d been warned about!

But I needed human connection. I needed a sense of belonging. I needed fun. So I played. And I had a blast. I connected. With people! People who liked me. People who didn’t make me feel like a freak.

I wanted more. But not D&D, no way! Rather, I found a weekly Shadowrun campaign with an open spot. It had trolls and elves and magic, but also guns and bombs and computer hacking. I felt fairly certain that the inclusion of technology would make it safe from the influences of the devil.

I almost lost my nerve. One dark night, in fitful prayer—the kind that Mormons call “wrestling with God”—I told the Lord that I was going to do this, because it made me happy. It was the one fun and fulfilling thing in my lonely, stressful and depressing life.

I was gripped by an overwhelming sense that I was about to cross a forbidden line. Was that the Holy Spirit, telling me not to go? Was he saying that this would separate me from God? Was it possible that I would surrender my soul to Satan, between rolling dice and downing potato chips?

I imagined a rope tied round my waist, the other end connected to God, as I jumped into the black pit of Outer Darkness. If things get out of hand, I told Him, you yank me back.

Then I willfully, pridefully (a dirty word, for a Mormon), joined the Shadowrun game.

After Shadowrun came SLA Industries, a far-future space cyberpunk game that was disturbingly violent and completely screwed up. No demons or magic there (psychic powers don’t count, right?), so I was still safe!

I’d heard about the Camarilla, a live-action role playing game. Players didn’t just sit around at a table; they dressed like their characters and walked around, interacting, pretending to be vampires, which had been a shameful fascination of mine since I was little. What could be more exciting? Or more risky? (Well, besides D&D.)

I joined the Camarilla, though I was very careful to play non-gothy characters. To be extra sure, I didn’t wear black. But I hung out with goths, and people who smoked and swore a lot. We listened to heavy metal music.

I made tons more friends.

Breaking the final taboo proved astonishingly easy. One evening, it just happened. I sat on a couch with friends and we played D&D. At this point, the cautionary tales seemed superstitious and silly. It was just fantasy role play, and there were far more hardcore games (I’d played them), and obviously there were no demons hiding under the odd misshapen dice. The worst thing I actually had to worry about were power gamers, with their obnoxious desire to kill everything in sight.

I was still a true-believing Mormon. Very much so. But now I had far more friends outside of the Church than in. This was a sin, in and of itself. Mormon youth and single adults are strongly “encouraged” to associate with other Mormons, and if you intended to make friends outside the Church, they should not be of the sort that came out of closets and wore T-shirts that said, “I only wear black till they make something darker.”

Worse, I’d met people from other faiths.

Not just non-Mormon Christians, either. There were Buddhists, Wiccans, and even a real-life Satanist.

They were all very nice people, who had interesting things to say. They tolerated my beliefs, and I tolerated theirs. They weren’t evil or scary. Not even the Satanist, in spite of his black fingernail polish.

I learned from them, which is even worse. The things they told me made sense. I discovered that prayers were answered for people of other faiths, too. Wiccans called this phenomena “magic,” but it didn’t involve summoning demons. In fact, aside from the addition of candles and incense, it didn’t seem all that different from my Mormon prayers. I learned Buddhists were really chill, relaxed, and very accepting of me. More accepting than most Mormons I’d met. Even the atheists were kind!

These people allowed me to be weird. For the first time in mylife, I could relax and be myself, talk openly about my interests, and even be liked for it.

Some part of me already recognized the true danger in role playing: exposing myself to “the world,” which tainted my mind with new ideas. Ideas that conflicted with, and even refuted, many LDS claims.

I made one last effort to get straight with God, to “Chose the Right” and rededicate myself to the Mormon Church. I still preferred the company of gamers and geeks, but God wanted me to find a righteous LDS husband. And I wasn’t going to find him among heathens. So returned to church, leaving most of my friends behind.

Only now I had something to compare my LDS life to. In stages, it dawned on me that I had never been happy at church. I’d never been worthy enough and I’d never had the kind of spiritual, uplifting experiences that I’d had with those supposedly “wicked” and “sinful” worldly people.

And I never would.

I wasn’t good enough for the Mormons, but I was good enough for the geeks. And I’d adopted a few of their beliefs. These were like tiny seeds, which I’d fit into the cracks that riddled the cinderblock wall of Mormonism.

From those seeds, green shoots sprouted, their roots prying against the foundations of my Mormon belief. In time, I discovered additional kernels, which fit those widening gaps in the LDS paradigm.

These new beliefs suited me better, and they were more compatible with facts and science. New thoughts lent me additional mental flexibility. Limber vines of reason began to eat at the brittle mortar of tradition, until eventually, the whole wall fell.

I no longer believed in God.

It could be said that my path out of the Church was inevitable. My heart never fit, no matter how closely I followed the Church’s commandments.

Perhaps D&D was merely a catalyst: the accelerant that sped the process of reframing my beliefs. But without it, without that window opening my mind to thoughts outside the stifling Mormon ideology, I might still be there, doing my best to pretend to be someone I’m not.

D&D led me down a path of temptation, until my heart became desensitized to the Holy Spirit, and I could no longer hear the gentle whisperings of God. Too late to turn back, I had been misled, brainwashed by the ways of the world. I am well ensnared in Satan’s grip.

Or so I would have once believed.

Today, I recognize that the path I took was one of liberation. By choosing to follow my heart in spite of the Church’s frightening conditioning, I made a saving throw that rescued me from decades of spiritual slavery.

So thank you, Gary Gygax, creator of D&D. Some might say that you summoned an elder demon, which is even now destroying the very fabric of American morality.

But in my story, you are the hero.

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Luna Lindsey
Luna Lindsey

About the Author

Luna Lindsey was born into the Mormon Church and left the faith in 2001, at age 26. She now lives in Seattle, WA and writes about topics of interest to her, including psychology, culture, and autism. She also writes science fiction and fantasy. When she’s not busy traveling to improbable worlds, or thinking hard about this improbable world, she’s enjoying life with her improbable family. Her new book, Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control is available in e-book and print.

Hurts Me More Than You: Lana and Kate’s Stories

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Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

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Lana’s Story

My father never hugged me. The only physical contact I had with him as a child was from being beaten. He used the belt that he wore looped through his jeans every day, and he struck me with the leather end enough times to leave bruises and welts. Apologizing for the back-talk or broken object was pointless, I was told, because “it was too late for apologies.” The point now, I was told, would be that I learn from my mistakes. This happened to me, I was told, as young as age four or five because the Bible said that children needed to be trained to respect their parents in order to learn to respect God.

I guess the Bible didn’t command that he hug me. Or, if so, I wasn’t ever told that it did.

I just wanted a hug when I was a kid. Being a kid is tough, especially when your mother is difficult and has mental problems. I was scared of my father and never felt comfortable showing him things I made. Drawing, poems, dances. I used to hide from him. One time he said children were indentured servants who paid their way with chores until they turn 18. This could have been funny but he never hugged me. My mother would admire and appreciate my creativity, but not my dad. He could be so mean and sarcastic. And it really hurt, especially the threats, because I knew too well what it felt like to be beaten. The only times I remember him being nice was when other people, outside of the house, were around. He was always so much nicer to other people than he was to me as a child. This broke my heart.

The sight of a leather belt still makes me nervous. Belts made of other materials are okay. If I let my mind wander to a certain dark place, I can still feel the terror of anticipating being hit with his belt and hearing myself sob, “no, stop. really. i’m sorry. i mean it.”

I can still feel the terror of knowing my words meant nothing and would change nothing.

My dad never really told me that he loved me. He would sometimes send my adult self gifts and letters, and it would make me feel weird and guilty. I don’t want things from him. I can’t love him back. I know he’s lonely now and he wants attention from me, but I can’t do it. I just can’t. This kills me.

Kate Birney’s Story

HA note: For more information about Kate Birney, visit Kate’s page at BJUnity.

I came across this definition of spanking:

“A form of physical punishment in which a beating is applied to the buttocks.”

That’s not entirely incorrect although in my case (and my siblings) spanking involved being beaten or hit on any available body part, including face and head. It included getting pushed or shoved against furniture or walls, or getting grabbed so hard that welts were left on my arms. I’ve been hit with rulers, leather belts, the buckle of the belt, metal spoons, wire whisks, acrylic spoons, yard sticks, and of course hands & fists.

I’ve been hit for not eating, for eating too much, for not going to bed, for taking a nap, for talking back, for not talking, for being disrespectful, for not taking care of my younger siblings properly, for not making my bed, for not cleaning the house…the list goes on.

Always ALWAYS being told “I do this because I love you”, and “this hurts me more than it hurts you”. And also being told that God requires this as discipline.

Well, when you grow up from a young age with physical violence being intimately connected to love and religion, it affects how you relate to other people. It makes it hard to believe that people who don’t hurt you DO love you. It makes you believe that when you’re ok and not being harmed, it means no one cares. Rewriting that kind of messed up thinking is a difficult process.

And more so, it’s so very hard to unwind and relax. You grow up on edge, never knowing what you’re going to do wrong today that will end up with you being “punished”.

I don’t support corporeal punishment. I don’t believe that violence is intended in any religion – I think it’s a misinterpretation designed to control people and outcomes. It leads to isolation because you learn very young and very quickly that the people who are supposed to be safest & love you will always hurt you, so what does that mean for the rest of the people in the world?

Hurts Me More Than You: Rachel’s Story

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Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

Additional trigger warning for Rachel’s story: descriptions of self-injury.

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Rachel’s Story

Maybe I’m the oddball, but, I was reading some articles on the lifelong effects that spanking children has on their emotional and mental development when it hit me.

Being spanked as a child is a large part of why I started self-harming as a teenager.

Let me unpack this statement a little bit.

From a child, I had been taught through example that physical punishment was the Biblically advocated way of training your children. To be fair, my mother absolutely hated spanking us, and would cry at night because she believed it was wrong, but according to Mike and Debi Pearl, corporal punishment until actual pain was achieved is the only way to properly “train up a child”. And, indeed, Proverbs supports this methodology to a degree. We were spanked for back talking, direct disobedience, rebellion, tattling…and the list goes on. Being spanked teaches a child that physical pain is the only appropriate atonement for his/her misdemeanors. While my parents truly loved us and believed that spanking was the Biblical way to train their children, I have come to question the subconscious impact which this ideology has had on the way I personally relate to punishment.

When I was 15, I reached a particularly low point in my life. My parents had just found out about a young man who I was involved with, and were extremely displeased with the content of some of our conversations (eg. swearing, his expressing a desire to kiss me, etc..) among other things. Feeling that a relationship was not in my best interest at this point, they grounded me for a week and lectured me extensively.

But, for me, this punishment wasn’t enough.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had become subconsciously convinced that punishment which did not cause physical pain was not adequate punishment.

Because, after all, a lecture was never good enough when I had sinned as child. Spanking was always in order. Therefore, as soon as I found myself alone in my room, I, almost instinctively, physically lashed out against myself, taking a disposable razor to my wrist until it was dripping blood. I felt instantly better. After which, I cleaned it up, bandaged it, and fell asleep.

Dad commented the next day that I seemed happier. I was even smiling!

It became a vicious cycle. Whereas when I was a child, if I did something wrong, I was immediately spanked and then the incident was forgotten, as I got older the spanking became less frequent, and lectures replaced corporal punishment. What I didn’t realize was that I had unwittingly adopted the notion that physical punishment is the only adequate punishment. So, if I did something wrong, or my parents were displeased with me, hurting myself became second nature.

I cannot tell you how harmful this mentality is.

When Christ died, HE took the physical pain punishment for ALL my sins. Knowing that my parents are displeased, natural consequences, or rebuke, should be punishment enough for me. Of course, there are consequences, but these should be natural consequences. For instance, if you eat twenty pieces of cake, you’re going to make yourself sick. This doesn’t mean that wrong should be condoned. If my brother hits me, he’s going to be told why that’s wrong and if he persists in wrongdoing, should be punished by a timeout or something similar.

Obviously, circumstances are different for every family, but for me, at least, being spanked unwittingly implanted the idea in my head that physical pain is the only valid form of punishment.

I’ve wondered for months why it was that, when I reached that point where my parents were so upset at me, hurting myself was an almost instinctive reaction. I didn’t even think about it. It felt natural. It felt…right. There was no question in my mind that I completely deserved the physical pain for disappointing my parents, allowing myself to have romantic feelings for a boy, and using bad language. I believe a large part of it is that when I was young, I knew I was in the doghouse if I had acted wrongly. Apologizing didn’t fix things. Being lectured didn’t change things. BUT, as soon as I had gotten the appropriate amount of spankings, everything was forgiven and I was reminded again of how loved I was. How does one make the mental transition from “I need to be physically punished for any transgression” to “Now that I’ve reached a certain age, a lecture or being grounded is adequate punishment”?

And for those who argue that Proverbs commands parents to spank their children (Mike and Debi Pearl, I’m looking right at you!), my response is that Proverbs is in the Old Testament, and although I don’t believe we should discount it merely because it happens to be before the birth of Christ, please show me a passage anywhere in the New Testament under the New Covenant which commands spanking children as a form of punishment! The verses in the New Testament on child rearing say to not provoke your children to wrath but rather bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Admonition is NOT the same as spanking.

And, while I’ll readily admit that my ideas on child raising aren’t completely developed yet, I agree far more with those who advocate not spanking your children, or only using spanking as a very last resort, than those who spank their children constantly for any real or imagined misdemeanor.

Hurts Me More Than You: Introduction and Abiram’s Story

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By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator 

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Trigger warning for Hurts Me More Than You series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

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Corporal punishment has become a national conversation after a former NFL Most Valuable Player (MVP) was indicted for child abuse in Texas.

Pictures of the injuries (trigger warning: graphic wounds) can be seen here. A surprisingly large group of people defended Peterson’s actions, many cited his intent to “reasonably” discipline his son, or their own harsh treatment as children. Sean Hannity literally removed his belt and beat his news desk, later remarking that he “deserved” a punch to the face from his father:

These responses remind me of my childhood and young adult, when I thought being spanked bare-bottomed with a plumbing line marketed as “The Rod” was reasonable. It shocked me to the core to realize that The Rod was a literal embodiment of the “plumbing line” advocated by child-abuse manuals like Michael and Debbie Pearl’s To Train Up a Child. The same plumbing line that left no visible marks, but killed Lydia Schatz because it broke down her muscles leading to organ failure.

In my own life, spanking predictably created in me a violent child. My parents always note my “sensitivity” as a very young child, then they became fundamentalists and the corporal punishments increased. Suddenly, I hurt animals, got in fights with neighbors, began my obsession with war, justified violence, and I often fantasized about engaging in violent actions. G.A. Henty’s historical fictions did nothing but stir up those fantasies.

It wasn’t until I read about the impacts of spanking on children that I connected the dots. Antisocial behavior, violence against animals, violent fantasies are all more likely as the frequency and intensity of corporal punishment increases (see endnote for academic reading).

I have wanted to start a conversation about this, but I couldn’t harness the energy for an extensive post on the topic. I’m an ardent football fan and my conversations with abuse apologists on internet forums the last two weeks have been exhausting. Today, “Abiram” sent me his story, similarly inspired by conversations about Adrian Peterson.

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Abiram’s Story

“Are your parents dying?

Are you being persecuted for being a Christian?

Then why are you crying?”

I can’t even count the number of times I heard those words. Always associated with a spanking. For most people. The Adrian Peterson story is either a non-story or something that just doesn’t make sense. For me, it is inescapably real. I have been hit with a paint stirrer, a pizza paddle, a belt, a dowel. Always accompanied by the saying “this hurts me more than it hurts you.” But it doesn’t. Have you ever stared into a mirror wishing that either you would die or your parents would. Have you ever clenched your jaw thinking that maybe your were demon possessed. Have you ever avoided talking to a parent for days because you thought the Holy Spirit would tell them that you had unconfessed sin?

Well I have.

It seems laughable to most, but it is real for me. I was spanked for disagreeing about my actions. Spanked for covering my bottom from swats with the paint stirrer. Spanked hours after being corrected because no lesson would be complete without physical punishment. No one should think back on their childhood and have their most poignant memories be of pain, but I do. My parents weren’t monsters. They can’t be dismissed as an aberration. They are mainstream America. There are no bruises on me today. No physical scars. All the welts have healed.

But my childhood will stay with me till the day I die and possibly after that. I can remember every time in the last 13 years that I have cried. Each time because I felt like someone else had been hurt, not me. But reading about Peterson reminds me that I was hurt. That my brothers and sisters were hurt. May still be hurt. And I don’t know how to make that better. And that kills me inside almost as much as those swats with the belt…. Don’t kid yourself and think that your children won’t remember what happens when they are children.

 We remember everything.

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What was your experience with corporal punishment?

Describe your experience with physical discipline in less than 400 words, in any format — first person, stream of consciousness, short essay, et al. How did the corporal punishment impact you as a child and does it continue to impact you as an adult? If you have children of your own, what is your reaction to the thought of disciplining them as you were?

Submit your stories to: homeschoolersanonymous@gmail.com

Endnotes:

  • “Spanking and the Making of a Violent Society,” Murray A. Straus, Pediatrics 98, no. 4 (October 1996), 836-842. [Link]
  • Murray A. Straus, Emily M. Douglas, Rose Anne Medeiros, The Primordial Violence: Spanking Children, Psychological Development, Violence, and Crime (Routledge, 2013). [Link to Preface]
  • Akemi Tomoda, MD, PhD, Hanako Suzuki, MA, Keren Rabi, MA, Yi-Shin Sheu, BS, Ann Polcari, PhD, and Martin H. Teicher, MD, “Reduced Prefrontal Cortical Gray Matter Volume in Young Adults Exposed to Harsh Corporal Punishment,” Neuroimage 47(Suppl 2), Aug 2009. [Link]

Of Children and Horses and Spirit-Breaking

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on September 19, 2014.

My husband and I were talking and he mentioned picking up one of the Pearl’s child-training books years ago. He read the chapter on teaching a child to come to you. He thought it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever read. He shared this with me about his thoughts on the matter:

“I kept thinking about training horses to come to you. You don’t set up the horse to fail then punish it when it does to teach it to come. You make it easy for them to listen and follow, then you continually reinforce the good behavior with positive rewards that could be anything from a scratch on the ear to a sugar cube. Mostly you just reward them. You do this over and over again until they learn to come at just a word because they want to come to you to be with you, to go for a ride, to have fun with you, to get a handful of grain.”

“Some people use punishment and negative situations and even cruelty to train a horse. There was one trainer popular years ago who did this. For example, to teach a horse to neck-rein, he’d tie the horse’s head cocked to it’s side so it couldn’t move, then leave it there for hours. The pressure of the rope would create a reaction and the horse would forever ever turn it’s head to the side every time it felt even a small pressure on it’s neck from the rein. It was conditioned through negative reinforcement. It works and it takes far less time than using positive means to train a horse. That’s why many people found it ideal. I always just thought it was cruel and unnecessary. Why use cruelty when you can train a horse through connection and kindness, making it easy for them to listen and follow you? Well, because it takes a whole lot longer. More time and effort and patience. A lot more. But I think it produces a much better relationship with the horse than using physically negative methods. The negative method does break the horse, but that’s all it does….break them.”

I’ve watched him spend all day just teaching a horse to lift its foot to be cleaned. Or to come, walk forward, or back up. He’s about to start breaking our 2-yr-old filly. It’s a process I love to watch but lose patience with after a while. I’m in awe of the man who can get such a huge, powerful creature to follow him around like a happy puppy, not by “showing who’s boss”, but by connection, relationship, setting limits, and upholding them.

The man is only recently familiar with children, but he’s known horses most of his life. He has much respect and love for the majestic creatures. His horse was a troubled gelding when we got him, high-strung and out of control. The horse had been through a lot of previous owners who had no idea what to do with him and he had a reputation for bucking people off, not following any directions, and being wild. When my husband got him, there was a quiet determination that dominated the interactions between them; the head-butting sessions where each tried to out-stubborn the other. My husband was firm like a rock and patient like I have never been for anything. He respected and honored the spirit of the horse while teaching him how not to kill someone with that same spirit, setting limits on the creature’s behavior that would be profitable for both horse and rider. They were quite the pair when we were teenagers. They won every race down the dirt roads with friends, climbed every mountain in their path, and had a relationship and connection that was undeniable. And when the horse pushed the limits, the man would start all over again, working with him, pushing him, teaching him.

I saw the man angry at the horse a few times. But it never came out in his behavior or changed his actions toward the errant horse (though there certainly was some quiet cussing happening under breath a few times). Today, we still have this high-spirited horse. There really is no other human for this horse than my husband. Til death do them part. The horse is almost 20 years old but he doesn’t seem to know it. He still follows my man around like a puppy and pushes the limits if he’s bored, just to stir up a little fun. A friend once said “Your husband is the only one in the world that loves that crazy horse and the only one that horse respects.”

Maybe this is why the man is naturally more patient with our children than I am. Maybe it’s just his nature or maybe it’s because he understands wild things. Whichever it is, I am overwhelmingly grateful. He’s been made fun of for his gentle approach with training horses. He’s been mocked for his respectful way of parenting. He’s even been put down for having an equal partnership with me, his wife. But he knows something those people don’t.

He knows the reward of a relationship based on respect and kindness, and the value of honoring the spirit and freedom of another being, be they horse or human.

David Barton: Homespun History

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Jeri Lofland blogs at Heresy in the Heartland. The following was originally published by Jeri on September 10, 2013, and is reprinted with permission. All photos are courtesy of Jeri.

History was my favorite subject as a kid.

I devoured the Little House on the Prairie series, was enchanted by Ben and Me, and giggled through Jean Fritz’s junior biographies of King George III, Samuel Adams, and Patrick Henry. I would slip away into “the study” to read and re-read the fourth grade A Beka textbook on the American colonists, the lives of the presidents in our 1968 World Book, or tales of Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus.

Later, our bookshelves bulged with biographies of Lincoln, Anabaptist stories of the Reformation, and thick volumes from Bob Jones University Press skimming across the centuries from ancient Greece to World War II. Once, Dad brought me home a copy of Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. And I could recite most of the dialogue from “A More Perfect Union“, Brigham Young University’s dramatic film about the Constitutional Convention.

When Bill Gothard first distributed David Barton‘s “America’s Godly Heritage” to homeschooling families in his Advanced Training Institute, I was entranced. We listened to that first cassette together and marveled at Barton’s rapid-fire diction. After that, I would follow along with the tapes with my notebook and pencil and try desperately to copy out the quotations from the Founders as Barton galloped from one to the next at rodeo speed. Protected as I was from secular influences and celebrity worship, Barton was the equivalent of a rock star in my world. I collected Barton’s numerous books and a stack of cassettes. I copied out and memorized my favorite lines. When he addressed the national ATI conferences in Tennessee, I was giddy with excitement. I wished the audience would quit applauding so he could fit in more of his speech!

Besides Barton’s books on American history, I even purchased his obscure 31-page booklet How to Have Success With God, published in 1984:

“To God, obedience is better than anything.”
“The more you do of what you hear from God, the more you will hear from God what to do!”
“Be a Christian who enjoys obeying God and you will enjoy being a Christian!”

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Besides Barton’s books on American history, I even purchased his obscure 31-page booklet How to Have Success With God.

Today, “David Barton is a former Vice Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas and a political consultant for the Republican National Committee. He is also a bestselling author and political activist who has worked diligently to arouse true patriotism and restore America to her Biblical foundation.”

But back then, Barton and his organization Wallbuilders had not yet gained notoriety outside Texas. In time he would get chummy with Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, and the chairman of Gothard’s Board of Directors, Congressman Sam Johnson of Texas. Brownback would say of Barton, “His research provides the philosophical underpinning for a lot of the Republican effort in the country today — bringing God back into the public square.” And that was a mission I supported wholeheartedly.

When my worldview began to unravel, however, I revisited the Wallbuilders’ website, curious for answers that would settle some of my doubts. For the first time I realized that David Barton has no credentials as an historian or an archivist. He holds a B.A. in religious education from Oral Roberts University and has been both a [math and science] teacher and a principal at a private Christian school in his hometown of Aledo, Texas.

As a homeschooled student myself with limited exposure to the ways of academia, I could sympathize with Barton’s ignorance of correct protocol for citing sources. But I was flummoxed to learn that he lacks primary sources for some of his quotations. Including some of my favorite quotations–lines I used to recite glibly at candidates who brought up the spurious “separation of church and state”. Now this was unsettling.

I hadn’t heard David Barton for well over a decade when he appeared as a guest on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”. Well, here was a blast from my past! I settled in to listen to the Texan’s familiar too-rapid drawl and was surprised. Before, I had only heard Barton lecture to sponge-like crowds. His material seemed much less concrete in an interview before a skeptical audience. (And this incredible exchange with Glenn Beck puts Barton much closer to “unintentional comedian” than “educator.”)

Disillusioned with Barton, and with those who unquestioningly accept his version of the past, I discarded the remaining Wallbuilders publications on my bookshelf and set out to round out my re-education on American history and the variegated experiences and ideals of the brilliant yet flawed men who penned our founding documents. Thus did they launch these United States on her voyage into their future, hoping that we would prove equal to the task of sailing her, of maintaining her trim and keeping her prow pointed forward.

Even if we were to concede that America was intended to be a “Christian” nation (in spite of plain evidence to the contrary), even if we acknowledge that weather patterns were divine intervention on behalf of the Continental Army and that the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the Constitution, even if we were to accept Barton’s version of the past, how would that enlighten our present conversation? It does not therefore follow that George Washington would now use his influence in favor of creationism in science textbooks. It would be presumptive to assume that John Adams would cast his vote today for pointless transvaginal ultrasounds or that James Madison would oppose national healthcare. We could not even conclude that Thomas Jefferson would want his children reciting a pledge to a flag, much less to a nation “under God”.

Mike Huckabee thinks our country would be improved we the people were all forced “at gunpoint, no less” to listen to David Barton’s spin on our history. But I cannot help wondering how our Founding Fathers would respond today if they could hear Barton’s appeal to an unrecognizable tradition. These men jettisoned the heavy time-worn design in favor of a revolutionary new ship of state they believed capable of carrying “we the people” through the vicissitudes of history. They were open-minded scientists, philosophers, and inventors, eagerly seeking and adopting new information and technological advances. Certainly, our nations’ founders looked to the past for guidance as they plotted a new course. But to David Barton, history and tradition are anchors with which to slow progress and avoid forward-thinking.

When my daughter was very young, she used to protest when we explained disagreeable facts. “I don’t want that to be true!”, she would cry. Perhaps Barton is ignorant of the way he misleads and misinterprets evidence in order to achieve his political agenda.

Or perhaps he just doesn’t want history to be true.

The Legend of the Bitter Alum: Hope’s Story, Part Three

Homeschoolers U

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Hope” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author. All other names herein have been changed as well.

< Part Two

Part Three

“Moving on,” in my case, meant a complete restructuring of my world at PHC. I changed rooms and churches, stopped hanging out with other students from Distance Learning, and started asking a lot of questions about the Tragic Meltdown.

It was still fresh in the minds of the students, which meant that some of them wouldn’t shut up, some of them wouldn’t open up, and some of them were okay with talking so long as it was in private. Everyone responds to grief differently.

From the ones who would talk privately, I learned a great deal.

I learned that the quickest way to annoy any student was to suggest that someone “won” the fight – everyone was eager to assure me that there were no winners. “Everyone got hurt,” the students said emphatically. It was the most common refrain. Even Dr. Farris had not gone unscathed. People didn’t easily forgive him for airing his disagreements with the professors at the student’s graduation. “That day was about the graduates! Many of them were close with those professors! Why should they have had to hear their mentors abused in public on what should have been their day of celebration?”

I learned also that the fight had been building for years, but mitigated through the efforts of the former Dean of Academic Affairs, who was able to keep the peace. It was only when the dean had enough and left the school that the whole Meltdown happened – which made me suspect that he’d probably left to avoid burn out.

I also learned that no one really could explain why it happened. I heard a lot of theories. Dr. Farris’ temper figured prominently in most versions. Others might reference a flaw of this professor or that. One of the professors was prickly about his honor, couldn’t shrug off an insult. Another professor was egging things on, demanded that the students in his class take sides – the one girl who’d walked out told me she’d done so because she figured if she had to take a side, she’d prefer to at least pick which side it was.

I asked about the writings, said that they didn’t look like they were in conflict, and was told that it was a fight more of personalities, than doctrines. As I said, however, these were the things I learned from those who would only talk in private.

Of the ones who wouldn’t shut up, there were three students in particular that I soon learned I didn’t like. They were very angry and condescending in public. Any ASE or article written by them was sure to offend. The college announced it had received accreditation, the threesome looked sour. They frequently argued that people should get out now while they had a chance, which was especially insulting to the freshmen and Distance Learners, none of whom appreciated being treated like brainless infants.

The newcomers, far from helpless, lashed back indiscriminately with their own equally insulting conviction that the seniors were mighty poor losers who should just drop the subject.

It was as if someone planned a birthday party and a wake in the same location at the same time and didn’t bother to warn the guests.

So there’s people with party hats and noise makers wandering around, bumping into black-armbanded mourners with tissue boxes. And both groups are convinced it was the other group who read the invite wrong.

I got into an email exchange with one of the three when she sent out an All Student Email that I thought was unnecessarily antagonistic. I asked why she was even on campus if she was so determined to be displeased by everything. She told me she was trapped, her credits wouldn’t transfer, and so she had to stay if she wanted her degree. She only had to tough it out one more year.

That, I completely understood.

Still, the year of the toxic party-wake created the unshakable image of the “bitter alum.” These few students, with their alumni counterparts, had long since given up any hope of fixing things. They weren’t talking out of a desire for reform. They were there only because they were trapped, and so they only communicated anger and despair.

In time, of course, those voices fell silent as they found areas in which they were accepted and welcomed and encouraged to invest.

But other voices arose, belonging to people who were angry but not in despair, and they were not heard.

The Administration went through a complete turn-over after the Tragic Meltdown. So did the student body.

The Legend of the Bitter Alum was known, but not the context, not the motives, and not the identity.

As the legend was neither forgiven nor forgotten, there were many who were eager to hunt the Bitter Alum and only the people who had been there could know that the Alum of Legend had moved to greener pastures.

The Board had been too far removed from the action, those in the Administration who could be expected to know were removed from power, and the Student Body and most of the alumni were just too young.

When the New Republic Article came out, the Alumni President went to the Board and told them they had better listen this time. He warned them that the voices behind the article were not the same voices they had assumed. This time, there had better be reform, because the costs of doing otherwise were far too great.

For the most part, there’s been progress. The school did create an Independent Review Board, they encouraged discussion of the IRB’s findings, and they seem willing to support the suggestions. We’re still waiting to see how far they are willing to go, but all gains are incremental.

In the meantime, just gotta keep talking. Increment by increment, I’m confident we’ll get there if we’re just persistent enough.

End of series.

The Legend of the Bitter Alum: Hope’s Story, Part Two

Homeschoolers U

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Hope” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author. All other names herein have been changed as well.

< Part One

Part Two

I can still remember his glare, the way his lips clenched and eyes narrowed, and then he took his red pen and scrawled his judgment across my paper. The look and the words combined to tell me all I would ever need to know about myself. That I was a failure. That I would never measure up. That my best efforts were utterly worthless.

It was December of 2006, the last week of class before finals, and twenty-four hours before, my roommates, Alice and Amy, had come back from a meeting with the dean of student life as two utterly broken girls.

A few weeks earlier, over Thanksgiving break, Alice had been sexually assaulted by Ryan, a man I had once considered a close friend. She didn’t have to say much for me to know she was telling the truth and I didn’t press for details. I didn’t want to know and I thought it would be insensitive to make her tell.

When she told me what happened, I tried to be supportive. I told her that he’d pay for it – I was fully convinced he would be expelled from the school. I told her I believed her, didn’t blame her, and that Ryan had always been weak in that area.

After all, who’d know that better than me? Sign after sign I’d seen all that semester . . . he wasn’t a gentleman, wasn’t pure in thought. He was a stalker, who lived to see the prey’s fear. How many times had I seen him sneak up on a friend, just to terrify them? Not startle – terrify. He had cruel eyes and he licked his lips.

I even felt a sense of relief when she told me, because finally things were out in the open. The problem had finally been defined.

All three of us skipped Biology lab that morning, to let the news sink in and to avoid taking class with him. Alice and Amy decided to take a nap, as they’d been up late talking. Once they were asleep, I left the room, walked down to the basement door of Red Hill, and waited for Ryan to arrive.

I didn’t have to wait long. Lab was just ending and he soon came out. He smiled, but I didn’t wait for his greeting.

“I know what you did,” I told him, loudly but with finality. “Alice told me. You were very wrong, and you will pay for it. People will find out about it. A lot of people are going to find out.” He tried to defend himself, but I didn’t listen. I’d said what I needed to say, so I turned and left.

I expected that to be very nearly the last word on the subject, or at least the last word that I would ever need to make on the subject. Things didn’t turn out that way. Alice and Amy did come back from the first meeting with the dean hopeful, reporting that she – the dean – had been very upset by what she’d heard and that she’d promised (if it was true) to expel him.

Well, the catch was in the qualifier, I guess, although I’ve never really been sure. My interactions with the dean were almost all indirect and the ones that I did have was so cold, so professional, and so distant, that I can’t begin to speculate on her motives.

In any case, things began to go all wrong shortly thereafter. Ryan was angry. Very angry. What’s the phrase, “high dudgeon?” That was it . . . the absolute, iron-clad, self-righteous assurance that what he had done was perfectly right, or if not perfectly right, that at least it was something that no one had any right to challenge him on.

It might not have been so bad, except that I was expecting things to be quick and simple. Oh, probably not court conviction, it’s not like we had any proof that the police could take to trial, but obviously this was going to be public. Obviously he was going to be disgraced. Obviously he would go away and leave us alone. I mean, seriously, this was sexual assault we’re talking about. People get expelled for that.

But it didn’t happen.

Lunch happened, he was there. Night fell, he was on the sidewalks or in the bushes. I remember coming around the building once and jumping out of my skin to see him so close. Heart in my mouth and breathing heavily, I caught up to some other walkers as quick as I could.

He did jump Alice once. Didn’t do anything, just scared her. I was furious.

The college asked us to keep quiet while the investigation was ongoing. I could understand that. Don’t want to crucify a person before you know he’s guilty . . . this silence did align with my own convictions against gossip. But the longer the thing went on, the more I realized this silence was isolating me. I had only my roommates and my all-too-distant mother for support.

Both of my roommates left campus that weekend, leaving me alone with this madman. I didn’t expect, when I said good bye to them, that it was going to be much of a problem, but I had severely underestimated how much Ryan scared me. The moment night fell, I began to remember so much that had not meant anything to me before . . .

. . . that blow to the face he’d given me in a pillow fight, so hard that my glasses were driven deep into my nose and I’d blacked out for a split second . . .

. . . him telling me about how he’d climbed D2 to plaster nightmarish posters over the girls’ second story windows to “celebrate” Halloween, and how disappointed he was that the security guards had removed them so soon . . .

. . . all our trash talk about martial arts and how he could take me in a fight, which somehow didn’t feel much like trash talk now . . .

. . . each time I’d tried to pull back and he’d ignored my hints and every time I’d given way because I didn’t want to be a prude . . .

Once upon a time, I’d been excited to think that he was a little bit dangerous. Now? Now, it was night, I didn’t have a roommate with me, and he was angry. If he wanted to retaliate, I was the only available target. And he knew I was alone. And he could climb. And he could beat me. And he never did take ‘no’ from me, not even on little things.

I was horribly terrified and far more alone than I’d ever been in my life.

I slept in the RD’s room that weekend, but that was only at night. The RD and my own RA were both incredibly busy people. I felt guilty for taking up their time, and wanted to talk to Amelia, the RA I had adopted as my own. Stupid me, I asked permission first.

It was denied.

For most of the semester, I had been in the habit of walking up to Founder’s several times a night just “to get a drink of water” and also to scope out the events – always did hate to miss a party. I didn’t dare do that alone now, but I also was fully convinced that it was not right to spill the details. I asked a friend to accompany me “because there is someone on campus that I’m scared of.”

Word made it back to the dean, who sent me an order through the RA to shut up. “Don’t be scaring people,” they said. “It isn’t true anyway. Don’t be seeking attention.” I shut up.

Then came the day when we realized none of this was ever going to go away. The day we realized they weren’t going to expel Ryan. Twenty-four hours of hopeless uncertainty, then the meeting where they’d make it official.

And that was the night my paper was due.

Actually, I had two papers due. One was an Economics paper that I had planned to write on the financial considerations of making vs. buying a dress for the Liberty Ball. Ryan, my roommates, two other guys, and I had planned that we would all go together dressed in LOTR costumes – I was going to be Rosie. I didn’t have time to change topics.

Each word I wrote was sheer agony, a blow to an open wound, and I couldn’t allow myself to cry. I had to finish that bloody paper, so I could do the next one.

I could have done them on the weekend before, yes, but I had never had problems writing in high school. Writing was, for me, a pleasure and a privilege, always accompanied by high praise from my teachers and often in front of the class. I could write easily and in minutes what others never could even if they’d struggled for days. I wanted it to stay a pleasure. I wanted to write without the burden of uncertainty and fear on my shoulders.

And now things were nightmaric. All I wanted to do was cry and try to sleep. Instead, I wrote about dreams that could never happen as I worked the night into oblivion.

The first paper finished barely on time. The second was harder, as I had no ready-made plan for it. I had no mental power left to spare, but I came up with a topic. Somehow. I found quotes . . . somehow. I wrote . . . somehow.

And then I walked into the end of class, with my paper hot from the printing. I smiled at the professor, proud to have accomplished something despite the madness of my world. I had done it. No sleep, no tears, no heart left to call my own . . . but at least I could still write. He glared back and, taking his pen, scrawled those four unforgettable red words across my clean white sheet.

Late. End of Class.

My smile vanished, but I didn’t cry. I nodded polite acceptance of his judgment, and left without a word.

And that was my first semester.

For me, it meant a major restructuring of my world. I went home for Christmas feeling like a total failure and scared to death of the dark. Each night of Christmas break, I turned off the lights and just lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, letting the fear wash over me as the tension built and built. Then, I’d reach up, hit the closet light switch, and roll over to go to sleep. Then came the joyful day when I realized I could see enough by the green light of the digital alarm clock that I didn’t have to turn on the closet light. The worst of the fear had finally been broken.

Everyone at home knew something had gone wrong, but not what it was. I told my parents, but acted distant and quiet around anyone else. People told me they were praying for me.

For my own part, I spent my days thinking things through. Did I really want to go back to PHC? I had two years and all my savings sunk into that college and it’s not like I could expect all of my credits to transfer. If I went back to school somewhere else, I would be starting all over again. But maybe that would be worthwhile, just to get away from Ryan.

There are bad apples at every school, I thought. At least at PHC I know who it is. Not, perhaps, the most cheering sort of progress one could make, but still progress of a kind.

If I leave PHC, where will I go? It had taken me two years to scrape together enough hope and will power to apply to PHC. I had no guarantee the next time would be quicker and plenty of reason to believe that it wouldn’t. I have always hated giving up and I believed that the shock of quitting would probably kill me. I felt like a failure right now; but if I got that diploma, wouldn’t I be proving that I wasn’t a failure at all?

It never occurred to me to wonder if other administrations did things differently than PHC’s had. I guess I just assumed that was industry standard. Not the best assumption perhaps, but it did give me a way to distance myself from the event.

It happened, it was done, I’ll move on.

Part Three >

How Not to Address Marriage or Child Abuse

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on September 3, 2014.

I recently came upon an image posted on Facebook by homeschool mom, speaker, and writer Heidi St. John.

I’m not sure what’s more disturbing—this image, or that none of the moms commenting on it saw this image as disturbing.

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The image is photoshopped from an old comic that depicts an employee sexually assaulting his “frigid” boss (see here and here or view the full comic here). Sure, one could try to argue that the image has been removed from that context, what with the new words in the bubbles and all, but that fails given the tear on the woman’s cheek and the fact that she is clearly trying to fight the man off (notice her pounding fists). Whatever the words, the image clearly depicts a woman futilely trying to fight off a stronger man’s advances. In fact, in the context St. John provides the image, it appears to be depicting attempted marital rape.

Heidi St. John runs The Busy Mom blog and holds retreats for homeschooling moms. She and her husband run several ministries, including Firmly Planted Family and Firmly Planted Co-ops, which has member co-ops across the country and offers a workbook on how to make sure your homeschool co-op is “firmly planted”. St. John is also the author of The Busy Homeschool Mom’s Guide to Romance, among other books. The author’s blurb is as follows:

busymomHomeschooling offers parents the best opportunity to shepherd their children both academically and spiritually. Yes. It’s worth it. But do you ever feel as if your life is all homeschool all the time? Do you ever wonder where the girl your husband married went? This book is for every mom who has collapsed into bed at the end of the day, looked into the eyes of her husband and promised tomorrow, she’d have time for him. Trouble is, tomorrow finds her more exhausted than the day before. If you have ever felt caught between the demands of homeschooling your children and meeting the needs of your husband, you’re not alone. Read and discover how even a busy homeschool mom can make time to nurture her marriage. It s not as hard as you think and more important than you may realize. Pre-order your copy today!

I am sure St. John has some genuinely good advice. The Amazon reviews of her book (which I have not read) speak of chapters on things like household organization and “me time.”

My concern with St. John centers on two things: first, her use of the comic book image makes me concerned about what she teaches regarding sex and consent, and second, her treatment of HA and HARO on her facebook wall makes me concerned about how her homeschool co-op ministry addresses (or does not address) things like abuse or neglect.

First, the comic book image.

The trouble is that an image like this, in the Christian homeschooling community St. John is very much a part of, arrives in a context already influenced by writers like Debi Pearl and the teachings of Bill Gothard and others. These leaders explicitly teach that a wife should never say “no” to her husband’s sexual advances. These leaders do not recognize the existence of marital rape, because they see sex within marriage as the husband’s right.

Coming in this cultural context, St. John’s image is not “funny.” It’s a problem.

It normalizes coercion and marital rape.

Second, St. John’s treatment of HARO and HA.

Last week St. John posted a defense of HSLDA on her facebook wall, and several homeschool alumni who had mutual friends with her left comments sharing their stories and trying to explain their concerns with an organization that defends child abusers and elevates parental rights while denying that children have rights. St. John’s responds was this:

HARO-and-HA

St. John’s response to abuse in the homeschooling environment is “we’ve got bigger problems in this world right now” and “move on.” She calls homeschool-alumni-turned-reformers “a bunch of angry kids trying to get back at their parents.”

This should not be acceptable.

I’d like to see St. John reach out to member co-ops with information on recognizing and reporting abuse and neglect, perhaps using resources developed by HARO or CRHE, but her response here suggests that she doesn’t see this as a priority. Instead, she’d rather stick with praising HSLDA and condemning homeschool alumni who point out that HSLDA’s policies protect abusers (which they do). My concerns here are much, much bigger than Phillips and Gothard. Those two leaders have gone down in scandal, but they were never the center of my concerns. The valuing of belief over people, the glossing over things like consent, the minimizing of the need to protect children—these are things that concern me.

And St. John reminds us, once again, that these things haven’t disappeared with Phillips and Gothard.

The Legend of the Bitter Alum: Hope’s Story, Part One

Homeschoolers U

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Hope” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author. All other names herein have been changed as well.

Part One

The story of my admission into PHC is an odd one, starting from the first moment I heard of the college and culminating in interviews between the admission counselor and both of my parents. I’m convinced the admissions counselor only let me in because it was easier to do that than it was to answer my dad’s questions.

It was my mom who wanted me to go to PHC. When she first made the suggestion, in my junior year of high school, I told her, as diplomatically as possible, that it was a perfectly horrid idea. A college full of would-be politicians out to change the world sounded like something straight out of Dante. Why would anyone ever volunteer as a tribute (I mean, student) for a school filled with ego-maniacs and egg-heads? I was pretty sure the students were all going to be arrogant jerks, not at all worth knowing.

Unfortunately, I soon learned that one didn’t have to be a would-be politician-in-training to be an arrogant jerk.

I don’t even know how to explain what happened that next year, because it was so unexpected and so devastating. Nobody ever saw it coming.

“Joseph” was such a close friend to me that I called him my brother and people believed me, even though we didn’t look anything alike. His mother, Jackie, was a second mother to me. She was a bit… intense and somewhat tempermental, but I never thought much of it. I mostly just laughed off her oddities and moved on with my life. She had this thing where she loved to mock people who had y-chromosomes. Joseph was her favorite target.

Anyway, Joseph started dating this girl, Emily Schmidt, and, when things started getting serious, Jackie started getting even more demeaning and bullying than was normal for her. She didn’t like the girl or the girl’s family because they weren’t about to let Jackie dominate them the way she dominated Joseph. Or at least, that’s what I heard after the fact. I hadn’t been paying attention.

Then came the point Joseph had enough. He decided he was moving out of the house that very day and he called his future in-laws over to help him. Jackie flipped out. She called the police and my parents and then, when neither group proved able to stop things, she called everybody else. Everyone in the county heard all about how Joseph had been duped and stolen away from her by a sinister cult family who were out to steal brides and grooms for all their freaky cult kids from the good homeschool families of our tight-knit community. The Schmidts had been well-respected and liked up until that point and I’d enjoyed their company as often as I had opportunity. But now, friendship and openness was replaced with suspicion and confusion.

After ten years of reflection, I can be flippant and matter-of-fact when telling the story, but, at the time, I fell into a depression so dark that I had no idea I was even sad. I thought I was merely bored as I flopped on my bed and imagined how it would be if I fell asleep and never woke up. I looked at the vitamins on my shelf and wondered if it was possible to overdose on them and whether it would be obvious and whether it would be like falling asleep. My SAT results came back and they were good (even though I’d refused to study for it). A torrent of college flyers followed in their wake, but I didn’t care. They bored me to pieces. I threw most of them away without looking at them.

The only thing I was good at, the only thing I enjoyed, was writing. But even at that, there was nothing to write about except for school. I had no life apart from my homeschool group and simply couldn’t think of the future enough to contrive a plan.

The summer after high school graduation, I reconnected with Dave, a childhood friend I hadn’t seen since his family moved away ten years earlier. I remembered him as the happy-go-lucky person with whom I’d reconnected, but his other friends and his senior picture testified to a very recent bout of deep depression. Like myself, he was a homeschooler, but, by this point, he’d spent a year at PHC. To hear him tell it, PHC was all that was good and worthwhile in the world – hard work, lots of study, prank wars, and good friends.

Between PHC and self-reflection, there was no better cure for depression. For me, it was worth a shot.

There was no way I could attempt to live away from home at that time, but, fortunately, PHC had a distance learning program and the enrollment process was less arduous than the one for on-campus enrollment. I spent two years in the program, recovering my good spirits as I built up my friendships. Finally beginning to feel optimistic again, I tackled the “real” application, which included numerous essays, including one on cultural engagement.

I still thought “lead the nation and shape the culture” was a silly, egotistical motto. There was no way I had any intention of running for office. And while I could probably have gotten in by writing about how being a wife and mother is “shaping the culture,” the thought never occurred to me. Instead, I wrote about the need for respect in public dialogue and how we needed to try to understand people even when we think they sound ridiculous. I used the examples of Christians who hate Harry Potter and atheists who search for extraterrestrials because I figured that way I couldn’t accidentally insult the unknown reader. I sent it in, feeling that this at least was an important issue and one that I did care about passionately, even if it wasn’t one of the big issues like pro-life.

I managed to score an interview, but the admissions counselor had a hard time believing I was ready for higher academics. She asked to talk to one of my parents, so I had my mom call. My mom felt that she did a horrible job of representing me, so she had my dad call. According to my dad, the conversation went something like this:

Counselor: do you feel that your daughter is ready for the challenge of higher academics?

Dad: what criteria are you using to judge that?

Counselor: what do you mean?

Dad: if you’re asking that question, you must have some criteria in mind, some standard that makes you think my daughter isn’t ready. If I’m going to answer your question, I have to know what you mean by asking it.

I think my dad was actually disappointed that her only answer to the question was to accept my application.

In hindsight, my timing was hilarious. I sent in an essay about the need for respectful dialogue during what would later be called “the Great Schism.” This was the horrific breakdown in communications and tempers that led to a high turn-over among the professors, the replacing of the school president and most of the deans, and a mass exodus of students. The aftershocks were felt for years – in fact, I am convinced that they are still being felt in ways that are not always obvious.

Although it is often called the Great Schism, I prefer the term “the Tragic Meltdown,” which I picked up from one of the professors who left the next year. As a nuclear physicist’s daughter, I find the comparison to Chernobyl and Three Mile Island to be satisfyingly exact.

Of course, I didn’t know about any of that at the time of my application. The campus-quake didn’t hit the online forums of the Distance Learning community until late in the semester. I read everything I could find about it. There were two items in particular; I think it was the Faith and Reason lecture by one of the professors, and an article for the Herald (the school newspaper) by someone from the Administration.

If I was hoping those would explain the commotion, I was disappointed. From a conflict standpoint, these made zero sense.

The lecture was completely orthodox Christianity. The article was completely orthodox Christianity. The school is supposed to be a completely orthodox Christian institution, so how in the world two orthodox Christians even managed to be in conflict on a point of complete orthodoxy was a mystery to me.

The only cause of conflict that I could scrape out between them was that the article interpreted the lecture in what I considered to be one of the most unlikely ways possible. The lecturer said that the Bible isn’t a how-to manual for building a house. The writer of the article said that the Bible isn’t a how-to manual, but it does require that a house-builder build his houses in an ethical and moral fashion. Perhaps if I’d been the lecturer, I’d have been insulted that something so basic wasn’t inferred from the text.

Maybe the whole problem was just a stupid insult war?

Dave told me to be very careful and to seek to be informed. He liked the professors and distrusted the official line. Said this was the worst time to start at PHC. I agreed, but I wasn’t going to delay any longer. Anyway, it couldn’t really affect me, could it?

It probably wouldn’t have either, but my first semester didn’t go as planned.

Part Two >