Family was my Everything: Alida’s Story, Part One

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Alida” is a pseudonym.

Moving from Homeschool to College was a lot tougher than I expected. I’m currently in my final year of undergrad, and I think I’m still adjusting.

I was one of those homeschool kids that took college classes in high school, which made me assume I’d have college totally figured out. Of course I was wrong.

Seven years after my first college course, I’m still struggling to find where I make sense and figure out the process of growing up.

Freshman year, I went to a private Christian university, along with a handful of kids from my homeschool, speech-and-debate social circle. I hardly grew as a person at all that year.

Sometimes I can look back at experiences and point out something that started a trend in my life, or a particular moment that was eye-opening in a way that isn’t identifiable until I link it to other events that happened later. There are only two instances like that from freshman year I can look back at.

The first is when I chose not to sit next to these two students in math class. In all honestly, it was because I thought they both looked weird. Those two ended up becoming my best friends at that school. We’re still in touch, and one of them I still consider my best friend.

The second is when I made friends with a person who identified as lesbian at the time. I remember deliberately trying to integrate into a different friend group so I would have an excuse not to hang out with them. As The Bible had been paraphrased to me so many times, “you become like the people you surround yourself with.” The gay agenda was very evil and very real to me at the time. We somehow ended up staying friends, which I attribute wholly to their kindness, tolerance and understanding, not mine.

During this time, I also was suffering from anorexia and bulimia.

When I was growing up, modesty culture influenced nearly everything around me.

I remember all the rules about how I was supposed to dress, talk, behave, and have friends. My shorts had to be at least a certain length. No clothes could be too snug. I shouldn’t speak so loudly now that I was a young lady. I was always to keep a “pleasant countenance” by smiling. Once I turned 13, it was no longer appropriate to have boys as friends.

My mom and dad told me all of these rules were very important because “men function differently than women,” and I might “cause them to stumble by my conduct” if I wasn’t careful enough. I never had a sex ed, but I attended a purity class, went to one of those father-daughter dances where you sign a paper about staying pure, the whole shebang.

For sophomore year, I had to move home and go to Community College for a while. I lived at my parents’ house. Again, I didn’t see myself changing much. I couldn’t see it from there.

And aside from what some covert internet searches had told me, I still didn’t know what sex was, even as a second-year college student.

This was also the first time I joined a sport since Tee-ball.

One day I was stretching with my teammates before a race, and I asked to trade places in the circle with someone else so I could move to the opposite side. When the girls asked me why, I explained that my back had been facing the men’s team, and “I didn’t want them lusting after my body” as we bent over to stretch our hamstrings. All the girls laughed at me. The girl who switched places with me laughed too and said something about how the boys could lust all they wanted- her booty was on fire!

I remember going quiet as my face turned red; I had never been in a situation before where saying something like that was weird or abnormal. But I also remember feeling self-righteous, thinking about how much holier I was than them, how much better of a person I was. I wasn’t the same kind of girl they were, I told myself. I was saving my body in every way for the man it would one day belong to.

Being around those girls was good for me. I slowly recovered from my eating disorders. Looking back, I’ve been able to identify the reasons I developed them in the first place.

All the modesty and purity-related messages I heard for so many years had internalized into the theme that my body was something wrong, something negative, something to be covered, something to be ashamed of.

Something to be hated.

As I started to get more involved in the sport, I started to see my body as something amazing. I lifted weights for the first time, and my body was something strong, something capable. My team started winning races, and my body was something useful, something functional. My body, to me, was no longer something exclusively sexual and therefore inherently sinful. My body was now something I could command to be strong, to accomplish a task, to fight for my teammates every day during practice and during races. I had motivation now to take care of my body, to be the best athlete I could be.

I said I would only ever date Christian men.

Over the years, I had been told many times that it was wrong to be in any kind of emotional relationship with someone who wasn’t also a believer, whether it be romantic or just a friendship.

So I dated a Christian guy from my social circle. After a little while, my parents forbade me from socializing with him, pointing out his “flaws” and “undesirable character traits,” saying we weren’t a good enough match. At the time, I experienced sadness but still firmly believed that as an unmarried woman living under her father’s roof, it was my duty to obey him. It was “scriptural” that I allow him to be my authority, they said.

Looking back on the situation, I see three things. The first is that my parents ended up being right about this guy. The second is that my they felt the need to exercise absolute control over my relationship. The third is that even though they were right about him, they should not have controlled my relationship the way they did.

But at the time, I didn’t know any better.

The next year, I started dating a good friend from my academic program. Tyler was the first man I fell in love with. I knew that he wasn’t religious, so we went to great lengths to see each other at times when my parents wouldn’t find out about our relationship. I made up lies about having to stay late at work or lead a study group at the library. We kissed a lot but never had sex, even though he wanted to. I remember being very proud of myself for that.

The entire time though, I experienced crippling guilt, especially when my mom and dad started to ask questions.

I eventually told them the truth, and on the same day, amidst tears, promised I would break up with him.

But I didn’t break up with him. We talked about getting married one day. As an “informed agnostic,” as Tyler called himself, it was difficult for him to understand the emotional and psychological toll that deceiving my family had on me. He didn’t have 21 years of homeschooled Christian culture and expectations weighing down on him. Family was my everything.

That summer, I fought with my mom more than I could ever remember. Multiple times, she threatened to kick me out of the house. Finally, I couldn’t handle it anymore. It was him or my family. I chose my family and prayed it would be worth it. My brother went into my phone and Facebook, blocking Tyler on both. Even though I knew how to disable the block settings, I didn’t. I told myself that abiding by my family’s wishes would help me.

For my fourth year of college, I earned an athletic scholarship and was able to transfer to the university I currently attend.

I moved to the opposite coast, and it was my first time not living under my parents’ roof.

One day, about a month into the semester, I was messaging a classmate on Facebook about studying for a quiz together. We decided that he would come over to my dorm to study and then watch the Avengers. A few minutes later, I got a call from my mom. When I answered, she started asking me how the day was going, if I had any plans, etc. So I told her about my day, and said that “I was actually about to study for a quiz, so I can’t really talk for long.” I wanted to end the call so I could go let my friend in.

Mom kept pressing me for details. “Are you sure there’s not anything else you want to tell me?” Nope, there wasn’t anything else I wanted to tell her. I couldn’t identify why I didn’t want to tell her that I had a boy coming over. We weren’t planning to do anything ‘bad,’ but for some reason I still felt very uncomfortable. Facebook dinged again. He was waiting outside the building. I felt annoyed with both mom and myself that I had to rush her off the phone.

The next day, mom called me again. “I know that you were hanging out with a boy yesterday, and that you didn’t tell me about it when I asked you point-blank,” she said. She had the password to my Facebook? I’d changed it multiple times through the years since I made it when I was 16.

Even from 3,000 miles away, she still had to control my interpersonal interactions.

She told me that I had sinned by omission and that by hiding important details, had caused her to doubt my spiritual health. I didn’t know what to say. Half an hour later, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably to my roommate, not understanding why I felt the way I did, feeling embarrassed that a situation that felt so stupid had evoked such strong emotions. My roommate told me that I had a right to privacy and that it was ok to keep some things to myself. No one had ever told me that before. I changed my password later that day, hating that I had to do it.

How I Learned to Pregame (and Other Transitions): Casey’s Story

There are certain things you expect on move-in day: The frantic in-and-out of your new neighbors transferring mountains of luggage from car to dorm room, being forced to repeat your name and hometown fifty times before sunset, excited hellos and heartfelt goodbyes. The faint whir of your pathetically small desk fan, which accomplishes little as the room fills with people and the last of the summer heat sets in. Getting to know your first roommate. Talking nervously, hoping you’ll click. Your parents making friends with her parents. Delaying the tearful moment when you hug your mom and dad and watch them drive away. Then, the moment comes. For every new college student, it comes. You are prepared. It is expected.

Mine was not.

“You don’t have to do this.” I’m not sure what possessed my mother to say these words, though I confess I wasn’t that surprised. Her eyes welled up with tears, and she did not let go of me. “You could come home and try community college. We could pack the car up right now. You don’t have to do this.”

I knew that as far as the infamous “college goodbyes” go, this was a bit on the extreme side, especially as I was positive that she meant it. Even having earned a full scholarship to my college of choice, therein saving us about $70,000 worth of financial burden, I was made aware from the start that if at any point I did not like it, I could drop out and be welcomed home. This, coming from the woman who raised me from infancy and schooled me for all of my life, both comforted me and stung the pride a little.

When I was four years old, all I could talk of was starting school. Having taught myself to read a year prior, I was already drawing my own comic books and writing short narratives to go along with them. I could count pretty high, and I thirsted for more, as much as my little mind could absorb. My parents decided the best option was for my mom to homeschool me, and through all of elementary, middle, and high school, she did – taking a strong role as teacher at first, and then letting me take more initiative as I grew older. She took note of my interests and chose curriculum based on that – for instance, my senior year I had an English textbook centered on The Lord of the Rings. It was a very “personalized” experience, tailored just to my unabashedly nerdy self. My mom put everything she had into properly educating me, to the extent that there was no privacy or separation between us. We were always together.

There was very little that I did without her, and almost nothing I possessed that was entirely my own.

We went to church and to bi-weekly homeschool meetings, from which I gained a total of three friends. Though I never felt unfulfilled in my schooling and excelled at most things I ventured to try, I was devastatingly lonely as a teen. Growing up in the most stereotypical of small, Southern towns, I had next to nothing in common with most of the other kids, who ridiculed my quirky personality and interest in books. My only release was in writing, which I did alone and often. To create brought me joy, and it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I discovered a means of sharing that creativity with others: theater. And all of a sudden, I knew what my major would be.

It seemed cruel irony that less than a year after meeting the first genuine group of friends I ever had, I would have to leave them behind. That small community theatre was the outlet I desperately needed, and in my seventeen-year-old mind I was leaving the only place I would ever feel accepted. To tell the truth, my mom’s offer was a little bit tempting. Still, beyond a shadow of a doubt I knew my answer.

“I do,” I said, hugging her tightly. “I have to do this.”

So I did.

And it was the absolute time of my life.

The first week was the hardest. We were scheduled from day to night with festive activities to welcome the new freshmen – ice cream socials, mud volleyball, “get-to-know-you” circle games complete with constant regurgitation of everyone’s name and hometown – basically my school’s method of keeping us too busy to miss home. All it really accomplished for me was allowing no time to unpack; though I did make a few good friends fairly quickly, many of whom will probably be my bridesmaids if I ever decide to do the whole marriage thing. Still, when the first weekend came around, I visited home and found that it felt much different than I expected it to. Actually, it felt just like that – a visit.

My mom called to check in with me at least twice a week for a long time, and when my first assignment came around, she was more nervous than I was. “Let me proofread it,” she insisted. So, I put my all into this miniscule, two-page paper for English Comp 1 – the easiest paper no freshmen realize they will ever have to write – and let her have one more say in the quality of my scholastic work. With her approval, I turned it in expecting a C+ or a B at most.

I got an A+.

This baffled me. Yes, I had always made good grades in the past, but those were from my mother. Every mother thinks her kid is the best and the brightest; this was my first experience receiving praise from a teacher who wasn’t obligated to give it. In time, I found that other teachers, as well as peers, found me intelligent and hard-working, an overachiever even. In reality I pushed myself harder at first because I expected to come up short.

With no real world experience with which to compare my level of knowledge, I had no idea I was actually smart until I went to college and realized that I could do this on my own.

I had, in fact, been thoroughly prepared. And on that foundation my confidence started to grow exponentially.

Soon after, I became more integrated into the theatre department and the honors college, and started making a lot of friends in a short span of time. I even caved and pledged a social club, which is my school’s version of a mini-sorority, only smaller, cheaper, and exclusive to the campus. The extent of my book smarts became as apparent as my lack of street smarts. I can still remember my first experience with alcohol (as can my social club sisters, as they like to remind me every chance they get): When asked to “pregame” with them one Friday night, I brought over a curling iron and makeup, thinking that term was synonymous with primping before going out (or as I so eloquently put it, “doing each other’s hair and stuff”). They laughed (with me, not at me, which was nice), shook their heads and handed me my first drink. In hindsight, I would have been an easy one to manipulate, humiliate, take advantage of…any and all of the above. But these friends weren’t like that. It was simple: We had fun together, I cared for them, and they cared for me. On multiple occasions they took care of me. And words could not describe how lucky I felt or how much I appreciated every positive relationship I had with my peers. They also appreciated my incessant Hobbit references, which was a definite plus.

One thing I’ve noticed with homeschoolers is that, once given the option of becoming social, they will remain in their comfortable shell, or they will eagerly break free. My parents had taught me all I needed to know about socializing myself, and I was ready. I knew that I should be quick to show kindness, but slow to trust. To take note of who would lift me up and who would tear me down. To probably wait on the dating thing, but always “protect” myself if I decided to do it anyway. Oh, and to keep a can of wasp spray in my dorm room, because unlike pepper spray, “they won’t see that coming!” With all this in mind – and the wasp spray in its designated spot on my bedside table – I became something of a social butterfly. And as someone who suffers from Social Anxiety, I really surprised myself on that one.

I’d always wanted to branch out and find others that I could feel comfortable with.

And after going without for so long, I doubt that will be something I’ll ever take for granted.

I should establish that my campus is well-known for being extraordinarily friendly and open to all, which is a significant portion of why our alumni base is so active and supportive: For me, and for countless others, this small liberal arts college was not just a place of education but a tight-knit community, even a home. Differences of race, religion, culture, gender identity, and sexual orientation created very few divides – we were all family. And it was incredible.

This may sound like a paradox, but I was raised a Progressive Christian in a very Fundamentalist Christian church. The Fundamentalist faith was what my parents knew and understood, so they took me to church every Sunday, where I would sit silently (like a good female) and agree with about half of what was preached to us. Politically and socially, both mom and dad were quite liberal. They raised me to love and accept everyone equally, yet college gave me my first experience with true diversity. For instance, I had never met a transgender person before, and though I had spent many a Sunday morning listening to the same “we are right, they are wrong” speech behind the same pulpit, I had never experienced real, enlightening discourse regarding religion. Here, I could actually learn from other people with a wide variety of backgrounds.

My own beliefs, both spiritual and political, developed and took concrete form.

Though I started out Progressive, I grew more so, and I held on to my faith with a better understanding of what it should signify: Love. Not judgment, never exclusion. Just love.

With each new year of school I made leaps and bounds in my personal growth, learning so much about myself in such a short span of time that from sophomore to junior to senior year, it was like becoming a whole new person four times. Developing “street smarts,” and with them my own personal tastes and interests. Becoming more cultured through experience and associations. Swearing when angry, and not feeling bad about it. I like to think of it as making up for lost time.

But not all answers would come with ease. As graduation grew closer, I grew more unsure of what I wanted to do after. A general theatre degree carries with it a wider range of possibilities than one might think: Did I want to act, or paint sets? Research plays, or try to publish my own? Following an internship in stage lighting, I found my answer. And that began my first ever mental switch from school world to career world.

As it turned out, pushing myself so hard in classes had caused me to neglect some things that I would really need once school was over. The theatre department saw me as “honors student first, theatre major second,” which I realized was true, and not, in the bigger scheme, a great thing.

I was thankful for my generous scholarship and wanted to prove myself: “Get good grades,” in my homeschooled head, was always going to be the goal.

But what my parents didn’t know to warn me about was that being a successful theatre technician has little to do with grades and everything to do with hands-on experience. My GPA was near perfect, yet I was a senior by the time I had finally declared my emphasis in lighting design. It took nearly all four years to earn the full respect of the other theatre majors, who understood what it took me regrettably longer to grasp: that we were there to pursue a career and one requiring not a 4.0 and honors cords but a remarkable tech portfolio. I had a lot of catching up to do in that respect.

Now that I’ve been out of college for over a year, I do regret that lost time. But, in continuation of the habit, I’ve made up for it as best I can. Once my brain was able to shift from school to career mode, it became my passion. I travel often for work now, something I’ve always dreamed of doing. I go to the mountains, to tropical regions, theme parks, the Big Apple, once a Tony-winning regional theatre, doing what I love every step of the way. I think back on my lonely years in that small town and wonder if I would have the same appreciation for the incredible things I get to see and do had I not been contained there for so long.

Though in a considerable many cases homeschooling can be a terrible idea, I see my personal story as a successful one. Not perfect, by any means, as I was heavily sheltered and limited mostly to my mom’s perspective. Luckily for me, this also meant that I got to learn from a strong, intelligent and open-minded woman whom I will always look up to, and that made all the difference. Though I had a lot still to learn once I got to college, very little of it was learned “the hard way.”

Because on that first move-in day, when I made the decision to stay, the decision to see life as a new adventure came along with it.

I guess I’m kind of like Bilbo Baggins. And college was my Gandalf.

Building God’s Kingdom: A Book Review

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Here’s the overwhelming difficulty one faces when talking about Christian Reconstructionism (CR):

Most people have never heard of it.

Those who have are usually divided between worried liberals and ignorant conservatives who think it means theocracy. And when they envision theocracy, they’re thinking about Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale brought to life.

Worried liberals see CR everywhere in the Religious Right, prompting them to believe a secret, cohesive group of Christian extremists are engineering a theocratic revolution at this very moment. The ignorant conservatives think the worried liberals are tilting after windmills of their own religion-hating, secular imagination. And while both the liberals and the conservatives are wrong in their own ways, it is — ironically — the conservatives who are more wrong.

Published by Oxford University Press this year, Julie J. Ingersoll’s book Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction is a clarion call to both worried liberals as well as ignorant conservatives to more accurately understand the nature of CR. By more accurately understanding that nature, both groups of people can hopefully better grasp how to respond. And by respond, I mean the same thing for both groups of people: how to properly challenge the ways in which CR has infiltrated popular society and is slowly eroding the healthfulness and vibrancy of American Christianity and the American political system. I believe the task of making that challenge belongs to both liberals and conservatives alike.

Ingersoll is a scholar. She earned a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California Santa Barbara and is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida. However, she is also a former insider of CR. She was married to Mark Thoburn, son of Bob Thoburn, a prominent Reconstructionist within the Christian schooling movement who founded Fairfax Christian School.[i] Her “insider” status does not lead her to histrionics against a movement she left, as conservatives might fear. Nor does her “insider” status lead her to play up potentially “juicy secrets” of the movement, as liberals might hope. Rather, she uses her intimate, personal knowledge of the movement to buttress her impressive academic skills. She combines the level-headedness of a scholar and the precision possessed by only someone who grew up in a insular subculture could have.

"Building God's Kingdom" pushes the reader to re-examine the origin of ideas widely held within 21st American Christian conservatism.
“Building God’s Kingdom” pushes the reader to re-examine the origin of ideas widely held within 21st American Christian conservatism.

Ingersoll describes CR as “more a school of thought than an organization (or society)”.[ii] Originally fashioned by Reformed theologian R.J. Rushdoony, CR targets “secular humanism” as the biggest threat to contemporary Christianity. To do so, it posits three core beliefs: “presuppositionalism, postmillennialism, and theonomy.”[iii] Presuppositionalism argues that knowledge about anything – whether it is science or history or educational pedagogy — must either begin with the Bible or be damned as “secular humanism.” Throughout her book, Ingersoll traces presuppositionalism’s either/or emphasis and how it has led to “the all-or-nothing character of contemporary American conservatism.”[iv] Postmillennialism is the belief that “the Kingdom of God is a present, earthly reality.”[v] Christians are supposed to work towards creating Heaven on Earth, which will eventually materialize as God sanctifies more and more people. Finally, theonomy is the belief that Mosaic laws are applicable to modern society and binding on Christians. Ingersoll cites CR advocate Greg Bahnsen, who says, “We must recognize the continuing obligation of civil magistrates to obey and enforce the relevant laws of the Old Testament, including the penal sanctions specified by the just Judge of all the earth.”[vi]

What I would argue is the consistent and reoccurring theme of Building God’s Kingdom is that both liberals and conservatives have misinterpreted and thus misunderstood the overwhelming influence CR has had on 21st century American Christian conservatism. “Both the alarmists and their critics misunderstand the influence of the Reconstructionists,” she writes. “Their influence is subtle, implicit, and hidden.”[vii] This is often intentionally so, Ingersoll argues: “Reconstructionists often argue in favor of bringing about these changes in ways that won’t be recognized by the rest of us for what they are. They call it ‘being wise as serpents.’”[viii]

Reconstructionists have been wildly successful in their efforts. “Little slivers of Rushdoony’s work seem to be everywhere,”[ix] Ingersoll says. She highlights how CR ideas, which run counter to so much of the ideological foundations of other conservative and fundamentalist Christians, have infiltrated those conservative and fundamentalist cultures so thoroughly that the foundations of the CR ideas have replaced those other subcultures’ foundations, even when the ideas themselves are either rejected or unknown. That infiltration is deliberate and intentional by means of the CR pioneering of the Christian schooling and Christian homeschooling movements: “Reconstructionist ideas made their way into evangelical and fundamentalist churches through study guides and Christian school (and later homeschool) curriculum, giving rise to an integrated worldview and a distinct subculture.”[x]

Most of Ingersoll’s book is dedicated to the task of tracing Reconstructionist ideas and how they fed into those movements. The depth and breadth of that influence surprised even me, who grew up in the Christian homeschooling movement. Ingersoll shows how Rushdoony and his many influential followers shaped the very contours of the Christian schooling and Christian homeschooling movements; how he aided young earth creationism in becoming the biblical (and only biblical) perspective of Creation within those worlds; how his ideas about providential history inspired Marshall Foster and David Barton; and how his ideas about patriarchy and multigenerational faithfulness undergird the ideologies of Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull. But even more astonishing, at least to me, is that the very language that conservative Christians use today — language about “religious freedom,” “parental rights,” and “government schools” is evidence of CR’s influence.

Julie Ingersoll is a former insider of Christian Reconstructionism.
Julie Ingersoll is a former insider of Christian Reconstructionism.

One element that I felt was missing in Ingersoll’s book is a presentation of orthodox Christianity by which one could compare and contrast Christian Reconstructionism. For example, Ingersoll makes salient the fact that Christian Reconstructionists believe parents (and only parents) are the rightful teachers of their children. For parents to give the role of teaching their children to anyone else is a sin. Rushdoony promoted replacing the phrase “public school” with the “government school,” and everyone from HSLDA to the National Center for Life and Liberty to Fox News to John Stonestreet now uses the latter. The phrase itself is loaded with Rushdoony’s belief that any and every government school system is tyrannical because it usurps the rightful authority (and God-given obligation) of parents to educate their children. Hence why people like the late Chris Klicka of HSLDA said parents who put their children in public school “sacrifice their children,” comparing such parents to Israelites in Ezekiel 16:20-21 who “slaughtered [their] children” by fire[xi]; or why people like Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute argue that Christians putting their children in public school is “antithetical to Biblical teaching.”[xii]

I think it would have been helpful to contrast this extremist position with the history of Christian thought. This would help readers understand that the CR position is a severe departure from not only Christian beliefs on education in general, but specifically even Reformed beliefs on education. For example, it is Martin Luther, Reformer par excellence (and not Protestant homeschoolers’ favorite target Adolf Hitler) who is the genesis of the public education system.[xiii] Indeed, Luther believed that “when the natural parents prevent able youngsters from pursuing an education,” “the interests of the state [are] superior to the rights of the parents.”[xiv] The other grandfather of the Reformed tradition, John Calvin, also believed in a centralized education system.[xv] And the Prussian education system, which is blamed by homeschoolers for the American public school system as much as Hitler is blamed, was inspired by A.H. Francke, a Lutheran Christian.[xvi] Francke, in turn, was a significant influence on the Puritan Cotton Mather, also a CR favorite — who was, incidentally, also an outspoken advocate of government involvement in education.[xvii]

Another example is when Ingersoll says that an important characteristic of Christian Reconstructionism is sphere sovereignty. Ingersoll describes CR’s idea of sphere sovereignty in the following manner: “Biblical authority is God’s authority delegated to humans, who exercise dominion under God’s law in three distinct God-ordained institutions: the family, the church, and the civil government.”[xviii] The fact is, sphere sovereignty transcends CR. One could argue that Jesus himself established some species of sphere sovereignty when he declared, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.”[xix] But not everyone knows this. So someone less versed in Christian history might think that any belief in sphere sovereignty indicates adherence to CR.

This isn’t merely an academic concern. For people interested in challenging CR and its widespread influences, it is vitally important to be able to pinpoint exactly where and how CR departs from orthodox Christianity. One example of this is how CR advocates sphere sovereignty: by means of a new wave of “church courts.” Ingersoll writes that, “Rather than take their troubles to civil court, church members bring them before ruling elders who have authority to issue punishments, demand repentance and restitution, and threaten excommunication.” This is not an insignificant phenomenon: “Some 10-15 percent of American Protestant churches, and churches associated with Vision Forum, now follow this model.”[xx] Ingersoll cites Rushdoony’s vision of church courts: “To go outside the family is to deny the family and break it up. When a husband and wife, or parents and children, or brother against brother, go to an outside court, the family life and government is in most cases dissolved or at least shattered… The Christian denies the reality and power of the Kingdom of God if he seeks justice outside the Kingdom.” Ingersoll illuminates how this “church court” system was used by Vision Forum’s Doug Phillips to make it difficult for his abuse victim, Lourdes Torres Manteufel, to seek justice.[xxi]

One very real, very present threat of CR is, then, that its interpretation of sphere sovereignty directly threatens the well-being of child abuse and domestic violence survivors trapped within churches with these revisionist church courts. We have seen recently, time and time again, how churches that try to handle child abuse and domestic violence cases “in house” further traumatize and terrorize victims and survivors. Peter Leithart, a Christian Reconstructionist[xxii] who severely mishandled a child abuse case within his own church[xxiii] (and recently apologized for that mishandling[xxiv]), continues to call church courts “highly commendable.” He writes that, “It is better to be defrauded and wronged than to take a brother to court.”[xxv]

Being able to articulate the way in which CR has taken an orthodox Christian belief — a belief directly from Jesus, like, say, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s” — and transformed that into something like these revisionist church courts is crucial. Because the real threat of CR is not that it believes unorthodox theology. It is that CR applies theology — orthodox or not — in a particular way that hides and fosters child and domestic abuse.

Some of these ideas are tangential to Ingersoll’s purpose for the book, so I understand their omission. But the fact that her book inspired so many thought processes and rabbit trails is, in my mind, an indication of its power. Ingersoll’s book is provocative in the best sense and I highly recommend it. It pushes the reader to re-examine the origin of ideas widely held within 21st American Christian conservatism. It urges that we might not know as much about that origin as we thought we did.

Most importantly, Building God’s Kingdom dares to suggest that while conservative Christians were busy straining out the gnat of “secular humanism,” they unknowingly swallowed the far more diseased camel that is Christian Reconstructionism.

*****

Notes

[i] Milton Gaither, International Center for Home Education Research, “BUILDING GOD’S KINGDOM: Christian Reconstruction’s Influence on Homeschooling and More,” September 7, 2015, link, accessed on September 29, 2015.

[ii] Julie Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction, Oxford University Press, 2015, p. 238.

[iii] Ibid, p. 236.

[iv] Ibid, p. 242.

[v] Ibid, p. 27.

[vi] Greg Bahnsen, By This Standard, Institute for Christian Economics, 1985, p. 3-4.

[vii] Ingersoll, p. 6.

[viii] Ibid, p. 240.

[ix] Ibid, p. 212.

[x] Ibid, p. 6.

[xi] Chris Klicka, The Right Choice: Home Schooling, Noble Publishing Associations, 4th printing and revised edition, 1995, p. 104-5.

[xii] Dr. Brian D. Ray, Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, “Is Homeschooling Biblical?”, link, accessed on September 29, 2015.

[xiii] Aaron Smith, Mises Institute, “The Cost of Compulsory Education,” June 22, 2011, link, accessed on September 29, 2015.

[xiv] Jane E. Strohl, “The Child in Luther’s Theology: ‘For What Purpose Do We Older Folks Exist, Other Than to Care for…the Young?’”, The Child in Christian Thought, ed. Marcia J. Bunge, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001, p. 152.

[xv] Barbara Pitkin, “’The Heritage of the Lord’: Children in the Theology of John Calvin,” The Child in Christian Thought, ed. Marcia J. Bunge, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001, p. 179-80.

[xvi] Marcia J. Bunge, “Education and the Child in Eighteenth-Century German Pietism: Perspectives from the Work of A.H. Francke,” The Child in Christian Thought, ed. Marcia J. Bunge, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001, p. 249: “Francke’s ideas significantly shaped school reforms and social policies in Prussia. Largely as a result of his influence, wealthy citizens and nobility became interested in the establishment of public schools. And in 1717 Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, who knew and respected Francke, decreed compulsory education for children between the ages of five and twelve and established about two thousand schools, modeling them after Francke’s schools.”

[xvii] Cotton Mather, “The Education of Children,” link, accessed on September 29, 2015.

[xviii] Ingersoll, p. 41.

[xix] Mark 12:17.

[xx] Ingersoll, p. 160.

[xxi] Ibid, p. 164.

[xxii] See Peter Leithart and Gary Demar, The Reduction of Christianity: Dave Hunt’s Theology of Cultural Surrender, Dominion Press, 1988.

[xxiii] R.L. Stollar, Homeschoolers Anonymous, “The Jamin C. Wight Story: The Other Child Molester in Doug Wilson’s Closet,” September 8, 2015, link, accessed on September 29, 2015.

[xxiv] Peter Leithart, public Facebook status, September 15, 2015, link, accessed on September 29, 2015.

[xxv] Peter Leithart, First Things, “Before Unbelievers,” September 28, 2015, link, accessed on September 29, 2015.

Crooked Arrow: Smith Lingo’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Smith Lingo” is a pseudonym.

My dad found Jesus towards the end of his college education and immediately wanted to quit his music studies and run off to seminary. Or so he tells me. He only had a year left, so he decided to stick it through to graduate. But that initial determination to sacrifice the reality of his own needs and wants for a far-off ideal, some abstract standard, is something he’s never abandoned, and something he’s done his damndest to pass on to the kids.

Soon after graduating and getting married to my Mom he became seized with another defining idea: that they were destined to be parents, and they would parent not just the amount of children that was healthy, sustainable, or economically viable, but that they would conceive, deliver, and raise as many children they physically could.

This was driven by a rhetorical idea of children not defined as individuals, but a collective force.

Children as “arrows in the hands of a warrior”, “blessings from the Lord”, things to be multiplied instead of cherished, raised for gain as political clout or a future care-taking staff instead of for love.

It was in service to this idea then that my father went back to school for Computer Science, working at a gas station in the morning, going to class in the day, and poring over his Calculus textbook at night. He wanted a new career path, one that paid better than music education. He worked the long days in service to his abstract idea of children — the arrows, the blessings — while the same work separated him from his concrete children. It was for all his future children too, the children of the mind, that he labored and studied while the children of his present were fatherless.

I realized from a very early age that my dad cared more about me as an idea than about me as a person, a discrete, tangible being.

The very first thing I was taught in our homeschool of hard mental knocks was to tell him what he wanted to hear, to tell him what the child of his mind would say. If I didn’t, I knew he would try to pry it out of me, convinced he was simply refining an imperfect vessel, burning the dross away from my crude soul with paddles and palms. I can’t remember ever not knowing that my father was disinterested in my truth.

But, abstract as they were, my dad’s ideas had consequences, and one of those consequences was me. As difficult as it is to reconcile, without my parents’ reckless pursuit of their ideological army of children I would not exist. I am the physical manifestation of my parents’ ideas, even if I could never measure up to the mind-mold in their eyes. As I come to disagree with those fundamental ideas, it becomes more of a struggle. I am opposed to the very reason I exist. I must take the position that if what was best had been, I would never have been born. This is the poison of ideology.

A few years ago, my homeschool education came to an end. I graduated in a ceremony with other homeschoolers from the local area, kids I was lucky to have seen a handful of times in the previous years. I remember before the ceremony the parents of the graduating seniors tried to plan social events for the class. Looking back now through the lens of disillusionment it seems like a desperate attempt to make up for decades of conscious desocialization in a few short months. It certainly worked about as well as you’d expect from that viewpoint.

The first event I attended may have been the first time I had faced the prospect of a purely social gathering by myself. I was terrified, and anxious, and awkward, feelings I would come to be intimate with in the following years.

I was facing for the first time a seemingly impassable gulf of experience and knowledge that my parents never taught me in the syllabus of my home education, and I hadn’t been allowed to gather outside. They had prepared me to take tests in Algebra and English, to converse with adults about the Will of God, to make change, and to tell time.

But they had always, actively kept me from independently forming relationships with anyone my own age.

My parents adequately prepared me to score well on academic tests. I received a scholarship to go to college, and since I was born male and had scored well in Math they decided to allow me to attend the local university, my father’s alma mater, in Computer Science. I had become an expert in telling them what their abstract child would say, so I told them I would study Computer Science.

It was, I told them, a good career to support a family with, and I may not have said the words, we both meant a family with as many future, abstract children as my future, abstract wife could possibly deliver. Their abstract child would never tell them he wanted to study film, so they never heard that in my gentle hints and information requests to other schools. The dross of my dreams was burned away.

I was becoming a pure ideological vessel, a well-fletched arrow they could shoot into the world.

The Gulf has returned to haunt me again and again. I’d recognize it anywhere. In every realm except the academic and physical, I am a child, with a child’s experience and knowledge. I am now old enough to legally drink, but we are born knowing how to drink. I am more than old enough now to connect with my peers, but I do not know how to do it; I never learned. And I am slowly learning now, but the Gulf between me and my generation grows larger as I try to build my flimsy bridges over it.

The Gulf paralyzes me, turns every phrase into mumbled gibberish in my mouth. Every situation contains an unknown, a reminder.

Every experience understood as universal that I can’t possibly relate to, every turn of phrase everyone else understands but is foreign to me, every reference that exposes my naivety transforms me from hulking twenty-something to socially floundering toddler.

College has corrupted the pure vessel my parents thought they had refined. The experience of opening my mind to the truth of people besides my father has bent the arrow they fletched so straight to their mark. I only lasted a semester in the Young Republicans. Nowadays I snicker in chatrooms about the spectre haunting Europe and envy the hammer-and-sickle tattoos my friends are getting.

I lingered at the outskirts of college ministry for a semester longer, but today I’m more concerned about the long-neglected physical ailments of my discrete body than the ideological ailments the campus crusaders claim to cure. And I’m more interested in the concrete bodies of the men and women around me in the present more than the form of a single, abstract, future woman. Perhaps someday I’ll raise a child.

If I do, I’ll raise them to be who they are and not to fit the mold of an ideological soldier in a biological army.

My parents have noticed the change. Every time I’m foolish enough to talk to them about what matters to me now, they purse their lips and shake their heads. The model has been spoiled; their beautiful idea is tarnished. They murmur about my professors, the media, my peers, always my peers. Never me. “I” still mean nothing to them; I’m still an arrow to be fletched and strung and released, an empty vessel to refine in fire. I could try to tell them about the Gulf, the daily struggle to belong to a society I’ve been held separate from for decades.

But the struggles of real people have never interested them as much as the ideological battles being waged in their minds, and on that battlefield, I’ve already been lost.

A Creeping Sense of Distance: Nastia’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Nastia” is a pseudonym.

I knew from a very young age what I wanted to do with my life. “I want to be on obstetrician,” I would tell anyone who would listen. At three years old, it was baffling to me that at least half the adults I met had no idea what that was. “It’s a doctor who delivers babies!” I would tell them, “Like Daddy!” The profession runs in my family. My grandfather and great-grandfather were both OB/GYNs, and my great-grandmother was a midwife. And yet, I have never felt pressured by others to take up the “family business.” It is purely my decision to pursue this path.

I had a rather unusual upbringing in this way. I come from a conservative evangelical family, but my parents are well-educated and open-minded, and they wanted nothing more than for me to be happy and successful.

While for many, “homeschooling” has an emphasis on the “home,” my parents put the emphasis on “school.”

That I was going to college was not up for debate; every step we took was made with the goal of stretching my mind, teaching me how to reason, preparing me for a lifetime of learning and a professional career. At the same time, they pushed me to pursue my own passions and dreams. I had a say in my own curriculum and was allowed to explore any subject I found interesting. While this may sound like an undisciplined teaching style, it kept me at least two grades ahead of my age in every subject and taught me to be self-motivated and proactive about my education.

That mindset was the best thing that I could have learned in preparation for higher education. At age sixteen, I entered community college through an early-entrance program in my state. This program allows students to complete their junior and senior years of high school through the college for free. My parents were hugely relieved that I would be able to earn my high school diploma and get real transcripts before applying to university.

I loved college. My transition was the easiest it could possibly have been. I excelled in my classes and quickly accumulated a diverse and quirky group of friends. Sure, college was a lot of work. I was taking twenty-one credits every quarter in order to finish all the pre-med requirements and earn an Associate’s Degree in Chemistry. There were ups and downs, sleepless nights, and failed experiments. But I had expected that, and my time management skills, self-discipline, and eagerness to learn benefited me enormously. Through diligence, the entire endeavor was highly successful. My confidence and enthusiasm soared.

But I soon found that going to school wasn’t the hardest part.

That came when I had to deal with the backlash of my (and my parents’) academic choices from a variety of different people.

The first came from my aunt, with whom I’ve never gotten along. A vehement socialist (and incidentally, a community college English teacher), she is viciously anti-homeschool, and it was clear from the beginning that she wanted me to fail in college to prove a point to my parents. When it was obvious that I was succeeding, she tried to tear me down emotionally, telling me that I was going to get sick because I was working too hard, that I had a mental disorder causing me to be a workaholic, and that success in school wasn’t worth my time because there was no way I could be successful in the real world.

That hurt, but as my relationship with her had always been a bit antagonistic, I turned it into a motivating factor. My goal became proving her wrong.

The pushback I received from homeschooled families in my church was much less motivating and much more painful. This didn’t really start until I applied and was accepted into a highly-ranked university, directly into the competitive Bio-engineering program.

In the view of many mothers especially, that was the point where I sold out, where I gave up my soul.

Going to community college, where I was living at home and going to school in a smaller, more job-like environment was acceptable. Entering university, where I would be in a co-ed dormitory with non-Christian students and exposing my mind to science and philosophy, was the equivalent of surrendering the battle for my soul. And it was difficult and depressing to deal with that because I was and still am very much a Christian.

The strange thing about it was that the criticism was never overt – it was a vague sum of micro-agressions, a creeping feeling of distance and disapproval that built up over time and poisoned my (albeit not-close) friendships with many homeschoolers in my church. I have a hard time pointing to clear examples, because the gradual alienation was caused by attitudes more than words or actions. I’m not even sure why I felt so hurt by it; I had never felt like I was a part of the “Christian Homeschool Culture.” My closest friends were actually homeschooled kids I met through music, not through my church. I never went to co-ops or conventions, never used A Beka or Bob Jones; I was always an outsider looking in on a culture that was as foreign to me as was the culture of public school. All the same, I had never felt so isolated as I did when I went to university.

I guess I had expected those I had always considered “my people” to be more accepting of me, even proud of me. That was the myth I had told myself growing up – that the homeschooling families in my church were “my people,” even though I was always outside their cliques, and that the reason I was always ahead of them academically was because I was simply smarter or my parents were better teachers. I was naïve; I thought we had similar lifestyles and values. And now here I was, succeeding in the world, spreading my light in the darkness. Isn’t that what those same families had taught me in Sunday School? That I didn’t even have to necessarily talk about Christ all the time – I just had to let my actions speak for themselves? I thought my honest and hard-won success, my healthy friendships, and my clean lifestyle made me a godly example. Instead, I was dismissed. People didn’t talk to me, or would abruptly end conversations when they heard what university I was at or what I was studying.

Previously-friendly parents would look at me critically and tell me things like, “Well, that’s not what God has in store for my daughter.”

That I was in STEM made it even worse, it seemed.

My parents were not immune to this stigma, and I think one of the most telling instances was when my mother was asked to speak at a monthly “Homeschool Moms’ Night,” when the subject of discussion was “Homeschooling Through High School and What Comes Next.” It was run by a sweet lady who has a very different homeschooling approach than my family does. Still, she wanted to showcase the range of options available to parents of younger kids.

Each of five women gave a speech, and then other moms were told to strike up a conversation with whoever seemed to match their own philosophy. Out of forty people, my mom had one person who wanted to talk to her, a woman from Hong Kong who didn’t like the state of American schools and was relieved that homeschooling could provide a more rigorous and comprehensive path. The other moms completely ignored her. I remember the rejection in her voice as she recounted the story to me. These were people she considered friends, but they completely dismissed her when she spoke passionately about helping her children make the most of their talents and aspirations.

After this, a small piece of a baffling puzzle fell into place for me.

Maybe my mother’s goal was not shared by others the way I had always assumed. Maybe the reason that nearly all the homeschooled girls my age were not going to college was something more than the fact that they just weren’t “ready” or weren’t “book-smart people.” Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that the few who were pursuing higher education were going to community colleges or the tiny local Christian university aligned with our denomination; nobody was going to a secular university or anywhere out of state. It wasn’t an isolated instance that a girl decided to take up babysitting instead of going to college – it was widespread. It became normal to see friends drop out of college before taking a single class, or decide to live at home rather than stay in the dormitory; “she’s scared,” was always the chuckled explanation. It was commonplace to hear about another girl whose main goal of going to a barely-accredited Christian school was to find a husband and become a homeschooling mother.

This is an institutional problem, I realized.

It is still not clear to me whether parents are actively discouraging college for their daughters in particular, or whether the daughters are internalizing the idea that education would corrupt their hearts and minds and distract them from their duty of being wives and mothers. It had never occurred to me that this type of pressuring was occurring, as this is not the mindset of the majority of (non-homeschooling) people in my church. It is certainly not the doctrine that my well-educated and highly-rational pastor holds to. Yet, as I learn more about fundamentalism and about the situations of particular families, I am starting to put the pieces together. Talking with my mom now, there’s a reason that I was never put into co-ops and never used typical homeschooling resources. She realized what this sect was about long ago and tried to shield me from it.

For this reason – strangely – going to university broadened my perspective in yet another way; by putting me firmly on the outside, it gave me a clearer picture of the culture that surrounded me growing up, and an appreciation for how masterfully my parents handled my education. I will be eternally grateful for the unique opportunity they created for me and the generous support they constantly offered (and still offer) in continuing my education.

As for improving the cultural environment for college-bound homeschoolers, I’m not entirely sure what needs to be done, nor what one individual can possibly do. I realize that not everyone is cut out for higher education, and respect the right of families to pursue their own homeschooling path. However, the fact that I am an anomaly in my engineering school (because I was homeschooled) and an anomaly in my homeschool cohort (because I am an engineer) is very telling about the dichotomy that has grown between the academic and Christian communities.

It’s not a healthy divide, as the mistrust between the two groups makes understanding and progress extraordinarily difficult.

I’ve also grown to see that despite the opinions of many in the Christian homeschooling community, gender equality has not been achieved.

“Equal but different” is not good enough; there is still much work that needs to be done in providing the same education and career opportunities to women as are provided to men.

This by nature cannot be a policy issue, but a cultural reform. Parents must be honest with themselves when examining their daughters’ goals, and provide the necessary mental and emotional support for whatever path they are drawn to. It’s not logical to assume that a woman’s only contribution should be in the home, nor is it Biblical.

I’m not sure yet what it will take to bridge that chasm between Christians and academia, or the division between girls’ aspirations and their parents’ ideals. I’m not sure yet what it will take to change homeschoolers’ minds about science, higher education, and a woman’s place in both.

However, as a problem-solver by nature, rest assured that I will be trying, and I hope that some of you may join me.

A Quiverfull of Definitions

CC image courtesy of Flickr, WannaBEEfarmer Jeff.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on September 2, 2015.

I’ve increasingly seen the media use the word “quiverfull” used to describe the Duggars’ entire subculture, and that’s bugging me, because this use of terminology is neither very accurate nor very helpful. In its purest definition, “quiverfull” means abstaining from using any form of birth control and instead letting God plan your family, and yet I’m increasingly seeing it used as a label for an entire subculture. There are several issues with this.

First, “quiverfull” is usually a term used by outsiders looking in. The Duggars themselves have said they do not use the word to describe themselves, and honestly, it is fairly rare to find someone who does. My parents never used the term.

Second, many people who are often included under the “quiverfull” umbrella are not in fact quiverfull. For example, Michael and Debi Pearl actively preach against quiverfull teachings. They do not have a problem with couples using birth control.

Third, one can be quiverfull without adhering to patriarchy (this is actually a thing that really does exist), but this gets completely erased when the term “quiverfull” is treated as a wholistic descriptor for people like the Duggars.

The best way to implode some of the overlaps and issues here may be to tell you a story about something that happened to my mother. First, a word of background. As a child, I grew up reading Above Rubies magazine, which we received regularly. While even she does not use the term “quiverfull” to describe herself or her ministry, Above Rubies’ Nancy Campbell is probably the closest you can get to pure quiverfull, with her magazines full of stories of oversized families and tubal reversals. Her magazines center on the beauty of large families and the value of motherhood and the importance of accepting as many “blessings” as God has to send your way.

Some years back my mother attended an Above Rubies conference. She told me that when the other women at the conference found out that she had twelve children, they gathered around her and called her blessed (that’s Bible language for heaped her with praise and adoration). But when they asked her if she was open to having more children, she told them she had recently had her tubes tied. As a result result, she was shunned for the remainder of the conference.

My mother was really upset when she told me this story, because, she explained, Michael and Debi Pearl taught that a woman must bow to her husband’s will in areas like this, and it was my dad who had insisted on her getting her tubes tied even though she hadn’t wanted to. She felt that she had been unfairly shunned by these women. She wanted to have more children. She hadn’t wanted her tubes tied. I remember her crying over this decision. But my dad said he was going to lose his sanity if we had more children, and for all of the importance my mom put on welcoming every blessing God had to send along, she believed even more strongly in male headship and female submission, so she submitted and underwent a tubal ligation.

Actually, there’s one more thing I should share about my parents as long as we’re talking about definitions. My parents used birth control from time to time to space us children out a bit, but never methods they considered “abortifacient.” Yet even though they sporadically used birth control, they talked about children as “blessings” and spoke of raising us out to send us into the world to win souls and retake it for Christ, all of which is classic quiverfull rhetoric. Were my parents quiver full, then? Or were they not? There’s no real agreement on the definition of quiverfull, and there are plenty of homeschooling families that have more children than they might otherwise as a result of exposure to quiverfull rhetoric, but still use birth control to limit their family size. Where do they fit, exactly? Who is quiverfull, and who isn’t?

But let’s talk for just a moment about what I just described as “classic quiverfull rhetoric.” The term quiverfull is adapted from Psalm 127:3-5, which reads as follows: “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them.” From this verse comes both the rhetoric about children being a blessing (or a reward, or heritage) and the more militant rhetoric that positions children as a weapon and their father as a warrior.

Even here, within these rhetorics, different leaders place the emphasis differently. Nancy Campbell of Above Rubies focuses on the babies as blessings rhetoric and rarely uses rhetoric with a more militant focus. When I read her magazines as a child, her focus was always on mothers and childbearing. In contrast, Michael Farris of the HSLDA focuses heavily on military rhetoric when discussing the importance of having large numbers of children.

farris

In fact, you might very well argue that quiverfull has two separate rhetorics, one mother-focused and one militant-focused, which sometimes overlap and sometimes don’t. But more than this, neither of these rhetorics requires a full rejection of birth control. There are many many many families that use these rhetorics and also use birth control. In some sense, quiverfull rhetorics have invaded the Christian homeschooling culture more generally, and in so doing have become at once more diluted and more widespread and pervasive.

Even when using the purest definition of quiverfull (abstaining from birth control), you are going to find variations in emphasis between families. These variations will often depend on what Christian leader and ministry one became quiverfull through.  Bill Gothard preaches quiverfull within an authoritarian patriarchal family structure and through a ministry (ATI) that is often described as cult-like. Nancy Campbell preaches quiverfull through a ministry that is mother-focused and centered around babies and children. Campbell is still patriarchal, but the articles in her Above Rubies are written by mothers, not male pastors or authority figures. While both might be rightly described as quiverfull (though neither uses the word), the two ministries have very different feels and position their rejection of birth control differently.

The Duggars are followers of Bill Gothard. Their social circles (including both church and homeschool conventions) have long centered around Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute, and until recently, even their curriculum was ATI. The Duggars eschew birth control based on the teachings of Bill Gothard. In fact, essentially every one of the Duggar’s beliefs, from JOY (Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last) to the umbrella of authority, comes from Bill Gothard. Yes, the Duggars fit the technical definition of quiverfull (though they do not use that term themselves), but their essence is ATI.

The wider Christian homeschooling subculture the Duggars belong to is best understood as a cluster of overlapping circles, each circle representing a specific leader and/or ministry. There is Gothard’s ATI, there is Nancy Campbell’s Above Rubies, there is Michael and Debi Pearl’s No Greater Joy, and Michael Farris’s HSLDA, and Doug Wilson’s Credenda Agenda, and Jonathan Lindvall and others, and until recently there was Doug Phillips’ Vision Forum. These various groups and leaders may sometimes overlap, but they also have points of disagreement and position their various emphases differently.

My parents primarily followed Michael and Debi Pearl, Doug Phillips, and Michael Farris. But even then, they were not as close Pearl followers as those who go to the Pearls’ Shindigs, and they were not as close followers of Doug Phillips as those who attended his various conventions, and they were not as close followers of Michael Farris as those who sent their children to Patrick Henry College. In other words, there are those families who sample from a variety of these leaders and ministries, and there are those families who lock onto one and refuse to let go, joining an inner circle of sorts.

There are some ideas that these various individuals and organizations tend to share, but each leader and each ministry is slightly different, not only in focus but also in belief. These overlapping circles all tend to be patriarchal, though Farris encourages parents to send their daughters to college while Phillips argues against sending daughters to college and Gothard tends to be against anyone going to college. They all tend to favor large families, though Gothard is against birth control while Wilson is not, and Campbell’s reasons for opposing birth control are different from Farris’s. Perhaps the greatest point of commonality between these groups is the belief that children must be sheltered from the world and carefully trained in Christian beliefs.

Attempts to describe this constellation of groups as “quiverfull” run into serious definitional problems. While quiverfull rhetorics pervade many if not most of these overlapping circles, the number of families that give up birth control entirely is small, and even these don’t generally use the term “quiverfull” to describe themselves. One might argue that this subculture is better termed “patriarchal” than “quiverfull,” but even then I am given pause when I remember my mother’s experience at the Above Rubies conference she attended, and when I think of all of the letters the Pearls receive from women who desperately want to leave their childbearing up to God only to face resistance from their husbands.

In some sense this loose constellation of individuals and ministries is most united not by its emphasis on large families (to stretch the definition of quiverfull to its breaking point) or its emphasis male headship (which is a widespread belief among fundamentalist and evangelicals in general) but rather by its emphasis on using homeschooling to shelter children and train them up to follow God. Yet even that isn’t specific enough, because there are evangelical and fundamentalist homeschoolers who seek to shelter their children and give them a Christian education but don’t follow any of the leaders discussed above or become involved in the alternate universe that is this subculture. Perhaps it is the creation of a parallel culture in pursuance of this goal that is its most defining feature.

I’m not entirely sure where that leaves us. At the moment, we do not have a term that adequately describes the overlapping circles of leaders and organizations that make up the subculture that is conservative Christian homeschooling. Perhaps that is what we need—a new label. If nothing else, though, I hope I have given you a better grasp on the term “quiverfull” and the issues surrounding its definition, use, and meaning.

See also Quiverfull Is an Ideology, Not a Movement or a Cult.

Q&A with Jennifer Mathieu, Author of Devoted

Alisa Harris (l), Jennifer Mathieu (r).

HA note: The following interview is reprinted with permission from the Coalition for Responsible Home Education (CRHE) and Jennifer Mathieu. It was originally published by CRHE on September 22, 2015. 

To read a book review of Devoted by HA blog partner Kierstyn King, click here.

*****

In her novel, DevotedJennifer Mathieu enters the world of Rachel, a dutiful homeschooled daughter and sister to five younger siblings. As Rachel’s mother struggles through depression, Rachel cares for and teaches her younger siblings, escapes into forbidden books, and begins to wonder about the world outside. She reads the blog of Lauren, an older girl who left their community, and Rachel begins to question whether she really wants the path that’s set out for her: marriage, childbirth, and an end to her education. Mathieu deftly paints a very sensitive — and very realistic — portrait of a young girl whose education has effectively ended but who has so much more that she wants to learn. CRHE’s Board Member Alisa Harris spoke with Jennifer Mathieu about her research, what she learned from talking with homeschool alumni, and how her own experience as an educator played into the novel. Note: this interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Alisa Harris: Did you have any connection to the homeschool community before you started researching? How much did you know? 

Jennifer Mathieu: When I was growing up, I went to Catholic school my whole life. My family was a part of our community pool and there was a church community near us that got very involved. The pastor of the church was a college swimmer and became the coach of our community swim team. He brought his whole congregation with him. All of these children homeschooled. I had never known any homeschoolers in my life so every summer I would connect with these homeschooled kids and we would have fun in the summer and I would never see them during the school year. I remember I was always asking them why they were homeschooled. They would explain to me that it was part of their faith, that the Bible told them education was the responsibility of the parent. As a little girl, I remember feeling sorry for them because I felt like they lived for the summer. I felt like the summer was their time to have connections with a ton of other kids. That was my introduction and that’s where my curiosity began.

AH: What were your perceptions before you started your research and how did those perceptions change? What was the most surprising thing that you learned? 

JM: I think something that I intuitively knew or sensed ended up being affirmed by my research. I thought that one of the challenges of being homeschooled, for some children, would be when they had outpaced whatever curriculum they were given. What would happen when they had a hunger to learn more and their parents couldn’t teach them? I remember doing science labs and chemistry labs that were super complicated, and we needed a chemistry lab. I remember thinking How would you do that? How would you complete certain things like that as homeschooler? That was affirmed for me in my research.

Even though it seems so obvious to me now, I had never thought about what a homeschooler would do if they were in an abusive situation. As a teacher, I have to report if a kid tells me anything. Lauren is being physically abused in the book. Who is she supposed to tell? I never thought about the fact that if your only world is this insular homeschool community, if you are being abused who do you have to tell?

AH: You did interviews and talked in-depth with homeschool students and alumni to research the book. Did you look for other types of data too?

JM: Something that I didn’t realize was that the laws were relaxed in the 1980s. I’m a former reporter, I’ve been a teacher for 10 years so the whole topic fascinates me on multiple levels. I was surprised at how easy it is to homeschool in some states. When I taught in public school I noticed there would be kids who would suddenly disappear and we would hear they’re being homeschooled. I would think, They’re getting homeschooled? I know that family and I’m a little bit concerned. Sometimes it was used as an excuse not to have to send the kid to school and that terrified me as an educator.

AH: In addition to writing novels, you’re an educator who teaches English to middle and high schoolers. How did that experience and profession shape your research and the questions you asked as you got to know homeschooled students?

JM: As an educator, what I brought to it was the experience of getting to see a child become excited about learning. I’ve taught students like Rachel who are just intuitively curious. In my mind, Rachel’s an exceptionally bright child. She had to be that smart to want to be able to learn as much as she wanted to learn. I felt that was her avenue out because she became so curious–that hunger to know was what helped her leave. I’ve taught children like that who are exceptionally and incredibly bright and there is such a hunger to learn. I watch students like that get accepted to Yale and University of Texas and they’re just going to flourish and I can’t wait. I say, “Please stay in touch — I want to find out what you do for the world.” As an educator I thought what would it be like if one of these blooming flowers were trapped and wasn’t allowed to bloom? She wants to blossom, she wants to learn.

I used to read obsessively. That was just one thing that I did and I remember thinking back on that when I was writing Rachel’s character. I thought What if that’s all that she had? As an educator I imagined my brightest stars and put them in this environment where they wouldn’t be allowed to shine, and that’s kind of how I wrote Rachel.

AH: The educational picture in the novel is complicated. On the one hand, Rachel is clearly a smart and motivated student who is gifted in math and computers. On the other hand, she doesn’t seem to receive very much instruction for her own education and spends most of her school time teaching her younger siblings. How did you decide to deal with Rachel’s education? Were you surprised at the extent to which some homeschoolers are basically self-taught? 

JM: I was surprised to learn how much responsibility the older girls were given, especially in terms of instructing the little ones. There was an anecdote I read about a man, a father talking about how his 9-year-old daughter didn’t know how to read. He acknowledged that would make people uncomfortable but she was learning everything she needed to learn to be a wife and mother. I remember reading it and my blood just ran cold. I was so shocked.

I am a licensed educator in the state of TX. My teaching certificate is only for English and I could maybe teach my son up to about third or fourth grade level math. That was one thing that I learned as I started reading more — you can buy these curriculums off the internet, but you still need an instructor who can explain it. I don’t think I really realized how much the older girls were tasked with helping the younger ones, even though I would kind of see that in 19 Kids and Counting.

AH: Your novel faces the reality of abuse in the story of Lauren, the blogger Rachel reads, but it doesn’t sensationalize it or make that the focus of the novel. What went into your decision to acknowledge the reality of abuse but also not make it the focus? 

JM: I think that Lauren’s family is portrayed more one-dimensionally and more evil, obviously more abusive. I did not want Rachel’s parents to be one-dimensional. So many homeschoolers I talked to told me about how they loved their parents. Their parents maybe had dysfunctional childhoods of their own and they thought they were giving their kids what they didn’t have. I didn’t want to make Rachel’s parents overtly abusive because that would make it obvious for Rachel to leave. But I had read stories and heard anecdotes about homeschool children who had been abused. I wanted to work that into the narrative and show this more extreme, overt abuse that has gone on. That’s why Lauren’s story is in there. I was trying to show the continuum of the behavior that can go on in these families.

AH: Have you had any reaction from the homeschooling community, alumni or current? How has it been? 

JM: The reaction I’ve received has been very positive. It made me feel good because they said, “You told our story in a way that was not exploitative but was real.” I have had a couple of people say, “It was triggering for me to read it. I had to put it down. I was too emotional at parts.” I don’t want to make people cry, but if I am creating that reaction then it’s authentic. My hope is that people will read Devoted and if people are from that world, they will read the book and hopefully find some validation, perhaps find some encouragement to look forward to enhancing their education through other means.

Purity Culture and My Sexuality

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Cynthia Jeub’s blog CynthiaJeub.com. It was originally published on April 17, 2015. 

“I know that it’s a secret,
And that I gotta keep it,
But I want the lights on
Yeah, I want the lights on
And I don’t want to run away anymore
Leave the lights on, leave the lights on, leave the lights on
What would they say, what would they do?
Would it be trouble if they knew?” –Meiko

I had my heart broken twice before I realized I’d been in love. That might sound like an exaggeration or melodrama, but it’s actually possible thanks to the wonders of purity culture.

When I was a teenager, I read and re-read books like Sarah Mally’s Before You Meet Prince Charming, Eric and Leslie Ludy’s When God Writes Your Love Story, and Debi Pearl’s Preparing to be a Help Meet.

They kept me strong in my dedication to never think about sex, or to think about members of the opposite sex. I had my obsessions and celebrity crushes, but if the image of seeing someone naked ever entered my mind, I’d fight it out with quoting the Bible.

I knew I would only ever give my heart to one person – the man I would marry. He must show interest in me; women don’t initiate. The concept of mutual consent, mutual interest, was never introduced. If he didn’t reciprocate my feelings, it was a meaningless feeling, and feelings were worthless. I needed to control my very thoughts, so I could give my whole heart to my husband, along with my first kiss. Just toeing the line of saving sex for marriage was too low a standard for me.

Blame doesn’t fall on any one person for how I controlled my thoughts. It was a personal choice, something that was very important to me. The people around me reinforced the notion that I was doing the right thing. Some people were better at the game of self-thought-policing than I was, and they made me feel like I could never be good enough. Some people saw me as unapproachable because I was so sincere. Every failure looked like rebellion and felt like despair.

Surely I didn’t love my best friend when I started college. He didn’t love me, so I told myself to “guard my heart” and push away all emotions of attachment. At the same time, our late-night conversations kept me going through my darkest depression and most intense stress. I finally told him that I needed space to figure out why the sight of his name gave me such indecipherable pain.

It would take me months to unlearn what purity culture had taught me to do: conceal all desire, even from yourself.

So it was that I fell in love with a man, and didn’t realize what had happened until afterward. I just assumed I was straight because I was attracted to men. It never occurred to me that I might make the same mistake twice, equally blinded to my desires toward a girl.

It was similar – I had a crush on her, but didn’t know it. She once kissed another girl in front of me, and I desperately wanted to kiss her. Even that feeling was not enough to make me think I wasn’t totally straight. I figured I was just curious, having never been kissed. Giving gifts is something I rarely do and often feels like an obligatory chore, but I gave her thoughtful things that I knew she’d like.

When we had a fight that ended our friendship, I was devastated. Another friend asked if I’d been in love with her. I said no, of course I wasn’t.

A few months later I got an email, and was instantly interested – this person, who hadn’t revealed their gender or identity, matched me intellectually. I assumed the sender was male, and entertained thoughts of meeting, and we exchanged lengthy emails.

The person who wrote these intelligent, complex, and beautiful emails revealed that she was a girl, and I realized it made no difference to me.

I started asking my friends questions – you don’t see both the male and female body as equally attractive? I’d assumed that everyone appreciated the aesthetic differences between the genders.

In the world I grew up in, there were two kinds of people: straight, and broken. Nobody was born gay, the church and chapel services insisted. The idea of other identities on a spectrum was far outside our reality. The idea of romantic and sexual relationships other than marriage was blanketly labeled as “sin.”

Of course I’d think I was straight. If I could close off my feelings for men, I could certainly close off my feelings for women. It was only after I started to learn what attraction felt like, that I knew I liked girls. I always had liked girls. I just didn’t know that my experience was any different from anyone else’s, because we never talked about our feelings. We never defined our terms.

Humans are beautiful to me – whether they’re male, female, or non-binary.

You could call me sapiosexual, in that I love people for their intelligence, and my level of attraction depends on how smart and interesting the other person is. Many sapiosexuals, though, don’t find the human body sexually attractive, and I do. It’s also accurate to call me pansexual, because I’m open to dating non-binary or trans people, in addition to the binary genders. For me, the title I’ve chosen is bisexual.

I’m bisexual. There, I’ve come out, now you know.

Doug Wilson: “I Do Not Believe That This Situation In Any Way Paints Jamin as a Sexual Predator”

Natalie Rose Greenfield, image by author.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Natalie Rose Greenfield’s blog My Naptime Journal. It was originally published on September 20, 2015.

For background information about Doug Wilson, Jamin C. Wight, and Natalie Rose Greenfield, see The Jamin C. Wight Story: The Other Child Molester in Doug Wilson’s Closet.

Content warning: detailed description of child sexual abuse.

I’ve debated whether or not to share the following letter publicly. It was given to me last week and out of respect for certain members of my family that don’t wish to have any further publicity over all of this, I’ve kept it to myself and a few close friends. But at some point every day for the last week I’ve been struck by the nagging reminder that this is no longer about me. It’s not about my family or the painful past experiences that tore us apart at the seams.  I’ve said it before, I don’t share all of this for my own personal gratification or because I’m stuck on being a victim. This is not me unwilling to heal and licking my wounds for the world to see. I share for the others. For my children, for your children, for other women or men who lost their voices when they were young and never quite found them again. By the grace of Divine Love I found my voice, and I wouldn’t sleep at night if I knew I had the power to help others and chose not to because it’s uncomfortable to talk about around the dinner table. Nobody likes talking about sexual abuse or children being hurt, and certainly no one wants to admit they could have done better or made wiser choices and thus prevented more innocent individuals from being hurt. I’m choosing not be in the latter category, so I’ll continue speaking.

Pictured below is a letter Doug Wilson wrote to the officer on my case on August 22nd, 2005. In it he tells of a ‘secret relationship’ which my parents knowingly allowed Jamin and I to enter into. He says this relationship was hidden from the broader community and though my parents didn’t realize there was ‘sexual behavior occurring’ between Jamin and I, they were aware that we were interested in each other and invited Jamin to live in our home. Doug goes on to say that it is important to note what kind of criminal this information makes Jamin. He says “I do not believe that this in any way paints Jamin as a sexual predator.”

Oh boy. I’m not entirely sure where to begin with this one.

Jamin expressed an interest in me to my parents when I was 14 years old, months after he’d begun grooming me and had already instigated a physical relationship with me. To say I had a crush on him would be an understatement – I was completely infatuated with him, as is common for abuse victims,  and had been since shortly after I met him at a church event when I was 13 years old. (No one knew the depth of my affection for him, of course, I think told my parents I thought he was pretty cool.) My parents told Jamin he could wait for me if he wanted to and they’d  reassess the situation when I was 18 years old. It was made exceedingly clear that in the meantime there was to be no ‘relationship’ whatsoever. As far as my parents knew there was no relationship, and from what I can tell any “confession” they made to Doug was taken out of context and/or deliberately twisted. There’s not much more to be said about this, honestly. My parents were naive and foolish, yes. They trusted him to respect the house rules regarding their daughter, partly because he’d been vetted by their own pastor as a seminary student. He didn’t follow the rules. I’ve written about this before, here. It doesn’t change the game.

What confuses me is how this information has any relevance to Jamin’s long term physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse of me (before, during and after the time he lived in our home) or how it constitutes Doug writing to the magistrate judge and requesting leniency for him, or how it justifies Doug blaming and shaming my father (and mother) the way he did. Doug painted a picture in which the blame is dangerously shifted to my parents and away from a criminal. Ultimately, he was rather successful at his part in this, as Jamin’s charge and sentence were greatly reduced and he went on to criminally abuse more innocent victims after a very brief stint in jail.

I feel the need to rehash this particular line that Doug typed: “I do not believe that this in any way paints Jamin as a sexual predator.” Not a sexual predator? Forgive me if I’m beating a dead horse or being too loud about an uncomfortable topic, but Jamin is most certainly a sexual predator. Let me describe a scene to you, one scene of many, many more just like it. It’s late afternoon in an old house on B Street in Moscow. A 14 year old girl goes bounces down the stairs of her family’s 8-bedroom mansion to get her favorite pair of jeans from the laundry hamper. A 24 year old man follows her down the stairs and enters the laundry room behind her. He sneaks up behind her and grabs her by the shoulders, she shrieks, then giggles. “Shhhhh! C’mere!” He says. He pulls her by the hand into the dungeon-like bathroom adjacent to the laundry room. “Jamin, stop! My mom will hear us!” the girl protests. “Then be quiet” he says, pushing down firmly on the top of her head until she buckles to her knees. She knows what he wants, it’s what he always wants and she hates it. She begins giving it to him and a minute later they hear footsteps coming down the long basement stairs. The man shoves the girl away from him, she falls backward into the laundry room and he closes the bathroom door to finish the job himself. The girl jumps to her feet, wipes her mouth and runs up the basement stairs, shaking nervously as she passes her mother on way. A close call.

But according to the pastor of Christ Church, Jamin is not a sexual predator. What is he, then? An opportunist? If only my parents had kicked him out when he expressed interest in me, than he wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to hurt me? Anyone can see this is preposterous. Jamin’s crimes were premeditated and he would still have had access to me at church and in various other settings (he did, in fact, manage to ‘still get to me’ after he’d moved out). I could tell a hundred more stories about what he did to me but they’re all sickening so I’ll leave it at one.

So what now? Why am I blogging about this again? Because we need change and it’s not happening yet. The church needs to change the way it handles sexual abuse, and until the leaders are willing to come forward and say we were gravely wrong and we want to learn how to do better we will continue to face this problem again and again and we will hear from more victims and more lives will be destroyed as this is repeatedly swept under the rug. This is not just about Doug Wilson and the other leaders of Christ Church and Trinity Reformed Church that stood behind a dangerous sexual predator and welcomed him back into the fold, believing his cries of repentance. This happens in churches everywhere. It’s an epidemic of the worst kind and it is destroying countless lives. Churches everywhere claim they know how to handle abuse within their congregation, and the church certainly can play an important role in the healing of victims, but so much more is needed. Resources, education, trained professionals, and the willingness to step back and say “we need help”. Needing help is not a weakness, and that lie only adds insult to injury for those harmed by abuse.

So what can YOU do?

Stand with me. Demand change. Share your own story of abuse within the church and if you don’t have one or if you aren’t ready to share yours, then by all means share mine. Demand that the leaders of churches stop pridefully deflecting blame and ignorantly shaming victims while they stand behind predators. Urge them to show the love of Christ to the victims.

We can’t afford to let this one slip away into the night. It will only grow.

Here’s the letter Doug wrote to the officer (click images to enlarge):

God Made All of Me: Review and GIVEAWAY

Our parent non-profit organization Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out is giving away 2 free copies of Lindsey and Justin Holcomb’s new book, God Made All of Me! It is a simple and colorful way for Christian parents to teach their children about safety, speaking up about abuse, body positivity, and the importance of consent in everyday life.

To read our review of the book and enter the giveaway, click here!