Please Don’t Deny Our Agency

 

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog, Love, Joy, Feminism. It was originally published on November 16, 2015.

I wrote the first draft of this post last summer. I wasn’t satisfied with it as it was, so I set it aside and promptly forgot about it. A conversation with one of my sisters reminded me of the post, so I’ve pulled it out and dusted it up.

In writing, last summer, about Josh Duggar’s Ashley Madison account, I noted that:

Josh and Anna didn’t have sex until they married, so they had no way of knowing whether they are sexually compatible. Further, Josh doesn’t believe in birth control and he and his wife Anna have had four kids in five years. There is no way this hasn’t taken a tole on the couple’s sex life. Josh also does not believe in divorce. None of this justifies Josh’s cheating. He is a grown man, and in choosing the beliefs he has he has made his own bed.

Quite a few commenters objected, arguing that Josh didn’t chose his beliefs, his parents chose them for him. While I understand where this is coming from, I have a problem with where this logic leads—namely, that any individual who grows up in the Christian homeschooling movement and does not deviate from their parents’ beliefs as an adult is some sort of automaton, bereft of agency.

I grew up as the oldest of a dozen homeschooled children in a family similar to Josh’s in many ways. If I hadn’t left the fold, I would probably be pregnant with my fifth child right now and homeschooling my oldest, but instead I am part of the Homeschoolers Anonymous community, one of scores of other young adults now critical of our Christian homeschool upbringings. While I was not raised in ATI, as Josh was, dozens of individuals of my generation who were have formed Recovering Grace and found other outlets for opposing Bill Gothard’s cultish teachings.

What I am trying to say is simply this: Being raised in a Christian homeschooling home does not rob a person of agency. If it did, I would not be where I am today.

It’s true Christian homeschooling is often centered around ensuring that children will adopt their parents’ beliefs, but you know what? We all turn 18 at some point, and at some point we leave home. When we become adults, we make our own choices. Some of us chose to reject our parents’ beliefs entirely. Others pick through, keeping some things and setting aside others. Still others choose to make our parents’ beliefs our own. We exercise our agency in different ways, but we do have agency.

I am familiar with the concept of “bounded choices.” I understand that some of us have more room to question than others, that some of us have more exposure to other people and beliefs than others, and that some of us have more resources and marketable skills than others.

There are indeed young women in these communities who go straight from their parent’s home to their husband’s home, with no college or job skills, and immediately commence bearing and raising children. But you know what? Telling these women that they only believe what they do because their parents taught it to them, denying their agency and their ability to make their own choices—these things will only contribute to the sort of infantilization many of us experienced as adolescents. It doesn’t help.

That conversation I had with my sister? She wanted to make sure that I respected her agency. She was concerned that I knew that she held the same beliefs as our parents because she believed them for herself and not because it was what she had been taught. She was worried that, because I had a rather dramatic experience of resorting and choosing my beliefs as a young adult, I might assume that she was not exercising her own agency. She wanted to make sure I saw her as an autonomous person making her own choices.

When we speak of young Christian homeschool graduates being “brainwashed” we push people like my sister away. When we affirm their agency and autonomy (while also challenging their beliefs when necessary) we help promote both. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider the challenges faced by homeschool alumni from controlling or dogmatic homes, and we should absolutely promote greater freedom and openness by speaking out against harmful practices and supporting scholarships and other initiatives to help those who may find themselves stuck. But denying the agency of those who espouse their parent’s beliefs helps none of this. We can affirm agency while also promoting expanded options.

But let’s return to Josh Duggar. Some of you may argue that Josh was, in some sense, trapped. He had a wife and four children and no marketable job skills that he could apply outside of his parents’ circles of influence.

Let me tell you a story about a Christian homeschool graduate who, like Josh, courted, married, and set up house with a young woman who had just graduated from homeschooling herself. Together they had four children in five years. This homeschool graduate was trained for the ministry, and only for ministry, and was expected to follow in paternal footsteps. In the early years of marriage the fledgling family was financially dependent on family. Small children in tow, the young family moved several states away for a new job pastoring a church.

Are you noticing some parallels? You should be. Josh also married young through a parent-controlled courtship, had four children in five years, was financially dependent on his father, and moved several states away to take up a much-lauded job doing what he was expected to do to further the family name.

But this story ends differently. This homeschool graduate struggled with dysphoria, entered a period of intense questioning, and then left the approved path. Though assigned male at birth, this homeschool graduate came out as transgender and transitioned to living openly as a woman. She left the ministry and had to find an entirely new career, starting from scratch with four children to care for. Neither she nor her wife had any job skills to fall back on. And yet, they overcame overcame. You can read Haley’s story, as told by her wife Melissa, here.

Hayley chose to question her parents’ beliefs and leave their subculture. Josh chose to adopt his parents believes and stay in their subculture. Both had agency.

Yes, children who grow up in Christian homeschooling families are often more sheltered than other children. We may study out of textbooks that are extremely limited in ideological scope. We may not have any friends whose beliefs differ from ours. But the entire premise of this blog and so many others is that Christian homeschooling does not work. Children are wildcards, not robots waiting for programming. Regardless of how controlling our parents may be during our childhoods, once we turn 18 we make our own decisions. Please do not deny us that.

 

The Accidental World-Changers

 

Photo by Darcy S., used with permission

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog, Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on Oct. 8th, 2014.

 

They wanted to raise a generation of people who would change the world with our excellence, character, and superior skills, unafraid of doing right and standing alone.

Well, here we are.

All grown up and no longer staying silent about things that matter, no longer children controlled and smiling in a row. We may not be what they expected, but we are exactly what they planned us to be. They just never thought that we’d be standing up, not for their movement, not for their “values” or their mission, but for each other. Hand in hand, reaching down, pulling up, hugging close, fighting demons, speaking out, hearts beating together.

They wanted to create a force to be reckoned with. They accomplished that goal.

What they failed to take into account was that they were raising people not robots. And people are resilient. They are strong. They have minds and thoughts and wills of their own, things that ultimately cannot be controlled forever. Humans are wild cards.

We have found each other, connected, and now stand side-by-side. “Really? Me too!” is the cry of relief and sadness and connection and righteous anger that we hear every day. The letters I get, the comments on my blog, the conversations day in and day out…..they break my heart, they tear at my very soul, they overwhelm, yet they feel strangely familiar and tell me. I’m not a freak and I’m not alone and neither is anyone else like me. This is both terrible and wonderful.

We each bring our own strengths to this struggle. Some are lawyers, some investigators, some the story-tellers, some counselors and healers, all are friends to those who need a friend, a hand to hold onto. I have chosen to bring my passion for soul-healing into the fight, to do all I can to help others have the life and happiness and wholeness that they deserve as human beings, to break the cycle of violence and brokenness. That is my gift and my passion. Others in our midst are the masters of justice. They are the ones that have devoted their time and effort to exposing the abuse and the abusers, of rallying to do what they can for the rights of homeschooled children. And they’re doing a damn good job too.

“Sit down, be quiet, stop talking, how dare you? You’re lying, you’re disrespectful, submit, shut up, be sweet, don’t tell, don’t question, smile, conform, pretend, why can’t you just……”   Ah, but that is not who we were raised to be, who we were supposed to be, who we have chosen now to be.

We are the world-changers, the truth-fighters, the culture-warriors.

Isn’t that what they wanted? What they dreamed of? What they planned for?

This exposure of abusers in the world we were children in is not going to end until the abuse ends. We were raised to be the best of the best, to stand alone, to choose righteousness when everyone else chose evil. That is exactly what we are doing. With every brave story, their power crumbles to dust.

This expose happened today: When Homeschool Leaders Looked Away.

I commend my friends for all the months of work they put into this. I know the backlash they will received from a culture of image-worship, a kingdom that is imploding before our very eyes because of years worth of corruption and power-mongering covered up in the name of religion and God and “educational freedom”.

There will be no more silence about things that matter from my generation of homeschooled adults.

If we do not speak up, who will? Obviously not those who laud themselves as the leaders of the Christian homeschool world. I am heartbroken for the victims, those named and those still wounded and hiding. And even more convinced that the way I have chosen and the fight I have chosen and the people I have chosen to stand with is all exactly where I am supposed to be.

We are who we were meant to be. We are the generation that unexpectedly changes the world…..our world. Which is more than enough for us.

Escapes and Rescues: A Call for Stories

By Eleanor Skelton, HA Editoral Team

Leaving any controlling system is messy.

But for many of us, getting out of a totalistic household required a literal escape, when guardians were away or with a large group of supportive friends.

Independence was discouraged. Freedom required a personal revolution.

Many of you have read the UnBoxing Project series recently crossposted on Homeschoolers Anonymous. The UnBoxing Project is the network Cynthia Jeub and I formed after we both left our dysfunctional households.

Since 2012, we’ve helped nine friends find new lives outside their cages.

But this isn’t just about our little group of friends in Colorado Springs. We’ve realized that we’re part of something much bigger. Informal networks like ours have formed in other states in other homeschool communities.

For our next open series, Homeschoolers Anonymous invites homeschool alumni to share their stories about leaving cults and controlling households.

Most of us never believed our own parents would bar our attempts to grow up and find freedom by emptying bank accounts, withholding identifying documentation, or taking away our means of transportation. Others were stalked by parents or fellow church members after leaving.

Some were kicked out by their parents because they wouldn’t comply with unreasonable demands.

We would like to hear your story.

As always, you can contribute anonymously or publicly. Please let us know your preference when you contact us.

* Deadline for “Escapes and Rescues” submissions: Friday, November 16, 2015. *

If you are interested in participating in this series, please email us at HA.EdTeam@gmail.com.

Please put “Escapes and Rescues” as the title of the email.