Homeschool Leader Rick Boyer, Sr. Accused Of Sexual Harassment, Grooming

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator.

Rick Boyer, Sr. serves on the Board of Directors of the Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV) and was a recent partner with HSLDA for HEAV’s Leadership Conference. Last year he made news for his statement that, “‘Abuse’ is the new ‘racism.’ As soon as you’re accused of it, you’re considered guilty.” This came in the context of Boyer publicly defending Josh Duggar, the oldest son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, after it came to light that Josh had engaged in child sexual abuse. Boyer has also defended Bill Gothard, the creator of the homeschool program ATI that the Duggars use and someone also accused by over 30 women of sexual abuse and harassment.

Today Ashley Easter, a homeschool alumna and writer, came forward with allegations against Boyer. Easter alleges that Boyer began pursuing and grooming her when she was only seventeen years old. She writes, “I was seventeen when Rick Boyer Sr. (author, speaker and founder of The Learning Parent (now Character Concepts)) first took an interest in me. I was lonely and insecure, looking for affirmation and a place to fit in the world. He was like a father figure to me.” When Boyer encouraged her to write a book, Easter says she “felt honored that such a big name homeschool leader would believe in me.”

Easter alleges that, as time went by, Boyer’s grooming escalated. She claims that he began calling her pet names, touching her, giving her full-body-contact hugs, and eventually kissing her and forcing her to kiss him. These are all classic grooming techniques of sexual abusers.

Easter says she is speaking up now because of the strong influence Boyer has in the Christian homeschooling world:

My concern is that Rick Boyer Sr. isn’t just some random guy from my former church. He is a public speaker, author, and leader in the homeschooling movement. He personally knows and has been a vocal supporter of many other leaders like the Duggar family, Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard. But he is known as “Uncle Rick” in our circles, the guy whom little children look forward to meeting in costume, and who encourages children to sit on his lap as he reads stories to them at homeschooling events. He is also on the board for HEAV (Home Educators Association of Virginia) and was involved with HSLDA’s (The Home School Legal Defense Association) National Christian Homeschool Leadership Conference. He is also a reserve deputy sheriff in Virginia.

Last year Boyer wrote the following about Bill Gothard: “[Gothard] was ACTUALLY found to be guilty of was touching some girls’ hands, hair and feet. He was honest enough to admit that these things were inappropriate and resign.” Despite being accused of the same actions and more, Boyer himself has yet to resign from the Home Educators Association of Virginia. His name continues to be listed on HEAV’s website as a member of their Board of Directors (image archived here).

UPDATE, Friday, April 15, 11:25 am Pacific:

Anne Miller, President and Executive Director of HEAV, gave the following statement to HA: “I was completely unaware of any allegations against Rick Boyer. Our board will certainly be looking into these allegations.”

Everyday Examples of Christian Rape Culture

The Rape of Tamar, by Eustache Le Sueur (c. 1640), public domain.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Shaney Irene’s blog. It was originally published on October 13, 2015.

Today, a friend shared a post on Facebook from Everyday Feminism, titled 25 Everyday Examples of Rape Culture. The author, Shannon Ridgway, discusses what rape culture is before giving a list of examples in everyday culture, from chants allowed at universities to the prevelance of street harassment.

(I recommend you click the link and read the explanation of what rape culture is in that post before you continue.)

I was glad to see a list of clear examples that I could share with my friends, but I found myself running into one problem: most of my friends who deny the existence of rape culture are Christians. They would look at Ridgway’s list and declare the problem to be “the world.” They wouldn’t recognize similar examples of rape culture in their churches, small groups, books, blog posts, etc.

So with the help of some friends who also grew up in conservative Christianity, I’ve put together a list of examples of rape culture within Christian culture. If the church is going to be a safe place for women, for children, for vulnerable populations, for survivors of abuse, we must confront the ways in which Christianity is unsafe, say “enough,” and root out the attitudes and beliefs that lead to rape culture.

1. Christian rape culture is equating education about consent with “risk reduction” while calling abstinence education “risk avoidance.” 

This is a form of blaming the victim, because the underlying assumption is that if one avoids sexual activity, one will avoid the risk of assault, STDs, pregnancy, etc. One may still experience these things whether or not one chooses abstinence.

2. Christian rape culture is refusing to teach about consent because it might encourage kids to have sex. 

This erases consent as a necessary component of sexual morality.

3. Christian rape culture is when wives are told they must always be sexually available to their husbands. 

This not only ignores, but condones marital rape.

4. Christian rape culture is when pregnancies that result from rape are called “God’s will.”

What the victim hears is that their rape was God’s will, too.

5. Christian rape culture is when the false idea that pregnancy rarely happens from rape is perpetuated in Christian circles.

This opens the door for people to accuse people pregnant from rape as “wanting it,” since otherwise they would have been “too stressed out” to become pregnant.

6. Christian rape culture is when churches don’t do background checks on children’s/nursery ministry volunteers because “We know these people and they would never do that.”

Actually, most sexual assault is perpetrated by people close to and trusted by the victim. Perpetrators are experts at making people like them.

7. The way the church teaches “modesty” is rape culture.

It’s never okay to say that what a person wears determines how someone else will view them. Lust and objectification are choices someone else makes, not something that is caused by what a person wears.

8. Christian rape culture happens when prominent Christians publicly defend abusers.

Doing so sends the message to other survivors that the church will choose abusers over them.

9. Christian rape culture is when pastors and other spiritual leaders are believed over their victims, just because of their position of spiritual leadership.

Pastors are not immune to committing crimes, and statistics show the vast majority of reported sexual assault to be true.

10. Christian rape culture is any teaching that either explicitly or implicitly teaches male superiority.

Teaching that God is male, that men are spiritually stronger than women, that God gave men gifts he did not give women, etc.

11. Christian rape culture is teaching that woman was created to help and serve man.

This positions woman as a servant of man, including sexually.

12. Christian rape culture is when Christians argue for the removal of women from certain spaces (for example, the military) in order to keep sexual assault from happening.

13. Christian rape culture is when children are forced to give hugs or shake hands when they don’t want to

This primes children to assume that adults get access to their body when they want it, instead of teaching them that they have bodily autonomy and adults can’t just touch them because they want to.

14. Christian rape culture is when language like “colonize” and “conquer” are used to describe sex, and then the author of those words continues to be hosted on popular Christian websites. 

15. Christian rape culture is when words like “broken” and “diseased” are used to describe abuse victims. 

16. Christian rape culture is when we suggest that victims might be “at fault” for their abuse.  

The linked article has examples from workbooks from ATI, Bill Gothard’s ministry, which were used by the Duggars and have been used for a long time in homeschooling circles. This is just one extreme example, there are many more subtle examples, like suggesting that what a person was wearing, where they were, who they were friend with, etc. contributed to the abuse.

17. Christian rape culture is when abuse is called a “mistake” and people make excuses for it. 

See: Josh Duggar.

18. Christian rape culture is looking at these examples and blaming it on “those other Christians.” 

If you are a Christian and you are not speaking up when you see this happen, you’re part of the problem. Even if your church doesn’t teach these things, you probably have friends who love to watch the Duggars on TLC, or push modesty culture on their children, or…

You get the point. With stories of sexual abuse in the church coming out again and again, it’s time for all Christians of all stripes to start confronting Christian rape culture.

What examples of Christian rape culture have you seen? What ways have you found effective in confronting it? 

Sexual Coercion as Redemptive: Nancy Wilson on a Wife’s Sexual Duties

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Content warning: discussion of child sexual abuse and marital abuse and rape.

Nancy Wilson is an advocate of Christian Patriarchy, an ideology popular within the Christian Homeschool Movement as well as the broader Reformed Fundamentalist culture out of which that movement sprang. Nancy is married to Doug Wilson, one of the founders of New Saint Andrews College, Greyfriars Hall (a ministerial training program), and the Association of Classical and Christian Schools and pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. (Note: for the sake of clarity, future references to Doug Wilson will simply be Doug and future references to Nancy will be either Nancy or Wilson.) Doug’s 1991 book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning is considered one of the seminal texts of the Classical Christian Education movement. Some would argue his book launched that movement, though that claim is historically myopic and ignores other seminal texts like Dorothy Sayers’s The Lost Tools of Learning. Both Doug and Nancy Wilson do, however, hold significant influence within the Classical Christian Education movement. Furthermore, even though the Wilsons prefer private Classical Christian schools to homeschooling, their teachings about both Classical Christian Education as well as Christian Patriarchy (and its subsequent traditional gender roles) have been popular and significant within the Christian Homeschool Movement.

Over the last few days, Doug and Christ Church have received mounting attention and criticism over the cases of Steven Sitler and Jamin C. Wight. Sitler is a homeschool alumnus who attended New Saint Andrews College as a student and Christ Church as a parishioner. Wight is also a homeschool alumnus who attended Greyfriars Hall. Both are convicted child molesters who molested children in Doug’s various academic and religious communities. (You can read a comprehensive timeline of events and evidential documentation of Sitler’s case here, though be warned that the court documents contain detailed descriptions of child sexual abuse.) And during both of their trials, Doug chose to sit on their sides of the courtroom rather than on the sides of their victims and the victims’ families. Furthermore, despite Sitler’s crimes, Doug — who served as Sitler’s counselor and petitioned Sitler’s judge for “measured and limited” civil penalties — continued to welcome Sitler in his church after his sentencing. And in spite of Doug becoming aware of Sitler’s history of sexual predation in March 2005 and Wight’s history of sexual predation in August 2005, it was not until December that Doug informed the families of Christ Church in general.

In response to the mounting attention and criticism, Doug wrote an open letter on behalf of himself and his fellow elders at Christ Church. His letter, which contained 1,853 words, was focused entirely on defending and justifying his and his church’s actions as well as dismissing detractors as promoting “false allegations” that “are simply slander.” Wilson positions himself and his church as martyrs in line with Jesus because they are being criticized for extending “grace” to Sitler, saying, “To be vilified for standing for grace is itself a grace.” Not a single sentence in the open letter was dedicated to expressing concern for, anguish or compassion over, empathy towards, or protection of the victims and their families. This is telling, “for the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34).

In her 1997 book "The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman," Nancy Wilson articulates her and her husband's philosophy of marriage and sexuality as it pertains to Christian women.
In her 1997 book “The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman,” Nancy Wilson articulates her and her husband’s philosophy of marriage and sexuality as it pertains to Christian women.

In light of Doug’s open letter, it seems important and helpful to place that letter within the larger context of the Wilsons’ belief system concerning sexuality and sexual responsibilities within a Christian marriage. To that end we shall turn to Nancy Wilson’s 1997 book The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman. In this book Wilson articulates her and her husband’s philosophy of marriage and sexuality as it pertains to Christian women. Though the book is written entirely by Wilson herself, Doug wrote the book’s Foreword and in that he makes clear he fully endorses his wife’s ideas, saying, “As Christian women consider how they might stand as godly helpers to their husbands in this high calling, I can do nothing better than commend this book to them.” Furthermore, Doug admires that Nancy “has been writing on marriage and family for a number of years, and in reading her I have never had to wonder at hypocrisy. There has been none” (p. 11) Nancy Wilson practices what she preaches to others, and what she preaches to others is laid out in The Fruit of Her Hands.

Wilson begins her book with a dire proclamation. Quoting 2 Timothy 3:1, that “in the last days perilous times will come,” Wilson declares that American women have been “captivated by the lies promulgated by the modern world and have succumbed in many ways to the humanistic mindset” (13). “What are some of the lies she [American women] has been told?” Wilson asks. She then provides a list stereotypical for Christian Patriarchy adherents: couples do not want giant families, women act too much like men, and of course the belief system Christian Patriarchy most seethes against: feminism. But the two most relevant “lies” on Wilson’s list are: 1. “Marriage is partnership.” And 2. “The most important thing is to have a healthy self-image and to have your deepest needs met” (14). In other words, Wilson believes women are under captivity when they believe their marriage is a partnership rather than a dictatorship and when they believe a healthy and fulfilled sense of self is most important to having a successful marriage.

How do women become ensnared in these lies? Wilson argues that “this sort of thinking creep[s] into our households” for a number of reasons. The most notable are first, because “the media indoctrinate us daily”; and second, “by way of the latest feel-good psycho-babble,” and by this Wilson means counseling, psychology, and therapy. Wilson says that these resources are detrimental to a Christian wife for the following reasons: “Here she can talk about all of her needs and frustrations. Here she can learn how to cope with lack of fulfillment. Here she can learn how to get back on speaking terms with her husband and children” (15). In other words, when Christian wives have a separate, safe place apart from their husbands to privately process their needs and frustrations, to learn how to protect their inner selves, and to learn communication skills to heal relationships with their husbands and children — then women fall under captivity. This is because, to Wilson, having a separate, safe place apart from one’s husband to privately process matters ensnares women into thinking lies — namely, that their marriage is a partnership rather than a dictatorship and that a healthy and fulfilled sense of self is most important to having a successful marriage.

In contrast to the “humanistic mindset” that teaches women that marriage is a partnership and that a healthy and fulfilled sense of self is important, Wilson sets forth what she believes is the biblical mindset. This mindset is, of course, Christian Patriarchy, in which women are to submit to their husbands, show deference to their husbands’ decisions, and work hard to please their husbands emotionally and sexually. While the entire book is worth analyzing, this post will focus specifically on Wilson’s messages to women concerning their sexual relationship with their husbands. These messages are found in Chapter 7 of the book, “Lovemaking.”

Wilson commences with the declaration that sexuality within marriage is “a protection against sexual immorality” (87). Taking literally the Song of Solomon’s metaphor of the bride as a garden (Song of Solomon 4:12: “You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride”), Wilson then compares a wife, her body, and her sexuality to a garden (and the wife’s husband to a “gardener”). Using a metaphor of a garden, Wilson’s language and images range from abstract to explicit to troubling. “The garden is a private place for only the husband and wife,” she writes. “It has a high wall around it called the marriage covenant” (89). A wife’s husband “is the garden tender, and the wife becomes a source of great joy and delight to the husband as he spends time in the garden he faithfully tends.”

While encouraging women to think of themselves as gardens, Wilson begins to guilt them. Women need to “take a more eager interest in making it a lovely garden that her husband delights to spend time in.” She warns women that untended gardens tend to not be enjoyed by visitors, whereas lovely gardens make visitors feel welcome. Wilson says wives must be like the latter: “You want your husband to feel that way when he visits you.” Thus a wife should not “resent her husband’s sexual advances as intrusive.”

Wilson then takes a turn towards the troubling. Using the garden metaphor for a woman and her body, Wilson strips away the agency of that woman and dismisses enthusiastic consent as important to relationships. Women who find their husband’s sexual advances as intrusive are “hanging a sign out on the garden wall that reads in large letters, ‘No trespassing.'” But, and this is the troubling part, “But of course a husband is never trespassing in his garden, though he can be made to feel as though he is an intruder” (89, emphasis added). With this one sentence Wilson completely disregards as possible the concept of marital rape. A husband can never be intruding on his wife’s body, because his wife’s body is his. Wilson then shifts blame on a wife who is being coerced into sex with her husband: while the husband’s sexual coercion is not sinful, the woman’s reluctance — which makes her husband “feel as though he is an intruder” — is sinful.

Wilson next considers legitimate reasons for a wife saying “No” to sex and dismisses them as illegitimate. For example, if a wife has no sexual desire: Wilson does not suggest that the woman learn about her body and her sexuality and find out how to communicate to her husband how he can better please her or help her feel sexually open with him. Rather, Wilson dismisses women as incapable of understanding their own bodies: “Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made. Who can understand them? Certainly we cannot understand ourselves very well” (93-4). So women just need to buck up and not “consult your feelings” as to do so is selfish. “Does your husband always ‘feel’ in the mood for a heart-to-heart chat?” she manipulatively reminds women.

Another legitimate reason for a wife saying “No” to sex that Wilson dismisses as illegitimate is a past history of sexual abuse. Women who “have had bad sexual experiences” and “have suffered at the hands of others sexually” need to simply (a) realize their own sinful role in their own abuse and (b) get over the abuse already and forgive their abusers:

“We are not to drag our past around like a ball and chain. We have been delivered from our past sins… If you have suffered at the hands of others sexually, you must extend forgiveness… Forgive those people in your past who wronged you sexually and do not allow their sin to ruin your life… How many times did Jesus say we should forgive those who sin against us? Countless times” (94).

Wilson rubs the final dash of salt into the wound by saying the following to these women who suffered abuse: “Don’t make your husband suffer for wrongs others committed” (95).

One might wonder why Wilson places such a high value on a wife being always ready to satisfy her husband sexually. This is because, as Wilson first established regarding sexuality within marriage, it is “a protection against sexual immorality” (87). Wives and their sexuality are a “potent instrument in God’s hand” (97). When a woman’s husband is “an unbeliever or a disobedient believer” — for example, if one finds one’s self married to, say, child molester Steven Sitler — Wilson encourages women that their being constantly submissive to their husband’s sexual demands, their being constantly submissive to their husbands’ sexual coercion, is something God uses to bring that unbeliever to conversion or that disobedient believer to repentance. Wilson writes,

“If you are married to an unbeliever or a disobedient believer, you must determine before God that you are going to attempt as best you can to fulfill all your obligations as a wife in a godly fashion. This means you must apply all the Word’s teachings on sex whether your husband does or not. Esther won over the king and was greatly used as a result… God can use the sexual relationship as one of the means of winning him back to obedience or winning him to Christ” (97).

In his open letter concerning Steven Sitler, Doug objects to certain detractors, saying, “We do not believe that marriage is an automatic ‘fix’ for the temptations to molest children” (emphasis in the original). This is true, but only in a limited sense. The Wilsons have never claimed that “godly” sexuality is a cure for a sexual disorder like nepiophilia or pedophilia or a protection against criminal activity like child molestation. However, they have claimed — as we just saw — that “godly” sexuality can be a productive tool in bringing a disobedient believer back to obedience to God. Doug reiterated this in a new blog post today:

“Do I think that marriage is an ‘automatic’ cure for the temptations of pedophilia? Of course not. Marriage is not an automatic cure for anything. But the apostle Paul does teach that marriage, approached rightly, is given by God as one of His assigned helps against immorality (1 Cor. 7:2)” (emphasis added).

Thus insofar as the Wilsons believe nepiophilia, pedophilia, and child molestation to be manifestations of disobedience to God, they do believe that Sitler’s wife’s sexuality can be “one of the means of winning him back to obedience or winning him to Christ” — which, in Sitler’s case, would take the specific form of forsaking nepophilia, pedophilia, and child molestation. Doug’s objection, therefore, is so deflective and hairsplitting it is insipid.

These messages that Nancy Wilson has taught and continues to teach — messages that her husband Doug endorses and also teaches — shed an important light on the developments arising out of Christ Church, New Saint Andrews College, and Greyfriars Hall. Though we may find the messages troubling, they help us better understand why Doug, Nancy, and the other members of their academic and religious communities in Moscow, Idaho seemed to have little to no problem with marrying a young, vulnerable woman off to a serial child molester after only their second date. In the Wilsons’ minds, giving Steven Sitler an outlet for his sexuality — giving him a woman who is taught that she cannot say no to her “gardener” who has full rights to her bodily “garden” — could begin a spiritually redemptive process that could bring the serial child molester into repentance and obedience to God. Even if that involved sexual coercion (what we would all consider marital abuse and rape), to the Wilsons that is not a problem. To the Wilsons there is no such thing as sexual coercion; there is only the sexual submission of a wife to her husband. This is the broader context in which to understand Doug’s infamous statement that, “The sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.”

To the Wilsons, marriage is not a partnership but a dictatorship. The husband, or patriarch, is the sexual dictator. That sexual dictatorship is divinely ordained and a woman’s body is ordained by God to serve as an instrument of redemption, her bodily rights sacrificed for a greater spiritual good.

And you know what’s even more troubling than the theology itself?

The fact that so many young women are being raised and taught in their homeschools around the U.S. to think that this is what God actually wants for them.

Don’t Shame Those Bringing Darkness to Light: Elliott Grace Harvey’s Thoughts

CC image courtesy of Flickr, See-Ming Lee.

Some of the comments I come across regarding human rights issues blow my mind. I’m talking about the things that become a major source of dissension in social media and personal conversations.

A movie about kinky sex.

Discrimination towards the queer community.

Gender inequality. Rape culture and its many representations.

“No,” I protest, trying to kick him off. He stops. “If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet too. If you make a noise… I will gag you.”

An overwhelming theme I see emerging is an attitude of annoyance. Frustration that we’re talking about any of this. That whatever the topic is, will go away and we should stop discussing it because “controversy” is what makes this an issue.

“I have an overwhelming urge to cry, a sad and lonely melancholy grips and tightens round my heart. Dashing back to my bedroom, I close the door and lean against it trying to rationalize my feelings. I can’t. Sliding to the floor, I put my head in my hands as my tears begin to flow.”

Here’s the thing about promoting silence as a solution.

When you believe that talking about something is the problem, and that to stop talking about it takes away the problem, you don’t understand it at all.

You’re speaking from a place of privilege. A place where things like abuse only affect you in your news feed, rather than your daily life. The people affected by abusive situations will still wake up to them tomorrow, and you can’t stand to hear about it.

“All this intense need to shout from the rooftops that this is abuse is crazy.”

Feeling isolated and unheard paralyzes people in unhealthy situations. Say it out loud,You’re not alone, and you’re not at fault.”

“The more we talk about it the more publicity it gets. I’m personally tired of hearing about it.”

Words are powerful things. You can make a difference with your words for the better.

“It’s a movie. It doesn’t promote a widespread message about anything. Find something else to worry about.”

Education changes lives. Speak about respect and human rights, again and again and again.

“It’s CONTROVERSIAL. Controversy and drama. When people get tired of discussing how evil/wonderful it is it will fade into oblivion.”

Take whatever the current media battle is. Yes, the hype will go away eventually. Yes, the uproar is fed the more people talk about it. Yes, people should use common sense. However, misinformation is damaging, and silencing those who are speaking up against wrong does no one any favors.

I’m glad you’re not personally affected by discrimination or abuse or any of these issues people are dealing with. I plead with you, don’t shame those that are bringing it to light.

Silence is on the side of the abuser.

A Closer Look at Karen Campbell and Lisa Cherry’s Podcast Series on Sexual Abuse Prevention

CC image "Magnifying Glass" courtesy of Flickr, Auntie P.
CC image “Magnifying Glass” courtesy of Flickr, Auntie P.

About the author: Kathi is a Bible-belt midwest transplant to the beautiful Pacific northwest. After homeschooling her kids for 10 years (she decided that high school math and science were not her strongest subjects), both kids are in public school. She is a former church goer and finds herself in that unstudied demographic of middle-aged Nones. She has a B.A. in Urban Ministry and a M.S.W. (Master of Social Work). Her goal is to work with children who have been abused or are in foster care. She loves to knit, cook and read (not in any particular order). The following was originally published on Kathi’s blog Moving Beyond Absolutes on November 4, 2014 and is reprinted with permission. Also by Kathi on HA: “Kevin Swanson, Child Abuse, and Dead Little Bunnies”

I first heard of Lisa Cherry when R.L. Stollar at Homeschoolers Anonymous did a series about Lisa Cherry’s Frontline Family Ministry’s Child Abuse Prevention Week. While reading this series, I happened upon, Karen Campbell’s, first podcast with Lisa Cherry. I thought this first podcast was decent. It mostly addressed Cherry’s experience with her daughter when she was lured into a sexual abuse situation with an older man at church. She also addressed that homeschoolers face some distinctive vulnerabilities when it comes to abuse. The kicker, though, was that she did not address the fact that homeschooled kids may be abused by their parents until the end of the conversation.

This is my main frustration with homeschooling leaders.

I have yet to hear from one homeschool leader that homeschooled kids can be abused by their homeschooling parents. Karen Campbell’s second podcast with Lisa Cherry lived up to this.

Karen starts off her podcast by saying:

“The protection of homeschooling children from the ravages of sexual abuse is one of the hot topics within homeschooling circles, and for good reason. As much as we would love to be able to say this never happens in homeschooling families, sometimes it does.”

Okay.  Good start. At least she’s admitting that “sometimes” child abuse happens in homeschooling families. However, further on in her podcast, Karen states:

“One of the concerns that I have had is that there seems to be an agenda on the part of some people that the parents are the perpetrators of abuse towards children. Now you and I both know that there are times when that is true. We watched in horror the reports of what happened with people who had used the Pearl’s “To Train Up a Child” book. We have heard these abusive stories, we’re talking about physical abuse. We’ve, we’ve seen and I’ve heard and I know people personally who have been through very spiritually abusive homes where legalism rules and there is no desire for relationship with children. So we know those kind of things do happen. But I do not believe that parents for the most part are the perpetrators of this kind of situation with their children. And I also believe that sometimes when those things have happened it is not because you have parents who desire to be abusive, it’s because they have been subjected to teaching that tells them that this is the only Godly way.” 

This is the point at which I think I spit my coffee out on my laptop. Really, “But I do not believe that parents for the most part are the perpetrators of this kind of situation with their children.” And this “agenda?” Really?

And, even later:

“And I’m not convinced what they think is a problem actually is a problem.”  

Let’s look at some facts from Children’s Bureau, an Office of the Administration of Children and Families. Every year they post child abuse statistics. The most current listing regarding child maltreatment is for the year 2012.

  • Four-fifths (80.3%) of perpetrators were parents
  • 6.1% of perpetrators were relatives other than parents
  • 4.2% of perpetrators were unmarried partners of parents
  • 4.6% of perpetrators were an other relationship to the victim
  • 3.1% of perpetrators were an “unknown” relationship to the victim

These statistics are consistent with all of the statistics that I have ever read about child abuse. When it comes to child abuse, the only grace that I will give Karen Campbell and Lisa Cherry is that in the area of child sexual abuse, it is difficult to find information regarding the breakdown of the relationship of the perpetrator to the victim. Most statistics note that a “very high percentage” of victims of child sexual abuse “know” the perpetrator.

Lisa Cherry continues the train of thought:

“To think, to think that, you know, we’ve got a few cases here in homeschooling. Well, I open my, my email feed just constantly and I find, you know, the, the two women that went after the teenage boy in the high school just a few weeks ago. You know, you find just case after case after case.”

It’s as though child sexual abuse is committed by the bogeyman or some other government sponsored officials.

The continued denial of child abuse happening within Christian homeschooling families does not help victims. It is time for Christian homeschooling leaders to tear down the pedestal of the perfect Christian homeschooling family and admit that child abuse does happen.

The other point which stood out to me was this part of the conversation:

Lisa: “Now I know that there’s some places online that are saying we need the government to step in, we need more regulation, we need to protect our kids, we need to have more rules, we need to have more laws. Karen, I don’t believe that’s the answer.”

Karen: “No.”

Lisa: “I don’t believe the government will be able to protect from these kinds of very sensitive things. I think, I believe that God placed families together to provide protection for children.”

I would agree that the government is not the best parent of a child. I have been working with a kid in the foster care system due to child abuse and it is frustrating to get her the help that she needs. However, I believe that DHS is an avenue that attempts to help kids who have been abused. And to say that God provided families to protect kids? What about the kids who are being abused by their family members? Who is protecting them?

As far as Lisa’s concern about government’s regulation over homeschooling, I would agree with “some places online” that think there should be some regulation. Having been a homeschooler for 10 years and interacted with some in my state’s Christian homeschool association, I understand the concern for having more regulation to protect children. Campbell and Cherry’s defense that the government does not help protect public schooled kids is not helpful. First of all, let’s consider the fact that there are far more children schooled in the public school setting than in the homeschool or private school setting. Secondly, consider the fact that at least public schooled kids have mandated reporters that are able to see any potential child abuse problems and report them. Homeschooled children do not have this extra attention from mandated reporters who may advocate on their behalf.

But it was this additional statement that made me almost spew my coffee a second time:

“We’ve seen HSLDA try to help us with them.”

HSLDA? Honestly, I have not seen much by them for supporting victims of abuse. has a good article about how HSLDA has lobbied for laws against making “false reports.” It is my opinion that HSLDA’s main goal is to protect the rights of homeschooling and parental rights. While HSLDA does not condone child abuse, I think that they really do not know how to handle a case of an abusing homeschooling parent unless it directly relates to homeschooling. In that case, I think that HSLDA will fight for the right of the parent to homeschool and not for the child victim.

All in all, this second podcast by Karen Campbell with Lisa Cherry left me very angry and frustrated. It seems that we will continue to wait for homeschool leaders to admit the fact that child abuse does in fact happen within homeschooling families. Until they are willing to accept this fact, child abuse “may” happen in homeschool families, but most likely it will be perpetrated by someone outside of the family.

Darn that elusive bogeyman.

Why I Cannot Support Frontline Family Ministries’ Abuse Prevention Week: Part Seven, Conclusion

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator


In this series: Part One, Introduction | Part Two, Kalyn’s Secret | Part Three, Kalyn’s Secret (Continued) | Part Four, Not Open | Part Five, Unmask the Predators | Part Six, Recommended Resources | Part Seven, Conclusion


Part Seven, Conclusion

When it comes to educating people about issues like child abuse and mental health, I truly do not care if you are Christian, atheist, Muslim, conservative, liberal, moderate, gay, straight, bi, or whatever you may be. What I care about is that you actually understand child abuse and mental health. If you’re going to set yourself as an educator and leader about a topic, I expect you to do your homework.

That’s what I care about.

I understand that we live in a diverse world. And I understand that many Christian homeschool communities and organizations are politically and religiously conservative. That’s life. I haven’t even found someone in the HA community that I agree with on everything. I am willing to support and work with people I disagree with on many issues provided that on the issues we all care about — like child abuse and mental health — we are moving forward in productive and helpful ways.

Honestly, I was looking forward to supporting Frontline Family Ministries’s National Sexual Abuse Prevention Week. A national ministry creating a week of awareness for an issue I have cared deeply about for over a decade? What is not to like?

Turns out, a lot.

But I didn’t start from a place of antagonism. In fact, it has made me sick to my stomach over the last few months as I realized just how counter-productive and damaging this ministry’s teachings are. This isn’t what I hoped for. It’s the exact opposite.

Throughout this last week I have explained in great detail why I ended up deciding I couldn’t support Frontline Family Ministries. Some of you may thought it was overkill. But I went into that much detail because I take seriously the decision that I cannot support a National Sexual Abuse Prevention Week for Homeschoolers. And I needed to make as clear as possible why I made that decision. It wasn’t made because Lisa Cherry is a Christian, or conservative, or charismatic, or because she’s a homeschool mom, or any personal reasons. As I said in the very beginning of this series, my heart goes out to her and her family and I wish them nothing but continued hope and healing.

I made the decision because I believe homeschooling communities desperately need to educate themselves about child abuse and mental health — and I believe that education must be done correctly. Not perfectly. But at least correctly. All my life energy, nearly every waking hour, has been invested for over a year and a half to homeschooling issues because I care about homeschooling. I want to see it flourish. I want to see it be a safe and nurturing movement for children everywhere. But until we come to our senses and start taking seriously the tears and cries of the alumni and children of homeschooling, the movement is going to suffer.

The question I wrestled most with, after doing all this research, was this: Can I declare a lack of support for Frontline Family Ministries but still declare support for the National Sexual Abuse Prevention Week?

Ultimately, I decided no. I decided this for two reasons:

First, Frontline Family Ministries is not simply presenting insufficient information. The information they are promoting is actively damaging. It encourages victim-blaming, it sanctions fear-based authoritarian parenting, it sets up abusers’ most vulnerable targets as abusers themselves, it distracts people from who abusers usually are, and it teaches people to guilt and shame those who suffer from abuse and mental illness.

It’s one thing if I simply disagreed with the ministry on political and religious doctrines.

It’s a whole different situation when I know from firsthand experience that the “awareness” they promote are the exact same messages that got the Christian Homeschool Movement into the mess we are in today.

Second, I simply cannot separate supporting the week itself from supporting the ministry. Frontline Family Ministries has been steadily positioning themselves as the new authority on sexual abuse prevention within homeschooling — and some of the most important gatekeepers in Christian homeschooling have fallen for it — hook, line, and sinker. You see the Great Homeschool Conventions, the National Center for Life and Liberty, HEDUA, even an anti-Bill Gothard person like Karen Campbell, all rushing to heap praise upon them.

Yet apparently none of these people or organizations either (1) bothered to read the ministry’s books or (2) find such damaging teachings to be a problem.

This is flagrantly irresponsible. This is, again, exactly the sort of attitude that got the Christian Homeschool Movement into the mess we are in today.

To support this week would be a stamp of approval on the ministry’s positioning as educators and leaders in homeschool sexual abuse prevention. I cannot give that stamp of approval with a good conscience, and it saddens me that others have so quickly decided to give that stamp themselves.

We’re at a moment in the history of the Christian Homeschool Movement where we need to wake up and treat these issues with urgency and sobriety. We do not need any more snake oil. We need to start listening to children and alumni and centering their voices in these conversations.

Until we do that, we’ll just be traveling in circles.

It’s for all these reasons that I cannot support Frontline Family Ministries’ Abuse Prevention Week.

Why I Cannot Support Frontline Family Ministries’ Abuse Prevention Week: Part Six, Recommended Resources


By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator


In this series: Part One, Introduction | Part Two, Kalyn’s Secret | Part Three, Kalyn’s Secret (Continued) | Part Four, Not Open | Part Five, Unmask the Predators | Part Six, Recommended Resources | Part Seven, Conclusion


Part Six, Recommended Resources

Today I am going to examine the “Recommended Reading” and “Helpful Ministries and Websites” contained both at the end of Kalyn’s Secret and online at Frontline Family Ministries’s website. A few things to note: (1) Both sets of resources have been identical up until several months ago; the resources listed at the end of Kalyn’s Secret were the exact same resources on the website. (2) These resources, ministries, and websites are specifically intended for sexual abuse prevention. Kalyn’s Secret, of course, is about sexual abuse prevention. And on FFM’s website, these resources — as you can see in the images below — are listed under the “sexual abuse” tab:

Before getting into my analysis, I should also mention that — in Part One of this series — I said I had “poured over the Cherry family’s ministry website, including all of its manifestations from the last few years via the Wayback Machine.”  In fact, I had been using the Wayback Machine up until the release of Part One (this last Monday).

Curiously, as of yesterday, FFM is now blocking the Wayback Machine from archiving their website:

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Fortunately, I made archived copies of everything. So I can commence with today’s analysis despite the removal of all the source material. Without further ado, here are Lisa Cherry and Frontline Family Ministries’s “recommended resources” and “helpful ministries and websites” (and why they are troubling):

1. Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles

Despite the fact that Bill Gothard and his Institute in Basic Life Principles have been (1) covering up sexual abuse since the 1980’s, (2) accused by over 30 women in the last few years (since 2012) of continuing to cover-up sexual harassment and abuse, and (3) promoting horribly abusive teachings regarding counseling survivors of abuse, Lisa and FFM encouraged abuse victims, survivors, and their families to consult Gothard and IBLP. And note that this was not just encouragement; it was encouragement in the context of sexual abuse prevention.

Lisa and FFM’s recommendations of Gothard and IBLP date back to at least 2009 when Kalyn’s Secret was published. And then continued — and this important — all the way into this year, 2014. Yes, FFM was recommending Gothard and IBLP as recently as this year. This is one of the pieces of information no longer accessible via the Wayback Machine since FFM blocked Wayback’s archiving robots. However, you can view a February 2014 screenshot of FFM’s “recommended reading” that I saved here as well as a February 2014 screenshot of FFM’s “helpful resources and websites” that I saved here. Note in the former they recommend Bill Gothard’s book The Secret Power of Crying Out and IBLP’s How to Win the Heart of a Rebel by S.M. Davis. And in the latter they recommend IBLP itself.

If you’re up on your homeschool news, you will know that it was in February that news about IBLP putting Bill Gothard on administrative leave went national. So it makes perfect sense that Lisa and FFM would finally distance themselves. To do otherwise would be a PR disaster. In fact, Lisa even wrote an article for WorldNetDaily in April denouncing Gothard for exhibiting the warning signs of abusive grooming tactics. However, she never mentions in that article that she was promoting him a mere 2 months prior. Nor has she ever publicly denounced his teachings. Rather, she “grant[s] his request for forgiveness” (even though it’s not hers to give) and bemoans not his abusive teachings but rather that his actions conflicted with his teachings.

It’s good that she came out against his alleged actions; however, his teachings are just as abusive. And Lisa was directing abuse victims, survivors, and their families towards his and his ministry’s teachings just a few months ago.

Those are the teachings that enabled the abuse in the first place.

2. Nancy Alcorn and Mercy Ministries

Unlike Bill Gothard and IBLP, Nancy Alcorn and her organization Mercy Ministries continue to be recommend by FFM to this day. On the current “Recommended Reading” list, you will find numerous books by Alcorn, including Violated: Mercy for Sexual Abuse. And on the “Helpful Ministries and Websites” list, you will find Mercy Ministries.

So let’s talk about Nancy Alcorn and Mercy Ministries.

Founded in 1983 by Nancy Alcorn, the FFM-recommended Mercy Ministries is a fundamentalist, charismatic Christian organization that offers 6-month residential programs to young women dealing with abuse and mental health issues. Their programs in Australia were closed several years ago after reports that they prevented residents, “many of whom had serious psychiatric conditions,” from “gaining access to psychiatric care,” and instead used “exorcisms to ‘expel demons’ from the young women.” The ministry also engaged in welfare fraud. Those programs were sponsored and led by Hillsong Church, the very same church organization that Boz Tchividjian wrote about last week due to their failure to report child sexual abuse.

Women that enrolled in Mercy’s Australia program said they “left the Mercy centre suicidal, after being told they were possessed by demons.” A woman that attended a U.S. program called it a “cult” and said, “When I first got out I was very depressed and thought about suicide which I hadn’t done in 9 months prior to the program.” These are common complaints by attendees, who have formed websites to expose alleged abuses, including Mercy Survivors and Mercy Ministries Exposed.

These complaints are also fully understandable in light of Nancy Alcorn’s belief in demonology and soul ties, which I briefly mentioned in the last part of this series. The following image is from Alcorn’s book Violated: Mercy for Sexual Abuse, one of the books Lisa Cherry specifically recommends to abuse survivors:


This is the exact same message Mercy residents hear. Residents are given “a binder called Restoring the Foundations (RTF), a scripture-based doctrine associated with charismatic Pentecostalism… According to RTF, a lapse in conduct, such as premarital sex, could invite in an evil spirit that might curse a bloodline for generations.” This is an extraordinarily dangerous and damaging message to send to abuse survivors.

As seen above, both Nancy Alcorn’s teachings as well as Mercy Ministries are well-documented to exacerbate abuse, mental illness, and victim-shaming. Yet they continue to be recommended by Lisa Cherry and FFM.

3. Eric and Leslie Ludy

Like Nancy Alcorn and Mercy Ministries, the teachings of Eric and Leslie Ludy continue to be recommend by FFM in the context of sexual abuse prevention. I discussed one problem with this recommendation in my last post, but it is worth reviewing:

“In one of the final chapters of [Eric and Leslie Ludy’s book ‘When God Writes Your Love Story’], entitled ‘Too Late?’, Leslie Ludy discusses ‘sexual sin’ and ‘moral compromise’ — in other words, ‘lost virginity.’ …Leslie tells about a 12-year-old girl named Rebecca. Leslie says that Rebecca — again, a 12-year-old — was lured by a 16-year-old boy from a church youth group into his house one day. Leslie says that Rebecca ‘left as a used and defiled sex toy’ and was ‘forced from childhood into womanhood.’

“From Leslie’s description alone, Rebecca’s story reads as a straightforward account of a 12-year-old girl being raped. The words ‘used’ and ‘forced’ indicate a lack of consent. Yet Leslie puts Rebecca’s story in the same chapter as stories of willing sexual encounters of individuals who chose to have sex before marriage. All these stories are then discussed as ‘sexual sin’ and ‘moral compromise.’ At no point does Leslie identify Rebecca’s story as a story of child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and/or rape — and at no point does Leslie then relate it to the importance of children and teenagers learning sexual consent and safety. The message to young women reading this would be and has been clear: you being ‘forced from childhood into womanhood’ is you sexually sinning, even if you were ‘forced.’”

This is the very last book you should recommend to abuse survivors. Yet this is the book Lisa recommends to young people to learn about purity in the context of sexual abuse prevention.

The Ludys’ equivocation between “sexual sin” and sexual abuse continues to this day. In the September/October 2013 edition of Leslie Ludy’s magazine Set Apart Girl, Leslie wrote an article entitled, “White As Snow: Experiencing God’s Restoration from Sexual Sin and Abuse”:

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Note that the very title of the article is this “sin and abuse” equivocation. Nowhere in the article does Leslie address sexual abuse as a criminal action for which the victim has no responsibility. Rather, the entire article just addresses how girls “could be set free” if only they were “willing to repent” from “sexual sin.” If you’re going to say your article addresses “sexual abuse” and then only talk about the necessity of repentance, you are communicating nothing but guilt and shame to the abused.

4. Ron Luce and Teen Mania

The Cherry family absolutely loves Ron Luce and Teen Mania. Their family “travels on Teen Mania Ministry’s Acquire the Fire tour,” they recommend both Luce and his organization in the context of sexual abuse prevention, and Lisa frequently cites from Luce’s books.

I already mentioned that Luce and Teen Mania teach the concept of soul ties. Beyond that there are many other deeply concerning elements of Luce and Teen Mania. They have been featured in an MSNBC documentary where their high control, cult-like tactics resulted in immense emotional, physical, and spiritual damage to attendees. Teen Mania alumni have banded together and created a website called “Recovering Alumni,” where they detail accusations including: labor violations, hazardous working conditions, pushing people with serious mental health problems to quit medication, using exorcisms to “cure” attendee problems, covering up sexual harassment, and knowingly employing sexual predators. Several of their programs have been disbanded recently due to attendees’ serious injuries and abuse and financial corruption.

That Lisa Cherry and FFM would continue to partner with and recommend this organization, not to mention recommend such an organization to abuse victims and survivors, is inexcusable.

5. Family Life

Family Life was founded through Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade in 1976. Their mission is “To effectively develop godly marriages and families who change the world one home at a time.” They provide resources “that help people build stronger homes and communities.” FFM recommends Family Life to abuse survivors and their families.

Why is this troubling? Well, because Family Life does not take domestic violence seriously. In an article on their website entitled, “Does a Good God Want Me in a Bad Marriage?”, Family Life states that the only reasons justifying a woman leaving her husband are “unrepentant adultery, abandonment, or repeated physical abuse” (emphasis added). So apparently some physical abuse is tolerable in a marriage. In fact, Family Life says that suffering such things in marriage can be good:

“God also calls us to righteousness, and often that requires giving up our personal happiness for the greater good. This is referred to as sacrifice, and it’s never easy, fun, or ‘happy.’ The apostle Paul reminds us that part of the Christian life is suffering for the sake of the cross.”

Family Life later issued an editorial statement that reiterated repeated physical abuse justifies divorce. And by later, I mean much later. As in, the original piece was published in 2006 and their editorial statement was released in 2014. The problem, though, is that (1) this organization that is counseling individuals about marriage and family issues took nearly a decade to realize how damaging their advice could be and (2) they still are tolerating some physical abuse in a marriage by continuing to emphasize “repeated.”

6. Neil Anderson

One of the resources FFM recommends on the “spiritual warfare” front of sexual abuse prevention is Neil Anderson and his book The Bondage Breaker. This book has long been a staple of Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles. It is also fundamentally flawed and includes heretical teachings such as the idea that saved believers can be possessed by demonic forces. Midwest Christian Outreach, which has long been critical of the unbiblical teachings of Gothard and IBLP, has also harshly criticized Anderson. They declared that, “If the average pastor claimed to believe these things he would be looking for a job or given medication.” Ironically, Anderson’s work relies heavily on secular positivism and Freudian psychology.

One can see the influence of Anderson on Lisa Cherry when, in both Kalyn’s Secret and Unmask the Predators, Lisa describes her daughter — supposedly a model Christian — in demon-possessed terminology and suggests the “soul tie” with her abuser is responsible. As I have said before, this is the best way to terrorize an abuse survivor, not help a survivor.

7. Shannon Etheridge

Shannon Etheridge is a popular author and speaker on the subject of women’s purity. She is most known for her book Every Young Woman’s Battle: Guarding Your Mind, Heart, and Body in a Sex-Saturated World — one of the books Lisa and FFM recommend. This book promotes ideas that are harmful to people of all genders, including the idea that men are sex-driven robots and women are emotion-hungry machines. It also blames “homosexual desires and tendencies” on “dysfunctional family relationships” or because “maybe Dad wasn’t there for you” — which is not helpful language in the least.

Etheridge, like many of the other people on this list, also believes in soul ties, and has repeatedly told women that they must cut their soul ties or face drastic consequences. 2 examples include:

“Over and over I failed to sever the soul ties that connected me to every man that I had had sex with” (source).

“As I entered counseling several years into our marriage, my main goals were to get the scarlet letter off my sweater, cut the soul ties that had bound me for too long, and rid my mind of the relational ghosts that continued to haunt me” (source).

In her book The Sexually Confident Wife, Etheridge goes so far as to say soul ties “bind” you to the other person and “allow [your] bodies to be possessed”:

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8. James Dobson and Reb Bradley

FFM highly recommends child training as a part of sexual abuse prevention. And the resources they point abuse survivors and their families to for child training are Reb Bradley and James Dobson. Lisa Cherry encourages people to buy Dobson’s “helpful resources” (167), even though Dobson’s book on discipline, The Strong-Willed Child, compares child training with cruelly beating a dog. HA’s Nicholas Ducote recently reviewed Dobson’s book and was “shocked by the dehumanizing themes of control and projection of power as well as the animal-like dominance by fathers.” Ducote said,

“There was a disturbing amount of violence justified throughout the volume. Dobson seemed to model his training methods after a wolf-pack and a wolf-pack’s ‘Alpha Male.’ …Dobson made it clear that being strong-willed is not a good quality and must be driven out of children (and dogs). This is virtually identical to the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl, except the Pearls use Amish horse training as a model.”

Lisa also specifically recommends using Reb Bradley’s book Child Training Tips, a book noted for its excessive emphasis on harsh corporal punishment and authoritarian parenting. According to Latebloomer, a homeschool alum and former attendee of Bradley’s church,

“Reb Bradley views spanking not as one of many parenting tools, but as the only tool…  If the child doesn’t appear broken, doesn’t want to be hugged right after being hit, cries in the wrong way, or doesn’t seem sorry enough in prayer to God, then ‘the chastisement obviously did not work, and should be repeated a second time,’ or perhaps even a third time… Reb Bradley also seems to believe that a parent can and should beat their child into demonstrating love through a hug, which is an absolutely disgusting attitude for a parent to have.”

Furthermore, considering the context of sexual abuse prevention that we’re discussing, it is even more troubling that Bradley’s methods actively discourage abuse prevention: “Reb Bradley also takes away the child’s only remaining defense against predators: parents who are open for communication.  ‘Unless it is an emergency,’ he says, ‘children should never be permitted to criticize those over them in authority’ (p. 124).” Fear- and authoritarian-based discipline systems like this a recipe for abuse, not abuse prevention.

9. Final Thoughts

There are many, many other individuals and organizations recommended by Lisa Cherry and FFM that are similarly troubling. These include: spiritual authoritarians like Watchman Nee and John Bevere, nouthetic counselors like Lou Priolo, and other harsh disciplinarians like Ted Tripp and IBLP’s S.M. Davis. However, if I detailed everyone, this post would go on far too long.

I understand that no one is perfect and sometimes people make the wrong recommendations because of ignorance or not doing sufficient research (or not having time to do sufficient research). However, the fact that the majority of the authors and ministries recommended by Lisa Cherry and Frontline Family Ministries are peddling inaccurate information about abuse and mental health sets off too many alarms. That fact tells me that they do not truly understand the dynamics and nature of abuse and mental health nor how to help those who suffer.

And the fact that many of their recommendations — such as IBLP, Mercy Ministries, and Teen Mania — have been documented as emotionally, physically, sexually, and spiritually abusive is the biggest red flag of all.

In the next and final part of this series I will present some concluding remarks.

Why I Cannot Support Frontline Family Ministries’ Abuse Prevention Week: Part Five, Unmask the Predators

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator


In this series: Part One, Introduction | Part Two, Kalyn’s Secret | Part Three, Kalyn’s Secret (Continued) | Part Four, Not Open | Part Five, Unmask the Predators | Part Six, Recommended Resources | Part Seven, Conclusion


Part Five, Unmask the Predators

Unmask the Predators is the sexual abuse prevention manual from Lisa Cherry and Frontline Family Ministries. This is the book they are promoting through the Great Homeschool Conventions; it is the basis of FFM’s “Sexual Abuse Training for Homeschool Families”; it has its own “Home Security System Workbook”; and it is the foundation of their National Sexual Abuse Prevention Week for Homeschoolers.

I need to note at the outset that Unmask the Predators, published in 2012, is simply an updated version of 2009’s Kalyn’s Secret. The Cherry family never mentions this online, so at first I felt this was deceptive. However, I am glad I purchased both books because how Lisa updated Kalyn’s Secret to become Unmask the Predators is very telling.

Most elements of Kalyn’s Secret remain the same in Unmask the Predators: there is still the advocacy of first-time obedience, patriarchy, demonology, Word of Faith theology, distrust of non-Christian counseling, and so forth. A few things are toned down, probably since FFM wants to reach a more mainstream audience. For example, they removed any reference to believing in the Azusa Street Revival. They also removed all the “Tools” and “Recommended Resources” (they moved the latter to their website) and replaced them with sections on “Sexual Abuse 101” and “Twenty-Six Keys for Protecting Your Child from Sexual Predators” (both of which, for the most part, have legitimate advice). I already provided analysis of the elements that remain the same, so I will today focus on problems unique to Unmask the Predators.

a. Blaming children for their own abuse

At the end of Unmask the Predators is a “Sexual Abuse 101” chapter. Most of this chapter has helpful advice. Lisa Cherry rightly points out that, “Abuse is never the fault of the victim.” But then in the very next sentence she says, “Victims put themselves in a position of risk due to wrong choices” (160). This is the equivalent of saying, “A woman never deserves to be raped while drunk, but if she’s drunkI mean, she bears some responsibility.” But the worst part is that, despite saying victims are never at fault, Lisa directly blames children for their own abuse earlier in the book. In Chapter 6, “The Parent’s Place of Authority,” Lisa says that if children leave their parents’ “shield of protection” (a concept remarkably similar to Bill Gothard’s umbrella of protection), they cause predators to exist. In case you think I am exaggerating (or think I cannot be trusted to simply review a book), here is an image from page 91:


There you have it: Lisa Cherry believes that rebellious children cause predators to abuse them.

This is absolutely not the person who should be leading a National Sexual Abuse Prevention Week for homeschoolers.

b. Redefining sexual predators

The most irresponsible aspect of Unmask the Predators is that Lisa Cherry redefines the meaning of “sexual predator” in the context of teaching sexual abuse prevention. The following image (which Libby Anne discussed yesterday) from page 2 demonstrates this:


Text is,

The predators are not just the psychiatrically diagnosed pedophiles. The middle-school sex-education health teacher, the friendly cohabitating young couple next door that your daughter babysits for, and the clean-cut homosexual teller at your bank who just adopted a baby from Africa are chipping away at our core values and beliefs while we naively think our kids are still with us in the Sunday school. Until we mask the spiritual forces working behind those “nice people” and dismantle their spiritual weapons, we will continue to lose our children. 

What is vital to note here is that Lisa is not saying that these people could be predators — in the sense that anyone can be a predator because predators transcend any particular demographic group. If that was the message, I would agree. Predators can be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, white, black, young, old, Christian, atheist, Buddhist, and so forth. But that’s not what Lisa is saying.

On the first page of the book, Lisa says a “sexual predator” nearly destroyed their daughter’s life. She warns there are other predators threatening children as well. She then gives the examples above. The predators “are” (not “could be”):

  • The middle-school sex-education health teacher
  • The friendly cohabitating young couple next door
  • The clean-cut homosexual teller at your bank

Now you might wonder, how on earth are these people categorically defined as “predators”?

The answer is, disturbingly, that Lisa is redefining what “sexual predator” means. You can see the beginnings of this in the above citation, where Lisa says they are predators because they are “chipping away at our core values and beliefs.” On page 3, she elaborates on this:

“Sexual predators are not new. Their stories fill chapters of our Old Testament history books; their names were called harlot and adulterer in Proverbs” (3).

“Harlots” and “adulterers” are “sexual predators”? We clearly are no longer talking about what normal society means by sexual predator, i.e., “People who commit sex crimes, such as rape or child sexual abuse”, or “A person…convicted of a first-degree felony sex crime, or two second-degree felony sex crimes”. You know, the actual definition of “sexual predator.”

But still, you might ask, how are these people “predators”? The answer is that Lisa has redefined “sexual predator” by spiritualizing the concept. In her worldview, predators are anyone and everyone who (1) act in a way that Lisa believes is sexually immoral and/or (2) teaches people sexual morality in a way Lisa believes is sexually immoral. Thus anything or anyone hinting of non-Christian “culture war” is predatory. As Lisa explains, “Predator forces can attack our children through sexual molesters or through a host of cultural invaders” (13, emphasis added).

Lisa makes this most clear in two online articles found on Frontline Family Ministries’s website. Those articles are entitled “Predator Calling Cards, Part 1: Found One in My Mailbox” (archived PDF) and “Predator Calling Cards, Part 2: What is a Predator Anyway?” (archived PDF). In the first article, Lisa expresses some of the most horrid anti-gay sentiments I’ve ever read. These sentiments really shine a light on Lisa’s statements in Not Open where she said LGBT* people often receive “icy stares” in church and that’s a bad thing. I mean, if this isn’t the equivalent of an icy stare, I’m not sure what is:

“I sat down the other day for a rare moment of relaxation with my new issue of Country Living. It’s the one women’s magazine I subscribe to.

I looked forward to dreaming up some unachievable new interior design as I flipped my mind over to unwind mode.

Featured on page 92 and 93 was a quaint 19th century house in upstate New York.  But I had trouble figuring out the heading…

My mind did a double take as I re-read the article’s opening line… Jesse and Gus have forged a surprisingly modern home…. I turned the page to find a picture of this “couple”—two men and their five-year-old daughter.

What?!  I was accidentally taking a tour of a homosexual couple’s house? I dropped the issue on the floor in disgust.”

Yes, Lisa dropped an issue of Country Living on the ground “in disgust” because it featured a gay couple. Now, ignoring for the time being the message communicated to LGBT* people by this, note again the title of the article: “Predator Calling Cards, Part 1: Found One in My Mailbox.” In other words, just the image of a gay couple is a “predator calling card” to Lisa.

She received pushback on this article from people saying that it’s irresponsible to say this because not all LGBT* people are child molesters (e.g., the actual definition of sexual predator!). Lisa responds to this in the second article:

“In the world today we have Micro-predators (actual persons) and Macro-predators (global thoughts and forces). They are very much inter-related. Think about it. A child “macro-groomed” may more easily be “micro-groomed.””

In other words, LGBT* people — simply by being LGBT* — are predators in Lisa’s worldview. Their very existence is a perpetual state of “macro-grooming” children for abuse. In fact, anything and anyone that is sexually immoral is a “macro-predator.” This is why the list from page 3 of Unmask the Predators says that: people living together before marriage are predators, sex education teachers are predators, and LGBT* couples are predators. They aren’t necessarily child molesters; they’re spiritual sexual predators. So, I guess, they kind of are child molesters, but rather spiritual child molesters.

In fact, nearly every single passage in Kalyn’s Secret that referred to something like “spiritual forces of darkness” is changed in Unmask the Predators to be called “predators.”

Which just blows my mind.

We live in a world where 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will sexually abused. We also live in a world where sexual abuse prevention is sorely lacking. The last thing we need, when teaching about prevention, is someone redefining the word and teaching families to fear the wrong people. Teaching families to fear non-predators — in the context of teaching about predators — is the most irresponsible thing I’ve seen in a long time. There is no excuse for Lisa’s dangerous and sloppy irresponsibility here.

c. Throwing LGBT* people under the bus

As I just pointed out, Lisa calls gay people “sexual predators” on the very second page of Unmask the Predators. She continues to do this throughout the book — as well as in Not Open, where she refers to LGBT* people as “sexual offenders.” She even pulls out the tired trope of LGBT* people wanting to legalize child rape, saying “the homosexual lobby want[s] to see the age [of consent] lowered” (161) — which is particularly ironic in this context, considering that conservative Christian leaders have been the ones most recently advocating for child marriage. In fact, at one point in the book Lisa herself mentions that Kalyn throws this fact in her face (184-5) by pointing out that popular homeschool fiction character Elsie Dinsmore was a young bride married to a much older man:


Remember the problem with this sort of language? I mentioned this yesterday, but it’s worth reviewing the facts:

• First, and most importantly, children who will later identify as LGBT* are at a higher risk for sexual abuse: “Children who grow up later to identify as LGBT are more at risk of sexual abuse as children… LGBT adults report that their behavior and interaction with others was often atypical in childhood when compared to their peers. Being or feeling ‘different’ can result in social isolation / exclusion, which in turn can lead to a child being more vulnerable to the instigation and continuation of abuse.”

• Second, feelings of social isolation and rejection are statistically linked with experiences of abuse. In fact, abusers specifically use isolation as a tool of abuseand target people vulnerable to isolation.

• Third, LGBT* youth are far more likely to be rejected by their families: “Highly religious parents are significantly more likely than their less-religious counterparts to reject their children for being gay – a finding that social-service workers believe goes a long way toward explaining why LGBT people make up roughly five percent of the youth population overall, but an estimated 40 percent of the homeless-youth population. The Center for American Progress has reported that there are between 320,000 and 400,000 homeless LGBT youths in the United States.”

• Fourth,  numerous studies indicate that LGBT* individuals “are likely to be at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. One study found that GLB groups are about two-and-one-half times more likely than heterosexual men and women to have had a mental health disorder.”

• Fifth, supporting LGBT* individuals reduces the risk of mental illness. According to the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, “Specific parental behaviors, such as advocating for their children when they are mistreated due to their LGBT identity and supporting their teen’s gender expression, were linked to a lower likelihood of depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.”

Now let’s add a few more facts:

• Sixth, people who sexually abuse children are more likely to be fixated on children than any given gender identity: “Many child molesters cannot be characterized as having an adult sexual orientation at all; they are fixated on children.”

• Seventh, people who sexually abuse children not only fixate on children, but specific children: those in their personal networks. The Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute has noted that, “90% of child molesters target children in their network of family and friends.”

• Eighth, among child sexual abusers who do appear to have an adult sexual orientation, heterosexuality is far more common: “A child’s risk of being molested by his or her relative’s heterosexual partner is 100 times greater than by someone who might be identified as homosexual.”

So let’s put these above points together:

By teaching homeschool parents and families that LGBT* people are inherently predators, Lisa Cherry is isolating and targeting the group more at risk of being the target of abusers and ignoring groups of people who are more likely to be abusers. This is completely backwards. This is fundamentally flawed sexual abuse prevention.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow gives a helpful and important synopsis of what all the above points ought to suggest for us:

“What the data shows us indisputably is that people who will later identify as LGBT have disproportionate rates of having been victims of child sexual abuse. So there are two ways to think of that — one of which I completely disagree with and one I agree more with.

“On the one end, the abuse is making these young people LGBT. The science for that is completely flimsy. I completely disagree with that idea. On the other side … children who will eventually identify as LGBT are more likely to be targets of sexual predators. If you think of it that way, it changes our concept of how we need to nurture and care for children who are different.”

 “It changes our concept of how we need to nurture and care for children we are different.” This is true, and some Christian homeschooling communities must begin to understand. We are setting children up for abuse by how we are treating LGBT* people — and we are ignoring the actual abusers in our midst.

c. Soul ties

I mentioned in Part 3 of this series that Kalyn discusses her own abuse in Kalyn’s Secret in demonological terms. She sees her relationship with her abuser as a spiritual one: “My desire to please him, impress him, and be loyal to him dominated my life. I know that this devastating connection must been constructed on a spiritual level because the tie was so strange and strong it could not have simply occurred in the natural realm” (39-40). Kalyn comes to believe this “devastating connection,” or the “so strange and strong tie,” is the result of demonic forces: “Was it only a man controlling me? No, the force that held me no man could establish or break in his own strength. I had opened the door for principalities and powers of darkness [see Eph. 6:12], and I would pay dearly” (44).

In Unmask the Predators, it is clear why Kalyn has this belief: Lisa believes in the concept of soul ties. She argues that Kalyn became “soul tied” to her abuser:


Text is,

“Kalyn had been ‘soul tied’ to a man steeped in the dark world of pornography and perversion. The battle for her life was a battle in the heavenlies. My busy bluster of motherly activity highlighted by my angry yells of correction did no good” (60).

The concept of soul ties is one of the most damaging messages given to abuse victims and survivors. It is the idea that abusers infest their abuse victims with their sexual demons. Not only does Lisa promote this concept, but so do many of her “recommended resources.” For example:

  • Nancy Alcorn (the following is from Alcorn’s book Violated: Mercy for Sexual Abuse, which is one of the books Lisa Cherry recommends to abuse survivors); note the phrase “your soul has been…mysteriously knit with the soul of your abuser”:
  • Ron Luce and Teen Mania (who even throw in a “half-eaten candy bar” analogy just to make abuse survivors feel even worse):

“Over and over I failed to sever the soul ties that connected me to every man that I had had sex with.”

“If the sins were sensual or sexual, we asked God to break any soul ties that we had created with another person.”

I cannot even begin to describe how emotionally and spiritually abusive this teaching is. So I’d rather just let an abuse survivor explain it with firsthand knowledge:

“Personally this is one of the most damaging lies I was ever told by the church. Ungodly sex included any sexual act outside marriage. Therefore rape and sexual abuse counted. In fact I even heard it taught that because of the demon activity in an abused person they will attract abuse again and again as like (as in demons in an abused person) attracts like (as in the demons in an abuser). Believing that I had this spiritual tie to the man who raped me was for me absolutely terrifying. It added to the guilt, shame, fear and sense of being dirty that I already had and caused me a great deal of anxiety. During the course of several ministry sessions I had to take part in they were ‘cut’ through prayer but this did little to diminish my anxiety and as I was still suffering from symptoms of PTSD this was seen as proof that I Was still choosing to live with demons in my life. It took a long time to shake the sense that the church gave me of being connected to my abuser in this way but through therapy I slowly managed to see this doctrine for the terrible nonsense that it was.”

I am horrified that Lisa Cherry would teach this in the first place. But I am even more horrified that she is teaching this to Christian homeschool communities under the guise of sexual abuse prevention.

d. Bad reporting advice

In my critique of Kalyn’s Secret, I said that regarding abuse reporting, it isn’t what Lisa says that’s the problem. Rather, it’s what she doesn’t say. At no point in that book did Lisa encourage families to report abuse. Rather, she leaves it open-ended about whether or not they should do so because she focuses on her husband praying about it. What if “the Lord’s direction” had been otherwise?

In Unmask the Predators, Lisa actually discourages families from reporting abuse in certain circumstances. First, in the “Sexual Abuse 101” chapter, Lisa says that — while “reporting illegal activity is our civil responsibility” — “how, when, and where to report predatory behaviors requires the wisdom of the Lord” (168).

In other words, Lisa believes there are circumstances where you should not report predatory behaviors. What circumstances are these? Well, in the next chapter (“Twenty-Six Keys for Protecting Your Child from Sexual Predators”), Lisa claims that, “because of the modern ‘liberation’ views of children and the international discussions on the rights of the child,” “our legal rights as parents are in question.” She then cautions parents that, “The very agencies and government departments designed to protect our children may not, in fact, protect your parental role!” (188).

So basically, despite first seeming like Lisa Cherry is a breath of fresh air from the CPS paranoia that has gripped homeschooling communities for decades and kept child abuse covered-up, she actually is promoting the exact same paranoia. In fact, she even says she “would never call a hotline or agency for help” unless she knew “the exact ramifications.” She warns families that calling such hotlines or agencies “leave incredible room for false accusation” (189).

If you keep in mind just how anti-CPS Lisa’s audience is, you must realize that this is all the encouragement to not report abuse that audience needs. 

e. Dangerous “purity” teachings

One of Lisa’s “Twenty-Six Keys for Protecting Your Child from Sexual Predators” is to “install a dating/courtship model” to “help our kids to guard and defend their purity as something of high value and worth” (182). Emphasizing the “high value and worth” of purity is essential to Lisa’s abuse prevention program, which is why in Kalyn’s Secret she recommended purity books by Shannon Etheridge, Joshua Harris, and Eric and Leslie Ludy.

The problem here is not an individual wanting to save sex for marriage. I completely respect such decisions.  The problem is the relationship between purity teachings (especially in the books Lisa recommends) and sexual abuse (see the “Modesty and Purity” section here). This relationship is particularly amplified because Lisa directly recommends that abuse survivors and their families read Eric and Leslie Ludy’s When God Writes Your Love Story. In my recent presentation “Facing Our Fears,” I explained how troubling the Ludy book is:

“In one of the final chapters of the book, entitled ‘Too Late?’, Leslie Ludy discusses ‘sexual sin’ and ‘moral compromise’ — in other words, ‘lost virginity.’ …Leslie tells about a 12-year-old girl named Rebecca. Leslie says that Rebecca — again, a 12-year-old — was lured by a 16-year-old boy from a church youth group into his house one day. Leslie says that Rebecca ‘left as a used and defiled sex toy’ and was ‘forced from childhood into womanhood.’

“From Leslie’s description alone, Rebecca’s story reads as a straightforward account of a 12-year-old girl being raped. The words ‘used’ and ‘forced’ indicate a lack of consent. Yet Leslie puts Rebecca’s story in the same chapter as stories of willing sexual encounters of individuals who chose to have sex before marriage. All these stories are then discussed as ‘sexual sin’ and ‘moral compromise.’ At no point does Leslie identify Rebecca’s story as a story of child sexual abuse, sexual assault, and/or rape — and at no point does Leslie then relate it to the importance of children and teenagers learning sexual consent and safety. The message to young women reading this would be and has been clear: you being ‘forced from childhood into womanhood’ is you sexually sinning, even if you were ‘forced.'”

This is the very last book you should recommend to abuse survivors. Yet this is the book Lisa recommends to young people to learn about purity in the context of sexual abuse prevention.

Final Thoughts

I said previously that, based on Kalyn’s Secret alone, I would highly discourage people from consulting Lisa Cherry and Frontline Family Ministries for advice on sexual abuse prevention.

But based on Unmask the Predators (which is the newer version of Kalyn’s Secret), I would argue that the teachings of Lisa Cherry and Frontline Family Ministries are a direct threat to children’s safety. The above passages disturb me to my core and make me feel nauseous. These teachings are putting children at risk. They are alienating the very people who are most at risk of abuse. They are teaching families to be scared of those people most at risk. And they are distracting families from understanding who the real predators are.

In the next part of this series I will examine the recommended resources on Frontline Family Ministries’s website, both past and present.

Why I Cannot Support Frontline Family Ministries’ Abuse Prevention Week: Part Four, Not Open

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator


In this series: Part One, Introduction | Part Two, Kalyn’s Secret | Part Three, Kalyn’s Secret (Continued) | Part Four, Not Open | Part Five, Unmask the Predators | Part Six, Recommended Resources | Part Seven, Conclusion


Part Four, Not Open


~ Lisa Cherry, Not Open, p. 19, capitalization in original

On Tuesday I examined Kalyn’s Secret, written in 2009 by Lisa Cherry and her daughter Kalyn, which tells the story of how then-14-year-old Kalyn was groomed for sexual abuse via phone and online interactions with a 46-year-old male parishioner from their church. That examination was in two parts (here and here). I argued that based on Kalyn’s Secret alone, I would highly discourage people from consulting Lisa Cherry and Frontline Family Ministries for advice on sexual abuse prevention. This is due to multiple factors ranging from their advocacy of unbiblical theology, their perspective on mental health, their obsession with demonology, to their shockingly bad recommendations of people like Bill Gothard and Reb Bradley and organizations like IBLP and Teen Mania.

Today I will be looking at Not Open. This book was written in 2013 by Lisa and her son Lucas. Every chapter is almost entirely Lisa’s voice; however, at the end of each chapter Lucas writes a “Millennial Moment,” where he explains why he as a Millennial agrees with what his mom said in that chapter. The book comes highly recommended by individuals most of you are probably familiar with: WallBuilders’ David Barton, American Family Association’s Don Wildmon, and Teen Mania’s Katie Luce.

Not Open is the one book I am examining that is not specifically about sexual abuse prevention. I believe it is nonetheless important for understanding the Cherry family’s worldview. The book argues that Christians in 2014 face a uniquely apocalyptic moment in history because, as the back cover declares, “Only 1% of the Millennial generation have a biblical world view.” Basically, the American Christian sky is falling. No generation has faced the intensity of spiritual warfare and cultural decay that we do, it is argued, and thus those parenting the current generation face a do-or-die situation. Lisa argues that we must be “Not Open” to the current culture because “Open” is the position of Satan. To be “Not Open” means to take stereotypical American conservative Christian positions: biblical literalism, a return to Platonic absolutism, patriarchy, traditional gender roles, corporal punishment, anti-homosexuality, and so forth. (Note: I say “stereotypical” because I think it’s overgeneralizing and/or unfair to say those positions are necessarily “conservative” or “Christian.”) Christians today need to follow Noah’s example and become a “remnant,” building metaphorical “arks” (homes/families, see p. 221) to withstand the cultural and spiritual storms to come.

Honestly, this is Lisa’s weakest book in terms of analysis. The biblical exegesis is particularly shoddy, the historical and philosophical claims are almost always inaccurate, and the statistics she uses are often misquoted or misunderstood. While I do not agree with most of the book, I have read plenty of books that say these same things but in far more accurate and nuanced ways. (I was homeschooled in a conservative Christian environment until high school graduate, after all. I have heard all this stuff a million times before.) So I almost did not review it. But I do think there are a few observations to be made to help with understanding Frontline Family Ministries.

I should first note that many of the problems seen in Kalyn’s Secret are also evident in Not Open: poor biblical exegesis (126)positively referencing abusive people (e.g., authoritarian John Bevere, accused rapist Jim Bakker, domestic terrorist Rollen Stewart), encouraging fear-based child discipline (115), and an excessive amount of demonology (151-3). However, since I already addressed those previously, I want to focus specifically on the problems unique to Not Open.

a. Misquoting citations

The clearest example of this is when Lisa claims potential persecution for Christians in the workplace because “silence on the issue of homosexuality [could] still be interpreted as disapproval.” She backs up this claim by saying this very sentiment was declared “in a recent Department of Justice memo to employees” (125). I looked up the citation (from a Justice Department brochure entitled “LGBT Inclusion at Work”), and it says nothing of the sort. The only item that resembles what Lisa says is a quotation from a department employee expressing a personal opinion, not any part of the department’s official memo. Here, you can look at the brochure yourself.

Lisa does this repeatedly, most egregiously when she says “modern science” now “explains all the history book stories of the rise and fall of nations based on the rise and fall of sexual passions” (162) — citing nothing more than a Charisma News article and a no-longer-existent Psychology Today article, neither of which says a single word about the rise and fall of nations.

This makes me distrustful in general of her ability to verify the factuality of any of her claims.

b. Faulty statistical foundation

The whole premise of Not Open rests on this statement of Lisa’s:

Something is wrong when 83 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians while only 9 percent of adults and less than 1 percent of young people have a true biblical worldview. (6)

This statement is so significant to the book’s premise that Lisa adds a section at the end of the book explaining where she got those claims. If you grew up in a conservative Christian home, you are probably entirely familiar with such doomsday proclamations. You also are probably not surprised to know that these claims come from George Barna and his Christian statistics organization the Barna Group. Barna’s declarations about eminent cultural emergencies drove much of the worldview curriculums and camps that I and many other church-raised Millennials used or attended.

Barna seems to have not backed down over the last decade. The above statistic that Lisa bases her book on comes from Barna’s 2011 book FutureCast, and it’s understandable that Christian parents would be alarmed by a statement like, “Less than 1 percent of young people have a true biblical worldview.” However, one must keep in mind that Barna has been repeatedly and harshly criticized by fellow Christians for propagating “false alarms”, “questionable methods”, and “myths”.

These criticisms are all applicable to the claim that, “Less than 1 percent of young people have a true biblical worldview.” To understand why, consider Lisa says the Barna Group

“has defined as biblical worldview as one that includes the following six points: 1. Absolute moral truth exists. 2. The Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches. 3. Satan is a real being or force, not merely symbolic. 4. People cannot earn their way into heaven by trying to be good or by doing good works. 5. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth. 6. God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world and still rules the universe today” (242).

I want you to do something. Go pick up a Bible and find me the passage that says the above six points are what pure and genuine religion is.

Go for it. I’ll wait.

Didn’t find the passage?

That’s because it’s not in the Bible.

But you know what is in the Bible? James 1:27:

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

Now I ask you: if pure and genuine religion according to the Bible is (1) caring for orphans, (2) caring for widows, and (3) refusing to let the world corrupt you, why are none of these points included in the Barna Group’s definition of a biblical worldview?

The answer is simple: the Barna Group’s definition of a biblical worldview is not based on the Bible but on a 20th century, modernist, regressive, and distinctively American Protestant understanding of the Bible. Consider the fact, for example, that none of the early Church fathers would agree with all 6 of Barna’s worldview requirements. Or consider the most ironic fact that Not Open’s role model for following a biblical worldview, Noah, existed before “the Bible” even existed. The fact is, this definition — because it is based on a 20th century, modernist, regressive, and distinctively American Protestant understanding of the Bible — is naturally going to create numbers that do not accurately portray the true religious state of people today. As people move into the 21st century and away from modernism (whether to postmodernism or anti-modernism), this definition’s functionality will cease. That doesn’t mean we are facing a historical moment more apocalyptic than any other moment in history. It means there’s a cultural shift occurring, on par with the shift from Catholicism to Protestantism.

Why does this matter? It matters because of the next point.

c. Alarmism

Most everyone is familiar with the imagery of Henny Penny (or Chicken Little), the chicken who ran around claiming the sky was falling (when in reality an acorn from a tree had dropped on its head). We usually use this imagery to mock people who have doomsday proclamations. However, fewer people are familiar with the fact that the story of Henny Penny is a morality tale. The end of the story is that Foxy Loxy the fox, observing how distraught Henny Penny and the other animals are, promises safety from the “falling sky” in its den. Foxy Loxy then eats all the animals. The moral of the story is thus not simply to avoid believing doomsday proclamations but to be on the lookout for people who take advantage of other people’s fears. Fear, after all, is one of the foremost forces in the creation of high control, totalist environments (aka “cults”).

Now think about fear in the context of what Lisa says based on the Barna Group’s statistics: less than 1 percent of young people have a true biblical worldview. I mean, this is even worse of a number than when I was a kid 20 years ago — back when we thought we were this country’s only hope! Us, the Millennials, were the Joshua Generation. That’s exactly why we went through all these worldview curriculums and camps, that’s why our parents homeschooled us, that’s why all those Quiverfull families had enormously large families — and things got worse? The message being conveyed to families and parents is clear: you are failing, you must try even harder. You must double-down. This could be the end of the world. 

That foists an enormous amount of pressure on this generation’s families to be exceptional — even more than all the pressure foisted upon my parents’ generation, the generation that was tricked into believing formulas could guarantee the perfect home. We know now that those formulas were snake oil peddled by merchants like Bill Gothard and Reb Bradley. My parents’ generation didn’t end up with perfect families (after all, that’s impossible), but people like Gothard and Bradley sure made money from their manipulative promises. And my parents’ generation was left with the job of picking up the broken pieces — the relationships bruised or lost due the effects of fear and control. This was the point of my concluding remarks from my “Facing Our Fears” presentation:

“Despite our best efforts, children still scrape their knees. And we get mad at them for it. We get furious. We feel like our best efforts went unappreciated, or thrown out the window, or stomped on in a tantrum. Our kids get hurt — and then we get mad at them for getting hurt. Which only hurts them more.”

This is why I care about inaccurate statistics like the one Lisa promotes from the Barna Group: it leads to very real hurt and sometimes broken families. When Lisa begins her book with the sentence…


…and then repeats the phrase “something is terribly wrong” four times in just the first chapter, it communicates the necessity of alarmism. When Lisa repeatedly issues warnings in all-capitalized sentences like…


…it communicates the necessity of alarmism.

This alarmism drives families into the foxes’ dens: into people peddling formulas leading to attempts at exceptionalism and perfectionism. And I have seen, year after year, person after person, that a combination of exceptionalism, perfectionism, and alarmism leads to toxic environments. Most ironically, those toxic environments — through placing high demands and pressure on children — often results in forced, age-inappropriate maturation of children (see, for example, Lisa’s daughter’s self-described “rapid maturation”)… the very age-inappropriate maturation that makes such children prime targets for sexual predators.

d. Emotional abuse

During the “Millennial Moment” in Chapter 17 (“I Will Fight the Right Enemy”), Lucas tries to make the point that our real enemies are not people but rather “the devil” (155). While making that point, Lucas relates a disturbing anecdote:

“During the young seasons of our lives we are still trying to figure out who is for us, who is against us… For instance, have you ever yelled at a little kid who opposed you by doing something wrong and then, as they burst into tears, you immediately realized they weren’t a real enemy and yelling probably wasn’t the best solution to the problem? With nine siblings and six of them younger than me, I can assure this has happened to me on many occasions (155, emphasis added).


…no, I have not yelled at little children.

And yes, I have siblings and I have worked in numerous children’s ministries. Yelling at little kids to the point of making them cry is emotional and psychological abuse. It is sibling abuse and it has the same mental health effects as peer aggression. The fact that Lucas would so nonchalantly bring up this example, say that he’s done this to his siblings “on many occasions,” and then pass it off as “not the best solution” is damning. It’s damning to him because he’s admitting emotional abuse and not seeing how problematic it is. But it’s even more damning to his parents, Lisa and Doug, because they created a home environment where siblings frequently yelled at each to the point of tears and don’t see that as a serious problem. 

This is yet another reason I cannot trust the Cherry family to truly understand — and thus teach about — the dynamics of abuse. They don’t see some of the most basic forces that create environments ripe for abuse.

e. Faulty sex education

In Chapter 18, titled “Defeating the God of Sex,” Lisa discusses sexuality and various facts about it. There are numerous problems with this chapter, including the fact that a lot of the facts are wrong. The most glaring example of this is when Lisa describes the benefits of abstinent-until-monogamously-married sex. Those benefits include the following: “No strange diseases” and married individuals can have sex “Any day they want it.” Let’s talk about the former first.

The context for this whole series is of course child sexual abuse — and that’s the most common topic for the Cherry family as well. So let’s talk about the relationship between child sexual abuse and these “strange diseases,” AKA sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

First, how frequent is child abuse? Well, as many as 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused at some point in their childhood.

Next, what are some other facts we know about child abuse? According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, (1) “most sexual abuse in childhood escapes detection,” (2) “multiple episodes of abuse increase the risk of STD infection,” and (3) “the majority of children who are sexually abused will have no physical complaints related either to trauma or STD infection. Most sexually abused children do not indicate that they have genital pain or problems.”

So as many as 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused — and most of that abuse will escape detection. And those who are abused are at risk for these “strange diseases” — yet “most sexually abused children do not indicate that they have genital pain or problems.” Furthermore, consider that — apart from delivery-caused ones — all gonorrhea infections in children under the age of 9 are caused by “molestation by relatives.”

The take-away here is that a person can desire to be pure their entire life but that doesn’t guarantee sexual safety. A chance encounter of abuse (one that a person might even block out of their memory) could infect your partner (married or monogamous or otherwise) with an STD. The conservative Christian ideal of marriage, therefore, is no guarantee — nor should it be presented as such — that your partner will be disease-free. We live in a cruel world where abuse and rape run rampant. Thus accurate and healthy sex education will make zero promises about diseases. This is especially important in conservative Christian homeschool environments where strict notions about courtship and betrothal still hold sway. The average courtship process would never allow for the sort of conversational intimacy where a partner with a history of abuse would have the opportunity to feel comfortable disclosing that abuse to the other partner. But that is absolutely necessary prior to one’s first sexual encounter (even if that encounter is on one’s church-blessed wedding night).

The other “benefit” I want to examine is the promise of partners having sex “Any day they want it.” Yes, people in relationships have the opportunity to have sex whenever they want to provided that the other partner in the relationship is consenting. However, Lisa never mentions consent. For someone presenting herself as an educator on abuse prevention, this silence is extraordinarily disconcerting. And mind you, the silence is deafening —

The concept of consent does not appear a single time in any of Lisa Cherry’s books. 

This is vital because marital rape exists and is a serious problem through society, including many conservative Christian homes. In fact, this problem is particularly pronounced because many conservative Christian leaders have taught that marital rape is a fiction and/or appear to condone marital rape. Furthermore, conservative Christian sex education has been sorely lacking in discussing consent. As homeschool alum Kathryn Brightbill has pointed out,

“I’ve racked my brain trying to remember even a single time that I’ve ever heard consent mentioned in a church-related setting growing up and I can’t remember a single one. By not teaching about consent, you produce girls who don’t know that they can refuse consent for any other reason than ‘it’s a sin,’ and you produce boys who have never been taught that no means no. That’s a recipe for disaster. Is conservative abstinence education turning boys into accidental rapists and girls into easy victims because neither one has been educated about consent being an inviolable element in a sexual encounter?”

Accurate and empowering sex education is an essential tool in fighting abuse. If the sex education you are teaching includes inaccurate information and does not mention consent, you need to go back to the drawing board. You are hurting, not helping, the cause of fighting abuse.

f. Marginalizing LGBT* individuals

I am fully aware that as I examine how Lisa discusses and treats LBGT* individuals (both in this post and tomorrow’s) it’s unfortunately going to be controversial. The community that Lisa teaches to — and the community I hope will learn from what I am writing here — is a conservative Christian one. Having grown up in that community, I have seen firsthand how it tends to be marginalizing towards LGBT* individuals. This is due to deeply held religious beliefs about what the Bible says concerning gender and sexuality. In light of that fact, I am going to put into brackets (for the sake of this post) any conversation about the morality of various sexualities. That’s an absolutely important conversation (and I certainly have my opinions) but I want to continue to focus on the efficacy of prevention techniques related to child abuse and mental health.

Where I want to start is by laying out a few facts:

• First, and most importantly, children who will later identify as LGBT* are at a higher risk for sexual abuse: “Children who grow up later to identify as LGBT are more at risk of sexual abuse as children… LGBT adults report that their behavior and interaction with others was often atypical in childhood when compared to their peers. Being or feeling ‘different’ can result in social isolation / exclusion, which in turn can lead to a child being more vulnerable to the instigation and continuation of abuse.”

• Second, feelings of social isolation and rejection are statistically linked with experiences of abuse. In fact, abusers specifically use isolation as a tool of abuse and target people vulnerable to isolation.

• Third, LGBT* youth are far more likely to be rejected by their families: “Highly religious parents are significantly more likely than their less-religious counterparts to reject their children for being gay – a finding that social-service workers believe goes a long way toward explaining why LGBT people make up roughly five percent of the youth population overall, but an estimated 40 percent of the homeless-youth population. The Center for American Progress has reported that there are between 320,000 and 400,000 homeless LGBT youths in the United States.”

• Fourth,  numerous studies indicate that LGBT* individuals “are likely to be at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. One study found that GLB groups are about two-and-one-half times more likely than heterosexual men and women to have had a mental health disorder.”

• Fifth, supporting LGBT* individuals reduces the risk of mental illness. According to the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, “Specific parental behaviors, such as advocating for their children when they are mistreated due to their LGBT identity and supporting their teen’s gender expression, were linked to a lower likelihood of depression, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.”

The above five facts form the framework in which I will be discussing LGBT* individuals and child abuse for the rest of this series. It is my belief that, without even touching the issues of morality and sexuality, we can drastically reconsider how we as the Church (and religious homeschooling communities) approach LGBT* children and youth. Because when we realize that (1) LGBT* kids are more vulnerable to abuse, (2) isolation and rejection also make kids more vulnerable to abuse, (3) LGBT* kids are more likely to be isolated and rejected, (4) LGBT* kids are more vulnerable to mental illness, and (5) isolation and rejection increases vulnerability to mental illness, we need to wake up.

How LGBT* kids have been treated by conservative Christian homes is itself grooming for child abuse.

This is frightening and should be a bucket of cold water on everyone’s heads. We are putting LGBT* kids at risk for child abuse by the messages we are sending.

In light of that, consider the following passages from Not Open that mention LGBT* individuals:

  • Lucas saying “I am horrified” when a Christian friend of his revealed she was bisexual (10).
  • Lisa including “Homosexual” in a list of “bad people” that includes “Sex offender” and “Murderer” (26).
  • Lisa claiming the existence of LGBT* people “threatens to destroy our kids’ relationships with and faith in God” (59).
  • Lisa calling a gay person a “sexual offender” (62).
  • Lisa’s daughter complaining about how she “has” to treat a gay colleague with kindness: “What do I do? I have to have a working relationship. I need to treat him kindly. It is messing with my head.” To this, Lisa responds, “What can I say? I AM NOT SURPRISED” (65).
  • Lisa encouraging her aforementioned daughter to “pull that man aside” and declare to him, “Homosexuality is not an appropriate lifestyle” (103); Lisa then exclaiming, “Someone is going to have to shut the open doors!” (104).
  • Lisa declaring that LGBT* people are “no longer identifying with Christ” and are thus “out of heaven” (162).
  • Lisa describing the mob in Sodom at Lot’s door (wanting to gang-rape his visitors) not as rapists but as “the homosexual men” (207).

Put yourself in the shoes of an LGBT* individual. Would any of the above statements make you feel welcomed or loved? No. All these passages would make LGBT* individuals feel isolated or rejected. It’s not even because of a declaration of morality; it’s because this language is hurtful.

I should point out that Lisa says, in Chapter 3, that she knows the church has unfairly hurt LGBT* individuals:

“When anyone walked into one of our Christian churches with their lesbian partner on their arm or with their tongue-ringed gothic son in tow and were turned away without receiving the love of our Lord from us, then we were clearly and unequivocally wrong. If anyone has ever been the recipient of an icy stare or has been hidden in the back seat of a balcony by one of our ushers, we have clearly violated Jesus’s example” (23-4).

Unfortunately, this observation immediately gets lost as Lisa then proceeds to (as I pointed out above) unfairly hurt LGBT* individuals. If anyone is giving LGBT* people an “icy stare,” it’s Lisa in Not Open (and especially in Unmask the Predators, as we shall see tomorrow). In fact, she is actively encouraging people to give them icy stares. When you call a group of people “sexual offenders,” that doesn’t exactly encourage warmness.

Clearly, therefore, life isn’t as simple as being “Open” to people but “Not Open” to ideas. Sometimes people and ideas are inherently intertwined and knowing how to love someone you disagree with isn’t reducible to bumper sticker-like mantras.

Tomorrow I will examine Unmask the Predators, which is Lisa’s updated version of Kalyn’s Secret and the book she is promoting the most now through Frontline Family Ministries. It is also the book that most concerns me.

Why I Cannot Support Frontline Family Ministries’ Abuse Prevention Week: Part Three, Kalyn’s Secret (Continued)

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator


In this series: Part One, Introduction | Part Two, Kalyn’s Secret | Part Three, Kalyn’s Secret (Continued) | Part Four, Not Open | Part Five, Unmask the Predators | Part Six, Recommended Resources | Part Seven, Conclusion


Part Three, Kalyn’s Secret (Continued)

In the first half of today’s analysis of Kalyn’s Secret, I gave some context for understanding the Cherry family and then looked at where the book took steps in the right direction.

3. The Bad

Unfortunately, the book also takes many, many steps in wrong directions. In fact, I could dedicate an entire five-day-long series to just this book and its ideas. However, that would be a tedious read and could sidetrack us into debates over theology and ideology. So I am going to focus this section less on the actual ideas and more on the consequences of those ideas when it comes to abuse prevention and mental health advocacy. I grew up hearing the mantra, “Ideas have consequences,” and I still find that mantra to hold true. So as I examine the ideas contained within Kalyn’s Secret, I will be filtering them through the lens of the following question: Does this help or harm abuse survivors and individuals with mental illness?

The ideas I will be examining are:

a. Poor biblical exegesis

b. Damaging theology

c. Perspective on mental health

d. Demonology

e. Authoritarianism and Patriarchy

f. Suggesting physical abuse and first-time obedience

g. Bad advice regarding counseling and abuse reporting

h. Recommended resources

a. Poor biblical exegesis

One of the root problems in Kalyn’s Secret is Lisa Cherry’s poor grasp of biblical exegesis. This might seem strange considering that she is a pastor at Victory Christian Center (a church she and her husband founded), but Lisa’s higher education consists only of a BS in Nursing.

I know some of you reading might not be Christians, so discussing biblical exegesis might seem meaningless. However, basic reading comprehension is a skill everyone can benefit from. And a poor grasp of biblical exegesis — whether or not you believe the Bible is true in the first place — can lead people to believe some awfully damaging ideas. So whether or not you believe the Bible is true, it behooves all of us to encourage those who do to read the Bible accurately and in a way that promotes healing (and not harmful) ideas.

There are numerous ways that Lisa engages in flawed biblical exegesis in Kalyn’s Secret: pulling verses out of context, playing fast and loose with definitions, inserting her own words into passages, switching one Bible translation for another mid-passage to justify an idea she’s trying to proof-text, etc. But I want to focus on one specific exegetical problem in particular: personalizing passages that aren’t meant to be personal. Time and time again, Lisa strips verses out of their historical and literary contexts and argues that they magically transcend those contexts and are direct messages from God to us in 2014. I know a lot of people do that. But that’s just not how reading and writing works. That’s a failure in Exegesis 101.

The most important example of Lisa doing this is her treatment of Luke 10:19: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.” Lisa uses this verse on two separate occasions: (1) to claim that “when we saw strange demonic activity happening in our home, we had to remind ourselves of the truth that we have been given ‘authority to tread on [snakes] and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure [us]” (133); and (2) to claim that “speaking God’s promises” “out loud” “allows God’s Word to defeat the powers of darkness,” proof-texted with Luke 10:19 (189).

The problem is, Luke 10:19 proves nothing of the sort. Here’s the context: Jesus appointed 70 people and “sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come.” The 70 people then “returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.’” Jesus responds to those 70 people and says, “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.” This passage is directed to 70 people specifically appointed by Jesus to do a particular task during a precise moment in history, not any and every Christian living in 2014. In fact, you’ll notice that when Lisa quotes it in the first example, she actually changes the verse, replacing the word “you” with “[us].” She’s literally rewriting the Bible to make it say something it doesn’t.

This point about exegesis is significant because Lisa’s exegetical failures directly lead to the next problem: damaging theology.

b. Damaging theology

As I said earlier, Lisa and her husband are self-described “Holy Rollers” (57). The Cherry family falls squarely into the Charismatic, Word of Faith, Holiness, and Prosperity Gospel movements. Lisa talks about the necessity of true believers having “an encounter with the third person of the Trinity named the Holy Spirit” (56) — and that not having that special encounter jeopardizes one’s relationship with God.

One can see this in the strong charismatic language used by Lisa in statements like, “We must learn to avoid spirit failure and employ Spirit power” (93), “Spirit failure was causing me to be pulled into the pit with Kalyn, and I desperately needed an emergency supply of God’s supernatural power!” (96), and “Through Jesus our ‘power hook up’ was restored” (113). In fact, Chapter 7 of the book is tellingly called, “Hooked Up to the Power.”

Lisa describes two of these so-called “power hook-ups” as (1) exousia and (2) dunamis. Exousia, she says, “refers to force, superhuman mastery, and delegated influence, which reflects authority. This Greek word…holds the answer for every problem anyone is facing now or in the future…Jesus gave His authority back to His children… Jesus had the exousia, and He transferred the exousia to His true followers” (115-6). This power promises success and victory: “Because of our exousia we can stand up and proclaim, “In Jesus’ name, I command every force of darkness to leave my home” (117).

Dunamis means “a mighty working miracle power,” Lisa says. It refers to the power to heal the sick and cast out demons, and Christians have this power, too: “Jesus Himself operated in this Holy Spirit power anointing when He healed the sick, walked on water, and cast out unclean spirits…That same dunamis is available to all believers by being filled with the Spirit” (119).

Lisa takes these “power hook-ups” seriously. In fact, she states with all seriousness that the 1904 Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles was a true working of the Holy Spirit (118). For those unfamiliar with this revival, suffice it to say that it was the beginning point of the Pentecostal and Holiness movements in the U.S. and has been directly linked to child abuse and deaths due to its emphasis on faith healing.

While I desire to respect people’s diverse theological belief systems, I do think that each and every system of human belief has weaknesses — and those weakness are particularly amplified in certain circumstances. For example, while we could argue about the validity of Calvinism’s tenet of predestination, I hope we all can agree that raising the tenet of predestination at a loved one’s funeral is counter-productive and damaging. That’s not the time and place. Similarly, raising the charismatic tenets of the Cherry family’s theological system — whether you think they are valid or not — within the context of abuse prevention is counter-productive and damaging. Here’s why:

First, it offers false hope.

The “victorious Christian living” message from these movements offers false hope to families facing the devastations of child abuse. It promises supernatural power when it should be offering accurate, concrete, and professional assistance for abuse recovery and mental illness. Examples of the promises Lisa makes include:

  • “To those who understand His ways, who respond to His incredible offer of a covenant relationship, who obey His principles, and who can believe His incredible mercies, He will make His supernatural power available” (123).
  • “God is ready to give us the fullness of His power—He’s promised to in His Word. We just need to plug in!” (125).
  • “As parents we can say no! Our prayers and our authority have power in the spirit realm” (164).
  • “When you are prepared for the day of battle, your victory is sure!” (175).

Second, it emphasizes prayer over real recovery assistance.

This is the problem with any worldview that advocates faith healing. These worldviews declare that simply saying words out loud can transform circumstances. This is mysticism, not accurate science or even biblical Christianity. Examples of Lisa’s Word-of-Faith ideology includes:

  • “Pray the prayer below for whichever spiritual condition you may be in right now, and expect God to rescue you and help you to find your own path out!” (106).
  • “By some counts it is estimated that there are over 6,000 statements of promise contained in the Word that are available to the child of God… Speaking God’s promises is how we declare our place of authority over our own lives… It allows…the release of the power of faith [and] God’s Word to defeat the power of darkness… This scriptural declaration not only transforms my mind and heals my emotions, it also transforms circumstances” (188-90).
  • “Just keep speaking those promises aloud until faith supernaturally begins to rise up in your spirit” (192).

Third, it heaps guilt upon survivors of abuse and their families.

There’s no way around the fact that recovering from child abuse and/or mental illness is a complicated and grueling process. In fact, an entire lifetime might very well be required. There will be relapses, dark moments, and times when people will just want to give up. It doesn’t matter if you are a Christian or an atheist or a Buddhist — this is just how recovery works.

To suggest to survivors of abuse and their families that there are easy answers or that they just need to tap into a supernatural source of power is devastating. Because ultimately, the realities of recovery will surface no matter what. The feelings of failure are difficult enough, but the worldview of the Cherry family only adds guilt on top of guilt. Because now survivors not only feel like failures in terms of recovery, but also failures in terms of their relationships with God. Wasn’t faith supposed to supernaturally rise up? It didn’t. So does that mean I am not a Christian? Does God hate me? Must I pray harder? What is wrong with me?

This is an insidious form of religious abuse and has no place in legitimate education about abuse prevention or recovery.

c. Perspective on mental health

Both Lisa and Kalyn Cherry (though primarily Lisa) minimize, spiritualize, and stigmatize mental health health issues through Kalyn’s Secret. They minimize by discussing mental illnesses as if they are stereotypical teenage “issues” (like smoking cigarettes) that can be easily avoided or vanquished. They spiritualize by repeatedly classifying mental illness as a tool of Satan and demons, rather than an actual illness. And they stigmatize mental illness by speaking of it as something wrong on a moral and/or spiritual level.

These problems begin at the very beginning of the book when Lisa tells a morality tale about a Parent and Child traveling on a Boat (representing life). The Parent is obsessed (and in Lisa’s mind, rightly so) with avoiding various “Islands” (the aforementioned, stereotypical teenage “issues”) and has to help the Child stay safe. In Lisa’s mind, the Parent can successfully navigate the Child’s boat and not run aground on any of the islands. And one of these Islands — amongst things like Drugs and Violence — is “Depression”: “Parent had studied the names of the other ‘islands’ their boat needed to avoid—Depression, Drugs, Sexual Abuse, Rebellion, Violence, Teen Pregnancy—and he certainly didn’t intend to get their boat caught up on any of them!” (24)

Mental illness is not something that can be “avoided” necessarily any more than any physical illness. So not only does classifying it alongside things like drugs obfuscate its roots, it also makes it appear like it’s something easily avoided or fixed. This minimizing continues throughout the book. Lisa makes it sound like God won’t let “real” Christian remain mentally ill, saying, “When God would remind us that He sent forth His Word and healed all our diseases (Ps. 107:20), we had to remind ourselves that depression would not be able to stay in Kalyn’s body. When we saw strange demonic activity happening in our home, we had to remind ourselves of the truth that we have been given ‘authority to tread on [snakes] and scorpions” (132-3). She also insinuates that parents can solve mental illness simply by praying: “When attacks come against your home, take a stand by faith and pray like this: ‘No devil…I disallow tormentors such as depression, oppression, anxiety, and stress…’ As parents, we can say no! Our prayers and our authority have power in the spirit realm” (132-3).

This, of course, is not surprising in light of the fact that the Cherry family adheres to and promotes various religious movements noted for faith hearings.

As you can see from the last quotation, Lisa also spiritualizes mental illness. She describes depression as a “tormentor” from the “devil.” Other spiritualizing language that the book uses to describe mental illness includes “weapons at the devil’s disposal” (92) and “dark forces” and “ugly monsters” (226-7). This is not a coincidence. As we will discuss in the next section, demonology is a significant factor in the Cherry family’s worldview.

The last point necessary to make about Kalyn’s Secret and mental health is that the book stigmatizes mental illness by describing it — and those who suffer from it — in intensely negative terms. Kalyn describes mental illness as a “weakness” (227) and a sign of “our perverted, godless society” (239). Lisa describes it as part of a “pit” belonging to Satan. She compares mental illness to alcohol, saying that depressed individuals use their mental illness as a “coping mechanism” that “allows the mind to shut down and temporarily give up the task of reasoning.” She also says that it’s “politically correct” to describe mental illness as an “involuntary response,” when in fact it’s “the enemy’s ultimate strategy against all God built and created” (81).

All of this is not ok. It is completely irresponsible for people claiming to be sexual abuse prevention educators to minimize, spiritualize, and stigmatize the mentally ill. Mental illness is real, it is not the result of personal failure or satanic influence, and it deserves to be treated carefully, scientifically, and compassionately. Especially considering that child abuse primes the brain for mental illness, the mental health language used in Kalyn’s Secret — a book directed towards people with child abuse experiences — is 100% inappropriate.

d. Demonology

The fact that the Cherry family repeatedly discuss mental illness in spiritual terms is not a coincidence. Demonology is a significant factor in their worldview — and it’s probably one of the most disturbing and damaging aspects of it. In their worldview, there is an intense, Frank Peretti-like world of spiritual warfare occurring underneath the surface of the physical realm: “The spiritual realm is a very real world charged with the activity of both God and His angelic ministering forces and the devil and his demonic tormenting forces” (85). Lisa makes multiple, exclamatory references to warfare, such as “This life is not like a war, it is a war!” and “This is not a symbolic war, this is a real war!” (90).

While one could make arguments for or against the concept of spiritual warfare, I want to stay focused on — as I said previously — the issues of abuse and mental health. In reference to her own family’s struggle with child abuse, Lisa employs language that is a mixture of Bill Gothard and Frank Peretti: “I underestimated the strategic cunning of the spiritual forces of darkness to develop fortresses in our homes” (13-4). Lisa also insinuates, when Kalyn was lashing out at her and her husband due to feelings of abandonment and betrayal, that her daughter was possessed: “I looked at this shell of my daughter sitting before me and was convinced it was not really her speaking to us anymore. The daughter I knew would never say such horrible things” (104).

This emphasis on “the spiritual forces of darkness” carries over into how Kalyn discusses her own abuse. Kalyn ends up seeing her relationship with her abuser as a spiritual one: “My desire to please him, impress him, and be loyal to him dominated my life. I know that this devastating connection must been constructed on a spiritual level because the tie was so strange and strong it could not have simply occurred in the natural realm” (39-40). Kalyn comes to believe this “devastating connection,” or the “so strange and strong tie,” is the result of demonic forces: “Was it only a man controlling me? No, the force that held me no man could establish or break in his own strength. I had opened the door for principalities and powers of darkness [see Eph. 6:12], and I would pay dearly” (44).

While Kalyn’s Secret references this “connection” or “tie” between Kalyn and her abuser, it does not specifically reference the concept of “soul ties,” whereby abuse victims supposedly become demonically “mind-melded” with their abusers. However, in Unmask the Predators, Lisa does specifically reference soul ties (and we’ll look at that in Part Five of this series).

There are many problems with this use of demonology in the context of abuse. The foremost one I want to mention is that that it only amplifies a victim or survivor’s feelings of terror and guilt over abuse. To suggest to a victim or survivor that their intense emotions – their feelings of anger, pain, betrayal, abandonment, and so forth — is not physically real (but rather the result of a demonic possession) is psychologically damaging. It makes them distant and distrustful of their emotions. This is damaging because (1) emotions are important indicators about reality and (2) acknowledging one’s emotions is a crucial part of healing and recovery.

Another reason why demonology is problematic in this context is that it shifts the responsibility for criminal actions away from the actual abusers and towards supernatural forces.

When discussing “our family’s crisis,” Lisa Cherry does this: “The enemies in this battle are really not the people involved in the dark acts, but the forces of evil which have taken them captive to do their will for this season” (67-8). While this could remain an abstract spiritual point, she later applies it naively and dangerously to the man who abused her own daughter. Lisa says, “I do not believe this man intentionally set out to hurt our daughter’ (137). She then blames the spiritual forces of darkness instead. While there is a time and place for empathy and forgiveness for abusers, language that in any way excuses or minimizes the actions of abusers is inappropriate here. This is especially important considering that the evangelical church today is facing an abuse crisis. We desperately need to focus on accountability, justice, and transparency, not excuses and minimizing. The latter has gone on long enough.

e. Authoritarianism and Patriarchy

Instituting a firm system of authority is a key aspect of the Cherry family’s abuse prevention strategy. In fact, I honestly can’t help but admire the perceptiveness of Kalyn even in the midst of her abuse, for she seems to have recognized the “oppressive parenting” (143) her parents were using. (It is shame this perception was silenced and cast aside as somehow demonic in origin.)

While the authority system Lisa advocates for is spoken of vaguely, one can deduce from resources she recommends (most notably, Bill Gothard and his Institute for Basic Life Principles) and the language she uses (Gothard-like language) that she envisions a top-down authoritarianism. While Lisa does not specifically reference Gothard’s notion of the “umbrella of protection” (where obedience to authority structures is necessary to be protected by God), she does use similar-sounding language, describing her family’s failure to protect Kalyn as “drop[ping] our shield of moral protection over our own children” (150). Lisa also describes the cascading effect of being out from under that protective umbrella/shield: “The point is that ultimately the enemy’s attack over Kalyn’s life became an attack over her parents, which became an attack over her whole family, which became an attack against anyone and everyone who God had preordained for her family to reach with the good news of Jesus Christ” (83). To counter this, she insists that learn to submit to all authority figures is essential to Christian families: “Obedience is God’s way, so this lifelong obedience-to-authority training course begins by learning to obey our parents and eventually obeying other authority figures” (155).

There are 3 problems with the umbrella/shield of protection concept I want to highlight:

First, this concept can be confusing or harmful to an abuse victim or survivor. As Recovering Grace has explained, “Central to the concept is the fact that under the umbrella, ‘nothing can happen to us that God did not design for his glory and our ultimate good,’ while out from under the umbrella, ‘we expose ourselves to the realm and power of Satan’s control.’ So, is a child or young person to interpret sexual abuse from an authority figure as designed by God for glory, or the result of having strayed into the realm of Satan’s control?”

Second, it exacerbates anxiety and/or panic for children, young adults, abuse survivors, and the mentally ill.

And third, authoritarian systems protect abusers, not the abused: “The umbrella of protection…ends up protecting abusers better than it protects those vulnerable to abuse…The chain-of-command dictates a worldview in which leadership is not earned, but given by divine right. This means if the leadership errs, you are not to correct him or her, or get yourself to safety, but to continue to submit.”


It must also be mentioned that Lisa Cherry advocates for a specific type of authoritarianism within Christian families: patriarchy.

She explains that she used to believe in equality between husband and wife, but that was part of a “liberal mindset” (53) that blocked God’s blessings in her family’s lives. (She even insinuates that a factor leading to Kalyn’s abuse could be her family’s original lack of patriarchy, because Kalyn was not properly controlled and disciplined.) Lisa says, “My modern philosophies about many things including my marriage and my parenting were directly impacting my children” (152), and she’ll clarify in Unmask the Predators that “modern philosophies” means “feministic and humanistic philosophies.” After a true commitment to Jesus, Lisa explains she gave all that up: “I no longer fought for my equal rights. I just wanted to give my rights away” (58). So she gave up her “feminist driven point of view” and embraced male “headship” and “submission” (153). She then challenges other wives to similarly submit to patriarchy, asking “If you are a wife, are you submitted to your husband’s leadership?” (157) She implies that if the answer is, “No,” your children could be at risk.

This advocacy of patriarchy is troubling considering that patriarchy creates environments conducive to abuse, especially sexual abuse. In The Cry of Tamar: Violence Against Women and the Church’s Response, Pamela Cooper-White explains that, “Patriarchy sets the stage in general for more abuse of girls and women of every kind at the hands of men, and conditions men to view women as objects for their gratification rather than fellow human beings worthy of empathy and care.”

This is seen clearly in conservative Christian subcultures. Homeschooling mom Julie Anne Smith has observed how patriarchy is “setting up…young ladies for abuse”. And homeschool alum Sarah Jones concurs, explaining that, “The Christian patriarchy movement grooms young women for abuse, consciously or not, by brainwashing them into compliance and encouraging them to forgo developing skills necessary for independent lives.” Even conservative Christian homeschool leader Michael Farris recently admitted that “families, children, women, and even fathers…have been harmed” by patriarchy.

f. Suggesting physical abuse and first-time obedience

In addition to promoting Gothard-like authoritarian parenting as one prevention strategy against sexual abuse threats, Lisa also recommends certain types of discipline. These recommendations are made in passing comments, so I should be upfront that the following observations are based more on extrapolation than direct statements by Lisa. But the hints Lisa drops regarding her discipline recommendations are enough to concern me.

The first observation is that Lisa criticizes “gentle mothering” (151). For those unfamiliar with this buzzword, “gentle” parenting eschews corporal punishment and first-time obedience. Lisa slams gentle parenting for being one of several “modern philosophies” that are “blocking God’s blessing” in families’ lives (152).

The second observation is that Lisa sets forth first-time obedience as a litmus test for whether you are being faithful to “God’s School of Obedience.” Lisa asks, “If you have younger children, can you give them a direction the first time without complaining or delaying?” (157) For those unfamiliar with the term, “first-time obedience” is a staple of Christian discipline books advocating the physical abuse of children, such as Gary and Anne Marie Ezzos’ Growing Kids God’s Way and Michael and Debi Pearl’s To Train Up A Child.

It has been criticized by many Christian parents because it “neglects the child’s basic well being”, cripples “the development of critical thinking”, and is based on “works-based salvation” and a “gross lack of grace.”

While advocating corporal punishment and first-time obedience may not necessarily imply to you that Lisa promotes physical abuse of children, it is important to note what resources she does recommend for child training: Reb Bradley and James Dobson. Lisa encourages people to buy Dobson’s “helpful resources” (167), even though Dobson’s book on discipline, The Strong-Willed Child, compares child training with cruelly beating a dog. And in the “recommended resources” section at the end of the book, she specifically recommends using Reb Bradley’s book Child Training Tips, a book noted for its excessive emphasis on harsh corporal punishment and authoritarian parenting.

Even more troubling — considering the context of sexual abuse prevention that we’re discussing — is the fact that Bradley’s methods actively discourage abuse prevention: “Reb Bradley also takes away the child’s only remaining defense against predators: parents who are open for communication.  ‘Unless it is an emergency,’ he says, ‘children should never be permitted to criticize those over them in authority’ (p. 124).”

All of these pieces, added together with Lisa’s statement in Not Open (the book we’ll discuss in the next part of this series) that it’s “healthy” for children to experience “fear and dread” of their fathers, seem to suggest that Lisa is encouraging parents to “discipline” their children according to books that advocate physically abusing children. While this would be bad enough, it’s even more inappropriate considering she masks it as somehow preventing another type of abuse. Which, as pointed out, it actually doesn’t. Creating a authoritarian home filled with “fear and dread” actually makes it harder for children to speak out about abuse — whether that abuse is physical or sexual.

This is counter-productive and damaging advice.

g. Bad advice regarding counseling and abuse reporting

The whole process the Cherry family went through regarding counseling for Kalyn — as well as the conclusions and recommendations they came to afterwards — are troubling. I commend their willingness to try different methods to find something that helped them, but I cannot commend their destination point.

Regarding counseling, Lisa declares it must be Christian-only. She does not specify what that means to her, but considering their use of Focus on the Family’s counselors as well as their book’s recommended resources, I assume she means nouthetic or “biblical” counseling. This is a troubling method, well-documented to cause significant problems and also not particularly biblical. Lisa also argues not just for “Christian-only” counseling, but that counseling for sexual abuse isn’t always important. She says, “Counseling has to be from a Christian perspective and should only be used as it lines up with God’s specific battle strategy for your particular battle” (218). This “should only be used” line is a dangerous suggestion considering how reticent many Christian churches already feel about addressing mental health issues. Lisa is only throwing fuel on the fire of mental health stigma by saying this. Stigma like that will not help abuse victims and survivors and will only make their lives worse.

Regarding abuse reporting, it isn’t what Lisa says that’s the problem. Rather, it’s what she doesn’t say. Here is the passage from Kalyn’s Secret that mentions reporting:

Doug had spent many hours praying about whether a police report was really necessary for us to do. Would we just needlessly increase our family’s pain if we reported the abuse? Shouldn’t we just practice “kindness” and all try to “forgive and forget” what had happened? But what about our responsibility to other families and churches who could be affected by this man’s unethical behavior? As Doug listened for the Lord’s direction in this matter, he became convinced it was necessary for us to make that report to our authorities. (141-2)

Lisa and her husband did make the right call in reporting the abuse. Matthew 18, the biblical passage often used to claim abuse should be handled “in-house” by churches, does not apply to criminal actions. GRACE’s Boz Tchividjian points out that, “Child sexual abuse is not a private matter but rather a public and civic one, rightly under the sword of the civil authority.”

The problem is that at no point does Lisa encourage families to report abuse. Rather, she leaves it open-ended about whether or not they should do so because she focuses on her husband praying about it. What if “the Lord’s direction” had been otherwise? Furthermore, as I will discuss later in this week when we look at Unmask the Predators, Lisa actually discourages families from reporting abuse in certain circumstances.

This is neither sufficient nor appropriate abuse prevention advice.

h. Recommended resources

I will discuss FFM’s list of recommended resources from Kalyn’s Secret at length during Part 6 of this series when I examine their online resources. This is because (1) the book’s recommendations are the same as the online ones and (2) the recommendations deserve a thorough analysis in themselves. Today’s analysis is long enough as it is.

However, I want to at least list for you what the most troubling recommended resources are (and in Part 7 I will explain why they are troubling):

  • Bill Gothard
  • Eric and Leslie Ludy
  • Institute in Basic Life Principles
  • James Dobson
  • John Bevere
  • Lou Priolo
  • Reb Bradley
  • Ron Luce
  • Teen Mania
  • Shannon Etheridge
  • S.M. Davis
  • Watchman Nee

4. Final Thoughts

Based on Kalyn’s Secret alone, I would highly discourage people from consulting Lisa Cherry and Frontline Family Ministries for advice on sexual abuse prevention. From their advocacy of unbiblical theology to their perspective on mental health, from their obsession with demonology to their shockingly bad recommendations of people like Bill Gothard and Reb Bradley and organizations like IBLP and Teen Mania, they are pointing abuse victims, survivors, and their families in all the wrong directions. Those directions have proven time and time again to lead to immense pain for the abused.

Unfortunately, this is just the first book. We have only begun to scratch the surface of Lisa Cherry and FFM’s troubling worldview. Tomorrow I will discuss their second book, Not Open, where we learn about the culture war underpinnings driving the Cherry family and FFM.