A Homeschooled Son’s Letter to His Father: Ethan’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Kevin Dooley.

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

I grew up in a homeschooled Christian family, oldest of eight children. For the past several years, conversations with my mother indicated her weariness of homeschool education and a belief that public education was no longer the great evil she once considered it to be. Despite her view, her expression of this exhaustion to my father was limited to periodic bouts of frustration that were dismissed by my father as ‘evidence that Satan doesn’t want our family to keep homeschooling’. I was, to exaggerate by understatement, mildly angered by his cavalier dismissal. Given my financial dependence on my father throughout college, though, I wasn’t in a position to risk his anger by addressing the strain homeschooling was placing on Mom. Now that I am in my last semester with a six-figure job lined up after graduation, I elected to voice my thoughts (in a much cooler voice than would have been likely in person) to my father in an e-mail, included below.


This is a long e-mail that was supposed to be a conversation in person, but I didn’t realize y’all were leaving for the wedding and timing just kind of didn’t work out.

I want to preface this with two notes. First, please understand that this is not written from some resentful / I-hate-my-childhood perspective, because it’s not. Second, I beg you to realize that my opinions are not automatically invalid because I haven’t procreated and raised offspring myself.

Section 1: On The Theory of Homeschooling
Homeschooling has highly variable outcomes – some families end up on prime-time news for abuse and incest, some families send all their children to Harvard / Princeton / Yale. I have no problem with homeschooling per se.

To the contrary, growing up in that community gives me a unique view on its pros and cons.

To the extent that Christian parents have a duty to guide the moral development of their children, parents may (ought, even) elect to control the influences, environments, and material available to a young child. Homeschooling in the religious right originated because of a belief that public schools were dangerous, anti-moral institutions that threatened the development of Christian beliefs, and that belief is not unfounded. Public schools are not religious, and are often anti-religious.

It’s important to understand, though, that any child will inevitably be exposed to these ‘great evils’. Homeschooling does not allow a child to enjoy life sans secular influences. In some cases, it delays exposure to said influences. In some cases, those secular influences reach a homeschooled child through different channels. In many cases, though, homeschooling simply creates a unique set of ‘secular’ problems.

Homeschooling doesn’t solve the sin nature – as ideal as that would be.

In a homeschooled environment, some sins will bubble to the surface. In a public school environment, some of the same sins will arise, but it’s likely a different set will be primary concerns. The point here is that homeschooling does not eliminate the need to address human failure, it just changes the topics being addressed.

In economics, there’s a concept of diminishing marginal returns (DMR). DMR basically says that doing something for a certain amount of time has high value for each incremental action, but beyond a certain threshold, very little value is added. I think this is models the homeschool environment quite well. In early years, there is immense value from a Christian environment to build a foundation for moral thinking and behavior, but as the age timeline and the ability for self-reasoning progresses, you [generic you] reap very little incremental value from environmental restrictions.

[As an aside, I always found the quiver and arrows argument about shooting children out into the world very interesting. It was used to justify homeschooling and protecting children from the outside world until adulthood, but the process of making arrows is very different. Arrows are made from greenwood, then allowed to “season” / “mature” in an outdoor environment (while still under care of the archer) until they are ready to be shot out. Protection is not always good].

With one exception, all my Christian friends at [university name] were public schooled from day 1, and it’s arguable that their faith is more sincere than mine. This is perhaps a criticism of my focus on things of God in recent months, but is stronger evidence that the method of education is not the determinant of faith. Morals, godliness, and Christian belief stem from a God-given desire to follow those things.

As a summary: homeschooling has value, but it is not an intrinsic good. Beyond a certain point, it may be detrimental to the rigor of one’s faith and one’s ability to thrive in the outside world.

Section 2: On Finances
This is a somewhat short section, but merely exists because I think it’s important to recall one thing: the thousands of dollars the family pays in taxes every year fund, in part, a school system recognized as one of the best in the nation. From a financial stewardship perspective, electing to not utilize public resources is an unmitigated waste of those dollars. Given that family finances are increasingly stressed, prudent management of available dollars seems important.

Section 3: On Patriarchy
I am attempting to word this section very carefully to avoid giving offense. I apologize in advance if I fail to achieve this goal.

Fathers are recognized generally as ‘head of household’ within Christian tradition. Unfortunately, this tradition systematically has taught that fathers are the only heads of the household, that their decisions are final, and they are endowed with a ‘divine right’ to teach and train members of their family as they see fit.

At a very basic level, this is extra-biblical at best and abusive at worst.

It is especially pernicious because Mothers have been taught to accept the aforementioned patriarchal role without question.

[As an aside, mom knows nothing about this e-mail and i have not solicited her feedback in composing it. Any anger you have should be directed at me, not at her]

Over the years, the concept of ‘[Family Surname] Team’ and ‘family vision’ [quotes are not used ironically, merely to indicate specific phrasing used] have come to be despised by at least [second born sibling], [third born sibling], and myself because they didn’t represent a family vision – they represented your vision, which was to be accepted without question or argument, unless we wanted to face the consequences. While this is as much the fault of our immaturity as any other factor, I think it’s problematically indicative of a family trend – anything that happens must have your seal of approval, regardless of how trivial it is. And any choices that ’the family’ makes are, ultimately, just choices that you have made for us.

You have made some stellar decisions, please don’t get me wrong. This is not a blanket critique of everything that has ever happened. But the family is driven by a centralized power, and it’s abundantly evident whenever a unit of the family attempts to make an autonomous decision that you will brook no autonomy.

The ATI ‘umbrella of authority’ is transformed all too often into a suffocating blanket of my-way-or-the-highway.

Why am I talking about this? In all fairness, it’s often true that attempts at autonomous decisions by children are misguided and in need of parental ‘editing’, but the same should not, and in the case of our family, cannot be said of Motherly autonomous decisions.

I’ve seen the quality of your marriage deteriorate meaningfully for the past few years, and while that may be due to other factors, I’m convinced the largest contributor is the choke-hold you have on Mom’s ability to say, do, allow, or think anything related to the family. [second born] / [third born] and I often comment on the legitimate fear we see in her eyes whenever she allows a younger child to do anything without running it by you first – frightened anticipation of your anger at her for not fulfilling your vision for how the family ought to be.

Any marriage will have differences of opinions, that’s life. But communication, grace, and willingness to not always get your way are how marriages survive. I may not be married, but it’s not rocket science to figure that much out.

Where am I going with all this? Homeschooling is your vision for the children. I may be wrong, but I’m confident Mom no longer has a desire to homeschool. She continues her days in the car, her nights up to 2am managing different children’s classes, her constant fights with children over turning in homework and proctoring exams, in some desperate attempt to fulfill a vision that you have required her to implement. This is not healthy.

As a summary: The power dynamic in the family is driven by your fear, fear that you will lose control. If you made a genuine effort to give Mom freedom to be an independent entity, I think you would discover your vision for family education is sub-optimal.

Section 4: On College, aka, Finances (Again), Choice, and Resources
This is about college. College is expensive, as we’ve all found out.

And homeschooling can [it doesn’t have to] severely limit leadership opportunities / transcript development relative to a public school.

This has a direct financial impact on scholarships, college acceptances [different colleges have very different aid packages], and, consequently, the affordability of higher education. Presuming that blue-collar work is not the optimal adult life track for all the children, doing all that is possible to minimize college tuition is important.

Every child is different. Homeschooling through high school was great for me and I’m sure if I went to public school I wouldn’t be where I am today. But that doesn’t mean homeschooling is optimal for everyone. At the very least, children should be given the option of going to public school for high school, so that they can best position themselves for college applications.

Additionally, public schools have offices designed to educate students on college options, administer standardized tests, prepare transcripts, guide students through the application process, etc. These are professionals, people we’re already paying [via tax dollars], in the richest county in America, to send students to optimal colleges for each family.

Section 5: Action Items and Everything That Didn’t Fit in Earlier Sections
Will public schools open up a new set of problems? Probably. Will continued homeschooling kill Mom? Probably.

Will continued homeschooling eliminate the conflicts that current exist at home? Probably not. Will continued homeschooling ensure that all children love Jesus forever and ever? Probably not. [That was a bit snarkily phrased, I apologize].

Maybe no one wants to go to public school. That’s entirely possible.

But I suspect there is an interest, and I more strongly believe that certain children would massively benefit from it.

[fourth born child], [fifth born child], and [sixth born child] are all IMMENSELY intelligent, and young enough that they have years ahead to shape their high school and college opportunities. If other children went to public school, that would likely allow finances for them to play travel soccer and develop advanced skills there. [fifth born] is fascinated by computer science – if that can be fostered, he would love [elite science / tech high school nearby] as an intense scientific high school. There’s immense potential here.

I 100% support continued homeschooling up to middle school, maybe even through middle school, or perhaps through high school [again depending on individual children’s preferences].

But please, have the humility and intellectual honesty to engage with Mom in a genuine conversation about what she wants, and then implement what she wants.

The world will not end and we will not all become heathens if public schools are opened up as an option.

Who knows, maybe the reduced financial stress and replacement of “mom & dad” with “professor x” as academic task-masters will improve family relations.

Above all, this is about creating a truly family driven vision and contributing to a healthy, high functioning, family unit.


[Oldest Child]

HSLDA-Sponsored Magazine Promotes Bill Gothard’s ALERT Academy

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

The last time Homeschoolers Anonymous covered The Old Schoolhouse (TOS) magazine, it was because TOS owners Paul and Gena Suarez were accused of covering up allegations of sexual abuse and as well as perpetrating child abuse themselves (including waterboarding children). TOS  boasts a readership of around 200,000 and is endorsed by James Dobson. Back when the allegations of abuse arose, both the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and the Great Homeschool Conventions (GHC) were financial sponsors of the magazine. While GHC dropped their sponsorship last year, HSLDA continues their financial support of TOS.

In the most recent edition of the HSLDA-sponsored magazine (Winter 2016), TOS features a full-spread piece promoting ALERT Academy. ALERT is a self-described “military-style Christian school” that trains young men in crisis-intervention techniques. It was created by Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP). Gothard is the now-disgraced founder of IBLP. He resigned in 2014 on account of allegations that he sexually harassed and molested over 30 young women, including children, for decades. He and IBLP now face a lawsuit from 17 people seeking damages for alleged sexual assault and rape.

The TOS article is featured prominently on the magazine’s front cover with the line, “ALERT Academy: Cultivating Integrity in Your Son!” The author, John Boulden, describes the history of ALERT while making no mention of its relationship with Bill Gothard, IBLP, and the Advanced Training Institute (ATI, Gothard’s homeschool program). He simply describes it as “an outgrowth of a homeschool program.” Boulden also describes numerous homeschool conferences in Knoxville, Tennessee and Big Sandy, Texas, similarly neglecting to mention these conferences are Gothard’s IBLP conferences. Furthermore, while Boulden talks up the benefits of ALERT’s Basic Training, he does not mention that the training involves Bill Gothard’s Basic Seminar principles, especially Gothard’s “principle of authority.”

A homeschool alumnus who attended ALERT Academy, which is still an IBLP programdescribed it as “really nothing more than a glorified boy scout troop; often referred to by some as ‘Gothard’s boy scouts’.” ALERT stands for Air Land Emergency Resource Team. The academy engages in highly controversial training techniques, much like Teen Mania’s suspended Emotionally Stretching Opportunity of a Lifetime (ESOAL) program. Also like ESOAL, ALERT has faced a plethora of abuse allegations. Jeri Lofland details, among other charges, the program’s alleged “refusal to contact parents regarding medical emergencies” and practice of forcing “under-dressed teen boys to stand outdoors in sub-freezing temperatures at night” to elicit confessions. A contributor at Homeschoolers Anonymous describes abusive physical training. And a contributor at Recovering Grace describes emotional and physical abuse as well as medical neglect during his time at ALERT.

Images of TOS’s ALERT article are below:

HA has archived a PDF of the article here.

Please Don’t Deny Our Agency


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What J. Richard Fugate Says About… Tolerating Child Abuse

J. Richard and Virginia Fugate.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

J. Richard Fugate is well-known within the Christian Homeschool Movement for his advocacy of child training practices that emphasize parental authority and whipping children with tree branches and dowel rods. The founder of the Foundation for Biblical Research, Fugate is the former CEO of the popular homeschooling curriculum company Alpha Omega Publications. Alpha Omega’s curriculums are recommended by HSLDA and highly praised by Cathy Duffy’s Cathy Duffy Reviews, Mary Pride’s Practical Homeschooling, and Paul and Gena Suarez’s Old Schoolhouse Magazine; Alpha Omega is an HSLDA discount group. Fugate has also served as the Vice-President of Finance for another popular homeschool curriculum company, Accelerated Christian Education, and the Business Manager of Reb Bradley’s homeschool organization, Family Ministries.

Fugate’s seminal book on child training is What the Bible Says About… Child Training, published by Alpha Omega Publications in 1980. Over 260,000 copies of the book have been sold to date. In the book, Fugate claims to set forth “the Biblical system for training children” “without human adulteration” (1-2). This system consists of two elements: controlling and teaching. “The controlling phase,” Fugate writes, “is the establishment of the parents’ right of rulership over the will of the child” (1). His system is fixated on the idea of parental control (or rulership), in which the parent becomes the child’s symbolic “Most High” (121). Indeed, Fugate believes control to be more important than the second step of teaching: “The primary role of the parent is to act as an external control over the child’s nature” (52).  This right to control or rule is virtually unlimited: “Government has no right to administer justice…or to exercise authority over other independent institutions, like family and marriage” (26).

Fugate expands on this lack of limits, arguing that “no other institution or person has rulership rights over children.” In cases of abuse, “Parents are directly responsible to God for any misuse of their authority. There is no such thing as ‘child rights’ sanctioned by the Word of God. The child has only the God-given right to be raised by his parents without the intervention of any other institution” (31).

Fugate’s rejection of children’s rights leads him to reject nearly all government intervention on behalf of children. (He makes exceptions only for extremes like child rape and murder.) He rails against “child advocacy agencies and child abuse laws,” saying that, “Parents must not allow government to usurp their authority in those areas in which God alone holds the parents accountable” (32).

Instead of government intervening on behalf of abused children, Fugate believes that children should consider their abuse to be God “preparing such a child to glorify Himself through suffering.” In fact, in the event that you become aware that a child is being abused, Fugate does not encourage you to report the abuse to the proper authorities. Rather, he encourages you to simply “remember that God is in control”:

Parents who misuse their authority fall under the direct judgment of God. When we see a child receive what we consider mistreatment from such parents, we must remember that God is in control and has chosen to place the soul life of that child under those parents specifically. God has a plan for every life, a plan that incorporates even the unfairness of this world. Perhaps the child who receives unfair treatment at the hand of his parents requires just that kind of pressure in order to submit his will to God. Perhaps God is preparing such a child to glorify Himself through suffering just as Job did. God’s plan is greater than anything we can comprehend with our finite minds in our limited moment of time. We see an innocent, defenseless child while God sees a soul for which He has made complete provision. God makes no mistakes; therefore we must allow Him to deal with rebellious parents. (36-7)

In the later half of his book, Fugate again addresses a situation of abusive parents. This time the situation is when one spouse is abusive and the other is not: “Occasionally a parent with a serious sin problem in his own life will truly abuse his child under the guise of chastisement. Such a parent has a soul problem that can only be permanently solved by spiritual means.” Once again, Fugate does not encourage the spouse of the abusive parent to report the abuse to the proper authorities or even take the children away to a safe space. Instead, he gives truly dangerous advice: he tells the spouse to simply “control” the abused children more so that they do not “cause” the abusive parent to continually abuse them. Fugate writes,

If the father has the problem, the mother must take special care to control the children herself. She can train the children not to give their father cause to express his anger against them… The more stable parent must maintain the children’s respect of the other parent. (146)

Tragically, Fugate is not alone among conservative and evangelical child training experts in making such a recommendation. Michael Pearl makes a similar suggestion in his now-infamous book To Train Up a Child. Pearl argues,

Mother, if you think the father is too forceful in his discipline, there is something you can do. While he is away demand, expect, train for and discipline to receive instant and complete obedience from your children. When the father comes home the house will be peaceful and well ordered. The children will always obey their father, giving him no need to discipline them. (58)

Fugate and Pearl essentially want children to tolerate their abuse and walk on eggshells around their abusers. Unfortunately, these suggestions will only further enable and empower an abuser.*** These suggestions will also contribute to the devastating impact of spiritual abuse, as children believe they must be masochistic about the abuse they experience: feeling they have to “praise” God for their pain and not expect the authorities in their lives to seek justice against those who hurt them.


*** If your spouse is abusive towards your children, what should you do, if not heed Fugate’s advice?

Far better advice comes from Kathryn Patricelli at Mental Health Net:

For children who are currently being abused, the main goal is to remove the child from the abuser. The following is a list of possible solutions:

  • Get the child away from the abuser, even if this involves sending the child to live somewhere else (e.g., with other family members or friends).
  • Get abuse to stop by making police reports or anonymous reports to your state’s Child Protective Services department. Please know that reports may need to be made repetitively (many times in a row) before any action gets taken.
  • Get the child a medical exam to ensure that child is being treated for any physical injuries and so that abuse is documented.
  • Get the child into counseling with a therapist who specializes in working with abused children.

Girl Without Consent: Michal’s Story

Photo by Darcy, used with permission.

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

Content warning: discussion of rape, rape fantasies.

I’d like to write about all the craziness of growing up, but I’m afraid someone will know it’s me.

I want to write about how my mom didn’t tell me what menstruation was until it happened (THAT is terrifying . . . having blood coming out “down there” makes you think you’re dying). Then neither she nor my dad ever explained that or sex to me. They gave me a section of a health book to read. Which I did. And promptly blocked it all from my memory because it was too embarrassing to handle. Growing up in a home where sex can never ever be talked about can mean that even clinical discussions seem evil and dirty and are best forgotten.

That’s how I got to age 16 without knowing words like “vagina” and “vulva.” When inserting a tampon for the first time (my mom always bought pads, but I wanted to go swimming) I thought about inserting it as “sticking it up my butt,” (although I knew it was a different hole, I had no words or understanding of the anatomy involved) and felt ashamed and degraded by the experience. And I associated it with Eve’s sin and felt ashamed to be a woman. I barely knew the word “penis,” and it took me some time to figure out how guys were different physically (testicles I only learned about somewhat later). As a teenager, I didn’t know where babies came from. I didn’t know what an erection was.

I’d like to write about how always being taught that women were inferior, passive participants in sex and that men were ravenously hungry for women’s bodies contributed to my rape fantasies and a hard to shake addiction to degrading, humiliating rape porn (I hate it, but guess what? I’m turned on by thinking about men hurting women. Don’t tell me Christian culture respects and honors women. I know where I first learned to think this way). I never in my life imagined myself enjoying sex; instead, when I thought about it, I thought about being forced into it. (Amazingly my SO and I share a pretty healthy relationship, but it’s a miracle given that I always suppressed and distorted my fantasies in such a hideous way).

I’d like to write about the time I almost talked myself into marrying a guy because I thought having gotten close to him meant that I’d given a part of my heart away and that I’d be defrauding him if I walked out. Oh, and that I would fall in love after marriage. Even though I wasn’t attracted to him. At all.

I’d like to write about crying after kissing my first boyfriend asking if he could still love or respect me even though I was so “cheap.” About how I wondered if we broke up, if anyone else could love me when I’d given my first kiss away to someone else.

I’d like to write about how hard I find it to refuse my SO when it comes to our physical relationship. I was told that men can’t stand it when their advances are rejected, that it damages their egos terribly, that a woman’s job is to make him happy. Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing something, and I know he’d listen if I said “no,” but I can’t say it, because I was told that once you have that man, you must never, ever tell him “no.” I can’t imagine the hell I would be in right now if my SO didn’t respect me and my body.

I want to write about how I feel like my loving parents raised me to be someone’s sex slave. What if I had married that first man? And didn’t feel attracted to him? But could never refuse him? And he was in charge of all our decisions? Including birth control decisions?

I want to scream.

Josh Duggar and Josh Komisarjevsky: A Tale of Two Joshes

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Two Joshes. Both ATI alumni. Both perpretrators of serious crimes.

But each one received very different reactions from the conservative Christian milieu in which they grew up. And those reactions are worth taking a closer look at.

Josh Duggar

Josh Duggar was homeschooled by his parents, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, with the Advanced Training Institute — the homeschooling curriculum developed by Inge Cannon (the former Director of HSLDA’s National Center for Home Education) for Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles. According to a police report released last week, Josh molested at least five young girls. Josh began molesting these girls around the age of 14, despite him claiming that he “accepted Christ at the age of seven.” Josh’s crimes were not reported for at least a year, and only then they were reported to a police officer who himself was later convicted for child pornography. His parents willingly covered up his crimes as they were on the brink of political and entertainment stardom.

Though Josh Duggar immediately resigned from his position as Executive Director of FRC Action once the police report became public last week, multiple Christian and homeschool celebrities immediately sprang to his defense. Mike Huckabee declared those angry with Josh to be motivated by “bloodthirst” and praised Josh’s “authenticity and humility” for confessing after his criminal actions were forced into the public eye. Ray Comfort pronounced Josh “a brother in Christ” and dismissed his criminal actions as happening “in his BC [before Christ] days. Such were some of us.” Eric Hovind used the situation to preach about Creationism and make a joke about how Josh should be “punished” by working for Family Research Council (the same organization he just resigned from). Rick Boyer praised the Duggar family as “one of the happiest, holiest, humblest families I have ever met” and said Josh has “lived an exemplary life.” Matt Walsh used the opportunity to condemn not Josh but progressives, penning a tirade entitled “The Duggars Aren’t Hypocrites. Progressives Are.” where he not only denounced progressives but also admitted he wouldn’t “immediately run to the cops” if his own son molested children. Chad Bird and Daniel Emery Price at Tullian Tchividjian’s Liberate wrote a poetic defense of Josh entitled, “We are all the Duggars.” Bird and Price waxed eloquently about how, “What happened within this family is many things—tragic and abusive, shameful and selfish, destructive and deceptive. It is all manner of evil, no matter how you look it. But there is one thing that it is surely not: it is not surprising. Not in the least.” Rather, “We are all the Duggars. We are all dysfunctional sinners living in flawed families upheld by grace.”

That was one Josh. Then there’s the other one.

Josh Komisarjevsky

According to friends and family, Josh Komisarjevsky was “a brilliant but troubled young man” who was “very loving, very caring.” Josh was adopted at two-weeks-old by fundamentalist Christians. His father Benedict has been described as “critical, cold, and controlling”; the mother Jude, “quite submissive.”

Like Josh Duggar, Josh Komisarjevsky was homeschooled using material from Bill Gothard’s ATI. Jude said that she and her husband Benedict “had tried to instill Christian values in the boy by pulling him out of public school and educating him at home,” but he had nonetheless “wallowed in depression” due to the death of his grandfather a year earlier. She recalled going into his room at one point and “he had written over and over again on the walls: ‘death’ and ‘die’ and ‘suicide.’”

At some point during his childhood, Joshua was raped by “someone he trusted,” allegedly a teenage child that the Komisarjevsky family had fostered. Several years later, like Josh Duggar, Josh Komisarjevsky molested a younger relative. The church that the Komisarjevsky family attended “rejected psychology, psychiatry, or any kind of mental health treatment, and so did Komisarjevsky’s parents.” When Benedict and Jude discovered the sexual abuse in the family, they — just like the Duggars — did not seek any mental health treatment for either Joshua or his victim.

Right before turning 15, Joshua set fire to a gas station. Since police recognized he had serious mental health issues, he was briefly hospitalized in a mental health hospital and given medication. However, his father did not want him on any medication, and instead sent him to a “faith-based” treatment program.

On July 23, 2007, Joshua and his friend Steven Hayes broke into the home of the Petit family — William, Jennifer, and their daughters, 17-year-old Haley and 11-year-old Michaela. Joshua and Steven held the family hostage for hours. They forced Jennifer to drive to the family’s nearby bank and withdraw $15,000 — on the threat of killing the entire family otherwise. They raped and strangled Jennifer and then sexually assaulted Michaela. William was severely beaten and tied to a post in the basement. Joshua and Steven then doused the house with gasoline and set fire to the house. Haley and Michaela died from smoke inhalation. William managed to escape.

Joshua had specifically targeted the Petit family. A day prior to the killings, he noticed Jennifer and Michaela at a grocery store. He followed them from the store home and made plans to come back the next day with Hayes.

Joshua was found guilty of murder. Evidence of “his strict Christian upbringing, his disturbed behavior as a youth and his parents’ decision not to get traditional psychological treatment for him because of their Christian beliefs” was a significant matter of discussion during his trial. In January 2012, Joshua was sentenced to death. His accomplice, Steven Hayes, was also sentenced to death.

Two Joshes, Two Different Reactions

When Josh Komisarjevsky’s crimes swept across the national, publicized by the media much like Josh Duggar’s crimes, the Religious Right was silent. No Mike Huckabee praised Komisarjevsky’s “authenticity and humility.” No Ray Comfort said he was “a brother in Christ.” No Eric Hovind used Komisarjevsky’s actions to preach about Creationism. No Rick Boyer praised his “exemplary life.” No Matt Walsh said he could relate to not wanting to turn Komisarjevsky in for murder. No Chad Bird and Daniel Emery Price saw themselves and the Gospel in Komisarjevsky.

No, they were silent.

Not a single one stood up and said, “We’re all Josh Komisarjevsky.” Not a single one dared to say such an insensitive remark a mere week after he raped and murdered his victims.

No one said, “Oh, it’s okay he murdered someone, he was young and now he’s sorry so hey, let’s make him a television star again!”

No one should have.

Because not only is that horrible, cruel timing, it is also false. Yes, we all have made mistakes. But not all of our mistakes have involved raping and murdering. And Josh Komisarjevsky is not a darling of the Religious Right, so his raping and murdering and molesting is apparently not worth the effort of the Religious Right to defend.

But many want to defend Josh Duggar. Because something is at stake. Something called reputation. Something that, honestly, Jesus does not demand of us. Yet it’s something we love to value over and against Jesus. And it’s a lie to claim that what’s at stake is the Gospel, like Chad Bird and Daniel Emery Price pretend. It’s a lie to claim that progressives would be hypocrites to condemn Josh Komisarjevsky.

No, we know better than that. Josh Komisarjevsky’s crimes were sins. So we could say “We’re all Josh Komisarjevskys” but no one’s going to. Because when the crime is murder, we take it far more seriously than when the crime is child sexual abuse. No one is tempted to Matthew 18 a murderer. No one drags the family of a murder victim in front of the murderer and demands immediate forgiveness. No one faults the family of a murder victim for being bitter and angry and loud because of the immense pain rendered by murder. But everyone wants to Matthew 18 child sexual abuse. Everyone wants to handle sexual abuse in house. Everyone wants to silence and shut up the abuse victims and survivors and everyone wants them to behave and speak prettily and kindly.

And no one is going to pull a Matt Walsh on Josh Komisarjevsky because we can see the ludicrous nature of doing so. But for some reason, it doesn’t seem as ludicrous to pull a Matt Walsh on a perpetrator of child sexual abuse.


Why are we so willing to call murder murder — and shocking – but call sexual abuse “yet another sin” and “not surprising”?

Why would we be up in arms if our pastors and religious celebrities wrote poetic, eloquent defenses of Josh Komisarjevsky — but we’re not in arms when they do so about Josh Duggar?

Why would we decry the utter insensitivity to Josh Komisarjevsky’s victims’ families of trying to score theological points less than a week after he wrecked havoc on those families’ lives — but we think it’s appropriate to make the pain of Josh Duggar’s victims’ families into rousing sermons less than a week after their wounds were so carelessly re-opened?

And don’t give me excuses about how Josh Duggar was a teenager and maybe he himself was abused and hey, he offered a public apology. Josh Komisarjevsky’s troubles began when he was a teenager, too, and unlike Duggar, we know Komisarjevsky was abused. We know there are plenty of reasons we could give for Komisarjevsky’s descent into criminality.

There really are no excuses.

The fact is, we have a double standard. We have a double standard for the people we put on pedestals and “only” molest young children versus the people we don’t care about because they are mentally ill and we can dismiss as “demonic” and “evil” and thus explain away their violence. And that double standard is truly damaging, hypocritical, and unbiblical.

What we must be communicating to survivors of child and sexual abuse with this double standard breaks my heart. The way we think we have a right to tear open survivors’ wounds to water our Sunday sermons is, dare I say, demonic.

It is heartless and cruel and it needs to stop.