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.”
There are two versions of me: my parents’ version of me and my version of me. Before my high school years, I don’t think there were two versions of me. Instead, there was just the version my parents wanted. This is probably true of most children, but my parents were fundamentalist Christians involved in ATI – a homeschooling cult.
In my middle school years (I can’t really tell time by years, or by grades, my youth is blurred and marked by big events or debate resolutions), my parents plunged me into the patriarchal/men-must-be-leaders movements of the 1990s. They saw homosexuality, single women, women in authority, and feminism as threats to traditional gender roles. So they trained me to be a warrior for godly men. ATI’s version of this was called ALERT (Ralph has written about it here) and they liked to play Boy Scouts – but with less fun and more Bible study. I became a biblical scholar around this age, constantly studying passages, their Greek and Hebrew meanings, cross-referencing those passages in lexicons and study tools, and recording my observations on something called the “Meditation Worksheet.” Ironically, these worksheets prepared me deconstruct my cultic worldview and to rebuild my own worldview– whoops!
I was that really Christian kid that probably drove you nuts. I preached to my Christian neighbors that they shouldn’t be reading the NIV because it was Satan’s tool to undermine the divinity of Jesus. I passed out tracts at restaurants. I was not afraid to judge everyone, as a thirteen year old, and inform them about the Straight and Narrow Path to Holiness. Some of my closest friends became the pastor of our small Southern Baptist church – we would regularly discuss theology.
In high school, I started to think for myself and form my version of me (I’ll call it “me-me” and my parents’ version “parent-me”). Whenever me-me would discuss his thoughts with my parents, I would come into conflict with them. Their Christian worldview permeated every sector of knowledge – biology, geology, and especially politics, history, and religion. Throughout my high school years I vacillated between me-me and parent-me. At will, I could “turn off” all the parts of myself that my parents disliked. However, when there was something me-me really wanted that I couldn’t just “turn off” my desire for, it drove me crazy. Usually it was girls. It wasn’t a sexual thing, I just loved the intimacy and having someone I could share all my teenage angst with. My parents and I fought for probably five years over girls.
My parents decided that I needed some relationship indoctrination, so I got to learn all about “courtship.” Courtship is about as traditional and stupid as it sounds. I was told that I was supposed to “guard my heart” against “serial dating.” They made dating and breaking up sound like this violent emotional crime that left people with long-term scars. This meant that, before I entered into any relationship, I was supposed to ask my parents’ permission before I asked the girl’s father for permission to date her. Mind you, all power and authority over women was supposed to flow through men. Like any good patriarchy. Physical contact during a courtship is almost always a strict no-no. You are not allowed to hold hands, kiss, hug, or even be together alone. Some of the courtships I have seen have ended in terrible marriages and, in one case, double homicide.
This idea of courtship was huge and fixated on sexual purity and emotional purity. It grew huge after Joshua Harris’ book I Kiss Dating Goodbye and it was advocated at basically every homeschooling event and by most institutions. Some groups formed solely for the purpose of educating people about courtship and Patrick Henry College (started by Michael Farris to train homeschoolers to be influential in Washington, D.C. politics). ATI was huge about courtship, they even advocate betrothal! That’s where the children have even less power in their romantic lives and the parents “pick” out a decent mate for them, then they are forced into a marriage because it’s “God’s will.” Of course, only fathers, and occasionally mothers, know God’s will
So commitment in my romantic relationships was usually propelled by the guilt of needing to be in a “courtship.” Of course, you aren’t supposed to court until the man is financially able to support a woman, which meant I was supposed to avoid romantic relationships til my mid-20s. This was unacceptable, so I just engaged in quasi-courtship with three different girls through high school – sort of promising to marry them all, planning our lives and futures together, and then usually they broke up with me because God told them to (though I was an ass).
I remember I would form a lot of what would become my identity on the car rides home from something. My truck became my only escape on a daily basis – with my truck came the first time in my life I had literal freedom. I could go where I wanted, when I wanted. That freedom usually provoked thoughts and I would work big issues like courtship in my mind listening to music. I’m always amazed at how my parents will dismiss me-me and try to guilt and shame parent-me out of the shell. De-construction and re-construction your identity is not easy and my parents always acted like it was fun for me to rebel. Yes, when I was a teenager it was fun to let the immature me-me out for a joy ride, only to be clamped down on and repressed. But that excitement ended in college. I slowly came to a peace about myself that did not depend on my parents, or their affection. Finding the me-me was one thing, but synthesizing that into my emotions was much more difficult.
I say all this to try and explain both of the versions of myself. I can be parent-me, I can turn it on, and turn off my own desires and personality. It took years for me to even find out what me-me wanted from life and I found a tremendous peace when I discovered my desires and not my parents’. Throughout college, I would go home and I would let a little more of me-me come out – it was a very slow “coming out,” to borrow a phrase. I admitted to smoking tobacco. That I wasn’t a libertarian anymore, I was a liberal – lots of these involved political discussions where my parents felt almost as betrayed that I no longer shared their political beliefs than if I had renounced the faith. I never did renounce Christianity, only the corrupt vessel of the Christian church. Admitting I was dating took awhile – I just recently admitted I believed in evolution. Usually, each admission of the me-me ended in a fight or conflict. Even in college, they could not let go.
When I first started dating my wife, I asked if she could stay the night in my parent’s house because I needed a ride back to school. My father said he wasn’t comfortable with that because it would give my younger sister a bad example of “serial dating. To put this in perspective, this would be the second girl I brought home to my family ever. I said that I was really serious about this girl and if they chose to act like this, I would tell my girlfriend, and I would understand if she didn’t want my children around them. This sobered them up quickly and they agreed to let her stay. But it demonstrates the types of conflicts that would occur when me-me contradicted parent-me.
When my parents manage to convince me to attend their church, my mom always expects me to sing. My mother and I spent a lot of time bonding in the church choir when I was younger, so she expects me to find the same joy in it now as I did then. It simply does not work like that. Me-me does not enjoy church because it reminds me of all the negative feelings of guilt, shame, and intense pressure to be good. These days when it comes to spirituality, me-me cannot compromise.
Even now that I am married, my parents still want and expect parent-me. I don’t like the same things, I’m not the same person, and when they laugh and reminisce about the great times they had with parent-me, I can’t help but feel uneasy inside. They reminisce for parent-me because they know they may never see him again. They still try to draw on the guilt and shame they instill in me by saying things like “that’s not what we wanted for your life.” Or telling me the consequences of my sins, then questioning why I don’t think certain things are sins. When they pressure me-me to revert to parent-me, I get angry, defensive, and emotional. So I just stop expecting anything, sharing anything, being vulnerable. I don’t want parent-me for my life – that should mean something. And I don’t take spiritual advice from cultists.
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Ralph” is a pseudonym.
I was raised in a family where homeschooling wasn’t just the preferred method of education, but the only right one. Homeschooling was a way of life or a lifestyle if you will and everything revolved around my parents’ opinion of what God’s will was. Other than AYSO soccer, I had no social contact outside of church, family, and the homeschool umbrella group until I went to community college. This was when I discovered that I was socially retarded (yes that’s a technical term).
The religious sheltering of my childhood was only made more extreme and miserable by the international homeschool conglomerate cult ATI (Advanced Training Institute) aka IBLP (Institute of Basic Life Principles) run by ‘his eminence’ Bill Gothard. I won’t go into too many details of how involved my family was with this group or how many times we went to the IBLP seminars or the national conference in Knoxville Tennessee. But even at a young age I can remember wondering what the point was of all the putting on of shows, the mass gatherings, and the ridiculous dress code which looks nearly identical to that of the Mormons.
Besides the endless hypocrisy of Mr. Gothard’s teachings, the suppression of children’s natural instinct to ask questions of things that don’t make sense, and the plain and simply false teachings that go against recorded history and scientific fact — the most damaging moment of my experience with this group and quite possibly of my childhood (ironic that at the age of 20 both my parents and I still considered me a child) was when I attended the ALERT Academy. ALERT stands for Air Land Emergency Resource Team, but is really nothing more than a glorified boy scout troop; often referred to by some as ‘Gothard’s boy scouts’.
The main point they tried to drive home to their ‘trainees’ (typically 16-18 years old) was that no matter what adversity or difficulty you are facing, either physical, mental, or spiritual, all you need to do is cry out to God and he will get you through it. The way they taught us to do this with the physical aspect was by hiking with 60-80 pound back packs at nothing short of a speed-walk pace which often turned into a jog for miles on end without ever disclosing how far or long we were going.
Again, I won’t go into too many details but the ‘physical training’ done at ALERT made Basic Combat Training feel like a summer camp when I joined the Army years later. During this abusive level of physical training I ended up spraining my back which caused horrible pain during these hikes, but as I was told, “just ask God to make the pain go away and you will make it through.” Needless to say this was not a satisfactory answer to me and I ‘developed an attitude’ according to the leadership there.
I eventually was kicked out with them citing a ‘prideful spirit’ as the root cause of my problems.
This explanation is truly only scratching the surface of my experience at ALERT, but I don’t really want to turn this into an book. A few years later I found myself thinking that being a youth pastor might be a good path for me to take. So I attended a Christian college to begin studying for this purpose. However it didn’t take long from being out of my parents immediate control and having even a tiny taste of independence and freedom to begin rethinking everything I had ever been taught. Of course this did not happen without some outside influence.
After years of hearing my mother rail against psychology as nothing but excuses and philosophy as a way of opening your mind to Satan, I decided to take some classes and ended up majoring in both. She was partially right about something, philosophy does open your mind, but not to an imaginary evil gremlin whose ultimate goal is to enslave humanity. It simply opens the mind to new ideas and not being close minded.
To this day my parents curse my philosophy professor for ‘leading me astray’.
Some may say I’m just another typical example of how the devil can take possesion of people through exposure to worldly things. The truth is if you shelter your kids from ‘the real world’ they are going to wonder what you are keeping from them and many will run at the first chance they get. If philosophy, being the love of knowledge by definition, is so evil, then what are you saying by telling people to stay away from it?
I’m pretty sure there is a word to describe the rejection of knowledge; it is called ignorance.
After years of rebuilding my beliefs and life I have come to clarity. I realize my parents were raising children, and while this is typically what people say, I believe the mentality of child rearing needs to change.
Stop ‘raising children’, start raising responsible and educated adults who will not only be beneficial to society, but understand how to be a part of it.