The Civil War Wasn’t Your Fault (And Other Things I Wish I’d Known)

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Britt Reints.

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Micah J. Murray’s blog. It was originally published on January 29, 2016.

I’m in this stretch of my life called “deprogramming”.

It’s the part that comes after brainwashing, and after disillusionment, and after despair. Deprogramming is the long, difficult process of unlearning all the ways my mind was bent by bad religion, rearranging a hundred tangled wires criss-crossing my mind.

Today I came across another pile of bullshit from the cult leader whose teachings were part of my brainwashing for the first twenty years of my life.

So today we are going to deconstruct some bullshit, as we’ve done here once or twice before.

This might not be of particular interest to you, unless you were in the cult I was in (which, sadly, many of us were) or unless you have a morbid interest in dissecting us from a distance like a freakshow (which, sadly, is not an unlikely scenario.)

First, a moment of backstory: Bill Gothard, an old man who has never been married or had children, resigned a few years ago from the cult he built by telling other people how to be married and have children. His resignation came in the midst of a sexual harassment investigation which has recently become a sexual abuse lawsuit. Like any good cult leader, Gothard has not let the utter collapse of his empire or the dozens of serious allegations against him deter him from doing the Lord’s work. Instead, he has simply rebooted the franchise with yet another vaguely named religious undertaking: Life Purpose Power Teams. Though this new project prudently avoids using Gothard’s increasingly infamous name and face, it is saturated with his pseudo-inspirational buzzwords, bullshit spiritual performance checklists, bizarrely specific obsession with multiples of the number seven, and grandiose promises of guaranteed success.

It was from this new venture that today’s fresh hot pile of bullshit emerges, enlightening with a bit of wistful revisionist history.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 6.47.46 PM

(Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.)

At first, the premise seems benign (if somewhat optimistic, anachronistic, and irrelevant):

If everyone in America circa 1860 had followed the steps outlined in Gothard’s new Bullshit Magic Power Squad books (spoiler: reading and memorizing Bible verses, basically), everyone would have been prosperous and successful (including the slaves), the slave owners would have been nicer to the slaves, and God would have blessed everybody. 

“Now hold up, Mr. Cynical Disillusioned Liberal Heretic,” you’re saying. “Why all the profanity? What’s wrong with suggesting that it’s a good idea to read the Bible and pray regularly?”

Nothing except…

GOD’S BLESSING IS NOT CONTINGENT ON OUR RELIGIOUS PERFORMANCE

The underlying economy of Gothard’s Bullshit Magic Power Squad is that God’s economy is a simple machine powered by religious performance.

“If every believer had established the daily disciplines of getting a Rhema* in the morning and quoting it to God while going to sleep, God would have fulfilled his promise of giving them prosperity and success.”

*for the uninitiated, “Rhema” is Gothard’s fancy Greek word than means “a Bible verse taken out of context and arbitrarily appropriated for personal use like a magic fortune cookie quote”

Do you see what he’s selling here? Follow these simple steps, and you can manipulate God into giving you prosperity and success. That’s just not how it works.

GOD’S BLESSING CAN’T BE EASILY ASCERTAINED BASED ON CIRCUMSTANCES

The same idea is also used to imply that the position of the slaves could have been improved — not through the ending of systemic injustice or the repentance of white slave-owners — but by the slaves themselves following the same religious rituals:

If all the slaves would have been trained how to follow these same disciplines of finding and meditating on daily Rhemas, God would have also given them the same prosperity and success.

This raises a few questions for me.

Specifically, what the fuck sort of god have you constructed that’s sitting up there in heaven, looking down on humans made in his image, watching them suffering slavery and torture at the hands of their fellow humans, and this god is saying, “Well, I would totes give you prosperity and success, but it will be another century before a slick salesman with a bad combover from Chicago unlocks the magic formula to my blessing, so I guess you just have to suck it up and keep sweating it out in the cotton fields.”

THE CIVIL WAR WASN’T YOUR FAULT.

This is the most insidious part of Gothard’s if/then approach to religious discipline. Ultimately, his particular brand of spirituality doesn’t lead to further freedom and enlightenment, but to self-doubt, cynicism, and despair.

You see, any good cult is carefully engineered with layers of extra chainsto keep its adherents trapped inside.

I remember, from when I lived in the red-carpeted cult center in Indianapolis a decade ago. I remember thinking, “The system isn’t working for me. I’m following the rules. I’m checking the boxes. I’m doing all the religious shit. And I’m not happy. I’m not successful. I’m not free. I’m empty. I’m broken. I’m hurting.”

But the problem was never with the system. The system was infallible. Hell, it could have prevented the bloodiest conflict the United States had ever witnessed, if only they had known to follow these five easy steps. If only they’d had access to these special insights from Bill Gothard himself (a $100 value, now only $49 when you join a Bullshit Magic Power Squad!)

Don’t you see?

“My system could have prevented the Civil War” is more than just laughable hubris. It carries the implicit suggestion that if we had only tried harder, done more, and followed the rules better, we could have prevented our own civil wars.

We are left wandering the gutted fields of the war-torn South, surrounded by rotting corpses and smoldering homes and generations of racial injustice, and there standing like a smug Lorax in the middle of the devastation is Bill Gothard with his dyed hair and navy suit telling us that all of this could have been avoided if we’d just tried harder, done more, memorized a few more Bible verses, said a few more prayers, attended a few more conferences, made a few more impossible commitments.

We are left wandering our own war-torn battlefields, surrounded by collapsing marriages and dying faith and screaming anxiety and lingering depression — and all he has to offer to our broken hearts is literally a book full of fucking checklists and the arrogant suggestion that God would have blessed us if we had only tried harder, done more, been more.

Dear God, am a fucking good enough for you yet? Will I ever be good enough for you?

THERE IS NO BULLSHIT MAGIC FORMULA

Forget Mr. Gothard’s “5 Essential Steps to Guaranteed Success”. There are no formulas, there are no guarantees, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you something, or trying to steal your soul. Probably both.

Let me offer, as alternative, these five suggestions instead:

  1. Fuck that shit.
  2. Know that you are infinitely, unconditionally loved by the God of the universe.
  3. (skip this one)
  4. (skip this one too)
  5. (Seriously, why are you still here? You are free.)

How the Magical Rhemas of Bill Gothard Could’ve Prevented the Civil War

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Mark Kaletka.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on January 28, 2016.

Bill Gothard has been accused of sexual harassment and abuse by literally dozens of women, most of whom were teens under his care at the time the incidents occurred, but while these accusations have forced him to step down from his position with the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), they haven’t prevented him from starting a new ministry, Life Purpose Power Teams. What exactly is this new ministry? The website talks a lot about rhemas, prayer, and accountability partners. According to IBLP, a rhema is “a verse or portion of Scripture that the Holy Spirit brings to our attention with application to a current situation or need for direction.”

But I’m not actually here to talk about Gothard’s new ministry, I’m here to talk about a specific article published on the Life Purpose Power Teams website. It’s unclear whether Gothard or one of his staffers wrote article, which explains “how the Civil War could have been avoided,” but even if it was written by a staffer it was presumably approved for publication by Gothard. And it’s bad. The article lists five things that could have avoided the Civil War. I will list them one by one and respond to each.

1. If every believer had established the daily disciplines of getting a Rhema in the morning and quoting it to God while going to sleep, God would have fulfilled his promise of giving them prosperity and success.

Note that the author does not say that God would have prompted them to own slavery. Nope. Instead, the author states that if they had meditated on the Bible morning and night God would have given them “prosperity and success.”

This actually brings to mind an interesting question—how exactly does the author know believers weren’t doing this?

2. If all believers would have learned and applied Christ’s commands, they would have loved God and their neighbors as Christ loved them. They would have developed the attitude of being a servant to everyone, including their slaves.

Note again that Gothard does not suggest that if believers had truly applied Christ’s commands, they would have ended slavery. No, he says they would have treated their slaves well. Those are two very, very different things.

And you know what? Many southerners defended slavery by arguing that they were treating their slaves well, and that their slaves lived happy lives of plenty and contentment. I get the feeling the author would have listened to their words and then embraced them joyfully as brothers and sisters in Christ.

3. If all believers would have prayed daily for those around them that God would bless them in their personal lives, their marriages, their families, their finances and their health, every American could have been prayed for, including all the slaves.

Oh goodie, the slaves would be prayed for! How nice!

4. If all the slaves would have been trained how to follow these same disciplines of finding and meditating on daily Rhemas, God would have also given them the same prosperity and success.

In case you’re wondering, no, when author speaks of slaves having “prosperity and success,” they are not referring to freedom. In case there is any doubt, see below.

5. With God’s blessing upon the slaves, they would have risen to greater responsibility, influence and freedom regardless of their social status.

Once again, how nice! If the slaves had prayed just so, the author says, God would have made them successful slaves!

I feel compelled to note that many slaves turned to Christianity in their suffering and cried out to God for an end to their captivity. One wonders, does this author believe they were not crying out loudly enough? Or perhaps the problem was that they were praying for delivery rather than busying themselves serving their masters as God intended? The idea that slaves just needed to pray more and study the Bible and then everything would have been all rainbows smacks of victim blaming at its extreme.

After the five reasons comes this lovely tidbit:

How Has God Confirmed This Potential?

One of the most significant accounts in Scripture demonstrates the reality of this potential is the story of Joseph. He was sold into slavery by his envious brothers. He served Potiphar in Egypt. However, he had the fear of God, and he served as unto the Lord.

As a result, God prospered everything Joseph put his hand to. When Potiphar saw Joseph’s success, he gave him more and more responsibility until everything he had was under Joseph’s jurisdiction. All he knew about was the food that was set before him.

In reality, the roles of Joseph, the slave, and Potiphar, the master, were reversed because there are two types of power: the power of position and the power of influence. Both history and experience confirm that the power of influence is greater than the power of position. Joseph had more influence because God blessed all he did.

Huh, that’s funny, because I remember another story about slavery in the same general area of the Bible—a story that inspired Harriet Tubman and others seeking freedom from slavery in the antebellum South. In this story, the Israelites are enslaved to the Pharaoh, who treats them cruelly, and, rather than telling them to be good, faithful, prayerful slaves, God sends Moses to set them free. [Also, as a reader has pointed out, Potiphar threw Joseph in jail at his wife’s bequest after she tried and failed to blackmail Joseph into having sex with her, suggesting that Joseph’s supposed “power of influence” had some very serious slavery-related limitations.]

In the end, I’m scratching my head trying to figure out how exactly the author’s points would have prevented the Civil War. It sounds as though the author is suggesting that if all of the parties involved, including southern and northern whites as well as slaves, had simply read the Bible regularly, mediated on scripture, and prayed for those around them there would have been no need for ending slavery. All of the masters would have been kind and all of the slaves would have been successful—in their status as slaves, of course—and that would have been that.

In other words, Gothard contends that the Civil War could have been avoided if people had stopped trying to end slavery. Awesome.

Someone’s Shot of Whiskey

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Intangible Arts.

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kit’s blog, Dauntless in Denver. It was originally published on January 26, 2016.

It’s funny, isn’t it, when we hear something we’ve never heard before, and yet immediately, it strikes a chord, and we go, “Yes! That’s IT!” I just had one such experience. I was out shopping today with my friend, Rowena, and we stopped in at Maurice’s, as we always must, when we’re shopping near one. I saw a shirt that said, “I’d rather be someone’s shot of whiskey than everyone’s cup of tea.” As soon as I saw it, I knew I needed it. That’s exactly what I’ve been thinking the last couple years, as I work on becoming more myself. Of not being afraid anymore. Of dying my hair, and piercing my ears, and wearing my black lipstick, etc., etc.

I remember many, many times when I looked in the mirror, and had no idea who it was staring back at me.

I knew who it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be me. But it wasn’t. I never really matched the part that I played for so long. And after a while, I completely lost who I actually was. As a kid, I was a rather fearless, adventurous tomboy. I often thought about joining the Navy, like my dad had. I was inquisitive, liked to figure out ideas by way of arguing (I deconstruct an idea, and then build it back up- much like an engineer takes apart a clock to understand how it ticks), and I was usually allowed. But after my family joined ATI, that all stopped. I was expected to be the meek and quiet, obedient lady. I was expected to have long hair, dress “modestly” (read…”baggy” and “frumpy”), wear no makeup, accept everything I was told as truth, stay at home until I married, have a dozen children and homeschool them all. That never appealed to me. And yet, it was supposed to. So I told myself it did.

ATI (the fundamentalist cult my family was in for 9 years) basically taught us that we were supposed to be everyone’s cup of tea. That with a bright smile, navy and white clothes, and the right attitude, we could win over anyone. Bill Gothard (the cult’s founder and leader) loved to tell all of us “apprenticeship students” stories of ATI students boarding planes in their navy and white with a good smile, and being randomly upgraded to first class. About ATI students who worked so hard for an employer, they were given a high paying job that normally required a college degree, without having a college degree. He loved to talk about the very rare exceptions to the rule, and tell us that, with the right attitude and dress and actions, everyone would love us, respect us, and the world would be open to us as we made money and gained the ear of heads of state.It took me years to realize what a complete joke that was. So I tried, so hard, to be everyone’s cup of tea. To gain everyone’s respect and admiration. I failed miserably, of course. I was labeled a rebel and a temptress at my fundamentalist church. Apparently, mothers actually warned their sons about me. Funny thing was, I really wasn’t that interested in guys in general until I was in my twenties. But no matter how hard I tried, I never really fit into their little mold of who I should be. As much as I often functioned as an ISTJ, I was still an INTJ. As much as I tried to function as a neurotypical, I was still Autistic (though I didn’t get my diagnosis until the age of 32). As much as I tried to content myself with not going to college and with the idea of being a stay-at-home homeschool mom to goodness knows how many kids, it never worked. It just wasn’t who I was.

But who I was, was bad.

And to be concealed and denied and buried and crucified as much as possible.

And so I forgot. For a very long time, I completely lost sight of who I was. After I got out of ATI, bits and pieces came back. My INTJ was eventually coaxed out of hiding. I started to wear makeup and clothes that, while still extremely modest by most standards, would be considered scandalous by ATI standards. I listened to secular music (GASP). I lived alone. I got a college degree, and then a graduate degree. I even started teaching college. When I finally read the Divergent trilogy and was reminded of who I was, I immediately started changing how I dressed and did my makeup. I got contacts, later, I got a much edgier haircut and even dyed it black and purple. I got more ear piercings, and planned a nose piercing and tattoos (which have yet to be gotten). As I looked in the mirror, more and more, I saw myself looking back at me. I was coming out of hiding. Sure, some people may look at my hair and makeup and piercings and clothes (which seriously, are still super modest by most standards), and make judgments about my character, based on that. Some may decide they don’t like me. And some may look at my departure from Christianity and decide I simply wanted to live my own life my way, and not by God’s rules. That I wanted to live my life governed by the “pleasures of this world.” They can judge all they like. It’s not true, not by a long shot. There’s way more to it than that.

But it’s okay if some people judge. It’s okay if people decide they don’t like me anymore. Or decide that I make them sad, or anything else. At the end of the day, I really would rather be someone’s shot of whiskey than everyone’s cup of tea. Because at least if I’m someone’s shot of whiskey, I’m being myself.

I’m not watering myself down and forcing myself into a mold, and wearing a mask.

I’m not playing a part. I’m being, well, me. Does it hurt to be rejected? Yeah, sometimes. But in the long run, I’ll be far more satisfied with my life, and far more at peace, if I’m open and honest. If I quit playing a part. At the end of the day, I can respect who I am. And I have the support of my parents, who know pretty much everything there is to know. While they may not agree with me on everything, they do absolutely respect me, support me, and they’re okay with where I am in life. I have many others, too.

People who have known me for a long time have witnessed this transformation. Some have been surprised, some haven’t. Most recognize I’m much more at peace with myself than I ever was before. And I am. I’m done being everyone’s cup of tea. I’m going to be myself. Sure, it takes courage, but hey. That’s what life is all about. Being brave, and not letting fear rule your life. Could I really call myself “Dauntless” if I was letting my fear of others rule my life? Nope. So I’m going to be brave and be myself. Otherwise, life is just a really sad exercise in jumping through hoops, toeing the line, and making sure all the “I’s” are dotted and all the “T’s” crossed. And that’s just a shame.

10 Surprising Revelations in the Lawsuit Against Bill Gothard and IBLP

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on January 11, 2016.

Last week, I published a summary of the allegations included in an ongoing lawsuit against fundamentalist guru Bill Gothard and the Institute for Basic Life Principles, which he founded in the 1980s and spent three decades running. The lawsuit focuses on Bill Gothard and IBLP’s negligence in failing to report abuse and failing to train their employees to recognize and report abuse, and at its center are allegations that Bill Gothard spent decades grooming, sexually harassing, and molesting teenage girls he employed at his organization’s headquarters.

Having read through the lawsuit in full, I want to take a moment to mention ten things even I found surprising. Many of the allegations included in the lawsuit have been common knowledge since being posted in 2013 and 2014 by Recovering Grace, a website run by graduates of IBLP programs critical of Gothard and his teachings. However, the lawsuit also includes information I had not seen before. I want to focus on these points because of the questions they raise about why Gothard’s abuse was not recognized and addressed earlier.

As a quick note, I would appreciate it if you would keep down the snark in the comments section out of respect for the survivors who are bringing this suit. Their suit isn’t some sort of “gotcha” against Christians or against fundamentalists or even against Gothard himself, it’s an attempt to bring justice to Gothard and ensure that IBLP actually fixes the problems that allowed Gothard’s abuse to go unaddressed.

I want to throw into stark relief the extreme predatory nature of Gothard’s actions. I want us to look at these points and ask how this could have gone on for so long.

1. Gothard once gave his credit card to a girl he was grooming and told her to “fix” her clothes. When she expressed confusion, one of his assistants explained to her that Gothard was unhappy with her ankle length skirts and would like her to buy some that were calf length.

2. Gothard paid for a young woman he was grooming and sexually harassing to have cosmetic surgery to remove two skin blemishes which he called “a distraction.” The lawsuit positions this move as part of the increasing control Gothard was assuming over the young woman’s body.

3. Gothard told an 18-year-old girl who rebuffed his advances that if she had still been 17, he would have called social services and gotten her taken away from her parents.

4. Gothard tried to convince a woman to divorce her husband and take a job at headquarters because he wanted to groom and molest her daughter, who had told him she would not be without her mother. See also above.

5. Gothard once had a girl he was grooming placed in a bedroom opposite his office window “so he would know when she could come to his office, after everyone else had left.”

6. Gothard preyed on girls as young as 13, had parents send girls as young as 14 to his headquarters at his request, and assigned girls as young as 15 to be his personal assistants.

7. In the early 1990s, Gothard asked the IBLP Board of Directors for permission to marry Rachel Lees, a young woman he was grooming. At the time, he was nearly 60 and she was around 20. Gothard did not mention the subject to Rachel herself. It was not until Rachel learned two decades later that Gothard had asked the board’s permission to marry her that she recognized Gothard’s behavior as predatory.

8. Gothard told a victim of childhood abuse “that parents were to be believed over children and that children were to obey their parents no matter what, even if they were being sexually abused.” When Jane Doe II reported her father’s sexual abuse to Gothard, he immediately called her father on speakerphone and asked him if the allegations were true (not surprisingly, her father said they were not).

9. Gothard made a habit of having teenage girls come to his office alone late at night under the guise of “Bible study” or “mentoring.” This isn’t technically a new revelation, but it is striking how many of the plaintiffs refer to these late-night one-on-one sessions. For an organization that teaches that people of opposite genders should never be alone together, it is startling that this practice was allowed to continue for so many years without raising an eyebrow.

10. It was common knowledge at IBLP that Gothard took teenage girls as “pets.” It was also common knowledge that Gothard’s behavior with regard to these girls was not appropriate. At one point in the early 1990s, after Gothard asked the IBLP Board of Directors for permission to marry Rachel Lees, the board barred Gothard from having female personal assistants. This ban was never enforced, and Gothard continued his pattern.

I’m sitting here trying to come up with some explanation for how this went on for as long as it did. People knew this was going on. The IBLP Board of Directors knew, the personal assistant who told Jane Doe III to buy shorter skirts knew, the employee who arranged the room assignment for Jamie Deering knew. People knew something was off. We’re talking about an organization that sent teenage boys home for merely talking to girls, while its leader held late night one-on-one “mentoring” sessions in his office with teenage girls.

Well sure, you say, it was a cult. That’s how cults work. But I want to stress just how widespread IBLP’s influence was within the Christian homeschooling world throughout my entire childhood and beyond. There were hundreds and thousands of families involved who had no idea that anything untoward was happening. This wasn’t so much an insular group like we’re used to thinking about, with its members cut off from contact with the outside. Rather, it was one that faced outward and led wide swaths people across the country to trust it its leadership and its “godly” mission and methods.

I am filled with sudden respect for one of my younger brothers, who approached me five years ago at age 17, worried. He told me that our parents wanted to send him away to a program in Texas, but that he was worried that it was a cult and wanted my advice. (It was Gothard’s ban on rock music that worried him—he played the drums and loved Christian rock music, which my parents grudgingly allowed.) At this point, I hadn’t given Gothard’s name a second thought. I grew up learning about the “umbrella of authority” and I attended a COMMIT Bible study for teenage girls, but my family had never been an ATI family, and I’d paid little attention to his name.

I texted my brother this morning. I wanted to let him know about the lawsuit. I wanted to make sure he knew just how right he had been, five years ago. What made the difference, exactly? How could he see it while so many others—including my own parents—did not? My brother told me, actually, that he and my dad had visited Gothard’s ALERT program headquarters in Texas, in anticipation of sending him there. Apparently my dad was a bit worried there might be something “off” about Gothard’s ministry—my dad by nature is antiauthoritarian, except in his parenting, and I think the focus on a single leader threw him off—but the visit assured him that all was fine, and that the ministry was godly and sound, one he could get behind.

And perhaps that is the problem. For whatever reason, my 17-year-old brother was already starting to push back and ask questions, but to those predisposed to see anything with a “godly” image as de facto good—well, you can see how that might prime people to accept Gothard’s ministry without asking too many questions, especially when so many others were already supporting it—after all, could they really be all wrong? And yet they were. And perhaps that is the biggest lesson for anyone—don’t assume that a leader or organization is legit just because it has a lot of followers, or projects a certain image.

Also, don’t create authoritarian power structures focused on a single leader.

I keep coming back to the fact that there were people close to the situation who knew these things were going on and did nothing. I can better understand people following the ministry without any knowledge that something was “off,” but once you’re in the organization and you see what’s going on—it’s boggling. There are, of course, explanations. Someone who said something might not be believed, or might be kicked out or shunned. Some might have doubted what they were seeing, given Gothard’s godly extra-human reputation. And some, too, might have assumed that if something was actually wrong, someone would surely have spoken up, so it must not be. And then, too, there’s the fact that obedience was central to Gothard’s teachings.

And so, in the end, we have a cautionary tale. This isn’t simply about one more Christian organization beset with sexual scandal, it’s about power structures and beliefs that create a situation where numerous people let significant warning signs go by, either unrecognized or ignored, but unaddressed either way. No more.

Some of my readers may be wondering what came of my brother, and what I told him when he came to me for advice. To tell the story briefly, I googled Bill Gothard’s name to assess my brother’s concerns and quickly came upon blogs written by homeschool graduates raised in ATI voicing their concerns and processing their experiences. It was those blogs that inspired me to start this blog, and it was those blogs that informed the response I gave to my brother. Over the next year I helped him wade through his options and find ways to make his own choices. He never did go to ALERT, and for that I am thankful. And so perhaps, in some small way, the voices of survivors can serve as an antidote to Gothard’s abuses.

A Summary of Allegations against Bill Gothard and IBLP

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on January 7, 2016.

CW: Descriptions of child sexual abuse, rape, and sexual harassment

It has been nearly two years since Bill Gothard stepped down from leadership at his ministry, the Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP), amid a growing number of accusations that he sexually harassed and molested girls and young women in his employ. This past October, a group of individuals filed a negligence lawsuit against IBLP. This lawsuit has been amended, and Bill Gothard is now named as well.

This week, Homeschoolers Anonymous obtained the text of the lawsuit, which involves complaints made by ten women, seven named and three Jane Does. This document is over 100 pages long. In the interest of improving accessibility, I have read through the entire document and am listing a summary of each woman’s allegations below. But first, some general thoughts.

Some of the allegations listed in the document were previously published at Recovering Grace, a website run by graduates of Gothard’s programs to express criticism of Gothard and his teachings, and others are similar in content to these allegations. In sum, Bill Gothard selected girls as young as 13 from the audiences at his conferences and invited them to come work at headquarters. Once there, he groomed them sexually and molested them. It was common knowledge at IBLP that Gothard took “pets,” and yet his behavior was allowed to continue unchecked.

Other allegations included in the lawsuit are new, though not surprising. One plaintiff discloses that Gothard raped her, including full intercourse. In addition, we learn that Gothard and his employees failed to report disclosures of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and human trafficking as required by law for organizations working with children, and that this was true not only for allegations made against Gothard but also for disclosures that involved sexual abuse conducted by other IBLP employees or by children’s parents.

In several cases Gothard responded to teenagers’ disclosures of parental abuse by calling the parents, sometimes in front of the teen, to ask them whether the allegations were true. At one point he told an individual that children must obey their parents even in cases involving sexual abuse. However, when an 18-year-old girl Gothard was pursuing rebuffed him, he told her that if she were 17 he would have called social services and had her removed from her parents’ home.

We also learn more, in the allegations, about Gothard’s grooming and the extent to which he would latch onto a specific girl as his “pet.” The plaintiffs allege that Gothard told them he loved them, that they were special to him, that they were his “energy giver,” and more. He dictated where these girls lived, what clothes they wore, how the wore their hair, and even paid for them to undergo cosmetic surgery. That all of this was taking place and was common knowledge and nothing was done attests to the abusive power cult leaders wield over their followers.

Also of note, the lawsuit makes it clear that Gothard continued his predatory behavior all the way up to the point he stepped down from IBLP in 2013. Two of the plaintiffs, Melody Fedoriw and Jane Doe III, describe abuse that occurred in 2011 and 2012. This is especially appalling to me, given that I had friends from growing up who worked for IBLP and at headquarters during this period and in the years immediately before it. I’ll be honest—when I first opened the document I scanned the list quickly, worried that I was see a familiar name.

For most of the women listed in the lawsuit, the statute of limitations for the sexual abuse they suffered at Gothard’s hands have passed. For this reason, the lawsuit focuses not so much on the abuse itself as on the failure of both Gothard and IBLP to handle the abuse as required by law and on the damage caused through the sham investigation conducted by the Christian Law Association (CLA) in 2014.

According to the lawsuit, Gothard himself chose the CLA to conduct IBLP’s internal investigation into the allegations of sexual misconduct. CLA is a fundamentalist Independent Baptist organization run by David Gibbs, Jr., a personal friend of Gothard’s and a frequent speaker at IBLP conferences. CLA has no staff qualified for investigating abuse allegations, and the organization failed to contact or interview the individuals named in the lawsuit, in spite of the fact that many of them had already published their allegations and that it was these allegations that had triggered the internal investigation.

The lawsuit also claims that IBLP has made moves to sell its holdings in Illinois in order to avoid being sued there, where the majority of the abuse occurred.

These women—both the plaintiffs and those who have not been in positions to come forward—deserved better. They were failed on multiple levels. My heart goes out to the ten women serving as plaintiffs on this lawsuit, and with every survivor of Gothard’s abuse who has had to put one foot in front of another day after day. One of the women, Jane Doe III, describes the personal harassment and verbal assault she faced from Gothard after publishing her accusations in the comment section of Recovering Grace in 2012. To my knowledge, this is the first time any of Gothard’s survivors have come forward under their own names. Many of these women will lose family members or friends for what they are doing. They and the other survivors supporting them from behind the scenes are to be commended for their efforts to bring Gothard and IBLP to justice and help protect future young people from facing similar pain.

I am going to summarize the allegations of each woman below, with quotes from the lawsuit. I am doing so in order to get this information out there. Remember, there are still individuals out there defending Bill Gothard. I don’t want them to have any excuse—including the excuse that the information is buried in a 100+ page document full of legalese—not to view and learn the allegations involved in this current website.

First, a very brief summary:

Gretchen Wilkinson was groomed and molested by Gothard during counseling from 1991 to 1993 while was still a minor.

Jane Doe was severely abused by her adoptive parents. When she reported this to Gothard as a young teenager, he blamed her and failed to notify the authorities.

Jane Doe II was sexually abused and trafficked by her father. When she told IBLP staff they failed to notify the authorities. She was also raped as a child by IBLP employee Kenneth Copley while at the Indianapolis Training Center. She reported this, but the other IBLP employees did not believe her.

Melody Fedoriw was groomed and molested by Gothard while working at headquarters in 2012 at age 15.

Charis Barker was groomed and sexually harassed by Gothard while working at headquarters in the late 1990s, beginning at age 18.

Rachel Frost was groomed and sexually harassed by Gothard while working at headquarters in the early to mid-1990s, beginning at age 15.

Rachel Lees was groomed and sexually harassed by Gothard while working at headquarters in the early 1990s, beginning at age 19 or 20.

Jane Doe III was groomed by Gothard in the late 2010s beginning at age 13.

Jamie Deering was groomed and molested by Gothard while working at headquarters in the early to mid-1990s, beginning at age 14.

Ruth Copley Burger was sexually abused by her father, Kenneth Copley, while the family lived at the Indianapolis Training Center in the mid-1990s when she was 11 or 12.

Now a more detailed summary. As you read this, if you choose to do so, please remember that these women have come forward not to give people more fodder to use to mock “fundies” but rather to bring accountability to IBLP and bring Gothard to justice. They are have told their stories not to initiate a snark fest but rather to bring change. Many of the women involved in this lawsuit are still strong believers in God and the Bible. This isn’t about making a strike against religion, it’s about making a strike against abuse and bringing meaningful change.

Gretchen Wilkinson

Gretchen was an IBLP participant and employee as a minor from 1991 to 1993. She was molested by Bill Gothard while being counseled in his home office. According to the lawsuit:

45. The molestation included Bill Gothard placing his hands on Ms. Wilkinson’s breasts and on her thighs—up to her genitals, while she was clothed.

Gretchen was a minor at this time. Gretchen published her account with Recovering Grace under the name “Charlotte.”

Jane Doe

Jane Doe attended IBLP conferences from 1982 to 1988. Jane Doe was abused and neglected by her adoptive family, including sexual abuse by multiple male relatives and severe physical abuse. According to the lawsuit, “she was beaten so severely by her adoptive family that she would duck and flinch anytime someone came near.” When Jane Doe told Gothard about her abuse as a teenager, he not only failed to report it but also blamed her for her own abuse.

80. On several occasions—including when JANE DOE was 14, 15, and 16 years old, JANE DOE informed Bill Gothard of her physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. Bill Gothard’s response was to advise her to ‘let go of her bitterness,’ and to ‘let go of her rights,’ and to ‘stop being rebellious.’ Bill Gothard always made the abuse JANE DOE’s fault.

Gothard also sought to cast demons out of Jane Doe.

82. When she was approximately 15 years old, JANE DOE became aware of Bill Gothard’s teaching that adopted children should be ‘given back’ to their biological parents or to the state. Bill Gothard taught that due to the ‘curse of the sins of the forefathers’ adopted children were doomed to repeat the evils of their biological parents. Bill Gothard also taught that adoptive children tainted a family’s biological children. Thus the reason they should be given back.

83. Bill Gothard attributed his teachings about adopted children to ‘demonic forces’ that he claims affect these children. He taught that if adoptive children were not ‘returned,’ they should at least be ordered to ‘earn their keep’ in the family home. It was his teaching that they should be treated more like slaves than children.

Under the influence of Gothard’s teachings, Jane Doe’s parents ultimately kicked her out of the house and disowned her. Her mother beat her again the day she was kicked out.

At around this time Jane Doe spoke again with Bill Gothard, expressing concern that her siblings, too, were being abused. Gothard never reported anything to social services. Jane Doe wrote to the IBLP Board, letting them know what she had told Gothard, and they, too, failed to report anything.

Jane Doe II

From 1991 (when she was four) through 2009, Jane Doe II participated in IBLP programs and served as an IBLP volunteer. She was physically, emotionally, and sexually abused in her home, as were her siblings. According to the lawsuit, she was “raped by her father and other relatives” and “sold for sex by her father through commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking.” Jane Doe II reported both the severe sexual abuse and the human trafficking to IBLP staff, but those staff members did not contact authorities.

As a child, Jane Doe II was raped by Kenneth Copley, a counselor at ATI’s Indianapolis training center. Jane Doe II reported this rape to IBLP staff, but nothing was done and nothing was reported to authorities.

Jane Doe II later told Gothard about her abuse.

128. On at least five occasions, JANE DOE II told Bill Gothard that she was being sexually abused by her father and that her younger siblings were also being abused. Bill Gothard took pleasure in the details presented and kept pressuring JANE DOE II for more explicit details of the abuse that took place.

129. On one occasion, when JANE DOE II disclosed details about her abuse and the abuse of her siblings, Bill Gothard called JANE DOE II’s father on a speakerphone and asked if the allegations were true. JANE DOE II’s father denied the allegations. JANE DOE II was humiliated by this process. The last time JANE DOE II tried to disclose abuse, Bill Gothard personally threatened her. Bill Gothard taught that parents were to be believed over children and that children were to obey their parents no matter what, even if they were being sexually abused.

A short time later, Bill Gothard took Jane Doe II to his “private suite” and raped her.

During this entire time, neither Gothard nor any of the numerous other IBLP staff members who also knew of Jane Doe II’s accusations against her father and against Kenneth Copley notified authorities.

Melody Fedoriw

Melody attended IBLP’s Journey to the Heart in 2011 and worked at IBLP headquarters during much of 2012. During her time as an employee at headquarters, Melody, only 15 years old, was groomed and molested by Gothard.

169. Bill Gothard would call Ms. Fedoriw into his office late at night for Bible study and to mentor her. During this time, Bill Gothard would always want to sit on the couch with Ms. Fedoriw.

170. During the Bible study and mentoring process, Ms. Fedoriw reported the fact that she was being abused by a parent to Bill Gothard.

171. Bill Gothard then called Ms. Fedoriw’s parents and disclosed the abuse information that she had disclosed in confidence to her abuser.

172. By the second instance of late night Bible study/mentoring, Bill Gothard was putting his arms round Ms. Fedoriw and pulling her closer to him.

173. Despite the fact that Ms. Fedoriw confronted Bill Gothard about his conduct, it continued.

174. Bill Gothard continued to touch Ms. Fedoriw in ways that made her uncomfortable, including rubbing her back and legs. While Bill Gothard was rubbing Ms. Fedoriw’s legs, he would move his hands to her upper thigh. Bill Gothard was touching Ms. Fedoriw very close to her vaginal area, when he rubbed her upper thighs.

The above quote is long, so let me summarize. Gothard had one-one-one late night mentoring sessions with Melody, who was then 15 and living at headquarters. When Melody disclosed abuse she had suffered at her parent’s hands, he called her parent and reported what she had said. He also sexually molested her during these mentoring sessions despite her attempts to get him to stop.

In March 2014, after Gothard stepped down from his position, Melody reported Gothard’s conduct to the local police department. The police department classified Gothard’s actions as criminal but did not prosecute because they had passed the statute of limitations.

Charis Barker

Charis Barker’s involvement with IBLP began in 1986, when her family enrolled in the ATI program when she was six, and continued through 2000. In 1997, when she was 17, Gothard singled her out at an IBLP seminar and invited her to come work at headquarters. When she was 18, she left home for headquarters, first as a volunteer and then as an employee. While there, Gothard groomed and sexually harassed her.

211. At lunch, at times in his office, while riding in his van, while sitting on his couch, whoever possible, Gothard’s feet would touch Ms. Barker’s feet, whenever her had the opportunity.

212. Gothard’s sexual harassment of Ms. Barker got to the point that the only way she was able to prevent Gothard from touching her feet, while riding in his van, was for Ms. Barker to sit on her feet.

213. Whenever she sat on the couch in his office, he would sit very close to her and put his hands on her knee.

214. During church he would lay his head on her shoulder and he would at least pretend to fall asleep.

Over time, Charis became more and more uncomfortable, and ultimately contacted her parents, who “assured her that Bill Gothard would never inappropriately touch anyone.” Gothard’s behavior continued for the 18 months Charis spent at headquarters. Charis stayed to complete her year-long employment contract (after six months of volunteering). Her parents told her that if she was kicked out of headquarters, she should consider herself kicked out at home, too.

Charis published her story with Recovering Grace under the pseudonym “Grace.”

Rachel Frost

Rachel Frost was a volunteer and employee at IBLP headquarters from 1992 to 1995. Gothard singled Rachel out at an ATI conference when she was 15 and asked her to come work at headquarters. Rachel initially demurred, saying that she was too young, but Gothard hounded her and wore her down, paying for her plane ticket and handing her cash to attend to her needs once she arrived. Gothard then groomed and sexually harassed her.

259. Gothard told Ms. Frost that he wanted to keep her close to him, so she started her work at headquarters as one of his personal assistants (secretaries). However, at the age of fifteen (15), she had poor secretarial skills and no understanding of how the organization ran or who was important. After a week in his office, Ms. Frost was moved to the ATI Department.

Gothard paid Rachel special attention and would touch her feet with is during lunch; she eventually learned to keep her feet back behind her chair to prevent this. Gothard sent a 17-year-old boy home for talking and flirting with Rachel.

265. Gothard advised Ms. Frost that she had a special place in his heart and advised her that he wanted her to remain at headquarters indefinitely.

Rachel returned home after three weeks because of family issues, but Gothard called her soon afterward to ask her to travel with him on a trip to Australia and then to come to headquarters permanently. He offered to pay all of her expenses. Rachel’s parents wanted her to stay at home and finish her education, but were worn down by Gothard’s constant requests. At age 15, Rachel took the GED and headed to headquarters to work for Gothard’s ministry “indefinitely.”

Once she was back at headquarters, Gothard continued to single Rachel out, and gradually initiated further inappropriate physical contact. He sexually harassed Rachel during van trips, pushing his thighs against hers, grabbing her hair, and touching her legs with his fingers and her feet with his feet.

274. As a result of the special treatment and physical attention she received from Gothard, Ms. Frost was referred to as Gothard’s “pet,” his “type,” his “favorite,” or a “Gothard girl.” The sexual harassment, and special attention were no secret. Gothard’s conduct was common knowledge to the IBLP staff.

Rachel began looking for excuses to avoid Gothard, and ultimately left for a job as a nanny. Rachel published her story on the Recovering Grace website.

Rachel Lees

Rachel Lees served as Gothard’s secretary from 1992 to 1993, during the same time Rachel Frost was at headquarters, and had many similar experiences. Rachel was 19 or 20 when Gothard met her at a seminar in New Zealand and asked her to come work at headquarters. He assigned her to himself personally. When she was running low on money, he gave her cash. He quizzed her about former boyfriends and wanted to hear the details of any moral failings she may have had.

312. Approximately six to eight weeks after Ms. Lees began working for Gothard, she noticed that he found reasons to touch her. The touching consisted of sitting so close to her that they were touching. He would sit close, so that his arm or hand would brush against hers. It progressed from there to other physical contact, which made Ms. Lees uncomfortable. The other physical contact included lingering hugs and holding hands. Gothard also began to find reasons to be alone with Ms. Lees.

313. Gothard told Ms. Lees that it was fun. He liked being with her, “just you and me.”

At one point, while on a trip to Dallas, Gothard called Rachel to his hotel room alone, and embraced her as they sat on the couch. At another point, Gothard embraced her and whispered in her ear, telling her that she was his “jewel” and his “energy-giver.”

317. On a long drive to Detroit, Ms Lees felt Gothard put his hands on hers. Later, she felt his foot brush up against her leg. When she first felt his foot run up the back of her leg, she was startled. He locked his leg under hers, and she felt his foot rubbing against hers. He was playing “footsie” with her. But Ms. Lees describes Gothard’s actions as more intimate than that. His foot stroked the back of her leg, played with her toes, explored her leg all the way up her calf muscle and back down over and over again, while he was tripping her hand in between them. When Ms. Lees lifted her hand to intentionally break his hold, Gothard pulled her hand over his thigh. When she resisted, he held her hand and rested it on his thigh, covering her hand with his. He patted her hand, massaged it, rubbed her fingers with his dumb, running his dumb slowly up and down between her fingers, over and over. Gothard would frequently hold hands with Ms. Lees during travel.

And once again, this attention was not secret.

318. Gothard’s emotional and physical attraction to Ms. Lees was no secret at IBLP. On one occasion, the wife of an IBLP Board member approached Ms. Lees and told her that people had expressed concern about “the attachment between you and [Gothard].” “People are starting to notice that he is paying you special attention.”

At one point, one of Gothard’s sisters accused Rachel of wanting to marry Gothard, and was angry with her. Gothard pushed his control further, arranging for a doctor to remove Rachel’s small skin blemishes, which he called “a distraction.” In 1993 Rachel was forced to leave IBLP headquarters due to immigration issues.

Years later, Rachel learned that Gothard had sought permission from the IBLP Board to marry her. She was horrified at this information, finally recognizing him as a predator. She learned that the board denied Gothard permission to marry her. At this time, Bill Gothard was nearly 60 years old. Rachel was 20. The board also reportedly told Gothard that they were not going to allow him to have female personal assistants in the future, but they never enforced this rule.

Rachel published her story with Recovering Grace under the name “Meg.”

Jane Doe III

Jane Doe III participated in ATI from 2003 through 2012. In 2006, Gothard approached Jane Doe III at a seminar and asked her to join a missions opportunity on his staff as soon as she turned 14. Jane Doe III declined the invitation because of a medical condition, and Gothard spent the following five years badgering her.

352. . . . Gothard frequently used the stress in JANE DOE III’s home as a reason that she should come to headquarters.

353. In 2011, at the age of 18, Bill Gothard aggressively pursued JANE DOE III at a conference in Indianapolis. At 11:00 PM one night, he called JANE DOE III’s father to ask permission for her “to come to headquarters for 3-4 weeks” to “learn how to respect him.”

354. Gothard did not want JANE DOE III to work. He just wanted her to come counsel with him personally to learn how to deal with the stress of her strained relationship with her father.

When Jane Doe III’s parents finally agreed to let her come to headquarters for several weeks, Gothard wanted to come pick her up in his van immediately. Her mother refused, insisting on driving her to headquarters herself the following week.

356. When JANE DOE III arrived at headquarters, Gothard announced: “the day I have been waiting for for six years—you are finally here.”

357. Gothard then informed JANE DOE III, that her “[f]ather has lost his authority over [her], because of his behavior. We are your family now.” He made an analogy to Jesus on the cross telling John to care for Mary, her mother.

Rather than counseling her, Gothard focused on convincing Jane Doe III to stay at headquarters permanently. He attempted to turn her against her mother, and to convince her to send her mother away. When Jane Doe III refused, and explained that her mother was her “best friend” and that she would not be separated from her, Gothard commented efforts to convince Jane’s mother to divorce her father and stay and work at headquarters.

361. Gothard would hold JANE DOE III’s hand, touch her hair, carries her, wink at her, whisper in her ear, kick her feet under the table, place his shoes on top of hers when sitting on the couch, and be very flirtatious with her. Frequently, he would press his thigh against hers while sitting together, place his arm along the top / back of the sofa or chair. He would complement her hair, smile and laugh several times per day. He directed her never to cut her hair. He would say to her: “[JANE DOE III] come over here.” “You belong here. Perfect Angel. Beautiful. Amazing.” He said to her: “I love you, you know that, right?” “Maybe you dad doesn’t love you, but I do.” “God has put a special love in my heart to you.” “You are my energy giver.” “I love being around you.” She felt that other people knew that she was one of “Gothard’s pets.” This made her uncomfortable and she would shake her head and with a stern look would frown and correct Gothard and tell him: “No, I’m not perfect.” Despite JANE DOE III’s clear disapproval, the unwelcome complements kept coming.

Gothard gave Jane Doe III his credit card to buy new clothes and had his assistant tell her that he was unhappy that her skirts were ankle length rather than calf length.

364. After ten days, JANE DOE III and her mother decided to leave. After Gothard tried another failed attempt to convince JANE DOE III’s mother to separate from / divorce her husband, Gothard attempted to have JANE DOE III stay by trying to get her to say that her mother was abusing her. Gothard asked: “How old are you again?” When JANE DOE III said: “18,” Gothard replied: “Well, if you were 17 we wouldn’t even be having this conversation, because I would call up DFS immediately and tell them you are being abused and have you taken away from home. After all, emotional stress is just as bad as physical abuse.”

In 2012, both Jane Doe III and her mother wrote about their experiences in comments on the Recovering Grace website. Gothard saw the posts and personally contacted Jane Doe III, verbally besetting her and accusing her of being a liar and of “trying to viciously destroy his life’s work and his entire organization.” Gothard continued to harass and verbally assault Jane Doe III until she removed her comments.

In 2014, Jane Doe III contacted IBLP headquarters hoping to talk to the IBLP Board of Directors about what had happened, but she was refused access. She managed to get in contact with the director of ATI, who told her the Christian Legal Association (CLA), which was conducting a review of the accusations, would be in contact with her. When she failed to hear from CLA, she contacted the group directly, leaving a detailed message. She never received a return call.

Jamie Deering

Jamie Deering was involved in IBLP’s ATI program beginning in 1992. In 1994, when she was 14, Gothard personally invited her to come to headquarters. Jamie’s story is much like those of Rachel Frost and Rachel Lees, with one exception. During a trip to Russia, something “very bad” occurred in the middle of the night that left Jamie sleeping on the couch in another couple’s room and led to Gothard being sent home. Jamie has not recovered full memory of the event, and has other memory gaps as well.

Beyond this, her experiences mirror those of other girls sexually abused by Gothard during these same years, with the same process of groom and the same “pet” status.

404. Gothard went so far as to make sure Ms. Deering’s bedroom was directly across form his office window, so he would know when she could come to his office, after everyone else had left.

. . .

407. As part of his sexual abuse of Ms. Deering, Gothard would tell her where to sit. Gothard would then sit across from her, with his legs spread wide apart. Gothard would frequently have an erection and he wanted Ms. Deering to know it.

408. On airplanes Gothard would have Ms. Deering sit next to him, and—under a blanket—he would touch her thighs and her hand. Ms. Deering was very uncomfortable with this and was afraid people would know what was occurring.

. . .

412. On one occasion, Gothard required Ms. Deering to touch his groin area on top of his clothing.

. . .

414. As a result of the special treatment and physical attention she received from Gothard, Ms. Deering was referred to as Gothard’s “pet,” his “type,” his “favorite,” or a “Gothard girl.” The sexual harassment and special attention were no secret. Gothard’s conduct was common knowledge to the IBLP staff.

At one point when Jamie was back at home, her father physically abused her. At a loss for what to do, Jamie called Gothard for help. Gothard refused to help in any way and did not report the incident to the authorities.

Ruth Copley Burger

Ruth is the adopted daughter of Kenneth Copley and lived at the Indianapolis Training Center from 1994 to 1995. Her father had already been forced out of a previous ministry due to sexual misconduct, and was forced to leave IBLP in 1995 due to “sexual misconduct involving other IBLP staff in the age range of 14 to 20 years old.” In 1994, when Ruth was 11 or 12 years old, Copley began sexually abusing Ruth. Copley used the IBLP facilities to conduct this abuse, which I will not describe.

Ruth has suffered PTSD and has been suicidal on multiple occasions, leading to two hospitalizations, as a result of the abuse she faced at the hands of her adoptive father. Ruth published an account of her abuse in 2010 or 2011 and added more details in 2012. Her allegations came to the attention of the IBLP Board of Directors, and were badly mishandled during the sham 2014 CLA investigation.

Conclusion

Over the past two years, multiple Gothard defenders have asked why, if all of this did happen, no one had had attempted a lawsuit. It’s ironic, really, because these are the same people who argue that Christians should not sue Christians, and should instead settle disputes within the church, and here the were, using the lack of a lawsuit as proof that there was nothing to the allegations. There were, of course, multiple barriers to starting a lawsuit, including the statute of limitations and the personal costs involved in doing so.

Still, I am glad to see that there is now a lawsuit, and I would like to hope that it will help put remaining objections to rest, bring justice for survivors, and save future young people from similar predation. I’ve said it before and I know I’ll say it again—evangelical Christians need to clean up their act when it comes to abuse. Between blaming victims for what happened to them, elevating religious leaders beyond question, and sweeping problems under the rug because they might detract from an organization’s “godly witness,” there are some serious problems that need addressing.

We can only hope that this lawsuit will prod others to clean their houses.

I’m Tired of Talking About Bill Gothard and The Duggars

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Micah J. Murray’s blog, Redemption Pictures. It was originally published on May 26, 2015.

I’m so very tired.

I just got home from a four-day camping trip — four days of sunshine and rain and afternoon naps and black coffee — and when I opened my computer for the first time last night, the notifications started rolling in. Tweets and Facebook comments and interview requests from the tabloids and click-bait blogs.

I know what they want.

They want to talk to me about the Duggars. About Bill Gothard. About my life in a cult.

They want to talk to me about sweet, sweet scandal — the poster-children for family values caught in a headline-making disaster.

But they don’t want the truth. I know what they really want.

They want to split me open and dissect me like a freak.

They want a juicy quote from me — “The Duggars are cult freaks too!“, perhaps. I’ve done this before. I know the drill.  

They want to splash words and pictures on their shiny pages and say, “Look at the way these folks lived! Isn’t it cute? isn’t it fascinating?”

 

duggars-people-april-2014

No. It’s not cute. It’s not fucking fascinating. It’s devastating.

And I’m tired of it.

Because sitting in their media conglomerate offices in New York or L.A., they have no way of comprehending the questions they’re asking.

They bounce from one thing to another — the Training Centers, courtship rules, and oh my god they didn’t kiss until they were married can you imagine that? — looking for a juicy tidbit to carve out and serve to their barely-interested readers.

They have no way of comprehending what it means for that to be your normal.

And I’m tired of trying to explain it.

I’m tired of watching them fumble around with dramatic heaviness the “oh my god can you believe this scandal?” when it was my fucking life for twenty years. It was all of our lives.

It was normal.

What the gawkers and headline-makers can’t comprehend is that for every scandal splashed across their glossy tabloids, there are a thousand broken lives that will never make the news. 

Sick as it is, sexual abuse sells page views. So they fire up the ol’ outrage machines and crank out a few thousand dollars worth of shock over the latest discovery.

But there will never be headlines for broken marriages and broken hearts, for eating disorders and suicidal depression. For innocent faith destroyed beyond repair. You won’t read in the news about years and years of therapy, about brainwashing and codependency and deprogramming. There won’t be stories about the way some songs still make us get up and walk out of church services, about the thirty- and forty- and fifty-year-olds still trying to believe that their childhood hearts were loved.

This is our normal.

I’m so tired of it.

I’m tired of reading stories of abuse at the hands of those entrusted with the hearts of children. You should be too.

I’m tired and fucking sick to death that we need to keep having this conversation.

And I keep thinking that at some point the church will open their goddamn eyes.

But they duck and weave and slip sideways to avoid how complicit they still are. The church wants to wash her hands of Bill Gothard — “we never knew him!” — but the backers and supporters and poster children are still celebrated. I’ve told you all this before. And I’m tired.

Every time another pillar collapses, you clutch your pearls and buy your tabloids and “oh god isn’t that awful.”

Yes. It’s fucking awful.

And also, it’s completely unsurprising.

But they just rename and rebrand and the show goes on and on and on.

And you keep defending it: “Not all homeschoolers… It was a mistake… Nobody’s perfect….”

I’m tired.

I’m tired of hearing folks like Mike Huckabee taking to the microphones to say shit like:

“They are no more perfect a family than any family, but their Christian witness is not marred in our eyes because following Christ is not a declaration of our perfection, but of HIS perfection. It is precisely because we are all sinners that we need His grace and His forgiveness. We have been blessed to receive God’s love and we would do no less than to extend our love and support for our friends.”

Goddamn it, Mike Huckabee. Don’t bring God’s love into this. Not like that. Not now.

Because your words are fucking clanging cymbals. Your religious phrases are the brush-strokes whitewashing the tomb of a system rotten to its very core.

You want to talk about Jesus?

Let’s talk about how Jesus said, “If the root is evil, the fruit will be evil. Then there’s nothing to be done but to cut the whole tree down and cast it into the fire.”

Stop gathering around the rotted-out tree, gawking at the rotten fruit sagging from its branches and saying “How awful. How terrible. How could all this rotten fruit come from this wonderful tree?”

Please, just stop. Stop.

I’m so tired.

Somebody grab the matches and gasoline.

It’s time to burn this motherfucker down. 


Here are some good places to start:

http://www.recoveringgrace.org

https://homeschoolersanonymous.wordpress.com

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-the-duggars-josh-20150524-story.html#page=1

http://fiddlrts.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-duggars-how-fundamentalisms.html

Amended Lawsuit Against Bill Gothard: Text

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinaor

Today, ten women filed an amended lawsuit against Bill Gothard, the former director of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) and creator of IBLP’s immensely popular homeschool program, the Advanced Training Institute (ATI). The women accuse Gothard of not only sexual harassment and abuse (as the original lawsuit with five women alleged), but also of rape. They also are suing IBLP for negligence in responding to reports of abuse.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey interviewed Gothard for the Washington Post concerning the lawsuit on Wednesday. Gothard denied the charges, telling Bailey, “Never in my life have I touched a girl sexually. I’m shocked to even hear that.”

HA has obtained a copy of the text of the lawsuit, which is now public record. You can read the lawsuit in is entirety here. Content warning for the lawsuit text: the text contains detailed descriptions of sexual abuse and rape, including child sexual abuse.

The Battle of Peer Dependency: Part 2

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Dan Slee.

Continued from Part 1

Let’s jump right in, shall we?

“The first step in overcoming peer dependency is determining whether or not a child is peer dependent. The second is accurately assessing the depth of the problem and then taking the proper steps. One approach a parent might take in order to find out if a son or daughter is peer dependent is to tell your child that all outside activities with peers will be suspended for one week. Will your child willingly and joyfully go along with that plan, or will they whine and cry, manipulate and control, and completely make your life miserable until they can do things with their friends? ….ask them, ‘Who has your heart? Who would you say in in control of your life?’ ”

So lemme get this straight: tell a normal kid that they have to cease and desist all the normal stuff they do outside the home (keep in mind we’re talking about homeschoolers who rely on their parents to have an outside social life), then when they freak out like normal kids, give them a triumphant “AHA! You are peer dependent. We must fix this.” Um, no, actually, they’re just normal human beings who like the company of other human beings. How would this mother handle it if someone told her “You won’t be allowed out of your house or to see anyone else but your kids for a week. And tell me now, who has your heart”? Sounds abusive and manipulative, right? Oh, but not when it’s directed at kids. Kids can be treated as non-humans because they’re on the bottom of the Godly hierarchy. Suddenly “Who has your heart?” sounds uber creepy to me. All this emphasis on who owns whom.

“Accurately knowing who has each child’s heart will be to the parent’s advantage….many parents have said that they lost the heart of their child as early as 8 years of age. Whatever the age, it is never too early to win the heart of your child, then purpose and plan to keep it.”

In what other context is this type of control OK?? Place this in the context of a husband toward his wife, and you have the set-up for a textbook emotionally abusive marriage. Nowhere does Sears ever think to ask what the child wants.

What the child wants in this paradigm is completely irrelevant.

“A child having an independent social life is a cultural phenomenon that has become an accepted practice in Christian homes, resulting in the decay and impotency of the modern Christian family. Many young people find their lives shipwrecked because they have placed too much emphasis on friends instead of family.”

Here we go again with the family v. friends false dichotomy.

“The lack of purposeful and meaningful relationship between siblings and parents has come to be accepted as normal. Not only do present day trends of divorce, abandonment, and death add to the breakdown of the family, but the structure and foundation of the family itself is faulty. Families growing up in the same house, but not sharing each other’s lives, have created separation and aloneness, which often times results in suicide, a leading cause of death among teens.”

I don’t even know what to say to that. Well, actually, these days I’d say “citation, please?” But apparently back in the world I grew up in, nobody bothered with such cumbersome things as citations and evidence. People could spout whatever harmful nonsense they wanted to, write a book about it, even! And nobody bothered to say “prove it”. That could’ve saved a lot of people a buttload of trouble. Like the confusing predicament of being a teenager who is told that because you don’t like your siblings and would love to have friends your own age, you’re responsible for the crumbling of the family and the downfall of the world.

Sears talks about how they found other homeschooling friends with the same goals and the same “standards”. How those relationships were “heaven-sent”; how her kids were happy and making friends. But of course, this was just Satan trying to deceive them and bring them down. “My philosophy that my children needed a best friend outside the Lord and our family was the instrument that set them up for failure.” So apparently even other squeaky-clean homeschooling families are a threat. One of her sons become “peer dependent”, and she spent 5 years trying to get his heart back. She even had to battle other Christians who told her that having friends was perfectly healthy. But she knew better. God told her, revealed to her in his Word, how friends are evil.

Here are some more gems that make up this book and its philosophies, all highlighted in orange years ago by my mom. Read and wonder:

“Children have a great capacity to rationalize truth in order to get what they want, when they want it. It is the parent’s responsibility to train their sons and daughters to obey (Eph. 6:1-3) Remember that partial obedience is total disobedience and good motives do not make disobedience right.”

 

“Partial obedience is not obedience” [this is said many times throughout the book]

 

“Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness is as the iniquity and idolatry….in the Hebrew, rebellion is synonymous with bitterness.”

“Rebellion” was defined as anything we wanted and thought that was against our family’s rules and standards. Having my own opinion on anything often got the label “rebellious” tossed my way. Obedience had to be instant and cheerful, as described in Sears’ book, or it was “rebellion”. Rebellion, we were told, was one of the worse sins of them all, often causing a domino effect of other sins to take hold in our lives.

“The good activities that my children were participating in seemed never to be enough. Once the activity was over, and the pleasure had worn off, they were off to the next thing. The pleasures of this world, no matter how innocent, are never satisfying…..This is why peers and their activities become all consuming.”

Keep in mind that activities for homeschoolers usually meant church, AWANA, Bible studies, homeschool co-ops and field trips to museums, and possibly (if we were lucky) going to play as a family at a friends’ house.

“Serving others is one way to fulfill our need for activity; another is sharing the gospel message”.

You don’t need friends, you just need to volunteer more.

“By not understanding the text of 1 Sam. 15:23, I didn’t see that when my children would peck at the direction or rules of the home, they were being stubborn….Parents need to understand that the root cause of peer dependency is ‘…stubbornness is as iniquity as idolatry’ “.

Sears describes here how God revealed to her that the word for “stubbornness” actually meant “pecking away at”. She goes on to describe how a child being stubborn was the same as that child pecking away at the standards of their family. Just like chickens peck at the ground.

“Were their own brothers and sister important to them, and did they desire to be with them, regardless of the activity, circumstances, or what age group was there? I realized in that instance what a tragic mistake I had been making. I had actually trained our encouraged my children to prefer people outside of our family to be their best friends. My heart was broken as I thought about the state of my family, and what I was going to do.”

“If you can’t treat your siblings well and get along with them, you don’t deserve to have friends. You must love family more than friends.” That’s what I was told many times as a child and teen. I was often “grounded” from spending time with the very few friends I had because of arguing with my sister. To this day, my closest friends are most definitely not my family members so I’m not sure how well that philosophy worked out.

“Understanding that God has given each individual in the family a life purpose, these life purposes will complement the purpose of your family….individual life purposes will work together, in the life of the family, through trials, struggles, and suffering, for God to be glorified to a lost and dying world.”

But goddess forbid that anyone has any life purpose that does not fit the cult, I mean, family, and that kids grow up to have their own lives that have nothing to do with the plans of The Family.

“Knowing that peer dependency is a problem for all age groups and understanding its definition is the first key to having a godly family. As parent realize the potential life-long consequences and danger of peer dependency that will be upon the lives of their children, restructuring the family will occur. Only when the family is what God has ordained it to be will we see nations coming to Christ.”

 

“One of the dangers with church youth groups is that the youth minister must have the hearts of the children in order to accomplish his goals. The youth group in itself becomes a family unit with the youth minister and his wife acting as surrogate parents.”

This just screams “isolate and control” to me.

“Young people have been so segregated in our society that few can adequately converse outside their own peer group.”

 

“Family friends add depth to the family structure; however, many times friends draw individual family members away from the family rather than the friend associating with the family, strengthening the whole unit.”

 

“Children don’t always know what they want, nor do they always know what is best for them. That is why God gave them parents, and why He gave parents Himself.”

It’s very convenient for the parents that they are not only accountable only to God, but they are the ones that get to decide what God wants, what God is saying, and what God wants the children to do with their lives. What the children think or want does not matter and is always trumped by what the parents think God is telling them. In this system, children have absolutely no recourse. And the family becomes a little cult.

Then there’s about seven pages on how your family will go to hell and won’t get free unless you, the mother, confess all your sins and your own peer dependency and get yourself right with god, and how if your kids are failing, it’s probably your fault for unconfessed sin.

Then she explains how to “give your children to god” by building an alter in your mind and sacrificing them on it.

That’s right, folks. You must symbolically sacrifice your children to God, or none of this will work. I wish I were making this up.

One of my favorite puke-worthy parts was when she described how her older teenage son wanted to listen to “ungodly music” (which, for a Gothardite, means anything with a “rock beat” or syncopation). She explains how she told him that “God has shown us a better way to live and to experience his presence in our lives. This music will hinder you and our family’s life goals. Therefore, you may choose to listen to it, but if you do, you will also be choosing to move out of our home.” She goes on to say how she stuck to her guns to kick him out over his music choice, even helped him pack. At the last minute, he changed his mind and she praised the Lord for rewarding her for being faithful. Mother of the Year right there.

I could go on and on. But I’m emotionally burning out over here. Because this isn’t just some crazy shit I randomly found and decided to put on the blog so others could gawk at it. It’s personal. It defines much of my teenage years. But I do want to highlight one more quote before I quit:

“One aspect of winning the heart of my child was trying to discern which activities were acceptable and which ones were not…..I tried to think through each activity and discern whether it was right or wrong….this approach caused great offense among fellow Christians because if there wasn’t anything wrong with the activity, the focus changed to the character or spiritual maturity of the other individuals involved. It wasn’t until our family purpose was defined and clarity was given for the direction that God was taking our family that the struggles lessened. I could take each activity or thing in question to the Lord and see if it would accomplish the goals that the Lord had for our family. For example: our family purpose was for each member to delight in each other and in the Lord. Activities that arose which would not accomplish our family purpose would not be attended.”

This explains so much. Why my mom could just say “no, you aren’t going to go do that thing because it doesn’t fit our family values.” When there was nothing wrong with The Thing and it would be fun and everyone else was going. In reality, this gives parents absolute authority to do whatever the hell they want and arbitrarily forbid whatever the hell they want and say it is because God told them to.

And if we questioned them, we were questioning God.

We had no say in the matter. There was no way out for us. We were trapped in this hell. We were powerless children, and to this day I experience panic attacks whenever I see or hear that kind of bondage in parent/child relationships. Anything that makes me feel like a powerless, trapped child at the mercy of unreasonable adults will set off my stress response, even watching a movie with those kinds of themes.

There was a time I wasn’t allowed to have my own friends. They had to be “family friends” and I had to drag my younger siblings along when I wanted to do stuff. My mom was a social person though so thankfully she didn’t do very well at the whole isolate yourself from friends thing. She would’ve withered and died too. But that didn’t stop the blame and manipulation from being thrown around. If I didn’t get along with my sister, our family was at stake. If I questioned the “family standards” I was making everyone miserable and my heart was not right with God. I was told I didn’t need friends, that my siblings were my friends, and if I couldn’t get along with them then I didn’t deserve friends outside the family.

Family was worshipped above all.

Family had to look, sound, feel, and appear a certain way or we were failing to be a testimony. Peers were evil, friends that didn’t share our standards were threats. As I got older, peers who were boys were definitely evil. Things like “emotional fornication” and “purity” and “defrauding” and “giving away your heart” entered into the already convoluted and ridiculously complicated rules for having friends. It was impossible to navigate and it was hell on earth.

People can stop saying we’re exaggerating now.

They can stop telling us “it wasn’t that bad” and “well, that’s crazy, it didn’t happen to me, I can’t imagine that actually happened” and “not all homeschoolers”. Not only did it actually happen, it was taught and promoted by various leaders in our world. Most of my friends report similar experiences. We used to jokingly ask “did our parents have a manual for this crap they taught?” Well, maybe they did. I’m holding this book in my hands right now. A book that my mom highlighted the shit out of. Full of teachings that so many of us heard and had thrown at us and were used to control and manipulate for years. Read these quotes then tell us “it wasn’t that bad”.

The Battle of Peer Dependency

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Dan Slee.

Sometimes when homeschool alumni tell stories about the way things were — the things we were taught, stuff our parents said, and the teachings we practiced — we are not really believed. Our recollections are met with incredulity, doubt, and outright disbelief. Sometimes, our own parents are the ones telling us “that didn’t happen like that, you aren’t remembering correctly, I never said/did/taught/believed those things”. Those presently homeschooling deny that homeschoolers were like that and tell us “well, you were just part of a small group of extremists”.

It’s hard to be the focus of both gaslighting from the inside and mainstream disbelief from the outside.

We start to think maybe we really aren’t remembering correctly.

But then something happens that helps solidify the fact that we aren’t crazy, we aren’t making shit up, and we can trust our memories. That happened to me this week, and in sharing it with my friends, I think I helped them gain that clarity too.

In cleaning my basement this week, I found an old book that belonged to my parents. A book that we bought at an IBLP Basic Seminar in Seattle, WA, around the time I was 13-14. It is called The Battle of Peer Dependency, by Marina Sears. And when I opened that book and started to read the parts my mom highlighted 16 years ago, it was like stepping into a time machine. I was 14-18 again and all the memories, feelings, situations, even smells from that time hit me full force and in color and clarity.

I’m going to share excerpts from this book, along with some very personal and vulnerable memories of how they were used during my teen years.

My reasons are simple: so that those on the “outside” of the Christian homeschool movement can see the type of emotional and spiritual abuse that we thought was normal. And so those on the inside, both past and present, can see that they were and are not alone.

That we really do remember these things correctly. That they were taught and believed. That they were toxic and abusive.

The book opens with a story of the author’s husband dying in a car accident, and the many sufferings that their family went through, all God’s purpose to show them how to be a family. She alludes to how she would need the lessons learned through suffering for the future of trying to hold their family together, a family threatened by the ominous-sounding “peer dependency”. There is a lot in this first chapter about suffering being God’s will to teach needed lessons.

The entire second chapter is the story of Sears’ fear and her desire to please God and trust him, mostly with her children and their hearts. She sets the stage for a “battle of peer dependency” as something big, bad, ugly, and antithesis to a solid family unit.

Peers are the enemy of children’s hearts; children’s attachment to having friends is the enemy of the family.

This she state quite clearly:

“A child having an independent social life is a cultural phenomenon that has become an accepted practice in Christian homes, resulting in the decay and impotency of the modern Christian family.”

The family v. friends battle is the framework for the entire book.

“Once I entered the battle with peer dependency, a new and different kind of fear gripped my heart. Seeing my children being drawn to the things of this world, I feared that they might never let Christ be the Lord of their lives.”

Peers and independent social lives are the enemy of the family. They are even the enemies of your children’s salvation.

“Even more devastating was the idea that they might never trust Christ as Lord of their lives.”

 

“For five years I struggled with peer dependency, not understanding what it was. I thought if Dave [her son] would just have more character or love God and his family more, the struggle would disappear…..suffering works to motivate one to trust the Lord…This is an essential principle for the family who will enter the battle to win back the heart of a son or daughter from his or her peers. The reason this is vital is so parents won’t become weary in the midst of the battle.”

Suffering for Jesus, learning lessons, parental sacrifice, creating “character”, setting life up as a battle between family allegiance and having friends are the themes of this book. The next part goes into “The Fight”. She talks about her “battle” with her kids wanting friends. It is framed as a battle for the hearts of your children.

You can either be a strong family and have your children’s hearts, or you can have friends.

The false dichotomy here is pretty obvious, but let’s look at more of her advice and her story.

“As the years have passed, I know why many parents are broken-hearted after giving their lives to see their children follow the Lord. These young people have grown into adults grieving in spirit for their failures and living with the consequences of poor choices they made as teenagers. Sadly, they grow up, marry, and have children of their own, still locked in peer dependency. Many are not understanding that they have a greater desire to please others or be like others, rather than the individual God has created them to be….This is not the only reason for broken young people and broken homes, but it is something that every family will face in varying degree. Understanding the battle of peer dependency and fighting it according to God’s word will decide the outcome and success in children’s lives….

 

How then, with God as the head of our home, did I lose the heart of one of my children to peer dependency? At first I didn’t even realize what peer dependency meant. In fact, it took me five years to understand the struggle and realize that I was in for the fight of my life….I soon realized the battle of peer dependency was going to cost me my son’s life, and that I needed to understand that it was a life and death battle.”

She goes on (and on and on) dramatically about this “battle” and how peer dependency will cause children to fall away from God, will destroy the family unit, and ultimately the entire nation. The whole chapter reads like a letter of self-inflicted martyrdom by a mother who is whining about how hard she had to fight and what sacrifices she made to keep her family free from the diabolical threat of friends. I’m sure I don’t have to explain why this is utterly ridiculous. I wish I had the words to explain why this sounded so good to many of our parents. I mean, did the homeschooling cult attract control freaks or what?! It would be funny if it didn’t hit such a personal, raw place in my heart. If I didn’t have to explain what these teachings did to so many of us, how they broke us, how we still struggle with healthy peer relationships decades later. If we didn’t have to constantly fight to get people to believe that it really was that bad.

So, what is “peer dependency”? The author explains:

“Webster’s Dictionary defines peer as ‘an equal or member of the nobility’. Dependence is ‘to rely as for support, to place trust, or to be determined’. Therefore, on can define peer dependence as an equal or member of nobility that one can rely upon, places trust in, and will be determined to do so.”

That’s one of the most epic splicing together of definitions that I’ve ever seen. But it’s also a popular method of finding meanings in scripture that Gothard himself uses. Given that this was written by an ATI mom and sold at a Basic Seminar, it’s reasonable to assume she used the same twisted methods of discovering what God has to say as Gothard does. Actually, Gothard’s teachings, catch-phrases, and strange word definitions are prolific throughout this book.

Then we get into the weird hierarchy, “emotions are evil”, and “agreements/strongholds in your heart” teachings that are straight from Gothard:

“When a young person is in a position that they have taken an equal, or someone they think highly of and are determined to trust and rely upon, a parent is in trouble. To place trust in a peer, one must make a choice with their will to believe in that peer. They come to an agreement within their heart that the one whom they trust is worthy of that trust….Throughout the decision process made by the young person, he has involved his mind, will, and emotions. He has processed the peer through his intellect, enjoyed and desired what he as seen, and has made a decision with his will to follow in order to become like his peer. As we continue to define the struggle, there is one more word that must be considered. Through Scripture, one can find the heart defined as the mind, will, and emotions of a person.”

So let’s create a problem, then see the entire world through this problem, write some stuff that sounds a little like legit psychology to those who know nothing about psychology, and then write a book on how you overcame this salvation-threatening problem and saved the souls of your children. Mother as the martyr-savior. This is starting to sound all-too familiar.

“Some may think that being peer dependent is not such a bad thing….however, Scripture is clear that it is a very big deal to God. In fact, if is God’s desire for the father to have his children’s hearts, because in the last days, if they don’t, He will smite the earth with a curse.”

The above quote is really important if you want to understand the undercurrent of the homeschool movement.

Gothard and other homeschool leaders loved the scripture in Malachi 4:6 that said “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” And upon this verse they built their cults. This verse was used to promote everything from Vision Forum’s “Biblical Patriarchy” and Family Integrated Churches to the pet doctrines of homeschooling and was very likely part of the foundation for the entire homeschooling movement in the 80’s and 90’s. Homeschooling was supposed to turn the father’s hearts toward their children and vice versa. We were told that this was the only way to promote God’s Kingdom on earth, that this was God’s will for families, that it would be the only way to have a strong nation. This verse was used to justify all kind of cult-like family practices, including not allowing peer friendships and individual social lives, as you see throughout Sears’ book.

In reality, it was about control.

“Another factor involved when a father does not have his child’s heart is the principle that whoever has the heart of your child controls him.”

That’s about the most honest statement I’ve seen in any of these books on “keeping your child’s heart”.

“Peer dependency is the loss of your child’s heart. Dressing, talking, and having the same morals is just the beginning. When a father has lost the heart of his child, the child is torn between the direction and wishes of his parents and that of his friends. In the beginning, he may still desire to please his parents. As time goes on, however, the family will experience great turmoil as the peer dependent young persona grows deeper into dependency and rebellion. People who are peer dependent will find themselves beginning to lower the standards that their parents have tried to instill in them. Even young people who have grown up in very godly homes will suffer the consequences and bondage of peer dependency.”

Please tell me that others can see what is happening here, what is actually being said. “Peer dependency is the loss of your child’s heart” and your control over him, per this author. This reads like a manual of how to isolate your kids and ensure that they will never be exposed to anything other than your own teachings; that they will never learn to think for themselves; that they will never question you and your rules.

These are instructions on how to control your children and to rid them of free will and ensure they turn out to be the people you decide they will be.

This is the goal, very clearly stated, of the homechooling movement that I and my friends grew up in. We were raised in cults, even those of us who weren’t part of ATI or Vision Forum or other organized groups. Our families became cults and operated at such. Complete with ultimate authoritarian control, emotional abuse, religious manipulation, isolation from outside influences, censorship, physical abuse, and absolutely no accountability to anyone else. Our parents were taught that this was how to have a strong family and this was how to ensure their kids turned into the robots we were meant to be.

The author goes on to use all the right catch-phrases: “they want to be like the world instead of like Christ; a quest for pleasure, materialism, and self-gratification; comfortable with the things of the world; children and young people act differently when they are with their peers than they do with adults; some Christian groups have outward evidence of the Christian life, but they are inwardly peer dependent.” On and on and on she goes, setting up this danger, this battle, this threat to families and children. THINK OF THE CHILDREN.

“The particular child who was deeply involved in peer dependency was in complete turmoil in his soul. He would argue and fight against the direction of our family but be repentant at night over his bad attitude and hurtful actions. [He] was in such turmoil that he made the whole family miserable.” [emphasis mine]

Raise your hand if, like me, you were told that your stubbornness and rebellion was making your entire family miserable. If you were told that “if you would just submit to God’s will for our family and stop questioning and being ornery and rebellious, then we wouldn’t be having so many problems.”

Raise your hand if your parents followed teachings that made you, in all practicality, the scapegoat.

Dysfunctional doesn’t even begin to describe the consequences of being raised with such toxic teachings. Try for a minute to imagine being a 14-yr-old, struggling with suicidal imaginations, thinking everyone hates you, even God, that you are worthless because that’s what your parents and their religion taught you, stuck in the turmoil that is puberty, and being told that your family’s problems are because you are making everyone miserable by not submitting. Because that was my life at 14.

“For 5 years I didn’t understand that the reason he didn’t want to go in the direction that God was pointing our family was because he had decided in his heart that he wanted to go in the direction of his friends. So I approached my child and asked him, ‘Do I have your heart?’ “

A bit of advice: don’t ask your child that. There is no way to ask that without manipulation and heaping guilt on a child’s head. I knew I supposed to say yes, that that was what God wanted for me. I also knew that my heart was not at all safe with my mother, that I needed to protect myself. But when an influential adult comes to you, the child, crying that she doesn’t have your heart, that you don’t trust her, that all she ever wanted was to have your heart and a relationship with you, that this is what God wants and don’t you want what God wants….what the hell are you supposed to say?! I said what I thought I was supposed to. “Yes, of course, Mom.” It was a lie, and I knew it was a lie, but a 14-yr-old doesn’t have the tools to combat religious and emotional manipulation. A 14-yr-old just wants to make it stop.

Next in Part 2, with the problem clearly defined and laid out, we will get to the good part: what to do about it. Spoiler Alert: It’s all terrible advice.

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.