Child Marriage: I Dodged the Bullet

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on January 12, 2014.

I don’t know that I’ve written much about the process of the relationship Alex and I had before we got married. I started my blog after the fact and before I had even begun to process the hellmouth that was my childhood.

With three creepy-as-fuck-patriarchs coming out in favor of child marriage – something they’d always been in favor of, I suppose, but just now coming to light – I keep remembering how close I was to that being my story, our story.

This might be timey-wimey.

*****

Ever since I can remember, my mom really really really wanted to be pregnant at the same time as me.

I don’t know why, I just remember her telling me this, often, and it creeping  me out before I was 10 — and after I was 10, but I remember being really damn young when she was telling me this. I feel like I was 8.

When we started homechurching, my mom become obsessed, I mean obsessed with jewish culture. Like everything about it was perfect and not at all weird, and by jewish culture, I guess I should clarify, I mean old testament jewishness, and whatever of that was referenced in the new testament. Yes, how women were property and bought/traded for dowries, and how they were surprised for when they were getting married, and their parents picked out their husbands (my mom is also obsessed with betrothal), and then how they wait for the couple to do it, and then they bring out a sheet that had better have a bloodstain on it to prove…virginity – because, obv’s everyone bleeds (<nope).

(HA note: Kiery’s mom was not just wrong in a moral sense, but wrong in a religious sense; for an accurate description of how Jewish weddings work, please see Rachel’s comment here and Petticoat Philosopher’s comment here.)

She had, before I was a teenager even, basically planned out my wedding to be like that. Complete with my future husband building an apartment attached to their house, and even as a kid who knew nothing, this was the thing I fought against, this was the battle I always chose, I was not going to allow my mom to pick out my husband, and dictate my wedding and create the most humiliating ceremony I could imagine – just so she could get her jewish fix and fulfill her dream of carrying children simultaneously.

For context: She had also decided that I would marry at 18 to ensure that pregnancy thing would be feasible.

She was pregnant when I was 18 (I’m 18 years and one-week older than my youngest sibling) and I did end up getting married at 18, but the simultaneous pregnancy hasn’t happened (and never will, thanks to my own birth control and my grandparents stepping in after the last baby and paying for my mom’s sterilization).

Anyway, back to the story…

So, my childhood was already riddled with disturbing fantasies from my mom in relation to my future love-life, and I had been fighting this battle for as long as I can remember. Thankfully, my dad was on my side here, and also thought that my mom’s whole wanting to control all of that thing was ridiculous, which made it easier to just look at her and say no whenever she mentioned it (that was the only thing I was ever able to do that with) even though she ignored it.

I had read too much Elsie Dinsmore to be cool with the idea of betrothal.

Anyway, after we moved to Atlanta I went to TeenPact State Class and then TeenPact National Convention where I met Alex and we became fast friends over the course of the year. Later that year my parents told me they were done teaching me/had taught me everything I needed to know when I was 15 and they said I’d graduated. It was 2006. I turned 16 in February of 2007, had my graduation ceremony at the state homeschool convention in May, and Alex came down for camp, and that fall we started courting (which is, in our case, another kind of hell). Because he lived in Maine, our relationship was Long Distance and we saw eachother less than a handful of times a year – which means most of our relationship involved lots and lots and lots of talking and getting to know each other over IM/Email/Phone calls.

Nonetheless, as soon as my dad said “okay” to us courting in September of 2007, my parents – especially my mom- heard wedding bells. Courting is basically like, “dating with the intent to marry” but with everyone sticking their hands and ideas into the situation but without actually caring about or getting to know the two people involved – they just want power and think they can because they’re parents, so they must be right, right? (no)

My mom, at this time, had just had my second brother, and so, my broom services weren’t as desperately needed.

By december they were pushing Alex to propose, made him buy me a promise ring, and kept asking about when we were getting married, anddon’t you love him? (yes) don’t you want to marry him? (sure) but why not NOW? (because I’m 16) We’ll sign the paperwork! eventually I just looked at them and told them, I feel like you’re pushing me out, and I don’t know why. They were like, we’re not pushing you out! and I forget what else they said, but in retrospect, that conversation, and me not coming home engaged after visiting and meeting his family for the first time after christmas changed things.

But one thing remained, they wanted me married. Stat. They wanted him to propose like, right away, and when he didn’t propose by my birthday, in February (because we both decided it wasn’t a good idea to get married at like, 17 and 19) they got pissed and over the course of the summer of 2008, decided to do everything they could to sabotage our relationship.

It was brutal and nasty and deserving of more than one post because it was fraught with verbal and emotional abuse, withholding, and bribery – complete turns of opinions and demeanor’s, saying one thing and then the next morning saying something else, the last pregnancy that ruined everything, and the reason I had to run away.

If I had complied, as I did in every other thing, my relationship with my parents would have been less strained for a short time, but neither Alex or I would be in a healthy place. 16 is too youngMuch too young.

So when people talk about child-marriage proponents, I remember being 16 and pressured, unbelievably pressured by my parents, to make my boyfriend propose and marry me.

because it’s better to marry than to burn with passion 

I wonder if some of the logic of Swanson, Maranatha’s dad and husband, and Creepy Duck Guy wasn’t part of the logic my parents had too: female independence is bad, marry them off young so they can do what god commanded women to do – be fruitful and multiply.

Matthew and Maranatha Chapman Withdraw from 2014 CHEO Convention

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

As of yesterday, Matthew and Maranatha Chapman are no longer presenting at Christian Home Educators of Ohio’s (CHEO) annual homeschool convention this summer. 

The Chapmans have recently provoked controversy due to increased attention to their advocacy of marrying homeschool girls in their “middle-teens” to older men.
The Chapmans have recently provoked controversy due to increased attention to their advocacy of marrying homeschool girls in their “middle-teens” to older men.

Matthew Chapman was a keynote speakers and his wife Maranatha was slated as a featured speaker. The Chapmans have recently provoked controversy due to increased attention to their advocacy of marrying homeschool girls in their “middle-teens” to older men.

The following statement appeared on CHEO’s convention page as of December 16, 2013 (PDF version):

The CHEO board regrets to inform Ohio homeschoolers that Matthew and Maranatha Chapman have notified us that they will not be attending the upcoming CHEO convention in 2014 as previously planned. The Chapmans deeply desire that all those attending the convention would be built up and encouraged in the Lord, and expressed that they will miss seeing the many friends and acquaintances they made from when they were here several years ago. CHEO appreciates their humble service in ministry and wish for them the best.

CHEO has not specified the reasons for the Chapmans’ change of plans, nor have they made any public comment or statement on the Chapmans’ advocacy of child marriage or whether this advocacy was the reason for withdrawal.

Matthew Chapman to Headline the 2014 CHEO Convention

Source: Kindling Publications
Source: Kindling Publications

HA note: The following is reprinted in a modified format with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on December 3, 2013 with the title, “Matthew Chapman, and Why I Included Lauren’s Picture.”

Matthew Chapman wrote the following in 2003, five years before he gave his daughter Lauren away in marriage. In it he referred to his marriage at age 27 to Lauren’s mother Maranatha, who was only 15 at her wedding:

I know that in my case, I cannot even begin to fully communicate the wonderful gift Maranatha’s father gave to me in his daughter on the day we married. All her life, he had called her to trust him and follow him, even when she didn’t understand or, perhaps, even agree with how he was leading her, and she did. A few nights before our wedding feast, when Maranatha was dressed and ready and waiting for me to come, the doorbell rang and it was her dad who showed up instead. He assured her the wedding feast was not that particular night, and asked her to change her clothes and join him for a special dinner. He took her to a nice restaurant where they had a wonderful evening talking and sharing and laughing and crying together. Then, at one point, he told her, “Sweetheart, all your life you have submitted to me, trusted me, and followed me, and you have done this well. But, when Matthew comes and takes you, all of that transfers over to him, even if that means he leads you in ways that vary from how I would do things.” And when I went to get her, she followed her dad’s final lead right into my headship of her. Wow! Did I walk into a good deal or what?!

…I had no idea how common this sort of thing was, because no one in my homeschool community had married before age 18, and I still don’t know how common it is—but it’s clearly more common than I had hoped. What really bothers me here is the age difference bit. If these parents were marrying their 16-year-old daughters off to other families’ 17-year-old sons I would still be concerned, but when they’re marrying their 16-year-old daughters off to full grown men significantly older in both years and experience, I am appalled—and not in small part because of quotes like Matthew Chapman’s.

I also learned is that Matthew Chapman is going to be a keynote speaker at Christian Home Educators of Ohio’s annual homeschool convention this summer.

This is a major convention, and this past summer the now-discredited Doug Phillips was a keynote speaker. Voddie Baucham spoke there in 2012, as did Eric Ludy. In addition to Matthew serving as keynote speaker, his wife Maranatha is slated as a featured speaker. Matthew runs Kindling Publications, and both Maranatha and Lauren is featured heavily on organization’s website.

Like it or not, it appears that the mainstream of the Christian homeschooling movement, its major convention circuit, has chosen to give a platform to those who practice and promote the marriage of girls of 15 and 16 to much-older men. Here is something else Matthew Chapman wrote in 2003:

Parents, I would also charge you to consider this. The way many Christian homeschooling parents raise their daughters, they mature rather quickly and develop significant capacities by a relatively young age. By their middle-teens, many daughters (but by no means all) possess the maturity and skills to run their own home. My point is to encourage you to be open to the Lord and take to heart that some of your daughters may be ready to marry sooner than your preconceived ideas have allowed for. And why not, if they are truly ready? What is the purpose of holding out for a predetermined numeric age if they are legitimately prepared and the Lord has brought His choice of a young man along for her? Don’t be surprised if this is some of the fruit of your good parenting in bringing forth mature, well-equipped, Godly young daughters. However, I seldom think this will be the case for most young men—it takes them (us) a lot longer to get to where they need to be. I have also seen that, oftentimes, a difference in age—even a significant one—with the man being older, helps make for a better fit.

This is the man who is now being given the keynote slot at major Christian homeschooling conventions.

People need to know this.

Matthew Chapman promotes the marriage of homeschool girls in their “middle-teens” to older men, endorsing an age difference, “even a significant one,” as making “for a better fit.” Matthew Chapman not only followed this advice in his own marriage, but also in marrying his daughter Lauren off immediately after her sixteenth birthday to a man of twenty-six.

What does this say of the Christian homeschooling movement?

…Where are the voices speaking out against this? Where are the Christian homeschooling leaders saying that this is wrong?

I’m searching for them, but I’m finding only crickets—crickets, and Matthew Chapman serving as keynote speaker at major Christian homeschooling conventions.

Jonathan Lindvall on the Women’s Suffrage Movement

Screen Shot 2013-12-02 at 11.18.17 AM

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Jonathan Lindvall is the president of Bold Christian Living. He has spoken at many homeschooling conferences and organized “Bold Christian Youth Seminars” as well as “Bold Parenting Seminars.” He also presented “New Testament House Church Seminars” in the U.S. and beyond.

I remember Lindvall from the homeschool teen track at a CHEA homeschool conference in California. Lindvall and Reb Bradley taught the teens about “godly” relationships — Bradley emphasizing courtship, Lindvall emphasizing betrothal. I distinctly remember Bradley making fun of Lindvall for “being extreme.” Which Lindvall would actually consider a badge of honor. According to Vyckie Garrison, who years ago also attended one of his “Bold Christian Living” conferences, Lindvall teaches that Jesus finds balanced people “repulsive.” “Don’t shy away from extremism,” Lindvall admonished.

Bill Gothard of IBLP/ATI directly inspired Jonathan Lindvall’s relationship views. Lindvall is an unabashed proponent of “sheltering” your children to the point of being called an “isolationist” by fellow Christians. And most disturbingly, Lindvall holds up an example of a 26-year-old man pursuing a 13-year-old girl as “a true romantic betrothal example.” (Libby Anne has a good summary of Lindvall and child marriage.)

I recently came across a quotation from Lindvall on No Longer Quivering suggesting young women should be “shielded” from jury duty and that women should not vote. I was pretty shocked to read this. I was not shocked that a leader in the Christian homeschool movement would express this, mind you. I am just shocked at how unapologetic and fervent Lindvall is in his dismissal of the women’s suffrage movement.

Here is what Lindvall said:

I obviously share your conclusion that young women serving on a jury is a very vulnerable, potentially damaging experience we should be able to shield them from. Let me share some thoughts of how we can protect our daughters from this particular emotional/mental threat.

You noted that “never allowing her to become a registered voter” is something you have learned the hard way. This is definitely one of the ways we express our “individuality” in our culture. Early in the republic’s history, only heads of households voted. Sadly, today even in very conservative households most of us have embraced the philosophic underpinnings of the women’s suffrage movement. Of course women should vote! Therefore even Christian couples occasionally “split” their vote, canceling one another’s vote.

But since women are allowed to vote in our society, doesn’t this mean Christians must compromise with the cultural mores and have our wives vote, so we can double our impact? This assumes that God NEEDS our help in appointing His choice of leaders (Romans 13:1 makes it clear that all “authorities that exist are appointed by God”). Especially if registering to vote creates greater vulnerability for our families, perhaps we should rethink this question.

Jonathan Lindvall and Child Marriage: The Maranatha Story

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on December 2, 2013

Maranatha’s courtship story has been told and retold in homeschooling circles at least since the 1990s, and is held up by many as an ideal. But there’s one thing that is routinely left out of the story. Just how old was Maranatha Owen when she married Matthew Chapman at the culmination of a parent-guided courtship/betrothal process?

We often think about child marriage as something that happens in other countries, but not here.

I’ve generally thought of it that way too, even with my background. I grew up in a conservative evangelical/fundamentalist homeschool community where no one dated and everyone talked about and aspired to courtship. But in my community essentially no one started courting before attaining legal adulthood. Recently I’ve been hearing other stories, though, far different stories—and one of those stories is Maranatha’s, which I will tell in a moment.

There were a couple of relevant reasons those in my community put off courtship. First, courtship was scary, and the consequences were huge. If you courted and then broke it off that had the potential to look really really bad. After all, the whole reason for foregoing dating was the idea that for every romantic relationship you have, you give away a piece of your heart that you will never get back. Second, courtship was about finding a marriage partner, and long courtships or engagements were seen as causes for fleshly temptation. Therefore it made no sense to begin a courtship before you were actually ready for marriage. And thus we waited.

There are some Christian homeschooling leaders, Jonathan Lindvall primary among them, who brush these reasons aside and preach the godliness of youthful courtship.

Lindvall argues for avoiding the heartache of broken courtship by means of heavy parental control and what he likes to term “betrothals.” If parents help their children find godly partners, love will follow eventually, or so his argument goes. Lindvall and others like him also argue that young people are ready for marriage far earlier than “the world” may recognize, and that waiting rather than marrying young only leads to temptation and the possibility of going astray.

And now we turn to the story of the 1988 betrothal and marriage of Matthew Chapmen and Maranatha Owen. I will begin by summarizing the story as told by Lindvall, and will then answer the question of the couple’s age.

Having began saved at age 19, Matthew Chapman felt led to the ministry. He attended Baylor University’s ministerial program and began serving as a ministerial intern at a large church in Waco, Texas. During this time he began to look for mentorship from an older man at the church, a homeschooling father named Stan Owen. Stan became Matthew’s spiritual father, and the two spent a great deal of time together. In the summer of 1986, Stan began to feel that God had destined Matthew to marry his daughter Maranatha. Without talking to either Matthew, his spiritual son, or Maranatha, his biological daughter, Stan dedicated the two together in marriage in prayer before God.

In early fall of 1986, Matthew confessed to Stan that he was troubled by a strong attraction to Stan’s daughter Maranatha.

He confessed that he found her “very attractive” and that she had become “a distraction.” “I don’t know what to do about it,” he said. According to Lindvall’s telling, “Matthew was certain this attraction could not be right since Maranatha was so much younger than he.” ”Have you ever considered that this may be a good thing?” Stan asked him in response, “How do you know this isn’t from the Lord?” But Stan went on to tell Matthew that Maranatha wasn’t ready for marriage yet, and that he therefore needed to put a hold on his feelings for a while. Matthew continued to be a frequent guest in Stan’s home, constantly in contact with Maranatha and the rest of the family, but was forbidden to tell Maranatha about his feelings or have any physical contact with her.

Shortly after this Maranatha told her father that she had “an interest” in Matthew. As time went by Maranatha found her “attraction” to Matthew “increasingly distracting.” She told her father about her crush as she had been taught to do. Stan told Maranatha that she needed to “keep her heart pure and focused on the Lord” and to “wholly give herself to the Lord without any lingering desire for Matthew.” And Maranatha obediently sought to do just that. Of course, Stan had already decided to give Maranatha to Matthew, so this was simply a matter of biding his time until he decided Maranatha was ready.

A year later, in early fall of 1987, Matthew felt that God had told him by direct communication that he, Matthew, was to marry Maranatha. Matthew shared with his mentor what God had told him, and asked permission to propose to Maranatha. Stan confirmed that the thoughts may well have been from God, but asked Matthew to wait a little longer, promising to share when he had heard from God himself.

Several months went by and Christmas arrived. Stan’s Christmas present to Matthew was a Christmas card with the words “This year for Christmas, I am going to give you the greatest gift I could ever give you” on the front.

Inside was a photograph of Maranatha.

There were also instructions: “On January 1st, you may ask Maranatha to marry you.” The instructions stated, however, that while Matthew and Maranatha could become engaged Stan would not give Maranatha to Matthew until he determined she was ready, which might be months or years. Matthew proposed and Maranatha accepted.

Stan wanted to do things as they were done in the Bible, when betrothal was legally binding. Therefore, on February 22, 1988, just over a month after Matthew’s proposal and Maranatha’s acceptance, the two were legally married at the courthouse. Maranatha continued to live in her father’s home until her official “wedding” day, which, although she was already legally married, would be when she would begin her married life.

The summer of 1988, Stan decided that Maranatha was ready. In the six or so months since Matthew’s proposal and Maranatha’s acceptance, Matthew had prepared a home for them to live in and Maranatha had sewed a wedding dress. After dinner one day, Stan unexpectedly and without prior warning informed Matthew and Maranatha that the time was fast approaching. But Stan wanted to reenact the Biblical story of Jesus as bridegroom and the Church as his bride, so he did not give either Matthew or Maranatha a date.

Immediately after Stan’s surprise announcement, Maranatha was taken by her family members to the home of another Christian family. There Maranatha waited for Matthew to come and claim her. Every day between 3 pm and midnight she dressed in her wedding dress and sat with her suitcase, waiting. Finally, at long last, Stan told Matthew that the day had arrived, and Matthew came to the house where Maranatha was staying, claimed her, and took her to a surprise wedding feast Stan had prepared, complete with guests, singing, and dancing. The couple then left on their honeymoon and began their married life.

So now let’s talk ages.

When Matthew first expressed his interest in Maranatha—interest Stan affirmed as from God but asked Matthew to put on hold—Maranatha was 13 and Matthew was 26.

When Matthew heard from God that he was to marry Maranatha, and begged Stan to let him propose marriage to her, Maranatha was 14 and Matthew was 27. When Stan gave Matthew the go ahead to propose to his daughter, Maranatha was 15 and Matthew was 27. They were the same ages when they married just over a month later, and when Maranatha left her father’s home and the couple began their married life together Maranatha was 15 and Matthew was 28.

The original story doesn’t include any ages at all. I suspect that Lindvall and others felt these ages were appropriate, but were concerned that some might be put off by the idea of a 15-year-old girl marrying a 27-year-old man. I found the ages by looking them up on public record. They’re not available on the internet or in print otherwise.

Marrying girls off so early does several things. For one thing, it precludes them having other options. They have not finished their academic education and are not qualified for anything besides homemaking. And even then, what fifteen-year-old is truly ready to run a home in today’s world? For another thing, such early marriage means a girl marries before she has time to completely mature and form her own outlook on life. But then, sadly, that’s rather part of the point. This sort of arrangement, after all, functions not as an independent adult making her own decisions but rather as a property transfer—and it is explicitly stated as such.

Matthew wrote this in an article titled Thoughts on Betrothal (15 Years Later):

I know that in my case, I cannot even begin to fully communicate the wonderful gift Maranatha’s father gave to me in his daughter on the day we married. All her life, he had called her to trust him and follow him, even when she didn’t understand or, perhaps, even agree with how he was leading her, and she did. A few nights before our wedding feast, when Maranatha was dressed and ready and waiting for me to come, the doorbell rang and it was her dad who showed up instead. He assured her the wedding feast was not that particular night, and asked her to change her clothes and join him for a special dinner. He took her to a nice restaurant where they had a wonderful evening talking and sharing and laughing and crying together. Then, at one point, he told her, “Sweetheart, all your life you have submitted to me, trusted me, and followed me, and you have done this well. But, when Matthew comes and takes you, all of that transfers over to him, even if that means he leads you in ways that vary from how I would do things.” And when I went to get her, she followed her dad’s final lead right into my headship of her. Wow! Did I walk into a good deal or what?! I’ll tell you what though, having a wife with a heart like that makes you all the more want to seek the Lord and lead her faithfully.

Parents, I would also charge you to consider this. The way many Christian homeschooling parents raise their daughters, they mature rather quickly and develop significant capacities by a relatively young age. By their middle-teens, many daughters (but by no means all) possess the maturity and skills to run their own home. My point is to encourage you to be open to the Lord and take to heart that some of your daughters may be ready to marry sooner than your preconceived ideas have allowed for. And why not, if they are truly ready? What is the purpose of holding out for a predetermined numeric age if they are legitimately prepared and the Lord has brought His choice of a young man along for her? Don’t be surprised if this is some of the fruit of your good parenting in bringing forth mature, well-equipped, Godly young daughters. However, I seldom think this will be the case for most young men—it takes them (us) a lot longer to get to where they need to be. I have also seen that, oftentimes, a difference in age—even a significant one—with the man being older, helps make for a better fit.

Matthew says that homeschooled girls mature quickly.

While I’m sure there are some homeschooled girls for whom this is true, I know the sort of homeschooled girls he’s talking about—they’re the ones raised to care for big families, cook, clean, and take care of babies, wear long dresses, practice submission, and learn a modest temperament. Maturity isn’t the ability to make a pie or change a diaper. Maturity isn’t the ability to quote a Bible verse or stay silent rather than gushing over the latest fad. And while we’re at it, running a home in today’s world takes more than knowledge of cooking, cleaning, and childcare.

Let me take a moment to address two objections I’ve seen raised. First, it is true that many girls in mainstream society date as early as 14. However, the courtship or betrothal process is closer to actual literal wedding planning than it is to dating. Courtship and betrothal are quite literally about getting married, and not at some nebulous time in the future but now. Second, it is true that it used to be more common for women to marry younger, even as young as 15. However, it was never as common to marry so young as we tend to think it was looking back (in fact, there are entire historical periods where people married just as late as we do today), and besides, the world today is not the same as the world of the past. Average age of marriage is generally a result of societal and economic factors that actually, like, matter.

Maranatha’s story is an extreme, yes, but it is not the only one of its kind. In 2008, only weeks after turning 16, Maranatha’s daughter Lauren married a man who was 26, a man who had already been interested in her for several years. And I’ve been hearing other stories too, stories of courtships begun at age 14 and marriages entered into at 16 or 17. Right now, my heart is sad for girls married off before they have the time to live, to learn who they are, to forge their own beliefs and outlook on life—girls married off so early other options are severely limited, and in such a patriarchal setting that even consent is curtailed.

In case you’re wondering, Matthew and Maranatha were married in Texas.

The law in that state requires parental permission for marriages involving those who are 16 or 17, and a special court dispensation for marriages involving those under 16. I suspect that the law was different in 1988, and that this is the reason Maranatha’s daughter Lauren married immediately after turning 16 rather than before.

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part Two

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

*****

In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

*****

"I don’t take spiritual advice from cultists."
“I don’t take spiritual advice from cultists.”

There are two versions of me: my parents’ version of me and my version of me.  Before my high school years, I don’t think there were two versions of me.  Instead, there was just the version my parents wanted.  This is probably true of most children, but my parents were fundamentalist Christians involved in ATI – a homeschooling cult.

In my middle school years (I can’t really tell time by years, or by grades, my youth is blurred and marked by big events or debate resolutions), my parents plunged me into the patriarchal/men-must-be-leaders movements of the 1990s.  They saw homosexuality, single women, women in authority, and feminism as threats to traditional gender roles.  So they trained me to be a warrior for godly men.  ATI’s version of this was called ALERT (Ralph has written about it here) and they liked to play Boy Scouts – but with less fun and more Bible study.  I became a biblical scholar around this age, constantly studying passages, their Greek and Hebrew meanings, cross-referencing those passages in lexicons and study tools, and recording my observations on something called the “Meditation Worksheet.”  Ironically, these worksheets prepared me deconstruct my cultic worldview and to rebuild my own worldview– whoops!

I was that really Christian kid that probably drove you nuts.  I preached to my Christian neighbors that they shouldn’t be reading the NIV because it was Satan’s tool to undermine the divinity of Jesus.  I passed out tracts at restaurants.  I was not afraid to judge everyone, as a thirteen year old, and inform them about the Straight and Narrow Path to Holiness.  Some of my closest friends became the pastor of our small Southern Baptist church – we would regularly discuss theology.

In high school, I started to think for myself and form my version of me (I’ll call it “me-me” and my parents’ version “parent-me”).  Whenever me-me would discuss his thoughts with my parents, I would come into conflict with them.  Their Christian worldview permeated every sector of knowledge – biology, geology, and especially politics, history, and religion.  Throughout my high school years I vacillated between me-me and parent-me.  At will, I could “turn off” all the parts of myself that my parents disliked.  However, when there was something me-me really wanted that I couldn’t just “turn off” my desire for, it drove me crazy.  Usually it was girls.  It wasn’t a sexual thing, I just loved the intimacy and having someone I could share all my teenage angst with.  My parents and I fought for probably five years over girls.

My parents decided that I needed some relationship indoctrination, so I got to learn all about “courtship.”  Courtship is about as traditional and stupid as it sounds.  I was told that I was supposed to “guard my heart” against “serial dating.”  They made dating and breaking up sound like this violent emotional crime that left people with long-term scars.  This meant that, before I entered into any relationship, I was supposed to ask my parents’ permission before I asked the girl’s father for permission to date her.  Mind you, all power and authority over women was supposed to flow through men.  Like any good patriarchy.  Physical contact during a courtship is almost always a strict no-no.  You are not allowed to hold hands, kiss, hug, or even be together alone.  Some of the courtships I have seen have ended in terrible marriages and, in one case, double homicide.

This idea of courtship was huge and fixated on sexual purity and emotional purity.  It grew huge after Joshua Harris’ book I Kiss Dating Goodbye and it was advocated at basically every homeschooling event and by most institutions.  Some groups formed solely for the purpose of educating people about courtship and Patrick Henry College (started by Michael Farris to train homeschoolers to be influential in Washington, D.C. politics).  ATI was huge about courtship, they even advocate betrothal!  That’s where the children have even less power in their romantic lives and the parents “pick” out a decent mate for them, then they are forced into a marriage because it’s “God’s will.”  Of course, only fathers, and occasionally mothers, know God’s will

So commitment in my romantic relationships was usually propelled by the guilt of needing to be in a “courtship.”  Of course, you aren’t supposed to court until the man is financially able to support a woman, which meant I was supposed to avoid romantic relationships til my mid-20s.  This was unacceptable, so I just engaged in quasi-courtship with three different girls through high school – sort of promising to marry them all, planning our lives and futures together, and then usually they broke up with me because God told them to (though I was an ass).

I remember I would form a lot of what would become my identity on the car rides home from something.  My truck became my only escape on a daily basis – with my truck came the first time in my life I had literal freedom.  I could go where I wanted, when I wanted.  That freedom usually provoked thoughts and I would work big issues like courtship in my mind listening to music.  I’m always amazed at how my parents will dismiss me-me and try to guilt and shame parent-me out of the shell.  De-construction and re-construction your identity is not easy and my parents always acted like it was fun for me to rebel.  Yes, when I was a teenager it was fun to let the immature me-me out for a joy ride, only to be clamped down on and repressed.  But that excitement ended in college.  I slowly came to a peace about myself that did not depend on my parents, or their affection.  Finding the me-me was one thing, but synthesizing that into my emotions was much more difficult.

I say all this to try and explain both of the versions of myself.  I can be parent-me, I can turn it on, and turn off my own desires and personality.  It took years for me to even find out what me-me wanted from life and I found a tremendous peace when I discovered my desires and not my parents’.  Throughout college, I would go home and I would let a little more of me-me come out – it was a very slow “coming out,” to borrow a phrase.  I admitted to smoking tobacco.  That I wasn’t a libertarian anymore, I was a liberal – lots of these involved political discussions where my parents felt almost as betrayed that I no longer shared their political beliefs than if I had renounced the faith.  I never did renounce Christianity, only the corrupt vessel of the Christian church.  Admitting I was dating took awhile – I just recently admitted I believed in evolution.  Usually, each admission of the me-me ended in a fight or conflict.  Even in college, they could not let go.

When I first started dating my wife, I asked if she could stay the night in my parent’s house because I needed a ride back to school.  My father said he wasn’t comfortable with that because it would give my younger sister a bad example of “serial dating.  To put this in perspective, this would be the second girl I brought home to my family ever.  I said that I was really serious about this girl and if they chose to act like this, I would tell my girlfriend, and I would understand if she didn’t want my children around them.  This sobered them up quickly and they agreed to let her stay.  But it demonstrates the types of conflicts that would occur when me-me contradicted parent-me.

When my parents manage to convince me to attend their church, my mom always expects me to sing.  My mother and I spent a lot of time bonding in the church choir when I was younger, so she expects me to find the same joy in it now as I did then.  It simply does not work like that.  Me-me does not enjoy church because it reminds me of all the negative feelings of guilt, shame, and intense pressure to be good.  These days when it comes to spirituality, me-me cannot compromise.

Even now that I am married, my parents still want and expect parent-me.  I don’t like the same things, I’m not the same person, and when they laugh and reminisce about the great times they had with parent-me, I can’t help but feel uneasy inside.  They reminisce for parent-me because they know they may never see him again.  They still try to draw on the guilt and shame they instill in me by saying things like “that’s not what we wanted for your life.”  Or telling me the consequences of my sins, then questioning why I don’t think certain things are sins.  When they pressure me-me to revert to parent-me, I get angry, defensive, and emotional.  So I just stop expecting anything, sharing anything, being vulnerable.  I don’t want parent-me for my life – that should mean something.  And I don’t take spiritual advice from cultists.

To be continued.