Knowing what factors will diminish the effectiveness of my work or words if neglected
Bill Gothard’s buddy David Gibbs, Jr. has now completed his “investigation” into allegations made against Gothard by former IBLP staff members. According to the IBLP board earlier this week,
“…the Board sought the facts through a confidential and thorough review process conducted by outside legal counsel. Many people were interviewed, including former Board members, current and past staff members, current and past administrators, parents, and family members.
“At this point, based upon those willing to be interviewed, no criminal activity has been discovered.”
Perhaps Gibbs Jr. needs to brush up on his Character Qualities.
It would seem that Gibbs’ investigation focused narrowly on certain allegations of sexual impropriety (some of which Gothardhas admitted to, resulting in his resignation). However, this is but the sensational tip of the iceberg and ignores the broad scope of hurtful, unethical, and even illegal activities that have damaged numerous lives associated with the Institute in Basic Life Principles.
Gothard promoted his organization as “Giving the world a new approach to life” and following God’s “non-optional principles”. A ministry that prides itself on being “under authority” should have nothing to fear from the truth. And yet, the testimonies of some former students and staff members paint a disturbing picture. Some of these stories of life under the auspices of the Institute have been published on Recovering Grace. Others have been shared more privately. Some victims are willing to have their names attached to their experiences while others prefer anonymity, or pseudonyms.
Each of the incidents outlined below could likely be explained away on its own. But taken together they suggest a pattern that I believe is worthy of deeper examination. The Board of IBLP can write, “We dedicate ourselves to help build up families and individuals,” but if these situations actually took place, the Institute’s so-called “ministry” is a farce, with or without Gothard, and IBLP should be shut down to prevent further abuse of power.
A real investigation of IBLP might look into allegations of the following:
OSHA and other code violations at all locations: Indianapolis, Oak Brook, Elms Plantation, Oklahoma City, Eagle Mountain, Eagle Springs, Northwoods, Big Sandy, Flint, South Campus, Little Rock, Nashville, and others
Lack of permits: illegal remodeling, dredging a lake without a permit, improper electrical wiring
Poor fire safety: hiding fire extinguishers and fire pulls behind paintings or décor items; silencing a monitored fire alarm to avoid disrupting conferences, not reporting fires to fire department
Improper supervision: letting teens work on upper-story building exterior or fire escapes without safety harness
Injuries: electrical shocks from unsafe practices, minors injured while operating power tools, carbon monoxide poisoning of kitchen volunteers
Violations of residential occupancy limits
Prayer rooms (especially at 2820 N. Meridian, Indianapolis):
locking minors in solitary confinement without notifying parents
locking minors in solitary without access to a restroom
withholding food or medication
spanking minors without parental consent
Failure to protect children by reporting abuse:
failure to report sex acts with or molestation or attempted sexual molestation of minors in IBLP’s care at the ITC (Rodger Gergeni)
failure to report sexual abuse of minors in ATI families (Bill Gothard)
pressure on homeschooled victims not to report physically abusive parents
shaming victims of sexual assault and neglecting to counsel them to contact police
pressuring ATI moms not to divorce abusive husbands who posed a danger to the children
failure to educate “homeschooled” minors who were sent to IBLP centers by their parents
children (9-10 years old) working in the kitchen or cleaning bathrooms, sometimes rising as early as 4 or 5 a.m. to work
unpaid teenagers working 12-18 hour days in the hotels (cooking, industrial laundry, cleaning hotel rooms and public restrooms)
selling teens unaccredited degrees (Telos.edu) without adequate explanation of their value
on weekends, designated prayer days, and other times when meal preparation was inconvenient
though some children were sent there by the state and other students paid for room and board, only two meals were served on Saturday and only supper on Sunday
sometimes only two meals a day were served for weeks in a row
requiring students to turn in care packages
also mandatory weight checks (Weigh Down) for staff women, involuntary diets, forced exercise
failure to recognize eating disorders such as anorexia (even when girls were passing out)
withholding or confiscating prescription medication (including antidepressants, an asthma inhaler, post-surgery pain medication)
refusal to get prompt medical treatment for severe burns, broken bones, concussions, pneumonia, collapsed lung, high fevers, torn ligaments, acute food poisoning–many former students trace chronic health problems to untreated conditions that arose at training centers
treating injuries with alternative remedies such as sugar water injections (Dr. Hemwall)
letting doctors or dentists with revoked licenses treat students at training centers
sending youth to campaign for Indianapolis judicial and mayoral candidates
providing private services to a public official (Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin) in Oklahoma
pressuring employees not to record overtime on time sheets
advising employees that submitted overtime hours would not be paid
mandatory unpaid evening work teams for employees (washing dishes, cleaning carpets, scrubbing bathrooms)
paying less than minimum wage, paying minimum wage minus “rent”
firing employees without due process or notice
refusal to pay workers’ compensation
instructing employee to lie to hospital staff to protect the “ministry”
praising employees who gave up their paycheck to become volunteers
allowing children under 16 to work more than twenty hours a week
sexual harassment of junior staff or students by adult staff
physical abuse, medical neglect, solitary confinement, unsafe equipment, psychological abuse
refusal to contact parents regarding medical emergencies
keeping four teens tied together by the feet for an entire day, resulting in injury
a unit of under-dressed teen boys standing outdoors in sub-freezing temperatures at night until one confessed to a minor infraction
disregard for basic safety precautions
Mistreating Russian orphans in Moscow and at Indianapolis South Campus:
foster families spanking children and even teens
children spanked for minor misdeeds
English-speaker spanking Russian child without an interpreter present
withholding meals from children for disciplinary purposes or feeding them only dry rolled oats and water
child labor (reports of children required to clean toilets at 5 a.m.)
using orphans to “encourage” financial donors
Restricted communication from training centers:
limited access to public phones, email, fax, or internet
reading students’ outgoing or incoming mail, confiscating mail or making students open mail in presence of a leader
censoring outgoing email
telling students what to tell (or not tell) their parents about situations at the training center
limiting who a student or employee was allowed to correspond with outside
restricting conversation or interaction between fellow students
lengthy, repetitive, or middle-of-the-night “counseling” sessions (berating and brainwashing)
piping loud music into bedrooms
assigning staff to night duties on consecutive nights (along with their day jobs)
requiring student to wash clothing by hand until she had earned “privilege” of using the laundry facilities; requiring staff to recite extensive Bible passages before breaking a fast
hours of forced labor intended to “break will” or “conquer rebellion”
Violations of privacy:
not permitting students to take bathroom breaks or use the restroom alone, or with the door closed
confiscating personal items such as clothing, music, photographs, medication, and cell phones
sending unreported cash through customs on staff member’s person
exaggerating or misrepresenting facts in newsletters
promotional video about ALERT describing a pilot “rescue” omitted the fact that it was ALERT’s own plane that crashed while taking aerial photos of the property)
personal gifts of cash or clothing from Gothard to his favorites
discrimination against males who appeared “too effeminate” and females who were overweight or not “feminine” enough
photoshopping hair, clothing, and landscaping for newsletter photos
selling overpriced plant kits to ATI families under fraudulent advertising
serving old (long-expired) donated food or insect-infested grain
transferring minors across state lines between “training opportunities” without parental permission or notification
I realized why I have a hard time relaxing and taking actual vacations and even enjoying the holidays.
As a child all of the times that most children have “off” to play and relax and do their own thing, I never had. We never had summer break.
We took Nov-Jan off every year instead, and during those two months we never rested. During those two months, my mom made lists, my mom kept us running ragged either baking or crafting or “ministering” to other people, or doing deep seasonal cleaning. I remember, vividly, begging, all of us, begging to keep one day in two months free so we could just watch a movie and relax and not make cookies (or make cookies that we actually got to eat instead of for everyone and their aunt).
We had “parties” that I don’t ever remember being fun, because the entire time leading up we spent deep cleaning, and cooking, and setting up, and then when it was party time I had to help mom keep the party and the guests organized and on-schedule, and I had to make sure the dessert came out of the oven at the right time, and often was interrupted with some kind of care-taking need in the middle of a group activity.
My mom hated it when I planned my own (graduation) party and I told her she couldn’t do anything and that I had no plans, and we were just going to hangout, maybe watch a movie and order pizza. Even then she still tried to dictate what happened when. I was still pulled aside. It was still stressful.
All I remember my mom doing during breaks, and actually for the majority of my childhood, was sitting in her recliner: writing us lists of things to do, and getting upset when we didn’t do them all fast enough for her.
Her version of helping and “being productive” was sitting there, after giving us our lists, watching us do the things on the list and telling us what we were doing wrong or should do differently, or coming up with more things to do simultaneously.
There is no pleasing my mother.
We had “breaks” solely so we could do chores and things we couldn’t have done while we were “schooling”. Forget that we didn’t school on Fridays, because Fridays were intense cleaning days, you know, on top of normal cleaning all week.
Even my dad, my mom would write huge “honey-do” lists for on his one week off (you know, when we kids just wanted to play and have him rescue our toys from the packaging). My mom was a slave-driver who bred her own slaves.
And yes, I do feel like I and all my siblings are just slaves in my mothers eyes. She wouldn’t say it that way, but that’s exactly how they live(d) and practice(d), and people wonder why I have horrible self esteem issues.
I mean, I was told, outright, for years, that my purpose and job in life (while I was home) was to serve my “family” (i.e. mom). I felt, literally (I cannot emphasize this enough) like I was just a broom with arms, legs, and a heartbeat. I remember standing in the kitchen one day, fighting back tears, devastated as I was doing two things at once, that I didn’t have 8 arms, because I could. not. keep. my. mother. happy. I could not physically clean, and cook, and hold the baby, and do the laundry all at the same time. I was human, I ONLY HAD TWO ARMS, and yet, there was my mom, in her chair in the next room, berating and harassing me because while I was cleaning the dishes and cooking and had a toddler draped around my leg, I hadn’t yet started the laundry, or brought her snack.
If I was “caught” doing anything that loosely resembled “relaxing ” that was immediately rectified with other tasks (unless it was bedtime, or the like 90 minutes of “free time” I had that rapidly shrank). I feel horribly guilty if I am not doing some kind of mundane work when I could be, because I was never allowed to breathe.
I wasn’t a person until I ran away.
Before that, I was nothing more than a breathing, walking, broom.
Sometimes, I still marvel at how I survived, and am able to function. I threw myself into extra-curriculars, speech, debate, work, volunteering — anything to be out of the house.
I now have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, depression, and suffer from panic attacks. It’s hard to emphasize just how much stress, anxiety, and pressure I was under. For years, the only dreams I could have were nightmares, and I developed eye-twitches and frequent illness from all the stress. I lived in a constant state of dealing with adult stress, all as a child.
I remember that I wanted to die young as a saint.
Maybe then, people would appreciate my life. Fleeting thoughts like, “You could die,” “You could cut yourself,” “You could kill Mom,” “Life would be better if Mom died or committed suicide,” crossed my mind unwillingly. They were my mind trying to find solutions to an impossible scenario. Of course, they only compounded my shame.
I didn’t know sophisticated ways to self-harm. As a distraction, I’d pick at cuts and bruises, pick and tear off my finger and toenails, or pull out hairs from my head. Starting in elementary school, I decided to become tough so no one could hurt me. I pulled out my teeth too early so they’d hurt, and walked barefoot on gravel or on the blacktop in 100 degree weather.
One day in high school, after a particularly terrible day, I was working in the sweatshop. In my sweaty palm, I held a gleaming, sharp sewing machine ripper to undo hours of stitching. In that moment, I didn’t fear my parents.
I just wanted to hurt, to escape, to get away from it all.
Somehow, I didn’t do it, and managed to keep pretending for several more years that I was ok.
Suddenly, a year into college, some memories hit me. I was floored. Day after day, I would have flashbacks and nightmares. It was exhausting, waking up shrieking into the night, trying to stay awake to avoid the haunting terrors that stalked my dreams, only to be beset by a new round of flashbacks in my waking hours. There was no relief.
I felt like a walking shell, a skeleton.
I remember thinking, “I must be going crazy. I am insane.” The next thought… “Dying has to be better than this, right?”
As soon as I thought that, I kicked myself into counseling.
As an adult, I stood up to my parents and protected my siblings like a mama bear. My parents threatened many times to kick me out for undermining their “parental authority.” I reported to CPS several times. Now, the reportable abuse has ended, my siblings are thriving in private school, and after many years of splitting up and reconcilement, my parents finally legally separated. They are less dysfunctional when apart.
The effects of the abuse don’t leave though.
Among us 5 kids, 4 have been suicidal, 4 have been in counseling, 3 have depression, 2 have run away multiple times, 2 have distorted eating and body issues, and 2 have self-harmed.
And yet my parents still do not see what they did as traumatizing! If these incredible effects don’t convince them, then nothing will.
As for me, I am on track to get a graduate degree. I have a great counselor, am on anti-anxiety meds, and have many coping mechanisms.
I’ve actually grown in my Catholic faith as well.
Having a higher power than my parents or the homeschool community gives me hope. In my darkest moments, I draw on my faith to give me strength.
I know I’m going to be ok. I would tell anyone in a similar situation that it gets better. The memories stay, and the pain doesn’t fully leave, but there comes a time when the pain doesn’t control you anymore. The waves don’t wash you out to sea, and you learn to stand strong amidst the soft ebb and flow of pain and joy.
So, if you’re struggling right now, I know how you feel. It is going to be ok. You will make it through. Reach out and tell someone you trust. It’s ok to need help. You are worth the help.
You deserve the best.
She shook her tresses that were now darkened and saturated with the glistening orbs. The air smelled sweet, as it does just after rainfall. Each inhale was refreshing, rejuvenating, breathing life into her deflated bones. Sliding her feet through the thick grass, she balanced between the property line and the open world. Swiftly, silently, her right foot slipped across the barrier, followed by her left. Her bare toes clutched the asphalt, toeing the grooves.
She felt lost. She was lost. But she had herself.
She had her life. Perhaps it was just a shell and this was all a mystery. Who cared?
The cosmos would go on in its cosmic cycle with all of its boring striped pageantry. All she had to do was breathe. The only important thing was the asphalt, the sweet smell of the rain, and the tug of that straight road.
Staring at thread and machinery, she allowed her exhausted shoulders to slump against the hardback chair.
With each repetitive motion, her hands deftly cut cut cut cut cut across the stiff grey table. Tic tic tic tic the machines whir endlessly, in and out, in and out. Rip rip rip rip!
Hours of work are undone by hours more work. Half-completed items lie in growing heaps. Reds, greens, blues, salts and peppers, all become a muddy pile of blah. Daylight dims as the girl strains her neck forward. Red eyes betray stray tears that struggle down her face leaving a salty presence among the rows upon rows of pretty yellow prints.
Her hair falls tiredly across her face. The soft skin of her feet are pricked and pierced by the pins, needles, and scraps that litter the floor. Each calloused finger burns from the glue that cements itself to her fingertips. Of course she longs for freedom. But her owners need not chain her leg to the chair. The girl cannot escape. She has nowhere to go.
The poor child does not even know she is a slave. They have lied to her.
I was trafficked into slavery for forced labor.
Yes, you read that right.
I was trafficked into slavery for forced labor. As a teen, my mother asked if I wanted to do a craft business with her. After the physical, sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse and neglect, obviously it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
If I had, I knew there’d be hell to pay, and I’d still have to do it.
Boom. I found myself working in a sweatshop 13 hours a day sewing for two months straight, and then for weeks at a time afterwards. I was a literal slave. Mom would not let me do school while I sewed, saying that this was my school (never mind the fact that she called it a business when it suited her).
I spent hundreds of long hours sewing, cutting cloth, embellishing each tiny item with complicated finishes. Furthermore, I was in charge of our website, web store and blog content, and all business records.
To add insult to injury, a person from the newspaper came, interviewed us, and made a story, with me smiling a painted story, telling lies, and gritting my teeth pretending it was fun.
Mom rarely lifted a finger to help me with “our business.” I cried so often. My nerves were shot. Even now, it’s hard to speak of. I wrote in narrative because somehow, that’s easier.
In between, I spent so much time trying to catch up on missed time for school. After hundreds of hours, I was never paid a cent. It broke at least 7 child labor laws in my country. Nevertheless, I was a passionate abolitionist. Through speeches, and human trafficking cases, I poured my soul into the hope that someday slaves would be free, even as I was a slave myself.
I finally escaped with the help of my dad at 16. Somehow, my pleading broke through to him, and he stood up to my mom, telling her it was over.
Even now though, I cannot bear to hear the sound of a sewing machine.
My teammates and I were about to go onstage and deliver our introductions. We had two main types of memorized introductions for each other: short and long. Our long ones were set in stone, but the short ones changed. Sometimes we said our city and state, sometimes just city, sometimes first and last name, sometimes just first. Without fail, there were always a couple of us who did it one way, and a few who did it another. I wasn’t quite sure the right way to do it, so before we went on I raised my hand and said, “Since this is something we tend to get confused on, I just wanted to double check exactly what we’re supposed to say.” Next thing I knew Mrs. Moon was towering over me, harshly lecturing me about how I was the cause of all of my team’s problems, I’d destroyed all of the hard work they’d done, etc… I could feel my stomach drop, my spine went cold, and my eyes started burning with months of suppressed tears. This time, though, I wasn’t going to cry because I felt guilty or worthless, this time I was mad. As Mrs. Moon gradually ran out of ammunition it was the first time I think I saw clearly that she was actually… wrong… and when she asked me to explain myself the only thing I could choke out was an angry “What did I do wrong, I said ‘we,’ didn’t I?”
You see, on tour we weren’t allowed to say you or I. If you missed a class you were supposed to teach, we missed the class. If you did something particularly well, we all got the recognition. This was supposed to be team building, frankly it was confusing. But, let me back track, because this particular incident occurred in the last week in a half of a nationwide conference tour, and it had taken me several years to get there…
Telling people about my Institute for Cultural Communicators Experience (ICC) is something that I have a lot of practice doing. I was a member of the 2008 ICC touring team, and prior to that I had spent several years working my way through the alumni program, and serving in every possible student leadership role that they offered. I was completely supportive of ICC’s mission, the Moon family, and the organization’s structure and leadership. I fiercely defended ICC and the Moons against anyone who criticized them, and my mother and I supported them to our best ability, by organizing the facility and managing the advertising for their annual conference in Colorado. I firmly believe that without my mother’s efforts there wouldn’t have been an annual Colorado conference, nor would it have been as well attended as it was (my mother frequently paid student’s tuition out of her own pocket, calling it “scholarships” because she believed so strongly in Teresa Moon’s work).
There were few things I wanted more in high school than to be an intern, and I used this goal as my motivation to create the best possible resume I could to serve as student instructor. I volunteered hundreds of hours, won a national debate championship (so that I would have more credibility as a teacher), and started my own debate club so that I could practice teaching. I wanted to be the best intern I could be, because when Mrs. Moon said that Christians need to be good communicators, I believed her. To Mrs. Moon being a good communicator also meant being authentic and transparent, without hypocrisy. So, when Mrs. Moon banned me from spending any substantial time around my boyfriend who was also involved with her organization (even though both sets of parents were aware of and consenting to the relationship), I tried to obey as best as I could. When she told me that I needed longer skirts, I had my mom take my hems down. When she told me that in order to be modest I couldn’t gain weight as an intern, I obsessed over only eating salad. When she told me I was prideful, I spent countless hours self-destructing by contemplating my worthlessness.
I used to think that any negative feelings I had about my ICC experience were my own fault, for my bad, prideful attitude, and for not being mature enough to understand that what went on was for the greater good of ICC. Now, as a 22 year old, not a 17 year old, I’m ready to talk about the negative experience I had as an ICC intern. Having now worked in government and with other non-profit organizations, all with powerful missions, I’ve learned that a good mission doesn’t mean you can treat people however you want. Having now had a string of kind, gracious, consistent bosses, I can also say that people with large amounts of authority and stress are capable of controlling their emotions towards their employees and treating all employees fairly. The treatment I received as an “employee” for Mrs. Moon was not normal or acceptable. If you have been involved with ICC, and you were treated wonderfully, good for you. That doesn’t negate poor treatment that I received. If you are an ardent supporter of ICC, like I once was, being a true supporter doesn’t mean that criticism isn’t allowed, and that anyone complains has turned into a rebellious or ungodly person.
When I speak of the leadership problems I encountered, mainly from Teresa Moon, the best way that I can summarize them is a lack of consistency. Students who participated in ICC were held to an array of different standards, and it was hard to tell what standard you were being held to, or what it meant to be held to a particular standard. Some of my fellow interns could get away with almost anything, and some of us were constant scapegoats. It was nearly impossible to navigate what could be done, when, and by whom. I could go on writing in generalities about inconsistent treatment, however, there are few things that I find more frustrating than people who criticize, but can’t provide a single example to support their complaints.
Fortunately, my memory of my ICC experience is still quite vivid, so let me summarize what bad leadership looks like with a few examples:
Putting individuals on the team who had severe mental and emotional health problems, with no safety net or plan to give them the treatment that they needed to thrive: One of my fellow teammates, Krysi, wrote about her experience as an intern. You can read her story here, where she discusses a string of mental and emotional struggles she had experience prior or tour, which came to a head in the middle of her time as an intern. While I believe that Krysi should not be blamed for what happened, I have a question to ask of Mrs. Moon: who in there right mind puts young people with documented instances of depression, suicide attempts, and eating disorders in a high pressure environment with no access to therapists, no understanding of their medication, and no training in how to deal with and monitor destructive behaviors? Mrs. Moon knew many of the struggles Krysi was facing, and never thought to prepare a safety net. Instead, she put a vulnerable girl in a high pressure environment, and when Krysi began to struggle, she initially rushed to provide support and promised to help Krysi. However, she was not capable of providing the support she promised, and ended up letting down a girl who had been let down too many times before. You don’t promise to take care of someone, and then decide, with 2 weeks of a tour left, that all of the months of promises you made were just too much work after all. If someone was in too fragile and precarious a state to intern, and you weren’t prepared to help them, they shouldn’t have interned. If you thought that they could intern, you should have come prepared, and not quit at the last moment.
Jeopardizing team cohesion by giving interns secret assignments and unclear authority: I’m a natural workaholic, so on tour whenever I finished an assignment, I would go to Mrs. Moon and ask if there was anything else that I could do to help. She gradually increased my responsibilities on tour, without telling my teammates what was going on. She would give me secret jobs, such as corresponding with a Christian camp, Doe River Gorge, where we were going to be doing a brief in-service training. I was instructed not to tell anyone, as I gathered information and made a conference plan. Two days before the conference, Mrs. Moon’s son, Wendell, who was acting as tour manager told me to begin a staff meeting by telling my teammates about our conference at the camp. I began telling them what Wendell had instructed, when Mrs. Moon walked into the room and gave me her iciest glare. She pulled me into her office and harshly lectured me about how I was acting inappropriately and my pride was becoming a huge issue. I tried to explain that I hadn’t meant to act improperly, I was just following Wendell’s instructions. She ignored me, and Wendell refused to back my story up. Variations on this happened too frequently to count, and caused me to constantly be under an undue amount of stress.
Disrespecting labor laws, disregarding health: Before I interned I assisted at various conferences where my job was basically to act as a janitor and kitchen assistant. It was normal at these events to stay up until 1:00 and then get back up at 6:30. A person can keep such a schedule for a week or two, though it is not pleasant. The straining schedule I experienced as an assistant to ICC staff became almost unbearable when I served as a touring intern. I was frequently up until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, finishing extra assignments that Mrs. Moon gave me, then back up at 6:30-6:45 to do full hair and makeup for the conference. I would teach classes almost all day long, with little to no break, and any break I did have was spent working on another list of assignments. Once the conference ended it was seemingly endless meetings and more work. In addition to this, since there were no real provisions to assist my struggling teammates, such as Krysi, I began trying to serve as a monitor, making sure that she was eating, that she wasn’t hurting herself. When we shared a room I would wake up multiple times throughout the night to make sure she was alright. When adults don’t take care of kids, kids have to take care of each other, even if they don’t have the emotional stamina or knowledge to fill the role. By the end of tour I was consumed with work and with trying to help Krysi, in addition, I was part of an inner circle that was informed of all that had happened in her family, and sworn to secrecy. Keeping that secret from my teammates and parents, was completely draining. By the end of tour I was physically and emotionally spent. When I got home I was constantly sick, and began having digestive problems, and minor panic attacks that lasted for months. When I had to leave home to go back and complete the last conference, called Masters (A two week long end of tour convention occurs after a month long break for the interns), I struggled with uncontrollable vomiting and what felt like fever sweats. I was terrified of getting on the plane to go back to the Moons home, of seeing my teammates, of having to teach again… I could barely keep food down the entire Masters conference, and all I wanted to do was leave. I can’t help but think that some of this was due to being completely and totally over worked. The schedule I kept, and the responsibility placed on me were too much for my age. I know that homeschooled kids are supposed to be more mature, but there are limits, and I don’t think ICC respects them.
Tying physical looks to appropriate conduct… but, only for the girls: I’ll never forget the girls only meeting that Mrs. Moon called together a month into tour. She gave us her most winning smile, and explained that some of us had put on some weight, and if we wanted our clothing to be appropriately modest, then weight gain was just not something that could happen. We were encouraged to keep each other accountable about our weight, either by telling our fellow teammates that they were looking heavier, so that they would be more cautious, or if they were too far gone, we were supposed to tell them to wear spanx. Mrs. Moon meant it, too, if she saw any bulge, any panty lines, she would take action. One of my teammates had gained a slight amount of weight (she was still incredibly tiny) that caused a very minor panty line to be visible in her evening gown. Mrs. Moon pulled her to the side when she stepped backstage in the middle of a performance, and made her take off her underwear. In addition to humiliating events like that, Mrs. Moon’s talk caused a general panic amongst many of the girls, which shouldn’t be a big surprise since Teresa gave this talk to a group of girls, knowing full well that at least 3 of them had struggled with eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Tying weight gain to modesty and morality only made many of these girl’s weight struggles worse.
Putting children in emotionally damaging situations: The Moons decided that my team had unity problems, and that any and all difficulties we faced were because we had not bonded enough. In retrospect, I think claiming that every thing that goes wrong is a result of a poor team dynamic, may just be an easy excuse to avoid having to examine leadership. However, the worst part of this judgment on my team was that Wendell, Mrs. Moon’s eldest son decided that he was going to institute some team building exercises. I don’t know where he came up with them, but the one I remember best was called the “hot seat.” Each of us had to sit in a chair in front of everyone, and each teammate took a turn telling the person in the chair a Criticism, a Confession, or a Compliment. Neither Wendell nor Mrs. Moon seemed to have anticipated that what they were really doing was giving interns a chance to be flat out mean to one another. I remember sitting in the chair while teammate after teammate described my personality and character in broad, crushing, negative terms. I was trying so hard not to cry, because I knew that the terrible things they were saying must be true, and that I needed to be mature about it, but another part of me was screaming that this wasn’t how people should treat each other. A few of my teammates were genuinely kind in their remarks, but it’s a lot easier to remember the negatives. After the Moons watched interns tear each other down, there was no rebuilding, no demands for apologies, no assistance in sorting out how to treat people who had basically just said that they hated you. After the hot seat activity I withdrew from my teammates for the rest of tour, finding any excuse I could to be alone. I figured this was what was best for the team, since I was so terrible to be around, and so deeply hated. Now, I know this isn’t true, but the fact that I was made to feel that way under the leadership of the Moons is not right.
Valuing anything to save face, rather than caring about other’s well being: This was perhaps the thing that was most difficult for me to deal with as an intern. Appearance really was treated as everything, which meant a lot of lying and a lot of coverups. However, there were some things too big to gloss over, like Krysi disappearing from tour, and then not showing up to the Masters conference, while all of her family did. Mrs. Moon was visibly stressed about how to explain Krysi’s absence at Masters, when right before the conference she got the perfect explanation. Krysi was hospitalized for viral meningitis. When we found out about it I overheard Mrs. Moon audibly sigh with relief, and turn to whoever was near her and say something along the lines of “thank God.” Wendell led a little prayer for Krysi at the conference and talked about how much they wished she could have come. I was so angry when I sat there watching him put on his most concerned face for the audience. Krysi wasn’t there because she had been kicked off, Krysi had been kicked off because she had been set up to fail, and her being in the hospital was not “convenient” it was frightening and sad. Appearances don’t matter more than people, and putting on public displays of concern as a cover for bad leadership is not authentic communication.
My last real interaction with ICC was June of 2009, when Mrs. Moon asked me to run a Flood the Five conference (a shortened version of the normal conference structure) in Colorado Springs. Both of my parents had undergone surgery that summer, so in addition to a full time job, I was also taking care of the house, and tending to their post-surgery needs. Despite how busy I was, I managed to create an entire conference plan, writing brand new classes and planning activities for the two day event. I showed up with barely a greeting from Teresa, and found out that I had basically no one to assist me, and that I would be teaching every class on my own. I stayed up until 3:00 in the morning preparing for the first day, and got up at 6:30 to arrive on time. I taught the entire day, and when I finally returned back to the place I was staying Teresa asked me to come and have a chat with her. She asked me what my tour experience was like, and I tried to explain to her how hard it had been to believe so firmly in an organization, and then have that slowly destroyed by watching hypocrisy every day. I told her my frustration that her son, and the other teammate involved in the drinking episode that Krysi mentioned did not receive any where near the same amount of punishment as Krysi. I tried to tell her how hurt I was by the months of “criticism” about my character, and how I’d never tried to be prideful, in fact, I had felt completely worthless all of tour, and had struggled with horrible depression in the months since tour ended.
She responded by telling me that my pride was the biggest problem that they encountered on tour, and that ICC wanted student leaders with “Competence and character, not just competence.” There was no understanding, no thank you for the years of dedication, the thousands of dollars my family had spent, the months of secrets I kept for her, and the sincere love and affection I had for her. I left her room and looked out the window at my car in the driveway. I though about just driving back home, and letting her handle the second day of the conference on her own, because I honestly didn’t know if I could get up on a stage and be a perfect intern again. Part of me wishes I had just driven away, but I didn’t. The next day I showed up with a big smile and taught each class as well as I could. I gave the closing speech about the wonders of ICC, and never lost face until I was in my car. Some would call that showing character, but to ICC, that’s just competence.
At a post conference party in Texas, I met a man who used to be part of the NCFCA/CFC scene. He was well into his twenties and I was seventeen. We talked for a bit and ended up exchanging numbers. Our relationship happened mostly via text and IM, and it was a case of trouble attracting trouble. We never dated, but our relationship was really creepy and weird. One night after I had taken loads of my Xanax and other meds, he drunk texted me and over the course of several hours, ended up talking me into sending him naked pictures of myself. Despite this creepiness, I ended up disclosing a lot of my life’s story to him and I told him about my father abusing me. He really encouraged me to tell Mrs. Moon about the abuse. A few weeks later we ended up sexting again – eventually my mom found out about him and threatened to have him put behind bars if he ever talked to me again.
Towards the end of tour, I really started to fall apart (as if I wasn’t falling apart before.) I started to stress about having to return home. Things got so bad that I did end up telling Mrs. Moon and several of the other interns about my father molesting me. I don’t know what an appropriate reaction is when a teenager tells you that her father molested her, but what happened was far from a right response. We were at a conference in TN when I told Mrs. Moon about the abuse, and she had me tell my two younger brothers about the abuse, and then she had me tell my mother. My memory of this conference is pretty fragmented, but I remember crying a lot and feeling absolute horror about what was going on around me.
At the time, I really didn’t have words to describe the abuse. People kept badgering me and asking me questions about exactly what happened, but I was in no emotional state to talk about it. I felt like I was on the verge of having a mental breakdown. My behavior got more and more erratic and shortly after I told my family about the abuse, Mrs. Moon kicked me off tour.
We were in Pigeon Forge, TN and Mrs. Moon told me that she had asked my mother to drive down to TN to pick me up. I would not be able to finish the last two weeks of tour. Apparently, she had finally realized that I was in no condition to be on tour. The Moons had a goodbye breakfast for me at a little diner in Pigeon Forge. At this breakfast, I said goodbye to all the people who had been like family to me. The Moons promised that they would stay in touch with me and help me and that if I ever needed to talk about anything that I could call.
I was completely numb at that breakfast. I cried a lot and I remember several of the other interns crying. Very few of them really understood what was happening or why I had to leave. I hardly understood why I had to leave – in a way, I felt like I was being punished for speaking up about the abuse. I was on vacation last week, and I ended up driving through Pigeon Forge – to this day I hate that place.
After being kicked off the internship, I didn’t return home. I went to live with some family friends until my mom decided to divorce my father. Life got really rough after that. I attempted suicide again just a couple months after leaving tour. I also started drinking all the time and I started using more prescription drugs. I felt like my whole world had crumbled. The following is an excerpt from an email I wrote to Mrs. Moon the day I left tour:
“Saying goodbye to the team was the worst thing I think I’ve ever had to do. Arriving in North Carolina was even worse. It occurred to me that I might be stuck here for a long time. I really, really, really hate it here. I don’t know anyone. I’m lonely, depressed, teary, and scared out of my head. Life is so confusing right now. I hate this….All I want to do is go home. I have no clue what home is right now, but I know I want to be there. I just wish I could be somewhere where I knew people and where I felt safe and cared about. I’ve yet to see what that would look like in practice…”
I tried to keep in touch with the Moons and with the people I toured with, but shortly after leaving tour, one of the other interns told me that none of the people I interned with would be allowed to talk to me. As it was explained to me, Mrs. Moon felt like it was best that they not be in contact with me. I later contacted Mrs. Moon and received a similar answer from her. I can’t even begin to explain how much this devastated me. These people were my friends and support system and all of a sudden it was all yanked away from me. The Moons stopped talking to me shortly afterwards. On tour I was treated as a problem to be ignored – when that problem got too big to ignore, I was dismissed from tour. Once again, I could be ignored, as I was now someone else’s problem.
Needless to say, I was not invited to the annual Masters conference. A week before Masters I was diagnosed with meningitis and was hospitalized. I was told later that when Mrs. Moon heard I had meningitis, she was relieved because she would be able to use that as an explanation for why I wasn’t at the conference. When she heard I was in the hospital, I was told that her exact words were, “Oh thank God.”
Several months later, my mom emailed Mrs. Moon and asked if I could use her as a reference for another internship I was applying for. I should have known better. This was part of the reply she sent to my mom:
“I have not really had a chance to experience the Krysi that is dependable, trustworthy, honest, respecting of authority, a team player – many of the qualities I would expect an internship director to look for. I am optimistic that these character qualities can become a part of how Krysi is known. I currently have no real frame of reference for making that type of recommendation. I recall receiving only a few pieces of communication from Krysi shortly after she left the team complaining about her life and her options…”
The email to which the last sentence refers is the one I quoted previously. As to the rest of it… what did she expect? I was an emotionally traumatized teenager put in an impossible situation. Tour was one of the most stressful environments I’ve ever been in. Mrs. Moon knew I was unstable and she still allowed me to intern – when that didn’t work out, she took away the only support system I knew. I’m really not sure what other outcome she would have expected.
Six months after I left the internship, I sent an email to a friend and tried to explain to her how tour was for me. This was part of what I said:
“People put way too much pressure on 17 and 18 year olds. This was what damaged me the most, I think. Everyone expected all 13 of us to be absolutely perfect. On the platform and at conferences, we did a great job of meeting those expectations. After a while though, it become sort of soul killing. I’d go to a conference and feel absolutely dead – no one really knew me. They thought they did, but they had no idea about my life.”
That’s the thing, the one person who had an idea about my life (Mrs. Moon) accepted me to intern – being fully aware of my mental health problems – and then put me on a platform and expected me to act, look, and behave perfectly. When I didn’t measure up to those standards, I was rejected. I really don’t understand the reasoning behind any of it.
The last contact I had with the speech and debate world was during the spring of 2010 when I went to an NCFCA tournament to judge. I showed up with an orange juice bottle full of vodka. I was completely drunk and I gave alcohol to several of the competitors. After that I never went back.
I’m definitely not proud of all my actions over the years. I know I’ve made some mistakes, but then again, so have the responsible adults in my life. What happened on my CFC internship definitely messed with my head – I learned that nothing in life is permanent, that people will eventually abandon you, and that talking about trauma is unacceptable (and even punishable.)
Post tour, I got into a decent amount of trouble and did some crazy stuff (I was a wild one). I rejected Christian fundamentalism, in large part because of the hurt I experienced in the “Christian community.” About a year ago, I started to work on my trauma and substance abuse issues. It’s been a journey, but I’m finally in a good place. I’m happier than I’ve ever been, I have a great job, and I have people in my life who don’t abandon or reject me when I act a little crazy. It’s the first time I’ve ever known what stability looks like. I’ve re-embraced spirituality; I don’t consider myself a Christian – I’m just trying to figure out what it looks like to follow Jesus. I still screw up a lot and make mistakes, but I have people who love me through those mistakes rather than rejecting me.
I’m sure that there are people who will be angry for the things I’ve said about CFC/ICC, and I’m okay with that. I’m past the point in my life where I feel like I have to pretend everything is okay.
I’ve spent a long time trying to figure out what I would say about my CFC tour experience if ever given the chance. It’s a lot to try and put into words. CFC was one of the first places where I felt a sense of family and acceptance. It was also one of the first places where I experienced the rejection and hypocrisy that seem to go hand in hand with conservative homeschooling groups.
To give proper background to this story, I first have to explain a bit about my childhood. I grew up in a conservative Christian middleclass family. On the outside, everything about my childhood was perfect (albeit a bit unconventional.) My parents chose to homeschool me and my four siblings. I was given a great academic education, but school is really only a very small part of any discussion relating to homeschooling. My father molested me while I was growing up, and given the insular community of which I was a part, there were very few people who would have been able to spot any signs of abuse. Nobody found out about the abuse until much, much later.
When my public schooled peer group was playing sports, doing ballet, or marching band (or just being normal teenagers) I was busy doing competitive speech and debate. I started doing speech and debate when I was eleven and I went to my first CFC conference. After that, I spent the majority of my time going to NCFCA tournaments, researching debate resolutions, and attending CFC conferences.
The thing is, I never quite fit the mold of what a conservative homeschooled debater should look like. I was a bit different; I liked to dress differently, dye my hair weird colors, and do anything else I could think of to stand out from my homogenous peer group. I think part of this was personality (I’ve always been a bit quirky) and part of it was my attempt at a cry for help. I was a very troubled teenager; despite (or maybe because of) my Christian homeschooled upbringing, I had problems with cutting, eating disorders, depression, and substance abuse. Of course, when I was competing in NCFCA tournaments and attending CFC conferences, very few people had any idea about my problems.
To adequately explain what happened on my CFC internship, I have to rewind a bit and talk about the winter before I went on tour. Christmas break of 2007 I was put in a behavioral hospital for attempting to commit suicide. I was radically unhappy at home, so I tried to overdose on over the counter pain medicine. I was in the hospital for nearly two weeks before I was discharged, just a few days before Christmas.
Several weeks later (January 2008) my mom was hosting a CFC Masters conference in my hometown of Louisville, KY. Prior to my suicide attempt, I had been accepted to be an RSA (staff assistant/all-purpose slave) at this conference. For reasons that still baffle me, the adults in my life decided that I needed to attend the conference and pretend that everything was okay. While I should have been in therapy, I was busy cleaning bathrooms, setting up for banquets, and doing any other menial task that came my way. Child labor laws where never even talked about.
During this conference I spent a lot of time holed up in bathrooms either cutting myself or making myself throw up. It’s interesting now for me to look back at pictures of myself at that Masters conference – it was evident from looking at me that there was something deeply wrong. Still, no one talked about it or asked about it. Depression, suicide, and mental illness are not socially acceptable topics among conservative homeschoolers.
To illustrate the polarity that was my life, I was awarded the Raudy Bearden scholarship at this Masters; in one minute I would be in a bathroom trying to hold myself together and in the next, I would be up on a stage accepting an award or giving a speech. Prior to the awards ceremony where I was awarded the scholarship, I was in the bathroom making myself throw up.
It was also during this conference that I decided I wanted to apply for a CFC internship. It wasn’t so much that I loved CFC or that I loved public speaking – I just wanted to leave home and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. The week after Masters I filled out an application to intern – I was pretty sure that getting accepted would be easy since my sister had interned twice. Turns out that I was right. I had a phone interview with Mrs. Moon, and despite the fact that she knew all about my mental health background (including my recent suicide attempt) she accepted me to intern just a few weeks after the phone interview. I told her that I was on psych medication but that I would be fully competent to tour the country in a motorhome with a dozen other people. To this day, I’m not sure why she took my word for it.
That spring and summer was a blur – I remember a lot of emails and writing a lot of classes. I remember having to go shopping for tour clothes (all of us interns had to wear color coordinated outfits.) I remember feeling a lot of pressure to perform well at that year’s NCFCA national tournament.
August rolled around and it was time to go to prep week and start tour. Over that summer I had spent a lot of time at counseling and therapy, but I was still in no mental or emotional condition to be in such a stressful environment. On tour you are expected to look perfect at all times, teach multiple classes in a day, give speeches, and function on very little sleep. At this time I was still dealing with an eating disorder (which I tried to hide by saying I was a vegetarian), I cut myself regularly, I was very depressed, and I was starting to abuse alcohol. I tried to hide all of these problems and put on a brave face as I got up on countless stages and spoke about the benefits of communication training and homeschooling. I felt like a performing monkey.
My internship wasn’t all bad – I made some great friends and I felt a real sense of community with a few of my fellow interns. I got to see the country and I got to get away from home. I loved not being at home.
Tour was a very stressful environment though, and I started to crumple under the constant pressure to be perfect. I would get up on a stage to speak and the second I got off stage I would run to a bathroom (bathrooms were the only place I found privacy) and hurt myself. I started having really bad anxiety attacks during this time, so a doctor (who was a friend of the Moons) prescribed me Xanax over the phone. I promptly started abusing this medication and nobody attempted to monitor my use of the pills.
What really amazes me about all of this is how few people took notice of my troubling behavior. Of course, there were a couple of my fellow interns who knew that something was wrong, but they were only teenagers themselves. None of the adults in my life took any notice. I can only attribute this to the fact that I was in a homeschooled bubble – I assume that the people I was around were sheltered to the point where they didn’t know what to look for. The other explanation is that the people I was around purposefully didn’t take notice of my behavior.
During the second half of my internship I began self-medicating with alcohol more frequently. One night, me and one of the other interns separated from our group. We were in Boston and we decided to strike out on our own to explore the city. We found a couple of homeless men and we had a fascinating conversation with them about life and God. During this conversation, I shared their vodka. Yes, I did that. I really didn’t see a problem with sharing vodka with homeless people. When we got back to the group no one noticed that I was slightly inebriated (or they pretended not to notice.)
On another occasion, I and two other interns raided the liquor cabinet at our host family’s house. We got black out drunk that night and ended up playing a risqué game of truth or dare. That night was the first (but not the last) time that I got sloppy drunk with a boy and made decisions I regretted later. The next morning we three were nursing hangovers, but we drug ourselves to the motorhome and tried to pretend that we were fine. I’m sure that one or two of our fellow interns noticed, but no one said anything. That was the culture we lived in – pretend that everything is fine, don’t make waves, and ignore problems.
I’ve talked a lot about the fundamentalist cult I was raised in, but something I don’t very frequently talk about here is my experience with the conservative religious homeschooling movement. For many people, the conservative religious homeschooling movement was what sucked their families into fundamentalist and cult-ish mental frameworks, but that’s not what happened for my family. My mother started homeschooling me because my kindergarten teacher held a séance in class, and the DoD school was the only educational option besides homeschooling. By the time we moved back Stateside and had more options, my mother realized that homeschooling was allowing me to excel academically in ways that other options wouldn’t– academically, that remained true through high school and college, although academic success came with its own drawbacks.
However, homeschooling was an integral part of the cult (those who didn’t homeschool received horrible condemnation), and the ideologies we embraced are consistent with a more mainstream homeschooling experience. Even for families that didn’t have children, or didn’t homeschool, the ideologies of the movement found its way into everyday interactions.
One of the popular elements of the conservative religious homeschooling movement that appeared in the church-cult was the belief that “teenage adolescence” is a modern societal construct and is a completely unnecessary stage. I can remember all the arguments for this vividly– how men and women married extremely young; in “fact,” women in early America very frequently married as soon as they got their periods at twelve or thirteen (this is false: the average age of marriage for a Puritan woman was 23, as young as 20 in South Carolina). Indentured servitude and apprenticeship were exalted as prime examples for how young men ought to behave– by learning a trade as young as 10 or 12 (and we were supposed to ignore the exploitative and abusive nature of child labor).
While teenage adolescence and the “delayed adolescence” seem to be results of our modern age, the concept that because it hasn’t been in practice since the Medieval ages makes it unhealthy… bothers me, for what I hope are obvious reasons.
Being a teenager, for me, was a difficult experience. I was not an “adult,” so I was therefore not permitted to interact with or engage with adults except as an inferior child, so the other option was to interact with children– but as an adult. In my environment, this forced me to sit at the “children’s table” during social gatherings, acting as a monitor or babysitter, but neither was I permitted to act as a child in other settings. I was expected to behave as an adult, was given the responsibilities of an adult, but was not allowed to have any privileges of an adult. I was not permitted to go anywhere on my own, without my parents having explicit knowledge of exactly where I was going and when I was returning. The only time I was not with my parents I was being closely monitored by other parents.
I was not allowed to exercise the ability of making my own decisions about what I would wear (all clothing had to be tried on and approved by my father immediately following its purchase), how I would style my hair, if I could wear make-up, or when I would go to bed (I had a “bed time” of 9 o’clock until I was 16, and 10 o’clock until 18). I was not allowed to have a private space– my bedroom door was to remain open at all times, and I was discouraged from being in my room for extended periods. I could not “disappear” to my room when upset or hurt– it was considered a cowardly withdrawal, and I was forced to immediately control and dismiss my hurt feelings and interact with my family as if nothing had ever happened. There were many moments that I would curl into the fetal position on my bed and desperately wish that I could just get in my car and drive for an hour or two without explaining where I’d be going or when I’d be back.
Perhaps one of the most demeaning elements of my teenage experience was a nickname I earned during one of the few times I was allowed to interact with adults. We were playing cards, Phase 10, I think, and I did something that seemed “uppity” or arrogant to the adults at the table. I don’t remember what it was, but, the response of one of the adults at the table, a woman I admired greatly, was to call me “sub-adult.”
Unfortunately, this nick-name made the rounds among the other adults at church, and it continued to haunt me well into my twenties. The people who used it probably did so unthinkingly, and they had no idea how much it stung, how much it hurt, and how I had to fight back tears every time I heard it. It was used to remind me of my place– I was not an adult, but neither was I child, and neither was I allowed any of the attitudes, practices, relationships, or experiences of a teenager.
To me, being called “sub-adult” represented absolute failure because my success as an individual was measured by how “adult” I could be. I was well-behaved when I acted how an adult was expected to act. I was articulate because I could talk like an adult. I was responsible because I could shoulder the burdens of an adult. I was “good” in as much as I behaved as neither adult nor child nor teenager. I could not have angsty, emotional moments because that was what a “teenager” would do. I could not disagree with any adult, because that was perceived as “teenage rebellion.” “Teenagers” were the ones who thought they “knew better,” but they were obviously wrong. “Teenagers” made destructive decisions. Teenagers had crushes. Teenagers argued. Teenagers talked back. Teenagers disagreed. Teenagers wore outlandish clothes. Teenagers didn’t practice discernment. Teenagers were naïve. Teenagers were heedless, directionless, purposeless. Teenagers thought they were capable of being autonomous and independent. Being a “teenager” equaled being incomplete and unhealthy.
I had a childhood– a healthy, amazing childhood. My parents were, and are, amazing parents– I love them, and have a good relationship with them today. The problem is that by the time I was a teenager, we’d been in the fundamentalist cult for four years, and we had collectively bought into this idea that “being a teenager” was somehow a sub-standard way of approach to those years between twelve and twenty. I was immeasurably proud of my status in this environment– I can’t tell you how many times I parroted the line that “I already knew that my parents know more than me,” or that I’d never had a “rebellious phase.” I could take care of myself– I did all my own schoolwork with practically no supervision by highschool, I could cook, I could clean, I was amazingly dedicated to practicing piano, all with little or no pressure from my parents. But, somehow, perversely, I was also proud of the fact that I was inferior to adults and knew my place, and knew better than to question those who God had placed in authority above me. I respected the “hoary head.”
The biggest problem with all of this is that because I never practiced any sort of rebellion whatsoever, I was actively discouraging myself from developing my own thoughts and opinions about things. Oh, I would have told you that my beliefs were my own, that I knew what I believed for myself, but I would have been lying. I didn’t have individuality or autonomy. I listened to the music my parents listened to, or the music expressly approved by them. I watched the movies they watched. I held the political opinions they did. I argued what they argued. I didn’t have access to any of these things as myself, but as a “sub-adult” version of my parents.