Why “Not All Homeschoolers” and “No True Christians” Silence Dialogue

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Eleanor Skelton’s blog, The Girl Who Once Lived in a Box. It was originally published on November 1, 2015.

So I’m active in several online communities that discuss homeschooling and spiritual abuse. I also read a lot. Almost daily, I post articles and blog posts that I find interesting.

I’m also Facebook friends with people I met during each of the four times I moved cross-country between Texas and Colorado, people from every church I went to growing up, every place I’ve worked, people who are my fellow homeschool alumni and college classmates. This means that everything I share is being viewed by people all over the human spectrum. 

I value this diversity, that my community is no echo chamber. I welcome the opportunity to be challenged and corrected and grow, and I hope my friends do, too.

Yes, there are periodic flame wars in the comments, but I’ve also seen successful dialogue. This is why I want to foster debates and discussion, because I believe that if I limit myself to only people who agree with me, change will never happen.

But a couple of arguments surface over and over.

“Not all homeschoolers were raised in cults.”

“What does abuse in these churches have to do with true Christianity?”

And these rebuttals are killing our discussions. Here’s why. This week, I read an article posted by Relevant magazine on why there’s a problem with saying All Lives Matter. The subtitle read: “There’s a difference between ‘true’ and ‘helpful.’”

Responses like this usually demonstrate a failure to listen. Conversations usually go:

Person 1: “This is what my experience with homeschooling / purity culture was like.”
Person 2: “Good point, but remember, not all homeschoolers were abused / raised in cults.”
Person 1: *awkward silence* (thinks) But I wasn’t talking about all homeschoolers. I was talking about me.

And they feel like you don’t think their story is important.

It’s hard to have these conversations, I think. If you say, “Hey, this happened and it was bad,” or express criticism, you get a lot of “not all homeschoolers” responses. Which is technically true.

But the one doesn’t invalidate the other. Sure, not all homeschoolers were raised in cults. But some were, and problematic and harmful things happened as a result. I’m not against homeschooling as a form of education, and I don’t think it should be banned, but I do think the problems within the movement must be addressed.

“No True Christian” is basically another version of the No True Scotsman fallacy.

Person 1: “This really awful thing happened in my church / to Amish girls / to Pentecostals.”
Angry Defensive Person 1: “Not all Apostolic Pentecostals are like this!”
Angry Defensive Person 2: “What does this have to do with true Christianity?”

These comments are missing the point. Orthodoxy isn’t the issue here, abuse is. And if you’re more concerned with heresy than hurting people, you are contributing to the problem.

And almost every group thinks they are the true believers, the genuine thing. So asking whether or not the Amish are truly Christians is irrelevant. They believe they are. That’s why they live in isolation, making sure they aren’t corrupted by deviating opinions. Other high control religious groups operate similarly.

Just because you might not believe cult members or other denominations are actually Christians doesn’t stop them from identifying as believers. But shouldn’t Christians be more concerned about people who claim to follow their savior perpetrating abuse than whether or not the abusers are heretics?

Let’s be honest here. We use these arguments to protect ourselves. We don’t want to be associated with sexual abuse and hypocrisy, we don’t want our image threatened. So we cry “not all homeschoolers” to defend our educations, and “not true Christians” to defend our core beliefs. We don’t want to think that our community might be wrong, we hide our faces from the wounds, cover our ears and refuse to listen.

And we need to stop.

Child Abuse Prevention in the Church is Not Big Government

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Eleanor Skelton’s blog The Girl Who Once Lived in a Box.  It was originally published on January 3, 2016.

Back in high school I used to love Andrée Seu Peterson’s column. I read her pieces first when our copy of World magazine arrived in the mail every week. She always made me think because she was less conservative than my homeschool textbooks, and I admired her writing style.

I haven’t read World magazine since I moved out–the subscription is expensive and I’ve had too much reading for college. Last year, though, I read about her problematic column on bisexuality in posts from Libby Anne and Samantha Field.

But in her article “Houses Taken Over” in the Nov. 14, 2015 issue, Peterson argues government oversight like food safety guidelines and background checks for child care are intrusive. She even suggests following such protocol is equivalent to Nazi Germany’s laws against Jewish people. Here we go again with Godwin’s law.

It was not long ago that the state cracked down on church homemade desserts here in Pennsylvania. The year was 2009, and as an elderly parishioner of St. Cecilia’s began unwrapping wares baked by fellow church members, a state inspector on the premises noticed that they were not store-bought and forbade their sale. It was the end of Mary Pratte’s coconut cream pie, Louise Humbert’s raisin pie, and Marge Murtha’s “farm apple” pie, as well as a tradition as old as church socials.

We Christians are a good lot, by and large. We know Romans 13 and desire to be model citizens. Would we have been sad but obedient when the 1933 “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” barred people of Jewish descent from employment in government? Would we have had searchings of heart but complied with the 1935 “Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor” that interdicted marriage between Jew and German? Would we have sighed but acquiesced in 1938, when government contracts could no longer be awarded to Jewish businesses, and in October of that year when Jews were required to have a “J” stamped on their passports?

If the local church cannot be trusted to know its people well enough to decide who is fit for nursery duty, there is nothing much to say, except that we had better get back to a New Testament model where pastors knew their flock. If bakers of coconut cream pies are notoriously dangerous people, then we have brought these statist regulations on ourselves, and more’s the pity. 

The woman sitting to my right at the ESL meeting said (not disapprovingly) that from now on if a junior high event takes place at someone’s house, a person must be present who has state clearance. I hazarded at that point that it looked like government intrusion, and no one said a word, as if I had passed gas and everyone pretended I had not. As if I were the kind of person who did not care about the children.

Peterson’s article fails to differentiate between Hitler’s laws, which discriminated against Jews based off propaganda, and laws to prevent child abuse, which only restrict people convicted of a heinous crime. She also sounds defensive, as if she finds regulations burdensome and cannot understand why no one else at her church agrees with her.

American Christianity protests the removal of religious symbols from public parks, but pleads for separation of church and state when any government regulation affects church functioning. This is hypocritical. This attitude also ignores the very real problem of child abuse in both Catholic and Protestant circles.

When I know that a church is following state and national guidelines, I feel safer being with that group of people. The church I recently joined requires a background check and a child protection training course for any volunteers, and I did not protest. I actually told the nursery workers, “I’m really glad you do this.”childprotectiontraining1

The 12 page booklet provides extensive definitions and examples of sex offender patterns and contrasts it with cultural stereotypes, as well as defining what is and is not appropriate protocol when working with children. childprotectiontraining3

Peterson says in her column that background checks would mean less available childcare at her church.

The far-seeing ESL director realized the implications and judged that it would be prudent to scrap the baby-sitting: Fewer people would be willing to take the extra step of filling out the necessary forms. The resulting smaller pool of workers would mean that our ESL cadre would be in competition with the Women’s Bible Study ministry and the Sunday nursery ministry for manpower.

But the quiz at the end of my church’s child protection course is clear that the intent is not to prevent people from volunteering. Protecting children is the first priority.

Christians believe that Jesus said “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6) If the church wants to follow this teaching, we need to be preventing child abuse through the best methods currently known.

Homeschool parents often argue that government involvement is a bad thing, and HSLDA actively encourages this. Slate magazine, the New York Times, and the Daily Beast have all reported on the lack of regulation. No accountability enables child abuse and educational neglect. This past Thanksgiving, KGOU’s article about homeschool regulation in Oklahoma was met with so much backlash from the homeschool lobby that an entire interview was withdrawn.

Societies have rules, at least in theory, so that their people can live in peace and be treated justly. Every community needs to protect the children and disadvantaged.

How “The Village” Illustrates Isolated, Fear-Based Homeschooling

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Eleanor Skelton’s blog The Girl Who Once Lived in a Box.  It was originally published on December 13, 2015.

I grew up in the Village.

The first time I watched M. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 film, my head hurt and one of my roommates asked me if I was okay. I didn’t have words. Sometimes I find those books, those films that resonate so strongly with my own experience, that the bittersweet rush of knowing takes my breath away.

The Village became the movie that I showed all of my friends who’d been affected by a cult environment. As they started to question their high control group, I’d find a way to sneak a movie night with them.

It became our movie, something that we refer to when discussing our past.

There’s a few reasons for this:

1.) The whole thing was manufactured like a utopia to protect innocence.

Many of our parents chose homeschooling to create a new generation, protected from negative influences and intellectually superior to the rest of the world. But our parents grew up attending public schools, something we never experienced.

The elders in the Village came from the Towns, but none of their children can remember the outside world. This is the only life they know. Ivy Walker’s father says in a moment of crisis, “What was the purpose of our leaving? Let us not forget it was out of hope, of something good and right.”

When I was young, my dad told me his middle school classmates used to throw small knifes at each other in the playground and my mom remembers hash being passed around in bags around her Houston high school in the 70s. They and others who grew up in the 60s counterculture movement wanted a better life for their children and believed that removing them from the public schools was the answer.

Just like our parents often told us they’d done things they regretted growing up and we had a unique opportunity to be different, the elders in the Village keep a black box of memories, “so the evil of my past can be kept close and not forgotten.”

Mrs. Clark’s sister, Mrs. Hunt’s husband, and Mr. Walker’s father all died through violence and tragedy. Edward Walker tells his daughter Ivy, “It is a darkness I wished you would never know. There is not one person in this town who has not been so shaken that they questioned the value of living at all.” Ivy says, “I am sad for you, Papa, and for the other elders.”

2.) They sought protection from evil in the ways of the past. 

In The Village, a history professor decides to take a group of people and recreate 1840s pioneer America. In the 90s conservative Christian homeschooling movement, our moms taught us to sew our own clothes and we all wore homemade skirts and dresses.

We watched movies like Sheffey about itinerant preachers in the last century produced by Bob Jones University Films and read reprints of Victorian literature like Elsie Dinsmore and A Basket of Flowers from Lamplighter Press and Vision Forum.

I wore one of my pioneer dresses nearly every day when I was 12-14 and pretended that I lived in the colonial era. I checked out and devoured every historical book on the colonial period and Civil War that my mom would allow from the local library.

A friend once said, “I get why they wanted this life for you guys, they meant well. But it turned out to be the Little House on the Prairie fan convention from hell.”

3.) They used euphemisms and emotional repression to ward off what they most feared. 

Growing up homeschooled, we didn’t get sex education. Purity culture often adopted a “see no sexy things, hear no sexy things, speak no sexy things” approach. One of my friends never heard the words penis and vagina until college. I was told that dancing was basically “a vertical expression of a horizontal desire,” something to be avoided.

This kind of approach extended to anything considered “evil” or a “bad influence,” including peers, extended family members, and movies or TV shows with magic or profanities. Often, the avoidance became obsessive over time. The circle of safety was ever narrowing.

The settlers in The Village use phrases like “Those We Don’t Speak Of” to refer to the creatures in Covington Woods, or “The Old Shed That is Not To Be Used” for a shack on the edge of town. Red is the bad color, yellow is the safe color. In the opening scenes, two girls sweeping on a porch run out to the yard to uproot and bury a red flower.

Later, Ivy tells Noah, a young man with a mental disability, “This color attracts Those We Don’t Speak Of. You ought not to pick that color berry anymore.” When the villagers find skinned carcasses of livestock, the schoolchildren assume, “Those We Don’t Speak Of did it.”

The light as well as the darkness in humanity becomes repressed, and this affects romantic attraction. Ivy knows Lucius cares deeply for her but won’t act on it. She tells him, “Sometimes we don’t do things we want to do so that others won’t know we want to do them.”

There’s a parallel scene when Lucius tells his mother that Mr. Walker is in love with her.

“He hides, too. He hides his true feelings for you.”
“What makes you think he has feelings for me?”
“He never touches you.”

When Ivy chooses to travel through the woods in spite of the creatures, the other young men sent to protect her are too afraid to go against the rules. “Why have we not heard of these rocks before, why is it that you wear the cloak of the safe color? I cannot go with you, it is forbidden.”

We homeschoolers also had arbitrary rules and standards, always shifting according to the preferences of our authority figures. We were taught to “abstain from all appearance of evil” (1 Thess 5:22) and that “it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret” (Eph 5:12).

Just like in many homeschool communities, Noah’s mental illness is dealt with by only natural remedies. Noah dies a monster, which seems to enable stigmatization of mental illness.

Noah becomes the example of what not to be for the other villagers. He becomes the creature, one of Those We Don’t Speak Of. He embodies the darkness that they sought to eliminate from their little world.

“Your son has made our stories real. Noah has given us a chance to continue this place if that is something we still wish for.”

But the one line that echoes in my mind when I think of how I grew up is this:

“I tell you this so you will see some of the reasons for our actions. Forgive us for our silly lies, Ivy, they were not meant to harm.”

No, it was not meant to harm. But it did.

When Your Parents Stalk You

 CC image courtesy of Flickr, Tobias Leeger.

By Eleanor Skelton, HA Editorial Board

Eleanor Skelton blogs at eleanorskelton.com. The following was originally published on Eleanor’s blog on March 2, 2015, and is reprinted with permission.

Stalking is usually applied to a romantic relationship gone bad.

This is why people hesitate to believe me when I say I’ve been stalked by my parents.

After I moved out, my parents showed up unannounced at work or on campus, asking me to reconsider and go to Bob Jones University. The first time it happened, I was walking down the sidewalk to visit a new church since I had no car.  A car drove up behind me honking, my family rolled down the windows, shouting, “Just remember, Bob Jones is still available!”

They often bring gifts: sandwiches, keychains, homemade soup. They seem to think this proves they are good parents. They say this is how they show me they love me.   The professor who was my supervisor when I tutored on campus saw them do this. He said their behavior was abnormal, intended to wear me down and make me give in.

I’m not the only one. Other homeschool alum have had parents drop off identifying documents at work without asking, another told me her mom found her between classes and gave her a gift card and sent a sheet and towel to her apartment. She hadn’t told her mom her class schedule or her address.

I don’t know what their motivation is.

Maybe it’s guilt. Maybe they think I’ll be brought back into the fold with organic baked goods.

This is how my parents demonstrate that they love me.

My first apartment was unfortunately near the church that shunned me. My parents drove by often to look for my car, texting me “did you sleep at your apartment last night?” I explained my roommate and her boyfriend invited me for a movie night and I slept there. My mom told me it was inappropriate to sleep at a single guy’s place. Never mind that we had a couple of drinks during the movie and I wasn’t safe to drive.

Being honest and open about my decisions only provoked criticism. And they wondered why I stopped telling them things.

In summer 2013, my dad parked outside the nearest stop sign when he knew I would get off work. When I drove by, he jumped out in front of my car so I had to stop. He wanted to change the air filter in my car. He didn’t understand I was startled and angry, that I was afraid I could have hit him.

My parents barged into the middle of a staff meeting for the student newspaper in fall 2013, handing me a parking permit. My dad didn’t wait for me to buy one myself.

I told them I thought their actions were inappropriate in group counseling.

I wrote, “If anyone else who I wasn’t related to followed me around the way you guys do (leaving me random sermon CDs in my bicycle bag when I’m in class, etc), it would be considered really creepy and stalking. Think about it.”

My mom replied, “I do not think it is creepy if we are coming by UCCS from a doctor’s appt., and leave a gift for you in your bicycle sidebag. Sorry you took it that way. We are not checking up on you.”

Last October, my dad showed up at my apartment around 7:30 am, calling me over and over during an exam. He was upset that I didn’t answer right away. He wanted to trade out cars because he was afraid I wouldn’t get maintenance done, even though I’d asked him to let me learn how to take care of my car myself.

And they showed up at my work again last weekend, asked a coworker on his smoke break to bring me a package.

They don’t understand acting like this makes me feel incapacitated.

Fundamentalism doesn’t teach consent, it teaches you to respect authority. Control is normal, so you should be grateful for what they do, even if they don’t respect your wishes.

I don’t feel like an adult when my parents do this. I start to feel like a powerless small child whose parents are always going to check up on her, like all my independence has been taken away from me.

They think this is how to show me that they love me, but I just feel the walls close in.

And I don’t think this is love.

Beka Horton’s Theology: Eleanor Skelton’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

By Eleanor Skelton, HA Editorial Team. Eleanor also blogs at The Girl Who Once Lived in a Box.

Beka Horton wrote and edited most of the A Beka Academy curriculum, produced by Pensacola Christian College. And she’s also the reason I started questioning fundamentalism.

Christianity seemed so simple in the early days.

I was born in Southeast Texas, in the Bible belt. At two years old, I prayed to accept Jesus into my heart with my mom before bath-time. She cried over my folded hands.

I was on the right path; I lived in light and not in darkness.

If only life had fewer complexities.

I was homeschooled from preschool to high school graduation, primarily with A Beka Academy Video School and some BJU press and Weaver curriculum sprinkled in. My mom told me the stories of Adam and Eve, Daniel and the lion’s den, David and Goliath with flannel-graph cutouts and the A Beka Bible flashcards.

This was what we believed, and we had the truth.

We were not deceived like the poor Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Pentecostals. We had the True Doctrine™. And my churches and homeschool textbooks mostly agreed, until high school.

In 10th and 11th grade, A Beka reveals why all the Scripture their students had been memorizing since kindergarten comes only from the King James Version.

That’s because Arlin and Beka Horton, the founders of Pensacola Christian College, believe all other translations are part of Satan’s plan to confuse the church.

I asked my pastor at our IFCA church in Colorado Springs who graduated from the Bob Jones University Seminary about it. We used the New King James Version in our services, but Beka Horton said this was sinful and contributing to the downfall of modern Christianity.

KVJ tampering
From Jesus and His Followers, A Beka Book, p. 22
KJV infallibility
From Jesus and His Followers, A Beka Book, p. 24

The same textbook also argued that abstinence from alcohol was the most moral decision for modern Christians, because Jesus only drank alcohol because the water in first century Palestine wasn’t safe.

From Jesus and His Followers, p. 67

This argument bothered me.

My parents and pastors had always told me that alcohol itself wasn’t sinful, but alcoholism hurt others. And we had a duty to not cause our brothers in Christ to stumble.

But Beka Horton was telling me the only way to follow Jesus was to be a teetotaler.

Something was wrong here. My textbooks disagreed with my parents, my churches. My parents bought me this curriculum so I could have a better education, so I could learn True Doctrine™.

I asked my pastor about these discrepancies. He told me, “I like Pensacola Christian College, but they are also legalistic. This is why young people lose their faith when they go to college, because they are told things like this, and then they learn it’s not true. So they question their entire faith.”

And he wasn’t wrong.

So in senior year of high school, I questioned when Beka Horton said that Adam and Eve never saw death before the Fall, not even dead plants.

From Genesis: First Things, p. 61

And arguing that the letters to the churches in Revelation was prophesy outlining the ages of the church throughout millennia seemed like an awfully convenient way to scare me into believing the Rapture and Tribulation were imminent.

From The Book of the Revelation, p. 5

I kept questioning, looking for more subtle legalism within what I’d thought was the safety of True Doctrine™.

Three years into college, I wondered if syncopated music was really evil or not.

My high school youth group textbook, published by Proteen / Positive Action for Christ, reasoned this:

Syncopated music is disorderly.
All disorder is of the devil.
Therefore, syncopated music (most modern music) is of Satan.

From The Holy War, p. 79

I made Christian friends in college who came from evangelical but not fundamentalist backgrounds, and their love for Jesus seemed genuine. I couldn’t believe they weren’t True Christians™ because they sang contemporary worship songs and listened to CCM.

Then the point of crisis came.

I read Harry Potter. I didn’t believe it was evil. I asked my parents to extend my curfew to midnight instead of 7:30 p.m.

My parents said I was being influenced by the world, that I had to move out or attend Bob Jones University. I told them I had prayed, and I felt like God wanted me to stay at UCCS.

They involved our pastor.

My pastor said I was disobeying God’s will for my life by moving out as an unmarried young woman.

He said it was wrong for me to leave because I was still under my parents’ authority if I wasn’t currently experiencing physical or sexual abuse.

And he said that God had clearly provided another option for me in transferring to BJU, a way to both obey my parents and gain independence.

He said, “If you are going to be obstinate and let Satan confuse you from following God’s will for your life, then I have nothing more to say to you.

And he walked out.

And I’d lost all trust for the label True Doctrine™.

I realized that fundamentalism is colorblind except for black and white. That fundamentalism uses fear to coerce obedience, that fundamentalism makes no exceptions, because that would be questioning Divine Will, and that is what Satan does.

My questions grew.

Did my purity ring actually remind me to stay pure, or did it just seem arrogant to my friends who weren’t virgins? I stopped wearing it.

Why did we use a handful of verses describing pagan temple practices to condemn the entire LGBT community? I remembered many more verses about loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Is creationism versus evolution actually a “salvation issue”? One of my chemistry lab instructors, who happened to be a Christian herself, pointed this out to me.

I took two semesters of Koine Greek, and I learned that museums have copies of scribal errors from the medieval period, something Beka Horton told me never happened, because the scribes destroyed an entire manuscript over slight errors.

scribe no error
From Jesus and His Followers, p. 5

Could I still be a Christian if the Bible wasn’t inerrant? My friend Cynthia Jeub reminded me that the disciples and the early church had no Bible. All they had was their experience.

I’ve been moved out since 2012, and I’m still questioning.

Still sorting through what I was told was True Doctrine™ and what the early church practiced historically, how I was told to treat “sinners” and what Jesus said about loving people.

Because I don’t believe Beka Horton has a monopoly on truth.


UnBoxing Project: Surviving and Thriving on the Outside

Eleanor Skelton blogs at eleanorskelton.com, is the news editor of the UCCS student newspaper, and is majoring in English and Chemistry. The following was originally published on Eleanor’s blog on April 7, 2015, and is reprinted with permission.

< Part Thirteen

I came from an upper middle class, well-educated family. I was privileged.

I moved out as a college student with a couple of jobs on campus after my parents emptied my savings account. Most of the people the Underground Railroad helped were in similar circumstances.

Our counselor friend Sandra, who was in graduate school when I moved out, talked to me a week after I left. I didn’t have a car and was bicycling everywhere. She taught me how to take care of myself when I was broke.

These resources helped all of us stay independent on a low-income budget.

  • Food pantries and food stamps
    When my paycheck barely covered rent and gas or three other girls were living out of our tiny apartment, we couldn’t afford food. Mercy’s Gate, American Charities, and other Care and Share pantries felt like small miracles. There’s even Peak Pet Pantry for cats and dogs. And El Paso county provides SNAP benefits (food stamps).
  • Cellphone plans like Straight Talk, Wal-Mart Family Mobile, and Tracfone
    Our monthly bills were between $30-40, or we used pay as you go.
  • Dollar stores
    One day my friend Josh issued me a challenge: go to a dollar store and see what they sold. It was so eyeopening that now I take other refugees there, showing them what a dollar can get in a pinch.
  • Thrift stores
    Here in Colorado Springs, we have the Arc and Goodwill, and places like Promises Resale Boutique that benefit disadvantaged teens resell the leftovers from bigger thrift stores even cheaper.
  • Temporary agencies
    Our little band of cult refugees all needed jobs, but I didn’t know what temporary agencies did until one winter when I was down to only one of the three jobs from the summer. Then I got a call from Front Range Staffing.
    They’d found my resume on Monster and wanted to hire me for a receptionist position at a pharmaceutical company, something related to my chemistry degree. They also gave me odd jobs like hotel housekeeping for extra money, enabling me to support myself.
  • Housing / utilities assistance
    Most cities have section 8 housing. El Paso County also has LEAP, which provides heating assistance in the winter.
  • Internet
    Several major companies like Comcast and CenturyLink also offer low-income internet service. This website even gives a comparison chart.
  • Mental health
    We wrestled with anxiety, self-harm, PTSD, and survivor’s guilt. But we found counselors on campus and in the community who worked on a sliding fee scale, who wanted to help us heal most of all. Due North Counseling was one of the local places that helped us.

We also found many organizations in Colorado Springs had resources also.

    The 24/7 crisis line (719-633-3819) offers advice to abuse survivors, although they mainly deal with intimate partner violence.
  • DHS / CPS / Adult Protective Services
    In El Paso County, call (719) 444-5700 or 1-844-CO4KIDS or email childabusereport@elpasoco.com to report child abuse.
  • Inside / Out Youth Services
    Provides housing for homeless LGBT youth under 25 and other resources.
  • The Independence Center
    Provides services to empower people with disabilities.

On the outside, we formed our own little family, a chosen family rather than by blood.

Dale Fincher, who talks about recovery from spiritual abuse at Soulation, writes in The Exodus From Family:

“When our biological family puts a brake on friendship, we must look for friendship elsewhere. This year, I am no longer defaulting to blood and legal relatives as my ‘ohana. They will not lock me into a family orphanage until I conform to their demands. No. My family has become my Chosen Family, for we cannot live as orphans (John 14:18).”

A theme that resurfaces in the dialogue about spiritual abuse is Christian fundamentalism’s idolization of family values over the well-being of the individuals within the family. The family unit’s survival becomes the trump card, enabling denial of abuse.

We learned we could all find freedom together.

No, we couldn’t save each other or support each other–we all had to ultimately find our own way because all of us are broken and hurting.

But we knew we weren’t alone.

Sometimes a hug, a shoulder to cry on enabled us to just keep walking, to not give up.

Even if we were outcast, we believed our experiences were valid, we grasped for something better.

And we wanted to share this new life, this freedom with others.

R. L. Stollar, one of the founders of Homeschoolers Anonymous, wrote:

“I learned that Jesus of Nazareth was not content with 99 sheep when 99 sheep means that one gets left behind to suffer in silence and solitude. [….] But Jesus dealt with human beings, not statistics. Human beings are what I want to deal with, too. […] Us “bitter apostates” will be out in the wilderness, searching for the one you abandoned.”

And that is what we did, too.

End of series.

UnBoxing Project: How you can help (Eleanor Skelton’s thoughts)

Source: Logo donated by a friend.
Source: Logo donated by a friend.

Eleanor Skelton blogs at eleanorskelton.com, is the news editor of the UCCS student newspaper, and is majoring in English and Chemistry. The following was originally published on Eleanor’s blog on April 6, 2015, and is reprinted with permission.

< Part Twelve

When we became “conductors,” we learned that getting out and finding freedom is messy, and everyone’s situation is different.

When someone contacted us for help, we said that they went “active.” It’s like being on call for an emergency move 24/7.

They’ll tell us the situation is deteriorating, but we don’t know it’s going to happen until they call us, because we leave the choice up to them.

In summer 2013, when Homeschoolers Anonymous posted Hannah Ettinger’s Call For Help: A Quiverfull / Patriarchy Rescue, I wrote in an email to our network: “I think she is the first of many.”

The backlash is one of the most difficult things we all faced in leaving our cult-like churches and controlling families.

One morning in my apartment, right after Racquel and Ashley left the church, Racquel’s phone rang. She stepped into the next room for a private discussion.

She came back out looking troubled.

Ashley asked what was wrong, Racquel said Sister H. from Louisiana just called.

Racquel started crying.

“Sister H. told me that the pastor may be wrong, our parents may be wrong, but not to give up on the Pentecostal church. But I just can’t do it. I can’t.”

“Did anything like this happen to you when you left, Eleanor?” she asked.

Yes. Yes, it did.

One of the pastors and his wife at our old church in Dallas called me and tried to convince me to attend Bob Jones University. They agreed with my pastor in Colorado Springs, said the only way to honor my parents was to do this one thing, to obey them.

My friend Anna called me a few weeks after I moved out. She said she’d gone back to the church. The pastor and his wife took her into the office, asked her about two of my Facebook posts she’d liked and commented on. One was lyrics from “Keep your eyes open” by NeedtoBreathe (they believed all syncopated music was of Satan). The other was heychristiangirl.tumblr.com. They said didn’t see the humor, they said it was sacrilegious.

Anna said the pastor and his wife asked her if she agreed with me moving out, if she’d aided me. They said they didn’t want her to influence their children to move out without their approval.

I caught my breath. I could see it now.

They can’t stand to lose one of their own, because that’s losing a soldier in the culture wars. You take one step back and now you’re one of the outsiders, one of the “lost” they evangelize. And they need your soul.

So when I hugged Racquel while she sobbed, I could say, “Yes, this happened to me, too.”

This is why leaving these churches, these homes is leaving a cult. And this is what it’s like to be a conductor, to walk beside abuse survivors and seek freedom.

As a conductor, I’ve had months of watching and preparations. I keep an emergency cellphone with an unlisted number in case a controlling parent blocks my regular phone. I carry pepperspray and a rape knife, both legal on my campus, so I can protect myself and those who ask for our help.

Our network discusses alternate scenarios, backup plans. We plan for the worst while hoping that one day this won’t be necessary.

Here’s we learned about helping people move out:

Take the essentials, but stay safe.

TESSA, a non-profit in Colorado Springs that offers advice and support to spousal domestic abuse survivors, has a checklist.

  • Identifying documents
  • Clothes to last a week
  • Cash and bank information
  • Keys to car and work
  • Medications
  • Important paperwork and records
  • Personal items like photographs and jewelry

When Ashley moved out, five of us showed up because we knew her father was armed, he’d wrecked the car and the apartment, and we didn’t know when he’d return. I learned anyone who feels threatened can request police protection while moving their possessions.

Sometimes we left something behind we valued.

I couldn’t take my heirloom violin from the 1890s or one of our family dogs I’d bonded with. Ashley left her dog Sasha and her bed because we couldn’t fit it in the van, and Racquel sold her horse when later she couldn’t pay board and her own living expenses.

We lost diaries, mementos, and valuables.

We decided our freedom was worth losing those things or that lifestyle. We realized the important thing was keeping ourselves safe and learning how to heal.

Source: Eleanor Skelton
Source: Eleanor Skelton

Part Fourteen >

UnBoxing Project: How you can help (Cynthia Jeub’s thoughts)

Eleanor Skelton blogs at eleanorskelton.com, is the news editor of the UCCS student newspaper, and is majoring in English and Chemistry. The following was originally published on Eleanor’s blog on March 15, 2015, and is reprinted with permission. 

Source: cynthiajeub.com
Source: cynthiajeub.com

< Part Eleven

Here are Cynthia Jeub’s concluding thoughts.

Rescuing people from cults is not an item to check off of a to-do list. It’s a process.

While we worked together on the UnBoxing Project, we learned this through our own exhausted time and money.

We didn’t just need to free people from church attendance and their abusive, controlling homes. In little funny moments and frustrating conflicts, we watched them free their own minds and personalities.

Moments like when Racquel wore jeans for the first time. We’d told her that she had a lovely figure that didn’t need to be concealed under long, wide skirts, and she didn’t believe us until then.

Moments like when Eleanor first moved out, I recommended dry beans for cost effective meals, and she didn’t know how to cook them.

Moments like the Socratic dialogue with Michela in a reclusive university meeting room, establishing that safety was possible.

After my friends and I got out, we struggled with various levels of PTSD, depression, and anxiety from the emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse we’d endured. It would be difficult enough to hold a job while dealing with shock and recovery, but many of the people we helped didn’t have any experience in the workforce.

I believed in self-sacrifice, and I didn’t care if I wasn’t well enough to help other people. Nobody else was going to do it if we didn’t. I told Cynthia Barram this, and she gave me a graphic image: She said to picture a woman in a place where food was scarce. The baby still sucked at his mother’s breast, but she had no nutrition left to give. At this point, the child was just eating blood.

We needed stability and resources ourselves, but with our parents gone, we only had each other. Like the undernourished mother nursing, we gave more than we had to give.

Many of us had to drop classes because taking care of extra people was so stressful. Eleanor ended up paying more than her portion of rent for the house she got with some of the people we’d rescued.

We realized that we weren’t heroes, and we didn’t have the strength to be heroes.

The question was, at what point do you let people learn for themselves? Our own limitations answered for us: we didn’t have the means to support other adults who had so little experience with the outside world.

We all decided that if we needed to rescue people, we wouldn’t be able to share finances with them, like cosigning on a lease. Getting out of a cult left these adults without survival skills, and we were young and broke, too. For the first year after my parents kicked us out, my sister and I rented from a family whose children were grown.

If only we knew some people who were older than us, who had the financial stability to own a house and rent out a room. If only we knew people who could teach a young adult, between the ages of 18 and 25 or so, how to keep a job and pay the rent.

Unfortunately, most of the people in the networks we had were similar to our own parents. That’s what isolation does – it limits the people you know.

We’re still looking for people who can help with temporary housing in our Unboxing Project, perhaps who have more stable living conditions than those of us who needed to escape, too.

We need places. People who are willing to take a young adult into a guest bedroom, and help them prepare for life outside. Help them find and keep a job.

Those of us who were abused aren’t very demanding. We generally don’t take up much space and we shrink at the thought of imposing on anyone. Just let us know we’re welcome, and let us know that it’s okay to talk about what’s going on. We need therapy to deal with what we’ve worked through.

Can we ask you to do that? Because we can’t do it ourselves.

Source: cynthiajeub.com

Part Thirteen >

UnBoxing Project: Self-care during activism

Eleanor Skelton blogs at eleanorskelton.com, is the news editor of the UCCS student newspaper, and is majoring in English and Chemistry. The following was originally published on Eleanor’s blog on March 14, 2015, and is reprinted with permission. 

Souce: James Sibert
Souce: James Sibert

< Part Ten

Cynthia Barram was the first friend I met in college who helped me start my own moving out process before helping the others. Here’s her perspective.

Lesson Number One: You can’t help anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself.

When several homeschool girls came to me, oppressed by churches and controlling parents, I helped them realize that sneezing would not condemn them to hell. They could kiss boys, get their ears pierced, and maybe even listen to some decent music without fear of the ground opening up beneath them.

But I didn’t realize I was trapped in my own cage, despite my involvement in disability activism. As the revelation hit me, I felt as though I’d been cut down from a whipping post.

My body sunk. My face went numb—unsure whether to react with joy or rage or some unholy spawn of the two. The revelation was the first of many from my support group. Long story short, the cage I had been living in due to the restrictions of my disability accommodations for the past ten years no longer existed, if it ever really existed in the first place.

The iron bars that burned when I touched them, the iron bars that held me fast to a life of poverty and escapism now crumbled and snapped in the hands of my mentors like dried reeds. One support group meeting did that, and afterwards I wandered the streets disoriented and moaning—drunk with the wine of freedom in all its bold bittersweet, soon to be very real possibilities.

But what was I to do without my chains? Like Jacob Marley on parole, I was now confronted with the equally real problem of how to get on without them.

So I understand the ones I’ve helped move out, the ones who have looked to me. Because I, too, don’t know how to handle so much sudden freedom.

Cut to support group a few weeks later.

“I love my friends,” I told them, “But rescuing two of them called me out of a final exam. I took an incomplete in a class last semester because we had a suicide attempt and dealing with it messed with my head, and now this.”

“No wonder you haven’t been yourself,” they said. “That’s way too much for anyone to carry, but we’ll help you.”

They then proceeded to divvy up my business as if it was their own.

I made a promise to the rest of the group members to keep our meeting days clear from other appointments, free from stress, and when I figure out who I am without my chains and graduate college, I promised to let everyone know.

That’s the trouble with witch work as I often call it.

If you were born a witch (and I mean the green nasty one from the 1943 Wizard of Oz film, not Wiccans) like I was, you get used to that icky-sticky-kind-of-cool-but-on-your-own feeling.

Source: Broadway's Wicked
Source: Broadway’s production of Wicked

On the one hand, you swear you must have three breasts, and are understandably and almost perpetually embarrassed.

On the other hand, you get used to hearing things like “Ever try to put a jet engine on that power wheelchair?” and “I’ve never been friends with a black person before,” and “You never wear feminine clothes.”

(Never mind of course that dresses get caught in my wheelchair!)

I heard many of these statements repeated again in college from formerly homeschooled people I met at college, like my friend Eleanor and the people she was helping.

When I first met Eleanor, she told me her homeschool textbooks taught her to sit or kneel when talking to people in wheelchairs, but I found the action too intimate for a casual conversation.

The only people who had done that to me without it being offensive were my first boyfriend and my childhood hero.

In other words, what the hell?

You laugh as if the jokes are funny, and offer up starters to the almost obligatory culturally informative conversations that follow.

You get so good at doing this on a small level that eventually you take on bigger game like formerly Christian homeschooled LGBT folks trying to move out when their parents have guns and women self-harming and ending up in the ER.

I didn’t seek out these people who asked for my help.

No, these homeschooled girls with braids and glasses, dressed they were going to the Little House on the Prairie fan convention from hell, found me out on campus, at Bible studies, after church services. And I couldn’t scare them away, either.

They had never met anyone who was black or disabled before.

You become so brilliant at this in fact that you tie yourself with chains to the greater good and wait for this or that friend with this or that crisis to—effectively becoming more worn out than any of your mentees are.

That is, until the cross disability support group at the Independence Center on Fridays, until the smashing of chains and the breaking of cages, until a group of people who swear on their lives to keep your secrets, and who feed you as you feed others.

Sometimes you need to crash on somebody else’s couch, figuratively, after you’ve hosted several refugees, or you lose yourself.

And that support group has got to be there before during and after anyone is even considering doing this work.

It has to be there, or the psychological slavery that you work so hard to liberate everybody else from will find a much better mark in you than it ever did in your charges, and this slavery comes customized complete with your own set of flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, and mood swings, trust me.

The support group has to be there or you will contemplate crazy shit—drinking bleach, stepping in front of a car, shooting yourself in the head, and when a woman in trouble holds your hand and begs you to tell her why you are alive, you will not be able to answer her.

I cannot stress this enough. The support group in some shape or form has to, has to, has to be there.

And no matter the strength of the freedom fighter, no matter the clarity of his or her vision or the strength and purity of the intentions behind it—anybody, anybody, anybody can find themselves worn out by the difficult and delicate process of freeing people to follow their dreams.

Cynthia Barram is a senior English major at UCCS and former president of the Disabled Student Union on campus. She petitioned for the Colorado Springs City Council to not cut funding for bus routes in 2008, which was covered by the Gazette and the Independent. Cynthia is involved with the community at the Independence Center, which sponsors disability activism in the city.

Part Twelve >

UnBoxing Project: Homeschool, the perfect hiding place

Eleanor Skelton blogs at eleanorskelton.com, is the news editor of the UCCS student newspaper, and is majoring in English and Chemistry. The following was originally published on Eleanor’s blog on March 13, 2015, and is reprinted with permission. 

Source: Shelby Shively
Source: Shelby Shively

< Part Nine

I met Shelby while working for the student newspaper, and she mentioned that the homeschooling population seemed to be understudied in academic literature. Here is her perspective.

I, personally, have come into contact with a handful of homeschooling experiences in my lifetime.

I had three friends who had been homeschooled, two of whom entered semi-public high schools for reasons I do not know.

My friend Mary took a GED test and attempted to take a few online college courses, essentially continuing the homeschool experience as a college student, before realizing she would be better off on an actual college campus. I also had six cousins from my aunt on my father’s side, most of whom she homeschooled.

Mary’s parents were incredibly controlling. Her older sister used her body for her rebellion: she got her belly button pierced, got haircuts her parents considered strange, and dyed her hair unnatural colors. Mary rebelled in other ways, and she eventually moved out, although she is currently living with her parents again.

My aunt had four boys and adopted a young boy and girl from Russia. She homeschooled her four birth children and the girl she had adopted, but the boy was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. My aunt did not bother to try to understand his learning needs, and rather than alter her own teaching, she sent him to public school.

She was very abusive. She eventually kicked him out, and he tells stories of eating rats at the park when he was homeless. He is now in a transitional program.

I got my bachelor’s degree in sociology and women’s and ethnic studies, and I spent a lot of time learning about domestic violence because I had experienced it from a boyfriend in high school. It was not until recently that I realized how common my cousin’s story is.

While the details of the situation vary, abuse seems to be common in families that homeschool.

When researching domestic violence and volunteering at a local shelter, I have found very little about children, even adult children, escaping abusive homes and even less about children of homeschool families. One of the only things I have heard is that the majority of homeless teens are escaping abusive homes, though this tells us little about the circumstances surrounding these escapes.

Little academic research has been conducted about abuse in homeschool environments, and the research that has occurred is necessarily incomplete.

Even surveys like the annual survey  (part 1 and part 2 and part 3) conducted by the Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (HARO) rely on a volunteer sample from the Internet, although it gathers much data that other organizations have not yet attempted to collect and analyzed. Informal surveys are not accessible to people without Internet access, and rely on snowballing (people take it and share it with others from the same population), which tends to yield a more homogenous sample.

Further academic research is needed to determine risk factors for homeschool environments.

Part of the reason so little research has been conducted is because it is simply difficult to properly conduct. Homeschool policies differ based on the state and sometimes even the school district, and record-keeping may also look very different on a state-by-state basis.

It is impossible for a researcher to gather demographics of the homeschool population with inconsistent records or use these records to gather a good, random sample.

Without resources like time and money, a researcher will have difficulty conducting research with homeschool families, especially if they are reluctant to allow a person to question their motives, tactics, and overall situations.

There are increased difficulties in trying to conduct research with minors; for example, parents who homeschool their children are under no obligation to provide consent for their children to participate in a research project, even if said children would like to participate.

Many, though certainly not all, homeschool families are connected to a church, and the church may be involved in hiding abuse occurring within these families. Many families feel deep paranoia and are not willing to participate in research if they do not perceive the researcher as an ally in some way, such as a member of their church or at least the larger denomination.

The homeschool population is not easy for researchers to access, which is likely one of the primary reasons there is so little research about this population. It is also possible that researchers lack awareness of the problem. They must be made aware that there is abuse in the homeschool population before they can consider researching it.

My recent awareness of the abuse in the homeschool population has sparked my interest in researching it, but I know there are many struggles to overcome in attempting to reach this population. I also know there are only so many resources available to a person with my current education level, and I may have to set aside this potential research project until I am further educated and perhaps even employed in a university or other research institution.

I can only hope by the time I am fully equipped to conduct this research, others have already done so.

Shelby Shively is a sociology graduate student at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and former columnist for the student newspaper, The Scribe.

Part Eleven >