Jonathan Lindvall is the president of Bold Christian Living. He has spoken at many homeschooling conferences and organized “Bold Christian Youth Seminars” as well as “Bold Parenting Seminars.” He also presented “New Testament House Church Seminars” in the U.S. and beyond.
I remember Lindvall from the homeschool teen track at a CHEA homeschool conference in California. Lindvall and Reb Bradley taught the teens about “godly” relationships — Bradley emphasizing courtship, Lindvall emphasizing betrothal. I distinctly remember Bradley making fun of Lindvall for “being extreme.” Which Lindvall would actually consider a badge of honor. According to Vyckie Garrison, who years ago also attended one of his “Bold Christian Living” conferences, Lindvall teaches that Jesus finds balanced people “repulsive.” “Don’t shy away from extremism,” Lindvall admonished.
I recently came across a quotation from Lindvall on No Longer Quivering suggesting young women should be “shielded” from jury duty and that women should not vote. I was pretty shocked to read this. I was not shocked that a leader in the Christian homeschool movement would express this, mind you. I am just shocked at how unapologetic and fervent Lindvall is in his dismissal of the women’s suffrage movement.
Here is what Lindvall said:
I obviously share your conclusion that young women serving on a jury is a very vulnerable, potentially damaging experience we should be able to shield them from. Let me share some thoughts of how we can protect our daughters from this particular emotional/mental threat.
You noted that “never allowing her to become a registered voter” is something you have learned the hard way. This is definitely one of the ways we express our “individuality” in our culture. Early in the republic’s history, only heads of households voted. Sadly, today even in very conservative households most of us have embraced the philosophic underpinnings of the women’s suffrage movement. Of course women should vote! Therefore even Christian couples occasionally “split” their vote, canceling one another’s vote.
But since women are allowed to vote in our society, doesn’t this mean Christians must compromise with the cultural mores and have our wives vote, so we can double our impact? This assumes that God NEEDS our help in appointing His choice of leaders (Romans 13:1 makes it clear that all “authorities that exist are appointed by God”). Especially if registering to vote creates greater vulnerability for our families, perhaps we should rethink this question.
I’m a nerd, a geek, though I suppose not enough of one to get caught up in the arguments over which of those terms is positive and which one is the insult. I was a female computer geek back before there were enough of us for people to even start whining about “fake girl geeks” showing up at cons. When being a woman interested in tech meant you and a roomful of guys who didn’t quite know what to do with you.
I’ve read the studies, I know the statistics, and the reality is that even now in 2013, the majority of girls don’t make it out of junior high still feeling good about their abilities in math and the hard sciences. By the time they get to college, not many girls are still in the pipeline of women in technology. While the problem is multifaceted, we know that the combination of peer pressure and negative gender stereotypes makes it an uphill battle. No matter a person’s actual skill level, when the prevailing message is that people like them aren’t good at a particular subject area and there aren’t many role models, they start to internalize that message.
I missed that message.
Or rather, I should say that by the time I became aware of the idea that girls aren’t supposed to be good at math, I was sufficiently confident in my abilities that I concluded that something must be wrong with a society that says that girls can’t do math.
Being homeschooled by a former math teacher meant that it was expected that I learn enough math that the door was open to any path I might decide to pursue in college, and my sister and I were held to the same expectations as my brothers were.
I never got the message that my gender was in some way supposed to be correlated with lower math ability, or that it meant I should limit my dreams and goals for the future.
At its best, homeschooling can create a learning environment that helps to minimize the influence of societal pressures to conform to rigid gender roles and to live up (or down) to the expectations of society. That’s what homeschooling did for me. The prevailing message of my childhood was that I could be or do whatever I wanted and that no one could stop me. I didn’t internalize most of the negative gender stereotypes about women because the negative messages were drowned out by the positive. I’m convinced that one of the reasons why I was able to hold my own in the extremely male-dominated computer science major I ended up choosing in college was because I hadn’t internalized the message that I wasn’t supposed to be able to do it because I’m a girl.
It would be dishonest of me, though, to write about my positive personal experiences without also acknowledging the tension between the message I got in my own family and the messages I got from the broader homeschool world. When I was a teenager, I became acutely aware that the expectations that others had for my older brother were vastly different than what was expected for me. I was the one who wanted to go to law school, but I felt like everyone was busy encouraging my brother—who had no interest in law—to become a lawyer while not taking my interests seriously. When I changed my major to computer science in college, I got the distinct impression that it wasn’t taken seriously unless I gave the justification that programming was a career that could allow me to work from home while being a good wife and mother.
At its best, homeschooling can open up a broad range of options and free a child from the pressures of stereotypes, at its worst, it can reinforce those negative stereotypes and close off options.
For me, my homeschool experience meant that I was able to go off to college confident in my abilities and with my options open. It meant that while I was convinced that I was going to go major in history and then head directly to law school, when I discovered my freshman year that computer science interested me, I had the foundation to succeed. In the end, I discovered that studying computer science was far more interesting to me than actually doing it, and ended up with the original law school plan, but having that tech background gives me opportunities that a liberal arts major wouldn’t.
I’m not yet sure where my story ends, but it’s been an interesting ride and one that homeschooling helped make possible.
HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s guest series on her blog, Becoming Worldly. “Mary” is a pseudonym. If you have a Quiverfull “sister-Mom” story you would like to share, email Heather at becomingworldly (at) gmail (dot) com.
So I’ve been reading the articles this last week about the sister-moms and they have been hitting home.
I am one of those sister-moms.
I am the 2nd oldest of eight and the oldest girl. Most of the time I felt like the oldest because my older brother wasn’t in the picture much for various reasons. But anyway, in the Quiverfull movement, there is a world of difference being a boy in the family versus a girl. I don’t really feel like going into my story in this document, especially as it is already posted on HA.
This is about another frustration that arises from my position in our family.
As I was growing up, I got very used to hearing remarks and jokes about how many children we ourselves would have when we grew up. Some people would sit down and start doing the “if all 8 of you have 8 children” equations. Then they would start joking about what family reunions would look like.
We didn’t go to a conservative church. In fact, for most of my younger years, we were the only home schooled family. As far as I know there was never another family as large as ours. Because of that, the jokes ran all the time.
My parents relished in the attention and would laugh right along with everyone.
For me, however, I seemed to be getting some very clear messages: First, everyone expected me to have a large family (and why wouldn’t I when I was “so good with children and would make such a good mother”?). Second, I would be a failure if I didn’t have a big family — but also a joke if I did. When anyone would ask me while I was in my teens how many kids I wanted, my answer was always what I was taught to say: “as many as God wants.”
I never let on that the jokes and even just the normal comments hurt me deeply. I never let on that I really didn’t want to have a bunch of children.
I wasn’t allowed to.
One thing I always wanted to scream at people making rude comments was that I had no choice. I had no choice that my parents wanted to be crazy and follow a cult. I was just the second one to come out.
I am now a mother and I have 2 amazing children. But I only have 2 and don’t plan on changing that anytime soon — if ever.
The problem is that it seems I will never be able to shake all those jokes and insults from my past. For example: on my Facebook page on my birthday, there is this one guy that feels the need to always say “Happy birthday” by making some joke about how many more kids I need to “catch up” with my Mom (as if I couldn’t figure that one out on my own).
When I did get pregnant with my oldest, the comments and jokes were merciless. I was working at a Christian bookstore (where I had worked for 5 years) and I knew about 80% of the customers that came in. Many others would recognize me because my family all looks alike and ask if I was a ____ (my family name), notice that I was pregnant and proceed to make a joke.
It hurt very deeply.
I would say the incident that hurt the most was when a lady (who I thought I respected) made a comment to my younger sister about how I was such a failure to my parents and was a rebellious child that obviously never learned a thing from my parents growing up. Why did she say that?
Because my sister told her that I wasn’t planning on having a bunch of children and that I wasn’t planning on home schooling.
Never mind that she didn’t have a bunch of children and that she had never home schooled herself. But somehow because I wasn’t doing it, I was rebellious (at 26 years old at that time and married). I have so many more examples that I can’t forget that I wish I could. As a result of all of that, I fled that church as soon as I could. I fled my hometown, too. Right now am on the other side of the country.
So I guess my point is really aimed at “normal” people. Yes, those jokes hurt. No, we (as the children) didn’t have any choice in those things our parents chose.
I was raised in a home and a church with certain expectations.
Most of the people I grew up with have lived up to those expectations. They’re all good Christians, remaining doctrinally pure and behaviorally righteous. Most of them are married and gearing up to raise the next generation of good Christians, in homes where the father is the leader and the mother is submissive.
My peers who have followed this path are the pride of their parents and the future of their church.
I have flouted all of these expectations. I quit attending fundamentalist churches years ago, and quit altogether around the time I graduated college. Although my parents think it’s okay for a single woman to work, they also think a woman’s highest calling is wifehood and motherhood. I’m nowhere near being a wife and I intend never to have children at all. My politics are so far removed from those of my parents that we can barely discourse on the topic due to fundamentally different worldviews. My behavior, as well, is far from the stringent moral standards held up by my former community, although somehow I think I’m still a pretty good person (mysteriously, drinking, going out to bars, and similar behaviors have not turned me into some kind of monster).
But it is clear to me that, however far removed I am from the outcome intended by the key players in my past (my parents and their church), my politics and anti-authoritarian worldview are a direct result of that past.
My parents made the mistake of teaching me to think for myself, to go against the mainstream, to be willing to believe what I know to be right. They homeschooled me partially in order to keep me from conforming to ordinary culture. Then they expected me to accept the exact same conclusions and ideas they themselves had accepted.
My church was, for a fundamentalist congregation, quite intellectual. They taught us to look at textual and cultural context and to know (their version of) church history. They taught us to argue for our faith. Then they expected that we would use each of these skills only to defend their particularly narrow viewpoint. I attended a Christian college, where I took classes which taught me how to reason, how to gather evidence, how to think for myself and effectively communicate with others.
But that same Christian college naively assumed that its graduates would toe the party line.
There were immense cultural pressures from my parents, their church, and my college to conform to a particular point of view, but all of them also gave me the tools to make my own way in the world, to reject conformity and with it the point of view they so desperately demanded I embrace.
At the same time as my parents, their church, and my college gave me the tools I needed to think for myself, they also taught me important lessons about fascism and forced conformity and loyalty to a particular ideology. I saw and I experienced in my own life the terrible consequences of valuing ideology and power structures over people.
I learned that unquestioning acceptance of authority often leads to very negative outcomes.
I learned that although those in authority demand implicit trust, I cannot implicitly trust them because they almost never truly have my best interests at heart. As I have said before, fundamentalism is simply religious fascism. It didn’t take long for my opposition to religious fascism to translate into the political arena as well. Also, my past taught me the harm of a “we few vs. the rest of the world” mentality. By its nature, conservative Christianity is elitist, claiming an inside track on knowledge and a superiority to unbelievers.
I am now utterly opposed to absolute power and I am wary of elitism in whatever form it takes.
So however critical I am of those in my past who attempted to control my life, I must also always be grateful to them.
They gave me early experiences which formed my current worldview. They gave me tools with which I was able to break out of the prisons they constructed around me and then build my own life, a life which looks nothing like they want it to but a life which I inhabit very happily.
At 16 years old, I was not allowed to cross our property line without another human being with me.
Like a caged dog, I paced back and forth, crying at the injustice of it all. The bonds that held me weren’t physical. I was chained by my sheltered life. The isolation came from homeschooling.
Until high school, I only had three close friends outside of my siblings, and I only saw them once a month. Although I was involved with many extra-curricular activities, I was not allowed to be friends with boys, non-homeschoolers, nor kids whose families my parents did not know.
So, no friends.
Pop and rock ave evil beats, movies with kissing or language — let alone violence — will make you copy them, gyms make you compare people’s bodies, TV shows are so sexualized they’re evil, iPods hurt your spiritual life, and so on. At least, that’s why I was not allowed. My siblings and I snuck around, listening to Christian music here, pop music there, watching TV when our parents were gone.
I’m still trying to get caught up on movies, pop culture, and music references.
Courtship was introduced as the only method of finding a spouse. We read books like the Courtship of Sarah McLean, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Boy Meets Girl, The Princess and the Kiss, and so many more. It was like my dad was supposed to own me, and any potential mate would have to ask for my father’s permission both to be near me and to eventually own me.
It’s so damaging to think of oneself as property.
Now, I want to date to find someone to marry, but my father does not own me. I do not need to be under his “vision” for my family. I have my own vision, which does not include abuse.
Mom held a sexist view of girls: they should not work outside the home. Girls were to have babies, homeschool their kids, and be dominated by men. Many Vision Forum books cemented this view in her mind like So Much More, What’s a Girl to Do, the Beautiful Girlhood books, Mother, and Joyfully at Home. Mom taught me needlework like a good Victorian girl, but I hated these activities! Just because I’m a girl does not mean I have to knit and drink tea!
I’m a person! I’m not a gender stereotype.
I was taught to be afraid of gays, Islam, and black men. It’s tough to grow up in a homophobic, Islamophobic, racist, sexist environment and come out unscathed. While it’s a struggle, I have learned to love everyone as made in the image and likeness of God.
The modesty teachings were awful. Modesty was focused more on covering skin than on ensuring the dignity of each person. I learned to watch my back for guys who would lust after me.
I heard that what I wore made me a rape target.
At first, Mom dressed me in denim jumpers or Easter and Christmas dresses from the local stores. Eventually, she forced me to sew my own dresses and skirts. When I was 9 years old, she told me that having my hair down made me look like a “lady of the night.” Even though I was a shy, modest girl, Mom constantly told me that something I did or wore was sinful, displeasing to God, and might turn on my dad or my brothers.
I was so scared that I was going to lead my brothers or dad into sin for lusting after me.
If that’s not twisted thinking, I really don’t know what is. Bleh.
I cried so many tears over how ugly I thought my body was, thanks to the baggy clothes I wore. Looking back, I was a healthy weight and my body was great. But shirts had to have sleeves and couldn’t come below the collarbone. Pants were forbidden after age 6. Swimwear was culottes that puffed full of water. The lifeguards even chided me for not wearing appropriate swim attire. I wanted to scream, “It’s not me!” My skirts had to be several inches below the knee, or else I was “showing some leg,” and that would “give guys a little jolt.”
When I finally turned 18, I had to beg a friend to help me pick out my first real pair of pants since Kindergarten. Of course, Mom called me a “slut” and a “whore,” declaring she could see intimate parts through my pants that would have been impossible for her to see. It was just to shame me.
Oh boy, here comes the scary part.
No one in my homeschooling community talked about sex. I got the talk at 12, earlier than any of my homeschooled friends. However, I only knew about one type of intercourse. I didn’t even know people did it lying down, lol. Because puberty, sex, and all related words were so hush hush, I stopped asking my mother questions.
The first time I heard another girl even mention her period, I was 16.
I stared at her in shock! “Did she just speak of her period?” I wondered. When I turned 18, I succumbed to searching dictionaries to learn the rest of the words and meanings.
I was also incredibly afraid of CPS. Through HSLDA and my parents, I learned that foster homes are terrible places that abuse children by burning their hands on stoves, and more. Well, it worked. I didn’t call hotlines, tell the speech moms who cared about me, or beg my few friends for help.
When CPS showed up at our doorstep, my siblings and I lied for fear of being separated from each other forever.
The community that attended our very conservative Catholic church supported the sheltered, so-modest-its-frumpy, sexist views of my parents. I even was bullied at church for failing to meet up to the standards of the kids my age. In the midst of all this, I got comments asking if I was part of a cult, Amish, or Mormon. It hurt deeply that people thought I was a freak. “IT’S NOT BY CHOICE!” I wanted to scream. But I couldn’t.
When people think you’re part of a cult, they tend to ignore you or avoid you.
The few people I told about the abuse after I escaped looked at me with shock and said, “I had no idea.” The isolation of homeschooling added with the isolation of a cultic appearance equals an ideal environment for abuse to continue.
Renee was a student instructor on the 2004 Communicators for Christ tour.
I toured with CFC (now ICC) in 2004. It was a fast-paced, high-stress whirlwind of a tour, and it was one of the best of my highschool experiences.
Let me give you some context. I chose to start debating competitively in the HSLDA/NCFCA at the age of 12. I was introverted and shy, but learned how to be outgoing and adopt a care-free attitude. I trembled with fear at every cross-examination, but learned to project confidence. I had some natural ability, a lot of determination, and a successful older sibling who was well liked and respected in the league. I made it to octafinals at Nationals by my second year.
The following year began well: my partner and I (a girl/girl team) did well at several tournaments. People I barely knew started coming to watch my partner and me “in action” in preliminary rounds. They stopped cheering as loudly when we made it to the finals, because it was just expected that we would be there. They predicted that we would win the national tournament. We didn’t. Instead, I had a losing record for the first time in my life. The crowds disappeared in awkward silence, and I was left with a staggering sense of very public failure. I was 14. I developed an eating disorder and severe performance anxiety.
The fear of a repeat failure spurred me to greater competitive success, bringing with it friends, popularity, and far too much of a spotlight. The increased attention raised the stakes of failure, and within a month of the new season’s start I had turned to self-injury to manage and escape the anxiety. My parents recognized the signs and intervened in the summer of 2004; by then I was 17 and had already been accepted to be a CFC staffer for the fall. At their insistence, I called Teresa and confessed that I struggled with anorexia and self-injury, and waited with a knot in my stomach. Was I too broken, too dysfunctional to teach? She asked whether I thought it would be a problem on tour, emphasizing that it would be a very stressful environment; that we would be under scrutiny almost continuously. I said no. She trusted me, and in August I joined the team.
What I didn’t know, or didn’t fully appreciate at the time, was how much different the homeschooling culture I knew was from those in which I would teach. NCFCA had a normalizing effect on the parents in my community. My parents, and many others in California, made it clear to me that they hoped I would pursue a high-power career, encouraged me to take leadership positions in the club, and were receptive to criticism or advice when I gave it tactfully. I wore ties and pantsuits, had one of the most aggressive cross-examination styles in the region, and was used to people being more or less okay with both. I would learn, over the course of the tour, that some people think all women who wear ties are lesbian, that it is ungodly to encourage people to read books that aren’t explicitly Christian, and that women should in no context teach men (or boys over 13). Tour was eye-opening.
For the most part, I thrived on tour: I got to see friends across the country, coach fledgling speakers, comfort & reassure terrified parents, and teach the activities I loved without the constant pressure to be the best. When conferences went well, my performance anxiety was almost non-existent. When they didn’t, it was rarely because I had taught badly: the tough days were when a parent would complain about me. For some reason, such complaints rarely came directly to me; instead, the offended party would approach Mrs. Moon, who would then meet with me to relay the concern. The first few times, I fought back the tears, feeling like a failure, and went back out to finish the day as though nothing had gone wrong. Then one day when she pulled me aside, Teresa noted that she didn’t share the concerns, but that in the scale of things the project we were working on was worth the pain of accommodating the whims of the conference attendees, when not unreasonable.
There were several more complaints throughout the tour; there always are. It was still crushing to hear that I had offended or disappointed someone so badly as to make them complain, and it still kept me up at night, but it was easier to bear knowing that Teresa didn’t condemn me for it. Once I made a judgment call in the moment that offended some parents, but when they complained, Teresa took responsibility, saying it had been her call, and diffused the situation for me. Hearing her handle the situation, I realized then that whatever strains and stresses I had suffered as an intern, it was likely she had undergone them a hundred-fold, each and every tour.
Occasionally, on the long drives between conferences, while we each sat up working late into the night, we would talk: about the stresses of living such a public life, about the delicate balance between truth and tact, about politics and people, exhaustion and motivation, and, of course, about failure. Sometimes we talked about adjusting to life after tour—I was relieved that I had only one more season to compete. If I had been popular before, tour transformed me into a homeschool celebrity: students would ask for pictures, shoving binders and shirts towards me for me to sign. I loved being loved, but hated the pressure. On bad days, I could hold onto the thought that soon tour would be over, and in a year I would graduate, and I could leave the limelight. I knew that Teresa did not have this comforting thought: for her, the years stretch out unending, all under the title ‘Director of CFC’. When we had our differences, it was this thought that helped me to understand, at least a little bit, the kinds of strains that she must be under, and marvel that she was as even-handed and controlled as she did manage to be.
Teresa Moon is far from perfect, but I worry that too few of her critics stop to understand how difficult it is to live the life that she leads. Teresa lives on an awfully high pedestal: she must routinely make decisions that have weighty consequences, and must decide based on very little information, or in a very short period of time, and all under unforgiving scrutiny from all of us. The perverse thing about the sort of fame that she endures is that mistakes and missteps get more attention than all the right decisions she makes. There’s a logic to it, of course: we notice outliers, so if things generally are going well, we are likely only to notice when things go wrong, taking the successes—and all the effort required to achieve them—for granted.
It would be misleading to say that Teresa and I were close friends by the end of tour. One of the costs of living a life as public as Teresa Moon’s is that she cannot afford to open up to many people; confidants must be few, carefully selected, and stable. Interns just don’t fit that bill. We did part on good terms, and I returned to assist with the annual Masters’ conference every year until the demands of my college coursework precluded such activity.
Tour was not a panacea: it did not fix my self-injury problem (it took years of counseling in college to even get close to doing that). Nor did it eradicate my performance anxiety; unfortunately that may be here to stay. What tour provided was an outlet for my energies, a chance to do what I loved in a way that mattered, to help people rather than just collect trophies, and a group of close friends who understood and could share the burden of the pedestal together with me.
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.
NCFCA and TeenPact were ideologically very similar to me — in some ways, almost extensions of each other. That could be because I was in NCFCA before TeenPact and a lot of the things I learned in NCFCA, TeenPact also tried to teach and hone.
I was 13 when I started NCFCA, and I stopped shortly after I was 15. I was in a debate club in SW FL (region 8!) and I never made it out of the preliminaries. I participated in persuasive, extemporaneous, oratorical, and occasionally impromptu speech, and Team Policy debate. My team was one of the few girl/girl teams.
Because I never got far, I didn’t experience as much craziness from mothers in other clubs. I remember ballots that had me in tears – one tournament I did an oratorical speech, which was Patrick Henry’s speech, and one of the judges wrote down (among other things) that my voice was too girly (because the ankle length skirt didn’t give it away?). This bothered me because it was like the judge wasn’t even listening, and wrote down something that I could not modify or fix, that was completely ridiculous and missing the point.
I had a lot of notes about my performance as opposed to content, though I don’t have any of my ballots to go back to. I remember being frustrated with most of them, because they were so unhelpful and had nothing to do with being a better debater, just, looking or preforming better. There were so many useless comments that I think actually a lot of us stopped reading them. Helpful commentary was so rare that when I found one, I was thrilled. Actually, I think I put it somewhere special at the time.
I wore clothes that were too big, too old, and I felt like a dark little blob in order to maintain professionalism and adhere to the dress code. I always wore skirts because it was easier that way, and because my clothes were larger than they needed to be, I flew under the radar for mothers enforcing dress codes.
There were rumors about why my partner and I didn’t make it to regionals one year: like maybe the judges voted for the boy/boy team because they were boys even though we had done better. I don’t know if it’s founded (though I wouldn’t be surprised) because my parents and the other parents didn’t get along (and my parents like to make things up).
I loved meeting people at NCFCA, and learning how to argue without feeling personally affronted, or personally offending other people. I learned how to think there, and my club itself, was fantastic. After my parents split the club, I was still able to maintain friendships and I realized that this is how life should work. I learned to value tact.
My parents made my experience in NCFCA horrible. They “learned” how to debate, held real life to NCFCA rules and decided that they disagreed with how the other parents were running the club and essentially split it in half. It was miserable as parents pitted against parents and all of us kids were stuck in the middle, powerless.
The club my parents started, was the club that holds the most similarities to TeenPact. Because, it was in the club my parents made, where gender roles were enforced. I “co-lead” the debate team/club with one of the boys. I had to essentially go along with whatever he wanted and let him make all the calls even though he was less motivated. My parents went to great lengths to insure “male headship”. Much like the girl talks at TeenPact.
They had extremely conservative by-laws. Girls who were more liberal, though never directly stated, were seen as trouble – which I think is why they made sure that only the girls they trusted were in leadership positions with/under boys. In hopes that the more liberal girls would follow the example and become less “loud”.
My mom taught (under male authority) in a very…task-master-like way (she made any speech and debate event/meeting miserable, even in the old club – it became so bad my first year that I told her dad needed to pick me up instead, because he wouldn’t berate me the entire way home). When she was starting the new club she essentially told me that I wasn’t good enough, that I was failing, and she was going to fix it (because she obviously wasn’t being hard enough on me?).
After a summer full of her “training” (which felt more like bootcamp) she started teaching the club itself, in a very similar way: very critical, and perfectionistic. I don’t know how the other parents felt, I think that the best thing my parents did for that club was move 3 months after they founded it.
In November, we moved to Atlanta-ish, and I joined a club close to me. I met my first best friend there, and was involved for the rest of the season – I was almost 15. When the season ended in the spring (when I was 15) my parents took me aside and told me “you’re not getting better at this, you’re not going anywhere, it’s obvious that this isn’t meant for you.” I was devastated, because this cut off my only social outlet in a place that I hated living. Which is besides the point, but it hurt so much that I feel it’s worth mentioning.
Really, the biggest comparisons that can be made between NCFCA and TeenPact are that their goals and values are the same. Their goal is to create thinkers to think the way they want them to think. They lure parents like mine, to indoctrinate people to think the way they want them to think. They want to create articulate teenagers to take over the world, they want simultaneously, for women to learn that their place is under men, and never above. That women need to hide their shape, still, and yet remain professional – in their skirts, unless you’re just doing speech, then slacks are permitted. But if you’re taking on (potentially) men in debate? Skirts-only for you, missy! I think this is a subtle way of enforcing the women-are-less idea that pervades so much of this subculture.
The thing that neither of these organizations count on, is their former students actually doing what they were taught to do – think for themselves.
How NCFCA Taught Me to Fight Sexism: Philosophical Perspective’s Thoughts
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Philosophical Perspectives” is the author’s chosen pseudonym.
Being a woman in the NCFCA was confusing.
It was a high-pressure, high-performance situation – or, at least, it was for some of us. I know a few people who were able to engage with the league as a hobby, taking a “if I win, great!” attitude – but me and my friends were never that laid back. We worked hard, labored long, and got deep into out rounds. We were gunning for Nationals, and then the national championship.
We traveled around the country for tournaments, saving up to pay entry fees and airfare, cutting corners by staying with host families when we were competing away from home. We figured out how to live in suits for days on end, what shoes to wear to tournaments so that we could look professional and still walk at the end of them, and how to make second-hand suits look “modest” and fashionable.
The larger purpose of all of this was to learn how to think critically, to be able to eloquently and winsomely communicate a “biblical worldview” in the culture at large – we were supposed to become world-changers and culture makers. It was a compelling invitation, and one I took seriously. I dreamed of becoming a professor, and writing books that would change the way that people thought about faith and reason, or changing foreign relations, or implementing better, fairer, and more just foreign aid. I wanted to have a career where I could have a voice, where I could influence people for the better and make a lasting impact on the world.
It didn’t take long, though, before I realized that my invitation to become a world-changer came with a caveat. While my male friends were planning and preparing for high-powered careers in politics and law, I was warned not to be unfaithful by “pursuing a career,” any career at all.
See, while my male friends were supposed to go to impressive colleges to make their way in the world and change policy, I was supposed to go to a Christian school only so that I would be better able to educate my children. Oh, I was still supposed to be a world-changer – but the sphere in which I was supposed to work was already prescribed. My intellectual development was important in as much as it made me better able to birth and raise future world-changers.
My public person was to be shaped by this future. The tone with which I spoke in rounds, the ways in which I asked cross-ex questions, the clothes I wore, and the people I hung out with were all policed to make sure that I was working towards this end. This came through in ballot comments – while my male peers were praised for their forthright honesty, I was told to be “less aggressive” and “more lady-like”. I was given fashion advice on ballots – “that black suit-jacket is too masculine – you should wear more color”, “it’s distracting that I can see your bare leg under your slacks when you sit down,” “I don’t appreciate it when women wear pantsuits. Skirts are more appropriately feminine”. Between rounds, watchful mothers would pull be aside to reprimand me on taking off my suit jacket to reveal a sleeveless shirt (and therefore my bare shoulders). Women I didn’t know would come up behind me and pull my shirt down if there was a gap between its bottom and the top of my slacks. I was scolded for sitting on floors in hallways (not lady-like!), and questioned about my conversations with male friends (leading them astray?). While every parent was watching for my suitability as a future wife, I met very few adults who actually took interest in my speaking skills.
At the same time, I was surrounded by powerful women. Women ran the tournaments, coached the clubs, initiated the conversations. People like Teresa Moon and Christy Shipe were strong, thoughtful, assertive leaders. They certainly didn’t seem to be yielding to men at every turn. And they weren’t the only ones. While their husbands were working, our mothers were pioneering a completely new movement. The women around me modeled powerful leadership in the face of incredible opposition, yet taught submission and subservience that they rarely showed us. To their credit, they modeled what a full life that didn’t include a career could look like – but they also sent me very mixed messages about what I (as a woman) were supposed to do with my life.
The NCFCA was where I got most of my cues, as a young adult, about my purpose in life and the avenues that were open to me. When I conformed to the (spoken) standards of “biblical femininity,” I was a role-model, a shining example of what a homeschooled girl should be – thoughtful and smart, yet “modest” and self-effacing. But I was never one to follow the “do as I say, not as I do” model of teaching. So I decided to behave and speak in the ways that came naturally to me, which I also saw lived out in the women around me. I was a leader, so I acted like one. I spoke kindly and thoughtfully, but directly. I made decisions and acted on the Christian principles I’d been taught – principles of love, equality, justice, righteousness, and freedom – even when others disapproved. I made responsible choices. And I pursued the dream I’d always dreamed – of a university where I would be challenged by new ideas, where I could think rigorously and work hard. I wanted to study philosophy, so I could learn this history of the ideas and theologies I’d held dear, and so that I could more thoroughly understand my own faith.
And my star fell as quickly as it had risen. The parents who had held me up as a role model quickly changed their tune. Few voiced their concerns directly to me, more just stopped talking, stopped investing, stopped asking me what I thought. A few made their objections clear in indirect ways. I heard disapproval second hand, from their kids – often couched in how they were concerned about how often I traveled to tournaments without my parents, or questioning my relationships with various male peers, or my wardrobe. Sometimes it would come up in conversation, when I told adults about my plans for the future. They would say, “I wish you all the best!” followed by a litany of the things that they would never let their daughter do (go to college / a secular college / live away from home / pursue a career / etc.) There were a few parents who continued lukewarm encouragement, but only after I stopped talking about pursuing a philosophy degree (philosophy departments were not only the bastion of liberalism, but also hotspots of professorial trickery, where fast-talking faculty would trick you out of your faith and your virginity).
When I eventually did attend my secular alma mater, far from home, I lost touch with most of the homeschool parents I’d known. The people who had said they were invested in my growth and development disappeared as soon as I departed from the path they endorsed for me as a woman – even though I was still invested in their vision of being a world-changer, and I’d embraced the bold female leadership and the determination to fight for what was right that I’d seen lived out. The rejection I felt was confusing, and it was painful.
In retrospect, I think the NCFCA taught me skills that led to my professional success, but set me up for failure, and, probably to its surprise, taught me how to recognize and fight sexism (though I wouldn’t have used those words then).
As many others have said, in debate I learned how to think, how to argue, and how to speak publicly. I internalized the message that I could be someone important and influential in the world, and that my voice and my message was valuable. Yet, when I tried to act on that message, I was shut down and sidelined because of my gender. The unintended gift of the NCFCA was a desire to fight for what was good, and right and true, and a willingness to pursue it regardless of the consequences. So I fought to go to college, and I fought to be heard when others would silence me because of my gender. I fought to stay in college when others disparaged the usefulness of my education, or question the “waste of money” (commentary I never heard directed towards my male peers). I fought to pursue a career, and I am still fighting against sexism in the church.
For the strength, determination, and tools to fight, I thank the NCFCA.
Part Ten: TeenPact and Relationships, by Kierstyn King
Everyone is told, no crushes are allowed to happen at TeenPact (because you can “allow” a crush to begin with).
Boys are told, to open doors for women, to let them go first in line, and to treat them like they’re delicate little flowers. Essentially, boys are taught to treat women like objects who are helpless and can’t take care of themselves. Girls are told to accept these gestures, always, even if they’re unwanted. Never turn them down.
Some of this is Tim Echols forcing southern manners down everyone’s throat, and some of it is perpetuating the idea that women are “the weaker vessel”. It’s hard, as a courteous person, because, having boobs means I can’t practice common courtesy on a human level. I’m not allowed to open a door, trade my place, give up my seat for someone who’s a boy because then it is interpreted as a slap in the face to them and their efforts at (forced) chivalry. This tells women to expect “special” treatment because they’e seen was weaker, and teaches men that women are weaker and need help to do basic things.
We’re supposed to let the men take command in setting things up, in making decisions, and whatever even if we disagree or have a better one. We can’t just assert ourselves and say no like normal people, because we need to learn submission.
In what I like to call the 2007 Speech From Hell, Tim Echols started by going on a raging tirade about “effeminate men” and I’m pretty sure he worked in how homosexuals were evil too. He said that it was an abomination to god and he was really angry with any man he saw who didn’t act manly enough for his liking. He listed specific examples (that I thought were ridiculous) but I can’t remember what they were now.
Then, he turned his attention to women, he singled us out and spent far too long on another tirade.
He talked about how we need to grow up and get married (fast! young!) so we can start breeding an army, because that is what we women are supposed to do. Our job in life, our job to further the cause, is to create more people and train them to make the changes that (hopefully) our husbands will have started to make. If we did that, god would be happy, we would be fulfilling our roles as women — because that’s just how it is. Women are not supposed to actually lead, women’s place is in the home, behind a man, who is supposed to be bringing the nation back to it’s christ-centered roots (don’t get me started).
Well before that point I had sworn off marriage, because a life of doing nothing but being pregnant and teaching children with the hope that they would be passionate about the thing I was and want to do the same thing just sounded horrible and unlikely. When he singled out all the women in the audience I felt embarrassed, ashamed, sad, horrified, and broken.
Because I had been told by my parents that what Mr. Echols was conveying was indeed my purpose, but I didn’t want that. I never had. It sounded like hell to me, though I would never have used those terms. It sounded just….the thought of it crushed my soul, and I was hoping TeenPact would be the place I didn’t have to fit that mold, but I was so wrong. I knew that once I got married I would have to go into that box — so I swore it off, and in case that didn’t work, I resolved to do all the things I wanted to do before I got married. Remembering that speech still devastates me and kills that thing that it killed before over and over again. I think maybe it was hope.
I felt completely broken, like a failure, because while every other girl was sitting there, raptured, already sold on the idea of getting married and having kids and getting permission to get married young, I was devastated, because that was just not the life I wanted – not the life I felt I was supposed to live.
I was supposed to do what they wanted me to do, without question, because a guy said it. I was never supposed to think.
And yet, thinking is what saved me from that fate, so: Thank you, TeenPact, for introducing me to my thinker-husband, my thinker-friends, and our sense of knowing we can indeed change the world, and reverse the lies and beliefs you perpetuated that only serve to enable the abusive environments we escaped from.