While many homeschool leaders have dismal records in how they discuss and respond to child abuse, their lack of understanding abuse dynamics also extends to other forms of abuse. The following are examples of how homeschool leaders have failed tragically to understand the realities of domestic violence, or spousal abuse.
The following excerpt is from HSLDA founder Michael Farris’s 1996 book How A Man Prepares His Daughters For Life. Farris has his patriarchal beliefs on full display in this book, including such passages as: “I am very supportive of the concept of the authority of fathers in their home…It’s important to be right…It is appropriate to simply say to your daughter, ‘Because I’m the dad, that’s why‘” (page 21); “a woman should be submissive to her husband” (page 96); and “husbands are ultimately responsible for family decisions” (page 101). He defends “a very traditional view about the role of women in churches” (page 27) and later explains that he means “a doctrinal position of male-only elders” (page 55).
But what stood out the most to me was the following 3 paragraphs with which Farris begins Chapter 5, “Guiding Your Daughter Toward Positive Friendships.” The tone-deafness, minimization, and victim-blaming Farris engages in regarding this very clear situation of domestic abuse — and the fact that he provided legal defense for a domestic abuser — goes to show that child abuse is not the only type of abuse Farris does not seem to take seriously. (For those unaware, a quarter-size bruise is a serious indicator of abuse, both for child abuse as well as domestic violence cases.) From page 77:
When I was a very young lawyer in Spokane, Washington, I was assigned to defend a case in which two professing Christians, “Steve” and “Lana,” were getting a divorce. Lana was seeking a divorce because of the advice of her “friends.” She and Steve, my client, got into an argument one evening and he grabbed her by the arm and squeezed. He left a bruise on her arm about the size of a quarter. He was ashamed of the action—as he should have been—and he apologized. But it was a far cry from the “battered-woman syndrome.” Lana was told by her friends, however, that she was a victim of wife abuse and she should seek a divorce. Believe it or not, she did.
A few weeks later her friends advised Lana that she should start dating, even though Steve was actively seeking to reconcile the marriage. One night when Lana was out on a date, their two-year old son fell behind the bunk bed and died from strangulation.
Lana knew what God expected of her regarding forgiveness and reconciliation, but she listened to her friends instead. She paid a terrible price for the wrong advice from the wrong kind of friends.
The following passage is from Bill Gothard’s 1979 Supplementary Alumni Book, Our Most Important Messages Grow Out of Our Greatest Weaknesses. Recovering Grace notes that, “Throughout the publication there are several self-contained Q&A boxes addressing common questions on divorce, such as ‘If two Christians marry and one persists in being unfaithful, does the other one have “Scriptural grounds” to get a divorce?’ (‘Answer: No.’) One Q&A appears to address domestic violence,” which is as follows:
What if the wife is a victim of her husband’s hostility?
There is no “victim” if we understand that we are called to suffer for righteousness. “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” 1 Peter 2:21 Christ was not a victim! He willingly gave His life for us. “By whose stripes you were healed…likewise you wives…” 1 Peter 2:24; 3:1 Christ’s life teaches us how to suffer.
The following passage is from James Dobson’s 1983 book Love Must Be Tough. The book claims to address “disrespect in marital relationships, describing its role in the drift toward divorce for millions of couples.” Dobson examines a number of potential marital conflicts, including (but not limited to) infidelity, substance abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse.
Chapter Thirteen of the book is “Loving Toughness in Other Situations,” and it addresses the topic of spousal abuse. Dobson begins the chapter with a letter from a woman named Laura, who tells Dobson her husband has “a violent temper that is absolutely terrifying” and “beats me with his fists.” Laura then asks Dobson what she should do. “I’m so tired of being beaten,” she says, “and then having to stay home for days to hide my bruises” (p. 146-7).
Dobson begins by stressing that, for Christians, “Divorce is not the solution to this problem,” because “Our purpose should be to change her husband’s behavior, not kill the marriage.” His solution is rather to have Laura directly agitate her husband: “I would suggest that Laura choose the most absurd demand her husband makes, and then refuse to consent to it. Let him rage if he must rage.” Dobson hopes this will shock the abusive husband into acknowledging “he has a severe problem” so that he will agree to “competent Christian counseling” that can lead to “reconciliation” (p. 148).
Not once does Dobson recommend calling the police.
After making this suggestion to agitate, Dobson then offers the following “qualification” to his advice (a “qualification” that is, mind you, longer than his actual advice to Laura). The emphases are in the original:
I have seen marital relationships where the woman deliberately “baited” her husband until he hit her. This is not true in most cases of domestic violence, but it does occur. Why, one may ask, would any woman want to be hit? Because females are just as capable of hatred and anger as males, and a woman can devastate a man by enticing him to strike her. It is a potent weapon. Once he has lost control and lashed out at his tormentor, she then sports undeniable evidence of his cruelty. She can show her wounds to her friends who gasp at the viciousness of that man. She can press charges against him in some cases and have him thrown in jail. She can embarrass him at his work or in the church. In short, by taking a beating, she instantly achieves a moral advantage in the eyes of neighbors, friends, and the law. It may even help her justify a divorce, or if one comes, to gain custody of her children. Remember what the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor did to American morale and unity? It solidified our forces and gave us a cause worth fighting for. There are those who believe President Roosevelt ignored warnings of the Pearl Harbor invasion for the precise purpose of unifying our resolve against a rising Japanese imperialism. In the same spirit, I have seen women belittle and berate their husbands until they set aflame with rage. Some wives are more verbal than their husbands and can win a war of words any day of the week. Finally, the men reach a point of such frustration that they explode, doing precisely what their wives were begging them to do in the first place.
I remember one woman who came to church with a huge black eye contributed by her husband. She walked to the front of the auditorium before a crowd of five hundred people and made a routine announcement about an upcoming event. Everyone in attendance was thinking about her eye and the cad who did this to her. That was precisely what she wanted. I happened to know that her noncommunicative husband had been verbally antagonized by his wife until he finally gave her the prize she sought. Then she brought it to church to show it off. It does happen. (p. 149-50)
Love Must Be Tough has been reprinted numerous times and this passage remains. The most recent reprint was 2007 and the passage is still there, unchanged
Michael and Debi Pearl
The following passage is from Michael and Debi Pearl’s 2004 book Created To Be His Helpmeet, as reprinted in 2012. It is under the section “Enduring Suffering Wrongly,” in which Michael Pearl argues that “the Bible is so clear” that “we are commanded to submit to every ordinance of the government that we are under—even to ignorant and foolish men.” Pearl first argues that even if slavemasters cause their slaves “unjust suffering and grief,” slaves must “endure it, and take it patiently.” Pearl justifies this by saying that, “It is acceptable with God (God’s will) for the underling to suffer wrongfully and take it patiently” (262-3). Pearl then applies this principle to a woman being threatened by her abusive husband:
Has your husband revile you and threatened you? You are exhorted to respond as Jesus did. When he was reviled and threatened, he suffered by committing himself to a higher judge who is righteous. You must commit yourself to the one who placed you under your husband’s command. Your husband will answer to God, and you must answer to God for how your respond to your husband, even when he causes you to suffer. (p. 263)
Debi Pearl demonstrates this principle in action when she writes about a young woman named Sunny. Sunny faced a horrific situation of domestic violence:
[Sunny] was soon pregnant with their first child, and in a matter of weeks, the violence began. Over the next seven years, Sunny was regularly subjected to his alcoholic rages and beatings, and she endured his flaunted unfaithfulness… When Sunny was pregnant with their third baby, Ahmed came home drunk and tried to kill her with a butcher knife. (p. 132)
Debi Pearl never suggests to Sunny that law enforcement be called, nor does she even suggest that Sunny approach her church’s leadership. Debi also never condemns Ahmed and his actions. Rather, she exhorts Sunny to “stay with him and begin a campaign of winning his heart” by ceasing to “blab about his sins” and begin to “reverence him” because that is “God’s will” (p. 133).
The reason the church is getting lax about divorce is that we no longer understand marriage. If a spouse has problems, such as drunkenness or fits of temper, the other one concludes it is not a “good” marriage and moves on. Those who take this perspective end up allowing divorce “for any and every reason,” just as the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’ day. Jesus answered the Pharisees that destruction of any God-ordained marriage is always wrong… Only adultery, which breaks the partnership by pouring its resources into a spiritually fruitless extramarital union, as well as (in the case of an adulterous wife) jeopardizing the children’s legitimacy, and desertion, which nullifies the partnership, are biblical grounds for divorce… Christians may never, never, never divorce Christians. (p. 21-22)
Heidi St. John
The following image was posted by popular homeschool convention speaker Heidi St. John on her Facebook page, with the explanation that she “thought it would bring a smile today”:
The image, the text of which St. John altered, comes from an old comic that depicts a chauvinistic man sexually assaulting his frigid boss (an action that leads to her marrying him). A close-up of the image makes clear the woman is terrified and crying:
The image is photoshopped from an old comic that depicts an employee sexually assaulting his “frigid” boss (see here and here or view the full comic here). Sure, one could try to argue that the image has been removed from that context, what with the new words in the bubbles and all, but that fails given the tear on the woman’s cheek and the fact that she is clearly trying to fight the man off (notice her pounding fists). Whatever the words, the image clearly depicts a woman futilely trying to fight off a stronger man’s advances. In fact, in the context St. John provides the image, it appears to be depicting attempted marital rape…
The trouble is that an image like this, in the Christian homeschooling community St. John is very much a part of, arrives in a context already influenced by writers like Debi Pearl and the teachings of Bill Gothard and others. These leaders explicitly teach that a wife should never say “no” to her husband’s sexual advances. These leaders do not recognize the existence of marital rape, because they see sex within marriage as the husband’s right.
Coming in this cultural context, St. John’s image is not “funny.” It’s a problem.
It normalizes coercion and marital rape.
As demonstrated by the previous statements by Farris, Gothard, Dobson, the Pearls, and Pride, Libby Anne’s critique of St. John is spot-on. The biggest names in homeschooling have communicated truly shameful messages about domestic violence — messages that will only add further guilt to victims and make them feel trapped and unable to escape. It’s not a laughing matter, and it’s something that we all need to speak up about and push back against.
Note: if you are a victim of domestic violence or know someone who is, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or visit their website here. There is help available and you are worth it.
Heidi, the bottom line for the attacks on you, me, and others is this: We follow Christ without apology. If we would water down the Gospel (and say that it is one of many ways to God) or if we would say that the Bible’s moral absolutes are merely suggestions, then we would find acceptance. You are standing strong and we are standing with you.
Considering that all of the individuals who have brought abuse allegations against Paul and Gena Suarez of the Old Schoolhouse (and associated individuals like St. John) are outspoken Christians, it’s unclear why Farris suggests the attacks involve “watering down the Gospel.”
What is clear, however, is that HSLDA’s Michael Farris has made explicit that he’staking St. John’s side in this situation.
The statement alleged to be St. John’s was posted on Facebook by Melissa Crabtree (image archived here). Crabtree is Heidi St. John’s virtual assistant. St. John herself has not posted this statement on any of her publicly accessible social media accounts. We have repeatedly attempted to contact St. John — both to verify this statement’s authenticity and to give her the opportunity to comment on our “When Homeschool Leaders Looked Away” piece prior to publication — but she has refused to respond. (Update, 10/18/2014: Heidi St. John has finally confirmed the statement’s authenticity and posted it on her Facebook page.) However, numerous factors indicate the statement is authentic, so we are sharing it here:
Statement from Heidi St. John
For more than six months now, a variety of accusations have been swirling within a fringe segment of the homeschool community suggesting that I, along with other respected homeschool leaders, have been involved in a “scandal.”
In a series of increasingly wild allegations, I have been accused of all sorts of terrible things, including causing a homeschool vendor to be disinvited from a homeschool convention.
I did not request anyone be disinvited from a convention. I did not cover up a child abuse scandal. Both of these accusations are completely false.
While the Internet provides a wonderful platform for encouragement and information, I am now learning first-hand that it can also be used to spread false information. It is a place where people of character can have their reputation attacked with little recourse.
Even my blog post has been used against me; proof that words written from a good heart with good intentions can be twisted by a clever wordsmith with evil intentions.
God’s Word is clear:
A tree is known by its fruit.
Assuming this truly is Heidi St. John’s statement, I have two comments:
First: Honestly, I’m not sure who or what St. John is referring to when she says, “For more than six months now, a variety of accusations have been swirling within a fringe segment of the homeschool community suggesting that I, along with other respected homeschool leaders, have been involved in a ‘scandal.'” If she is referring to Eric Novak and Jenefer Igarashi, that certainly is not true. Eric Novak is an outspoken Christian homeschool graduate and former employee of The Old Schoolhouse. And Jenefer Igarashi is a frequent speaker and vendor at Christian homeschool conventions, the sister of Gena Suarez (one of the alleged abusers), and also a former employee of The Old Schoolhouse.
Both Novak and Suarez were and are at the heart of this situation; they are as far from “fringe” as possible.
So if St. John means either Eric Novak, Jenefer Igarashi, or Homeschoolers Anonymous, she is either speaking falsely about the “fringe” part or the “more than six months” part — or both.
Second: St. John claims that, “I did not request anyone be disinvited from a convention. I did not cover up a child abuse scandal. Both of these accusations are completely false.” We have testimony backing up the allegation that she had a hand in getting Jenefer Igarashi blocked from attending the 2014 Ohio Great Homeschool Convention. We also have an email sent to Igarashi from Heidi St. John herself wherein St. John refused to help her. St. John’s email was sent in response to a message from Igarashi, which directly mentioned abuse cover-up. In fact, the subject of the email is “Re: TOS Magazine molestation cover up… advice?”:
On Thu, Apr 10, 2014 at 9:49 AM, Jenefer Igarashi [redacted] wrote:Here is the letter that was sent to Mike Smith. It has also been sent to [redacted]. And as I mentioned earlier [redacted] is actually one of the first hand witnesses who gives testimony against the Suarez’s (she witnessed, first-hand, the bullying/intimidation of the Suarez’s when they demanded that Roy Ballard continue being allowed access to family gatherings AFTER a little girl told the adults she had been groped. Roy Ballard was later imprisoned for sex crimes against children) The 20 people named in the group letter are only the tip of the iceberg.
You can see from the time stamp that Igarashi’s email was sent at 9:49 am on April 10, 2014. Less than 2 hours later, on the same day, St. John replied with the following email:
From: Heidi St. John [redacted]
Date: Thu, Apr 10, 2014 at 11:15 AM
Subject: Re: letter
To: [redacted], [redacted], “Jay St. John” [redacted]
Jenefer, I asked Mike yesterday about this dispute. … HSLDA will not be getting involved in it.
… We are not central to your grievance and we do not wish to be involved in it. …
This is a huge distraction for us in the middle of the busiest season of the year. We have neither the time nor desire to be part of it. Again, I ask that you honor our request to be removed from your grievance against your sister and her husband.
St. John was clearly aware of the allegations of both the abuse and its cover-up. She also chose to do the opposite of what the blog post she mentions said.
In short, with no “wordsmithing” required: Heidi St. John turned away.
Update, 10:45 am:
Both Eric Novak and Jenefer Igarashi made statements today. Links to them are posted below:
By Hännah Ettinger (Wine & Marble) and R.L. Stollar (Homeschoolers Anonymous). Several updates and corrections made on 10/16/2014 are highlighted at the end of the story.
American Christianity is actively facing a sexual abuse crisis. This crisis is more than just the evangelical community’s time to face their failings and follow in the steps of the Catholic church. It is a crisis of power and of children’s rights. It is a story about protecting abusers in order to preserve existing power structures in evangelical communities. Sexual abuse in Christian homeschool communities continues to be uncovered as leaders and organizations like Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips, C.J. Mahaney, Bob Jones University, and Patrick Henry College have faced heat for either their own sexual abuse of those under their spiritual authority (Gothard, Phillips), or protecting sexual predators in their communities (Mahaney, BJU, PHC). Each of these names is closely linked to the Christian homeschool community. What began as a trickle of stories about abuse is quickly becoming a flood.
Over the last few years, a number of stories have come to light about children violently abused by their parents and caregivers in the name of “biblical” parenting practices. Some, like Hana Williams, have even died. This abuse is often linked to the parenting teachings of Christian authors Michael and Debi Pearl. The Pearls’ teachings are especially loved in the conservative Christian homeschooling community. Homeschooling’s Invisible Children documents many of the cases where abuse has been directly connected to use of the Pearls’ book To Train Up A Child, which teaches parents to use corporal punishment to break the spirits of their children to make them submissive to God’s will.
During Novak’s time as an employee of TOS (and later, as he became a close friend to the Suarezes’ oldest son, who we’ll call “Jake”), he discovered that the Suarez and Igarashi families (the mothers of both families are sisters) are embroiled in an intense feud over physical and sexual abuse that has allegedly occurred in the family.
It all began at Reb Bradley’s church. Situated in Citrus Heights, California, Hope Chapel Christian Fellowship was pastored for 17 years (until 2004) by Reb Bradley. Bradley, a zealous advocate of courtship and “child training,” was a common fixture at California Christian homeschool conventions. Like other homeschool lumineers such as Henry Reyenga, Voddie Baucham, Doug Philips, and Scott Brown, Bradley was a promoter of “family integration,” believing age segregation in churches goes against the Bible. Through his company, Family Ministries, Bradley made a name for himself by calling for sexual “purity” and family-led courtship as an alternative to dating for love-struck teenagers. His teachings on corporal punishment closely resembled those of Michael and Debi Pearl. Ethiopian adoptee Hana Williams’ parents, Carri and Larry, who “disciplined” Hana to death, attended Hope Chapel for several years before they moved to Washington, the state in which Hana was tragically killed by her parents’ use of “child training.”
Around 2004, Hope Chapel struggled with internal controversy: Bradley’s daughter and the son of Paul and Mary Schofield (also important figures in the California Christian homeschool scene) began courting. But the process unraveled into a bitter, chaotic mess. A number of other church attendees, disillusioned with Reb Bradley’s ideals, broke away and formed their own church. These attendees included Steve Hauser and his wife Julie, Paul and Mary Schofield, Roy Ballard, Geoff and Jenefer Igarashi, Richard and Deb Wuehler, and Paul and Gena Suarez. The rabid anti-gay activist Scott Lively and Hope Chapel attendee, previously known for violently assaulting a woman and currently being sued for crimes against humanity, decided to take Bradley’s side in the controversy.
Today the Suarezes stand accused of protecting know child predators. You can read the background story here. Their accusers include not only their own family—two of Gena Suarez’s sisters, Jenefer Igarashi and “Megan” (her name has been changed to protect her privacy)—but also some of the same people who once joined them during the Hope Chapel church split, including the Hausers. Furthermore, one of the known child predators they are accused of protecting is Roy Ballard, also once a member of their new splinter church, and now in prison for criminal sexual assault. All of the events that follow, in fact, originally began in this church that splintered off from Reb Bradley’s Hope Chapel.
“Cinderella”: the Physical Abuse of Megan
What Eric Novak learned about the Suarez family involved alleged physical abuse of their children as well as alleged sexual abuse within the family. According to the various accounts, the Suarezes 22-year-old son, Luke, sexually abused two of his younger siblings and his young cousin, the son of Jenefer Igarashi. Luke currently has continued access to his siblings, as he lives at home with his parents. He is regularly in contact with children in the homeschool community, thanks to his family’s business. According to Novak, the Suarezes often get put up in the homes of other homeschool families when they travel. Novak relates:
“They continued going to conventions and such, and I know that for a fact that at conventions, they’ll like stay with homeschool families, and he’ll like, sleep in the younger kids’ rooms. And that’s what I’m most concerned about.”
The physical abuse allegations involve the abuse of all of the Suarez children, as well Gena’s youngest sister, “Megan.” When Gena’s mom died, Paul and Gena took in Megan, Gena’s third sister. Megan was 13 years old and Gena was around 26. Megan claims that once she joined their family, Gena turned into a fairy-tale worthy evil surrogate mother, turning Megan into house help and depending on her for her primary childcare support. It got to the point where even the neighbors jokingly called Megan “Cinderella,” according to a written statement by Megan (given to Hännah by Eric Novak):
Even friends and neighbors of Gena and Paul would refer to me as “Cinderella.” It was evident to all who knew us what my role in the family was: babysitter, house cleaner and servant… and physically or mentally abused (instead of properly disciplined), when I would act childish or foolish.
…I was left in charge and instructed to care for and discipline the younger children in the home – even told to strike them in the face when ‘disobedient’ or ‘disrespectful’ (they’d give me ‘slapping privileges’), which still haunts me today. They also immediately took and used every penny of nearly $10,000 that my mother had left for me when she passed away (…When I moved in with the Suarez’ [sic], they got access to that account and spent every bit of the money).
Megan alleges that the Suarezes didn’t just use her for free labor and steal the money her parents left her. She says they physically abused her and their other children and claimed that the abuse was God’s will. It seems like they employed the Pearls’ parenting methods quite studiously. This is also from Megan’s written statement:
I witnessed and was a victim of physical and mental abuse while in the home. I watched Gena as she would strip her youngest son down (around 4 yrs old), put him in the bathtub and run cold water over his face so that he couldn’t breathe. They would have their second oldest son strip down naked and repeatedly douse him with cold water. Gena would brag that she “finally found a punishment that would get them to obey”. She would also have her children stand in the corner so long they were forced to wet their pants. I also remember seeing her boys be made to ‘make up from a fight’ by inappropriately kissing various parts of each other’s body to the point of everyone in the room feeling awkward and uncomfortable… except for Gena, who would laugh. I remember the way she once used me to ‘teach [Jake] a lesson’ by convincing him to run away and then telling him it was a ‘test’ and then proceeding to give him 100 spankings when he packed a bag. Again, remembering back on these things makes me sick almost to the point of throwing up. She would pinch us and pull our hair on a regular basis. I remember having her grab my hair and walk me down the hallway. Punishments for ‘bad behavior’ were cruel and unusual things like sleep depravation (having to get up in the middle of the night and clean the house or run up and down a hill on the property in the dark), or being told to get in my bed and pull the sheets over my head and stay there the entire day. Regularly I would beg to be allowed to correspond with my father, who lived in Alaska. I was always given a firm “no” and would have to sit for about 3 hours and listen to all the reasons why I could not have a relationship with my biological dad… because he was ‘in sin’. Instead I was forced against my will to call Paul ‘dad’ and refer to him as my father- or I’d be punished. I was also instructed to refer to Gena as my ‘mom’ and again, would be ‘dealt with’ if I refused. I was 13 when I moved in with them, and 17 when I fled.
…Paul also could be, and often was, very cruel. I remember being seated in front of him on the couch (him in a chair very close to me), and he would be lecturing me. Each time I would speak, he would kick me hard in the shins with his steel-toed boots. There were also numerous times when he would slap me in the face or push me up against a wall as he yelled and repeatedly poked my chest over and over with his finger.
Close to the time I finally fled, it had gotten to the point that I didn’t want to live anymore. I would fantasize about dying. I couldn’t please them no matter how hard I tried. I was literally a slave in the home and punished as such when I couldn’t meet their impossible standards. What hurt the most after I fled was knowing the abuse that would continue in the lives of the children.
After Megan escaped, she found support in her other older sister, Jenefer Igarashi, and has thrived. She is now married and mentors in her community and is herself a homeschool mom. She remains a devout Christian.
Suarez Teenager Molests 6-Year-Old Igarashi Kid
In the spring of 2007, the Igarashis and the Suarezes had a falling out over a church-related disagreement, and then 6 weeks later, according to a plethora of corroborating accounts, it was discovered that Luke, the then-teenage son of Paul and Gena Suarez, “repeatedly molested” the 6-year-old son of Geoff and Jenefer Igarashi. The Igarashis discovered this when the 6-year-old began frantically grabbing his own neck one evening and acting erratically. He began tearfully describing the “sexual attacks” his older cousin had inflicted on him.
Jenefer immediately contacted the Suarezes. According to a now-private statement by Jenefer on her blog, the nephew “admitted everything”. He and his parents assured the Igarashis they would “self report” to the CPS and would see a “Christian counselor”. Two separate emails obtained by us verify that: (1) on July 5, 2007, in response to an email sent by Jenefer Igarashi describing the sexual assault of her son, Paul Suarez admitted “Luke’s sins” were “horrible”; and (2) on May 30, 2008, Paul Suarez again admitted his son was guilty of committing “shameful sin” against the Igarashi boy. “What our son did was so shameful,” Paul wrote, “that it brought my wife and I to tears”.
Eric Novak was close with the family during the time the Igarashis discovered their son’s alleged sexual abuse at the hands of Luke. According to Novak, the most help the family got was a few counseling sessions:
“The sheriff got involved—here’s the thing. Only one instance of sexual abuse was ever reported. So his siblings were never reported. Only the Igarashi’s son was one that was reported. So, in that instance, the sheriff got involved and they were like, well he’s a minor—cause he was 14—so now we need to take him to counseling and he’ll go through three sessions of counseling and at the end of it, if he’s fine, then we’ll be done. And so he went through three sessions of counseling and they were like, that’s it”.
The Igarashis suggested they resolve their differences with Christian mediation via Peacemakers, a Christian mediation group headed up by homeschool leadership confidant Ken Sande. But the Suarezes refused. They wrote an email to the Igarashis on September 7, 2008, and said “utilizing Peacemakers” was “an absurd idea” and suggest that they (the Igarashis) “may not even be saved”. They said Jenefer and Geoff had to first “repent” of their own sins–a reference to the initial falling out over church politics—before the Suarezes would consider talking to them about the 6-year-old’s molestation allegations.
The Suarezes also promised the Igarashis that they would step down as publishers of their magazine and relinquish their leadership roles. The following is from a July 4, 2007 email sent by Paul Suarez to Jenefer Igarashi:
The pertinent text is:
We have no intent of compounding this offense by remaining on as the leaders [sic] of TOS. Obviously we are not qualified to continue on as publishers of a Christian magazine. We are already in talks with handing the magazine over to someone more suitable than ourselves. Please keep this business decision confidential as there are more people’s livelihoods at stake than our own. This is not to say that you should not report this incident to whomever you feel necessary. However, spreading this misfortune by talking or blogging to others not involved or directly related to this incident would serve no purpose. Please know that we certainly don’t intend on playing the hypocrite by sweeping this mess under the rug. Again, we have no interest in protecting our own reputations, only the livelihoods of those who depend on TOS.
This never happened. California business records demonstrate that The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC has remained active since 2005 and its principals remain Paul and Gena Suarez. Furthermore, the Suarezes continue to this day to represent themselves as reputable leaders (both publishing and otherwise) in homeschooling communities.
More Cover-Ups and One Last Attempt
Since 2008, the Igarashis felt their hands were tied in exposing the abuse to the public. But earlier this year, after watching the Disney movie “Frozen,” Jenefer was overwhelmed with a desire to try at reconciliation again. The Igarashis also learned in March of this year that their son was not the only sexual predator allegedly protected by the Suarezes.
The Igarashis learned about Mike Marcum, whose father (according to Novak) is Paul Suarez’s “right hand man in all things TOS-related.” Mike was arrested, and pleaded guilty in 2010 for possession of child pornography. According to Jenefer’s now-private statement, Mike was welcomed into community gatherings by the Suarezes despite them knowing he was being investigated for the child pornography charges. “When one of the families in their group found out,” Jenefer wrote, “the husband alerted other families that they knew had been exposed to the perpetrator. Their goal was simply to protect all children involved and make sure each parent had the opportunity to talk to their children and ascertain safety”. Instead of encouraging this family’s actions to protect children, Paul and Gena Suarez berated them. Jenfer wrote that the family was “called to a meeting with my sister and her husband and were ‘beaten with scripture, pulled completely out of context’ for about three hours. They were told they were gossips and were sowing discord and acting unbiblical”.
In addition to Mike Marcum was Roy Ballard, one of the individuals who originally joined the church that splintered off from Reb Bradley’s Hope Chapel. Ballard was convicted of criminal sexual abuse against children. According to Julie and Steve Hauster, also members of the splinter church, the Suarezes refused to believe a young child claiming she had been inappropriately touched by Ballard and instead belittled and shamed her and her family.
Reinvigorated with the desire to bring these stories of abusers to light, the Igarashis began counseling with their new pastor in February 2014. Desiring to abide by the principles of Matthew 18, the Igarashis enlisted a large number of fellow homeschool parents and drafted a group letter (involving several well-known leaders in the Christian Homeschool Movement) in the drafting process. The Igarashis sent a draft of the letter to the Suarezes on April 4. A copy of the letter was also sent to Heidi St. John, one of the most popular speakers for the Great Homeschool Conventions and a longtime family friend of both the Suarezes and Igarashis. The so-called “Super Mom of Homeschooling” who hosts “mom PJ parties”, St. John was informed by Jenefer that a third child molestation cover up (the case of Mike Marcum) had been discovered.
The Igarashis Appeal to HSLDA’s Michael Smith
Jenefer also decided to contact another friends: HSLDA President Michael Smith. Jenefer called Smith on his personal mobile phone 3 times as well as emailed him with her plea for help.
An excerpt from her April 8, 2014 email to HSLDA’s Smith reads as follows:
It’s been a while since we’ve talked.
My husband asked me to email you. I don’t know if you remember that Gena Suarez.(The Old Schoolhouse Magazine) is my sister. We had a (very) difficult split 7 years ago.
Last month we put together another effort to call them to repentance. 20 people have given testimony against them (including [name redacted], [name redacted], [name redacted], and others)
The document we’ve sent them has been ignored.
…we were told that *morally* we had some decisions to make since we know there have been recent cover ups (dealing with convicted sex offenders — Suarez’s pushing to allow access within family settings and bullying people who spoke out). I have testimony and direct proof of this. The men are listed on sex crime registers. Both men were convicted of crimes against children. This is in addition to their son (a highschooler at the time) who repeatedly victimized our little son.We are trying to make a decision whether or not to let convention leaders know about this issue.
The [name redacted]/Teach Them Diligently are our friends and know about this issue and so does [name redacted] (also our friend), who helps run CHEA of California. But as of yet, we’ve not informed anybody else.
My husband asked me earlier today if I would contact you and ask your advice. HSLDA has been the watchdog/protectors of the homeschool movement since the early 80s. You all have not only protected legitimate homeschoolers but have made sure the Homeschool Community (at large) was not used as a haven for abusers.
We really are not sure what should be done in this case. On one hand we are nervous about knowing about their patterns/ keeping children safe, but on the other hand we are talking about my sister who I love. After the Doug Phillips tragedy I feel like the homeschool movement could be damaged with another high profile scandal. This is a horrible position any way you look at it.I know you are a very busy man, but any light you could shed on this would be very appreciated.
Enter Heidi St. John, Brennan Dean, and the Great Homeschool Conventions
The joint letter the Igarashis sent to the Suarezes (and copied to Heidi St. John) on April 4 was not received well. According to Novak, the Suarezes “ignored both the letter that had been crafted by the individuals (list of 20) and also Jenefer’s pleas to her sister to work with her”.
Heidi St. John, however, was dismayed by the fact that Jenefer involved her in the situation. St. John sent a number of emails to Jenefer in response. In one of those emails, St. John wrote, “This is a huge distraction for us in the middle of the busiest season of the year. We have neither the time nor desire to be part of it”. St. John also told Jenefer that she had talked to HSLDA’s Michael Smith and Smith told her that, “HSLDA will not be getting involved in it.”
According to Novak, the Suarezes then attempted to strong-arm Jenefer. Novak says, “They got the letter from Jen on April 4th — and never emailed back. Instead, their move was to rope in Heidi St. John and have GHC call Jenefer’s workplace and request that she be kept out of the GHC event, the weekend of April 24th”. Allegedly pressured by St. John, the GHC leadership agreed to block Jenefer from the convention. This happened on April 23 when Jenefer Igarashi was at the airport, about to board a flight to the Great Homeschool Convention in Ohio. Jenefer is an employee for a well-known company that exhibits at homeschool conventions around the United States. While waiting to board, Jenefer received a call from her employer. That employer had received a phone call from Kim McMillan, Exhibitor Coordinator for the Great Homeschool Conventions. According to Novak, McMillan told Jenefer’s employer she was calling on behalf of GHC president Brennan Dean requesting that Jenefer not be sent to the convention because of her “threatening emails” to the Suarezes.
It is important to note that the emails in possession of the authors indicate that Heidi St. John was entirely aware of the allegations that the Suarezes had ignored child abuse and—according to Jenefer and other collaborating accounts—decided to look away, despite writing the blog post “Don’t Look Away” a mere month before. In that post, St. John declared that,
What’s more troubling to me is the lack of concern that the homeschool community seems to have for the victims of Gothard’s and Phillips teachings. There seems to be more concern for protecting these men and their “ministries” because it may have a negative impact on homeschooling than for the lives of the people who have been hurt and abused.
What in the world are we thinking?
Her own words appear to be self-indicting.
David Gibbs III Offers to “Help”
Two days later, on April 25, Jenefer received a call from someone she did not know: David Gibbs III. Gibbs seemed to appear out of nowhere. He had been in the news earlier this year as the defender of another abuse victim—Lourdes Torres-Mantufuel, the target of Doug Phillips’s alleged sexual molestation.
Gibbs appeared to be a godsend, a knight in shining armor. Gibbs allegedly told Jenefer that he “didn’t even really know” the Suarezes and was simply told by Heidi St. John and Brennan Dean that there was an “issue” with which he could help by arranging an “unbiased mediation” with the Suarezes. After trying to years to arrange that very thing, this seemed like a break in the dam to Jenefer. So on April 25, 2014, Jenefer sent Gibbs a slew of private documents for him to examine before the mediation effort. Most notable was the aforementioned private testimony by Megan, detailing her horrific abuse at the hands of Gena and Paul from the years of 1995-2001—abuse so intense that she became suicidal.
Jenefer sent the testimony with the understanding that it would be confidential and believing that she could trust Gibbs. But that trust began eroding when one of Jenefer’s children realized Gibbs was a part-owner as well as a corporate sponsor and organizational partner of the Great Homeschool Conventions—the company that just banned Jenefer from their convention and featured Heidi St. John. GHC has only three corporate sponsors: one is The Old Schoolhouse and another is David Gibbs’ National Center for Life and Liberty. Jenefer also found out Gibbs was a columnist for The Old Schoolhouse.
Jenefer’s trust in Gibbs vanished entirely when Gibbs, the Suarezes, and the Igarashis met on May 5, 2014 for a final mediation attempt. At the beginning of the meeting, Paul Suarez pulled out a document: the confidential testimony of Jenefer’s sibling. Somehow the confidential testimony of an abuse victim — given only to Gibbs — had fallen into the hands of the victim’s alleged abusers: the Suarezes.
The mediation attempt was a grueling process, lasting around 10 hours. According to a written report of the meeting, Paul Suarez attempted to use the mediation to lecture people, and was consequently asked to leave the room along with Jenefer’s husband. When Jenefer confronted Gibbs about whether he would advise Lourdes Torres-Manteufel to sign such a mediation agreement, Gibbs allegedly grew irate and declared, “You’re no Lourdes Torres!” According to this report, Gibbs eventually pushed Jenefer and Geoff to sign a mediation agreement he drafted. The agreement declared that the Suarezes agreed to stop “shunning” the Igarashis but on the condition that Jenefer was to cease talking about all the potentially damning information they had. It was also insinuated that they could be sued if they chose to speak up. We have a copy of the mediation agreement but are not at liberty to publicize more than the following image from it.
The Suarezes’ pastor in Tennessee was involved in the meeting, and has not yet reported the Suarezes for child abuse, despite having read Megan’s statement and voicing concern for the remaining children at home. The following is from an email by Jenefer to Novak (and given to Hännah by him) debriefing the meeting in May:
And then her PASTOR (they brought a pastor who drove up with them from TN) said, “I’m concerned about the child abuse” and then he said, “How about we write up an agreement that states the Suarez’s were wrong for dividing with the Igarashis and then I will personally begin monitoring the Suarez’s with our board of elders, examine their household and interview their children and then periodically report to you directly, Jenefer.” Then he said, “the Suarez’s are in the process of joining my church and if we let them be members we are definitely going to want to keep an eye on this. We don’t want them in our church if they are going to behave like that.”
The pastor, Charlie Scalf of Roan Hill Baptist Church, didn’t return our call inquiring about the Suarezes’ membership standing at their church. Days after signing the agreement, something inside Jenefer snapped. She finally had the chance to be un-shunned after 7 years. But it was not worth the cost to her: the cost of pretending she agreed with a philosophy that protects child abusers and punishes those who speak out.
So on May 24, 2014, she violated the terms set by Gibbs’s mediation agreement and wrote a public blog post revealing both the alleged sexual assault against her son and the Suarezes’ alleged roles in covering up both that assault and other child predators in their communities. This blog post caused an outrage among the other parties involved in the mediation agreement. Jenefer eventually made the post private and password-protected. But several weeks later, she again decided to go public—despite pressure by Gibbs to not do so. On June 19th, she wrote a second blog post about the abuse. Novak suggests that her reasons for doing so were because she believed that Paul and Gena had breached their side of the agreement as well. In the July 19th post, Jenefer writes:
I’ve been accused of trying to ‘vindictively take down The Old Schoolhouse Magazine’. I reject that accusation. Paul and Gena made the choice to habitually divide with believers over secondary issues. They have also made the choice to condemn (multiple) families who spoke out against child predators.
They made the choice to continue pursuing the spotlight as national leaders after knowing their highschooler [sic] repeatedly molested more than one child. In my opinion, they should have stepped down and dealt with their family issues. Instead, they built an audience and created a following. I feel no obligation to protect their leadership position in the homeschooling community. It was their choice to push this issue public.
They refused to deal with us privately (we tried repeatedly) and then seven years later, when they finally met with us (with a supposed ‘unbiased mediator’) they refused to acknowledge any error over their unbiblical belief of shunning Christians over secondary issues. Nor did they see a problem with condemning families who refused to accept what amounts to a ‘zero accountability’ stance for child sex predators. It is because of their choices that this is now playing out in front of an audience that they, themselves, created.
Here’s a helpful motto: Don’t do things that you don’t want people to find out about. It’s not the job of the ‘abused’ to protect their abusers ‘popularity’.
Now 14 years old, the Igarashi’s son wants people to know what happened to him (taken from a June 19th blog post written by Jenefer):
…he told me he wanted to speak plainly. He told me that he was angry — really angry — that his older cousin had forced him to live with such disgusting memories. He also told me that he hated the idea of being known as the kid who had ________ happen to him. He said he was fearful of having a tainted reputation and was nervous about being kept out of certain circles of friends who might look at him weird if they knew. I sat quietly and just listened to him as he spoke. And then what he said surprised me. He said, “I think that being concerned about how I’m viewed is selfish, though. I don’t want my reputation to be more important to me than knowing we might be able to help prevent others from having to live through what I have to deal with”.
This child is right to be worried that others will have to deal with this same stuff. If these allegations are true, the statistical probability that the Igarashi son and the two Suarez siblings are not Luke’s only victims is high—the “average” pedophile will have many, many victims have before getting caught (numbers vary, but most sources estimate between 100-200). So much time has been wasted because these families have delayed legal action by years of attempting Christian “reconciliation”. Jenefer and her husband initially left their jobs at TOS shortly after their son’s abuse, but felt they had to keep quiet due to years of alleged threats and intimidation from Gena. Gena is alleged to have further attempted to squash Jenefer professionally by going behind her back to request that Christian media outlets like Crosswalk.com remove pieces Jenefer wrote for them while she was a TOS employee. The Suarezes have even threatened Eric Novak with a libel lawsuit over his Facebook posts warning about their abuse.
Everyone who spoke to both of us is terrified of Paul and Gena.
The Suarezes have controlled the narrative thus far, and Gena’s sisters (both of whom evidence passion to see Luke, Paul, and Gena brought to justice) both initially spoke with us in extensive detail about the situation. However, they later took our conversations off the record out of fear of retaliation. While Eric Novak expressed similar hesitations, he decided that exposing the alleged abuse was worth the risk. These fears evidence the power alleged abusers have to control the narrative by keeping their victims silent and afraid of punishment. Eric says he hopes the Suarezes see justice for their alleged physical abuse of their kids and for Luke’s alleged sexual abuse of his siblings and cousin.
To date, the Suarezes and The Old Schoolhouse have not responded to these allegations with a public statement. Rather, as reported on Homeschoolers Anonymous on July 2, 2014, TOS has been stating privately—via emails—that all of these allegations are false. “TOS and the Suarez family are aware of the allegations circulating online”, TOS declared. “They are false”. In light of the fact that the authors have emails on file from the Suarezes themselves admitting several of the allegations are true, these current statements by TOS appear intentionally and maliciously false.
Even more disturbing is the revelation—again, verifiable—that some of the biggest names in Christian homeschooling (HSLDA’s Mike Smith, GHC’s Brennan Dean, GHC’s Heidi St. John, and NCLL’s Dave Gibbs III) have known about both the child abuse allegations and the alleged cover-up of the abuse for substantial periods of time and have chosen to ignore it, remain silent, or bully others into silence.
This might be the most widespread, institutional cover-up of child and sexual abuse allegations among homeschool leaders and communities to date.
Note: The authors reached out to HSLDA, GHC, TOS, Heidi St. John, and David Gibbs III for comments. None of them replied by the time of publication.
* The original story incorrectly implied that Jenefer Igarashi directly contacted Anne Miller, President of the Home Educators Association of Virginia. The contact was made via a third party.
* The original story stated that, during the mediation attempt, “Paul Suarez stormed out of the room at one point and never returned.” Paul did not storm out; rather, he was asked to leave the room along with Jenefer’s husband after creating difficulties during the mediation.
* The original story said David Gibbs III said “You’re no Lourdes Torres!” to Jenefer Igarashi in response to him allegedly giving the testimony of her younger sibling to the Suarezes. This has been corrected to reflect that Gibbs allegedly said that in response to Igarashi asking if Gibbs would make Lourdes sign a mediation agreement with Doug Phillips.
* The original story said that the GHC leadership allegedly agreed to block Jenefer Igarashi from the convention due to pressure from Heidi St. John and Paul and Gena Suarez. Igarashi’s public statement today says,
When I accused Gena of punishing me by having me blocked from this convention, Mr. Gibbs stopped me and said, “Gena didn’t ask to have you blocked. Heidi St John did.” There were a total of five witnesses to that statement. When I asked why in the world Heidi would have anything to say about it, my sister began quoting, verbatim, from a private email I had sent Heidi.
I’m not sure what’s more disturbing—this image, or that none of the moms commenting on it saw this image as disturbing.
The image is photoshopped from an old comic that depicts an employee sexually assaulting his “frigid” boss (see here and here or view the full comic here). Sure, one could try to argue that the image has been removed from that context, what with the new words in the bubbles and all, but that fails given the tear on the woman’s cheek and the fact that she is clearly trying to fight the man off (notice her pounding fists). Whatever the words, the image clearly depicts a woman futilely trying to fight off a stronger man’s advances. In fact, in the context St. John provides the image, it appears to be depicting attempted marital rape.
Homeschooling offers parents the best opportunity to shepherd their children both academically and spiritually. Yes. It’s worth it. But do you ever feel as if your life is all homeschool all the time? Do you ever wonder where the girl your husband married went? This book is for every mom who has collapsed into bed at the end of the day, looked into the eyes of her husband and promised tomorrow, she’d have time for him. Trouble is, tomorrow finds her more exhausted than the day before. If you have ever felt caught between the demands of homeschooling your children and meeting the needs of your husband, you’re not alone. Read and discover how even a busy homeschool mom can make time to nurture her marriage. It s not as hard as you think and more important than you may realize. Pre-order your copy today!
I am sure St. John has some genuinely good advice. The Amazon reviews of her book (which I have not read) speak of chapters on things like household organization and “me time.”
My concern with St. John centers on two things: first, her use of the comic book image makes me concerned about what she teaches regarding sex and consent, and second, her treatment of HA and HARO on her facebook wall makes me concerned about how her homeschool co-op ministry addresses (or does not address) things like abuse or neglect.
First, the comic book image.
The trouble is that an image like this, in the Christian homeschooling community St. John is very much a part of, arrives in a context already influenced by writers like Debi Pearl and the teachings of Bill Gothard and others. These leaders explicitly teach that a wife should never say “no” to her husband’s sexual advances. These leaders do not recognize the existence of marital rape, because they see sex within marriage as the husband’s right.
Coming in this cultural context, St. John’s image is not “funny.” It’s a problem.
It normalizes coercion and marital rape.
Second, St. John’s treatment of HARO and HA.
Last week St. John posted a defense of HSLDA on her facebook wall, and several homeschool alumni who had mutual friends with her left comments sharing their stories and trying to explain their concerns with an organization that defends child abusers and elevates parental rights while denying that children have rights. St. John’s responds was this:
St. John’s response to abuse in the homeschooling environment is “we’ve got bigger problems in this world right now” and “move on.” She calls homeschool-alumni-turned-reformers “a bunch of angry kids trying to get back at their parents.”
This should not be acceptable.
I’d like to see St. John reach out to member co-ops with information on recognizing and reporting abuse and neglect, perhaps using resources developed by HARO or CRHE, but her response here suggests that she doesn’t see this as a priority. Instead, she’d rather stick with praising HSLDA and condemning homeschool alumni who point out that HSLDA’s policies protect abusers (which they do). My concerns here are much, much bigger than Phillips and Gothard. Those two leaders have gone down in scandal, but they were never the center of my concerns. The valuing of belief over people, the glossing over things like consent, the minimizing of the need to protect children—these are things that concern me.
And St. John reminds us, once again, that these things haven’t disappeared with Phillips and Gothard.
There are vastly more kids in public school than are homeschooled, and abuse and educational failure are widespread in those institutions. More kids are affected by the incompetence of the public schools, yet you have devoted quite a bit of time and space here to homeschooling failures. Your interest in homeschoolers seems disproportionate to the problem.
Kids are being beheaded in Iraq and Syria right now because their parents profess Christ. That might be something you could “move on” to . . . . frankly, we’ve got bigger problems in this world right now.
What I’m hearing in these comments from homeschool parents is that the only possible reason homeschool alumni could possibly want to protect homeschooled children from abuse and neglect is to “get back at” their parents.
That sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Of course, these homeschool parents claim—with absolutely zero evidence—that homeschool alumni like myself are not interested in protecting homeschooled children but rather in taking down homeschooling. I’m having troubles finding words for how angry this complete unwillingness to actually listen makes me.
What I also see, though, is a lack of interest in the needs of current homeschooled children, which is odd given that most of this is coming from homeschool parents. Those who say that it is illegitimate to worry about homeschooled children until the problems in public schools are fixed are suggesting that the interests and safety of homeschooled children are secondary to those of public schooled children. As a homeschool alumna, this is really insulting. Yes, public school children matter. And so do homeschooled children. All children (and all people) matter. All children have an interest in a safe upbringing and a basic education—including homeschooled children.
I am asked why I should care so much about the wellbeing if homeschooled children, as opposed to some other cause. The answer to that is very simple. I was homeschooled. Aren’t alumni expected to care about their alma mater? For me, that’s what homeschooling is. I have sympathy for homeschooled children because I was one. I am a homeschool alumna.