Isn’t This Why We Don’t Send Them to Public School?

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Quinn Dombrowski.

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Eleanor Skelton’s blog, The Girl Who Once Lived in a Box. It was originally published on December 14, 2015.

I was four years old.

We were visiting my dad’s childhood home in New York, and we went to the house of an elderly lady who used to be his neighbor. She had a caretaker, a single mom homeschooling her son, who was around my age.

My favorite TV show was Barney the Dinosaur, my only 30 minutes of live television once a week. I also played my Barney’s Favorites cassette tape every day and I knew all of the songs by heart.

The little boy and I started chattering and playing on the floor, and I sang “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” for him and his mom, very enthusiastically, with all of the hand motions and marching.

“Do your ears hang low?
Do they wobble to and fro?
Can you tie ’em in a knot?
Can you tie ’em in a bow?
Can you throw ’em o’er your shoulder
Like a continental soldier
Do your ears hang low?”

His mother turned to my mom and said, “Isn’t this why we don’t send them to public school, so they won’t be exposed to garbage like this?”

I remember this deep sense of shame and wanting to crawl under the carpet. I felt like I’d humiliated my mom and I wondered what was so terrible about my song. I think the little boy’s mom called him to come sit on the couch next to her, away from me, and we weren’t allowed to play together the rest of the visit.

This was the first time that I was that child, the bad influence.

Usually it was my parents keeping me away from other children that could lead me astray. This time, they hid their children from me. My mom didn’t understand at all why the other mother objected to the song.

The fear would follow me for years.

Later on in my teens, we ended up in a church with mostly other homeschooling families, some of them Quiverfull. All the other churches we’d gone to before were mainline denominations, and their children went to public school. But homeschooling was becoming more common by 2004.

I’d hear stories from the other families, pick up things in snatches of conversation.

My sister got a craft book for her 8th birthday party, the only party she ever invited friends to since we stayed to ourselves. The other children said, “Oh, look there’s a witch on this page! We’ll have to cover that up.” Their mom glanced over and said, “Oh yeah, you can just cut out black construction paper and glue it over those pages like we do at our house.”

I called my Bible Buddies partner during the week, we got into a theological discussion, and I asked, “Well, have you ever read Narnia?” “No,” she answered. “My parents don’t like that they talk about magic, and they think it’s too confusing for children to read about Jesus as a lion.” I explained that magic is like a substitute for divine power both in creation and redemption, and I read her some dialogue between Aslan and the Pevensie children. She said she thinks it’s probably safer not to read it and seemed uncomfortable, and I dropped the subject.

A homeschool mom traded some used A Beka textbooks with our family. The pages of the only Greek myth in the 8th grade literature book were stapled together. “Why should they learn about pagan literature when they could be reading the Bible?”

My dad bought clearance books and films from the Focus on the Family bookstore. He sent the kids Ten Commandments VHS series to a Quiverfull family we knew with 13 kids. My mom explained to their parents that the only time there is music with a beat in the series is the scene where the characters worship false idols.

I was always watchful around the other families, struggling to balance being honest about the books and movies I enjoyed but with the fear of not being allowed to talk to the other teens if I’m considered a “bad influence.”

In this patriarchal world, if one of the parents decided I’m not spiritual enough or too worldly, I might not be given space to defend myself.

I know because it happened to others. Teens and young adults were called into the pastor’s office and questioned about their music preferences, asked to stop hanging out with their children.

Because, you know. This is why we don’t send our kids to public school.

public school pearls

The Civil War Wasn’t Your Fault (And Other Things I Wish I’d Known)

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Britt Reints.

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Micah J. Murray’s blog. It was originally published on January 29, 2016.

I’m in this stretch of my life called “deprogramming”.

It’s the part that comes after brainwashing, and after disillusionment, and after despair. Deprogramming is the long, difficult process of unlearning all the ways my mind was bent by bad religion, rearranging a hundred tangled wires criss-crossing my mind.

Today I came across another pile of bullshit from the cult leader whose teachings were part of my brainwashing for the first twenty years of my life.

So today we are going to deconstruct some bullshit, as we’ve done here once or twice before.

This might not be of particular interest to you, unless you were in the cult I was in (which, sadly, many of us were) or unless you have a morbid interest in dissecting us from a distance like a freakshow (which, sadly, is not an unlikely scenario.)

First, a moment of backstory: Bill Gothard, an old man who has never been married or had children, resigned a few years ago from the cult he built by telling other people how to be married and have children. His resignation came in the midst of a sexual harassment investigation which has recently become a sexual abuse lawsuit. Like any good cult leader, Gothard has not let the utter collapse of his empire or the dozens of serious allegations against him deter him from doing the Lord’s work. Instead, he has simply rebooted the franchise with yet another vaguely named religious undertaking: Life Purpose Power Teams. Though this new project prudently avoids using Gothard’s increasingly infamous name and face, it is saturated with his pseudo-inspirational buzzwords, bullshit spiritual performance checklists, bizarrely specific obsession with multiples of the number seven, and grandiose promises of guaranteed success.

It was from this new venture that today’s fresh hot pile of bullshit emerges, enlightening with a bit of wistful revisionist history.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 6.47.46 PM

(Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.)

At first, the premise seems benign (if somewhat optimistic, anachronistic, and irrelevant):

If everyone in America circa 1860 had followed the steps outlined in Gothard’s new Bullshit Magic Power Squad books (spoiler: reading and memorizing Bible verses, basically), everyone would have been prosperous and successful (including the slaves), the slave owners would have been nicer to the slaves, and God would have blessed everybody. 

“Now hold up, Mr. Cynical Disillusioned Liberal Heretic,” you’re saying. “Why all the profanity? What’s wrong with suggesting that it’s a good idea to read the Bible and pray regularly?”

Nothing except…

GOD’S BLESSING IS NOT CONTINGENT ON OUR RELIGIOUS PERFORMANCE

The underlying economy of Gothard’s Bullshit Magic Power Squad is that God’s economy is a simple machine powered by religious performance.

“If every believer had established the daily disciplines of getting a Rhema* in the morning and quoting it to God while going to sleep, God would have fulfilled his promise of giving them prosperity and success.”

*for the uninitiated, “Rhema” is Gothard’s fancy Greek word than means “a Bible verse taken out of context and arbitrarily appropriated for personal use like a magic fortune cookie quote”

Do you see what he’s selling here? Follow these simple steps, and you can manipulate God into giving you prosperity and success. That’s just not how it works.

GOD’S BLESSING CAN’T BE EASILY ASCERTAINED BASED ON CIRCUMSTANCES

The same idea is also used to imply that the position of the slaves could have been improved — not through the ending of systemic injustice or the repentance of white slave-owners — but by the slaves themselves following the same religious rituals:

If all the slaves would have been trained how to follow these same disciplines of finding and meditating on daily Rhemas, God would have also given them the same prosperity and success.

This raises a few questions for me.

Specifically, what the fuck sort of god have you constructed that’s sitting up there in heaven, looking down on humans made in his image, watching them suffering slavery and torture at the hands of their fellow humans, and this god is saying, “Well, I would totes give you prosperity and success, but it will be another century before a slick salesman with a bad combover from Chicago unlocks the magic formula to my blessing, so I guess you just have to suck it up and keep sweating it out in the cotton fields.”

THE CIVIL WAR WASN’T YOUR FAULT.

This is the most insidious part of Gothard’s if/then approach to religious discipline. Ultimately, his particular brand of spirituality doesn’t lead to further freedom and enlightenment, but to self-doubt, cynicism, and despair.

You see, any good cult is carefully engineered with layers of extra chainsto keep its adherents trapped inside.

I remember, from when I lived in the red-carpeted cult center in Indianapolis a decade ago. I remember thinking, “The system isn’t working for me. I’m following the rules. I’m checking the boxes. I’m doing all the religious shit. And I’m not happy. I’m not successful. I’m not free. I’m empty. I’m broken. I’m hurting.”

But the problem was never with the system. The system was infallible. Hell, it could have prevented the bloodiest conflict the United States had ever witnessed, if only they had known to follow these five easy steps. If only they’d had access to these special insights from Bill Gothard himself (a $100 value, now only $49 when you join a Bullshit Magic Power Squad!)

Don’t you see?

“My system could have prevented the Civil War” is more than just laughable hubris. It carries the implicit suggestion that if we had only tried harder, done more, and followed the rules better, we could have prevented our own civil wars.

We are left wandering the gutted fields of the war-torn South, surrounded by rotting corpses and smoldering homes and generations of racial injustice, and there standing like a smug Lorax in the middle of the devastation is Bill Gothard with his dyed hair and navy suit telling us that all of this could have been avoided if we’d just tried harder, done more, memorized a few more Bible verses, said a few more prayers, attended a few more conferences, made a few more impossible commitments.

We are left wandering our own war-torn battlefields, surrounded by collapsing marriages and dying faith and screaming anxiety and lingering depression — and all he has to offer to our broken hearts is literally a book full of fucking checklists and the arrogant suggestion that God would have blessed us if we had only tried harder, done more, been more.

Dear God, am a fucking good enough for you yet? Will I ever be good enough for you?

THERE IS NO BULLSHIT MAGIC FORMULA

Forget Mr. Gothard’s “5 Essential Steps to Guaranteed Success”. There are no formulas, there are no guarantees, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you something, or trying to steal your soul. Probably both.

Let me offer, as alternative, these five suggestions instead:

  1. Fuck that shit.
  2. Know that you are infinitely, unconditionally loved by the God of the universe.
  3. (skip this one)
  4. (skip this one too)
  5. (Seriously, why are you still here? You are free.)

Announcing HARO’s 2016 Scholarships for Homeschool Alumni

Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (HARO) is excited to announce our 2016 scholarship opportunities for homeschool alumni!

In 2015, HARO gave out the first scholarship of its kind–a scholarship funded by homeschool alumni, for homeschool alumni. Thanks to two members of our community, we awarded a $500 scholarship to a homeschool alumna pursuing a degree in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) field. Our 2015 scholarship winner was Mary Menges, and you can read her winning essays here.

Thanks to multiple donations from our community, in 2016 we are offering two $500 scholarships to homeschool alumni. We will be awarding another $500 scholarship to a homeschool alumna pursuing a STEM degree. We will also be awarding a $500 scholarship to an LGBT+ homeschool alum.

Click here to learn more about the scholarships and apply!

How the Magical Rhemas of Bill Gothard Could’ve Prevented the Civil War

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Mark Kaletka.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on January 28, 2016.

Bill Gothard has been accused of sexual harassment and abuse by literally dozens of women, most of whom were teens under his care at the time the incidents occurred, but while these accusations have forced him to step down from his position with the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), they haven’t prevented him from starting a new ministry, Life Purpose Power Teams. What exactly is this new ministry? The website talks a lot about rhemas, prayer, and accountability partners. According to IBLP, a rhema is “a verse or portion of Scripture that the Holy Spirit brings to our attention with application to a current situation or need for direction.”

But I’m not actually here to talk about Gothard’s new ministry, I’m here to talk about a specific article published on the Life Purpose Power Teams website. It’s unclear whether Gothard or one of his staffers wrote article, which explains “how the Civil War could have been avoided,” but even if it was written by a staffer it was presumably approved for publication by Gothard. And it’s bad. The article lists five things that could have avoided the Civil War. I will list them one by one and respond to each.

1. If every believer had established the daily disciplines of getting a Rhema in the morning and quoting it to God while going to sleep, God would have fulfilled his promise of giving them prosperity and success.

Note that the author does not say that God would have prompted them to own slavery. Nope. Instead, the author states that if they had meditated on the Bible morning and night God would have given them “prosperity and success.”

This actually brings to mind an interesting question—how exactly does the author know believers weren’t doing this?

2. If all believers would have learned and applied Christ’s commands, they would have loved God and their neighbors as Christ loved them. They would have developed the attitude of being a servant to everyone, including their slaves.

Note again that Gothard does not suggest that if believers had truly applied Christ’s commands, they would have ended slavery. No, he says they would have treated their slaves well. Those are two very, very different things.

And you know what? Many southerners defended slavery by arguing that they were treating their slaves well, and that their slaves lived happy lives of plenty and contentment. I get the feeling the author would have listened to their words and then embraced them joyfully as brothers and sisters in Christ.

3. If all believers would have prayed daily for those around them that God would bless them in their personal lives, their marriages, their families, their finances and their health, every American could have been prayed for, including all the slaves.

Oh goodie, the slaves would be prayed for! How nice!

4. If all the slaves would have been trained how to follow these same disciplines of finding and meditating on daily Rhemas, God would have also given them the same prosperity and success.

In case you’re wondering, no, when author speaks of slaves having “prosperity and success,” they are not referring to freedom. In case there is any doubt, see below.

5. With God’s blessing upon the slaves, they would have risen to greater responsibility, influence and freedom regardless of their social status.

Once again, how nice! If the slaves had prayed just so, the author says, God would have made them successful slaves!

I feel compelled to note that many slaves turned to Christianity in their suffering and cried out to God for an end to their captivity. One wonders, does this author believe they were not crying out loudly enough? Or perhaps the problem was that they were praying for delivery rather than busying themselves serving their masters as God intended? The idea that slaves just needed to pray more and study the Bible and then everything would have been all rainbows smacks of victim blaming at its extreme.

After the five reasons comes this lovely tidbit:

How Has God Confirmed This Potential?

One of the most significant accounts in Scripture demonstrates the reality of this potential is the story of Joseph. He was sold into slavery by his envious brothers. He served Potiphar in Egypt. However, he had the fear of God, and he served as unto the Lord.

As a result, God prospered everything Joseph put his hand to. When Potiphar saw Joseph’s success, he gave him more and more responsibility until everything he had was under Joseph’s jurisdiction. All he knew about was the food that was set before him.

In reality, the roles of Joseph, the slave, and Potiphar, the master, were reversed because there are two types of power: the power of position and the power of influence. Both history and experience confirm that the power of influence is greater than the power of position. Joseph had more influence because God blessed all he did.

Huh, that’s funny, because I remember another story about slavery in the same general area of the Bible—a story that inspired Harriet Tubman and others seeking freedom from slavery in the antebellum South. In this story, the Israelites are enslaved to the Pharaoh, who treats them cruelly, and, rather than telling them to be good, faithful, prayerful slaves, God sends Moses to set them free. [Also, as a reader has pointed out, Potiphar threw Joseph in jail at his wife’s bequest after she tried and failed to blackmail Joseph into having sex with her, suggesting that Joseph’s supposed “power of influence” had some very serious slavery-related limitations.]

In the end, I’m scratching my head trying to figure out how exactly the author’s points would have prevented the Civil War. It sounds as though the author is suggesting that if all of the parties involved, including southern and northern whites as well as slaves, had simply read the Bible regularly, mediated on scripture, and prayed for those around them there would have been no need for ending slavery. All of the masters would have been kind and all of the slaves would have been successful—in their status as slaves, of course—and that would have been that.

In other words, Gothard contends that the Civil War could have been avoided if people had stopped trying to end slavery. Awesome.

Dear Homeschool Kids

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Chlot’s Run.

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Abi Pearson’s blog, Rambling Writer. It was originally published on January 27, 2016.

Dear Homeschool Kids,

So I’ve seen these videos / blog posts / comments floating around everywhere and I just felt the need to say something. You’ve probably seen it too, a homeschooled alumni or currently homeschooled kids giving answers to questions that seem silly. “Did you actually do school?”  “Were you super sheltered?” “Did you have any friends at all?”   I remember doing this too, I thought these questions were laughable. Then as I grew older, I began to meet or read about other homeschool alumni, and I realized some of these questions are perfectly reasonable.

Here’s the thing fellow homeschoolers. Some of us had it great, some of us got a good education, had friends and generally just had a great time. My mother has spent so many hours researching the best curriculum. Obviously no one’s perfect, but I know that she did and continues to do the best for her children. I know I got a pretty good education, a little lacking in math and science. But the point is my mom really tried.

But some of us didn’t. Some homeschoolers were raised in families that didn’t take education as seriously for females. Some of them were abused, and some didn’t have any friends outside of siblings.  The more I read and the more people I meet through the internet, the more I realize that abuse and education neglect are both misunderstood topics, and that very few people want to talk about the problems.

Abuse and education neglect in homeschooling families happens, and happens more frequently then most people realize.  Stories like the ones shared herehere, and here, are just some of many stories that are being told by homeschool alumni.  My point isn’t to say homeschooling is bad or anything like that. My point is to simply help create more awareness in this area. We’ve all read about the stories of children being taken away from homeschooling and/or homesteading families, and I feel that some people think those cases are just random exceptions picked up by the media. Abuse can happen in any home; the schooling or religion doesn’t make people immune.

So if you’re a homeschooler, next time you’re asked one of these questions, don’t just laugh it off. Instead thank your parents or guardians for giving you the education and opportunities that you had because some people aren’t as lucky as you. Maybe consider donating to organizations like this one. But at the very least let’s all stop pretending like there’s nothing wrong.

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

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

I grew up in the Village.

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

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

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

There’s a few reasons for this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Open Letter to Hillary from Quivering Daughters

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on January 11, 2016.

Dear Hillary,

I don’t even know where to begin. You’ve grown and lived and thrived and your life journey is a beautiful work of art, it almost feels wrong to bring up Quivering Daughters even just to say thank you. But I’m not speaking just for me, when I say, sincerely, thank you for writing through your journey, for taking care of us as we left our families, for writing Quivering Daughters and leaving the blog up. Your tender heart and kind words were the gentle encouragement we needed to start moving forward ourselves. You didn’t judge and yet firmly confirmed that abuse was happening, that we weren’t wrong or broken for feeling how we did – you opened up the doors to healing for so many more of us than you know.

And I just really, truly, with all the warmth in the depths of my soul want to say thank you. Thank you for being the big sister so many of us needed, even though it was and is heart wrenching and hard and messy and exhausting. Thank you for moving forward in your own journey towards healing and showing us that it’s okay to embrace ourselves and make our life what we need it to be.

You are a beautiful human being and Quivering Daughters and now your art + life journey, mean so much to me, and so many of us.

Thank you. Thank you for being gentle and kind and healing. Thank you for lighting the way for so many more people than you realize.

Mary Lambert and the Ups and Downs of Being a Survivor

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on January 18, 2016.

In the time I’ve spent around survivor communities, one thing I’ve noticed is an alternating feeling of euphoria and despair. It is not uncommon for a person to feel they can take on the world one day and to feel like all they want to do is curl up and hide the next day. I’ve watched this happen in various online communities as someone freshly liberated from an abusive home environment will post one day about how incredibly happy she is, as though she is floating, and the next day she’ll post in tears, struggling with PTSD, fear, and self-doubt and asking if it ever gets better.

I’ve experienced this phenomenon myself.

Anyway, I’ve never seen this up and down illustrated so clearly as in two of the songs in Mary Lambert’s 2014 album, Heart on My Sleeve. These songs, Secrets and Ribcage, present the euphoria and devil-may-care attitude, on the one hand, and the desperate lows encountered as survivors of abuse or trauma on the other. Interestingly, they were intended that way.

First, Lambert’s music video for Secrets. You can read the lyrics here:

Here’s how Lambert explains the contrast between Secrets and Ribcage:

The genesis of “Ribcage” was an interview that followed 2014 Grammy Awards, where Lambert performed her part in Macklemore‘s “Same Love.” Soon after, she was blindsided on TV: “I was asked without relevance or warning about my childhood abuse, as well as being raped in an army barracks as a teenager,” the singer tells FADER in an email. “I tried to respond as best I could, knowing that it was live television, but everything afterward was a blur. As soon as the cameras were off, I went into a full-blown panic attack. I didn’t know it then, but this same situation would happen multiple times in the year.”

“I questioned so much after that interview,” Lambert continues. “Have I done this to myself? Is this what happens when you are vulnerable and open? How do I take back control of the telling of my own story?”

“I wrote ‘Ribcage’ because I was exhausted,” she adds. “I wrote it because my truth was hungover and needed a sarcastic joke. I wrote it because ‘Secrets’ was an optimistic version of vulnerability, and because self-empowerment doesn’t always come wrapped in a bow. I will continue to talk about my own sexual trauma when I feel safe enough to, and when I’m in control. I still believe in the power of vulnerability—that openness is the key to empathy, and that empathy is the key to human connection.”

You can read the lyrics for Ribcage here and watch the music video below:

I love this contrast because you almost can’t believe the same person wrote and performed both songs. The one is so upbeat, so happy, and so peppy while the other is so sad and so dark. I find that extremely validating. In fact, I may start sending this pairing of videos to survivors I see going through this up and down. It’s powerful. It’s real. It’s what vulnerability actually feels like for so many of us.

Since I’m writing about Lambert, it’s worth mentioning her background. In a 2012 blog post, Gay Christians Are Totally Okay, Dog, Lambert wrote the following:

I grew up in a strict Pentecostal home. My parents would speak in tongues and were devout in prayer and we were at church 3-4 times a week. The church was known for ostracizing folks who were said to “go against God”. After a traumatic upbringing, and having my family shunned from the church because of my parent’s divorce, I was decidedly agnostic for many of my grade-school years.

A friend brought me to an Evangelical church in high school, known as Mars Hill, where I fell in love with the music and the bands that played on Sunday evening. The pastor was funny, charismatic, and made the bible seem simple. I was sad that my gay friends were going to hell, but the pastor said that I could still be friends with them. “Love the sinner, hate the sin” was the accepted rhetoric. When I fell in love with my first girlfriend, I recognized my sin immediately. She was also Christian. When you’re 17, and you feel like a freak already, and you’re in love with a girl, and high school is a battlefield, you can’t stand to let another part of your life down. I remember making a conscious effort to accept my sin. My recognition allowed me to repent daily. I prayed often, apologizing to God, but accepting that this is who I had always been and always would be. I still went to Mars Hill. I was never hated on, never felt rudeness from the community, but the sermons were difficult to hear.

You can read the rest of Lambert’s post here, but it shouldn’t be at all surprising that I see Lambert as a kindred spirit. By now we’re hopefully all familiar with Mars Hill, discredited evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll’s former church. I look forward to seeing where Lambert goes from here and hope she has a long, fulfilling career.

10 Surprising Revelations in the Lawsuit Against Bill Gothard and IBLP

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on January 11, 2016.

Last week, I published a summary of the allegations included in an ongoing lawsuit against fundamentalist guru Bill Gothard and the Institute for Basic Life Principles, which he founded in the 1980s and spent three decades running. The lawsuit focuses on Bill Gothard and IBLP’s negligence in failing to report abuse and failing to train their employees to recognize and report abuse, and at its center are allegations that Bill Gothard spent decades grooming, sexually harassing, and molesting teenage girls he employed at his organization’s headquarters.

Having read through the lawsuit in full, I want to take a moment to mention ten things even I found surprising. Many of the allegations included in the lawsuit have been common knowledge since being posted in 2013 and 2014 by Recovering Grace, a website run by graduates of IBLP programs critical of Gothard and his teachings. However, the lawsuit also includes information I had not seen before. I want to focus on these points because of the questions they raise about why Gothard’s abuse was not recognized and addressed earlier.

As a quick note, I would appreciate it if you would keep down the snark in the comments section out of respect for the survivors who are bringing this suit. Their suit isn’t some sort of “gotcha” against Christians or against fundamentalists or even against Gothard himself, it’s an attempt to bring justice to Gothard and ensure that IBLP actually fixes the problems that allowed Gothard’s abuse to go unaddressed.

I want to throw into stark relief the extreme predatory nature of Gothard’s actions. I want us to look at these points and ask how this could have gone on for so long.

1. Gothard once gave his credit card to a girl he was grooming and told her to “fix” her clothes. When she expressed confusion, one of his assistants explained to her that Gothard was unhappy with her ankle length skirts and would like her to buy some that were calf length.

2. Gothard paid for a young woman he was grooming and sexually harassing to have cosmetic surgery to remove two skin blemishes which he called “a distraction.” The lawsuit positions this move as part of the increasing control Gothard was assuming over the young woman’s body.

3. Gothard told an 18-year-old girl who rebuffed his advances that if she had still been 17, he would have called social services and gotten her taken away from her parents.

4. Gothard tried to convince a woman to divorce her husband and take a job at headquarters because he wanted to groom and molest her daughter, who had told him she would not be without her mother. See also above.

5. Gothard once had a girl he was grooming placed in a bedroom opposite his office window “so he would know when she could come to his office, after everyone else had left.”

6. Gothard preyed on girls as young as 13, had parents send girls as young as 14 to his headquarters at his request, and assigned girls as young as 15 to be his personal assistants.

7. In the early 1990s, Gothard asked the IBLP Board of Directors for permission to marry Rachel Lees, a young woman he was grooming. At the time, he was nearly 60 and she was around 20. Gothard did not mention the subject to Rachel herself. It was not until Rachel learned two decades later that Gothard had asked the board’s permission to marry her that she recognized Gothard’s behavior as predatory.

8. Gothard told a victim of childhood abuse “that parents were to be believed over children and that children were to obey their parents no matter what, even if they were being sexually abused.” When Jane Doe II reported her father’s sexual abuse to Gothard, he immediately called her father on speakerphone and asked him if the allegations were true (not surprisingly, her father said they were not).

9. Gothard made a habit of having teenage girls come to his office alone late at night under the guise of “Bible study” or “mentoring.” This isn’t technically a new revelation, but it is striking how many of the plaintiffs refer to these late-night one-on-one sessions. For an organization that teaches that people of opposite genders should never be alone together, it is startling that this practice was allowed to continue for so many years without raising an eyebrow.

10. It was common knowledge at IBLP that Gothard took teenage girls as “pets.” It was also common knowledge that Gothard’s behavior with regard to these girls was not appropriate. At one point in the early 1990s, after Gothard asked the IBLP Board of Directors for permission to marry Rachel Lees, the board barred Gothard from having female personal assistants. This ban was never enforced, and Gothard continued his pattern.

I’m sitting here trying to come up with some explanation for how this went on for as long as it did. People knew this was going on. The IBLP Board of Directors knew, the personal assistant who told Jane Doe III to buy shorter skirts knew, the employee who arranged the room assignment for Jamie Deering knew. People knew something was off. We’re talking about an organization that sent teenage boys home for merely talking to girls, while its leader held late night one-on-one “mentoring” sessions in his office with teenage girls.

Well sure, you say, it was a cult. That’s how cults work. But I want to stress just how widespread IBLP’s influence was within the Christian homeschooling world throughout my entire childhood and beyond. There were hundreds and thousands of families involved who had no idea that anything untoward was happening. This wasn’t so much an insular group like we’re used to thinking about, with its members cut off from contact with the outside. Rather, it was one that faced outward and led wide swaths people across the country to trust it its leadership and its “godly” mission and methods.

I am filled with sudden respect for one of my younger brothers, who approached me five years ago at age 17, worried. He told me that our parents wanted to send him away to a program in Texas, but that he was worried that it was a cult and wanted my advice. (It was Gothard’s ban on rock music that worried him—he played the drums and loved Christian rock music, which my parents grudgingly allowed.) At this point, I hadn’t given Gothard’s name a second thought. I grew up learning about the “umbrella of authority” and I attended a COMMIT Bible study for teenage girls, but my family had never been an ATI family, and I’d paid little attention to his name.

I texted my brother this morning. I wanted to let him know about the lawsuit. I wanted to make sure he knew just how right he had been, five years ago. What made the difference, exactly? How could he see it while so many others—including my own parents—did not? My brother told me, actually, that he and my dad had visited Gothard’s ALERT program headquarters in Texas, in anticipation of sending him there. Apparently my dad was a bit worried there might be something “off” about Gothard’s ministry—my dad by nature is antiauthoritarian, except in his parenting, and I think the focus on a single leader threw him off—but the visit assured him that all was fine, and that the ministry was godly and sound, one he could get behind.

And perhaps that is the problem. For whatever reason, my 17-year-old brother was already starting to push back and ask questions, but to those predisposed to see anything with a “godly” image as de facto good—well, you can see how that might prime people to accept Gothard’s ministry without asking too many questions, especially when so many others were already supporting it—after all, could they really be all wrong? And yet they were. And perhaps that is the biggest lesson for anyone—don’t assume that a leader or organization is legit just because it has a lot of followers, or projects a certain image.

Also, don’t create authoritarian power structures focused on a single leader.

I keep coming back to the fact that there were people close to the situation who knew these things were going on and did nothing. I can better understand people following the ministry without any knowledge that something was “off,” but once you’re in the organization and you see what’s going on—it’s boggling. There are, of course, explanations. Someone who said something might not be believed, or might be kicked out or shunned. Some might have doubted what they were seeing, given Gothard’s godly extra-human reputation. And some, too, might have assumed that if something was actually wrong, someone would surely have spoken up, so it must not be. And then, too, there’s the fact that obedience was central to Gothard’s teachings.

And so, in the end, we have a cautionary tale. This isn’t simply about one more Christian organization beset with sexual scandal, it’s about power structures and beliefs that create a situation where numerous people let significant warning signs go by, either unrecognized or ignored, but unaddressed either way. No more.

Some of my readers may be wondering what came of my brother, and what I told him when he came to me for advice. To tell the story briefly, I googled Bill Gothard’s name to assess my brother’s concerns and quickly came upon blogs written by homeschool graduates raised in ATI voicing their concerns and processing their experiences. It was those blogs that inspired me to start this blog, and it was those blogs that informed the response I gave to my brother. Over the next year I helped him wade through his options and find ways to make his own choices. He never did go to ALERT, and for that I am thankful. And so perhaps, in some small way, the voices of survivors can serve as an antidote to Gothard’s abuses.

Wrestling With Skepticism After Fundamentalism

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Kate Ter Haar.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on December 31, 2015.

I grew up in a fundamentalist, homeschool environment, which means that from a young age I learned to defend my faith and be skeptical of all people who disagree with what we believed. And I mean all.

I spent my childhood on guard. I analyzed the neighbors, so that their “public school” mentality or behavior did not taint me. In homeschool, I learned about how all the scientists were wrong about everything. I learned that academic people in general had trouble getting to heaven because their minds were steered in the wrong direction. I was taught that Catholics were deadbeats with incorrect doctrine, and to beware of any liberal theology, lest it corrupt me. As I got older, I became the family watchdog.

I studied theology in highschool, and could tell you which theologians were okay and which were not.

I was not just trained to be a skeptic of intellectual ideas; lifestyle choices, too, were also something from which I needed to keep pure. I was skeptical of those who ate pork and junk food; those who did not know how to grow their own vegetables; those who went to public school; those who listened to secular music; those who dressed in a “worldly” manner; those who used bad language.

I always hated the fact that I judged people and was so territorial and guarded against outside ideas and outsiders. My best friend in the neighborhood was born from a teen mom (raised by her grandmother), and I called shit on the way in which some of the other girls at my church treated her, as if she had done something wrong. And yet, while I saw the downsides of how we judged people as the result of how we tried to defend the gospel and keep the church pure, I never could break free, shut my mind off, and pretend that ideas do not matter or have consequences.

As I continued to get older, I lived with a tension: on the one hand, I wanted to accept my liberal friends and liberal ideas, and on the other hand, I could not just turn off my mind. In college, I had lesbian friends, who were pretty much awesome. Yet I was not instantly convinced that my lesbian friends should marry and have children because I could not see how two children could be raised by two same-sex parents and not miss out on something. I could not just tell my friends, “I love you, so I’m turning my mind OFF.”

I had to work through my preconceived ideas and do my own research; I needed my own “proof.”

I’ve realized lately, that I’m still the same passionate skeptic that I was when I was 13 years old and that I was in college. I am, today, generally accepting of people different than me, but that’s not because I’m not skeptical. I’ve already worked out in my mind that there is no single “right” way to raise children, so I have no further comment about who live outside the box. But when it comes to ideas, philosophical, social, or theological, I am still the same skeptic I once was.

Whenever I encounter a new idea, I am instantly on guard, unable to assent, refusing to assent, demanding proof (not necessarily proof in a scientific way, but in a way that makes sense to me). You might say, “normal people struggle with skepticism.” I think that is true to a degree.

But my skepticism is far more intense than your typical person.

As an example, I took an entire course on Kant this last fall term. Most graduate students treated the class like a chess game: “isn’t it interesting,” kind of thing. For me, life and death was at stake.

After reading the first section of Kant’s first Critique, I felt like I was going to vomit.

Then I felt like crying. Kant’s basic thesis that we only conceive “appearances” and not reality as it is “in itself” was trouble for me – life and death trouble. I experienced a dual tension: If Kant is right, then my whole ability to trust reality was going to fall down the tubes. Yet, the strong Christian side in me was also certain that Kant was wrong; I just needed to figure out what it was. I spent every afternoon in September out on the driving reading Kant, trying to figure it out. When I mentioned how I was troubled to the rest of my classmates, they nearly laughed at me and said, “even science is starting to believe that Kant is right.”  It was not until December and 600 pages of reading Kant later (DECEMBER) that I finally had peace. I had an epiphany one day, independent of what everyone else in class was saying (because people’s opinions never do much for me), where I realized, “you know, Kant is just observing experience” and in that moment, I found peace. I still heavily disagree with Kant in many places, but I’m at peace at the same time, no longer guarded, no longer think his philosophy is the death of western culture.

I can’t just make my mind assent to an idea just because it’s popular by really smart people. 3 years back, when I first started really, really questioning the doctrine of fundamentalism, I couldn’t make myself believe the earth is old just because most people believe it’s old. I had to research it myself.  As old earth became more comfortable to me, evolution did not suddenly feel comfortable. It’s taken time for me to just to accept that we might have evolved from lower life forms.

My skepticism always makes me an outsider. Just yesterday, a friend posted on facebook a meme about an idea that is endorsed by mainstream research and liberal politics. I instantly reacted to the fact that the premises on the meme were not well argued. The first thing that a skeptic needs to be convinced is well-argued point. But besides this, I’m just not convinced that this particular liberal idea is true. I’ve yet to see the evidence for myself, and I can’t make myself believe it, just because conservative ideas are usually wrong.  (I actually think the truth is usually somewhere between the liberal and the conservative, but that’s another story.)

I’ve only recently learned to quit fighting the fact that I’m a passionate skeptic.

It’s overall a blessing, except when it turns into bigotry against others, and yet I’ve also seen my skepticism help me fight bigotry. For example, I’ve seen facebook friends post memes that argue for scientism, the belief that science is the ultimate authority, but the language of the memes celebrate science to the point that other “unscientific” cultures would be conceived inferior if the meme were really true.  My skepticism of anything mainstream – a skepticism that ultimately derives from my childhood – made me able to see this general problem of scientism.

My skepticism is also what makes me a good philosophy scholar. My skepticism is what makes me a refreshing and needed voice in the academy. I presented work this semester, just as an example, of what characterizes the modern subject and how that has influenced how we conceive of history, and from there, I made a bold move to try to critique this. The night before I presented this paper I was really unsure what would happen – after all, I was presenting a paper critiquing modernity, when most of the academy is very modern. But you know what? it was well-received. It got people thinking. And this paper would not have been possible without spending the last 2+ years of grad school unsatisfied and skeptical.

I’ll never feel settled in this world; I’ll never truly “become worldly” or find a home. I often tell people I have left fundamentalism only to become a wanderer, without a home. Even the place that feels closest to home, the philosophy department, I am the most skeptic of them all. But that’s okay. I must learn to accept this.

One thing has changed since I was 13: I am keenly aware that I might not be right, that I could be wrong. I am aware today that I don’t have the final voice; I’m just a voice in the sea of voices. I know that when I present a paper, others get to present their papers too. Sometimes I feel like tearing my work up because I’m aware that I really, REALLY could be wrong.

The 13 year old me did not know I was wrong. But the 30 year old me knows that I could be wrong.

And yet, I am no longer afraid of my skepticism, because underneath my skepticism is my passion. I am passionate about ideas and philosophy because truth matters to me. When I encounter new ideas, I can’t promise anyone that I will agree or be open-minded. The truth is, I will probably be extremely close-minded and hard-hearted about it. But I can promise that I will read; I can assure you that I will assume that the research or author is intelligent, even if I disagree; and I can guarantee that if I read and find out otherwise, I will change my mind.

Lesson of the post: if you are an ex-fundamentalist, learn to celebrate your skepticism, although do yourself the favor of reading. If you know an ex-fundamentalist, or anyone skeptical in general, don’t call skeptics stupid just because they won’t believe in something everyone else believes in.