Why I Am a Radical Activist for All Things Evil: R.L. Stollar’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from R.L. Stollar’s personal blog. It was originally published on January 12, 2014.

I’ve never thought of myself as a radical activist. I’ve never fought for something that I thought was “evil.” What I value most in life are compassion, love, and respect. Compassion for the abused, love for my neighbor, and respect for marginalized voices. I fight for these things, so I guess in that sense I am an activist.

But somehow, over the years, I have found myself maligned by old friends, distant acquaintances, and complete strangers. I am now anathema in many circles; I am one of the dreaded homeschool “apostates.”


Because my pursuit of compassion, love, and respect led me to cross the picket lines of the culture wars. 

I followed my conscience straight to enemy encampments — to individuals in poverty, women, LGBT* individuals, and abused homeschooled kids and alumni. For that, I am a radical activist.

The funny (and sad) thing is watching people explain why I became who I am today. It’s because my parents weren’t godly enough, because I didn’t read the right apologetics books, because I wasn’t spanked hard enough and often enough, because I went to college, because maybe I read too much Karl Marx or hung out with too many feminists or had premarital sex with one too many atheists while doing coke lines in a temple erected to Baphomet.

It’s funny and sad because, no, that’s not what happened. That’s not even close to the real story.

Let me explain.


“Focus world attention on the plight of so many men and women who have been brutally silenced.”  

~ Gary Bauer


I was 13 or 14 when I first realized how messed up the world was.

I blame Christian homeschool debate.

It was the first year I did debate. The topic was changing laws on U.S. businesses relocating overseas. I got swept away into a world of conservative Christian adoration for free trade and capitalism. Enamored with the Cato Institute, I earnestly sought out arguments in favor of granting China Most Favored Nation status.

In doing so, I discovered the Tiananmen Square massacre. I read about child labor. I heard testimonies of religious persecution. I began to doubt the goodness of humanity.

Then I came across Gary Bauer.

Observation one: I am a human rights activist today because of Gary Bauer.

I know, I know. 29-year-old me is also wondering how in the world I became interested in human rights on account of the former president of the Family Research Council, an organization now classified as a hate group by the Southern Law Poverty Center. But it’s the truth.

In a conservative Christian culture obsessed with capitalism, Bauer seemed like a lone voice in the wilderness.

I started questioning the universal goodness of capitalism because of Bauer. I learned about the horrors of the arms industry and weapons export trade because of Bauer. And I started looking more earnestly into human rights abuses because of him, too. Bauer seemed to be one of the only leaders in the Religious Right calling out his peers — and the Republican party — for not taking international human rights more seriously. As a kid, it seemed to me like the guy was a true maverick, knowing no loyalty to party lines to the point of picketing Chinese President Jiang Zemin alongside Richard Gere.

Reading Gary Bauer is what ultimately led me to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Which led me to realize the United States has played a role in a plethora of human rights abuses, imperialism, and genocide, too. Which made me doubt the “U.S. as God’s chosen nation” narrative. And so on and so forth.

Gary Bauer inspired that. Not a leftist, not a socialist, and not an atheist.


“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer


A few years later, I picked up a used copy of The Cost of Discipleship at the recommendation of a Christian friend. It was like my head had been underwater my whole life and suddenly I was breathing air for the first time. Here was a gospel that was not afraid to get its hands dirty. Here was a gospel willing to leave the white Republican suburbs of my youth and do more than summer Mexico mission trips.

I was raised thinking faith was the end all of religion, that “works” were what the oft-mocked Catholics were about whereas we noble Protestants, we had the Ultimate Truth. The Ultimate Truth was faith. Well, I lived my entire life in evangelical circles and I saw the emptiness of faith without works. Yet here was Bonhoeffer, boldly breaking down those inherited assumptions. Without discipleship, he said, grace was cheap.

In other words, Christians actually do need to care.

Observation two: I became a radical because of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

I say that, and even don’t really know what that means. What does it mean to be a radical? Apparently today all you need to do to be considered a radical is call out people for racism and queerphobia. I personally consider that basic common courtesy. But no, calling people out for furthering oppression is the new radical. If so, then I guess I am a radical and no, I am not ashamed of that.

I prefer to think of radicals as people living extraordinary lives, risking body and mind to change the world. I don’t think of speaking out as extraordinary. But I also know that not speaking out is ordinary. And I learned from Bonhoeffer that to not speak is a form of speech. To not act is a form of action. 

So I refuse to be ordinary. I will speak out and I will act.


“The denunciation of injustice implies the rejection of the use of Christianity to legitimize the established order.” 

~Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation


During my junior year at college, I was trying to figure out the topic of my senior thesis the following year. I knew I wanted to write about sociopolitical activism and reconcile that activism with the idea of having a personal relationship with God. So, as I have written about previously, I took the patron saint of my alma mater, Soren Kierkegaard, and compared his ideas of inwardness with the ideas of outwardness I found in the patron saint of my Christian activist youth, Bonhoeffer.

But before I settled on Bonhoeffer to contrast with Kierkegaard, a friend of mine — one of the most brilliant people I know — suggested someone I had never heard of before: Gustavo Gutiérrez. A Dominican priest, Gustavo Gutiérrez was the father of something else I had never heard of before: “liberation theology.”

I was immediately intrigued.

I picked up a copy of Gutiérrez’s Theology of Liberation, and I found one of the clearest articulations of the ideas Bonhoeffer had so profoundly — yet so abstractly — articulated. Gutiérrez made me realize that to be in the world can and must mean something. It means not only must I live a life of discipleship, but that discipleship requires more than simply “feeding the poor.” It means moving beyond platitudes and soup kitchens and coming face to face with an entire system of injustice.

To be a Christian cannot mean neutrality towards injustice.

Observation three: I learned the importance of prophetic critique from Gustavo Gutiérrez.

Ironically, Gutiérrez changed my way of thinking on every matter other than economics. Which is ironic because he’s been panned for decades by the Catholic Church for being “too Marxist.”

But it wasn’t the Marxism that hooked me. (I already doubted capitalism because of Gary Bauer). Rather, I was hooked by the call to shake the foundations of power structures. To wrest my faith from ruling orders and principalities and reclaim its revolutionary tone. Faith means a revolution of the soul, yes. But that revolution happens in a radically contextual moment: here, now, in this body, in this place, with this action, with these neighbors. Which means revolution of the soul must manifest itself beyond the soul.

Gutiérrez taught me that this revolution begins on the margins. To love your neighbor means more than calling your T-Mobile Fave 5. To love your neighbor means seeking out the margins, standing in solidarity with the marginalized.

“Marginalization” isn’t newspeak. It is the language of loving your neighbor. When you find the margins, you find God asking you, “Do you love me? Then feed my sheep. This sheep. Right now. This person. Right here.”


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.


So there you have it.

I care about the rights of women, poor people, people of color, LGBT* people, and abuse victims because of Christians. I believe in human rights because of Gary Bauer. I believe in the radical power of actually living what you believe because of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And I believe in reclaiming my faith from the hands of dehumanizing world power structures because of Gustavo Gutiérrez.

Sex, drugs, and Nietzsche — and all the other windmills at which American Christianity tilts —  don’t factor into my story.

Granted, I am not the same person I was when I was 13 or 14. Today, Gary Bauer makes me alternate between wanting to cry and wanting to rage. I have changed, I have left many foolish things behind; I am always becoming, evolving, changing. I believe life is process and I am learning to embrace process.

But one thing has not changed: my passion for human rights, fighting for justice, and seeking the shadows and the margins. That passion has only grown. But what once made me the “cool” Christian now makes me the cautionary tale, because I now refuse to draw lines in my advocacy. Because I see compassion, love, and respect extending to each and every human being.

So yes, I am a radical activist.

But I learned to be one from giants of the Christian faith.

I Was Not Supposed to Happen

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on July 13, 2014.

My most popular post ever, the one on courtship and emotional purity, is making the rounds again, as it does every few months. And with it come the loads of ridiculous assumptions, explaining, excuses, and outright dismissal of everything from my character to my experience to my beliefs. This isn’t anything new. It’s been happening since I started telling my story. It happens to all of my friends from Homeschool Land who also tell their stories. It’s woefully predictable.

“She wasn’t really raised Biblically.”

“He isn’t a good example of proper homeschooling.”

She’s bitter.” (Because obviously being bitter means you’re making stuff up. Or something.)

“His parents obviously didn’t do it right.”

“She’s not indicative of all homeschoolers.”

“He obviously courted in a legalistic way, but that’s not the right way, the way we will do it.”

“The experience she writes about is extremism and not the Godly way of raising kids/homeschooling/courtship/whatever.”

And after every dismissal, an explanation of why they’re different, they’re doing it right, they know better. Their kids will turn out as promised. They have it all planned.

But what these people that comment on our blogs fail to understand is that my parents had it all planned too. They did everything “right”. They read the right books and followed the right teachings that explained how to raise their kids in such a way as to ensure they will grow up to be Godly offspring. People who are the exemptions. People who are whole and full of light and unstained by the world. The next generation of movers and shakers. People who are super Christians.

Had these people who so easily dismiss us met my family 15 years ago, they would’ve wanted to BE us. We were the perfect family. We dressed right, acted right, said all the right things. People used to ask my parents to help their family look like ours; to help them make their kids as good as we were. They called us “godly”, “a refreshment”, “a good example”, and so much more. These people who now turn up their noses in disbelief at me now would’ve been our best friends back in the day.

I think that these people, who are overwhelmingly current homeschooling parents, have to have some way of making sense of the phenomenon of the so-called Homeschooled Apostates. They have to find some reason why what they follow and believe to be “God’s Plan” didn’t work. They encounter people like me and have no idea what to do with us.

Because I was not supposed to happen.

We were not supposed to happen. Every last one of us who was raised in a culture that promised abundant life and Godly children and have now since rejected all or part of our upbringings were not supposed to happen. Sites like Homeschoolers Anonymous, with it’s stories of horrific abuse, neglect, and everyday pain were not supposed to happen. We shouldn’t exist and our stories weren’t supposed to sound the way they do. Not according to all the promises made to our parents, made by our leaders and the authors of the books and the speakers at the homeschool conventions. Yet, here we are.

We who have grown up, evaluated, rejected, and chosen a different path for us and our children….we are threats. Our very existence is a threat to the happy little paradigm that is the conservative homeschool movement. We are realities that threaten to unravel the idealistic fabric of their worldview. They have no idea what to do with us.

So they dismiss us. They make excuses.

They say “well your parents did it wrong, but we’re doing it right!” as we watch them practice the exact same things that damaged and hurt and broke us. We’re desperately waving red warning flags only to be completely disregarded, blamed, and even attacked. Our lives and real stories are no match for the rosy promises of the perfect life, couched in beautiful scripture and Christian idealism. Instead of critically thinking through anything we have to say, evaluating and considering the experiences of countless numbers of people, instead of re-evaluating their own choices and philosophies, against all reason and logic they dismiss us. Pretend we aren’t how we say we are. Convince themselves and others that we and our parents aren’t like them; we did it all wrong and the formula isn’t broken, we’re the ones who are broken.  Even after the formula keeps producing the same result, they cannot let go of it.

But we aren’t going away. We happened, we exist, we aren’t abnormalities…..we’re just people. People who all lived similar lives in a movement our parents all followed for very similar reasons. Every day there are voices added to ours. When I first started blogging, there were very few people telling the story of the homeschool alumni. We had only begun to grow up and process our lives and many of us thought we were alone in this. In the last 5 years, that number has grown exponentially and I predict will continue to do so.

Homeschooling parents today have two choices: ignore the now thousands of warning voices of experience, or carefully listen, reconsider and change direction. I often wonder how many children of the people who dismiss us will end up on our blogs or with blogs of their own that are just like mine. Parents, don’t fool yourselves. You aren’t “doing it right” any more than our parents were “doing it right” when you’re doing the exact same things they did and following the exact same teachings. Your children are not more special than we were.

They are people with free will who will grow up to make their own choices, either because of you or in spite of you.

Counting Sheep


By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Recently Kathryn Joyce wrote a story for The American Prospect on the rise of the responsible homeschooling movement. I have never seen a piece on this movement spread as quickly as Joyce’s. It lit up Facebook and Twitter like a forest fire starving for oxygen.

If you haven’t read it, you should do so. (You should also check out responses it inspired from Hännah EttingerChris Jeub, and Kate Schell.) Don’t let the length scare you away. The piece is amazingly detailed, giving voice to a diversity of individuals previously not amplified in this conversation. And don’t let the name, “Homeschool Apostates,” cause you to hesitate. The name is an inversion of Kevin Swanson’s radio broadcast where he himself used the phrase to marginalize and dismiss us.

I shy away from Facebook wall debates when stories like this are shared by my friends. I watch them unfold, silently and from a distance. At the very least, I want to understand how our rhetoric is received and interpreted; I may not comment, but I am listening. I want to know what is being said — both positive and negative — so I can continue to improve my own communication and our shared messages.

One individual’s comment on a friend’s wall stuck with me.

I have heard this sort of comment before. In fact, I considered it ironic that this individual said it in such a way that indicated he thought himself clever. Fact is, it’s dreadfully unoriginal. Everyone in this movement has heard it a million times before. But this time it provoked new thoughts for me. The comment is as follows:

As long as millions of families homeschool, it will always be possible to find some who are outliers and thereby call into question the practice. Tis a common practice of the statistically challenged.

Ah, yes. A jazz riff on the “not all homeschoolers are like that” argument. “Not all homeschoolers are like that” is the broken record of homeschool abuse denialism. My inner sarcastic debater wants to respond like this:

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However, my shared humanity understands that sarcasm isn’t always the best rhetorical strategy. There are better strategies:

  • Reiterating time and time again that we do not think all homeschoolers are “like that”;
  • Reminding the skeptical voices in the conversation that, in the absence of required registration (or at least notification) of homeschoolers (which the mainstream homeschool lobby opposes), we will all remain statistically challenged because we will have no reliable statistics;
  • Pointing out that nearly all homeschool research has involved self-selective surveys that describe the participants but prove nothing about homeschooling in general.
  • Providing counter-self-selective surveys, like the 2013 HA Basic Survey which pretty much “proves” as much as most of Brian Ray’s research — namely, still nothing about homeschooling in general.

If you think the statistical side is lacking, you’re welcome to get in line. We’re right there with you. Those of us speaking up aren’t to blame for a lack of statistics.

That’s the fault of irresponsible homeschool advocates.

(What sort of statistics do you want anyways? Statistics of dead kids? Exactly how many dead kids will it take before we’re taken seriously? While we’re busy trying to make homeschooling better, you get busy figuring out how much abuse you can tolerate before you act, too. Deal?)

For today, however, we are all in the same position: we are feeling around in the dark with anecdotes and stories. You might tell different anecdotes and stories than I might. I choose to respect your storytelling. Whether you choose to respect mine is not in my control.

But at least remember that I have stories. In fact, I probably have more than most homeschool students and parents. I spent a decade of my life traveling around the United States because of homeschool speech and debate — meeting new people, making friends, competing in tournaments, and teaching thousands of homeschool teenagers. I have taught the children of national homeschool leaders.

All this while I was a teenager myself.

As a homeschooled teenager, I saw things that you parents have not seen in your own communities. I have lived a life that you parents have never lived. It is like an alternate universe. My first taste of hard alcohol was provided by the son of one of the most prominent national homeschool leaders. I have lived this life. So while I don’t have statistics for you, and while we in this movement are trying to fix that inherited problem, keep in mind that my “anecdotes” — and our stories — carry the enormous weight of experience.

Have you seen the underside of this world? Because I have. The rabbit hole goes down deep, and I have yet to reach the bottom. There are so many hurting kids, now as there was back when I was a kid. There are secrets and sorrows and fears. We have shared those secrets as friends, we have carried each other’s sorrows, we have whispered our fears like prayers.

But maybe you’re right. Maybe at the end of the day, we’re in the minority.

Maybe we are statistically challenged.

The possibility doesn’t faze me one bit.

Because I don’t look to you for a stamp of statistical approval. I don’t take my cues from your homeschool orthodoxies or your convention speakers.

I take my cues from my conscience. And my conscience says go to where the shadows lurk, to create safe places even where the wild things are.

See, a long time ago, I heard a story. It was about a shepherd who had a flock of 100 sheep. One day, one of those sheep got lost. Instead of remaining with the 99, the shepherd did not sleep, did not stop, until he found that the lost one.

I learned social justice from that story. I learned the meaning of activism. I found the meaning of revolution — that you can “change the world” all you want, you can “redeem the times” ad nauseum. But if you neglect the little ones, it’s all for naught.

See, I learned that Jesus of Nazareth was not content with 99 sheep when 99 sheep means that one gets left behind to suffer in silence and solitude.

And I saw how the Pharisees did not understand. I saw how they looked at each in bemusement, clicked their tongues at Jesus for fretting so much about that one fringe sheep, saying, “Tis a common practice of the statistically challenged.”

But Jesus dealt with human beings, not statistics.

Human beings are what I want to deal with, too.

So go ahead. Keep surveying your 99 award-winning sheep. Us “bitter apostates” will be out in the wilderness, searching for the one you abandoned.

Stiff-Necked Legalism: By Chris Jeub

HA note, October 3, 2014:

In light of recent allegations by Cynthia Jeub (one of Chris Jeub’s daughters), the HARO board is uncomfortable with hosting Chris’s content. You can view the original post and comments as a PDF here.