It’s an innocent question, neither nosy nor rude. One that pops up in the most casual of introductions all the time. And yet it can haunt some of us for hours afterward.
Why am I a stay-at-home mom?
I found myself mulling uneasily over this question after a conversation this summer exposed my own doubts and I got defensive. When I am uncertain, I tend to flounder and feel guilty. Should I want a career? Should I want to stay home?
When I was homeschooling, the justification was simple. I was already doing a “job”. (In hindsight, it’s apparent I wasn’t aware I had other options.) I have no regrets about those early years of pottytraining and naptimes and going to the park and teaching my little bookworms to read. Still, now that they’re older and in school all day, I’ve felt the need to rethink my reasons for not earning a paycheck.
My feminist values tell me that I need to be pulling my weight, that I should have the resources to support myself instead of being financially dependent on a relationship. I’m also afraid of perpetuating an outmoded patriarchal family model or unhealthy expectations of what a mom should look like.
However… not working does not automatically put me in the same category as Michelle Duggar. 🙂 And I’m privileged to know other ardent feminists who are unemployed, by choice, for various personal reasons. And so, I ponder.
As for expectations, my children see me pursuing knowledge and new skills. They see me involved in the community. They see me actively promoting equal rights for women. They see that Chris and I have independent interests and relationships. They know women working in a variety of fields. And they know every family operates by its own rules.
Chris and I have shed patriarchy gradually and embraced gender equality together. While there has been some shading and blending as we’ve adapted to these values, he remains our household’s breadwinner. And yet, we are a symbiotic team. We eat better food less expensively because I stay home and cook (our meals average $1.25/person!). He can focus on his career from eight to five and college classes on weekends because I can run the errands, take the cars for service, schedule appointments, shop, and sign the field trip forms. I can take classes, volunteer, exercise, help kids with homework, and cultivate supportive friendships because he brings in the income. And since he currently works at home, we get all kinds of extra moments during the day to connect as friends, freeing us to better focus on the kids when they are at home.
While extra income could ease some stresses, we are financially comfortable enough. If I worked part-time, my earnings would quickly diminish in higher food, fuel, and insurance bills. If I worked full-time, we would have more stress around daily school pick-ups and drop-offs. I would have much less time for the self-care that helps me manage my mental health. And instead of relaxed evenings together, we would have to pack all the laundry, shopping, organizing, and meal prep into that time slot.
To us, that time to just “be” after dinner and homework is worth more than we would gain if I went to work. It is a matter of what we value most this year. Our schedule and priorities are always evolving and we are open to change. But for now, we are savoring that closeness and flexibility.
On a personal level, overcoming years of emotional trauma and cult mind-control has been a long journey and there are still days when the demands of motherhood on top of that seem overwhelming. I’m grateful that I’ve had the option of concentrating on those aims without trying to hold a job at the same time.
Reflection on my domestic role has been time well-spent. These days I find myself prouder than ever of what I do and of the ways I contribute to our family’s well-being. I am a feminist homemaker: a cookie-baking, jelly-making, youngster-shuttling thriving woman who thinks for herself while advocating for the right of every woman in our community to make her own choices.
Recently a friend described a situation as “awkward” and I laughed.
Not because it wasn’t true, but because I spent decades developing a resistance to awkwardness. It’s not that I don’t still feel it, I just have a vast collection of awkwardness to compare against and as a result, I probably disregard awkward feelings more than some.
Because awkward is keeping a chamber pot under the seat of the family van.
Awkward is a family of seven camping inside a Suburban with said chamber pot.
Awkward is bringing the family plunger when you stay at a hotel.
Awkward is showing your grandma your new cotton swim-dress and matching pettipants.
Awkward is being mistaken for a reenactor’s child at a historical park because of your dress and sunbonnet.
Awkward is dead flies dropping from the sticky flytape coils above to the kitchen counter when guests are present.
Awkward is being the only one wearing a dress and bloomers at a public beach, or at a swim party.
Awkward is swimming with your brothers in an outdoor hotel pool–you in a blouse and denim skirt with tights, them in rolled-up pajamas.
Awkward is the housekeeping staff gawking when your whole family swims fully-clothed in the indoor pool in the center of the hotel courtyard.
Awkward is abandoning the beach as soon as normally-clad swimmers show up.
Awkward is your mom placing a rolled-up comforter down the middle of the hotel bed to make sure you and your twelve-year-old brother don’t touch.
Awkward is your family being invited to someone’ home for a meal and your father accepting, then informing the host that your family follows Levitical dietary prohibitions against pork and some seafood.
Awkward is you trying not to enjoy it too much when an elderly relative serves ham anyway and your dad decides it would be more godly to eat it than to refuse.
Awkward is returning and exchanging the Narnia book you won as a Sunday School prize.
Awkward is your mom substituting “special” for “magic” in the poem you are to recite for the kindergarten program.
Awkward is not quite explaining that you’re afraid to watch Titanic with your aunt because you heard there was nudity in it. (Because at 23, you’ve never seen nudity in a movie. So you hide in her guest room with your brother instead.)
Awkward is your family of eight standing and filing out of the church pew during a vocal solo–again. It is standing around the lobby not making eye contact with the ushers and then filing back into the empty row and taking sermon notes as if nothing ever happened.
Awkward is being instructed to write a letter (for “school”) to a church family protesting the Halloween party they are hosting for the church at their farm. And wanting to hide from said family every Sunday from then on.
Awkward is looking stupidly at expectant trick-or-treaters who show up at your family’s home when you’ve forgotten that it’s even Halloween. What to say?
Awkward is writing a thank-you note for the Christmas gift your parents wouldn’t let you open.
Awkward is turning the placemats face-down when celebrating a family milestone at Chinese restaurant.
Awkward is your dad telling the server not to bring fortune cookies.
Awkward is your sister telling you to stop shaking the bed you share, when you’re masturbating.
Awkward is explaining to homeschooled friends…
…why you aren’t allowed to read Anne of Green Gables.
…why you don’t use Saxon math.
…why you don’t have a Christmas tree.
Awkward is a carload of strangers stopping at your house to tour your mom’s organized closets.
Awkward is the cashier saying, “Good luck, whatever you’re hoping!” when your virginal self is purchasing a pregnancy test for your mother.
Awkward is forcing a smile back for the cashier’s sake and saying, “Thanks!” before driving home in the family Suburban, stomach knotted.
Awkward is asking the restaurant staff to lower/shut off the music. Extra awkward points if you are in a foreign country.
Awkward is not knowing what grade you are in.
Awkward is asking your younger brother if your shirt is “modest”.
Awkward is being the adult in charge while your mother gives birth upstairs.
Awkward is waking up to find a test tube of umbilical cord blood in the refrigerator.
Awkward is going to the laundromat with your teenage brother to wash linens from a homebirth, because the ancient septic system at home has given up.
Awkward is being wedged between your grown brothers in a car back seat while wearing shorts for the first time as an adult.
Awkward is being a university student and not knowing the name of even one of the Beatles.
Awkward is trying to make out with your fiance without letting your lips touch.
Awkward is a plane ride with your new fiance, wondering when he wants to hold your hand for the first time.
Awkward is saying goodbye to a good friend without touching them.
Awkward is being the only single girl at church:
or wearing jewelry,
or not wearing a headcovering.
Awkward is your parents awarding you a high school diploma (backdated fourteen years) in front of your three kids.
Awkward is church leaders asking your family not to attend anymore. More awkward is still running into their family members socially.
Awkward is a family friend coming to the door and your mom only talking to him through the nearby window.
Awkward is reading your teenage diary, or your family’s old Christmas letters.
Awkward is standing in the moonlight gazing down at the Golden Gate Bridge on the cusp of turning 21, with your… dad.
Awkward is realizing you were once a bridesmaid in a gay man’s wedding.
Awkward is being “caught” watching a Jimmy Stewart movie with your college-age friends and fellow cult members–and trying to figure out how to apologize to whom for what.
Awkward is your toddler deciding that a dinner with company from church is the place to share her [limited] knowledge of penises.
Awkward is realizing that your wedding photos are too triggering to display anymore.
Awkward is explaining to a classmate who saw you having a full-fledged panic attack on the side of the road minutes earlier.
A photograph may capture a memory, but awkwardness sears the deeper emotional experience into the brain. And that’s not always a bad thing!
We love to watch how others manage awkward situations–in sitcoms like Seinfeld, for example, where Kramer seems impervious to embarrassment, while George appears to lean in to it. And the more uncomfortable the scenario, the better we remember the episode, grateful that it isn’t happening to us. My daughter used to cringe when we watched The Andy Griffith Show, Barney Fife’s character embodying her worst fears of humiliation. Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean is even better, completely and, yes, awkwardly, unaware of how horribly uncomfortable he is making everyone around him.
So, a little awkwardness? Sure, it’s an inevitable part of trying new things, having complex relationships, living a full life. We encourage our kids not to fear harmless awkwardness, and sometimes they give us surprising opportunities to model the nonchalance we preach. While embarrassment might make my face redden for a few minutes, I’m a lot more resilient than I think!
I devoured the Little House on the Prairieseries, was enchanted by Ben and Me, and giggled through Jean Fritz’s junior biographies of King George III, Samuel Adams, and Patrick Henry. I would slip away into “the study” to read and re-read the fourth grade A Beka textbook on the American colonists, the lives of the presidents in our 1968 World Book, or tales of Marco Polo and Christopher Columbus.
Later, our bookshelves bulged with biographies of Lincoln, Anabaptist stories of the Reformation, and thick volumes from Bob Jones University Press skimming across the centuries from ancient Greece to World War II. Once, Dad brought me home a copy of Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage. And I could recite most of the dialogue from “A More Perfect Union“, Brigham Young University’s dramatic film about the Constitutional Convention.
When Bill Gothard first distributed David Barton‘s “America’s Godly Heritage” to homeschooling families in his Advanced Training Institute, I was entranced. We listened to that first cassette together and marveled at Barton’s rapid-fire diction. After that, I would follow along with the tapes with my notebook and pencil and try desperately to copy out the quotations from the Founders as Barton galloped from one to the next at rodeo speed. Protected as I was from secular influences and celebrity worship, Barton was the equivalent of a rock star in my world. I collected Barton’s numerous books and a stack of cassettes. I copied out and memorized my favorite lines. When he addressed the national ATI conferences in Tennessee, I was giddy with excitement. I wished the audience would quit applauding so he could fit in more of his speech!
Besides Barton’s books on American history, I even purchased his obscure 31-page booklet How to Have Success With God, published in 1984:
“To God, obedience is better than anything.”
“The more you do of what you hear from God, the more you will hear from God what to do!”
“Be a Christian who enjoys obeying God and you will enjoy being a Christian!”
Today, “David Barton is a former Vice Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas and a political consultant for the Republican National Committee. He is also a bestselling author and political activist who has worked diligently to arouse true patriotism and restore America to her Biblical foundation.”
But back then, Barton and his organization Wallbuilders had not yet gained notoriety outside Texas. In time he would get chummy with Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, and the chairman of Gothard’s Board of Directors, Congressman Sam Johnson of Texas. Brownback would say of Barton, “His research provides the philosophical underpinning for a lot of the Republican effort in the country today — bringing God back into the public square.” And that was a mission I supported wholeheartedly.
When my worldview began to unravel, however, I revisited the Wallbuilders’ website, curious for answers that would settle some of my doubts. For the first time I realized that David Barton has no credentials as an historian or an archivist. He holds a B.A. in religious education from Oral Roberts University and has been both a [math and science] teacher and a principal at a private Christian school in his hometown of Aledo, Texas.
As a homeschooled student myself with limited exposure to the ways of academia, I could sympathize with Barton’s ignorance of correct protocol for citing sources. But I was flummoxed to learn that he lacks primary sources for some of his quotations. Including some of my favorite quotations–lines I used to recite glibly at candidates who brought up the spurious “separation of church and state”. Now this was unsettling.
I hadn’t heard David Barton for well over a decade when he appeared as a guest on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart”. Well, here was a blast from my past! I settled in to listen to the Texan’s familiar too-rapid drawl and was surprised. Before, I had only heard Barton lecture to sponge-like crowds. His material seemed much less concrete in an interview before a skeptical audience. (And this incredible exchange with Glenn Beck puts Barton much closer to “unintentional comedian” than “educator.”)
Disillusioned with Barton, and with those who unquestioningly accept his version of the past, I discarded the remaining Wallbuilders publications on my bookshelf and set out to round out my re-education on American history and the variegated experiences and ideals of the brilliant yet flawed men who penned our founding documents. Thus did they launch these United States on her voyage into their future, hoping that we would prove equal to the task of sailing her, of maintaining her trim and keeping her prow pointed forward.
Even if we were to concede that America was intended to be a “Christian” nation (in spite of plain evidence to the contrary), even if we acknowledge that weather patterns were divine intervention on behalf of the Continental Army and that the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the Constitution, even if we were to accept Barton’s version of the past, how would that enlighten our present conversation? It does not therefore follow that George Washington would now use his influence in favor of creationism in science textbooks. It would be presumptive to assume that John Adams would cast his vote today for pointless transvaginal ultrasounds or that James Madison would oppose national healthcare. We could not even conclude that Thomas Jefferson would want his children reciting a pledge to a flag, much less to a nation “under God”.
Mike Huckabee thinks our country would be improved we the people were all forced “at gunpoint, no less” to listen to David Barton’s spin on our history. But I cannot help wondering how our Founding Fathers would respond today if they could hear Barton’s appeal to an unrecognizable tradition. These men jettisoned the heavy time-worn design in favor of a revolutionary new ship of state they believed capable of carrying “we the people” through the vicissitudes of history. They were open-minded scientists, philosophers, and inventors, eagerly seeking and adopting new information and technological advances. Certainly, our nations’ founders looked to the past for guidance as they plotted a new course. But to David Barton, history and tradition are anchors with which to slow progress and avoid forward-thinking.
When my daughter was very young, she used to protest when we explained disagreeable facts. “I don’t want that to be true!”, she would cry. Perhaps Barton is ignorant of the way he misleads and misinterprets evidence in order to achieve his political agenda.
Or perhaps he just doesn’t want history to be true.
Since Bill Gothard had to resign from leading his Institute in Basic Life Principles amid allegations of inappropriate behavior toward female staffers, he has made few public statements. But in private, he has been far from silent.
These days, Gothard says, he is busy “contacting people I’ve offended and asking them to forgive me.” Asked how this process is going, he chirpily replies, “Wonderful. People are very grateful and everyone is forgiving.”
However, some former IBLP staff members take issue with Gothard’s version of the facts. Gothard has made efforts to contact them, they say, and “grateful” was not a word that came to mind.
One woman, who has had contact with Gothard since his resignation from IBLP, dismissed his attempted “apologies” as unethical and disingenuous. As this woman has requested anonymity, I will refer to her here as “Sally”. After her story was published on the website Recovering Grace, Gothard sought to engage Sally in an email correspondence. She has given me permission to share the content of those emails here. Gothard did not reply to the last message included below.
I was grateful for my talk with ***** and he told me of his contact with you. It would be an answer to prayer to be able to be reconciled with you and I would appreciate any direction you would have towards this goal.
Sincerely, Bill Gothard
As a starting point, I would like to know why you have resigned as president of IBLP?
Thank you, Sally, so much for your response. I resigned from the Institute because I have finally realized that relationships with the Lord and others are far more important than the work I do for Him. I have offended many individuals including you and it is my desire to be reconciled with as many as possible in the years to come.
You say that you have offended many individuals including myself.
I would like you to be specific regarding the manner in which you believe you have offended me.
I apologize for the delay in getting this message to you. For many years I have treasured the memories of the friendship that we had. I am praying that this can be restored. Some of my actions were inappropriate and offensive. Is it possible to hear your perspective on these wrong actions so that I can more precisely understand and acknowledge my fault and seek your forgiveness?
I should not have to explain to you what was “inappropriate and offensive” about your actions towards me. It is very wrong of you to ask me to recount them for you, and I do not intend to do so.
If you sincerely desire my forgiveness and you wish for reconciliation, then you need to acknowledge your offensive behavior in an honorable, fearless and truthful manner. If you are not willing to do this, then please do not contact me again.
Readers of the accounts on Recovering Grace will recall that Gothard commonly groomed his victims of sexual and/or emotional abuse by urging them to confide to him all the sexual details of previous relationships. It would appear from this series of emails that even at nearly eighty years old, he still takes a voyeuristic interest in hearing his victims describe the shame he sought to burden them with.
“He consistently asks the girl to tell him what it is she thinks he has done. Then he apologizes for ‘her perceived’ grievances. There is no ownership of his behavior. He’s putting it all back on the the victim.”
And once again, Gothard is breaking his own fundamental rules–this time for apologies. In his Basic Seminar textbook, he wrote a whole chapter on the right way to clear one’s conscience by asking forgiveness.
For example, Gothard’s text points out:
It does little good to ask forgiveness for a small offense when in reality that offense is only a fractional part of a much greater offense.
There are several ways to ask forgiveness which are guaranteed not to work–such as, “I was wrong, but you were too”; “If I was wrong, please forgive me”; “I’m sorry”, etc. There is one genuine statement which reflects true sincerity and humility: “God has convicted me of how wrong I have been in (my attitude and actions). I know I have wronged you in this, and I’ve come to ask, will you forgive me?”
Carefully choose the right wording
Your words must identify the basic offense
Your words must reflect full repentance and sincere humility
…One of the hardest statements for any person to make is, “I was wrong.” It is a lot easier to say, “I’m sorry about .. ” It is also much easier to say, “Please forgive me” than it is to ask, “Will you forgive me?” and wait for the answer.
Gothard then gives examples of wrong wording:
“If I’ve been wrong, please forgive me.”
And right wording:
“God has convicted me of how wrong I’ve been in ______ (Basic Offense). I’ve called to ask will you forgive me?”
This request, spoken in the right attitude, is certain to be well-accepted by the one to whom it is directed. This approach must include correction of any attitudes or actions which caused the offense and also restitution for any personal loss which was suffered by the one offended.
Oh, yes, restitution. Did you see that mentioned in the emails to Sally? No, I didn’t, either.
But let us go on. The seminar manual taught that one should not go into too much detail, and emphasized the principle with a verse from the New Testament:
In Scripture we are warned that, “It is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” (Ephesians 5:12) This warning definitely applies when asking for forgiveness. It is neither important nor appropriate to review impure details of an offense. This only tends to stir up the mind of the hearer to the past.
And yet Gothard needs more details so he can “more precisely understand and acknowledge” his fault? Hmmmm.
Of course Gothard wrote the seminar text long before email, but he recommends making apologies only by phone or in person, not by correspondence. I have highlighted some relevant points in Gothard’s explanation:
Please don’t write a letter. Most people are tempted to use this method because it is so easy and the least painful to their pride. But it is not effective for many reasons. First, it documents your past offenses and your purpose is to erase them. Second, a letter can be misused by the one receiving it. This only complicates the problem. Third, it often embarrasses the one receiving it, and they may never reply to it. Fourth, a letter doesn’t allow you to gain their verbal assurance of forgiveness. That is a very important factor for you and for the one you have offended. A verbal forgiveness allows him to become free of his bitterness.
Oh, yes, bitterness! So we ask forgiveness in order to help our victim “become free of his bitterness”? No wonder these women are frustrated!
Let me give you a tip, Bill. Forgiveness alone is not enough to erase your many offenses. And the women you used for your own sexual or emotional gratification are wiser and more self-protective now. This is not about restoring a friendship, it is about your manipulative abuse of your position.
“I am not trying to reconcile – I am trying to bring to attention a problem that has been ongoing for forty years. I forgive him, but I have no wish to reconcile with him.”
Perhaps most interesting of all, though Gothard’s attorney friend-turned-investigator failed to contact any of the women who spoke out on the Recovering Grace website, Gothard himself is contacting them. He is even contacting other women who have not publicly spoken about their IBLP experiences but who were indeed mistreated by him. Would he possibly be working from memory here? And if his memory is that sharp, why would he need to ask for more details?
This is, after all, a man who taught millions exactly how to ask forgiveness for the offense of “Behaving improperly on a date“:
Wrong Confession: “I realize that I was wrong in necking with you on our date. Will you forgive me?”
Right Confession: “I realize that I have been wrong in my selfish actions and attitudes toward you when we were dating. It would mean a great deal to me if you would forgive me. Would you forgive me?”
…be as brief and as clear as possible…. Talking too much will not only “sidetrack” the whole purpose of your coming, but may give the impression that you are trying to justify or explain your offenses in order to minimize them.
Knowing what factors will diminish the effectiveness of my work or words if neglected
Bill Gothard’s buddy David Gibbs, Jr. has now completed his “investigation” into allegations made against Gothard by former IBLP staff members. According to the IBLP board earlier this week,
“…the Board sought the facts through a confidential and thorough review process conducted by outside legal counsel. Many people were interviewed, including former Board members, current and past staff members, current and past administrators, parents, and family members.
“At this point, based upon those willing to be interviewed, no criminal activity has been discovered.”
Perhaps Gibbs Jr. needs to brush up on his Character Qualities.
It would seem that Gibbs’ investigation focused narrowly on certain allegations of sexual impropriety (some of which Gothardhas admitted to, resulting in his resignation). However, this is but the sensational tip of the iceberg and ignores the broad scope of hurtful, unethical, and even illegal activities that have damaged numerous lives associated with the Institute in Basic Life Principles.
Gothard promoted his organization as “Giving the world a new approach to life” and following God’s “non-optional principles”. A ministry that prides itself on being “under authority” should have nothing to fear from the truth. And yet, the testimonies of some former students and staff members paint a disturbing picture. Some of these stories of life under the auspices of the Institute have been published on Recovering Grace. Others have been shared more privately. Some victims are willing to have their names attached to their experiences while others prefer anonymity, or pseudonyms.
Each of the incidents outlined below could likely be explained away on its own. But taken together they suggest a pattern that I believe is worthy of deeper examination. The Board of IBLP can write, “We dedicate ourselves to help build up families and individuals,” but if these situations actually took place, the Institute’s so-called “ministry” is a farce, with or without Gothard, and IBLP should be shut down to prevent further abuse of power.
A real investigation of IBLP might look into allegations of the following:
OSHA and other code violations at all locations: Indianapolis, Oak Brook, Elms Plantation, Oklahoma City, Eagle Mountain, Eagle Springs, Northwoods, Big Sandy, Flint, South Campus, Little Rock, Nashville, and others
Lack of permits: illegal remodeling, dredging a lake without a permit, improper electrical wiring
Poor fire safety: hiding fire extinguishers and fire pulls behind paintings or décor items; silencing a monitored fire alarm to avoid disrupting conferences, not reporting fires to fire department
Improper supervision: letting teens work on upper-story building exterior or fire escapes without safety harness
Injuries: electrical shocks from unsafe practices, minors injured while operating power tools, carbon monoxide poisoning of kitchen volunteers
Violations of residential occupancy limits
Prayer rooms (especially at 2820 N. Meridian, Indianapolis):
locking minors in solitary confinement without notifying parents
locking minors in solitary without access to a restroom
withholding food or medication
spanking minors without parental consent
Failure to protect children by reporting abuse:
failure to report sex acts with or molestation or attempted sexual molestation of minors in IBLP’s care at the ITC (Rodger Gergeni)
failure to report sexual abuse of minors in ATI families (Bill Gothard)
pressure on homeschooled victims not to report physically abusive parents
shaming victims of sexual assault and neglecting to counsel them to contact police
pressuring ATI moms not to divorce abusive husbands who posed a danger to the children
failure to educate “homeschooled” minors who were sent to IBLP centers by their parents
children (9-10 years old) working in the kitchen or cleaning bathrooms, sometimes rising as early as 4 or 5 a.m. to work
unpaid teenagers working 12-18 hour days in the hotels (cooking, industrial laundry, cleaning hotel rooms and public restrooms)
selling teens unaccredited degrees (Telos.edu) without adequate explanation of their value
on weekends, designated prayer days, and other times when meal preparation was inconvenient
though some children were sent there by the state and other students paid for room and board, only two meals were served on Saturday and only supper on Sunday
sometimes only two meals a day were served for weeks in a row
requiring students to turn in care packages
also mandatory weight checks (Weigh Down) for staff women, involuntary diets, forced exercise
failure to recognize eating disorders such as anorexia (even when girls were passing out)
withholding or confiscating prescription medication (including antidepressants, an asthma inhaler, post-surgery pain medication)
refusal to get prompt medical treatment for severe burns, broken bones, concussions, pneumonia, collapsed lung, high fevers, torn ligaments, acute food poisoning–many former students trace chronic health problems to untreated conditions that arose at training centers
treating injuries with alternative remedies such as sugar water injections (Dr. Hemwall)
letting doctors or dentists with revoked licenses treat students at training centers
sending youth to campaign for Indianapolis judicial and mayoral candidates
providing private services to a public official (Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin) in Oklahoma
pressuring employees not to record overtime on time sheets
advising employees that submitted overtime hours would not be paid
mandatory unpaid evening work teams for employees (washing dishes, cleaning carpets, scrubbing bathrooms)
paying less than minimum wage, paying minimum wage minus “rent”
firing employees without due process or notice
refusal to pay workers’ compensation
instructing employee to lie to hospital staff to protect the “ministry”
praising employees who gave up their paycheck to become volunteers
allowing children under 16 to work more than twenty hours a week
sexual harassment of junior staff or students by adult staff
physical abuse, medical neglect, solitary confinement, unsafe equipment, psychological abuse
refusal to contact parents regarding medical emergencies
keeping four teens tied together by the feet for an entire day, resulting in injury
a unit of under-dressed teen boys standing outdoors in sub-freezing temperatures at night until one confessed to a minor infraction
disregard for basic safety precautions
Mistreating Russian orphans in Moscow and at Indianapolis South Campus:
foster families spanking children and even teens
children spanked for minor misdeeds
English-speaker spanking Russian child without an interpreter present
withholding meals from children for disciplinary purposes or feeding them only dry rolled oats and water
child labor (reports of children required to clean toilets at 5 a.m.)
using orphans to “encourage” financial donors
Restricted communication from training centers:
limited access to public phones, email, fax, or internet
reading students’ outgoing or incoming mail, confiscating mail or making students open mail in presence of a leader
censoring outgoing email
telling students what to tell (or not tell) their parents about situations at the training center
limiting who a student or employee was allowed to correspond with outside
restricting conversation or interaction between fellow students
lengthy, repetitive, or middle-of-the-night “counseling” sessions (berating and brainwashing)
piping loud music into bedrooms
assigning staff to night duties on consecutive nights (along with their day jobs)
requiring student to wash clothing by hand until she had earned “privilege” of using the laundry facilities; requiring staff to recite extensive Bible passages before breaking a fast
hours of forced labor intended to “break will” or “conquer rebellion”
Violations of privacy:
not permitting students to take bathroom breaks or use the restroom alone, or with the door closed
confiscating personal items such as clothing, music, photographs, medication, and cell phones
sending unreported cash through customs on staff member’s person
exaggerating or misrepresenting facts in newsletters
promotional video about ALERT describing a pilot “rescue” omitted the fact that it was ALERT’s own plane that crashed while taking aerial photos of the property)
personal gifts of cash or clothing from Gothard to his favorites
discrimination against males who appeared “too effeminate” and females who were overweight or not “feminine” enough
photoshopping hair, clothing, and landscaping for newsletter photos
selling overpriced plant kits to ATI families under fraudulent advertising
serving old (long-expired) donated food or insect-infested grain
transferring minors across state lines between “training opportunities” without parental permission or notification
This week, embattled IBLP founder Bill Gothard received aid from an unexpected quarter–homeschool mom and popular author Debi Pearl.
In the past, self-confessed “old hillbilly” Michael Pearl has sometimes himself been critical of Bill Gothard for helping create the excesses of the homeschooling patriarchy movement–a highly ironic observation coming from the father of patriarchs! But this week, Debi came out swinging against IBLP victims who have gone public with their stories on “Recovering Grace” and other websites.
Beginning her post with the question, “Whose side are you on?” Debi attacks those who have dared to publish accounts of how Gothard lied to, molested, or otherwise mistreated them. According to Debi, these “critics” are “bitter” (that’s the ultimate pejorative in IBLP circles, remember?), they are “foolish”, and they have joined a “Satanic attack on God’s people”.
On the one hand, Debi describes Gothard as a “man who put his whole life into doing a work for God”. On the other, she denies having any connection to IBLP’s beleaguered “ministry” which, she claims, helped “set thousands of people free from bitterness”.
Gothard and the Pearls have, in fact, had a symbiotic relationship for years.
They attended a Basic Seminar in the late 1970’s. IBLP promoted and distributed the Pearls’ parenting book To Train Up a Child. The website for IBLP Australia still offers at least two of the Pearls’ numerous books. At least one of the Pearl girls worked at Gothard’s orphanage and training center (South Campus) in Indianapolis and the Pearls kept several Russian orphans at their home over the summer. Michael solicited donations for IBLP from his followers. Several of the Pearl children’s spouses were raised in Gothard’s ATI program. (I say “spouses”, but Michael Pearl made it clear years ago that his children do not need any such thing as marriage licenses. A ceremony and their parents’ blessing is apparently good enough.*)
Besides being given to racist and homophobic remarks, the Pearls are somewhat obsessed with sex. It gives Michael hope to envision homeschoolers “outbreeding” progressives. He counsels the wife of an angry man to “make love” to improve her husband’s mood. Debi often suggests that being sexually available is a wife’s primary responsibility. Michael even wrote a book on erotic pleasure for fundamentalist Christian couples.
And then there are the Pearls’ highly controversial child training methods, which have now been linked to three child deaths. There is currently a petition circulating to ask Amazon.com to remove To Train Up a Child from its website in the interest of protecting children from parental abuse. According to a BBC report last year, To Train Up a Child has sold over 800,000 copies and boxes of the Pearls’ books have been shipped for free to U.S. troops overseas. “No Greater Joy” pulls in over $1 million a year, with Debi functioning as “the financial brain of the company”, according to her son Gabriel.
Last year, Rachel Held Evans wrote a blunt piece about Michael and Debi Pearl and their abusive “ministry”. First, she quoted Pearl himself describing how to handle a rebellious child:
“If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally.” -Michael Pearl
And Evans added her own warning:
But it’s not just children who suffer from No Greater Joy‘s ministries.When I was conducting research for A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I read Debi Pearl’s popular book, Created to Be His Helpmeet…which I threw across the room a total of seven times.
The writing is awful, the biblical exegesis deplorable, but what troubles me the most is that the book reads like a manual for developing abused wife syndrome.
In their story “The Real Michael Pearl” a few years ago, Religious Child Maltreatment pointed out the peculiar rush Pearl appears to derive from seeing small children spanked into silence, and his sense that he has “come upon the holy grail of childrearing”.
To Pearl, and many parents who follow his teachings, the primary goal of parenting is not to support children by fulfilling their needs to feel safe and experience appropriate autonomy, but to control children.
In April 2011, Cindy Kunsman, a nurse explained the physical dangers of Pearl’s teachings in a post on the No Longer Quivering blog. Homeschoolers Anonymous reposted the piece in September of last year:
Due to the severity of the spankings with [Michael Pearl’s recommended] plumbing line, both Zariah and Lydia Schatz suffered renal failure because of rhabdomyolysis.
…[W]e may never learn the details about new cases of Pearl-related kidney disease unless it is reported by the families of the survivors.
Kunsman went into much more detail about rhabdomyolysis in another post at Under Much Grace. This article convinced me that the Pearls are not just cranks, they are dangerous.
If the children are aggressively spanked on a chronic basis, …it is possible that chronic damage could occur in children that is not bad enough to cause kidney failure but bad enough to cause damage.Unless a child undergoes blood tests at some point, “renal insufficiency” (inefficient kidney function that is lower than a normal, healthy level) could be present and no one would be the wiser. It is conceivable that at least some children have experienced some damage, but not enough to produce symptoms of kidney failure.
In October 2011 Rachel Stone wrote about Pearl in for Christianity Today. Her article included sadistic passages from To Train Up a Child and described the Pearls’ methods as “a program of calculated cruelty”:
One child suffering under this training is too many; it’s my hope that the Pearls will be widely discredited, and soon.
www.NoGreaterJoy.org Features some of the finest in family-friendly, value-based books, audios, videos, and articles on parenting, husband and wife relationships, ministry and more! Materials include, To Train Up A Child, Jumping Ship, Created To Be His Help Meet, Preparing To Be A Help Meet, Only Men, the Good and Evil graphic novel in over 20 languages and a FREE bi-monthly magazine.
Samantha at Defeating the Dragonsand Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism have both written boldly about the dangerous and abusive teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl. Author and mother of five Elizabeth Esther, whom Anderson Cooperinterviewed alongside Michael Pearl late in 2011, has been both outspoken and tearful about the horrors perpetrated against children when parents follow Pearl’s advice. You can watch the interview for yourself here.
A 2011 New York Times article quotes Michael likening childrearing to training “stubborn mules” and explores links between child deaths and the teachings in Pearl’s book.
Dr. Frances Chalmers, a pediatrician who examined Hana’s death for the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, said of the Pearl methods: “My fear is that this book, while perhaps well intended, could easily be misinterpreted and could lead to what I consider significant abuse.”
This video shows Michael and Debi Pearl in action at a child training seminar, apparently at the Cane Creek church that meets on Pearl’s property in a Tennessee hollow. Michael would much prefer to be known through his books than through these clips, but there he is on his own turf:
With his wife smiling and nodding beside him, Michael Pearl laughingly advocates cruelty against children. He encourages hitting children, even infants, with implements. He recommends luring young children with tempting objects and then swatting them to teach them obedience and self-denial. He teaches parents to instill fear in their children on purpose. Michael Pearl seems to get off on asserting his domination of a much younger, smaller human being:
” A proper spanking leaves children without breath to complain. If he should tell you that the spanking makes him madder, spank him again.”
The Pearls have long pointed to the supposed happiness of their own trained and obedient children as evidence of the efficacy of their methods. However, Michael and Debi have not taken well to being called out by adults whose parents followed this couple’s advice. Earlier this month, Michael became defensive against vocal homeschool graduates such as those of us who post at “Homeschoolers Anonymous” and posted his response at “No Greater Joy”. But even as he blasts those who speak the truth about their experiences, Michael must admit that homeschooling is no panacea:
“Not every homeschool experience will be a great success. Some will be total failures; others will be good but not altogether good. In some cases, out of six children a family may lose one or two to the world, but they will have two or three that are exceptional human beings.”
Alas for a child who turns out to be a less-than-exceptional human being! Pearl chalks such failures up to satan at work and recommends people buy more of his books, just to be safe.
I really should not be surprised to see Debi Pearl defending Bill Gothard and his ministry against what she considers defamation. But I look at her daughters, their body language, and I wonder what stories they could tell and what they would say about their famous parents if they felt completely safe.
It speaks volumes that the Pearls feel compelled to hitch their ministry to Gothard’s falling star.
“None of my daughters or their husbands asked the state of Tennessee for permission to marry. They did not yoke themselves to government. It was a personal, private covenant, binding them together forever—until death. So when the sodomites have come to share in the state marriage licenses, which will eventually be the law, James and Shoshanna will not be in league with those perverts. And, while I am on the subject, there will come a time when faithful Christians will either revoke their state marriage licenses and establish an exclusively one man-one woman covenant of marriage, or, they will forfeit the sanctity of their covenant by being unequally yoked together with perverts.”
Watching the Grammys was a last-minute decision. We’d kissed the kids goodnight but knew our congested sinuses wouldn’t let us sleep yet. So we turned on the TV and I’m so glad we did!
I had never heard of Sara Bareilles–no, I really don’t keep up with popular music–but I recognized Carole King right away. I sat absolutely enthralled with their amazing duet performance, only to be surpassed by their comments of mutual admiration afterward. Somehow the three minutes of interaction between those women affected me deeply. I have watched the segment again and again and replayed it in my head countless times.
Carole King’s words, her music, the emotions she shared with Sara and all of us in the audience, along with Sara’s passion and her song, felt like a gift with miraculous powers to repair some damage done to my heart long ago. I feel like a more complete person than I was before hearing them sing. The rest of the show was fun and amazing in its own way, but that one piece represented to me the magic of Art: sharing a gift with enriching powers of its own.
Perhaps “Brave” struck me the way it did because the last week has been so emotionally turbulent. Not in a bad way, but still…
Last week a shocking new series of revelations appeared on the Internet, exposing Bill Gothard, our cult leader of days long past, for the pathological fraud he was (and is). Reading the story as it dribbles out in serial form has been surreal. With each installment, I can picture my bedroom in Oak Brook, picture window facing Gothard’s office across the driveway.
I learned while working on Gothard’s staff that he was not what he appeared to be.
Not what many of his followers took him for. Not who my parents thought he was. While we his brainwashed army of second-generation devotees mentally flogged ourselves for every potential breach of the cult protocol, Gothard did not adhere to his own “non-optional, universal life principles”.
My husband and I each slipped away from IBLP quietly. I was sent away by Gothard in the summer of ’99, Chris left on his own six months later. From that point, we set about freeing ourselves from the legalism and reprogramming our poisoned minds. We weren’t aware of the poison at first, though. We were still nostalgic about our years at the Institute. It was where our relationship began, after all. We’d go back to visit friends occasionally, or just drive around the grounds reliving the good memories. Over time the locations lost their pull on us. We had dreams–sometimes nightmares–about going back to work there.
Judging Gothard’s teaching by its “fruit”, we concluded that many of his ideas were downright toxic. It was hard to speak out, though. So many of our friends, family members, and even new acquaintances were Gothard supporters, or had been exposed to his seminars in their youth and didn’t see anything dangerous in them. We just sounded “bitter”, the strongest pejorative in Gothardom.
When we felt safe we could sometimes talk about how “inconsistent” Gothard was in practice. Even this made some uncomfortable. People feel defensive when you question the authenticity of someone they trust, or trusted once upon a time. The more distance we put between ourselves and the past, the more clearly we could see that Gothard was just another manipulative cult leader.
Sadly for us, he was a slick fellow who convinced our parents he had the answers.
I started my blog partly as a safe place to question the Gothard narrative and to recount my experiences and the “bad fruit” it produced. I tried to maintain an even, journalistic tone, even as I personally came to regard William Gothard as a fucking asshole, a sham and a predator hiding under a guise of exceptional holiness.
Reading the firsthand account of Gothard’s former secretary over the last week, and watching others come out to corroborate her story, has been tremendously validating to me. While her tale might not seem all that offensive on the surface, it is damning when read in light of Gothard’s own teaching and strict standards for others. He made generous allowances for himself, while tolerating nothing less than perfection and submission from his subordinates. He patently violated his own rules, which he marketed as the very wisdom of God. Nothing I have ever said about my former employer was as harsh as he deserves.
As satisfying as it feels to be validated and to watch Gothard’s house of cards collapse, it is exquisitely painful at the same time. I rejoice to see his empire fall, much as a former prisoner would applaud the demolition of the walls of his captivity. And yet, that empire was built of my blood, sweat, and tears. Thousands of us can point to pieces of our selves that we sacrificed to advance that sick man’s vision. We lost much of irreplaceable value.
And that is why tears rolled down my face this week as I stood in my kitchen spreading cheese on lasagna noodles, listening to “Brave” and the rest of Sara Bareilles’ album The Blessed Unrest. They were tears to memorialize the things I was encouraged to “yield” in favor of Gothard’s ideal, for God’s sake. These things died before drawing breath, miscarriages I never knew in an adolescence I never had: my first date, holding hands, a boyfriend, my first curious kiss in a quiet corner, even talking to male peers without feeling queasy, pulling on an old pair of jeans, experimenting with makeup, realizing I was a free adult in the eyes of the law, choosing a college major, getting a degree, a high school graduation for that matter, a prom dress, high school pictures, a wedding dance with my dad, my favorite artists in concert, feeling sexy as I became a woman, feeling the sun on my legs, getting tan lines before stretch marks, years when I could have been earning money or college credits…
And the pain of steeling myself to believe in “God’s will”!
Against my emotions. Against what my body was sensing. Of giving myself fortifying speeches in the corner every time I felt my heart would come out of my chest, reminding myself that my heart was deceitful and wicked and not to be trusted. The times I cried myself to sleep, or pounded out my frustration on the piano in the dining room because the rest of Christendom wouldn’t see “the truth”.
My friends and I made these sacrifices and others to serve our God by working for his “servant” Bill Gothard. Now, I want Gothard’s empire to collapse, for the good of humanity. I am more than willing to help bring it down. At the same time, I recognize that each brick I tear out represents a child’s education, a man’s career, an abused child, a couple’s budding relationship, all burned on the IBLP altar in the belief that God would be pleased.
But Bill was a fraud and his empire was built on lies.
And we are all breaking the silence.
So after I cried over my lasagna, I danced in my kitchen. Because bravery is a beautiful thing.
“So I tell you, ask, and God will give to you. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will open for you.Yes, everyone who asks will receive. The one who searches will find. And everyone who knocks will have the door opened.If your children ask fora fish, which of you would give them a snake instead?Or, if your children ask for an egg, would you give them a scorpion?Even though you are bad, you know how to give good things to your children.”
Luke 11:9-13a (NCV)
My parents had only been married five years when they attended their first Youth Conflicts seminar: 40 hours of lectures over six days. Living in a new city with three preschoolers but few friends, they were lonely, stressed, and probably sleep-deprived. They were eager to be “real” Christians, to differentiate from the mainstream Protestantism of their parents, to keep their marriage intact, and to raise the best family possible. They went searching for truth, and Bill Gothard and his Institute offered them an ideal, peppered with scripture references. Surely this was bread indeed!
They became avid Gothard fans, my parents. Not into sports or other strong alliances, their allegiance was to God and the Bible. Where an extreme sports fan might display the mascot or colors of their favorite team, we had an enormous sign over our garage proclaiming “Jesus is Lord” in hand-painted crimson letters on a white ground. And they were always eager to invite people to attend IBLP seminars.
It is difficult to tease apart the teachings my parents first heard from Gothard from those they picked up elsewhere.
Suffice it to say, Bill reinforced much that they had already accepted and added plenty more of his own. When they decided to enroll in ATIA in 1987, I was not enthusiastic. I had had enough of Bill Gothard’s anecdotes and teachings, which Dad often reenacted with our Fisher-Price people, from his notes.
I knew Gothard was behind Dad throwing a rock through the face of our television. And making me wear dresses instead of jeans and my favorite pink shorts. And not letting us eat sausage anymore. And our sleepy pre-breakfast attempts to hunt for “nuggets of wisdom” while reading Psalms and Proverbs aloud to each other. And selling our big, new house with four bathrooms because having a mortgage was unbiblical. Instead, we moved to a rented farmhouse with its very own cattle lot and temperamental plumbing. The good things my parents wanted us to have were intangible: good character, the blessing of God, spiritual protection, true wisdom, eternal life. Everything else was worthless when compared with these.
I had already adapted to homeschooling, using workbooks we ordered from conservative religious publishers. Mom had her hands full with potty-training, breastfeeding, checking papers, feeding five kids, and teaching my little brothers to read. I was largely on my own. My subject assignments were written on cards for each day of the week, and once they were completed I had the rest of the day to do what I liked. It was far different from my two years in public school, but I didn’t mind.
Now, everything changed.
For at least an hour every morning, month after month for years, my poor mother tried to study the Sermon on the Mount with us via the Wisdom Booklets sent from ATI Headquarters. We reacted to the questions—which seemed designed to manipulate or to trip us up—and even more to the answers that made no sense. We knew the Bible well, and trusted it; this “material” coming from Gothard was something else entirely. Thus began endless debates and arguments. Mom identified personally with the ATI program and felt her authority was being challenged when we criticized Bill Gothard’s [mis]interpretation of scripture and the “educational” projects we were required to complete together: learning to judge other people based on appearances and reading sermons about what wretched sinners we were (Charles Finney), what a monster God was (Jonathan Edwards), and how puny our minds were compared to his (A.W. Tozer).
With the exception of grammar, school wasn’t a lot of fun after that.
It didn’t feel like “school”, with every aspect of my life (social life, entertainment, exposure to music & literature, transportation & shopping, academic grades, political bent, bedtime, menu & meal portions, time in the shower, chore list, sex education, and religious guidance) all in the hands of the same two people who had been entrusted with my soul by God himself. I argued with Mom a lot, and she called me a scorner and I got plenty of spankings and I blamed Bill Gothard for making all of us miserable. I hit puberty and had new questions, new interests, new desires, and new guilt. I was desperately lonely and looked forward to summer when I could spend more time with other girls my age.
After two years of protesting and challenging, I was tired of feeling like an outsider in my own home. I really did want to be on God’s side, whatever that was. My parents noticed that my resistance was crumbling. They decided it was time for me to attend my first Seminar. I sat beside my very pregnant mother and dutifully raced to fill in all the blanks in my workbook. When we closed our eyes and Gothard asked us to raise our hands for each of his Seventeen Basic Commitments, I was keenly aware of my mom’s presence. Would it be possible for her not to know if I had raised my hand or kept it in my lap?
I didn’t follow everything Gothard said—some of his euphemisms went over my head—but I made a lot of commitments. I gave God my right to have friends. And I was brought many degrees nearer to the inner circle of the Institute in Basic Life Principles cult.
I was looking for a fish, but had unknowingly grasped a snake.
Over the next two years, I was thoroughly assimilated. Pressured by guilt within and parents without, I gave up my own interests and desires and adopted the cult mentality. I accepted, until I truly believed, that my parents were God’s voice to me. I dressed in navy skirts and white blouses whenever I could (the dress code for Mr. Gothard’s staff), grew my hair according to the style Gothard recommended, and listened to cassettes from IBLP headquarters while I did my chores. I now tolerated the Wisdom Booklets, though the inconsistencies and poor writing still bothered me. And, to keep my Walkman, I even agreed to follow Gothard’s rules about avoiding rock music, though I still puzzled over how my favorite Christian tunes could be tools of Satan.
We attended several ATI conferences in Knoxville, TN—pep rallies where we dressed in navy suits despite the July heat and heard about the latest nations begging for instruction in good character. Knoxville conferences were exciting for teens because there were thousands of others who also did Wisdom Booklets and wore long dresses and had umpteen siblings and knew what their motivational gift was.
With a grueling schedule and impossible logistics, the week was an effective brainwashing tool.
There was a choir for students who wanted (or were forced) to participate, an orchestra, and special music performances on pianos, strings, handbells, and more. Families in matching clothes sang harmony together, dozens of “reversal babies” were put on display, and the ALERT team made emotional mothers cry by rappelling from the ceiling in their uniforms unfurling an enormous American flag.
One year we all clapped when a speaker announced that Clarence Thomas had been nominated to the Supreme Court. He was young and conservative, we were told, so we rejoiced. In another session, a pastor with three grown daughters outlined a model daily breastfeeding schedule while we all took notes. A woman with no children of her own offered a hypothetical schedule for homeschooling a brood of five. Jim Logan made us shiver with tales of his encounters with talking demons. David Barton fired rapid-fire historical quotes at us to convince us that we could take America back for God.
In the separate meetings for students (where 12- to 28 -year-olds sat segregated by gender), we listened to Gothard tell stories about his girlfriends in high school and college. We raised our hands to commit not to marry a divorced man, and to postpone dating so we could serve the Lord longer instead. Gorgeous young men and women gave “testimonies” about quitting college to come home and learn with their families, about submitting to parents and not keeping secrets from them, about getting along with their siblings, and about putting off marriage in favor of ministry. Gothard showed us film clips about England’s Civil War, warning the girls to close their eyes if the violence was too much. “Fellas, drink it in,” he said.
It wasn’t long until I was teaching Gothard’s materials myself–to children in Russia and in the United States. I memorized Bible passages by the chapter. I completed my Journal of Faith and started working on my Journal of Virtue, an introspective study of Gothard’s 49 character qualities, with examples of how I had demonstrated (or failed) each one. I read the ATI newsletters carefully and studied the photos of the girls held up as godly examples. I prayed and waited and wondered when I would be called upon to teach character to the nations, or assist government leaders with changing the world.
College was strongly discouraged as a place where youth rebelled against authority, yielded to lust, and lost their faith but I did spend a year and a half enrolled in ATI’s unaccredited and spanking new correspondence law school. The stress of three weeks at an IBLP training center landed me sick in bed for weeks with headaches that lingered for months. A few months later my mother had a postpartum mental health crisis. For a week, while studying for a state exam, I was left in charge of a house full of younger siblings so my parents could seek “counsel” from staff at an ATI training center in Indiana. Though my grades were good, I found solitary “homeschool college” to be incredibly stressful. I wearied of fighting anxiety and boredom simultaneously and eventually gave up on getting a degree.
At age twenty-two, I was finally invited to volunteer my services for IBLP.
By the time I attained my dream and landed a job at Mr. Gothard’s headquarters, I was jaded and disillusioned. Gothard was a salesman who was not strictly honest, and was a poor judge of character. He cared little about the credibility of his sources, which he rarely documented. He was quick to discharge staff who expressed alternative points of view. He overworked employees and made it difficult for them to participate in local churches. Gothard was embroiled in legal battles with partners in ministry as well as with the neighborhoods where the Institute operated. He disdained government authority, only following the rules (construction permits, building codes, employment regulations) when pressured. Employees were encouraged not to report overtime. Despite the “non-optional principles” that were supposed to ensure loving family relationships, Gothard was estranged from some of his siblings.
Gothard was controlling of his staff to the point of criticizing the hue of a female employee’s fingernails, (while coloring his own hair a noticeably unnatural shade of burgundy). Gothard surrounded himself with willowy, long-haired, very young women. Appearance mattered a lot to him. One young woman who had been invited to join the ATI staff in Russia got a fresh and cute haircut right before her trip. When she reached Chicago, she was pulled from the group and hidden away at a small campus in Indiana until her hair grew out to an acceptable length. I was appalled by her story, but she blamed herself for not considering her hairstyle more carefully.
I could look past many disheartening inconsistencies because I had been trained to believe that God himself spoke through men with power.
I was doing God’s work at IBLP, God had sent me there at last. And in spite of the overbearing rules and constant meetings and curfews and dress codes, in many ways I still had a lot more autonomy than I had ever tasted at home. So it was a blow when Gothard fired me late one night—by calling my parents hundreds of miles away instead of speaking to me, though I slept just yards from his office. Gothard found me the next day, after I’d packed up my belongings from my room and emptied my new desk. My parents wanted me to come home, he said, though they’d told me Gothard wanted me gone. I felt rejected and lied to.
Since “bitterness” was a great sin to be feared, I tried to absorb the blow and see God’s hand in it. But I cried myself to sleep for weeks afterward. It was years before my husband (whom I met while working for IBLP) and I could admit we had given years of our lives to a cult. Years of unlearning the guilt, of trying to push away the rubble of legalism to find out if our faith still survived, of accepting our humanity instead of trying to live as spiritual beings, of rejecting abuse in the name of love, of discovering that women have as much right to autonomy as do men and that children are not possessions, or extensions, of their parents.
The “Bread” we had asked for turned out to be nothing but rocks, dead weight we carried for too long. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned his followers to be “fruit inspectors”. And, more clearly as time passed, we could see that the fruit of Gothard’s teaching, even when followed with the best of intentions, was of terrible quality. Humbling as it was to realize, we had been raised in a religious cult that drew in our parents and then absorbed our youthful energy, feeding on our desires to please both God and our parents.
I no longer identify as a follower of Jesus, but I am still a fruit inspector.
You will know these people by what they do. Grapes don’t come from thornbushes, and figs don’t come from thorny weeds.In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit.A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit.
Did you know that demons can be sexually transmitted? That many Vietnam veterans’ problems are caused by demons picked up from prostitutes? That a person can be “demonized” through listening to music, watching TV, or by playing Dungeons & Dragons?
Logan told one audience that he gets calls about house hauntings every day: “We dedicate the ground. Many people miss the ground.” He tells about a missionary in Vienna, Austria who had to leave Europe because his “fourteen-year-old son got full of demons from listening to rock music”. Logan claims parents in Missouri are teaching fourth and fifth graders to call up demons in the mirror and he believes government officials have demons assigned to them to influence them to oppose Christianity.
I would not know Jim Logan’s name were it not for Bill Gothard. Gothard’s signature teaching on the “Umbrella of Authority” taught followers that obedience and submission to the will of “authorities” (husbands, parents, employers, pastors, law enforcement officers, and government officials) would protect them from the attacks of Satan, which could not penetrate the “umbrella”. Thinking for one’s self or acting against the wishes of authorities was venturing beyond the safety of the umbrella and would expose one to the invisible danger of demonic influences.
But the Umbrella of Authority teaching would have had no teeth if we had not been convinced that demons were real, and scary. And that‘s where Jim Logan comes in.
Jim grew up in an “ungodly” home; years later his stomach still knotted at the sight of his father. Logan was drafted during the Korean War; he converted to Christianity when he was 19, through the ministry of Dawson Trotman and the Navigators. He attended Biola University, and then Biola’s seminary, Talbot School of Theology. But he received his training in “deliverance” straight from Fred Dickason at Moody Bible Institute. Dickason, a professor and theologian, authored Angels: Elect and Evil and other books on demonology and “warfare”.
In 1987, Dr. Mark Bubeck founded the International Center for Biblical Counseling (ICBC International) in Sioux City, Iowa. (Read more about Bubeck’s belief in demons here.) Jim Logan joined the ICBC staff in 1989 and stayed for sixteen years. Eventually, new centers were started in Indiana, Colorado, and Texas, becoming independent over time. (ICBC International has since merged with Deeper Walk Ministries to become Deeper Walk International.) Logan started his own Biblical Restoration Ministriesin Sioux City in 2005. According to Logan’s website, none of the counseling staff or their associates are “professional or licensed counselors, therapists, psychiatrists, medical or psychological practitioners.” Logan has carried his “expertise” to numerous countries counseling missionaries, working especially with CEF, Navigators, and J.A.A.R.S.
Somewhere along the way, Logan became pals with Bill Gothard. Gothard was stuffy compared to the irrepressible Logan. Logan liked to tell how he was the last member of his family to give up television, watching his favorite shows alone in the garage after his wife and kids refused to have anything to do with it anymore. Logan like to joke and tease (behavior that would earn IBLP staff a rebuke for “folly”), and he would frequently interrupt himself with loud laughter, releasing the tension in an auditorium made anxious by tales of noises in shadowy rooms and men’s voices coming out of small children.
The two men had at least one thing in common: a love of stories. Gothard soon invited Logan to speak at numerous Institute in Basic Life Principles seminars around the country, addressing homeschooling parents and pastors. Logan and Gothard frequently told each other’s stories and recommended each other’s teachings and materials. Logan helped Gothard write an IBLP publication (Life Purpose Journal Vol. III) that is no longer available. More recently, Logan helped lead IMI, an IBLP program developed to train young men to be pastors.
Gothard and Logan shared similar views of “iniquity”, “warfare”, and “ancestral spirits”.
A fetus conceived out of wedlock, for example, had to be prayed over to break the ancestral demons passed on by his/her conception. The brightness of the eyes were supposed to reveal an individual’s spiritual state: “The eyes show me if Satan’s clouding your mind” (Logan). While Gothard tended to avoid talking about demons directly, he had a lexicon of coded terminology hewas comfortable with: carnality, evil, spirit of rebellion, heaviness, darkness, principalities, ground, hedge, attacks, tormentors, protection, and deception. Logan didn’t beat around the bush; he was matter-of-fact about strange voices coming out Christian missionaries who had been invaded by demons.
Logan became a fixture at Gothard’s ATI conferences. After listening to his tales of hallucinations, seizures, and demons being let loose in homes because of Cabbage Patch Kids or evil art objects received as white elephant gifts, or even “twin beds gotten from homosexuals”, families would go home frightened. Some parents burned their children’s toys, even putting dolls on barbecue grills while the kids watched in anguished terror. Parents like mine cleansed our home of Winnie-the-Pooh and all other “talking animals”. Others banished Cabbage Patch dolls, My Little Ponies, clowns, superheroes. We knew our parents were dead-serious about our welfare: they were willing to make burnt offerings to keep us safe.
Despite having no credentials, Logan was frequently sought out by ATI parents at a loss to “fix” their rebellious or depressed sons and daughters, who must be affected by demonic influences. But he could be contradictory. Despite recommending Gothard’s book against Christian rock music, calling it “awesome“, Logan still found some Christian artists acceptable. He told one family that he listened to Amy Grant, and recommended Michael Card’s “Sleep Sound in Jesus” album of lullabies at an ICBC conference, saying that the songs would keep children from having nightmares. Far more disturbing is the allegation that he failed to report claims of sexual abuse made by those he “counseled”.
Gothard had been teaching his “Umbrella of Authority” for decades, when he had a new breakthrough. In 1992, Gothard introduced his Strongholds concept. He soon developed it into a fancy new package complete with diagram illustrations explaining how any sin or disobedience or “bitterness” could “give ground” to Satan in a person’s soul. And if Satan had enough “ground” on this imaginary chessboard in the mind/heart, the victim would be plagued by temptations and troubles.
For years, Logan says, he helped people gain freedom from demons using the “direct confrontational method”: he would speak to the evil spirits and command them to speak back. With the discovery of Strongholds, he could switch to a “less invasive” approach, helping people pinpoint the acts of disobedience whereby “the enemy” had been given permission to invade their inner being. By confessing and renouncing these “sins”, a Christian could be “freed” from cross-dressing, anorexia, depression, “bondage” to masturbation, or any number of “torments”.
In 1995, Moody Press released a book by Jim Logan entitled Reclaiming Surrendered Ground. Though written by a ghostwriter (provided by Moody), it was based on Logan’s messages, with a foreword by Baptist preacher Charles Stanley. The book, along with some of Neil Anderson‘s writings, is still a standard resource recommended by Gothard for those who want to conquer “lust”. It also received endorsements from Erwin Lutzer and Warren Wiersbe.
That same year, Dr. Kenneth Copleyjoined Jim Logan and Mark Bubeck to open an ICBC branch in Carmel, Indiana. In 2001, Moody published Copley’s book on spiritual warfare, The Great Deceiver. Jim Logan himself wrote the foreword. Besides offering “counsel” in spiritual warfare, Copley was an instructor for teenagers in Gothard’s EQUIP program at the Indianapolis Training Center. The ITC worked closely with Judge James Payne of the Marion County Juvenile Court, who sent young offenders to the ITC to be mentored by graduates of the EQUIP training.*
In one talk available on YouTube, Logan addresses a group of young people at an unspecified IBLP Training Center. Uninhibited as usual, he rambles about “helping” counselees with anorexia, who can never have “victory” as long as they have pride in their life, because God resists the proud. “If God himself is resisting you, you’re doomed.” Likewise with rebellion: “When I push away authorities, God will push me away,” says Logan. However, Logan then turns to complaining about the food served at the training center, seeking support from his listeners who dare not express their “rebellion” for fear of unpleasant consequences.
“If I’m nasty, it’s for fun. If I didn’t like you, I wouldn’t be nasty… I’ve earned it,” Logan bluntly reassures his nervous audience.
One minute he is claiming that he came upon an altar where human sacrifices had been made in the woods on on the JAARS campus (“human bones, that used to have meat on them”), and minutes later he is mocking the modesty of Islamic women.
Logan seems to find Hell particularly amusing. At one point he chuckles, “Look at all the brilliant people going to hell”. At another conference he breaks out in a loud belly laugh describing a small child being threatened with eternal torment in flames. Could it be that, deep down, this “good news of the Gospel” is just a joke?
The people who come to Logan may be suicidal, homicidal, depressed, or mentally ill. His office provides a data sheet where they are instructed to mark if they have hostility toward those in “deliverance work”, if they gossip, if they have practiced any martial arts, and if they have desires for bestiality or premarital or lesbian sex.
While he may not come across as especially bright, Logan captivates audiences with his rambling yet spellbinding yarns of what he describes as encounters with demons. And far from being politically correct, Logan can sound downright racist, warning against the “animism” inherent in native American, African, and Filipino culture. He has a story of demons “throwing dishes out of cupboards” because a house was built over an Indian burial ground and another of an African musical instrument causing a child to threaten a sibling with a butcher knife. The sister of the Ambassador from Togo asked Logan to come pray for her children and bless their new home. Logan says his interpreter saw Chinese spirits in the house, which had formerly housed a family from China.
Sometimes, Logan progresses from simply rambling to incoherent, weaving yarns that don’t even make sense. For example:
In Indiana, they wrap an egg with yarn and put the egg in fire but the yarn doesn’t burn and they bury it; “…and that group of people has the highest suicide rate of teenagers in America”.
“The same spirits that stalked the Philippines walk in the Caribbean and terrorize the people on the island of Maui.”
Logan claims one of his CEF missionaries, Larry, was a “self-styled Satanist” before converting and going to Indonesia. To break ties with his old life, Larry got rid of a glass pendulum he had used in Satanism, throwing it into a city dump near Seattle–but it beat him home, sitting back in its box at his house when he returned. So Larry and his family took it back in the dump and prayed that God would keep it there and this time it stayed. According to Logan, Larry still has “spooky eyes” from his previous occult involvement even though he is “clean”.
When I ask myself how I could ever have accepted some of Gothard’s most egregious “principles”, I think of Logan. That’s how. Because Logan claimed to have evidence that the spirit world existed, that Satan wanted to kill me, that there were real unseen dangers I needed to be kept safe from, that obeying my parents would keep strange voices from coming out of my mouth, or books from flying off my shelves. That the name of Jesus was my talisman against evil (unless God wanted me to learn a larger lesson from suffering).
My parents believed it, too. To them, Logan was just another Christian voice telling the truth, like Hal Lindsey (author of Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth) and Mel Tari (author of Like a Mighty Wind). That’s why we turned the placemats upside down when we ate at a Chinese restaurant (don’t read the zodiac!) and asked the waiter for almond cookies instead of fortune cookies. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary that I’ve owned since I was twelve, the chart of zodiac signs is scribbled out in black marker. We never took a newspaper because it would be too easy for someone to read a horoscope.
Mom chose to give birth without assistance rather than trust midwives who might be into “Eastern religions”. We left church services when demonic music was played under the guise of worship. We did not acknowledge Halloween.We said a prayer for safety before each and every road trip, even we were only headed to the post office. And Mom refused to consider using the Saxon math curriculum (popular with other homeschoolers) because she had seen “ghouls” in a word problem.
So it was huge for me to reconsider the nature of Satan. Ultimately, my faith in God required a cosmic enemy–an evil being trying to snatch my soul and longing to drag me into hell. My theism rested on a belief in a “personal” devil, and when I lost my fear of the demonic, my fear of god went tumbling after! My husband, who sat under Ken Copley’s instruction for an entire week in the EQUIP program, lost a lifelong fear of the dark after finally reaching the conclusion that the “spirit world” is nothing more than a fantasy of human imagination.
Jim Logan has spent his life alternately frightening people of, and presuming to rescue people from, a phantom menace.
Despite his lack of credentials, many badly hurting individuals have unfortunately been led to believe that Jim Logan’s teaching could provide the help they sorely needed, and many more children and teens were further scarred in the process.
*Last year Dr. Copley’s adopted daughter came forward, accusing him of sexually abusing her even while the family lived at the Training Center. Another victim has come forward accusing Copley of sexually abusing her while she was seeing him for counseling at ICBC. By the time Copley’s daughter decided to seek legal action, Indiana’s Department of Child Services was being run by Judge James Payne himself. Dr. Copley is currently a pastor at The Cross in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
At some point in my growing up, I realized that my family was dysfunctional.
While outsiders saw us as picture-perfect and held us in regard as a model of the ideal Christian family, we knew our Sunday-best was an illusion or at best, just one facet of who and what we were. There were a lot of good times, certainly, but there was also tension. And no matter how much fun we were having, we never let our guard down.
I have spent the last year seriously unpacking what I’ve carried from my family of origin. In the process, I’ve gradually learned a new vocabulary describing the ways that dysfunction affected me:
When children are unable to achieve a sense of control and stability they become helpless. If they are unable to grasp what is going on and unable do anything about it to change it, they go immediately from (fearful) stimulus to (fight/flight/freeze) response without being able to learn from the experience. Subsequently, when exposed to reminders of a trauma (sensations, physiological states, images, sounds, situations) they tend to behave as if they were traumatized all over again – as a catastrophe. Many problems of traumatized children can be understood as efforts to minimize objective threat and to regulate their emotional distress. Unless caregivers understand the nature of such re-enactments they are liable to label the child as “oppositional”, ‘rebellious”, “unmotivated”, and “antisocial”.
When trauma emanates from within the family children experience a crisis of loyalty and organize their behavior to survive within their families. Being prevented from articulating what they observe and experience, traumatized children will organize their behavior around keeping the secret, deal with their helplessness with compliance or defiance, and accommodate in any way they can to entrapment in abusive or neglectful situations.
These children… tend to communicate the nature of their traumatic past by repeating it in the form of interpersonal enactments, in their play and in their fantasy lives.
So many of Dr. van der Kolk’s observations resonate with me. And in an odd way, I find it reassuring to discover that professionals can accurately describe the ways in which my siblings and I coped with our traumatic upbringing. We were not anomalies; we were not “broken”; we were not “messed up”. As children, we responded understandably–even predictably–to unsettling circumstances beyond our control.
Our parents were told by Bill Gothard and Michael Farris and Mary Pride and Doug Phillips, by Raymond Moore and Gregg Harris and even James Dobson, that God had given them (parents) responsibility for their children’s education and that by taking our education into their own hands, they could have the loving, God-fearing family they always wanted. Our parents accepted the challenge, choosing to raise us in an environment totally different from any they had known before. In a system totally different from their own experience. In a culture totally different from that of our peers. But in some cases, that system failed dismally.
My ten siblings and I are only a tiny representation of the thousands (millions?) of children who grew up in conservative religious homeschooling homes.
Many of those homes were unhealthy, and socially isolated; many were abusive. And many of us are survivors. The symptoms we have dealt with along the way are not signs that we were rebellious or lazy or crazy or influenced by demons–they are simply signs that our young brains reacted normally to the challenges our parents created for us when we were vulnerable and doing the best we could to make sense of the strange and sometimes painful world in which we found ourselves.
Now that I have children trusting me to show them the world, I am finally able to feel empathy for my younger self. I see myself at my children’s ages, and grieve the losses that little girl was not able to properly mourn at the time because she had to be strong and she had to be good. That little girl discovered early that it was safer to ally herself with her caregivers–who were bent on pleasing God–than with the rest of her culture–who were displeasing him every day. That little girl learned to cooperate with and even defend the very people who were traumatizing her, even when this only created more cognitive dissonance.
Now I find nurturing my children and tuning in to their specific needs to be healing to me. Observing them, I am better able to recognize my own likes and dislikes and fears, the things that make me feel supported, the things that make feel threatened, the things that make me feel brave.
I have carried a lot with me since leaving the home of my childhood. I felt I had to hang onto it to find out what exactly it was.
Now that I am able to label the way I felt as a girl, it is easier to let those feelings go and move on with a better, healthier life.