How I Became a Disillusioned Homeschooler: Elisheba’s Story

Image by R.L. Stollar.

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Elisheba” is a pseudonym. 

Content warning: descriptions of self-injury.

I used to be a good homeschooler.

I used to be a good Christian. I used to be a model daughter. Then something happened. I’m not sure what it was, I’m not even sure how it happened.

When I went to college I was determined not to lose myself to “the world”. I didn’t want to be another statistic for why you shouldn’t send your kids to college. I didn’t want to be written off. I was going to defy the odds.

My first full time semester of college was a blast. Learning with other people and having a social life? Hot damn! Sure my 17 year old sister was taking the same classes as I was and would comment on my new found friendship with a fellow homeschooler who happened to be a guy.

Fast forward six months. I am enjoying college as much as ever and even am proud to say I have a boyfriend. Sure I can’t talk about him around my parents, sure hardly any of my friends know about him but I have a guy. Things are slipping. I am becoming one of those people. One of my friends that my mom used as an example to warn me about. One of those girls who I’d have coffee with to try to encourage her to do the right thing. I wasn’t any different.

Then the depression started to hit.

Not only was I not a good daughter anymore, God had turned His back on me, or so I thought. I spent countless nights on the bathroom floor crying and holding a knife to my arm. Pushing it in just enough to leave an impression but never deep enough to actually cut myself. Even in self harm I failed. I didn’t have the guts to do it. Only to tell my boyfriend that I was losing it and that I was going to do it or that I wanted to die. The only relief I could find was being with my boyfriend, which led to more excuses, less time spent on homework and more lies to my parents and more guilt tripping from my boyfriend because I wouldn’t grow a spine and move out, all of this lead to more feelings of being a failure and depression.

Fast forward another six months. I was finding out that my prince charming (it sounded less worldy and in your face than “boyfriend”) wasn’t all that I thought he was, but I had given him my heart which meant I was never going to get that piece back (Boy Meets Girl, anyone?) and could never give anyone my whole heart so logically, I was stuck with him.

I had made my choice and once again I was not going to be another statistic.

My first college relationship would last. I was going to marry him no matter what, even if that meant moving to Texas to live in a trailer with his grandparents and dropping out of school. No price was to high to pay to not be a statistic. So here I was, my relationship with my parents in shambles. God? Yeah. Not really on good terms with Him. Good homeschooler? Not so much. I hated that I had been subjected to that.

The one thing I had was my best friend. She was honest with me, but somehow not harsh. She got through to me. Literally the only reason I did not move to Texas was because of her. To this day I am so thankful for her influence in my life. She saved me from so much pain and ruined dreams. My boyfriend moved to Texas for school. I wrote letters in class instead of taking notes. My grades continued to be mediocre or worse.

Then my parents gave me an ultimatum, him or them.

Some how, even though my relationship with my parents was totally shattered, I chose them. Even now, I’m still not sure why. But I did. Enter major heartbreak, anger, some more lies, and eventually surrender. I still seriously thought we were together, only now we couldn’t talk, okay, don’t become a statistic. We can still make this last. Until the day of all my finals, a mutual friend texted me and told me that my boyfriend had a new girlfriend and that he was a jackass. I got out of my car, stopped crying, threw up, walked in to take my first final and then repeated until all of my finals were over. So there I stood, still not the good, model daughter that I once was. Not a good christian, in fact I really hated God, that day especially. And now to top it off, I was dumped, damaged goods. It did not help that I was crushing really hard on this catholic guy that I knew even though I was sworn to my first guy. It made the depression and the feelings of guilt worse. Not only could I not make a relationship work and I was used and damaged now, I was emotionally cheating on my guy.

Three strikes and you’re out, right? I had them all.

Now I was trying to rebuild myself. Who was I? I was a broken, used, depressed, put in any similar adjective here, person. How should I redeem myself? How could I get my model status back? Fall in love with somebody else? Sure. Enter catholic guy. The perfect gentlemen. The guy who wasn’t afraid of my parents. The guy who my siblings and mom loved. The guy who knew how to handle almost all situations. The guy who treated me like a lady and made me feel like I was valuable and important. The guy who (though he did and doesn’t know it, helped me rebuild myself). Enter the perfect prince charming. No sneaking around this time, except in my head (Leslie Ludy’s books, anyone?). I was having an emotional love affair and giving more of myself away. More guilt, but no lies and no emotional abuse from this guy so not nearly as much depression. I felt loved and cared for and safe. Life was good. Fast forward. Things are good, in my head at least. Ends up he has a girlfriend and has had one for quite a while. Enter sobbing and telling my story to a guy that I don’t really don’t know (he will be one of my best friends eventually).

Again. I’m used and broken. But were we ever actually dating? This drives me nuts. Then the self loathing. Not only was I a sucker for another guy, he was catholic of all things.

Good homeschooled, christian girls don’t fall for catholic boys.

Good homeschooled, christian girls don’t have a chain of boys period. No good homeschooled, christian boy will ever want me now. Hell. God probably doesn’t want me now.

On the other hand I don’t have as many pieces to pick up this time. My grades are good. I have a supportive, loving group of ladies that I study with that are like second moms to me They get that I’m heart broken, they also get that finals are coming up and I have to study. During these study time we talk about everything. Life. Women’s roles. Religion. I learn that there are different types of christians and I like it. Maybe it’s more important to show people that God loves them than to show them where they’re wrong and how confused they are about God. Maybe God could accept the broken, used, messed up me. Maybe He doesn’t care if I’m the perfect homeschooler, daughter, christian girl that I once was. Isn’t that the gospel anyway? He takes something used and broken and renews it? Life isn’t too bad.

I’m still determined to not become a statistic. I will not lose my faith. I will not become too liberal. I will stay conservative. I will believe in courtship. I will follow my parents and obey them. I will not be crazy. I will only attend our church as it is the best and the right way to worship. I will of course homeschool my future children.

Fast forward. I have a best friend who is an atheist. I have another best friend who is struggling with their faith. I have other best friends that are rock solid in their faith. I’m just me. I don’t want to offend anyone. I’m not sure how to defend my beliefs but I think they are true, maybe. Then I start hard core struggling with my faith. What if there really is no God? What if my whole life has been a lie? What if nothing that I told was important, is important? The depression starts creeping it’s way back. I start cutting for real this time.

Now I’m a homeschooler that cuts. That’s not supposed to happen.

I’m a christian who isn’t sure if their God is real. That’s not right.

And I’m a daughter who isn’t telling her parents any of that.

Say goodbye to any chance of getting the daughter of the year award.

Who do I go to? My friend that was struggling and decided for their sanity that they cannot believe in God anymore. They get my problems. I go to my friend who is an atheist. He listens and tries to help. Several months later, I go to my friends who are rock solid in their faith. They still love me and don’t judge.

Fast forward a bit. I’m here. Now. I am tired of trying not be a statistic. Yes. I still hate the idea of it but people are going to make statistics out of whatever they want and as I learned in my research class, they can make those statistics say whatever the hell they want. Who am I to fight it?

Here I am. A homeschooler, christian, not so model daughter who is wondering if living at home is really biblical, if courtship is biblical, if modesty really matters (how is it all the girl’s responsibility?) basically I’m questioning everything I was ever taught was the correct thing to do.

How did I get here? I’m still not sure but it was through slow disillusionment of my life. I’m never going to fit the mold. I can’t. I’m too broken. Does that bother me? Sometimes. Sometimes it really gets to me. Sometimes I still want to die. Sometimes I’m still so depressed I can barely function. Sometimes I still want to cut. But do those things define me? Not really. Does not fitting the mold ruin my life and my plans? No freaking way. It opens up opportunities for me. It allows me an escape.

I’m starting to realize not fitting the mold may be one of the best things that has ever happened to me. The not ideal, disillusioned homeschooler, christian me.

The Crushing Weight of Being First

Illustration by Kiery King.
Illustration by Kiery King.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on January 15, 2015.

I graduated high school three years before my friends did. I was getting married at the same time they were getting their diplomas.

I felt the eyes of all the parents and their kids on me as I navigated the hell that was my courtship – even the families with kids in their 20’s hadn’t let them do much more than breathe around someone of the opposite gender. So I was 16, and everyone I knew and the few people I saw on a somewhat regular basis were watching, curious. I felt like I had a lot of live up to.

There was a lot of peer pressure to “do it right” as defined by Josh Harris and Amish courtship fiction.

It added a crushing weight that did so much damage.

I can’t put into words how utterly lonely it is to be the first, and then observed like a test subject, because your life skipped several grades and there wasn’t anything you could do about it, or anyone you could talk to, because there was no one else with a frame of reference for what you were going through.

Accelerating life is isolating and confusing – time is a blur and weird hangups are just waiting for you to sort out. All while you’re waiting for someone to catch up with you so you won’t be the only one anymore. It’s like being an oldest child forever, with no hope of finding people your age.

It gets really lonely, being the first in your group to pass life milestones. Really heavy knowing everyone’s eyes are on you and you’re an example for who knows how many people because that’s how the families you knew operated. It’s complicated knowing your parents are talking to other parents about you and your life as a warning, and justifying their response to your siblings.

I was the first in my group to go through the idea that our parents got wind of and excited about, I felt the heat of people’s eyes like lights on a stage, and I am the black sheep…..because I got tired and couldn’t be the example anymore.

It’s not worth it.

Today I’m Proud of Joshua Harris

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Josh Harris.

 

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on February 2, 2015.

So, have you heard the news? Joshua Harris is stepping down from his role of head pastor of Covenant Life Church and heading to Vancouver to attend seminary at Regent College. I don’t know much about Regent, though the Washington Post described it as “mainstream.” Not only that, but Josh is planning to send his kids to public school while he attends seminary. Public school. This is huge, and it’s hard to describe how much it means to me.

Josh Harris was the oldest child of Gregg Harris, a well known early Christian homeschool leader who traveled the country speaking at conferences and convincing people that homeschooling was God’s plan for families and the best way to raise children. Because of his father’s ideas, Josh did not go to either college or seminary, and instead went straight into ministry, including both writing and preaching.

Josh published I Kissed Dating Goodbye in 1997, and the book took the Christian homeschooling world by storm. Suddenly “courtship” became the word of the hour, and parents of children like myself were deciding that they would not let their children date—and indeed, would teach us that dating is akin to adultery, or worse. Josh Harris singlehandedly created the atmosphere I grew up in with regards to romance and marriage. I not only read his book, I lived and breathed it—as did countless other fundamentalist and evangelical homeschooled teens.

Ten years ago, Josh became the pastor of Covenant Life Church, a nondenominational evangelical megachurch with 3000 members, all without formal theological training. But in recent years, his church and others in its loose association became mired in scandal. The words “Sovereign Grace Ministries” may be familiar to you. The upshot of it all was that Josh and other pastors (most prominently C.J. Mahoney) were dealing with sex abuse allegations internally and not reporting anything to the authorities. Josh himself was not accused of sex abuse, and when everything started going down Josh disassociated his church from the association and made changes.

And now this. It seems that the scandal has made Josh realize that he was not adequately prepared for the position of authority he held, and that formal educational training actually has some merit. This is a huge admission to make as the son of one of the most prominent Christian homeschooling pioneers. I’m sure Josh is doing his best to mollify his father and bring him around, but in making this decision he is admitting that his father was wrong. Not wrong about homeschooling necessarily, but wrong in his opposition to formal education writ large.

And the whole sending his kids to public school while he’s in seminary thing? You have to understand that leaders like Gregg Harris made homeschooling part of the gospel. To be a true Christian, for them, was to homeschool. That and that alone was God’s will for families. I felt great trepidation about how my mother would react to me sending my own children to public school, and my mother has never been a prominent homeschooling leader on the scale of Gregg Harris. For many Christian homeschooling parents (my mother included) having a child grow up to put their own children in public school is a sign of failure. So for Josh to do what he’s doing—that takes guts.

Even going to seminary takes guts for someone like him! Why? Because of this:

For most of his career, Joshua Harris was the kind of evangelical pastor who chuckled at the joke that “seminary” should really be called “cemetery.”

There is a strong anti-seminary bent in the circles Josh runs in. Josh himself admits that he probably would not have been hired on as head pastor at Covenant Life Church if he had been to seminary. Seminary is almost a dirty word. All you need is the Bible! You don’t need to be taught by professors! Biblical criticism? Who needs that! Just listen to the Holy Spirit, read the Bible, and you’re good! And here Josh is, admitting that he does need that, and heading off to seminary.

Here is Josh’s own description of what’s going on:

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a short story called “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” (Maybe you saw the movie starring Brad Pitt). It’s about a man who ages in reverse—he is born old and with each passing day becomes younger.

In reflecting on my own story, I can’t help but think that I have lived a sort of backwards life. Without meaning to, I have experienced life out of the normal order and sequence of events.

At the end of last year I turned 40 years old. Yet it is only now that I am going to school. I haven’t completed any post-graduate study. I don’t even have an undergraduate degree. In fact, I have never attended a formal school full-time in my life.

I’ve been on a unique educational path my whole life. For the first 17 years of my life I was homeschooled by my mother. My father was a well-known homeschool advocate who traveled the country teaching parents the biblical principles for and advantages of home education. I was “Exhibit A” of my dad’s philosophy that you could learn by doing, be directed in study by your delights and succeed outside of the “system.”

At age 17, when most kids my age were going off to college, I started a ministry called New Attitude. I began publishing a magazine and putting on conferences for teenagers. I felt a clear sense of calling from God to speak to my generation and call them to a passionate pursuit of God. When I was 21, I wrote my first book [I Kissed Dating Goodbye], which met with a good deal of success.

That’s when I met C.J. Mahaney, who was the previous Senior Pastor of our church. In C.J. I found someone who understood me and who was willing to train me. He was a charismatic pastor (in all senses of the word) who pastored a mega-church, led a national network of churches, and embraced both reformed theology and charismatic practice.

Like me, C.J. got his start on the conference circuit before becoming a pastor. Like me he had never received formal theological training, and the group of churches he led, which grew out of the Jesus Movement in the 1970s, at that time didn’t place a high value on seminary training. So instead of attending seminary before becoming a pastor, I moved into C.J.’s basement, worked as an intern in the church, traveled the country with him and began preaching. It was on the job training and I soaked up everything C.J. taught me.

Seven years after I arrived at the church, I was set in as the hand-picked replacement for C.J. I was 30 years old, with no formal theological training and no formal training in organizational leadership, and I was the Senior Pastor of a 3,000 member church. That my friends is a crazy, backwards life!

Yes. Yes.

And so here I am, feeling proud of Josh Harris. What he’s doing is not an easy thing, but it is an important thing. He’s not the only one who feels he led a backward life. I and many others feel the same way too. As teens, we were expected to have the maturity of 30-year-old adults, and only later, as young adults ourselves, were we able to let the facade drop and finally go through adolescence.

Forging our own paths after the level of parental control homeschooling afforded our parents isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. I wish Josh the best as he leaves the conveyer belt he was set on—by both his father and evangelical leaders like C.J. Mahoney—and makes his own decisions and chooses his own path.

Note: It’s probably worth mentioning that Josh has also walked back his ideas about dating and courtship. I hope to write more about this later, once I’ve had time to listen to his sermons on the topic, which seem to be available only as audio files. 

How the Teachings of Emotional Purity and Courtship Damage Healthy Relationships

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Randi Deuro.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on January 18, 2011.

There are many times that I don’t realize just how much strange teaching I’ve had to “un-do” in my life until I try to explain them to someone else. This happened to me the other night. A dear friend and I were talking about our kids and how to help them transition from children to adults. The topic of dating and relationships came up and we started talking about my story. Sometimes it’s actually comforting to me to be met with blank or incredulous stares from people I consider “normal”, good Christians. It somehow validates my belief that some of the teachings I grew up with were very wrong.

I’ve also lately started facing the ways in which the teachings of “emotional purity”, (a la Josh Harris, the Ludys, and others) have damaged the part of my brain that makes healthy relationships function.

I define “emotional purity” in the same way that popular homeschool writers have: it is the idea of “guarding your heart”. Which sounds all noble and righteous and everything but in this context is really just a facade for fear. Fear of loving and losing. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear of getting hurt. Fear of being damaged. Fear of not measuring up. In my life it meant never having a crush on a guy, never allowing myself to “fall in love”, basically training myself to shut down a normal, healthy, functioning part of my human heart.

I’m 27 years old, been married for almost 7 years. I rejected the teachings of courtship and emotional purity when I was 19. But their effects have yet to leave.

There are several ways that these teachings can damage a person’s heart.

1. They cause shame.

Shame because sometimes you can’t help but like one guy a little more than another. Shame because that’s “sinful” and “emotionally impure”. Shame because it sets a standard and proclaims that you are somehow shameful if you cannot keep it. You are considered damaged goods if you have fallen in love and had your heart broken. It was Josh Harris in I Kissed Dating Goodbye and the Ludy’s in several of their books that popularized the idea that everytime you fall in love or get “emotionally attached” to someone, you give away a piece of your heart. The more pieces you give away, the less of your heart you have to give to your spouse someday. He even went so far as to say that each of those former flames actually have some sort of hold on you. This has got to be the most bogus and the most damaging teaching of this entire movement. Love doesn’t work that way. The more you give, the more you have. My 3rd child doesn’t have less of my heart just because I’ve loved two other children before him. And, really, I haven’t given them “pieces” of my heart. I’ve given them each all of my heart. The miracle of love is that it multiplies by being given.

Each person I love has “a piece of my heart”…my best friend, my sisters, my husband, my parents, my kids. It is ridiculous to suggest that there is not enough of my heart to go around.

And what view of redemption does this teaching proclaim? Not one that I want anything to do with. It is an incompetent redemption.

2. They cause pride.

Pride because suddenly you are better than everyone else. Because you have never had a crush on a guy. You have kept your heart for your spouse. You didn’t say “I love you” til your wedding day. Pride in human accomplishment. Pride because you are so much more spiritual than that poor girl over there who is crying because her boyfriend broke up with her. Because your heart is whole and she just gave a piece of hers to a guy she isn’t married to. Pride because you did it right, she did not. You have more to give your future husband than she does. She is damaged goods, you are the real prize.

This is exactly what happened to the Pharisees. They made up laws that God never condoned, then patted themselves on the back for keeping them, while looking down on those who didn’t. This has nothing to do with the righteousness and grace of God, and everything to do with the accomplishments of man. I remember watching a video where one of the biggest names in the courtship movement bragged with obvious arrogance that he didn’t tell his wife he loved her until their wedding. And I thought “how twisted can we get?” We took something as simple as saying “I love you”, built a strawman rule around it (“saying I love you is defrauding”) then hung it like a trophy on our walls. Job well done, folks.

3. They create skewed views of relationships which lead to dysfunction

This is where I still struggle. Where others see nothing wrong, I am suspicious of every look, every situation, every witty exchange. I am still uncomfortable hugging one of my best friends who is a guy. Because we were never to hug or have physical contact, even innocent, with a guy. Voices in my head scream “defrauder!” just by giving a friend a quick hug. I feel ill at ease sometimes even talking to other men. Oh, they never notice. Because I’m really good at pushing those feelings away and acting “normal”. But I am bothered by my reaction to everyday situations. We were taught never ever ever to be alone with a guy. Because it could look bad. He could be tempted. You might start thinking impure thoughts. You might even *gasp* flirt!

I was trying to explain this to my friend and it came out sounding so….crazy and embarrassing. I told her if she was to walk out of the room, leaving me and her husband in the same room, my first reaction would be one of panic. “This might look bad…. what if he talks to me…what if someone else sees us….what is he thinking…” My second reaction, close on the heels of the first, would be a coping mechanism that I learned long ago: I calmly tell myself that “this is perfectly normal and perfectly innocent…he probably doesn’t even notice me…this is a Godly man I know and trust….the only person who would ever freak out about this is me….to the rest of the world there’s nothing wrong here”. I then calm down, act normal, and hope nobody noticed my crazy internal battle. Cuz they’d probably admit me to a psych ward. Thank you, Josh Harris and Co. I hatethis about myself! I am a strong, confident person. But the idea that I can defraud just by a look, that I could become emotionally impure just by a thought, that I might become damaged goods with pieces of my heart strewn all over tarnation, and that guys “only have one thing on their mind” and we need to help them control themselves, has truly negatively affected what should be normal interactions with my friends. Honestly, I don’t get embarrassed talking about much. But this admission isn’t easy for me.

Guess what? In the real world, men and women can have innocent relationships. They can talk to each other without one of them thinking there’s ulterior motives. They can laugh and exchange wits and, yes, even drive in a car together without anybody thinking anything dubious is happening. They are not naiive but they are not afraid of their own shadows. Purity and integrity in relationships can be there without being unnaturally freaked out about it. The other night, I stuck my tongue out at a guy friend who was teasing me and his wife cracked up laughing. As I laughed, I felt myself looking down on the situation, amazed that nobody thought twice about it, then amazed that I DID…that I had to push away feelings of guilt because what if someone thought I was *gasp* flirting?! This is one dysfunction that I really wish I could be freed from. Maybe time is the only cure and I need to be more patient with myself. These teachings have deep, rotten roots and it takes time to pull them all out.

4. They teach us to make formulas to be safe

1 + 1= 2. Emotional purity + Biblical courtship = Godly marriage. But life doesn’t work that way. You can do everything “right” and your life can still suck. You can do everything “wrong” and still be blessed. Rain falls on the good and evil. Time and chance happen to them all. People who follow the courtship formula still get divorced. Or stuck in terrible marriages. Courtship is not the assurance of a good marriage. Life is too complicated for that. Love involves vulnerability. When you choose to love, you are choosing to accept risking a broken heart. No formula can protect you. Life involves risk. Following God involves risk. He is not a “safe” God. But He is good.

God doesn’t seem to like formulas. Because formula is the opposite of faith. Formula says “I will follow a God that I’ve put neatly in a box, to give me the desired results”. Faith says “I will follow You even when I can’t see where I’m going, even when the world is collapsing around me”. Formula says “I will not risk, I will be in control of my future”. Faith says “I will risk everything, I will trust Whom I cannot see, surrender what I cannot control anyway.” Formula is the assurance of things planned for, the conviction of things seen. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). But we are afraid. So we control instead of trust. We don’t take a step unless we can see where we’re going. We build neat little formulas and say “THIS will keep me safe!” Then we blame God when our puny formulas fail.

These teachings need to be stopped. They were new in my generation and now I, and others like me, are reaping the fruit of them. And the fruit is rotten to the core. I’m sure those who promoted such ideas had good intentions. But good intentions aren’t enough. Without Truth and Grace they can do more harm than good. Thanks to those good intentions, we are seeing an entire generation of homeschool alumni who have no idea how to have normal relationships. I have talked with literally hundreds of alumni my age, and am not exaggerating the extent of the issue. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my dysfunction but discouraging as well. What is encouraging is that most of us have determined to stop the insanity. We will not be passing these things to the next generation. Instead we will teach our children to love God with all that they have, all that they are; and to love and respect others as they love themselves.

I leave you with the words of a very wise man:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

~C. S. Lewis

Emotional Purity and Courtship: A Few Years Later

When Homeschoolers Turn Violent: Claude Alexander Allen III

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Series note: “When Homeschoolers Turn Violent” is a joint research project by Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Please see the Introduction for detailed information about the purpose and scope of the project.

Trigger warning: If you experience triggers from descriptions of physical and sexual violence, please know that the details in many of the cases are disturbing and graphic.

*****

Claude Alexander Allen III

20-year-old Claude Alexander Allen III — known by those around him as Alex — murdered a man with a hatchet in May 2013 in his parents’ garage in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

20-year-old Claude Alexander Allen III — known by those around him as Alex — was charged in 2013 for murdering a man with a hatchet in his parents' garage.
20-year-old Claude Alexander Allen III — known by those around him as Alex — was charged in 2013 for murdering a man with a hatchet in his parents’ garage.

On the day of the attack, Alex called 911 around midnight and said he had killed an intruder. It was determined, however, that the so-called intruder was 25-year-old Michael Philip Harvey, a friend of Alex’s and a father of four young children. Alex and Michael were, according to one person, “good friends.” After killing Michael with a hatchet, Alex had allegedly dragged his body to the nearby woods, stuffing it “in a large trash can.”

The altercation and, ultimately, murder resulted from a dispute between the friends over “controlled dangerous substances sales.”

Alex’s father is Claude A. Allen, a former top White House adviser on domestic policy for former President George W. Bush who was arrested in 2006 for theft. The Allen family attended and “were active at” the C.J. Mahaney-founded Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which was pastored at the time by Joshua Harris, who is still its pastor today.

Mr. Allen, Alex’s father, was known as “an advocate of home-schooling and abstinence education” and his wife homeschooled their children, including Alex. A neighbor of the Allens said the former homeschool student was a star soccer and rugby player and had just returned home from University of Richmond. Alex’s actions “stunned friends and neighbors.” HSLDA’s Michael Farris himself commented on Alex’s arrest, saying, “It’s one of the saddest shocks I’ve heard.”

In November of 2013, Alex was “indicted on a charge of first-degree murder,” but was “being evaluated to determine whether he is mentally competent to stand trial.”

View the case index here.

A Good Girl’s Sex Education: Eden’s Story

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Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.

Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Eden” is a pseudonym.

Trigger warnings: the following story contains descriptions of grooming for and sexual abuse.

*****

I was eleven, and it was summer, so I had been running around outside with my siblings. I was wearing a loose, bright orange t-shirt. My mother looked intently at my chest with its tiny breast buds and said, “Your nipples are showing through.”

She said it in a hard, cold whisper, so I knew I should be ashamed.

I hadn’t noticed any changes, but I practiced hunching my shoulders so my shirts would hang as straight as possible. A few months later, she ushered me into her bedroom. I rarely went in, so it felt odd to be sitting on the edge of her bed as she closed the door. She brought out two odd little half-shirts that were pink and white with flowers. “These are training bras,” she said, and she seemed excited to be presenting them to me. I was confused. What was a bra, and why must I wear such a weird uncomfortable garment?

I wore them because I was a good girl.

The same year, my mother approached me with another surprise: information about monthly bleedings women experienced with strict instructions not to tell anyone else and to tell her immediately if I experienced it. I had nearly forgotten by the time my menarche appeared in all its resplendent red. I was not excited- I was angry. This was not what I wanted. My mother showed me where she kept the sanitary pads and promised to keep it stocked, and in doing so, revealed that women’s periods seemed to be synced. In that small comment, I had found solace: I would know when my mother was on her period so I could be as sweet as possible during those times.

I was thirteen when my mother came into the restroom while I was taking my bath. This was not unusual as she would often wash my hair and bathe me despite my double-digit age. This time, however, she brought something new with her- a razor. She soaped and shaved my armpits, and when she was done, she said “There, smooth as a baby’s bottom.” Why my armpits must be smooth while my brothers showed off their armpit hair was beyond me.   

I was not a stupid child. Adult women seemed to have breasts, and adult men not, but that never seemed like a significant fact to me, and certainly not one that would impact my own body. I rarely saw any girls around my age so I only expected to grow tall like my oldest brothers.

I had no concept of puberty or a future.

I hated this transition I didn’t expect: I hated it when my brothers close to my age would tease me about being a girl; I hated it when my dad would comment that I looked like an older girl in an approving tone; and I hated it when he would hug me so tightly that I was aware that my little breasts pressed against his belly. My mother scolded me for being shy of such contact. “It’s not Sexual,” she said, and the invocation of the powerful word shocked me into silence.

I withdrew more.

I was fourteen when I first realized there was a big secret to be learned. My parents would speak in whispers about people. They would drop their voices when explaining something briefly and mysteriously. They would turn down the volume and stand in front of the TV screen during movie time. Sometimes, a word would appear. It was always significant.

I heard it most on the conservative talk radio shows my parents would listen to in the car. The male hosts would rant about men and women making a Choice, walking into hotel rooms, stripping off their clothing, and getting into bed. Their words burned into my mind, and I catalogued all the facts. Sex was something men and women did in bed together, and it resulted in babies, and it was dirty and filthy and shameful. I regretted learning what I had; just knowing about it corrupted me by association. I pushed it as far from my mind as possible.

“Would you like to talk about sex?” he typed.

Someone with whom to discuss this mystery and to laugh about all the secrecy. Yes. “First I will kiss you.” What was this? It started with just the conversations. I invented persuasive reasons to make it stop. I wrote down notes on the points from Joshua Harris’s I Kissed Dating Good-bye.

It didn’t stop.

It progressed to blurry pictures taken in the dark, one more button undone each month. I hated it; I felt so numb and dirty and defiled. I was a good girl, and this was something only a husband should do, so therefore he must become my husband. Every time a part of me rebelled, he threatened suicide again, and surely it was better to sacrifice oneself than to be responsible for a death. He sent a few pictures of his penis. I only looked once. I had seen artistic representations of male genitalia before in pictures of the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s David, and none of it prepared me for that moment of horror.

My education was nearly complete.

I was eighteen and going through Apologia’s The Human Body. I would curl up in corners while reading my textbooks, and the habit had the benefit that I could skip to more interesting sections without worrying about people peering over my shoulder at the diagrams. I had already read the final chapter in secretive snatches when I was informed that it was not required reading. But bless Dr. Jay Wile, I had learned about clitorises and vaginal mucus and male refractory periods.

My sex education may have been complete, but the silence was not.

I experienced debilitating menstrual cramps, yet I had to maintain the charade to my siblings that periods did not exist. My adult brothers could not be allowed to know. If I did not grit my teeth and pretend, there were my mother’s sharp words to keep me from spilling the secret.

I was a good girl: innocent and perpetually clueless. I had repressed anything remotely sexual so that I never had a crush all those years. Not one. I did not dare turn to internet search engines for answers for fear that Porn might come up, and I did not dare turn to my parents because of their shaming silence- a silence I was made complicit in.

I was the perfect victim.

Like Voldemort To Wizards: R.L. Stollar’s Story

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Series disclaimer: HA’s “Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed)” series contains frank, honest, and uncensored conversations about sexuality and sex education. It is intended for mature audiences.

HA note: This piece was originally written for Secular Woman’s “Sex Ed Conversations” series. It was published on their website on October 20, 2013 and is reprinted here with permission.

*****

I learned about sex because of a Boy Scout merit badge.

My older brother and I were on the way to a Boy Scouts meeting. My dad was nervous the whole time, seeming to stall until the last moment. I am not sure if this conversation would have ever happened naturally. But it did happen, if it only happened because it had to.

My brother and I were working to get our Family Life merit badge in Boy Scouts. Part of earning that badge was learning about sex. Someone had to give us “The Talk,” and — since our Boy Scout troop was a primarily Christian homeschool troop — that responsibility fell on our father. To learn about sex from anyone other than one’s parents was a cardinal sin in my Christian homeschool culture.

Most of the drive was awkward, because we knew we were about to get The Talk. I do not think The Talk necessarily has to be awkward, but it was for our dad. You could feel it in the air. As a result, The Talk really materialized on the 15-minute drive. Never, that is, until we pulled into the parking lot of the rundown Baptist church where our troop met. Then it was do or die time, and my dad gave us a quick summary of lovemarriagepenisvaginababy. Boom.

That was the extent of my Christian homeschool sex education growing up. It lasted less than five minutes.

I grew up in an almost alternate universe, where courtship methods of the Victorian era were popular and no one spoke of sex except in hushed or negative tones. Sex to Christian homeschoolers was like Voldemort to wizards — That Which Shall Not Be Named. I attended “purity” seminars at which homeschool celebrities like Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, urged audiences of horny teenagers to focus on God and flee that nebulous human demon called Lust.

In that universe, “abstinence only” was not an abstract concept but a concrete reality. I never learned about condoms, or how to use them. I never learned about STDs. As a male, I never learned about menstruation. That was a taboo topic; my parents referred to it as “that time of month” and all I knew was that it was something embarrassing and icky that only women talk about and men just need to know to avoid women during that time.

When I hear people arguing for abstinence-only education these days I cringe. I want to shout at the top of my lungs, “You don’t really want that!” I know what that education looks like because that is the education I received. It was a sham to even call it “education.” It was rather an absence of education. The so-called “abstinence” was an abstinence of knowledge about biology and empowerment about consent.

It did not help me in even a single way.

It did not discourage me from eventually having premarital sex. All it did was make me utterly ignorant of the reality of sex. It did not keep me from so-called sexual immorality. It made me incapable of acknowledging and processing my own experience of sexual abuse as a child.

As I have grown older, and both shared my story as well as heard other stories of former homeschool kids, there are so many similarities between our experiences. Sex felt like something dirty and secretive and repressed up until one’s wedding day, and then magically it was supposed transform into something holy and beautiful and celebrated. Sex was something only men wanted, that was given by women in exchange for love. (I am aware now, too, that this harmful stereotype transcends Christianity and homeschooling.) Men were incapable of controlling their physical desires, always on the brink of the sexual sin of lust. So much so, that women had to carefully don the most modest of clothing to avoid causing men to “stumble.” Men were also only attracted to women and women to men, thereby precluding any conversation about the existence of LGBT* individuals.

And foremost of all: sex education, that insidious tool of the evil secularists and humanists, was a weapon of Satan. It was described in classic misogynistic terms: a “temptress,” a “whore of Babylon,” hired by the Prince of Darkness to lead public schoolers astray. Us homeschoolers, God bless us, we were spared that temptation, as our parents took it upon themselves to raise us righteously, without sex education and its spurious ways.

But dreams run red lights and crash into the curbs of reality awfully hard.

As I hear more and more from former homeschoolers, I hear the same things I myself experienced: that what we were “spared from,” what we were “blessed” to avoid, could have really helped us. No matter how hard our parents tried to keep us unstained from “the world,” the world happened. We grew up. We made mistakes, got drunk, did drugs, made out, had sex; some of us were sexually abused and raped — all the things that happen outside of Christian homeschooling, too. The only difference is we had zero tools to process those things.

It is because of my very experience as a Christian homeschool kid that I am an advocate for comprehensive sex education.

I believe in comprehensive sex education because all people have the right to be empowered. I believe in comprehensive sex education because it is vitally important to know your body, respect your body and other people’s bodies, and understand how to stand up against those people who both want you ignorant of your body and aim to disrespect your body.

Depriving children of that knowledge, for whatever ridiculous religious reasons, is nothing less than educational abuse. It is not pleasing to God or god or anything that is allegedly holy. Ignorance is a unholy prison. Forced ignorance is one of the most soul-crushing experiences one can have.

Children need to be educated about their bodies because that is how children learn how to respect and love them and each other’s.

Children need to be educated about sexuality because sexuality is a fundamentally important part of being human.

Children need to be educated about consent because rape and sexual abuse happen in every community and every culture and you are living in a daydream if you think it will not happen in yours.

The more I learn about the universality of body-shaming, rape culture, and abuse, and the more I hear about how these things happen every day in Christian churches and conservative homeschooling communities, the more I see why sex ed is an absolute must. When we are afraid of sexuality, when we are afraid to talk bluntly and honestly and openly about our bodies and our emotions, we are giving power to those who want to take advantage of our ignorance and our silence. When we are blinded by our ideologies and unwilling to see every human being as worthy of respect and safety, we are giving power to those people advancing shame and bigotry. When we are afraid to name That Which Shall Not Be Named and speak about it plainly, we are only adding to the power of those in our communities — homeschooling, Christian, secular, and otherwise — who will abuse it.

I wish I knew about sex from something other than abuse. But my parents and my homeschooling community could not have changed that, no matter how much they wish they could.

Yet I also wish I knew how to talk about sex from something other than a Boy Scout merit badge. And that is something that my parents and my community could have done differently.

I have spent the last decade catching up on what I missed, on the lessons I never learned. It can be an awfully embarrassing process, but it is a necessary one.

Relationships, A Series: Part Three — The Calm Before The Storm

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate Truth. Part Three of this series was originally published on May 23, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: What Is Courtship? | Part Two: We Were Best Friends | Part Three: The Calm Before The Storm | Part Four: To Lose One’s Best Friend | Part Five: To My Darling Clementine | Part Six: The Storm Starts Brewing | Part Seven: The Five-Year Relationship Plan | Part Eight: The Means To An End | Part Nine: We Made It | Part Ten: I Am A Phoenix | Part Eleven: Conclusion, Don’t Brush Off the Next Generation

*****

Part Three — The Calm Before The Storm

Phil made me feel safe.

There really is no other way to put it, other than that he truly makes me feel safe, protected. As I write this I can only think of how much this miraculous man has kept life in me and has committed himself to loving me with all that he is. He has done nothing but firmly stuck with me through some of the worst parts in my life. He has wiped tears from my eyes when I no longer had strength to do it and he held me close when the outside storms threatened to overturn our little boat.

He’s pretty awesome, people, and that is becoming even more clear and obvious to me as I gain a clearer perspective of our story.

*****

Phil started telling me that if he ever started his own company he wanted me to be his secretary. I asked him why, and he told me that I had some of the most efficient writing skills he had ever seen and that I was at the top of the list (I honestly think I was the list!). He loved my ideas about projects and we were constantly coming up with ideas that we could do together. We were an odd mix of very outgoing and incredibly introverted. We were most happy when brainstorming in the corner at a party than being in the midst of all of the action.

By the time we had known each other for 5 months we were best friends in the sincerest form of the word. Ever since letting go of my tightly held idea of marrying a tall man I had started realizing that Phil was a man that I would be willing to spend the rest of my life with, but I had no idea what he thought of me. So I somehow very easily pushed my feelings of romantic interest in him back and just let myself enjoy the awesome friendship we had.

I am glad we had such a deep friendship before “falling in love.”  In fact, I’d say that it was our deep friendship that actually made loving each other a natural next step.

I am a huge advocate of being best friends with your husband.

For his birthday I planned a surprise birthday party. I wanted it to only be his closest friends and just an opportunity to hang out, eat pizza, and play games. He just about ruined the surprise when a day before his birthday he sent an email to all of the people I had invited, saying that all of them were welcome to stop by for his birthday. His sister and I managed to contact everyone and let them know to play it cool about dropping by. We did actually surprise him and it was a great party!

A few days later, Phil told me that he wanted to send me something. I raced up to the library that day, and opened the email he had sent me, only to discover a song that he had written for me. It even had my name in it! (Cheesy, I know, I know, but it was pretty significant to me! I still work that song into some of the piano compositions I make up these days.) I was floored. Here was a guy who had told me a month ago that he wouldn’t get into a relationship until after college. Here was a guy who seemed to genuinely enjoy my company, going so far as to write a song that was specifically for me.

And yet, as he told me later, he still wouldn’t admit that he “liked” me.

At the same time as our friendship was reaching deep, our church was putting on an original production of Pilgrim’s Progress. I was doing costumes and Phil was in the play. The play provided a convenient location for us to see each other and to spend time together. There was rarely a time when we weren’t talking a mile a minute and discussing all of our marvelous ideas. I also discovered that he thought pretty much the same things as I did on a number of random topics, but he had just enough variance in his thinking that it made for fantastic conversations.

From February to April (we met in October of the year before), our friendship started changing very subtly. Phil wrote several very long letters to me during that period, and I still have those letters tucked away in my memory box. During those months, we hit a strange rough spot.

He sent me an email one day and told me that he wanted to take Spring Break that year to think and pray about our friendship specifically.

I was taken aback but readily agreed to cut back communication. I think even though he still wouldn’t have admitted it at that point, he was falling hard for me and that was freaking him out especially since he was barely through the first half year of college. This meant that his plans for the future were being drastically shaken.

The end of that week landed on the birthday party of the mutual friend who had introduced us. I was very unsure about going, especially because I didn’t want to lose Phil’s friendship. The week of limited communication had been hard. Seeing him at the party was one of those moments where a sweet calm washed over me and I knew instantly that everything was going to be okay, there was no way on earth I was going to lose this guy. We were some of the last people to be dancing on the dance floor that night. We danced for over two hours, thoroughly enjoying each other’s company and having a total blast. Our friendship very much deepened after that week, but there was also that one crucial thing left unsaid, so there was a creeping awkwardness. We started seeing more of each other as opening night for the play started creeping ever nearer. Rehearsals were frequent but were also very busy. I spent a lot of time repairing and managing a huge 20 x 40 (I think that’s how big it was, probably bigger) foot piece of canvas that was part of one of the scenes. I still managed to see a lot of Phil, and as most mothers are, we started getting comments about how often we were hanging out together.

I started having friends come up to me to ask if I was guarding my heart.

No really, I’m serious.

I started getting really annoyed and frustrated with all of these people putting their noses into something that seriously wasn’t any of their business.

That’s what we get for having been in the famous, I Kissed Dating Goodbye Josh Harris’ church.

It all came down to the Thursday night before opening week. I was having to fix a major rip in the canvas, and was seated on the floor of one of the gyms, hand sewing and trying to get the thing patched up. (I hated that canvas by the end of that opening week! I was fixing it after almost every rehearsal) Phil, of course, was a very frequent visitor to my misery and on that particular evening, I had at least 4 people come up to me and question my judgement about hanging out with Phil.

By the time the evening was over, I was furious, at Phil (even though it wasn’t his fault that we both enjoyed hanging out so much), at everyone who had talked with me, and with myself, and most importantly the canvas. Phil came to say goodbye to me, but I was less than cordial as it was now coming up on three hours that I had painstakingly been hand sewing that wretched canvas. I was so uneasy and upset, and as I went home that night I felt like something was about to happen.

Something most definitely happened the next day. The first sign was that Phil wasn’t answering any of my texts, nor was he online. I felt a far reaching sense of foreboding as I made my way to rehearsal that afternoon. I still had a bit of the canvas to finish fixing, but I was mostly anxious to see Phil. I knew something was wrong.  I was among the first crowd of people to show up at rehearsal, and I immediately knew he hadn’t gotten there yet. I knew the moment he arrived and my heart and stomach reached my throat when I caught sight of his face.

Something was definitely wrong and I raced out the door, frantically calling one of my best friends.

Phil and our mutual friend headed in the opposite direction. My friend thankfully picked up after the first two rings and I started breathlessly telling her that something was about to go down and I desperately needed pray. “Pray, and pray hard. I’ll call you in 20 minutes,” I told her. While on the phone with her, the mutual friend called me and wanted to know where I was. She was soon walking towards me as I stood in the middle of the field at the back of church. She told me that Phil needed to talk with me and that he wanted her to be there as well.

My heart barely beat as I felt my limbs turning to molasses. This was it, I thought, this was what I had been waiting for all day. I walked up to where Phil was waiting for me barely breathing, and my heart just about stopped as I saw how pale, teary-eyed, and sick he looked. I still feel the panic in my stomach as I write this out, even though it’s been 4 years since this moment. I waited blindly for him to start talking as I watched him look at me with heavy concern. He rushed through words that I can hardly remember him saying. He said something that my friendship meant the world to him, and that he wanted me to always remember that. Then he dropped the bomb.

“We can’t be friends anymore. We can’t talk, email, chat, or text, nor can we hang out in the same group.” 

He said something about this being his parents’ decision, and then asked if I had anything to say. I don’t remember responding, and in that moment, I was closer to fainting than I have ever been.

For the second time in three years, my heart was completely shattered.

The very person who had been keeping me breathing and moving for the past six months was being ripped from me.

*****

To be continued.

Relationships, A Series: Part One — What is Courtship?

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate Truth. Part One of this series was originally published on January 8, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: What Is Courtship? | Part Two: We Were Best Friends | Part Three: The Calm Before The Storm | Part Four: To Lose One’s Best Friend | Part Five: To My Darling Clementine | Part Six: The Storm Starts Brewing | Part Seven: The Five-Year Relationship Plan | Part Eight: The Means To An End | Part Nine: We Made It | Part Ten: I Am A Phoenix | Part Eleven: Conclusion, Don’t Brush Off the Next Generation

*****

Part One — What is Courtship?

My dad once told me that he wasn’t going to let me get married until I was 30. I was probably about 12 or 13 when I first remember hearing him say that, but I couldn’t figure out whether he was joking or not at the time. I knew that there was some reality behind his joke because he is deeply under the courtship culture that I grew up in.

I grew up “broken.” Some normal girlish part of me has never quite worked. I never had any dreams about getting married, nor did I have any idea of what a relationship for me would look like. About 6 years later, I found myself in a relationship, and it was going a heck of a lot differently than any of the “courtship” books said a relationship was supposed to go. I read all of the courtship books I could get my hands onto.  I found any book that had to do with emotional purity, courtship, dating or not to date, and I devoured the advice.

I even read a book by someone I used to know way back when all this was called “Emotional Purity.”  I read almost all of Josh Harris’ books, and used to daydream about having a relationship that played out just like the couples in the books, or how the authors of all of these books said a courtship should be played out. Ironically, my daydreams usually included very complicated messed up situations where I was the maiden in distress where I almost died and the man who loved me saved me. Who knew that the relationship with my husband would actually turn out a lot like my daydreams, minus the almost dying part?

I have hated the word Courtship. I hated it because of what it stood for, what I have been through in the name of “courtship,” and what I have watched others face. But, I discovered something; it is not courtship in and of itself that I have been burned by, it is the twisted version of the word, act, that over the past decade or so it has become. I had a long conversation once with a friend about labels. We talked about how so many people have made up meanings for things such as courtship, family, fatherhood, denominations of churches, and whatnot and the original definitions have been lost. I used to cringe every time someone used “courtship” to describe their relationship. That was until I finally looked up the original definition of the word. According to the dictionary, Courtship is defined as thus:

Courtship
1. the wooing of one person by another
2. the period during which such wooing takes place
3. solicitation of favors, applause, etc.

There is nothing in this definition that says that the man seeking to win a woman’s heart must first “court” the dad and the parents rule the relationship. There is nothing in here that indicates that this is a strictly biblical, family based process. In fact, I find myself having flashbacks to a certain Jack Sparrow egging a certain Will Turner on about wooing said lady. This definition brings up memories of a sincere “I want to get to know you” relationship. This reminds me of a man and woman falling in love and choosing to marry.

This is my definition of Courtship: It is simply the wooing of one person by another.

[I have been asked multiple times to share my story about how Phil and I met and how our relationship played out. Let me just say this. I will never write that story under my real name. I consider some of the relationships that I have now with some involved in the story more important than what they used to be, no matter how messed up things were. Things were rough, parents controlled our relationship and forgiveness has been asked on all sides as has been needed, and that is all you need to know for now. ]

I found this story recently and it brought to light a pretty significant problem that I have with courtship as it is played out today. Even though this is a very radical (and true as much as I can tell) story, it shows how much the Patriarchal/Quiverfull/Fundamentalist Christian movements have gone back to the Old Testament for their rules. They believe that the father [of the woman] is in complete control of the relationship, and that father is holding the only key to his daughter’s purity. They believe that the man should ask the father to court/get to know his daughter, ask his blessing for marriage, and to give the daughter over to the man at the altar. Again, a very clear picture of how much control the father has in the entire relationship. Even though the purity culture within these movements believe that the women are to be cherished, that is roughly translated into these women are the men’s slaves and they have no voice. The women’s only responsibility is to keep house and spit out babies.

On the surface, these are all, for the most part, not all that bad. Underneath, it’s the legalism, control, and authoritarian structure that causes problems. It is not a bad thing for a father to want to protect his daughter, but her purity is not his to keep. It is not his to manipulate and flaunt about so that he can catch the man he wants his daughter to marry.

There comes a certain point in any child’s life when the parents truly have to let go and let their child figure out life for themselves. It is not a bad thing for a man to ask a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. It is just not a biblical commandment or principle. It is cultural. It is not a bad thing for the family to be involved and around while a couple is working through their relationship. It goes south very quickly when it becomes an obligation for the couple to always be in sight of the family, and never have any time for themselves to talk, and to get to know each other without little siblings acting as spies for the parents, ultimately the father. It is not a bad thing for a couple to seek advice for their relationship from their parents, or others they respect, especially if they are serious about marriage. But that again, is not a biblical commandment or principle, and taken too far to say that the father has ultimate control is really wrong.

[ I am not a parent yet, and most likely when I reach this point with our children, I will probably have different ideas. But for now, this is simply what I am seeing, what I have pondered long and hard about, and what I am now ready to share. ]

Courtship isn’t about a man overcoming a woman and designing her life with her father’s consent but without her consent. Courtship isn’t about a man pressuring a woman to marry him because God told him so. [Read more about that here from my dear friend Hännah @ Wine and Marble.] Courtship does not have to be a deeply serious thing. It can simply become a man really liking a girl, she liking him back, and they take the step from being friends to something deeper.

Normally, in normal cultures, this step happens naturally. If there is something more in a friendship, usually it manifests itself and becomes clear as the friendship becomes deeper. Courtship is two people loving spending time together and enjoying each other while their friendship deepens. If they, as a couple, without parents pressuring them, or controlling the relationship, feel like it’s time to move closer to getting married, then by all means, it is up to them, and them alone. Courtship should be two people deciding for themselves that they are ready for a relationship.

The purity culture and the courtship culture (basically those both go hand in hand) have taken good things and turned them into extra-biblical commands that are expected for every couple, family, and parents to do.

Phil and I have had many conversations about what we are going to do when we have children old enough to decide for themselves. We will not try to control them, nor will we force them to date, court, marry someone we want and not who they want. I want to see my daughters truly wooed and my sons wooing their ladies. I want to rejoice in that, not feel concerned that our children aren’t obeying us. We will raise our children to make good decisions. By doing so, when they reach the age when they are interested in the opposite sex, then we want to give them the freedom to make those good decisions.

Courtship is the wooing of one person to another.

*****

To be continued.

Enough Already with the Modesty and Purity Hype

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on June 27, 2013.

The other day my 18-yr old daughter posted this picture on my Facebook with the comment, “What I tell you every time”:

modesty

It cracked me up. But what was interesting to me was noticing the large amount of Facebook friends, also former homeschool kids, who were clicking the “like” button. It was as if they were saying, “Yea, what she said!” I loved some of the exchange in the comments.

Our good friend who acts like our adopted son, who opens our front door without knocking, and raids our fridge commented:

Was he a beautiful black man like myself?

His comment got a few likes. I laughed. My 23-yr old son replied:

Yet when guys do that it’s looked down upon…sinful…creeper status…et cetera. Oh the irony.

Ouch! I think he’s right. There does seem to be a distinction that it’s semi-okay for girls to look at guys, but not the other way around.

Several years ago in 2007, there was a modesty survey put out by homeschoolers, Brett and Alex Harris (Brett and Alex’s dad is Gregg Harris’ son, homeschooling pioneer and ther older brother is Pastor Josh Harris, of Covenant Life Church in MD).

Here’s an excerpt from the survey page:

The Modesty Survey is an exciting, anonymous discussion between Christian guys and girls who care about modesty. Hundreds of Christian girls contributed to the 148-question survey and over 1,600 Christian guys submitted 150,000+ answers, including 25,000 text responses, over a 20-day period in January 2007. For more information, click here.

It has been endorsed by Shaunti Feldhahn (best-selling author of For Women Only), Nancy Leigh DeMoss (author,Revive Our Hearts radio host), Albert Mohler (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), Shannon Ethridge (best-selling author ofEvery Woman’s Battle series), and C.J. Mahaney (Sovereign Grace Ministries).

TheRebelution.com is the home of Alex and Brett Harris and online headquarters for the Rebelution, defined as “a teenage rebellion against low expectations.”

This survey started out in homeschool circles and quickly spread throughout young teens and adults in Christendom all over the internet, denominations, states, and even the world. I believe the modesty survey was well-intentioned, but the results have not been all positive. Instead, we have discovered a host of other issues that lie beneath the church’s sometimes over-emphasis on modesty and purity.

In the aftermath of the modesty survey, some young men policed the clothing of their female friends and graded the way she dressed by a modesty scale in their head. The way she dressed became a distraction, interfering with relationships. Young ladies were told that they might cause a man to stumble by the way she dressed and this created a lot of pain for young ladies who were burdened with a responsibility they really had no business carrying. And then we had the issue of what to do with young ladies who had curvy figures and no matter what clothes were worn, the curves could not be hidden. Some young ladies resorted to changing eating habits which led to eating disorders to lose weight in order to minimize those curves. Didn’t God create those beautiful curves? Wow, this modesty thing was now crossing the lines into intentionally altering one’s appearance because of not passing a “modesty” scale.

I don’t want to get into all of the problems that came out of this survey because it is very easy to do a Google search and you could spend days reading blog articles and sometimes hundreds of comments on particular popular articles. I really was hoping that after 6 years and hundreds of articles that this subject would die down.

Wouldn’t you know it, the same authors of the infamous modesty survey at the Rebelution blog just last week published a new article: The Other Side of Modesty, this time dealing with guys and how they dress. Really? Do we need to go there? I suppose maybe the young ladies might appreciate a little pushback or balance from their sisters in Christ, but come on. Can we be done with this already?

At our former church, there was almost an obsession on modesty and the topic of sexual immorality came up quite a bit. This was a common verse we heard and probably most of us have it memorized just because we heard it so often:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28

I think sometimes we confuse looking with lusting. And that is important to note.

I have a funny story from several years ago. Now, this is “my” version because my young adult kids have a slightly different version. But until they have their own blogs, you get to read my version.

My daughter, Hannah, was probably around 19 yrs old or so and driving with her learner’s permit, so I was in the passenger seat, and my other daughter who was around 12 years old was in the back seat. A police officer pulled us over because of a burned out brake light. Let me be straight up. The police officer was a fine-looking human specimen and while my kids were used to hearing from the pulpit about how evil and lustful our eyes are, after the police officer went back to his patrol car, I said aloud to my daughters that I wouldn’t mind being pulled over again by that officer. If I remember correctly, there was a pause and then some surprised laughter coming from the girls. Their mother, a married woman said that? They were not expecting that comment from me and frankly, I don’t know if I was expecting that comment to slip out, either. Oh well, it came out loud and clear.

Did I cross the line? Some might think so. I don’t agree. You see, there seems to be a fuzzy line that brings confusion and can start to border on legalism, if not into full-fledge legalism. We were created in God’s image. God saw that what He created was good. At that moment, when I noticed that cop, and acknowledged what God had created was good and called it as such, some people have a problem with that because they think of verses like this:

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28

Was I looking at this guy with lust? No! He was just nice looking guy. Don’t you think everyone from teens all the way through adulthood know when we are looking at someone with lust? Everybody knows what that feels like — you know – – those feelings we get in our body, the places our mind goes. It’s a no-brainer. My brain did none of those things when I looked at that fine specimen.

I have read of men being physically attracted to women dressed in full Muslim attire with burqa and head coverings. Isn’t that something? We need to realize that women and men, no matter how they dress, will be eye candy for someone. We’ve got two issues going on and I think if we look at these two issues in a non-legalistic way, we can find some helpful guidelines.

• Looking is not the same as lusting. It’s okay to appreciate God’s creation. The key is to do it without lusting. We all know when we have crossed that line. It does not take a rocket scientist to tell us those signs that are happening in our body. If you happened to cross that line, acknowledge it, ask God to forgive you, and move on knowing that His grace is sufficient for you and me.

• Dress modestly. I think most of us can figure out what that means and I also think that as we mature in Christ, the boundary lines may change from time to time. We all know when we are dressing with the intent to attract the opposite sex and we all know what it’s like to dress when we are going to see grandma and grandpa. This is pretty simple. We can figure this out.

As a homeschooling mom of 20+ years, I fell into the modesty/purity hype and created all sorts of rules for my kids. I regret that it had negative consequences in my family. I’ve stopped obsessing about hemlines, etc. When I stopped obsessing about my boys walking past Victoria’s Secret at the mall and turning the television channel when we saw a young lady wearing a bikini on television, amazingly, my children stopped obsessing.

So, in conclusion, I hope we can learn to treat one another with love and grace on this topic… and appreciate God’s creation