HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Gemma” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author.
Part 1: Why I Went
People often ask me why I chose to attend Patrick Henry.
I think a lot of people are incredulous that anyone would ever go to such a place. The truth is that students enrolled at PHC for a lot of reasons. Most were there because they believed in the stated mission of the school: to train students to lead the nation and shape the culture by way of a highly rigorous, Christian, classical liberal arts education. Others were there because PHC was the only college that their parents believed was safe enough to send their kids to. Some of these students wanted to be there too, but many did not.
I went to PHC because I believed in the mission, as it was presented to me.
I wanted to be there. I had looked around at other Christian colleges, and found them academically lightweight. I had looked at secular state universities, but they seemed vapid, and I never felt like I belonged. I was ambitious and idealistic—a typical overachieving firstborn—and the idea of being part of a grand new experiment like PHC was exciting to me. I had never read The Joshua Generation and was mostly unaware of Farris’ long-term agenda described therein. As far as I knew, the mission of Patrick Henry College was to be the most academically-excellent Christian college in the country. This is why I went; this is why my parents sent me.
I did have some reservations. I was homeschooled, but never as part of a homeschool cult like ATI or Vision Forum. (In fact, I’d never even heard of ATI until I got to college, and didn’t know anything about Vision Forum beyond the fact that they sold books and curricula.) My family was relatively normal as evangelical homeschoolers go. My siblings and I wore clothes from Express and American Eagle, listened to pop rock on the radio, and went to youth group. We and our homeschooled friends openly mocked the stereotypical “denim-jumper” homeschoolers and felt embarrassed by them. My friends laughed at me for applying to PHC, the “homeschool college.” They were all going off to big state universities or more established Christian colleges. I was convinced my choice was the right one, but I was worried that a “homeschool college” would be dominated by the weird denim-jumper types.
I went to a college recruiting event during my senior year of high school and pointedly asked the recruiter from PHC about the culture of the school. She reassured me that I had nothing to worry about. Sure, there were a few sheltered, denim-clad students on campus, but they were not the norm. “Dr. Farris wouldn’t even allow any photographs of women in skirts to be used in the brochures,” she said, handing me an example. Sure enough, the women pictured all wore pants and looked normal. “He didn’t want to give the impression that this is a school for very conservative homeschoolers.”
She went on to tell me how the school self-consciously wanted to set itself apart from places like Bob Jones, Pensacola Christian, and even Liberty University. PHC had its sights set higher than that—its goal was to be a Christian Harvard. It was pursuing accreditation. It was the real deal.
And yes, there were some rules, but just common-sense stuff. Nothing too hard core. She assured me I would fit in just fine.
I let this reassure me. In retrospect, this was my first encounter with what was to become a recurring theme of my time at PHC: the administration was obsessed with reputation, appearances, impressions given to outsiders.
I’m in several online groups consisting of thousands of the homeschool alumni of my generation, the “Joshua Generation”, the products of the Christian homeschooling pioneers. And one major theme going on in our conversations right now is an overwhelming frustration that we cannot talk to our parents. We cannot be real with you.We want a relationship but don’t know how to get past the mental and emotional walls you have put up to protect yourself, the denial that your choices for us caused pain. Your disapproval of our choices and rejection of how you raised us is thick enough to be cut with a knife, and weighs very heavy on our shoulders. Can we just for a moment sit here together, walls and guards down, and be honest with each other? There’s so much we want to say to you, to help you understand. So much WE want to understand. So this is my attempt to give voice to so many, including myself.
Unless you’re never on the internet, I’m sure you know by now that your kids’ generation isn’t turning out how you’d hoped and planned. How you were assured we would if you only followed the rules. Dissatisfaction, pain, anger, and disillusionment are plastered all over the internet by your children and their cohorts. Story after story written by the adult alumni of the homeschool movement, honest and real and painful. Stories of dysfunction and inability to cope in the real world because of the choices you made for them. Stories of pain suffered, feelings of betrayal, and honest, raw emotions that are probably hard for you to see and hear. Words like “spiritual abuse” everywhere, directed at you and the people you trusted to teach your children how to be godly. “Survivor blogs” are popping up, being written by your adult offspring. That’s gotta hurt. We are walking away from so much that you held dear. We are raising our own kids so differently than you raised us. Even the leaders you followed have turned out to be frauds.
I’ve seen your reactions. Denial. Anger. Verbal lashings. Tears. Disbelief. Shunning. Excuses and justifications. Feelings of betrayal. Guilt. So much pain.
“How dare they!”
“We were just doing what we thought was best.”
“We only wanted to protect you.”
“We were trying to follow God the best way we knew how.”
“We gave you the best we could and you repay us by rejecting it all and plastering your discontent all over the internet?!”
“You are dishonoring us by focusing on the bad!”
“You’re just bitter and need to move on.”
“We loved you and this is how you repay us?”
“It wasn’t that bad.”
I understand the sheer amount of unexpected consequences and the reactions of your children must be overwhelming. You didn’t expect this. You did everything “right” and followed the people who had all the answers, who made promises about how your family would turn out if you did what they told you was “God’s will”. And when it didn’t work, those teachers and their followers blamed you and your “rebellious” children. “You must not have followed the rules correctly.” The broken relationships are like a knife in your heart.
Our rejection of your ways is not personal. It’s not a “reaction”, as we have been accused of ad nauseam. Many of us were taught to “stand alone”, to figure out what was right and then go do it regardless of what everyone else was doing.
Well….that’s what we’re doing.
We have weighed the teachings of our past and found them wanting. We have chosen different paths for our own families, much like you did for yours. We have taken what was good and thrown out what was not, some of us throwing out everything because, honestly, there wasn’t much good left to hold on to. Many of us are lost and dysfunctional, trying to put together pieces of a puzzle, trying to live in a world we were not prepared for because we were told we weren’t part of it. Many of you have taken this as ungratefulness toward what you did for us, but this is not about you. This is about us….our lives, our choices, our own children who we must now make choices for.
Can you please stop making this about our rejection of you and instead see it as our embracing of our own lives?
We are your children yet we are not children anymore, many of us older than you were when you set out to raise your family the way you saw fit. We want to have relationship with you, but not as your children. As your equals. As friends. As fellow human beings. Please stop treating us as rebellious children. Think back to when you chose differently than your parents and remember what that was like before you treat us with the same disdain and disappointment.
For those of you invalidating our stories, saying “it wasn’t that bad”, can I ask you to take a step back for a moment? To gain a broader perspective? Because what may have been only a small part of your life, was our ENTIRE lives. You were adults when you chose to attend that Basic Seminar, when you picked up your first courtship books, when you decided to promote the modesty culture, when you chose to become part of a patriarchal system, when you made the choice to spend your kids’ childhoods sheltered from the world in your own little reality and the culture you created. But us? We were born into it. We were raised our whole lives immersed in it.
We spent the most formative years of our cognitive and emotional development in an alternate religious culture ruled by fear, shame, legalism, and authoritarianism. We had no choice. We knew nothing else. We had no other experience and knowledge and discernment to ground us like you did, to give us perspective, to compare anything to.
For you, this was 10-20 years of your life. For us, it was our whole lives. It was all we knew. Our entire lives have been built upon a time period that was just a small part of your own life. So, yes, it was “that bad”. Our experiences were nothing like yours and you’ll have to see them through our eyes if you want to understand.
You had a different life before this, and a different one after. This homeschooling movement and the resulting culture is all we know. It made us who we are, for better or for worse. Our stories cannot be separated from it. We are the products of that movement. You were the facilitators who got to choose what affected you and what didn’t. We didn’t have the capacity as children to even begin to make that choice. What you only observed and instigated and perpetuated, we lived, felt, internalized, and became.
You keep telling us we’re overreacting. You’re offended because we “don’t appreciate” what you did for us. But this is not about you. How we tell our stories and work through the consequences of your choices for us is not about you. It’s about us. Our lives. Our hearts, souls, minds, marriages, relationships, spiritual journeys, and futures. The things we write about how teachings like emotional purity, the umbrella of authority,modesty, and courtship affected us, how they hurt us, messed us up, how we’re working through the messages we received and internalize….these things are not about you. We aren’t telling our stories to “dishonor” you. We’re telling them because truth sets free and light banishes darkness. Because wounds fester in silence and heal in openness. We can love you, forgive you, and have a relationship with you and still tell our stories. We HAVE to tell them and tell them truthfully. Because sometimes it’s the only way to wade through the muck and the crap and the dysfunction that you inflicted on us and we are leaving behind.
Some of you have regrets. You look back and say “What were we thinking?!” You know you made mistakes, big ones, and you know it hurt us, hurt our relationship with you. Some of you are watching your children struggle to overcome the consequences of your choices for them and hurt for them and are angry at yourself. Can you please just say it? Be as open and honest as we are. You know what I don’t hear in the reactions of our parents that I listed above? “We are so sorry.” Why is that so difficult to say? I know it’s scary to think that the choices you made damaged your children. I’m a parent. I have the same fears that my choices will hurt my kids. But as a parent, I cannot imagine NOT telling them “I’m sorry” when they come to me and lay bare their souls, and explain how I’ve hurt them and how they’re healing. Yes, it hurts. But I guarantee that holding it inside and bearing that burden alone will hurt you and your children far more than being honest with them about your regret.
So many of us get it. We get that you were duped. That you were victims of spiritual abuse yourself, who went on to unwittingly inflict that abuse on your kids. Give us a chance to express that. To openly forgive and to honestly work through the anger and the pain with you. Many of us have forgiven you, but we cannot talk about it with you because you refuse to go there. It’s easier for you to just deny the past, our pain, and your part in it. Keep that up, and the denial and facade will eat out your soul til there’s nothing left, while we move on with our lives without you. We want to have a real relationship with you, to repair what was broken, but you are holding so tightly to your elephants in the room, and we have to stay on the surface and walk on eggshells around you, playing your game of pretending that everything was peachy, trying to live well in the present while denying the past. Meanwhile we are frustrated and wonder how much longer we can keep up your charade.
As scary as it is to face pain you caused, it’s much worse to pretend it never happened. So many of us are ready to start building a real relationship with you, to include you in this conversation. But it’s your move. I can’t promise it’ll be easy or good, that’ everything will turn out the way it is supposed to, but it will be worth it, for yourself and for your family. Honest and human is the only way to live.
I asked some of my friends…your children who are now grown…what they would say to their parents if they could. I’d like to end with their words. Listen to their hearts.
“Can you please stop focusing on the extremely few truly good things there were about the way you raised me and just admit, “I was wrong” with no conditions, qualifiers, buts or brakes? Can you please just admit that you were far too strict on standards which had nothing to do with my relationship with God and only hurt my relationships with others, without inserting qualifiers about how your extremism was justified because ‘there was so much evil in the world?”
“The scars from our past are not the fruit of bitterness, but part of the healing process for us. It would help if you acknowledged our feelings and apologized for the pain you caused us instead of passing the blame to us. We don’t demand any retribution for the hurt in the past, but for our relationship to be fully whole we need to be able to talk through what happened without being made out to be the bad guys.”
“If what you did was perfectly right, why did you change with my younger siblings? And if you were wrong… why don’t you acknowledge it??”
“You rejected how you were brought up, how is it wrong of me to do the same?”
“I know you’ve changed, I know you’re trying to love us as best you can. But can you stop pretending the past was perfect? Can you please just say ‘our choices hurt you and we’re sorry’? I’ve forgiven you. But I’m tired of playing your charade, walking on eggshells, pretending that I wasn’t hurt that I’m not still trying to wade through the mess of my past. Can we just talk about it, really, truly, honestly? You want me to ‘move on’ and I will, with or without you. I’d prefer with you. But we have to go back in order to go forward.”
“You disagree with some of my life choices, but I disagree with some of your life choices as well. That is just everyday life: there are very few people with whom you will ever truly agree 100%. We’re both mature adults and need to learn to respect one another’s choices and learn to have a relationship despite our differences.”
“I would like for my Mom to stop whitewashing the past. Instead I’d like her to acknowledge that she and my dad were controlling and manipulative, that they were abusive and authoritarian, that they didn’t trust me (instead treating me as guilty until proven innocent) and they demanded things from me (like my heart) that was not theirs to demand. A lot of what I’d like to hear them say could be summed up as “I’m sorry”. That would go a long, long way for me. But they can’t even say that, not without 60,000 disclaimers like “We were doing our best” and “We were following God”, or worse “YOU DID x, y, z”. If they could ever acknowledge that they did something wrong without attempting to share blame with me… I’d really, really like that.”
“There are parts of me I hide from you because even though you say you love me, I know they would break your heart and make you want to scream. I know because you’ve told me how you felt about my siblings. Since I can’t share these vital parts of myself without disappointing you, I feel like an adult relationship between us is impossible.”
“Please don’t write off my opposition to Christian patriarchy as ‘an ax to grind’ and attribute all my adult decisions to a reactionary attitude or desire to flip off people who haven’t been a part of my life for years. I make decisions based on what’s best for my mental health. And you have to admit, I’m a lot more balanced and cool-headed than you were at my age. Did you get involved in the fringe movements you did as a reaction against your parents? If you did, please consider that I’ve learned from your mistakes and am not repeating them.”
“Why do you act like I’ve turned my back on my upbringing and my faith, just because I don’t agree completely with you? I still love you very much, and it kills me to avoid so many topics with you because you get upset and sad if I’m not parroting you perfectly. You made completely different life choices from your parents and yet you still love and respect them. Why can’t you see that I’m in exactly the same place?”
“Even if you don’t see anything as wrong in the way you raised me or treated me, please recognize and acknowledge I had a very different experience than you perceive. Acknowledge that I was hurt, deeply, and don’t invalidate my childhood.”
“I feel like I don’t need any retribution for the pain of the past, but it would really help to have our feelings acknowledged. That would make a huge difference in moving forward.”
Please, let us have these difficult, but so necessary, conversations with you.
HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on February 18, 2012. It has been slightly modified for HA.
Quiverfull: The Basics
The Quiverfull movement takes its name from this verse:
Psalm 127:3-5 – Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.
First is the idea that children are a blessing and always something to be welcomed. The more children a man has, the more blessed he is. Children should never been seen as a burden, but always welcomed with open arms.
Second is the whole arrow part. What do you do with arrows? You shoot them at your prey. The Quiverfull movement holds that these arrows, or children, are to be shot out into the world to win converts and make the world more Christian.
So, have many children because they are a blessing, and because you can shoot them out into the world to influence it for Christ.
The Military Rhetoric
Now there’s quite a bit of military rhetoric involved here. Don’t let you throw that off. The whole “army for Christ” thing isn’t literal. The Quiverfull movement isn’t arming its children or sending them to jihad camps. It’s called a metaphor.
As an example, Prominent Christian homeschool leader and Quiverfull advocate Michael Farris likes to tell homeschool parents that they are the “Moses generation,” taking their children out of “Egypt” and training them up in “the wilderness,” and that their children will be the “Joshua generation,” who will go out and conquer the land of Canaan. (Or as he also phrases it, “retake America for Christ.”)
Now Farris doesn’t mean these children will retake America for Christ with guns and tanks. What he means is that they will retake it for Christ by winning converts and influencing the politics, law, education, and culture of our nation. And yes, there is dominionist influence at work here.
It should be obvious that implicit in all of this is the idea that Quiverfull children will share their parents’ beliefs, ideas, and values. After all, what good would it be to have arrows that go astray when you shoot them? Part of this metaphor is the idea that arrows are shaped carefully, whittled to the perfect size and balanced just so – and that parents are to do the same with children. If a child is raised properly, the Quiverfull movement holds, that child will become the ideological and lifestyle clone of his or her parents.
It should be obvious that this creates problems for children in Quiverfull families. It’s not just young people like me growing up in Quiverfull homes feeling stifled by the expectations of conformity who have noticed that there’s a problem. There are articles by Quiverfull leaders who talk about the problems of children “jumping ship” or children who “went wrong.” Of course, their solution is not to change their ideology, but to try different tactics to shape their children.
There’s one more thing to be mentioned, and that’s birth control. Hardcore Quiverfull families reject birth control entirely, believing that it subverts God’s plan for the family. They believe that if they follow God and go without birth control entirely, God will provide for them. God controls the womb, after all, and going without birth control allows God to choose a family’s size and timing.
But a family doesn’t have to go all the way and reject birth control to be influenced by Quiverfull ideas. There are lots of families who, influenced by these ideas, have much higher than average numbers of children and raise them to be “arrows shot out into the world” even as they use birth control to space the children out a little bit or to call it quits when they feel they can’t handle any more.
When I speak of the “Quiverfull movement” I really mean all of those who are influenced by Quiverfull ideas, not simply those who go all the way and reject birth control entirely. For me, the idea of raising children to be arrows shot into the world is a more important part of Quiverfull than is a complete rejection of birth control.
When people look at families like the Duggars, all they see is the “we don’t use birth control” and “we think every child is a blessing” part. Would that that were all. It’s the idea of raising up children to be a metaphorical army for Christ, miming their parents’ beliefs and lifestyle while winning converts and influencing America’s political and legal systems and its culture, that is more problematic.
Note: Remember that most Christians think this stuff is loony.
Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and probably the most visible Christian homeschool leader, is fond of calling his generation the Moses Generation and my generation the Joshua Generation. Christian homeschooling parents, he says, removed their children from the perils of Egypt (aka the public school system) and educated them in the wilderness (aka homeschooling them) in order to send them forth to conquer Canaan (aka take America back for Christ). This really is the entire point of Christian homeschooling (as opposed to homeschooling done by those who may or may not happen to be Christian but do not have religious motivations for homeschooling). This is also why Farris’s daughter started NCFCA—to train Christian homeschool youth in argumentation and debate in an effort to prepare them for their assault on “the world.” In that light, I recently saw an interesting comment left on a Homeschoolers Anonymous post:
The idea that someone thinks that they can find really bright young people, teach them exceptional skills of debate and argument, and then unleash them upon the world as adults while still controlling their thoughts and attitudes is nothing short of insane. Young people have been growing up into adults who reject the authoritarian views imposed upon them for literally centuries. Why does this group of fundamental Christians – who often behave abusively to that self-same group of bright young people – think that they are exempt from the questioning and breaking away process that all young adults do as they grown into independence?
Because they believe they have completely brainwashed their young people into absolute loyalty to The Party as part of their training/indoctrination. Like the Uruk-Hai coming from the spawning pits below Isengard, they were raised and indoctrinated to be living weapons and nothing more.
Why do they think they are exempt from their best and brightest living weapons breaking away? Divine Right, of course.
My father spoke at my graduation. It was a homeschool graduation held at a local church, of course, and each father presented his son or daughter and gave a short speech. I was preparing to begin university the following fall. In his speech, my father said that many people had questioned his wisdom in sending me off to a secular university, asking whether I was ready for that. His response, he said, was that the real question was not whether I was ready to attend that university, but rather whether that university was ready for me. His confidence in my performance disappeared over the following years as I did indeed become “corrupted” by my time at university, and halfway through college my father launched into a tirade against me in which he brought up his remarks at my graduation and told me, his voice full of emotion, that those who had warned him against sending me off to a secular university had been right, and that he wished he could go back and undo that.
Put simply, the commenter quoted above is right.
It is completely unreasonable for Christian homeschool parents to think that they can train up ideological clones whom they can train in debate and argument and then unleash upon the world without at least some of them going rogue or asking questions they shouldn’t. If these parents limit their children’s interaction with the world outside of their religious communities and avoid teaching their children critical thinking skills, creating ideological clones is simpler. But if you’re going to train them in argumentation and debate and then send them out into the world to wage ideological war on your foes, well, that’s more complicated. My parents equipped me with the very tools that ultimately led me to think my way out of their mindset, and meeting and getting to know people in “the world” meant that I realized the portrayal of “the world” my parents had given me growing up was wrong and extremely backwards. The system my parents constructed around me, in other words, was built with an internal weakness.
Why, then, did my parents have so much confidence? The commenter quoted above does have a point when referring to divine right—my parents believed that they were right, that their ideology was sound and true and demonstrably so. They therefore assumed that if they equipped me with Truth, that would be enough.
That I might grow up to disagree with them on what is true and what is not wasn’t really a concern, because they believed that the truth of their beliefs was completely obvious to anyone with eyes. When they would talk about people who “left the faith,” they would always attribute it to some sin—the person just wanted to have premarital sex, or to be able to be selfish and not care about others, or what have you. In their conception, it was never a disagreement about fact that led people once saved astray, but rather fleshly desires—because the truth of their beliefs, they were certain, was manifestly obvious to anyone and everyone.
There was something else, too, something more related to Christian homeschooling. My parents believed they had hit upon the perfect formula for raising children who would never fall astray. They believed this because this is what they were told by the books, magazines, and speakers of the Christian homeschool world. And they had done everything on the list from keeping me from friends who might be bad influences to teaching me with curriculum that approached each issue from a Christian perspective. This, quite simply, is what I consider the number one reason my father said what he did at my graduation. He was convinced that he had produced a culture warrior, following the proper formula and all of the proper advice, and that I was, in a sense, infallible—that I couldn’t possible go wrong.
But what was I, really?
I was chock full of apologetics arguments and conservative talking points, but utterly without lived experience or any real understanding of the arguments against the ideas my parents had taught me. After all, I’d never really interacted with people with different ideas or beliefs and my parents provided me only with straw man versions of opposing arguments in order to then knock them down. I’d grown up in an echo chamber and was happy contributing to that echo chamber, but I had no experience stepping outside of it.
I wasn’t a culture warrior. I was a teenage girl who thought she knew everything and wanted very much to please her parents.