Earlier today HA reported that Bill Gothard and the Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP) filed motions with the Circuit Court of DuPage County, Illinois. Those motions aim to disqualify David C. Gibbs III and the Gibbs Law Firm from representing the eighteen plaintiffs in Gretchen Wilkinson vs. Institute in Basic Life Principles, the court case in which eighteen former employees and students are suing Gothard and IBLP for sexual harassment and assault and mishandling those crimes.
Gibbs issued a statement today to HA in response to these motions. Concerning Gothard’s allegations that Gibbs misled him regarding his role in the lawsuit, Gibbs claims that, “Gothard was fully aware that I was the attorney for Lourdes Torres against Gothard’s protégé, Douglas Phillips, and Gothard was mentioned by name in that Texas lawsuit in April 2014.” Gibbs cites directly from the Torres v. Phillips lawsuit, in which he wrote, “Others who espoused this teaching [patriarchy], such as Bill Gothard or Jack Schaap, have stepped down or are incarcerated for crimes against children.”
Gibbs states that that Gothard and IBLP’s motions “will be fully opposed in court and are full of misstatements and lies.” While Gibbs says he is “guilty of aggressively representing my clients,” he denounces these latest actions as “a desperate attempt to attack the law firm that is publicly and legally holding [Gothard] accountable for years of child abuse.”
Earlier today, Recovering Grace reported on their Facebook page that Bill Gothard is threatening the whistleblowing organization with a lawsuit. Glenn Gaffney of Gaffney & Gaffney PC, who is representing Gothard against the now-eighteen former employees and students suing him and the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) for sexual harassment and assault, issued a letter to RG, declaring that, “Demand is hereby made upon any and all of your clients that have posted false and defamatory statements on the Recovering Grace website to immediately remove them.” If RG does not oblige, Gaffney threatens that “those persons can anticipate a counter-claim or cross-claim against them” for the purposes of seeking $1,000,000 or more in damages.
Recovering Grace responded to the legal threats on their Facebook page, saying, “While every story that we have ever published was with the knowledge that we might one day have to defend our decisions in a court of law, it is nonetheless disturbing to see these threats in print.”
The full texts of Recovering Grace’s post and Gaffney’s letter follow, along with a screenshot of them:
Dear friends, we wanted to share with you the following letter that was forwarded to Recovering Grace by the law firm representing the plaintiffs suing Bill Gothard and IBLP. While every story that we have ever published was with the knowledge that we might one day have to defend our decisions in a court of law, it is nonetheless disturbing to see these threats in print. Your continued prayers are appreciated.
Counsel — It is unfortunate that Plaintiffs’ attorneys feel the need to circulate these pleadings to the press. Just remember this once the Court rules on the pending motions to disqualify.
Also, demand is hereby made upon any and all of your clients that have posted false and defamatory statements on the Recovering Grace website to immediately remove them.
Those persons can anticipate a counter-claim or cross-claim against them, in conjunction with the principals behind that website, for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress seeking actual and punitive damages in an amount in excess of $1,000,000 (with such an award after expenses be payable to an appropriate not for profit organization) along with such other injunctive and equitable relief the Court deems just.
Every day those postings remain in the public domain undoubtedly will enhance the damages recovery.
Glenn Gaffney (email@example.com) Gaffney & Gaffney PC 1771 Bloomingdale Rd. Glendale Heights, Il 60139
Content Warning: Details of sexual abuse and harassment
Yesterday, I received the following summary from the office of Attorney David Gibbs III. While it would have been easy to pull only specific highlights, the reality is that for each individual named, either by their real name or a pseudonym, their lives have been greatly harmed by Bill Gothard and/or the leaders at Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP). I would rather let each survivor’s story be acknowledged and read. This is their voice now speaking out. These are true heroes! Please pray for them. This is an emotional time for them as they finally get their day in court after years of suffering in silence. ~Julie Anne
Atty. David Gibbs III asked me to forward you the attached copy of the Second Amended Complaint in Wilkinson, et al v. IBLP & Bill Gothard. The Complaint was filed within the last hour and is currently pending review. Below is a summary of the case, and a brief synopsis of the facts stated in the Second Amended Complaint for each client.
Our clients are telling the same story that happened over and over again. There was repeated abuse – re-victimizing women and men for being raped. Psychological abuse and sexual harassment of rape victims. Manipulating and torturing people – including criminal activity – over and over again for decades. The Board knew about it time and time again. Ultimately, they did nothing but after Internet pressure sent Gothard out to further harass victims and cover up the abuse.
The Board states that they are looking forward to the order and structure of the legal process to find the truth. That means they hope they can hide behind a legal technicality to get the case dismissed. What the IBLP won’t do is sit down with these 18 victims, and the others that are out there – like Christians – and open their checkbook and do what is right for these people. IBLP built a 100 Million Dollar organization on the backs of people that they required to work 70 hours per week without paying them over time or in some cases not paying them at all – it was slave labor – but they won’t consider using the assets of that empire that was built on the backs of its victims to do what is right to help these people get counseling and to compensate them for what they helped Bill Gothard and others do to them.
Many of these victims have lost their health, their opportunity to be educated, and had their faith traumatized by a man and his organization. It is heartbreaking that IBLP will not do the right thing by those they have hurt. Instead, the re-victimization continues.
For each Plaintiff, in the NIED count (counts I,V,IX, XIII, XVII, etc.), you will find a description of the facts of that Plaintiff’s case – their story – what happened to them. Those facts are then used as the basis of each of the counts for that Plaintiff.
The following is a brief synopsis of the facts stated in the Second Amended Complaint for each Plaintiff:
1. Gretchen Wilkinson – the Second Amended Complaint states: she was sexually molested and harassed by Bill Gothard. (See paragraphs 123 – 129.)
2. Jane Doe – the Second Amended Complaint states: she was a victim of incest and severe physical and psychological abuse at home. Despite the fact that she repeatedly came to Bill Gothard and IBLP for help, she was told to “let go of her bitterness, “to let go of her rights,” and to “stop being rebellious.” Because she was adopted, Bill Gothard advised her family to disowner her, which they did. Because she was medically fragile, this had a devastating effect on her health. (See paragraphs 155 – 173.)
3. Melody Fedoriw – the Second Amended Complaint states: she was sexually molested by Bill Gothard at IBLP headquarters in 2012 at the age of 15. She made a report to the Hinsdale, Illinois Police Department. The conduct was classified as a misdemeanor and was not prosecuted, because the criminal statute of limitations had passed by the time the report was made and the matter was investigated. An associate of Bill Gothard’s had made a FOIA request for the police report back in 2014. (See paragraphs 200 – 211.
4. Charis Barker – the Second Amended Complaint states: she was sexually harassed by Bill Gothard at IBLP headquarter for an 18 month period, beginning when she was 18 years old. The details of his behavior toward Ms. Barker a very similar to the ways he sexually harassed many of his other victims. (See paragraphs 237 – 258.)
5. Rachel Frost – the Second Amended Complaint states: she was sexually harassed by Bill Gothard at IBLP headquarters while she was a minor and then while she was an adult. This continued over approximately a three-year period. (See paragraphs 282 – 314.)
6. Rachel Lees – the Second Amended Complaint states: she was sexually harassed by Bill Gothard at IBLP headquarters when she was twenty years old for approximately one year. (Paragraphs 339 – 360.)
7. Jane Doe III – the Second Amended Complaint states: she was sexually harassed by Bill Gothard at IBLP headquarters when she was 18 years old. Gothard had invited Jane Doe III to come to headquarters for counseling due to difficulties in her relationship with her father. He really had no interest in counseling Jane Doe III. He used this opportunity to try to separate her from her mother, so he could have her at headquarters alone. When Jane Doe III posted her experiences to the Recovering Grace website, Gothard verbally assaulted her for three weeks, until she agree to take the posts down. Jane Doe III made a number of attempts to bring Gothard’s conduct to the IBLP Board’s attention. She even went to CLA directly, to make sure they were aware of Gothard’s conduct for purposes of their “investigation,” but she was ignored. (Paragraphs 385 – 408.)
8. Jamie Deering – the Second Amended Complaint states that she was one of the younger victims. The Amended Complaint states: Gothard invited her to come to headquarters – alone – at the age of 14. Gothard sexually abused Ms. Deering, including inappropriate touching while she was a minor. Gothard also refused to help Ms. Deering when she attempted to contact him, as a result of physical abuse that she was suffering at home. (See paragraphs 432 – 453.)
9. Ruth Copley Burger – the Second Amended Complaint states that she is the adopted daughter of former IBLP “Biblical Counselor” Kenneth Copley. The Amended Complaint states: Copley repeatedly sexually molested and abused Ms. Burger. This occurred while Ms. Burger was living at the IBLP Indianapolis Training Center. Copley would use Training Center rooms – outside his residence – as the site of some of Ms. Burger’s abuse. He had a history of sexual misconduct before he was hired by IBLP and was ultimately terminated by IBLP due to sexual misconduct. Copley also raped Jane Doe II. (See paragraphs 477 – 494.)
10. Joy Simmons – the Second Amended Complaint states that she was sexually assaulted on her 24th birthday. When Ms. Simmons’ parents and her pastor, Pastor York (who is also an IBLP Board member), learned of the sexual assault, they determined that she was partly to blame for the sexual assault and determined that the appropriate course of action would be to send Ms. Simmons to Bill Gothard for counseling at IBLP headquarters. There, Gothard would press her for details of her sexual assault, sexually harass her while counseling her for her sexual assail,t and require her – on occasion – to work 100 hours a week for little to no money. IBLP refused to pay overtime. (See paragraphs 518 – 547.)
11. JANE DOE IV – the Second Amended Complaint states that she was raped at the age of eleven years old. She was sent to IBLP headquarters for rape counseling. There Gothard flipped a coin and decided that they should not report the First Degree Rape, as it would have been classified under North Carolina law. Gothard advised JANE DOE IV that he was the only one who knew how to counsel rape victims, denied her the opportunity to obtain professional counseling, and sexually harassed her while he was counseling her regarding the rape that she suffered at age 11. JANE DOE IV had to go hungry because of the minimal amount of money IBLP paid her, while requiring her to help take care of disadvantaged young girls. She is the only Plaintiff in this lawsuit who was interviewed for IBLP’s sham investigation. (See paragraphs 572 – 602.)
12. Carmen Okhmatovski – the Second Amended Complaint states that she was 17 when she went to work at IBLP. Although she was scheduled to have ankle tendon surgery when Bill Gothard began to pursue her – to bring her to IBLP headquarters, Gothard advised her parents that he knew a doctor who could cure her ankle problem by injecting her ankles with sugar water. When she arrived at headquarters, no medical care was provided for her ankles. Rather, Ms. Okhmatovski was sexually harassed by Gothard when he would frequently call her to his office, before hours, after hours, during the day, and in an IBLP van during trips. Gothard also sexually harassed Ms. Okhmatovski on a trip to Russia. Ms. Okhmatovski was also aware of the rape of another Plaintiff, JANE DOE V. Although the rape by an IBLP staff person had been reported to Gothard and the IBLP staff, it was never reported to the appropriate state child welfare agency or law enforcement. (See paragraphs 626 – 656.)
13. Jennifer Spurlock – the Second Amended Complaint states that she went to the IBLP Indianapolis Training Center (“ITC”) at the age of 15. Once she arrived, despite only having an 8th grade education, Ms. Spurlock was denied any further education by IBLP. While she was at the ITC, a juvenile delinquent by the name of “Jarvis” attempted to rape her. Fortunately, she was able to fight him off. The attempted rape was never reported to the state child welfare agency or law enforcement out of concern that it would discredit IBLP and the ITC. Ms. Spurlock was then transferred to IBLP headquarters and was assigned the job of keeping Bill Gothard company by sitting outside of his door and being at his “beck and call.” Still, Ms. Spurlock was denied any education beyond the 8th grade education with which she arrived. Gothard would regularly sexually molest Ms. Spurlock by rubbing her upper thighs, near her vaginal area and by rubbing her breasts by hugging her and rubbing his chest back and forth on her breasts, while he made disgusting noises. (See paragraph 680 – 718.)
14. Megan Lind – the Second Amended Complaint states that she was forced, by her parents, into the Indianapolis Training Center at the age of seventeen years old. Both before and after her eighteen birthday, Ms. Lind was illegally confined to her room at the ITC. Frequently, the only opportunity Ms. Lind would have to leave her room was for a counseling session with Bill Gothard. During these sessions, Bill Gothard would sexually harass Ms. Lind. After her eighteenth birthday, Ms. Lind was transferred to another IBLP facility where she was illegally confined and required to make meals for the people in the facility. (See paragraphs 742 – 761.)
15. JANE DOE V – the Second Amended Complaint states that Bill Gothard convinced JANE DOE V’s parents to send her to headquarters when she was fifteen years old. When she arrived, JANE DOE V spent a significant amount of time in Bill Gotahrd’s office in counseling sessions and running errands for Gothard. During the counseling sessions, Gothard would sexually harass JANE DOE V. Because a young man on the headquarters lawn crew took an interest in her, JANE DOE V was sent to the Indianapolis Training Center (“ITC”) in 1997. During an IBLP conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, JANE DOE V was raped by a 22 year-old IBLP staff person by the name of Matthew Heard. Although the rape was reported to the IBLP staff and Bill Gothard, the rape was never reported to the state child welfare agency or law enforcement. When JANE DOE V returned to the ITC, Mr. McWah, director of the leaders in training program, whipped her for being raped. JANE DOE V was regularly locked in the ITC “prayer room” for weeks on end. Sometimes the ITC staff would forget that JANE DOE V was locked in the prayer room and would forget to feed her. At one point ,JANE DOE V had an opportunity to run away. The only place she knew to run was IBLP headquarters. When she arrived, Bill Gothard ordered her back to the ITC. (See paragraphs 786 – 816.)
16. Daniel Dorsett – the Second Amended Complaint states that he began working at IBLP in 1993. From 1994 though 1996 he was Bill Gothard’s primary driver. During this time, Mr. Dorsett saw Bill Gothard sexually harass or molest over one hundred fifty young ladies. Gothard told him that if he told anyone about what he saw he would go “straight to hell.” In 1996, while a participant in IBLP’s ALERT program, Mr. Dorsett was illegally locked in a room for admitting that he had committed a sin. During his brief stay in the ALERT program Mr. Dorsett was exposed to unbearable torture when he was required to perform a mock rescue in the freezing cold in his underwear with no shirt or shoes. (See paragraph 841 – 858.)
17. JANE DOE VI – the Second Amended Complaint states that she went to work for IBLP when she was sixteen years old. She worked for IBLP from 1991 through 1998. From 1992 through 1997, she was Bill Gothard’s assistant. During this time period, Gothard constantly touched JANE DOE VI. He would play “footsie” with her (against her will), hold her hands, rub her legs, and fall asleep on her. JANE DOE VI eventually approached two IBLP Board member’s wives about Gothard’s behavior and the Board apparently implemented a policy in 1997 that prevented Gothard from having female assistants because of the sexual harassment. Apparently that policy was never enforced and the abuse continued. (See paragraph 883 – 896.)
18. JOHN DOE I – the Second Amended Complaint states that he was initially a volunteer and was later employed by the Indianapolis Training Center (“ITC”) from 1993 through 1994 and later from 1996 trough 1997. While he will still a minor at the age of seventeen in 1994, JOHN DOE I was sexually molested by an IBLP employee by the name of William Tollett. JOHN DOE I immediately reported the molestation to his father and ITC staff. Although Tollett resigned from the ITC the next day, the molestation was never reported to state child welfare officials or law enforcement. (See paragraphs 920 – 938.)
Here is the pdf file to the 213-page Second Amended Complaint. Be forewarned, it is very disturbing and details sexual abuse. Second Amended Complaint
Last week, I published a summary of the allegations included in an ongoing lawsuit against fundamentalist guru Bill Gothard and the Institute for Basic Life Principles, which he founded in the 1980s and spent three decades running. The lawsuit focuses on Bill Gothard and IBLP’s negligence in failing to report abuse and failing to train their employees to recognize and report abuse, and at its center are allegations that Bill Gothard spent decades grooming, sexually harassing, and molesting teenage girls he employed at his organization’s headquarters.
Having read through the lawsuit in full, I want to take a moment to mention ten things even I found surprising. Many of the allegations included in the lawsuit have been common knowledge since being posted in 2013 and 2014 by Recovering Grace, a website run by graduates of IBLP programs critical of Gothard and his teachings. However, the lawsuit also includes information I had not seen before. I want to focus on these points because of the questions they raise about why Gothard’s abuse was not recognized and addressed earlier.
As a quick note, I would appreciate it if you would keep down the snark in the comments section out of respect for the survivors who are bringing this suit. Their suit isn’t some sort of “gotcha” against Christians or against fundamentalists or even against Gothard himself, it’s an attempt to bring justice to Gothard and ensure that IBLP actually fixes the problems that allowed Gothard’s abuse to go unaddressed.
I want to throw into stark relief the extreme predatory nature of Gothard’s actions. I want us to look at these points and ask how this could have gone on for so long.
1. Gothard once gave his credit card to a girl he was grooming and told her to “fix” her clothes. When she expressed confusion, one of his assistants explained to her that Gothard was unhappy with her ankle length skirts and would like her to buy some that were calf length.
2. Gothard paid for a young woman he was grooming and sexually harassing to have cosmetic surgery to remove two skin blemishes which he called “a distraction.” The lawsuit positions this move as part of the increasing control Gothard was assuming over the young woman’s body.
3. Gothard told an 18-year-old girl who rebuffed his advances that if she had still been 17, he would have called social services and gotten her taken away from her parents.
4. Gothard tried to convince a woman to divorce her husband and take a job at headquarters because he wanted to groom and molest her daughter, who had told him she would not be without her mother. See also above.
5. Gothard once had a girl he was grooming placed in a bedroom opposite his office window “so he would know when she could come to his office, after everyone else had left.”
6. Gothard preyed on girls as young as 13, had parents send girls as young as 14 to his headquarters at his request, and assigned girls as young as 15 to be his personal assistants.
7. In the early 1990s, Gothard asked the IBLP Board of Directors for permission to marry Rachel Lees, a young woman he was grooming. At the time, he was nearly 60 and she was around 20. Gothard did not mention the subject to Rachel herself. It was not until Rachel learned two decades later that Gothard had asked the board’s permission to marry her that she recognized Gothard’s behavior as predatory.
8. Gothard told a victim of childhood abuse “that parents were to be believed over children and that children were to obey their parents no matter what, even if they were being sexually abused.” When Jane Doe II reported her father’s sexual abuse to Gothard, he immediately called her father on speakerphone and asked him if the allegations were true (not surprisingly, her father said they were not).
9. Gothard made a habit of having teenage girls come to his office alone late at night under the guise of “Bible study” or “mentoring.” This isn’t technically a new revelation, but it is striking how many of the plaintiffs refer to these late-night one-on-one sessions. For an organization that teaches that people of opposite genders should never be alone together, it is startling that this practice was allowed to continue for so many years without raising an eyebrow.
10. It was common knowledge at IBLP that Gothard took teenage girls as “pets.” It was also common knowledge that Gothard’s behavior with regard to these girls was not appropriate. At one point in the early 1990s, after Gothard asked the IBLP Board of Directors for permission to marry Rachel Lees, the board barred Gothard from having female personal assistants. This ban was never enforced, and Gothard continued his pattern.
I’m sitting here trying to come up with some explanation for how this went on for as long as it did. People knew this was going on. The IBLP Board of Directors knew, the personal assistant who told Jane Doe III to buy shorter skirts knew, the employee who arranged the room assignment for Jamie Deering knew. People knew something was off. We’re talking about an organization that sent teenage boys home for merely talking to girls, while its leader held late night one-on-one “mentoring” sessions in his office with teenage girls.
Well sure, you say, it was a cult. That’s how cults work. But I want to stress just how widespread IBLP’s influence was within the Christian homeschooling world throughout my entire childhood and beyond. There were hundreds and thousands of families involved who had no idea that anything untoward was happening. This wasn’t so much an insular group like we’re used to thinking about, with its members cut off from contact with the outside. Rather, it was one that faced outward and led wide swaths people across the country to trust it its leadership and its “godly” mission and methods.
I am filled with sudden respect for one of my younger brothers, who approached me five years ago at age 17, worried. He told me that our parents wanted to send him away to a program in Texas, but that he was worried that it was a cult and wanted my advice. (It was Gothard’s ban on rock music that worried him—he played the drums and loved Christian rock music, which my parents grudgingly allowed.) At this point, I hadn’t given Gothard’s name a second thought. I grew up learning about the “umbrella of authority” and I attended a COMMIT Bible study for teenage girls, but my family had never been an ATI family, and I’d paid little attention to his name.
I texted my brother this morning. I wanted to let him know about the lawsuit. I wanted to make sure he knew just how right he had been, five years ago. What made the difference, exactly? How could he see it while so many others—including my own parents—did not? My brother told me, actually, that he and my dad had visited Gothard’s ALERT program headquarters in Texas, in anticipation of sending him there. Apparently my dad was a bit worried there might be something “off” about Gothard’s ministry—my dad by nature is antiauthoritarian, except in his parenting, and I think the focus on a single leader threw him off—but the visit assured him that all was fine, and that the ministry was godly and sound, one he could get behind.
And perhaps that is the problem. For whatever reason, my 17-year-old brother was already starting to push back and ask questions, but to those predisposed to see anything with a “godly” image as de facto good—well, you can see how that might prime people to accept Gothard’s ministry without asking too many questions, especially when so many others were already supporting it—after all, could they really be all wrong? And yet they were. And perhaps that is the biggest lesson for anyone—don’t assume that a leader or organization is legit just because it has a lot of followers, or projects a certain image.
Also, don’t create authoritarian power structures focused on a single leader.
I keep coming back to the fact that there were people close to the situation who knew these things were going on and did nothing. I can better understand people following the ministry without any knowledge that something was “off,” but once you’re in the organization and you see what’s going on—it’s boggling. There are, of course, explanations. Someone who said something might not be believed, or might be kicked out or shunned. Some might have doubted what they were seeing, given Gothard’s godly extra-human reputation. And some, too, might have assumed that if something was actually wrong, someone would surely have spoken up, so it must not be. And then, too, there’s the fact that obedience was central to Gothard’s teachings.
And so, in the end, we have a cautionary tale. This isn’t simply about one more Christian organization beset with sexual scandal, it’s about power structures and beliefs that create a situation where numerous people let significant warning signs go by, either unrecognized or ignored, but unaddressed either way. No more.
Some of my readers may be wondering what came of my brother, and what I told him when he came to me for advice. To tell the story briefly, I googled Bill Gothard’s name to assess my brother’s concerns and quickly came upon blogs written by homeschool graduates raised in ATI voicing their concerns and processing their experiences. It was those blogs that inspired me to start this blog, and it was those blogs that informed the response I gave to my brother. Over the next year I helped him wade through his options and find ways to make his own choices. He never did go to ALERT, and for that I am thankful. And so perhaps, in some small way, the voices of survivors can serve as an antidote to Gothard’s abuses.
By now, nearly everyone with access to the Internet has likely heard of the Duggar family tragedy. At least five young girls were allegedly molested by Josh Duggar, the oldest son of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, stars of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting. The family waited several years to report the crimes. When they finally did so, they only told a police officer who was a family friend, who himself was later convicted of child pornography.
A non-Duggar family molestation victim is preparing to file a civil suit against Josh Duggar, sources tell In Touch magazine exclusively in the new issue on newsstands today.
The shocking development means that Josh and his parents Jim Bob and Michelle could be forced to give depositions and testify about Josh’s molestation scandal. The Duggars likely will have to answer every question as they will not be able to invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination because the criminal statute of limitations has expired.
While I would not normally feel comfortable citing from a gossip magazine, InTouch Weekly has led the investigative journalism charge on the Duggar tragedy. The information they have uncovered on this issue has thus far been credible.
Yesterday’s WorldNetDaily article on Lourdes Torres’s lawsuit against Doug Phillips quotes at length from Michael Farris’s reaction to Doug Phillips downfall. I thought it was worth going over that section specifically, and placing it within the context of other things I have written about Michael Farris, HSLDA, and Patrick Henry College, both to clarify the issues here and to reveal the serious dishonesty of Farris’s statements.
I will begin by quoting the section, and will then respond.
Before Phillips founded Vision Forum, he spent six years as an attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, or HSLDA, a nonprofit advocacy organization that defends the right of American families to homeschool their children.
HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris told WND, “The reason Doug left HSLDA is because [President] Mike Smith and I, who were his bosses, were growing more and more uncomfortable as he started developing his patriarchy theory. We started limiting his ability to speak on those things while traveling on our behalf. We basically made it clear that he could not pursue those things with his HSLDA hat on. So he eventually chose to leave us so he could do those things because we were not comfortable with where he was headed.”
As for the patriarchy movement, Farris said the teachings are not widely accepted in the broader homeschool community.
“It’s a minority of homeschoolers that believe in it,” he said. “But unfortunately, until very recently, they were getting a lot of visibility in certain places. We have sought to avoid inviting any patriarchy speakers to speak at our national conference.”
While state homeschool organizations run their own events and may choose to have such speakers, Farris said HSLDA has never promoted them.
“Doug has never been invited to speak at our national conference since he left,” Farris said. “We have tried, by example, to keep this stuff outside the mainstream of the homeschooling movement.”
He added, “Frankly, we think it’s time for us to stand up and publicly say this is just wrong.”
And here we need some explanation. Within the Christian homeschooling movement, and by that I mean those Christians who choose to homeschool for religious reasons, whether in part or in whole, there is a range of belief on gender roles. In general, beliefs about gender roles fall somewhere on a spectrum between the following two camps:
Complementarianism: Many of those in the Christian homeschooling movement, including both Farris and my own parents, hold fairly conventional conservative evangelical views on gender roles. The wife’s role is to obey her husband, nurture her children, and serve ask a keeper at home. The husband’s role is to be the head of the family, provide for the family, and protect the family. Men are to be masculine and manly, women are to be feminine and womanly. God has laid out different and complementary roles for each gender, but all are equal before God.
Biblical Patriarchy: Some of those in the Christian homeschooling movement go farther. They proudly use the word “patriarchy” and teach that daughters are to be under their father’s authority until marriage, serving as “stay-at-home daughters.” They argue that daughters should not go to college, or hold jobs outside the home, and that daughters must obey their fathers even as adults. Only when daughters marry (through a courtship process controlled by their father) do they leave their father’s authority and transfer to their husband’s authority.
I don’t have numbers on how many Christian homeschoolers adhere to complementarianism versus how many adhere to biblical patriarchy, but I also don’t think it’s completely clearcut. Even those solidly in the complementarian camp will have noticed promoters of patriarchy speaking at homeschool conferences, will have seen their literature, and will have met those in its folds. My own family was fairly solidly in the complentarian camp, and yet they adopted some of the beliefs of the biblical patriarchy camp even as they rejected others (they sent me off to college, but believed I was still to obey my father, as an adult daughter under his authority).
Biblical patriarchy differs little from complementarianism except in its open embrace of the term “patriarchy” and its teachings about the role of adult daughters.
So where does Farris fall, particularly? From what I’ve read of his writings Farris very much believes that wives must obey their husbands and that a woman’s role is in the home nurturing her children. But what of the rest? Farris’s strong rejection of the patriarchy movement as quoted above and his recent strong words for the stay-at-home daughter movement in a facebook comment would seem to indicate that he falls in the complementarian camp rather than the biblical patriarchy camp.
There is also this from a statement written in response to February’s article on sexual assault at Patrick Henry College and read aloud during chapel at Farris’s Patrick Henry College.
Some readers have wondered if the overall aim of the article is to associate PHC with a set of anti-women attitudes that we do not hold, and to insinuate that we are connected with outside movements that we positively reject (like the “Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy Movement”). This philosophy, incorrectly attributed in the article to Dr. Michael Farris, Chancellor, espouses that college is inappropriate for Christians in general, and especially women. As his own life at PHC and with his own children reflect, Chancellor Farris has never agreed with such an offensive philosophy.
Farris rejects the word “patriarchy” and is not against daughters going to church. In fact, this statement from Farris’s Patrick Henry College indicates that Farris views biblical patriarchy as “anti-woman” and “inappropriate for Christians.”
But even as he rejects biblical patriarchy, Farris believes that wives should obey their husbands to the extent of not attending church if her husband so commands, and he believes that daughters, even as they go to college, should be preparing ultimately for motherhood rather than for careers. I think maybe this is why Farris’s continued refrain of “no no no, I’m not like him, he believes crazy things!” strikes so many as so odd. Farris is not as far removed as he would like us to think.
But there’s something else going on here too.
Farris insists that he has long gone to great lengths to publicly distance himself and HSLDA from Phillips in particular and biblical patriarchy in general. Unfortunately for him, this is simply not true.
It’s also worth noting that Farris was at the very least being grossly misleading when he said of HSLDA that “Doug has never been invited to speak at our national conference since he left” and that “We have tried, by example, to keep this stuff outside the mainstream of the homeschooling movement.”
1996 seems to be the last year that Phillips appears as an HSLDA attorney. But since then, HSLDA has made zero efforts to distance themselves from his viewpoints. In fact, almost a decade after Phillips left HSLDA to run Vision Forum, he was still featured by HSLDA as a peer. In 2007, HSLDA referred to Phillips as one of “the nation’s top leaders.” Also in 2007, Chris Klicka received an award from Doug Phillips and Vision Forum for his homeschooling advocacy. In 2008, HSLDA says of him that he is “one of the most popular conference speakers in the nation today because of his ability to encourage, inform, and inspire.” In fact, HSLDA proudly sponsored a reception at an event where he was the keynote speaker. The official relationship between HSLDA and Doug Phillips is thus one of continued mutual admiration.
I’m unsure of how Farris expected people to understand that HSLDA disapproved of either Phillips or biblical patriarchy when continually wrote of Phillips and his abilities as a homeschool speaker with such accolades. And this wasn’t the only time. HSLDA advertised Doug Phillips as a speaker at eventafter event. HSLDA member families were urged to attend. They also allowed Doug Phillips to advertise in their publication, the Home School Court Report, as recently as 2012.
Beyond this, HSLDA has also promoted other leaders whose teachings center on biblical patriarchy, including Voddie Baucham and Geoffrey Botkin. And to the best of my knowledge, HSLDA as an organization and Farris as an individual have never denounced any one of these leaders.
Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald have spoken the Truth with a capital ‘T’ in their wonderful book Passionate Housewives Desperate for God. Totally grounded in Scripture, this book winsomely presents the true picture of a godly homemaker. Prepare to be stimulated, challenged, and encouraged as a woman. This book is a real gem!—Vickie Farris, wife of HSLDA founder, Michael Farris, Esq.
Now maybe Chancey and McDonald tone it down in Passionate Housewives Desperate for God, or maybe Farris and his wife disagree here. But Farris has to be aware how these sorts of endorsements will come across to Christian homeschoolers.
Now I want to turn back to the recent article I began with.
After insisting that HSLDA has never collaborated with a supporter of patriarchy—an assertion I have here called into question—Farris added that ”Frankly, we think it’s time for us to stand up and publicly say this is just wrong.” And that is where I have to wonder—why didn’t Farris stand up publicly and say this prior to Phillips’ resignation and disgrace? Because he didn’t.
Further, Farris wrote that “Doug has never been invited to speak at our national conference since he left” and that “We have tried, by example, to keep this stuff outside the mainstream of the homeschooling movement.” Was Farris unaware that, regardless of whether he invited Phillips to speak at HSLDA’s national conference, if he spoke nary a negative word about Phillips in public and HSLDA wrote of Phillips only to promote him, the message that would come across to the homeschool community would be one of approval?
My sources tell me that Farris views Bill Gothard and Michael Pearl in the same negative light that he has long viewed Doug Phillips. Why, then, does he not publicly warn homeschool families against them? Why does he remain silent?
I think I know the answer. HSLDA operates off of membership dues. If Farris or HSLDA come out and publicly denounce toxic homeschool leaders, they will lose members. Farris has felt that Phillips was in error and dangerous for years, but only when Phillips was already defrocked and dethroned did he feel comfortable saying that out loud. Farris would rather tolerate patriarchy in the Christian homeschool movement than lose money for denouncing it.
Farris, it seems, is only willing to shoot patriarchy when it’s down.
It was the beginning of December last year when the words lit up my computer screen like lights on a Christmas tree:
“PATRICK HENRY COLLEGE CHANCELLOR MICHAEL FARRIS THREATENS TO SUE QUEERPHC!”
I had no idea what QueerPHC was. But I knew Patrick Henry College. It was that college I thought about going to back when I competed in NCFCA. Honestly, apart from a few friends from my debate days going to PHC, I hadn’t given as much as a passing thought to PHC in the years since.
In fact, I probably would still be unaware of happenings at PHC — still unaware of the existence of QueerPHC — if it were not for Michael Farris.
So in a sense, I need to thank Michael Farris for bringing QueerPHC to my attention. If Farris never threatened to sue the group, I — like a lot of people, probably — wouldn’t have known anything about it.
But threaten to sue he did. And that is why I am writing this story.
A little background information:
In July of 2012, a group of Patrick Henry College alumni got together and created a blog. Their very first blog post was on July 3, where they said:
“This is a collaborative blog produced by several Patrick Henry College (PHC) students, current and former. We, being a group of people, do have varying opinions and beliefs, but one thing we do share in common is our desire to help and encourage other Patrick Henry College students, current and former, in any way that we can.”
The purpose of the blog was to provide education and information about LGBT issues, because PHC itself did not offer such education and information:
“Patrick Henry College does not offer courses in Queer Studies, Sex Ed, or Gender Equality. However, these are issues that are of pressing importance in our culture today and are of importance to us personally. We hope to use this blog to provide information on those topics that are taboo at PHC.”
But then the proverbial shit hit the metaphorical fan.
Over the first weekend in December, Michael Farris, the college’s chancellor, used his own Facebook page to contact Queer PHC and threaten them with a lawsuit:
This page is in violation of our copyright of the name Patrick Henry College. You are hereby notified that you must remove this page at once. On Monday we will began [sic] the legal steps to seek removal from Facebook and from the courts if necessary. In this process of this matter we can seek discovery from Facebook to learn your identity and seek damages from you as permitted by law. The best thing for all concerned is for you to simply remove this page.
Find another way to communicate your message without using the term ‘Patrick Henry College’ in any manner.”
The problems with what Farris said and did are astounding. Not only is this a completely nonsensical interpretation of copyright law, not only is it slightly outrageous that Farris would pretty much threaten to “out” the individuals behind the group, but Farris used a personal Facebook page to communicate a legal threat on behalf of an entire college. Did he consult with the college’s board before making a legal threat on behalf of the college? Did they approve of the Facebook message? (Were they even aware of it beforehand?) These are important questions, especially considering what happened next.
What happened next was the Streisand effect. So incomprehensible was Farris’ strategy of internet bullying and censorship based on false legal issues that his threat suddenly exploded — Gangnam style — across the Internet.
Of course, as soon as the controversy started (and probably once the PHC board realized what a bizarre and inappropriate action Farris had undertaken), Farris recanted — this time through a public comment on Queer PHC’s status:
But it was too late. The PR damage had begun.
When I heard about Farris threatening a perfectly legal Facebook group with an unfounded, frivolous lawsuit, I was floored. What better way to damage the credibility and reputation of not only PHC, but the homeschooling movement, by using abusive techniques like threatening fellow professed Christians with erroneous legal action? Not only fellow professed Christians, but your own former students?
But something about what Farris did to Queer PHC didn’t feel surprising. In fact, it felt familiar.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But I was having a sense of deja vu.
Eventually, it struck me. And I went searching through my vast archive of saved emails from my old Hotmail account. And I found it.
In the early 2000s, when all of us homeschool speech and debate alumni were either still in high school or just beginning college, we socialized on Xanga. Xanga is to social media what Grandmaster Flash is to rap: really, really old school.Created in 1999, Xanga was around before Facebook, even pre-dating when most of us were on Myspace. Xanga was kind of like an public online diary: you could make posts, like other peoples’ posts, and subscribe to other people to stay connected. And that was about it.
(And yes, if you’re morbidly curious, my Xanga is still up. So feel free to search my teenage angst and amateur attempts at poetry, philosophy, theology, and public diary-writing for evidence you can use against me in the future.)
I created my Xanga profile on March 18, 2004. Most of my close friends from NCFCA and CFC had Xanga accounts as well. As this was really the beginning of social media, there weren’t really any parents using Xanga. It was primarily a teenage activity.
After a few months, two separate individuals created parody Michael Farris accounts. One was created on May 28, 2004. The other was created on July 26, 2004. (As you can see from these links, the accounts have since been scrubbed clean.) I don’t really remember much from the later account that was created, but I remember the first one because a friend of mine made it. It was clearly marked as a parody account, did not attempt to impersonate Farris to deceive anyone, and wasn’t even “offensive.” While a lot of us debaters were “punks” in one sense or another, we were still conservative Christian homeschoolers. So my friend’s parody account of Michael Farris did not involve things like dick jokes. I remember Fake Farris’s posts being along the lines of “I AM MICHAEL FARRIS AND OMG HOMESCHOOLING WILL SAVE THE WORLD!!!”
In 2004, on Xanga, you could “subscribe” to other peoples’ accounts. This would be the equivalent of “liking” or “following” a Facebook page today. Since I was one of the only people that used my real name on Xanga, and I was subscribed to the michael_farris parody account, I was the only person that Farris could recognize to contact about the account.
Oh yes, he contacted me about the parody account! Perhaps I just got ahead of myself. In 2004, Michael Farris — President of Patrick Henry College — was apparently monitoring what high school homeschool debaters were doing on a social media site. And as soon as he saw a parody account of himself, he went into militant mode.
On Wednesday, July 28, 2004, nearly a decade before he employed erroneous legal threats against Queer PHC, Michael Farris emailed me. In another way that this parallels the QueerPHC debacle, Farris contacted me with his official “PHC Office of the President” email address. The following is a screenshot of what he said, along with the text:
From: “PHC Office of the President” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Ryan is this you?
Date: Wed, 28 Jul 2004 17:17:34 -0400
This is Mike Farris–the real one from Patrick Henry College.
I see you as a subscriber to a xanga website named Michael_Farris. Your posts there seem to indicate that you know who this is who is running this.
I just went through a difficult time shutting down another xanga site called “michaelfarris”.
Here’s what he needs to do. Delete absolutely everything from the site. Then, send me the password to the site so that I can take control of it so that neither he nor anyone else can ever steal my identity in this manner again. If he does this I absolutely promise I will take no action of any kind against him. If he does not do so (and do so promptly) I will go after him with vigor.
It may seem funny to some, but it is not funny in the least to me. I will turn this over to the FBI if I have to. But seems it seems pretty obvious that this person is or was an NCFCA debater I wanted to try to quietly end the problem without the need for drastic measures.
Can you help?
Yes, almost a decade before Michael Farris tried to bully and threaten Queer PHC with a frivolous lawsuit because he didn’t like what they were doing, Farris also threatened a Christian homeschool kid with civil and criminal action — even going so far as to invoke the FBI. As if the FBI would’ve given a @#$% about some kid’s Xanga account in 2004. But we were young. We had no idea. I was terrified. I immediately told my friend. He was terrified as well. What Michael Farris hoped to accomplish — using inaccurate legal concepts to coerce a highschooler into turning over the account information to a perfectly legal parody account — was successful.
A decade later, Farris apparently still uses the same tactics.
The funny thing is, this email I received would’ve likely slipped away into oblivion, covered by the dust of my long-forgotten memories. But in the same way that Queer PHC’s existence occurred to me because of Farris’ threat against the group, my remembrance of the email was likewise resurrected. To some, the very fact that I am bringing it into the open might seem petty and vindictive. But I do not reveal it for those purposes.
I am publicizing this email because of the trend I have repeatedly seen from the leaders of the Christian homeschooling movement. I am remembering the censorship employed by NCFCA leaders when forensics alumni, coaches, and students attempted to protest BJU’s history of institutionalized racism. I am remembering a personal censorship, which I will talk about next week during our Resolved: series. I am remembering how Farris went after Queer PHC. I am remembering how HSLDA chose to block former homeschool students from its Facebook page for speaking up about abuse during our #HSLDAMustAct campaign.
What I experienced a decade ago, what Queer PHC experienced last year — these are not isolated incidents. They are symptoms of a problem: the problem of how this movement chooses to interact with its whistleblowers. It has groomed us to “take back the culture.” Yet when we try to do so, the movement suddenly realizes “the culture” we want to take back is not the Evil Candyland of Liberalism, but our very own home — homeschooling itself.
If you are not toeing the line, if you question the movement’s assumptions, if you even dare to make parody accounts — the movement wants to shut you down and silence you. And Michael Farris led the way, is leading the way, by the choices he made and continues to make.
Considering Farris’ railings against Obama’s “tyranny” as of late, I cannot help but wonder: how exactly does bullying and censorship of young people demonstrate the ideals of freedom?