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

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Let me explain.


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

~ Gary Bauer


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

I blame Christian homeschool debate.

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

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

Then I came across Gary Bauer.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer


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

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

In other words, Christians actually do need to care.

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

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

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

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


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

~Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation


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

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

I was immediately intrigued.

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

To be a Christian cannot mean neutrality towards injustice.

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

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

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

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

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


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

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.


So there you have it.

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

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

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

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

So yes, I am a radical activist.

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

How I Accidentally Swindled My Way Out of Conservative Christianity: Dallas’ Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

Once upon a time, I won awards for citing Ann Coulter and defending her viewpoints. I’ll get to all of that in a moment, but to fully appreciate this story, you first need some background about my homeschool upbringing.

Living as a teenage atheist in a home of pastors and devout Christian lifestyles is one of the strangest American experiences I can think of having — yet that was my reality. For most of my growing up, my father was heavily involved in church life, eventually becoming commissioned to be an ordained pastor around my ninth birthday. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who picked her battles, and my three younger siblings were and are all very active ‘Jesus Freaks.’

I was one of those myself as a small child, but I was quickly withdrawing from the church by the time I was 13. As church community was stripped away from me as my father’s church grew, then shrank, then reinvented, then rebuilt, my need for people was taken away as my parents felt dogma and religion was the most important elements of a “Christian Walk.”

Part of that “Christian Walk” at the age of 15 was being forced into participating in Impromptu Apologetics under the NCFCA umbrella.

(Background concluded, we now resume the buildup for why I defended Ann Coulter.)

Now, I was already a strong speech and debate kid by the time I was 15. I had already qualified for Nationals in Impromptu Speech, Extemp and Lincoln Douglas debate, and I served as a ‘Senior’ student in our local club. I was ready to try my hand at something in the interpretives, but my parents had a different idea in mind. By gosh, I was now the son of a pastor, and I needed to know how to defend my faith (despite the fact I was already well-weary of Christianity).

I protested. I fought. I cried. It didn’t matter. I was going to do Impromptu Apologetics, and that was the beginning of the grand swindle.

The next school year came up, and at first, Apologetics wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. I was given a lot of non-direct questions about Christianity, with questions like “Why does a society needs laws?” and “Is there such a thing as absolute truth?”

Sure, those questions asked for a slanted answer and biblical references, but I was able to use reason and historical examples to defend my points on a philosophical level. I was placing near the top at club mock tournaments, and I was feeling very comfortable during the events.

Then, the next semester came, and my fears came true: I started getting the weird questions which could only get dogma-based answers, and even worse, several questions were touching the subjects of Christianity and modern politics.

Unsurprisingly, I started getting low marks for not giving specific Southern-style, conservative Republican, Christian answers on gay marriage, abortion, the infallibleness of the Bible and the historical proofs of Jesus.

Although I was uncomfortable, I pretended it was all fine and good. I embraced my inner Lee Strobel and Frank Turek, giving the circular reasoning that the homeschool mothers who judged the club events were looking for. I didn’t like it, but it let me keep winning.

My faith declined and declined further as I gave arguments I didn’t believe in, but in February, my Lightbulb Moment hit.

In front of the club president and head coach (a deeply Southern Baptist Republican 50-something woman who was campaigning for Mike Huckabee while actively lobbying against civil unions in our state), I pulled out the first question I had zero answer to. As an adult, I still don’t know what it wanted.

The question was this: “How does the Book of Acts describe the moral code of the church similarly to the one seen in Genesis 2?”

I was in a deep panic. I was the ‘senior student’ who routinely knew his business. I was supposed to never flinch. I was supposed to answer the question and give a logical answer rooted in Christian belief. Stuck at my wit’s end as the timer told me my prep time was up, I was active in my Lightbulb Moment.

For the next seven minutes, I made up Bible verses, biblical characters and spat out fake philosophy that I credited to the 14th century theologian St. Saban.

Did Stephen the Martyr really command to obey the Lord fully like Adam as he was stoned to death? Did a prophet really foreshadow the church’s early movements in the book of Nehemiah? Did St. Saban, a man I made up based on the then-Miami Dolphins head football coach, actually exist?

I don’t know. Nor did I care. Because when I got my ballot back, not only had I won the round against nine other speakers, but I had the highest speaker praises including “Well-credentialed arguments and excellent research points”.

That was my Lightbulb Moment: If it sounded good, then that’s all that mattered for Christians and defending Christianity.

After reading that ballot, I decided to try an experiment. For every club event, for every practice and for every tournament, I was going to make it all up.

The 3rd-century Roman historian Nicholai was going to have lost works that explained the miracles of Christ. Verses like Matthew 17:48 and Exodus 49:11 were totally going to exist and be real. Hezeriah was going to be a part of the Old Testament of Biblical prophecy, as would be Surach and Baruch.

Surely, I thought, surely one of these deeply fervent homeschooling mothers, fathers or friends would call me out on it. Surely someone at the regional tournaments would smell something off, right?

I got my answer when I reached out round after out round, eventually finishing in second place in my region, qualifying for the NCFCA National Tournament.

As a 15-year-old who was learning how to bend the rules and get away with it, it didn’t take long to take my deceiving to other speech and debate fronts.

I’m embarrassed to say I was winning extemp rounds by saying Hillary Clinton told reporters at a campaign stop that she’d be willing to invade Israel. Likewise, I won Impromptu rounds by citing that Christianity was blackballing a Russian pop act from entering a recording studio.

What I’m most embarrassed about though is that I qualified for nationals in Team Policy by quoting an Ann Coulter column disguised as a “study by Yale University,” resulting in a standing ovation after that quarterfinal round debate.

I haven’t really forgiven myself for that one. Sorry Yale.

Regardless, there was my moment.

By faking everything, particularly conservative Christianity in culture, history and philosophy, I became an award-winning speaker and debater.

The epilogue is that I refused to go to the national tournament, selling my parents that the tournament was “old hat” and that I didn’t want to return to that competition. They saved the money they would have spent on that trip and we went on a family vacation to Arizona instead, where I happily played golf with my uncles and saw the Grand Canyon with my dad – experiences I’d take any day over bickering with teenagers about why I like AC/DC and why Obama isn’t a secret Muslim terrorist.


To this day, I cannot believe the dozens of Christians I somehow managed to dupe and I now play the “what if” game on what would have happened had I tried my strategy at the national tournament.

The Power of False History: Nicholas’ Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA Note: This is a preview of our upcoming Lightbulb Moments series. We would love for you to contribute your story as well.

By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

My “lightbulb” moment in my youth, which convinced me of the lies that my upbringing was filled with, centered around the study of history. I was interested in history from a very young age, and my parents made sure to purchase fundamentalist American history for me to study. The Light and the Glory and From Sea to Shining Sea by Peter Manual and David Marshall, alongside Foxes Book of Martyrs, David Barton and Little Bear Wheeler’s histories, made up most of my historical and political education. But the history written by these men are filled with fallacies, false history, cherry-picked examples, and gross misinterpretation of historical events.

The main thesis of all these histories was that the Christian God was responsible for the prosperity experienced by the United States. From Christopher Columbus, to the Conquistadors, Plymouth Rock, and the American Revolution, the European conquest of the Americas was portrayed as Christians harvesting souls for the Lord and the Lord blessing them. Columbus was a pious missionary – no mention of him riding on the backs of natives for sport and exacting untold violence on innocents. The genocide against native tribes was “mission work” and “fixing them.”

Constructing this false history was vital to mobilizing Evangelicals and fundamentalists into contemporary political action.

The most important goal was to influence American politics “back to Jesus/Christianity.” The establishment of theocratic laws depends on convincing people that the US Constitution means whatever the Founding Fathers, in their eminent foresight and wisdom, meant it to mean. Supreme Court be damned.

My parents pushed me into the Christian homeschool debate league (NCFCA) at 15, and I began developing critical thinking skills. I remember my first big political debate with my dad (where I believed differently) was over whether we should drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – it was a topic during energy policy year. By the time I was 18, I began to read scholars and historians that disagreed about the foundation of the United States.

I originally intended to only educate myself about the enemy so I could better defeat those damn socialists in an argument, but my research demonstrated that so many “experts” in the homeschooling world were frauds.

They cherry-picked facts and characters, while ignoring all nuance and complexity for their over-simplified, overly-political narratives. It took me four years in a political science bachelors and another 18 months in a graduate program for history to feel like I finally had a firm, realistic grasp of American and world history.

In my final graduate term, I studied Islamic nationalism in communist Eastern Europe and central Asia. Just like the Christian fundamentalists, the militant religious-nationalist factions (Orthodox Serbs, Muslim Kosovars, Bulgarians, and Bosnians, and Catholic Croats), invented history and conflict to motivate their constituents to fight with each other. Everything became clear. People who wanted power created a false history to rally homeschooling parents to a fight what really didn’t exist. Our government has always striven to be secular, and just because a few Founders were Christians doesn’t mean they wanted the United States to be a Theocracy.

The Christian homeschooling movement encourages an intrinsic cognitive dissonance about history.

They praise and almost worship the American Revolution, individualism, liberty and freedom, but then turn around and wish for more theocratic laws that favor their flavor of religion. Fundamentalism of all religions is typically anti-democratic.

The best example of this would be the patriarchal ideas found in the Homeschooling Movement. The spectrum of religiously-motivated sexism, from Complementarianism to outright-Patriarchy, is founded in anti-democratic ideals that women should not have the same civil rights as men. My mom actually believes that the United States started going astray when women were given the right to vote.

By consigning women to the domestic sphere, fundamentalists want to restrict or completely deny women access to the public sphere and civil engagement.

I could not reconcile the sexist, Patriarchal ideas with the stark liberalism of the Founders. I decided that to advocate for laws based on my views of religion would be no better than implementing Shari’a law. I became an outspoken liberal feminist in college, but not because I was “brainwashed,” as my parents would have my family believe. But, for the first time in my life, I had access to an array of scholars, knowledge, and philosophies.

No one brainwashes me, I make up my own damn mind.

Don’t Touch Me — A Reflection on Courtship and Purity: Merab’s Story, Part Three

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

< Part Two

Part Three

After the Stephen incident, I relocated and began teaching eighth grade language arts. One day, I went with a friend to a local church Halloween party, dressed as a nerd. At the party, I met a tall man dressed like Felix Baumgartner (the man who has the record for the longest space jump). He was a meteorologist, and when I told him I was terrified of tornadoes, he got my phone number in order to put me on his “tornado notification list.”

The next morning, I woke up to a text from him. We spoke over text and on the phone, and the next week, he took me on our first date. We didn’t talk at length about whether we were ready for marriage; we talked about time travel. We went on several other dates throughout the week, and I didn’t ask him to call my dad for permission.

And then he dropped a bomb on me.

This man felt comfortable and vulnerable enough to be open about his past: He had been married before. He was divorced, following a five-year relationship and two-year marriage during which his ex-wife was unfaithful and left him.

My mind only heard: He had sex before.

He wasn’t pure. He wasn’t whole. He could never be fully mine. How would a relationship work? I still hadn’t kissed anyone. Our first kiss should be at the altar, but he’d had so many kisses before that ours would not even matter to him.

(Now, how convoluted that mindset seems to me, thinking that I wouldn’t matter to him and that he had nothing to offer me because he had sex with someone else before. It is exactly what I Kissed Dating Goodbye taught, though; I still remember the dream Joshua had in which he realized he had given everything away and had nothing left for a significant other.)

Crying, I left. Later, he told me he felt I would never want to see him again.

I called my mother, convinced that she would tell me to run, that this man was tainted goods. She told me I was acting crazy, that God loved everyone regardless of circumstance, and that this man was allowed to love again.

He wasn’t pure, I said. She said, what even was purity? What right did I have to say that someone wasn’t pure?

That night, I began to seriously evaluate my mindset towards purity and the courtship movement.

I viewed myself as being on some pedestal, looking down on the world at all the fornicators who were happily kissing their significant others. I speak out of my own experience when I say this; I am not implying that all people who choose not to kiss before marriage are judgmental in this way.

I allowed my interpretation of the courtship movement to condense a relationship into two all-important factors: physicality, and the avoidance of it. I was not thinking how this man could be affected by his divorce or how much I appreciated his honesty about it; I could only think about him kissing his ex-wife.

After much prayer and discussion with him, I confronted this mindset. I told him how guilty I felt holding hands or hugging for too long, and we deconstructed the guilt through conversation. He and I continued in our relationship, and I kissed him after four months. Even now, writing that, I still feel the need to justify why I kissed him: we loved each other, we wanted to get married, we were committed.

Lastly, I want to be achingly real about my experience with sex. Partly due to the fact I would have felt too guilty and unclean, we waited to have sex until our wedding night. On our wedding night, I felt so bad about finally losing my virginity, losing the purity I had “fought for” for so long, that it was impossible for me to just give it up simply because I had said a few words in a vow. I was so tense and unyielding that we did not have sex until we were married for over two weeks, and even then, I felt guilty. I was frank about this with my husband (who is a saint), and we have worked through this. Adhering to the courtship mindset and its purity reliance made having a physical relationship with my husband more difficult.

I can’t wait to teach my children that sexual experience does not dictate their dignity and value.

End of series.

Don’t Touch Me — A Reflection on Courtship and Purity: Merab’s Story, Part Two

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

< Part One

Part Two

Sometime after my first boyfriend and I broke up, Stephen (my old friend from the NCFCA) surprisingly called me. He and I caught up about our lives, about college, and reminisced about our golden debate years. One memory still sticks out in my mind: several years prior, we had gone to NCFCA Nationals; at the afterparty, Stephen had led me up multiple flights of stairs to the top of an historic statue, and we looked out over the city and talked.

I had been convinced I was going to marry him, and now, two years later, he was calling me!

We had been talking on the phone for several months when one day he called me again, his voice different. “I’ve been thinking,” he said, “and I’m just not sure we should be talking on the phone like this. What’s it going to lead to?”

“I’m…I’m not sure,” I said.

“I just think that we don’t want to encourage something that can’t happen right now. I’m just in college, and not in a position to be with someone or support anyone. I don’t want us to spend time leading each other on with no point to it,” he said.

I really respected this guy as a friend, a rational being, and a “good” Christian man, so I immediately agreed. How respectful of me he was, putting us first, breaking things off so our emotional purity was not jeopardized.

I felt like this for a few minutes after I hung up the phone, and then I realized—wait, how we were going to talk?

After thinking some more, I resolved to wait until he was ready. He’d know when the time was right, when God told him he could court someone. If we were supposed to be together, God would bring us together.

And wait I did.

I didn’t have a boyfriend for two years, chiefly because I couldn’t find someone I liked as much as Stephen, who was sweet, rational, artistic, and intelligent—and shared my ideology about dating.

Then, in my senior year of college, the waiting paid off. Stephen got in touch with me again. One conversation led to another and I agreed to make the three-hour drive to his university so we could see each other.

The evening was perfect. We went out to dinner, talking about our families and politics and pasts and dreams for the future. I had just found a job as a teacher after graduation, and he was going to travel. We watched a television show with some of his friends, sitting next to each other but not touching. When it was time for me to leave, he walked me out to my car.

We lingered outside in the cold, neither of us wanting to leave. Finally, stepping closer, he said, “I’ve liked you for a long time.” I told him I had liked him too. After we hugged (quickly), he closed my car door for me, smiling. I felt joyful—everything was finally working out.

But then, nothing. He didn’t call or text me. The silence continued for a week. By now it was Christmas break, and at home my sister saw me miserable with apprehension, so she messaged him on Facebook and asked him to get in touch.

He called me the next day. “I’m sorry I said what I did,” he said. “I’m very fond of you as a friend. I’m still not in a position to be with you; I’m studying abroad next term.”

“I completely understand,” I said calmly, my eyes filling up with tears. I sobbed uncontrollably after he hung up. I didn’t care that we would have had to be in a long-distance relationship; I felt I would have waited years for him, a champion of purity. I finally began to view his dating ideology as an excuse for not stepping up and being real with me. I wish he had cut the “I can’t support a wife” line and just said, “I’m not sure if I like you romantically.”

To me, the courtship movement gave men and women alike a ready excuse to not speak the truth.

Even when I knew Stephen was using the “I’m not in a position to support you” statement as an excuse, I still pretended to agree with this because I was supposed to, according to the courtship movement. If someone couldn’t support a wife, he couldn’t support a wife.

At about this time, I began to realize that I could support myself, and that the previous statement was problematic, implying a power structure that favored male earning of income. As more and more of my public-schooled college friends began to date without constantly questioning their purity and value in life, dating also lost its stigma for me. I concluded that I would never be able to know if I wanted to marry someone if I didn’t actually spend time with them, even if I wasn’t ready to drop everything and get married that instant.

I resolved to focus on the work of teaching.

God would still send the right pure man along for me, and we would ride off into a glorious sunset (and have amazing sex because we were pure).

Part Three >

Don’t Touch Me — A Reflection on Courtship and Purity: Merab’s Story, Part One

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

Part One

We were alone on the couch at his apartment, and his hand moved down my neck, tracing it slowly. It was my fault, utterly my fault. I was the temptress, Leda lying before the swan.

I had made the choice.

I read I Kissed Dating Goodbye when I was 17, not because my parents made me read it, but because I chose to read it. My parents, although conservative in political beliefs, were not legalistic, and actually openly debated legalism and fundamentalism in our household. My mother especially did not like the book, saying it was unrealistic. My mother and father had homeschooled my two sisters and I since I was in the third grade, mostly to give us a better educational opportunity than our rural Colorado mountain school provided. We moved to the city when I was 14, and everything changed—we joined the NCFCA (the homeschool speech and debate league) after meeting some members at a Civil War Ball.

Many of my NCFCA homeschool friends had read the book, and most of the boys (including Stephen, the one I had a crush on) didn’t believe in dating. “I can’t support a wife, so what’s the point of dating anyone?” Stephen told me when we were 17. Because he felt that way, I checked the book out from my church’s library and a few days later had mentally made the commitment to save myself for marriage, never being alone with a man to avoid temptation.

In my mind, I would never kiss a man until we met at the altar on our wedding day. My future husband would ask my father’s permission to court me, and we would date in large groups. As per I Kissed Dating Goodbye, I didn’t want to give myself to a man I didn’t want to marry, and this seemed logical to me. I didn’t want men to view me as a used rag if I had kissed someone before, or worse.

After graduating, I chose to attend a local college. I soon found out that no boys held to the same beliefs I did. No guy wanted to call my father and ask to court me (weird, right?). I finally met a Christian guy who had been public-schooled, and we were able to spend time together in groups at a campus Bible study. After I informed him that I would not officially “get to know him” unless he spoke with my father, he called my dad and arranged a lunch meeting. My father, afterwards, asked me why I thought this was necessary (he thought the whole meeting was humorous). I had no ready answer. In my mind, I had linked being “pure” and “correct” in a relationship with patriarchal consent. Soon after the meeting, the guy and I started dating.

However, I soon found out an unforgivable secret: he had kissed someone before.

I could not reconcile that in my mind. If you kissed someone, you were forever giving a part of yourself, a core piece of your identity and purity, to that person. You could never get it back. He had given a part of himself away, a part I could never have. That always hung over our relationship. A respectful fellow, he agreed to not kiss me.

I also began to adopt his “public-school dating habits.” We hung out alone. We watched movies on his couch until one in the morning. Finally, during one of these movies, I found myself in his arms. He traced my face with his finger, down my neck, my shoulders, my arms. While he did it, I felt like a prostitute. I was giving something to him. What I was giving, I couldn’t say—but I was giving it. I made that choice to be there. However, I also held this against him. If he really respected me, he wouldn’t have taken that from me. It was my fault and his fault at the same time.

This drove a rift in our relationship. We held hands for the first time after dating for four months. I broke up with him soon after, not being able to handle my feelings of guilt towards myself and resentment towards him. During a discussion after the break-up (we still went to the same Bible study), he tried to touch my shoulder. I screamed, “Don’t touch me! I never wanted you to touch me! It’s all your fault.”

I ran out of the building, half-confused, half-feeling like I was finally championing my values. MY values.

Now, I reflect—were they my values, or the values I adopted to be accepted into the only community I knew? A community that gave me a scripted role to play, the role of “pure woman,” a role I internalized to the extent that I still performed it towards a different, unsympathetic audience?

Even though my parents questioned the validity of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, the culture of my local homeschooling community was so strong that I accepted what my friends thought as truth. When I went on Facebook, I saw some of my old NCFCA friends, courting each other, getting engaged, being thrown into some lake at Patrick Henry College. It was perfect for them; I should have done the same thing.

I resolved to reframe my mindset around purity, and everything would fall into place.

I never deconstructed how this mindset created a harmful image of my identity—I was only as valuable as my state of purity, and it was natural to feel a deep sense of guilt and shame for not protecting that state.

Part Two >

Yes, I Am Latino; No, I Am Not Joking: Joe Laughon’s Story


Also by Joe Laughon on HA: “Engaging the World — Debate and the BJU Protest: An Interview with Joe Laughon.”

First I think the sensitive nature of this topic demands me to explain what this piece is not about. It is not intended as a litany of racial incidents I saw or a list of microaggressions allegedly inflicted upon me. It isn’t some blanket condemnation of the society home education creates, painting it as a reborn White Citizens’ Council. Nor is it intended to be a condemnation of identifying as American, being of European background, middle class, Christian or conservative. Lastly, I am not going to pretend like I was oppressed by any means. (Sidenote: For those who are far more learned in this subject, I would like to note that my subject of study has not been critical race theory, postmodernism or even sociology but rather was rather early modern European political theory and the Near East. So, mea culpa, if I use imprecise terminology. By all means let me know.)

That being said, I feel like my experience in home education can possibly provide a helpful perspective. My experience in homeschooling has slowly taught me how race operates in our society. It’s rarely some KKK bogeyman but rather is often unconscious and structural rather than personal, and is usually unthinking. In particular it’s made worse by what theorists call whiteness.

Now what do I mean by “whiteness”? By this I do not mean simply being of a European background but rather a society system in which being labeled as “white” (a constantly changing definition with several criteria such as light skin, European background/features, English speaking, Judeo-Christian and being seen as “respectable” and middle class) is the unconscious presumed default in society and is seen as best, where one is given the benefit of the doubt. The more checkboxes you can list off the more benefit of the doubt you will be given (throw in American born, and male in there and you won the bingo game). Today that has often meant:

1. Not being classed as a criminal.

Pastor Matt Chandler, of the Acts 29 network, made a really helpful insight when he stated that his son, blonde and blue eyed, would never be followed around in a store with the assumption he was up to no good.

2. Historically seen as more accepted in society and those people of color who do conform to what we see as respectable are labeled as “courageous” or peculiar.

3. Thanks to the mistakes and outright misdeeds of history, someone who is white is more likely to be better off, better educated and safer.

This does not discount personal success or personal failure but it does mean that history does play a role into where in society we start. Historically being white has afforded economic privileges such as not being redlined, being considered acceptable for credit, being shown houses that were often denied to people of color. This meant that their children could use equity to build more opportunities such as college education and business loans, which creates more opportunity. There is nothing inherently wrong with this ladder of opportunity itself, but the fact that the rungs have been traditionally denied to people of color.

4. Lastly, and most powerfully with recent news, it means that, being white, you will not be inherently defined as suspicious or a threat.

For instance, even the rate of drug usage, possession and sale is the same across the board among ethnic and racial groups, people of color will find themselves targeted for prosecution more often and, when equally prosecuted given harsher sentences for the same crime o the same severity.

Now how did my experience play into this? Specifically I saw how the way we racially and ethnically construct identities is a game in which whiteness determines the rules and gets to decide what identity you have. For instance my family’s identity is not monolithic. English is my language, I have an Anglo sounding surname and my mother’s family is pretty stock European Midwestern-southern white folks. On the other hand, my father’s family is entirely from Mexican from South Texas and Los Angeles and I usually identified most with the Latino community, especially growing up in a neighborhood dominated by this demographic and going to Catholic school in which I was certainly the whitest there.

In my old neighborhood I was certainly an anomaly perhaps but not totally unheard of as “gueros” (“blondies” or “whiteys”) can be more common in some parts of Latin America. Thus my friends didn’t really question what I called myself (although I do remember parents laughing when I had told my class my father was born in Mexico. I simply assumed, “We’re Mexican, he must be from Mexico.”). However once we moved and I began to homeschool, I noticed a subtle shift in how the identity game was played. If you don’t even fit into one identity, one will be chosen for you. Period. I can’t remember the amount of times I’ve explained to folks, “Yes, my skin is very light. Yes, I am Latino. No, I am not joking.” (This could turn into an Abbot and Costello routine as one father literally refused to believe me.) My particular favorite was during our testing and a mother witnessed me filling in the “Latino/Hispanic” bubble. She quickly pulled me aside and noted that if I was mixed I needed to put mixed. No exceptions.

However, I won’t pretend that being white didn’t bring privileges. Besides those listed above, I didn’t have to act as the spokesman for all things Latin. What was also interesting was, as my hand was stamped, I got to see how history and society is shaped by the default of being white.

In particular I saw that a self-reinforcing narrative is created when being white isn’t just assumed to be the default, but it often is the default in homeschooling (especially when you get to subsume everyone else’s identity into the team). Which means seeing the events of history and issues in society entirely through the eyes of one “side.” Every other narrative is conveniently ignored because it is assumed to not exist.

This occurred most notably in the NCFCA and in the wider homeschool debate scene.

Having to combat civil war revisionism (Did you know that it was just over tariffs and slavery was just totally incidental to the entire war? Yeah, me neither), or even remind some students that slavery was not a “win-win” for everyone involved, became a full time occupation as a competitor and coach. But by being white, no one would think twice about sharing their fairly one sided opinion with you as they unwittingly reinforced whiteness by engaging in a host of presumptions about undocumented immigrants or why democratic governance “can’t work” in Arab society. Around me, there was no self aware look over the should to see if any of “them” might hear but rather the opinions about how Latin immigrants will “balkanize” America and how a “Euro-American majority” is needed for society to work could be shared freely.

The catalyst for this realization came when the BJU protest occurred. To recap, NCFCA chose Bob Jones University, a school associated with racial segregation, discrimination combined with a virulent fundamentalism combined with a healthy dose of violent anti-Catholicism (if you don’t believe that last one ask why Northern Irish loyalist demagogue Ian Paisley has an honorary doctorate). Many, in particular coaches, competitors and families of color objected to associating a multiracial, multiethnic and multiconfessional organization with a tainted institution.

The response was total tone deafness from some. We were asked why we were so bitter about “ancient history”, why we can’t bring ourselves to forgive BJU (I was unaware institutions have souls to absolve) and why it was acceptable to let historically black colleges exist but there were “no colleges for whites.” I finally realized that whiteness meant not only getting to decide the rules of identity, not being afraid of spouting off nonsense about race, but also never having to acknowledge the legacy of racism today and in the past.

This is not to say that I experienced a culture of open bigotry or one filled with racial strife. More often I saw a loving, tranquil multiracial group that genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. However I also saw implicit racial assumptions and privilege reinforce itself through a lack of acknowledgement and understanding in a way that was somewhat unique to the home education scene.

So how do we move forward? I think the obvious way is to rely on what unites us and it’s not our identity as homeschoolers, as Americans or as conservatives, but rather our common faith identity, which clearly rejects such constructs (Acts 10:34-35).

The first way we do this is by listening to each other.

This is some basic advice given from James as we are told to be “quick to hear.” However unfortunately our lack of hearing has created a huge perception gap. Last year the Association of Religious Data had a telling study which demonstrated a wide gap in how different groups in America viewed the interaction between race and society. The first step to overcoming our empathy gap is to overcome our perception gap. That is going to take listening. In particular that is going to take hearing narratives on race and how it effects us from others that don’t include ourselves. Rather than get defensive and jump to meaningless tropes such as “What about black on black crime?” or “What about affirmative action?” maybe we should be quicker to hear and slow to speak.

But we need to take this further.

Pastor Scott Williams, author of Sunday: The Most Segregated Day of the Week, pointed out how the institution homeschoolers are most likely to share in common is also the institution that is most racially segregated. Roughly 90% of American churches are dominated by 90% of one ethnic or racial group. Now part of this trend reflects simple demographics and part of this trend reflects the effects of historic exclusion of people of color for mainline Protestant churches. However it should give us a reason for concern. How can we understand each other and start to break down the toxicity of race in America if part of our lives that is most significant to us is the one that is the most racially segregated? Movements like Church Diversity and Operation: Desegregation are the beginnings of something that could be truly healing.

I’m not saying this will solve everything. Homeschoolers who aren’t Christian or are excluded in other ways, such as gender or sexuality, may not find much solace in this. But it could be a start.

The general principles of listening and engaging in community with The Other hold real promise to ameliorate the problem of racism and white privilege in homeschooling.

Lauren Dueck Joins HARO as Board Chair

We are pleased to publicly announce Lauren Dueck has joined Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out as our Board Chair.

Lauren Dueck.
Lauren Dueck.

While she has been working behind the scenes for months, Lauren is now officially joining HARO’s other founding board members — R.L. Stollar, Nicholas Ducote, Andrew Roblyer, and Shaney Lee — as we move forward in the creation of our non-profit. The HARO board recently meet in Chicago to plan our next steps. We are excited with what the future has in store as we all work together towards HARO’s vision of “Renewing and transforming homeschooling from within.”

About Lauren:

Lauren was homeschooled from Pre-K through high school, primarily in Colorado, where she was involved in a myriad of homeschooler activities ranging from Christian Home Educators of Colorado (CHEC) to Colorado Advocates for Home School Arts (CAHSA). She was also a part of the founding classes of CREDO Academy and the Colorado chapter of the National Homeschool Honor Society. In high school, Lauren competed, judged, and coached around the country in the National Christian Forensics and Communication Association (NCFCA), and contributed to several NCFCA sourcebooks as well. She received both the Boettcher and Coca Cola scholarships.

Lauren attended the University of Chicago, where she became deeply invested in a Christian student movement aimed at cultivating thoughtful, passionate faith in the university environment, and soon began to work on multi-ethnicity issues. In 2009, she graduated from the University of Chicago with a BA and MA in Slavic Languages and Literatures, and earned a place as a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship before joining the staff of a national evangelical campus ministry. Serving as Campus Staff at the University of Chicago for four years, Lauren became known as a specialist in crisis intervention and cross-cultural ministry. She has been a featured speaker at several national events, including Chicago’s Coming Together 6 conference.

Most recently, Lauren accepted a national role with the same campus ministry. In her spare time, she writes movie and TV reviews at Three Second Reviews and makes and sells vintage handicrafts. She also has a chronic case of wanderlust, and blogs about her travel adventures at FollowLauren.com.

Finding Freedom from My Demons: Nicholas Ducote’s Story, Part One

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By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

Friends of mine and readers of Homeschoolers Anonymous may notice that, despite my involvement in HA from the beginning, I’ve yet to tell “my story.”

At first, I wasn’t sure what my story was or what information I wanted to make public, so I waited.  I also hoped my gentle public criticisms of homeschooling would start a dialogue with my parents.  Quite the opposite: they talk to everyone but me about HA.

I do not want a bad relationship with my parents, but I am no longer willing to limit my expression in an effort to try and appease them.

It’s sad because my parents no longer participate in ATI, but they still hold to the most radical and cultic beliefs promoted exclusively through Gothard and his allies in IBLP and ATI. Sometimes I see glimpses of the loving, fun people that my parents are, but the religious fundamentalism preached by ATI hijacked our relationship.

To put it simply, I was raised in a homeschooling cult (ATI) and my parents were/are emotionally manipulative and spiritually abusive. It has taken me a long time to be able to write that, and for the longest time I didn’t want it to be true.  But my time reading others’ stories and talking about our complicated parental relationships, patterns began to emerge. I hope that telling my story can help other troubled young adults to find ways to assert, defend, and express themselves with their parents.  As for me, I’ve given up waiting for the fun, loving version of my parents to take over the fundamentalist version.

Many people will call me embittered, angry, or any number of pejorative terms to delegitimize my story, but I am not telling my story in an attempt to lash out and hurt my parents. I am telling my story because I now know that my story is not unique. All across America, former homeschoolers are dealing with convoluted and dysfunctional relationships with their parents. Sometimes parents give up the rigid legalism of Gothardism as they age. But my parents did not.

All too often I see the scared little boy (me) that my parents created — cowering in fear of reprisal, instead of confidently asserting my thoughts and beliefs.

This may seem odd to the people that know me because I am far from meek in debates about politics and religion. I debated competitively for eight years, which makes me good at finely tuning my advocacy to avoid conflict.  Over the past few years, I’ve carefully avoided answering questions about my religion because I was too afraid of the reactions my immediate family would have.

It was easier to lie to them than to deal with being their “project.” 

So for all the people who wonder where I am coming from — and I know religion is prima facie to many Christians when weighing an argument’s or source’s validity — here is it all laid out.

I am a non-Christian Theist.

I believe that there is something in the universe that is omnipresent and supernatural — unexplainable by modern scientific knowledge — but it certainly is not some father-God-Lord-Universe-Creator. I believe the universe originated at the Big Bang, which may have been triggered by aforementioned supernatural being, and life evolved. I believe humans have consciousness that is equivalent to a soul.  I arrived at these beliefs through years of study, exegesis, and weighing of all sides. I don’t need evangelizing.

As far as the Old Testament of the Christian holy scriptures, I view them as a typical ancient history where a cultural group claims some supernatural justification for their conquest. I do not believe a loving God would order genocides, but I believe a group would commit genocide in the name of God and defend their actions with “God told us so.” I view Muslims, Christians, and Jews as essentially the same monotheistic religion, relying on ancient incorrect history to prop up a modern religion. That said, I believe the modern forms of these religions look nothing like they did in their original form. All religions evolve substantially over time, often changing core tenants or relying on arbitrary man-made decisions as Divine Truth (i.e. Council of Nicea, Papal Ex Cathedra, etc.).

When it comes to the New Testament, I believe that the historical Jesus was nothing like he was portrayed in the epistles and NT outside of the Gospels. Jesus was likely a real person, but the historical Jesus and verifiable source texts do not reflect the modern Biblical interpretation of Jesus’ divinity. That said, I believe Christianity, like Islam, Judaism, and many other religions, introduced many great moral codes to humanity.

When I traveled to Afghanistan to teach debate, I could not believe how similar the rural orthodox Muslims were to patriarchal fundamentalist American homeschoolers.  (I’m sure some of you are incensed reading that, but remember I’m just being honest).  Women were treated as second-class citizens, many were forced into a form of “stay-at-home daughter,” and laws discriminated against them.  It was the exception for a young Afghan girl to attend as much school as her male peers, and certainly to attend a university.

Modesty is also rigidly enforced in both cultures, to an obsessive degree.  Only in Afghanistan and American homeschooling have I seen so many arbitrary rules regarding modesty only for women.  Granted, the level of modesty required of American homeschoolers does not reach the level of the burqa, but the philosophy and its outcome is relatively the same thing.

Just like many of the rural Orthodox Muslims, patriarchal fundamentalist American homeschoolers want their version of Christianity enforced through the government.  Afghans also revere and respect their elders – a tradition that thrives in patriarchal fundamentalist American homeschooling.  Even as a married adult, my advocacy in America faces the “you’re just a rebellious bitter child” line all too often.

The similarities were haunting and during my month there I started writing what would become a catalyst for the stories that built HA.

My mind made so many connections and being in the repressive atmosphere brought back so many memories. Even teaching Afghans debate mirrored my experience teaching patriarchal fundamentalist American homeschoolers.  At first, they could not grasp the idea of arguing both sides — since they had been raised to only believe in one side. But as the light bulbs went off they lit up and they were so excited by debate.  One thing that struck me was how religiously devout the Muslim students of the universities remained.  Although they were among a very small cohort of their peers who attended secular universities, they all left the debate tournament after lunch to pray.  The entire tournament halted because they needed time to pray.

Something like that would never happen at an NCFCA tournament!

My next essay will focus on the impact of ATI on my childhood and teenage years.  And the terminal third essay will explain how ATI’s toxic teachings continue to poison my relationship with my parents.

Part Two >

Kevin Swanson Has Stumbled Upon a Very Real Truth

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on October 17, 2013 with the title, “Kevin Swanson on ‘Apostate Homeschoolers.'”

It seems Homeschoolers Anonymous has made an increasingly large splash in the homeschooling world.

Prominent Christian homeschool leader Kevin Swanson himself felt the need to address the group in a recent broadcast on his Generations with Vision radio show. He gave it the title “Apostate Homeschoolers.” If you click the link to listen, the section on Homeschoolers Anonymous starts at 5:00 and goes until 10:40, when Swanson moves on to the Boy Scouts.

What does Swanson blame for the growth of the “homeschool apostates” and their increased networking and online activism? NCFCA homeschool speech and debate. Oh yes. NCFCA was started by Christian homeschool leaders to equip a generation of homeschooled children to be culture warriors, fighting against the godless secularists and working to establish a Christian America. But apparently, according to Swanson, it’s gone awry, and too many of its homeschool participants have left God’s Truth for the faulty world of man’s intellect and reason.

In other words, Swanson has stumbled upon the very real truth that indoctrination fails when you teach children how to think instead of what to think.

But if ensuring that your young people retain your beliefs requires teaching them what to think without ever teaching them how to think, the problem is with your beliefs, not with the fact that certain of your young people figure out how to think and then walk away. That this is the response of the Christian homeschooling world—that perhaps teaching kids how to think was a bad idea—then what they have to offer is very sad indeed.

And just so we’re clear, this is what Kevin Swanson is now apparently afraid of:




Look how scary we are, with all of our researching and talking and thinking and socializing!