The Civil War Wasn’t Your Fault (And Other Things I Wish I’d Known)

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Britt Reints.

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Micah J. Murray’s blog. It was originally published on January 29, 2016.

I’m in this stretch of my life called “deprogramming”.

It’s the part that comes after brainwashing, and after disillusionment, and after despair. Deprogramming is the long, difficult process of unlearning all the ways my mind was bent by bad religion, rearranging a hundred tangled wires criss-crossing my mind.

Today I came across another pile of bullshit from the cult leader whose teachings were part of my brainwashing for the first twenty years of my life.

So today we are going to deconstruct some bullshit, as we’ve done here once or twice before.

This might not be of particular interest to you, unless you were in the cult I was in (which, sadly, many of us were) or unless you have a morbid interest in dissecting us from a distance like a freakshow (which, sadly, is not an unlikely scenario.)

First, a moment of backstory: Bill Gothard, an old man who has never been married or had children, resigned a few years ago from the cult he built by telling other people how to be married and have children. His resignation came in the midst of a sexual harassment investigation which has recently become a sexual abuse lawsuit. Like any good cult leader, Gothard has not let the utter collapse of his empire or the dozens of serious allegations against him deter him from doing the Lord’s work. Instead, he has simply rebooted the franchise with yet another vaguely named religious undertaking: Life Purpose Power Teams. Though this new project prudently avoids using Gothard’s increasingly infamous name and face, it is saturated with his pseudo-inspirational buzzwords, bullshit spiritual performance checklists, bizarrely specific obsession with multiples of the number seven, and grandiose promises of guaranteed success.

It was from this new venture that today’s fresh hot pile of bullshit emerges, enlightening with a bit of wistful revisionist history.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 6.47.46 PM

(Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.)

At first, the premise seems benign (if somewhat optimistic, anachronistic, and irrelevant):

If everyone in America circa 1860 had followed the steps outlined in Gothard’s new Bullshit Magic Power Squad books (spoiler: reading and memorizing Bible verses, basically), everyone would have been prosperous and successful (including the slaves), the slave owners would have been nicer to the slaves, and God would have blessed everybody. 

“Now hold up, Mr. Cynical Disillusioned Liberal Heretic,” you’re saying. “Why all the profanity? What’s wrong with suggesting that it’s a good idea to read the Bible and pray regularly?”

Nothing except…

GOD’S BLESSING IS NOT CONTINGENT ON OUR RELIGIOUS PERFORMANCE

The underlying economy of Gothard’s Bullshit Magic Power Squad is that God’s economy is a simple machine powered by religious performance.

“If every believer had established the daily disciplines of getting a Rhema* in the morning and quoting it to God while going to sleep, God would have fulfilled his promise of giving them prosperity and success.”

*for the uninitiated, “Rhema” is Gothard’s fancy Greek word than means “a Bible verse taken out of context and arbitrarily appropriated for personal use like a magic fortune cookie quote”

Do you see what he’s selling here? Follow these simple steps, and you can manipulate God into giving you prosperity and success. That’s just not how it works.

GOD’S BLESSING CAN’T BE EASILY ASCERTAINED BASED ON CIRCUMSTANCES

The same idea is also used to imply that the position of the slaves could have been improved — not through the ending of systemic injustice or the repentance of white slave-owners — but by the slaves themselves following the same religious rituals:

If all the slaves would have been trained how to follow these same disciplines of finding and meditating on daily Rhemas, God would have also given them the same prosperity and success.

This raises a few questions for me.

Specifically, what the fuck sort of god have you constructed that’s sitting up there in heaven, looking down on humans made in his image, watching them suffering slavery and torture at the hands of their fellow humans, and this god is saying, “Well, I would totes give you prosperity and success, but it will be another century before a slick salesman with a bad combover from Chicago unlocks the magic formula to my blessing, so I guess you just have to suck it up and keep sweating it out in the cotton fields.”

THE CIVIL WAR WASN’T YOUR FAULT.

This is the most insidious part of Gothard’s if/then approach to religious discipline. Ultimately, his particular brand of spirituality doesn’t lead to further freedom and enlightenment, but to self-doubt, cynicism, and despair.

You see, any good cult is carefully engineered with layers of extra chainsto keep its adherents trapped inside.

I remember, from when I lived in the red-carpeted cult center in Indianapolis a decade ago. I remember thinking, “The system isn’t working for me. I’m following the rules. I’m checking the boxes. I’m doing all the religious shit. And I’m not happy. I’m not successful. I’m not free. I’m empty. I’m broken. I’m hurting.”

But the problem was never with the system. The system was infallible. Hell, it could have prevented the bloodiest conflict the United States had ever witnessed, if only they had known to follow these five easy steps. If only they’d had access to these special insights from Bill Gothard himself (a $100 value, now only $49 when you join a Bullshit Magic Power Squad!)

Don’t you see?

“My system could have prevented the Civil War” is more than just laughable hubris. It carries the implicit suggestion that if we had only tried harder, done more, and followed the rules better, we could have prevented our own civil wars.

We are left wandering the gutted fields of the war-torn South, surrounded by rotting corpses and smoldering homes and generations of racial injustice, and there standing like a smug Lorax in the middle of the devastation is Bill Gothard with his dyed hair and navy suit telling us that all of this could have been avoided if we’d just tried harder, done more, memorized a few more Bible verses, said a few more prayers, attended a few more conferences, made a few more impossible commitments.

We are left wandering our own war-torn battlefields, surrounded by collapsing marriages and dying faith and screaming anxiety and lingering depression — and all he has to offer to our broken hearts is literally a book full of fucking checklists and the arrogant suggestion that God would have blessed us if we had only tried harder, done more, been more.

Dear God, am a fucking good enough for you yet? Will I ever be good enough for you?

THERE IS NO BULLSHIT MAGIC FORMULA

Forget Mr. Gothard’s “5 Essential Steps to Guaranteed Success”. There are no formulas, there are no guarantees, and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling you something, or trying to steal your soul. Probably both.

Let me offer, as alternative, these five suggestions instead:

  1. Fuck that shit.
  2. Know that you are infinitely, unconditionally loved by the God of the universe.
  3. (skip this one)
  4. (skip this one too)
  5. (Seriously, why are you still here? You are free.)

How the Magical Rhemas of Bill Gothard Could’ve Prevented the Civil War

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Mark Kaletka.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on January 28, 2016.

Bill Gothard has been accused of sexual harassment and abuse by literally dozens of women, most of whom were teens under his care at the time the incidents occurred, but while these accusations have forced him to step down from his position with the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), they haven’t prevented him from starting a new ministry, Life Purpose Power Teams. What exactly is this new ministry? The website talks a lot about rhemas, prayer, and accountability partners. According to IBLP, a rhema is “a verse or portion of Scripture that the Holy Spirit brings to our attention with application to a current situation or need for direction.”

But I’m not actually here to talk about Gothard’s new ministry, I’m here to talk about a specific article published on the Life Purpose Power Teams website. It’s unclear whether Gothard or one of his staffers wrote article, which explains “how the Civil War could have been avoided,” but even if it was written by a staffer it was presumably approved for publication by Gothard. And it’s bad. The article lists five things that could have avoided the Civil War. I will list them one by one and respond to each.

1. If every believer had established the daily disciplines of getting a Rhema in the morning and quoting it to God while going to sleep, God would have fulfilled his promise of giving them prosperity and success.

Note that the author does not say that God would have prompted them to own slavery. Nope. Instead, the author states that if they had meditated on the Bible morning and night God would have given them “prosperity and success.”

This actually brings to mind an interesting question—how exactly does the author know believers weren’t doing this?

2. If all believers would have learned and applied Christ’s commands, they would have loved God and their neighbors as Christ loved them. They would have developed the attitude of being a servant to everyone, including their slaves.

Note again that Gothard does not suggest that if believers had truly applied Christ’s commands, they would have ended slavery. No, he says they would have treated their slaves well. Those are two very, very different things.

And you know what? Many southerners defended slavery by arguing that they were treating their slaves well, and that their slaves lived happy lives of plenty and contentment. I get the feeling the author would have listened to their words and then embraced them joyfully as brothers and sisters in Christ.

3. If all believers would have prayed daily for those around them that God would bless them in their personal lives, their marriages, their families, their finances and their health, every American could have been prayed for, including all the slaves.

Oh goodie, the slaves would be prayed for! How nice!

4. If all the slaves would have been trained how to follow these same disciplines of finding and meditating on daily Rhemas, God would have also given them the same prosperity and success.

In case you’re wondering, no, when author speaks of slaves having “prosperity and success,” they are not referring to freedom. In case there is any doubt, see below.

5. With God’s blessing upon the slaves, they would have risen to greater responsibility, influence and freedom regardless of their social status.

Once again, how nice! If the slaves had prayed just so, the author says, God would have made them successful slaves!

I feel compelled to note that many slaves turned to Christianity in their suffering and cried out to God for an end to their captivity. One wonders, does this author believe they were not crying out loudly enough? Or perhaps the problem was that they were praying for delivery rather than busying themselves serving their masters as God intended? The idea that slaves just needed to pray more and study the Bible and then everything would have been all rainbows smacks of victim blaming at its extreme.

After the five reasons comes this lovely tidbit:

How Has God Confirmed This Potential?

One of the most significant accounts in Scripture demonstrates the reality of this potential is the story of Joseph. He was sold into slavery by his envious brothers. He served Potiphar in Egypt. However, he had the fear of God, and he served as unto the Lord.

As a result, God prospered everything Joseph put his hand to. When Potiphar saw Joseph’s success, he gave him more and more responsibility until everything he had was under Joseph’s jurisdiction. All he knew about was the food that was set before him.

In reality, the roles of Joseph, the slave, and Potiphar, the master, were reversed because there are two types of power: the power of position and the power of influence. Both history and experience confirm that the power of influence is greater than the power of position. Joseph had more influence because God blessed all he did.

Huh, that’s funny, because I remember another story about slavery in the same general area of the Bible—a story that inspired Harriet Tubman and others seeking freedom from slavery in the antebellum South. In this story, the Israelites are enslaved to the Pharaoh, who treats them cruelly, and, rather than telling them to be good, faithful, prayerful slaves, God sends Moses to set them free. [Also, as a reader has pointed out, Potiphar threw Joseph in jail at his wife’s bequest after she tried and failed to blackmail Joseph into having sex with her, suggesting that Joseph’s supposed “power of influence” had some very serious slavery-related limitations.]

In the end, I’m scratching my head trying to figure out how exactly the author’s points would have prevented the Civil War. It sounds as though the author is suggesting that if all of the parties involved, including southern and northern whites as well as slaves, had simply read the Bible regularly, mediated on scripture, and prayed for those around them there would have been no need for ending slavery. All of the masters would have been kind and all of the slaves would have been successful—in their status as slaves, of course—and that would have been that.

In other words, Gothard contends that the Civil War could have been avoided if people had stopped trying to end slavery. Awesome.

Slaves, Heroes and Communists: Home Schooling and Race Education

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About the author: Annelise Pierce blogs at www.annelisepierce.com. She spends her days being a mom first and a free-lance writer second while spending as much time as humanly possible thinking and reading about the issues that she cares about most. Annelise has lived all over the map, first with the Navy and then in East Africa. Now she and her family are having a quiet rooted time in the Beautiful Northern California.

I was home schooled my whole childhood or “all the way through” as the home school community proudly refers to it.   My family of origin is intelligent, curious, and out-of-the-box. That’s probably what led them to home educate, a way of life that allowed them to emphasize their particular form of intelligence and indulge their curiosity and worldviews with a rapt audience of six – children, that is.

My mother taught me all I knew about history. I didn’t have the internet to turn to in those days and every library book I brought home was carefully checked over for appropriateness. Some were turned away, even books about historical fiction. Some were not considered appropriate. I was never sure why, as my hurried and discrete pre-review behind the library aisles had not yielded any sign of falling in love, bodies touching or other topics that might anger my mother. Over time I learned from her that some people’s ideas of history were threatening, even dangerous. That much of the world wanted to teach me a series of lies and that if I believed them I too would be a bad person. This was why we didn’t read a lot of those kinds of books.

This left me with an ever-present feeling of vague dread and a deep distrust for the world around me. I realize only now that perhaps it is part of why I never liked history much. It seemed like endless stories of war with dubious winners and a thousand dates to memorize. I found few heroes there, few people I would wish to emulate or who led me to dream of how I myself could change the world.

My mother had a hero though. He was Robert E Lee, a southern general during the Civil War. We celebrated his birthday with cake most years. I still remember that.

I remember too, hearing about some of the villains of history. There were the obvious ones such as Hitler and Stalin. And some that remained shrouded in mystery such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, evil in a way that I did not understand and which was never talked about.

In my twelve years of schooling I never learned more about Martin Luther King than that he was a communist. 

Needless to say we did not eat cake or get a day off on his birthday – with home schooling, you get to choose your own holidays.

No, we never learned about MLK, we just skipped right over that part of the A Beka textbook, because even Christian textbooks aren’t all good. We did, however, learn lots about the War Between the States. Not the Civil War . . . . we were carefully taught that that name itself was propaganda. Books on the War Between the States populated our shelves and we learned in detail how a few bad slave owners were used to color the whole bunch of slave owners and make them all look bad. Most of them, we were taught, were actually a kind group of people who were doing the best they could to look after the African slaves and give them a chance at a good life.

This puzzled and worried me as I have always had a strong sense of justice for as long as I can remember and the idea of slavery always felt so wrong. To add to my puzzlement, I remember that we had home schooling friends growing up who believed slavery was still a healthy way of life. They called themselves theonomists – they were looking to create slave relationships but somehow it hadn’t worked out yet. I remember wondering as I watched their two cute young children, how you went about finding someone to be your slave? It seemed strange, dark and frightening, yet they looked so normal. I wondered how their children would grow up.

Now, at thirty-four I have found new friends and new perspectives – ones that fit my deep calling to justice. I am still exploring the great big wide world of history as seen with no blinders on. My heroes are MLK, Ghandi and Mandela. I am reading my way through Maya Angelou’s autobiographical series and loving every minute of it. I follow Feminista Jones and I learn every day about what race is and how it shapes me and those around me. I teach my children about white privilege.   We read and reread books about Ruby Bridges and they marvel at a little girl’s courage to stand up for equality.

History will always be a matter of perspective. But the wonder of multiple history teachers is that we learn over time that each person’s perspective on history is different; that even those recording the “facts” have their own bias. That is what I missed when I home schooled “the whole way through.” And that is what my children could so easily have missed too, had I drunk the Kool-aid and continued the home educating cycle without reading and learning outside of the boundaries I had been given.

This is what can make home education dangerous – propaganda. Yes, that very word I learned to fear growing up, used so often about the “left wing”, “communists” and public schools is very much a part of home education too. It surfaces in a million ways with a million stories. And as it touches our young, developing brains, it shapes the very fabric of who we are.

I’m glad that I am someone else now.

White Supremacist Homeschooling

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Jonny Scaramanga’s blog, Leaving Fundamentalism. It was originally published on August 26 2014, and has been modified for publication on HA.

So here’s the most horrible thing I’ve found in a while: White Pride Homeschooling.

I don’t even want to give their page the extra traffic, so I’m linking to an archived version of their website (from August 2014).

From their website (Warning: you are about to read racist propaganda):

The biggest increase in intermarriage has occurred in recent years, due to the social interaction of children of different races in the school room and subsequently the board room and then bedroom. In the year 2000 – 9 percent of married men and women below age 30 were intermarried, compared with 7 percent of those ages 30 to 44, 5 percent for those ages 45 to 59, and about 3 percent among those age 60 and older. Obviously school busing, the promotion of interracial marriages by “Christian” preachers, visible images in all types of media, and 12 (plus) years of social conditioning in the schools for each and every child has had a devastating effect on the racial integrity of white America.

Gotta love the use of square quotes around “Christian” in the above paragraph, because obviously true Christians are racist Christians.

Yup, this is a Christian organisation. No doubt you are wondering which curriculums they suggest parents can use without polluting the minds of their pure Aryan offspring.

In no particular order:

Bob Jones University Press

Alpha Omega (pretty much a clone of ACE, but reputedly more academically challenging)

CLASS (the Christian Liberty Academy School System, which produces a custom curriculum based on a mixture of texts from publishers including A Beka and Bob Jones)

And, of course, Lighthouse Christian Academy, which is the homeschool wing of Accelerated Christian Education.

*****

You may be surprised. You should not be.

Now, I am not saying that Accelerated Christian Education is a white supremacist organisation. I’m sure ACE would prefer to distance itself from such racism (Side note: Dear ACE, if you publicly condemn this organisation, I will write one blog post in which I say nothing but nice things about you). But it is telling that the bigots at White Christian Homeschool find ACE’s materials entirely compatible with their aims.

The fact that ACE’s cartoons depict segregated classrooms means that Mrs White Supremacist Homeschool Mom can rest assured that the materials will reinforce what she is already telling her children: White kids should be separated from the other kids. After all, these white supremacists don’t hate black people. They even link to the National Black Home Educators Resource Association, explaining: “As we encourage a Christian lifestyle for all races and do not believe in integrated classrooms – we are providing this link.” See, they’re thoughtful really.

Bob Jones University’s presence in this company is even less of a surprise, given that organisation’s history of white supremacism. It’s not entirely clear when BJU would have abandoned its discriminatory entrance policy if the political climate had not forced it to do so by 1975.

If all this is shocking you, clearly you need to bone up on your history.

Biblical literalism lends itself quite comfortably to racism. “Slaves obey your masters” is a clear-cut instruction. Although my Christian teachers loved to remind me that the British Abolitionist William Wilberforce was a Christian, they tended to gloss over the fact that most of those opposing him were Christians too.

As Mark Noll noted of the US Civil War, and Carolyn Renee Dupont argued about American segregation, racists have always found ammunition in the pages of the Bible. And this is partly because of the way they read it.

Today fundamentalists condemn racism (and they find Bible verses to support that, too). But the way they encourage children to read the Bible has not changed. As a non-believer, of course, I don’t hold the Bible sacred at all, but it seems clear to me that if you’re going to study it, you need to pay attention to the context in which things were written. The Bible is a compilation of books by different authors who made different points, so you cannot conclude “what the Bible says about X” from any single passage.

It’s funny, isn’t it, that Christians suddenly started noticing that the Bible was opposed to racism shortly after it became culturally unacceptable to be racist.

I don’t care whether you can find more verses in the Bible to support racism or to condemn it. All that matters is that it’s possible to support both positions quite well from the text. And this proves that the way ACE (and its ilk) teach children to read the Bible in fact does nothing to prepare them for the real world.

When You’re Raised by Racists: Junia’s Story

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

I was raised by a mother who was intensely racist.

I didn’t realize it for years, but she was, and is. My father is as well, but less obviously, more in an oblivious sort of way.

As far as education went, I always thought that we received above average education. My mother was committed to good education, erudition was a trait that my parents prized highly, to the point that friends of the family would comment on how intelligent we were and note it as a family thing. I will always be grateful for the education I received from her and from the other teachers, both in co-ops and online, that she arranged. But one area that I completely missed was race.

We’re white, with one distant Native American ancestor. But otherwise we’re Western and Northern European through and through. I never realized until the past year how much this has colored, no pun intended, my life and worldviews.

With history we were raised on the motto, “The South was Right.”

Slavery was justified because of Bible passages about how to treat slaves. If slavery was inherently wrong God would have banned it, wouldn’t He? We listened to speeches from the group The League of the South and read its literature. It’s still hard for me to admit that this group promotes racial inequality by justifying slavery. I was really into the Civil War, or as I called it, the War Between the States, in high school. I spent hours reading about it, but almost nothing from the perspective of anyone in the Union or the perspective of people like Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass. I even had a livejournal account about the War. Mostly copy/paste of historical documents or letters etc. Inspirational stories about specific individuals.

I had only friend growing up who wasn’t white. She was mixed race, her dad was black and her mom was white. She and I used to play together a lot. I’m not sure why my mother was okay with us, why she was friends with the family, but I guess the whiteness of the mom made the family safe as far as my mother was concerned. I know my friend was really sensitive about being mixed race. She didn’t feel like she fit in anywhere, she was too dark for whites and too white for blacks. At one point in high school she saw my livejournal account and asked me to take it down because she was offended.

I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t.

I told her that she shouldn’t be offended, I was just posting historical things. We drifted apart, for a lot of different reasons.

None of this is to say that I believed in white superiority or hated blacks or anything like that. I just obliviously dismissed stories of racism as playing the race card. I was uneducated about the true story of racial inequality and hate and the continuing structural racism that exists today. I was never allowed to read To Kill a Mockingbird as a child because my mother said it was racial propaganda designed to stir up race hate. I thought Nelson Mandela was a terrorist because the only times I heard my parents mention him were in negative contexts. A friend asked me within the last year if I knew who Jackie Robinson was and I had no idea. My boyfriend, now my husband, was the first person to tell me about the LA Race Riots. That they even took place.

Even this year I still clung to the idea that Southerners weren’t racist, they had slaves, but they weren’t really racists. There must be some misunderstanding. There’s just misunderstood regional pride. White people have moved on now anyway, we don’t allow slavery any more. People just play the race card when they don’t want to face that they didn’t get a job because they weren’t as qualified, etc. That minorities use their race as a weapon to get ahead.

I was blind to my privilege because I was born with the skin tone I have.

Then there was the murder of Trayvon Martin. I was angry and sad. I saw it as a crime that was at the very least made more likely because of Martin’s race, and at worst as racially motivated. But my awareness was still embryonic. It was after that that I decided that I should read To Kill a Mockingbird and find out what it was all about. I was shocked. I thought it was an exaggeration for monetary profit on the part of the author. I wish that had been true.

A few months later I read a newspaper article about the conviction of the ringleader in the murders in 1964 of the civil rights workers James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. I was horrified. I read the comments on the article and I didn’t know what one of the commentators was talking about when he referenced Emmett Till, murdered in 1955 at the age of 14. I felt sick to my stomach as I read accounts of what happened to him. A 14 year old boy was beaten and murdered for daring to flirt with a white woman, at worst for being obscene (if you were to believe what local white people said of him).

I now realized that To Kill a Mockingbird really wasn’t exaggerating.

It was all to true to reality. Then I followed more links and saw the records of more deaths, schoolgirls blown up in a church, men and women murdered sometimes just on the side of the road because of their race, men and women both white and black murdered because they were peacefully protesting inequality.

There was a whole world of pain that I was utterly unaware of.

When I was in middle school and high school I vaguely remember that my older sister who had married at 18 and left our home say things about racial inequality. My parents would say that she was just full of white guilt, and that it wasn’t right for us to feel guilty about the crimes that some white people committed against those of other races. I had never investigated for myself, to my shame.

I was perpetuating racism without being aware of it. And I would have been more in tune with reality if I had been taught about racism and black people with any depth. If my knowledge of blacks in American history hadn’t been limited to knowing a lot about George Washington Carver and that Rosa Parks was tired and said no. If I hadn’t been told that Harriet Tubman was making the problems worse by encouraging runaways, which was clearly in violation of things like the book of Philemon.

But I was taught a white centric view of American history and life.

I feel deeply handicapped in dealing with life today because there was so much racism in my family of origin and I am so far behind in what I should know about what minorities, especially blacks, have been facing at the hands of a white dominated society.

I’m grateful in so many ways that I was educated at home. But because of the issue of race, I would never be a homeschooling parent.

How We Removed Anything That Might Make America Look Less Godly: Liz’s Story

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

I don’t know if my story about race is what you are looking for. I am a white southerner and have never had a close friend of another race.

In my small circle of homeschoolers and other like-minded, ultra-conservative Christians, I don’t think I ever saw a person of another race.  

Oh, except for adopted children. They were the only exception. I distinctly remember a family coming to our church and two of the children were biracial.  I can’t remember if anything specific was said, but I had the impression that this was somehow shameful.  They weren’t adopted, I guess that makes a difference.

What I distinctly remember is my dad giving us talks about the problems with interracial dating/marriage.  He would say that he didn’t have a problem with it and had even dated a black girl once, but that the cultural differences were so large that he felt it did not make for a good marriage.  Now that I think about it, I find it odd and slightly laughable that the only racial conversations we ever had were focused on the civil war or marriage. I’m not even sure why he discussed this with us since he had to “approve” anyone who wanted to date us anyway. He could have easily weeded out anyone of an “inappropriate race.”

The idea of having just a friendship with someone of a different race was never even discussed.

My schooling was very clear on a few key facts about race.  Let me preface this by saying, this is not what I now believe at all, but it is what I was taught:

  • One, the civil war was not about slavery, it was only about states’ rights.

Slaves were actually treated very well and many were not capable of caring for themselves anyway so their white masters were just benevolent care takers.  Slavery would have slowly ended on its own if Abraham Lincoln had just respected the states and stayed out of it.  I remember reading one of the American Girl books about Abby (a black slave girl) and being disgusted that it was so “historically inaccurate” in its portrayal of her life as a slave.

Needless to say, I am ashamed of many things I believed as a child/teenager but I was only believing what I was taught.  

  • The other key point that was drilled into my head about race was that even though slavery was wrong, the civil war was a long time ago and it was high time that black people just let it go.

Of course us calling everyone North of the Mason Dixon line a Yankee wasn’t something we should all let go of. I did not know anything about the civil rights movement.  It was not until I was an adult in college that I realized many of the horrible things that had happened had occurred in the lifetimes of my classmates’ parents and grandparents, not over a 100 years before. Other things had occurred in my own lifetime.

I was shocked and horrified.

No wonder these things hadn’t just been “let go” (as if even the years of slavery should be “let go” anyway no matter how many years have passed). I had been taught for years that black people were entitled and unforgiving (again the irony of southerners still holding quite the grudge against the entire northern half of the country is not lost on me).

It only took a semester of history in college for me to realize how biased and simply wrong my education had been. I had never read a real history book (The Light and the Glory anyone?)  I soaked in every bit of my history classes and went on my own research binges.  I found that there had been terrible race riots in my own rather small hometown–they even made my college textbook.

This was not the first time I was disillusioned with my homeschool education, but it is probably the deficiency I am most ashamed of.  

  • The other race issue that was often discussed in my border state, was all of the “illegals”.

It was made clear that it had nothing to do with their race, only that they were coming into the country illegally.  However, when a white woman came to our church who had also fled her country into the U.S. illegally, the church gave her financial support to continue her fight to stay in the country.  Any person who looked hispanic was considered an illegal alien until proven otherwise.  Not to say this was or is a homeschooling phenomenon. I am a public school teacher and heard a conference between middle school girls about another girl they were purposefully ostracizing because they believed her family was “illegal”.  I have had more than one class discussion about the use of racial slurs in my classroom.

One thing that continues to baffle me is that my parents are very intelligent people.

They both had a public education, which regardless of how good or bad at the very least covered the Jim Crow era. They lived through the civil rights movement. My dad has a college degree and my mom attended 3 years of college.

Where in all of that did they become so brainwashed by the religious and homeschool leaders to think it was okay to simply ignore that part of our history?

Why was it considered right and okay to gloss over or completely remove anything that might make America look less godly or right?  

I also realize that it is likely they were also taught a different but highly biased version of that point in our history (they graduated in the early 70s). But then again, isn’t it the obligation of an educator to overcome their biases, learn, and teach the truth?

I certainly consider it so as a teacher myself — and I am not claiming or trying to be the god-ordained teacher of every subject my children will study.

My Childhood Readings: Elsie Dinsmore

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on March 13, 2013.

So conservative homeschoolers are sort of known for reading the Elsie Dinsmore books.

My family was no exception. We owned the first three books on cassette, all 20 something books in the series, the companion series about Elsie’s cousin, and the modern day rewrite of the books (which are much better written). Plus I have the Elsie and Mildred dolls. The books were written in the late 1800s, btw.

But I was an Elsie fanatic.

First, I should give a summary of Elsie. In short, the story is about a rich plantation girl born in the 1840s whose father comes home from Europe the first time when Elsie  is 8, and tries to force her to play the piano on the sabbath day. She refuses to break God’s law, saying she will obey any command but those that break God’s law. So she starves, and on the break of death, her father gives his life to Jesus. But still the struggles continue. Her father beats her brother until he fetches the newspaper as instructed. Elsie gets harsh punishment for reading Oliver Twist, and is never allowed to say, “I guess so.”

Elsie’s father also knows best for her marriage. Elsie falls in love with a fraud when away one summer. Her father intervenes, rescues her, and Elsie is quite upset until realizing her father was right. Her father is always right, no matter what, no matter Elsie’s age. (BTW, Elsie reminds me of the story in Courageous when the girl dates a boy who ends up in jail. Any time courtship is brought up, it always comes with the worse-case-scenerio stories.)

Elsie ends up marrying her father’s best friend (and boyhood friend), 16 years her senior; older men know best. Just before her husband dies at an early death, Elsie and her husband say they never had a fight. Elsie’s step mom, the only parent Elsie ever knew, also said she never had an argument with her husband, Elsie’s dad. Yet the book features her crying when her husband “spanks” the kids, but she never argues, ever.

Beyond that, the book is full of racism. They have slaves, and since they treat their slaves good, its justified. In one scene, they go to Elsie’s mother’s plantation and find the slave master beating a slave. They chastise him for this. During the Civil War, Elsie’s family bails out and spends the years in Europe. They come back to plantations destroyed in their area, but theirs are still standing, and so are their slaves.

And that, my friends, is the Elsie books, sold and pushed by Vision Forum. But I loved the books, and read them many times over.  And I never read fiction, basically ever, so that says a lot. I loved it because I identified with Elsie. She struggled to breathe in an authoritarian home, but unlike me, she handled it with ease and poise. I also identified with the Southern culture and all the Victorianism. Elsie always cried on her Bible, and I would cry on mine.

I wanted to be Elsie.

So I’m pretty much in agreement with those who say the Elsie Dinsmore books are full of sexism and racism. But Elsie made my childhood bearable and gave me a warm companion. I am glad to have “met” her.

Anyone else ever read Elsie? Watcha think?