Rethinking The “Proverbs 31 Woman”

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Chetan. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Chetan. Image links to source.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on July 29, 2011.

There’s something troubling me about a teaching going around.

I’ll probably be preaching to the choir here but on the chance that someone reads this who has swallowed said teaching, I need to give them a dose of reality.

The teaching goes something like this: Girls need protection, physical and spiritual. That’s why they need to stay home under their father’s protection until they can be safely entrusted to their husband’s protection. The extent to which this is fleshed out is different from family to family, but that’s the jist of the teaching.

So what about it? This idea of women needing “protection” is being used to keep them from going to college, getting jobs, and going on missionary trips, among other things. They are told that they are gullible, weak-minded, easily led, and not to be trusted on their own because they are easily deceived and taken advantage of. They need a strong man to come between them and the world.

Besides the fact that I see absolutely no scriptural backing for this idea, I can’t help but think that whoever came up with it doesn’t live in the real world.

I’ve heard so many use this as an excuse for why a woman shouldn’t go off to college. Because then she’ll be “alone” and without protection. What if her car breaks down? What if she has to go shopping in a bad part of town? What if something goes wrong and Daddy isn’t there to rescue her? Or a shady mechanic tries to rip her off?

My husband’s a trucker. I’m “alone” from about Sunday afternoon to Friday afternoon every week during the summer. I have to fend for myself and three kids. I sleep alone, a gun nearby, knowing there may come a night I’ll have to use it (and trust me, I can use it better than most men I know). I have to make all the decisions on how to run my house alone. I have to be mature and interact with the world around me (including men and atheists *gasp*) alone. I have to be discerning all by myself, able to judge right and wrong, wise and foolish. If I break down on the side of the road, my husband isn’t there to “protect” or rescue me. I have to deal with it as if I were single. I have to be strong and capable and mature and independent every single day. My husband leaves every week depending on me to be all these things and more. If I had an emergency, it could be 12+ hours before my husband could get to me. He didn’t need a girl who needed to be coddled, needed someone to make decisions for her, needed to be “led” and guided in daily interactions like a child. He needed a mature woman who could handle an imperfect life. And it’s a darn good thing that I didn’t spend my growing up years thinking I needed a man to handle my life or come between me and the big bad world. I had to learn how to be a functioning part of society and take care of myself and others.

My family’s well-being depends on this. 

I know girls who weren’t allowed to go grocery shopping, in a safe small town, without their dad or big brother for “protection”. They weren’t allowed to go anywhere without a man, for that matter. Their view of the Big Bad Men in the world they needed to be protected from has grown into a paranoia. They’re scared of their own shadows. They think all men are out to rape them or take advantage of them. And they truly believe they are gullible, weak, and cannot handle life on their own, because that’s the line they’ve been fed all their lives. It’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As my friend, Christi, said in comment to this idea:

This is exactly what patriarchy wants us to believe, that women are weak-minded things incapable of avoiding dangerous situation. I lived alone …and I never found myself in a compromising position. And how would a predator know whether a woman lived at home with her parents, or with her husband, or lived “alone” (with roommates)? 

And while we’re talking about this, why don’t people realize that homemakers are some of the most “alone” and vulnerable women out there? You seem to not realize that married young women have to do the exact same things that young women who are away at college have to do, and more. I have to go out and do my shopping alone, just like a college girl would (though I imagine that college girls get to carpool together). What’s more, I’m even at home alone. I’m pretty sure that I’d really be better protected on a college campus since I’m alone during the day (and night, since my husband works until 11 PM) and have often had to interact with strange men, sometimes even inside my house, while my husband is at work. Apartment maintenance men, internet guy, phone guy, UPS man, door-to-door salesmen, etc. Oh, and it’s usually my job to take our car in for repairs and oil changes. Car repairmen are actually pretty nice, or maybe it depends on where you go (which again, is simply a matter of making an intelligence choice). 

I mean no disrespect to my husband when I say this but, he’s really not here a lot to protect me because he’s busy working a full-time job in addition to being a full-time student. My marriage license doesn’t really afford me any more physical protection than I had when I was single.

You see, it is complete folly to train up a person to be completely dependent on another person.

You have no idea what their life is going to be like.

No idea what skills they’re going to need to provide for themselves or the people they love. No idea if they will get married, then widowed. Or even if they will marry at all. To raise a girl with the belief that she is weak and needs a man to be her mediator in life is to cripple her for life. To render her ineffective to do anything for herself or for the God that she’s supposed to be “glorifying”.

I know girls my age who are single and still at home with their parents, being told that they need to be “protected” and watched over until they get married and all that jazz. But guess what? I’m married and I’m still on my own. Age and marital status aren’t the magic keys to a perfect life. They are just used as excuses for controlling the lives of these girls. Real life doesn’t look anything like what the Patriarchy crowd are trying to say it does. Their view is way too narrow. Ask a soldier’s wife. Or a trucker’s wife. Or any woman who is married or single and has to be a mature adult and deal with the world on her own. Whose husband and children and lives depend on it.

I love it when my husband is home and able to take care of things so I don’t have to. I love being cared for and knowing that I don’t have to do everything by myself. I love feeling loved and protected by my man, just as much as he loves me caring for him. I love sleeping peacefully at night, knowing he’s right there and I don’t have to be so alert. But I also love knowing that should he not be there, I can still take care of myself and my children.

One last thought. You know that popular verse in Proverbs 31 that says “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her worth is far above rubies.”? Go look up the Hebrew word translated “virtuous”. It’s most often used in the OT to describe might, strength, fighting men of valor, army men, efficiency, wealth, strength and force. It is translated all these ways: army 56 times, man of valour 37 times, host 29 times, forces 14 times, valiant 13 times, strength 12 times, power 9 times, substance 8 times, might 6 times, strong 5 times, and a few miscellaneous words.

Gives you a rather different picture of what a “Proverbs 31 woman” looks like, doesn’t it?

The Many Valuable Lessons I Learned in ATI: Laura’s Story

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

The 14 years I spent as a student in ATI taught me many valuable lessons for my life. Here are some of the highlights:

* Parents are always right.

* Men are always right. Therefore, your father is double-right.

* Getting out from under the “umbrella of authority” means you will have many problems, including being raped. (Not sure what the warning is for boys who get out from under their umbrellas. I’m a girl so always heard the rape thing.) The fiery darts of Satan will have nothing to stop them from hitting you. We all know that an umbrella is the best possible analogy because their thin, flammable fabric is the perfect substance with which to stop fiery darts.

* If your umbrella – dad or husband – has holes, then Satan will get you unless you pray really hard that they’ll patch up their holes. If you don’t, you’ll probably get raped.

* Family is everything. Except when young people go to a Training Center or Headquarters. Then it’s okay to not be together as a family unit. Or when young people go to Apprenticeship Sessions at Knoxville and make binding vows that their parents know nothing about. That’s okay. You do not need to seek your father’s permission to make such vows that will control what you do the rest of your life. Your father’s permission is implied because he sent you to this Apprenticeship Session.

* Young people, given the option, will always choose the wrong spouse. Therefore, their parents – most of whom chose their own spouse – will choose or at least approve their spouse for them.

* If you date, you’ll have all sorts of problems and can never have a happy marriage. Dating is practice for divorce. Courtship is practice for marriage. If your parents dated and have a happy marriage anyway, it doesn’t matter – dating is still bad and you will get divorced if you date.

* You should court (aka “let your parents pick or approve your spouse”) so you don’t get divorced.

* Talking to a boy is dating him. Especially if either of you have romantic thoughts about the other one. To be on the safe side, it’s best never to talk with young men. (At some Training Centers, talking with a person of the opposite sex for longer than a few seconds, unless it was obviously work-related, was grounds for discipline and/or being sent home.)

* Even thinking about a boy is probably dating him. You should immediately confess any such stray thoughts to your father, ask his forgiveness, and make yourself accountable to him lest you be tempted to have any more thoughts about boys

* If it happens that the boy you are thinking about has already asked your father for your hand, or does so in the future, you will not be informed of this until your father deems it the appropriate time. This means you could spend years fighting attraction to the man you will eventually marry, but it’s still a sin to think these thoughts.

* If you marry the “wrong person,” then after you’re married they become the “right person,” aka God’s new will for your life. You’re stuck. Deal with it. You shouldn’t have dated him anyway, or married him without your parents’ permission. We know you either dated or married without parental blessing or both, because duh, you married the “wrong person” and you would never have done that if you’d courted and gotten your parents’ blessing!

* If your parents lead you to marry a guy who’s in the Mafia (yes, this example is in the Basic Seminar, or maybe the Advanced Seminar… it’s been a few years since I watched either of them) then you need to be submissive anyway. Because your parents chose him for you, God will bless your marriage even though he’s in organized crime and likes to beat you when he gets home. You still can’t divorce him.

* Not only should you NEVER EVER EVER marry someone who’s divorced, but you probably shouldn’t marry the *child* of divorced parents.

* The sins of the fathers will be passed down to the children unless a very specific prayer is prayed over said children. We are very blessed to live in a time when we have Bill Gothard to teach us such things. Thousands of years’ worth of Christians simply had to fight inherited sins on their own, without Mr. Gothard to show them the RIGHT way to overcome such things!

* Adoption is bad. You don’t know what “sins of the fathers” are being introduced into your home.

* Birth control is bad. God will give you as many children as you deserve. Susanna Wesley was a favorite example – she had 19 children although less than half of them survived infancy.

* If you can’t have children, then something must be wrong in your life. Clearly God gives many children to those whom he favors. He really loves Mrs. McKim. (Now I’m showing my age… these days it would be Mrs. Duggar!)

* Only have sex between days 15 and 28 of the wife’s menstrual cycle. Days 8-14 are maybe okay, but if you’re trying to be ultra-Godly, or get pregnant, wait until day 15. You want the “seed” as strong as possible.

* It’s not awkward to talk about periods and sex in mixed company when single “fellas” and single “girls” are present in the room, as long as it’s in the Advanced Seminar. Plus, we use terms like “relations” and “monthly cycle” instead of “sex” and “periods,” so we’ll all just pretend we don’t know what we’re talking about so it’s less awkward.

* Tampons will kill you. Toxic shock syndrome and all that. They’re bad. Follow God’s design for your monthly cycle and wear pads.

* Rock music is bad. It will kill your plants and cause you to be demon-possessed. It will also cause you to drink, take drugs, have sex with anyone and everyone, wear jeans, and generally rebel against everything Godly. Rock music with Christian words is even worse.

* If your family visits a restaurant or store that is playing ungodly music, you must ask the server or store employee to turn the music off. If they refuse, then the most Godly thing would be to leave the premises immediately so that your family is not harmed by the ungodly music. Plus, you’ll be a testimony of God’s principles.

* The only okay music is hymns. Classical music is okay as long as it doesn’t have a back beat. But if you’re really Godly, you’ll listen to hymns. Preferably played on a harp. The harp is the most Godly of instruments. After all, David used it to charm the demon out of King Saul. Until King Saul threw a javelin at him. Twice. During harp music. Somehow that part never got talked about when I was in ATI. Forget that. Just listen to harp music anyway.

* Cabbage Patch Kid dolls will cause you to be demon-possessed. They will also cause your mom to have her labor stall, until the doll is found & burned, at which moment, labor will resume and the baby will be born within minutes. (Another anecdote, told in the Basic Seminar I believe.)

* To be on the safe side, better not have My Little Pony, Care Bears, troll dolls, and definitely no souvenirs from Africa such as masks or figurines. You will be demon-possessed. They must be burned. Simply throwing them away is not good enough to break the demon’s power over you. It doesn’t matter if such toys are your child’s favorite toy(s), they must be burned anyway.

* Denim is bad. It’s a sign of rebellion. Even boys should wear Dockers, etc., not denim jeans.

* T-shirts are bad. They’re a sign of rebellion. Only collared shirts are allowed. Therefore, a polo shirt is acceptable attire for “fellas” or girls. A t-shirt is not. (How a girl wearing a polo shirt is not “wearing that which pertaineth to a man,” I don’t know. I never heard that addressed.)

* If you are going to rebel and wear a t-shirt, don’t ever wear one with words or a design on the front. Girls, don’t you know what when a man’s eyes are reading the words or looking at the picture, they’re really checking out your body? You’re going to get raped if you encourage men to read your chest – I mean, shirt – instead of focusing on your bright, Godly countenance.

* Beards are bad. They’re signs of rebellion. (During the 1980’s and part of the 1990’s, if the dad had facial hair, the family would not be allowed to join ATIA/ATI.)

* Men must have short hair that is obviously masculine in style. The best hairstyle for a “fella” causes you to look like your photo – complete with a navy suit – could fit right in to a high school yearbook from the 1950’s.

* Women should have long hair, with gentle curls. If God made your hair straight, then you must curl it. If God made your hair ultra-curly, then you must straighten it. Blonde is the best color. The Principle of Design (accepting your body as God made it) is suspended for hair. Mr. Gothard dyes his hair so apparently hair dye doesn’t violate the 10 Unchangeables regarding physical features or aging.

* Pants or jeans or shorts on women are so bad that I can’t even begin to stress how important this is. Men will lust after your body. You will get raped. (Girls can’t wear pants because they pertaineth to a man, even though men in Bible times wore “dresses” or robes. That was okay, though, because their robes were distinctly masculine in style, so it was still easy to tell at a distance if you were looking at a man or a woman. But pants are never okay on women because they’re too much like men’s garments so you can’t tell from a distance if it’s a man or a woman.)

* Hosiery should be skin-toned and should never have a pattern woven into it. This is an eye trap, and will draw rapists’ – I mean, men’s – eyes from your bright and shining coutenance down to your legs. He will be so busy looking at your patterned hosiery that he may very well rape you without even realizing what he’s doing, and it won’t be his fault, because you were the one wearing the eyetrap.

* The most modest attire for a woman is a navy skirt, a white blouse, and a navy neckbow. Or in later years and/or if you or a close friend have been to Russia, you may wear a black painted Russian pin at your neckline, as the ATI version of a status symbol. (Just don’t let it rain while you’re wearing your modest white blouse, or it becomes… um… less modest and more see-through… maybe *that* is why were were always supposed to be under an umbrella… and Heaven help the full-chested girl whose blouse kept wanting to gap or pop buttons in the wrong place…!)

* You must vow (not promise, but VOW) to never go to a movie theater. Bill Gothard made such a vow when he was a young man, and look how wonderful his life has been! Therefore, you MUST make this same vow.

* You should also commit to fasting regularly, at least on Sundays. Bill Gothard made such a vow when he was a young man, and look how wonderful his life has been! Therefore, you MUST make this same vow.

* You must also vow to read your Bible every day for the rest of your life. At least 5 minutes a day. Bill Gothard made such a vow when he was a young man, and look how wonderful his life has been! Therefore, you MUST make this same vow.

* You must also memorize Scripture. Preferaby by the chapter. Or the book. The most Godly of Godly people memorize the whole New Testament, *and* Psalms, *and* Proverbs. But at least start on Matthew 5, 6, & 7. And Romans 6, 7, 8, & 12. And James 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5. If you memorize random scattered verses, you aren’t Godly enough.

* Simply reading the Bible isn’t enough. You must also *meditate* on Scripture. If you meditate on Scripture, then you will get good grades in school. You will breeze through college. Bill Gothard made such a vow when he was a young man, and look how wonderful his life has been! Therefore, you MUST make this same vow.

* Public school is bad. Christian school is almost as bad as public school. Homeschooling is good. Bill Gothard attended public school, and look how… oh, wait, never mind.

* Sunday School is bad. Children’s Institutes are good. Groups of peers are bad. Young people must spend time in groups of all ages. If you insist on attending Sunday School at your church, then you should attend a class as a family, because then your children won’t be tempted to make friends with people their own age.

* Character is the most important thing in life. Education doesn’t matter – just have character. Just have good character and employers will hunt you down and beg you to come work for them. Unless you’re a girl. In which case you’d better not work for anyone but Bill Gothard or your dad, or you will have sex with a co-worker or boss. Or get raped.

* College is bad. Public school is bad. Christian school is bad. Normal homeschooling is okay but less Godly than enrolling in ATI. If a girl goes to college, she’ll almost certainly get raped. Boys who go to college will be taught about how great Satan is. After all, Bill Gothard went to college, and look how… oh, wait. Never mind again.

* The most Godly homes have Scripture posted on the walls. Generic pictures of landscapes or portraits of people were never forbidden, but if you’re *really* Godly, you’ll have Scripture on your walls. Or CharacterFirst! posters.

* It’s okay to teach in public schools, but only if you are teaching the CharacterFirst! materials. Otherwise you should avoid any and all contact with the public schooled, sex-crazed, denim-wearing, rock-music-listening, rebellious youths of the world.

* TV is bad. Horribly, horribly bad.

* The Interent is bad. But since so many of you insist on having it in your home, you should buy protection from CharacterLink. It will cost you a bunch of money every month, and won’t let you see half of the perfectly-legitimate sites you want to visit, but you must spend the money on it anyway. Especially if you have men or boys in the home. Men or boys who are allowed to touch a computer without CharacterLink installed on it will become addicted to porn and will probably become rapists. (Bet this one’s really hard to enforce nowadays, since CharacterLink is no longer owned by ATI, and iPods and iPhones and iPads and their cousins would be incredibly hard to control. I suppose ATI kids these days aren’t allowed access to such technology.)

* If you are visiting friends or relatives who turn on a TV or a computer or do anything else that goes against your Scriptural convictions, including the ones for which you have no Scriptural basis, you must stand alone. You must say, “I’ve given my life to Jesus and I can’t do that.” Sleepovers are probably not a good idea because it’s almost certain that someone will do something to offend you, at which time you must stand alone, and probably call your parents to come pick you up from said sleepover. (A sleepover where the mom decided to hold a seance was the example given. As a mother, I don’t send my children to sleepovers unless I know the parents well enough to trust my child to their care. However, in the example, the parents who sent the child there were never criticized. Rather, the child was praised for refusing to participate in a seance.)

* Whole wheat bread is the answer to all of the world’s health and nutritional needs. It only counts if the wheat was ground *that morning,* the bread was made *that day,* and you eat it *that day.* After all, “give us this day our daily bread” definitely does NOT refer to bread purchased at the grocery store, or even made the day before. White flour will kill you. Whole wheat flour will save your life. Eat lots of whole wheat bread every day. (We have to assume that Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance are the figments of evil people’s imaginations. We’ll never know, since Celiac & gluten intolerance were unheard-of back then. I suppose that if those people were eating whole wheat bread, then they wouldn’t have Celiac Disease. ‘Cause whole wheat bread is the answer to all of the world’s health and nutritional needs.)

* A desire for white bread was a major factor in beginning the French Revolution.

* You’ll know you’re getting enough fiber when your, um, bathroom business floats. (During that Wisdom Booklet and for a time thereafter, our family announced our results to each other after leaving the bathroom.)

* Don’t eat pork. Ever. It’s bad.

* Don’t eat dairy and meat together. It’s bad. No more cheeseburgers, ever. Or milkshakes with a burger. But sometimes we’ll order pizza at our Training Centers, with pepperoni toppings. That’s okay.

* Don’t chew gum. It’s a sign of rebellion since that’s what rebellious teen-agers do.

* Games are a waste of time. Unless it’s Character Clues or Commands of Christ.

* You should avoid any game that teaches you about demons or hell. Except Commands of Christ. Its picture of hell is okay.

* Dungeons and Dragons is a game that must be avoided at all costs. It will cause you to be demon-possessed.

* Folly of any kind is a waste of time and damages your testimony. Avoid all practical jokes. Avoid loud laughter. Your time would be more productively spent reading your Bible, memorizing character qualities, or fasting and praying.

* If you memorize all 49 character quality definitions, including the ones that are so similar that no one but Bill Gothard can differentiate them, then you will not only have such great character that you don’t need college to be successful in life, but you will also beat everyone else in Character Clues. Every time. Just don’t be proud of that fact, or you obviously don’t have Humility. Since very character quality has a Bible verse reference on its card, you know they came straight from the Bible.

* There are seven non-optional principles of life. Aren’t we lucky – oops, can’t say “lucky” – fortunate – no, can’t say that either – BLESSED to live in this time of history when Bill Gothard has figured out what these seven non-optional principles are? We are so much better off than people like the Apostle Paul, becuase he didn’t have Bill Gothard to help him know how to live.

* If you reject the way God made you – any of the 10 Unchangeables – then you will be bitter and have a horrible life. (“Principle of Design”)

* If you get out from under your umbrella of authority, the boogeyman will get you and you will be either demon-possessed, raped, or both. (“Principle of Authority”)

* If you don’t meditate on Scripture, your life will be mediocre at best. (“Principle of Success”)

* If you zone out during most of the Basic Seminar and fifteen years later can only remember three of the seven non-optional principles of life, then you are surely doomed!!

* Bitterness is the root problem in this world. You need to learn how to draw little checkerboard diagrams with castles, so you can remove the strongholds of bitterness that Satan has in your life, and so that you can then teach other people how to clear their checkboard souls of Satan’s castles.

* If I, as a 12-year-old student, followed these principles in my life, then not only was I qualified to teach adults how to solve their marriage and financial and business problems, but the leaders of Russia would practically fall on their faces to worship me as a Godly young lady attired in modest navy and white with a navy neckbow. Or I might even be given a walkie-talkie to carry around at Knoxville!

* “Bright eyes” are the ultimate expression of one’s spirituality. One can accurately gauge the depths of another person’s commitment to Christ by looking at their eyes. If their eyes are “dark,” then they clearly listen to rock music and therefore have given all sorts of ground to Satan and have strongholds all over their checkerboard soul. (Note: native Russian speakers have since clarified that “bright eyes” is the translation of a Russian idiom meaning that a person is happy. It has much more to do with one’s emotional state than with one’s spiritual state.)

* If someone compliments you on anything, from having “bright eyes” to playing the violin in church, you must deflect the praise. The best praise-deflectors can turn every compliment into an opportunity to thank God (for the musical talent), but of course one must also praise one’s parents (for paying for the violin lessons) and one’s teacher (for teaching so skillfully and diligently). No compliment is ever to be answered with a simple “Thank you.” That would be prideful.

* If you’re enrolled in ATI and have learned all of these Godly principles, then you don’t really need to go to church. The only reason you would go to church is to minister to others. Or be a testimony to them. Since you can’t subject your family to the evils of rock music, if your church has compromised to the point of allowing such music, you must either stand up and leave as soon as a rock beat starts, or if this is a regular occurrence, you must time your arrival at church to coincide with the end of the song service so that your family will not be exposed to the evil rock beat. If a rock beat is used during the invitation time as well, then you must leave at the end of the sermon. Because a large, floral-jumper- or navy-suit-clad family parading in and out of church to avoid the back beat is a definite testimony of God’s principles at work in your life.

* When you are in church, you don’t really need to listen to the sermon, because you know all of these non-optional principles, therefore you are wise – wiser than your teachers, which includes the pastor of your church. Anything your pastor or anyone else says that is in opposition to the teachings of IBLP/ATI is clearly wrong. If possible, such a preacher or teacher should be lovingly confronted with the truth, as taught in the big red textbooks and/or Wisdom Booklets. (Presumably one never becomes wiser than their primary teachers, their parents. Because parents are always right.)

* If you are persecuted for your Godly testimony or standards and/or for shoving such testimony or standards down other people’s throats, rejoice! And be exceeding glad! For great is your reward in Heaven.

Nightmare in Navy and White — Experiencing the Dark Side of ATI: Selena’s Story, Part One

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Nightmare in Navy and White — Experiencing the Dark Side of ATI: Selena’s Story

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

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Trigger warnings: graphic descriptions of sexual abuse and sibling abuse.

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Part One: A Childhood Destroyed

It was the early 1990’s. My family was fairly happy, and attended a church full of vibrant, hopeful people excited about Christ. Everything felt so alive. Even as a child, I never felt like church was drudgery, and every service was full of excitement with a very down-to-earth approach to Christianity that made everyone feel right at home. When I remember those days it is shocking to see how much has changed. How did we get this far? Where did it start?

It’s difficult to answer that fully. I was so young, I only remember the little things. I remember my mother and father having meetings with other members of the church. Quiet meetings – sad meetings. I remember my mother crying. As I was told years later, they were having trouble in their marriage and looking for any answers to keep this family together. My mother was hospitalized after having a breakdown, and for a time, we were sheltered at my grandmother’s house, kept safely unaware of the strange trouble that had befallen our home – circumstances nobody has really spoken of since. I remember someone telling my parents about a ‘seminar’ that seemed to give them hope. I remember the desperation in my mother’s eyes.

I remember when my parents came home with arms full of books and papers – and then, what seems like a short time later, they announced that we were going to start homeschooling.

The transition was difficult. My siblings and I were yanked out of school without any real explanation, and told never to speak of it to anyone, not even other family members. Our house immediately turned into a prison. Suddenly we were watched more and more closely if we played outside. It felt like the whole world collapsed into just the square of our yard, and everything outside of that suddenly became terrifying. It all happened so fast, but felt like a train wreck in slow motion. And it was just the beginning.

I don’t remember when my father took a turn for the worst, exactly; it was a progression more than a singular event.

When we were little, he had a remarkable temper – in an instant he could go from calm to screaming. He’d threaten to beat us, to leave us outside, to kill us; over time, though, the threats and behavior got stranger and stranger, more and more disturbing. Specifics on how exactly he’d kill us and make it look like a hunting accident; strange punishments, like being told to pick up a piece of wood swarming with fire ants and carry it around; working beside him and being left without relief or hydration in temperatures over 100 degrees. Throughout all of this, the teachings of Bill Gothard were being fed to us non-stop. We jumped in headfirst, and my father was quite happy to take the role of Umbrella over us – the hammer that pounded us into submission and into a “diamond” for Christ.

Around those early days, my father began sexually abusing me. He had hand-picked a few verses from the Bible that he felt gave him the permission to do so. He’d had a revelation from God, that it was his right, perhaps even his duty. Several nights a week, he would take what he thought was his. I learned how to keep my eyes open at bedtime, and started throwing fits (even if it meant being called ‘rebellious’) until a light was left on in the hallway – his shadow appearing in my doorway would stir me from sleep and give me enough time to try and turn over. I started staying awake at night, for hours on end. Sometimes I even put things haplessly in front of my door to make it more difficult for him to enter, trying to make it look like an accident or just a messy room.

Most days I had precious little sleep.

And if it wasn’t terrifying enough that my father was doing this – it was worse to think of an angry God who would send misfortune, curses, danger, even demons from Hell to torture me if I dared step out from under my father’s tyranny. I was told that this was what God, omnipresent, infinitely powerful, wanted.

How could I ever dream of escaping that?

My mother worried about her daughters. She was, perhaps, nearly as much of a victim as we were. She knew she was expected to submit to his will, and they, too, had left behind most of their friends. In retrospect, I believe she put on a brave face and tried to help us when she could – until she, too, became brainwashed into believing she was inferior, that she must answer to my father and to Bill Gothard’s angry God. I don’t believe she knew about the sexual abuse; if she did, she certainly never spoke of it. And, truth be told, I don’t think she would have stopped it if she knew – at the time, she was as much under my father’s iron fist as we were. She became quiet, sad, afraid – and then, she painted on a big vacant smile, and forced a cheery laugh.

We were expected to be cheerful, after all. Enthusiastic!

By the time I was about 11 years old, I had developed the best system I could think of to try and gain some semblence of safety from my father. I would come up with an issue, any issue at all, just before bedtime (after all, we were taught never to let the sun go down on your anger – always resolve all issues before bedtime!), and try to drag it on into the night. I’d make it as dramatic and urgent as I could; I needed prayer and I needed it now! I was bitter and really really had to confess something! Hey, maybe we can pray a hedge around the house! As long as it kept my father awake well past his bedtime, to the point of all but cursing at me – it sometimes meant one more night safe from his sexual advances.

Still the guilt burned inside me that I was going against God’s will by trying to keep my father at bay.

I was torn between guilty shame, and desperation. Some nights desperation won out, and my act would resume; I would sleep safely, but worn down by my guilt. Other nights I would accept my fate, even going to bed early in the hopes it would be over with soon. Unfortunately, he got downright vengeful about trying to break me down in response, often calling family meetings or trying to humiliate me in front of everyone. I was too afraid to tell anyone what was going on and he certainly didn’t mention it, so the only thing they got out of it was that I was the trouble child who had a real problem with the almighty patriarch of our family.

It was a daily war between myself and my father, and he usually won out.

I was the youngest in our household. Under Gothard’s strict sense of hierarchy, and because of my efforts to stave off some abuse and their interpretation as ‘rebellious’, my family readily interpreted these teachings to mean that I was the very bottom of the totem pole. As such, when I was about 7 or 8, my two older sisters began to abuse me as well. The middle sibling was hesitant, sometimes going along in fear with the oldest, and other times secretly trying to protect me. Quite in fact, she taught me how to open my eyes just a little bit so that it looked like they were closed but I could keep an eye out. She taught me places to hide, what to say, what to do. She tried to stop me from fighting it so hard, feeling that it was better to play along than to create problems and receive more abuse. She would often shush me or try to rein me in. She made fun of me when others were around, but in secret, she was my best friend and ally.

Caught literally in the middle, she took it all quietly and kept it all inside.

The oldest of us tried to stay out of the house a lot, but when she was home, she did a lot of her own abusing. I think her way of coping was to feel powerful by abusing those she saw as being beneath her, while claiming to be their best friend to keep them close. Using her rank as the oldest, she would order us to humiliate ourselves, perform sexual acts, or tell her embarrassing details of our lives, or divulge inappropriate details of her own sex life and make us swear to secrecy, all the while laughing and pretending it was all a joke or a game or just normal girl talk. She babysat frequently and turned the same pattern of abuse outward onto those children as well.

She liked to get others to gang up with her on her abuse – so when the middle sibling didn’t want to go along, she pressured me into going with her to babysit.

I was far too uncomfortable to join in on teasing and bullying the kids while pretending to be a nice person…it gave me a sick feeling in the bottom of my stomach. I usually stuck to the corner of any given room and quietly whined that I just wanted to go home.

Since all three of us slept in the upstairs portion of the house (a portion often neglected by our parents), most of this went on up there where they were blissfully unaware. I believe Gothard’s teachings of authority gave my oldest sister the feeling that she, too, had the right and perhaps even the duty to treat us in this way.

Every year, our family attended Knoxville conferences religiously. We would make it into a family trip, veering off into Colorado for a while (our other favorite vacation spot) or just sightseeing along the way. Each time we returned home, for a while we were high on Gothard’s teachings and on our best behavior. The abuse would sometimes stop for a while, but other times seemed to be worse. Knoxville was something I simultaneously dreaded and anticipated.

The Knoxville conference in either 1998 or 1999 really changed everything for us. During the side-seminar reserved for fathers, Bill Gothard revealed what I can only guess was some kind of new teaching about the dangers of demonic attacks. (I don’t really know much – my father was very secretive about any material reserved for men-only or fathers-only.) A checklist was handed out to each father. If your child exhibited a certain number of traits, the fathers were told, it was safe to say they were being targeted by Satan. There were specific steps to take, of course, to rid your home of these demonic influences – most notably, burning possessions.

That night, my father was wearing a big grin on his face.

He reached for his binder and pulled out the checklist. He described the teaching in brief, went through each item on the checklist, and then sat back looking at me over his glasses as if to say, “What now?” I was floored. I started to cry. Well on my way to being brainwashed, I wasn’t even sure what scared me worse: That demonic influences had taken over my soul, or that my father made a vague promise to bring ‘big changes’ into our house after we returned home. What was he going to do?

As soon as we returned home, my parents went to work. They started burning dozens and dozens of things in our home. About half my possessions were taken and burned, my sisters’ left virtually untouched; I was forced to watch the few shreds of joy I had go up in flames. Even a couple of my favorite shirts – just polos I liked – were burned away. I was prayed over. There were exorcisms with the help of the leader of the local fathers’ meeting and some local church and ATI members – hands laid on me, men shouting, my mother weeping for my soul. I shook in terror. My whole world was collapsing around me.

I felt something from those hands pressed on me, but it wasn’t love. It was hate and fear and punishment.

Weeks stretched into months that passed in a blur of numbness. It was October 1999. Y2K was looming, and my father had sunk into paranoia, vowing to prepare us for the worst. We were almost completely stocked with foodstuffs, guns, supplies. I stopped my attempts at safety; it was reduced to the occasional weeping reluctance to go to bed, and nothing more. I had been broken. The night of October 4th was one of the few nights I put up a fight. Dad had picked me up from basketball practice and driven me home, and when bedtime came, I sat at the top of the stairs saying I wouldn’t sleep. He looked up at me in disgust from the bottom of the steps, shook his head, sighed and went to bed.

I wasn’t even worth it anymore. Finally, I went to sleep in relative peace.

I woke to the sound of my mother calling tearfully up to me and my sister. She frantically told us to come downstairs, “your Dad’s not breathing!” She said she was afraid he might be having a heart attack, and she’d called the paramedics. She tried to assure us, and gathered us into a circle where we clasped hands and prayed. I looked up into her eyes, screwed shut and full of tears, and somehow I knew we would never be the same again. I knew Dad was never going to wake up. He was gone.

At the hospital, the news finally came. They couldn’t revive him, and he had passed away. My mother and sister wept. I sat there in stunned silence. Was it really over? That night we returned home, and for the first time, I broke down completely. Years of emotions and trauma came rushing to me at once, and I spent the entire night crying and violently sick.

After that, things were very different.

What little activities we did outside the house were clamped down. My mother received direct help from a few members of the ATI board of directors at Bill Gothard’s direction. I still don’t understand how it happened – she just received a phone call one day and that’s how it began. My best guess is that it had something to do with Bill Gothard’s teachings about caring for the “fatherless” and “widows”. The idea that a family would be without their powerful patriarch was almost taboo – we were more open to sin and Satan’s attacks, they said. The tone people took was one of pity, but often condescending.

It felt like we had become second-class members of ATI.

Part Two >