Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Conservative Christian Home School Culture and the Men who shaped it.


   I have had quite a few readers ask my opinion on the recent Bill Gothard scandal. (link at the end of this post) My family was a part of his ATI home school program from 1994 until 2006.    

   In eerie similarity to Doug Philips Vision Forum,(link at the end of post) these two men lead multimillion dollar ministries that did not begin or end with, and yet for many, overwhelmingly dominated and defined home education. These ‘ministries’ produced books, seminars, and all encompassing ‘bible based teaching’ that was intended to instruct followers how to approach every area of life.

   This phenomenon is something that I not only often noted in my writing, but was one of the motivations for writing 10 Reasons not to Home School.  It was in fact part of the focus of #5(here) and #3 (here)  the fact that most home school conferences in the past thirty years have NOT been created by educators, but by ‘life style and bible based living’ teachers who promote home education as necessary way of life to successfully raise academically and spiritually strong (even advanced) children.

   The vast majority of tracks taught in any local home school conference cover topics that vary from courtship, home birth, herbal healing, home business and just about everything under the sun other than how to actually TEACH reading, writing, and standard subjects. Only in the last few years in fact have tracks which focus more on child development, learning disabilities and teaching techniques (which you would think would have been core all along) been introduced to conferences that in many cases are the only outside support offered to teaching parents.

   It is interesting what a difference a year can make.

    Last year I began writing on controversial topics, challenging the very core topics that form the foundation of the conservative home school culture.  I have written on home schooling, child training and more. For every post I have published I have written at least 5 that I have not.

    From the start I have tried to walk a delicate balance. I want to be open and honest about my experiences and past, without making my blog a sob story, or a bitter rant, or tale of glowing goodness. In writing on topics I intentionally did not address any particular leaders or teachers by name but instead have tried to write on the aspects of a culture that I believe to be advertising glowing ideals that are either a naively optimistic dream, or an intentional misrepresentation of reality, but either way is known to those of us who have lived it to be toxic and destructive.

   I have been asking questions that no one in my world has asked, and challenged assumptions that have long been accepted as the foundation of our cultures choices. (Like avoiding sex ed here, or  raising daughters to be home makers here)

 I have felt that I have been trying to take down a mountain with a toothpick.

       When I began writing last year, I never dreamed that within months, the bulwarks of not one, but two of the most influential organizations in the conservative Christian home school culture would fall. I simply could not have fathomed last year that both Bill Gothard, and Doug Philips would both resign in the face of allegations of lies, secrecy, manipulation, sex, and far reaching betrayals of everything for which they stood.

    To those of us raised in and of the culture built in great part by these men, it is an incredible thought.  Although incredibly sad, I am not surprised by the allegations themselves, although I am surprised that they were revealed and actually addressed by both ministries. 

       So where do we go from here?

    Last year I was trying to tell everyone that I saw termite damage, gaping holes and dry rot in the foundation of the culture in which I was raised; and in my world it made a lot of people angry.

   This year the roof fell in.  

   Last fall I wondered if there was a need to write any more. Was I being vicious in pointing out what was becoming more and more difficult to deny?

    There were and are major problems in the conservative Christian culture, specifically within home school conservative Christian culture.

  If my goal was to celebrate human failure and misfortune, then to belabor points would be heartless. If my goal was to re-enforce negative stereotypes than to write more would be hurtful.  But these have never been my goals.

     One of the most destructive aspects of the conservative Christian culture is the idea that there is really a formula to perfection. That if you just read this book, listen to this speaker, discover these nine steps, - that you will have the answer to your parenting insecurities, that your marriage will be strong, and your family will avoid the problems of our fallen world. I addressed that my post (The Myth of the Christian Family here.) In this culture, image is everything.

   Because this is a culture that inherently depends on appearances, families who have experienced things that are considered unacceptable have often just quietly slipped away, as the parade of excited devoted eagerly took their place and pushed forward.

  As a home school graduate who grew up in and then out of this culture, I have seen the trail of those left behind. I know that the happy, successful, public face of conservatism has not been an honest representation of the vast majority of experiences.

   My Home School Graduate Survey taken by almost 130 home school grads last year  (found here) from my world revealed what I already knew; the vast majority of home school graduates are not home schooling their children. Not only could this provide a wealth of information if we are brave enough to ask why, but even more important is another fact.

    The vast majority of those who are home schooling are new. They did not experience home school themselves, nor have they seen the movement begin and change. The conferences, books and information have been overwhelmingly written, taught, and presented to those who have been caught up in following one of very few leaders.

     As a new home school Mom, surrounded by first generation seekers, I have felt a moral obligation and imperative to honestly address the issues of the past and present that are NOT pretty or pleasant.

     If the sense of shock, grief and betrayal are not enough through these scandals, there is one point which is by far the most painful.
The undeniable fact is that without the conservative Christian home school community these two men could have never become what they were; wealthy, well staffed, and unbelievably powerful.

    That fact is significant. It is not an accident, and it is only a matter of time before it happens again.

        As surreal as the stories of these men are, even more shocking to me are the comments of young conservative Christians whose lives or beliefs are similar with those of both ministries but who are fairly new to this way of life and were not personally impacted directly by these men.

  Their flippant dismissal, - the way they seem so easily to nod sadly and say, “Well, that is what happens when people are legalistic / follow other people / get proud…” terrifies me.
They are what we were, and they have no idea.

    I look around at those who are beginning home schooling who have never attended Bill Gothard’s Basic Seminar or listened to Doug Philips but who are excitedly telling me about large family ideals and patriarchy, doctrines of submission, strict modesty, Old Testament guidelines or zealous protective parenting, isolation from current modern culture and my stomach curls. They are the next generation, and already they do not fully realize what is behind them.

   I look around and see thousands of home school graduates who of those who have finally faded and blended into society; I see those like me; jaded and skeptical beyond our years, who were raised in harsh and legalistic intolerance and given a warped view of God. I listen and hear the chorus of our voices rising to; weep, and rage, and or scoff, or mourn and I wonder how many of my generation will emerge with any faith at all. We too, are equally as vulnerable, ready to reject any and everything that even remotely reminds us of the spiritual bondage from which we’ve worked so hard to break free that has cost us so much.

    It was several years ago that I actually said out loud ‘I was raised with cult mentality’.  And I wasn’t referring simply, or exclusively to my family’s involvement in ATI or Vision Forum. I was talking about the way I was raised to, or more importantly NOT, to think.

   In the past two years I have studied deeply topics that in thirty years of Christianity I have never heard adequately addressed, or in the case of both of these ministries, even acknowledged; spiritual, emotional and physical abuse and cult formation. It has been healing, incredibly informative, and a driving force in my life, the reason I write.

    I have studied the factors that are necessary for cult formation, and the indicators that can help us recognize those who sound good, and often are in some ways good, but who intentionally develop power and influence and can only bring damage to those who follow.

     I have also studied what factors cause us to respond. I have been learning how to identify, to support recovery from and to prevent further promotion of for abusive, controlling or cult like environments and relationships.

  I write because I know what it is like to have everything in your life change. To realize that much of your world has been built in lies. To embrace the truth even when it hurts and wrecks your world, to find healing and freedom.

    I write because there are many who are hurting. There are many who are confused. I write because there are even more who were not personally impacted and  already see this as an unfortunate past, and have no idea how it affects us each today.

     I write because I dare to hope, that if we are brave enough to ask, and really listen, we can learn, we can change, and we can thrive.

  Join me. 
This Present Mom,




    For more information on the Bill Gothard, ATI scandal please go here, or here.
    For more information on the Doug Philips scandal go here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Are Christian Parents More Susceptable to Abusive Tactics in Parenting?

      There is a popular method of child training that basically says that most child expressions are a child vs. parent  battle of the will, which a parent must win at all cost.

   Speak a command? Your child should obey instantly, fully, and cheerfully.

   Lay down rules for the house that you’ve decided are best? Enforce them to the letter. Your child doesn’t know yet what is good for them, and your job as parent is to convince them of this.

   Serve a super they don’t like? Your child should not be given other food options until they have submitted to your choice of cuisine, no matter how many meals you must withhold other food, and offer the original plate of food.

   Your child has a sweet tooth, desire for money, or social events? Be sure to use that against your child when trying to win other battles. Withholding what they love most is sure to break down their resistance to you and ensure compliance.
   Of course, spanking liberally is an easy method to ensure obedience and subjection.

  Above all, - a parents job is to enforce their will upon the child, and hone the skill of making a child’s resistance futile, or at least FEEL futile to the child.

   Just writing this out I feel a wave of stomach knotting anxiety.

   Like so many things in the last couple of years, I have a vague sense that I think I actually thought some of this made sense at some point in my life. Like waking up from a dream, when I think through some of these things, I have the feeling they were part of the alternate reality that seemed so vivid and real that I unconsciously accepted as true. Thankfully this has changed.

   Now you would THINK that Christian parents would be the least likely candidates on earth to accept these notions. However, - to understand why Christian parents are paying big money to buy books that teach these ideas, and pay for speakers to demonstrate the most ‘effective’ punishment techniques you have to understand that there is a bigger underlying philosophy at work.

   It isn’t just a desire to beat their children or make their lives miserable that draws most parents to this kind of teaching (though clearly there are parents in this world who do both and enjoy it)  but I believe a larger underlying mentality that is fueling the acceptance of this kind of teaching.

    I know some would say it is desperation, ignorance, fear even; parenting is the hardest thing on earth so what SHOULD you do when your child will not sit still/ throws tantrums/ will not eat/seems impossible?

   I believe all parents search for answers. I think many of us are susceptible to anyone who lays out a list, or can make us believe that THEY have the answer.  But what fascinates me is that certain kinds of child ‘training’ (harsh disciplinarian tactics especially) are dominated by those who claim to believe in a loving God.
  If you think about that for a second it seems extremely counterintuitive.

   So why it is that it there are so many Christians who seem attracted, maybe most attracted to this philosophy? I believe that many Christian parents have one major disadvantage to many of their unbelieving counterparts; a wrong and deeply distrustful view of God. They believe he exists, and they fear him. They believe his wrath is real and that pleasing him is impossible, but they are determined to spend their life trying.

   These parents face a formidable  conundrum.
  First, They do not know God’s grace in their own lives, there for they feel there is little to no room for them to ‘screw up’ their job of parenting. Any ‘wrong’ actions of their child are personal reflection of the job they’ve done; in other words a child’s failure is not just a child’s failure, it is their own failure as a parent, and to be sure there are always observers for your child's worst breakdown.
   Secondly, they may see this life in many ways as not just something to be lived, to learn from, fail, and try again, but as a test for an eternity determined by todays actions. Unbelieving parents have to deal with the consequences here and now of their kid's mistakes, but a religious parent see's every single action as charting an eternal course, with eternal consequences. Without a focus on what is happening internally, they may find themselves obsessed with their child's appearance and behavior.
Third - in an attempt to do a good job safe guarding their child from wrong, they may believe that their job is to enforce their will onto their child, which is best way to prepare a child to become an adult who will submit to God’s demands in the future.

   That tantrum? It isn’t just inconvenient, embarrassing, and probably because their kid is tired, hungry or bored. That tantrum represents an unbroken will, - the inability to submit to even the cruel ‘justice’ of God that demands perfect righteousness.  These parents do not just see a child who didn’t get a nap. They see a human soul in which they feel obligated to literally ‘put the fear of God’. But short of that, - a fear of their parents, and their actions consequences.  They may also feel shame and guilt. If they were ‘raising’ their child properly, - surely there would be no tantrum.

   I have heard parents make quiet snide remarks when seeing another family’s child melt down, ‘Looks like someone needs to spend more time disciplining at home so things like this don’t happen.’

   These parents do not know a God of grace; they have no grace to themselves or anyone else.

  So here is the thing.

  If you look up the definition of abuse, - it says this:


to use wrongly or improperly; misuse: to abuse one's authority.


to treat in a harmful, injurious, or offensive way: to abuse a horse; to abuse one's eyesight.


to speak insultingly, harshly, and unjustly to or about; revile; malign.


to commit sexual assault upon.


Obsolete . to deceive or mislead.
rape or sexual assault.

   If abuse in action is mistreatment, I think a major reason for abuse can be summed up in a single idea.  One person trying to exert personal power, control, or force their will onto another person, essentially being willing to hurt the other person if necessary to accomplish their goal.

    Can I ask; is this how you view God?

  He made a incredible techni-color sweeping and vast mysterious world, he created imperfect humans, demands perfection,  and when they screw up he nods in satisfaction as he sends them to hell (unless they hide under the loophole of Jesus and fearful right living).

Do you believe God’s desire is to force his will upon us?  Do you believe he is willing to do anything, take anything; to hurt you in any way ‘necessary’ to accomplish his plan?  Do you believe you are just eternal collateral in the big scheme of things?

 Do you think he cares if you are happy, healthy or whole? Do you believe he imposes a moral standard on us out of cruelty just because he can? Do you believe he willingly withholds good from us?

    I realize that I’ve just asked some pretty deep theological questions. So quick, before you think too hard let me ask one more; having just read this, how do you FEEL about God?  Not the pat answers you know, - not the bible verses or particular story examples your mind is racing to recall and organize in response; how do those questions make you feel?

    Do you feel like God likes you? Do you feel like his heart is full of delight and good toward you? Do you FEEL confident in his presence? Do you feel that he will always treat you with respect and that he adores everything about who you are?
  Those feelings you have right now, - THOSE are affecting your parenting. Your parenting reflects your view of God. Not necessarily the mental catechism, - the right answers you have filed away; but the real core of who you see God to be; THAT shows up in your relationship with your child every single day.

   My abusive childhood, my painful past, - they affected my parenting. Even though I was determined not to make the same mistakes that hurt me, and in outward ways I haven’t,  I quickly came to realize that some of my biggest struggles came from a place I thought gave me a parenting advantage; my faith in a Heavenly Father. (Since it was biblically unsound.)

   Thankfully through time, counseling and loving healthy relationships in the last couple years I can say that I am in a very good place in life, and feel at the best position in my life to parent. Not that I am perfect; far from it. Not that I have all the answers. I don’t. Not that I am not still learning and asking questions with each new age and new stage my children reach, I am and I do!

   But here are some specific mindsets I finally can articulate as how my perspective was always different than my past, or some ways it has changed over time.

   My goal as a parent is not to decide ‘how thing will be’ and enforce that upon my child at all cost. My goal is to do my best to provide a safe, loving environment for that child to grow, learn, explore, make mistakes and learn to express her thoughts, feelings and emotions and handle conflict in a healthy way.

    My goal as parent is not to make my children submit to me personally (or their father as ‘head of the house)but rather to respect the rule of love to which each of us in the house submit.

     My goal is not to strictly enforce manners, a code of conduct, or social expectations upon my children, but rather to help them learn to understand, empathize, appreciate and respect others.

     My goal is not to make sure they know how to submit to any earthly ‘authority’s’  ideas, desires or will for them; but it is it to teach them to hear their heart, and God’s voice for themselves, encouraging them to make their own decisions.

    I believe my children are capable of hearing from God things that I do not (like child prophet Samuel) and I act accordingly.

    My goal is not to decide what I think are healthy things for my child to eat, wear, etc. and religiously enforce what and how much and when; but it is my desire to make choosing what I see as good things as easy and appealing to my child as possible, giving them ever growing autonomy to practice making those choices on their own, and within reason to allow them to experience the effects of choosing otherwise.

     My desire is not to stop and silence all fits, temper, whining or defiance, but to use real, adult world perspective to practice and teach understanding, sympathy, and proper expression of anger and frustration, and setting and respecting healthy boundaries.

     I am determined not to expect of my kids what I cannot reasonably expect from myself. Sometimes I have bad days, say something stupid or mean, act selfishly, or have overwhelming emotions. If at 32 I experience those things, - I am banking on my 3 year old will! When I expect my kids to act like kids, I am never disappointed.

   Thankfully at this point in my life while I do not have the all the answers, - I DO have something to offer them that I didn’t before. As a recovering conservative I inadvertently discovered something that not only changed my life, but changed my parenting as well.

    I found grace.

    I found a heavenly Father who looks at me with love and delight and sighs in deep joy at my wild hair, awkward exuberance, my insanely deep thinking, and over analyzing mind that is never ever quiet, and my deep desire to share those thoughts with everyone and says ‘Isn’t she the most precious thing you’ve ever seen!? Don’t you just love her!!?”

     It is the same feeling I have for my children when I’m not worried about OUR behavior as a reflection of my personal score card with God.

     I’m banking on the fact that I am making parenting mistakes. I am banking on the fact that they will make dumb choices. I am banking on the fact we will both make ourselves and each other look stupid. I am ok with that.

   I am also counting on the fact that they will see me resting in the love and grace of a heavenly father, and that they can count on the same from me.
  How do you believe your faith has affected your parenting?
  If some of these ideas strike a nerve; if you wonder if your past has tainted your view of God, can I recommend a few links?  They were helpful as I processed how my past affected my present.  Do you wonder what domestic violence is? How do you know what is 'normal' levels of anger or control between spouses or parents and children? Click Here
Were you raised in an ultra conservative family? Are you questioning your view of authority, parenting, and God? Click here