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 Doug Philips scandal go here.