The Skeletons in the Homeschool Closet

They are ALL coming out. (DISCLAIMER:  This post relates directly to the conservative Christian homeschool movement, NOT to homeschooling in general).

This has been a hard year for the conservative Christian homeschool movement.  First, at the end of October Vision Forum leader Doug Phillips stepped down from his post due to sexual immorality, leaving many of his followers disillusioned and shaken.  (And somewhat understandably so).  I am not and have not been personally involved with Vision Forum, and my comments about that scandal have been minimal.  Now, we have Bill Gothard of ATI stepping aside because of allegations of abuse that are now coming out.  As many of you may know, my family was an ATI family until I was around five.  Although we left the movement at that time, my family has continued to apply many of the principles Mr. Gothard taught.  It just got a little more personal, so I will say more about this particular situation.

First of all, I want to express my sincere grief for the young women who have allegedly (to cover my rear end legally here) been abused by Mr. Gothard.  I am so sorry they were left vulnerable by family and friends and were misused by a man everyone trusted and respected so much.  I have so much respect for their journeys in getting to a place where they could tell their stories at all, and pray continued healing for them as they continue their lives.

Secondly, I am thankful for ATI placing Mr. Gothard on leave and for taking these allegations seriously instead of dismissing them.  It means the world to me that they are not in denial about it, as some people seem to have been over the years.

Thirdly, and most honestly, I am angry.  And I’m not just angry at a leader who allegedly used his position to take advantage of vulnerable woman.  (Although I AM angry about that, for the record).  I am angry at the countless people who have dismissed these women and their stories, not just since they’ve been posted online, but for YEARS.  I am angry that it took ATI taking them seriously for so many others to take them seriously too.

I am angry because we in the conservative Christian homeschool movement are in denial about abuse.  Like, it doesn’t really happen.  Like, it’s all in their heads.  Like, maybe they’re remembering it wrong because it’s been so long.  And we wonder why it takes these precious women so long to take a stand and tell the truth. Why would they, when we all just think they’re liars or crazy or viewing their lives through a dramatic lens? When their own families

Okay, take a breath, Lydia.

Breathe.

You see, I was just talking to God about this anger last night on my way home from work, and I didn’t even know the allegations were being weighed by ATI.  And you may wonder how that can be, if I didn’t know.  Most of you have probably guessed by now that my anger is largely toward an underlying issue, and you’re right.

Just so you know, I’m about to go to a really sticky place right now in the most respectful way I possibly can.  I’m not trying to make anybody mad, or hurt anybody’s feelings, or turn anybody’s world upside down or whatever happens online these days when people read unsettling things – it just is what it is.  Okay? Okay then.

About a year and a half ago, my dad played the “umbrella” card on me regarding a major life decision.  (You ATI people know what I’m talking about).  I sincerely believed God wanted me to go one direction, but my dad felt another direction was best.  At the time he told me that as my father, he stands before God for what I do.  He assured me that it was his role to protect me.

While I went with what he decided (kicking and screaming, I must admit),  I was determined to understand this umbrella theory and its Scriptural background once and for all.  I had heard it many times growing up, and even embraced it (after all, it’s the pinnacle of Courtship: Homeschool Edition), but I had never heard a Bible verse to back it up.  I googled, asked friends on Facebook, searched concordances, and friends, I have STILL never heard a convincing argument for the “umbrella” theory, spiritual covering or protection.

That’s not the point, though.  (Sadly).  The point is that I can’t find anything in God’s Word about anybody but God being my Protector.  If I’m looking to Him exclusively to keep me safe and sound and away from all harm, I’ve made protection the point, and ATI-ers, it’s totally not.  Following Christ is a battlefield, and if you claim Him, you’d better be prepared to fight, man or woman.

Here is what made me really, truly, to the core angry on my drive home with God.  Protection has been the ideal around which I think this movement revolves, and it has at times been beaten over my head.  But you guys,  I’m disillusioned with this ideal.  I’ve come to believe based on studying God’s Word and personal experience, that it was never my dad’s job to protect me.  It was his job to train me up in the way I should go (Prov. 22:6), and he did;  it was his job to bring me up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4), and he did; but I can’t find a verse that says it’s his job as my parent to protect me, much as he wants to.  God would never have placed such an impossible burden on my dad, or any other father out there. On one level or another, every man would fail. (By the way, just to be honest, I did not come to this particular conclusion overnight, but after a season of a great deal of anger toward my dad for not protecting me in certain areas – which I will maybe someday talk about, but not today).  I’m honestly angry that people still place this burden on husbands and fathers, and that wives and daughters and (to a lesser extent) sons lose their autonomy before God.  And I don’t want to project or anything, but I think it makes God angry as well. (Yes, a loving God gets angry about things that displease Him).

Having said all of this, I should really thank the fabricators of the “umbrella” theory.  If my dad didn’t take his responsibilities as a father so seriously,  he might have considered sending my siblings and I to serve.  As it was, he didn’t, because he felt that some of the programs there should be undertaken in the home and local church.  Even if he had, if I had come back with reports that someone was sexually abusing me, he would have believed me, no questions asked. He would not have regarded Mr. Gothard’s position for a minute before calling him out on his sin.  (I have a great dad).

I hope those of us from the conservative Christian homeschool movement, along with ATI, take the stories of victims seriously and pray for and support them.  I hope we grieve with them and have the guts to be angry about what was taken from them (because, dear brothers and sisters, God is grieved and angry). I hope we pray for them, and find ways to help them heal.  And while we’re at it, I hope we evaluate where we’ve added (or allowed others to add) to God’s Word, and acknowledge how offended He must be when we do that – when we place on ourselves and others burdens He hasn’t.  I’m not asking us to reject all of Mr. Gothard’s teachings because of his sin, but that perhaps his sin can be the catalyst for looking at his teachings more objectively.  And certainly, let’s pray for honesty and repentance from Mr. Gothard in the days, weeks, and months ahead and for God to deal with him mercifully, as He has dealt with each one of us.

This is way longer than I intended it to be.  Over the past year and a half, the buried emotion I’m having to learn to deal with productively is not sadness or grief, but a lot of anger.  I have had to learn it’s okay to be angry, just not bitter – because there are things in this life that grieve and anger God, and with His Holy Spirit within us, we will feel that.  (And not always just toward others, but towards ourselves as well). Of course, of course, God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, but that does not mean we automatically dismiss negative things as positive.

Much love and prayers to my ATI and former ATI friends.

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

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2 thoughts on “The Skeletons in the Homeschool Closet

  1. […] been thinking a lot about justice in the past year, especially in the wake of the Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard allegations, which hit close to home.  We discussed justice in church a number of weeks ago, and I posted some […]

  2. […] I found a balance between vulnerability and privacy.  I set healthy boundaries. I confronted personal demons. Perhaps, most importantly, I learned that sin does not occur in a vacuum; not mine, and not […]

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