Why Christian Homeschooling Culture Is Not a Safe Space

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on May 26, 2014.

Some months ago I stated in a blog post that I was becoming increasingly convinced that Christian homeschooling culture is not a safe space for young women and girls. A reader objected in the comments section, misunderstanding I think both what I meant by “Christian homeschooling culture” and “safe space.”  Regardless, reading various figures’ responses to the Doug Phillips scandal, and how they discuss Lourdes Torres, Phillips’ victim, has made my assessment only more firm.

There’s this from Doug Wilson’s recent blog post, Vice, Victims, and Vision Forum:

But if his attentions were entirely unwelcome to her, and she was freaked out by the creepster, then we have to ask why she wasn’t down the road at the first opportunity — that night or the next morning — with Doug Phillips receiving notification of her opinion of what transpired via the sound of sirens. That’s not what happened, on anyone’s account, and so I don’t think we should identify her as a victim.

For someone who makes his livelihood counseling his parishioners, Wilson shows a stunning lack of understanding of any of the dynamics of abuse. He reiterates his statement in the comments section:

In other words, according to Wilson, if an abuse victim does not get out of the situation at the very first opportunity, she (or he) cannot be identified as a victim. We might as well ask this of every case where a male partner is abusive: “If his abuse was not welcomed by her, then we have to ask why she didn’t leave at the first opportunity, say the first night or the very next morning.” But of course, this is ridiculous. There are a million reasons abused women do not leave the moment their abuse starts. For one thing, it usually begins little by little, and not all at once. But beyond that are plenty of reasons both physical and psychological.

If someone who is a leader and an influential figure in this culture is so clueless as to the dynamics of abuse, how much hope is there that more local leaders will be any less ignorant?

But let’s stop and ask ourselves a question Wilson doesn’t think to ask—what would have happened if Lourdes had come forward about Phillips’ actions? What if she had told other leaders in Phillips’ church, as Wilson would probably prefer, given his propensity for preferring the Matthew 18 approach over civil courts?

First of all, if Lourdes had gone to her church elders they likely would have suspected her of lying. After all, Phillips was a very well respected leader. When the scandal broke several months ago, there were many that had trouble believing it even then. How much more unbelievable would it have been without a paper trail of sorts stretching back for years? Further, Phillips was one of the church elders. These would have been his friends Torres would have been going to. In all likelihood, they would have called him in and asked him what happened, he would have explained it away as nothing, they would have believed him, and that would have been the end of it.

After all, that’s exactly what Gothard did over and over and over again. Someone would say something, some rumor would surface, and Gothard’s board of directors would talk to him about it. He would assure them it was nothing, and they would tell him to be more careful in the future, and everything would go on just as before.

Second, even if Lourdes had gone to her church elders and they had believed that some level of impropriety was going on, they likely would have placed some of the blame on her—even if she went to them immediately. They would have asked her what she had done to lead him on, what she had said or worn or done. They would have asked her if she had fought him off, or if she actually wanted his overtures, and so on. And they very likely would have seen her as tainted herself.

After all, that’s exactly what has happened when female victims have gone to the authorities at Bob Jones University, and Patrick Henry College, and Pensacola Christian College. They’ve been told they must have been asking for it, they’ve been questioned about their clothing or their behavior, and so on.

I also have very little faith in the local church authorities Lourdes would have approached had she followed Matthew 18.

After all, we know that the other leaders in Doug Phillips church knew full well what was going on over six months before Phillips issued his public apology, and over six months before the Vision Forum board of directors decided to shut the ministry down. In February of 2013 Phillips was removed from his position as elder at his church because of his actions, but he was allowed to go on speaking and serving as an influential public figure, even though he had in his personal life made a lie of everything he said from his public platform.

In this culture, the criteria for being a victim is very narrow. If you are among the few who fit the criteria, you receive all the support they can give you, and your abuser alone is condemned as guilty. However, if you don’t fit the criteria you stand guilty and implicated in what happened alongside your abuser. What, you didn’t leave him the first time he raped you? And you say you’re a victim?

It is because of these sorts of narratives and beliefs that I said what I did about Christian homeschooling culture not being a safe space for girls and young women. Yes, this very culture claims to care very much about protecting girls and young women, and many leaders find justification for patriarchy in just that. But while their words say one thing, the systems they create and beliefs they embrace create something very different altogether.

And if my saying this upsets readers, they should focus their energies on combatting these narratives, not on expressing their shock that I could say such a thing.

10 comments

  • Reblogged this on The Road.

  • I agree on so many point of this. Most the time victims are afraid to come forward and really are shocked and don’t know what to do. She may not even known it was wrong. Second, you are so right, she would not have been believed. She is a victim. As are women and children who are abused all the time. Abuse has a very complicated. People who have not dealt with abuse have no idea what they are talking about!

    That said, a part of the Christian homeschooling movement is not safe for women and girls, but not all of it. I am a Christian and I home school. I do foster care and state officials are in my house all the time. I work with the public school systems and home school systems. I think it is important to call out abuse when one sees it and make it right. I think that we need to be on the watch for it. I don’t think that this blanket statement is true or correct. There are many reasons a Christian will home school. And I know many Christian home schools that do not like Gothard, Vision Forum or the Pearls. At one time I liked the later two. I have never been a Gothard fan:-) I guess the Red Fill in the Blank books my husband filled out as teen turned me off:-0 I have changed a lot on my parenting styles and beliefs about parenting through the years. But my understanding of God and who He is has change and changed me. have you read sites like this? http://www.steadymom.com/about.html There are so many ways to home school, and most are great for kids.

    And where they are not they should be stopped. Children should not be abused with in home school or any place.

  • Doug Wilson seems to be confused. If women are supposed to be subservient and submissive, according to the Patriarchy Movement he follows, why would they speak up for themselves? They’ve been trained from birth to put their needs last behind the needs of men. Yet now he wants them to be brave and bold and stand up for their rights? Can’t have it both ways, Doug. You need to make up your mind. Are we delicate, weak flowers in need of protection and sheltering or independent human beings who can speak for ourselves?

  • I completely agree. The part about not being believed is so true. I remember how much abuse was rampant in the Christian/homeschooling communities I grew up in. And I never reported what I both was told and directly witnessed happened to friends because their parents were leaders and would be automatically believed. And that’s the same reason they personally never got help. If we had sought help, not only would we not have been believed, but our already controlled and stressful lives would be made far worse as “punishment”.

    The argument that not all Christian homeschooling is like this completely detracts from the point. It’s absolutely an epidemic in Christian homeschooling. I alone can rattle off 5 close friends as a teen who were being directly physically abused. That’s not even including all the emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse that was considered completely acceptable, and that may also be forgetting some less close friends I knew about. It doesn’t matter if all Christian homeschooler’s are like this. Enough are that it’s a serious problem, and we as a society need to do something about it. Parents are able to do this by completely isolating their children from society, pulling them out of school and creating a literal physical barrier to children/teens seeking help for abuse. And it’s legal. This should not be the case; there should be far more oversight and regulations regarding homeschooling so more abuse can get caught.

    If Christian homeschoolers/Christians in general actually care about people like they claim, they should be speaking out against this abuse and doing everything in their power to stop it. Not whining that “not everyone” is like that to try and make themselves feel better. Kids are being hurt without anyone to help them, and that should incite only outrage, not derailing arguments and excuses like the responses this article describes. If you are a Christian homeschooler and do not agree with what is happening, stop worrying if other people happen to think you are “like that” and start speaking out and fighting against it. That will show people you are not “like that” and that you actually care about children whose lives are being destroyed.

  • I agree with you wholeheartedly about the victim not being complicit and Phillip’s church’s probable reaction if she would have come forward. I disagree, however, with tying Douglas Wilson to homeschooling culture. Wilson has always belittled and disparaged homeschooling, all the while touting his classical school’s superiority.

  • As an educator of theology and science, I take seriously the benefits of Christian education, the dangers of atheistic naturalism, as well as the horrors of abuse in any setting. Christians must be first in creating environments where children are safe and FEEL safe to speak up without creating an atmosphere that empowers and enables those who would abolish all Christian influence in education by politicizing the suffering of abused children. The children must come first. If there was more tolerance for the Christian perspective and biblical historicity in mainstream education, power would be weakened from those who use the “wicked secularists” as an excuse to abuse; and power would be weakened from those who wish to remove Christian truth from education and indeed all public circles. Is increased tolerance for Christian truth in education the only answer? No, but it is an essential portion of the larger tapestry of creating a society that sees children as Jesus does – “Such as these make up the kingdom of heaven” … “let the children come unto me.”

  • After stumbling across Samantha Field’s blog last year, referred to it by my sister, I now realize I had NO idea about what trauma is. Even though I was molested myself, I still didn’t get it. I buried my anger, shame, and feelings of guilt. Reading all of these blogs has done two things for me: first, I am in therapy & it is much easier going now that i have acknowledged the truth. Secondly, now I believe Anita Hill.

    Too little, too late? I hope not.

  • Pingback: If The Shoe Doesn’t Fit… | H . A

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