How Not to Address Marriage or Child Abuse

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 2.13.08 PM

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 2.13.08 PM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on September 3, 2014.

I recently came upon an image posted on Facebook by homeschool mom, speaker, and writer Heidi St. John.

I’m not sure what’s more disturbing—this image, or that none of the moms commenting on it saw this image as disturbing.

Rape-Culture-FB

The image is photoshopped from an old comic that depicts an employee sexually assaulting his “frigid” boss (see here and here or view the full comic here). Sure, one could try to argue that the image has been removed from that context, what with the new words in the bubbles and all, but that fails given the tear on the woman’s cheek and the fact that she is clearly trying to fight the man off (notice her pounding fists). Whatever the words, the image clearly depicts a woman futilely trying to fight off a stronger man’s advances. In fact, in the context St. John provides the image, it appears to be depicting attempted marital rape.

Heidi St. John runs The Busy Mom blog and holds retreats for homeschooling moms. She and her husband run several ministries, including Firmly Planted Family and Firmly Planted Co-ops, which has member co-ops across the country and offers a workbook on how to make sure your homeschool co-op is “firmly planted”. St. John is also the author of The Busy Homeschool Mom’s Guide to Romance, among other books. The author’s blurb is as follows:

busymomHomeschooling offers parents the best opportunity to shepherd their children both academically and spiritually. Yes. It’s worth it. But do you ever feel as if your life is all homeschool all the time? Do you ever wonder where the girl your husband married went? This book is for every mom who has collapsed into bed at the end of the day, looked into the eyes of her husband and promised tomorrow, she’d have time for him. Trouble is, tomorrow finds her more exhausted than the day before. If you have ever felt caught between the demands of homeschooling your children and meeting the needs of your husband, you’re not alone. Read and discover how even a busy homeschool mom can make time to nurture her marriage. It s not as hard as you think and more important than you may realize. Pre-order your copy today!

I am sure St. John has some genuinely good advice. The Amazon reviews of her book (which I have not read) speak of chapters on things like household organization and “me time.”

My concern with St. John centers on two things: first, her use of the comic book image makes me concerned about what she teaches regarding sex and consent, and second, her treatment of HA and HARO on her facebook wall makes me concerned about how her homeschool co-op ministry addresses (or does not address) things like abuse or neglect.

First, the comic book image.

The trouble is that an image like this, in the Christian homeschooling community St. John is very much a part of, arrives in a context already influenced by writers like Debi Pearl and the teachings of Bill Gothard and others. These leaders explicitly teach that a wife should never say “no” to her husband’s sexual advances. These leaders do not recognize the existence of marital rape, because they see sex within marriage as the husband’s right.

Coming in this cultural context, St. John’s image is not “funny.” It’s a problem.

It normalizes coercion and marital rape.

Second, St. John’s treatment of HARO and HA.

Last week St. John posted a defense of HSLDA on her facebook wall, and several homeschool alumni who had mutual friends with her left comments sharing their stories and trying to explain their concerns with an organization that defends child abusers and elevates parental rights while denying that children have rights. St. John’s responds was this:

HARO-and-HA

St. John’s response to abuse in the homeschooling environment is “we’ve got bigger problems in this world right now” and “move on.” She calls homeschool-alumni-turned-reformers “a bunch of angry kids trying to get back at their parents.”

This should not be acceptable.

I’d like to see St. John reach out to member co-ops with information on recognizing and reporting abuse and neglect, perhaps using resources developed by HARO or CRHE, but her response here suggests that she doesn’t see this as a priority. Instead, she’d rather stick with praising HSLDA and condemning homeschool alumni who point out that HSLDA’s policies protect abusers (which they do). My concerns here are much, much bigger than Phillips and Gothard. Those two leaders have gone down in scandal, but they were never the center of my concerns. The valuing of belief over people, the glossing over things like consent, the minimizing of the need to protect children—these are things that concern me.

And St. John reminds us, once again, that these things haven’t disappeared with Phillips and Gothard.

8 comments

  • I get frustrated by people who deny child abuse. Minimizing it, calling abuse victims “angry” and ascribing motives such as “getting back at parents”, only makes it harder to pursue real child abuse in the here and now. I look at the Peterson case in the NFL, in which Peterson beat his young child with a switch to the point of real injury. Amazingly, this practice is held up as admirable in parts of the HS movement. I am glad for HA and HARO, and I hope you continue to confront wrong thinking and abuses. Marital and child abuse are not acceptable under any circumstance.

  • I know Heidi St. John personally and can say that after reading your post you must *not* know her or have read much of her blog or other postings on social media. Heidi has spoken out, time and time again, on the side of GRACE and against the legalistic ways of many homeschool traditions. You must have missed this post, among others, where Heidi is speaking out against the very camp you are putting her in. http://heidistjohn.com/homeschooling/dont-turn-away-trouble-in-the-homeschool-movement

    What is needed across ALL homeschool “camps” is GRACE. We are desperate for Jesus, and that is the message that Heidi speaks of. To take one picture or comment like you’ve done is like taking one verse from the Bible and using it out of context. It just doesn’t work and never sheds light on the entire truth of the gospel. I encourage you to really get to know Heidi, her ministry and her platform. I think you will see that you were wrong about her.

    • candacec, I reached out to Heidi on the big thread on her FB wall and she later deleted it. Heidi’s own words did not exemplify grace. She is a leader in the homeschool community. I was shocked at what I saw as a 23-yr homeschool veteran mom. I have her phone number, I really need to make an attempt to reach out to her again because if the leaders in homeschool community are going to treat homeschool alumni the way she did, we will never get anywhere.

  • I don’t intend to come across as confrontational, but anyone who has read Heidi’s materials would know they are worlds apart from Pearl and Phillips and wouldn’t ever put them in the same group together. Heidi does encourage women to overcome stress, self image, fatigue and make time for their spouse and their marriage. But she never pushes the “never say no” philosophy nor does she condone marital rape. I’m certain she is not in favor of marital or child abuse and certain that she intends her advice for women in marriages free from abuse and has said as much. Such a very small percentage of the homeschool community follows the teaching of those like Phillips and Pearl, that it would be ludicrous to lump any other homeschool and marriage advocate encouraging marital intimacy in the same boat.
    That said, the dangers of those kinds of teaching is very real and serious. And we will not deny that. Heidi has even spoken about such things. In fact, Homeschoolers Anonymous called one of her such posts, “a step in the right direction.” https://www.facebook.com/HomeschoolersAnonymous/posts/10151945816692761

    • I see this group telling women to have sex against their will, if they wanted to have sex they would. If they are not having sex it is because they don’t want too. I was sexually abused as a child, and I think telling women to have MORE sex against their will is abusive, it makes you look vile. Maybe these homeschooling fathers need to stop being so heartless and selfish.

      Yes, this woman belittled and dismissed child abuse in homeschooling.

  • I’m highly educated and yet I don’t know everything, so I don’t trust myself to home school. Neither did I want my kids to be ignorant of the world, and unable to function except in a religious compound. I think these parents have way too much pride in themselves and faith in their ancient book. Open your eyes to the world. Get out there and be helpful, and save the Earth from greed, including your parents’ shallow thought processes. Knowledge might be painful at times, but it’s liberating.

  • Pingback: How Christian Homeschool Leaders Have Addressed Domestic Violence Isn’t Ok | Homeschoolers Anonymous

  • Pingback: You Can Probably Guess What the Founder of “Biblical Counseling” Said About Domestic Violence | Homeschoolers Anonymous

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