How Christian Homeschool Leaders Have Addressed Domestic Violence Isn’t Ok
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Jeffrey.
By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
While many homeschool leaders have dismal records in how they discuss and respond to child abuse, their lack of understanding abuse dynamics also extends to other forms of abuse. The following are examples of how homeschool leaders have failed tragically to understand the realities of domestic violence, or spousal abuse.
The following excerpt is from HSLDA founder Michael Farris’s 1996 book How A Man Prepares His Daughters For Life. Farris has his patriarchal beliefs on full display in this book, including such passages as: “I am very supportive of the concept of the authority of fathers in their home…It’s important to be right…It is appropriate to simply say to your daughter, ‘Because I’m the dad, that’s why‘” (page 21); “a woman should be submissive to her husband” (page 96); and “husbands are ultimately responsible for family decisions” (page 101). He defends “a very traditional view about the role of women in churches” (page 27) and later explains that he means “a doctrinal position of male-only elders” (page 55).
But what stood out the most to me was the following 3 paragraphs with which Farris begins Chapter 5, “Guiding Your Daughter Toward Positive Friendships.” The tone-deafness, minimization, and victim-blaming Farris engages in regarding this very clear situation of domestic abuse — and the fact that he provided legal defense for a domestic abuser — goes to show that child abuse is not the only type of abuse Farris does not seem to take seriously. (For those unaware, a quarter-size bruise is a serious indicator of abuse, both for child abuse as well as domestic violence cases.) From page 77:
When I was a very young lawyer in Spokane, Washington, I was assigned to defend a case in which two professing Christians, “Steve” and “Lana,” were getting a divorce. Lana was seeking a divorce because of the advice of her “friends.” She and Steve, my client, got into an argument one evening and he grabbed her by the arm and squeezed. He left a bruise on her arm about the size of a quarter. He was ashamed of the action—as he should have been—and he apologized. But it was a far cry from the “battered-woman syndrome.” Lana was told by her friends, however, that she was a victim of wife abuse and she should seek a divorce. Believe it or not, she did.
A few weeks later her friends advised Lana that she should start dating, even though Steve was actively seeking to reconcile the marriage. One night when Lana was out on a date, their two-year old son fell behind the bunk bed and died from strangulation.
Lana knew what God expected of her regarding forgiveness and reconciliation, but she listened to her friends instead. She paid a terrible price for the wrong advice from the wrong kind of friends.
The following passage is from Bill Gothard’s 1979 Supplementary Alumni Book, Our Most Important Messages Grow Out of Our Greatest Weaknesses. Recovering Grace notes that, “Throughout the publication there are several self-contained Q&A boxes addressing common questions on divorce, such as ‘If two Christians marry and one persists in being unfaithful, does the other one have “Scriptural grounds” to get a divorce?’ (‘Answer: No.’) One Q&A appears to address domestic violence,” which is as follows:
What if the wife is a victim of her husband’s hostility?
There is no “victim” if we understand that we are called to suffer for righteousness. “For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.” 1 Peter 2:21 Christ was not a victim! He willingly gave His life for us. “By whose stripes you were healed…likewise you wives…” 1 Peter 2:24; 3:1 Christ’s life teaches us how to suffer.
The following passage is from James Dobson’s 1983 book Love Must Be Tough. The book claims to address “disrespect in marital relationships, describing its role in the drift toward divorce for millions of couples.” Dobson examines a number of potential marital conflicts, including (but not limited to) infidelity, substance abuse, domestic violence, and child abuse.
Chapter Thirteen of the book is “Loving Toughness in Other Situations,” and it addresses the topic of spousal abuse. Dobson begins the chapter with a letter from a woman named Laura, who tells Dobson her husband has “a violent temper that is absolutely terrifying” and “beats me with his fists.” Laura then asks Dobson what she should do. “I’m so tired of being beaten,” she says, “and then having to stay home for days to hide my bruises” (p. 146-7).
Dobson begins by stressing that, for Christians, “Divorce is not the solution to this problem,” because “Our purpose should be to change her husband’s behavior, not kill the marriage.” His solution is rather to have Laura directly agitate her husband: “I would suggest that Laura choose the most absurd demand her husband makes, and then refuse to consent to it. Let him rage if he must rage.” Dobson hopes this will shock the abusive husband into acknowledging “he has a severe problem” so that he will agree to “competent Christian counseling” that can lead to “reconciliation” (p. 148).
Not once does Dobson recommend calling the police.
After making this suggestion to agitate, Dobson then offers the following “qualification” to his advice (a “qualification” that is, mind you, longer than his actual advice to Laura). The emphases are in the original:
I have seen marital relationships where the woman deliberately “baited” her husband until he hit her. This is not true in most cases of domestic violence, but it does occur. Why, one may ask, would any woman want to be hit? Because females are just as capable of hatred and anger as males, and a woman can devastate a man by enticing him to strike her. It is a potent weapon. Once he has lost control and lashed out at his tormentor, she then sports undeniable evidence of his cruelty. She can show her wounds to her friends who gasp at the viciousness of that man. She can press charges against him in some cases and have him thrown in jail. She can embarrass him at his work or in the church. In short, by taking a beating, she instantly achieves a moral advantage in the eyes of neighbors, friends, and the law. It may even help her justify a divorce, or if one comes, to gain custody of her children. Remember what the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor did to American morale and unity? It solidified our forces and gave us a cause worth fighting for. There are those who believe President Roosevelt ignored warnings of the Pearl Harbor invasion for the precise purpose of unifying our resolve against a rising Japanese imperialism. In the same spirit, I have seen women belittle and berate their husbands until they set aflame with rage. Some wives are more verbal than their husbands and can win a war of words any day of the week. Finally, the men reach a point of such frustration that they explode, doing precisely what their wives were begging them to do in the first place.
I remember one woman who came to church with a huge black eye contributed by her husband. She walked to the front of the auditorium before a crowd of five hundred people and made a routine announcement about an upcoming event. Everyone in attendance was thinking about her eye and the cad who did this to her. That was precisely what she wanted. I happened to know that her noncommunicative husband had been verbally antagonized by his wife until he finally gave her the prize she sought. Then she brought it to church to show it off. It does happen. (p. 149-50)
Love Must Be Tough has been reprinted numerous times and this passage remains. The most recent reprint was 2007 and the passage is still there, unchanged
Michael and Debi Pearl
The following passage is from Michael and Debi Pearl’s 2004 book Created To Be His Helpmeet, as reprinted in 2012. It is under the section “Enduring Suffering Wrongly,” in which Michael Pearl argues that “the Bible is so clear” that “we are commanded to submit to every ordinance of the government that we are under—even to ignorant and foolish men.” Pearl first argues that even if slavemasters cause their slaves “unjust suffering and grief,” slaves must “endure it, and take it patiently.” Pearl justifies this by saying that, “It is acceptable with God (God’s will) for the underling to suffer wrongfully and take it patiently” (262-3). Pearl then applies this principle to a woman being threatened by her abusive husband:
Has your husband revile you and threatened you? You are exhorted to respond as Jesus did. When he was reviled and threatened, he suffered by committing himself to a higher judge who is righteous. You must commit yourself to the one who placed you under your husband’s command. Your husband will answer to God, and you must answer to God for how your respond to your husband, even when he causes you to suffer. (p. 263)
Debi Pearl demonstrates this principle in action when she writes about a young woman named Sunny. Sunny faced a horrific situation of domestic violence:
[Sunny] was soon pregnant with their first child, and in a matter of weeks, the violence began. Over the next seven years, Sunny was regularly subjected to his alcoholic rages and beatings, and she endured his flaunted unfaithfulness… When Sunny was pregnant with their third baby, Ahmed came home drunk and tried to kill her with a butcher knife. (p. 132)
Debi Pearl never suggests to Sunny that law enforcement be called, nor does she even suggest that Sunny approach her church’s leadership. Debi also never condemns Ahmed and his actions. Rather, she exhorts Sunny to “stay with him and begin a campaign of winning his heart” by ceasing to “blab about his sins” and begin to “reverence him” because that is “God’s will” (p. 133).
The following passage is from the 2010 “25th Anniversary Edition” of Mary Pride’s seminal book The Way Home: Beyond Feminism Back to Reality, originally published in 1985. The emphases are in original:
The reason the church is getting lax about divorce is that we no longer understand marriage. If a spouse has problems, such as drunkenness or fits of temper, the other one concludes it is not a “good” marriage and moves on. Those who take this perspective end up allowing divorce “for any and every reason,” just as the Pharisees were doing in Jesus’ day. Jesus answered the Pharisees that destruction of any God-ordained marriage is always wrong… Only adultery, which breaks the partnership by pouring its resources into a spiritually fruitless extramarital union, as well as (in the case of an adulterous wife) jeopardizing the children’s legitimacy, and desertion, which nullifies the partnership, are biblical grounds for divorce… Christians may never, never, never divorce Christians. (p. 21-22)
Heidi St. John
The following image was posted by popular homeschool convention speaker Heidi St. John on her Facebook page, with the explanation that she “thought it would bring a smile today”:
The image, the text of which St. John altered, comes from an old comic that depicts a chauvinistic man sexually assaulting his frigid boss (an action that leads to her marrying him). A close-up of the image makes clear the woman is terrified and crying:
Libby Anne does a great job of explaining the problem here:
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…
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.
As demonstrated by the previous statements by Farris, Gothard, Dobson, the Pearls, and Pride, Libby Anne’s critique of St. John is spot-on. The biggest names in homeschooling have communicated truly shameful messages about domestic violence — messages that will only add further guilt to victims and make them feel trapped and unable to escape. It’s not a laughing matter, and it’s something that we all need to speak up about and push back against.
Note: if you are a victim of domestic violence or know someone who is, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or visit their website here. There is help available and you are worth it.