A Personal Plea, Part 5

CC image courtesy of Flickr, duffyemma92

Edited by Wende Benner, HA Editorial Staff

Editorial note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kit’s blog, Dauntless in Denver. Kit is a homeschool and ATI survivor. It was originally published on November 16, 2016. Not every part of the series explicitly mentions homeschool, but each part ties to her homeschool experience. 

The summer of 1997 was the summer I turned 14. We began the summer by going to ATI’s big yearly national conference in Knoxville, at the University of Tennessee. ATI took over a significant portion of the campus for that one week every summer. School was still in session for the public schools in Ohio, so my mom and I went, while my dad stayed in Cincinnati to work. This was my first significant exposure to ATI as a whole.
My mom and I got there, and we stayed in un-air conditioned Hess Hall, where we shared a suite with another solo mom and daughter duo. With all the families in ATI with 4, 6, 8+ kids, it was pretty unusual for just a mom to attend with one child. Of course, I didn’t know that yet. What was interesting, which I noticed right away, was the hundreds (thousands, actually) of women and girls wearing long skirts and dresses, and the men and boys in long pants (but no jeans) and collared shirts. It must have been 90 degrees and about 95% humidity, but there were no shorts or sleeveless shirts in sight. There was a very specific “look” to everything as well. It’s not like everyone was walking around in stylish maxi skirts and tops. Looking back, it was a little Twilight Zone-esque. It’s very hard to describe, but when a person spends enough time within fundamentalist homeschooling circles, it becomes very easy for that person to pick fundamentalist homeschoolers out of a crowd. I still do it to this day, and when I have the chance to investigate or ask questions, I have yet to be wrong.

Our first morning there, my mom and I headed off to breakfast, and then went our separate ways, as Mom went to the parent sessions, and I went to the program for 8-14 year old girls, Pre-Excel. Pre-Excel wasn’t horrible. It was kind of more like a gender segregated Vacation Bible School than anything else, or at least, that was my impression. In the evening, Mom and I met back up for the evening family sessions. This was 19 years ago, and I was new to ATI and all that entailed, but I do remember something very important: The energy present during the Knoxville conferences was invigorating and contagious. The more the week went on, the more excited I got about living this new “godly” lifestyle, about the leader, Bill Gothard, and his teachings, and ATI’s “New Approach to Life.”

Following Knoxville, in October of that year, I went to the Indianapolis Training Center for ATI’s “Young Ladies’ Counseling Seminar.” I was 14, and one of a few hundred girls ages 14 and up, who spent approximately 10 hours a day for a week in the main conference room, listening to Mr. Gothard himself talk about how to counsel people in crisis, the “Biblical” way. Why anyone thought it was a good idea with a bunch of teenagers is beyond me. Throughout the week, he would talk about the specific evils of rock music. No, I’m not talking about Aerosmith and Metallica and Bon Jovi. Or rather, I’m not just talking about them. Mr. Gothard would talk about how the rock beat was inherently evil, created by witch doctors and pagans in Africa to conjur evil spirits. It was then brought to the US by the African slaves, and made its way into American music over the years. Even Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), and a LOT of more modern Gospel (yes, this includes the Gaithers), was actually evil. We were told of how so many of the world’s problems, and the church’s problems, and teenage rebellion, etc., could be solved by eliminating this evil music, in favor of old fashioned hymns and new music that was not contaminated by a rock beat. They told us that rock music caused tumors, homosexual behavior, and cannibalism in rats. It made plants die. It threw everything around it into utter disorder. Of course, we were then asked to make a covenant with God to never listen to rock music, and not allow Satan a stronghold in our lives through that.

We also were taught about how we should never ever keep anything of any kind to our parents, and that even the tiniest secret could open us up to attacks from Satan, because we had removed ourselves from under our father’s God-ordained “umbrella of protection.” We were encouraged to call our parents and confess any and every tiny infraction we had ever kept from our parents. I’m not talking about drug use, a shoplifting habit, stealing money from our parents, sneaking out at night, etc. I’m taking about things like maybe that one time you sneaked a flashlight under the covers to finish a book after lights out, three years ago. Or maybe that one time you told your parents you had brushed your teeth, but didn’t when you were 8. Or that time you accidentally forgot to water your mom’s ficus plant before church one morning. Those kinds of things. Any tiny infraction could, according to Gothard and ATI, completely open you up to attacks from Satan and his demons. Even writing this sounds ridiculous. I have no idea how I didn’t see it then. But of course, I was only a 14 year old girl, told by her parents to listen to the things this wise man said.

The most horrific part of the Counseling Seminar is one that was actually exposed by the mainstream media in late May and June of 2015, after the media found out about Josh Duggar’s sexual abuse of his sisters and a neighbor. The curriculum used to counsel sexual abuse victims in ATI is extremely victim-blaming. It actually blamed sexual abuse among siblings on little girls being outside of their bedrooms wearing nightgowns. Or parents allowing their sons to change their baby daughter’s diapers. Or parents allowing a younger child to hang out with an older one, unsupervised. Bill Gothard taught that if a victim was sexually abused and cried out, he or she was blameless. But if the victim did not, then they were, to a very large degree, responsible. There was zero room for any kind of real understanding of how the human psyche works, and that people react different ways to trauma. Some have a fight instinct, and some freeze. And this has absolutely nothing to do with character. Of course, in order to prevent such things, it was the responsibility of girls and women to dress as modestly as possible, so that the boys could not possibly be “defrauded.” For me, this proved to be a bit of a nightmare, because my previously 34C bra size had grown by then. I’m sorry, but when you have the kind of chest I have, nothing but a cardboard box is going to keep people from seeing that yes, in fact, I do have breasts. And this would prove to be a real problem for me for years to come, especially considering my past sexual harassment and assault.

I think the Counseling Seminar was the proverbial nail in the coffin for me. By the time I went home, I had been caught. Completely, and entirely caught by the cult, and I would spend the next 8 years struggling with not being good enough, and not being content with where God had “clearly” intended me to be. Over the next few years, I would slowly lose more and more of myself, as my true personality retreated further and further inside of myself, in order for me to even be able to survive. And that, is the perfect place for Part 6 to pick up.

8 comments

  • The thing about plants sparked a memory. I remember being in school and being told about music being tested on plants. That the plants leaning away from rock music and leaning towards classical. But here is the strange thing. It was the early 80s and it was a Roman Catholic school. Not saying I agree or disagree. Just odd I heard it in Catholic school.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Probably a Christian Urban Legend that swam the Tiber.
      I’m pretty sure it originated among Born-Agains and spread from there.

    • I went to Catholic school before the school from hell that I talked about in the first three parts. 1988-1994. Mine was definitely more progressive, but I can see some maybe teaching something like that.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Mr. Gothard would talk about how the rock beat was inherently evil, created by witch doctors and pagans in Africa to conjur evil spirits. It was then brought to the US by the African slaves, and made its way into American music over the years.

    Exactly the same accusation that was made against Jazz and Ragtime in their day, i.e. “N*gg*r Music”. It was only when they caught on among whites and White bands started up in the genre that all three became respectable.

    • Yes, you’re correct. I actually wrote a 25 page research paper in grad school, entitled, “Lift Every Voice:African American Music As An Expression of Agency in Jim Crow America.” It did help that Joplin was recognized as classical musician, but once Gershwin and Debussey began acknowledging African American music, it started making its way into the mainstream, and now, we can barely separate any popular genre from the African American influence. Just a side bar. 🙂

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