Monday, March 17, 2014

Why What Happened in the Bill Gothard Movement Matters Part 2 (And How Becoming a Midwife Temporarily Saved Me From It)

Since I wrote Part 1, I’ve been a little surprised at the number of visitors to my little blog.  There are many other websites that provide a more wide spread and comprehensive forum for ATI survivors to share their journeys.  What seems to have struck a chord was how much the doctrine that came through Bill Gothard’s Basic and Advanced Seminars and the ATI curriculum spread and affected those who were not an actual part of the movement, like myself.
The homeschool movement itself has been a huge current into which many branches have fallen and affected those of us who were swimming in the river.  While homeschooling itself was just an educational choice, those who chose it were often more “extreme-conservative” in their lifestyle choices, and that very much flavored the whole stream for a very long time.  IBLP and ATI were two of the biggest branches that were log-jamming the whole thing.

This is why at homeschool book fairs it became common to see a large majority of young people and their parents dressed in jumpers and button down oxford shirts. This might be because they were ATI , or it might be because they were influenced by the general current philosophy that flavored the stream that Christian home education, traditional roles in the home and more traditional dress (women wearing skirts and dresses exclusively) were a package deal.  Booths at these fairs might include a large one from ATI, Vision Forum, Above Rubies, and multiple other small ones with everything from dress patterns, to coming of age and courtship books, to cookbooks, that fit into the conservative healthy lifestyle.  Even the images and illustrations in so much of the Christian curriculum on display (Rod and Staff, Christian Liberty Press) would show women dressed very conservatively, children obediently smiling, and everyone in traditional roles - to the point that these things were all melded in our minds as indistinguishable.
So, back to my story, which is really the only one in which I can to speak with any kind of authority, and why I am telling it.  My motive in sharing it is that it may help others on their own road of sorting and healing. 

 My family and I jumped into that off-mainstream-road into the homeschooling-stream in 1981, when I was 11 years old.  It was not the typical diving board. I had been doing fairly well going to public school in our small town, but then when I hit 5th grade I had a slightly imbalanced male teacher who would occasionally get verbally and sometimes even physically abusive with the kids in the class, besides not doing a very good job of teaching.  My mom was furious, couldn’t get support from the other parents to get him removed, and finally decided it was easier just to take me out.  She didn’t know anyone who was currently homeschooling, but had read about it in an article sent to her by her sister about the humanism coming into public schools (mainly the teaching of evolution) and how to help your kids navigate it.  In the final paragraph there was a brief mention of home schooling as an option.
(You will notice I keep mentioning my mom but not my dad.  My dad was a dysfunctional alcoholic mostly absent parent who had very little influence over me at this point. What I didn’t realize about my mother at the time was that along with an on-going battle with depression she also had borderline personality disorder.  This causes a person to see situations and people as either all bad or all good, nothing in between.  Hence her quick jump to all-bad public school= we must homeschool. )

My mom latched on to that idea, ordered some Abeka books from Christian Liberty Academy (because that was one of the few companies providing curriculum at the time- Bill Gothard had not started ATI yet), and bam, we were homeschoolers.  My only sibling was a brother, six years younger and autistic, who had only gone to a church kindergarten, so she started him in first grade.
A key part of my story is that at this point my family was not ultra conservative nor legalistic. In fact we were enjoying some positive fruits of freedom from the Jesus movement that surged throughout the 70s and influenced the way we lived as Christians.  We went to a healthy non-demoninational evangelical church, attended women’s Aglow meetings, listened to enthusiastic bearded guitar playing Christian artists like Don Francisco, came up to Dallas to hear speakers at Christ for the Nations, and read the Last Days Ministry newsletter from Keith Green. Other than the fact that my mom was strict about TV and kept me on a steady diet of PBS shows like Mr. Rodgers and Sesame Street instead of letting me watch the Dukes of Hazard, Happy Days and Saturday morning cartoons, I was kind of a normal late70s early 80s kid who dressed and ate and watched and read somewhat consistently with my time period in America. 

And then homeschooling changed all that.  When we jumped into the stream my mom picked up various bits of flotsam that she adapted to her fancy.  We weren’t nearly as specifically legalistic as the ATI family mold, but my mom soon developed her own quirky version as we floated along.
Clothing, for example.  We didn’t go all exclusive dresses for gals, and I never heard the term “eye trap,” but it was decided that pants with zippers were “men’s clothing.”  By the time I was 13 (1982) I had to find pants and jeans without zippers.  Anybody want to guess how hard that was?  Also the pants were carefully scrutinized not to be too tight (Mom’s definition: showing any curve from my seat down the back of my leg), so I was usually forced to buy at least a size bigger than necessary.  Swimsuits usually had to be specially made for me and resembled more of a mini dress. 
Food, for another thing.  My mother read the book Sugar Blues by William Duffy (published 1975) around the time she was pulling me out of public school.  It was actually quite ground breaking and gave her some excellent dietary keys to helping my brother’s hyperactivity that were way ahead of the curve.  Unfortunately, not eating sugar and white flour quickly became, not just a healthy lifestyle choice, but one more sign that we were more spiritual that the people still eating sugar because our bodies were temples of the Holy Spirit and we were keeping ours cleaner than theirs.
These were relatively minor -although not at all minor in my teenaged mind- I didn’t want to dress provocatively, just be like everyone else- wear jeans and eat candy bars- uh huh, gotcha! - that was exactly what I was NOT supposed to want, you know. But minor compared to the stronger previously mentioned mandates in Part 1 that quickly crept in and instructed me not to have dreams for myself beyond getting married and having kids.  No jobs. No dating. No college.  No goals. 

(What do you think?  Was the individualized legalism my mother developed for me any less quirky and random than the laws developed for the ATI students?  I thought this post was one of the best I have ever read at pointing out the inconsistencies, and it helped me more clearly see the ones in my story as well: 

Did your family develop random extra-Biblical or inconsistent legalistic rules for you to follow that affected you?)

This is where I would like to make another important point.  Remember I mentioned that my mother had chronic struggles with depression and had borderline personality disorder.  It wasn’t until much, much later in my adult years that I realized she picked both lifestyle and doctrine that matched her dysfunction. 
It was much easier for her to stay home with me that go out and take me to school and deal with people.  As a young person she had felt traumatized when her family expected her to go to college and get a job, and had suffered emotional breakdowns as a result.  In her mind, when a Christian doctrine came along that said that shouldn’t have been expected of her to go to work and go to college in the first place, it totally justified her reaction- and she was ready to pass that all on to me.

Her borderline personality did well with the “us and them” mentality that existed between homeschoolers and public schoolers in the 1980s, and well into the 90s.  In general, Christian homeschoolers espoused that if you were a real Christian who cared about your kids getting raised right and turning out right, you had to homeschool, because public school would absolutely ruin your kids and destroy all the traditional values you worked so hard to put into them.  Christians who had their kids in public school generally thought the homeschooling parents were weird and overprotective and their kids would turn out to be un-socialized misfits.  Needless to say, their kids didn’t hang out together much.  This was a mentality greatly fostered in ATI as well, I noticed- you either were, or you weren't, in or out, a good ATI Christian or a not that great worldly one.
As I mentioned in part 1, I think the majority of Christian parents choose homeschooling for the right reasons.  But there was a significant minority of parents who choose homeschooling, and perhaps also ATI, because it fit in with an already present co-dependent or dysfunctional lifestyles or unhealthy emotional tendencies.  I think depending on the day, my mother could have been in either category. 

However as I got older, it was more in the dysfunctional category.  I was not allowed to have opinions that differed from hers without being labeled rebellious. This came both from the growing submission to parents teaching in the stream and her BPD which interprets all disagreement as betrayal. 
My father’s drinking worsened, and he began to get more and more violent, sometimes coming home in a drunken rage and throwing knives around in the kitchen.  (He had already been unfaithful many times.)  My mother, worried about our safety, took my brother and me and moved out when I was 14, hoping it would cause my dad to get help.  He didn’t. The divorce was final two years later.  (For the record, I’m glad whatever she was reading at the time didn’t tell her to stay and submit to that.) However we were never allowed to talk about what happened in front of other people– I’m not sure how much of that was shame, how much was control, or how much of that reminded my mother we weren’t the perfect Christian family she still somehow tried to keep up the appearances of.

In the meantime, we kept homeschooling.  By the age of 15 I tested out of all my curriculum and received an Alpha Omega high school diploma of completion.
So now what?  I was interested in midwifery, but deemed (rightly) too young to start an apprenticeship. I started helping a lady in my church clean houses for money.  (I brought the money home to the family.)That job was deemed acceptable since it was in homes.  Then I got a temporary office job with a doctor in my church.  (I brought the money home to the family.) That job was deemed acceptable because it was with someone from the church.  Then I got a job at a grocery store. (I brought the money home to the family.) That job was deemed acceptable because God gave it to me.

Because I was simply grateful to be let out of the house, I didn’t realize that I was experiencing evidence that exceptions could be made to “women shouldn’t work outside the home” rule when it was convenient to do so.  As with many laws made by man, the ones in my home could also be reinterpreted by man when there was a necessary end to a certain means.  (I’ve seen the same pattern in some of the testimonies from those recovering from ATI, particularly those who worked at headquarters.) My mother did not choose to reinterpret it for herself however.  She stayed home and homeschooled my brother.
The dating one was not reinterpreted though.  That one was unchangeable.  And I thoroughly internalized that one, and kept it as one of the Ten Commandments, believing that it would ensure me the happy marriage of my dreams, and not a broken one like my parents had.  My mother had nothing to worry about on that count.

When I was 18, I was allowed to start a midwifery apprenticeship.  This involved moving out of my mother’s home into the birthing center where I was working.  This was deemed acceptable because it was in a house instead of a college campus, the owner was a Christian, and my mother would rent a house right down the road where I would go on weekends.
*Insert Snoopy hyper happy dance here.*

I have to say it again:  Midwifery was one of the absolute best things that ever happened to me.  It was like getting on jet skis after spending my whole life floating on driftwood wherever the current took me.   My training finally gave me a purpose and (shhh!)a goal to achieve. But that was okay because I was called by God to be a midwife (actually true) and midwifery was deemed intrinsically a godly calling and appropriate for stay at home girls.  Whatever.  It was 1988, and I was brought into a place that had not been influenced by the teachings of Bill Gothard or ATI, into a profession where independent adult decision making skills by women (the midwives) were of paramount importance.  Although as an apprentice I attended the births of homeschoolers, and even some ATI families, I also attended births of every ethnicity , Christian denomination, religion and demographic present in the DFW area at that ime.  I rubbed shoulders with a lot of very strong independent opinionated women in an environment where those traits were defined as good and not bad.  It was a true 1980s sub-culture.

Not only that, but midwives had to study and research and think for themselves on intimate and controversial topics, and then pass that information on to clients for them to make informed decisions- that might differ from mine-but that was okay too.
But for that year and a half, from 1988-1990, I thrived.
In conclusion, becoming a midwife was the antidote to almost every lie I had been told about what I couldn’t and shouldn’t do up to that point.  There would be other lies later, so strong that even being an independent thinking midwife wouldn't be enough inoculation to save me from believing them.

To be (further) continued…

(Sorry about dragging it out, but hey, I'm a busy working midwife and homeschooling mom, I can only write so much at once.  Stay tuned, if interested. And please. Comment and tell me your story too.)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Why What Happened in the Bill Gothard Movement Matters (Even If You Weren't In It)

Conservative Christians circles in the USA are currently very much abuzz with the drama happening at headquarters of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) – a Christian non-denominational para-church organization that has heavily influenced Bible churches, the home-schooling movement and conservative Christian culture in America since the 1970s. The president and founder of IBLP, Bill Gothard, resigned two days ago, amid extensive allegations of sexual harassment spanning several decades.  

For years, the worst Bill Gothard and his teachings had been accused of publically of was being “legalistic,” and of taking scriptures out of context. But gradually, personal stories about oppressive emotional and spiritual abuse both at IBLP headquarters and among some of the families who subscribed to his teaching began to come out.  Beyond that, lots of the kids who grew up under his teachings had to struggle well into their adult years to comprehend grace.  It wasn’t until the internet provided a wide spread forum, and the stories started to include many accounts of sexual harassment by Bill Gothard himself, that he was finally was forced to resign. 

So who is Bill Gothard, and what’s the big deal?

One of the biggest of Bill Gothard’s influences was his Advanced Training Institute (ATI) which, for many, was the flagship curriculum of Christian home-based K-12 education along with some college alternative components.  Another huge part of IBLP was its Basic Seminars and Advanced Seminars that taught the many Basic Life Principles promoted by the movement.    

 These were purportedly all based on Bible scriptures, but often took scriptures out of context.  ATI materials did a great deal of sub-texting, and expanded, explained, interpreted, illustrated and “wisdom searched” verses so far beyond and apart from the original text and context that it created an entire very complex counter-culture among those who followed its hundreds of extra-Biblical laws.  Seven principles. 49 character qualities. Lots of wisdom booklets.

Basic Care Bulletins took general information about disease, preventative care, nutrition and health and mixed them in with Old Testament laws for Jews originally designed by God to show that righteousness by keeping rules was impossible.  These were "cherry-picked" and applied out of context to modern Gentile Christians living in the dispensation of grace.  This in turn led to a long list of dos and don’ts from what you could wear and not wear, eat and not eat, watch and not watch, listen to and not listen to, read and not read, think and not think.

The materials had a palatable form of godliness, containing a mixture of solid Christian doctrine and Bible verses, basic textbook knowledge in all subjects, woven in with lots of extra-Biblical materials and Bill Gothard’s opinions.  Since it was packaged all together as Biblical principles, they were often applied as such without question.
Why did so many Christians buy into it?  Two main influencers were timing and fear.  Bill Gothard’s principles hit the scene at a very crucial time in American culture.  Following the permissive 60s, conservative Christians in the States were afraid of losing their children to a secular culture that was increasing taking a path away from Biblical values. Being the independent pioneering people that Americans are, a few brave Christians decided they would fight this trend by educating their children themselves. They went against mainstream culture although they had little support, and few tools or curriculum available to help them accomplish their goals. (My mother was one of these.)
Into this void came Bill Gothard and his Basic Life Principles. He assured Christian parents they were doing the right thing to home-school if they wanted to be truly committed Christians and have their children turn out right.  He promised that if parents followed his pattern, applied his principles, kept his rules, did these things, (but not all these other things), their goals for their children and their families would be accomplished. He offered them hope.
By the way, in case you are wondering, the Bible doesn’t say you have to home-school to have godly children.
There were few alternative choices or voices, and the seeds of the Bill Gothard influence gradually began to grow and put down deep roots in the conservative non-denominational “come-out-er” type circles.  In the greater evangelical protestant Christian circles, not so much.  Those American Christians who were less fearful and less concerned about protecting their children from the evil world, and more concerned about going about their middle-class lives working, paying their bills, paying off their homes, taking care of their families, going to church on Sundays and getting their kids a good public education looked on some of Bill Gothard’s doctrines and practices as rather bizarre and unnecessary when they crossed the paths of those following them.
But many others, many conscientious parents, many fearful parents, many parents insecure in their own ability to raise obedient kids, many good parents just “wanting to do it right”, many first generation Christians wanting to make sure their kids didn’t go wild like they did, got pulled into Bill Gothard’s teachings and heavily influenced. This was along a few really unhealthy parents and people who latched onto this movement and its teachings for all the wrong reasons. (My mother was one of these.) 
I was born in 1969.   Although I was homeschooled from 5th grade through high school, we did not personally use ATI materials. We did not join the BG movement, we weren’t an ATI family. (We wouldn’t have qualified even if we had wanted to. Small blessings.) I’m pretty sure we never even went to a Basic Seminar.  And yet, the things that leaked out of that movement into the lives and doctrine of my family and my heart would influence me as much as if I had been right in the middle of it.
Because actually, I was.  I am a product of the Bill Gothard generation.
This is why I’m writing this blog.  You see, like me, if you were alive during the Bill Gothard generation (which has actually now spanned more than two generations, 1961-2013), you were influenced by it.  If not directly, then very possibly indirectly through the lives of others you knew. There is an excellent chance you are interacting with the consequences in the lives of people around you now.  I certainly am.
Allow me to elaborate.
Before I was 13 I was told by my mother that I didn’t need to go to college.  Girls should live at home until they get married.  And then be a stay at home mom. 
Where in world of 1980s America did she get this idea from? This concept was first widely preached as a “Biblical” doctrine in America by Bill Gothard.  It was also heavily reinforced by a book called The Way Home, by Mary Pride that was written in 1985 that eschewed feminism and called for Christian women to return to more traditional roles. This idea which grew into a belief was quickly picked up by the growing home-school movement at large, into which Mary Pride was also a primary contributor with her books and magazine on homeschooling.  The idea was also promoted by others in the homeschooling movement that included other smaller conservative Christian “streams” like the Christian Quiverful movement, No Greater Joy Ministries (Michael and Debbie Pearl), and the family church movement.  Eventually, girls staying at home until they got married was commonly understood to be, in these circles, as absolutely “what the Bible says”.
Prior to that in American culture, girls (Christian and otherwise) often did live at home until they got married, and didn’t always go to college, but this was either by economic necessity or practicality- not as a measure of virtue or goodness or godliness or spirituality and certainly not as a practice of any Biblical doctrine.
Because actually (in case you are wondering) the Bible doesn’t say anything about going to college or not, regardless of gender.
Another thing I was told in my early teens.  Dating is bad.  Falling in love is a fictional fallacy. You need to let God just tell you who your husband will be when you see him for the first time. He will confirm His will to you through your parents.
This was the early edition of this trend, somewhat before the courtship movement was in full swing.  That developed a few years later in the progression of conservative Christian extra-Biblical doctrines . This was the idea that parents should pick a girl’s husband because arranged marriages are more godly.  It was heavily reinforced by the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” by Josh Harris which came out in 1997.  Many young people were encouraged to vow that they would only enter marriage by courtship as a guaranteed way to stay pure and find a godly spouse.
This was strongly associated with and promoted by the Bill Gothard movement.  Prior to that in America dating had been a generally acceptable way to find a spouse for quite some time, and was not considered intrinsically “non-Christian” or worldly by the church.  How you were raised and what was in your heart was basically what determined how the dating thing worked out for you. 
Because actually (in case you are wondering) the Bible doesn’t say anything about dating or not dating.
Unfortunately dating had gotten a bad rap, partially because of all the promiscuity of the 60s, and parents who came out of that were trying to counter it with something, anything, to keep their girls from getting pregnant in the back seat of a car on a date.  The solution presented by Bill Gothard was like a life preserver to committed Christian parents trying to keep their kids on the right track- Let’s just not let them date at all.  Let’s supervise them at all times.  And actually, let’s just tell them who they can marry.  That’s how it was in the good old days after all when almost no one got pregnant out of wedlock and no one got divorces. That will fix this problem.  
Bill Gothard taught that dating was practice for divorce, but a marriage that was built on a courtship would last.  And because the last thing any parent wanted was for their kids to get divorced, they bought it.
Bill Gothard also made up an illustration called an umbrella of protection. It was an example he used to promote his teaching that the husband was the high priest of the home and everyone in the home should be submitted to him in order to be blessed and protected. 
But actually (in case you are wondering) the Bible never says the husband is the high priest of the home, and never mentions an umbrella of protection.
If you were taught this, you have seen this picture before- you know exactly what I am talking about.  If you weren’t, you probably think it’s weird and are wondering why the big deal is, and why it matters.
Well, for one thing, it matters if you marry someone from this background.  A pastor once made this interesting statement that caught my attention about someone he had worked with.  “The husband had an ATI background, and was trying to make sure it didn’t influence his marriage.”  When I asked him to elaborate he said, “The chain of command teaching in particular.  When only one (the man) has a special relationship with and direction from God and others listen to God through him, and ‘him’ is fallen and sinful, abuse can follow along shortly.”
And the flip side of that teaching is that it also sets women up to resign themselves to that abuse should it happen, whatever kind it might be.  Because if your authority is always ordained by God and you must submit to be blessed, you may have a hard time knowing when it is okay to question it, and stand up for yourself.  This concept was reinforced through books that were approved by Bill Gothard and making the rounds like, Me? Obey Him, by Elizabeth Rice Handford,  and, Created to be His Help Meet, by Debi Pearl .
This influence also matters when you work with women who were raised under the umbrella.  Bill Gothard taught that children should let their parents make their decisions for them and determine God’s will for their lives.  This essentially meant that no matter what someone wanted to do, had an aptitude for, or felt called by God to do, if their parents didn’t approve it, it wasn’t God’s will and should be given up in order to stay blessed and protected.  Keep in mind, this doctrine was directed to ADULT children as well as minors. This by default fell much more heavily on the young women than on the young men.  It led to a lot of adult girls deciding it was either too painful or too conflicting to think for themselves, and they stayed in the habit of asking their parents’ permission to do anything of significance long after their less conservative peers had moved out and gone off to college as the normal course of events.
This unnatural depending on parents to direct life choices after adulthood was crippling.  It means there were tens of thousands of ATI girls who came of age in the 80s and 90s and 2000s who were basically waiting for the next male authority (a husband) to come into her life and tell her what to do next. And if he didn’t show up (or get selected by their dad) at 18, 19, 20, 21?  They often didn’t have many acceptable options, depending on their parents. If and when they did enter some job or field, some of them had trouble making decisions in a working environment where they weren’t supposed to be subservient.
Since midwifery was sometimes deemed an acceptable “office” for modest young women (excuse me a moment while I digress and laugh- doing vaginal exams and pap smears and suturing and showing birth videos to couples and discussing reproduction, modest?) we got a fair number of them deciding to become, or being allowed to become, midwives.
I am a daughter of these movements.  I was homeschooled, never dated, and planned to live at home until God told me who to marry and my parents approved and blessed my marriage.  I read The Way Home, All the Way Home and A Full Quiver, and lots of Bill Gothard’s publications and I believed them all. And although I wasn’t allowed to go to college, I was allowed to apprentice to become a midwife.
Which, thankfully, turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.
To be continued…