Friday, February 28, 2014

Finding Each Other, Part 6

Continued from Part 5

Hinsdale, Illinois   Spring 1999

Dwight Fredrickson may have told us not to go to Chicago together for fun, but he underestimated the characters he had linked together through friendship forged in the heat of that Oklahoma City warehouse. Our ATI parents may have smashed our television, burned books and Cabbage Patch dolls on the barbecue grill, and kept us from going to college, but now one of our superpowers was to wring drops of pleasure out of nearly anything. So when Bill Gothard's brother-in-law wanted recruits to come along to pray and preach at Pacific Garden Mission on Thursday night, we all signed up!

I had grown up listening to "Unshackled", until Mom decided the stories were too racy for young ears, and Dad had shown us the short film "The Miracle on State Street" many times. To a history buff and evangelical Christian, PGM was practically a shrine! When we arrived, we met Phil Garvin and his wife Anne who ushered us into a room I recognized from the movie. Phil's IBLP office phone rang at my desk when he was away, and I frequently took messages for him. Anne was Bill Gothard's estranged older sister. For simplicity's sake, I accepted that her critiques of her brother had some merit. I certainly wasn't defending him to anyone anymore.

"The Old Lighthouse", on State Street

The four of us participated in the prayers and listened to the altar call; Chris or Michael may even have given a "testimony" to the all-male audience. To me, it was like reenacting a scene from one of my books. The evening's events likely made a more lasting impression on me than they did on any of the men who were merely present to get a bed that night. I had always thought of the down-and-out as spiritually needy, but many of these guys seemed to lack the intellectual capacity to "accept Jesus".

Far from being rebels, we four were zealously obedient to both the commands of Jesus and Gothard's "principles". We actually believed in the "umbrella of authority" and "strongholds" and we thought Gothard did, too! If we had realized then what we came to find out later, we would have had a lot more fun! But that winter, it was enough that we got to enjoy each other's company. Even if it meant sitting in a circle on the rug in the Production Center's deserted lobby and reading Dickens aloud, or Winnie-the-Pooh, while Michael fidgeted and Lisa crocheted. I liked to read, but I also liked to listen to Chris's voice put the inflection on different parts of the familiar sentences.

Lisa moved back home not long after that. Her parents had granted a suitor permission to court her, and courtship was incompatible with employment at IBLP. I hoped everything would work out and Lisa would be happy. Her expectations for a husband seemed different from mine, but after all, we were very different people. I still had a serious crush on our former coworker, but that was that. It was unlikely we would ever meet again.

Losing Lisa left a gap in our ranks. But we soon found ways to correct the imbalance in the CLink. Miss Julie* was a staff woman (with some seniority) who loved to shop but didn't drive. I was more than happy to drive her to T.J. Maxx if she filled out the paperwork to borrow an Institute vehicle! And with a "real adult" along, the dating question didn't come up. One adventurous evening, Miss Julie took us all to a Chinese restaurant, or rather we took her. She ordered for all of us--in Chinese--strange dishes that weren't on the menu. We had such fun over dinner, eating sharp dried fish, playing chopstick games she taught us and listening to folklore from her culture. Later we drove all the way to Naperville in search of a 24-hour Walmart. Miss Julie had a mischievous streak and a strong sense of humor. She entertained us with stories of her adventures in learning English and I laughed till I had to pee. We got back late that night, worn-out but so happy.

One weekend when spring had come to stay, Chris's parents came up to visit and "signed us out", so to speak, to go sightseeing with them. I know we got some kind of permission from somebody for Michael and I to go out to dinner with them, and we decided over manicotti to assume the permission covered the entire weekend. We all piled into Chris's two-door Nissan Pulsar (Michael's sedan had a flat tire and Chris was by far the better driver). I sat tightly against Michael in the middle of the backseat, trying not to crowd Chris's mom! But to us, the closeness was a small sacrifice. We were free in the sunshine and headed for the city!

And we packed a ton of fun into that weekend. Dinner at Olive Garden, the dolphin show at the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium (the girl who ran the Atwood Sphere had a stud in her tongue that we still talk about), lunch at Wendy's, Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio, ice cream bars, and stuffed pizza at Giordano's! I was almost giddy with the excitement.

Chris's parents were good sports about letting Michael and I tag along like their adopted kids. Every time his dad got out the camera, I made sure Michael was between Chris and me. Back at the office, we introduced his parents to Miss Julie, and I snapped a photo of them standing with Chris in her office. Little did I think how much that photo would represent later on.

Picked up next at Life at IBLP Headquarters.

*Names are pseudonyms.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Who IS the Institute in Basic Life Principles?

According to a post on, Bible teacher and homeschool program founder Bill Gothard has been put on administrative leave by his board of directors while numerous reports of nonconsensual sexual contact, some perpetrated on minors, are investigated. 

In light of that interesting fact, I am trying to make some sense of the dense thicket that is currently the Institute in Basic Life Principles. Besides Gothard himself, who is the Institute?

* * * * *

UPDATE 6/18/14: Ralph Hudgens is no longer listed on the IBLP website as a member of the board.

UPDATE: Billy Boring and Bernie Reese resigned from the board early in March 2014
  • John Stancil is a member of the IBLP board, and also chairman of the board for Crown College in Tennessee where Erin (Bates) Paine is a student. A former director at Sword of the Lord forced out after a scandal, Stancil now owns a transportation company near Nashville.
  • Dr. Stephen Paine did research for Gothard's book How to Resolve Seven Deadly Stresses, which "offers Biblical insight on tracing disease and health problems to five basic factors—what you think, say, do, eat, and inherit." Paine worked at Gothard's centers in Indianapolis and Oak Brook, but is currently practicing medicine at a prison in Cushing, Oklahoma. 
Paine's son Nate conducts IBLP seminars for prisoners through the Florida Department of Corrections*. His children Tabitha and Thomas were working at IBLP Headquarters last year. Paine's son Chad married Erin Bates. Erin is enrolled in Crown College.
  • Gil Bates is on the IBLP board. His family has been featured on the Duggars' television show. Bates' daughter Erin is married to Stephen Paine's son and is currently a student at Crown College. Alyssa Bates is engaged to John Webster, son of Congressman (and long-time Gothard follower) Daniel Webster.

The rest of the IBLP board members, according to the IBLP website, are:

  • Dr. Billy Boring, a physician in McKinney, Texas (chairman of the board).
  • Ralph Hudgens, Commissioner of Insurance for the State of Georgia.
  • Bernie Reese, Sr.a lawyer in Rockford, Illinois.
  • David York, a pastor in Greenfield, WI.
  • Anthony Burrus of Waco, TX.  

* * * * *
  • Dwight Fredrickson is IBLP's Chief Financial Officer. His wife is Bill Gothard's niece and his daughter is engaged to marry Jordan Webster, another son of the Florida Congressman, next month. 
  • Robert Barth is General Counsel for IBLP (also their donor contact) and is also on the faculty of Oak Brook College of Law, the unaccredited correspondence law school IBLP established in California in 1995. Barth has ten children.
  • George Mattix is IBLP's executive international director. Two weeks ago, he told The Christian Post that the board "would prayerfully consider what course of action members would take before releasing any public statements."  

These men, and a few others, have represented the Institute for decades or more. Board members come and go, but these directors have been loyal to Gothard through thick and thin.

The question now is Why? 

And can they extricate themselves from their leader's downfall without losing their own integrity?

*Note: Bill Gothard himself has participated in "prison revivals" inside a Florida women's prison alongside Florida Representative Charles Van Zant, a former pastor who now "has 144 prisons under his care":
"The inmates watch powerful messages and had bible studies which helped them identified blind spots or secret sins in their lives that prevented them from completely surrendering to God. There were small group sessions held and testimonies that expound on guilt, past hurts, bitterness, hidden sin, and emotional life stories that resulted in prayers and encouraging one another. The seminar was a great success and ended on Sunday with a graduation where Bob Holyfield, Mr. Gothard and Representative Charles Van Zant was in attendance."

Finding Each Other, Part 5

Continued from Part 4

Traverse City, Michigan and Wichita, Kansas merge in Oak Brook, Illinois--January 1999

The Institute straddles the line between Oak Brook and Hinsdale, IL.

Over the holidays , I packed all my navy skirts and white blouses and prepared to move to the Oak Brook campus in January. Somehow, probably through Michael, I let Chris know that I was going to work at Headquarters after all. I was excited that the CLink would be back together again. Illinois wouldn't be the same as Oklahoma, but we would still have adventures and we would have each other.

Meanwhile in Wichita, Chris had called Headquarters to let them know he'd changed his mind. He was not going to take the computer department job after all. And then he found out that I was going. Everything seemed mixed up. He should just find a job, right? But one day in December, Bill Gothard himself called Chris at home and begged him to reconsider. Bill had been told Chris was essential to the survival of the CharacterLink service; they needed him in Oak Brook. Chris hesitated. An only child with no friends in Wichita, he was lonely. He was sleeping on a couch, his room had been gutted and his belongings discarded in his absence. His grandfather's home didn't feel like home. His parents were stressed. What should he do?

The cult offered stability and companionship. At Headquarters, Chris could live and work among friends, peers even. And he'd get to see me. But he was unwilling to be completely assimilated again. He made some demands of his own: IBLP would pay for flights back to Wichita so Chris could visit his parents one weekend a month, and rent for Institute housing would not be deducted from his minimum wage paycheck. Bill agreed to those terms, and Chris got ready to drive north into the snowdrifts.

Chicago got blasted with winter that year. Snow was lying about two feet deep on the IBLP campus when Michael and I drove down from Traverse City on one of the coldest days I can remember. Lisa had already arrived by plane and had our shared bedroom readied for my arrival with matching bedspreads and a Winnie-the-Pooh poster on the door. We went out for fast food together that night, bundled in double layers under thick coats, and reminisced about summer and planned fun times in our new stomping grounds, just 20 miles from downtown Chicago.

We were all most certainly not dating. Michael was my brother, Chris was his friend and coworker and sometimes roommate, Lisa was their coworker and my roommate and her dad was in negotiations with a man in Oklahoma who thought he wanted to marry her. "Dating" was not permitted at IBLP training centers. We had all sat through innumerable conference lectures on the evils and dangers of a dating spirit, defrauding, singling someone out of a group for particular attention... We knew the rules, even the unwritten ones. The "no appearance of evil" rule. The "six-inch" rule. The not-being-alone-with-a-guy rule. The no-one-in-each-other's-rooms rule. The rule that necessitated glass office doors at the other training centers. Here, there were even more.

When I got settled into my cozy little office corner, the IT guys set up email on my computer. And someone gave me a form to fill out with the names and email addresses of any personal contacts that I intended to communicate with. I think there was room for half a dozen people. I put my parents' email down. I can't remember who else. We all knew Bill Gothard was uncomfortable with his staff having access to email at all, and the main point of the form was to discourage interaction between members of the opposite sex by minimizing privacy. Control was Gothard's modus operandi.

We assumed that Headquarters leadership would be concerned about the four of us outsiders from "Oklahoma" (though none of us were from that state) forming a clique. But we were not about to dissolve our sustaining friendships. As often as we dared, we would sit at the same table for staff lunch--the hot meal of the day provided by IBLP and the long-suffering kitchen staff. Nearly everyone else was a stranger to me, after all. Why shouldn't I eat with my brother?

Lisa and I had been assigned to Brook Manor, IBLP housing for ladies just across a parking lot from Bill's office at the Staff Center. We could see his office from our window. Bill was away this time of year, enjoying his customary retreat in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Our offices were in the Production Center building about a quarter-mile walk
down the road. During those frigid winter weeks, we were more than grateful  for Michael's willingness to pick us up in his car. I didn't know then how hard Chris pushed him in the morning to make sure my brother was punctual. Chris didn't want to miss the opportunity to spend time with me, even if it was only a few minutes!

Brook Manor--our curtains behind the far left pillar
There were more women than men working at Headquarters. And we self-segregated for some reason. At morning staff meeting, which was a sort of chapel service, the ladies sat on one side of the room while the guys and married couples sat on the other. I usually sat with my brother, just to be ornery. The meetings on Saturday and Sunday nights were less formal (we could wear colors other than navy and white). 

Michael and I missed the church we'd found in Oklahoma City, but we decided this was a good opportunity to explore other corners of Christendom. When Sunday rolled around, the four of us climbed into Michael's car and went hunting for whatever church I had selected for us that week: Presbyterian, Lutheran, Christian & Missionary Alliance... It was a great way to discuss our beliefs, our expectations, and our preferences. 

Chris's dad had encouraged him to take advantage of his proximity to Chicago. So we did! 

Our first weekend together, we drove downtown in the sunshine and spent the day exploring the city. We found Moody Bible Institute--home of some of my favorite radio programs from childhood--and wandered around inside some of the buildings reading commemorative plaques. We went down to the snow-covered Navy Pier and watched the ice cutters on the lake. On the way back to Hinsdale, we stopped for ice cream. 

We spent the next Saturday at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. I remember Lisa and I paying close attention to the exhibit displaying human fetuses at various stages of development. She pointed out the one that was the same age as the brother her mother had miscarried. My education in human biology had glossed over a lot of details, and I was strangely attracted to the ghostly unfinished forms floating in chemicals. The guys were off checking out another exhibit, or we would have been too shy to spend time on anything related to human reproduction. This despite the fact that we were both of childbearing age!

We made plans to venture away from Oak Brook again on the last weekend of January, but our boss got wind of it. When the "fellas" dropped us off at Brook Manor after work Friday night, darkness had already fallen. Before we got out of the car, Dwight Fredrickson came up to us there in the driveway and we were instantly on guard. 

Were we planning an outing the next day? We were non-committal; yes, we had talked about going somewhere. He did not recommend doing that. I think he used some analogy as a warning. We all knew it was a warning. His face was hard, his eyes cold. He had to get home, he said. His dinner would be cold and his wife would be hot. I have pondered that statement for fifteen years now. Was he blaming us for his cold dinner? Or for his hot wife? 

After Dwight left, we sat in the car talking for a long time. Someone had ratted on us, our "authorities" were trying to control our lives, and we were mad. Well, if they wanted to order us to stay on IBLP property, we could play by those rules. They could not break us up. The next day we met after breakfast and wandered the Institute grounds together, letting the sun warm our depressed spirits. We walked down to the pond, poking at the ice and picking our way around the goose droppings. Michael climbed into a tree by the Production Center and we girls snapped photos. When we got hungry, the boys drove to McDonald's and brought back burgers which we ate in merry defiance on the lace tablecloths in the Staff Center dining room. 

Continued at Part 6.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Finding Each Other, Part 4

Continued from Part 3

Indianapolis, November 1998

Riding the ITC elevator with my male coworkers one day, they stopped at one of the men's floors to get something. There was a short pause, because girls weren't "allowed" in certain hallways. "Oh, Jeri's a guy!", one of them said. This recognition of my status as a friend and a colleague warmed my heart all the way down to my shoes! Another time, an older staff guy took a group of young men out to a steakhouse. My friends got me included--the only female in the party. As usual, Chris and I controverted the stereotypes: I ordered steak with the rest of the men, while Chris ate pasta.

A former member of the Oklahoma CharacterLink crew was living with his family on IBLP's nearby South Campus (a former mental hospital being converted into a fundamentalist institution for Russian orphans). On Sunday afternoon, with nothing else going on, Chris and I went over there and "hung out" with Issac* and his sisters, savoring the outdoors and the more intimate family atmosphere. It was a welcome respite from the center of the city, and the institutional character of the ITC.

Around this time, Chris got sick and spent a day in bed. He ended up  reading his roommate's copy of Quest for Love, a collection of true courtship stories by Elisabeth Elliot. On waking the next morning, he says a thought popped up like a voice in his head. "Get married", it said. Well, Chris had always intended to get married, it seemed like a great idea. He was twenty-three, with no other long-term plans. But who, he wondered. The voice in his head had an answer ready. "Marry Jeri", it said. Of course.

Now the typical response to infatuations within IBLP was to ignore the person who turned you on. If you wanted to know who a guy had romantic feelings for, you asked, "Who is he avoiding?" And so Chris spent the rest of our time together at the ITC trying desperately not to ignore me. He was falling in love and didn't know what to do, but he knew avoiding me wouldn't help. He did a masterful job, too, because I was blissfully unaware that anything had changed!

Then my beloved grandparents arrived in Indianapolis. They were on their way to visit my parents, but stopped to see me. I begged permission from Mr. Gergeni, the acting ITC director that week, who grudgingly approved my request for an overnight pass. I panicked for a few moments when it occurred to me that this man who didn't know me from Eve might refuse to grant me time with my grandparents! On my way upstairs to grab my bag, we passed Chris in the hall and I was able to briefly introduce him to my Grammie and Bebop.

We spent a lovely day and a half together, drinking Earl Grey, visiting a museum downtown, and eating at a pancake house. I remember feeling quite grown up ordering coffee at a restaurant for the first time. (I had tasted Starbucks, but only on rare occasions.) We said goodbye back at the training center and they went on their way.

Later that weekend, Michael arrived from Oklahoma. I didn't exactly desert Chris after that, but I was considerably less dependent. Brother-sister pairs didn't raise eyebrows like heterosexual friend pairs did. And since we were outsiders only there for a few short weeks, the hierarchy couldn't do much about us. Michael and I could sit close to each other on the white sofas in the lobby, we could walk laps around the parking lot together, we could eat together; we even held hands--just to flaunt our privileged status. And Michael drove his car from Oklahoma, so now we could attend church with family friends instead of being assigned a church bus on Sunday mornings.

The three of us did make time for a trip to the fantastic children's museum just a few blocks north of the training center. I cannot now remember how we wrangled approval for that outing but I am certain we had a signed permission slip. We were such obedient minions. When Michael and I went home for Thanksgiving weekend, I wanted to take a girlfriend along, but even though all our parents had approved the plan, one of the ITC "authorities" decided to retract permission. The problem? My single younger brothers would be at the house, too!

Chris went home for Thanksgiving, too. We weren't sure when we would see each other next. I shook his hand the day he left. I had studied that hand for months as it guided his computer mouse across the desk, the long and hairy fingers often tremorous from low blood sugar. But we had never intentionally touched each other's skin before.

Our future plans were uncertain. None of us "characters" had any inclination to stay at the Indianapolis Training Center. Michael and Lisa and Chris had all been offered positions in the I.T. department at IBLP's headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois, outside Chicago, but no one was sure there was a job for me there. So I was mentally preparing myself to move back home.

Chris had planned to go to Chicago, but now he was having second thoughts. The stay in Indianapolis had called up old ghosts. Marriage seemed like a real goal now, and that would mean getting a real job, wouldn't it? He had already accepted the job at Headquarters, and IBLP was paying for his flight back to Kansas for the holidays. If he told someone he had changed his mind, he was afraid they might revoke his plane ticket. Or something. There was always some kind of control, something to be afraid of. So we said goodbye. I was still hoping we would all be reunited in Chicago. Chris, who was keeping many secrets, was wondering if he would ever see me again.

Michael and I shared everything we knew with the new CharacterLink staff. We did our Christmas shopping on an approved outing to the mall. And then it was time for the annual Christmas Conference. Even Lisa came for that, and we talked in the doorway of my room till way too late, catching up on the events of our weeks apart. Bill Gothard brought his staff down from Oak Brook, and there were even more girls in perfect makeup. The kitchen staff prepared a banquet dinner one night, with an ice sculpture. We went ice skating later, long skirts notwithstanding. The rink played Christmas hymns just for us, and everyone was celebrating the announcement of a new courting couple.

And Mr. Fredrickson, director of the IBLP publishing at the time, informed me that he did indeed have an opening in his department. I could start in a few weeks.

*Names are pseudonyms.

Finding Each Other, Part 3

Continued from Part 2

From Oklahoma City to Indianapolis, Halloween 1998

On my birthday, Michael and Dan brought me donuts. I celebrated turning 23 by going to Olive Garden for lunch with four of my girlfriends, in a car we borrowed from the training center. Friends on staff presented me with a booklet recognizing my contribution to life at the OTC. Things like my cooking, my piano accompaniment at our hymn-sings, my spunk, my goofy sense of humor. This line illustrates the feminine ideal prized in both the IBLP and broader Quiverfull communities:
"Your constant example of quietly doing just exactly what you're supposed to is a shining inspiration!"
The birthday was bittersweet, because after a year of carving out a niche where I fit and was appreciated, the rug was being pulled out from under me. In twelve more days, I would vanish. The only trace of my former existence would be my pancake recipe in the box on the kitchen shelf. I stayed late at the office and ate my Italian leftovers, skipping dinner and the obligatory "Happy Birthday" song in my honor.

The orders from Headquarters called for Chris and I to come to Indianapolis first and help set up the new offices. Lisa, Michael and Dan would remain for a few weeks to continue answering customer calls until the phones started ringing in Indiana. For Chris, this was a return to familiar turf, his old stomping-grounds. He had no ties to Oklahoma. It had merely been an interesting chapter in a long series of IBLP adventures.

But my Oklahoma experience had been the dawning of a new world. Strange to say, I had never felt so bold, so free, so vibrantly alive as I had that summer. At home there five little girls under nine years old--so many diapers, so many dishes. Here, I never changed a diaper and girls weren't even allowed to wash the dishes. (We did scrub an awful lot of toilets, though.) I had a double bed to myself, a bathroom shared with just my roommate, unlimited hot water, a job, private email access, and even a paycheck! 

I was surrounded by my peer group. My girlfriends had encouraged me to embrace my feminine side. They'd introduced me to delightful movie soundtracks and nail polish and flipping through fashion catalogs for fun. I'd practiced driving on the freeway. For the first time since childhood, I had a church that I loved. Michael and I had explored nearly every inch of downtown on foot, walking as far as the State Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion, the hospitals both east and west of downtown, and even the 45th Infantry Museum on 36th Street—a six-mile trek from the training center and another six miles back! I felt bonded with the red dirt, the city skyline, the immense sky. Now all that was coming to a close. 

Our travel plans were made for us. Someone was driving a van of equipment up to the Indianapolis Training Center (ITC) on the last Saturday in October. Chris and I, with our luggage, would ride along. We said our goodbyes and hit the road. I was dimly aware of it being Halloween (not a day we acknowledged in any way whatsoever!).

Road trips are innately exciting, but I recall feeling more pensive than thrilled that day. Sharing a bench seat with my closest non-sibling male friend, I wondered I ought to be shy--but we knew each other too well for that. Our driver was a young local ATI guy, and his mom was riding along up front. For much of the ride, Chris and I sat quietly behind them and whispered to each other when we weren't listening to their vintage radio dramas from Cracker Barrel.

Late in the afternoon, we stopped at a hotel just off the interstate and left Mrs. H. there "to shop for Amish furniture". It was all a bit mysterious to Chris and me, but our driver disappeared into the hotel lobby to help his mom check in. Leaving us alone--together--in the parking lot. Glad to stretch our legs, we strolled together down the walk in front of the building, then followed it around to the back where we both became ridiculously conscious being unchaperoned, in the middle of nowhere. Like the Marine and the nun in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Shouldn't I be afraid of something? Losing my virginity, perhaps?

IBLP culture kept sexual tension ratcheted up to a level just short of panic (ironically, as it turns out). Back in Oklahoma City, Lisa wasn't even allowed to be in the CharacterLink offices alone with Michael. Now that I was gone, they had to borrow someone else from the training center to chaperone (babysit?). So Chris and I really had never been alone together before. After a few moments of conversation to dispel any awkward nervousness, we walked back around to the van.

Hitting the road again minus Mrs. H., we were all a little more talkative. When we stopped at Arby's for dinner, I ordered my favorite sandwich, and casually shared Chris's fries. But in some ways it felt like a last supper. I dreaded being caged at 2820 N. Meridian St. in Indianapolis. I missed Jess*, the world's best roommate, who had also become my closest friend. Chris, on the other hand, was returning to familiar territory. Having spent years at the ITC, he understood how things worked and still had numerous friends there.

I found the ITC atmosphere both overwhelming and suffocating. Just walking past the well-dressed ladies who staffed the reception desk, with their lovely hair and fancy make-up, made me self-conscious and insecure. Here, appearance was everything. Even with all the rules and dress codes, Oklahoma had been so much more laid-back.  The devotionals at breakfast seemed confrontational, and I mistrusted many of the adults in leadership. (At 23 and unmarried, I dared not yet consider myself an adult.) Since the ITC was also a kind of juvenile detention facility, the exits were secured. We had to be buzzed out by the front desk every time we went outside, and we had to get a signed permission form to venture beyond the parking lot.

My goal was to survive for the two weeks until Michael arrived. Chris and I had been thrown together, so I would make the most of our friendship. I followed him around like a puppy, relying on his knowledge of the ITC environment, drafting on his confidence. Ignoring the social norms, I dared to sit with him and his friends at lunch. I'd spent hours helping them run phone lines, after all! Mostly Chris was amused by this reversal of our roles, but he was moody, too.

We had been in Indy at least a week when Chris learned that his parents' home in Wichita had flooded over Halloween weekend. His basement bedroom had been ruined, most of his belongings destroyed. His stamp collection was gone. His parents were swamped with the massive task of clean-up while continuing to provide full-time care for Chris's invalid grandfather in a damp house. And he was back at this training center he'd finally escaped less than a year earlier.

On days when I felt more optimistic or self-regulated, Chris would inevitably be grumpy or depressed. A social researcher could scarcely have designed a more perfect incubator for mutual dependence. Like children playing on a seesaw, we took turns boosting each other's spirits, becoming increasingly familiar and at ease with each other in spite of the atmosphere that discouraged heterosexual friendships.

Continue reading...

*Names are pseudonyms.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Finding Each Other, Part 2

Continued from Part 1

Oklahoma City, 1998

The key to sanctioned mixed-gender socialization at IBLP training centers was convincing leadership (a.k.a. "authorities") that you were a "natural grouping". Michael and I were siblings, Chris and Michael shared a bedroom, Lisa and I shared the same office, we were all CharacterLink employees--the overlap made our grouping as "natural" as could be. And so, in spite of building frustration with the IBLP organization, who couldn't even be bothered to give us an on-site manager, we had a glorious summer.

Most weekends, Chris went home to Kansas and the rest of us enjoyed our day off the best we could. (Sundays we fasted, recited Scripture to one of the staff mothers, and went to church.) One Friday, though, Michael and I rode north with Chris to visit friends in Kansas. Another time, I hitched a ride with him as far as Wichita, bringing another female friend along for "appearances". Yet another weekend, Chris stayed in Oklahoma and the four of us went to the State Fair and rode the monorail together.

photos from Lisa's scrapbook
Riding the monorail

Late in the summer, Chris invited the rest of the CLink to his parents' home in Wichita for a picnic. We all went down to a used car lot with Chris's dad and helped Michael shop for his first car. And when the burgers came off the grill, we were all impressed with how many Lisa could eat!

Meals at the OTC were not something to anticipate with pleasure. Some days we brought in $5 pizzas from the place down the street instead. We made evening trips to the grocery store together to procure juice, tortilla chips, and salsa as an alternative to what was served in the dining room across the street. Chris, especially, lived on juice and chips. I teased him about being a hummingbird. When we slipped away for fast food, I would eat his french fries. Though he had no feelings of being "in love" yet, Chris was hardly able to eat whenever I was around.

For my part, I was hopelessly infatuated with someone else, often to the point of giddiness. After years of experience with unrequited crushes, I had finally learned to live with them without beating myself up. Michael was my confidant. And my roommate knew all my secrets, too. After years of living in comparative isolation from peers, it was a delight to be surrounded with friends my own age. Even if we were subject to endless rules and expectations. By escaping to his parents' home on weekends, Chris avoided much of the IBLP culture, all too familiar to him from years spent at other training centers. He was aware, as we all were, of the "invisible electric fence".

We ran into that fence late in the summer. We had gotten bold. Since the guys took customer calls till nearly curfew, we girls sometimes worked late screening websites. One week the training center staff was watching an interesting video series about the history of Israel. We set up a monitor in the office so some of us could see a part we'd missed. And then we brought in some very safe favorite films to share. Chris set up his VHS player. And we were in business. One night the four of us watched Fiddler on the Roof together. Lisa worked on her crocheting during the movie. I think I'd gotten some crackers and flavored cream cheese to snack on. 

It was the first time my brother and I had been allowed to see two of the scenes from Fiddler, so it felt rather risqué, watching girls sing while dressing for Sabbath, men dancing together at a bar, and couples dating without permission from the girl's father! Of course, we discussed all these details. Deep down, we knew we wouldn't do anything so outrageous. We were rule-abiders all. This was simply our subtle way of dancing on the boundary line we would never dare to cross.

Another night we watched Jimmy Stewart in The Spirit of St. Louis. Much of the story takes place in a cockpit over the Atlantic. There aren't any dancing girls, and the only violation of norms was setting an adventurous new travel record. Still, we were sitting on the carpet in the technical support office with the lights off when the door to the warehouse opened. A group of guys from the training center was working on something in the building. Even though we were all in our twenties and there was more than a foot between each off us, we knew it didn't look good. I'm not sure why they opened the door, but there was an ATI father with them, and he wasn't happy.

I don't remember who on staff made me feel ashamed or how, but I felt guilty all night. It was a familiar-enough feeling, and I knew how to purge it. Tim Levendusky as the center director and I went to his office the next day and apologized, for something. I think it was for making him look bad. I didn't want him to get in trouble, after all. Sometimes he could be really nice, like when he told me my voice sounded like an angel's. Or when he accidentally praised the pancakes I made for Saturday brunch. He was even kind of cute when he wore his sky-blue sweater vest or when he shrank from cockroaches. I wasn't afraid of him or his henchmen, and that was the best thing about this training center. 

After I vomited out an apology, I felt better. I wasn't sorry for watching a movie with my friends, but I felt the relationship had been somewhat restored. Kind of like at home, when Dad would tell me that Mom was unhappy with me, so I would apologize for something to clear the air for a while.

But it was becoming clear that the invisible electric fence was still there, even if we were pretty good at avoiding it. Our clique had attracted the unwanted attention of administration. Our happy little existence of nachos, camaraderie, and Internet access in a corner of an Oklahoma City warehouse was simply too good to be true.

Over a conference call one morning, our boss at IBLP Headquarters, Dwight Fredrickson, informed us that IBLP was moving CharacterLink to Indianapolis. We could continue doing the same jobs, but from the IBLP training center there. We pushed the mute button on the speakerphone while we digested the news. We must have stammered some kind of reply before hanging up. That night, we all piled into one of the guys' cars (without asking permission) and went to Braum's where we lingered over our milkshakes till closing, processing our feelings and tossing around plans for the future.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Finding Each Other, Part 1

The tale of our courtship is a story I have wanted to get out for a long time. It's also a really long, emotional one to tell. I hope my readers will bear with each installment as I struggle to put those years into words.

Oklahoma City, 1998

I was living at the IBLP training center on Main Street (henceforth, the OTC) and working full-time in the CharacterLink offices, a roughly finished corner carved out of a cavernous warehouse owned by Kimray, Inc., across the street. CharacterLink was IBLP's solution for ATI families who wanted Internet, but were afraid of their males accidentally coming across pornographic images which would cause Satan to claim tracts of their souls and poke holes in their umbrellas. These men were the priests of their homes and we were standing in the gap between them and sin, previewing pages as they requested them. If they installed the program we provided, and followed all the rules, we could guarantee that they would not encounter temptation.

I shared a roomy "office" with Lisa*, an ATI daughter with a southern accent. Together we made up the customer service department. When we were not creating new accounts, which took very little of our time, we were skimming through websites from the queue to either approve them (sometimes grudgingly, with flags for "Catholicism" or "immodesty") or block them. Looking back, the whole enterprise strikes me as hilarious. A handful of virginal twenty-somethings who were not permitted to date or wear blue jeans were trying to censor... the Internet?

My younger brother Michael* had joined the CharacterLink team and worked in the technical support office, adjacent to ours. Living a thousand miles from our family for the first time and working together every day bonded us in a way we hadn't experienced before.

In June, a new guy arrived. Chris had already spent three years working for various IBLP programs, but his expertise was in computers and he had requested this assignment. At the hotel-turned-training center, he was assigned to share my brother's room, while across the street he was given a desk in the office adjacent to customer service The tech guys walked anxious homeschooling moms and dads through the steps of plugging in modems and installing CharacterLink software on their home computers. We often joked that it would be easier to just mail out a CD full of downloaded content and call it "the Internet".

IBLP's Oklahoma Training Center
Though we had been trained to be reserved in the presence of young men, there was something about Chris's manner that quickly put Lisa and me at ease. And when he offered to put his own funds toward a microwave for the office, Lisa decided he was "okay"! (Some of us had only just been added to the IBLP payroll, having served as unpaid "volunteers" for months as our personal finances dwindled.)

Me? I reserved judgment a little longer. This was my "turf", after all. I had my friends, I understood the rules, and I was naturally suspicious of new people sent from Gothard's Headquarters. They could not always be trusted. But this slight dark-haired guy in chinos and polo shirts soon earned my respect, and my friendship.

Unlike most of the single men at the training center, Chris was not afraid to treat women as equal peers. (Not that I ever considered myself a woman back then; amongst ourselves, we were girls--young ladies in the cult's formal jargon.) He seemed... relaxed. I was twenty-two years old and this was a new experience for me. I was used to shrinking through hallways lest I accidentally contaminate a guy by brushing against him with my abundant skirts. Another man at the training center once asked a coworker to "drop" a paper clip into his open palm so that their fingers would not actually touch.

After years of missing out on friendships due to following IBLP's unwritten guidelines, Chris had determined to ditch the familiar misogynistic codes where he could. So he was friendly with Lisa and me. He would come through the connecting doorway just to chat with us. He was interested in our opinions and included us in discussions and planning. He made us feel like people. 

Our CharacterLink offices were in the near corner
 of this warehouse
One week Chris drove his mom's Fiat convertible. He decided to take it out driving after work and I was eager to go along, even though there really wasn't room. We didn't ask permission to leave the OTC grounds, and we left from the backside of the building, shielded from prying eyes at the training center windows. Chris drove while Aaron*, the guy I had a terrible crush on, sat shotgun, and I sat squished horizontally across the narrow back seat.

I don't remember if we ran an errand or what. But I do remember that I was in a car with a boy. Two boys, in fact. For Chris and I, who had never even been on a date, that alone made it a guilty pleasure. In fact, on a guilty pleasure scale ranging from nail polish to a sexual orgy, this placed somewhere off the page, nearly exceeding our stunted capacity for both guilt and pleasure! Never mind that the boys up front couldn't see me, skirt tucked tight around my knees, hair whipping across my face in the hot Oklahoma wind. We sneaked back in the same way we left, feeling daring and a wee bit rebellious. I wonder now if Aaron realized what an escapade he was part of!

By July, Aaron, Dan* and the other members of the Oklahoma CharacterLink team moved on, leaving just the four of us--Michael, Chris, Lisa, and me--to hold the fort and run the show. For two months, we worked together every day. At some point, we started calling ourselves "the CLink". We dutifully started each morning with a "staff meeting" and a prayer. But our cynicism was growing by the week. We were overworked, underpaid, and for what?

Some of our customers wanted access to sites with images of women in bathing suits while others didn't. A customer, or more likely a customer's teen, requested access to a dozen nudist/naturist camps in Scandinavia. I had only the vaguest idea of what "pornographic" meant. My mom had used that word for the magazines in the grocery store checkout lane, and the Victoria's Secret catalog. But when I blocked the Victoria's Secret website, my supervisor (a married woman) reversed that decision. If we weren't blocking that, what was the point? Oh, well. We all knew how to get around our own product, after all.

Jaded, we checked the Dilbert webpage for a new comic every morning, and quoted our favorite strips frequently. As we got bolder, we occasionally strolled down the street to the stunning Myriad Gardens and held our "meeting" there amid the flowers before the phones started ringing at our desks.

The Myriad Botanical Gardens

Continue reading...

*Names are pseudonyms.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Guest Post: Memories of Knoxville

So happy to introduce a guest post from my husband! 

Chris devoted five years of his adult life,  from 1994 to 1999, to Bill Gothard's cult, working at IBLP training centers in Moscow, Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, and Oak Brook, Illinois. 

We have been unpacking a lot of memories this month. This is one of many that was jarred loose. 

In 1997, I was living in a sort of lock-down facility for juvenile delinquents in Indianapolis, Indiana. I wasn't delinquent; I was supposed to be a mentor. But this was in no way a normal facility. It was an old hotel that a religious organization bought and remodeled with our slave labor. (We paid to be there!) Then they convinced some judges to assign a few young offenders to our facility. Each of these teens was paired with one of us. We lived together nearly 24/7 and we were supposed to teach them wisdom, character, etc. 

IBLP had a large home schooling program (ATI)  and every summer they had a week-long conference in Knoxville, Tennessee where families from all over the country would gather on the University of Tennessee campus to hear speakers drone on about how bad rock music was, or how great breasts were, er, I mean, breastfeeding was, or tell us how to avoid the "high places" of modern education by basically screwing over our teenagers. Apparently homeschool parents aren't supposed to educate their children about reality.

In June that year, I got to go to this conference, with the juvenile delinquents from the Indianapolis center. I really have no clue why leadership felt the need to send these kids to a conference for homeschool families, but it was what it was.

A few days before we went down we were "given the opportunity" to go out into the neighborhood around the center in inner-city Indianapolis and clean up litter in the streets and vacant lots. We worked at this for a few hours, and then we went to some church for lunch. I peed, washed my hands, and ate. Later, we loaded up the vans and drove down to Tennessee for the conference. 

On my first day in Knoxville I found out why you wash your hands before you pee if you suspect any contact with poison ivy. Because I washed my hands, they were not affected, and I had long pants and shirt sleeves on, so I had no poison ivy outbreak anywhere else--just my crotch!

We stayed in old dormitories on the university campus, without air conditioning. In the June sun, the rooms were stiflingly hot and we had to have the windows open. Outside the window, about three feet out, was a road, and on this road was constant traffic, car horns and fire trucks--big hook and ladder trucks--rumbling back and forth every fifteen minutes or so with their sirens wailing. If that wasn't enough, the car alarms in the parking garage would go off periodically.

I lay there in bed in the stifling still heat night after night,with my crotch burning and itching and the constant noise outside, just staring at the ceiling, hoping for . . . and then eventually exhaustion take over and I would startle awake an hour or two later to find everything had gone deathly quiet.

For some reason the street outside would just die sometime between midnight and 1 a.m. It was almost spooky. I'd get up and walk to the window and be amazed at how still it was. Where had everybody gone?

But then I had had just enough sleep for my brain to pay attention to the heat and the itching again. So I got to stare at the ceiling in quiet for hours drifting back to sleep only an hour or two before the sun came up and rallied us to our feet again.

The rooms were gross, by my standards. Someone had apparently come in with a power sprayer and painted white over everything, including the dust and dirt. The showers were small and moldy, and it was an unpleasant job to try to get oneself clean enough every morning to start sweating the day out in a dark suit.

One solace in all of this is that we sometimes got to eat at the cafeteria at the arena where the conferences were held. The food wasn't great, but it was cafeteria-style, so we could pick our poison.

One day I sat with a friend of mine. We got along well, but could only talk once or twice a month because our assigned delinquents were not allowed to talk to each other. So we treasured our rare moments together.

He told me once about his grandfather, who as a kid had gone out into the woods with some friends and they all cut off one of their toes, because it seemed like a cool idea at the time. That is the kind of stock some of us came from.

I remember both of us getting these ridiculously enormous strawberry-flavored milk shakes. We sat over them and talked about how many terrible chemicals must be in them, how they probably had nothing related to milk in them, how they were probably just big vats of artificial plastic something. I guess that conversation was as close as we could muster to cutting off our toes.

We spent much time walking up and down the hills of Knoxville in the sweltering heat, in suits and ties. Going to our rooms, staring at the ceiling at night, walking to meals. And then the purpose, the event, was to sit for hours in the back of a stadium watching some old man in another navy suit go on about... well, whatever. Maybe about how America was going to hell, but we were going to save it... or something.

Then one evening, some overweight blowhard was going on and on about God or something when he just fell over. He fell hard and even from the back we could hear his body hit the stage. Part of me thought maybe it was a stunt, and everyone kind of froze, but a guy that big couldn't pull off a stunt like that without hurting himself. Some guys on the front row jumped on stage to practice their CPR training on a real cadaver and the rest of us sat back kind of stunned, and hoping this meant we could leave early.

Mickey Bonner's last moments
One of the guys we had brought from Indianapolis was saying, "I knew that dude was going to have a heart attack. Did you see how his face was turning completely red and then blanching white, over and over while he was talking?" Wow, who knew this delinquent was paying so much attention to the speaker?

Eventually someone got to the podium and asked us all to kneel and pray. Everyone got up and turned around to pray at their seats. I'm sure I did, too, but I had to wonder, What do we pray for a dead man? Maybe I just prayed for my crotch to stop burning and itching so badly.

Eventually an ambulance arrived and they took the body away. He was quite dead, probably before he hit the floor. Honestly, he wasn't doing much better when he was speaking. What was the point? What was it all about? Why the hell?

So that was Knoxville '97: poison ivy, living in a noisy shit hole, while we watched people talk themselves to death on stage.

P.S. from Jeri: That night was the only time either of us have seen someone die. Something like that sticks with you. And, strangely, we were both in the auditorium that night, with no idea that we would be introduced a year later. But more on that in a post soon!

Gothard Posts At-a-Glance

Check out the new link on the side bar to skim all HH's posts on Bill Gothard to date.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

John Stancil: Scripture, Sex, Success

John Stancil--IBLP Board Member

A little history

Curtis Hutson was a mailman who started preaching revivals in his free time. When he was just 22, he preached at Forest Hills Baptist Church near Decatur, GA.  The story goes that by the end of the week the pastor had resigned and the church had called the kid mailman with no formal training to replace him. Inspired by a message by Jack Hyles, Hutson eventually quit his post office job to focus on evangelism full-time.

Hutson pastored Forest Hills for twenty years, bringing the membership to nearly 8,000. (His lack of education did not prevent Hutson from serving as president of Baptist University of America from 1974-1980!)

John Stancil was 14 when he "trusted Christ as his personal savior" and joined Hutson's church. Young John worked his way up from janitor to director of the bus ministry, which brought in over 2,000 attendees on a given Sunday. He also married Brenda Cannon, with whom he had three children. The couple wrote a booklet on bus ministry (Busing--the Real Bring) which was published by Sword of the Lord in 1975.

1n 1978, Dr. John Rice invited Curtis Hutson to come to Murfreesboro, TN, to help edit "Sword of the Lord". Hutson edited the publication from 1980 until his death in 1995. Hutson also tapped his friend John Stancil to join him in Murfreesboro. The Stancils moved to Tennessee where John worked as Sword of the Lord's conference director and circulation manager for several years.


In 1988, John and Brenda Stancil divorced. Five months later, Jack Hyles himself officiated at John's marriage to Yullie (Yuok) Chong, a Korean student at Hyles-Anderson College.

According to one source:

Brenda said she later learned that "he had been seeing Miss Chong in Indiana for quite a while before his divorce became final and that he had spent Christmas of 1987 with her and her family after telling our children he would be home alone. She was in Murfreesboro on at least four occasions . . . ." All this was while the Stancils were still married.

One of those visits calls attention to an even more unfortunate and unsavory matter. Since college regulations called for Miss Chong to stay with someone else while at Murfreesboro, arrangements were made for her to visit in the home of Mrs. Doris Roberts, a Sword employee of long standing and Stancil's secretary, business manager and close confidant. Conveniently, the latter was given a plane ticket to visit her son in Florida at that time, leaving Miss Chong without proper chaperone.

A lady who went to the house to meet her and get acquainted relates, "When I got to the door, I found she and John there alone making love on the sofa." (She defined "making love" as "lying fully prostrate, clothing in disarray, with movement, stroking, kissing, and bodies touching"; she said she could not "say for certain if sexual intercourse was occurring or had occurred," a matter that seems immaterial when considering the fact Stancil was still married to another woman.) The lady watched for a while, then left and went to a friend's house nearby and asked her to return as a witness, finding "the two were still on the sofa." The lady placed her business card on the window of Stancil's Mercedes-Benz and left.

The affair made waves in the wider Independent Fundamental Baptist community. John Stancil's career as a Baptist conference speaker was over.

Buses and Music

Months after their wedding, John and Yullie Stancil took stock of their their marketable skills. 
Buses. Religious publishing and marketing. Music. 

They bought their own bus and began conducting charters for schools and churches around Murfreesboro. They called their new company Anchor Trailways & Tours. By 1995, their fleet had grown to about ten buses and they were ready for the big-time. They moved their company to the Nashville area where it has grown to a fleet of more than sixty vehicles. 

Stancil is reported to have “a doctorate in transportation” and calls himself a “stickler for detail.”  Fort Campbell in Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne Division, is Anchor Trailway’s largest account.

On the side, John Stancil also runs his own IFB publishing/evangelism company--Anchor Bible Concepts. ABC sells King James Bibles (including the Scofield Bible) and soprano Yullie Stancil's three musical recordings.  One of these albums was produced by IBLP's offshoot Principle Music in Indianapolis, with orchestration composed by Loren Elms and Tracy Ann (Collins) Biddle. The album was released in 2002. According to the IBLP website, Yullie Stancil "has a beautiful singing voice and uses it to promote Godly music." 
John Stancil currently serves on Bill Gothard's Board of Directors at IBLP. 

Another of Yullie's albums was produced by The Crown College of the Bible in Powell, Tennesee. John Stancil is also chairman of the board of Crown College, which was founded by Temple Baptist Church's pastor Clarence Sexton.  Sexton, a speaker at Bob Jones University's Bible conference last year, has been criticized for praising Jack Schaap, who is now serving prison time for having sex with a minor.

On a happier note

John's ex-wife Brenda Cannon Stancil became a reporter for The Examiner in Beaumont, TX. As an award-winning journalist, she writes with compassion and grace. She has championed single parents, battered women, those treated unfairly by the justice system, and others--offering them hope. After years raising her three children alone, Brenda married Ted Henley in a shipboard ceremony.

Just for fun

I am personally amused by this photo of John Stancil donating a $10,000 check and bus services to a country music charity concert.  Apparently Anchor Trailways has a close relationship with the Nashville music scene, frequently shuttling artists to shows in Muscle Shoals, AL. This despite the strong stance taken by IBLP and Stancil's conservative church against music with a backbeat!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Misogyny in the Good Book

"The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever."
Isaiah 40:8 and 1 Peter 1:24-25

"...the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change..."
Hebrews 13:7

Do you think the Bible teaches strong marriage and family values?

Psychologist Valerie Tarico, a graduate of Wheaton Bible College--alma mater of both Billy Graham and Bill Gothard, compiled 15 verses illustrating some of the good book's teachings about women, marriage, and parenthood. The following are quoted here from the New International Version:
  1. A wife is a man’s property: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Exodus 20:17   
  2. Daughters can be bought and sold: If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. Exodus 21:7   
  3. A raped daughter can be sold to her rapist: 28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. Deuteronomy 22:28-29   
  4. Collecting wives and sex slaves is a sign of status: He [Solomon] had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. 1 Kings 11:3   
  5. Used brides deserve death: If, however the charge is true and no proof of the girl's virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father's house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. Deuteronomy 22:20-21.   
  6. Women, but only virgins, are to be taken as spoils of war: Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. Numbers 31:17-18   
  7. Menstruating women are spiritually unclean: 19 “‘When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. 20 “‘Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. 21 Anyone who touches her bed will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.22 Anyone who touches anything she sits on will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, . . . 30 The priest is to sacrifice one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. In this way he will make atonement for her before the LORD for the uncleanness of her discharge. 31 “‘You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place,[a] which is among them.’” Leviticus 15: 19-31   
  8. A woman is twice as unclean after giving birth to girl as to a boy: A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. ' 3 On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. 4 Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. 5 If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding. 6 " 'When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. Leviticus 12: 1-8   
  9. A woman’s promise is binding only if her father or husband agrees: 2 When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said. 3 “When a young woman still living in her father’s household makes a vow to the LORD or obligates herself by a pledge 4 and her father hears about her vow or pledge but says nothing to her, then all her vows and every pledge by which she obligated herself will stand. 5 But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand; the LORD will release her because her father has forbidden her. . . . . A woman’s vow is meaningless unless approved by her husband or father. But if her husband nullifies them when he hears about them, then none of the vows or pledges that came from her lips will stand. Her husband has nullified them, and the LORD will release her. 13 Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself. Numbers 30:1-16   
  10. Women should be seen not heard: Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 1 Corinthians 14:34   
  11. Wives should submit to their husband’s instructions and desires: Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Colossians 3:18   
  12. In case you missed that submission thing . . . :  Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:22-24.   
  13. More submission – and childbearing as a form of atonement: A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. 1 Timothy 2: 11-15   
  14. Women were created for men: For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. 7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 1 Corinthians 11:2-10   
  15. Sleeping with women is dirty: No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they remained virgins. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as first-fruits to God and the Lamb. Revelation 14:3-4

Sadly, I absorbed many of these misogynistic values in my Bible-saturated youth. But my perspective on the Bible changed dramatically when I began teaching it to my own daughters. I had become callous to, or even learned to draw comfort from, innumerable stories that my children found outrageous.

Today, it feels good to stand in opposition to ancient tyranny and oppression of women. Especially tyranny and oppression perpetrated under the name of God's will!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Homeschooling and College: My Experience

Leaders in the Homeschool Movement spend an exorbitant amount of time selling their rhetoric in words and in materials (books, videos, blog articles) sharing what they believe to be the ultimate role of women as homemaker: how to be respectful and submissive wives, how to cook, sew, how to raise children, etc.
If you are a young girl raised in this environment, your know your lot in life is: get married to your approved husband, have many children, teach your children at home, and hopefully, your children will do the same.
...The ultimate goal in the Homeschool Movement is to be fruitful and multiply and “take dominion” of the world. 
--"When Homeschooled Daughters are Trapped" by Julie Anne Smith, originally published on Spiritual Sounding Board

I remember the feeling of being trapped. I had been taught by Bill Gothard and Inge Cannon that college was both dangerous and unnecessary. I already knew it required a large investment of time and money, neither of which I believed I had. I had no job, and when I did get one much later, I was still dependent on my parents for transportation. In addition, I was always expected to help with both regular and irregular chores to keep the household and Dad's business running. Dad paid us to work for him, but the hours and the projects were subject to change according to what he needed. If he needed help, it wasn't presented as an optional job. Neither could I "turn down" a sewing project for Mom, even one she was offering to pay for.

Mary Pride, Vickie Farris, Elisabeth Elliot, and Nancy Campbell were certain my calling was to be a submissive wife and a full-time mother. Numerous writers were telling me that my dad should help select a future husband for me. But I was in my twenties now, and no young men were lining up for the privilege. I'd never even been asked out, never held hands with a boy, never talked to a guy my age on the phone. I was certainly raising babies, but they weren't mine.

At ATI conferences we would listen to "testimonies" of young adults who had left their college studies to return home and happily study the Bible with their younger siblings under the authority of their parents. We would expose ourselves to Satan's temptations if we left our parents' protection to live on a campus. We might even lose our faith. We would be corrupted by humanism and "vain philosophies". We might even succumb to "a dating spirit".

Besides, even without degrees we would have employers coming to us because of our excellent character, worth so much more than mere knowledge. Anything we needed to know, we could learn from masters through on-the-job apprenticeships. To a teenager whose primary outside contact was church on Sunday morning, it sounded so good in theory. I did some volunteer work, but no one came knocking in search of my great talents.

Years after I should have graduated from high school, Gothard's organization launched an alternative to college: a correspondence school by which one could study law from home. Loving the idea of having initials after my name, I was eager to apply to Oak Brook College of Law. But it turned out one had to have some college credits! Or, instead, they would accept a GED certificate and satisfactory CLEP scores in three subjects. So Dad got on the phone and made the arrangements. In January, I got my GED (at a facility for dropouts and delinquents) and sat for the necessary CLEP exams at the our community college.

In April 1995, the week before the Oklahoma City bombing, I spent a week at Gothard's Dallas Training Center doing "orientation". I remember being surprised that the young man picking me up at the airport was alone.(At nineteen years old, I'd never been alone in a vehicle with a single man before. Unspeakable things might happen!) The class was predominantly male, but there were a few other women. All the professors we met were male.

The dean, Roger Magnuson, kicked off the week by warning us of the spiritual perils of our course of study. He urged us to halt our studying if we sensed "our delight in spiritual things diminishing". I remember something about the school not being unaccredited "yet", but I had no idea what that meant. No one had ever explained regional accreditation to me, not even my dad who had a degree from Penn State. After all the introductions and preliminaries were over, I lugged my new books back to Michigan. For the next year and a half logged four hours of study a day, often falling asleep on my bed as I slogged through the heavy, sometimes bone-dry texts.

It was lonely as hell. I rarely got to converse with another student over the phone, and never talked to a professor. It would be two more years before we even got email access at home. I mailed in assignments, got grades back, and took my midterm and final exams at a proctor's house across town. Despite being a devout Catholic, she was an avid fan of Gothard ("He's the most Catholic man I know!") and did her best to spoil and encourage me when I came over. I was grateful to her, but it wasn't enough. All this time I continued to pull more than my weight helping around the house, tasked with keeping the bills paid, the dishes washed, diapers changed, the kitchen clean, and whatever else Mom needed me to do.

When my mother had a nervous breakdown two months after delivering her tenth baby, I was left in charge of the house, and meals, and seven younger siblings--for a week.  I kept assuring myself God would take care of everything, that he had things under control. But nothing was under control! And I was desperately trying to prepare for the state "Baby Bar" exam in San Francisco which would determine whether I could continue my studies or not.

When Mom returned home from a week discussing the Bible with a pastor in Indianapolis (the "counseling" she got at Gothard's training center), we all walked around on eggshells for weeks. There was The Knife incident. I was anxious and depressed and cried a lot in secret. I had trouble sleeping. I got sick. My appetite diminished. I felt like my whole life was in danger of crashing in pieces around me.

I feared Mom would fall apart again. I feared I would fail the exam and Dad's money, not to mention the last eighteen months of my life, would have been wasted. I feared turning into a steely woman lawyer in a boxy navy suit. I feared turning into a sexy female attorney in a fuchsia suit, wowing the judge with her perfume instead of her brains. I wished I had given up the notion of law school long ago!

I took the exam. Mom stabilized. While I waited for the test results, I sewed dresses for my little sisters and did a lot of thinking. My friends were starting to get married. In my terrible loneliness, rocking my infant sister, I longed for a man of my own, someone to embrace and love me. Was marriage in God's plan for me? Was I going to sew dresses for little girls of my own? Of what use would my studies be then?

I could not envision how a career in Constitutional Law could be compatible with marriage and homemaking. I had never actually met a female with a law degree. I had only observed them from a distance on visits to the county courthouse. It was understood in our circles that marriage meant choosing to be a homemaker.  Dad would never approve my marriage if he thought I intended to be a lousy wife!

By the time I heard that I'd passed the Baby Bar, I knew that I was done with Oak Brook College of Law. I did not have the emotional stamina to keep homeschooling myself through college for three more years! And even if I did finish, the school could not assure me that I would be qualified to practice law in any jurisdiction outside California. Since my home was in Michigan, and I had always lived with my parents, it was difficult to visualize a future forging a life for myself across the continent!

But I was soon sure I did not want to remain a stay-at-home daughter indefinitely. A year after taking the Baby Bar, I took the chance to work for Gothard's cult out-of-state. When that didn't work out and I found myself back home, I explored other options. I got an acceptable part-time job (I could wear modest skirts and the office manager agreed to keep the radio off on the days I worked) and started saving money--while still keeping up with chores and responsibilities at home. In a tentative act of independence, I applied for a temporary volunteer position with an evangelical missionary organization, telling them I was willing to go to Peru, Guatemala, or the Philippines.

And at age 24 I enrolled in a summer university linguistics program in North Dakota, taking real college courses for the very first time. Experiencing my first classroom (with real desks!) since first grade, I thrived! I reveled in the lectures, the labs, the camaraderie, the independent study, the collaboration with classmates, and the exams. Especially the exams. Like Anne of Green Gables, I loved the sweet taste of being at the head of a class instead of an isolated self-taught learner!

It would be another decade before I learned the difference between the ten "credits" I earned from Oak Brook College of Law and the ten credits I earned that summer from the University of North Dakota.

In the interim, a lot of life happened: marriage, babies, homeschooling. And eventually, enrolling in classes in community college. How strange to walk through those doors and sit elbow-to-elbow with kids nearly twenty years my junior. Every time I fill out a survey and select the "some college" option, I wonder, "What if I had spent my single adult years getting an education?"

As the oldest daughter, I was the guinea pig in many ways. Several of those now-grown baby sisters have sprinted past me in the race to an education. Yet, the last time I talked to my dad about the courses I was pursuing, his cool response was, "But I hope that being a wife and mother is still your main priority." It felt like a jab, a reminder that I was stepping outside the circle where I was supposed to stay and be happy. Perhaps he didn't mean it that way.

My children see Chris and I working on college assignments week after week and they can't help but see that we value learning. Because as it turns out, Gothard and his friends were wrong--outside their fantasy land, having or not having a traditional college degree can make a world of difference.