Monday, May 19, 2014

Our Courtship Story: Fear, Desire, and More Goodbyes

Continued from A Road Trip and the Red Pill

October, 1999

The guys stayed at a hotel, while I stayed with Lisa. Being conservative homeschooled girls who scarcely knew anything about sex, we didn't have anything resembling a bachelorette party. We may have had a timid conversation in which we pooled our ignorance of all matters sexual. Or we may have just planned details for the next day's schedule.

The wedding being on Sunday, we had breakfast at McDonald's, then attended Lisa's IFB church in the morning before changing into our wedding finery. The guys' hotel had a power outage, so they had to wait for hot water and we were just glad they made it in time! The ceremony, the couple's first awkward kiss, photographs, a beautiful reception, and then they drove away for the honeymoon while we singles committed to "moral purity" tried not to think about what that meant. As we we waved Lisa off to a life of wedded bliss, however, our guiltily naive imaginations could not have dreamed of the horror awaiting her. Far from protecting her, the courtship model set her up for years of silent heartache and abuse.

That night I shared Lisa's old bedroom with her maid-of-honor. As sexually mature but inexperienced young women who still lived with our parents, we talked late into the night about what it meant to "guard your heart" and be a "one-man woman". It was a relief to talk frankly to someone else who had wrestled with the same questions--like whether it was unwise to kiss another woman's husband when he also happened to be your dad.

Gothard's teaching on sublimating sexual energy
Weddings were undeniably about sex. Before the rings were exchanged, all heterosexual physical contact was charged with danger. Even hand-holding might tempt one to "go too far". There was the "appearance of evil" to worry about. Two people of different genders had to be chaperoned for their own protection. Billy Graham was said to avoid ever being alone with a woman to keep his reputation above reproach. At IBLP training centers, many offices had glass doors for "accountability". And of course, full-coverage loose-fitting garments were believed to be a guard against temptation.

But after the minister said the magic words "Mr. and Mrs.", the fundamental structure of the universe was altered. All sexual feeling between the same two people was to be embraced, celebrated. A married woman had a worthy excuse to wear sexy lingerie. She could seduce her man on purpose. Then a man and woman were supposed to feel desire, instead of suppressing or sublimating it.

It had been nearly a year since Chris's inner voice had told him, "Marry Jeri", but he had sublimated the idea perfectly. I still had no idea that he was romantically interested in me. I wanted to be married; hell, I just wanted a guy to tell me I was attractive. As far as I could tell, there were still no possible suitors on the horizon. Little did I know that the next time the CLink had a reunion, the wedding would be my own!

The guys and I packed up and headed back to Chicago the next day. As always on a return trip, I felt more contemplative than I had on the drive south. We stopped in Lexington, KY to dine at the Olive Garden, and I remember a conversation about clothing and fabrics. I had put Chris in a box based on what he wore at training centers and was surprised to learn that his preferences actually matched mine in many ways. Even though I considered myself to know Chris rather well, there were always new discoveries!

It was late when we arrived back in Oak Brook. Michael and I transferred our suitcases to his car and Chris got the crockpot I'd forgotten in my sudden move a few months earlier. I was staying in Michigan and Chris was planning to move back to Kansas at the end of the year. Though our friendship was solid, no plans existed to suggest we would ever see each other again. Before Michael and I left, Chris and I stood in the drive of his house at Headquarters and shook hands goodbye. For the third time in our friendship, our skin touched. A hug would have seemed more appropriate, but we would never have dared risk so much. Our future happiness in life depended on maintaining our moral, emotional, and physical "purity".

We did not write to each other after that. We never emailed, or talked on the phone. We did have occasional contact on AOL Instant Messenger, but only when my brother Michael was around to be in on the conversation, too. Chris knew I wanted voice lessons and had encouraged me to pursue them, which I did that winter. And since he had been well aware of my crush on Matt, I confided to him when it melted away. Naturally, Chris wondered if this was a cryptic message. Was I telegraphing to him that I now returned his interest? Surely I was aware of how much he liked me??

Chris was already planning his departure from IBLP, but now a few things converged to help him pull away. On a visit home to Kansas, Chris caught a BBC show on TV. Signs and Wonders was about a young woman caught up in a cult, and her family trying to rescue her from the cult's clutches with the help of an exit counselor played by James Earl Jones. The film struck a chord with Chris, especially in its depiction of the way the cult used fear to maintain mental control of its members. Years later, Chris wrote this reflection:
"[Signs and Wonders] tells the story of the daughter of a pastor who gets drawn into a cult. They do a good job of giving a brief view into just what a cult is like and about. When she is rescued from the cult she does not want to leave. They have told her that if she ever leaves "People will cry, people will die, things will fall out of the sky." She quotes this often, and when she sees the front page report of a plain crash after she leaves, she is sure it is her fault.
"...What hit me was how much the cult's use of fear was identical to Mr. Gothard's teaching that if you get out from under your umbrella of authority, Satan will have free rein in your life. All of us ATIA students and IBLP-goers were taught that if we didn't obey our parents or whoever they sent us to (IBLP leadership), we could have every horrible thing happen to us!
"At one lunch Mr. Gothard brought us the report of an ATIA father who had been killed recently. At first I thought this was a prayer request for the tragic event of a very involved father of many children suddenly being removed from his family. However, Mr. Gothard went on to tell us how he had been killed while working on a riding lawn mower with his son on Sunday afternoon. He told us that because he was working on Sunday he was out from under God's protection. He also told us that his father would never do any sort of work on a Sunday like that.
"That was the last straw for me. It is so clear an obvious how Mr. Gothard uses the fear of Satan's attack to enforce his will on people, and teaches others to do the same."
At a gathering at director Mike Bell's house, Chris watched a video message from attorney, pastor, and ATI dad Roger Magnuson. In the video, Magnuson lamented that some church youth groups were holding swing dances, which he considered abhorrent because Frank Sinatra was so obviously a sexually immoral person. Instead of agreeing with Magnuson's perspective, Chris was hung up on the dancing part. Christian singles had dances? How fun! He wanted in on that! Maybe he didn't fit in so well at this place after all...

Coming home late another night from the Production Center, Chris (twenty-three years old and a full-time employee) was surprised to get a call from Mike Bell. As it turned out, Bell had spies doing nocturnal surveillance around the neighborhood, making sure that curfew was enforced. Chris explained that he had been paged to deal with a server issue and had just come home to bed. Bell was satisfied, but the incident made Chris aware that this employer-employee relationship had a freakish component! Maybe this place really was a cult.

After ensuring CharacterLink's servers were patched and ready for Y2K, skipping the annual staff Christmas conference, Chris said goodbye to IBLP and moved his belongings back to his parents' home in Wichita.

Continued at Taking the Plunge


  1. How I wish I could go back in time and warn that naive young lady of the pain in store for her... I want to run back through history and rescue her!

    I know all of this is difficult for you to re-live, but I appreciate your writing it out for all of us to read. This "courtship" mindset created so many problems, and caused so much suffering. Some might look at you and Chris and call you a "success story," but as you're sharing here, your marriage has been good *in spite of* courtship, not *because* of it.

    -- "Lisa"

  2. I am enjoying this series, not the least because I have fond memories of my, courtship, whatever it was, which my future wife and I did in defiance of the Gothard teachings.

    I am thankful that I at least got a pretty good sexual education from my parents. (I insisted on graphic anatomical detail when I was five. My poor mom...)

    For what it is worth, my wife and I also took swing dancing lessons together when we were dating. (Yes, there was a trill of doing something really naughty.) I am still a questionable dancer, while she is graceful, but we still have fun from time to time.

  3. this is great. thanks.


  4. I wish you would write a book! This is so eye-opening! And very good reading. You are an excellent writer. Please write it soon!

  5. This is great reading! You are an excellent writer! You really should write a book! Do it soon!