That’s a phrase I hear a lot. And part of why I don’t talk about that side of my history as much. But I was homeschooled; from age 4-18 I was primarily taught by my parents and self-taught from religious based textbooks and curriculum with some Evangelical Christian co-op education mixed in. I’m not trying to claim all homeschooling is unhealthy but it can easily be used to hide abuse, both physical and spiritual. I’ve spent many years trying to heal both the social awkwardness/anxiety that resulted as well as trying to purge and retrain my brain not to think in the patterns I was taught.
The reason I bring it up now is because my friends brought this article to my attention today:
It is bringing up a lot of feelings and reminding me of just how dangerous Christian Fundamentalist Homeschooling is. So here’s a bit of an insider perspective from my corner of the “Quiverfull” movement.
If you’re lucky, you’ve never heard of Bill Gothard, The Institute for Basic Life Principles, or their Advanced Training Institute homeschool program. If you have, it was hopefully because of the sexual abuse charges or from the multitude of us who have escaped the cult and are finally telling our stories. Back in the ’70s, Gothard went around the country as a motivational speaker type, filling spaces like Key Arena with hoards of young adults listening to his Basic Life Principles seminars on how to get out of debt and claim your power in the patriarchy. As he grew his base, he started creating multiple layers of insiders and using them to infiltrate major political and power structures. At the height of their power their Character First curriculum was used in the Oklahoma Public School System among others, they basically ran the orphanage system in Romania, and had prominent members throughout many governments and corporate leadership.
This wasn’t a denomination or a church, it was a network of people basically living underground (and sometimes off the grid) who infiltrated the more extreme evangelical churches and pulled them even further right. And lest you think it only happens in rural areas, I should tell you that I grew up in King County Washington, one of the most consistently liberal places in the country. But until I went to college, I rarely met an atheist or non-Evangelical person in my life.
As with any cult, Gothard was the sole figurehead and his word was law. All their materials had the primary goal of getting you to believe that his precise interpretation of the bible (and the Constitution) were the only way. Men were the sole heads and breadwinners of the house and should be the only ones with access to television and the internet. Your God-given duty was to have as many kids as possible and train them to reject all “dominant culture.” You should simultaneously attempt to convert as many people as possible by making them “your disciples” and yet reject anyone from your life who wasn’t Christian enough. Children couldn’t date but they had a complex courtship process setup where you spent time around their family with stated intentions and eventually married after never having even been alone together much less kissed. And there was some really far out stuff like how Cabbage Patch dolls were demon possessed and religious symbols from other cultures were idols that could corrupt your family.
But the parts that it shared with the larger Fundamentalist Homeschooling movement that boomed in the ’80s was extreme xenophobia leading to attempting to out-populate “heathens” and working towards a God-ordained theocracy (Christofacism as the article calls it) in America. The work of David Barton and other “historians” rewrote the past and present to fit their worldview. And children were trained in mental gymnastics and formal debate techniques to turn them into tiny “arrows” to shoot against your foes.
For three summers I went to a high school camp called Worldview Academy that ostensibly taught you to “not check your brains at the door” and think for yourself. Really, it was a brainwashing camp designed to make you invincible to any attempts by public/liberal colleges to sway you from your black and white thinking. Luckily for me, I went to a Christian college with moderate professors who gave me a safe place to ask questions that I had been burying for years and helped us form our own opinions. I nearly lost my family when I first said that I believed in egalitarian relationships but since then they have mellowed out quite a bit. Distance from the cult has definitely been a big factor.
I was lucky enough not to have become extremely politically involved during that period of my life. The first major election I voted in was for Obama and I have since lost touch with how that community thinks as I’ve worked hard to retrain my brain and systematically evaluate my beliefs and assumptions. But this article has reminded me of just how dangerous this movement is.
Like many of you, I had assumed that there would be a large portion of Evangelical America that would outright reject DT because his beliefs are largely antithetical to everything they preach. I know my parents voted third party for the first time in their adult lives because they actually have consistent, if flawed, morals. But what I forgot is that they have spent decades not only grooming their constituents but literally giving birth to an army of conformists. There are tens of thousands of adult children across America descended from those cult members and you’d better believe that every single one of them voted.
There is a lot of blame shifting going around about why we lost the election. We know for sure it wasn’t because of people of color and I don’t think blaming “white working class” Americans as a group is fair. But I do blame the hypocritical Evangelical Americans who turned out en-masse to vote for someone they would have vilified if they didn’t think that the end would justify the means. Now I’m waking up to the fact that between the kleptocrat egomaniac without a handle on his temper and a theocrat bigot poised in the wings, they are one giant leap closer to their goal.
I don’t know what the solution is. These people are largely immune to reason and empathy. They literally only listen to people who are like them and endorsed by the tiny men behind the curtain. But I do know that we need to be just as engaged and outraged as they have been taught to be. They pull the strings from underground but we can take to the streets in greater mass than they ever can. What we’ve learned is that you can’t underestimate your foe. They are cunning and dangerous and very well prepared. It’s easy not to take them seriously, but now that things are seriously wrong we are going to have to behave differently.