Don’t Turn Away: Trouble in the Homeschool Movement

Written by Heidi St. John

Posted on March 9, 2014

PPSA_adversity

Oops. It happened again.

Another “pillar” of the homeschool movement has resigned after allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior.

“In allegations going back decades, Gothard, 79, and unmarried, is said to have specifically targeted young women and teen girls to perform administrative duties for him at IBLP’s headquarters, where he eventually would make unwanted and inappropriate physical contact while also manipulating them emotionally.” (Christian Post.com)

This comes just months after a scandal at Vision Forum forced the resignation of Doug Phillips. Of course, I’m troubled by this. But what’s more troubling to me is the lack of concern that the homeschool community seems to have for the victims of Gothard’s and Phillips teachings. There seems to be more concern for protecting these men and their “ministries” because it may have a negative impact on homeschooling than for the lives of the people who have been hurt and abused.

What in the world are we thinking?     

I’d like to make something very clear: Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips are not the spokesmen for the homeschool movement.   They represent an ideology that has somehow, over the years, gotten much more attention than it ever should have received.

These men have told us how to dress, what to say, when to use birth control (or not) and how to school our children. I say it’s time we had a discussion about it. There’s an elephant in the homeschool movement.

Someone said I was making a “mockery” of a fellow Christian by posting a link to the scandal on my page. I disagree. No one is making a mockery of a fellow Christian. Pretending that it didn’t happen is not helping anyone. Is it painful and embarrassing? Yes. Where there’s sin, pain is sure to follow. My heart breaks for the families, especially the women who have been hurt by the patriocentric, hyper-legalistic, hard-core fundamentalist mentality that has erroneously come to represent the homeschool movement.

Am I sorry to have to say names? Yes. But I’m even more sorry this has been allowed to continue unchecked for so long. Enough is enough. The number of women I have spoken privately to over the years who have been deeply wounded by these teachings compels me to break my silence about the ugly side of a movement that I love. The trouble is not homeschooling. The trouble is false or extra-biblical teaching that has infiltrated large parts of the homeschool movement.

Having been directly impacted by this teaching myself, I hope that others may finally find some release from the legalistic, man-centered teaching that these men and others like them espouse. This latest scandal has proven once again that we MUST NOT, we cannot, put our faith in men.

However, we mustn’t “throw the baby out with the bath water.” There are many good teachers out there who are stewarding God’s gift to them wisely and with great humility. But even a good teacher’s message is not above scrutiny.  As individuals, we should hold all things up to the authority of Scripture. We must study the Bible for ourselves rather than relying solely on the words of others, even if they seem like good words.

There are many flawed teachings at ATI and Vision Forum. The worst of them have deeply hurt women and young Christian girls who were vulnerable and whose parents were desperately searching for a formula that would produce the desired result. After all, who doesn’t want that perfect family, that obedient child, that perfect marriage? Formulaic teaching produces one of two things: pride (if/when we get it “right”) or discouragement, disillusionment, and guilt when we don’t.

Once again, thousands of parents who were looking to men have been disillusioned and wounded. Once again, we are left to weep and wonder why it was allowed to get this out of control. We must speak out.

By not speaking out, we become guilty by association. For example, it pains me that the seven children God has blessed me and my husband with automatically associates us with the “quiverfull movement.” Frankly, I’m embarrassed to be associated with such a movement. I have finally decided to be brave and just say it: I don’t believe this movement is biblical.

Movements like this start with a true biblical premise, the fact that the Bible says children are a blessing. This is truth! This is the message we should be sharing!  However, “ministries” like the ones Gothard and Phillips started tread deeply into areas of personal conviction, in an attempt to make others feel responsible to believe what they believe, even to the point of teaching things the Bible does not clearly address as fact.

My husband and I believe that homeschooling is a wonderful option for families. In fact, I’d go so far as to say we believe it is the best option. We are grieved to see how it has been hijacked by ideologies and legalism, especially since homeschooling affords us and our children so much freedom to learn and grow together. Homeschooling allows committed parents to provide an excellent education for their children. Homeschooling is not the problem.

The bottom line? Unless we begin to study the Bible for ourselves rather than blindly following the teachings of charismatic personalities, we will continue to see these kinds of abuses happen. Until we say collectively that “enough is enough” and talk about what has happened, it will continue.

Don’t turn away. Like a virus, sin festers and grows when it is ignored. Where forgiveness is needed, I pray we will forgive. Where repentance is required, I pray there is repentance. I don’t want our children to think that their father or I rely on anything but God. We don’t have all the answers. There is no formula, only faith guided by God’s truth.

The moment we begin to trust that God really can finish the work in our children that He began through us will be the moment we will truly learn to trust God and stop leaning on formulas. If you ever listen to a teacher or minister who directs you beyond the grace and love of Jesus alone, run. Our hope is in Jesus. No where else.

I’m praying a little more urgently for leaders and pastors and mothers and fathers tonight.

God knows we need His healing touch.

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