Yesterday I wrote about my concerns about child marriage in the Christian homeschooling world. In particular, I wrote about the Maranatha story, and included a mention of the marriage of Maranatha’s daughter Lauren at age 16 to a man ten years her senior. I included a wedding picture from Lauren’s wedding in the post, in order to make what I was talking about real. Blogger Lana of Wide Open Ground, who knew Lauren’s family growing up, expressed concern at my use of that picture, saying that “girls like her did not really have another choice.”
When composing my post, I thought long and hard about whether to include one of the many wedding pictures Lauren had on her blog, which she appears to run as part of her father’s ministry, Kindling Publications. In using the picture in my post, I did not mean any disrespect to Lauren. I do worry that she is being used to perpetuate a lifestyle that is harmful to the girls who become caught up in it. I fear that idealizing and normalizing the sort of marriage she entered into when she, at age 16, married a man of 26 will lead other girls to make the same choice, to their detriment. As part of a growing survivor community, I know that it is important to not gawk at this sort of situation, but to have empathy and work to raise awareness, and that was the spirit of my post.
I also knew that Lauren’s wedding picture would make the post far more emotive and impactful than it would be without, because it puts a face on something that is otherwise abstract. The post was not about Lauren, or about her mother Maranatha, but about every conservative Christian homeschool girl this has happened to. It was about patriarchy and what it does to its daughters, and people need to hear that. I knew that Lauren’s wedding picture would spread the reach of my post in a way nothing else would, because it would give it a human face.
I also couldn’t help but think about what Lauren’s father Matthew Chapman wrote in 2003, five years before he gave his daughter Lauren away in marriage. In it he referred to his marriage at age 27 to Lauren’s mother Maranatha, who was only 15 at her wedding:
I know that in my case, I cannot even begin to fully communicate the wonderful gift Maranatha’s father gave to me in his daughter on the day we married. All her life, he had called her to trust him and follow him, even when she didn’t understand or, perhaps, even agree with how he was leading her, and she did. A few nights before our wedding feast, when Maranatha was dressed and ready and waiting for me to come, the doorbell rang and it was her dad who showed up instead. He assured her the wedding feast was not that particular night, and asked her to change her clothes and join him for a special dinner. He took her to a nice restaurant where they had a wonderful evening talking and sharing and laughing and crying together. Then, at one point, he told her, “Sweetheart, all your life you have submitted to me, trusted me, and followed me, and you have done this well. But, when Matthew comes and takes you, all of that transfers over to him, even if that means he leads you in ways that vary from how I would do things.” And when I went to get her, she followed her dad’s final lead right into my headship of her. Wow! Did I walk into a good deal or what?!
These ideas are toxic, and people need to know that this is happening, and not in some sort of abstract sense but to real girls in the real world. And so I included the picture, because I wanted people to listen, because this matters.
How Common Is This Child Marriage?
I said in my post yesterday that I wasn’t sure how common this sort of child marriage was in conservative Christian homeschooling circles, as I had never seen it myself. But I was struck by something else Lana said.
BTW, the chapmans live the same area as where I grew up (30-40 minutes a way). I consider Benjamin an old friend. At any rate, I can think of at least two homeschoolers who married by 17; one I know was 16 but I think both were . . . and then I know a couple others who were 17, maybe pushing 18. Maybe one difference is in the south more people marry young, and so homeschoolers can even marry younger? A homeschool friend and I had this conversation a few years ago. He had homeschool parents approach him about marrying their 16 year old daughter, and he was creeped out because of the age difference. Then he knew two others in their homeschool group, also 16, getting married/or trying—with older men. So why teen marriages may not have been homeschool “norm,” they were not in frequent either.
I still don’t know for sure how common this is, but it’s clearly more common than I had hoped. What really bothers me here is the age difference bit. If these parents were marrying their 16-year-old daughters off to other families’ 17-year-old sons I would still be concerned, but when they’re marrying their 16-year-old daughters off to full grown men significantly older in both years and experience, I am appalled—and not in small part because of quotes like Matthew Chapman’s.
How Influential Are These Teachings?
It seems that Matthew Chapman is going to be a keynote speaker at Christian Home Educators of Ohio’s annual homeschool convention this summer. This is a major convention, and this past summer the now-discredited Doug Phillips was a keynote speaker. Voddie Baucham spoke there in 2012, as did Eric Ludy. In addition to Matthew serving as keynote speaker, his wife Maranatha is slated as a featured speaker. Matthew runs Kindling Publications, and both Maranatha and Lauren is featured heavily on organization’s website.
Like it or not, it appears that the mainstream of the Christian homeschooling movement, its major convention circuit, has chosen to give a platform to those who practice and promote the marriage of girls of 15 and 16 to much-older men. Here is something else Matthew Chapman wrote in 2003:
Parents, I would also charge you to consider this. The way many Christian homeschooling parents raise their daughters, they mature rather quickly and develop significant capacities by a relatively young age. By their middle-teens, many daughters (but by no means all) possess the maturity and skills to run their own home. My point is to encourage you to be open to the Lord and take to heart that some of your daughters may be ready to marry sooner than your preconceived ideas have allowed for. And why not, if they are truly ready? What is the purpose of holding out for a predetermined numeric age if they are legitimately prepared and the Lord has brought His choice of a young man along for her? Don’t be surprised if this is some of the fruit of your good parenting in bringing forth mature, well-equipped, Godly young daughters. However, I seldom think this will be the case for most young men—it takes them (us) a lot longer to get to where they need to be. I have also seen that, oftentimes, a difference in age—even a significant one—with the man being older, helps make for a better fit.
This is the man who is now being given the keynote slot at major Christian homeschooling conventions. People need to know this. Matthew Chapman promotes the marriage of homeschool girls in their “middle-teens” to older men, endorsing an age difference, “even a significant one,” as making “for a better fit.” Matthew Chapman not only followed this advice in his own marriage, but also in marrying his daughter Lauren off immediately after her 16th birthday to a man of 26.
What does this say of the Christian homeschooling movement? If what Lana said holds true, in certain circles this whole marrying off mid-teen girls to fully adult men with significant age differences thing is much more common than I had feared. Where are the voices speaking out against this? Where are the Christian homeschooling leaders saying that this is wrong? I’m searching for them, but I’m finding only crickets—crickets, and Matthew Chapman serving as keynote speaker at a major Christian homeschooling convention.