Why Christian Homeschooling Culture Is Not a Safe Space

Some months ago I stated in a blog post that I was becoming increasingly convinced that Christian homeschooling culture is not a safe space for young women and girls. A reader objected in the comments section, misunderstanding I think both what I meant by “Christian homeschooling culture” and “safe space.”  Regardless, reading various figures’ responses to the Doug Phillips scandal, and how they discuss Lourdes Torres, Phillips’ victim, has made my assessment only more firm.

There’s this from Doug Wilson’s recent blog post, Vice, Victims, and Vision Forum:

But if his attentions were entirely unwelcome to her, and she was freaked out by the creepster, then we have to ask why she wasn’t down the road at the first opportunity — that night or the next morning — with Doug Phillips receiving notification of her opinion of what transpired via the sound of sirens. That’s not what happened, on anyone’s account, and so I don’t think we should identify her as a victim.

For someone who makes his livelihood counseling his parishioners, Wilson shows a stunning lack of understanding of any of the dynamics of abuse. He reiterates his statement in the comments section:

In other words, according to Wilson, if an abuse victim does not get out of the situation at the very first opportunity, she (or he) cannot be identified as a victim. We might as well ask this of every case where a male partner is abusive: “If his abuse was not welcomed by her, then we have to ask why she didn’t leave at the first opportunity, say the first night or the very next morning.” But of course, this is ridiculous. There are a million reasons abused women do not leave the moment their abuse starts. For one thing, it usually begins little by little, and not all at once. But beyond that are plenty of reasons both physical and psychological.

If someone who is a leader and an influential figure in this culture is so clueless as to the dynamics of abuse, how much hope is there that more local leaders will be any less ignorant?

But let’s stop and ask ourselves a question Wilson doesn’t think to ask—what would have happened if Lourdes had come forward about Phillips’ actions? What if she had told other leaders in Phillips’ church, as Wilson would probably prefer, given his propensity for preferring the Matthew 18 approach over civil courts?

First of all, if Lourdes had gone to her church elders they likely would have suspected her of lying. After all, Phillips was a very well respected leader. When the scandal broke several months ago, there were many that had trouble believing it even then. How much more unbelievable would it have been without a paper trail of sorts stretching back for years? Further, Phillips was one of the church elders. These would have been his friends Torres would have been going to. In all likelihood, they would have called him in and asked him what happened, he would have explained it away as nothing, they would have believed him, and that would have been the end of it.

After all, that’s exactly what Gothard did over and over and over again. Someone would say something, some rumor would surface, and Gothard’s board of directors would talk to him about it. He would assure them it was nothing, and they would tell him to be more careful in the future, and everything would go on just as before.

Second, even if Lourdes had gone to her church elders and they had believed that some level of impropriety was going on, they likely would have placed some of the blame on her—even if she went to them immediately. They would have asked her what she had done to lead him on, what she had said or worn or done. They would have asked her if she had fought him off, or if she actually wanted his overtures, and so on. And they very likely would have seen her as tainted herself.

After all, that’s exactly what has happened when female victims have gone to the authorities at Bob Jones University, and Patrick Henry College, and Pensacola Christian College. They’ve been told they must have been asking for it, they’ve been questioned about their clothing or their behavior, and so on.

I also have very little faith in the local church authorities Lourdes would have approached had she followed Matthew 18. After all, we know that the other leaders in Doug Phillips church knew full well what was going on over six months before Phillips issued his public apology, and over six months before the Vision Forum board of directors decided to shut the ministry down. In February of 2013 Phillips was removed from his position as elder at his church because of his actions, but he was allowed to go on speaking and serving as an influential public figure, even though he had in his personal life made a lie of everything he said from his public platform.

In this culture, the criteria for being a victim is very narrow. If you are among the few who fit the criteria, you receive all the support they can give you, and your abuser alone is condemned as guilty. However, if you don’t fit the criteria you stand guilty and implicated in what happened alongside your abuser. What, you didn’t leave him the first time he raped you? And you say you’re a victim?

It is because of these sorts of narratives and beliefs that I said what I did about Christian homeschooling culture not being a safe space for girls and young women. Yes, this very culture claims to care very much about protecting girls and young women, and many leaders find justification for patriarchy in just that. But while their words say one thing, the systems they create and beliefs they embrace create something very different altogether.

And if my saying this upsets readers, they should focus their energies on combatting these narratives, not on expressing their shock that I could say such a thing.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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