Let me tell you a story that involves Scott Brown, Kevin Swanson, a “typical” large Christian homeschooling family, and a decade of sexual abuse. I will use this story to illustrate some of the points I’ve made about churches, homeschooling, and accountability. Let’s get started, shall we?
Six brothers from Perquimans County [North Carolina] have been charged with sexually abusing a 16-year-old girl for more than a decade.
Eric, 27, Jon, 25, Matthew, 23, Nathaniel, 21, Benjamin, 19, and Aaron Jackson, 18, were arrested last week. They are charged with crimes related to rape of a child.
Deputies also charged the brothers’ parents, John Jackson, 65, and Nita Jackson, 54, with felony child abuse, saying the couple knew what was happening but did nothing to stop it.
One of the brothers supposedly told investigators his mother witnessed the alleged abuse on at least one occasion and walked away.
The girl in question was the six brothers’ younger sister. All seven children were homeschooled, and the family was religious. They weren’t isolated from the wider Christian homeschooling community, either. Instead, they were typical of it. Ryan Stollar titled his Homeschoolers Anonymous post on the subject This Is What Child Abusers Look Like in Homeschooling Communities. In other words, the family looked just like any other conservative Christian homeschooling family. As Ryan explained:
I was intrigued to find out that the Jackson brothers still had their Facebook pages active. So I decided to go look at their pages and see what their public lives had looked like. I was interested — but not surprised — to find out that the Jackson brothers had mutual Facebook friends with me. Several brothers actually had quite a few. So these kids (some now adults) clearly had somewhat social lives. They weren’t growing up in a stereotypical compound in the middle of nowhere. They existed within groups — like homeschool speech and debate — that I used to exist in. And yet no one seemed to have any idea what was going on. No one, including some people I myself know.
But here’s the thing: their Facebook pages look normal. They look like the Facebook pages of conservative Christian homeschool students and graduates. And that is exactly the point here. If this case wasn’t being criminally prosecuted, how many people do you think would be defending these people as “godly” and “upstanding” men who would “never do something like that” because they “love Jesus”?
Ryan’s point was not that all homeschooling families that look godly and upstanding are hiding horrific abuse but rather that the fact that a homeschooling family looks godly and upstanding does not mean that there is no abuse. Ryan goes on to comb through the brothers’ facebook pages demonstrating just how normal they appear within the conservative Christian homeschooling culture—their likes, their posts, these things are typical and not in any way out of the ordinary. And yet, for ten years they sexually abused their younger sister.
How did the abuse come to light? Two years ago, the oldest brother, Eric, then 25, felt enough remorse over what he and his brothers were doing to their younger sister, then 14, that he told his pastor what was going on. Eric was attending Hope Baptist Church, run by Scott Brown, well known for his connections to Doug Phillips and Vision Forum. What should have happened when he divulged the abuse? Let me answer you with Scott Brown’s telling:
He [Eric] first went to my fellow Hope Baptist pastor, Dan Horn and confessed. We collaborated on the situation and the next day Dan called to report it to the authorities in Elizabeth City. Shortly thereafter Dan went with Eric to the authorities to turn himself in. In that meeting Eric exposed the patterns of evil in his home and his past participation in it.
And this appears to be what actually happened—new reports say Eric Jackson confessed what was going on to his pastor and then went to the police with the story at his pastor’s urging. (Although it’s worth mentioning that I have not seem Brown’s claim that Dan called the authorities to report the abuse before Eric went to them himself substantiated in any news reports.)
Scott Brown claims that Eric’s remorse is proof of the success of the gospel—that Jesus made it clear to Eric that what he was doing was wrong, and that that lead to his confession. There are a couple of problems with this interpretation, most prominently that Eric and his family had been dedicated Christians for years and yet the abuse had continued. Eric was 25 and still sexually molesting his sister. He had had plenty of time to feel remorse and stop before. Still, I admit to being impressed that both Scott Brown and Dan Horn urged Eric to go to the police and were (Brown claims) ready to take action even if Eric did not.
From what I have read, it appears that only two members of the Jackson family—Eric and one other brother—attended Hope Baptist Church. It is unclear where the rest of the family attended church, or whether they practiced home churching. I wonder if Scott Brown’s actions would have been different had the entire family attended the church and thus been subject to church discipline, or had the abuse been in the past rather than an ongoing thing.
Despite the alleged confessions, police needed more evidence to make arrests in the case. For that, they attempted to speak with the alleged victim. That task, authorities said, initially proved futile.“Her parents refused to let us talk to her and [they] moved to Colorado,” said Tilley.
I wonder if the family had an HSLDA membership. If so, HSLDA would have assisted them in preventing social services from gaining access to their daughter. That is what HSLDA does for its member families.
The next step the family took is also typical of these sorts of cases: they moved. Eric Jackson went to the police in December 2012, and in 2013 that the family moved to Colorado to flee the investigation they found themselves facing. Then what happened?
Authorities in Colorado were notified of the situation and the Department of Human Services in Colorado Springs took custody of the victim. It was then, Tilley said, that his deputies were able to talk to the girl about the alleged sexual abuse.
The brothers (and their parents) were finally indicted in April 2014. It sounds as though the family’s flight provided the remaining justification needed to obtain custody of the girl in order to interview her. I am curious how authorities in Colorado found the family, given that homeschooling makes it easier to hide, and I wonder whether some difficulty in locating the family may have been why it took until April 2014 to gain the evidence needed for an indictment.
Now we come to some information recently added by Chris Jeub. Jeub is a conservative Christian homeschooling father, author, and speaker in Colorado who has recently begun urging homeschoolers to listen to Homeschoolers Anonymous and other homeschool alumni speaking out against abuse in the homeschooling movement. In a recent post, Jeub spoke of the Jackson family’s time in Colorado:
Let me return to the article I mentioned: the one about the six brothers raping their little sister over the course of 10 years. After reading about it on HA, I saw that the family moved from North Carolina to find refuge among friends in Colorado. Hmm, interesting, I thought.
I checked my Facebook profile. I have some-3000 friends. Matthew Jackson, one of the six brothers, is one of them. He claims Monument as his home.
And the welcoming church home he found here in Colorado: Kevin Swanson’s Reformation Church.
Good Lord. Kevin Swanson — perhaps the biggest criticizer of the HA crowd — gave a welcome home to Matthew Jackson, one of six brothers being charged for raping their sister.
I contacted one of the former elders to validate this, and he let me know that they had not known of Matthew’s background when he started attending their church, and the Jacksons do not attend anymore. Okay, fine. But that isn’t really the point. A family whose parents allowed their sons to rape their little sister had a radical fundamentalist ideology that somehow lined up with Reformation Church of Elizabeth, Colorado.
And not a peep of this on Swanson’s radio program. So much for self-policing his own community.
In other words, when the Jacksons arrived in Colorado in 2013, fleeing investigation for sexual abuse, they attended Kevin Swanson’s church. Yes, that Kevin Swanson. Jeub says he contacted someone from that church and was told that they hadn’t known the family’s background and that the family no longer attends there (which makes sense, given that the family has been back in North Carolina facing trial since April 2014). But for a time, they did attend, and Matthew Jackson is still facebook friends with Kevin Swanson, his father Ralph, his son Daniel, and his daughters Bekah and Emily.
This raises so many questions. Swanson is a big proponent of self-policing and of using church discipline rather than the authorities to deal with things like abuse or neglect. This leads me to wonder. Did the church initially support the Jacksons against the accusations against them, once they found themselves under investigation again in Colorado? When the younger daughter—the victim—was taken into custody to be interviewed, did the church lift the family up in prayer “in this time of persecution”? I really wish we had some answers to these questions, but we don’t.
Yes, the Jackson family’s story is horrifying. But it’s also somehow fascinating, with its involvement of two major conservative Christian homeschooling leaders and its cross-country flight and the heroic efforts of investigators in finally apprehending the family and moving the victim to safety. Scott Brown did right in determining that the abuse taking place in the Jackson family must be reported. As for Kevin Swanson, we know less, but we do know that he and his church are not as unfamiliar with these issues as his flippant radio broadcasts might make suggest.
Perhaps if the young victim of this family tragedy had had access to a trusted adult willing to listen to and believe her, her nightmare could have been brought to a close that much sooner.