Ryan Stollar of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out (HARO) has been knocking it out of the park lately. I deeply appreciate his advocacy and his willingness to take on big names in his efforts to prevent child abuse. Today I want to take a moment to highlight his two latest pieces, one posted on the HARO website and one posted on HARO’s Homeschoolers Anonymous (HA) project website.
First is Stollar’s HARO piece, How We Marginalize Abuse Survivors: Valuing Forgiveness Over Protection. What’s amazing about this piece is that he does something with the story of Joseph that I have never seen done before.
Forcing a survivor of child abuse to forgive their abuser—when that survivor does not feel safe doing so or is not protected against further abuse—is an action worthy of millstones. It re-victimizes the child and it places other children at risk. When child abuse happens in your community, your top priority should be ensuring that all children are safe and protected from the abuser.
In the Bible we see a good example of this principle in action in the story of Joseph and his brothers. . . .
. . .
I think sometimes we focus so much on the epic narrative arc of Joseph’s story that we lose sight of the fact that it begins with child abuse and child trafficking. At 17 years of age, Joseph is beaten and thrown into a pit by his adult brothers. This is sibling child abuse. Joseph is then sold into slavery—which is human trafficking.
Joseph is extraordinarily resilient. He survives despite all the odds and eventually becomes the governor of Egypt. What is interesting, though, is that Joseph nearly falls apart when his brothers later come to Egypt in desperation due to the famine. Despite all his current power, Joseph is still the scared, hurt child inside that he was when he was 17.
But Joseph is smart. He decides to protect himself before he forgives his abusers. In Genesis 42-45, Joseph puts his brothers through a number of tests to ascertain whether they have had a change of heart—to see if they are currently abusive. And make no mistake, the tests are grueling! He does not simply ask them a few questions and then content himself with their answers. He puts them through a rigorous process. Only when he is absolutely certain that they have had such changes of heart that they are willing to put their own lives on the line now to protect Benjamin, their youngest brother, does Joseph reveal himself to them. Only when the power dynamics are in his favor does he open himself up to reconciliation.
I will never see the story of Joseph the same way again. I had always wondered, as a child, why Joseph put his brothers through those tests. I think my parents or my pastor said something about it being similar to how God tests us. That never felt quite satisfactory to me. This interpretation, though? This one makes sense.
While I am no longer religious myself, finding ways to promote children’s safety within Christianity as well as outside of it is critically important. Stollar is one of many bloggers and activists who do just this, pushing back against Biblical interpretations that shield abusers and re-victimize victims.
In his HA piece, The Fixer, Ryan takes on Christian attorney David C. Gibbs III.If this name means nothing to you, that’s okay. The entire mess around Gibbs III has been hard for even me to follow. Gibbs III is known recently for representing Lourdes Torres in her lawsuit against Doug Phillips and for representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Bill Gothard. Both men are authoritarian Christian leaders accused of harassing young women in their employ. Many found it surprising, therefore, when a judge disqualified him from the Gothard suit this month, revealing that he had been playing it from both ends, promising Bill Gothard that he knew how to “fix” is problem while also representing his accusers.
As Stollar cuts through the confusion, detailing Gibbs III’s past and future:
Since 2014, Gibbs III has appeared to many in the Christian homeschooling movement as a champion for abuse survivors. He became the attorney for Lourdes Torres in her sexual assault lawsuit against Vision Forum’s disgraced founder Doug Phillips.[vii] When five brave women decided to sue IBLP and ATI’s founder Bill Gothard for sexual assault as well, Gibbs III was there, filing the lawsuit.[viii] The lawsuit against IBLP and Gothard has now grown to include eighteen plaintiffs.[ix]
Through his National Center for Life and Liberty (NCLL), Gibbs III has positioned himself as an advocate for the abused as well as an individual sensitive and empathetic to those injured by Christian fundamentalism. As Gibbs III told HA’s Ryan Stollar in January of this year, “I vehemently oppose child abuse and those that cover it up with a passion, and I believe that organizations that emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abuse children should be prosecuted and shut down.” Now that he has become one of the primary business partners of the Great Homeschool Conventions, the largest for-profit homeschool convention company in the United States, Gibbs III’s platform and reach is spreading.[x]
Yet some have questioned this positive image of Gibbs III. Despite his current advocacy for survivors, he spent decades doing the exact opposite: serving as a fixer for abusers and defending leaders who spread Christian fundamentalism. Through his work and leadership with his father David C. Gibbs Jr.’s organization, the Christian Law Association (CLA), Gibbs III built a career out of defending accused child abusers. And as recently as last year, Gibbs presented sermons at churches arguing that not only parents, but schools, churches, and even complete strangers have a “fundamental right” to child corporal punishment—which he referred to as “child-beating.”[xi]
Gibbs III has served as a lawyer for a number of Christian legal organizations for four decades, and as Stollar reveals, was instrumental in removing protections for children sent to Christian reformatories for troubled teens in Texas. I truly hope that the plaintiffs in the suit against Gothard are able to find new representation and proceed with their case. If you’re at all interested in either that case or the troubled teen industry, Stollar’s piece is mandatory reading.
If you’re looking for a charity to support, please consider donating to HARO! Ryan’s work is important, and all donations are tax deductible.