Christian Homeschooling and the Trial of Renee Bach

Christian Homeschooling and the Trial of Renee Bach July 11, 2019

Imagine being told your entire childhood that God has a plan for you—but it’s not just that. Lots of people are told that, in a nebulous, flexible sort of way. No, imagine being told that your parents were homeschooling you and your siblings so that your generation—you and all of your homeschooled friends—can change the world. That you are special by virtue of being homeschooled, shock troops in the army of God, preparing to take the country—and the world—back for Jesus.

It’s a sort of inflated sense of divine destiny.

Growing up on this rhetoric instills a sort of moral, divine certainty that leads to serious levels of self-inflation and self-importance. On that note, I give you homeschool alumna Renee Bach, currently on trial for practicing medicine without a license in Uganda, leading to the deaths of several children. Renee was homeschooled in the U.S. and, at age 18, traveled to Uganda to begin her mission work.

Now, what homeschooled girl hasn’t dreamed of being a missionary nurse? It’s one of the only full career paths available to girls—otherwise, they’re stuck supporting politician husbands, or missionary husbands, or pastor husbands. It’s just that when I dreamed of being a missionary nurse, I always imagined myself finishing nursing school first.

Bach is being sued by the Women’s Probono Initiative in Uganda:

Jinja –Uganda, Today the Women’s Probono Initiative (WPI), Ms. Gimbo Brenda and Ms. Kakai Annet have sued Ms. Renee Bach and Serving His Children (SHC) a non profit in Masese 1 – Jinja District for actions they allege led to the death of their babies while in the care of Ms. Renee Bach the Director of SHC.

In their case documents, the mothers allege that they were led to believe that Ms. Renee Bach was a ‘medical doctor’ and that her home was a ‘medical facility’ as she was often seen wearing a white coat, a stethoscope and often administered medications to children in her care. When their children died however, they were told that Ms. Renee has no training at all in medicine and that in 2015, the District Health Officer had closed her facility and ordered her to not offer any treatment to any child.

‘There are procedural and regulatory mechanisms that ought to be followed when establishing a medical facility in Uganda. Even so the law provides for licensing agencies and protocols for who should practice medicine in Uganda. It is unacceptable, narcissistic behaviour, for any one, black or white, rich or poor, missionary or angel to pass off as a ‘medical practitioner’ when they are not. By doing so, they mislead unsuspecting vulnerable members of the public. The actions of Renee & SHC have caused so much pain, injustice, a lack of transparency and accountability by the organization Serving His Children. The Judiciary has a role to play in ending this.” – Said Ms. Beatrice Kayaga – an officer at the Women’s Probono Initiative (WPI).

And again:

An American woman who founded a Christian nonprofit in Uganda, which she allegedly operated as an unlicensed medical facility, is accused of making residents believe that she was a doctor — and only coming clean with the truth after numerous babies died in her care, according to a lawsuit.

Of course, Bach isn’t going down without a fight:

Bach’s lawyer, David Gibbs, disputed the notion that Bach represented herself as a doctor or nurse.

“She made nutritional care provided by qualified medical professionals more accessible for families in rural areas,” Gibbs said in a statement on Twitter. Gibbs also said that Serving His Children hired licensed Ugandan doctors and nurses to provide healthcare through its nutrition program to combat malnutrition in Uganda.

He calls Brenda and Annet “reputational terrorists” and said the suit will be “vigorously answered in court.” He did not respond to the claim that the clinic was shutdown and ordered not to offer treatment.

Wait a minute. David Gibbs? That David Gibbs? Yes. That David Gibbs. David Gibbs III. You really can’t get more homeschool than this.

Back in the early 2000s, Gibbs was the lead attorney for Terry Schiavo’s parents. He is currently the president of the National Center for Life and Liberty, which “protects the rights of churches and Christian organizations nationwide.” He speaks at homeschool conventions across the country, and has written books on the Constitution.

And it gets weird. Back in 2014, Gibbs served as Lourdes Torres’ lawyer when she sued her former employer, homeschool heavyweight Doug Phillips, for sexually abusing her. (It was that scandal that took down both Phillips and Vision Forum.) Gibbs also represented the women who sued homeschool giant Bill Gothard in 2015. “Since 2014,” Homeschoolers Anonymous wrote in a blog post dedicated to Gibbs, “Gibbs III has appeared to many in the Christian homeschooling movement as a champion for abuse survivors.” Yet Gibbs also got his start with his father at the Christian Law Association, where he defended a series of Christian homes for wayward teens against broad allegations of horrific abuse.

Homeschoolers Anonymous calls Gibbs “The Fixer.”

After Gibbs took up the lawsuit against Bill Gothard, Gothard sued to have him removed from the case on the grounds that before he filed the case, he spent months serving as Gothard’s attorney, trying to get him reinstated to the leadership of the Institute for Basic Life Principles, despite allegations of gross abuses. The judge asked to rule on the question looked at the facts and then agreed with Gothard, disqualifying Gibbs. The judge wrote that:

Whether the actions of attorney Gibbs are “strict” ethical violations of the Illinois Code of Professional Responsibility or not, there is clearly a clouded, convoluted and inappropriate set of interactions that attorney Gibbs had among the entire set of circumstances and parties pertaining to the litigation now pending before this Court. Therefore, it is completely and utterly inappropriate for attorney Gibbs to continue as legal counsel for the plaintiffs.

So, some background. Bill Gothard founded and ran the Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP), a group that provided conferences and curriculum for fundamentalist Christian homeschoolers. Gothard was removed from the board of IBLP in 2014 after numerous women came forward to allege that he had acted inappropriately toward them while they served as personal assistants to Gothard. After removing Gothard, IBLP asked David Gibbs Jr. to conduct an investigation; Gibbs Jr. determined that there had been no criminal misconduct, and with that, IBLP considered the issue closed.

Yes, that’s right. David Gibbs Jr. That would be David Gibbs III’s father, founder of the Christian Law Association. It’s a family business, you might say. The point is, I’m not sure if you could get much more homeschool than Gibbs defending Renee Bach against allegations that she ran an unlicensed clinic as a “mission” in Uganda.

In 2016, Gibbs told Homeschoolers Anonymous that he “vehemently oppose[s] child abuse and those that cover it up with a passion” and that “organizations that emotionally, psychologically, physically, or sexually abuse children should be prosecuted and shut down.” It would seem that this does not include organizations that provide inadequate medical care to children while under the guise of being a licensed clinic. Instead, Gibbs called the mothers of children who died at the clinic “repetitional terrorists.” So much for caring about the children, or about stopping abusive organizations.

(Of course, that’s the problem with Gibbs—some of those who followed the case hypothesized that Gibbs took the case against Gothard specifically so that he could make sure it ultimately got shut down, with no harm to Gothard, who was his father’s close friend and a longtime associate of his as well. And what hey, it worked.)

Based on this 2017 article in a newspaper local to where Bach grew up in Virginia, it looks like Bach’s clinic was once licensed—or rather, it was registered with the Ugandan government as a rehabilitation center. The allegation is that something happened in 2015—they were doing things it wasn’t licensed to do, and were reported to the health department—and the group was subsequently told by the government to stop practicing medicine, but they didn’t.

Bach’s mother describes her as “an ordinary girl who said yes to an extraordinary God.” However, one of the complaints against Bach is that the board of the nonprofit organization she founded at age 19—Serving His Children—consists entirely of family members and close friends. The problem is that this offers no real accountability for Bach’s work.

When volunteers and employees would write to the board about these concerns, rather than holding Renee accountable, the board would find a way to get rid of anyone who was seen as “critical” of Renee’s calling from God.

Ordinarily, if a 19-year-old wanted to start a nonprofit organization and found clinics in a foreign country, people would suggest that maybe they should get some experience first: travel to that country and serve in an existing clinic for some years, or work for an NGO doing similar work. You want to fight malnutrition in Uganda? Great! There are NGOs there that are doing that right now that you can join, and gain experience, and learn the issues at play.

But that’s not how Christian homeschool culture works.

In Christian homeschool culture, 21-year-old Josh Harris wrote a book on how to do relationships and was lauded as a prophet, despite having never had a relationship. In Christian homeschool culture, doing something at one extremely young age is seen as a sign of being guided by God. No one asks whether maybe that person should get some experience first. The adults in this culture see growing up in a Christian homeschooling home almost as a magic formula producing magical young adults. They believe they are turning out lions prepared and ready to take on the culture and change the world. They don’t realize they’re actually turning out inexperienced, sheltered brand-new adults with over-inflated egos.

Renee Bach skipped her March court date. Her trial is scheduled to begin in January 2020.

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