What Troubled Teen Home Survivors Share With Quiverfull

What Troubled Teen Home Survivors Share With Quiverfull February 27, 2018

by Cindy Kunsman

The Ironic Tragedy of Missing the Point

What Troubled Teen Home Survivors Share with Quiverfull

A day after Jo Wright and Tara Cummings were featured in an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, an early release of Zack Bonnie’s second memoir installment popped up in my inbox. Jo and Tara spoke about their experiences at
New Bethany Home for Girls which once operated in Louisiana – a Troubled Teen Home (TTH) affiliated with the
Independent Fundamental Baptists (IFB). Girls were consigned there by parents, believing that the man who operated the home could save their lives from sin and their eternal souls from hell. Zack writes about his experiences at CEDU, a secular version of the TTH that operated under the guise of a “therapeutic boarding school.” All were subjected to intense dehumanizing behavior modification, thought reform, and abject abuse. Parents believed that the tough
approach to discipline marketed by these programs was not inherently abusive while they were manipulated to doubt everything that their children reported to them.
Most people don’t want to know that such abuse ever existed, so they avoid the topic. If they can’t avoid it, most people resist the subject by discounting what they hear. They tell themselves that such things really don’t happen and discount those who break the silence about their tragedies. They criticize the forums that entertain such disturbing topics. They tell themselves and others that no good that can come out of discussing something so terrible.
Yet TTHs still thrive, and addressing their scourge has never been more critical. Some homes relocated in the Dominican Republic to avoid government oversight as individual states have put them out of business.
Legislation limiting their unfettered operation continues to gain traction. Meanwhile, established homes still operate, and IFB ministers protect them as they channel children into new, obscure, private prisons that don’t advertise or raise funds publicly. Consider also that even if every TTH went out of business today, survivors continue to wrestle with what they experienced while in their gulags. Today, they help one another cope with the life-long aftermath of
pervasive psychological and physical damage that they must live with every day.

Cinderella v Kafka

As I considered the different ways that people try to avoid the subject of the TTH, I thought of a chapter in Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country. Now that everything in existence seems to be on YouTube in some manner or form, I searched to see whether anyone had translated his discussion from the book into video. I had in mind a specific chapter where Vonnegut contrasts Cinderella with Kafka , pointing out that honest, trenchant stories will sometimes be so vital that they overcome our human preference for happy fantasies. Vonnegut offers us the tragedy of
Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a more rare example of a tragedy that breaks through our resistance successfully. The honesty of the story pierces through the defensive layers that hide us from realizing that we are all finite creatures in
an often unfair world. He then concludes by asking how we can determine whether the Kafkas and the Princes of Denmark lived better lives than Cinderella.
I’ve come to believe that tragedy can birth least two precious gifts if we choose to nurture them. It reminds us that we human beings aren’t all that different from one another – for more of us often have more in common with Kafka than we do Cinderella. If we sit with the pain instead of running from it, tragedy becomes the inspiration to fully embrace life, reveling in joy whenever we find it. It makes virtue far more precious to us. And if tragedy does nothing else, it deeply connects us with others. There is nothing so comforting as the kindness of someone who understands what we’ve been through because they’ve been through it, too. If we let it, it births a remarkable transcendence that manifests as love and compassion – perhaps the most meaningful experience that any of us can share with others in
this life.

Finding the Germane

So what happens when I look to see if there’s any mention of Vonnegut’s chapter on YouTube around which to write a blog post or two? I find it, but I also find ironically tragic example of just how fickle we can be when we shield ourselves from pain. Below, you can watch Vonnegut himself lecture about Cinderella and Kafka just as he does in his book, plotting their experiences on a life graph. I’m grateful to whomever who put the video of the lecture online, but proving Vonnegut’s thesis, the video stops short of his germane point. To them, it seems to only be a lecture about how to write a popular story, and clip stops after mention of Cinderella’s happy life. (I wondered if this person had ever read a Vonnegut novel!) I had to laugh about it.

I couldn’t help but think of the experience of blogging about spiritual abuse. My critics often ask me to stop writing about painful topics or to stop focusing on the absurd teachings produce real-life suffering and harm. I think that those critics must think that we who write about such things enjoy grinding axes obsessively for sick self-gratification. Those of us who talk about the tragedies that follow us from the Quiverfull life or the Troubled Teen Home do so because we’ve been honest about the true nature of the lasting harm that they’ve created.
Few if any of us ever become Cinderella, but maybe a reader doesn’t have to suffer the hopeless fate of a Kafka character. Our best hope aims at informing others so that they might be able to avoid the pain that we endured. For those who did suffer, we can lend validation, comfort, understanding, and share resources that have helped us transcend the aftermath. A king’s ransom cannot buy the comfort that we received from those who came to our aid to encourage us. If they once stood where we did and lived to tell about it, we can, too. We do so out of a moral duty to help others as we were helped. Those who believe that we persist in discussing such things has missed the point. The discussion becomes painful and messy, but we endure it to reach those get stuck in the thick of the mire. We’re interested in the well being of precious people, not in drama of tragedy that put them in harm’s way.

The Deeper Message

Listen to the painful memories, especially if you came out of Quiverfull. Laugh with me at the misguided person who thought that Vonnegut’s lecture was all about a writing technique and not about the meaning of life. The honest truth gives us reason to treasure our lives all the more. Don’t be a lookie-loo with a knee-jerk response claiming that folks who write about the unpleasant things want only fifteen minutes of fame by failing to “get over it.” Read Vonnegut’s book and dig deeper. John Donne likened such a reckoning to a gold mine when he wrote that no man is an island unto himself. “Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”
Give Jo and Tara two and a half minutes of your time as they talk about what they experienced and felt. Read Zack’s book and imagine what it felt like for him to be abandoned in the wilderness. They all lived out a nightmare. Resist the urge to tell yourself that you’re nothing like them and that this could never happen to you or those you love. Doing so only perpetuates the illusion of safety that we’re all insulated from deception and exploitation. Pretend to be Joan Baez for a little while to sing “There but for fortune…”
If you’re like Vonnegut, you’ll find the beauty in their honesty underneath the pain. You might just hear the music of their unspoken challenge to share with others as much virtue as you can muster as fully live every moment of your precious life, even when it’s painful.


Editor’s note: New Bethany Home for Girls was possibly the last facility to host murdered teenager Carol Ann Cole. For more on Carol Ann Cole and the religious troubled teen homes see our earlier series – Justice Delayed

~~~~~~~

Cindy is a member of the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network.

Cynthia Mullen Kunsman is a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a lecturer and liaison to professional scientific and medical groups, in both academic and traditional clinical healthcare settings. She also completed additional studies in the field of thought reform, hypnotherapy for pain management, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that is often associated with cultic group involvement. Her nursing experience ranges from intensive care, the training of critical care nurses, hospice care, case management and quality management, though she currently limits her practice to forensic medical record review and evaluation. Most of her current professional efforts concern the study of manipulative and coercive evangelical Christian groups and the recovery process from both thought reform and PTSD.

She blogs at Under Much Grace and Redeeming Dinah.

Read more by Cindy Kunsman

If I’m Never Ready, I Can at Least be Wise


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Maura Hart

    i spent a couple of years in a catholic orphanage with violent nuns. the thing i remember, other than the violence and fear, was how their habits would rustle and the clack of those wooden rosaries on their belts, but most of all…..they wore wedding rings…because they had a vocation and they were married to zombie jeebus

  • This! Reading blogs talking about spiritual abuse has been helpful, for, while I was raised Fundamentalist, it was something I never heard anything about growing up, and heard about it the first time. While I wasn’t Quiverfull or Troubled Teens, reading about spiritual abuse has allowed me to realize that what I experienced at the church I was raised in was spiritual abuse, and I think the church was a cult. (I have been out about a year, but I was reading blogs before that.)

    Thank you for what you do.

  • zardeenah

    I have a “troubled teen” and I’m so grateful I’ve been reading these stories for many years. It’s helped me to find help for him and our family that is actually helpful – we have all grown and learned so much!

    It’s so scary being a parent with a child in crisis and these places have such slick advertisements and promising testimonials. It is quite an industry. So many sick and/or unqualified people out to take advantage of people and they don’t care who they hurt. I hope they all get shut down.

  • srh1965

    I can’t help but notice that the author of this strange, confused article proclaims herself without apparent shame or irony as “a nurse (BSN), naturopath (ND) and seminary graduate (MMin) with a wide variety of training and over 20 years of clinical experience. She has used her training in Complementary and Alternative Medicine…”

    This woman should be barred from anything remotely clinical or therapeutic. She is nothing more than a dangerous quack who masquerades as a truth-teller. Naturopathy has no scientific basis for its claims, as has Complementary and Alternative Medicine. No child should be left alone with her. Her unfounded beliefs have no more reality than the religious nonsense this site aims to expose.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Welcome to banned for attacking an author in violation of our comment policy. You may, or may not, soon be featured on Jerks4Jesus.com You need to learn how to disagree with someone without taking it to personal insults

  • This is a laugh riot. Most of my work in the arena of CAM was limited to acting as a liaison between physicians and patients and lecturing in continuing education about usage tends and safety. I guess that cancels out my theology training? Suzanne, you blocked this commenter before I could find out. now I’ll never know!

  • My husband just asked me what I was laughing about. I don’t know why this strikes me as so funny this evening. Perhaps it’s the break from Lori Alexander’s anti-intellectual prating about women needing little educatiom. Ah, I needed a chuckle.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Sorry but I’m in the middle of moving and my nerves are shot so I’m hitting the ban hammer where I might have just spanked in the past. Dealing with shitty German landlords tends to do that. She was way way way off topic.

    But I’m glad she made you laugh. I get that. The idiot pastor/professor this week gave me days of laughter.

  • SAO

    This strikes me as an unfair attack. We know little about how the author practices her profession. Some people use CAM to replace proven, effective conventional medical treatments while the patient suffers. Others use complementary medicine to deal with things like pain, stress, or depression where conventional medicine has failed. Given that the author is a critical care nurse who’s worked in conventional settings, I’d assume the former.

    She mentioned hypnotherapy for pain management. If the pain-sufferer gets relief from pain, great! That’s one more person not taking opioids or toking up. It doesn’t matter if it is a placebo effect or not.

    I certainly don’t believe in aromatherapy, but when my daughter was very upset by something at school that I couldn’t change, I offered aromatherapy, giving her a lavender sachet to sniff when she got stressed. It worked. Most placebos I’ve offered my kids have worked, because I only offer them when I think the problem is a molehill made into a mountain.

    There was nothing in this post that suggests that the author is a danger to her patients or to children.

  • I studied hypnotherapy partly because I received continuing education credits. I became so hypersensitive to chemicals and pain meds after exiting a shepherding discipleship church that I had three doctors recommend it. Not comfortable with it, I decide s to train in it first so as to understand it better first, and my school agreed to let me decline any regression work. I certified and did a peer reviewed internship with another skilled practitioner, but I only ever used it as an adjunct to managing my own chronic pain. I think that it’s significant to mention in my bio because religions exploit altered states of consciousness which actually helped me in my own post-cult recovery. I think that the other primary benefit was practice in self soothing. But I never practiced even though as an RN, I had several places try to recruit me. I certified in hypnosis for childbirth pain management also but never practiced it. I think that it’s a nice adjunct to medical management of pain for some people. One therapist tha I’ve met uses a script that suggests that pain medicine is twice as effective when used with hypnosis. If it works, why would that be something undesirable? I also prefer the use of agreed upon scripts that a client can read in advance so that the elements of the induction can be reviewed critically apart from the induction itself. It’s in,eeping with the informed consent requirements that I’m held to as a nurse,

    Responsible use of natural products if problematic for me anyway which is why I didn’t jump in with consulting beyond teaching. I soon realized that what most naturopaths do and what was more of a concern for me as a nurse was the risk of practicing medicine without a license. When I set up a business in”95 which bombed because I wouldn’t sell panaceas and mostly jus to told people to stop eating sugar and drinking phosphorus in soft drinks, I did require any prospective new clients to have their own PCP sign a notice of informed consent so that they wouldn’t be taking anything that would put them at risk. That’s how I ended up doing lectures,

    Including the natural health component is significant to the subject of quiverfull as well, as is pain management for childbirth. Many who follow this movement prefer natural health over allopathy which can amount to medical neglect. I’m concerned for its popular use within QF for childbirth as well. Gothard has midwives on staff who encourage the use of natural health for the management of pregnancy. The study also came in handy while so many peers sought out home birthing and even programs like Carol Ballizet’s Born In Zion business which contributed to much morbidity and mortality.

    There’s also the element of having written and defended a dissertation and earned the stripes to bear the credentials. My choice to study these modalities were strongly influenced by my years in QF friendly churches, and it helped me understand the culture which I could never manage to make work for me. So I come to the subject with a well informed perspective from Many vantage’s beyond just personal ones. I think all of that information provides a stronger platform for me as a contributor to the discussion of the whole QF movement.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    I will be forever grateful for the help you gave me when I had Mesa for 18 months and the antibiotics weren’t killing it.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Damn auto correct on my phone- MRSA

  • Also, I have found materials that emphasize the mind body connection in natural health to be very helpful in my understanding of the physical effects of trauma. Apart from living my own version of ill health due to a stressed immune system while overwhelmed with PTSD, I’ve been able to address health problems among the second generation adults in quiverfull. My studies preceeded the growing interest and wider acceptance of CAM, but it’s been encouraging to see medicine begin to embrace the useful elements. Medicine has also highlighted the correction of their Cartesian errors of the past (correcting Descartes Erie or rather he misinterpretation of him that fostered such a harsh separation of mind and body).

    http://botkinsyndrome.blogspot.com/2012/01/hopeful-message-for-those-affected-by.html

  • Aw! I think that it all amounted to garlic and probiotics — and most things I can contribute like that usually are food or nutrient based. I see it as more of an adjunct to nursing by informing people about how they can achieve and maintain their own good health. Often, most people just needed some feedback and a couple of book recommendations so that they could decide what they wanted to add into their lifestyle. You can trade out a phosphorous laden soft drink for an herbal tea that is full of the nutrients that address a health issue. You can replace a portion of beef and pork meals with fatty wild caught fish that are rich in omega 3s and gain a significant improvement in joint pain and allergies. Most of what I focus on is very simple and along those lines.

    Someone introduced the topic, so I thought I’d make it an opportunity to give people a clearer perspective of my own on these subjects. Quacks do come a dime a dozen, so I can understand that a person might have misgivings. I don’t know how caring for children became a concern, here, but I referred people to other sources when they sought help.