Sex Scandals in Conservative Homeschool Circles

If you came here looking for gossip, this is not where you’ll find it. I alluded to a few things in my recent post on Same Sex Attraction and Delaying Marriage, so consider these thoughts just a continuation of that post.

First, I want to say that I bear no ill will toward my parents in any way. Hebrews 12:10 says, “Your fathers disciplined you as it seemed best,” and whatever that verse means for you, for me it means I can trust my parents did what they thought best. They did not intend harm toward me or my siblings in the schooling or spiritual choices they made for our family. That does not mean we were not harmed, only that I know they were doing what they thought best.

Second, I want to say that God is not a wasteful God. He does not pile up the scraps of our lives and bemoan the loss. He is a careful artist and potter, shaping and shifting, knitting and building, crafting those made in His image to be more and more like Him. He is careful and attentive. He does not waste experiences or difficulties or joys or pains. Every single moment of my life has been held in His capable hands. I see that more today than I ever have before and I trust Him.

Now, let’s talk about homeschooling and sex scandals

If you were a part of the homeschooling revolution of the 80s and 90s, then you were most likely a child of someone who came of age in the 60s and 70s. These were the hypnotic, drug hazed years of rock n roll, hippies, bra-burning, Woodstock, and the Jesus Movement. These were people who knew how to sin big—and who came to Jesus big. For most of our parents, even if they were not part of those movements, they were influenced by them—for better or worse.

As any parent, and especially ones new to faith, would do, they protected their young often to the point of over-protecting. They banned rock music, R rated movies (or PG13 if you were my parents); they monitored clothing choices not only for modesty, but also for looking too much like the world; they monitored friendships—especially friendships between boys and girls (more on that in the aforementioned post).

Folks, I have stories I find laughable now, but then? In the moment? Rage inducing stories. It was tough to be a child in that atmosphere. We were ruled by the fear of what might become of us. There was little grace in our communities—in fact, it wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that the word grace ever entered my vocabulary as something other than a girl’s name.

These parents intended to protect, and they did, but drawing boundary lines close around your daughter still does not protect her from herself. Naming things as off limits to your son does not keep him from delving into the darkness in his own heart.

You can monitor modesty and measure hemlines, but you cannot moderate the temperature of your child’s heart. You can eliminate songs with beats, but you cannot temper the beating of your child’s heart for artistry. You can talk about not defrauding the hearts of boys or girls, but you cannot control the trigger in their hearts that jumps when they feel chemistry.

The problem is, for many and most of these homeschooling parents, they tried to do just that.

Full disclosure for a moment here

I was not simply a homeschooled kid. My family brushed shoulders with some of the upper echelon of the homeschool movement of the 90s. My parents produced an award winning book for homeschoolers and I spent most of my youth surrounded by the most deeply entrenched in the movement. We were taking over the world, one homeschool convention at a time.

Within these homeschool circles, because there was much protection, there was much trust with likeminded individuals (I remember being disciplined and rebuked often by other parents in my family’s circle), and kids were free to roam among their likeminded peers. There was a common habit of putting the older children in charge of the younger children—but all of us still just children. And all of us bit with the curiosity that forbidden fruit offers. I had my first encounter with sexuality when I was 10 years old. I cannot even remember all the times my peers were either accused of sexual curiosity, abuse, or simply “going too far.” It was epidemic—and still never talked about.

Natural curiosity lies abed in everyone. We all want to know about things. All sorts of things. How they work, if they work, who knows how to make them work, and if they’ll work for us. For many of these homeschoolers though, the questions about sex and relationships were squelched—even the good ones.

You can protect your kids from almost anything, but if you don’t teach them that their greatest threat is self and the sinfulness that lies inside them, they’ll be surprised by it every time.

Curiosity kills the cat—and sometimes the mouse too.

In the past few years more and more allegations of sexual abuse or assault within conservative movements has come to light (SGM, ATI, BJU, and far more).

Friends, we should not be surprised.

I believe that much of the sexual abuse and scandal that’s coming to light these days is directly related to the sin of legalism. It was Eve telling the serpent, “God said we could not eat or touch.” There was so much fear surrounding the other things in life (music, clothing, doctrine, even food), that to broach the subject of sex just seemed almost other-worldly.

We added to the gospel, to the truest things God ever said. We got knowledge of good and evil, but for many in the homeschooling movement, we prided ourselves on keeping the knowledge inside and the evil locked safely out. We never let ourselves realize the heart contains all the knowledge and evil it needs to have things go very, very badly indeed.

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Note: These are just my thoughts and commentary on a bit of my own experience. I believe most parents who spearheaded these movements realize their error at this point—and most of us, the product of these movements, certainly realize it.

The solution is the whole gospel—and to flee whenever you catch even a drift of another gospel. There are “other” gospels everywhere—pet theologies, dogmatic arguments, dramatic treatises on any subject offering the real truth and real life, but Christ alone is it. Christ alone.

If you find yourself heading into a belief system that places more emphasis on any outworking of the gospel, than it does on the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, flee.

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35 responses to Sex Scandals in Conservative Homeschool Circles

  1. hannah anderson March 4, 2014 at 4:18 am

    Yes. Thank you.

  2. Liz Kilpatrick March 4, 2014 at 7:43 am

    Amen!

  3. The sin of legalism.
    This is profound insight into this issue: thank you.

  4. This was so good, Lore. And true. You word it well.

  5. Beautifully written. Great thoughts here.

  6. Thank you for writing. I would add (I believe is implied in the article) we as parents / teachers of children forget to ask the question “Who will rescue our children from us? (parents / teachers)” The truth is I will do far more damage to my kids heart than a public school or disney show could ever accomplish. Who will rescue my children from me? Of course – Jesus will, He has – it is what makes him so beautiful and sweet.

  7. there is putting the fence around the commandment (which is Hebrew in it’s roots, and not a bad concept at all) and there is focusing all your energy towards the fence. I have much of the same background, and admit that I knew a lot more about what was bad than what I was supposed to stand for. however, my husband grew up outside of a homeschool background… and was taught the same things. it’s interesting that that “culture” mindset exists far outside of the culture itself. (this is also why, I think, that people of the younger generation are “accepting” all sorts of sin these days… they are tired of the atmosphere of negativity that the Christian culture of that time period put forth. but, that’s another blog post. ;) )

  8. Julia Hufford March 4, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    One of the biggest problems with we as humans is that we tend to operate in group-think, and become part of a “movement” rather than each of us operating in a “space” that we save for ourselves and God. This is not to suggest that we should all retreat as monks, with little interaction with others, or as anarchists, with no concern for how our actions affect others. We have to interact in groups, as members of communities, an nation, churches, work places, etc.; But putting God first requires that we do that without ceding control of our values and thinking to anyone but God. He is the only one who is with us constantly, and in every situation, and yet too often we are more ‘tuned in’ to what everyone but He requires of us, or thinks of us.

  9. This is such an important post – thank you for having the courage to write it. I grew up brushing shoulders with this world, homeschooled my whole life but my parents were pretty wary of the uber-conservativism. Still though, many friends were damaged by this group think way of parenting – implications still rippling through their lives. Thankful for voices like yours speaking grace and truth.

  10. “You can protect your kids from almost anything, but if you don’t teach them that their greatest threat is self and the sinfulness that lies inside them, they’ll be surprised by it every time.” SO good!! Thank you so much for this post! This was very true in the Christian college environment I grew up in as well (my parents were staff/faculty). Even though I have greatly grown in my understanding of “gospel focused living”, it can still be a real temptation to place my rules and fences higher than God’s working in my kiddos hearts!

  11. Amen !!

  12. Not really sure I follow what you’re saying.

    I get that you believe legalism was the cause for all of these sex scandals coming to light, but I’m not sure I see a recommended solution? I don’t think anyone would argue that we need to have less legalism, but what does that mean?

    Guide our children into better sexual expression? Ignore hemlines and music standards? I ask this as someone who grew up with parents that wrestled with these questions and is staring down the barrel of those same questions with my own children.

    Of course you want to reach the heart, and you can abstract the discussion all you want, but at the end of the day you still have to answer your children when they ask: What music can I listen to? What friends can I hang out with? How far can I go with my girlfriend?

    You’ll have to draw some lines somewhere; any parent has to. Hopefully, you’ll do it with love and with a strong emphasis on the heart, but chances are you might not reach their heart and they’ll grow up seeing you as a fool for trying to reach their heart by drawing those lines. I don’t think there’s any way around that.

  13. Amen!

  14. My thoughts were similar to the previous commenter’s. I agree wholeheartedly with your main point if it is that parents who TRUST in boundaries and rules are foolishly ignoring the real cause of a person’s sin. James 1 is clear that person is led away and enticed by his own lust. You would not say, would you, that any parent who forbids R-rated movies and requires modest dress is doing so because he or she is a legalist? If a Godly man truly does not “love the world or the things in the world” because the love of the Father is in him, why would he allow his children to indulge in what he has come to understand is repulsive to God? I assume you would agree that the RULES are not the heart of the problem any more than they are the solution to the problem.

  15. I agree with you. Which is why I have the “note” at the bottom of the post. If you’re a regular reader of Sayable, you’ll see that most of my posts have to do with turning our hearts back to the gospel alone.

    I understand lines must be drawn somewhere, but those lines shouldn’t be drawn out of fear—which was the case in most of these situations. Psalm 16 says the “Boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places,” and so we can trust that when boundaries are laid, they are laid to point us to the joy of life in Christ.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  16. Brad, did I understand this correctly? “I (the parent) will do far more damage to my kids’ heart than a public school or disney show could ever accomplish?” Are you saying that you are more harmful to your children’s biblical spirituality than a public school is?

  17. I think he was probably saying that the parent has far more potential for good or bad toward a child’s heart than any outside influences.

  18. How do you know the lines were drawn out of fear? How can we think that we know another person’s motives?

  19. Sometimes I am troubled with the criticism of a person’s upbringing when the young person isn’t married or a parent yet. Life still has much to teach and mature a person. Maybe some of these thoughts are better left in silence until one has experience being the one leading the family or following a husband. It is a heavy load, and much humility is needed.

  20. I’m not sure this is all correct. Christians say, “Don’t be of the world and flee from sin.” And now this article says that when we flee too far, it makes our kids sin. Really? We should most definitely talk to our kids about sexual sins, and never assume our rules will change their hearts. We should focus on the gospel, of course. But the rules (legalism, as you called it) are not the cause of our children’s sin. It is their own sin nature and greatly depends on when god calls them to Himself.

    I agree with the other commenter. To say that making rules for our kids is sinful legalism isn’t right. You have rules for your kids. I hope you do, at least. So therefore, you’re a legalist?

  21. Evan, since you left this comment on this post, I’m assuming what you mean is that you’re troubled with my criticism of my upbringing. I expected that, which is why I gave the first two caveats. But also, you should know that the weight of the heavy load ended up breaking my family into a thousand pieces. This isn’t conjecture. This was, and is, real life. If you’d like to ask my parents, they would agree. As would the hundreds of other parents of my peers whose marriages were crushed, whose children left home and church, and who would now admit the crushing weight of legalism and fear in their families.

    The Lord is gracious and compassionate, and I have seen much healing in my own life, but a heavy load does not mean it is not carried without circumspection and wisdom about historical blind spots.

  22. Latayne C Scott March 5, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Great quote about how God is so economical with the “scraps of our lives.” I quoted you this morning on my FB page, and I know it will encourage many. Thank you.

  23. Legalism…trying to uphold the law to become righteous. But we know that our righteousness comes through Christ alone…through the cross. We don’t strive for righteousness.

    Parents teaching standards of holiness is not synonymous with legalism. One may certainly disagree with that standard, but the term ‘legalism’ here is misapplied.

  24. Amy, it’s the difference between TRUSTING in those rules (which happens easily when you make rules out of fear) and trusting in the Savior. Also, acknowledging the sinfulness both of our children AND OURSELVES as parents. I think her point is that we can make all the rules we want, but we need to remember those rules won’t change a child’s heart.

    I grew up in a Christian but not homeschooling family, and I really wish my parents had been more open about sexuality and temptation with me. Instead, I was “fenced around” (whether intentionally or not, I’m not sure) and never faced that kind of temptation until I was away in college and had no support system to lean on. I am determined not to make that mistake with my children.

  25. All true and we’ll said. But it’s just very important to distinguish… The strict rules by themselves are not legalistic. The strict rules did not cause the sin. Talking more about sexual sins would have helped, though, indeed. Rules AND talking are GOOD.

  26. Standards of holiness are good inasmuch as they are Biblical. Much of what has been called “standards of holiness” in the contexts described in this post are not strictly Biblical and should be considered legalistic.

  27. Grace from Brazil March 5, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Legalism is always bad. Always. I am sorry that your homeschooling experience was coupled with that. Rules and principles are extremely important but they can be wrongly applied. But it is not always the case. It is hard to hear criticism of a movement that is so varied. So you are saying that not talking about sexuality is worse than having it flaunted in your face? It is always easy to see the downside of what you had without living the alternative. Our over-sexed society is not a safe place for adults, let alone children.

  28. I think you voice the common rebuttal and it’s good to ask how it fleshes itself out. Not being familiar with this blog, I’m already encouraged by Lore’s response because the answer is the Gospel. I know for myself that if I had better understood the gospel as a young person and my parents had better applied the gospel to the rules and homeschool, we’d have had a happier experience as a family. So many times the answer to my “why” question was EXACTLY what Lore described: bra-burning mother and hippie-ish faher didn’t want me to become like them. Yet, for as much as I know that my parents’ hearts were in the right place, homeschool and all the rules were more about protecting me from their past and less about Gospel living. I think if we get back to what the Gospel is and start concerning ourselves with passionately loving Jesus in ways that HE described, that a lot of the “legalism” we like will either be reoriented to or disappear completely.

  29. So, when Lore gets married and becomes a parent, she is able to acknowledge the sin of legalism in her upbringing? I am married and a parent, and I am very thankful for the wisdom of this post.

  30. Thank you for your thoughtful and grace-filled words regarding trusting that your parents did their best. Sadly, there are so many that enter adulthood, overflowing with bitterness for the perceived lackings of their parents (or other authorities in their life). As a parent of adult (homeschooled) children, I know that I did my best, that I did a lot right and that I also made grievous mistakes at times. Saved as an adult, I was still growing in the Lord at the same time that I was trying to disciple these wonderful children. Those were difficult times. I didn’t always do a good job. But, I loved them the best that I could and with the Lord’s leading, learned to humble myself.
    You wrote: “In the past few years more and more allegations of sexual abuse or assault within conservative movements has come to light (SGM, ATI, BJU, PHC, and far more)”
    I am grieved that you have lumped PHC in with these others. There has NEVER been allegations of sexual abuse or assault. If you are referring to the recent slam piece by the New Republic, those events all happened off-campus and unlike the other organizations you mentioned, had nothing to do with sexual misconduct of the authorities at the College. It is very unfair to take a few bitter and wayward girls’ lies and twist it into PHC is just like the others you mentioned. Even someone out to smear PHC would have a hard time calling what was reported by the New Republic, a “sex scandal”. ALL the events happened off campus by girls that admittedly engaged in risky behaviors. I am not saying that it is the girls’ fault or that PHC handled it perfectly, I don’t know, but it is a huge stretch to lump them into the “sex scandal” category. In my opinion that is bearing false witness against the loving and God-fearing men that guide PHC. It is bad enough that they already have to daily fight the world’s onslaught of lies, ridicule and accusations for seeking to be faithful to the Word of God. I hate to see them falsely accused by the faithful too. Would you please reconsider listing PHC with the other organizations? They are a very fine institution. Perfect? No. It is run by imperfect sinners like you and me. But I can tell you that my personal interactions with PHC have reflected the same humble, true-to-the-WORD heart that you and I seek after.
    Thank you

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