Every Woman a Theologian
— Shiny Happy People, Pt. 2 —
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I’m watching Shiny Happy People, the new secular documentary about Bill Gothard, Advanced Training Institute “homeschooling”, the Duggars, and the IBLP movement. Each newsletter for the next four weeks will discuss an episode of the show.
Dear friend,
The second episode of Shiny Happy People had Josh and I audibly gasping more than a few times - not because we were surprised (we weren't) but because in the light of day it is unbelievable that people who claim Scripture could act in such contradiction to it.
For those coming into this email series on Part Two, my husband and I are both homeschool graduates raised in Christian homes. Josh grew up associated with the IBLP and ATI; I did not (though I was aware of it and adjacent to similar social circles).
I have said this many times but it bears repeating: Legalism is man's shortcut to God's holiness (a pseudo-holiness) and legalism always creates undiscerning “Christians”. It should never come as a surprise that people raised in this kind of cloistered, clamped-down, fear-based environment struggle to cultivate an independent and intimate faith with Christ. It is even less surprising when such “Christian” environments create hyper-sexualized individuals who either tightly repress their urges or secretly act on them - or both. I watched it happen firsthand.
Without getting into details (this is not a gossip column) my childhood adjacent to circles like these gave me a strange window into a culture that - at the time - I envied. My friends involved in the local Independent Fundamental Baptist collection of churches seemed to have a thriving community. They went to rallies together. They all dressed the same. There was an extreme emphasis on dating even though they couldn't touch each other or so much as hold hands. I had many friends, but some of my closest were involved in the IFB and for a young, un-cool girl craving community, drawn to what seems “good” and “right” –  it was attractive. I distinctly remember returning from one such event. I walked into the farmhouse my dad built and announced to him: “I think God is calling me to wear skirts.” Dad paused the book he was reading, one fingernail half-chewed in his mouth; he didn't look up. “Hmmm. No, I don't think He is.” 
One of the things Shiny Happy People spotlights is Bill Gothard's (f0under of IBLP/ATI) obsession with authority. No one could do anything without the proper “authority”; leave the  authority, you leave your protection. But in the end IBLP never accomplished what a truly righteous authority is supposed to do: protect. And that's the wild irony of what my parents did for me. In blocking me from fundamentalism my parents operated in truly godly authority. And that wasn't the only time. My dad also put a stop to a dating relationship with a man in our local IFB community - a man who it later came out was sexually coercing one of my peers (there is no formal filing which is why I word it that way).
Need further evidence of how deep this ran? Check out the former speaker of the Michigan house, who is from my county. 
At the time I was a teenage girl without many dating options; raving mad at my parents for keeping me from what looked like real community and cute, godly guys. But my parents - my homeschooling, conservative Christian parents - were discerning enough to see through it. My childhood wasn't perfect. I hid an erotica addiction from my parents for years. There are things I do differently with my own kids. But as I watched Episode Two of Shiny Happy People I had a thought: SHP spotlights patterns of abuse, secrecy and manipulation that need to be confronted. True Christianity confronts such things. True Christians confront such things. And Christian lives under sanctification by the Spirit will never tolerate such things. 
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There are four things I noted in this episode that could use addressing. I'll run through them quickly:
  • Hyper-sexuality and lack of healthy sexual education
    • One of the interviewees noted just how specific and how often the ATI resources drew attention to bodies, clothes, and sexuality – all while forbidding them. This fear-based approach to sexuality creates MORE temptation, not less. Not only is it forbidden; you can't talk about it with anyone. The idea is to keep sex for the far-off future, only addressing it when you absolutely have to. Nowhere is there an ongoing conversation or open relationship between kids and parents. And without that conversation, so much can be hidden.
    • It was this lack of sexual education among conservatively-raised girls that drove me to write Christian Cosmo: The Sex Talk You Never Had - a compilation of blog posts I wrote between 2012-2017. Up until 2018 my blog was primarily focused on sex, singleness and dating for girls coming out of conservative church environments.
    • This is the same issue we encounter in the Amish community.
  • Fear based “holiness” and hell-centric gospel
    • Holiness in Scripture is expected - but it's also equipped. When God asks for holiness He immediately grants the path to it (e.g. in the giving of the Law and the giving of the Spirit, both of which are celebrated on Pentecost). Holiness in legalism is demanded and coerced. It does not come naturally because there is no heart change; it must be brought about from the outside-in. In contrast, Christ's holiness bubbles from the inside-out. This is why people in legalistic environments might remain dependent and mousy OR deconstruct into an extreme (the moderate middle of freedom-in-holiness is what we are offered in Jesus). Holiness , for legalists, was never a heart response to a loving and merciful God; it was a fear response to people and a God they never really knew.
    • To circle back to my parents for a moment: They rarely taught us about hell. We knew about it from reading Jesus' own words (Matt. 23, 25, Mark 9). But the motivation to faith was never fear of hell; it was the goodness of God. My dad particularly emphasized the excitement of following a God who was creative, beautiful, and good - and he modeled faith in such a God. This was far more compelling than the hell-centric Christianity we see in SHP.
  • Systemization of spiritual gifts
    • Gothard quickly systematized spiritual gifts and assigned them to members of his community. This is an interesting tactic and one commonly seen in unhealthy charismatic church environments. Under the guise of the accountability of Five Fold Ministry (Eph. 4:11-16) some charismatic churches wield spiritual gifting as weapons of power. The ones with a “prophet” or “teacher” role are given more authority and visibility than those in administrative, mercy or serving roles.
    • One very interesting side effect of this trend (that I've anecdotally observed) is its impact on marriage relationships. Because patriarchal fundamentalism emphasized male leadership ONLY in terms of the “stage” gifts, it created a type-cast model of spiritual leadership that actually undermines unity in marriage. Here's my theory: If you're taught that godly men are ONLY those who lead bible studies, hold microphones, and have prophetic/teaching/visible gifts, you're likely to disrespect or ignore the very real but quiet gifts of more administrative men. I talk to women almost every day who think their husbands must read the Bible TO them - the wife!!!! - or they aren't in true unity. Others believe that their quiet, reserved husbands aren't good leaders because they don't initiate devotions every day. Or they don't lead a bible study. Or they don't want to teach from a stage. Fundamentalism wanted men respected. Instead it saw to it that kind, patient, quiet men get overlooked and abusers get applauded. More on this here. 
  • Fear-based discipline using pain to enforce behavior
    • The misinterpretation of the “rod” verses in Proverbs has been dealt with countless times in recent years. But 15-20 years ago, the literal interpretation was the only “right” way. As SHP points out, discipline was not about teaching so much as enforcing authority and making good behavior happen. Scripture is clear that God gives consequences to His children, but He does so only after warnings and with a promise of faithful love and grace for those who walk with Him."His kindness leads you to repentance." (Rom. 2:4)
    • Obedience v. honor: There is a difference. I dug up an old article I wrote (and when I say old, it is OLD) to answer a reader question about “how to honor legalistic parents”. Interesting to see how my writing has changed since then - and I hope will show you how long I've been fighting this war on legalism!
The common thread in all four of these is control: control the sexuality; control into holiness; grasp for control through visible spiritual gifts; enforce control through pain and punishment. But why? Why control? Because when the Spirit of God doesn't control you, you must either be IN control or BE controlled. 
I realize it's bold to imply that many people in the IBLP (and legalism at large) were not led by the Spirit of God but the fruit speaks for itself. I don't think people entered ATI meaning to end up here. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as they say. But if you cannot discern what is holy, are not bearing the fruit naturally, live constantly under fear of man, seek positions of power and influence while the little ones are crushed underfoot – all signs point to a spirit of anything but God. 
It's angering, heartbreaking, nauseating. And we can stay angry, heartbroken and sick – or we can do something. There are many just actions we can take, many things we may want to say or do, but the very FIRST thing we must do is ask ourselves: Does the Spirit of God control me?  Because if He doesn't, any action we take will be just as reactive as the pendulum swing that created the IBLP. There is a better way. Before turning and burning the system down we must ask ourselves where we, too, have seized control. Where we have made excuses for hidden sins. Only when we listen to the loving voice of Christ, who is making us ever more like Him, will we be ready to cleanse whatever Temple he calls us to confront.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. (John 15:8)

One final note: SHP talks a lot about homeschooling. It is vital to note that ATI's homeschooling does not represent how home education began in the U.S. nor does it represent its current state. Home education was founded by former public school teachers John Holt and Raymond Moore in the late 1970s due to their dissatisfaction with public education outcomes. It was furthered by New York Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto. The Christian wave of homeschool pioneers included Zan Tyler, Michael Farris, and Christopher Klicka. Their work in founding Home School Legal Defense Association grants home educators in the United States access to legal protection and lists of the homeschool education requirements for each state in the union. ATI's home education program was neglectful and not representative of home education as a whole. 
Ask Anything Q/A

What does moralistic mean as you used it in last week's newsletter?
In last week's newsletter on Shiny Happy People (Pt 1), I said this: “While Josh grew up using ATI resources, I did not. Both of us were homeschooled, both of us had Christian parents. My parents, however, had a “moralism meter” that was off the charts (we didn't even watch Veggie Tales because it was too “moralistic”. At the time I thought that was stupid; now I tend to think my parents were right!).” Moralism, as my parents discerned it and as I define it, is when Scripture, faith, and Christianity are distilled down into tidy moral messages similar to Aesop's Fables. It's the “bible story to go” model of Christianity. Find the quick, applicable message: “Jesus loves all people and I should too!” – that you can then go out and try to accomplish by your own willpower. It's sneaky because it seems “Christian” and even biblically-based, but there is no mention or teaching on the Holy Spirit, no talk about sanctification or how the Spirit transforms you; no real training in HOW to become holy. Just moral rules that you try to follow. It's a launching pad for full-blown legalism. Veggie Tales, harmless as it was, majored in moralism. It taught bible stories with quick “moral” takeaways but no context on how Christians are to actually live it out by the Spirit. So in that sense, the moral teachings of it were entirely useless (though the cartoons were fun). That's why my parents didn't like it. They were more interested in the holistic arc of Scripture and teaching how we learn true holiness without lists of rules. 
I know God is grieved by divorce, but is it a sin?
Under some circumstances, yes. Under others, no. One of my pastors recently preached on this - watch his sermon here. Starts at 29:00 minutes.
Why do Catholics believe in purgatory?
I just listened to this episode of Catechism in a Year by Father Mike Schmitz. It's worth a listen - always go to the source when trying to understand a specific point of view!
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My Four Faves

  • Last week's podcast episode on boycotts: this episode took a lot of study and work on my part but I learned so much in the process, and I finally have a place where 1 Cor. 8 is broken down (it applies to so many things!). If you wonder how much we should care about where our money goes, this episode is for you. In iTunes, Spotify, Overcast, and Google Play.
  • Ember Mug: My friend Kristen gave this to me a few years ago and I used it, but not half as much as I do now that I have downloaded the app! You can set the temperature you want and see the charge level. It keeps your coffee warm forever!
  • My comparison of Full Focus Planner v. Monk Manual: You all know I was the evangelist for the Full Focus Planner by Hyatt & Co. for years. It's quarterly and awesome. However I started to wonder if it was emphasizing productivity a bit too much for where my heart was at, so I tried out Monk Manual. Both are quarterly, both have weekly check ins and priority/habit charts. Monk Manual is more reflective than FF but they are actually quite similar. I enjoyed Monk, but might switch back to FF this quarter just because I needed more note space. I do love them both though. If you want something a bit “softer”, Monk Manual is a good choice.
  • Mealtime Discipleship: We are cruising through Kingdom of God Bible with our kids and in the story of David right now. If you struggle to regularly disciple, don't forget the grab the free mealtime discipleship guide here on my website!
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At Home with Phylicia

A little glimpse of what's bringing us joy at home: routines, books, kitchen and home life.
  • On idealism and anger: I wrote this to my IG subscribers but it may encourage some of you. I have learned to avoid idealism in parenting Littles. This is because idealism leads to control which leads to anxiety which leads to anger. If you find yourself angry constantly at your young kids, trace it back (and get your hormones checked!). What unrealistic expectations did you place on your day? I have high standards for my kids and high affection for them. But I have low expectations. That means that I EXPECT things to take longer, I expect to be interrupted, I purposely schedule MORE time to manage the home tasks and LESS time out and about. Basically, I have learned to cushion myself to have the time to disciple. Idealism does not work. You have to control the minutia to attain the ideal, which just makes you anxious, and then you lash out and don't disciple and discipline effectively (or at all). Life is so much better without perfection and ideals: more peace, more joy, more love, more grace, more discipline into the image of God. <3
for the awakening,