This Is Not A Discussion

This post began life as a pensive reflection on my life as a homeschool apostate. I’ll be blunt: I’m too angry to write that post. I spend so much time trying to separate myself from extremism and militancy that it’s personally frustrating to be so stymied by anger now. But that is where I find myself.

I am furious with homeschool parents who, for days, have been telling me that I’m just bitter: a barely competent child whose rage can be invalidated and debased as ‘lashing out.’

I am weary of Christian patriarchs like Chris Jeub who feel obligated to repeatedly insert themselves into the discussions emerging from our stories of homeschool abuse. This week, Jeub hastened to assure his fellow homeschoolers that we “apostates” haven’t really abandoned the faith; that we’re just asking questions. In doing so, he reduced our entire movement to a monolith more palatable to his fundamentalist audience. It didn’t matter that many of us, like myself, have abandoned the faith and are happy for it. But we’re here, patriarchs, and we’re not going anywhere, so you might as well admit we exist.

Jeub’s post is so distressing to me because I see it as a ploy to retain some control of the narrative we’ve tried to produce. Let me be very clear: this story is not about Chris Jeub. It’s not about any patriarch, for that matter. It is about us. Don’t you dare re-center this around yourselves.

It is time for you to sit down and pass the mike. The guinea pigs are talking.

You had your chance to run your social experiment. Now the results are in and patriarchs, it doesn’t look good for you. You deliberately created a cultural hierarchy that enshrined your privilege as divine right. The people you’ve oppressed for decades are trying to speak now, and every time we make a sound you drown us out.

I am not looking for a conversation. I think the time for conversation has passed, if it ever existed at all. If you’re not willing to discard Christian patriarchy completely, to acknowledge the horrifying damage it wreaks on those rendered powerless by it, then you are not my conversation partner: you are the enemy in my fight for liberation. If you are not willing to stop viewing your children as property to be controlled, there is no discussion to be had.

Moreover: I think it actually endangers the fight against Christian patriarchy to view its proponents as conversation partners. They actively perpetuate oppression, and I don’t see it as my responsibility to train them in the ways of allyship. Their voices have been so dominant for so long that I believe it will be impossible to make ourselves heard as long as they’re still speaking. There have been calls for conversation. But conversation is only really possible if both partners are operating as equal, and those of us who left Christian patriarchy aren’t yet equal to those who perpetuate it.

Some day, yes, that might change. But in order for that change to occur, Christian patriarchs are going to have to recognize that it’s not their turn to speak. They’re going to have to cede power first.

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27 thoughts on “This Is Not A Discussion

  1. I sincerely appreciate your openness about this. And yes, the conversation Jeub opened up with in the post was a wee bit one sided.

    But I am willing to say that in watching Jeub’s conversations on Twitter (especially in response to Mrs. Schell’s piece) , that Jeub is coming into that listening position; that he is seeing the need to listen to the stories and opinions instead of just responding. And that gives me hope.

  2. Passionate, articulate, cut throat. You win the awesome card. I’m not a former home school student, but I got the same vibe off CJ and a few others who have attempted to “dialogue” aka reframe the conflict to their liking :)

  3. Being told you are angry, bitter, hurt, etc. is just an attempt to marginalize you and gives the person the right dismiss you. So what if we are angry, bitter, or hurt? Perhaps our experiences warrant such emotions. For most of my life, I lived in denial of my emotions. Anger was a sin…a pastor, a Christian can never be angry. The counselor I now see helped me to see that anger is a normal human emotion. It is ABNORMAL to not be angry. The key is what we do with the anger. And so we write….

    They can’t silence us or control the storyline. They hate that we now gave the power and control. I have come to see, like you, they are not interested in hearing what we have to say. Discussion with them is a monologue, with them, arrogantly and self-righteously, doing all the talking.

  4. Oh, I always love it when people expect a person to have a calm, friendly conversation with one’s abusers. It reminds me of the people who suggest that LGBT+ people should have a “dialog” with right wing bigots who would just as soon see us rot in an early grave as have a conversation with the target of their rancor.

    A conversation requires at least two parties who are willing to communicate in good faith. When one of the parties has spent their lives serving as your judge, jailer, and executioner, a lopsided conversation is going to ensue.

    “Take your foot off my neck now or I’m going rip your damned leg off.”

    That’s all the conversation I’m feeling capable of… and as far as I’m concerned, that’s all the conversation my abusers deserve.

  5. Sarah, I must say I am baffled by your harsh criticism of Chris Jeub here. I grant that I am biased since I consider him a personal friend and mentor, but I see him as very much an ally in all this. For one thing, he is a self-described ex-Quiverful parent–a father who was formerly steeped in that ideology and has recently come to recognize how wrong it was and to speak out against it. If only every parent who was deceived by the likes of Doug Phillips et. al was willing to publicly admit they were wrong like he has!
    Second, he is a respected leader in the Colorado homeschool community. Colorado is one of the WORST states where the patriarchy/Quiverful movement is most deeply entrenched and spread by our state homeschool organization, CHEC. To have Chris Jeub come out and publicly oppose their agenda and challenge Kevin Swanson and his cronies is huge. I see Chris Jeub becoming one of the reformers we desperately need. Because he is already so well respected in the homeschool community, he can lend this movement respectability and make it harder for people to dismiss us as bitter kids. All our talk is great, but most of us lack the influence to begin causing real changes in local homeschool communities. We need allies like Chris Jeub who are already respected by the establishment to take up our cause and advocate for reform.

    If you really listen to him and talk to him about this (I have), Chris Jeub is on our side. Even if you don’t agree with everything he says, the fact is this movement needs him as an ally. His generation created the system we oppose, and our generation alone will not be able to tear it down. We need allies on the other side of the generation-gap to allow our movement to be taken seriously by homeschool leaders who are actually in a position to begin causing reform.

    If that means downplaying certain aspects of our movement (for example, the true level of apostasy among certain people) to make it more palatable, so be it. You won’t get anywhere in reforming the Christian homeschool community if you are perceived as just a bunch of gay-loving atheists. It’s all about image, you see. And speaking personally, there are plenty of us homeschool alumni who oppose Christian Patriarchy and abuse within homeschooling and want to see reform, but who remain committed Christians and who are uncomfortable with the broader political beliefs of others in the movement. We need to stay focused on reforming homeschooling, and not allow our own movement to be captured by any particular secondary ideology.

    • Patrick, I’m not going to erase my gay-loving atheist self in order to make it easier for Christian homeschooling parents to accept that we need reform.

      Children are dying.

      If that’s not reason enough to accept reform, then let me quote from my post: you are the enemy in my fight for liberation.

      I don’t have a problem working alongside Christians. I respect their beliefs–and I get heat from fellow atheists for this. But I expect you to demonstrate the same level of respect for me and my identity as a non-theist. If we’re going to work together, then it has to be as equals, and that’s impossible if you’d like to pretend that I’m not really who I am, or that I don’t exist at all.

      I am a feminist. I am a Marxist, even. I don’t believe in God. And if that’s all it takes for you to decide you don’t want to work with me: I don’t really believe you care at all about abuse victims.

      Chris Jeub–and you, for that matter–don’t get cookies for deigning to acknowledge that something’s got to change. There’s more to being an ally.

    • Patrick,

      I’m a product of the system, I lived it just as much as any other homeschool kid. This was my life and it’s my story and I have just as much a right as anyone to tell my story and to speak out. I’m not going to go back in the closet and over-emphasize my Christianity just because you or anyone else thinks it would be more palatable. The fact that I’m gay doesn’t make my voice or my story any less real and valid.

      Some homeschoolers turn out to be gay. That’s part of reality. To say that we should stay silent or go back in the closet if we want to speak is to deny reality and to deny a voice to people who have been hurt by the system. It allows that harmful system to reach out and continue to control us.

  6. Sarah – I’m not saying erase yourself and I never said I don’t respect you or regard you as an equal. My concern is with the identity, rhetoric, and strategy of our movement, rather than with you as an individual. Many people such as yourself seem to have difficulty separating your personal identity and ideologies from the movement we are part of. If our group identity as a movement is incapable of transcending our individual identities, the movement is doomed from the start.

    What this movement needs is to decide what it actually stands for. I’ve been seeing the name tossed out lately calling it the “responsible homeschooling” movement. So are we that, or are we the “responsible homeschooling, pro-gay, atheists” movement? I’ll tell you now there are a lot more people who will support the first item in that agenda who would be alienated by the other two, myself among them. I am perfectly willing to work with you as an equal in opposing abuse in homeschooling, but I admit I would be uncomfortable working to promote an agenda including the other two points. If that makes me your enemy, so be it.

    I submit that our movement would be much more effective if we focus on promoting responsible homeschooling, rather than including additional items in our agenda such as acceptance of homosexuality and atheism. Honestly there are plenty of advocates out there speaking on LGBT issues and atheism already. Do we really need to make that part of our message as well?

    When it comes to defining the image of our movement, if our goal is to effect reform among conservative Christian homeschoolers, we will be far more likely to do that if we emphasize our similarities to them rather than our differences. They will be more likely to listen to people that share most of their core beliefs than that stand for the exact opposite of everything they believe. As a result, perhaps you as a pro-gay atheist are less of an ideal spokesperson for the movement than someone such as Chris Jeub, who is respected by the people we are trying to influence and more likely to be viewed as a reform-minded insider rather than a hostile outsider trying to convert them away from Christianity and support homosexuality. That was my point.

    • Yes, Patrick. If you are anti-gay and anti-feminist, you are not my ally, you are my enemy. You are part of the problem. You haven’t actually rejected Christian patriarchy; you’re still wallowing in it. You haven’t rejected privilege at all.

      I am not hostile to Christianity. I am not out to deconvert anyone. No one’s faith is threatened by my decision to publicly identify as an atheist.

      The responsible homeschooling movement includes me, whether you like it or not, and I’m going to continue talking about my beliefs and experiences. I will not allow you, or Chris Jeub, or anyone else to tell me that I should keep these views to myself in order to make you and your fellow bigots more comfortable.

      It is so telling, though, that you think Jeub, the patriarch, is a more fitting spokesman for the movement than I am. Way to miss the entire point of my piece–but thank you for proving me correct.

    • You wrongly assume that the homeschooling movement is a monoculture. I don’t know you, but your comments to Sarah come off as bigoted and are a reminder of the us vs. them thinking that dominates Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christianity. Would it not be better to teach homeschool tolerance and acceptance of others? That people who are gay or atheist are quite normal? Instead you promote bigotry. That is your right, but don’t expect people like Sarah or myself to deny who we are and play pretend just so people like you will feel comfortable.

    • “If our group identity as a movement is incapable of transcending our individual identities…”
      There’s your problem! To hell with the individual – our movement is more important! BULLSHIT!!!

  7. Sarah, fair enough. I think you’ve made it quite clear that in your view, addressing child abuse in the homeschool community is not enough. It seems you also want them to adopt your views on feminism and homosexuality, and anyone who does not agree with you on those issues is your enemy and you are incapable of working with them toward a common goal. So be it.

    But I’ll warn you right now, if the responsible homeschooling movement adopts the platform you propose, it will fail. Advocate responsible homeschooling alone and work to combat ideologies like Christian Patriarchy, and you have a coherent message that has a chance of succeeding. Wrap that up with liberal feminism and acceptance of homosexuality and the movement is doomed to fail, since now your attacking the core beliefs of mainstream Christian homeschoolers rather than just a narrow abusive cult. As a result, they will instantly dismiss you and anything else you have to say.

    I fear the most likely outcome of all this is that we’ll end up something like the Occupy Wallstreet movement, which failed because it was never able to articulate a coherent message. They wanted “change,” but everybody’s idea of what that should look like was different. Some people wanted checks on the financial industry. Others wanted taxes on the rich. Still others called for student loan forgiveness and a guaranteed income from the state. There were so many people each with different opinions that they never came up with a single platform everyone could agree on, and so the movement collapsed. I see the same thing happening here.

    • I am not going to compromise on questions of basic personhood. I am a feminist because I am a woman and I am targeted by sexism. I will fight for LGBT equality. That is not up for debate.

      See, Patrick, you’re the ones who’ll fail, in the end, because what you want is simply a milder version of Christian patriarchy. And Christian patriarchy IS the problem. It’s systemic. Child abuse is a symptom of it. My goal is the total elimination of the system. I want to destroy it. I want to bury it six feet under ground where it can never harm anyone again.

      Your views are destructive. They hurt people. They attack the very core of a person’s being. And that’s exactly why they’ll never catch on.

      Many of us are fighting for homeschool reform BECAUSE we were hurt by sexism and homophobia in the homeschool movement. These are not separate struggles. They are part of the same broader fight for social justice.

  8. There are two issues going on here. (1) lack of homeschool regulations (2) Patriarchy/legalism. the conservative homeschool stuff – which goes along with sexism and biogtry.

    With the first one, we do not actually need the homeschool parents on our page. We need the law on our side. While it would be nice to have homeschool parents on our page, I do not think it is necessary.

    On the second, while I think we do need homeschool parents along, there is no way we can compromise our points. If you are anti-feminist, Sarah is right. You are the enemy. The whole problem with Christian patriarchy is it is intolerant of difference, intolerant of women, intolerant of gays, intolerant of atheists. I could go on.

    I do not want homeschooling to turn into an atheist club, but I see no reason that it will. We just need to free it to be okay with difference.

  9. Chris Jeub erases not only you and other non-theist homeschoolers, but also the daughter he threw out of his home for “rebellion”, and the other daughter who moved to the other side of the globe and converted to Islam. His mother, on her blog, was able to congratulate this beloved granddaughter on her marriage to a non-christian, but as far as Chris is concerned, she might as well not exist.
    Chris Jeub is like one of the corporate bigwigs who, no longer able to deny, dupe, and divide the public about some environmental or social abuse, suddenly switches tack and pretends to care about the problem. Leave it to us, we’ll take care of it, we don’t need no nasty regulations!

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