When it comes to politics, the children of old-school evangelicals are undergoing a shift. We have yet to convince our parents we are not rejecting what they have taught us but living it out in a different way. –Alisa Harris, Raised Right page 6.
Ah, to be a millennial evangelical. We live in a time where the relationship between the church, politics, and the culture wars are shifting; where young Christians are reflecting, growing, changing, and becoming something different altogether. Many of us are trying to figure out what this all means. But the issue is that the conversation is very one-sided. Those who have been hurt by such efforts are not getting the opportunity to be heard.
A year-old grassroots movement known as Homeschoolers Anonymous is starting to face this problem. This originally started out as a small blog, started by Ryan Stollar and Nicholas Ducote, two homeschool debate champions. The blog started out just gathering and telling stories of people who had been homeschooled, and their difficulties therein. The difficulties ranged from spiritual and physical abuse, to overbearing expectations, and even cases of familial disownment after coming out as an atheist or as a bisexual.
But the blog became more. Around July 2013, Ryan and his fellow friends founded Homeschoolers Alumni Reaching Out, a parent organization so that HA could become more than a blog. A small community began to build, a community that desired to help the individuals escape harmful environments and develop normal and healthy lives. It eventually attracted the attention of Kathryn Joyce, a journalist and author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, who wrote a long-form feature on the movement. That article attracted the attention of dozens of leaders who would themselves promote these stories, including the most unlikely trio of Richard Dawkins, Dan Savage, and Phil Vischer.
HA may seem to some as though it is antagonistic towards the homeschooling lifestyle. But its leaders are very open about their opinion on the homeschooling method:
“We believe that homeschooling is a powerful, useful tool. It represents a democratic approach to educational progress, innovation, and creativity. It allows a child’s learning environment to be tailored to individual and personal needs. When homeschooling is done responsibly, it can be amazing. What we oppose is irresponsible homeschooling, where the educational method is used to create or hide abuse, isolation, and neglect.”
HA is a small movement among a few controversial sects that seek national reform to aid those being punished. But it is only a few men and women, fighting for the rights of a precious few. It may not seem as though it will affect the national scene of Christianity. But HA promotes a model of conversation that evangelicalism could do well to learn from: the emphasis on stories.
Stories are at the core of every movement. Each person who is involved in something—whether it be Christianity or nihilism or the Biblical patriarchy movement—has a story. Some people actually do respond positively to patriarchy, but others are harmed. What can account for the difference between the two? It could be parental relationships. It could be an ideological difference. It could be any number of things. But if a movement is causing both emotional and physical pain to several individuals, it poses a problem that needs to be addressed.
What HA does so well is show that certain movements and leaders have caused harm and taught false and un-Biblical ideas in order to push a particular ideology. While the actual stats may not exist as to who was harmed, the sheer quantity of the stories here, as well as at sites like Recovering Grace and Jen’s Gems, reveals patterns that cannot and should not be ignored.
These are just one pattern of the consequences of well-intentioned “Biblical” ideas. But HA does far more; it reveals the stories of those harmed by certain ideas.
Consider the movement known to most young Evangelicals as “The Rebelution.” I was about 15-16 when I heard about these movements of “Teens doing Hard Things.” I was inspired. I fell in love with the Rebelution and grew as an individual. As I matured in my theology and saw that not everything I had been taught in the Rebelution was true, I still thought the idea was brilliant.
It wasn’t until years later, though, that I discovered that some were harmed by the Rebelution, and that many came to regret their involvement in the project. Kiery King (also known as Kiery Paulino back then) is a friend of mine who was once really involved in the Rebelution community, but has now since abandoned them. Why? Because the ideas themselves were used to control her in her already harmful home, pushing an impossible agenda on a child who could never be ready for such things.
It was then that it hit me; while Alex and Brett Harris never intended harm in their notions in the Rebelution, harm was still caused. Their ideas still had consequences: abusive situations could be fortified by the parents; harmful notions of gender roles, purity, and modesty were instantiated as eternal Christian truths.
So, then, what should we do? How do we respond when a problematic ideology arises, especially in the church? First, we listen to its victims. They are often the first and best, often the only place we can start to understand what went wrong. The church needs to help them where they are, and work to help others avoid this same problem. In the case of avoiding homeschool abuse, it might include advocating for laws which help track and regulate the education that students receive. In the case of the Rebelution, it might be just Alex and Brett recognizing that what they were doing sounded impossible, and attempting to heal the wounds that the Rebelution has caused.
I am thankful to Ryan, Nicholas, and the Homeschoolers Anonymous crew for sharing its stories. They have helped me to recognize that every idea we have, even the Biblical ones, can have harmful consequences. With their continued work, many others can now do the same—and time will tell how well the Evangelical church will respond.
Christopher Hutton is a Freelance Journalist covering topics of Religion, Pop Culture, and Philosophy in society. He currently writes about exploring the world of Worldview Studies at Liter8.net (Chris is @liter8media on Twitter).
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