Category Archives: sexual abuse

Christianity and mental health

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Recently Voddie Baucham, a respected homeschool leader, preached a sermon in his church on mental illness. (Here is the transcript, thanks to R L Stollar, who also wrote an analysis of the sermon.) I normally avoid evangelicals teaching about mental illness. I’ve been too screwed over, too hurt, too much more damaged when trying to seek help from them. I’d rather just avoid that conversation, because I’m still too raw. I don’t put myself into places where I have to expose a vulnerable part of myself to unsympathetic people.

What I’ve realized, though, is that to constantly stay silent in this area caters to both the power of the abuser and the pain of the abused. If I do not speak up, can I really be angry that only a brave few are calling these people out on their words?

I have a long and messy mental health history, including: hospitalization, treatment, antipsychotics, antidepressants, nouthetic counseling, secular counseling…you name it. I’ve been diagnosed with multiple psychiatric disorders, including depression and anxiety (those, along with PTSD, are the only ones that actually held water). I have a lot of shame about this, and rarely talk about it. I am well aware that it could affect my chances of working where I want to work or applying to residencies and programs. I don’t know how much it will limit me, but there is a chance. For all of these reasons, I choose to keep silent for the most part when there are discussions about mental illness and the church. I’m tired of being silent, though.

My first experience with counseling was when I was 16. I was a cutter, I had suicide ideation and an eating disorder, and I had depression and anxiety. The first counselor my parents took me to was a nouthetic counselor. (For those unfamiliar with the term, it is basically just a counselor that uses the Bible above all else, scorning secular psychology.) My counselor did, to her credit, completely discredit all secular psychology–at least at first. She did, however, use several questionable practices. She refused to keep confidentiality, relaying to my parents anything I said. She was highly codependent, allowing me to overstay my sessions and including me in her family’s life. She overshared her personal life. These were merely bad counseling practices, unethical as a matter of fact.

What was more insidious, and more dangerous, was her twisted ways of mixing the Bible with her counseling. She was the first person that I disclosed my sexual abuse to. While she originally seemed non-condemnatory and affirming, she soon began to twist her words. She began to tell me I had to forgive my rapist, to confess my sin in the matter (I was five when it happened, not that age matters). The “bible study” homework that she gave me increasingly focused on my attitudes and actions. I was told that if I received negative attention in the future, it would be due to the fact that I had sexual fantasies and read erotica. My questioning of my sexuality was immediately rebuffed. I was criticized for letting my “trauma” influence my worldview. I was required to report on the contents of my counseling sessions to my parents, not that it mattered, as they already got emails after almost every session with the details.

I spent a few months in a treatment center when my self-destructive coping mechanisms got to be too much to deal with. By the grace of all that is above, I ended up in an amazing, secular center. I heard truth about recovery, trauma, and abuse. Without going into details, I will say that it was a one of a kind education in mental health and wellness, and how to deal with trauma. I left it with the tools to build a healthier, happier, safer, and saner life.

But after leaving, I still had to fight my demons. I still struggled with shame that I had to take meds. I felt guilty that I chose to stop going to church, even as I knew it was the right decision for me. I faced judgment from my family. I eventually broke ties with that counselor for good, but even that left me with a nasty scar. I can’t discuss her much to this day. I keep that boundary for my own health.

Mental health treatment in the hands of unqualified people, especially Christians, is a dangerous, dangerous thing. Voddie Baucham is not even a counselor, but his words will hurt many people, and I am sure already have hurt those in his congregation that morning. I fully support a licensing system for mental health professionals, just like we have for medical professionals. You wouldn’t want anyone who called themselves a surgeon operating on your physical bodies, and you shouldn’t accept anyone who calls themselves a counselor tampering with your mind. It’s dangerous, and deadly. I tried to commit suicide because of the condemnatory messages I received from pastors, the nouthetic counselor, and other well-intentioned but misguided Christians.

We need to speak up. Mental health is still very much a stigmatized topic in this country, but it is exponentially more so in Christian circles. This prevents people from getting the help they need. Just this week, Leelah Alcorn committed suicide because her parents refused to accept her transgender identity and acknowledge or support her. Christian teachings on mental illness are actively harming people, actively leading to suicide, injury, and compounded illness. I could cry, or I could rage. I don’t know which I feel like doing. What I will continue to do is speak. I will not let my voice be silenced, and I will speak for the now-silent who could have had a chance for help if they had someone who listened to them and accepted them. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It can be treated, and there is help. And you don’t have to be a Christian to change someone’s life.

when good men do nothing

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[Recently Homeschoolers Anonymous published an article about a sexual/physical abuse cover up that involved “big” names in the homeschooling community: HSLDA, Heidi St. John, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Great Homeschool Conventions, and more.  (To read the entire article, which I’ll just summarize, click here).

Basically, a son of the family that owns The Old Schoolhouse Magazine molested his younger cousin seven years ago. This family also physically abused a niece that they took in to live with them. The family of the child who was abused has been trying for seven years to reconcile with the family of the abuser while at the same time protecting their children and others that the abuser has access to through church, traveling, and other means. This process involved one-on-one confrontation, asking others to come and support them in their confrontation (Matthew 18), reaching out to mutual friends, and contacting the Home School Legal Defense Association and individually reaching out to people high in the HSLDA system such as Mike Smith and people high in the GHC such as Heidi St. John. Recently, Eric Nouvak contacted Ryan Stollar of Homeschooler’s Anonymous and Hannah Ettinger with some of the details in this story. They did a very thorough and well-researched report on the situation, which as of yet has not been addressed.]

The whole situation makes me sick to my stomach. It is hard to write about, just like it’s hard to hear about.

Homeschooling can be an amazing educational choice. Unfortunately for those who want to continue to teach their children at home, the actions of HSLDA, Heidi St. John and others who are supposed to be “protecting” homeschoolers are jeopardizing that. If these well-respected organizations and individuals whose primary mission is to protect homeschoolers are “too busy” to deal with the “distraction” of insidious and widespread child abuse and child sexual abuse, children will continue to be victimized and eventually more and more regulation and supervision will be forced on homeschoolers. It is not ok to hear about something like this and ignore it! It is not ok to discriminate against victims. It is not ok to cover up abuse.
And I cannot emphasize this enough: when child abuse is strongly suspected or certainly known about, it is NOT enough to use Matthew 18 or self-policing. In these cases, the situation MUST BE REPORTED to the pertinent authorities. Children and families who have been victimized this way need professional help, not just a Biblical/nouthetic counselor or a pastor. They may need this support, yes, but that is for people who are trained in how to deal with things like this to decide. Ironically, HSLDA wrote about this on their website in response to an earlier outrage over abuse that they ignored. They added a page that talked about how to report abuse and neglect which stated, “Although HSLDA has expressed reservations about methods of abuse reporting and investigation in the current child welfare system, we strongly believe that when there is reliable evidence that a child is being abused or neglected, the government has a duty to intervene.”
Excuse me, folks! What did HSLDA, through its leaders WHO PUT OUT THIS STATEMENT ON ABUSE AND NEGLECT, do? They ignored child abuse, blatantly. Abuse that had multiple victims who spoke up. They refused to involve the government–or even try a more “Biblical” method of intervention. HSLDA abandoned the defenseless, the helpless, the children.
But does this really surprise me? No. Sadly, no. It infuriates me, but it is what I would expect from an organization from HSLDA that pushes for the rights of parents to the exclusion of the rights of children. Children’s rights are a bad word for them. They promote the parental rights amendment, which would effectively give parents unquestionable authority over their children with no regard to what might be best for their children. If a parent does not believe in something (vaccinations, socialization, evolution, women getting higher education), they are not obligated to give it to their children (or to give them the opportunity). HSLDA has long fear-mongered among homeschoolers regarding social services, public schools, and anything to do with the government in regards to accountability for homeschoolers. Whether or not they intended to do so, they are creating a haven for patriarchy, abuse, and neglect in every area. This cover up is basically the only logical outworking of the system that they have created.
I want to live in a country where I have the freedom to homeschool my hypothetical children if I ever wanted to. I want to live in a country that protects and respects children and guarantees them basic rights of personhood. I don’t think these two desires are exclusive. However, if leaders in the homeschooling community continue to refuse to protect children, someone else will step in. Like it or not, they are the reason that “outsiders” need to keep better tabs on homeschoolers. Apparently, self-policing isn’t going to be enough (surprise). For our children and for ourselves, we must speak up, or evil will triumph.