A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Abuse and the Wilderness Family Adventure

Colossians 2:20-23 ESV (20) If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations– (21) “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (22) (referring to things that all perish as they are used)–according to human precepts and teachings? (23) These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

It doesn’t work. The wilderness family adventure is not an answer to our troubles. My first church was in the mountains of Montana, 70 miles from a store of any significance. I loved that place. Spectacular mountains, streams, fishing and hunting like you can’t believe. Firewood and woodstoves. The first snows in November. Saddle up your horse in the yard and ride out into the woods. I loved it and I miss it. We lived there for 8 years.

But the church there was hell. Constant infighting. Mostly unsaved people who got very low marks in “plays well with others.” Abuse? Ha! In those little picturesque cabins in the woods, you wouldn’t want to know what went on in many of them. That church persists to this day. I hope that genuine Christians rule there now. I hope.

People moved there, including many professing Christians, to pursue the wilderness family adventure. They built their own log houses and soon ran out of the money they had when they came. Jobs were scarce. Many of them home-schooled. And they tried. How they tried to follow “the plan.” Keep the kids protected from the world. No TV, today it might be no internet. Modesty, modesty, modesty. No “worldly” music. And numbers of them had their rule books all printed out and categorized by men like Bill Gothard. The wife was to submit, which meant keep quiet and obey.

And you had to tread very carefully around them lest you violate one of their rules. I once took a group of young people to a skating rink on an outing and caught it from one of the dads when they ratted me out and told him that there was secular music playing at the skating rink. His two boys did not turn out well, by the way. Not well at all.

Most of the people in our present church home school. Some have large families. I am against neither! But let me caution all of you that when the Word of God says that these programs and rules that men create which are supposedly going to lead us into a higher plane of holiness do not work, it means exactly that. If anyone truly wants to live in the mountains and have a large family and home school because they truly want to and love it, go for it! But if this lifestyle is one that is dictated by some kind of list that someone has come up with and equated with godliness, beware. Beware!

Here is the pattern I am seeing from stories told to me over and over again by abuse victims/survivors:

1. Move to an isolated place

2. Return to a pioneer lifestyle in food, clothing, reading material, etc.

3. The husband/father is the patriarch who decides. Wife/mother and children submit.

4. Home school using very, very conservative materials.

5. Train up the boys to be men/leader/warriors and the girls to be maidens/mothers/wives/submitters.

6. Find the rule book for these things that some person has written (preferably a guy with a long beard or a woman who stands behind her guy with the long beard), and follow it.

7. Have a very large family.

8. Have a home church.

Now I know there is a ton of potential here in what I have said to be misunderstood. I am NOT condemning any of these things absolutely. Boys for example SHOULD be raised up to be men and fulfill manly roles. The same for girls (only womanly roles). Our current public schools often SHOULD be shunned by Christians. There is nothing inherently wrong with having lots of children. Ok? Understand?

But what I am saying is that I regularly have abuse victims tell me that in this kind of lifestyle/philosophy/pattern, they ended up being very, very damaged. That the children grew up and still bear some of the damage done to them. Damaged by what? Legalism. By the religion of the Pharisees. They have not come to know the freedom every Christian has in Jesus Christ. They see themselves as rotten sinners deserving of hell, even though Jesus has redeemed them. They see virtually everything as a crucial, moral issue — right or wrong. Usually wrong! And they are shamed.

What a load! What a burden to put on ourselves and our families. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t work.

Galatians 3:9-14 ESV (9) So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (10) For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (11) Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (12) But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” (13) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”– (14) so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

19 Comments

  1. Julie Anne nods her head in agreement. Jeff, I have been pondering the 20 years I have been involved in the homeschool “movement”, reassessing what in the world was that all about. I sense my blog will be going that direction, too, as I mentally sift through the muck realizing that I was a participant in someone else’s agenda. The very sad story is that I have a daughter who was raised in this and she has completely left the faith (we have a great relationship, so that part is good), but I am observing her peers who were raised in the same kinds of controlling environment and what I am seeing is not so pretty. I think we will be facing a lot of young ladies who have been raised in that environment and will all of a sudden come to the reality that it was certainly controlling, if not abusive. On the flip side, the young men raised in that environment may have learned dangerous controlling and possibly abusive patterns as far as husband/wife roles and perpetuate the problem further if they follow suit. It is indeed time to sound the alarms. I fully expect to have to apologize to my children for a long, long time for my participation in this destructive movement.

    • Jeff Crippen

      Well at least you are seeing your errors and are willing to admit them. Yes, abusive environments that unduly control do indeed set people up to be abusers or to be victims. I dont want to alienate home schoolers nor reject it as a valid way to raise children. But it is the entire culture that can come with it and be very legalistic. I also have friends who have done very well schooling their children at home. Look out for those rule-making answer books though that parade as God’s rule for everyone.

  2. Just Me

    Thank you for this. I grew up in a dysfunctional household and attended a very legalistic Christian school. I am a major rule follower. I love the black and white. Gray areas make my head spin because I can’t think my way through them very easily. I’ve been realizing the last few months that one of the things God is accomplishing in me through this trial is that He’s knocking the legalistic out of me. It’s been tremendously hard!

    I’ve been praying that God will show me His heart. When I read the Bible, all I see is the scary stuff. The verse that says if we don’t forgive others, neither will God forgive us particularly gets to me. I’m having an extremely difficult time forgiving my husband. If you could do a post on forgiveness and what that looks like in an abusive relationship, that would help me.

    If you told me 10 years ago that I’d be considering a divorce, I would have been horrified. If this trial helps me to know God’s heart rather than seeing all the rules, it will be worth it.

    • Jeff Crippen

      JM- excellent! Legalism is bondage. I am beginning a new sermon series this Sunday on the religion of the pharisees. You can listen to it in real time Sunday AMs at 11am pacific time. Or the sermons are posted at sermonaudio.com/crc by the tuesday following.

      We have several articles on the bog on forgiveness. Just use the search box to find them. The best treatment of forgiveness i know of is chapter 10 of Mending the Soul by Steven Tracy.

      In abuse we must never be duped into thinking that forgiveness always means reconciliation. It doesnt. Tracy explains that.

    • Jeff S

      The way I thought about forgiveness in my own situation was that forgiveness is a removal of debt, and that was something I could offer. I actually told her this many times: “You do not owe me anything and there is nothing that you need to do to make things right. I cannot move forward in marriage with you because I do not trust your ability to function in a way that is safe for me, but I am not intending to punish you.”

      This way of thinking helped me a lot because it freed me from having unmet expectations (because if I waited for her to “make up the debt” I would have waited forever).

      • Jeff S, I’m glad you found that way of articulating it – “You don’t owe me anything… I am not intending to punish you”. I can see how it was very helpful for you; and Biblical.

        However, I just want to mention that many victims of abuse will not find your phraseology *does the trick* for them, because their abusers will retort vehemently: “But you ARE punishing me! By abdicating from this marriage of ours, you are punishing me big time!” …. Of course, this is a lie. Abusers lie. They lie even when they tell a little bit of truth, because they omit the rest of the truth.

        The truth is, the abuser’s behavior effectively push away the victim and causes the marriage to end. The abuser kills the marriage. The victim is not ‘punishing’ the abuser by declaring the marriage over. The victim is only declaring that the marriage has been killed already by the abuser’s immoral and selfish conduct.

        I think that it often helps when victims to say to themselves “I am not intending to punish my spouse.” But they may have to add “And my spouse’s assertion that I AM punishing or being vengeful to him/her, is a total inversion and distortion of the truth. I don’t have to believe or heed this lie. I know in myself that I am not punishing my spouse by distancing myself and declaring the marriage is ended, dead, kaput.” Or, as we say in Oz of an animal that has died: it’s karked, mate.

      • Yes, Barbara- I meant to make it clear this is a perspective for US, because they probably won’t buy it.

      • Laurie

        “The truth is, the abuser’s behavior effectively push away the victim and causes the marriage to end. The abuser kills the marriage. The victim is not ‘punishing’ the abuser by declaring the marriage over. The victim is only declaring that the marriage has been killed already by the abuser’s immoral and selfish conduct.”

        AMEN!! Preach it, Sister Barbara!

    • JM, divorce is one of the best experiences God has brought me through. I know that sounds crazy, and it is far from how I saw it either before or during the divorce process.

      However, through that divorce, God led me out of legalism…of trying to be good enough to deserve God…or trying to have enough faith to overcome all obstacles. He also led me into studying the BIble at a deeper level…really digging for God’s heart in a given situation, rather than relying on the interpretations I had been taught as a child.

      And through that divorce experience, I came to know that I can truly trust God’s faithfulness through all of life’s difficulties. When the worst thing I can imagine happens, God is still with me, still loving me, and still caring for me.

      I wouldn’t trade those lessons for anything!

      Here is a link to a post I did on Forgiveness with Boundaries that you might find helpful: http://josephjpote.com/2012/05/forgiveness-with-boundaries/

      Praying for you, today, that God will continue to give you wisdom, discernment, and the comfort of His perfect peace and joy, as you travel this difficult path.

  3. Like Julie Ann, I’ve had to do my fair share of repenting to my children, and as my eyes continue to be opened, I continue to repent for even more. I thought I was protecting/shielding them from the world when all the time the worst the world had to offer was cloaked in the “goodness” of church and home school values.

    I didn’t raise my children in the mountains, though, but I have lived in Northwestern Montana, a little town called Trout Creek (close to Thompson Falls). Sanders County is an area where family dysfunction is considered normal, and of course, church dysfunction too. It’s one of the most poverty-stricken areas of the country, and yet the natural resources are some of the most bountiful (like gold in the mountains, which are not allowed to be mined). I do miss living there. :)

    I’ve never read an article like this before – it’s been a long time since I’ve been away from home schooling. Thank you for speaking up!

    • Jeff Crippen

      Susan – I was just in Thompson Falls last hunting season. Depressed area for sure.

      I am not opposed to home schooling but the key word here is “culture” as Julie Anne mentioned. All the man made trappings and rules that go with that culture so often. If children grow up hampered in their ability to know and joyfully live for Christ and thinking they are under his wrath if they mis perform then the thing has gone wrong.

      Many kudos to you for admitting the errors. You can still sit down and explain to them where you were wrong.

  4. Jeff S

    This is a really, really interesting topic, not because I’ve lived it, but because it’s something my coworkers and I have talked about a LOT recently (all Christians, but not a Christian workplace). One guy in particular keeps coming back to “what is Christian freedom really about?” He and his family have given up TV recently (but not Netflix or movies), and now he’s considering if they should give up Netflix and movies. They have really enjoyed not having TV, but he is concerned at “how far” he should take their decisions. Taken to the logical conclusion, should they be giving up everything they enjoy that isn’t reading the Word and doing Christian good works? He feels like he may be on that road and doesn’t want to become legalistic, but also wants to make good decisions that are God honoring.

    Now I don’t see him setting up a hyper-patriarchy in his family, but it seems like a lot of what you are describing here is the natural end point if he keeps giving up stuff. And yet, they ENJOY not having the TV. It’s not like they are whipping themselves. They feel like the TV was just pumping garbage into their lives. Good for him, for sure.

    My take has always been to look at what the stuff I enjoy “tastes like” in my life. The more I focus on God, the more I realize a lot of secular stuff doesn’t taste nearly as good as it did before. And if I realize that, I do end up making an effort to discard it in favor of things that “taste better”. However, to him this approach seems a bit, well, like choosing the world over God in a lot of areas and not pursuing righteousness near as much as we ought. But if pursuing righteousness means shutting ourselves off from everything, where is the freedom in that? It certainly doesn’t look like the oppressive environment you describe here.

    A couple of verses come to mind for me (ESV):

    1 Cor 10: 23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.

    1 Cor 10: 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

    Rom 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

    Still, applying this stuff is hard and not always clear, and it’s easy to get on the paths of permissiveness or legalism. No wonder we prefer a clear set of rules- way less messy until someone gets hurt.

    • Jeff, I too use the analogy of ‘taste’ to help me decide what to do or not do with my disposable waking hours. One thing that may be helpful, for your friend, or all of us, to think about is this: What ‘good Christian works’ is the person considering doing with his time, the extra time he now has after having given up TV or some other ‘secular’ activity.

      For example, if he is spending his new time reading this blog (how single-issued of me, eh?) in order to be better able to help and respond to the scourge of domestic abuse that is eating away at the church like a cancer, then good on him!
      I’d love to see more of your average Christians reading and learning about domestic abuse. Then we might have fewer bystanders being recruited by the abusers!

      Being well into my 50s, and having had lots of Christian teaching and Bible study over the years, I figure it’s time for me to put into practice what I already know. Not that I can give up learning, or figure that I know everything and don’t need to learn any more, but there comes a time when more study is like pouring water into a glass that is already full, and what one (me) needs to do is to pour out some of the water to help others slake their thirst. Does that sound too self-promoting? I hope not. I don’t mean it that way.

      One more thing: making the ‘secular-religious’ distinction about all things recreational and cultural, can be a false dichotomy sometimes. If Paul had not know the secular literature of the time, he would never have been able to say “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” If he had not been a keen observer of the secular culture, he would not have been able to tell the Athenians, ” As I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ ”
      The parallel today is pastors or evangelists who allude to a movie to illustrate something about sin, human behavior, or character. There’s nothing wrong with this, so long as the illustration is being used to make a good application of biblical doctrine. (It’s wrong when the speaker is doing it to get laughs or spruik himself in some way… we’ve all been witnesses to that, I’m sure.)

      • I personally don’t really get into a lot of explicitly Christian stuff anyway. A lot of Christian entertainment is either vapid or dangerous in its own right. I believe the work of being in the world and not of it means using a discerning mind to guard what and how secular ideas get into our heads more than avoiding the influences all together. Of course that takes critical thinking and can be messy, but I’ll bet it produces better results than the Wilderness Adventure.

        We have a local Christian station here that uses the tag line “safe for the whole family.” I’m sure it isn’t the only one. However, I have two big issues with that. 1) Christianity isn’t supposed to be about being “safe”- it is about the most potent truth there is that can transform lives. Let’s not make our faith about the more comfortable, less edgy version of the “real thing”. 2) Unless they have someone very discerning reviewing the lyrics of every song they play for doctrinal truth, it probably isn’t safe. We can’t just switch our brains off and let stuff in just because it is labeled as Christian. I mean you have Oneness Pentecostals and Prosperity Gospel musicians making Christian music that gets played on the air- is that safe? Or you have teachers like Piper advising women to endure abuse- is that safe?

        And that ultimately is the problem with this type of thinking- we think if we retreat away from the world and invest in some kind of “pure” subculture we can achieve holiness. Yet we can’t outrun worldliness to the point we get to shut off our brains. It doesn’t work (as Jeff says) and it has no value in stopping the indulgences of the flesh (as scripture says). We live in a fallen world and are going to have to engage it in its falleness- the key is if we can do it without surrendering righteousness.

      • Yes. Remember the Narnia series? The beavers, I think it was, were telling the children about Aslan. One of the boys asked “Is he safe?” The beavers replied, “No; Aslan is NOT safe, but he is good!”

      • Haha, I think I just realized that it may have been Narnia in the back of my mind making me cringe every time I hear that slogan!

      • Laurie

        Exactly, Barbara. We are to be in the world, not of it. We are to be wise as serpents (know your enemy) but gentle as doves.

        The culture of America today watches a lot of TV, plays a lot of video games. People who live on a farm and live to do chores (please, I am not knocking it, farms don’t raise wimps) have very little that today’s youth can interact upon. Been there, done that; inner city children’s ministry–the kids all thought that we could not possibly understand what their lives were like, until they found out that I used to live on the beaches of So. California.

        And Jesus came and took on Himself after the manner of our flesh, so that He could interact with us, so that we would be more likely to accept Him. (Personal view, I think that Jesus must have suffered at least one cold in His time on earth, so that He would know what it is we go through and know how to help us overcome the temptations we face when we go through difficult times.)

    • Laurie

      Jeff, you are right. It is a natural end point. It comes from trying to outrun God in doing good works. Born of a heart that is sincere, but then becomes entrapped in works. Its Galatians, “Who has bewitched you? You began in the Spirit, will you be perfected in the flesh?” Never ends well unless it is abandoned AND a return to the sufficiency of Christ Jesus is made.

  5. Laurie

    ROFL…loved the bullet points. And the Gothard thing and, well, all of it. Been there, done that. Conservative CULTURAL church portraying themselves as the end all of holiness. Worse yet, conservative cultural HOME church that broke from the larger fellowship because they weren’t holy enough.

    Holiness is not a cultural life style, it is a Person: And His name is Jesus Christ.

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