Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Modesty Culture Part 12: Amanda's Story

In the next segment, I am going to tell the story of my wife’s experiences. I do this with her permission and her assistance. I do it because I believe it is a necessary cautionary tale about the dangers of gender essentialist, Patriarchal Christianity in general and Modesty Culture in particular.

My Wife’s Experience With Patriarchy, “Modesty Culture,” Slut Shaming, and Sexual Assault

I write this post with some trepidation. I know it will cause pain to some of the people involved, especially my in-laws, who are really great, good-hearted people. I have been blessed greatly by them in many ways, personally and professionally, and it is not my intent to assign blame. None of us parents are perfect, and we all make mistakes. 

They have also done what is often hardest for parents to do, which is to let their adult children make different decisions than they did, without shaming, nagging, or attempts to control. I am grateful to them for this, and cherish our relationship.

Rather, it is my intent to sound a warning. The Patriarchal philosophy - Modesty Culture in particular - is a siren song. It sounds so sweet and so good and desirable. More than anything else, the vision of “clean cut, sweet and innocent” teens draws people into cults. But it draws people on to harm and destruction, and leads to pain and heartache for many of the children raised in it.


***

I want to note a few things at the outset.

First of all, my wife has assisted me in putting together her story, and she has consented to and approved my disclosure of her past experiences. She didn't want to write it herself, but did want her story to be told.

Second, I realize that recollections of events and conversations vary. (Of all people, a lawyer would understand this.) Some of the people involved will undoubtedly have different memories of the events - and different interpretations.

However, I think that the late great Maya Angelou makes a good point here.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”


Amanda’s experience was real to her, and the way she was made to feel was also very real.

***

Very early in our relationship, we stayed at her parents mountain home with them for a weekend, and spent an evening looking through old pictures and a few old home movies. I was madly smitten (still am), and found it endlessly fascinating to see the young Amanda. It was striking to me that even at a very young age, she was recognizable not just by her appearance, but by her way of talking and her gestures. The self-assured 20-year-old I knew was already visible in the self-confident 6 year old.

I also noticed something else, however. Up until her teen years, she was dressed like a typical California kid in the 1980s. Shorts. Jeans. T-shirts. Tank tops. Even swimsuits.

But then, something changed. For a number of years, from age fourteen or so, pretty much up until I met her, she was dressed in homemade prairie style dresses. Never pants or shorts. Few items if any would have been worn by a normal teen girl of the era.

As I have noted in the introduction to this series, my wife spent these years in Jonathan Lindvall’s home church.

There was a very detailed and very strict dress code based on a concept of “modesty.”

During that time, she was singled out for what I believe was “slut shaming.” (See the Wikipedia definition if you are unfamiliar with the concept.

Things you need to know about Amanda:

1. She is fiercely independent. She has, from a young age, been a natural leader, strong in personality and in her own assurance and ability to tell right from wrong. She has not, and never will, consider herself inferior to a man in any way. She fully believes in interacting with men as full equals. (And that includes the former CEO of her hospital, BTW, who tried to be condescending to her.) She knew from age three (long before her Patriarchy experience) that she wanted to be a nurse. She pursued this goal and continues to serve her community in that capacity. She is a competent and capable shift leader, and is often called upon to lead in crisis situations. Recently, she ended up in charge of all three ICU units at her hospital due to the illness of the other charge nurses. I've also seen her administer and direct CPR out in the field. Her gifts and contributions to the good of humanity outside of our family are great. I greatly admire her gifts, and would gladly follow her lead in a natural disaster.

2. If you actually met her in person, you would know that she is the exact opposite of a flirt. She does NOT want to have sex with you. No way. No how. She can give the “back off, asshole!” look like nobody’s business. Unless you are me - and you aren’t - she is not flirting with you. And she sure as hell doesn’t want to have sex with you. :)

3. She has a fashion sense, and has since she was a toddler, when she informed her father what did and did not match. She has sewing and design skills to match.

Of the MANY pictures I could have chosen, here is the one of Amanda and me as 
Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice for a costume party in  2011. 
She modified and sewed both costumes. 

My eldest in her Rapunzel costume. 
Amanda designed this from scratch, as the commercial patterns didn't really match the original. 
Yeah, she's good.  

***

Two major events occurred in Amanda’s life around the time she went through puberty. First, the family moved from the big city to a small mountain community. This move took her physically away from her friends to a place that was occupied primarily by weekend vacationers and retirees. There weren’t many children, to say the least.

The second occurred around the same time, when they joined Jonathan Lindvall’s home church. This essentially limited her in-person interaction with other people her own age (other than rare occasions) to a very narrow group of people, all of whom shared a specific worldview - and specific beliefs as to what women should and shouldn’t be allowed to do.

It was a complete shift from an ordinary life and ordinary clothing to a strict requirement of long dresses and skirts for girls at all times, combined with all of the “defrauding” teachings I described earlier in this series. That was the last time she wore pants or shorts until after we started dating. For a girl barely coming to terms with having breasts and a period, this was difficult. What had once been her girlish body had now become a source of sin to be covered and hidden as much as possible.

And not just that. This group believed that college was to be avoided, not just by females, but males as well. Men were to (ideally) be self employed, and women were to - without exception - get married, have as many children as they could, and keep house. I’ve also noted elsewhere that fiction and literature was viewed with suspicion, with some families insisting on only reading the Bible and missionary biographies. I also mentioned elsewhere that they believed that only men could participate in the church services (other than the singing) because women were to remain silent in church.

So, not only was Amanda’s body now considered a source of sin, her very aspirations were considered sinful by the adults - and the other teens - in the group. The fact that she wanted a career was horrifying. So she couldn’t talk about that. Literature too - which Amanda loves - couldn’t be discussed, because it was evil to many in the group. These were her only opportunities for in-person friendships.

***

It didn’t get better from there. A certain middle aged man in the homegroup committed a sexual assault. He grabbed the butt of a stranger at the mall, and was arrested. (Presumably, she was wearing something less than a burqa, so I suppose in this worldview, she asked for it…)

Amanda was never told about this incident. Indeed, it never came up within context of the full group - and there were certainly no repercussions for the offender. (Amanda and I found out about this a number of years later, after she had left the group. She certainly was never warned to avoid him, and, as far as I can see from subsequent interactions involving him, that there were no restrictions ever placed on him about being around women or children.)

This same man had a habit of standing far too close to Amanda (age 16 or 17 at the time) when he talked to her. She would back up, but he would persist, and she would often end up backed against a wall or a bookcase. She clearly remembers that during one incident, she was even wearing her most modest (and least attractive) jumper. Fortunately, it never went further than this. She was young, and naive. (In fact, she didn’t get a real sex education until her college courses. And an explanation of sexual harassment was out of the question.) So she tried to avoid him to the degree possible, but she did not feel free to complain. She didn’t really realize that he was sexually assaulting her in a mild degree. And really, it would have done no good for her to complain anyway, in light of what happened to her earlier. If she had complained, she would have been blamed for what occurred.

Amanda was away at a religious conference with her grandparents for a week; when she returned, she fiound that she had been the subject of a big meeting in the group.

Apparently, she was now viewed as a serious threat to the young men of the group. Why?

Well, she wasn’t really interested in talking about homemaking or the care of goats. The young ladies of the group were not allowed to read literature, which was her great love, so she had NOTHING in common with them. Nothing to talk about.

So naturally, she gravitated to the young men. They might talk about classic cars (which she knows enough about to best my knowledge), roller coasters, math, or other topics that actually interested her.

This, apparently was a huge nuclear threat to the young men. After all, she was attractive, smart, and shamelessly confident. She clearly did not have the right attitude for a woman. She also didn’t have the proper “shamefaced” and “downcast” glance. She looked the men and boys right in the eye.

Now, they couldn’t complain that she was “immodest” in the traditional sense. She strictly adhered to the dress code at her parents’ insistence.

Actually, let me give you the two best examples of this. First, once I started dating her, I told her she had to buy a pair of jeans. Because all she wore were dresses and skirts. Not good for hiking, in my opinion. She actually did not own a pair of pants at that time, much less a pair of shorts. She bought and wore her first (uncovered) swimsuit after she moved out of her parents’ house, so that she could use the pool at her grandparents’ retirement community.

Second, she actually went cross country skiing in snow pants with a skirt over them. Really? Um, yes. No, it wasn’t practical or comfortable. Yes, it made her look like a total freak. (A really cute freak, but a freak.) Yes, it was in response to the batshit crazy dress code of the group. The thought of a woman in actual puffy snow pants was unthinkable.


The unthinkably “immodest” attire of snow pants without a skirt. Picture from Overstock.com. 
Are you not titillated?

(Actually, if you want to put a fine point on it, women were NOT really permitted to engage in physical activity, but her parents wisely decided to allow it. Too bad they didn’t give the finger to the perverts in the group that minded her wearing pants while doing so.)

SO….

She came back to find that a decree had been issued about her:

She was NO LONGER to interact with boys. Because she had been deemed to be flirting with them. She was a sexual danger to them.

She was to confine herself to her proper place, and talk to the girls about homemaking and goats.

I do not know if her body was mentioned at the meeting, because I strongly doubt her parents would have relayed that to her.

But the message was clear:

She was sexually DANGEROUS to the young men of the group.

Oh, and I should mention that she was told on the way to a home church meeting, and thus had no time to process this or prepare herself.

So yes, I believe that, stated or not, she was believed to be “immodest.” Actually, given the Rebelution survey, she would have qualified as “immodest” somehow. Because something she did caused a perverted old man to lust. And it may have caused ordinary young men to feel sexual desire. (Goodness knows, when I first saw her, I desired her.) So she MUST have been a slut.

And note the ultimate result of all of this.

The man who committed criminal sexual assault was permitted to remain in the group - and continue to be part of the leadership - without consequences. The young lady who had no intention of having sex with anyone in the group had her friendships sharply curtailed, because she was considered sexually dangerous.

She had to pay the price: to sacrifice her clothing, her friendships, and indeed her very self for the sexual insecurities and dysfunction of the adults in the group.

[As side note: like most home churches - particularly patriarchal ones - all of the male heads of household share to a degree in the governance of the church. Someone may have the final say - like Lindvall - but the idea is a sort of democracy in emulation of the early New Testament church. Needless to say, women could only act through their husbands if married, and through their fathers if single. In this particular instance, there was never any indication that the predator was ever denied a full male vote. It was the 16 year old girl who was subjected to church discipline.]

This incident also sparked an increasing restriction on male/female interaction within the group. Originally, boys and girls played badminton (the recreational game of choice) together. The girls had to wear long skirts, of course, but both genders could play. Next, the girls had to stay on one side of the net, and the boys on the other. Can't have them getting too close. Eventually, the games were segregated by gender. And so, an individual slut-shaming spread to increasing paranoia about gender mixing. 

The Coup de Grace

At age eighteen, Amanda returned to the city to live with her grandparents while she attended college. When she did, a number of the parents in the group instructed their daughters to cut off contact with Amanda, lest they be contaminated by her wickedness - that is, her decision to attend college. And with that, her rejection and vilification were complete. She was now the great Satan.

I’ve talked to a number of others who have come out of patriarchal cults, and most of us can think of some incident or incidents that were a turning point. At some point, one realizes that this isn’t going to end well, that there will be no happy ending, that the only option is to leave, even if it means severing relationships.

At that point, all that can be done is to withdraw into oneself to avoid further hurt, keep quiet and do the things necessary to keep the peace, and count the days until one can get the hell out of Dodge and never look back.

***

In the next installment, I will explore the uniquely American history of moral panics, snake oil (spiritual and otherwise), and make my argument that “Modesty Culture” is really just yet another manufactured crisis.

Modesty Culture Part 2: How "Modesty Culture" became a "Thing"
Modesty Culture Part 3: "Modesty" in Practice
Modesty Culture Part 4: The Concept of "defrauding" and Rape Culture  
Modesty Culture Part 5: The Faulty Definition of "Lust"
Modesty Culture Part 6: The Real Meaning of I Timothy 2:8-10 
Modesty Culture Part 7: Maybe Christian Women Should Buy Their Clothes at WalMart  
Modesty Culture Part 8: Sexism and Misogyny
Modesty Culture Part 9: Inconsistent Application of Rules 
Modesty Culture Part 10: Social Signaling  
Modesty Culture Part 11: "Others May, We Cannot" is a Lie
Modesty Culture Part 12: Amanda's Story


The Convent:

We came to find out years later that a significant driver of the decision to join the Lindvall group was a fear that Amanda (and her siblings) would end up like the son of a friend, who knocked up a girl at age 14 - not a parent’s favorite result.

As Amanda puts it, she feels that the isolation by geography and limited contact with normal children was the Protestant equivalent of a convent with 12 foot high walls. A way to preserve her virginity at the cost of her freedom. 

Amanda’s contribution to #yesallwomen:

Despite being pretty much the opposite of the typical “victim” type, Amanda experienced another instance of unwanted sexual inappropriateness. Because all women really do experience this.

The incidents occurred at work, when this jerk with a reputation for harassing others made repeated inappropriate comments to her about her body and her pregnancy. She followed the sexual harassment procedure, and her employer took care of it.

Yes, even the self-confident, strong women have to put up with this crap from time to time. She experienced it at work, and at church. Guess which one was the place she had no recourse? Guess which one instead decided that she was the cause of sin on the part of males?

A similar story on slut shaming:

Of the many stories of Bill Gothard’s sexual abuse that have come to light, this one in particular struck me with some similarities to Amanda’s experience.

Most notably, once a perverted old man took a particular interest in the victim, those around her called her out as a slut. I’ll also note that those singled out for “modesty” violations are often the ones that the perverts find themselves attracted to.

My Own Experience at being the Great Satan:

I don’t think anyone other than my own parents and my wife have ever heard this story. When I was a young boy, I’m guessing no older than seven - maybe five or six, we had some next-door neighbors with a couple of young boys, a bit younger than me - the older was my brother’s age, I think.

We used to play with their kids regularly, as was natural in those heady days when kids actually played outside in the street. However, something went wrong one day. In the course of some rough play, I pushed one of the neighbor kids. I was small anyway, and no harm was done, and I didn’t mean anything by it. I was freaking seven or younger. I had no ill will, and, honestly, nobody got hurt. The kid didn’t even complain. It was mom, looking from the window who freaked out.

If I had been asked, I would gladly have apologized. I probably did right when it happened. But mom freaked out. (I think she had some emotional issues.)

So, whatever the cause, from that point forward, I was persona non grata. They were not allowed to play with us any more.

Worse than that, when I would play in my own yard, their kids would taunt me from the second story window (presumably at the prompting of their mom). “Hey there, Satan!” And so on. So I know first hand what it is like to be vilified with no chance of defense. I tried not to let it affect me. But it did.

Note on Jonathan Lindvall:

One thing I do want to clarify. Neither my wife nor I believe Lindvall is a pervert. As a person, he is basically harmless, and a guy with good intentions. In fact, he lacks the narcissistic personality and empire building obsession that most of the other partriarchists have. No extravagant lifestyle or outsized ego.

The problem is that he is extremely gullible, whether it is to my father-in-law’s practical jokes (which were hilarious, particularly the one where he impersonated a Muslim extremist who called Lindvall to make common cause) or to theological bullshit

His exegesis, to say the least, is utterly awful, with the proof-texting and out-of-context hyper-literalism that plagues the Christian Patriarchy movement - and the rest of fundamentalism in all its forms. I would link to his website, but since the Matthew Chapman story hit the internet, he has taken it down. (Wait, another case when an inconvenient truth comes to light and is simply removed without explanation or apology? Come on, Lindvall! Explain why you glorified child marriage while slut shaming an older teen for having friends of the opposite sex...) 

Lindvall’s teachings reveal a serious lack of judgment and a disconnect from the real world.

The man should NEVER have been accepted by anyone as a spiritual leader. Had this never happened, had he never been place in a position of leadership, he might have lived life as an eccentric but lovable schoolteacher.

However, the philosophy itself is evil, and leads to the tolerance of perverts and the decision to slut-shame innocent sixteen-year-old girls rather than deal with the real problem of lust. The bad philosophy combined with a serious lack of judgment and leadership combined to make a toxic combination.

Amanda and I don’t have personal ill will toward the Lindvalls. They were even invited to (and attended) our wedding.

However, he has made his living selling spiritual snake oil, which has damaged many. Amanda was one of the lucky ones, because her parents ignored his teachings on college and careers and facilitated her escape from the group.

Many other young women were not so lucky.

It would be a great relief to me if he were to get out of the business altogether, before more lives are damaged.

A Lack of Peer Friends is a feature, not a bug:

While in this case, Amanda’s lack of friendship opportunities was probably an unforeseen consequence, for Lindvall, it is a positive result. I kid you not.

Before he took down his website, the following could be read. Fortunately, a Patheos writer copied the text.


This is an exchange between Lindvall and a person who sought his advice:

Writer: We noticed that she [his daughter] doesn’t like to play with the other kids as much now and prefers to play alone. Any idea what could be happening?

Lindvall: That’s GREAT! I often hear from new homeschoolers that their children are preferring to play with the parents, siblings, and alone, soon after beginning homeschooling. In my opinion, that’s part of the goal. Congratulations! She was becoming addicted to interaction with her peers, who were, perhaps unintentionally, stealing her heart from you. She had already started down the road to becoming peer-dependent. But now, she is preferring being with you, being with her little brother, and being alone. I think that’s really healthy. Many people worry that this will make children unable to relate to others. In fact, it makes them less intimidated by others’ acceptance/rejection of them. She will be less likely to be pressured into conformity with the world (Rom. 12:1-2). And as you spend time with her, her emotional focus is turning to you. God is “turning the hearts of the children to the fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to their children” (Mal. 4:6). Ultimately this will make it easier for [the daughter] to give her heart to you (Prov. 23:26) in preparation for fully yielding and trusting her heart to the Lord.

That’s right. Having friends one’s own age is “addiction to interaction with her peers.” Family should be all in all, and children should be emotionally focused on their fathers.

As an attorney, this sort of talk is all too familiar. This is how abusers (and cults) isolate people from their family, friends, and anyone who could help them escape. The cult becomes all in all, and no contrary ideas are allowed to penetrate.

It is disturbing to me that anyone could hear this and not realize how awful it really is. 

Likewise for the teaching that young people are to find a spouse "entirely on God's will confirmed by our authorities," and that any emotional relationship or romance was to occur only after an irrevocable betrothal was entered into by the parents. You can read about the way this negatively impacted our own romance here. We thrived despite the teaching, but it took deliberate rejection of the theological bullshit.

Note on the cult:

While Lindvall doesn’t qualify as a cult leader, there are enough cult-like tendencies in the group that I believe it has crossed the line.

For some reason, Lindvall’s group attracted a lot of people with serious issues. From what I have seen, heard, and experienced, there was a high degree of sexual dysfunction. Whether the teachings caused problems, or whether people with problems gravitated toward the teachings is an open question.

It also attracted conspiracy theorists and die-hard reconstructionsts. Amanda noticed (through a mutual friend) that the kids of one family received a complete Rushdoony set when they turned eighteen, for example, and there was plenty of involvement with the “militia” and the John Birch Society. Rushdoony’s son, Mark, officiated at one of the kids’ weddings. You can also find liberal references on the blog to Steve Wilkins, one of the founders of the White Supremacist group League of the South. (Also a good buddy and co-author with Douglas Wilson.) These are people who were (and are?) part of the Lindvall group. They blog publicly, so I believe a link is fair game. 

Also I should mention the Campbells. They were welcomed for over a year, because apparently White Supremacist beliefs and affiliations were acceptable in a way that a feminist teen girl was not.

The Campbells now lead a “church”/cult that has close ties to the League of the South, a well known White Supremacist group. In fact, the “church,” despite its small size, has been listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. And with good reason, once you read what they teach. I strongly suspect we shall hear more about them as perhaps the next Branch-Davidian type catastrophe.

After reading this, I do wonder if I have finally found an opportunity to use “antidisestablishmentarianism.”

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit it, but I have a relative (no, I’m not disclosing the identity), who is solidly connected with the financial scam mentioned in connection with Kaweah - and did Federal prison time as a result. You can read a bit more here.

What I find disturbing about all this is that adherence to racist teachings and teachers never raised an eyebrow, but a 16 year old girl with feminist leanings who wanted to be friends with boys warranted a big meeting and what was, frankly, church disciplinary action against her.

One bright spot:

We wanted to say something nice about the one person in the group who actually treated Amanda like a real person, not a “female,” or a hussy. That would be Lindvall’s mother, who passed away last year. She was one of the sweetest, kindest people ever, and was the one source of love (outside of her family) for Amanda during those years. One of our daughters bears a tribute to this woman in her name. If she is able to watch us, I want her to know that her kindness to Amanda is not forgotten, and it is one of the best things she ever did. May she have her reward.  

Links:


The whole post is excellent, but this line is so very true:

People join cults because they fall in love with a beautiful dream.
They see something they desperately want or need.
They feel like they’ve found The Answer to life’s problems.

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to post the next link. Few links have struck as close to home or choked me up as much as this one. Darcy had a worse time of it than Amanda did, and much worse than I did. However, she says what so many of us who have left the Patriarchy cult feel, and she says it so well. It cuts really deep, which is why I hesitated. 

Still, if our parents are to read one article on how we feel, this is it.

http://darcysheartstirrings.blogspot.com/2014/05/letter-to-our-parents.html

On that note, Amanda discovered this song recently. It expresses her feelings on the experience.

13 comments:

  1. A truly cautionary tale.

    In the 1970s when I was a teenager involved in a Church of the Nazarene in rural Nebraska, I met a few seminary students. I noticed they had a tendency to stand close to me while simply talking to me, closer than I liked. (Country folk tend to have a strong sense of personal boundaries.) At that time I thought it might result from something like the military services do to recruits, drill sergeants getting "up in their faces" and invading personal space to make "good soldiers" out of them; but now I wonder if there was more going on in those conservative seminaries than there seemed. Perhaps "invading personal space" is something that's taught by example there, although by no means labeled as such--and some of those professors might be secretly frustrated in personal relationships while denying "in the name of Jesus" any possibility of such frustration or even the need for personal relationships...

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    1. Interesting thoughts. I'm more of a city boy than a country boy (I grew up in Los Angeles), but I have plenty of country relatives. (Eastern Montana, mostly.) I don't remember having a problem with violation of personal space, and I am an introvert who likes his space. Maybe it's a Southern thing?

      Your mention of the military is interesting. My thought is that the drill sergeant in the recruit's face is a display and exercise of power. Of dominance. It also functions like the rest of the training to teach absolute obedience under great stress. That's necessary in a war, obviously, but not so much in everyday relationships.

      In this particular case, there is no doubt in either my or my wife's mind that this man knew damn well that he was making her profoundly uncomfortable, and that he did it intentionally.

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    2. "A Southern thing"? Well, the South is the Bible Belt, and attitudes there seem to have seeped throughout "conservative Christianity." My bachelor's is from Mid-America Nazarene College (now University) near Kansas City, and the culture there was distinctly "southern" in many ways; I heard a lot of drawls. -- Intererstingly, the "liberal" denominations such as Congregational UCC, Episcopal, Methodist and especially Unitarian Universalist are mostly headquartered in New England or other "northern" areas. We may be on to something...

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    3. I don't think it's strictly a Southern thing. I've been in Christendom all of my life and I've lived in the northern Mid-west, the Southwest, the South and now Texas. I've also visited New England and "the East".

      From a woman's perspective I tend to feel that the people, especially men, who invaded my space (aggressively) generally were trying to dominate me in some way - their "attractiveness" (no comment), their intelligence, their superiority, etc. I'm not trying to be disagreeable, just passing on my own experiences.

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    4. You have identified a "type" there - one that I would guess tends to be narcissistic. Men do this to men too, of course, in a way that suggests violence, rather than sex. I am a short man (5'7"), and plenty of tall bullying sorts still try this from time to time.

      It is an interesting question, though, of cultural differences on personal space. What is acceptable on public transportation wouldn't necessarily be so in another situation. So, certainly there is the intentional intimidation, but there may be some cases where space violations are innocent. Fun to ponder this stuff...

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  2. This is a really sad story, and it is certainly not an isolated one.

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  3. Unfortunately, it isn't isolated. Very few young women escaped damage from these teachings. Looking at the people I knew from my Gothard years, it is disheartening how many have left the faith, and how many more have struggled with sexuality, faith, and the pain they endured.

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  4. I comment both you and Amanda for sharing your story. You're bravery to cultivate a relationship with a loving God and walk away from an oppressive one is a miracle. It is one of the hardest journeys in faith I've walked.

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    1. I'll admit, if it hadn't been for the time spent in more "normal" Christianity before our Gothard years, I strongly suspect I would have had nothing to make me consider keeping my faith. Without that prior experience of a loving God and a loving church family, why would I have wanted to risk it again? As it is, it has been a tough journey.

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  5. My wife had an encounter with this culture the other week. We homeschool our daughter. Some of the mothers in the co-op we attend got together at the beach with their children. Several of the mothers didn't even bother to wear swimsuits - they wore long sleeved clothing. One of them wore one of those "modesty swimsuits" you wrote about in an earlier post. My wife wore the most revealing suit - a tankini style with a skirt, but with a deep-V neckline.

    My wife was a little taken aback that these women were so prudish. But it showed that the forces of body fear are alive and strong.

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  6. When I was a teenager, I attended a bible study group, which I really enjoyed, because the focus was not on memorizing and believing what the pastor told us, but on discussing and understanding what a certain chapter or verse meant to us.

    In this group there was a girl, who was very pretty and who had a womanly body from age 13. She did not do anything to show off, she wore the same baggy jeans and t-shirts everybody else wore at that time. After a while, our fellow students (and some parents, who should have known better) started shunning and slut-shaming her. Looking back, there is one thing that strikes me: when the not so pretty girls (like me, for example) were unhappy about their looks, they were told not to worry, because God sees a person's heart. This girl was never told that God saw her heart. She was judged only because of her outward appearance.

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    1. Interesting point. I think you are right that there is the assumption that beauty correlates with a lack of goodness.

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