Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Scapegoating the SGA in Sex Abuse Scandals: First Generation Homeschoolers Must See, Hear and Speak No Evil (Part II)

Quiverfull/Patriarchy now reckons with the Phillips and Gothard sex abuse scandals. In my day and on the heels of a local one, I contended with the Jim Bakker sex scandal fallout.
Part II in a Series

  • Part I   (Sarah Hunt on homeschooling problems)
  • Part III (Homeschool Apostates and HARO)
  • Part IV (Accommodating Perspective of the SGA)
  • Part V  (Becoming a Safe Person for the SGA)
  • Part VI (What Old Guard Parents Must Realize)

I will never forget the words of my mother or the day of the week when the PTL/Jim Bakker/Jessica Hahn story broke in March of '87. I was finishing up my last year of college, had just finished my classes for the week, and I would thoroughly enjoy Thursday night with my parents. We watched The Cosby Show and Family Ties, laughing together. We ate dinner and enjoyed the familiar warmth of the house when it was still heated with coal. It became a family ritual – one of the last, regular ones that we all still had together.

But that Thursday night was very different. I believe that the NBC lineup was replaced with Larry King, and I vividly remember my mom's first response: “That little slut.” It was one of those things that a person in pain blurts out without thinking.

I recalled this scene vividly when I read about some of the overtly simplistic reactions to the scandal concerning Doug Phillips. I found my mom's comment uncharacteristically cruel, as she always stressed with me to “never judge a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins.” I identified with Hahn because of my age, my own sexual abuse experience, and some other factors that likely didn't occur to my mom. I'd also heard John Wesley Fletcher (who assaulted Hahn with Bakker's assistance) preach many times at my Christian school. All I could think was that I could have become a fellow victim of Fletcher if the circumstances had been “right” – especially considering that there had been mulitple sexual predators at the school. I was most definitely trauma-triggered that evening.


I realize now that I witnessed the same type of scapegoating that day that we now see concerning Lourdes Torres-Manteufel. Scapegoating recalls the example in the Old Testament of laying the sins of the family on the head of a goat. One goat was taken to the Tabernacle to atone for sin. Another goat, the scapegoat, was sent out into the wilderness, “giving the devil his due,” so to speak. Some people will attempt to shift blame for a terrible matter over to an unpopular or insignificant party to “save” a greater individual or cause. It creates an illusion of innocence in the minds of disappointed people who struggle to cope with the difficulties of weighty, tragic, or scandalous mistakes.

My mother identified with Bakker like the parents in patriarchy identify with Phillips, but they can only defend the ideology at this point. They chose their own involvement in the system as “First Generation Adults,” but Lourdes didn't have that opportunity. Scapegoating Lourdes protects their egos to ward off the pain of having been duped – and the idea that the system didn't work like they expected. 

My parents who contributed to Bakker and intended to retire to Heritage USA didn't want to admit that they'd been duped. I don't know that my mother has ever admitted it and still follows Bakker who now has a setup in Branson, MO. (For those who are unfamiliar or are too young to remember Heritage USA, it was essentially a Ponzi scheme that claimed to offer retirement homes to Pentecostals who donated what they could afford to the ministry over time. It was located at a theme park in South Carolina that was much like a Christian version of Disneyland or Dollywood.)

The Plight of the SGA

In contrast, I identified strongly with both Hahn and Torres, carrying the characteristics of an SGA, though not because of Quiverfull or Patriarchy. My pressures were more cultural, but the outcome for me was very similar to the SGAs who have wandered away from homeschooling after leaving their parents' homes. Jessica Hahn seemed to go on from that day in '87 to demonstrate the worst of what can happen to a former evangelical or fundamentalist Second Generation Adult (SGA) after liberation from their high demand environment.

I cannot help but think on many levels, “But for grace, there go I.” In some ways, I did.

I vowed to conceal the identity of my abuser from everyone until he was dead. I didn't tell anyone about my own abuse until I was twelve, and then I only told girlfriends. I wouldn't tell the few young men in my social circle through my church and Christian school about what had happened to me. I did then essentially give “informed consent” to those I dated after I exited that “Christian bubble,” as I expected to find greater understanding outside of that particular church system. I also worried about word getting around to my parents.

In thinking about the example of Jessica Hahn more deeply today and as an SGA for the first time, I am reminded of some other parallels that were probably too threatening for me to consider before undergoing trauma treatment. Hahn claimed that she was drugged by Bakker and was then molested by both Bakker and Fletcher in 1980. She was just twenty one years old at the time --  while working as Bakker's secretary (??). She did not come forward until 1987. We know that she was pressured in many ways to keep silent about the matter and was payed handsomely for her silence. (FYI: Fletcher admitted to matter while Bakker claimed that the incident with Hahn was consensual.)

Hahn went on to do what I would consider acting out, though I don't know any of her personal details. She posed for Playboy, had some interesting plastic surgery, and I think that she went on to be a regular “feature” on Howard Stern's radio show. 

Such a thing is not uncommon after exiting a manipulative situation wherein one has been exploited. The initial rage can be overwhelming when a person realizes what has been done to them. Finding a way to deal with that anger and rage in a healthy way presents no small task, particularly when fundamentalist evangelicals rarely honor anger as a function of discernment and personal safety. For men, anger is often a display of grief, and it is a healthy response when it is not prolonged and is wisely expressed. I can relate well to those who are struggling with this daunting task. Believe me! It is an acquired skill. (Read more about anger HERE.)

As I write, revisiting my memories of my own reactions to these events of the past, I am struck by the similarities. Lourdes Torres-Manteufel was groomed prior to the alleged physical involvement with Phillips, then approached at age 21. She reported to her guru, another charismatic individual with a great degree of control over her. She also did not come forward about the matter of shame and scandal until after her family was forced to intervene after Phillips allegedly entered their home.

After posting a Tweet about yesterdays post concerning Sarah Hunt's interview on Al Jazeera, I noticed a melancholy tweet that she offered shortly thereafter. 

I concur with her.  We are all Homeschooling's Invisible Children (Matt 25).

I am really no different. I could have been a Jessica Hahn if circumstances had been different. I don't know that I've transcended my own challenges very well, given the advantages that I likely take for granted. Like Sarah, I had the opportunity to go to college and to break free from many oppressive systems. And I had supportive people in my life to love me through the many dark days. Where and who would I be without that intervention and comfort of God through others?

I just watched the advent of Mother's Day pass, and I cannot help but think of what would have happened to me if I had managed to successfully carry a baby beyond six weeks of pregnancy. Would I have been the mother of one of Homeschooling's Invisible Children? I'd like to think that I would not have been, but so does everyone else. I look back on my husband's life-altering illness in '99 and ended up being grateful for the distraction. We were too busy being sick and getting well to get caught up in the Y2K madness. What a crazy thing to express gratitude about in hindsight! I know, in all humility, that things could have been very different for us.

But for grace, there go I.

But that's a painful prospect, isn't it?

  • For more information about the SGA and the bounded choice to which all people in a “totalist institution” suffer, read more about it in the series at Spiritual Sounding Board.
    • Part II discusses bounded choice faced by all in a totalist group.
    • Part III explores the additional constraints and limitations that the SGA faces when seeking to free themselves from both difficult situations and from a high demand group itself.
    • When available, Part IV in the series will explore the specific constraints of SGAs within the Quiverfull/Patriarchy Movement.

Alright, I fibbed!

I thought that Part II
would be all about Homeschoolers Alumni Reaching Out (HARO)
getting bumped from the homeschooling convention circuit.

I found myself on a writing roll, so I bumped that discussion to PartIII,
but not because HARO is not critical or insignificant.