I will now attempt to weigh in on this sad, sordid account by Jeri Massi.
For a time, I’ve been following various watchbloggers. I often check in on the Deebs over at TWW, and also with Todd Wilhelm at Thou Art The Man, as well as Brent Detwiler and Warren Throckmorton. I also follow Amy Smith/Watchkeep on Facebook. I don’t agree with them on everything–Throckmorton leans well to the left of me politically, and the Deebs have a tendency to turn almost everything into a War on Complimentarianism–but they do a good job exposing atrocities and absurdities that various conservative elements have either ignored, swept under the rug, or are directly complicit in their commission.
Same is true for Jeri Massi, a Bob Jones University grad who also worked for a time at their publishing house. Over the years, she has done a remarkable job of documenting cases of sexual abuse and their coverups, particularly within the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) ranks. Along the way, she has also done a remarkable job exposing the absurdities in the IFB world.
While I have my differences with her on a few things, I have found her blog to be otherwise very insightful.
Why do I follow these cases?
I’ve always considered myself on the side of, “Let the word of God be true, and every man a liar.” When the Scriptures say that something is good, then it is good. If the Scriptures say that something is evil, well…then it is evil.
If I commit an offense–even a small one, like, say, flipping off the driver who almost ran me over while I was on the bike–and the Scriptures say it is evil, then there’s no ‘splainin’ to do: I have a duty to confess my sin and ask for forgiveness.
That also means that, if there is an abuse or atrocity or some egregious sin among the Church–and I am assuming that either (a) the offended parties have reported it to me and/or (b) I directly witness either their commission or confession or another party admitting to the fact of their commission–then I have the duty to do the right thing.
That means (a) reporting the matter to authorities and cooperating with any investigation (if the allegations are criminal in nature) and (b) ensuring that people are otherwise protected from such abuses.
It is my view that conservatives, of all people, OUGHT to WANT to purge abusers–that includes abusive spouses, child abusers of all types, and abusive clergy–from their midst.
During my time at SBTS, I personally witnessed those who wanted to undermine the Scriptures, promoting a theological model closer to Molech and Asherah than to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Al Mohler–for all his shortcomings–ran that element off, as well he should have.
Sadly, by accomodating abusive pastors–including those who cover for child sexual abusers–Mohler now threatens to undermine those accomplishments. (I would also suggest that by transforming SBTS into a NeoCal echo chamber, he is also undermining Biblical conservatism, but that is a different discussion that is beyond the scope of this post.)
And that is what bothers me: while conservatives OUGHT TO WANT to keep abusers out of their ranks, their leaders have often done the opposite: they have coddled them, accomodated them, even excoriating the victims and others who exposed the abusers.
Now, to address the sad account of Peter.
Massi’s account of Peter is a necessary warning to every would-be conservative Christian homeschooling family, as well as an indictment of many within that sector.
FWIW: I am all for homeschooling. MrsLarijani and I want to do it for the following reasons: (a) in general, given technological advancements, it’s a better learning model than the traditional classroom, and (b) we wish to introduce her to the world as we see fit. We do not wish to shelter our kids–as we will encourage their participation in group and team activities and even athletics–but we DO want her to learn about the world on OUR timetable, not a schedule decided by a school board that promotes an agenda fed to them by teacher unions.
At the same time, homeschooling appeals to various subcultures that are fundamentally unhealthy:
- Quiverfull adherents: these types generally eschew all forms of contraception, as they assert that having a large family is a commandment and that any contraception is an affront to God’s design. They are often very hard Calvinists.
- Fundamentalists: these types are often in the hardcore Southern Baptist or IFB ranks, but they can also include Missouri Synod Lutherans, Church of Christ, Christian Church, and various evangelical stripes. Their ranks include Calvinists and non-Calvinists.
- Ultra-Calvinists: these tend to come from the really hardcore PCA/OPC ranks. They are among the Elect, and that Election has passed to their children.
While there are many honorable families in each of these sectors, the dysfunctional ones–and that includes the family about which Massi speaks–in each of these three sectors have the following in common:
- They are often driven by the mindset that they are better than everyone else, and their goal is to show the world–by their chlidren’s accomplishments–that they are better than everyone else. Pride is often A key–if not THE key–driver in their choice to homeschool.
- They often have embraced–actively or passively–the worst realm of Headship Theology, the end result being a profoundly dysfunctional patriarchy that spawns abuses.
- They often reject the most basic understanding of original sin, as they think their righteousness–imputed to them via Jesus–is conferred to their children as a result of their own faith. They think that while all have sinned and come short of the glory, their kids don’t have the need to learn self-regulation.
- Worst of all, they often reject the God of Scripture, exchanging the Biblical Jesus for the pursuit of a contemporary model of life on this earth: just go to church, confess the right things, teach children these things, make them memorize enough Awana sections, and they will be healthy, wealthy, and successful, and mom and dad will have all the wealth and all the things and they will have it all on this earth.
What I am saying: their sin is, at the root level, idolatry. They love neither God nor their neighbor; they love the life they hope to have by following what their popular homeschool advocate told them they need to follow.
Follow that far enough down the trail, and that festers in a myriad of ways.
In Massi’s account, Peter’s father was a serial adulterer who never had to face the gravity of his sins until after he dropped dead of a heart attack. While he was defrocked as a result of his adulteries, he was able to move on and continue leaving a trail of damage, even working as a “nouthetic” (i.e. Biblical) counselor.
In Scripture, Paul was very hard on the men. He chided husbands for being harsh with their wives, suggesting that their prayers aren’t being answered because of their treatment of their wives; he admonished them, many times, against sexual immorality (even homosexuality and at least one case of incest), excoriating them for even tolerating it among their ranks. He also pounded them over issues of gossip, slander, greed, deceit, even racism, and other profoundly sinful behavior.
Paul was also tough on the women. He chided women who were disruptive to orderly worship; he commanded wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord; he said, “woman was made for man, not man for woman”. He even precluded women from particular church offices.
Even as Paul was pro-Patriarchy, he pulled no punches on the men. Men didn’t have special spiritual standing on account of their plumbing. They were responsible for their sins. And women have no less access to the Father than the men, nor do they need a husband to “redeem” them, as the work of the Redeemer is sufficient.
Still, Paul commanded believers to love God and extend that grace to one another. And that included raising children with the appropriate level of discipline–which would “drive the rebellion out”–while not being overbearing.
That job is not an easy one, as some of the best people in the Bible (including Jacob, David, and other kings who succeeded him) failed at it.
But here is the thing: in every failure I’ve witnessed or read about–including Massi’s account of Peter–there is a common thread: a profound lack of humility.
While everyone, on a continuous basis, will struggle with issues of pride, the worst-case homeschool disasters often begin with a runaway pride.
That is the type of pride that leads parents to overrule teachers or coaches or even other church leaders in matters of discipline and achievement. In team sports, fathers often chide coaches as to why their kid isn’t getting the right amount of playing time; they’ll question the teacher who gives their kid a lower grade; they’ll question the Awana leader as to why they had to sit their kid out of game time. The problem can’t possibly be with their kid; after all, he (or) she is part of a special-Elect.
Massi speaks of Peter’s mother, who was often frustrated with the lack of respect Peter showed for her, even as she overruled Massi’s evaluation of Peter’s learning. Peter rarely–if not never–was held to account for his sins. Peter followed in the arrogance (and deviance) of his father, and–sadly–that ended in disaster.
Do the Scriptures promote such a parenting model? Of course not.
Throughout Proverbs, you have the father imploring his son to listen and learn and seek wisdom with humility; you have the father admonishing his son–repeatedly–about the seductive nature of sexual sin and its end results; you have the father imploring his son to work hard and eschew laziness; you have the father contrasting the work of a wise woman with that of a foolish one; you have the father contrasting the behaviors of wise and foolish men; you have the father warning the son about being short-tempered; you have the father warning the son about deceptive and malicious people; you even have the father warning his son about the pitfalls of desiring wealth.
What you get in Proverbs–or, heck, the entirety of the wisdom literature–is a man (Solomon) who, in spite of all the wealth and privilege conferred on him by God, at the end of the day, calling on everyone to love God, to fear God, to obey God, and to make less of the things of this world.
As Cain seethed in anger over God’s rejection of his offering and his acceptance of Abel’s offering, God issued a dire warning to Cain: “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
Cain did not embrace self-regulation that would lead to the mastery of his sin. And we know the rest of that story.
In Massi’s account, Peter–sadly–was denied the opportunity to feel the weight of his failures as a child. As a guy, he was never held accountable for his sins. He never learned self-regulation as his father never practiced it. His father was able to move in church circles with minimal hassle in spite of serial adultery. All the while, he was effectively told he was better than everyone else beccause he was a boy and had confessed all the right things and, most importantly of all, was homeschooled.
What are some key takeaways from all of this?
(1) We must not confuse the love of God with the love of dogmatic models about God.
I don’t care if you identify as Calvinist, Arminian, Catholic, Orthodox, or any other flavor of Christianity. I’m not here to debate the merits and pitfalls of the respective models. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.
The problem arises, however, when you fall in love with your theology.
Many–not all–homeschooling families have the tendency to fixate on their theology, and, as a result, construct a mindset of family life that is more conformed to that dogmatic model while not necessarily reflective of Scripture.
Even worse, if you are in love with your dogmatic model, you are going to be in for a rude awakening when bad times hit. What happens when you lose your job? What happens when your child ends up in the hospital? What happens if you fall into hard financial times? What happens if you or your spouse suffer a health crisis?
If you are trusting in your dogmatic model to protect you from these things, you will find yourself disappointed.
(2) With patriarchal authority comes great responsibility.
Make no mistake: Christianity is Biblically and historically Patriarchal. That is inescapable. Egalitarianism is a modern development.
At the same time, while the Scriptures do reflect a Patriarchal design, it is also true that the Biblical writers went to great lengths to admonish the men–particularly the husbands–about the responsibilities that come with their authority in the home.
There were abusive husbands then, just as there are today; Paul was emphatic in his warnings to men about that. Some parents were overbearing on their kids; had that not been the case, then Paul would not have had to admonish parents not to exasperate their children.
Nor did any of the Biblical writers coddle children; far from it. Solomon was emphatic about the need to discipline children. He who spares the rod hates his son. Parents who undermine teachers (as Peter’s mom undermined Massi) are denying their children the opportunity to learn valuable lessons.
In the real world, you aren’t always going to get the grade you might deserve. You can do everything right in your company, and someone else will win the contract. You might not get the promotion or the pay raise you otherwise rightfully earned.
Women need to learn about these things, but the men do especially. This is because, as they have God-given authority in the home as husbands, they are responsible for loving their wives as Christ loved the Church.
With the Disciples, Jesus was always admonishing them, teaching them, praying for them, correcting them, training them, and even receiving them warts and all. And He often did these things with humor to boot. (“Sons of thunder” anyone?)
(3) Headship Theology is Poison.
When I say that, I often get the question, “So you don’t think that the husband is head of the wife? It’s in the Bible, you heretic!”
My response: you don’t know the first thing about Headship Theology.
Headship Theology kind of goes like this…
(1) It starts with the premise that the husband is head of the wife. (So far so good)
(2) If the husband loves his wife the right way–as Jesus loved the Church–then she will submit to him the right way. (Nope, not Biblical.)
(3) If the wife doesn’t submit to him the right way, it is because he is not leading the right way. (Nope, not Biblical.)
(4) As a result, if there’s any sin in the house, it is the fault of the husband, because he is not leading the right way. (Nope, not Biblical.)
While starting with a correct premise, the Headship Theology crowd takes that to lengths that are nowhere to be found in Scripture.
Sadly, the HT teachings foster a dynamic of abuse. This is because if he is responsible for his wife’s–and his children’s–sins, then this incentivizes him to exercise the authority to make them submit and obey as they ought.
Let’s look at the Scriptures here from the high-level:
(a) Jesus loves His Church perfectly and provides perfect headship. But even then, the Church has never been completely faithful. The history of Christendom is rife with atrocity and failure.
(b) There are cases in Scripture where husbands have loved the right way (wives have submitted the right way), and yet the wives (husbands) did not submit (love) the right way.
(c) There are cases in Scripture where sons failed even otherwise good parents.
Hosea loved Gomer well, but she still prostituted herself; Abigail was, by all accounts, a Proverbs 31 wife, but her first husband (who dropped dead) was a dirtbag; and there is no indication that Josiah, an excellent king, was a bad father, although his sin–Manasseh–would sacrifice his own son to Molech.
Headship Theology–a very common teaching in conservative circles–is profoundly un-Biblical and downright heretical. It’s long past time to dismiss it to the dung heap where it belongs.
Ultimately, if you are a Christian and seek to raise your children to love and fear God, you must first start with yourself.
That requires the humility to face your own sin and deal with your spouse with humility and respect.
Leadership and humility are not incompatible; in fact, the latter is essential to the former.