Friday, February 26, 2010

Part 8

Security vs. Anxiety -Structuring my life around that which is eternal and cannot be destroyed or taken away (John 6:27) - Bill Gothard

(Note from Ruth: This chapter is about my experience and my life. This is not intended to represent any family but my own or any childhood but my own. I fully realize that the adults involved made choices that were, even if influenced by ATI discipline strategies, in fact, choices. Not all ATI families utilize the same strategies or would implement them in the same manner. In addition, I am not going to name, even in pseudonym, the brothers who perpetuated the abuses I speak of here. They were children at the time these things happened and just as much victims of the circumstances as was I. I've also had my therapist give me input on writing this portion of the story.)

This chapter of my story will be a little different than the other chapters. Until now, the posts have been chronological in nature rather than addressing a subject matter or topic. In this chapter, I want to talk about abuse.

I've received e-mails and comments from people asking if certain ATI/Gothard teachings led to abuse in my family. The answer is "Absolutely." I'm sure that many belief systems or methods of child rearing can be distorted and twisted into a system of abuse, but Gothardism (as I'll call it) seemed to be particularly adaptable. The patriarchy system is another potentially misused ideal.

Before we were born, my mother followed the unique Gothard admonition to read the Bible to us in utero. This is what he calls "PBT" (pre-birth training). The recommendation stands that the mother read to the unborn for at least thirty minutes a day. Gothard believes that the unborn can hear the scripture in the womb and will absorb the scripture much as they absorb the nutrients passed from the placenta, through the umbilical cord. He also recommends reading scripture to the newborn and having scripture be the first words they hear. In my family, this was taken to the extreme. Most of us were homebirthed. When we were born, my father demanded that his voice be the first we hear and the first thing he said to each of us was from first Peters, 1:14.
"14As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;"

I wasn't blanket trained - that would become commonplace in ATI families later. I was, however, from birth, forced to spend one hour per day listening to a recording of the Bible. In early infancy, this was usually done during my time in the wind-up swing, while mom cleaned or did other things for my brothers. At the age of six months, this changed and I was to spend this bible time in "obedience training". Kay oversaw the institution of this practice. I was put in a play pen and the tape would begin to play. If I cried, I was picked up and swatted on the butt. I don't remember this, of course, but it's been described to me by my older brothers. If I continued to cry, a sheet was placed over the top of my play pen to keep my eyes from wandering. If I continued to object or looked as if I were doing anything but listening to the tape, I was swatted again. This was repeated until the hour was completed or I had stopped crying. As a result of this, I began to associate crying with immediate and swift punishment. When I outgrew the playpen and could sit on my own, I was placed on a chair and the scripture would be read or played. The same rules applied- if I cried or fidgeted, I was swatted. As I (or "we", since this applied to all the children) learned to sit still, my mother or, usually, my father would put toys within my reach during this time. If we made movement to grab the toy, we were punished. I can recall learning to disassociate very early on. I would start day dreaming or "zoning out" during this time. Despite not paying attention to a word that was said, this looked as if I were attentive and worked for a time. Of course, the older we got, the more we would be called upon to recite what we'd been read and woe if you'd been zoning out. Was this abuse? I think it was. We were taught to deny our natural instincts to move, play, explore, or do anything that infants and small children do! Following our instincts meant physical punishment.

My father was a "spare the rod, spoil the child" enthusiast. There was no infraction too inconsequential as far as he was concerned. The fifth commandment was taken to heart. If we dishonored him in any way, we were punished. In truth, after being physically punished on an almost daily basis, it starts to become less damaging and painful. I got so used to being hurt, it didn't hurt (I know that makes very little sense). I would much rather have experienced his physical punishments than endure what emerged as I got older: emotional punishment.

When I was five, I got into a fight with one of my older brothers over a book. He yanked it out of my hands and I instinctively went to grab it back. In doing so, I knocked one of his loose teeth out. He ran to my father, who flew at me in a fit of rage. I was put into the prayer closet and told to beg the Lord's forgiveness. I was told that, until my father heard from the Lord through his own prayers, I was not to leave the closet. An hour went by and I was still in the closet. There was a small light with a pull chain and about two hours in to my "punishment" it burnt out. I called out to my father or mother that the light had burned out. My father came to the door and told me that I would have to "Pray for God's light to illuminate my spirit". All my mother could say, with dad standing behind her, was to practice self-control and close my eyes in prayer. I freaked out and, to this day, have a fear of the dark. I was left in the closet for four hours. At the end of that time, my father ordered my mom to put me to bed with no supper and, in the morning, it was back into the closet. All together, I spent fourteen hours in the p/c. When my father had "heard from the Lord", I had to kneel before him and ask his forgiveness for hitting my brother.

This didn't happen often. We weren't stupid children. We figured out that dad's punishments weren't something we wanted often. What we didn't anticipate was how minor an infraction would get to be to earn us a punishment. As we grew, we were also charged with the "sins" of those in our charge. For me, that meant if a younger sibling erred, I was punished because we were our "brother's keeper". If we saw something and didn't tell, we could be punished. If we saw something and told, we could be punished. There was no logic to it. If we forgot to hang a towel right or swore, the punishment was the same because, according to Gothard and my father, there is no difference between the two sins in God's eyes. As a child in that sort of environment, you get a point where the parent doesn't need to raise a hand to you - by nature, you feel guilty and scared. That IS abuse. To make a child feel so guilty and doubtful of their nature is wrong.


  1. Wow.

    I have no other words.

  2. Ruth,

    I wish I could wrap my parents up and send them to you. You are right that to punish a child for instincts is abuse. Worse, it's designed to break a child's spirit before they even know what that word means. The capricious nature of the punishments was designed to keep you off balance, which makes you more malleable in the future.

    I'm sorry you experienced this during your childhood. I only got swacked for normal things like begging for cookies in the store or stealing one of my sister's things.

    You lived through a lot of mind games for sure.

  3. I think purposefully tempting a child and then punishing them for the temptation you gave is really cruel. The 1st time I ever heard of it was when someone on my online community was telling about Michael Pearl and he advocated that (that was the 1st time I heard of him too). I had a conservative upbringing, was definitely spanked, was around plenty of parents that spanked, was around plenty of conservative families, had one very severely unjust spanking (although unlike your dad, my dad actually REPENTED for it)....HOWEVER, all that being said NO ONE I EVER MET EVER SUGGESTED tempting a child on purpose (not even the Gothardites I nannied for, lol). (note..I'm not trying to be like those people that say "Well not ALL Gothard/QF/whatever families are like that," blah blah..I'm just trying to show how bizarre and sad it is that that was done to you) That is SO CRUEL...I'm so sorry that happened to you.

    Even if *other* ATIA families didn't do it, I'm sure some did, and what WAS done to you shows that the system is flawed, because it shows what a slippery slope it can lead down.

    I, personally, think a system of beliefs that leads to such behavior is a bad system overall, even if not everyone under the system does the same exact thing, they are still suffering from being under a very bad system.

  4. That is all just... indescribable. I am so sorry this happened to you.

  5. May Brother Gothard reap what he sows.

    I cannot fathom. Sure we were spanked. It was just the way things were done in the '50's. But to be so cruel. I cannot fathom.


  6. Oh Ruth, such a childhood; to grow up under such power, abuse and, yes, torture is so foreign to me. You must be strong to have come out on the other side as sweet as your writings indicate.

    YOu were right to leave & things can only get better.


  7. Oh Ruth...I am so sorry you had to endure that. Thinking about the abuse you suffered makes me ill. Not all parents are like that Ruth, they really aren't. And I know that if you chose to become a mother, you will not be like that either. You will be a caring, loving, patient Mom and your kids will always know how much you love them. I wish we were in the same room right now, I would give you a big hug.

  8. Oh, my gosh. I am so sorry. That sounds horrible. My father was sometime abusive, but there wasn't systematic abuse in our home like that. I find it amazing that a lot a your siblings are still ATI/fundamentalist Christians. I'm still a Christian, but I hardly read the bible and certainly don't take it literally because it was used to control me and to hurt other people and justify actions that I now see were wrong. I would think that after beginning subjected to scripture in an abusive environment on a daily basis, like you and your siblings were you'd want to get as far away as you could from it...

  9. The form of "child-rearing/discipline" (as described) was created by adults who are sick, spineless bullies. They cover their sadistic, cruel and abusive actions with the cloak of religion or "religious freedom." The only "freedom" they understand is the freedom they give themselves to completely and utterly destroy a person's life starting from babyhood on. While I feel sorry for your mom and other women who deliberately and purposefully embrace the patriarchal/authoritative model, the children did not choose the same for themselves, yet they suffer.

    Your story helped me understand even more how detrimental and dangerous the Pearl's methodology of "bringing up a child" is. It is clear that they WANT to abuse someone, even if it is an innocent child, in order to placate some monster within, a monster that demands retribution. Who knows how many of these people were abused themselves as children and now they continue the abuse to their children. Whether or not this is true for each abuser, it is still true that they validate their actions by bringing God into the equation. ATI/Bill Gothard (and others like him)pervert the bible in order to push their own personal agenda. I think that these people have honed the art of BS and have made it into a science.

    In any case, Ruth, I am so very glad that you have been able to pull yourself out of this world of abuse. I'm glad that you're getting therapy and going through healing. You are wonderful and strong young woman. You have much light and joy to shine. Keep doing what you're doing. I know that there are people who want to hide the horrific abuse that comes with extreme authoritarian child-rearing models, but like always, the truth eventually comes out.

    There are too many people who want easy answers to life's complicated and difficult issues and are too willing to have someone else do the thinking for them. They buy lock, stock, and barrel into dangerous methodology such as the one ATI/Bill Gothard espouses. I don't give a rat's behind that this might "offend" someone. I'm saying it, not Ruth, and quite frankly, I've seen what happens to people who are severely abused (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually), and quite frankly, no human being has the right to destroy another person's spirit, soul and light within, even if they are the "parent." The fact that such monsters can even be blessed with children is a cruel injustice, but that's how it is. If this is too much for people to handle (for those that are currently under the influence of ATI/Bill Gothard/Pearl methodology), then too bad for you, but really sad for your innocent children.

    Thank you for yet another thought-provoking and heart-touching post.

    Take care of yourself. :)


  10. I, too, began therapy as soon as possible to start to heal from my childhood. I'm now in my forties, and it has been hard work! By making it a priority to be a good wife and mother, I managed to do a pretty good job. But I'm only now really beginning to uncover my authentic self, and to be brave enough to know that girl. (Choosing to end my relationship with my mother three years ago helped a lot.)

    So, the bad news: my guess is that you have a lifetime of work ahead of you. The awesome news: you'll be good at the things you care about, and you will become a happier person every year that you keep it up.

  11. Ruth - how very terrible, to spend 14 hours locked in a closet in the dark. I don't suppose your father himself ever made ANY mistake that warranted being locked in a little dark closet for hours on end? This is what I don't understand - in ATI, they demand perfect obedience from their children, yet they are so completely oblivious to their own sins.

    I was raised in a Catholic family, and as a RC, repenting our sins is just part of the deal. So I was ALWAYS aware that EVERYBODY around me made mistakes. It wasn't just the children going into the confessional booth at church - it was the kids, and the fathers and mothers, and the school teachers, and the nuns and even the priests. It was reassuring in a way, to know that even those who dedicate their lives to serving God make mistakes. How is it that your father felt he was so very perfect, that he was so completely without sin, as to cast you and your siblings into a closet to repent while doing no such thing himself?

    I'm so sorry Ruth, and I know that it doesn't mean much, but I'm sorry that I was blessed with such a loving father (who is now gone) and a strong mother. I'm the exact same age as you, and I'm finding your story getting harder and harder to read. I lost a brother at a young age, and then my father when I was a young adult. Sometimes the unfairness of life is incomprehensible to me, when I look around at what others have and what I have lost. But then I read a story like yours, and I'm just so very grateful for what I once had... I feel like crying for you.

    Kudos to you, for being strong enough to seek help. I resisted for so very long but once I finally started to see somebody, that's when I was able to become myself again. The therapist I was seeing literally helped me get through my life when I didn't think that I could. You WILL come out of all of this as a very strong woman. *hugs*

  12. I never liked Bill Gothard a whole lot, but I also didn't stress about it a whole lot, but reading this blog and what a girl on a facebook page wrote, it makes me wonder if it isn't time for the law to investigate BG and some of his practices. The diff. with BG and church leaders and pastors, is that normally, pastors still have to answer to elders or deacons or at least a board of some sort or at least the congregation, so there is mutual accountablity. BG's little kingdom, though, seems to me as if it's set up like a totem pole with himself at the top, and he's not accountable to anyone.

  13. I've been following your blog, and it really saddens me that people do things like this all in the name of God. I myself am a devout christian, however I cannot fathom practicing this kind of behavior.

  14. Lyndiegrace, that is exactly what I was thinking. Surely Satan rejoices whenever a parent practices this kind of cruel "discipline."

  15. I'm so sorry that you had to go through this, Ruth, and am glad that you managed to get out.

  16. Ruth,

    I was mentally and physically abused as a child, but not to the extent you were. But I can say, without hesitation, that it has made me a better parent. Because I knew I would never raise my children without love (as I was raised), I've heaped them with hugs, kisses and love, all which were missing from my childhood.

    I hope that through this blog that you can get the message across to someone thinking about raising their child through this lifestyle.

  17. Wow. What horrible parents to think that the Bible would suggest beating, neglecting or abusing a child. It's so stunningly misguided and I'm sorry you had to go through that.

    No wonder your father is so angry; he was angry even when you were acting like a normal child, and now you're being a "wild" child - getting an education! learning to be independent of your parents! Most parents are proud of their children for leaving the nest, encourage them to go off to college to become engaged citizens, but your dad doesn't want you to be an engaged citizen. He wants you to be his unerring, unthinking subject. It's so crazy and I, too, am glad you found your way out.

  18. Every day I read or hear or see something else from this these "Christian" people, I'm more glad I have stopped participating in all of this horrific nonsense and have become an atheist. May your God bless you and protect you. I sincerely mean that. I'll take my chances protecting myself though, because that guy so many people pray to really isn't interested in stopping anyone's pain or suffering, and I have zero interest in ever meeting him.

  19. Ruth ~ I'm saying a prayer that you can heal from your childhood. It's hard to believe what you and your siblings had to endure in the name of God (according to your parents).

  20. "And they brought young children to Him, that He should touch them: and His disciples rebuked those that brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God' (Mark 10:13-14)."

    Is this verse missing from the ATI/Vision Forum/ Bible? How can anyone read that verse and treat their children like this and think they are doing God's will?

    Keep up the good work Ruth. Be not Afraid!

  21. Jesus. You poor thing. Your folks are batshit crazy. Stay strong.

  22. Hugging my children extra tight today.

  23. so sorry this happened to you ((hugs))

  24. This Christian parent did just the opposite of your parents! Oh Ruth, how I wish you were treated with the love and nurture you deserved. It is so sad.

    God is love. Jesus loves me this I know. How did people screw that up so frickin badly!

    Keep blogging Ruth. Maybe when your parents read that the rest of the world thinks they are batshit crazy- atheist and Christian alike- they will treat your little sister with the love and nurture you ALL deserved!

    I have taught my children that God loves them, I mean really truly loves them! Prayer to me is communion with LOVE. I am horrified that your parents used the word "prayer closet" for naming their torture device!

    I hope you still can believe in Divine Love, and pray that it fills your life every day from now on, from any and every source that will allow love to flow. There is a lot of love in this world and I hope you experience riches and riches of love.

  25. That is just horrible what your father did to you. What you did to your brother is what any child would do when someone sibling or not takes something that they had. Your father sounds like a real PIECE OF WORK!! Like the others have said above.

    1) Continue blogging, I have truly enjoyed what you have written and because of this I am thankful EVERYDAY that I have the parents I have.

    2) I am soo happy that you managed to get out and you u are trying to make a good life for yourself.

  26. You know reading about abuse supposedly based on the Bible, I'm reminded of something my grandmother told me once. She's a Unitarian Universalist, and once during her Bible study group, they discussed the line "Spare the rod, spoil the child". Well, apparently that line has been misunderstood - the rod was not a rod to spank, but a rod to measure. The word that was used in the Hebrew should have been translated as measuring stick. What the line calls for is for parents to measure their children to their full potential - don't raise your children to their full potential, don't measure them up, their lives are spoiled.

    It just shows how easily misinterpreted the Bible is. How many other areas have been used for evil and abuse because people don't look beyond the words on the page? It's sad the number of peoples lives destroyed by that.

    I'm so glad that you, Ruth, have broken free from all the terror that was your life so that you're life hasn't been destroyed.

  27. Hi Ruth,
    It hurts me to know that children are being raised in such a way; but reading your story makes me happy to know that you and some of the older ones have managed to escape that environment. I concur with everyone here- keep blogging, keep telling your story, silence is a powerful tool of those who long to hold onto power. Best to you Ruth.

  28. Question to Ruth:

    Are you parents still practicing the same child-rearing today?

    If so, have you ever reported them to child protective services?

    If they haven't changed their ways, they are surely treating your at-home siblings the same way.

  29. I hate that you had to deal with that kind of abuse, Ruth. It's a testament to your character that you came out of it so strong and determined. (And you are strong! If you weren't, you still be at home or married off to another version of your father.)

    I also can't stand the idea that deeds such as these are done in the name of Christianity, giving a bad name to Christians everywhere that don't deserve it.


  30. Wow, I am so sorry that you had to go through that. How horrible!

  31. Ruth, I'm from the UK and came across your blog.

    What you describe here is horrifying and breaks my heart for you (and your mother and siblings).

    It makes my blood boil that these abuses are perpetrated in the name of evangelical Christianity. Merciful heaven, no wonder people are atheists when they see this kind of evil justified in the name of God!

    I actually feel very sad for your father. He sounds like a very disturbed man. What a tragic waste of a life, to honestly believe this kind of abuse of his children honours God! His delusion must go very deep. Obviously he has hurt his family deeply, but he has also hurt his own soul. This is not going to earn him a "well done, good and faithful servant."

    I think you are a remarkable, and very brave, young woman and you will be in my prayers as you rebuild your life.

    - Philippa

  32. I just read this and I want to vomit. I remember my son at 6 months, precious and darling and full of life, and the idea of someone putting him through what you went through... The thought is enough to move me to violence as well, a product of a mother's instinct to protect her child. Nor can I imagine being so beaten down by another person that I could lose that instinct. Obviously your mother was and did.

    Your father is a monster. Bill Gothard and his cronies deserve a very special place in hell where they can personally experience their own teachings.

  33. Horrifying. :(

    I was spanked on occasion, and my mom was "a yeller" lol. But never was it abusive and the thought of any child enduring what you went through is just grievous.

  34. i hate the way that toxic, dysfunctional doctrine can make people who might otherwise have been flawed but fairly reasonable, into heartless sadists who actually think they are pleasing the Lord.

    I can't even imagine how grieved Jesus must be like this.

    God forgive our parents and all of us who have fallen for this shit, and bless and heal and protect our poor children.

    Ruth, I'm so sorry, sweetheart. How terrible that even before you were born you were subjected to such control tactics. The Word is wonderful, and meant to be a life-giving blessing and comfort - but the way it was applies twisted it into a tool of oppression.


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