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“Joseph, I wouldn’t be surprised if God caused the plane to crash
in order to punish you for not honoring your mother.”
That’s what my mother said to me in the summer of 2002. I was 25 years old and it was the night before 4 of my friends and myself were to board a plane to Uganda and spend the better part of a month in the borderlands between the Congo and Uganda’s Kasese district. This was to be a mission trip in which we would play brass quintet music for rural Ugandans in mountainside villages and partner with local pastors who would preach. There would be no running water, no electricity, no telephone, no modern conveniences.
As far as evangelicals go, this is standard stuff. Identify your talent, take it to a country less fortunate than you, insert the gospel.
How then could anyone be that upset with their son on the night before he left for such a mission trip? Let alone why would a mother bid her son farewell with such tragic words? Perhaps the bigger question is, “Why is a grown man of 25 years of age afraid to make decisions for himself?”
I forgot to mention that I was afraid.
Bill Gothard’s teachings prepare a parent to put pre-approved options in front of their children and allow the children to choose from those options. The idea is that the child will feel as if he/she is making an independent choice, and the parents will enjoy the safety of knowing their child can’t make a bad choice since they’ve approved all the options.
This works in theory, but lived out in everyday life, it is inevitable before the child, at some point, will realize that there are options outside of what their parents gave them. Healthy child-rearing prepares a child to weigh the good and the bad of each option and to choose the best option. Healthy child-rearing teaches parents to share in the joy when their child makes good choices, and to support them when they make a bad choice. Bill Gothard teaches parents to share in the joy of a good choice, but to shun, excommunicate, punish, demoralize, and emasculate the child when they make a bad choice. That child can be 5-years-old or 25-years-old. Bill Gothard charges parents with ultimate authority over their children even before they are born. Bill Gothard never shares an end date for that authority.
The set up for this story goes something like this:
I was raised in the South suburbs of Chicago. My mother was a graduate of the Moody Bible Institute and in my early 20s, my grandparents offered to pay for my college education if I also attended Moody. I jumped at the chance. This was my ticket out–out of the Gothard-stranglehold-rules that created a vicious cycle of “live at home until you’re married; don’t take out a loan; you can’t buy a car because loans are bad; you can’t get a decent job because you have no car; you can’t go to college because loans are bad; you still live in my house so you have to obey my rules even though you’re 22; God has put me in your life to be your authority….”
It’s a vicious cycle.
The 20-mile buffer between the suburbs and Moody’s downtown Chicago campus created much needed breathing room for me. I didn’t have to tuck in my shirt. I didn’t have a curfew. I could grow my hair long. I could try and learn to be my own person. For many people, Moody is a quirky school with strict rules. For me it was as if I was leaving North Korea for China. I could even watch TV at Moody!
One summer, instead of going home, I decided to get a temporary apartment with my best friend downtown. I was taking summer classes, I had a job downtown, and it was really a no-brainer of a decision. Living on your own before you are married, however, is a big faux pas in Gothard circles. My decision further complicated things, because my friend and I would be sharing the rent with two sisters, whom we knew through Moody, and splitting the apartment. The perfect storm was brewing.
For the last eight years, I had been taking small steps to separate myself from my mother’s dictatorial rule. I won some battles and lost some battles, and I knew the risk I was taking. I hadn’t shared the co-ed part with my mom–she was upset enough that I wasn’t coming home. And as to be expected, she was relentless and questioned me on the matter at every turn.
I quit calling home. I returned her calls less.
I knew that if she found out the full co-ed arrangement of the apartment, I might never be allowed back in the house again. I had seen this happen before with my cousins. Challenge–scratch that–defy the family rules, and the family could only save face by disowning you. Gothard families even wore it as a badge of honor. “I have 3 children,” my uncle would say, “and my youngest did not marry the man we approved. She and her husband are not allowed in our house.” This how I learn to live in fear of disobeying my mom. I was brainwashed to really believe that I had no choice. There was an ever-present fear that if I chose something outside her wishes, I would end up destitute and homeless, and would have to come crawling home asking for forgiveness. Bill Gothard teaches on how to ask for forgiveness. It’s humiliating.
My mom got creative and called my friend’s mom and got the full story from her. Sisters and everything. Then she called me and said,
“Joseph, I wouldn’t be surprised if God caused the plane to crash in order to punish you for not honoring your mother.”
This is why I had been afraid. My future was now uncertain. I had three semesters left in school–was I truly now on my own? It’s a 30-hour flight (with layovers) into Uganda. I had plenty of time to think about my situation. Nothing in my upbringing had ever prepared me for independence. On one hand, it was embarrassing. I was 25 and most of my friends from high school were married, starting careers, going to grad school. On the other hand, I wished I didn’t have to become independent so soon. So soon? I was 25 years old!
When we returned to Chicago, my mom was there to greet me at the airport. We never discussed the matter. Six months later, when I decided that I wanted to marry my girlfriend, I would sit my mom down to tell her “I would like you to be part of our life. You can play by our rules and be part of our lives, or you can hold on to your rules, and we will leave you out of our lives entirely. ”
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