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Today, Recovering Grace looks at past Advanced Training Institute (ATI) and Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) materials that address the topics of sexual abuse, child molestation within a nuclear family, and domestic violence. This is not presented as an exhaustive survey, but is the full range of printed Institute material on these topics that Recovering Grace is aware of and has in our current library. We desire to present an accurate representation of Institute materials on these topics, so please share with us any materials we may have missed.
The following two excerpts are from Supplementary Alumni Book Volume 5, Our Most Important Messages Grow Out of Our Greatest Weaknesses, published in 1979. The topics are divorce and remarriage (which are condemned in the booklet) and advice for those already divorced and remarried. Throughout the publication there are several self-contained Q&A boxes addressing common questions on divorce, such as “If two Christians marry and one persists in being unfaithful, does the other one have ‘Scriptural grounds’ to get a divorce?” (“Answer: No.”) One Q&A appears to address domestic violence. Note the full context of the original KJV quotation from I Peter, with only the portions set in bold excerpted in the booklet.
2:21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: 24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. 25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. 3:1 Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; 2 While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.
It has been said, only somewhat in jest, that the elimination of access to ellipses would make much of the Institute’s printed output impossible. Here three different sections on two different topics are spliced together to deny the very possibility of a wife being a physical victim if she has the proper perspective.
There is also a Q&A that appears to address a father’s sexual abuse of a couple’s children.
The answer qualifies, but still emphasizes, the husband’s authority in the family, leaving the wife in the position of first appealing to him to end the abuse. If the abuser doesn’t heed this appeal, perhaps it’s because the wife didn’t have the right attitudes or the proper understanding of the Bible when she asked her husband to stop sexually abusing the children. It’s unstated how the wife would know whether she was successful in her appeal, whether by the husband countering that he intended to continue the abuse or by her discovering that the abuse had been repeated, but she is instructed to then escalate the issue to the level of her and her husband’s respective parents. Hopefully a father who molests his children will have high regard for Old Testament admonitions to listen to his parents.
If the abuse is still not ended, the interpersonal conflict resolution of Matthew 18 is prescribed. This is perhaps a simple process as described in the New Testament, but a complex, arduous, multi-step, possibly months-long process fraught with hazards as described by the Institute’s instructions as published in a previous alumni supplement booklet, and nearly impossible to carry all the way through to Institute standards. It’s unclear whether the wife gets credit for having already carried out the first steps of the process, or should start over. If the Matthew 18 process is completed and fails, then I Corinthians 5:5 is put into play. The abuser is described as engaging in “immorality,” and the example in the cited passage is of an adult man in a sexual relationship with his father’s wife. The reader is then referred to II Corinthians 2:6-8:
6 Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. 7 So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. 8 Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.
If the abuser has resisted, and the wife exhausted, every level of familial and church appeals and rebukes, it’s now acceptable to call the police. Hopefully the children, who are not mentioned after the original question, are still in good shape after their father has been through at least four rounds of discoverably proving, through his words or his actions, that he refuses to stop molesting them. The original question is never explicitly answered, and at no point is it declared acceptable for the wife to separate for the protection of the children. The only implied separation of the children from the abuser is that eventually facilitated by the police, or by God tiring or killing him. This latter divine threat is taken from I Corinthians 11:30, an odd choice in context:
27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.
The answer cites passages about marital authority, then parental authority, then interpersonal conflict resolution among adult believers, then church authority, then a man in a sexual relationship with another adult, then restoration of one who has repented, then governmental authority, then, finally, divine judgement related to the Lord’s Supper. There is no passage cited about children or about injustice. If there is no such thing as a wife who is a victim, though, perhaps there is no such thing as a child victim either. Are the children also “suffering for righteousness?”
These are older publications, but they illuminate much about the response of some ATI families to sexual abuse. So many hurdles must be cleared before the government authorities can be called in to address sexual abuse, and so many attempts at protection must fail, that it is not surprising that some ATI students lived with a sexually abusive parent for years, even after the other parent became aware of some of the abuse.
The Our Most Important Messages booklet was written for Basic Seminar alumni, and takes us into the Institute’s teachings on authority structures and the “umbrella of authority,” topics on which many words have been spilled over the past fifty years. The former ATI students who have shared their stories with Recovering Grace after facing sexual harassment, abuse, or assault in a family or Institute setting, or at the hands of outside authority figures, have almost universally cited the role of the Institute’s authority teachings in initial personal confusion about the abusive experience, and in later attempts to deal with the experience’s aftermath. While we cannot do this topic justice in a short space, a chart in the Basic Seminar Followup Course booklet How To Get Under God’s Protection: The Principle of Authority illustrates the complex position of the hypothetical mother in the Q&A above. The generic chart does not address sexual abuse specifically, but is the foundation upon which the authority language of Our Most Important Messages is based. Should the hypothetical mother in Our Most Important Messages “flee if forced to do evil,” the evil in this case being the possible repeat of sexual abuse of her children? Should she separate from her husband despite possible financial hardships, and thus “suffer for refusing to do evil”? No, she is admonished to “appeal to the authorities,” and instructed how to work her way up through levels of authority, neither leaving with her children nor going first to law enforcement. It is not always this clear where different types of abuse are meant to be housed on this diagram. While the wife whose “husband violates God’s moral laws against our children” was to “appeal,” the wife who was the “victim of her husband’s hostility” was instructed to learn to “suffer” and to realize that she was never a victim.
If identifying the correct authority interaction scenario is challenging for adults, it is even murkier for sexually abused minors. The same How To Get Under God’s Protection booklet gives a succinct introduction to the “umbrella of protection,” arguably the Institute’s most widely disseminated and enduring meme. Central to the concept is the fact that under the umbrella, “nothing can happen to us that God did not design for his glory and our ultimate good,” while out from under the umbrella, “we expose ourselves to the realm and power of Satan’s control.” So, is a child or young person to interpret sexual abuse from an authority figure as designed by God for glory, or the result of having strayed into the realm of Satan’s control?
Or is it the result of one of those infamous holes in the umbrella described in How to Make an Appeal, a hole for which a minor under authority has been issued a limited repair kit?
Sexual and physical abuse are not mentioned in the How To Get Under God’s Protection booklet, but there are 16 pages of instructions, anecdotes, and Q&A from which one can attempt to glean guidance, cross referenced with How to Make an Appeal, all summarized in chart form at the end. Appeal? Flee? Suffer? Submit more? “Be concerned for his reputation”? What’s the best supported inference? How can protection from abuse reliably be secured?
In the 1990s, the document “Lessons From Moral Failure in a Family” advised ATI parents on preventing and dealing with an older sibling’s sexual abuse of younger children. Recovering Grace has previously published an examination of this piece, but it is worth revisiting the document’s introduction. Of the four listed consequences of sexual abuse, three concentrate on damage to public image. The abuse is presented as tragic, but public exposure of the abuse and the resulting damage to appearances are presented as at least as tragic. In this list of questions, “immodesty” in the home was presented to the young man as a leading question. It’s assumed to be a motivating factor for his sexual abuse of his siblings, and he was asked how not only he, but also his extremely young victims, could have been trained to “resist evil.” The document later endorses the offender’s critique of his young siblings failings in “modesty,” and concludes with a list of steps for parents to take to prevent sexual abuse among siblings. This document does feature an endorsement of police involvement not necessarily preceded by multiple appeals and confrontations, but this appears to be because a sibling does not occupy the same place in the authority structure that a husband and father does. The complete document is available here: Lessons_From_Moral_Failures_in_a_Family
A young sexual abuse victim, or a survivor of childhood abuse, attempting to synthesize and apply all of the teachings to personal experiences now must add the considerations of “ridicule to the cause of Christ,” “the shame of detailed publicity” for the family, and childhood “modesty,” to the umbrella of authority and the suffer/flee/appeal/submit quandary. Is it surprising that many minors in ATI families who were sexually abused chose not to report to anyone outside the family, for fear of implicating or humiliating themselves and other non-abusing family members, or of stepping out from the umbrella by not working upward through the levels of authority? Even if the abuser was not a family member, might not a revelation of sexual abuse call into question the godliness and discernment of the parents? Would others think there was a hole in the umbrella? Would it be better not to report the abuse to law enforcement?
According to A Comprehensive Course in Effective Counseling, Part Four, not reporting would be the worst mistake of all. “Guilt will result from failing to report the incident to the proper authorities. This is a legitimate cause for guilt..” Between the late ’80s and ’00s, youth Counseling Seminars were an ATI young person’s main gateway to the world of other ATI courses, volunteer opportunities, trips, and staff positions. Now largely replaced by the Journey to the Heart retreats, the Counseling Seminars were designed to give young people a working toolbox of IBLP concepts and principles for life. Over the years the Counseling Seminar curriculum developed from a few loose leaf handouts to a series of more than twelve bound booklets. This above excerpt is from one of the later versions of the curriculum.
The “Counseling Sexual Abuse” handout joined the Counseling Seminar curriculum starting in the early ’90s, and has been covered at length by Recovering Grace. It applies the trichotomistic anthropology of the Basic Seminar to sexual abuse, and uses Daniel as the biblical example of a blameless abuse survivor. While it is legitimate to describe Daniel this way, and encouraging to see Institute materials acknowledging male abuse survivors, it is also striking how different Daniel’s described experience was from that of the abuse survivors most likely to read or be counseled according to this document. Daniel was a prisoner of war, severely sexually mutilated by his foreign captors. Everyone around Daniel knew what had happened to him, knew why it had happened, knew that he had done nothing foolish or rebellious to deserve the act of violence, and knew that he had certainly not enjoyed it. Not only was he not considered “dirty” after being made a eunuch, he was seen as permanently sexually pure, to use modern terms.
Contrast this to the rapes of Dinah and Tamar as recounted in the first two volumes of Character Sketches. The Institute version of Dinah’s story begins with what can be generously described as midrash, conventionally described as conjecture, and colloquially described as making things up. She is characterized as resentful and distrustful of her father, unwisely not seeking his counsel before rashly striking off into the unknown, alone, in “uncontrolled initiative.”
Character Sketches tells us that Dinah should not have ventured into this pagan city to make friends, but has some negative things to say about her father’s actions as well.
Apparently there were holes in her father’s umbrella, and God allowed Dinah to be attacked for a greater purpose. So ultimately, Dinah’s attack was God’s will and furthered God’s plan, right? Wrong. Or at least not right enough to absolve Dinah of responsibility for being raped.
If according to Character Sketches Dinah’s foolish mistake was to forgo seeking her father’s counsel and instead go into a pagan town alone, unescorted by her brothers, then Tamar’s foolish mistake was to follow her father’s request to go to the home of a family member, specifically that of her supposedly-ill half brother. It’s difficult for a rape survivor to choose admirably in Character Sketches. It seems she will always do something blameworthy.
Tamar, we are told, did not adequately sense danger when she received and followed her father’s instructions to go bake for a sick family member in his home, did not adequately sense danger when the family member wanted to sit with her as she baked, did not adequately sense danger when the illness-feigning man indicated that he’d like to take his food back to bed, and did not adequately sense danger when someone she believed to be weakened (and about to rest in bed with a meal) indicated that he didn’t need servants around at that moment. But no one blames Tamar, right? She did everything right that Dinah did wrong, and even the relentlessly fault-finding narrator of Character Sketches acknowledges that “she could hardly have imagined the danger.” But, we’re told, she didn’t cry out.
Tamar is credited for being perfectly modest, perfectly decorous, perfectly obedient to authority, and perfectly resistant to sexual advances. Character Sketches presents quite a list of things she could potentially have done to invite sexual assault, but avoided. She tried an appeal in the wrong situation, though; she wasn’t supposed to “suffer,” “appeal,” or “submit,” but to “flee,” and also cry out. If a sexual assault target doesn’t cry out to God in a narrative like this, perhaps God won’t be as inclined to intervene. Tamar should have know this was important, but lacked the presence of mind to tick all the boxes.
Would she have been spared only if she had “cried out” instead of trying to “reason with” her attacker, as the narrator asserts? Or would it have been enough to have brought along an additional brother, just in case of attack in her half brother’s house, as the narrator suggests? Should she have traveled to the house only with a group of male servants, to maintain safety at all times from her half brother, as the narrator also suggests? Or would that have indicated a “spirit of rebellion” and distrust for her father’s instructions? Was she in some unnamed way out from under her father’s “umbrella of protection” and thus “in the realm and power of Satan’s control”? Did her father have such a sizable hole in his “umbrella of protection” that Satan was able to attack her no matter what she did, even if she had “cried out”? Did she thus squander an opportunity to become “mighty in spirit,” and become “bitter” instead? Did her brother recognizing her distress—and her father later hearing of what had happened—constitute adequate reporting, or did she feel “legitimate cause for guilt” over not reporting sooner, or to a different level of authority? Was she wrong to appeal to her attacker at all, even though she was “concerned for his reputation,” or did she just make “too much appeal”? Or did she tip the scales toward “too little appeal,” and a “spirit of resignation”? Are appeals just for wives whose husbands are molesting their children?
At least Tamar wasn’t a victim.
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