Dear Michael Farris, Sexual Abuse Isn’t a “Basic Strength” That “Can Get Out of Control”
By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator
“You have planted wickedness and harvested a thriving crop of sins. You have eaten the fruit of lies — trusting in your own way, believing that your great armies could make your nation safe.”
~ Hosea 10:13
On Sunday, HSLDA’s Michael Farris made his first public statement on the recent controversies surrounding Doug Phillips’s clergy sexual abuse and Bill Gothard’s sexual child abuse.
Take a look:
I continue to hear distressing news about the moral conduct of Christian leaders and speakers some of whom were/are popular in the homeschooling movement. Of course, anyone can sin–including me. But I cannot be so gracious about protracted patterns of sin that reveal a deep hypocrisy.
From my own observation there is a central problem that often accompanies these kinds of failures. All leaders have to have a certain amount of ego strength to be able to withstand the slings and arrows of the naysayers who attack anyone who attempts to lead. But, that basic strength can get out of control. Consider it a danger sign when the leader never shares the spotlight with other leaders in the organization. Consider it another danger sign when the leader does not have anyone in his organization with both the power and the character to tell him “no” at times.
Mike Smith has been at my side at HSLDA from the beginning and he now leads the organization day to day. Chris Klicka was a significant part of our leadership team for many years as well. And I guarantee you that both Mike Smith and the HSLDA board tell me “no” on semi-regular occasions.
I am also reminded of the statement of Dick Armey when he was asked what his wife would say if he was caught in an affair like Bill Clinton. He said, “She would say ‘how do I reload this thing?’ as I lay there in a pool of blood.”
Having a wife who is a good shot is also a great asset.
Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s review what exactly the “distressing news” is concerning individuals who “were/are popular in the homeschooling movement”:
While in a position of hegemonic spiritual leadership, Doug Phillips pursued a sexual relationship with a young woman who worked for him and was under his authority. This is clergy sexual abuse.
Bill Gothard has sexually harassed and molested over 30 young woman, including children, for decades. He personally admitted “defrauding” young women decades ago. This is child sexual abuse.
Taking advantage of, harassing, and/or molesting children and young adult women isn’t simply “sin” or “hypocrisy” which “anyone” can fall into. Taking advantage of, harassing, and/or molesting children and young adult women is criminal behavior. It is sexual abuse, plain and simply. This isn’t a question of people’s fallibility; it isn’t a question of “ego strength,” unless you somehow believe leaders are innately abusers.
And it sure as hell isn’t a question of “basic strengths.” Sexual abuse isn’t a “basic strength” that “can get out of control.” It’s not something that comes from “too much of a good thing.” Michael Farris’s attempts to spin these situations away from criminal activity and into the realm of “we’ve all fallen short” is self-serving, inexcusable, and horrifying. It is yet another example that he is in denial about abuse within the movement he himself helped to build.
Making this statement of his even more ironic and tragic is that a mere day later after Farris praised himself for accountability and looked down on other leaders for not taking “protected patterns of sin” seriously — just one day later — the New Republic released a devastating look at how Patrick Henry College has handled sexual assault cases on its campus, entitled “Sexual Assault at Patrick Henry College, God’s Harvard.”
The basic premise?
Patrick Henry College, which Michael Farris founded and is currently the Chancellor of, does not take protracted patterns of sexual assault seriously.
Patrick Henry College has ignored, minimized, and threatened abuse survivors and people standing up for them. Just like Doug Phillips and Vision Forum. Just like Bill Gothard and IBLP.
And yet Farris still has the gall to praise himself for treating “protracted patterns” differently.
The hypocrisy did not go unnoticed. Homeschool alumni took to Farris’s page to call him out for making such a statement about Phillips and Gothard right when the story about PHC was coming out. Farris’s response was predictable, considering it was completely deja vu from HSLDA’s handling of the #HSLDAMustCampaign: he quickly deleted the evidence of his original statement (which, again, HA archived as a PDF here and a PNG here), deleted comment after comment after comment after comment by homeschool alumni, and blocked homeschool alumni from his public page.
Honestly, Michael Farris has run out of time to play these games.
He has spent decades ignoring the growing, obvious, and publicly verified problems — and what did he do? He remained silent. He has never publicly condemned the abusive teachings of Doug Phillips. He has never publicly condemned the soul-crushing system of Bill Gothard’s ATI. (In fact, he himself brought Inge ATI’s Inge Cannon to HSLDA and HSLDA continues to feature Gothard’s homeschool curriculum on its website.) He has refused to this day to acknowledge the concerns of homeschool alumni and parents that homeschool communities need to take abuse more seriously specifically because of reasons like this.
And when when he finally breaks his silence, it is with this? Yet another attempt to sweep everything under the rug by saying these abusers were just “too strong” for their own good, that praise God he has two (?) people at HSLDA who stand up to him (but one is deceased?), and then he closes with a joke about domestic homicide?
Not once, not even once, does he say, “What these men did was abuse, and it was wrong, and we as a community need to take abuse seriously.”
Not once does he say, “I am sorry that I gave platforms to and partnered with these individuals that have caused so much pain for so many people.” Instead it’s “basic strengths” that “got out of control” and basically people should be more like him or lol their wives will shoot them.
Even with this short-lived statement, Michael Farris still refused to call these men out by name. He was still afraid to directly criticize Bill Gothard. He is still hiding.
Homeschooled children deserve better from you, Michael.
If you continue to refuse to call abuse abuse, you’re contributing to the exact same culture of silence from which Phillips and Gothard fed — the exact same culture of silence that you intimately built and continue to defend.