Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Story of Libby Exline, Installment 3 - Beware of All Sins, Even Imaginary Ones

In Installment 2, Libby told us how she moved from public school to church school and how the rules were rigidly applied with severe consequences if broken.  She spoke of how she was "ripe for the picking" at her young and impressionable age.  Let's listen in as she tells about how life continued to head downhill.

*****

While at school, I had the rules in my face, now, at church things were heating up, too.  The new pastor was old and cranky and loved the rules.  Until this time, we'd been having Sunday School picnics regularly.  It was a fun time, and was intended to strengthen relationships in the church, as well as reach out to the unsaved that came to church for Sunday School, then left before the preaching.  This group had more young people than the church did.  In fact, we three kids and another girl my age were the young people of the church.The picnics were in part to try to convince the Sunday School crowd that normalcy (fun even), was achievable in the church.  The new pastor stopped these short.  Young people didn't need fun, they needed Jesus.  This was indicative of the way he was to rule the church.

As a young child, I'd prayed for salvation twice that I can remember.  Once as a very young girl (shortly after Luju's friend "bought the farm" (Installment 2), as a matter of fact), and then when I was in the 3rd grade.  The first time, I remember only praying with mom and dad, but don't remember my life changing much.  The 2nd time, I do remember how free and joyful I felt after, but happiness was too transitory in my life too last long.

The church held several revival services during the year, and evangelists would come to school to preach during the day.  I'm sure there were sermons on god's love, and things more positive, but what I, and my sibs, remember most were the hellfire and brimstone sermons.The preacher would sometimes stand up there and yell at us, and spit and froth at the mouth.  

One of the traditions of revival and camp services was The Story told on the last service.  This was a story about, well, Libby.  (it was intended to scare the hell -literally!- out of people, so it was very personal to me).  Libby, the story always went, was raised in The Church.  She had been given The Truth since her childhood.  She resisted god's calling on her life all her life.  Someday, she'd say. Someday, I'll get saved. (I hate that term!  It makes my skin crawl).  Right now, though, I want to live my life.  I don't like the restrictions I have to live under if I give myself to Christ.  So, some day, Just not today.  Then one day, Libby was in a revival (camp, church... whichever the current setting was). meeting, and god moved on Libby's heart. She was miserable under conviction, but she fought against the holy spirit.  "I'm not ready to live under all the rules.  I'm having too much fun living my life.  Later, I'll get saved."  So Libby left church that night, and on the way home, she was in an accident, and died and went to hell.  I laugh at this now, but at the time, it scared me every single time I heard it.  In black and white, it is kind of humorous, but there was more theater and emotion involved when the story was told on the last day of services.

So, shortly after starting church school, I got serious (favorite church phrase) about my salvation and sanctification.   Because I felt so dirty and unlovable due to my home life, I knew I'd have to try extra hard to get god to love me.  This is why I loved the rules, and invented some of my own. The preachers reinforced this by saying we were worms, no good, etc, etc, etc.  In fact, we weren't allowed to exclaim "My goodness!" because we had no goodness.

So I sat through services at both church and school in which I was told I was a terrible sinner. 

My descent into spiritual madness was gradual.  I was stuck for awhile on obeying my parents.   During the summer months, my grandparents lived with us, and they were to be obeyed, also.  I remember my grandma telling me to be sure to rinse my hair thoroughly to get all the soap out.  I had long thick, curly hair, and it tangled frequently.  Dad didn't spring for conditioner, and at the time we didn't have a shower.  I wasn't allowed to wash it in the sink, so rinsing became a problem.  I asked my grandma several times to check to see if it was rinsed right, and it never was.  I ended up in the tub for half an hour trying to get it right.

We lived in the country, and had apple trees.  One Sunday, I was out walking in the orchard praying, and picked an apple.  Dad saw me, and yelled at me for working on the sabbath.  Then he consulted with the pastor, and the pastor agreed that that was work, which broke the "Remember the Sabbath Day" commandment.  The sabbath became a prison for me.  The rules regarding it were so restrictive!  There was a busy intersection near my home.  We'd cut through the shopping center there to avoid the light.  Except on Sunday, because what if someone saw us coming out and thought we had been shopping on The Lord's Day?  Eventually, I wasn't allowed to walk around our yard.  We went to church, ate, then took naps till evening service.  Came home, ate again, then went to bed.

Focusing so stringently on the outward was hard for me, but I could have dealt with that.  It was when thoughts and feeling, and temptations became sins that my personal hell began.  Anger was the big "feeling" sin.  I don't remember being very angry yet, but the pastor and his wife were convinced I was. I would become in time!  One of the pastor's wives favorite sayings was "Only dogs and donkeys get mad."  That makes no sense at all.  Even at the time, it didn't make sense to me, but I bought it.  I got mad, that was a sin, I was a dog.  So the race was on for me to obtain the second work of grace, sanctification.  Then, all would be well.  I'd be perfect, holy, and happy to be miserable.  What more could a girl who only wanted god to love her want?

*****

Installment 4 will find Libby trying her hardest to "remain saved".

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Tim Dunkin's Hephzibah House Faux Pas


I will begin this response to Tim Dunkin’s shoddy, one-sided, biased, opinion piece tossed around on a few corners of the internet with a disclaimer:  I am, and have been for years, very good friends with an attendee of Hephzibah House.  Having revealed this, I must add that I am writing this response not for her, but for a group of people much broader than this young woman – all those that have been victims of any kind of physical, mental, spiritual, or sexual abuse, of which I am a member.

You can reference the piece I am responding to here.

Tim Dunkin does not care about the truth.  He cares only about saving fundamentalism in America, as currently represented in this piece by the “man of God and the ministry God has called him to”, Pastor Ron Williams.  He states, “Truly, the saga of Hephzibah House is a blight and a stain upon the name of fundamentalism in America.”  He is not speaking of the allegations of abuse against HH in this statement.  Rather, he is lamenting the fact that someone has come against a fundamentalist ministry.


Tim Dunkin begins his opinion piece by listing some dangers of the internet.  He lists uncensored access (proving, as all good fundamentalists, that people’s lives need to be controlled), pornography, violent and sexually explicit videos, identity theft and hacking.  Then he equates that entire list to the accusers of HH posting on “unaccountable and anonymous” forums where they don’t have to worry about repercussions.


There is a large problem here.  Tim Dunkin is lying.  He takes great pains to maintain this lie throughout the piece in order to prove to the unfamiliar reader that those he represents (HH and those that support HH) are such victims of a coordinated attack that they need to be pitied.  Not just any coordinated attack, an anonymous one.  They are not anonymous!  These accusers of HH, who henceforth will be referred to as “survivors”, as they like to be called, have very publicly named themselves.


For instance, here is a link that lists many survivor stories, most of them by name:


And yet, even at the end of Tim Dunkin’s piece, he throws this lie against the wall, hoping it will stick. 


“Until the very one-sided presentation given on CNN, many of the "Hephzibah Haters" were hiding behind the "anonymous" label, or used pseudonymous "handles" on the various forums where they would go.”


First of all, Tim Dunkin loses a lot of credibility by coining the term “Hephzibah Haters” to refer to the survivors and even goes so far as to mock them over and over again, scornfully calling them “bleating lambs” and using all sorts of other hateful language toward individuals that have alleged abuse.  Second, you can go to CNN.com or Youtube.com and find the program on “Ungodly Discipline” and watch all the episodes for yourself.  You can see that several times CNN stated that HH would not talk to them, had no comment, or even during one surprise catch of Don Williams (current pastor of the church), Ron’s son, in a parking lot, refused to say anything except to answer in the negative that all allegations were false.  This is what is called reporting.  CNN did their due diligence in attempting to ascertain a comment and it was refused.  Then, they reported that fact.  Again, Tim Dunkin is caught in a lie.  And finally, those statements that you can read on the link I provided above were actually available long before CNN aired their program – with the names of the survivors above each statement.


There is something deeper to this allegation of Tim Dunkin’s though.  Tim expects ALL abuse victims to identify themselves before he will give them the time of day to explain their side of any story to him.  (He expects much more, which we will get into a bit later,  which makes Tim Dunkin a very dangerous man and one that, if you knew he was sitting on a jury of your peers, you would weep tears of anguish based on his biases toward certain preconceived notions of justice.)  It takes a lot for an abuse victim to come forward.  But Tim doesn’t care about that.

 
To Tim Dunkin, abuse is a numbers game.  He alleges that the survivor’s group stated that there are at least 120 victims and yet he counts only 28 statements on the survivor web site.  He considers the fact that since only 23% of the alleged survivors made a public statement, that that is proof that they are untrustworthy.  But, even if all 120 individuals had posted their statements on any site or even in court requested affidavits, Tim Dunkin had already discounted their validity.  He calls the survivor statements “unverified and unverifiable”.  How can one even begin to take both sides of any story when you consider a testimony “unverifiable”, let alone a testimony of one who has suffered abuse, which, in many instances, has only one perpetrator and no witnesses?


Ah, the subject of witnesses.  Here, Tim Dunkin goes off the rails.  He begins to quote the Bible and states that when a pastor is being accused, there needs to be two or three witnesses.  A pastor being accused!!?  In our common era, we don’t elevate people with titles, religious or not, when it comes to allegations of wrongdoing.  A pastor holds no more standing than a homeless person if they have been accused of doing something to ONE PERSON in a dark alley.  To require a certain number of witnesses for ANY act of abuse is to effectively muzzle most victims of it.  What’s more, nothing of the sort is found in the Bible anyway, speaking of witnesses with accusations against pastors.


But alas, a casual observer can now see a fatal flaw in Tim Dunkin’s argument here.  He claims that 28 individuals have provided testimony of abuse and then states that you only need two or three.  But, he is ready for you, oh high and mighty casual observer.  He redefines what a witness is in order to claim that the survivors are not true witnesses but merely…backbiters.  How does he do this?  By claiming the following:


“I think it should be obvious that anonymous internet posters passing around slander on a web forum under a "handle" are not "witnesses" by the contextually-understood meaning of the term.”


One problem.  We have already established that 28 people have provided testimony of their abuse and have documented it publicly.  They have named names, listed artifacts, given dates, narrated events in graphic detail, corroborated each other’s stories where other girls are named or listed, and even detailed rooms and paint colors.  Again, it was done publicly.  This is problematic for Tim.


Everything about the numbers game comes down to one simple fact.  IT ISN’T A NUMBERS GAME.  We don’t worry about percentages when someone is accused of a crime.  We don’t say, “Well, you are the only one that has come forward about allegations of abuse whereas we have files of hundreds of others that have been through the program and have not alleged a thing so, too bad!”  No.  I as a real human being require only ONE person.  Each and every one of these survivors is an individual.  They should not be lumped together in the minds of anyone, save to gather evidence and similar allegations to establish a case.  But when we are dealing with people, we must remember that it isn’t people we are dealing with; it is many individual persons that we care about.


But what about the “others”?  Surely, if Tim Dunkin is so wrapped up in how these survivors have lied (which he blatantly accuses them of many times throughout his vile piece), he would have ample documented, independent statements of what went on in HH and that the survivors are indeed making up a story, right?  Well, sort of and not really.


Tim Dunkin alludes to “many” that have come against the survivors (Tim mockingly refers to the survivors as being “few” in number to draw a contrast that isn’t there, nor is it provable).  He lists four “testimonies” that say good things about HH and even gives much space in his piece to a woman named Lucinda Pennington.  More about her in a bit.


When you read the four testimonies, you’ll notice a very curious thing.  Tim Dunkin, many times in the writing, states that the survivors are unaccountable and anonymous, using internet handles on various forums.  Oddly, the first pro-HH testimony Tim references, can be found on a forum called “The Fighting Fundamentalist”, posted by a user with the handle of “melaniej69”.  Nowhere in that testimony does it state her name or give anything close to the attention to detail that the survivor’s statements gave.  In fact, it is peppered with glowing accolades and Bible verses with a list of activities that is eerily similar to what is listed on Hephzibah House’s own website.  The other three testimonies cannot be found on the internet with a simple search and still don’t include names or other identifying information. So much for Tim Dunkin’s assertion that the “many” detractors to the HH survivors are on the up and up, posting publicly at every opportunity.  You’d think that for a guy who goes out of his way to accuse one group of flying under the radar, he would go to great lengths to contrast them with trustworthy and competent individuals.


Now to Lucinda Pennington.  I won’t spend much time on her because she can be found all over the internet.  She is a sort of rock star in the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church movement and even gave a eulogy at Patti Williams (Ron William’s wife) funeral.  She is very close with them and is hardly an independent observer.  Nonetheless, there is nothing wrong with calling upon her to refute the claims of the survivors.


The fact is, she corroborates them.  Maybe not in her book.  Maybe not in writing.  Maybe not in her  relationship with Tim Dunkin.  But, in full color, blatant as the noon day sun, on CNN.  Anderson Cooper, host of AC360 asked her if she had ever been abused at HH.  Her response was epic.  She detailed an abusive spanking episode where she was laid on the floor, a chair was placed over her back to hold her down and she was spanked.  Keep in mind; these are girls as young as 12 and as old as 18 that are subject to these abuses.  The interesting thing here is that the exact details that Lucinda spoke in defense of HH, the survivors spoke of in accusation.  This is key. 


Additionally, a commenter defending HH on Tim Dunkin’s HH piece at renewamerica.com detailed a list of abuses that matched exactly the abuses detailed in survivor statement.  Again, this is key.


We have a problem here.  Tim Dunkin’s poster-girl, Lucinda Pennington doesn’t know what abuse is.  She details it, but then says it wasn’t.  Same with this other commenter.  Can we then suspect that Tim Dunkin feels that it is perfectly acceptable to beat a young woman?  Does he think it is acceptable to force them to eat their remaining supper the next morning in addition to whatever breakfast they had to eat?  Does he think requiring them to keep a public chart of their bowel movements and menstrual cycles is not mental abuse?  Does Tim Dunkin actually believe that requiring the counting of underwear is not abuse? Or the public humiliation of requiring diapers to be worn on teenage girls when they peed during periods they were not allowed to go to the bathroom is not abuse?  I am merely listing what Lucinda and other commenters, spoke about in defense of HH, on Tim’s piece. 


The fact here is that Tim Dunkin doesn’t care if the abuse happened.  He thinks this sort of abuse is perfectly permissible.


Now, to the most egregious and curious accusation that Tim Dunkin sets forth – you have no business coming against a Christian pastor who has done such great things for the kingdom if you are not a fundamentalist and a Christian with good character.  The key here is that you must be a member of a certain group that Tim Dunkin validates in order for him to trust you.  If you are not, then anything you might say will be immediately suspect.  But it gets worse.  You can be a fundamentalist and have good character, but if you associate with any person outside of fundamentalism and a Christian with good character, you will also be discounted or called a liar.  This is a fact.  Tim Dunkin says so.  His words:


“Let's also consider the character of some of the main critics of Hephzibah House. Keep in mind, that all of what I'm about to say are things openly admitted by these people themselves, as they have indicated on these various forums. One of them is a practicing witch who follows occult practices, as well as having being involved in belly dancing and was a "sex worker" in her younger days. Another writes pornographic books (both homosexual and heterosexual), and even utilizes sexual innuendo in her comments on the "fundamental" forums that she posts to (comments which are, by the way, approved and laughed at by others on these "good Christian" forums). Another is an out and out drunkard. Yet another one is a lesbian who tried to run over some members of Hephzibah House's governing church with her car while there "protesting" with her "wife." Another couple (a former student and her husband) claim to be "good fundamental Baptists" but have openly stated that they have no problem with engaging in close fellowship with these others or having them influencing their children. Aiding and abetting the activities of these folks is a rabid atheist who has frankly stated that he wants to attack and destroy Christian ministries.”


Then he goes on to conclude:


“So, is all of this important? You bet it is. Not only are there simply some severe character issues with them, but even more, most of them have a vested interest in attacking fundamental Christian ministries. Some of them have said as much. They live lifestyles which are not only incompatible with Christianity, but whose practitioners are also, more often than not, antagonistic against Christianity. They have a positive interest in attacking ministries like Hephzibah House any way they can. They know that solid fundamental Christian ministries are their "enemies." They're open about that. People who stand for biblical principles will be disliked by them. A ministry whose purpose is to reform and salvage teenage girls from Christian homes will be hated by them. There is every reason in the world to think that these main "Hephzibah Haters" have their own agenda in attacking this ministry.”


There you have it.  All Tim Dunkin has to do as a juror is figure out who the accusers are, check their fundamentalist card, if it isn’t in good standing, declare them guilty.  Or, if that isn’t good enough, assume he knows everything about a person because they consider themselves a lesbian, not to mention his weird and unsubstantiated accusations of trying to run over someone at a protest.  What a resounding statement from a man who deems to hold the banner for renewing America.  I want nothing of his renewed America.  I want victory and justice for everyone who has been abused.


Finally, Tim Dunkin quickly speaks about the state of Indiana doing some sort of investigation of HH and exonerating them.  He doesn’t cite the case.  CNN asked every agency in Indiana that would have some sort of jurisdiction over HH.  They all declared that they didn’t, except one.  Indiana Child Protection Services said they would except that they would need a current complaint.  Just read through a few of the survivor statements and see how easy that would be.  Also, study what mental abuse does to its victims.  I know.  I am one.  But focus on the fact that there is no record of ANY investigation EVER being done on HH.  Ever.  In fact, one government official on the local news, on camera, stated this when asked if he thought it was wrong for someone to beat a young adult in the name of religion – “I don’t know.  I’ll have to check on that.”


I do know.  I don’t have to check.  Tim Dunkin is wrong.