celebrities, controversies, religion, safety, true crime, YouTube

Fundie Fridays just covered one of my favorite pet topics!

I just finished watching the latest YouTube video by Fundie Fridays, a great YouTube channel hosted by Jen and James, and dedicated to exposing the fuckery related to evangelical and fundie Christianity. I don’t watch all videos by Fundie Fridays, but I have seen a lot of them, and I almost always find them interesting, entertaining, and funny. This week, they covered a topic I’ve written about and studied myself a lot over the past twenty years or so… Behold!

As weird as they were twenty years ago, they’re probably weirder today…

I’ve mentioned before that I used to follow a forum run by former students of Pensacola Christian College. Some of the participants were graduates; some were people who dropped out; and quite a few were people who were expelled. I don’t know how it is at PCC nowadays, but back in the early 00s, a person could get expelled at the drop of a hat. In those days, the school wasn’t accredited at all, and a lot of young people went there because it was cheap, and their parents wanted them to go to a college that was as strict or stricter than they were at home.

Of course, these schools have a lot of issues, and in fact, they aren’t necessarily any safer than a secular college might be. I mean, sure, there’s a lot less drinking and casual dating, but as Jen points out in a Patheos blog post she featured, there are certainly sexual assaults on these campuses. And the sad thing is, the victims are usually treated like terrible sinners. You can follow this link to read the blog post I’m referring to, but I will issue a warning that it’s got some pretty traumatic stuff in it. The post was written in 2014, but I was reading about what was going on at places like Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College as early as 2000 or so. I think policies have changed a bit since then, and I do know that they have pursued some Christian type accreditation now, since students place a value on that, especially if they want to go on to another university for graduate level studies.

Jen didn’t mention Christendom College, in Front Royal, Virginia. That’s a Catholic school, and famously boasts that it’s one of only 15 colleges recommended by the conservative Carson Newman Society. Last year, William Luckey, one Christendom’s most celebrated retired professors, was arrested for soliciting a child under age 16, and two counts of taking indecent liberties with a child. After he retired from Christendom, Luckey taught at Padre Pio Academy, a homeschooling co-op started by his wife, Julie. Julie has since resigned from the school, due to her husband’s arrest.

In 2018, several alums of Christendom College claimed that sexual assault was mishandled there. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Christendom, like some of the other extreme “fundie” colleges, does not accept federal funding. Therefore, it is not required to abide by Title IX rules that most other colleges and universities in the United States must follow. The schools that don’t accept federal funding are determined to run the way they believe their faiths see fit. Often, that seems to mean espousing racist, sexist, or discriminatory principles, and treating victims of assault as though they were in the wrong for being in the situation that got them assaulted. One alum, Adele Smith, has been very vocal about her experiences with sexual assault at Christendom. She has said that the school’s strict rules regarding fraternization and dating actually increase the risk of sexual assault on campus.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Jen does a follow up on her “fundie colleges” topic. It’s a hot one– and one that I have been very fascinated with for many years. It ranks right up there with so-called “teen help” brat camp facilities, which, not surprisingly, are also often affiliated with strict religions. I’ve been reading and writing a lot about that topic, too.

Jen did mention another Virginia school– yes, she talked about Liberty University, but I’m referring to Patrick Henry College, in Purcellville, Virginia. Patrick Henry College is very small– only about 300 students– and Christian based. It’s where Congressman Madison Cawthorn went to school, and where many of his female classmates claim that he harassed them. According to Buzz Feed:

Four women told BuzzFeed News that Cawthorn, now a rising Republican star, was aggressive, misogynistic, or predatory toward them. Their allegations include calling them derogatory names in public in front of their peers, including calling one woman “slutty,” asking them inappropriate questions about their sex lives, grabbing their thighs, forcing them to sit in his lap, and kissing and touching them without their consent.

The women also reported that he would get the women alone in his car and “entrap” them, taking them on long drives on country roads and asking them humiliating and inappropriate questions about their virginity and sexual experiences. Cawthorn is paralyzed from the waist down, owing to an accident in his teens, but that apparently didn’t stop him from being a disgusting, misogynistic creep when he was studying at Patrick Henry College, if the women interviewed for the Buzz Feed story are to be believed… and given the party he represents, and its worship of Donald Trump, I am inclined to believe them. Last year, over 160 former classmates of Cawthorn’s at Patrick Henry College signed a letter accusing him of sexual misconduct.

But– Patrick Henry’s problems didn’t start with Madison Cawthorn, who arrived on campus in 2016. Twice, back in 2014, Kiera Feldman, writing for The New Republic, reported on the sexual assault issues at Patrick Henry College that dated back to 2009. The school has only existed since 2000, and many of the students were homeschooled. There’s no drinking, smoking, gambling, or dancing (except for dance classes) allowed. Students are required to attend chapel daily, and they must wear business casual attire to class. It sounds much like the rules at Pensacola Christian College and Bob Jones University, where women have been required to wear skirts and pantyhose every day, and men have to wear ties to class. According to Feldman’s article:

The self-policing that courtship culture requires, however, is not egalitarian. Responsibility falls disproportionately to women, who are taught to protect their “purity” and to never “tempt” their brothers in Christ to “stumble” with immodest behavior. “The lack of men’s responsibility or culpability for their own actions and the acceptance of male ‘urges’ as irresistible forces of nature is the understructure of Christian modesty movements and their secular counterpart,” the journalist Kathryn Joyce wrote in Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement (an excellent book, by the way). These movements, she noted, see “women’s bodies as almost supernaturally perverse and corrupting.”

At Patrick Henry, one alumna remembers a chapel lecture that compared women who have had sexual contact before marriage to used cars. “You want to be a Porsche,” was the message, she says, adding in an e-mail, “They basically at no point accounted for sexual assault/rape etc (cases where girls’ ‘purity’ was taken from them) and left many girls who’d been victims in the past feeling ashamed.” According to a current PHC junior, the school puts the “burden” on female students to ward off the male gaze—be it from students or professors. She remembers being called in to talk to the residential director, who told her that a male professor had informed the Office of Student Life that her shirts were too revealing when she bent over.

In a follow up article for The New Republic, Feldman wrote that Patrick Henry College had come up with a new policy regarding sexual assault. However, given that Madison Cawthorn was a student there in 2016, where he was a notorious sex pest, the issue apparently continues. It continues at other conservative Christian schools, too, like Visible Music College, an institution I had never heard of until just now. The Memphis, Tennessee Christian college was the subject of an article by NBC News in April 2022. Student Mara Louk reported that she was choked and raped by a male classmate. She had expected that administrators would help her file charges and get support after the assault. Instead, they kicked Mara off campus. They also tried to prevent her from speaking to anyone else on campus about the attack.

Later, after they told Mara Louk that they wouldn’t be helping her, the student who allegedly assaulted her reported Mara to campus administrators for having sex with her ex boyfriend. That went against the school’s rules against premarital sex. Louk denied the accusation, but officials wanted her to sign a “pastoral care contract”, in which she confessed to breaking the premarital sex rule. She would be required to finish her degree online, barred from campus, and not allowed to speak about the assault. Louk refused to sign the contract, finished her semester online, and then withdrew from the school, just nine credits shy of earning her bachelor’s degree.

And finally, just yesterday, Christianity Today reported on the abusive culture in The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. I know from my many years living in Virginia that there is a Christiansburg, Virginia based college that adheres to the Foursquare Gospel movement. It’s an eastern satellite of the religion that is based in California. It appears that the school in Virginia, once called Life Bible College, but now known as Life Pacific University- Virginia, is being investigated because of its controlling environment that included sexual harassment from a high ranking administrator. The administrator asked female students probing questions about their sexual histories and made inappropriate comments about their appearances. He also shared private information about students, to include stories about their mental health issues or other personal details that weren’t for public consumption.

I think it’s pretty plain what I think of religious based colleges and universities. Some are not as bad as others are, of course. However, I think when it comes to higher education, it’s better to go to a school where freedom of expression and the exchange of ideas is celebrated and encouraged. And I think that people should not be lulled into the idea that a college is safe, simply because it’s religious and there’s not supposed to be any “fun” but sinful activities, like drinking, dancing, gambling, smoking, or… dare I say it? Consensual sex.

Besides… I went to two publicly supported universities and I managed to graduate from both with my virginity intact. I didn’t need any rules imposed to do that. It was a choice I made. If I can do it, anyone can… but no one should feel like that’s something they have to do, especially when they are adults, and especially when they are PAYING to go to school. Just my two cents.

Anyway, I hope you’ll watch Fundie Fridays’ video about Fundie Colleges. Jen and James did a very good job on it.

In other news… Bill told me that actress Anne Heche is in critical condition because she evidently drove her blue Mini Cooper into a someone’s Los Angeles area home at a high rate of speed. As Bill was telling me about Heche’s accident, I couldn’t help but remember how, back in 2000, she was in the news for wandering into some guy’s house wearing nothing but a bra and a pair of shorts. She was very disoriented and said she needed a shower. The guy ended up having to call the police to take her away, and she was brought to a psychiatric hospital, where she spent a few hours. I remember at the time of the 2000 incident, she and Ellen DeGeneres had just broken up. She later married a man named Coleman Laffoon, had a couple of kids, and then got divorced. She sure has had an eventful, and often very sad, life. I hope she recovers from this latest setback.

And finally, here are two videos I put up yesterday. I think they turned out very nicely. I need to explore Doris Day’s catalog more. I especially like “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, although that one is getting fewer hits.

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book reviews, education, religion

Repost: Kevin Roose tries out Liberty University…

Here’s a book review I wrote for Epinions.com in 2009. Since I’ve been on a fundie kick lately, I’m reposting it here as/is.

Sometimes life can take you to places you never dreamed you’d go. Such was the case for Kevin Roose, who was, in the fall of 2006, a student at Brown University. Like so many other students of his ilk, Roose was very much a free spirit who liked to party. But Roose was also a curious reporter who happened to be working with author A.J. Jacobs.  In 2007, Jacobs published his book The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Inspired by Jacobs’ experiment trying to live his life as literally by the Bible as possible, Roose decided to trade in his wild ways at Brown for a semester at Liberty University, a conservative evangelical Baptist school in Lynchburg, Virginia, founded by the late Jerry Falwell. Roose chronicles his experiences at Liberty in his book The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University (2009).

I had just started reading Jacobs’ book when I got my copy of Roose’s Unlikely Disciple. Though I was thoroughly enjoying reading about Jacobs’ stab at living biblically, I couldn’t resist putting down Jacobs’ book in favor of Roose’s. You see, I am a native of Virginia and graduated from Longwood College (now University). Longwood is located in Farmville, Virginia, just a mere 45 minutes east of Liberty. I had some high school friends who attended Falwell’s famous school and had driven past Liberty on many occasions on my way to my grandmother’s house in Natural Bridge, Virginia from Farmville. Though I never in a million years would have wanted to attend Liberty– not even for a semester– I have always been curious about the place. So reading Roose’s book seemed a lot more urgent to me than finishing Jacobs’ book was, even though it appears that Roose’s project was inspired by his mentor’s earlier work.

Roose’s background

Obviously, Kevin Roose is very intelligent, since he managed to get into Brown University. His parents are very liberal and not very religious.  Roose explains that they most closely identify with the Quakers but were never a particularly churchgoing lot. When Roose proposed to attend Liberty for a semester, his parents and the rest of his family were not too thrilled. Like so many other people, they had heard Jerry Falwell’s well publicized remarks about how secular America had caused God to punish Americans with 9/11. They had heard him talk about how Tinky Winky, the beloved purple Teletubby of the children’s show, was actually a symbol to promote the acceptance of homosexuality. They had seen Falwell on television, blustering about how the liberals were degrading America with immorality. Roose’s family and friends were shocked that he’d want to be associated with Jerry Falwell, even just for a semester. And yet, though he wasn’t that into being an evangelical Christian, Kevin Roose applied to Liberty University as a transfer student and was accepted.

Changes!

Using a witty and appealing writing style, Roose explains what it was like to be a fish out of water at Liberty. He writes about how he had to learn to fit in as an evangelical Christian. The process was harder than the average person might realize. For one thing, Roose had to learn how to refrain from cursing while, at the same time, not react too harshly when he heard someone refer to a homosexual as a f*gg*t. Next, he had to learn about the Bible and actually take classes in the Old and New Testament. He had to change the way he approached members of the opposite sex, including the way he dated them. And he also had to stop drinking.

The results of Roose’s new lifestyle had some surprising effects on him. Though he knew he would only be at Liberty for a semester, Roose found himself changing with the experience, mostly in a positive way.  Just quitting drinking allowed him to enjoy hangover free weekends. He also managed to score the last print interview with Jerry Falwell, who died at the bitter end of Roose’s semester at Liberty.

My thoughts

I hesitate to think that Liberty University is actually America’s “holiest” university. There are quite a few evangelical Christian colleges out there, at least a couple of which are much stricter than Liberty is. For instance, as Roose points out in his book, at Pensacola Christian College (PCC) in Pensacola, Florida, men and women use segregated stairwells and are not allowed to stare too long at each other. A prolonged gaze at someone of the opposite gender is known as “optical intercourse” or “making eye babies” and can lead to significant punishment. At Bob Jones University (BJU) in Greenville, South Carolina, students were not permitted to date outside of their races until the year 2000. And women are not permitted to wear pants in public at either PCC or BJU; instead, they have to wear long dresses or skirts with pantyhose. But, I think for someone like Kevin Roose, Liberty was probably holy enough.  Shoot, I always thought Liberty University’s name was very ironic, considering the restrictions its students live with.

In any case, I really enjoyed reading Kevin Roose’s story about life at Liberty. I was very impressed by how much research Roose did, both in terms of the school and the conservative Christian movement in general. His writing is very easy and fun to read, as well as insightful. Having spent some time around college students and graduates of prestigious universities, I think I was afraid Roose might be a snob about going to Liberty after being at Brown. But Roose manages to maintain a very objective and open-minded attitude about Liberty. In fact, he even reveals some of the guilt he feels about hiding his true agenda from his new friends and colleagues. I half expected Roose to decide he wanted to stay at Liberty after all.

Overall

I think this book will really appeal to anyone who’s ever been curious about the religious right or Jerry Falwell. Roose includes some tidbits about Falwell that humanize the man a great deal. I also think The Unlikely Disciple is good reading for anyone who’s either attended or is planning to attend Liberty University– as long as they have a sense of humor.  I would also recommend this book to anyone who’s just curious about it. It’s often very entertaining, yet ultimately rewarding to read. I came away from reading this book thinking that Kevin Roose’s life was greatly enriched from his semester at Liberty; so was mine, as a result of Roose’s willingness to share.

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