Did Fundamentalism Make Her Do It?

Okay, enough already about Rachel Dolezal and her weird tale of cross-racial activism. But before we let it go, let’s consider one new angle: Did Dolezal’s strange behavior result in part from her upbringing in an abusive fundamentalist homeschooling family?

A fundamental flaw?

A fundamental flaw?

That’s the charge leveled by the folks at Homeschoolers Anonymous. Worried that their coverage seemed to be excusing Rachel Dolezal’s behavior, they have since retracted their argument. (You can still read their original article here.) But it seems to me they raised an important question.

For those of us outside the world of fundamentalist homeschooling, Rachel Dolezal’s life history seems simply bizarre. Why did she list “Jesus Christ” as a witness to her birth? Why did she claim to have been beaten with a “baboon whip” as a child? Most important, why would someone go to such extreme and unnecessary lengths to alter her appearance and life history?

I do not want to excuse anyone’s actions, but I think Homeschoolers Anonymous has a right to point out Dolezal’s extreme evangelical upbringing. It doesn’t prove anything, but it adds background information.

The family was active in young-earth creationism. They apparently subscribed to the abusive philosophy advocated by Michael and Debi Pearl. Last year, Rachel Dolezal’s brother published a shocking memoir of their childhood. As HA summarized,

In his memoir, Joshua recounts growing up in the Dolezal’s conservative, Pentecostal home and church. He recounts a raging father, a mother with extreme suspicions of medicine and doctors, home-birthing with birth certificates listing Jesus as witness to the births, and much more.

Now, we need to add some of the usual caveats:

1.) Behavior that seems odd to secular folks like me does not equal child abuse.

2.) Many conservatives use corporal punishment in a loving, caring way.

3.) It does not excuse Rachel Dolezal’s apparent lies to point out her parents’ extreme beliefs.

4.) Homeschoolers Anonymous certainly has an axe to grind with this expose.

Even taking all those factors into consideration, however, knowing a little bit about Rachel Dolezal’s childhood helps me understand how someone might be driven to immoral extremes in order to separate herself from her past.

Nuf sed.

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  1. If they did indeed subscribe the the methods of the Pearls, we can be 100% certain that they engaged in child abuse. The Pearl’s methods cannot be used in a way that is non-abusive.

    I disagree with HA in that I don’t think it’s necessarily useful to try to figure out Rachael’s motives for her bizarre behavior. It is only speculation, and plenty of children have gone through abuse and have not reacted in this way. But I DO think it’s important that people recognize that all the evidence points towards Rachael’s parents being abusers of their black adopted children. There are allegations of abuse against them from one of the (now adult, I think?) adopted sons, as well as in Joshua’s memoir and according to people who know the family. It concerns me that the story is focused solely on Rachael’s impostering and we haven’t taken any time to consider that there are two black children still in the house and possibly in danger. Of course, there’s probably not much that can be done about this, since our corporeal punishment laws are pretty lax.

  2. “Many conservatives use corporal punishment in a loving, caring way.”

    I know we respectfully disagree on a few points, Adam, but do you seriously mean this?

    I recognise that many conservatives believe they use corporal punishment in a loving, caring way, and they have good intentions by it, but I can’t accept that corporal punishment is ever a legitimate expression of love. I also know that conservatives draw a distinction between ‘biblical correction’ and ‘abuse’, although I’ve never seen a good explanation of how to tell the difference. I would not accept this alleged distinction, in the same way that I wouldn’t accept them claims of anyone else who violated a person’s fundamental rights “for their own good”.

    • Thanks for asking, Jonny. I do believe it. Reading it again, I don’t even think we need to say “conservatives,” but rather “parents.” Let me make some clarifications, though. I personally don’t think it’s a good idea. I don’t think it is an effective way to correct bad behavior, nor do I think it is an effective way to teach children how to be loving, caring adults. But that does not mean that it should be illegal or that people like me have a right to condemn people who use corporal punishment as immoral/bad parents/people. There are exceptions. IF a parent or caregiver causes physical harm to a child, that is a crime. And IF a parent or caregiver uses corporal punishment as a way to vent her or his anger, that is bad parenting. In short, I don’t think there’s a bright line between physical punishment and non-physical punishments when it comes to inflicting emotional abuse. You can scare and scar a child with non-physical punishments, and you can guide and love a child with physical ones.

  1. 24 June 2015 Religion and Atheism News and Views | Evangelically Atheist

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