One of the podcasts I’ve been making my way through, usually when I cross-stitch or exercise, is Leaving Eden, which tells the story of Sadie Carpenter’s life in and exit from the IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptist) cult. I fired it up a few weeks ago and listened to an episode that featured Heather Grace Heath, known on TikTok as @backsliddenharlot. She came out of IBLP (the Institute in Basic Life Principles) and ATI (Advanced Training Institute), an offshoot of the IFB that you may be familiar with due to the fact that the Duggar family also belongs to this cult, and she wrote a book, Lovingly Abused: A True Story of Overcoming Cults, Gaslighting, and Legal Educational Neglect (Kindle, 2021), that was on my TBR. I did a quick search, found a library in the state had a copy, and requested it via Interlibrary Loan. A few days later, I picked it up and started reading.
Trigger warnings for physical and sexual abuse, incest, and religious abuse.
Heather’s family didn’t join ATI until she was a little older (she wasn’t *quite* born into it), but her parents were a perfect target for this predatory group. Abuse ran rampant on both sides, and her mother’s anxiety made homeschooling seem like the perfect solution to never letting Heather out of her sight. The “education” Heather gets from Bill Gothard’s Wisdom booklets is horrifyingly inadequate, from its misinformation on just about everything, to its lack of information on things children actually need to know, to its inappropriateness in so many ways, straight to its charts on all the ways victims of rape and sexual abuse are at fault for the crimes perpetrated against them. (And remember, these are all-age booklets. You’re supposed to teach these to your six-year-old sitting right next to your fifteen-year-old.) Not only did this leave Heather with massive educational gaps, it gifted her massive anxiety, fear, and terror.
The many kinds of abuse Heather suffers turns into trauma, which follows her as she grows, but becoming an EMT serves as an outlet for her stress, and through this, she learns more about the world outside the cult and that it’s nowhere near as terrible as she’s been taught. Slowly, slowly, she makes her way out and begins to shed the years of misinformation fed to her by ATI and Bill Gothard, and becomes someone who helps to shine a light on this dangerous group.
Fascinating book. While the writing isn’t as polished as you would expect a traditionally published book to be, the information inside is incredibly valuable. Heather is throwing the curtains back on the severe educational neglect perpetrated by these Christian homeschool cults (and yes, she did know the Duggars and mentions them a few times). These cults and ATI in particular promotes sheltering your children from the world as a feature (making it all the much more difficult for them to leave this cult, because their lack of knowledge about the outside world is close to zero), and the lack of actual education Heather describes is nothing short of grotesque. Her book is a plea for more regulation of homeschooling so that no other child suffers the same legal educational neglect her parents foisted upon her (while thinking they were doing the right thing). High five to her for mentioning The Vashti Initiative, the nonprofit I do volunteer work for!
Phew. This book is a lot, but I’m so proud of Heather for writing it and for putting it out there in the world. It’s an absolute force that I think will be so incredibly helpful to other survivors.
Visit Heather Grace Heath’s website here.
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