Although her upbringing was like most standard Christian homeschoolers, everything changed when her family joined ATI when she was 12. “My mother wanted to be like these other more ‘mature in the Lord’ families and because all the evidence we/she saw was good at the time,” Crystal told In Touch in an email. “We made the plunge and joined.” What followed was a childhood full of strict, patriarchal rules that left her “brainwashed” and a lingering sense of shame that still affects her today. “It’s crazy what this dogmatic doctrine did to me, what a stronghold I have to constantly and consciously rebuke away,” she said.
Below is her story, which has been summarized.
She was taught she was “defrauding” men at age 12.
In IBLP, “defrauding” means “to stir up in them desires that cannot be righteously satisfied.” In other words, this is a religious way of saying “to lead someone on.” IBLP teaches that women defraud men by the way they “dress, talk or act,” and this rule was taught to Crystal at the tender age of 12.
“I was in dance, but suddenly I wasn’t allowed to be in jazz anymore or shake my hips because I was defrauding men at age 12,” she said. “I suddenly felt very sinful [when] I began developing breasts and a butt that began filling out my clothes more. Apparently, too much [cleavage] showing was the cause of all bad things that happened to women.”
In addition to dressing modestly, she allegedly wasn’t allowed to have crushes because she was “sinning,” was made to feel “terrible and dirty” about sex long into adulthood and she was even blamed for her own rape at the age of 21.
“When my dad showed up at the emergency room, the only words he uttered to me were, ‘I still love you,’” she said. “I broke.” The counselors she was sent to weren’t much help either. “The first Christian counselor they sent me to also told me it was my fault, that I shouldn’t have put myself in that situation alone with this guy, that I shouldn’t have been wearing that, that I shouldn’t have been around alcohol. Needless to say, I was pretty messed up over this. I still have violent flashbacks and nine years later have to remind myself it wasn’t my fault.”
She was taught that if you don’t have a ton of kids, you’re not “blessed.”
The Duggars and the Bates aren’t the only families to have dozens of kids. Large families are encouraged in ATI, and women are taught that children are a blessing and they should have as many as God will allow. However, for Crystal, this rule was particularly damaging since she’s infertile and can’t have children naturally. “I was raised to see that children are the reward for being godly — that they are a blessing from God, which actually means that if you don’t have tons of kids, you aren’t blessed,” she said.
“This has been probably the strongest catalyst in my digression from not only ATI but also Christianity as a whole,” she explained. “I have had people tell me that I was full of sin and this is why I wasn’t being blessed with children. I cannot begin to communicate the way this effed up my life for years.”
If you don’t obey your parents, you’re opening yourself up to the “fiery darts” of Satan.
“I was taught that God speaks directly to me through my parents, that basically they are my lifeline to him and that whatever instruction or rules they gave me were inspired by God,” she said. “Therefore, even if I disagreed with them, I was to honor my parents anyway. OK, interesting enough. But here’s the real kicker: If I didn’t, I was opening myself up to the ‘fiery darts’ of Satan — that there would be no protection for me, and my life would be ruined one way or another. I’m dead serious. This is what I was taught.”
ATI teaches the “umbrella of authority,” which is that there’s a spiritual hierarchy that has God on top, followed by fathers, then mothers and then children. If one was to step out from under their “umbrella,” they’d be opening themselves to sins. “[It] is the single-most heinous and patriarchal piece of doctrine that ATI teaches in my opinion,” she said. “It is perfect for controlling parents — both moms and dads alike. If the father is controlling (mine wasn’t as bad), he can basically make his family and kids do whatever he wants them to (or not wants them to). If the dad is complacent (like mine was most of the time), this leaves the mother to do God’s bidding, and most of the time I never got a better answer than ‘God just gave me a feeling.’ How furious this made and continues to make me.”
She started doubting her faith when her sister was kicked out of the house.
When Crystal was 22, her 19-year-old sister started seeing a boy her parents didn’t approve of. “They flat out kicked her out. They told her she was not welcome in her own home,” she said. “I witnessed this. I couldn’t believe it. They never ever gave the guy a chance, and he was a good guy.” It was around this time that Crystal began doubting her faith, although she still wasn’t quite there yet. “I had a VERY difficult time reconciling this in my head,” she said. “But I still lived with these people. My hands were tied.”
After the incident, she met up with her sister and tried to defend her parents and explain the situation the best she could. “I told her that, ‘as long as you were under mom and dad’s authority, you can’t miss out on God’s will for your life.’ That even if you were sure that Boy X was the one for you and that mom and dad never gave him a fair chance, it’s just not meant to be because you have to be under their authority, whether we thought it was fair or not,” she said. “I wince at typing these words. I cannot believe I told them to my precious sister. I have since apologized and my sister understands that. Though I was a couple of years older than she, I was just as brainwashed and victimized.”
Her experience has ruined her relationship with religion.
Today, Crystal says she is an atheist “all but in name” and says her experience has left her feeling alienated from religion in general. “The more I delved into the preposterousness of all things ATI, the more difficult it has been to separate the ‘baby’ from the ‘bathwater,’” she said. “I see so many flaws in even moderate or ‘worldly’ Christian methods to living, the things we accept and the things we condemn. None of it holds up under scrutiny and I have all but lost my religion and God.”
Her advice to the Duggars is to judge their own religion the same they judge others.
“Think! Judge! Don’t be afraid to be wrong,” she said. “If I’m not mistaken, they feel blessed to have been born into the One True Religion, right?? What about all the other people who were born into a different sect of Christianity, or even a different religion entirely? What about them? If they also feel blessed because they believe their parents’ religion is right, does that make them right? No, it doesn’t. And they can’t all be right. So if you’re so sure that yours is right, then prove it. And as you do the research, all the cards will fall into place. But don’t be afraid to ask that first question.”