NOTE: While the school might have been within their rights to expel the students, the more I thought about it, the more I realized it's Harper Valley PTA time!
Here's some music you can play while reading my open letter:
To Whom It May Concern,
I read with interest the article which indicated you had been expelled from Trinity Christian Academy. I attended Trinity Christian Academy between the years 1978-1980 and engaged in Super 8 filmmaking.
Your movies are more exciting than mine ever were.
My movies were quite boring. Senior trips. Church activities. One shoot in a graveyard and another in the boy's room the elementary school at Trinity. Now, before you start reading things into that last one, scroll below and read the article about the origination of that film. It was rooted in exposing the hypocrisy I experienced at Trinity.
Now, you might be wondering, "What exactly were they upset about? Was it because we engaged in acts they condemned? Has no one from Trinity ever engaged in these acts? Or was it because we videotaped ourselves and turned into a public spectacle that reflects poorly on Trinity?"
Let me take a stab at this and suggest it might be the latter.
Most people when they graduate from a fundamentalist high school will either stay in the faith, and continue to be friends with the like. If they 'fall off the wagon', so to speak ('backslide', 'become worldly' 'turn against Christ' 'join the Democratic party), most will never speak to that person again. It is for this reason, most turn their backs on the Christian schools they attended and never return.
That didn't happen with me. I read a book called 'GOD'S CHOICE' by Alan Peshkin. He was a Jewish professor from the University of Illinois who studied a fundamentalist Christian school . He lived with one of the families, attended class, and studied the lives of students.
The Christian school did not want its identity to be revealed. Peshkin had a difficult time finding a Christian school that would allow him access to their daily lives. The people at 'Bethany Baptist Academy' were independent fundamentalists.
Bob Jones University was the big school they sent their kids to.
Peshkin took their statements of faith literally. Too literally, I thought. You read the book and came away with the idea that Christian school students live highly moral lives and are fearful to disobey.
That wasn't my experience at Trinity!
GOD'S CHOICE was a very illuminating book about the fundamentalist experience. It was published in 1986. Christian schools were still relatively young, most, like Trinity, beginning the 1960's. It was because of this Peshkin said it was difficult to draw conclusions about the how Christian school graduates would fare in the real world.
I called him and we talked. He was not planning any sequels, or further study. He did say that only people like me, who lived the experience, could truly document what life is like in these independent Baptist schools.
Well, I always felt like an outsider and thought I could not do that. I did manage to keep in contact with a variety of alumni, partly because I was curious as to how time would treat us. Would we live according to what we were taught? How would those who 'departed' be treated? Who would be successful? Who would not?
Nearly hands down, most everything you are reading in your high school yearbook will prove the exact opposite twenty years from now. The 'Most Likely to Succeed' probably won't, but the most underestimated (why isn't there a category for that in high school yearbooks?) will probably surprise everyone.
And everybody feels like an outsider.
Even the insiders feel like outsiders!
Yes, you are not the only ones to engage in pre-marital sexual activity at TCA. Nor, if the poster below is correct, the first to engage in sex with multiple partners at a young age.
Hey, at least you don't have any teachers in that video!
Your only 'social crime' was getting caught. If the act was not caught on videotape, and if you were related to any of the pastors, or just lucky enough to have wealthy parents, I think it is doubtful you would have been expelled.
Expelled? If the publicity makes the school look bad, but there's no record of the 'sin', you could have escaped with ease.
Consider the recent flap over the founding pastor! The man allegedly molested kids in his office, which was equipped with sound proof walls (Wally Bebe supplied this tidbit in his book, The Second Man). Yet, when people complained, it was decided not to embarrass the church.
Bob Gray, exercising free choice, left the United States to serve as a missionary to Germany. He had a meeting with the congregation. Told them he wasn't guilty of anything that was 'sexual nor immoral', and not a word was said about it until his arrest in 2006.
Nobody videotaped Gray. That would have been a crime.
Gray allegedly committed his crimes in an atmosphere where no one could hear him, see him, or record him.
Messer apologized for 'harm done to you' in letters to victims, but didn't spell out exactly what caused the harm.
Was it was out of rebellion from such hypocrisy that many Trinity students wondered:
"Why should I listen to them? They can't even protect us from child molesters! Why should I even bother listening to them about sex?"
No, I don't believe it's rebellious to question authority.
It's common sense.
I blogged about the scandal here at Christian School Confidential and one thing I kept reading in e-mails was the sentiment, "We never talked about this back then!"
They were right. Pre-1960's America was an era when even secular society allegedly accepted remnants of Christian morality. The heart of the fundamentalist Christian experience can be summed up in the bible verse, "To obey is better than sacrifice."
It did not matter who did the wrong thing. If a leader says 'ignore it, it doesn't concern you', you must obey him even if he's wrong.
Why would God appoint a child molesting pastor, and an enabling church board, if he didn't mean for you to obey him? Maybe God's testing you!
After all, God told Abraham to kill his first born. Can you imagine being a child and having your father tie you to an altar? Then raising a knife? It's about to stab you! Now, he suddenly hears an invisible voice and says, "God does not want me to kill you. He was just testing me."
Okay, if you accept that, perhaps it's a piece of cake to accept the idea that God had a reason for appointing a founder just as abusive. Old habits die hard, and generational abuse becomes commonplace when people are afraid to question.
Child abuse was never discussed until it became okay to discuss consensual sex. That didn't happen until the 1970's when people like Phil Donahue and Tom Snyder had talk shows.
When Christian morality was in vogue, nobody even talked about child abuse. Unless we're talking about physical abuse. They talked about getting beat up by their parents, but that was about it.
It wasn't until sexuality became open that we were able to discuss both the dark and bright side of sex.
All of this is to say, I truly hope none of you gets send to a girl's or boy's home over this. I'm also hoping all of you were fully conscious. If one of you was not, or forced to do it against his, or her, will, that's something I oppose.
If you engaged in this out of youthful curiosity, channel that energy into something positive.
If you feel you have been wronged, make a video expressing that.
Todd Russell, the director of DUCK: THE CARBINE HIGH MASSACRE, got his start making fetish movies. He must have been 19 or 20, and young Misty Mundae fresh out of high school. They were over the age of consent, though, and made pretty silly movies.
Columbine happened. Russell was outraged over how his peers were being stereotyped. Through making silly fetish movies (my description), he inadvertently acquired the skills to make a full blown motion picture expressing his outrage.
He was arrested for that movie on trumped up charges of bringing a weapon on school property. All weapons used in this movie were non-operational. DUCK has since gone to cult status and I hope to work with Todd Russell one day. I'm a big fan.
My movie, CATHOLIC SCHOOL CATFIGHT, was made after writing a book about Trinity, commissioning a comic book zine about fundamentalist high schools, and making the movie Bible Madness. The zine caught on well! When it appeared on-line, I heard from victims all across the country. Including one lady who actually witnessed the opening of Dave Hyle's briefcase which contained polaroids of him with various semi-nude ladies of the church.
That is, according to the person who e-mailed me.
The briefcase incident was first mentioned in Voyle Glover's book, FUNDAMENTAL SEDUCTION. So that's not an exclusive coming from me.
You know about Dave Hyles, don't you? The 'world's youngest youth director'? Not anymore, of course.
Dave was a great friend of Trinity Baptist Church back in the day. All the scandal that man heaped on himself never stopped him from being accepted by his peers, and neither should it stop you!
Okay, back to the subject at hand:
I created all these works, but not to any public acclaim.
I didn't think anyone cared about what I had to say! So, I gave up and made this stupid little movie about a Baptist minister who lost control of his daughter. He does not want to send her to a fundamental girl's home because he wants his dirty secrets kept. So, he takes her to a Catholic school where he tells the priest, "I'm a blood bought Baptist who stands against the wiles of the Great Whore of Babylon, but since my daughter's not a ten year old boy I think she's safe with you!"
That was made in 2002.
Bob Gray died before his trial ever took place. A conference was held in Jacksonville for victims of religious abuse, but I was not allowed to attend. Was it because of the Catfight? Or was it because of my past activities with the Humanist Association of Los Angeles and Atheists United? Or, something else?
That didn't stop me. I made a short movie called DON'T GO IN THE CHURCH which addressed the roadblocks victims of clergy abuse experience.
DON'T GO IN THE CHURCH was made five years after Catfight. It was on the strength of that short movie that I was justified in having an event when that conference ended.
The media showed up and victims, and their families, got a chance to speak about their plight! It became the lead story on WTLV-12.
Here's the irony: without CATHOLIC SCHOOL CATFIGHT there would not have been a DON'T GO IN THE CHURCH.
CATHOLIC SCHOOL CATFIGHT was actually inspired by reading Lloyd Kaufman's EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT FILMMAKING I LEARNED FROM THE TOXIC AVENGER. Most of the cast was recruited during the Los Angeles premiere of Kaufman's CITIZEN TOXIE. He wrote the best way to get an idea across to the public is to introduce commercial elements into a non commercial idea. I thought of all my experiences in fundamentalism, then thought, "What commercial ideas can I inject into this story?"
DON'T GO IN THE CHURCH followed the same principal.
You just made a movie that got press.
Forget what the movie was actually about.
You got publicity.
Hollywood calls that 'gold'.
I suggest: roll with it!
Make another movie, but keep your clothes on. Let it reflect your experiences as a student of Trinity Christian Academy.
Turn it into a video blog!
What happened to you after you left Trinity?
How are people reacting to this?
Are they hypocritical?
Do you feel guilty?
Do you feel defiant?
I will end with this:
My only regret from my days at Trinity is not rebelling more.
I obeyed too many rules.
Way too many.
In many ways, I think I was too good for that school.
One of my teachers even sent me to the office, knowing I didn't have any demerits, because my hair just barely touched the ear.
He smiled and said, "It will keep you humble."
That makes me laugh, actually!
Today I realize he was right.
I needed that demerit.
In fact, I needed more demerits.
Trinity Christian Academy
Class of 1980
PS. You can view the short movies I mentioned at my YouTube channel: