Institutional Abuse at Veritas Academy – Epilogue

Read the full story of what happened to me at Veritas Academy in Leola, PA:

Introduction–I introduce Veritas, its headmaster Ty Fischer, and his connection to Doug Wilson.

Part 1–I describe the process I went through to be hired at Veritas, including my expressed concerns regarding Doug Wilson.

Part 2–I recount the grueling, post-hiring interrogation Ty Fischer put me through for opposing Doug Wilson.

Part 3–I share how Ty Fischer fired me for opposing Doug Wilson, including the dismissal letter in which he pretended I had never been hired at all.

Part 4–I document how Veritas refused to pay me for my two weeks of employment, in flat disregard of their legal, contractual obligation.

Part 5–I disclose the 5-page letter I sent to the Board of Veritas Academy to appeal the wrongful treatment I had received–and their dismissive response.

This past week I went public with the story of how I suffered institutional abuse at Veritas Academy. I can only imagine how many people have since attributed my action to bitterness, money-grubbing, attention-seeking, or just plain spite. Perhaps some more charitably see it as my seeking sympathy and consolation as I bemoan or grieve the traumatic loss of a job–not to mention a great deal of faith in humanity–even a year later.

Thankfully, none of those are motivations in my going public. When I realized this a few weeks ago, I knew it was time to publish.

Mary DeMuth, author of We Too and staunch advocate for the abused, once shared some very wise advice–this is my paraphrase: while every traumatized or oppressed person must be able to share their story in order to process, heal, and recover, not every avenue for sharing is safe or helpful.

Broadly plastering my story across the indiscriminate internet from the get-go would have left me incredibly vulnerable to every criticism, judgment, or misinterpretation. Instead, Mary advises survivors to find private, trauma-informed, trusted friends and counselors who can walk through our stories with us to help us pick up the pieces and begin to make sense of things. People who can shelter, protect, validate, and encourage us, restoring our sense of safety, security, and self.

I’m so glad I listened to Mary’s lecture last year, because that is exactly what I went on to do. It made all the difference.

A year later, I am prepared for anyone out there to think what they will of me for this. I don’t mind every ounce of it being made public–which is why I have so thoroughly documented everything for you. I know who my friends are, the ones who will stick with me through this, and I also know that my cause is good and just, regardless of how it might be maligned or misrepresented.

Because my cause is not, and never has been, to receive the rightful compensation that Veritas Academy withheld from me. Even if they offered to pay me now, I would not accept it. I want to be very clear about that.

In fact, I am incredibly grateful to have been kicked out of Veritas and thus found the impetus to leave my classical Christian educator career behind forever. I never want to be a part of this culture ever again. I love Christ. I love ancient lit and language and art and philosophy and history. And I am thoroughly disillusioned and aghast at the Frankenstonian monster the ACCS has made of it all.

A year after my firing, I have successfully launched a new career as a freelance editor. I love my job more than any I have ever had–and that says a great deal, considering just how much I loved teaching. My hourly rate is the highest it’s ever been. I have more respect from my peers–including/especially men–doing this job than I’ve ever had.

So I’m not looking to receive what I’m owed from Veritas Academy. Nor am I looking for notoriety or to “build my platform” at Veritas Academy’s expense. In fact, writing this whole story has deterred me a great deal from my new professional endeavors. If anything, I expect my disclosure to work against my reputation and ability to find new clientele.

So why am I doing this?

Because I believe that the truth deserves to be known.

“Veritas” is the Latin word for “truth.” In the Vulgate–the Latin Bible–Pontius Pilate queries Christ, “Quid est veritas?”

What is truth?

An educational institution that names itself after truth–that postures itself as a purveyor of truth, that gathers in young minds purportedly to steep them in truth, that advertises itself to prospective employees and attentive parents as a beacon of all that is right and good and true–should know what the truth is.

Moreover, they should be able to tell it.

For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.

These are the words of Christ that prompted Pilate’s question.

The truth is that G. Tyler Fischer, the headmaster of Veritas Academy, sees nothing wrong with something like this (TW: explicit sexual content) being penned by a Christian pastor, as he told me himself when he interrogated me.

The truth is that the board of Veritas Academy officially signed off on stealing money from me when I appealed to them.

The truth is that the leadership of Veritas Academy doubled down on cultic allegiance to Doug Wilson to the point of firing someone who distrusts him enough–with shockingly ample cause–to say so publicly.

Is this the behavior of a Christian institution characterized by truth?

You don’t have to answer that for me. But I hope you answer it for yourself. For your children. For your friends. Your spouses. And, yes, even your superiors.

If this story troubles you, and you wish things were different, there is something you can do. Write to the Board of Veritas Academy. You may address your letter thusly:

Dr. Daniel Spanjer
Chair of the Board, Veritas Academy
26 Hillcrest Avenue
Leola, PA 17540

Be respectful. Tell them you want them to speak the truth. If you are a Christ follower, tell them that you expect them to testify to the truth as he did. Tell them what you hope they would do differently. Tell them how much this matters to you–and how much they matter to you.

Because they are human, too. They are made in God’s image as much as I am.

My goal is not to destroy Veritas Academy. There are good, wonderful, truth-telling, loving people there. I have friends who send their kids there. I have friends who work or have worked there.

My goal is to tell everyone there the truth, as much as they are willing to listen, because I think Jesus came to give them the truth. If I bury and silence my story, I will be a bastion against the truth. If I speak plainly, I may be a conduit.

And I know I’m not the only one who has faced abuse and oppression in this environment. So for the sake of those who cannot speak, I will speak out.

I leave it to you, my reader, to judge righteously.

August = Trauma

August is my hardest month.

This is my hardest week of the month.

My mother’s birthday is August 10. She shares that birthday with one of my brothers. My youngest sister’s birthday is August 15. Another brother’s birthday is August 23.

Eleven years ago, I had just moved out to Pennsylvania to date my then-boyfriend, now-husband short distance. I had a cute little half-basement apartment, all nicely fixed up. I went back home for the month of August to spend time with my family and celebrate all the birthdays.

While I was home, my apartment flooded.

I lost many treasured things, including irreplaceable keepsakes—most notably handmade books I had written myself as a child—favorite pieces of furniture (some of the first I ever bought for myself), and many other beloved books I have never managed to replace.

I came back to a massive sense of loss and displacement which continued for months.

I was also suffering massive withdrawal and culture shock after exiting what I now know was a horrifically toxic, abusive home environment. Not a soul around me knew or understood what I was suffering, including myself.

Three years later, I was married, had a toddler, and was back in Indiana for a week to celebrate my brother’s wedding and those August birthdays. The night of the 8th, he got married in the midst of one of the most anxiety-ridden, traumatic family occasions I have ever experienced. The next day, my dad moved out of my parents’ house, never to return.

Instead of any birthday celebrations, I tried to comfort my mother, tried to maintain bridges with my dad and the siblings who had moved out with him (ultimately failing completely), and had horrible GI problems for a week. I basically ate nothing that week. We went home to Pennsylvania a day early, we were so miserable, and there was nothing we could do.

Two years later, at the end of August, perhaps early September, I listened to my new sister-in-law recount in tears how my brother was an alcoholic and horribly abusive/neglectful. I had no idea until she told me. I believed her. It was massively bad. It was so bad that I ended up reporting him to CPS. Both of them cut me off. (About four years after this, my former sister-in-law texted me out of nowhere to thank me for reporting my brother. She said the evidence trail that my report had laid down enabled her to get a divorce and retain primary custody of their daughter when she was finally ready to do so. She apologized for cutting me off and explained that was the only thing she could do at the time to stay safe. I understood. I respected her for it. I don’t blame her one bit.)

Two years after reporting my brother, I’m pregnant with my third child. We’ve just moved. I’ve been horrifically sick for weeks, unable to stand smells of almost any kind, unable to stand the carpet that won’t dry in my house after being cleaned because it is the wettest summer since the 2011 flood, unable to stand the August heat. I want to crawl out of my skin every waking moment. I have no control over any part of my life, and every single experience and relationship is traumatic.

A year after this, we are driving home from my father-in-law’s birthday party on August 1 when I spy a tiny orange kitten sitting in the road. I swerve, stop, and get out. I gather it up on my lap and tell Nate to drive. It’s clearly injured. It won’t stop mewing, barely audible, pitifully. I stroke its fragile little frame, and it actually seems to fall asleep for the shortest moments on the drive. It’s still breathing, but not begging. Barely. We get it home and Nate puts the kids to bed while I try to feed it, give it water. It won’t touch a thing. Nate takes it to the emergency animal hospital in Lancaster, where they tell him it has multiple broken bones, won’t survive, and needs to be put down. He comes home, and I fall apart. To this day, it is the most beautiful, delicate, pale orange cat I have ever seen.

A year after this, and we have freshly detangled ourselves from all our toxic family, as well as our toxic church (the leadership of which told me to get lost after I uncovered a decades-old child sexual abuse case in their midst and brought it to their attention). We are trying to find a new church home. Trying to put together a sort-of makeshift family of people we can actually trust. Trying to address long-neglected problems in our marriage and work toward reform, repair, and renewal. I get a job at the end of July to teach at a local classical Christian (ACCS) school and try to gain a little more financial stability.

Two weeks later, on August 11, they fire me.

(My crime? I don’t like Doug Wilson, and I said as much online a year before I was hired. Oh, and also, I called the Holy Spirit “she” once in an essay—an essay I had put on my resume to share with them. Never mind that this pronoun choice was due to my history of abuse at the hands of my father; never mind that some of the Orthodox desert fathers and an early church guy named Boethius did the same; never mind that both my Christian therapist and my conservative pastor understand and support my deeply personal spiritual practice of communing with God’s mothering side that I am in no way proselytizing anyone about; never mind that the guy who fired me admitted that he understood and respected my thoughts on the matter—simply having someone on staff who used the word “she” within forty feet of God was not to be tolerated!)

Oh, yeah, and they never paid me for the two weeks I was on staff.

That was a year ago.

So. August.

Here we are again. Trauma still stalks the house. My basement flooded; my cat wrecked a bunch of furniture and is acting out her own traumas, which triggers mine all over again. I received a “sorry” letter in the mail from my estranged mother full of words that she failed to back up with action–again. After receiving a text that promised “I’m not ignoring this!” from another family member I asked to have a hard conversation with, I’ve received silence. I’ve got a special needs kid in therapy, a deconstructing husband in therapy, and I’ve got at least three therapy appointments of my own to attend per week. I’m homeschooling my kids (yes, we start back at it in the summer), and I’m trying to help start up a co-op for them.

I’ve woken up every morning with a stomachache for a week or two. I’ve gone to bed with a splitting headache for days. I spent most of yesterday in a great deal of pain from abdominal issues that my doctors and physical therapists have yet to pin down and effectively treat. The pain actually finally let up when we got out in the evening to spend some time with friends… as I talked and relaxed into myself, like I hadn’t been able to all day, most of the pain dissipated. And yet, as we visited, and the topic of my work history came up, and I retold the story of last year’s firing yet again, the anxiety started spiking through my hands and neck. All the fear of rejection and abandonment and hopelessness rushed right through my bloodstream again. And I was patient with it. I didn’t run away. I felt it and respected it. I kept talking. I let the terrible story out. I let it move through me, shake me, pass out of me, and extinguish. When I was done, the pain was gone.

It came back later some. I don’t know what to do about it. I’m resting and processing now—as you see. I’ve still got a cat peeing on my (now thoroughly protected) furniture, so I had more of that to deal with last night. We’ve got yet another plan to work out this behavioral problem. I don’t know if it will work. I have no guarantee that every creature and thing in this household will come through the trial unscathed. I have a history that tells me there’s basically no way we can. I have a trauma response that pushes me to check out, numb out, and take all my overwhelming stress out on all the most vulnerable things around me. I work so hard to stay present and retain hope and just do the next tiny thing, instead. I don’t always succeed.

But do you know what I think of first and foremost, every August?

This song.

I found it first years ago, before most or any of this had happened. I listened to it over, and over, and over, and over again.

It was the lullaby that held me when nothing else could or would.

It gave me the deepest sense of everything that makes this time of year good, and nurturing, and pure, and true.

Everything about the world God made underlying all my hurt that will not disappear, which was there long before my tragedy unfolded, and which will remain long after I have faded (unless the world itself is undone and remade first).

Deep goodness is true. Solid. Firm. In August.

“You Pick Your Battles”

My child was recently diagnosed with autism—for the second time. If I found the initial report from this past fall sharply illuminating, the complete evaluation report we received on Monday was by far more circumspect.

Parenting a child with special needs poses unique challenges when it comes to maintaining our family values of bodily autonomy and personal agency—values that we have developed in response to my own background as a child abuse survivor and our subsequent education on the topic. Toilet training, in particular, has remained an enormous question mark for years. My child has needed a great deal of assistance, and many things that come naturally or make a certain amount of innate sense to a neurotypical person do not occur to him. Despite our attempts to help him habit-train privacy routines, for example, they are easy for him to forget or ignore simply because he feels zero compulsion to modesty, even as he ages. I have faith he’ll surmount this complication eventually, but his brain is going to get there differently than mine did. This isn’t generally a big problem, but occasional situations crop up that trigger the fears I have that are rooted in my own background and advocacy training. Even as I own and manage my triggers, separating them out from the situation in front of me and dealing with each separately… I do routinely still have to face a particular dilemma.

How do I meet my child where he is and help him develop healthy and safe personal boundaries from the ground up?

The abstract solution is straightforward enough; the implementation, however, is not.

Though my child is good-hearted, an eager learner, highly intelligent, and naturally very curious… his stubbornness quotient is enormous, well beyond that of a typical grade-schooler. When the stubbornness isn’t at play, the distractedness settles in full force. Between these two impediments, exhaustion, frustration, and overwhelm rises up daily on all sides. We are all steadily working on strengthening our coping mechanisms: self-regulation, co-regulation, self-soothing, comforting, patience, owning our triggers, resilience, verbal articulation, CBT…

And, still, my husband and I often resort to choosing our battles.

Sometimes I focus on maintaining my child’s hygiene and lose sight of the need to guard his privacy. Sometimes I focus on guarding his privacy and overlook behaviors that are less than hygienic.

Frequently, I just can’t do both. I do my best to cover both priorities, and I try to improve my tactics, my resources, and my approach on an ongoing basis.

But at the end of the day, I pick my battles.

Note, when I pick my battles, I’m not defending my choices or my actions by projecting them onto you, dear reader.

At least, I try hard not to do that anymore. Cause I used to—a lot. I used to say, like everyone else I know, “You pick your battles.”

But, while I’m sure you do—pick your battles, that is—your battles aren’t mine. They don’t apply to me. And I don’t pick them. And you don’t pick mine.

We, each of us, pick our own battles; and I have found owning my choices in battle—rather than casting about for another person to share their victory with me or take on my shame if I fail—has freed me to do the best job I can with what I have.

That is the only work that makes sense for me to do.

Before, I would hold myself up to standards that only made sense for other people. People without my history, without my skillset, without my hangups, without my strengths, without my weaknesses, without my resources or lack thereof.

My battle choices are not prescriptive for you, and yours aren’t prescriptive for me.

Just above there, I typed, “How do you meet your child where he is…” before I caught myself and corrected it.

How often do we do this? I read a viral twitter thread recently wherein posters were confronted with this tendency in themselves. Over the past few months it has deeply shaped not only my own perspective, but my husband’s.

“Like ya do.”

“As one does.”

“You know when you…”

“How do you…?” (rhetorically, non-literally)

Yikes.

Let’s own our battles. We’re the only ones out there who can fight them.

Like ya do.

The Nature of Healing

Today my children and I read “How the Bear Clan Learned to Heal: An Iroquois Story” from Angela McAllister’s A Year Full of Stories. It goes like this:

Three young hunters were running home one evening, when a rabbit jumped out ahead of them and sat in the middle of the trail. The hunters stopped. They’d already caught plenty of game, but each one reached for his bow, plucked an arrow from his quiver, and shot at the rabbit. To their surprise, the arrows returned without a spot of blood.

As they reached for a second arrow, the rabbit disappeared. In its place stood a bent old man.

“I am sick,” said the old man weakly. “Help me find food and a place to rest.” The young hunters didn’t want to be bothered by the old man. Ignoring his plea, they put away their arrows and ran on down the trail. They didn’t notice the old man turn and follow.

When he reached the hunters’ settlement, the old man saw many lodges. In front of each lodge was a skin hanging on a pole. This was the sign of the clan within.

The old man stopped at the lodge of the Wolf clan and asked the elder woman for shelter, but she wouldn’t let him in. “We don’t want any sickness here,” she said. So he shuttled on.

The young women at the Beaver lodge insisted they had no food to share. The Turtle clan and Deer clan both sent him away. The old man asked for help at the sign of the Hawk, Snipe, and Heron, but everyone shook their heads.

Night fell, and the air grew cold. At last, he came to the lodge of the Bear Clan. When the Bear Clan mother saw the sick old man, she lifted the blanket at her door and welcomed him inside. She gave him a bowl of warm corn mash and spread soft skins for him to rest on. The old man was grateful. The next day, he told her what herbs to fetch from the woods to make him well, and soon he was healed.

The old man stayed with the Bear Clan mother, but a few days later, he became sick again. As before, she cared for him. He told her what roots and leaves to use for medicine, and she made him well.

Many times the old man fell ill: once with a fever, another time with pain, then a rash and a cough. Each time, he instructed her about the flowers and plants to use for his condition and she listened and learned well. Before long, she knew more about healing than anyone in all the clans.

One evening, as they sat together under the stars, the old man gave the clan mother thanks. “I was sent to earth by the Great Spirit to teach people the secrets of healing,” he said. “You were the only one who showed pity and welcomed me at your fireside. Now I have taught you how to use plants and roots to heal the sick, and from this day, all the other clans will come to learn from the Bear Clan how to heal, and the Bear Clan will be the greatest and the strongest of all.”

Then the clan mother was filled with joy. She gazed up at the sky and thanked the Great Spirit for his precious gift. But when she turned again to the old man, he had disappeared. All she saw was a rabbit running away down the trail.

The abuse survivor sphere has taught me just how true the lessons of this story are.

In order to help others heal, I must listen to them share their needs. I must acknowledge, understand, and meet those initial needs–and I must be prepared to meet many more varied needs as they are gradually expressed.

I must understanding that healing takes a great deal of time, and that if I want to become a good, capable, effective agent of healing, I have to commit for the long haul.

I must maintain a posture of humble attentiveness that whole time. I should constantly expect to need to take in new information and apply it.

I have to be willing to go out of my way again and again and again to bring in resources to help the wounded.

I should expect the recovery to be lengthy and involved and taxing, primarily for the hurting party, but also for me.

I should understand that what I gain from the privilege of caring intimately and faithfully for someone is a greater gift than I could ever give them. That I am not the source of their rescue and restoration: God is. When I enter into another’s suffering, I witness the work God forges in the interplay between their expression of needs and hurt and my acceptance and tending.

In the comprehension brought about by that witness and engagement, I am renewed.

And most importantly, I should understand that healing is primarily the work of the wounded. I am the student and the servant. The one healing is the healer. I follow her lead and provide support–but she does the work of knowing her pain, choosing her struggle, and asking for help.

I might provide resources, treatment, time, expertise: but she is the one who heals.

We best serve our wounded when we entrust them with their own fates: when we affirm their agency, their autonomy, their responsibility as their own primary caretakers.

When we defer to them like this, we learn a great deal about how also to look after ourselves.

Published at The Salt Collective

Last week I was honored and grateful to tell a larger part of my story publicly for the first time. The Salt Collective [edit on 6/3/22 to add: The Salt Collective disbanded and shut down their website on 5/1/22] provided a broad platform for me to share, certainly a larger audience than I’ve ever had; and the encouragement, kindness, support, and practical editing help that I received from Nathan Roberts was invaluable.

The essay this collaboration produced is a heavily modified version of a blog post I originally published here. The end product connects further details of my own history and experience to the broader issue of religious gendered abuse and how it is unwittingly harbored and enabled by systemic abuse and shame culture within American Evangelicalism.

The consequences of rotten roots are far-reaching. If we wish to restore the church, we must protect and rescue our most vulnerable. The healing of our community begins and ends with the healing of the wounded individuals within it.

Read my essay here [now preserved on The Internet Archive]: I Survived a Rural Evangelical Daddy Cult