thatmom

real encouragement for real homeschooling moms

Christian voyeurism, Christian exhibitionism

Recently, one of my friends told me about a new television show where contestants compete for cash prizes by answering very personal questions while being connected to a lie detector. As he described the premise of the program, I began to feel as uncomfortable as he had been while watching and then when he went on to use the word “voyeurism” to describe the penchant most people have for hearing the personal details of someone’s life, I was intrigued. His comments demonstrated that these interests do not need to be sexually arousing in nature, though they can be and sometimes are, in order for it to be called voyeurism in 21st century vernacular.

How many of us read fiction, watch television sit-coms, and go to movies? How often do we wait in line at the grocery store, scanning the covers of People magazine to know who had whose baby this week? We are all intrigued by the lives of other people. We all love a good story. In fact, the subjects of voyeurism don’t even have to be real people. Look at the popularity of shows like Lost and Survivor. It doesn’t matter that one of these shows has fictional characters and the other has a cast made up of real people. To regular viewers, they are ALL real people.

I have long thought that we have our own form of voyeurism as Christians and especially as homeschoolers. It goes something like this and begins innocently enough. We hear a particular speaker at a conference, we read someone’s book or a magazine article, or we stumble into a blog where a homeschooling family is on display. Since we can relate so well to that family’s lifestyle choices or theology, we read further and before you know it, we have to know the intimate, private, and personal details of that family’s life.

While all the insights we glean might be good, and we certainly can benefit from evaluating the successes and failures of other homeschoolers as they share them with us, it can easily lead to what I call “Christian voyeurism,” the personal satisfaction we can get from knowing the details of “how” another family homeschools, disciplines, practices courtship, or what have you. This voyeurism can lay the foundation for making choices for your own family, choices that might not be what God desires for you and your children, choices that might lead us away from God’s best rather than toward it, choices that lead us into a legalistic approach to discerning how to achieve success with our children. Sometimes those choices even cause us to live vicariously through the life of another homeschooling family, emulating and imitating them through dress, use of jargon, recreational activities, or other practices.

This is a temptation that I believe we can easily fall into as homeschoolers simply because homeschooling is still such a new phenomenon. Though homeschooling is accepted without much ado in most communities, there are still some people, often educational gurus, in-laws, or fellow church members, who question the validity of our chosen means of educating our children. We often become weary of defending homeschooling and we all want to have our choices validated and to be reaffirmed that homeschooling is best for our own children, so we tend to seek out the story behind the successes.

I also believe this can become a trap for homeschoolers because we are so unsure of our own convictions or even what the Scripture might teach about some area of life. Rather than reading and studying the Word of God yourself, it is often simpler to follow the leadings of someone you perceive to be a trusted Bible teacher. And herein lies the other side of the problem: Christian exhibitionism.

There seems to be no shortage of families who are willing to share the most intimate and personal of details from their lives or the lives of their children. Some families choose to talk openly about a daughter’s virginity and a father’s brokering of it. Still others have no hesitancy to speak openly of a rebellious child or graphic descriptions of corporal punishment. Look at the number of “courtship stories” that are now available online. These testimonies often share very intimate details, including an up-close description, or even a picture, of a couple’s first kiss. Some families choose to talk about the moral failures of their own parents. I remember one time listening to a broadcast of Focus on the Family where a well-respected Christian leader and counselor for college youth, shared the private and detailed description of his own mother’s alcoholism and subsequent moral failures. I cringed as he spoke and eventually had to turn off the radio because I knew what he was doing was eliciting sympathy for himself and was not demonstrating the command to honor father and mother.

I love reading the testimonies of God’s goodness and grace in the lives of others. I believe that being transparent and genuine is important. But I think we ought to be wary of becoming Christian voyeurs. Since I think it is a very real part of our human (sin) nature to do so, we must be aware of that temptation and must train ourselves to read with discernment and we must examine ourselves for our own motives.

We also must be careful of falling under the spell of Christian exhibitionists, either by listening to what they share or by becoming exhibitionists ourselves. We have to ask ourselves why some people feel a need to share so openly about very private issues. We also need to discern whether the things we are reading are true, whether they are told appropriately, and whether they are told in the proper context of the rest of a family’s life. We need to be certain to remember that our children’s lives are just that….theirs….and we need to be sensitive when we share about them in public or when we read what others share. We must put ourselves in the smaller shoes worn by our own children and when in doubt, ask them what we can or cannot tell. And, above all, remember that God is not dependent on others to teach us His truth. In His infinite wisdom, He will pour out to us His grace for this journey we call homeschooling.

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7 Comments»

  Sue C wrote @

Where do you come up with all your great essays, Karen? Great job!!!

Sue

  Lin wrote @

This is even worse today because of all the self help “Christian’ type of book such as ‘how to raise kid’s or how to be a godly wife.. How can we not want to know how their families REALLY operated.

That is one reason I am staying away from this stuff as much as possible. How can the Holy Spirit teach me in scripture if I am reading everyone elses opinion? I am not saying it is all bad and I do ask around for advice on certain things but modeling your entire family structure according to someone’s opinion of biblical interpretatiion is a bit much. God did not make us one size fits all and He did not gift us exactly alike, either.

  thatmom wrote @

Sue, thank you for your kind words.

  thatmom wrote @

Lin, I love the new picture!

You are correct, there ARE a plethora of self-help books, Christian and otherwise. And it amazes me that Christians can be so lacking in discernment as they read.

One thing we have mentioned here before and I think bares repeating….sometimes authors create a crisis in order to sell books or other products to “fix” the crisis. It is a quintessential marketing technique and is quite effective. And typically it is based on some truth so it is believable. Discerning Christians will pause, ask themselves if they have ever heard of said crisis, and then will do some research to see if the author’s or seller’s claims are true.

Others will play on the natural response which is “they have such a lovely family” etc. and will allow that to cloud discerning thinking. As Cindy Kunsman always reminds us “Mormons have lovely families, too.”

A few podcasts down the road, Cindy will be sharing some of the marketing techniques that spiritual abusers use and believe me, it is eye-opening and goes along with the whole concept of someone being a Christian exhibitionist.

  anika wrote @

great post!!!
I find it very important to be very careful with my writing… I have seen this very thing happen… I think it much wiser to work on MY discernment in writing, and sharing, than having to make my blog private…

My accountability partner made a point to me once that in my desire to be transparent…. I oft was not honoring the work Christ had already done in MY life and in the Life of my children… that I needed to protect them as well as myself…

i think that is very much in tune with what you wrote here.. It also can set up a “standard bearer” situation…. quite like you described…

thank you for the very thoughtful post.

  thatmom wrote @

Anika,

I hadn’t read this post for a while though it is one that is frequently read every week. It really reminded me that there is often a fine line between being a transparent person and being an exhibitionist. It also reminded me of the importance of treating my own children and mom with the dignity they deserve.

  anika wrote @

indeed! It is important to honor them, and to honor Christ in them… beautifully stated …

“also reminded me of the importance of treating my own children and mom with the dignity they deserve”…

this statement is filled with grace, love, hope, and a tenderness, so humbe… 🙂 Praise the Lord


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