As I shared in my previous post, I spent last weekend at Lifeway’s dotMom Christian women’s conference in Chattanooga. While I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to visit with a childhood friend and learn from many wise teachers and fabulous moms, there were a few moments where I found myself thinking…. “Oh no he didn’t!?”
During the second main session, John Croyle, founder and director of children’s home, Big Oak Ranch, spoke to the group. The Ranch is a series of residential facilities and transitional homes for children ages 5 through post-high school. Operating for 40 years, Big Oaks has seen more than 2,000 children come through its programs. According to Croyle, he tells every child four things: I’ll love you. I’ll never lie to you. I’ll stick with you until you’re grown. There are boundaries, don’t cross them.
In this session, Croyle discussed a new book project with his wife called Eight Essential Virtues for Raising a Princess. Based on the Proverbs 31 woman, the material turns “princess” into an acronym for all the desirable characteristics to be wished upon a daughter.
Okay. In all honesty, I heard the title and had to fight the gag-reflex just a little. After reviewing A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans, and hearing her view on the Proverbs 31 woman, I tense up at little checklists being made from a passage meant to praise and uplift women.
Also, there are just so many negative stereotypes and messages associated with the word, “princess.” If Ellie wants to put on a tiara and play dress-up now and then, fine and well. But it bothers me that it takes considerable effort to find any toys, clothing, or accessories not covered in pink, frilly princesses. I want more for my daughter than a lifetime of singing to woodland creatures in satin gowns with perfect hair while waiting for her prince to come. I mean, yeah, Merida’s pretty cool, but as mamas, we need to think about what messages we’re sending to our daughters. Princesses aren’t all bad, but when we start associating them with the teachings of God, what are the possible downsides of that? “Princess” carries connotations of wealth, beauty, and position that don’t actually have anything to do with being a Godly woman, after all. Just thinking….
Okay…moving off that soapbox for now….
In any case, Croyle shared some moving personal testimonies and meaningful thoughts on the various points, and I managed to overlook the name in favor of the material. Who can argue with teaching young women true empowerment, initiative, etc, after all?
Then….in the middle of talking about what is righteous and praiseworthy or what not, Mr. Croyle said:
“I’m probably going to get in trouble for this, but a “modern family” is not two men with a kid! I’m old-fashioned, and I make no apologies.”
Rule of thumb: If you need to begin a sentence with “I’m probably going to get in trouble for this….” then just keep quiet, mmkay?
There was sporadic clapping from the audience as Mr. Croyle elaborated a bit on his views that boys are boys and girls are girls, etc. before getting back on topic.
And when the woman next to me clapped, that’s when I really wish I’d had the guts to stand up and boo. Oh, to be that brave!
Instead, I took to Twitter with some thoughts, and sat grinding my teeth through the rest of his session. Thank God there was a Ben and Jerry’s near my hotel to help me clear my head and cool my emotions.
So here are my thoughts after Croyle’s ill-fitting outburst on homosexuality:
– Stay on topic and consider your audience. The subject of Croyle’s session should have left no room for his opinions on homosexuality. The purpose of dotMom is supposedly to empower, challenge, and encourage “all the moms” according to their promotional site. I’m pretty sure that among the hundreds of women in that audience, more than one has a gay sibling, friend, or parent. More than one is currently is parenting a gay child and is as much need of support and community as any other mom. Did those women feel the love and grace of our almighty God when Croyle spoke? Did they feel empowered, encouraged, or connected? Hell, no. They just saw one more person drawing a line in the sand, saying, “Your kids aren’t welcome at this table.” Well guess what, Mr. Croyle? You don’t get to make the guest list, and I’m pretty sure God invites ALL to His banquet. Especially hurting, scared, lonely kids. Even the gay ones. Speaking of….
– Do gay kids get the promises too? Or is that not “allowed” at the Ranch? So apparently, over 2,000 kids have now passed through the Big Oaks program. Uh-huh. And I wonder how many of those troubled youth were gay? Kids who struggle with sexual identity can be especially vulnerable in the system, and they desperately need acceptance, support, and space to be themselves. I pray to God that the kids in Croyle’s program find themselves with fierce house-mamas who accept and love them as they are, but I can’t help but question how much of Croyle’s personal philosophy and “old-fashioned” beliefs filter their way into company policy in dealing with gay or gender-confused kids?
– God’s love isn’t dependent on occupying traditional gender roles. In his tangent, Croyle suggested with a “boys should be boys”-type bravado that girls and boys are and should be different. He didn’t go into a ton of detail, but he spoke long enough that I got the distinct impression he was referring to traditional and conservative gender roles. So I wonder about the little boy who comes to the ranch and wants to wear pink, play with dolls, and paint his nails. Is there room for him? Again, kids from hard places need unconditional love and the freedom and safety to grow into themselves.
I don’t know anything about the successes or failures of Big Oak Ranch beyond what is published on their Web site, and I pray that despite the apparent fear and prejudice of its founder, the program has managed to truly help children of all orientations. I know that God can use all people to do His work, and I pray that Croyle opens his heart to his homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ.
But yeah, at next year’s dotMom, I’ll probably just skip his session in favor of some extra Ben and Jerry’s. I’d hate to get carted away for being the crazy, booing lady.