I was eighteen years old when, in October 2007, I attended the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival (SAICFF) for the second time. Hosted by Doug Phillip’s Vision Forum in the downtown Gonzales convention center, this event draws hundreds of aspiring filmmakers and their families to San Antonio’s beautiful Riverwalk area. This year I enthusiastically enrolled in the Filmmaker’s Academy, a three-day intensive boot camp for young people aspiring to learn more about the art of filmmaking.
The days were chock-full of lectures and demonstrations on philosophy, screenwriting, directing, producing, animation, music scores, cameras and equipment. Geoff Botkin gave a lecture on art and finished by sharing some of his own paintings with us. Mr. Botkin’s son Isaac led a tutorial of cutting-edge animation techniques, creating an animated short right in front of our eyes. All the Botkins teamed up to try to break the world record for fastest time creating a television commercial (they didn’t quite make it, but it was entertaining!) In every session, I sat, absorbed, and soaked in every word. I took extensive notes, mingled with the other students to discuss ideas and aspirations, and came away every day with the feeling I had learned something new and valuable.
At the end of the final day of the Academy, we were told we were going to see something really special, the premiere showing of a “controversial documentary” Vision Forum would soon begin to market. The documentary was produced by the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences, aka the Botkin family, and starred Anna Sophia and Elizabeth Botkin, daughters of Geoff and Victoria Botkin. The documentary’s title? The Return of the Daughters.
As I sat there in the conference room with about 150 other students and watched the film, I slowly became conscious of a divide between myself and the other attendees. I had noticed before that I was a little bit of a misfit. My pants definitely made me stand out in a sea of long navy and khaki skirts, but it was more than that. I was the only young female to participate in the Academy unattended by a parental figure. “So are you here with your dad?” parents of other students would ask me. When I would reply that no, it was just me, they gave me funny looks. I would hasten to explain that my dad couldn’t come (he was working) and my mother wasn’t really interested in film. However, I could sense that they still thought my independence odd. Now, as I watched my fellow students absorb the ideas presented in the Botkin’s documentary, I found myself alone in a deeper way. My mind and heart struggled with the film’s philosophy, yet I found myself unable to speak of my doubts to anyone in that room. Am I the only person here who is questioning this? I wondered. Deep inside, another part of me stirred uneasily. Should I really be questioning this?
The confusion and doubt I experienced in that moment created a dilemma for me. I liked these people. I had learned much from them. I appreciated their insight and experience in film and art. I had had friendly chats with Anna Sophia and Geoff Botkin, and hoped I might be able to keep in touch with them as I worked through whether or not I should pursue film as a career. In some place deep inside me, I craved the acceptance of the Vision Forum people, their esteem, their friendship. Part of me wanted to agree with them just to claim membership in their camp.
I also wondered if maybe Anna Sophia and Elizabeth were right. I had just graduated high school, and was in the middle of preparing to attend college. Now, I questioned whether I should go–if it was right to go. Maybe my family had it all wrong. Maybe I had it all wrong.
It’s been more than five years since then. I’ve done a lot of thinking, and a bit of living. I have my B.A., I’m married, and I’m working towards pursuing a career as a professional counselor. (How’s that for a dramatic change in life directions?)
In the intervening years, I didn’t pay that much attention to Vision Forum’s evolving philosophy of family relationships, but recently I have felt the need to revisit some of their teachings, particularly those addressed to women, to daughters, and to wives. This is important to me for a couple of reasons. I know there are quite a few people out there who are blogging about these ideas, and a number of them are coming from a position of deep hurt and anger brought about by the implementation of certain ideas that Vision Forum promotes. That gets my attention. A philosophy that causes offense or even anger is not necessarily wrong, but when a large number of people choose to stand up and say “I think this philosophy is harmful, and this is why” — I think that merits attention and examination. Also, while I grew up in a Christian subculture and believed many of the things that Vision Forum also endorses, I’m not angry or bitter towards Vision Forum. Perhaps simply because of that, my voice might be given more weight in some circles than someone who could be written off (however unjustly) as a hater, an atheist, or (god forbid!) a feminist.
So, for my friends who grew up with Vision Forum, I’ll just put my cards on the table. I don’t hate Vision Forum, and I don’t hate the Botkins. However, I have experienced growing up in a Christian subculture infiltrated with Vision Forum doctrine, and I think there is room for a thoughtful critique of some of their theology and philosophy. I think that some of their teaching to and about women has some serious flaws. I am going to focus on this teaching (and its flaws) in a series of articles, which I will post on this blog. If you’d like to participate in the discussion, feel free to comment!