Dear Libby: How can I help my cousins?

Dear Libby,

The reason I’m emailing is because my husband’s uncle is really into the quiverfull, biblical patriarchy stuff and I’m really concerned about his daughters. They’re home-schooled, not going to uni and seem to be just waiting at home to get married. I’m pretty worried about them and what options they’ve got for their futures. They live in New Zealand, so the only contact is via facebook at the moment.

Do you think it’s possible to try and challenge them to think through their beliefs, to expose the quiverfull stuff for what it is (exploitative, manipulative distortion of Jesus’ teaching)? How would you do this without getting shut down? Is there any material you would give them? It would be so easy for their father just to cut them off from the internet etc. if he thought I was a bad influence. Is there anything I could do? What could have worked for you if you hadn’t gone to college? Obviously as a christian, I would hope that they could get out of this patriarchal movement, get rid of the bathwater, and discover the baby. But even if they reach different conclusions to me, I can’t help thinking it would be better that they had at least arrived at their own beliefs and at least had the opportunity to doubt and grow.

Any ideas?

Cheers!

Laura

This is tough. I have taken a while to answer it because I’ve been ruminating on it and just haven’t come up with a good or simple answer. You are absolutely right that your cousins’ father could simply isolate them further if he perceives an outside threat, and you also need to remember that actively trying to challenge their beliefs might serve only to reinforce them, as they’ve been taught that “the world will hate you” and that “the world will not understand you.” In other words, opposition is what those girls have been raised to expect.

When Lewis at Commandments of Men had been courting a Quiverfull girl for a number of months, the girl’s father began to see him as a threat to her beliefs, and immediately moved to brainwash and isolate her. He was unfortunately successful in this.

At the same time, Vyckie of No Longer Quivering was persuaded to rethink her beliefs after a long-time email debate with her uncle, in which she tried, and failed, to convert him, and found that he had some pretty good counterarguments to her beliefs. Unlike Lewis’ fiance’s situation, though, Vyckie was a grown woman who ran a Quiverfull newsletter, not a young woman under the close supervision of her father.

As you can see, it’s complicated.

As for suggestions, I have two, and both come from my own experience as a Quiverfull daughter who left those beliefs. You see, it wasn’t just college that changed my beliefs, it was people, people like you.

1. It may be that if you got in contact with one of your cousins, she might try to convert you to her beliefs, and you could simply and unthreateningly refute her arguments. You would need to do so in a way that did not come across as you trying to change her beliefs, but simply you explaining why you think her arguments fail.

Why do I suggest this? Well, what first made me question and rethink my beliefs was my attempt to convert a college friend into a young earth creationist. The thing is, this only worked because he didn’t ever seem like he was actively trying to convince me that evolution was a valid theory and young earth creationism was bunk. Rather, he listened as I laid out my arguments, arguments I thought would easily persuade, and then convincingly explained why my arguments were flawed, but always without judgement. This allowed me to hear new arguments and gave me an environment to consider them.

Now you know your situation better than I. This sort of thing may be impossible. But perhaps if one of the girls reaches out to you or tries to bring you to believe as she does, this is something to remember. Again, you need to work to not seem like a threat or like you’re trying to deconvert them from their beliefs, because that would both turn your cousin off and perhaps lead her father to further isolate her.

2. Just be there. Be available. Make sure the girls understand that if they need somebody, you’re someone they can reach out to. This doesn’t have to be a spoken kind of thing, and really probably shouldn’t be. It’s more of an understood sort of thing.

Growing up, I had several extended relatives I knew my parents disagreed with, but who had always treated me well and respectfully, and not with condemnation. When I began my process of questioning, I was in college and had new friends who were more understanding and open, but if I hadn’t been I might very well have turned to those relatives for support.

If your cousins know you’re someone who is there for you if they need someone, then if they start having questions or trouble with their father they will come to you, whether for moral support or for actual physical respite. You will never know how valuable just being there for them can be.

I would add one concluding point. Your question is difficult to answer because it’s not as though we’re talking about young adults held against their wills. Rather, we’re talking about young adults who may be just as sold, if not more so, on Quiverfull doctrine and beliefs as their parents. Because, after all, they know nothing else. If the question were simply your young adult cousins being held by their parents against their wills, the answer would be simple. Instead, we’re talking about young adults who serve as their own goalers and proudly wear as armor beliefs that have been made virtually impenetrable by interwoven dogma.

I wish I could offer you more suggestions, I really do. If nothing else I’m really glad you care about your cousins, as you clearly do. For additional input, you might want to look at this post or check out the (upcoming) answers to these questions in the Raised Quiverfull project.

Does anyone else have any input?

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • seditiosus

    First up, New Zealand society is overwhelmingly secular and so it will be almost impossible for these girls not to encounter conflicting beliefs at some point. But unfortunately, opposition is exactly what they’ll get from society as a whole. To most kiwis, QF/CP behaviour is on a par with wearing your underpants on your head and there can be a lot of stigma associated with some of it, especially having large families and the women not working (frequently interpreted as scamming money out of the social welfare system and laziness respectively – remember, contraceptives are almost free in NZ and women who don’t contribute to their household’s finances can be judged very harshly). I would guess they are very cut off from mainstream society, and will have a distinct us/them mentality. I don’t really know what you’d do about that and I think these kinds of social barriers are very dangerous, because they just make it so much harder to reach out.

    I completely agree that the best thing is probably just to be there for them, to be someone they can share doubts and problems with without being judged. Having a safe space to explore ideas will help them develop their own ideas, and that’s the most important thing after all. It will also mean they have a trusted person to talk to if things go pear-shaped. The fact that you’re a Christian may well be extremely important, because you can provide them with a healthy Christian role model and show them that there are different ways to be a Christian.

    In the very worst case scenario, which I hope won’t apply here but which I’m going to touch on just in case: if they need to get out of an unsafe environment in a hurry, lack of income/other financial support doesn’t need to be a barrier. They’ll be eligible for social welfare support if they have to survive away from their family.

    Best of luck Laura, and my best wishes for your cousins.

  • Marie

    I hesitate to offer advice because this is such a touchy situation, but one tactic I’ve used (with admittedly mixed results) would be to send a person like Laura’s cousin a link to an article that might gently open them up to a new perspective, maybe just to tweak it a little bit. Sending her a “Why Patriarchy Is Bad” article will close off conversation on a number of levels. But sending her an upbeat article about marriage written by a conservative Christian who had dated her husband and was happy working a full-time job might get her cousin to think critically about her parents’ values, without feeling as if her own beliefs are under attack.

    • http://elliha.blogspot.com Elin

      Given the situation this might be good advice. If you post such article on Facebook and just make a comment that you found this article intresting your relatives are at least given the opportunity to read it when the father looks the other way.

  • Caitlin

    Would it be possible for them to come and visit you?

  • kalipay

    as has already been said, be there. just be a friend. be truly (not with the ulterior motive of somehow ‘deconverting’ them) interested and involved in their lives. and by this i mean that even if they stay with their family and marry after a strict courtship and homeschool their dozen children you should still be a loving, caring friend. friends and real family need to be there all the time, without ulterior motives, in my opinion. the people that have stuck with me through all my changes are the ones that really count. so many have reached their limits of support: there for me when one change i made was something they agree with, but abandoning me now that i’ve made another change.

    if you’re facebook friends, maybe occasionally post articles from here or from Commandments of Men, or other thought-provoking websites and maybe get some comments or a discussion going and from there send a private message that you’d like to know more of their opinion or perspective.

  • Jenny

    My suggestion, living in NZ myself, is that encouraging the girls into a youth group or some kind of christian outreach is the best way to go. Ensure you steer them towards a more liberal church where the pastor/group leader is aware of the delicacy of the situation and is willing to ease them into different ideas slowly and in a hands on way that allows them to see with their own eyes that socialising is not a negative experience and there is other ideas out there they should consider.
    NZ may not be overly tolerant of people who subscribe to archaic beliefs about gender roles but we are more than happy to help them out of it.

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