Raised Quiverfull: Coming under the Influence

How did your parents first come under the influence of Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull teachings? What leaders did they follow and what publications did they receive?


When I was seven, my parents divorced.  This was 1987, the sort of peak to the “ministry” of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), run by the Christian guru, Bill Gothard (Billy Boy G.).  At the time, Mama attended a weekly marriage counseling seminar called Rebuilders, a program put out by IBLP.  The pastor who ran this seminar, John Hartzell, in cahoots with Alice and Drew Tillman (big shots in IBLP), recommended all attendees attend IBLP’s Basic Seminar.  Mama did and was hooked.  We joined John Hartzell’s church, Normandale Baptist Church, Bloomington, Minnesota, USA.

Over the years, I attended many Basic seminars and later, the Advanced Seminar.  We had all of Billy Boy G’s textbooks and manuals in our house.  All the red books, the Character Sketches, Men’s Manuals, used Wisdom booklets from his Advanced Training Institute joke of a homeschool program, and many other publications that were offshoots of the patriarchy/Quiverfull movement, such as To Train Up a Child and Created to be His Helpmeet, by Michael and Debbie Pearl.  We also received God’s World Today, World Magazine, No Greater Joy, and many other publications that put forth a worldview that Christians were persecuted and needed to rise up and take back the world.


My parents have always been fairly traditional and conservative, but their participation in the local homeschooling community helped them develop more extreme beliefs.  Through homeschooling conferences and other Christian homeschooling families, they were exposed to materials from Vision Forum, Reb Bradley, and Focus on the Family, and Bill Gothard’s Basic Life Principles.  At various times, we also got publications such as God’s World News, Voice of the Martyrs, Institute for Creation Research, and psudeo-historian David Barton’s Wall Builders.

Libby Anne:

My parents were originally fairly ordinary evangelicals, but after they started homeschooling me (for practical, not religious, reasons) they came in contact with the literature of the Christian homeschool movement, made new friends, and attending Christian homeschool conventions. Little by little they adopted the essential beliefs of the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements. I sometimes think they didn’t even realize it was happening, it was all so gradual. Growing up, I remember recieving Michael Pearl’s No Greater Joy, Douglas Wilson’s Credenda/Agenda, Michael Farris’ Court Report, and Nancy Campbell’s Above Rubies. We also followed Vision Forum fairly closely.


Both my parents grew up in moderate Christian families. They first got involved with the P/QF teachings shortly after they married. Back in the 1980s my Mom found out about Mary Pride’s teachings (The Way Home) and both my mom and dad were quickly fascinated by her teachings and approaches to family structure. Among their favorite “leaders,” if you can call them that, are Mary Pride and the Pearls, and especially the Gothard teachings. My parents took several trips to meetings and seminars hosted by Gothard’s IBLP.


My parents consider themselves to be first-generation Christians. They were heavily influenced by Mary Pride during their engagement, and always planned to homeschool and have their children court, rather than date.  They were involved in both Vineyard and Sovereign Grace Ministries churches, and subscribed to WORLD Magazine and Above Rubies (and later I would be subscribed to The King’s Daughter Magazine). For school, we used Sonlight Curriculum, Rod & Staff, Beautiful Feet, Gileskirk, Apologia Science, and Alpha Omega LifePacs. We were involved in AWANA, “liturgical dance” troupes, and various sports.


I am not 100% sure. My Dad always leaned that way I think, but before I was around 8 years old or so, we went to church and the girls were allowed to wear pants if they wanted. When I was 5 my parents decided to homeschool me, and I think some of the homeschool curriculums available in 1990 may have influenced them as well. At around age 8 some things started to change, my dad told us that all the girls would have to dress modestly from now on, because it wouldn’t be fair for him to “spring that on us when we hit our teens” and we might as well get used to it now. When I was 10 we quit going to church and began “homechurching”.  I remember my dad subscribed to “Patriarch Magazine” and “Quit You Like Men” magazines. My mother started to get “Gentle Spirit” and eventually “Above Rubies.” I remember books like “Into the Garden” and “Me? Obey? Him?” on our bookshelves, along with Reb Bradley’s child training tips, “Shepherding a child’s heart,” and eventually “To Train Up a Child.”


My parents were already slipping into PF/QF teachings by the time I was born. They both came from chaotic backgrounds and were looking for a way to ensure that their children would never experience the things they had to go through. My older sisters had to watch things go from normal to terrible, but I have no memories from before. My earliest memories involve skirts and braids and spanking spoons. We had every book and magazine ever published by Vision Forum, Michael Pearl, Debbi Pearl, David Wilkerson, Above Rubies, Answers in Genesis, The Harris’s, The Farris’s, and the Botkins. I’m sure there were more.


I was not born into fundamentalism. My mother was an ordinary evangelical and my extended family was made up of lapsed Catholics. We went to various non-denominational Bible churches as my mother searched for her spiritual home. I was enrolled in kindergarten but taken out after three months. I was a sensitive, gifted child and was absolutely terrified of school. It didn’t help that the local public school was a hotbed for bullies and my teacher was so hardened from the battle that she offered no sympathy or advice. I was frequently sent to the principal for antisocial behavior, where I would sit and quietly lick a lollipop while he asked me questions. At home, I began having night terrors and insomnia, and physically fought my mother when she brought me to school. She decided that I just wasn’t ready and began to investigate homeschooling as a way to postpone my entry to school for about a year.

We happily floated along in the homeschool bubble for about a year, and my mother discovered that her own childhood dream of being a teacher could be satisfied by teaching me. She decided to keep me out for a few more years, always determined to send me back for high school. Then the world came crashing down.

When I was 7, my mother had a miscarriage. She had been trying for a second baby for as long as I’d been weaned, and this one was a son. She fell deep into mourning and leaned on one of her homeschool friends for support. That friend was a fundamentalist.

We were rapidly sucked down the rabbit hole of Christian patriarchy and quiverfull as my mother began attending a church that followed the charismatic fundamentalist preacher William Branham. Branham is a virtual unknown now, but was one of several healing ministries in the mid-20th century who attracted millions (50,000 at a time) to enormous tent meetings. He preached extreme patriarchy, arguing that the world would end because women voted in the wrong president and that a woman who works is a disgrace to her family. He also preached the end of days, divine healing and a mystical union of the believer with Christ. Although he was deeply plugged in to postwar evangelical culture, influencing men like Billy Graham, he was ultimately abandoned by the evangelical community when he began preaching things they deemed heretical, such as the return of the spirit of Elijah and John the Baptist in the form of a modern Prophet – guess who? Evangelicals no longer speak his name, and most now have no idea who he was. But his ideas diffused throughout Christian culture (the idea, for example, that women will bring down the apocalypse by voting for the antichrist or that a shepherd breaks a lamb’s legs to keep it from wandering astray). People who follow him explicitly have over 1100 of his sermons recorded and transcribed and read them frequently. They call themselves believers in the “Message of the Hour,” or “in the Message” for short.

My church subscribed to the usual evangelical-fundamentalist literature: Above Rubies, Beautiful Girlhood, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Mary Pride, Michael and Debi Pearl, Creationist magazines and Apologia textbooks. We were not involved with Bill Gothard, but we would have fit in perfectly at one of his seminars.


At the first homeschool convention my parents attended, they heard one of the “big names” in the movement speak and were dazzled. They actively pursued more of the same kind, and Doug Philips, Jonathan Lindvall, Bill Gothard, and Michael Pearl all soon became household words in our family. There were several other less well-known teachers in the same general stream that we followed as well. We subscribed to the magazines/newsletters, bought the books and tapes, went to the seminars, etc. Our home was literally littered with patriarchal propaganda.

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Raised Quiverfull Introduction — Introductory Questions Summary

What Courtship Was for Me
A Letter from Jesus and Living in Fear
#makehomeschoolsafe and Michigan's HB 4498
When Marriage Looks Like the Only Escape
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.

  • Scotlyn

    Thank you all for sharing. I’m wondering if this is a generational thing. My parents were what is being called here “ordinary evangelical” missionaries. I do not recall them expressing much concern, through my childhood/teen years in the 60′s and 70′s, about creationism/evolution, patriarchy, public education, contraception, etc. In the 80′s, while I began to leave my faith, one of my sisters began homeschooling her children and, together with her husband ” going down the rabbithole” described here – same literature, same patriarchal ideas. She has five children, I have two.

    Some of the concern about creationism and a certain amount of Christian persecution complex has crept into my father’s beliefs in recent years, but both my parents still believe in female agency, and do not subscribe to the idea that women should “submit”. (My mother would never do this anyway! and none of us four girls were brought up to belittle ourselves in any way whatsoever – for which I am immensely thankful!)

    I see my grown nephews, homeschooled by the above sister, and just this week graduated from a Christian college largely populated by a homeschooled student body, undergoing another generational theological transformation yet again. They appear to be very taken up with a healing-focussed, experiential mode of faith, one that insists that in Christ’s followers there is no sin – all that is done once and for all on the Cross! In their constant railing against the staleness of old-time “religion” and its obsession with ongoing repentance and sin, I can’t detect much concern or passion in them for patriarchal roles, although I haven’t discussed this with them in any depth. I’m can’t yet see where this trend that they are involved with is going next, or what it’s political ramifications might be…

    *As the wife of a RL shepherd, I just want to put on record here and now that I have never, ever heard of any shepherd breaking a lamb’s legs to stop it straying. It would not only be cruel and heartless, which does not come easily to a livestock farmer intimately involved with his flock on a day to day basis. It would also be counterproductive. A broken-legged lamb that could not follow and stick with its mother would soon be a dead lamb, although granted, its “straying days” would effectively be over.*

    • shadowspring

      The claim is that the shepherd carries the lamb around his shoulders until it’s leg is healed, thus causing said lamb to grow dependent upon the shepherd. I think of Stephen King’s “Misery” every time I hear this claim.

      Another thought about the cruel shepherd claim: sheep lamb all in the same season, so I assume there are lots of little lambs in the flock at the same time. What is two, three or more lambs go wandering that spring? Will the shepherd break the legs of all of them, and go around with a half dozen lambs around his neck?

      The idea is ludicrous, but I for one appreciate a RL shepherd pointing out that its patently false. Thanks!

  • shadowspring

    I have so much to say in response that I think I will type up my own blog post.

    I certainly see how many otherwise well-intentioned home school parents got sucked down the rabbit hole, as one of you put it. Home school support groups were sold as places parents could swap educational resources and our children could find playmates that were also home during the day. There are still *some* home school support groups that operate that way, though of necessity that would mean they are not primarily religious groups.

    As with most things in life, a little history is in order. Many women (not all, and maybe not even a majority, but many) actually do enjoy the traditional role of home maker, stay at home mom, whatever you want to call it. Heading into the 80s, even wanting that was openly derided by feminist op-ed writers and professors. I remember reading in an op-ed that SAHMs were “glorified prostitutes”. I remember a female co-workers of my husband’s responding with venomous barbs, “Oh that’s right, you don’t do anything” in response to learning I stayed home with my small children. It put women who DID (for whatever reason) want to stay home with their young children in a defensive posture, being on the receiving end of all that shame and devaluing of their job.

    So in some respects, it was the general atmosphere of the times that actually strengthened the evangelical-fundamentalist appeal. Here was ONE segment of society that honored and valued women for wanting to really enjoy their children and devote their time to making home a magical place (at least that was my motivation). Love, learning and liberty, the name of my blog, pretty much sum up what I intended for my home and home school. Home schooling as a free-range education, really appealed to me. Christianity, as I understood it, was saying that children and mothering both had great value, so those of us drawn to the idea of full-time SAHM were making a valid choice for our lives.

    I am happy to see that feminism has broadened since then, and that third wave feminists accept all endeavors a woman might choose to engage in as valid. It’s better for all of us, men-women-children, when people are encouraged to follow their own hearts and find acceptance for who they are. I know for some women that desire for acceptance (even honor) is what drove them to choose the QF lifestyle, so they could be forever at home with small children, forever honored by the religious dogma. In other words, they made a career out of being pregnant and raising small children, because that was being promoted as the most noble career ever!

    I will never regret my home schooling years, only the religious posturing that kept us from dealing with the problems in our lives. Every family will have problems, because every person is human, and families are made up of those human persons. I do wish Americans had a more Eastern acceptance of the stages of life. In my reading up on yoga lately, I came across this idea that people have stages in life. Childhood, preparing for your life’s work, householder (working/raising children), and then when children are grown, devoting yourself to work for good in society in some capacity.

    As it was in the 80s, religion snagged the huge majority of women who wanted to be SAHMs, as it was the only segment of society valuing that choice. It was a perfect storm.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      “As it was in the 80s, religion snagged the huge majority of women who wanted to be SAHMs, as it was the only segment of society valuing that choice. It was a perfect storm.”

      This is fascinating. I was born in the 80s, so I don’t have the adult experience with the decade that you have, but I could see how that could happen.

      “In other words, they made a career out of being pregnant and raising small children, because that was being promoted as the most noble career ever!”

      This is so true! When I realized that if I only had two kids, and both in my early twenties, they’d be grown and gone by the time I am in my early forties, I was shocked. For my mother, who continued having babies into her forties, she will have children at home until she’s in her early sixties. It really really is making a career out of pregnancy and child rearing. Oh, and when she stopped having babies she had to figure out how to adjust. No more diapers? No more potty training? No more teaching children how to read? She’d been doing those things for more than two decades straight!

      • shadowspring

        I t really sucked at the time. I wanted to self-identify as a feminist, but I wasn’t considered a feminist by the feminist movement. I even tried to join something called iFeminists but was turned down, because it was suspicious that I thought porn hurt woman and described myself as pro-life. (Side note: though my thoughts on abortion haven’t changed, I now call myself pro-choice. ) At the same time, I was being increasingly marginalized by the fundagelical community for my feminist ways.

        You are the first feminist to ever welcome me, Libby. :)

        So thanks, Libby for welcoming me as a feminist. I am training for my next career now, as this is my last semester as a home school mom, and am preparing to enter the 40 hour work week again. Wish me luck!

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne


    • http://puddinsilovemylife.blogspot.com/ Tonya Richard

      This was me! I wanted a fairly large family, and I wanted to be able to stay home with my children. I didn’t really want to home school, but felt it was my only option since we couldn’t afford to send all of our children to private school and public school was of the devil *eyeroll* Now, I am an atheist. I do have 8 children, but I did use birth control to space the last 3 and my husband is now going to get a vasectomy because I have all of the children I want. It really helped that all of my closest friends were more mainstream fundamental Christians. They kept me from going too far down the rabbit hole. I also have a laid back husband who never really subscribed to all of that patriarchal bullshit anyway. I did the things I did because I wanted to.

      I am finding it kind of awkward now, because even though I am a forward thinking liberal, I do not want to go out into the world and work. I enjoy being at home. The thought of an outside career depresses me. It always did. I think that is why I found the quiverfull movement so enticing. It made me feel like the life I wanted was worthwhile and important. I grew up in the eighties and had my first child in 1992, so this was a time when women were almost expected to have a career. I enjoy all of those quiverfull activities like sewing, knitting, and gardening. Now that I actually have all but 1 of my children in school, I plan on opening a small business sewing children’s clothing from my home. Not because it is the only thing I am allowed to do, but because it is what I truly enjoy doing. I think the feminist movement has done a much better job of advocating for all women in the last several years, whether they want to stay home or go out and have a career. Unfortunately, twenty years ago this wasn’t the case, and it gave the quiverfull movement a grip on more naturally traditional women like me.

  • Steve

    Seems like the destructive influence of the homeschooling movement is a common theme. Not the act of homeschooling in of itself, but the literature and ideology spread by the controlling organizations

    • Mattie Chatham

      Honestly, I think that the problem wasn’t homeschooling, but the ideologies that drove the curricula and lifestyle choices (isolation, controlled social interaction, etc.). Homeschooling can be done well, apart from the other elements.

  • http://incongruouscircumspection.blogspot.com Incongruous Circumspection

    Keep in mind I was never homeschooled at all. All of this patriarchy/quiverfull baloney sausage still applied to my life though. We hung out with only homeschoolers and, later, when I married my smokin’ hot bride, and had children, we initially homeschooled them until leaving the whole shebang altogether.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I think there is an argument to be made that a certain segment of the homeschool movement spreads these ideologies and serves as their hotbed. That doesn’t mean all homeschoolers hold these ideologies (they don’t) or that non-homeschoolers can’t adopt some or all of them (they can).

      • http://incongruouscircumspection.blogspot.com Incongruous Circumspection

        Agreed. I work with a guy who homeschools his adopted son. The way they do things, I seriously approve.

    • http://ginambakkun.blogspot.com Gina

      Yep. In the church I grew up in all the children went to public or private school, and a lot of mothers work part or full-time, but the ideas about women’s subjugation to men and the blind obedience of children were still prevalent.

  • Scotlyn

    Shadowspring – lambing is a full-on time for any shepherd. I always refer to it as Himself’s Maternity Ward in Session. Basically lambs don’t stray, they stay as close to their mothers as they are physically able to. Ewes sometimes stray – sheep, like all mammals vary in their maternal skills as in all other traits. They occasionally get distracted and move out of sight while baby is asleep, resulting in much distressed calling later on. The shepherd’s dread, though, is an orphan lamb. Carrying it around his neck or not – but probably not – it definitely becomes his to bottlefeed far too often!

    More to the point, I think your SAHM yearnings finding their only home in pf/qf culture is really interesting, and deserves a lot of attention. I don’t doubt that you encountered feminist criticism of a SAHM lifestyle along the road.

    However, I would place your experience in a bigger context, as I think one of patriarchy’s most effective tools is to pit women’s individual choices against one another as a way of undermining any actual power of choice for all women.

    I think many individual feminists have fallen prey to this imposed sense of competitiveness, and also many feminists still insecure about their own emerging choices might have felt the need to reject options that felt personally regressive.

    Unfortunately you experienced this as rejection by a non-existent monolith known as “feminism”.

    I do have memories of feminist discussions around issues of childminding and houswork in the 70′s and 80′s, and that there was a lot of analysis around the fact that it was their unpaid character that lead to those who performed them being insufficiently valued.

    As a lifelong feminist, let me also say “welcome, Shadowspring,” for what it’s worth. And let’s look to our bonobo cousins for some lessons on female solidarity.

  • http://christiancompletely.blogspot.com/ Skarlet

    “How did your parents first come under the influence of Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull teachings? What leaders did they follow and what publications did they receive?”

    My parents were both christians before they got married, but after five years of attending a church which taught that they should not have any children at all, so that they could better witness to the lost (based on their interpretation of verses like “he who has a wife should be as though he has none..), my parents reacted against that teaching and felt that children are a gift from God. From that point on, they did not ever use birth control.

    Because of a dislike for the California public school system (which ranks very low, academically), my parents started looking for homeschool alternatives when my older brother was 5-years-old. My mother had previously been to the Bill Gothard semester, a decade previously, and so they looked into IBLP and embraced that for a curriculum.

    So, IBLP was the main influence, along with various books that they recommended, about rock music, submission, the prayer of Jabez, and so on. Also, my mother had connections with other homeschoolers, like Wanda Sanseri (not a fundamentalist) who homeschooled her three sons and wrote books with curriculum on teaching kids to read and write and spell.