A post in the Raised Quiverfull series.
Part 1: Introductory Questions
1. Please introduce yourself before we get started. Are you married or unmarried? Are you in school, holding down a job, or staying home? Do you have children? What religious beliefs or lack thereof do you ascribe to today? Provide whatever additional information you like.
On May, 1, 2012, I turn 32 years old. I have more gray hairs than there are polar bears in either arctic zone and I am following in the tradition of my dad and both my grandfathers in keeping every hair all the way to the grave. None of them went, or are going, bald. Although I wouldn’t mind the Friar Tuck look.
I am married to the most awesome woman I know, this side of the sun. If there happens to be a better one, I’ll never know or care. I am fully devoted to her and proudly codependent. She is everything to me. Then my six children. From oldest to youngest, they are, Renaya (10), Laura (8), Frederic (7), Felicity (4), Jack (3), and Analisse (2). If I do go bald, it will be entirely due to them. They have already contributed to my gray hair.
When Kristine and I were married, we were ultra-conservative Christians, she less than I, but I would not allow any discussion on potential compromise. Since then, we have liberalized our views and recently, have become full-blown non-believers. Personally, I have no religious beliefs and have completely rejected the god of the Bible. I consider myself an agnostic because I cannot empirically determine that there is nothing supernatural and yet, in practice, I am very much an atheist.
I love the Minnesota Twins, writing, and anything to do with Kristine.
2. 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.
3. In what ways was your family a “typical” Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull family? In what ways was it “atypical”?
We were “typical” insomuch as we attended a conservative church, made decisions only from the Bible, appeared completely normal on the outside, and claimed that our lives would be lived out as was set forth in all patriarchal/Quiverfull beliefs. We believed doctors were beyond evil and everything could be cured with a clove of garlic or drinking apple cider vinegar.
Our lives were “atypical” insomuch as we lived with our single mother, Mama. We had no father figure. Sure, we saw him on the weekends every so often but we were brainwashed by my mother to think that he was as evil as the second cousin of Lucifer himself. We also did not homeschool. According to my mother, the only “blessed by God” homeschool program was Billy Boy G’s ATI. ATI refused to allow us to homeschool because my dad would not sign on the dotted line. Thus, from start to finish, we attended public school.
Part 1: Living the Life
1. What sort of a church did your family go to while you were growing up? Were the other families who attended the church also involved in the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull movement?
Before my parents divorced in 1987, we attended an American Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. It was quite a liberal church. They had a female pastor and preached about cultural issues with little Scripture, along with the typical Lutheran liturgical traditions. A highlight of my life there was drinking Kool-Aid in Sunday school and their annual sauerkraut dinners with peppered rutabagas.
After the divorce, Mama was convinced that Billy Boy G wanted her to stay at her “husband’s” church and we remained members until my father remarried. Once he remarried, Mama felt that Billy Boy G wanted her to attend a church blessed by him and we became uber-followers of Normandale Baptist in Bloomington, Minnesota, USA.
Everyone at this church thought the same way. They all homeschooled and had large families. A few had radical beliefs but they were easily sidelined or railroaded out of the fellowship. The church built its life around the Basic and Advanced seminars of IBLP and the annual pilgrimage to Knoxville, Tennessee, USA, for the ATI homeschool conference. Everything at this church revolved around the belief that divorce was evil, a scarlet letter on your spiritual chest. I carried this belief baggage around for many years.
2. In many ways, every Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull couple has a different dynamic. What sort of a dynamic did your parents have? Was one more sold on the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology than the other? Or, if you grew up in a broken family, how did this affect your experience?
When Mama discovered patriarchy, my parents were already divorced. My dad had attended an IBLP Basic seminar as a young college student. He brought the materials home to his dad who promptly threw it away and told him it was rubbish.
My grandfather was a wise man.
Then, when Mama swallowed the philosophy whole, sharp bones and all, my father did everything he could to keep us out of it. He succeeded in not allowing us to homeschool, which I am very grateful for. But my mother had a weird sort of twisted belief that she was the patriarch and became our supreme authority. Everything in our lives, from going potty to whom we would marry, had to go through her. It didn’t help that she was also very abusive.
3. How often did you, your siblings, and your parents read the Bible? Were you guided by your parents or pastors in how to interpret the Bible, especially certain passages, or were you generally free to form your own ideas about what the Bible said?
Suffice it to say that I have read through the whole Bible about forty times. We were required to read it daily after school. During the summer months, while on summer vacation, we had to read it every morning before breakfast. Our interpretation of it came directly from Billy Boy G’s reading of the text. I got to the point where I could not understand what the King James meant and referenced the red books of IBLP for all my answers. Of course, my pastor would help with the ultra-conservative interpretations as well.
4. What role did race play in the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull community in which you grew up? Were there any black or hispanic families? Were they treated differently?
In the church I grew up in, there was never a non-white member – ever. The church was not overtly racist, though they had issues with illegal immigration, but the services were very boring and would not have fit into a culture different from a bunch of white dudes and one off key old lady singing How Great Thou Art from a hymnal, accompanied by a piano, then sitting through a two hour sermon that sounded the same every Sunday. But I attended a public grade school and high school where it was proudly noted that we had over 57 different nationalities represented. My best friends throughout my school years were all African America, Asian, and American Indian.
Part 3: A Gendered Childhood
1. How many siblings did you grow up with? Did responsibilities in your family differ by gender, with the girls having certain chores and the boys having others? Explain.
My Mama was a very unique woman. I’ll explain in a bit. But first, I was the dead middle child of seven siblings. The oldest was a girl, then twin boys, then me, then two more girls, and finally, the baby of the family, a boy. If you’re familiar with any movies or television shows, you might see that it is regularly portrayed that siblings hate each other. Especially boys hating on girls and the other way around. Due to the abuse we encountered throughout our childhood from Mama, we were much different than those portrayals. We banded together and all held a sort of kinship and “I got your back” attitude.
As for chores and responsibilities, they did not differ by gender. Not in the least. My mother was a veritable slave driver – on me. It was my job to wash all the dishes, scrub all the floors, pick all the dandelions in the yard, vacuum, you name it, I did it. Many mornings, I wasn’t even allowed to wear clothes while doing the dishes at 6AM. The other siblings had other chores and responsibilities partitioned between them but none as much as me.
The only gender differences that we had was in the way we dressed. Boys could dress any old way except we couldn’t wear t-shirts and shorts in public and also had to wear a shirt while swimming. The girls, on the other hand, had to wear dresses and skirts, which were always out of style and threadbare. Needless to say, they led a miserable life, being picked on endlessly all the way through their school years.
2. If you were an older daughter, do you feel that you were expected to play “mother” for your younger siblings? Explain.
I wasn’t the older daughter but I can explain about my eldest sister.
She was not expected to play the mother and not even expected to be responsible if anything happened to any of her younger siblings. Every one of us had the responsibility to be obedient and worshipful of Mama at every minute of every day. My sister did take on the responsibility of being the seeing-eye dog for Mama for all of our indiscretions. This pissed me off to no end and caused a humongous rift between my sister and I. She apologized for it a few years back but the apology was entirely unnecessary. I would have done the same thing in her position.
One thing she did do, as well, was to mother us in the area of the Bible. I was always complaining about religious crap and spewing common sense out of my mouth (as well as swear words) and she would march me to the Bible and read me whole books in a rage. She was one of the reasons that I knew my Bible so well and the fact that I picked up a heavy dose of skepticism.
3. In what ways were boys and girls in your family expected to dress or act differently from each other? Were there certain things it was appropriate for girls to do but not boys, and vice versa?
Not really. If we were boys, we were not supposed to have anything to do with girls. If we were girls, we had nothing to do with boys. That was pretty much it. Of course, as I alluded to before, the girls’ wardrobe was much stricter than the boys and in the later years, the boys were able to wear t-shirts and shorts in public whereas the girls never switched from skirts, coo-lats, and dresses. We also all played the same sports. There were really no restrictions there.
When it came to modesty in the home, we were all required to walk around naked – a lot. We became very used to seeing one another with no clothes on. According to my mother, even though Bill Gothard told us in his Basic Seminar that we were never supposed to see one another naked, as a family, she maintained that we were supposed to exhibit self-control and not look at everyone. Everything I learned about puberty, breastfeeding, the aging body, hair in certain places, and everything to do with the human body, I learned from my lack of self-control.
4. In what ways were boys and girls in your family raised differently vocationally (i.e., the boys pushed toward careers and the girls pushed toward homemaking)? How did this play out as you came of age (apprenticeship, college, staying home, etc.)?
The girls were not allowed to go to college. Not until they escaped from the prison anyway. Also, for years, Mama hated the idea of college due to Bill Gothard’s ignorance, and forbade any of the boys to plan their secondary education. But, as we pushed and prodded, her position softened and we were able to go.
The path for the girls, from what I remember was only understood and never spoken about. They were in a prison with walls made of “biblical” rules, watching their brothers dance on the key that would free them.
Part 4: Homeschooling
1. Why and when did your parents originally decide to homeschool? Did their reasons for homeschooling change over time?
My family knew nothing about homeschooling until we met the esteemed, Bill Gothard. Then, when Mama fell in love with every word that dripped off his tongue, she viewed his homeschooling program as the only program worth belonging to. Little did I know this would be a huge blessing in my life. I considered it a curse at the time, as you will soon see.
In 1992, Bill Gothard required the board of the Advanced Training Institute to approve families that desired to enter into his homeschooling program. This made sense because, according to his program’s strict standards, their could be no bad apples. Thus, my family received scrutiny from the board due to our horrible evil condition of being seven children with a single mother. Gasp! We were eternally marred by divorce. The board required a bunch of signatures to vouch for us as being good people and worth their time. Then, they required us to get our father’s approval. My dad would have nothing of it. He knew how abusive and horrid Mama was to us and didn’t want her to have complete control of our lives 24/7. The board rejected our application.I wept. I was twelve.
My mother never attempted again and, instead, wore the badge of a martyr for the cause – whatever cause that was. From that day forward, all the Mama approved “testimonies” we had to recite in front of church people made some mention of how our father stopped us from homeschooling.
2. Briefly describe your experience being homeschooled, including the amount of interaction you had with other homeschoolers or non-homeschoolers (socialization) and what sorts of textbooks or homeschool program your family used (academics).
Not being homeschooled, I have no experience with it at all. But, we churched exclusively with homeschoolers. We never had friends outside of this church and, if we did, were banned from them immediately. Homeschooling was God’s plan for everyone and public school was the evil spawn of Satan’s semi-eternal plan. We socialized with only these homeschoolers and, even though we went to government schools for our whole schooling career, we told everyone we were missionaries there and they believed the lie.
3. What do you see as the pros and cons of having been homeschooled? Do you feel that your homeschool experience prepared you well socially? Academically?
Homeschooling is right for some people and very wrong for others. Many people see homeschooling as the opportunity for indoctrination of their children. Others see it as the only path to educating their child, with the child having failed all other alternatives. I like the latter reason for opting for homeschooling. But, the fact is, most people that homeschool do it for strictly religious reasons.
My wife, Kristine sat on a homeschool board for a few years and witnessed the split of the homeschool group in that region of the country. What was the split over? Academics? Nope. Whether or not it was the right thing to require a statement of faith for a family to join the group. The “yea’s” won the day and the detractors had to leave. The detractors were a much smaller group and yet, when anything was to be done academically with tutors or extra classes taught by experts, it was this group that organized it. The “statement of faith” group was simply satisfied to have a sermon with a gym day.
That explains my view of academics in some homeschooling to a ‘t’. On a side note, my wife has gone back to school and has seen that her parents were miserable teachers. Miserable. Her writing competency was at the 6th grade level, as was her math.
4. Do you perceive of your academic or social abilities differently today than you did when you were being homeschooled?
I had the best of both worlds. I went to public school and had many friends who were home teached. I can relate to both. Had I been homeschooled, I would have thought that everyone who thought differently than me was to be ostracized.
5. Do you plan to homeschool/are you homeschooling your children? Why or why not? If you do plan to homeschool, in what ways will you/do you do it differently from your parents?
We tried for two years and were miserable failures. Not only did we discover we had no life outside of child rearing and schooling and feeding and changing diapers and blah blah blah, but we discovered that you cannot fit a child into a cookie cutter teaching style. My wife had a very distinct teaching style and it worked admirably on our first daughter and yet failed completely on the next two. We put them in public school and they flourished – all of them. And they have friends now. Friends with different perspectives. And they are living and breathing and…they haven’t sacrificed a baby to the devil yet.
That was a bit of tongue and cheek and yet, not so much. We have been warned that our children will be ruined. At least now, I can blame it on the teachers and wash my hands of all responsibility.
Part 5: Purity
1. What were you taught about physical purity, emotional purity, and courtship and dating? How was sex education handled?
Sex was bad. Sure, it was supposed to be beautiful and all AFTER MARRIAGE, but it was bad until then. You couldn’t talk about it, think about it, read about it, look at pictures about it – or so Mama tried to tell us. I got all my sexual education from my public schooling, even though Mama made us sit out of sex education. I knew so much about it that I wanted it. I wanted it bad. For years, I would get on my knees and pray to God that he wouldn’t send Jesus back until I was married and had sex for the first time. I would cringe with Jack Van Impe would tell of the immediate proximity of the coming of Christ. I would hope beyond hope that earthquakes would lessen, hurricanes would disappear, and that the temple mount permit for rebuilding would be denied for another twenty years.
I was taught that even thinking of a woman, fully clothed, was evil. And then, in my home, we were required to walk around naked. As I mentioned before, I knew all about the maturation of the female body, in the academic sense, from witnessing my siblings of the female persuasion. My mother, in some sick way, envisioned this reality as a lesson in self control. All it did was make me more curious. And yet impure thoughts were evil.
Bill Gothard taught us that dating was wrong. So, I purposed that the first person I dated, I would marry. I stayed true to my word and have been married to her for almost eleven years. That was the best thing that came out of this skewed ideology.
2. Did you participate in a parent-guided courtship? If so, what was your experience? If not, why not?
Heck no! I had escaped my mother’s imprisonment by the time I met Kristine, my wife. Her parents were so happy that their daughter had found such a godly young man who wanted lots of babies and would guide her spiritually. I put an end to all that by having sex with her before we were married. We were pregnant at our wedding. I carried that guilt around with me for almost a decade.
3. How do you feel about purity and courtship teachings today? Have you rejected some parts of it and kept other parts of it? How do you plan to handle these issues with your own children?
I will and am teaching my children about safety, STD’s and unwanted pregnancies. Also, by just being me, they get to see everything they would never want in a partner. I want them to experiment and learn how to love another person. I want them to try things academically, emotionally, and physically. I want them to experience the whole spectrum of emotions. I want them to know that they are not required to marry the first person they think might be marrying material. I want them to know that they are not ever required to get married. I want them to be who they are. But, most importantly, I want them to be safe.
4. Do you feel that the purity and courtship teachings you were raised with still have lasting impact on your life today? If so, how?
Yes. It caused us to have six children and made my wife scared of sex. While I love my six children, a smaller family would have been a better choice for both of us. I, for one, am not cut out for so many children. Every day is a constant battle of sanity. And yet, as I said before, I really do love my children. On the other hand, never does a day go by that I am not embittered by the teachings of sex in mainstream Christianity and even in much of our culture today. A woman is expected to shy away from it and a man is expected to be a rabid dog to get “it”. There is no room for compromising the status quo. Because of this, our first six years were hell in the bedroom. Even now, there are some lingering effects and yet, when a couple works together, completely and wildly in love with each other, even the chains of artificial bandage can be broken. And we will be victors. I guarantee it.
Part 6: Questioning
1. How were you first exposed to “mainstream” American culture? What were your first impressions?
I was public schooled all my life and so lived in this “mainstream” culture first hand. I say “lived in” because it was beaten into us that my siblings and I were sojourners in a foreign country. Martyrs for the cause of patriarchal Christianity. The only reason we had to be in this culture was because our evil father had forced it upon us.
But I wanted it. I wanted a girlfriend. I wanted to make love to someone I cared about. I wanted to play sports. I wanted to go to parties and be accepted by others. I wanted to be a good student and yet have a little fun sometime. I didn’t want to be seen with my Mama. I hated her with a passion and was embarrassed by her presence everywhere I went. I wanted to eat lunch in the cafeteria with everyone else. I wanted to watch movies so I would know what other were talking about. I wanted to not go to the Meet You at the Pole meetings. I didn’t want to go to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, and other nights. Sunday morning would have been fine with me. I wanted to swear. I wanted to go to a prestigious university and make oodles of money. I didn’t want to drink. I didn’t want to smoke. Drugs never interested me and, to this day, I have never even touched them. I hated pornography because it bored me to death. I loved erotic stories online and yet felt guilty after reading them.
Really, I just wanted to be normal, even if it really was a unique kind of normal.
2. What first made you question the beliefs you were raised with? Was this initial questioning a frightening or liberating experience?
I can’t put a finger on one experience that made me question my beliefs. When I mention my beliefs, I must say that I have rejected everything from quiverful and fundamentalist Christianity, all the way to a belief in god. I reject it all now. But, with no further ado, I will construct a list of a few happenings that caused me to reject everything.
1. My abuse.
Why would a good and loving god actually allow a person to be abused and then let a complete ass of a person live a perfect life? It didn’t make sense. I know all the religious arguments for this but they don’t hold up to simple logic. God doesn’t need to flog his children to get them to be better children. Since he could make Jesus perfect, he could have done the same with everyone. Instead, he decided, according to the Bible, to make some stupid video game with lame, unwavering rules that made no sense, that even HE – the all powerful god of the universe – couldn’t get around. God’s own rules were more powerful than God himself.
2. My son almost died from Pertussis.
When Kristine and I were married, we still believed in all of the quiverfull ideals. This included the refusal to vaccinate your children. The old lady guru at the church said it was bad so you simply accepted this as fact. One of the reasons people don’t get vaccinated is because they claim that these diseases have already been eradicated and the vaccinations are therefore redundant. Or, the fact that all other people were vaccinated so the disease would not reach out and touch you.
Great argument – except that it was patently false and was even exacerbated by the fact that the hundreds of close-knit homeschoolers we associated with on a daily basis had ALSO rejected vaccinations. So, when an epidemic of Pertussis hit the group, three young babies hit Children’s Hospital for weeks. Ours was one of them. Jack is his name. He actually stopped breathing three times and had to be revived. So much for perfection in all ideals, right? We had been taught that everything we believed was correct and irrefutable. Then I got to watch my son cough for 100 days and give up the ghost three times. Talk about questioning the status quo.
It wasn’t six months from that event that I was pretty much an atheist.
3. Kristine, my wife, had a terrible homeschooling experience.
4. Nobody could answer this question: “If God wished that nobody would perish in hell, then why did he create hell?”
I got many answers around some weird philosophy that God didn’t create hell but he really did but didn’t truly, so he never did and thus he is still god and cannot be evil or create evil. After all, it made no sense. For a time, I hung on the really cool idea that god was a paradox and could be good and evil at the same time. But, this was only cool if you were on an acid trip and I never cared to do drugs, so rejected that idea.
5. Bart Ehrman.
6. I asked my brother about the Amazonian who had no chance to hear about Jesus Christ and he matter of factly said, “Dude’s goin’ to hell.”
I didn’t buy it.
7. Harold Camping. L. Ron Hubbard. Joseph Smith. Westboro Baptist. P.Z. Myers. Libby Anne. Anne and Scottie Moser. My wife. Tim Henderson of Elkton First Baptist Church Fame. Don Venoit. Michael and Debbie Pearl. Ezzos. ex-ATIers. Mama.
This list is comprised of those that helped me out of my rigid beliefs in a negative way and others in a positive way. You get to decide which is which.
3. What did you struggle with most when you were in the midst of questioning and/or leaving Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology? What was the hardest part?
Hell. I struggled with that for all of five minutes. Then, it didn’t matter anymore. There was no proof of anything. So, if a god required me to believe in what was not firmly believable, I couldn’t be required to get it right. The other thing I struggled with was my guilt for having sex before marriage. Sure, it was with my future wife, but that mattered not to those who ran me out of my “ministry” and smeared my name.
4. Among those you grew up around who were also raised with Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology, what proportion has remained in the movement and what proportion has left?
The majority have left the movement and still cling to the religion. I relate more to my new friends.
Part 7: Relating to Family
1. How did your parents and siblings respond to you questioning/rejecting their beliefs? How did those you grew up with respond?
When I met, Kristine, the woman I have been married to for almost 11 years, I had already left my singly mother who very sincerely and deeply followed Bill Gothard. Regardless of her lifestyle. I still felt that I needed to be completely open with her about everything in my life. Knowing she would be hateful toward Kristine, I told her anyway – and she was hateful.
Kristine did not fit into her worldview. My mother was supposed to be the one that made the final decision in who I was to marry. I completely edged her out of the process and she was pissed. I was happy and, to this day, believe with my whole heart, that I made the right decision. I love my wife. My mother knew nothing about her nor cared to find out. She just had a bunch of formulas in a big red book that didn’t add up to the nuances of life. Control was slipping from her fingers.
Many of my childhood friends have left the movement and still cling to the religion – which I don’t hold against them at all. Bill Gothard, to them, is a swear word and they wield it well. On the other hand, my siblings continue in many of the patriachal/quiverfull beliefs, which means a houseful of little kids for Christmas.
2. What is your relationship with your parents and siblings like today? What is your relationship with those you grew up with who remained in the movement like?
I have completely closed the door on all communication with my mother. No calls, no emails, no letters, no visits, nothing. The mind games she played became too much for my children and, most of all, my wife, that we mutually decided to close the door on that area of our life.
My siblings and I were very close growing up. We still are in many respects but maintain respectful boundaries around our plethora of differing beliefs.
Old friends that are still in the movement have rejected me completely, loved me unconditionally, or accepted me cordially. It runs the full spectrum of humanity.
3. For those who are no longer Christian, are you “out” to your parents or siblings? If so, how did you do it and how did they respond?
I am out to everyone and their grandma. Most of them roll their eyes. Others have followed in my footsteps. Some mock me behind the scenes. Some even confront me with an audience. Regardless, I still love them all.
4. Have any of your siblings (or perhaps even parents) left Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy ideology? How do you approach the relationships with siblings who have not?
I would say half of my siblings have left and the other half still hang on to a little bit of the ideology or envelope themselves in it. All I can do is communicate factual and logical information to them. Recently, my brother left a Gothard law college because of facts I led him to and others have begun to vaccinate their children.
Joe blogs at Incongruous Circumspection.