Question 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.
My year at a local community college at age 22 was my first opportunity to interact with non-Christians and non-homeschoolers. I spent most of that year trying to manage my social anxiety and proving my academic abilities to myself, so I wasn’t really changed by the experience. I was surprised, however, that the teachers and students didn’t seem to be actively trying to destroy my faith.
The following year, I got my first real job, working in retail. During the hours of downtime at work, I couldn’t keep to myself like I did at school. In interacting with my coworkers, I was pleasantly surprised by the kindness that people showed to me despite my awkwardness. It probably helped that I kept quiet most of the time around them because I couldn’t keep up with the pace of conversation, which was full of cultural references and assumptions that I didn’t understand.
When I was high school aged, I had to go into a public school to take a test. It was a big high school, and it was during the school day. I was scared to death. Everyone around me looked so worldy, so strange, so different. I felt so out of place and just wanted to disappear.
My full immersion in “mainstream” American culture began when I arrived at college. For a while, I was pretty horrified, both by the language I heard used and the open way people talked about sex. It was quite the culture shock!
I got the full blast of American culture when I left my family. I never had much to do with it. It was very much like living in a parallel universe. I was shocked and embarrassed when I first tried to fit in. It was so different, so many things I didn’t understand. I think I acted like some kind of native from a lonely island to the world around me. I didn’t even know how to order and pay at a restaurant.
I was sort of always aware of mainstream culture—we had “worldly” cousins, I was friends with the neighborhood kids, etc. My childhood friends were mostly kids with more “normal” families, and I remember being introduced to the Dixie Chicks and NSYNC and Britney Spears all in one year (I think I was 9), when my friend’s mom got MTV. I was also introduced to the word “shit,” the concept of an affair, and the idea of a “bitch” around that time, from the same family.
I remember being judgmental (but secretly amused) at the music, and was horrified to watch my friend’s parents’ marriage fall apart. (She said her mom wasn’t having sex with her boyfriend—he was just sleeping over. I told her that was impossible.) I was appalled at their use of crude language and tried to talk my friend out of saying “shit” all the time.
Another impression that comes to mind: when I turned 6, my parents had just gotten our first TV, and my grandma bought me a copy of The Little Mermaid for my birthday. I only saw it a couple times before it was removed from the house–she was rebellious and had a bad attitude toward her dad. I still walked around the house wearing a blanket around my hips and my mom’s bra over my t-shirts for a year or so, pretending to be Ariel. But I had to be a respectful to my dad, because Ariel was a bad girl. Mom said so.
After marriage I listened to regular and Christian radio which I had not been allowed to do before. I watched movies and TV that had not been allowed before. I went to some seminary classes with my spouse, and learned about church history and theology which was more broad than the Mennonite curriculum we had used. I felt like I did not know as much as I thought I had, and also frustrated that so many people did not know God the way I did.
I think the first time I really experienced any culture shock was when I started taking Mixed Martial Arts classes. As I have mentioned on my blog, my parents stepped way outside their comfort zone and let me participate in MMA when I was 15, on the condition that I never trained with or near boys. 3 nights I week, I would go and spend 2 to 3 hours training with a group of about 25 men and 2 or 3 women. It was a huge shock for me. At first I was terrified, but the more I got to know everyone, the more I realized that “wordly people” were good and happy too. I developed a much more relaxed, confident, and expressive side of myself during those years in Martial Arts.
I was always envious of mainstream American culture. Although I was taught to despise “worldly” people, and did absorb some disdain for sports and shopping culture, I mostly just wanted to be normal. I secretly liked the Backstreet Boys when I heard it at my cousins’ house. I really wanted to cut my hair and wear jeans. I was not a girly girl and would have been much more comfortable in pants. My church was always so focused on the apocalypse that I loved the comfort of being with ordinary people who weren’t worried about demons, being in the Rapture, or the end of days.
Question 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.
I began to realize that issues of right and wrong were not so simple when I was talking with a sweet classmate who mentioned that she was living with her boyfriend. My first instinct was to lovingly warn her about the dangers of cohabitation. Then I suddenly realized that I couldn’t think of anything wrong with cohabitation except, “God says premarital sex is wrong.” And wait, why exactly was premarital sex wrong? All the problems were just “maybes”. So I kept quiet and became a slightly less judgmental person that day.
Another breakthrough came at work, through a shocking discovery about my favorite manager. While off-duty, he called the on-duty manager for some reason, and when she hung up, she remarked, “Why did he call me from a gay bar? He’s so funny!” I was extremely confused, and wondered aloud, “Hmm, yeah. That’s weird. Why would he be at a gay bar?” She stared at me in shock, and said, “Um…because he’s gay. Didn’t you know that?” It was a momentous occasion for me, realizing that I had met my first gay person and that *gasp* he was a really great person. For a while afterwards, I was extremely conflicted about whether I should lovingly talk to him about changing his lifestyle, or whether I should just invite him to church and let the sermon challenge him. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had no idea what was inherently wrong about gay sex or gay love. It started to seem like a very arbitrary rule. Later, I realized something even more shocking. My gay boss, when he hired me, knew that I had been homeschooled and that I was very conservative. He probably knew that I had anti-gay opinions, yet he hired me anyway! It seemed to me that he was a kinder person than most of the Christians I knew. I found this thought very uncomfortable for a long time.
Weirdly, the first thing was realizing that the science is actually behind evolution, not young earth creationism. I had been taught creationism as a core doctrine, perhaps the foundational doctrine, and realizing that what I’d been taught about it was a completely lie was earth shattering. That started the rest of the questions, questions that continued one after another for years without stopping. Initially, this was very frightening. Realizing that everything you were taught, everything you believed in, might be wrong is scary. But once I got started it became liberating. Questioning all of my assumptions and having the freedom and ability to form my own beliefs was, in the end, exhilarating.
I didn’t really question any of my parent’s beliefs until I was an adult (over 18). Of course I had “teen phases” too where I secretly thought that one or the other thing my parents did or believed wasn’t right with the bible, but I wasn’t really questioning.
It really started when I was supposed to marry the man my Dad picked for me, a nice young man whom, despite the fact that I liked him, didn’t want to marry. You see, love isn’t a necessity for a courting couple. Not even for an engaged couple. It’s all about doing the right thing, the godly thing, the smart thing, not what emotionally feels right. Seeing that my emotions and my agreement in this was so completely ignored made me incredibly angry and desperate. I didn’t want my Dad to stay the authority in my life, but that would’ve been the case if I married whom he told me to marry. I mean, he would always be there in some way or the other, simply by picking a man who thought just like him. I always believed that once you get married, there’s be a sort of change in your life and I didn’t see that happening. I didn’t want to marry yet another minion.
I struggled with this conviction for a very, very long time and it frightened me so much that I went along with everything my Dad told me to do. It wasn’t until the point of no return that I tried to find a way out of it. At some point I knew that leaving my family was always the only option but I needed the pressure of seeing my life disappear into everything I never wanted it to be to actually take this step. In retrospective I feel sorry for a lot of people involved in that situation. I lied to people for a very long time to please my Dad, hurt feelings and disappointed people who weren’t really at fault for the entire situation. But it was the only way. All in all, this process took me about 2 years – from the first questioning to actually leaving the QF circles.
Two things, mainly, started me off on questioning my parents’ values and ideologies. The first was the abusive church we were part of for nearly 10 years. Once I left for college, I began realizing that not only did I not fit in at that church, but that I didn’t want to try. I began putting the puzzle pieces together on some of the cognitive dissonance I had experienced there, and then began the process of sorting out what I actually believed. This led to the gradual unravelling of my firmly-held beliefs in courtship and also bolstered my confidence in my choice to go to college and pursue education and a career, rather than being a stay-at-home-daughter, waiting for prince charming to notice me.
The second thing, which really pushed me beyond timid questioning and into freedom, was my experience with my husband and the things we learned together as we dated and worked things through with my dad. For the first time, I felt like I was loved unconditionally and didn’t have to be afraid of not meeting expectations. And that feeling radically liberated me to see things as they were and begin to open up to a more healthy understanding of life and grace and people.
After I was married I was still very much in the Quiverfull patriarchy mindset. I got “Above Rubies” magazine and participated in the online forum, I got “No Greater Joy” magazine as well. One of the big instances that made me start to question was when (a year and a half after I was married) my younger adult sister ran away from home like I had always wanted too. I went to pick her up against my parent’s wishes, which was pretty much the first time I had done anything to disobey them. This made me start to question if everything I had been taught was really the correct understanding of things.
The Above Rubies forum turned out to be quite triggering, I participated for 2 years, early on as a full supporter/encourager of the Quiverfull mindset and punitive punishment methods and homeschooling and courtship. But as time went on, I would find myself more and more agitated by the entries from women participating there and began arguing for more balance and moderation in the doctrines of submission and discipline methods. Eventually I was getting stressed out by the forum almost every day, so I left it.
An interest in the Catholic Church played a part in my movement out of fundamentalism as well. The idea of having an actual authority in the families life other than the father as the head of the house was appealing to me. I also liked the idea of having set doctrines that were the same for everyone, instead of the head of the house being free to interpret and enforce the bible anyway he saw fit.
Over a year after the initial interest in the Catholic Church and leaving the Above Rubies forum, my spouse came out to me as Transgendered and that kept me asking question about faith and the assumptions I had grown up with. Most of this process was very frightening and exhausting, I fought it pretty hard because I really wanted to believe that everything I believed was true, it felt like my life had been a waste if it was not true. But in the last year my feelings have been more of relief and peace.
I always acted like I didn’t really believe what my parents said. When I met my husband I told him that they were a “little extreme.” But deep down, I always assumed that one day I would settle down and do exactly what they had done, because I still believed it was the only right way. I planned to have 10 kids (at least) and homeschool them, and spank them, and never let them date. About a month after our wedding, my husband and I moved back to the hyper-conservative Christian college where we had met. He was going to school full time, and I was working 2 jobs at over 70 hours a week. Living near people who used to be my friends, and watching everyone move on in their education except me was devastating for me. I started working nights so that my husband could take the car to school during the day. The stress was incredible. My dormant eating disorder flared up, and I lost about 30 pounds in a matter of months. It was during this time that I started having nightmares again. Nightmares about God, about devils, and about long-repressed memories. I remembered all the things I had tried to forget, and I suddenly started questioning why God, who claimed to care about me, had never made an appearance in my life other than to judge me or shame me. It was during all of that tumult that I started questioning everything. My upbringing, my plans, and even my belief in God.
I had always questioned the submission of women implicitly, but staved that off by telling myself “that’s just the way it is.” I was awash in fundamentalism at home, however. My mom listened to recorded sermons every day, and I overheard them. Just the sound of the pastor’s voice would strike fear and submission into my heart. Getting to college and living outside my parents’ house where I didn’t have to listen if I didn’t want to enabled me to finally have enough breathing room to think for myself about what I believed. I had never realized that I didn’t have that space before. It was liberating.
As I wrote earlier, the debilitating stress and confusion I experienced during my “ideal” courtship is what first began to make me questioning and a bit cynical. It wasn’t long afterward, a few months into my marriage, when one of my friends who had left the movement began facebooking about Quivering Daughters, the book and blog by Hillary McFarland. Curious, I began to read.
I still remember so clearly the first time I visited her website. I recognized myself and my experience in nearly every article and blog post I read. However, it literally made me feel sick to read at first. I didn’t want to think that my parents had been emotionally abusive, or that I was as psychologically and spiritually wounded as I sometimes felt myself to be. However, Hillary’s fearless, but always gentle and gracious, words shed a light that was ultimately healing, even though it hurt at first. Because it shook me up so much, I had to pull away and take breaks from her website, sometimes for several weeks at a time. But I kept coming back, and I went on to read other blogs and websites in a similar vein– Commandments of Men, No Longer Quivering, Overcoming Botkin Syndrome, Under Much Grace, Permission to Live, and of course Love, Joy, Feminism. Reading these things helped me to heal and detox, by making me feel less alone and learning to recontextualize and redefine my experiences in a way that felt more congruous with my own emotional truth.
Question 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.
I was shielded from a lot of troubles because I was away at college for much of my transformation, and because my family left the movement at about the same time that I started college. However, it was still hurtful to know that people wrote off my transformation as “liberal college brainwashing.”
Internally, that hardest thing was when I started to question whether the Bible really was the inerrant word of God. It really was the lens through which I saw the world, and all my beliefs were connected to it. I felt that if I questioned any part of it, then the whole structure of my worldview would come crashing down. I finally realized that if the Bible was really perfect and meant to hold such a place of authority in my life, it should be able to hold up under questioning without being threatened. So I allowed myself to acknowledge and process my concerns and doubts. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, the Bible came up short. It has taken me some time to learn how to think and function spiritually without overly depending on it.
The hardest part was realizing that questioning my parents’ beliefs meant potentially losing my entire family. Somehow I didn’t realize this at first. I naively thought that I could disagree with my parents and form my own beliefs without repercussions. But when I watched how they responded to my very first questioning, I realized that this was not the case. I realized that questioning their beliefs meant being willing to lose everything. Choosing between my family and my freedom was horrible. No one should have to make that choice. And leaving everything I had ever known for a world that was foreign and new was also scary. It meant everything – everything – would change.
Well, I struggled most with the fact that I wasn’t accepted as a full human being. Kids weren’t either, and I hated that too. The fact that it seemed as if only an adult man could be a full human being, with all rights in the world, that I didn’t understand. Always thought God was very unfair and mean to put me into a position of submission without any fault of my own. I remember many nights of asking God what in the world I did wrong that he made me be a woman.
And the hardest part of it was disappointing and leaving all these people who loved me, and needed me, behind. Just the mere fact of considering leaving just to get my way pained me more than I can explain. I felt like those women I was supposed to hate, the ones who sacrifice family and their loved ones on the altar of being “free”. I despised myself for a long time simply because I craved just that.
When I was questioning and shifting away from CP/QF, the hardest part was the effect it had on my relationship with my parents. I love them dearly and enjoy their friendship, and as most firstborns do, I strongly crave their approval and affirmation. As my new ideas and “controversial” lifestyle choices began to rub them the wrong way, they would confront me, concerned about my spiritual state. I’d defend my choices reasonably, and my dad would often end up taking my choices as a personal rejection of him (as his beliefs are intrinsically tied in with his identity). Our relationship became seriously strained over these issues, and I began to dread visits home, as he’d often take that opportunity to grill me about why I was thinking and saying (and especially blogging) critical things about their parenting choices and Christian Patriarchy as a whole.
Around that same time, my sister was “coming out” and processing these things too, but because she was my younger sister, there was often an assumption that I was influencing her actions and thoughts. Nothing could be farther from the truth—she started this process very independently from me, and while we sometimes compared our observations and conclusions, she was really seriously working out her issues with CP/QF on her own.
Once my parents realized that I was more critical of the trends and the system of beliefs than I was of them personally, they relaxed a bit. It took about a full year for our relationship to go from anger and resentment all around to civility, and later kindness and friendship. That process was almost more emotionally grueling than sorting through the damage done by CP/QF itself.
I think the absolute hardest was trying to find my value apart from being a baby producer. I had only ever seen my worth in my fertility, so contemplating that I was capable of valuable thought or activity other than having children for God’s kingdom was the hardest to move past.
I think the hardest part of walking away was all the fear. I was afraid that if I didn’t follow “the rules” I would ruin my marriage. I would destroy my future children’s lives. I would displease God. I would alienate my parents. It was scary. Especially when I started to walk away from God altogether. The fear of hell is a powerful motivator.
The hardest part of leaving was the fear of divine retribution. I was taught that anyone who “blasphemed the Holy Spirit” (by rejecting the Truth) was damned in this world and the next. My church told stories of kids walking away and ending up alcoholic, riddled with STDs and dying young. I was convinced that if I said anything bad about my church I would physically die.
The hardest part was feeling like I was a disloyal, terrible, rebellious, self-centered, and ungrateful daughter for criticizing my parents or acknowledging, even to myself, that they had hurt me. I still struggle with this sense of misplaced, extreme loyalty. It helps a little to remind myself that there should be nothing dishonoring about facing truth. It’s also been hard not to feel that focusing on my own growth and recovery is wasting time that could better be spent serving others or doing something productive. But I know if I don’t do this work, I’ll never become the person I could be.
Question 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.
I am not really in contact with any of the parents of the movement; however, of the teens, I don’t know of anyone who remained in the movement in adulthood. Today, they cover a wide range of beliefs from conservative Christian through liberal atheist. But a common theme among all of them is that they believe they were damaged by the CP/Q culture and teachings at Reb Bradley’s church Hope Chapel.
It’s hard to say because I was one of the oldest in my community, and also because I’ve lost touch with a lot of those I grew up with since leaving and starting my own life elsewhere. Honestly, not many left. Most of the girls I grew up closest to are still living with their parents, even as they are now in their early- to mid-twenties. Some went to college, but then moved back home. Only one is married. Thinking about it, while there is some variation in current belief I honestly can’t find a single girl from my circle of close friends growing up who has actually straight out rejected Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology.
I know of some young people who have left, but it’s a rather small percentage. I don’t have any contacts with those people anymore so I’m not up to date on how many more have left since I left. Most are just too afraid to sacrifice their families. I think they hide the fact that they think differently and hope to God they’ll find a spouse who thinks the same way, so they can hide it together. It’s all about keeping up that image.
The proportion of my peers from CP/QF (and SGM) leaving the movement grows every few months or so. Honestly, it’s almost too early to really say how many will leave and how many will stay—my peer group is either still in college or just finishing up and only a few have gotten married and settled down. I expect as more go through adult life transitions, more will realize that strict complementarianism doesn’t work well in marriage, that courtship can still leave them brokenhearted, and that they need to make adult decisions independently from their parents. Right now, about half of my peers have either accepted that SGM isn’t the “only good church” out there, and have moved beyond the idealism of courtship. Others are still in SGM or similar churches, and don’t realize that the Church is much bigger than their limited experience, and that there are happy, healthy families whose guiding principles defy all their current assumptions.
Many of the family friends are still heavily involved. So far all of my adult siblings have questioned a lot and are on their own journeys out of the mindset. I did not have that many personal friends, but the few I did have are still in the mindset.
Most have stayed. Almost all of them actually. Except my sisters and I. My parents have also stepped away from most of their previous ideology, but not my friends. I have even seen my friend and cousin walk straight into the ideology right before my eyes. She has given up all her dreams to be with a boy who controls her and her relationships in the name of God.
I am the only one of my circle of friends who left.
Sometimes defining the “ins and outs” of things can be a bit tricky, since a lot of this is about a mindset more than one particular defining characteristic. But. . . I would say about 75% have stayed Christian, although many have taken their faith in different directions than their parents outlined, about 50% still plan to homeschool their children, and only a very small percentage still speak of Phillips, Gothard, and their ilk with anything other than amusement, irritation, or disdain. I doubt that adulation for these speakers is going to continue into the second generation, although some of the trends they started may or may not be perpetuated. A lot of us still don’t know for sure where we’re going in many areas. At least, this is my perception.