Question 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.
My last few years at home were truly terrible for everyone. In my late teens and early 20s, I was chaffing more and more under my parents’ church-sanctioned authoritarian approach to parenting. They were getting more and more desperate to retain control, while I was rapidly becoming less able to fake love and respect. At one point, I was grounded indefinitely (it ended up being over 2 months) until I could achieve the correct facial expression and tone in talking to my dad. In all this, the crazy thing was that I honestly never purposefully disobeyed my parents, but I was still classified as rebellious.
The constant conflict at home contributed to our deep depression; my mom and I internalized our depression into mysterious illnesses while my dad channelled his into open hatred of us. When we were at the end of our rope, each of us asked our pastor Reb Bradley for advice. The advice we got was damaging and worthless. According to Reb, my mom and I needed to be more submissive, and my dad needed to not resist his leadership role in the family. That was it; God didn’t allow any other options for us.
It didn’t take much longer for my parents to become disillusioned with the movement; against Reb’s advice, they began to get professional counseling that completely changed our family dynamic. It was a welcome relief for my siblings and me. At that same time, I finally left for college and had a lot more privacy and space to discover my own opinions. Those changes helped us to begin to slowly heal the damage to our family relationships.
My parents responded by buckling down, and by doing anything possible to get me back into the fold. They got new literature from Vision Forum, lectured, cried, and eventually yelled. They were sure I knew that what they said was correct but was just rejecting it so that I could do whatever I wanted without having to obey the earthly authority God had set over me – i.e. my dad. My siblings, it’s hard to say. I tried my very best to leave them completely out of it. I really didn’t want to involve them in what was fast becoming a power game. As for those I grew up with, I knew how they would respond because I knew how I would have responded, so I didn’t even try with them. The only one I talked about any of this with told me that God had commanded that I was to obey my father, whether I understood his commands and agreed with him or not. When I left home for good, I really pretty much cut off contact with the friends I had grown up with. I think I just didn’t feel I had the emotional energy to deal with them and what they would say.
I didn’t have any direct contact with friends of the family during the times of leaving, but I know some felt and expressed that I did the right thing. I know some people approached my family and told them not to be so hard on me and that I might be doing just what God wants me to do, but of course they got nowhere with this.
My mother was disappointed. I don’t know if that was because I rejected her beliefs, or because she knew I was going to leave and she wouldn’t see me anymore, wouldn’t be involved in my life any more. She cried a lot and begged me to apologize to my Dad. She couldn’t understand what I wanted at that point.
My Dad was extremely angry. He said a lot of very hurtful things about me and also about my mother, who obviously didn’t raise me well. He gave me two options: Apologize and return to complete submission, or leave and never come back, never be a part of the family any more. As I told him I’d rather leave than return to a world where my opinion was worth less than a piece of cake, he stopped talking to me all together and commanded my mother to make sure I’d get out of the house by the end of the week. We rarely talk until today, but I do talk to my mother.
My siblings didn’t say much. It wasn’t so much about beliefs there. They asked things like why I didn’t love Jesus any more, but mostly they thought I didn’t love them anymore, and that’s why I’m leaving.
My siblings are pretty accepting of my changes, and are (mostly) all progressing along behind me with questions and new ideas. The internal dynamics within my family have changed a great deal in the last three years, and things are steadily getting healthier. My parents, despite their initial anger and disappointment, are gradually re-evaluating their beliefs and trying more deliberately to love their children unconditionally.
My friends from childhood have either not realized that I’ve changed, lost touch with me since college, or have changed enough themselves that we now have a lot in common once again. There have been a few who have rejected me outright, but those have either been friends who assumed I was still super conservative and legalistic, or those who won’t accept grey areas and nuances in faith.
My parents have been resigned in many ways, their beliefs have changed some over time and they regret some of the things they believed and taught, feeling that they were damaging. They are still very Christian though, and I think it hurts them that I am not. My Mom tells me that if I knew God the way she does than I would not feel the way I do. My adult siblings all have questions of their own, so we have varying degrees of camaraderie. My younger siblings and I do not talk about faith, so I am not aware of their knowledge or perspective. Many of the acquaintances I knew while still in the movement have expressed anger, sadness and feelings of betrayal over my doubts and questions.
I was very private about the changes I was experiencing. I didn’t really discuss it with anyone except my older sister, who was on a similar journey at the same time. My parents frequently questioned me on when I was going to get pregnant and let my husband start working. I just deflected all the questions. My parents were progressively getting more and more “normal” throughout this time as well, so I was able to keep most of the focus on them. My parents don’t really know anything about my personal beliefs at all. My husband’s parents on the other hand ended up hearing that I was questioning my faith, and I have had nothing but harassment from them ever since.
My dad thought I was on his side. He thought I was going to be all about money and sex. He was wrong. My mom thought I was going through a phase, then got angry and called me a bitter, hateful person, and eventually came to accept me. She bought me a pair of jeans last year!
I have gone on several rants to my parents about the silliness and reactionary nature of the “biblical womanhood” movement and ideal. I have informed them that I regret not having gone to college, and that I intend to do things differently with my daughter. They are also aware that I have rejected QF categorically, that I visit churches outside of their comfort zone and that I have a much broader conception of God and of Christianity than I believe they entertain. Things went down better than could have been expected. There was certainly some disappointment and miffed feelings, and we had several long, somewhat strained conversations on these topics, but things haven’t been too bad. I still have good relationships with them all. I think in a way my parents feel like, “Oh well, at least she still loves Jesus and we got her safely married off to a decent guy.” It grieves me that many other daughters of patriarchy have had a rougher road to travel in this regard. Sometimes I feel a little guilty that it’s been relatively easy for me.
Question 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.
Things are the best they’ve ever been between me and my dad and my siblings. We enjoy spending time together and can talk about our opinions and experiences without offending each other. However, there is some tension in my relationship with my mom, who is the only fundamentalist left in our family. On several occasions, she has let me know that she believes me to be a selfish and bitter person who doesn’t have a relationship with God; as a result, it’s hard for me to have a relationship with her because she doesn’t like who I am.
My parents and I have reached a sort of equilibrium. There are certain things we just don’t talk about. I do have relationships with my siblings who still live at home (those under eighteen), but again, there are certain things that I just leave unsaid, especially since they’re still children and under my parents’ authority. Sometimes when I visit home I see some of the people I grew up with, but again, we simply ignore certain subjects. It’s always slightly tense, like there’s an elephant in the room.
But I didn’t reach this equilibrium with my parents until after I married. When I married, even without their permission or blessing and against their wishes, I moved in their conception from being a rebellious daughter who wouldn’t obey her authority, her father, to being a wife under the authority of her husband. This weirdly allowed things to calm down a bit.
Oh, and my relationships with my adult siblings are actually fairly good. Some of them have experienced struggles similar to mine, and even those who haven’t generally respect my right to live my own life. And my relationships with a few of them have actually grown and blossomed through the whole process of sorting things out.
I don’t have contact with anybody in the movement outside my family. Contact with my family is very rare and not initiated by them.
My siblings and I are much closer as a result of this process. We are finally getting along with each other in ways we never could when duty and performance defined our family dynamics. It’s really great to have this season of change and exploration together.
My CP/QF friends either don’t know that I’ve changed (I’m living in a different state now, and I was the only one of our group to go out of state for college) and think that I’m living the happy newlywed CP life, or keep me at a distance, asking me questions about my beliefs or opinions if they are curious about anything.
I am very close with several of my adult siblings. For younger siblings I feel like more of an Aunt figure that they see occasionally. I know that my parents love me and wish I still believed, but our relationship is somewhat strained. I think perhaps my Dad has a hard time relating to someone he is not allowed to lead? And my Mom is unhappy that I do not run my choices by them to get their perspective before I make decisions. I talk with my Mom periodically and try to relate as much as we can, but it hard to confide in her or have a very close relationship.
As I said before, I don’t really talk to my parents at all. They never call me and they never visit. I don’t really go out of my way to call them either though. I feel safer having them at a distance. I don’t feel threatened or questioned or judged, so long as I keep them at arm’s length. I miss my little brothers and sisters very much, even though I see them at least once a month. As for people still in the movement, I generally don’t see them anymore. Sometimes I get angry facebook comments from them, but that’s about it. My best friend of many years actually told me she no longer wanted me in her life because my beliefs had changed so much from hers.
Leaving meant cutting off contact with all friends from my church. I’m now back in touch with a few of them, but our relationships are a little awkward.
I talk to my mom a few times a week, and I’d describe our relationship as positive and friendly, if still somewhat enmeshed in the sense that we tend to feel responsible for each other emotionally. She has seemed much less fazed by my defection from CP/QF than my father, which strengthens my suspicion that “their” beliefs have been largely his, with her playing along to be supportive and keep the peace. I see my siblings every week or two. We aren’t as close as we used to be, but there is little tension. With my dad, things have been a bit more distant and strained at times. I feel he is disappointed that he wasn’t able to hand on his “vision” to me more fully, and that I never did become that Proverbs 31 woman of his dreams. On the other hand, he still cares about me and wants to be on good terms. I’ve had some indications already that with time he is letting go of his disappointments and accepting things as they are. I hope this trend will continue and that he will have great relationships with his grandchildren.
Question 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.
I still consider myself a Christian, although I’m so liberal in my opinions that many Christians would not want to share the label with me.
I’m not longer Christian, but I’m not out to my family, whether parents or siblings. Except for one sibling, that is. Coming out was really hard because I didn’t know how my sibling would respond. When I told my sibling I didn’t believe in God, my sibling asked what I DID believe in. On impulse, I told my sibling that I believe in love. My sibling responded by saying “then I guess we believe in the same thing.” And this sibling has never given me a hard time about it, which has been awesome.
I do not know what I am at the moment, and I do not discuss beliefs about faith with my parents.
I’m still a Christian, but I was the first of my family to move beyond the abusive church we were part of, and after I went Anglican, the rest of my family followed about two years later.
Yes, I have been open about my journey out of Christianity. I mostly hinted at it for over a year, and then said right out that I wasn’t sure I believed there was a God anymore. My family took it pretty calmly, although in recent months they found my blog and haven’t been that happy about it.
Although I would not call myself a Christian at this point, I have not discussed it in any capacity with my parents. I’ve talked about it a few times with some of my older sisters, but I find that it is deeply personal to me, and very hard to talk about; even to my husband. This has been hard on both of us since he is still staunchly Christian.
I’m not really a Christian anymore, but I might as well be. I still believe in spirits, if not actually a monotheistic God. I consider my relationship with the divine one of friendship rather than subordination or worship. My spiritual life is much more about connecting with the earth and cultivating a spirit of kindness than any kind of dogma. “Coming out” to my family or friends about that would make no sense. Besides, I still believe most of what I did before about living: I find Jesus’ words inspirational even though I’m no longer fixated on his death.
Question 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.
None of my family members are still involved the movement, although my mom is the closest one. She is the only fundamentalist left in the family, but she generally avoids bringing up religion in person because hearing different opinions makes her very uncomfortable and sad. However, she still wants to have a spiritual influence on my life, so she often sprinkles her emails with unnecessary and vague references to Bible studies, trust, and prayer. I just ignore it.
Yes, several of my siblings have left Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology. They’re still Christian, but have rejected patriarchy and all that it entails. They’re awesome, and I truly feel I can let my hair down around them. As for my other siblings, the approach I take varies. With those who are adults, I try to maintain a sense of harmony, stating that I disagree with this or that but leaving it at that. That generally works, though it can sometimes be tense. With those who are still underage, though, I have to be more careful. They’re not MY children, and it’s not really my place to try to subvert my parents. Instead, I try to just be there in case they have questions or need my help in some way. They know my beliefs are different, they know my lifestyle is different, they know I’m available, and that’s enough.
None of my siblings left (that I know of). Since I don’t really have any contact with them, I don’t know what’s going on with my siblings and their beliefs.
I have one sister who is still strongly for courtship and emotional purity, etc. She’s still fairly young, so I expect that she’ll gradually relax her views over time, or if not, she’ll go that route and not really involve her other siblings in that process. I try to avoid pushing her buttons when we’re together, and try to remind her that she is beautiful and smart and can do whatever she wants to do with her life, and that her college options don’t need to be limited to just Bible schools.
With my very young siblings, none of this comes up or is an issue. I’m sure we’ll have conversations about these things years later, but not now.
All of my adult siblings have moved out of the Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy, and my parents have moved in that direction as well. I am not sure of my Dad’s positions, but I have seen my mom change some of her beliefs on submission and birth control, and get involved in a more mainstream evangelical church.
My parents have almost completely left the QF/PF mindset. My 10, 13, and 15 year old siblings are all attending public schools. My siblings all wear what they want, listen to what they want, date who they want, and have plans for college. My parents no longer spank my siblings either, which is a huge relief to me. They are still clinging to anti-feminist, anti-gay, anti-medicine, anti-birth control stuff they believed before. But as a whole, things are so different there that I find it hard to really grasp what has happened.