Please be sure to click the above links to see an introduction to and explanation of this project, which involves a panel of nine young adults who were raised in Quiverfull families and have since questioned and left that ideology answering questions about their experiences.
Question 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 [Bill Gothard] 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.
It’s hard to identify a pattern except that we changed churches a lot. During my childhood, we attended various Baptist churches. In my early teens when my dad wasn’t attending church, we formed a home church with several CP/Q families that we knew from the homeschooling community. For some reason that fell apart, but at that point my dad was ready to attend church again. We attended two more Baptist churches before we all ended up at Reb Bradley’s church, Hope Chapel. We attended Hope Chapel with many other homeschooling CP/Q families from my mid-teens through early twenties.
I actually grew up in an evangelical megachurch. While it was a generally conservative atmosphere – both doctrinally and politically – almost no one there was part of the Christian Patriarchy or Quiverfull movements. However, because the church was so large, it was possible for us to only socialize with the most like-minded families. Furthermore, we never attended youth group activities (too worldly). There were other churches in our area that were made up primarily or entirely of Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull families, but my parents felt those were too legalistic.
Since my Dad didn’t find a denomination that suited him, we switched churches a lot. He thought he had some sort of say in the church community, which caused us to be cast out rather quickly. In some churches, they didn’t want us because we were too legalistic, others we left because they didn’t represent what my Dad believed in. I can’t tell you just how many churches we tried out, but it was certainly more than 10 communities we were involved in over 20 years. Some churches we stayed in for months, others we visited once or twice and didn’t like the people, or the pastor, or something else. But it was mostly Baptist communities, and they were also the ones we stayed at for the longest time. We met a whole lot of like-minded families, some we stayed in contact with, many others changed their ways and didn’t agree with what we believed in (any more). My Dad thought those families had a bad influence on us, so we cut the contacts.
My family attended a number of different churches over the years. We started out in Calvary Chapel, participated in two different Vineyard churches, joined a run-of-the-mill evangelical non-denominational church, and then we moved from CA to VA to be part of a Sovereign Grace Ministries church (then PDI). We attended there for some 10 years, and that was the only church we went to where we weren’t the only large family or the only homeschoolers. At that church, most of the families had 6-8 kids and homeschooled. I left this church when I moved out and went away to college. My family left about three years later, when some abuses of authority by the leadership were exposed.
When I was young, we attended several churches. Usually small, preferably led by an older pastor, and sometimes leaning pentacostal. The women were usually dressed modestly, no loud music. After age 10 we moved again and got more conservative. After that we tried out a couple of churches but nothing was ever approved by my dad, eventually we stopped looking. When I was 18 we started to consistently attend a very conservative church full of very large patriarchal homeschooling families.
When we finally DID go to church the summer before I turned 13, it was a tiny family church with one service, no worship band, and no daycare. Families of 8, 9, and 10 kids were the norm. Families would take up an entire row of chairs by themselves, and we never made it through a service without at least 6 babies crying loudly. Our pastors preached CP/QF doctrine from the pulpit and by example. Many people in our church had followed the leading of God and gone back to having children even thought they were nearing their 40’s and already had 4 or 5 older children. Our church stressed the importance of reading scripture in the home, and encouraged fathers to be “spiritual leaders.” They also had a highly structured and supervised “youth group” that my dad never allowed us to attend.
My church [Branham’s The Message of the Hour] practiced the patriarchy it preached. Most families were also quiverfull, although their children tended to number in the high single digits. In addition to the patriarchy, submission, courtship and purity culture, we lived by extremely strict dress codes. Skirts had to cover the knees while sitting and be loose enough to reveal nothing. Pants were forbidden in every context. Shirts had to be loose, long and absolutely not sleeveless. Hair could not be cut, even trimmed. All makeup was forbidden. Piercings were forbidden. Painting nails and wearing jewelry were treated with suspicion.
We only had Sunday services for most of my tenure there, because we were poor and rented a YMCA building. Special meetings like communion, footwashing, fellowship and prayer meetings were held occasionally in people’s homes.
My parents did a lot of church hopping and shopping before becoming involved with the housechurch movement when I was in my teens. The man who led the housechurch my parents got involved in was one of the more well-known apologists for housechurching in our area. Himself by no means a CP/QF advocate, he tended to attract a mixed crowd and the meetings were usually interesting, to say the least. We were part of that group for many years, until it broke apart and a few of the CP/QF families that were involved, my family included, started a housechurch of their own. After that break, things became much more homogonized and in some ways stifling, because literally everyone in our group was reinforcing the CP/QF paradigm, either by explicitly promoting it or simply by being the people they had become.
Question 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.
In the interests of presenting a united front, my parents never discussed their marriage or decisions with us. However, from my observations, I believe that my mom really wanted to have the ideal CP family, including more children. She tried to play that submissive wife role as much as she could and hoped that my dad would become a more consistent and willing leader. However, it seems like her submission was more like a way of manipulating him into becoming the leader she wanted. In a way, they seemed to have a reverse power struggle dynamic as she pushed a lot of responsibility onto him that he didn’t want.
My experience was influenced by the fact that my father was generally a fairly quiet and reserved man while my mom was a very strong woman. So while they worked to fit themselves into the patriarchal ideals and truly believed in them, my mom was never simply a pushover or doormat, and could be quite adept at negotiating within the system. Of course, this also meant that their relationship could at times be stormy – after all, they both were trying to fit themselves into molds they weren’t necessarily perfectly suited for. Weirdly, my mom always seemed to take the lead on Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideals, with my father adopting them slightly later. But even with all that, my father was definitely the head of the family and he had the final call in decision making.
My parents turned to the QF theologies before I was born even, so I can’t really tell you. It’s just what I think, but I think my Mother was much stricter at first. I also think she kind of pushed my Dad into those very fundamentalist ideas. I mean, he wanted to be the provider, but not at all cost. My Mom kind of forced him into dominating her. That changed when I was young, my Mom seemed to realize what kind of monster she made of my Dad. But at that point, he had been completely consumed by the theologies and was obsessed with being a leader himself.
My parents consider themselves to be first-generations Christians. My dad’s parents were divorced, my mom’s dad was an alcoholic. Dad “got saved” in his senior year of high school, mom “got saved” her sophomore year of college. They joined a young church full of young marrieds with similar stories, and were introduced to Mary Pride, homeschooling, and the concept of courtship.
My parents have always been very united in their vision for what our family was to be like. They never questioned homeschooling or having more kids–in their minds it was a spiritual calling for them and for us as a family. It was an identity, and it was something to be proud of.
Eventually, their unity on this (and other things) got somewhat fragmented as my dad had to take a second job and grew more burdened with family stress and his own issues. Mom dealt with repeated postpartum depression and felt increasingly isolated socially as she kept having babies while most of her friends stopped. She reacted to the increased stress by being more emotional, and my dad reacted to the stress by withdrawing. My dad grew more ingrained with the programmatic elements of CP/QF teachings, and my mom started to question things a little and ask about putting some of us in private school. She’s never been too serious about that, though, and they instead focused their energies as a couple on church issues, and getting out of an abusive church situation. Leaving [that church] has since cleared up a lot of tensions and long-lasting issues between my parents and within the family as a whole.
In my memory, my dad was always very sure of “God’s will” and was serious about teaching it to each of us children. When I was elementary school aged, my parents fought some, I know that they had some disagreements about child-rearing and gender roles. When I was middle school aged and up through my teens, my mother began reading books on submission and taking it very seriously. After that I do not really remember my parents ever disagreeing. Sometimes my mom would say things about how before she knew her role as a woman their marriage had been very troubled and now it was better. When things were difficult, she would say something about how she could not change Dad, only God could do that, and he would if we were faithful. She always backed up whatever Dad was teaching or commanding.
My mom was the one who got our family into PF/QF stuff in the beginning, but my dad did not need too much convincing to jump on the bandwagon. He is a very authoritarian person and the teachings my mom showed him fell right into place with his personality. I know they used to fight a lot when I was very young, but mostly I just remember how much my dad loved my mom. He always doted on her and hugged and kissed her all the time. Whenever she was tired or sick or even just crabby, he would blame us for her feelings. “Your mother is tired! Why are you so lazy that you never help her around the house!” Or, “what did you do to upset your mother?” He would get so angry and mean with us when we failed to keep mom happy and healthy.
My parents’ dynamic was one of antagonist and martyr. My mother submitted to my father and he took full advantage. My church taught that wives of abusers could win them to Christ by refusing to fight back. Divorce was also considered invalid, because it could not dissolve an oath made before God. There was no way out.
My parents came from backgrounds where “traditional” marriages were the norm, so a dynamic like that emphasized in CP was present to some degree as their default. However, CP/QF had the unfortunate effect of enabling them to exalt their particular marital dynamic into a universally valid bit of religious dogma that they hoped to see replicated in the lives of all their descendants. I think my mom was less enamored with the teachers and trends of CP/QF than my dad was, but she didn’t have a doubt that her role as defined within the system was laid out by God himself. I assume that what she did was read the specifics of her cultural background and marital dynamic into the (highly controversial) biblical texts on marriage and perceived that this all lined up with the teachings of CP, and that is what made her feel okay with my father leading our family ever deeper into the subculture. I seriously doubt it would have appealed to her much otherwise had she been left to herself. As for my father, I think he was impressed by the speaking skills and apparent knowledge of Scripture displayed by some of the movement’s prominent teachers, and that he was rendered vulnerable to their ideas by his uncertainty about how else to raise his growing family in a Christian way.
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Read everything written by Libby Anne!
Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce