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.
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.
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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