Cross posted from Love, Joy, Feminism.
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 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.
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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