Question 3: How often did you, your siblings, and your parents read the Bible? Were you guided by your parents or pastors in how to interpret the Bible, especially certain passages, or were you generally free to form your own ideas about what the Bible said?
Suffice it to say that I have read through the whole Bible about forty times. We were required to read it daily after school. During the summer months, while on summer vacation, we had to read it every morning before breakfast. Our interpretation of it came directly from Billy Boy G’s [Bill Gothard] reading of the text. I got to the point where I could not understand what the King James meant and referenced the red books of IBLP for all my answers. Of course, my pastor would help with the ultra-conservative interpretations as well.
We kids had to read the Bible by ourselves daily as part of our homeschooling curriculum. It counted as our Bible class for school. Ironically, despite our extremely conservative lifestyle, my dad never discussed religion with us. My mom rarely did, and when she did, it was a very simplistic Sunday school-type conversation. However, the many Christian books in our house, plus the sermons at church, provided guidance to us in our understanding of the Bible. I also learned a lot by listening in to my mom’s conversations with other homeschooling moms.
We all read the Bible daily. It was sort of a requirement. Mom and dad read the Bible early in the morning, and we children were expected to do the same – if we hadn’t read the Bible and spent time in prayer, we were sent away from the breakfast table until we had. And, mom always read the Bible aloud to all of us after breakfast. I don’t really remember dad reading the Bible aloud to us, but I think that’s just because mom was the primary homeschool parent and was home with us all day. Mom would discuss the Bible passages with us and help guide our understandings, but I think we simply automatically viewed the Bible through the lens we were given by them every day, and that we heard in the sermons at church, and in Bible club. It wasn’t so much about being forced to see the Bible one way as about coming at it with a perspective already formed and views already set.
My mother got up early in the morning to do 10 or 20 minutes of reading by herself. My Dad took a few minutes a day for private study as well. Us kids, we were encouraged to take off a few minutes each day for private prayer time. Reading, studying, interpreting certain chapters was also part of our daily home schooling. My Dad tried to do daily bible hours with the entire family, but of course, in a family this large, it hardly ever came down to this. Some days he had too much work to do to collect everybody in the living room. Other days, one was sick, another one wasn’t done with home school and so on. We managed to sit together as a family and do bible studying an average twice to three times a week. Then my Dad would pick out passages that somehow suited our situation and problems we were facing during that time and tried to work out a message from there.
My parents, especially my Dad, believed that his beliefs must be our beliefs. He told us what to make of every single passage. At first, when I was younger, he sometimes praised pastors for their sermons. In my teen years, those weren’t good enough anymore. He told us pastors are corrupt and he had found the right way. All we believed was his, and we weren’t allowed to question it. That was considered rebellious and usually had consequences.
We were supposed to read the Bible every day. Dad had his devotions over his coffee in the dark of the early morning. Mom read the Bible out loud to the babies and toddlers who would come and climb in bed with her in the morning when they first woke up. She would lead “Bible Time” with the older kids later in the morning, after breakfast and chores were done. We were told to not read anything if we hadn’t read the Bible first.
We didn’t really rely on pastors for interpretation, at least not until we were in SGM. Most of our interpretation of the Bible came from concordance searches and dad’s little studies that he’d do every so often. Various books helped out as well, but I don’t remember clearly which ones influenced them most.
When we moved to VA and joined the SGM church, we accepted almost everything they taught. I think my parents had some concerns about the reformed theology, but almost everything else taught from the pulpit was accepted.
We kids were very strongly encouraged to go to the concordance and study the Bible to see what God had to say about various issues. I remember doing searches on “anger,” “pride,” “forgiveness,” “baptism,” etc. This was also a form of correction for misdeeds: “You hit your brother? Go see what the Bible says about anger. Write out ten verses and then let’s talk about what they say.”
We usually read the bible as a family in the evening, my Dad would read aloud and interpret it for us. We had the bible on tape, sometimes we listened to it at bedtime. We each received a King James Bible of our own at around age 8 or so, and we were expected to read it privately and consistently. Sometimes we did bible reading and memory as part of homeschooling.
The family goal was to read the bible every night. We would read one to four chapters at the dinner table after we had finished eating. My dad loved to ramble on with longwinded explanations of passages. It wasn’t until recently I’ve realized that a lot of his interpretations were completely unfounded and made up. We never asked questions about the meaning of passages, we just believed what we were told. I never knew there were any other options. We were also expected to read our bibles alone. Any mistakes we made were attributed to fact that we “hadn’t spent enough time in the word.” I read my bible multiple times a day, grasping for meaning and rarely finding any.
I was raised to read the Bible every day and have a personal relationship with Jesus. My mother did not supervise my reading, however. I was taught how to interpret what I read by comparing it to what Branham said in his sermons (which I read along with the Bible) or by absorbing our pastor’s interpretations in church on Sunday.
In my home, Bibles were everywhere and they were constantly being read, that is we read them daily or sometimes a couple times a day, both as a family and individually. I was certainly taught particular interpretations as well as a particular style of interpreting, a lot of which I have since rejected, but I developed a genuine love for the Bible itself, complex literary work and strange cultural artifact that it is. Although at times it was used against me as a weapon, and some bits of it frightened or depressed me, it was also the book that brought me comfort when I was lonely and fueled my imagination and fledgling sense of spirituality. A writer I like referred to the Bible once as a labyrinthine library that contains both everything and the opposite of everything. I think in some senses that is true. While still having a great appreciation for the Bible, I now have, I hope, a more realistic awareness of the difficulties it contains, and of the difference the interpretive lens one chooses can make.
Question 4: What role did race play in the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull community in which you grew up? Were there any black or hispanic families? Were they treated differently?
In the church I grew up in, there was never a non-white member – ever. The church was not overtly racist, though they had issues with illegal immigration, but the services were very boring and would not have fit into a culture different from a bunch of white dudes and one off key old lady singing How Great Thou Art from a hymnal, accompanied by a piano, then sitting through a two hour sermon that sounded the same every Sunday. But I attended a public grade school and high school where it was proudly noted that we had over 57 different nationalities represented. My best friends throughout my school years were all African America, Asian, and American Indian.
The homeschooling community was extremely white, but we did know several black and Hispanic homeschooling families, with varying levels of involvement in CP/Q. I don’t remember noticing any racism at the time. The cold-shoulder treatment seemed to be saved for families that were not fully committed to homeschooling, regardless of race.
The families we associated with were all white. I honestly can’t think of any minority Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull families – or even any minority families in our homeschool groups (which included ordinary conservative Christian families in addition to those who followed the teachings of Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull). That said, my parents were emphatically anti-racist, and if a black Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull family had come into our community I don’t think it would have been a problem for them at all.
While my parents said that all human beings were perfectly made by God and equal, my Dad didn’t like us mixing with the black families. There were two families we had closer contact with, and my parents were very friendly, but we weren’t allowed to play with them. I think that was because my Dad didn’t want us to consider one of them as a possible spouse. He was against interracial marriage. I remember a nice lady who was married to a Mexican, she was treated differently, as were their son. Not that anybody said anything, but she was never invited and people avoided talking to her too much.
Where we lived in CA was a very rural area, so there were mostly white, blue-collar folks in our homeschool group. There were a lot of Hispanics in our church, but we were the only homeschoolers.
When we moved to VA, there was a lot more diversity in the homeschooling community, but those adhering to the ideas of the Quiverfull movement were primarily white and upper-middle class. People didn’t treat each other differently and race was pretty much irrelevant.
I do not remember knowing anyone who was black. I met a few mixed white/Hispanic families in the community. I don’t think race was a huge issue in my family in particular, my dad had attended many black gospel churches as a child, and had a sort of nostalgic affection for black spirituality. We were around people in the homeschool movement who felt that the confederacy should have won the civil war and that the loss of that war had led to a major downslide in Christianity in America. I was never 100% clear on what my parents’ position was in that regard.
I had no racially diverse acquaintances in my childhood, but to be fair, I didn’t really have many acquaintances at all. For a brief time I was friends with a Hispanic girl down the street, but I wasn’t allowed to go to her house, so she soon got bored of me. My dad went to an African American Baptist church in Chicago when he was a kid, and he always spoke fondly of his memories there. We never really discussed race, but I remember my dad telling me that interracial marriage was not a sin. It wasn’t until my late teens that I had any interaction with people outside my race or religion. It took me a long time to learn how to interact comfortably with diverse groups of people. I’ve always felt that that was one of the major flaws in my upbringing.
My church was solidly multiracial. Black families were not treated any differently from white families, as far as I could tell. The church did fetishize the Spanish language and would commonly ask Hispanic men to sing praise songs in Spanish before the service. We also attracted a Korean mother and daughter. The main difference between white and nonwhite believers in my church was homeschooling. Racial minorities did not homeschool, probably for economic reasons. My church regarded racial diversity as a positive sign that God’s Word was universal, but maintained a strict policy against interracial marriage.
White, middle class Protestants were we all. It was a very segregated world. I never even had a black or Hispanic friend growing up, and there were no opportunities to cultivate such a friendship. I definitely feel like I missed out in that regard. Exposure to other groups and cultures can be so enriching, and I had very little of that. The church I attend now is racially and culturally diverse, and coincidentally so is the neighborhood I currently live in, and this exposure to a wider world has been like a breath of fresh air, even though I can have a difficult time connecting– mostly because I don’t know how. It’s getting easier with time, though.
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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