Commentary Religion

My Life as a Daughter of Christian Patriarchy

Vyckie Garrison

Deep within America, beyond your typical evangelicals and run of the mill fundamentalists, nurtured within the homeschool movement and growing by the day, are the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements. This is where I grew up.

This article, “The Beautiful Girlhood Doll,” by Libby Anne is shared by Vyckie Garrison from her site No Longer Quivering. Libby Anne also writes at her blog, Love, Joy, Feminism. This article first appeared at Butterflies and Wheels.

Deep within America, beyond your typical evangelicals and run of the mill fundamentalists, nurtured within the homeschool movement and growing by the day, are the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements. This is where I grew up.

I learned that women are to be homemakers while men are to be protectors and providers. I was taught that a woman should not have a career, but should rather keep the home and raise the children and submit to her husband, who was her god-given head and authority. I learned that homeschooling is the only godly way to raise children, because to send them to public school is to turn a child over to the government and the secular humanists. I was taught that children must be trained up in the way they should go every minute of every day. I learned that a woman is always under male authority, first her father, then her husband, and perhaps, someday, her son. I was told that children are always a blessing, and that it was imperative to raise up quivers full of warriors for Christ, equipped to take back the culture and restore it to its Christian foundations.

Christian Patriarchy involves the patriarchal gender roles and heirarchical family structure, while Quiverfull refers to the belief that children are always a blessing and that big families are mandatory for those following God’s will (some eschew birth control altogether). While these two belief sets are generally held in common, they can technically exist separately. Now of course, not everyone who holds these beliefs actually claims the term “Christian Patriarchy” or “Quiverfull.” My parents certainly didn’t. In fact, I never heard those terms growing up. What matters is not the name that is claimed, but the beliefs – the beliefs outlined above.

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My parents were originally fairly ordinary evangelicals. Like so many others (it’s a very common story), it was homeschooling that brought them to Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull. They began homeschooling for secular reasons, and then, through homeschool friends, homeschool conferences, and homeschool publications, they were drawn into the world of Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull. It starts slowly, one belief here, a book there. For those who are already fundamentalists or evangelicals, like my parents, the transition is smooth and almost natural. Suddenly, almost without realizing it, they are birthing their eight or ninth child and pushing their daughters toward homemaking and away from any thought of a career.

Why are these movements so enticing to evangelical and fundamentalist homeschoolers? Simple. Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull offer the enticing image of the perfect family and the promise that you can make a difference and change the world, raising up an army for Christ, without ever leaving your home. Organizations like Vision Forum and No Greater Joy promise parents perfect families in very explicit terms. If you follow the formula, you, too, can be like that pretty picture or happy face in the catalogue. They are the huckster traveling salesmen of the homeschool world, but this time they sell dreams.

The actual experience for children growing up in the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements varies dramatically because every set of parents is different. I happened to have a mother with never-ending energy and a father who was naturally fairly laid back. That meant that my home life was pleasant and my childhood happy. Others, though, have mothers who are debilitated by pregnancy after pregnancy and fathers who quickly become tyrannical and overbearing. These children may not have a very happy upbringing at all.

While my upbringing was fairly happy, it was anything but normal. For one thing, I was homeschooled. For another thing, I grew up with a dozen younger siblings. Other families commonly have seven, eight, or nine children. A few have as many as eighteen or nineteen. While there are some very fun things about growing up with so many siblings, the sheer size of the family means that daughters of Christian Patriarchy have little privacy and many chores. And since they don’t go to school, their time with friends is limited and their time working by their mothers’ sides is maximized. By the time I was twelve, I could fix meals for the entire family, keep the laundry going, and essentially run the house single-handedly. When I was fifteen my parents went out of town for a week, leaving me in charge of the younger siblings. Later when I was in high school, my mother had a hard pregnancy and was completely incapacitated for a month. I ran the house and homeschooled the younger children without a problem. I practically raised some of my younger siblings. And yet, this endless list of chores and expectations and responsibilities is seen as the natural order of things, rather than as a problem.

Daughters of Christian Patriarchy are essentially servants in their own homes, but this does not mean they are necessarily miserable and unhappy. While some daughters of Christian Patriarchy rebel and inwardly resent how they are being raised, most don’t. Most accept what their parents teach them as true, and look forward to their wedding day as the beginning of their lives. This was me. I was perfectly happy to help with my younger siblings and cook for a dozen and do load after load of laundry. At age ten, twelve, or fourteen, I was being trained to be a “helpmeet” to my future husband, preparing for my life’s role by working alongside my mother and serving as junior “helpmeet” to my father. I dreamed of my wedding constantly, and thought of what a wonderful wife, mother, and homemaker I would be. A wife and mother was all I wanted to be, because any dream of anything else was nipped in the bud before it ever took root. I truly believed that this was what God wanted of me, and that serving my family and raising my siblings was serving God. And I gloried in it.

Families in Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull place extreme importance on maintaining their daughters’ sexual and emotional purity. Sex before marriage is held to be sin, and sex before marriage also damages a daughter’s marriage prospects. Girls are told that the best gift they can give their future husbands is their virginity. And we’re not just talking sex here: Most couples in Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull circles don’t kiss before marriage, and some don’t even hold hands or embrace. Furthermore, this virginity is more than just physical; it is emotional as well. Girls are urged not to “give away pieces of their hearts” by becoming emotionally entangled with boys their age. Every teenage crush becomes suspect and dangerous. Dating is out of the question, as it is considered to be “practice for divorce.” Instead, daughters of Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull find husbands through parent-guided courtships, trusting their father’s guidance and obeying his leadership. Marriage is seen as a transfer of authority from the daughter’s father to her husband.

Growing numbers of parents in the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements are keeping their daughters home from college. They argue that college is wasted on daughters who are never supposed to hold jobs or have careers anyway, and that it distracts them from serving others and learning homemaking skills. Furthermore, they contend, college corrupts daughters and fills their heads with ungodly thoughts of equality and careers. This phenomenon is called the Stay-At-Home-Daughter movement.

I, however, was sent to college. Yet it should be remembered that this did not initially mean that I dreamed of anything outside of the role I was taught God had laid out for me. Rather, I felt that college would prepare me to be a better wife and mother, and especially, a better homeschool parent. For this reason, in those families in the Christian Patriarchy movement who do send their daughters to college, nursing and teaching, which are seen as naturally feminine and excellent skills for future mothers and homeschool parents, are favored courses of study. And of course, it is understood that even daughters who attend college remain under the authority of their fathers and must obey them, even after they turn 18. After all, their fathers are their godly authority. God speaks to daughters through their fathers and daughters are bound by God to obey their fathers.

You have to understand just how deeply these beliefs are implanted. Even though I began questioning my parents’ beliefs halfway through college, I was so inculcated into their mindset that I did not even think of having a career or being other than a stay at home homeschool mom until four years later. Even though I have been out for years and am now in my mid twenties, I still feel like I am a failure because I only have one child. I feel that if I don’t have five or six kids, I am somehow a flop and a dud. In my brain, my worth as a woman is still tied to the number of children I have. I know these brain patterns are bullshit and I’m working on eradicating them, but they are still there. And in my conversations with other daughters who have left, I have found that I am not alone in this.

By now, you may be wondering, how is this possible? How can parents indoctrinate their children in this way? The answer, I would argue, is simple: homeschooling. By homeschooling, these parents can control every interaction their children have and every piece of information their children come upon. My parents called it “sheltering.” The result was that I knew nothing of popular culture or the lives of normal teens, besides that they were “worldly” and miserable while I was godly and content. I had no idea that normal teens would see the amount of chores I did as unfair and oppressive, and even when I did realize this, I took pride in it, for the amount of chores I did and my cheerfulness in doing them showed my godliness.

Furthermore, by homeschooling us my parents could completely control what we learned. I studied from creationist textbooks and learned history from a curriculum that taught “His Story,” beginning with creation, Noah and the flood, and Abraham and his covenant with God, showing the hand of God moving through the six thousand years of the earth’s history. I never had anyone tell me to dream big, or to think outside the home, or that with my talent and intellect I could have a brilliant career. Everyone around me believed the way my parents did, including all of my friends, who, after all, were without exception children of my parents’ friends. They encouraged me in my steadfastness of belief and held me up as a paragon of virtue. Why would I desire anything else?

It didn’t help that I was taught that those outside of our beliefs, including humanists, environmentalists, socialists, and feminists, were evil selfish people who were destroying our society, and that Christians who did not share our beliefs were “wishy-washy” and “worldy.” There is a very “us versus them” mentality at work in Christian Patriarchy. They were the enemy, the agents of Satan out to destroy belief in God and pervert the world. They cared only for themselves and their own desires and were not to be trusted. I was taught further that the world outside was a scary and dangerous place. If I stayed under my father’s authority, I would be protected and safe.

You also have to remember the sense of purpose that accompanies the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movement. We were raised to fight the enemy, be that Satan or the environmentalist, socialists, and feminists, to come against them in spiritual warfare and at the polls. This is why Michael Farris, a proponent of Christian Patriarchy and the leader of the Home School Legal Defense Association, founded Patrick Henry College in 2000 to train homeschooled youth in the law and government. There were more interns from Patrick Henry College in the Bush White House than from any other college. Put simply, their goal is to take over the country, instituting godly laws ruling according to Christ’s dictates.

While the goal is to take back the world for Christ through the polls, force is never completely ruled out. I was taught that someday the government might take away our rights entirely, become a dictatorship, and crack down on everything we believed in. My father used to point out the armory to us and tell us that that is where we would mount the resistance when this happened. Force, though, was to be a last resort. In the meantime, my family campaigned tirelessly for conservative political candidates and attended marriage rallies, pro-life marches, and second amendment rights meetings. I dreamed of someday being a politician’s wife, supporting him in his bids for office and attempts to restore the country to its godly foundation. The world was framed in terms of good versus evil, and I had a role and a purpose.

Taken together, these beliefs comprise a comprehensive worldview that gives those within it a sense of purpose and provides simple answers to complex problems. It can be very attractive. While the world is a complicated place, Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull explain exactly what your role is and what you must do to please God and carry out his will. It provides you with a formula for raising perfect children and upholds order and hierarchy. You know what your role is, what you are to do, and where you are going.

One last point to make is that evangelicals believe essentially the same things as the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, they just don’t take it to the same extreme. Evangelicals believe that husbands are to to be their wives’ spiritual heads, but in practice their marriages are generally fairly egalitarian. Evangelicals believe that children are a blessing, but in moderation. Evangelicals believe that children should receive a godly education, but most of them send their children to public schools. Evangelicals believe that adult unmarried daughters should honor their parents and listen to their advice, but they don’t expect them to always obey it. Evangelicals believe that men and women are different, and that children need their mothers at home, but most evangelical women work outside the home. Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull simply take these beliefs to their natural – and radical – conclusion.

Perhaps now you have a better understanding of the world of Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull and the minds of those within it. While some like me leave, many stay. I watch my younger sisters echo my parents’ beliefs, speaking of the importance and protection of fatherly authority and planning to eschew birth control entirely, and my heart breaks. 

Commentary Politics

The Loss of Our Sons and Daughters Is More Than a Political Moment

Toni Bond Leonard

We must bear witness to support the Black mothers who shared their stories of losing children to state and racial violence at the Democratic National Convention. But bearing witness means demanding justice and policy change.

When I watched the Mothers of the Movement—a group of Black mothers of slain children—take center stage at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) last week, I saw Black women “making a way out of no way.” We turn our suffering and righteous indignation into agency.

Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, talked about being thrust into the spotlight while grappling with her teenage son’s killing. Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland, began her remarks by acknowledging God’s greatness and how the mothers’ presence at the DNC was itself proof of that greatness. She then related the horrific details of her 28-year-old daughter being found hanging in a Texas jail cell after a possibly unlawful traffic stop in 2015. She called it the worst nightmare anyone could imagine.

But as eloquent and moving as the Mothers of the Movement were, their narratives were treated as a political moment that demonstrated mostly that Hillary Clinton had successfully campaigned to garner the backing of these mothers who are surviving reproductive loss. As I watched Reed-Veal fight back tears, I wondered what type of strength it takes to find peace with such a loss.

The lives of women such as Fulton and Reed-Veal—and those of their deceased children and their remaining families—matter more than a fleeting appearance in Philadelphia. While Clinton is apparently able to imagine what it means to lose a child and talk about that on the campaign trail, it is different to live with the immeasurable weight of losing a loved one, especially when it was due to systemic racism.

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In the Christian tradition, we remember Jesus’ suffering on the cross. And the mothers’ words call us to bear witness to police violence and the women who suffer irreparable reproductive loss. But bearing witness requires us to do more than see and hear about atrocities. We must also demand justice.

Reproductive justice theory holds that women have the human rights to bear children (or not), and to parent with the necessary social and economic supports so that their children not only survive, but thrive. Thriving means access to safe affordable housing, quality education, a living wage, healthy foods, and health care that is grounded in prevention and healing. It means living without fear of violence, especially from the very state authorities entrusted with protecting us.

In Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk, womanist theologian Delores Williams discusses Black women and a particular type of “surrogacy.” She uses the biblical story of Egyptian slave Hagar, who became Abraham’s concubine to bear him the son that his wife, Sarah, had not. Hagar’s body—and her child—were not her own. Williams argues that Black women have long been forced to step into others’ roles—raising white women’s children during and after slavery, for one—and that surrogacy has been exploitative.

We stand now in a moment where Black women are still surrogates. Their children are not their own, used as human targets by law enforcement and racists to act out their hatred of Black people. And even as the Mothers of the Movement struggle to grieve, their pain plays out in public.

To honor and address their pain, we must listen compassionately to Black people who say “Black Lives Matter.” The shootings of police officers cannot be used to scapegoat the legitimate concerns and demands of Black Lives Matter, which push us to confront historical and ongoing violence against Black Americans. Those urgent cries must fall on ears ready to understand the long history of our lives not mattering in this country. Those cries come from the collective memory of enslaved Black bodies, especially Black mothers forced to bear children to gratify economic greed, and firsthand contemporary experience.

Political candidates must also do more than just listen to the heartrending stories. They must also put forth concrete legislation to address the structural inequality behind racial profiling and the murders of Black people.

While Clinton’s platform includes ending gun violence and building trust between communities and police, what we did not hear at the DNC was how she would advance policies that would prevent the tragic reproductive loss that the Mothers of the Movement now know.

Her platform sounds progressive, but I cannot help but remember her racially coded comments in support of the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act: that youth in gangs “are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

Typically, dogs are brought to heel so that they walk close to or follow their owners. An unconscious, unfortunate choice of wording, perhaps? Still, the anti-poor legislation passed during her husband’s administration, and which she supported, has created and worsened conditions that shove poor families, disproportionately families of color, further into poverty.

In this watershed moment, radical accountability is needed if we’re to stem the use of deadly force against Black people.

Our elected leaders can model accountability by admitting that their own policies or statements have fed the police and not hungry people. Quite frankly, Clinton’s support of the crime bill and of the federal welfare reform requires some meaningful and public repentance.

And that repentance has to be more than a moment at the DNC or any future political gathering, but a sincere strategy to correct the injustices that claimed the Mothers of the Movement’s children. This is what it means to bear witness.

Culture & Conversation Race

‘I Burn, and I Hope’: Today’s Writers Revisit ‘The Fire Next Time’

Shonte Daniels

It’s 2016, but the world James Baldwin described in the early 1960s seems no different from the world we live in now.

The first essay in James Baldwin’s 1963 book The Fire Next Time is a letter to his young nephew regarding the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the racial discrimination Baldwin’s nephew will face. Baldwin details the hate his nephew will encounter, and the people who will only see him, a young Black boy, as an animal. But Baldwin’s warning is not used as a fear tactic; rather, Baldwin pleads for his nephew, and for Black youth as a whole, to live with compassion, to survive “for the sake of your children and your children’s children.”

He ends the book by demanding everyone—everyone meaning Black and white people who are conscious of U.S. race relations—change the minds of hateful people. “If we do not dare everything,” he writes, “the fulfillment of that prophecy, re-created from the Bible in song by the slave, is upon us: God gave Noah the rainbow sign, / No more water, the fire next time!”

Now Jesmyn Wardan English professor at Tulane University and a recipient of the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction with her second novel, Salvage the Bones—has compiled a collection of 15 essays and three poems (ten of which were written specifically for the book) that arrives 53 years later, at the time of the fire Baldwin forewarned. Not every person has pushed to bring an end to racial injustice, and so everyone is burning. But so long as there are activists, philosophers, and artists, there is always hope we will one day pull ourselves out of the flames: That is the message I took away from Ward’s The Fire This Time. The collection acknowledges the pain and brings the reader a sense of hope that the fire this time is not permanent.

Featuring great contemporary Black writers like Kiese Laymon, Claudia Rankine, and Kevin Young, The Fire This Time uses Baldwin’s thoughts on race to discuss current struggles and Black people’s dogged determination to love each other amid centuries of hate.

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Released today on what would have been Baldwin’s 92nd birthday, the book is grounded in the country’s history to help readers better understand the context of our present moment. As Ward states in her introduction, “We must acknowledge the plantation, must unfold white sheets, must recall the black diaspora to understand what is happening now.”

Slavery may have been abolished more than 150 years ago, but, as the book suggests, the world has not overcome its racist roots, nor has it granted Black people any new means of safety.

When I initially sat down to write this review, the Freddie Gray case had just concluded with zero convictions against the Baltimore, Maryland, officers involved in the death of the 25-year-old Black man. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke had addressed the acquittal to a resounding applause at the Republican National Convention. Meanwhile, Black parents still live in fear for their children playing in the park, street, or pool. Despite claims of a “post-race” society—one in which people are not discriminated against or murdered because of the color of their skin—the targeting by law enforcement of some racial groups over others remains rampant. It feels as if, especially for those with power, the Black body is still another beast to be tamed. It’s 2016, but the world Baldwin described in the early 1960s seems no different from the world we live in now.

This connection between the past and present is the central focus of Claudia Rankine’s essay “The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning,” when she talks about how shortly after she was born four Black girls were killed at an Alabama Baptist church on September 15, 1963, and how 52 years later, “for African-American families, this living in a state of mourning and fear remains commonplace.” Shortly before her essay originally appeared in the New York Times, on June 17, 2015, nine parishioners were shot and killed at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. “Dylann Storm Roof [the shooting suspect] did not create himself from nothing,” she writes. “Every racist statement he has made he could have heard all his life. He, along with the rest of us, has been living with slain black bodies.”

This association is also made in Clint Smith’s poem, “Queries of Unrest,” in which the author writes, “Maybe I come from a place where people / are always afraid of dying.”

Despite the dark nature of the topics addressed in the book, a thread of hope is weaved throughout the entire collection. As Ward writes in her introduction,“I burn, and I hope.”

The Fire This Time isn’t interested in creating plans on moving forward as much as it is about discussing the humanity of Black people.

Honorée Fanonne Jeffers questions historians’ portrayal of Phillis Wheatley and her husband John Peters, asserting that their relationship could have been loving rather than tumultuous; Kiese Laymon thanks OutKast and his grandmama for letting him find his “funky” voice; and Emily Raboteau writes on the importance of murals in urban communities that she photographed around New York, which teach civilians about their rights when engaging with the police.

Amid loss and fury, love binds Black communities together. Our love for each other is what keeps the fire burning as we are shouting for our lives to matter.

However, The Fire This Time is not just a book for those inside the diaspora; Ward urges those who don’t identify as Black or consider themselves part of the diaspora, and those who lack understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement, to read this book and educate themselves on the ways in which Black people are unequivocally human. The collection could change the minds of those who see the Black community, and especially the Black Lives Matter movement, as menacing. It’s an educational and emotional read that shows Black people are hurting and loving simultaneously. Kiese Laymon says it best in his essay “Da Art of Storytellin’ (A Prequel)” when he writes, “I’m going to tell Grandmama that her belief is the only reason I’m still alive, that belief in black Southern love is why we work.”

The Fire This Time develops a kinship with non-Black folks through the use of the collective “we.” For example, Isabel Wilkerson speaks to Black people about the continuation of trauma against us and in “Where Do We Go From Here?” (which originally appeared in Essence magazine’s special Black Lives Matter issue). Or Carol Anderson’s “White Rage,” where she takes a historic look at white supremacy in the wake of Black death: “When we look back on what happened in Ferguson, Missouri … it will be easy to think of it as yet one more episode of black rage ignited by yet another police killing of an unarmed African American male.” Instead, Anderson argues that what we’ve seen is an example of white rage, a backlash from white people who have “access to the courts, police, legislatures, and governors,” and can hurt Black communities through means of law and order.

The diversity of perspectives in The Fire This Time is necessary, as the collection seeks to show its readers that Black life, like Black art, can never be extinguished.

In fact, The Fire This Time places a strong emphasis on the difference between life and Black life to ensure the reader understands it, and never forgets the way race alters everyone’s living. The difference between life and Black life is that the latter is always questioned, threatened, or destroyed, due to racism. Whether attending a funeral, walking at night, or even listening to music, a Black body gives ordinary life new context.

The authors of the pieces that fill The Fire This Time have come together, under Ward’s direction, like a family sharing their fears, their rage, and their happiness. Reading through the collection felt like sitting through a discussion with aunties and grandparents. The reader must hear her elder’s stories, which are honest and analytical, comical and devastating.

As Edwidge Danticat writes in the final essay of the book, “Message to My Daughters,” Black people want a future where our children “have the power to at least try to change things, even in a world that resists change with more strength than they have.”

The Fire This Time will not leave you feeling completely hopeful of the future—it is not naïve in its optimism—but it does suggest that there is always room for societal change, so long as we continue fighting for it. Like The Fire Next Time, this book still hopes for when the fire will bring peace. “When that day of jubilee finally arrives,” Danticat writes, “all of us will be there with you, walking, heads held high, crowns a-glitter, because we do have a right to be here.”

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