Consider this a follow-up to last week’s discussion on Bill Gothard and the related topics that were brought up in the comment thread, such as patriarchy, homeschooling, courtship, separatism, rules-based spirituality, and so on.
It seems the post uncovered a lot of hurt, confusion, and questions. In our comments we heard from several folks who had grown up under one form or another of patriarchal teaching and others who wondered about these movements and what they involve.
For example, the following words came from Donna (who also blogs at The View from My Window):
To make a super long story just a little shorter, my parents bought into Bill Gothardâ€™s teachings, pulled us out of school, and homeschooled us in his cultic homeschool program (ATI). I missed out on getting a high school diploma and was forbidden to attend college. I even wanted to go to an ultra-conservative Bible College and they refused to allow me to go. I went with the organization on several missions trips and then served time at the Indianapolis Training Center. During my time a way from home, my eyes were open to the religious noose Iâ€™d been experiencing for so many years. I ended up meeting a man â€œon the outsideâ€ that scared my parents to death. We tried to do the courtship thing as they wished, but it turned into an absolute mess. At the age of 24, after physical threats and complete suffocation, (my mom asked me to commit to remain single for life and stay under their authority at home) a pastor in Indianapolis encouraged me to move out.
Fast forwarding over the past 14 yearsâ€¦ I am married with three gorgeous children and Iâ€™m experiencing freedom in Jesus and am learning that my Heavenly Father loves me and has only the best intentions for me.
There were many, many others who added their own stories about themselves, their families, friends, and churches who have been caught up in these movements and who found them spiritually deadening and in some cases abusive.
Today, on my customary look at Christianity Today, I saw they have posted a book review of Quivering Daughters, by Hillary McFarland. I have not read this book yet, but after our recent discussion, my own reflections on some of the folks I have known in the past who have been taken in by these teachings, and the content of the review, I’m going to get it soon.
In the meantime, I’d like to use the CT review as an opportunity for further discussion on this matter. We welcome your stories, reflections, and perspectives. How pervasive are these movements? What are you seeing of their influence where you live? Perhaps you are even an advocate of one form or another of patriarchy as it is practiced in some of these groups. State your case.
For preparation, you can go read the review for yourself, but I will also summarize its points here to prompt our conversation. As you will see below, I’ve also included a link to a blog that exists to answer and debunk McFarland’s point of view. Feel free to read the counter-arguments too.
The review of Quivering Daughters by Gina Dalfonzo, begins with this provocative question: “Many of us tend to react with righteous indignation when we read stories of women in foreign countries denied higher education, the chance to support themselves, and the freedom to live independently and make their own decisions. How do we react when women are denied those same freedoms here in Americaâ€”by some of our fellow Christians?”
She then describes “Christian Patriarchy,” a loosely organized movement consisting of several different groups. She cites blogger Karen Campbell, who has written on this subject and is an advocate of an alternate approach that she calls “Relationship Homeschooling.” Campbell uses the term “patriocentric” to capture the heart of the these patriarchal movements. The word means “father-centered,” and she defines it this wayâ€”“God gives a ‘calling’ in life to only men, specifically fathers, and … the purpose of the wife and children is to fulfill the father’s calling.”
Dalfonzo then turns to Quivering Daughters as a critique that arises from one who grew up in such an environment, under these teachings and practices. McFarland sees the root problem of the patriarchy movements as idolatryâ€”
- Idolatry of the past: separating oneself from the modern world as much as possible and glorifying the simpler and supposedly wiser past as the only way to live “frugally and biblically.”
- Idolatry of the parents, especially the father: believing that God will not lead children personally but only through the father, even with regard to the smallest details of dress and behavior.
- Idolatry of religion: teaching a form of perfectionism that stresses constant obedience and not grace and love.
All this led to “cognitive dissonance” for McFarland, she reports. While children are often emphasized as “blessings” when quiverfull types like the family she grew up in want to stress having lots of children, the children, she says, grow up feeling like anything but blessings, for they can never measure up. As she puts it, “I am only a blessing when I’m useful, helpful, obedient, cheerful, kind, unselfish, submissive, compliant, and responsible.”
Finally, the reviewer notes that Hillary McFarland has garnered criticism for her exposÃ© on patriarchy. A book and a blog have been published specifically for the purpose of countering her claims. The website’s byline says, “Welcome to the home of Steadfast Daughters in a Quivering World, a biblical response to the “quivering daughters” (QD) movement that originated from Hillary McFarland’s book (and blog), Quivering Daughters: Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy.” The site leaves no place for comments.
Gina Dalfonzo ends her CT review with a challenge to the church: “For patriocentricity isn’t just another quaint evangelical fad. Whenever legalism and idolatry are taught in Christ’s nameâ€”and Quivering Daughters makes a strong case that this is what’s happeningâ€”Christians need to call it what it is: bad theology leading to harmful beliefs and practices. If our calling, as Christ told us, is to serve ‘the least of these my brethren,’ then we must speak for those who have been rendered voiceless, not only by members of other religions, but by members of our own as well.”
NOTE: Here is the link to Hillary McFarland’s blog, Quivering Daughters.