Victory Through Daughters: An Excerpt from Quiverfull
Kathryn Joyce printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Mar 18, 2009 at 03:29:45 PM EST
This -- one of the "lost" posts of last week -- deserves as second shot at the top of the front page before it scrolls away.... -- FC

Today my first book, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, which I've written about at Talk to Action before, was published by Beacon Press. In it, I've investigated the growing ranks of the explicitly pronatalist, and self-named, "patriarchy" movement, which advocates strict interpretations of wifely submission to male headship, women forgoing all forms of contraception to bear as many children as God gives them, and homeschooling their daughters to do the same. So far, the book is being received as a fair and accurate depiction of a growing movement within conservative evangelicaldom (including kind words from Christianity Today) that deserves more attention than it has received to date.

An excerpt of the book has been published at religion journalism site Killing the Buddha:

There were complications when Geoffrey Botkin's first daughter, Anna Sofia, was born. The problems were physical--Anna Sofia's mother, Victoria, could have died--and more esoteric, too. Geoffrey Botkin is one of the leading voices of a ministry called Vision Forum, the intellectual avant-garde of fundamentalism. One of Vision Forum's chief concerns is child-rearing, which the movement considers both a process of theological conditioning and an art lost sometime in the 19th century. So as Botkin held his newborn daughter perfectly still in his cupped hands, he prayed to God for guidance: after having raised two older sons, how should he raise a daughter? He felt God move him to a specific prayer for the infant sleeping in his hands, a prayer for her body. He remembered baby girls are born with two ovaries and a finite number of eggs that will last them a lifetime. He placed his hand over his new daughter's abdomen and prayed for Anna Sofia to be the "future mother of tens of millions." He prayed that the Lord would order everything in his daughter's life: "What You will do with every single egg here. How many children will this young lady have? Who will be her husband? With what other legacy will these little eggs be joined to produce the next generation for the glory of God?" He explained to a room full of about six hundred fathers and daughters gathered for the annual Vision Forum Father and Daughter Retreat that he had prayed that his new daughter might marry young.

Today, Anna Sofia and her sister, Elizabeth, strikingly poised young women in their early twenties, are the preeminent Vision Forum brand for promoting biblical womanhood to the unmarried daughters of homeschooling families, girls largely raised in the patriarchal faith but susceptible to temptations from the outside world. In all their testimony to fellow young "maidens," the Botkin daughters, raised in both the American South and the Botkins' Seven Arrows Ranch in New Zealand, stress the dire importance of one of their father's favorite talking points: "multigenerational faithfulness." That is, the necessity of the sons and daughters of the movement--especially the daughters--cleaving to the ways of their parents and not abandoning the dominion project the older generation has begun.

Some children do rebel, as Natasha Epstein recalls. There were several runaway girls from Boerne Christian Assembly, the church pastored by Doug Phillips, the founder of Vision Forum, Epstein says. Some ultimately succeeded in leaving the lifestyle after having been caught and brought back to the church by their fathers and other men in the church. Natasha herself ran away from home following the excommunication of her family, living with her grandparents in Oregon for a period before returning to Texas and taking up the modern young woman's lifestyle that her mother grieves. But the more common--and more dangerous--rebellion is the quieter assimilation of movement children into modern society, not running away but merely drifting into more lax expressions of the faith and away from patriarchal adulthood.

A common nay-saying liberal reaction to the patriarchy movement and "Quiverfull," a conviction that Christian women should birth as many children as God gives them as a means of "demographic warfare," is to assume that the children of strict homeschooling families will rebel en masse--like the 1960s youth rebellions against a conservative status quo. However, the heads of the movement are already well aware of this threat, and they are taking all the precautions they can to cut off the possibility of such defection in the cradle.

As Jennie Chancey tells the Botkin sisters in their book, So Much More: The Remarkable Influence of Visionary Daughters on the Kingdom of God, children of the movement should have "little to no association with peers outside of family and relatives" as insulation from a corrupting society. Daughters shouldn't forgo education but should consider to what ends their education is intended and should place their efforts in "advanced homemaking" skills.

Concretely, Geoffrey Botkin explains, this means evaluating all materials and media that daughters receive from childhood on as it pertains to their future role. The Botkin sisters received no Barbie dolls--idols that inspire girls to lead selfish lives--but rather a "doll estate" that could help them learn to manage a household of assets, furniture, and servants in the aristocratic vision of Quiverfull life which Botkin paints for the families around the room. The toys the girls played with were "tools for dominion," such as kitchen utensils and other "tools for their laboratory": the kitchen.

R. C. Sproul, Jr., in a book of advice to homeschooling parents, When You Rise Up, describes the critical secret of God's covenants as the cornerstone of the homeschool movement: the imperative of covenants, he says, is to "pass it on to the next generation." He's done so himself, he relates, in what he calls the R. C. Sproul, Jr., School for Spiritual Warfare, in which he crafts "covenant children" with an "agrarian approach" and stresses that obedience is the good life in and of itself, "not a set of rules designed to frustrate us but a series of directions designed to liberate us." In that freedom, boys and girls are educated according to their future roles in life, and girls are taught that they will pursue spiritual warfare by being keepers in the home.

To gauge the amount of secular baggage his homeschooling readers are trailing, he tells the story of a family friend whose homeschooled nine-year-old daughter still cannot read. "Does that make you uncomfortable?" he asks.

Are you thinking, "Mercy, what would the superintendent say if he knew?" . . . But my friend went on to explain, "She doesn't know how to read, but every morning she gets up and gets ready for the day. Then she takes care of her three youngest siblings. She takes them to potty, she cleans and dresses them, makes their breakfasts, brushes their teeth, clears their dishes, and makes their beds." Now I saw her, rightly, as an overachiever. If she didn't know how to read but did know all the Looney Tunes characters, that would be a problem. But here is a young girl being trained to be a keeper at home. Do I want her to read? Of course I do . . . . But this little girl was learning what God requires, to be a help in the family business, with a focus on tending the garden.

Read the entire excerpt at Killing the Buddha.
Order Quiverfull from Amazon.

Some of the children will rebel. Not all will take to the destiny the Quiverfull movement wants to impose. I am looking forward to reading the book in its entirety.

by khughes1963 on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 12:52:31 PM EST
These Quiverfull movement people don't have the key resource needed to maintain such a movement - a separate territory. If combined with a ban on women driving motor vehicles and a ban on all media access within the community, female children could grow up fearing the outside world and its people. Barring extreme isolation, I would expect a few percent of the women to escape, even if they had to abandon some of their children. The FLDS are a classic example of  a coercive isolated religious community, and even they had female escapees.

by NancyP on Wed Mar 11, 2009 at 11:19:45 PM EST
Can't wait to get this!

by ohcrapihaveacrushonsarahpalin on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 01:07:20 AM EST

This story actually caused me to feel quite ill. I cannot imagine this kind of oppression of women - at least not in 21st Century America. This is a tale of women under the Taliban or the Wahabbists.

Joyce is a far better person than I if she could write a book that was not roundly condemned by the Religious Right.

by phatkhat on Thu Mar 12, 2009 at 03:10:28 AM EST
and I hope you will check it out. All of the elements of the religious right are filled with.... human beings, who are interesting, complex and and a barrel of contradictions.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Mar 12, 2009 at 12:05:20 PM EST

Thanks, Fred!

And to NancyP and khughes, yes, definitely some of the children and women do rebel. However, though Quiverfull is not a cult -- no matter how "cultish" some of these convictions might seem to outsiders -- it is still very difficult to leave a lifestyle and reject convictions you have believed are God's requirement of you. Most of the women who have this conviction believe it's a matter of obedience to God, which makes it very hard to question already. But after that, there are many practical obstacles as well to leaving the lifestyle: women face becoming single mothers with no income to many children or risk losing their children all together. As for the children, particularly the daughters, many are raised in fairly cloistered homes, far from corrupting outside influences that could tempt them from the lifestyle. What's interesting to me, having spoken with several women who have left the movement, is how effective these methods -- emphasizing the necessity of obedience, trust and submission -- are without needing a separate territory or more overt forms of control.

by Kathryn Joyce on Thu Mar 12, 2009 at 02:43:46 PM EST

The Quiverfull groups remind me of the Mormon polygamist groups, in which the girls are continually told it is their religious duty to be a plural wife. I can see where the belief system and the practical obstacles could combine to keep women in the Quiverfull lifestyle.

by khughes1963 on Thu Mar 12, 2009 at 09:52:01 PM EST

It is extremely well-researched dynamite. Thank you, Ms. Joyce!

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