I Was an LDS Homeschooler: Tirzah’s Story, Part Two

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Pedro Szekely. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Pedro Szekely. Image links to source.

Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Tirzah” is a pseudonym.

< Part One

Part Two

When I went on my mission everything changed.

I learned LDS doctrine and began to really see how dangerous the Patriarchy “doctrines” were. I realized that everything Doug Phillips was so persuasively teaching my mom through his books and CDs and all his lovely “Christian” products was an insidious poison that was slowly strangling me and all of my younger siblings, boys and girls alike. We butted heads constantly through our emails and letters. I began to push back harder and harder against the dangerous changes I saw her making.

She threatened on several occasions to have me sent home.

I talked with my mission President about it every time we met it seemed. He assured me that if she tried or stopped paying (the money that I had worked for free to earn for years) that he wouldn’t allow me to be sent home. It was such a relief to have someone who recognized what was happening and could explain theologically why my instincts were right, and why that lifestyle was theologically unsound for any person who claimed to follow Christ.

I dreaded going home. I thought about trying to extend my mission somehow, but I knew it wouldn’t happen. Now please don’t get me wrong, I love my mom, my step dad, and my whole family. But I knew that a big battle was coming between my mother and I, and I dreaded it.

I flew home, she and I exchanged an awkward hug, then loaded my stuff in the car. We hadn’t even left the airport before it started. I wasn’t allowed to use Facebook because “we weren’t a Facebook family”, my sleeves (which were perfectly acceptable as a missionary) had to be longer, my makeup lighter, I had to start school but I couldn’t use the cars, or get a job, or get into debt. I wasn’t allowed on the computer more than 20 minutes a day, no “modern” music and of course, they had to approve of any boy friend that I might get. And if they didn’t approve then I had to break it off, to set a good example for my sisters.

I tried to work with her for a couple of weeks, tried to get her to see that she couldn’t expect people who were well into their 20’s to be willing to live like a little child. She would have none of it. We weren’t really adults because they paid for our bills. I countered by offering to get a job and help pay for rent and utilities. That was unacceptable because it would disrupt the family, and emasculate my step father. It went on and on, I was called into her room every other day to report to her what my plans were and how I was going to accomplish them, and then she would go through piece by piece to try to dismantle them.

But I wasn’t having it.

A few weeks after getting home I met my future husband. My parents were fine with him until we started dating. Then nothing he did was good enough. If he did handy man work for my dad he was too blue collar. If he didn’t work during the winter then he was lazy. We had to figure out very early on what our goals and plans were, if we weren’t planning on getting serious/married then it wasn’t worth it to continue going out. We decided to get serious. My parents were still unhappy, and placed even more restrictions on me, an 8 pm curfew being one. I found ways around their new rules and got more guilt trips about how prideful I was and how rebellious. I didn’t care. Then came the day when they tried to send me to a different state to keep us apart.

That was the last straw. I called my mom to try to reason with her, but she was adamant. They couldn’t trust me, and she didn’t know if I was fornicating on their couch or not (I wasn’t…) so the only solution was to send me away. And that’s when I told her something that I had never said to her before. “No.” There was silence, then a tense “What???” “No, I’m not going.” Then came the hastily worded mini lecture about how I needed to follow their rules in their house ending with “You know if you really don’t think you can follow our totally reasonable rules then you can always leave.” (This was the worst threat she could imagine ever being given for some reason). “OK.” I replied. There was an even longer silence, followed by an incredulous “REALLY? This is worth losing your family over?!”

Only in my mom’s sad world of jumbled theology would moving out be akin to losing one’s family.

I called my husband/then boyfriend and told him what had happened. His parents found a place for me to stay within a few hours, so I once again began packing my belongings up into a suitcase. Later that day as I talked to my (step)dad he informed me that “they weren’t done raising me”.

I told him that they were.

The next 18 months gave me a very strained relationship with my family. Many of my younger siblings, especially my sisters, felt like I had abandoned them. My parents forbade my husband and I from spending time with them because we were such an evil influence (I taught my 18 year old sister about how ovulation can affect how attracted she felt towards men and then told her she could read biology books at the library to learn more, that’s what I had to do… ) The fact that we didn’t hide the fact that we were having sex as a happily married couple meant that we were trying to sully the rest of them.

All the while I also dealt with feelings of guilt for “abandoning” my younger siblings. I had nightmares where I was trying to get them out and away from danger and they wouldn’t listen to me because my mom told them they were safe. I still felt so responsible for them, and like I had somehow failed them. My husband patiently cared for me and helped me understand that they were now responsible for themselves, that they were the only ones who could get themselves out.

I had to step back and let them learn on their own.

He told me that if one of them did try to leave and my mom kicked them out then that sibling could live with us as long as they needed, but they needed to get themselves out first before we could help. He told me that leaving was the best example I could have given them. And even though it was incredibly hard to let go of needing to take care of them, he was right.

I bore the brunt of the disapproval, the suspicion of rule breaking, the constant monitoring and spying, and it was a responsibility that I took seriously. I bore the constant mind games, the guilt trips, the hours of lectures on my rebellious nature, because I hoped it would make things easier for them. And now looking at everyone grown and on their own, I know it helped them be able to get out. Because I showed them that they could. That it was OK to leave and be adults. That they could be trusted to make their own decisions.

Now I know how to answer my mom’s question if she ever asked again (we are on much, much better terms now!).

I would tell her that she is what changed us. That I couldn’t trust someone who never believed me and tried to keep me in an unnatural relationship. I would tell her that the patriarchy garbage she had bought for so long is just a ponzi scheme for abuse. I would tell her that I am not a horse to be trained, and that the life she wanted me to live would have set me up for being just as abused and stuck as she was.

I could tell her a lot of things, but honestly, I probably won’t.

I think it would kill her, or damn near close.

But I can tell you, you new parents who are wondering if it’s worthwhile to “train up your child”. Believe me, it’s not. It never will be. Choose a different and more peaceful way. Teach them tolerance and love. Teach it by example every day. Lead them, guide them, walk beside them, but don’t every think you can spank or guilt them into loving God. Teach them correct principles and trust that God will touch their hearts.

Now, as I look at my own sweet babies sleeping in their beds, I know that things will be different. We are planning on homeschooling them, but mainly because our schools here are terrible. We are not “training them up” to be obedient unthinking robots. We let them experience the natural consequences of their choices. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s so much better. They make wise decisions on their own because they *know* where foolish decisions lead. We do give them a swat or two on the butt when they’ve done something harmful, but those are rare instances.

Our home is not perfect, but it is happy, and our children know they can trust us.

And that is the greatest gift a parent can ever receive. 

I Was an LDS Homeschooler: Tirzah’s Story, Part One

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Pedro Szekely. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Pedro Szekely. Image links to source.

Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Tirzah” is a pseudonym.

I was homeschooled my entire life. As were all my brothers and sisters. I actually don’t mind at all that I was homeschooled. I enjoyed it, a lot. As an educational method I think it can be remarkably effective, giving children an unhindered environment to learn at their own pace and truly develop their own talents.

That being said, I still feel compelled to write and share my story. It’s not as bad or traumatic as some, but not as happy and rosy as others.

A few years ago my mother looked at me with a mournful and wistful look and sadly asked, “What happened to us? You used to trust me and confide in me so much, then when you were about 11 that all changed. Why did you stop trusting me?”

I didn’t know how to answer that at the time.

I was still sorting through my childhood and I genuinely believed that the change our relationship had taken was somehow my fault. I didn’t think it was all my fault, but surely a large portion of it was mine, because my mom loved me, and I was the one who was annoyed by her.

My family is LDS (you know, those controversial Mormons?). As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints we have a doctrine that is distinct and very very different from any evangelical Christian denomination. But for a family that wants to homeschool for religious reasons back in my day there really weren’t any LDS oriented curriculums. So my parents did what many Mormon homeschoolers did: they branched out.

Abeka was the first inclusion I can remember. The books were vaguely creepy to me, with randomly placed Bible verses that had no bearing at all on whatever the subject matter was. Gradually more items worked their way in. Books about Amish and Mennonite children who learned valuable life lessons about greed, vanity, and perfect immediate obedience. They were also creepy, but I loved to read so I read them occasionally out of sheer boredom.

My dad was extremely abusive. He was large, frightening, and he thrived off of intimidating people. Especially us. He kept my mother in a constant state of fear and desperation, so as very small children we were largely unmonitored, my mother desperately cleaning one room after the other as we moved through like a storm of tiny Tasmanian devils. My mother eventually gathered the courage and resources to leave him and she gained full custody of all of us in the divorce. I came out of that experience with some deep rooted trust issues with men. I didn’t want to be left alone near any man.

My mother didn’t help in that matter, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Now a newly single mother my mom faced a lot of pressure to put us in school. She didn’t feel like that would be the right thing, so she figured out ways to make money while staying at home. She also needed to figure out how to undo the years of bad habits we had learned when it came to our cleaning habits. And that is when she discovered the Pearls and their masterpiece of parenting wisdom “To Train Up a Child”. Suddenly her mind was opened- children were like horses who needed guidance and careful training, who needed to learn instant compliance in order to learn obedience to God. If they didn’t receive that training then their souls would be in peril and they would wander off into the lost paths of darkness, and be pulled into the hedonistic world of Babylon.

I got the horse analogy a lot as a child and teen. I was the oldest at home, my older brother having been sent off to live with our father, and as the oldest she not only needed me to be the example, but to also make me the example. So I got lots of switchings. Sometimes it was a switch, others a belt, once a wooden spoon but she broke that on me. Then I was in more trouble because I made her break the spoon.

I had no privacy for my thoughts. “Murmuring” was not tolerated, because Laman and Lemuel murmured (book of Mormon people) and that ended up creating an entire civilization that rejected God. I wasn’t allowed to feel any anger towards her for the sudden changes in my life, and anything but perfect respect and admiration was unacceptable.

My mom didn’t use the spanking philosophy for long, she couldn’t bear to continue to inflict bodily harm on her kids (gee, I wonder why…..) but the attitude and mentality behind it remained. Seemingly overnight I had gone from being decently self sufficient and independent to being unbearably incapable and never to be trusted. The siblings that I had spent my entire life protecting from my father and mentally ill brother suddenly needed to be protected from me. Suddenly I was a pathological liar who bullied and harmed them out of spite and malice. I was never to be believed, because I was older and bigger, and they all told the same story. My younger brother was the perfect and honest one who would never lie to her… Only me. I was the liar, I was too rebellious, too unruly. I was leading my siblings astray.

I was always made to feel self conscious of my body.

My mom once pulled me aside at the public swimming pool to inform me that any time I stepped out of the pool I needed to wrap the towel around my waist because men might think my legs were really sexy. I was only 13, and wasn’t even close to puberty. Once at 17 a boy in my youth group cruelly called me a “corner girl” to hurt me, they all knew that I had never so much as kissed a boy, so that was an especially painful barb. When I told my mother about it, instead of defending me she told me it was because my shirt was too tight and they could see the curve of my breasts. We were always warned about sex, but never taught anything. It would lead us to immoral acts, and if I learned anything about it then I might say something to my siblings and that would cause them to be immoral too. Every decision I made had to be weighed against how it would affect them.

But her lessons on my responsibility as the oldest and the counseling we had received in our abuse survivors group sunk in, and not how she had hoped. I knew that it was my responsibility to teach “the youngers”, as I referred to them, how to move into adulthood in spite of my mom’s desire to go back in time and re-raise us. So I pushed on. I persuaded her to let me get an email account. She was very worried about allowing me on the computer, and told me that I could become addicted to pornography from the junk mail, or kidnapped by a stranger who would try to “get me” from the chat rooms. After establishing some rules I got one. Within a few years the others each has one as well. The same went with phone usage, then cellphone use, then Facebook.

Eventually I decided to serve a mission for our Church. But because it was several years before the age change our church recently had, it meant that I lived at home till I was in my 20’s to save money and prepare for my mission.

It was during that time period that my mom discovered the Christian Patriarchy movement.

She feel in love with the notion of “stay-at-home daughters” carefully protected and guided by their wise and loving parents. My mom had remarried by this time, and desperately wanted to take back the abuse and neglect we had receive from our biological father. What better way to do that then having sah-daughters? Oh she thought it was lovely and refined. But still unreasonably expected us to function as adults. But her vision of adult daughters was one of daughters who were wise enough to submit to their parents.

At the time I went along with it, but with a great deal of reservation. I tried to be humble and submissive and recognized that I was still living in their house so I needed to respect their rules. I worked for my step father and “contributed” to the family. Don’t get me wrong, I had some pretty decent perks as well, lessons in music and other sports that I valued highly, but it was still miserable.

When I went on my mission everything changed.

Part Two >

When A Stay-At-Home Daughter Rebels: Reumah’s Story, Part Three

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Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Reumah” is a pseudonym.

< Part Two

Part Three: Escape

This roller coaster I was one wouldn’t stop. Me, hesitatingly trying to make a step forward, my parents instantly pushing me back. I bought a little pallet of eye shadow one day – my parents told me I looked like a whore. I bought a skirt with a hemline just at the knee. My parents said I was pushing their standards. I desperately wanted a job. My father sat me down and told me how I was actually losing money by taking a job outside the home….and that my skills were better utilized under his roof.

I finally got the job I so coveted, at the age of almost 21.

I must have looked completely lost, walking into the store that first day in a long skirt, unsure of how to behave or what to say in this unfamiliar environment. Over the next six months, I would meet so many new people that would open my eyes to the oppression that I was living in. I made so much progress in that six months, but my parents could only see the negative influences that the “world” was having on me. I had to lie, sneak around, and pretend to be someone I wasn’t to keep the peace in my household.

One morning when I came down for breakfast wearing my favorite pair of jeans, my father told me that he was ashamed of my immodest clothing, and that I wasn’t allowed to wear those jeans ever again in his house. As a 21 year old woman who’d tasted just enough independence to understand what she was missing, I was livid. I started keeping the jeans at work, and changing into them as soon as I left my parent’s house. My days of quietly obeying my parent’s directives were quickly coming to an end.

I applied for, and miraculously received, a full ride scholarship to a distinguished university completely across the country from my parents. I remember my Dad, sitting on the couch in our living room, telling me he would never approve of one of his daughter’s leaving his home to attend college. That he would never allow it. Would never give his blessing.

I remember crying in the living room, desperate for an escape from my prison.

My friends at work told me I had to go. Those women at my first little retail job were instrumental in helping me ease into the real world, and open my eyes to the fact that I NEEDED to move on with my life. Yes, it would be hard. Yes it was scary, especially without any support from my family. But I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to spend 4 years across the country from my family, becoming my own person. Because after so many years living my parent’s beliefs and being told what was right and wrong, I didn’t know who I really was.

After an agonizing summer, I went.

My parents, insistent that they would move the family across the country so I could stay under their roof, drove me out to my new college with the promise that they would be there within a semester. I secretly hoped their plans to move would fall through. Thankfully, they did.

I fell in love with dorm life instantly, and loved the absolute freedom I had over my life. My future opened up before me. Endless opportunities and freedom met me at every turn. I met so many wonderful people who were kind, helpful, selfless, and genuine. I marveled when I met folks who weren’t devout fundamentalists and had never heard of patriarchy, and yet were still amazing people. These students – most of them had been to public school, had been raised in normal American culture; and yet they weren’t raging pagans, criminals, and devils in disguise. How could this be? Maybe my parents had been wrong.

Fast forward almost three years to the present day. It’s been a long road.

The first year of college life was incredibly difficult. I couldn’t keep up with any of the conversations my peers were having. Pop culture references went straight over my head. I hadn’t seen any of the movies people talked about; I didn’t get the jokes my friends made. People were shocked when they learned I’d never had a boyfriend and never been kissed; horrified when they learned I’d never gone to high school, played a sport or gone on a sleepover. I didn’t know who the Backstreet Boys were, had never listened to a Michael Jackson song, and didn’t know the Disney Channel even existed. Eventually, I started leaving those details of my life out of conversations. I created a completely new “me”, and many of my friends never even knew of my life before college.

My relationship with my family is rocky these days. I now stand for everything they’ve ever been opposed to….done everything they always wanted to protect me from. They’re convinced that college has corrupted me in a thousand ways. They don’t approve, support, or accept the person that I’ve become over the past 3 years since I left the movement. On the surface, they’re friendly. They feign interest in my activities, and we talk on a regular basis. But deep down, they can’t stand what I’ve become.

My siblings are still at home, lost in the life from which I’ve escaped. Fortunately, one of my brothers decided to leave too, and he’s now traveling around Europe making up for lost time.

I’m incredibly proud of how far I’ve come. But I have a lot left to go.

While I don’t dwell on my past, it does shape the person that I am today. I still find traces of my upbringing from time to time. My boyfriend is constantly dispelling my twisted views of life, family, relationships, and myself that are still left over from my dysfunctional upbringing.

And it’s overwhelmingly difficult to know that I don’t have the support of my family.

And yet,

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow.”  ~ Thomas Paine

End of series.

When A Stay-At-Home Daughter Rebels: Reumah’s Story, Part Two

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Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Reumah” is a pseudonym.

< Part One

Part Two: Trapped

I was trapped.

As I’d gotten older, my parents had gotten stricter, more isolated, and more focused on minute details of our lives.  We spent our mornings listening to my father read the Bible to us and decry the evils of the world, the culture, and anything he associated with it.  We weren’t allowed to watch films in the movie theater.  My brothers weren’t allowed to participate in organized sports, or watch football games; it took them away from family time and smacked of worldliness.  The only music in our home was hymns or peaceful praise songs. Even Christian radio was out of the question.    Dating was completely off the table…my parents were firmly entrenched in the values of courtship, and any potential relationship would be controlled completely by my father.

As time passed, I became less and less content with my life as a home maker in training. I’m not sure what changed. Perhaps it was just the passage of time, or perhaps it was the endless monotony of my days as they ran into each other. Getting up, weeding the garden, fixing breakfast. Washing the endless amounts of dishes, watching my little brothers, putting in laundry. Fixing lunch, lying around most of the afternoon on the internet or reading a book, then sluggishly helping put together dinner and going back to my computer to entertain myself until it was time for lights out. I didn’t have any friends, and nothing with which to break up my days.  I didn’t have anything to look forward to, and the glorious prospects of winning the culture war and raising a family of warriors for Christ began to seem a little bleak.  I began to envision the reality of the future I had willingly committed to, and it wasn’t a prospect I liked at all.

Yet, in spite of my growing restlessness, I was trapped.  No, I wasn’t being forcibly held at home.  My family loved me, and I loved them. But I slowly began to see the bars of the invisible prison into which I had unknowingly walked.

I was stuck. 

I had no discernible skills.  As a home school student, I hadn’t participated in any extra curricular activities, teams, or competitions for fear of being corrupted by worldly influences. I’d never held a job outside of my family, and didn’t have any means of getting one without a vehicle.  I’d briefly brought up the prospect of perhaps a part time job at our local library or a little boutique, but my father had quickly shot that down with a reminder about the Biblical role for women, and had placated me by piling on lots of mundane tasks he needed done for his own business. To him, I already had a job.

Without my father’s approval and permission, I wouldn’t be allowed use of the family vehicles to get to a potential job. So that was out of the question.  Without a job, I had no income.  And without income, I was powerless.  The money I did have came from my parents; wages I ‘earned’ for helping out around the house or for balancing my father’s checkbooks each month. I searched for ways to fill the void that wouldn’t clash with my parent’s ideals. I looked for ways to volunteer (online, of course), and tried to start a web based business. I explored the idea of beginning online classes in business; starting my college education was grudgingly allowed as long as I did it from the comfort and safety of my bedroom.  And, it was made clear, any post high school education would only be for the purpose of preparing me to be a better home schooling mother and a more helpful and supportive wife. Somehow, this didn’t sound very appealing.

I started blaming my situation on our location.  If only we would move to a different place, it would all be better. I would find friends. More importantly, I would find a husband.  Prince Charming, my future husband, would be the key to freeing me from my prison.  But after years of staunchly backing the patriarchal movement and spewing my legalistic views on Biblical womanhood to everyone who would listen, I felt embarrassed when I started questioning my long held ideals.

This inner turmoil haunted me for over a year and a half.  A constant battle between what I knew I “should” believe, and what another part of me was starting to explore.  I was curious about the world beyond the four walls of my home.  I caught snatches of secular music at the grocery store, and didn’t hate what I heard.  I saw commercials for TV shows that were well below my age level, yet I was still captivated with what I saw.  I noticed happy college students, books in tow, walking freely along the streets close to the campus of a nearby university, and harbored a quiet jealousy for the opportunities they had.

I started to resent my parents and their rules, and I started to resent myself for having trapped myself into a prison from which I saw no escape. I became angry for the time I had lost, the things I had never experienced, and the life that I saw slipping away from me.  I secretly resented my church, religion, and eventually the God I had believed in for so long.

The God who would send me to hell if I didn’t do what he wanted. 

Part Three >

When A Stay-At-Home Daughter Rebels: Reumah’s Story, Part One

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Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Reumah” is a pseudonym.

Part One: Return of the Daughters

My parents represented typical suburbia during my early child hood; my Dad with his upper middle class corporate job, and my Mom puttering around the house taking care of us and making our lives happy and healthy.   We had the brick three bedroom ranch-style home you see in the magazines; two or three cars in the garage, money in the bank, a good circle of friends, and a cute little church with a steeple we attended religiously on Sunday mornings.  Church services were always followed by lazy afternoons where my Dad grilled out on the back porch while we children played in the fading sunlight.

My parents had always been good Christian people. They raised us in the church, took us to Sunday school, taught us about Jesus and the Bible at home.  Christianity was a fundamental pillar of my early childhood. It fit comfortably into our lives, right along with everything else we held dear.  But sometime around my eleventh birthday, my parents transitioned from mainstream Christianity towards something more radical, conservative, and polarizing.

My parents became exposed to the teachings of organizations and individuals such as Doug Phillips (Vision Forum), Bill Gothard (IBLP), Geoff Botkin (Western Conservatory), and Mike & Debi Pearl (No Greater Joy). On the surface, these people seemed like admirable champions for morality, truth, and wholesome family values.  What could be better? My parents wholeheartedly subscribed to their teachings, and eventually steered the direction of our family away from mainstream Christianity and into the ditch of these extreme right wing fundamentalists.

These organizations promised the world if you followed their “Biblical” teachings; perfect families, obedient children, protected daughters, reprieve from all heartbreak, answers to every problem you could imagine. These God-like men fiercely taught the tenets of patriarchy; they eschewed all forms of feminism; paraded the perfection of male authority and total female submission; warned of the great dangers of the world, and lauded those who welcome as many children as humanly possible into their families.  After all, we were at war with the culture, and we needed to out-number them.

We left our mainstream church with the friendly steeple and started a “home church” with two or three families who felt the same way as my parents did. Home church consisted of singing hymns at home on our couch, while one of the fathers “preached” on the dangers of the world and how we needed to be protected from it lest we be corrupted.  Gender roles were strongly emphasized and the liberal agenda was held up as the devil of our age; something we needed to defeat lest the homosexuals, abortionists, feminists, and the government take over the world.

But my 11 year old mind couldn’t wrap around these concepts.  All I knew was that my parents were happy; they’d found the answer to their problems and the solution to all future familial woes. They taught us the principles they believed in, and as children we knew no different.

 We took to this new patriarchal fundamentalist culture like bees to honey; it was easy, we knew what the rules were, and it made us feel better than the rest of the lazy Christians our friends talked about.

But little did I know where these teachings and philosophies would lead our family, my parents, and myself.  How could I have known? I was just a kid, doing what I was told and learning what I was taught by my well-meaning parents.  How could I have foreseen the heartache, the lost time, the lost opportunities, the emotional bondage, and the dreams I would have taken from me before they even had a chance to develop?

Fast forward to 2008 – my excitement was palpable as I unwrapped the most recent birthday gift from my well-meaning parents; Vision Forum’s newest DVD release “Return of the Daughters” promoting Biblical womanhood and a return to the supposed woman’s role in the home.  I turned over the shiny DVD and read the beautifully crafted summary on the back;

“This highly-controversial documentary will take viewers into the homes of several young women who have dared to defy today’s anti-family culture in pursuit of a biblical approach to daughter hood, using their in-between years to pioneer a new culture of strength and dignity, and to rebuild Western Civilization, starting with the culture of the home.”

Christian patriarchy taught that the woman’s role was in the home.  Her purpose in life was to further the vision of her husband by supporting and obeying him.  Women were to be under the protection and authority of their father until they married, and the time after high school graduation didn’t include college or jobs outside the home. These were deadly distractions that would only corrupt our innocent minds and hearts with feminism and the liberal agenda.

To my innocent and sheltered sixteen year old mind, this sounded like the ultimate ideal. Controversial? Check. Counter cultural? Check. Revolutionary? Check. These ideas all sounded so exciting to me, post high school and bored as I was.

After graduating from high school at the age of seventeen, I hadn’t given college a second thought. According to the teachings of Christian patriarchy, college was no place for the Godly woman. Modern day institutions of higher learning, I was taught, were bastions of liberal thought and hatred for God, and no good could ever come of me leaving my father’s protection for such a place. If higher education was to even be considered, online classes in herbalism, nursing, teaching, or other such womanly arts were the only options I had available to me. But I was far from being deprived by my parents – I’d been taught these ideals for so long that I was the one vehemently asserting that I would never attend college.

My place was at home, waiting for Prince Charming to come along and sweep me off my feet.

So, there I was; post home school high school, insanely bored, and more sure of what NOT to do with my life than what TO do with it. The Botkins’ revolutionary documentary Return of the Daughters was just the fanatical fodder I needed to fuel my ever increasing disdain for modern ideals of the woman.

By this time, we’d joined an actual church that sadly subscribed to all the same beliefs as my parents. One Sunday, in lieu of a sermon, this stomach churning documentary was shown in church. Looking back, the thought of all the little girls (and boys) sitting in those pews watching a film teaching them that girls weren’t mean for education, experience, or college life makes me sick to my stomach. But back then, it was the norm. I watched in awe as my female ideals, Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, looked into the camera with their poised grown up demeanor and proclaimed their truth; that feminism was all a lie. An evil ploy by secular humanists to destroy the family and take women away from their God given sphere. A Communist plot to chip away at the fabric of Christian society. That by going to college, holding down jobs, and leaving our father’s protection, we were unwittingly playing right into their hands and helping them destroy God’s design for families. And what’s worse, is it all sounded so plausible. So righteous. So moral. And I ate up every word.

As a home schooled sheltered child, I’d never been exposed to anything different. Anything resembling a feminist idea had been quickly removed from our home, and we’d been consistently taught that women were to be in submission to men. That by submitting to our father, we were practicing for the day when we would be submitting to our future husband. According to the Bible, our job was to support and obey our husband. Our sphere was the home; cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and raising the children while our male authority figure went out to do battle with the real world. Anything not directly supporting this God given mission, we were told, was only the world’s attempt to draw our attention away from our purpose in life.

With this background, I had no trouble swallowing what Anna Sophia and Elizabeth Botkin were all too eager to dish out. In their documentary, they portrayed graceful young women in their early twenties busily staying at home helping their mothers, teaching their young siblings, cooking delicious dinners for daddy, and sewing modest clothing just like the Proverbs 31 woman.

They made it all look so important. So purposeful. Godly women were submissive. Godly women were graceful and modest. Godly women respected and revered their fathers. Godly women spent their days being a servant to their family, without thought to their own wants or desires. And one day, if we were Godly enough and obedient enough, we would be rewarded with a husband of our own – the ultimate goal for a stay-at-home daughter.

I embraced my mission in life vehemently. I cooked, cleaned, and ironed with a passion. I crocheted blankets, sewed skirts, baked bread, copied recipes for my own collection, and washed dishes. After all, I didn’t have to worry about where to go to college, or how to survive on my own as an independent woman. I didn’t have to worry about finding a job, or picking a career. Money wasn’t my problem…..I would be provided for by my future husband.

But my personal version of paradise wouldn’t last.

I was trapped.

Part Two >

God’s Plantation: Vision Forum and the Old South

race

About the Author: Jonathan Wilson is a Ph.D. student in American intellectual history at Syracuse University. An earlier version of this article was posted in November at The Junto: A Group Blog in Early American History. It is reprinted in a modified version here with permission.

Late last year, Doug Phillips, the president of Vision Forum Ministries, publicly admitted to an inappropriate extramarital relationship and resigned. Shortly afterward, the Vision Forum board of directors decided to shut down the San Antonio ministry. In the months since then, World Magazine has reported additional terrible details about Phillips’s alleged behavior toward a woman under his care.

The story made even secular news. For years, Vision Forum and Doug Phillips had enjoyed oversized influence in homeschooling circles as leaders of the “Quiverfull” movement, encouraging Christians to have (and homeschool) large families as a way of exercising influence in the world.

Vision Forum providential historyThey were champions of “biblical patriarchy,” the principle that family life (and ultimately society at large) should be organized under the authority of divinely ordained fathers and husbands. According to one manifesto prepared by Vision Forum, “the erosion of biblical manhood and leadership,” caused by modern ideologies that undermine God’s authority, “leads to the perversion of the role of women, the destruction of our children, and the collapse of our society.”

To be fair, Vision Forum’s view originated in a specific theological tradition to which most members of the “Religious Right” probably do not belong. And it leads to some conclusions that many Christian conservatives find repellent. Yet some of Vision Forum’s teachings have been disproportionately influential in the American homeschooling movement. And they are especially important for understanding the movement’s relationship to the painful history of American racism.

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What sorts of conclusions did Vision Forum draw from its theology? First, there are the obvious ones.

Vision Forum advocated very well-defined gender roles. Through its for-profit merchandise catalog aimed at homeschooling families, it distributed books like an updated version of William Gouge’s Of Domesticall Duties, a 1622 treatise on family life. (A sample of the original wording: “Mildness in a wife hath respect also to the ordering of her countenance, gesture, and whole carriage before her husband, whereby she manifesteth a pleasingness to him, and a contentedness and willingness to be under him and ruled by him.”) The online store sold a two-DVD set called “Tea and Hospitality with Michelle Duggar,” inviting viewers to “celebrate the fruit of the womb with [mother-of-nineteen] Michelle!”

Vision Forum outdoor adventureVision Forum also sold homeschooling families highly gender-specific toys like an “all-American boy’s crossbow” and a “Princess Virginia” dress meant to encourage a girl as she “identifies with Mommy and experiences how unique and wonderful it is to be a girl, to be a daughter of the Most High King—to be His little princess!” Vision Forum’s entire merchandise catalog encouraged as much differentiation as possible between boy leaders and girl followers.

Interestingly, there was also a pronounced nationalistic dimension to gender in this catalog. Vision Forum boys and girls were always American boys and girls. Although many evangelical bloggers and journalists have been highly critical of Vision Forum’s attitudes toward gender, they have often overlooked this.

Vision Forum promoted American nationalism on the basis of their brand of Calvinist covenant theology, which implied that an authoritarian family structure would regenerate God’s special covenant with the United States of America. Yet militant identification with the United States—and especially with its early history—is evident everywhere in Vision Forum’s catalog, especially in its merchandise for boys.

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Even more important, however, is that Vision Forum promoted a vision not just of male leadership in the family and the nation, but more specifically a vision rooted in an ideology of white male mastery. And it promoted not just American nationalism, but Southern nationalism—the nationalism of the Confederacy.

To be clear, Vision Forum was not an avowedly racist organization. It did not directly or consciously advocate white supremacy. But it did deliberately promote nostalgia for the white supremacist social order of the Old South.

In fact, one of Doug Phillips’s first books, published in 2003, was a short edited collection of writings by Robert Lewis Dabney, a Southern Presbyterian theologian. Its subtitle is The Prophet Speaks. Dabney, though technically an opponent of secession, was an enthusiastic defender of southern slavery. He served in the Confederate army as a chaplain and as an aide to Stonewall Jackson, and after the war, he published A Defence of Virginia, and through Her, of the South. This book defended human slavery, endorsing the notion that God instituted black slavery through the “curse upon Canaan” after Noah’s flood. Dabney also published an admiring Life of General Jackson and later a pamphlet denouncing racial integration in Presbyterian churches.

None of this meant that Doug Phillips consciously endorsed white supremacy. In his collection, instead, Phillips printed excerpts of Dabney’s later diatribes against public education and feminism. Yet Phillips was clearly enamored of Dabney as a person and as a cultural figure.

“Perhaps no Christian leader of the nineteenth century,” Phillips wrote about Dabney, “filled the role of prophet with greater proficiency.” He even wrote that “for those individuals who long for the days in which a gentleman could hold the door for a lady without some indignant feminist snorting at him, Dabney’s writings will seem refreshingly virile.” As for Dabney’s pro-slavery views? Phillips just coyly asked his readers to consider “the context of the War itself.”[1]

Indeed, the depth of Phillips’s personal admiration for Dabney—and for Stonewall Jackson—was evident in several of the items for sale by Vision Forum. They included a reprint of Dabney’s biography of Jackson, a collection of Jackson’s letters, and even a doll meant to remind girls of Stonewall Jackson’s “godly wife.”

Vision Forum doll collectionWith this doll, Vision Forum strayed deep into what I call “Plantation Chic”—nostalgia for the prewar, slaveowning South. “Stately homes, horse-drawn carriages, and beautiful dresses were special delights for Southern young ladies,” sighed the catalog. “Now you can attire your doll in the feminine and delightfully flouncy styles of the mid-1800s!”

Even more revealing was the Vision Forum “Beautiful Girlhood” doll collection. It featured four dolls—two black and two white. The white dolls were both named after the ideal of freedom; Vision Forum called them Liberty and Jubilee. One of the black dolls was simply named Abigail. And the other black doll? Her name was Fidelia, helpfully translated as “Faithful One.”[2]

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Meanwhile, Vision Forum sold various history books and audio albums that discussed the Civil War itself. The online descriptions were vague, but these materials had the usual earmarks of what historians call the “Lost Cause” interpretation of the war—the discredited claim that secession was not about slavery, that the North was oppressive, and that most African Americans actually preferred to be slaves.

For example, Vision Forum’s books sometimes referred to the war as “the War between the States,” a term preferred by many Confederacy defenders. They fixated on the supposed nobility of southern “Christian warriors” like (of course) Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. And they seemed to imply that slavery’s role in the war was not what most historians say. (One blurb in Vision Forum’s print catalog warned that “most of what we ‘know’ about it is actually revisionist history.”)

As an American historian, I can say with confidence that Vision Forum was wrong about this. In the 1860s, Confederate leaders said without any hesitation that their goal was to protect slavery.

According to its official secession declaration, South Carolina left the Union because northerners called slavery “sinful” and had elected a president (Abraham Lincoln) “whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.” My home state seceded because its leaders thought the federal government was “destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slave-holding States”—specifically, the institution of slavery. Mississippi seceded in order to defeat “negro equality,” declaring that “our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.”

Confederate leaders talked a lot about how the federal government was supposedly taking away their rights. But the key right they had in mind, according to their own words, was the right to own black people. They insisted that white men had this right not only in their own states but also in free states and territories, even if the whites there objected. To protect this “right,” they not only decided to leave America but also deliberately fired on a U.S. military post. In the American Civil War, the Confederacy formed to defend slavery, and then it fired the first shot.

Vision Forum Fidelia dollBut Vision Forum’s pro-Confederate position probably shouldn’t be surprising, given Vision Forum’s close resemblance to (and relationship with) the better-known ministry of Idaho pastor Douglas Wilson.

Douglas Wilson, an unbelievably prolific writer, may be the best-known advocate today of a conservative Calvinist vision for patriarchal family life and gender roles. He is still quite influential in the homeschool movement. He’s also notorious for writing two books on slavery, Southern Slavery: As It Was and Black & Tan, both of which are available online.

These two books about the Old South include condemnations of racism. But they deny that slavery is wrong. “Was slave ownership malum in se, an evil in itself?” Wilson asks at one point in Black & Tan. “The answer to that question, for anyone who believes the Bible, is that it was possible for a godly man to own slaves, provided he treated them exactly as the Scripture required.” Wilson also calls proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney a “virtually prophetic” man, just as Doug Phillips did. Wilson acknowledges and condemns Dabney’s racism, but he apparently has almost nothing to say about Dabney’s views on slavery itself.[3]

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All of this leaves us with an important question. Why would Christian homeschooling advocates who claim not to be racist promote this kind of nostalgia for the antebellum South? Why would they encourage us to idolize the Old South’s slavery-based plantation culture, its slaveowning white men, and its self-serving views about the federal government?

Oddly enough, it seems fairly clear that racism isn’t the place to start. Although fondness for the antebellum South often does result from racism, I don’t think it would be helpful to assume that’s the key reason for Vision Forum’s views. There is little direct evidence that Vision Forum was consciously racist, and there’s quite a bit of evidence that they didn’t want to be racists. If nothing else, blaming racism is the least interesting thing we could say about what was going on in their ministry.

But we need to recognize that in real-life America, slavery is inextricable from racism, and so is the history of the Confederacy. The association between slavery and racism isn’t accidental or irrelevant. When you claim the right to own an entire category of people as slaves, you cannot see them as equal human beings.

And we also need to see that Vision Forum’s nostalgia for a white slaveowning society was directly related to its nostalgia for an authoritarian code of sexual ethics. The right to own slaves may not have been the point of Vision Forum’s preaching, but the nearly absolute authority of the male householder, commanding all other members of the family, certainly was.

No amount of talk about “complementary” roles for men and women can conceal what Vision Forum was actually eager to announce: that its key concern was patriarchy—a system of governance, not just a distribution of responsibilities. From that perspective, the Old South represented a convenient image of white manhood and womanhood. To Vision Forum, the Confederacy’s fate served as perhaps a hint of why authoritarian manhood seems endangered today.

In addition, the failure of the Confederacy may be a convenient explanation for the supposed decline of Christian civilization in what Vision Forum claims was a providentially founded Christian nation. For them, the Civil War can serve as the moment when God chastised his people in America (just as he did the ancient Hebrews) for straying from their appointed course. It also seems to represent what can happen when a society fails to cohere—when its authority structures, and thus its values, fail. It explains what went wrong in God’s own nation.

We need to recognize that this authoritarianism is a vision of slavery and death. We can empathize with people who yearn for a lost culture. We can try to understand their anxiety and alleviate their fears. But we must call their vision what it is and offer another way.

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  1. See the introduction, especially pages 8-10.
  2. Though this name has highly offensive proslavery implications, Vision Forum seems not to have realized it. In fact, the doll seemed to be designed with freedom in mind. Fidelia, the online catalog said, “can brave the voyage to New England as Priscilla Mullins, help Lewis and Clark find the Northwest Passage as Sacagawea, serve tea at the White House as Dolley Madison, and stroll the deck of the Titanic as Nan Harper.”
  3. Here’s Wilson’s comment in fuller context: “The issue is whether a Christian man could have lawfully owned a slave in 1850 America without being necessarilyguilty of a moral outrage. Was slave ownership malum in se, an evil in itself? The answer to that question, for anyone who believes the Bible, is that it was possible for a godly man to own slaves, provided he treated them exactly as the Scripture required. In a sinful world, slave ownership generallyis sinful, and it is a system that invites abuse. Over time the gospel will overthrow all forms of slavery. But again, the kingdom arrives like yeast working through the loaf, and not like a coup de main. In the meantime, to have the likes of the abolitionist Charles G. Finney (who said that it is impossible to be on the right side of God and the wrong side of the slavery issue) hurling his taunts at Abraham and Philemon is a bit thick.” Douglas Wilson, Black & Tan: A Collection of Essays and Excursions on Slavery, Culture War, and Scripture in America(Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2005), 69. For Wilson’s remarks about Dabney, see pp. 79-94.