From approximately 1986 through 1994, I was a participant and ultimately a leader in a movement which has come to be known as the “Quiverfull Movement,” the “Titus Two” movement, and the “Patriarch” movement, Christian Bible literalist movements in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand that emphasize obedience to the Bible, submission to authority, separation from the world, and, for women, devotion to husband, children and home.
When I took the turn in the road that led me in the direction of this movement in 1983, I had four children and was expecting my fifth, who is now 25. I had quit my job outside the home as, at that time, a court reporter and had begun homeschooling and learning to manage on one income instead of two. As a member of Calvary Chapel of Tacoma, a nondenominational, Bible literalist church which emerged out of the “Jesus People” counterculture movement, I was immersed in “verse-by-verse expository Bible teaching” which emphasized obedience to “the Word” and to God. As a pioneer in the homeschooling movement, I met other Christians who, like me at the time, were interested not just in believing the Word, but in “doing” the Word, obeying it, in other words. In the belief that I was following God and embracing God’s plan for my own life, for women, and for wives and mothers, my then-husband and I stopped using birth control in favor of allowing God to plan our family. My daughters and I dressed modestly, wore head veilings and were silent in the church in submission to the scriptures. We lived a home-centered life, planted gardens, raised farm animals.
In 1989 I began publishing a magazine for other women interested in living this way. The name of this publication was Gentle Spirit. I began with 17 subscribers. The first issues were typed on a Selectric typewriter and copied on a copy machine. I began speaking at homeschooling meetings and conferences locally and my subscriber base grew. Over the next decade I would speak across the country at homeschooling conferences, on the radio and television. I was a guest speaker on James Dobson’s Focus on the Family program as part of a panel on a show entitled “Career Homemaking.” This program became a classic and was aired worldwide and translated into Spanish.
By 1994 I had approximately 30,000 readers internationally, and my magazine had become a full-color, glossy publication published 11 times per year. By this time I was the mother of nine children. My magazine featured articles on living on one income, feeding a large family on $200 per month (something I managed to do for many years), home birth, home schooling, breastfeeding, natural childbirth, gardening, raising farm animals, making soap and candles, homesteading, hospitality, sewing and home arts. I published regular articles on “Titus 2” living, too — being “chaste, discreet, a keeper at home, good and obedient to our own husbands.”
The emphasis in Quiverfull/Titus 2 circles on submission to husbands and reverence for husbands meant women in abusive relationships — as I was — had nowhere to turn for help. To report that a husband was abusive was to dishonor him and to invite the criticism and censure of the community. In my community, it was believed that God ordained our paths and charted our life’s course and that “something good” would come out of anything we might go through, even a husband’s abuse. The view was that if a husband was abusive, we should pray for him and attempt to “win him without a word,” by our “chaste behavior, coupled with fear.” We were taught, as women, not to “lean to our own understanding,” because women were and are “prone to deception.” We learned to “trust God” in the face of abuse and to pray and hope for a better day.
The day came when I could no longer continue in my own abusive marriage. Exhausted, desperate and afraid, I separated from my then-husband and filed for divorce. He turned to a pastor friend and to other national leaders in the Quiverfull/Titus 2 movement, and I was subjected to church discipline on a national level and ultimately to excommunication. As a result, my publication was destroyed. In 1997 when I could not move forward with my life two full years after my divorce was final, I filed a lawsuit against the churches and organizations that excommunicated me and drove my publication from the marketplace. A jury found in my favor in 1998, agreeing that the defendants in my lawsuit had conspired to restrain trade in violation of the Sherman Act. The defendants appealed, we settled, and I returned to publishing for two years, making good on outstanding subscriptions and making things right with columnists and advertisers. The story of my excommunication is told in the article “Confronting the Religious Right.”
It has now been 14 years since the day the “letter of discipline” was read in a church I had not attended for months. After my excommunication, I remarried and had two more children. Eight of my children are adults now and on their own; they are ages 19-36. I am still raising my three youngest children, ages 10, 13 and 17. I have four grandchildren, two of whom have always been homeschooled, just as my two youngest, like most of my older children, have always been homeschooled.
Since my excommunication I have worked hard to make sense of my experiences and to place them in the larger context of a world in which all women are still second-class citizens, and in which women in fundamentalist religious groups of many kinds remain, for all intents and purposes, the property of their husbands. I will be writing about my and other women’s experiences — the big issues and smaller issues, about ideas, theories, politics and day-to-day realities, in this blog. I hope what I write will educate and inform those who are not familiar with the situation of women in fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalism in general. I also hope women like me, exited from groups like mine, will find support, encouragement and practical help here as we build new lives for ourselves and our children.
In peace and love,