Monday, April 30, 2012

Adult Children of Christian Patriarchy--Libby Anne's Project

Libby Anne from Love Joy Feminism is currently doing a blog series about the adult children of Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy, and I'm excited to be a part of it!

Why did I choose to participate?  First of all, I think it's important to let other children from the Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy culture know that they are not alone.  As a child in that culture, you are trained to blame yourself for any problems and to see yourself as a bad person for daring to question anything.  It's a big risk to break away from that culture, but hopefully these stories from Libby Anne's series will show you that it is possible to make it through.  And hopefully these stories will encourage you to share your own experiences as well.

Second, I think that a lot of parents who raised their children in that culture are in denial about its effects, even if the parents are no longer participating in that culture themselves.  I hope this series will help to break through some of the parents' defenses and enable them to accept feedback from their children.  It's important for parents to remember that events during a person's formative years can have a much bigger impact, requiring more time and discussion to process them.  

I hope you'll read the series along with me and learn from each person's experience!

Introducing, Raised Quiverfull--Libby Anne's introduction to the series

Introductory Questions, Q. 1--The participants' introductions

Introductory Questions, Q. 2--The families' initial exposure to the Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy movement

Introductory Questions, Q. 3--How the families were typical/atypical of the Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy movement

Living the Life, Q. 1--The types of churches that the families attended

Living the Life, Q. 2--The marriage dynamic of the parents

Living the Life, Q. 3--How the Bible was handled in the family

Living the Life, Q. 4--Race and racism in the movement

A Gendered Childhood, Q. 1--Gender differences in sibling responsibilities 

A Gendered Childhood, Q. 2--The role of oldest daughters in the family

A Gendered Childhood, Q. 3--Gender differences in sibling activities and clothing

A Gendered Childhood, Q. 4--Parental influence on sons vs. daughters in their career and educational choices

Homeschooling, Q. 1--Parents' reasons for homeschooling

Homeschooling, Q. 2--Overview of socialization and academics

Homeschooling, Q. 3--The pros and cons of homeschooling

Homeschooling, Q. 4--Present vs. past perception of social and academic abilities

Homeschooling, Q. 5--Whether the participants would consider homeschooling their children

Purity, Q. 1--What the participants were taught about sex and physical/emotional purity

Purity, Q. 2--The participants' courtship experience

Purity, Q. 3--The participants' current opinions and feelings about the purity and courtship teachings

Purity, Q. 4--The lasting impact of the purity and courtship teachings

Questioning, Q. 1--First exposure and impressions of mainstream American culture

Questioning, Q. 2--Cause of initial questioning

Questioning, Q. 3--Struggles with questioning and leaving Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy

Questioning, Q. 4--Whether others from the participants' Q/CP community have also questioned and left

Relating to Family, Q. 1--How the families and communities responded to the participants' questioning

Relating to Family, Q. 2--The participants' current relationships with families and communities

Relating to Family, Q. 3--Coming out as atheists to family and friends in the Q/CP movement

Relating to Family, Q. 4--Whether siblings have left the Q/CP movement

Coping, Q. 1--Whether the participants feel different or emotionally isolated from society

Coping, Q. 2--Whether the participants' backgrounds create barriers in relationships  

Coping, Q. 3--How the Q/CP culture influenced who the participants are today

Coping, Q. 4--The participants' perception of their childhood, then and now

Coping, Q. 5--Whether the participants wish to go back

Helping Others, Q. 1--Advice for young adults questioning or leaving Q/CP culture

Helping Others, Q. 2--What was helpful to the participants when leaving Q/CP culture

Helping Others, Q. 3--What helps the participants most today

Helping Others, Q. 4--How to help friends/relatives who are influenced by Q/CP culture

A summary of all my answers alone can be found here.

If you've enjoyed reading these questions and answers, I recommend checking out Libby Anne's blog as she continues posting the stories of people who have left the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull culture that they were raised in.  If you are interested in participating in a future survey, she'd love to hear from you!

Monday, April 23, 2012

The World: (Not So) Evil and Dangerous!

From hanging around with people such as Scott Lively in my fundamentalist Christian homeschooling community, I understood the danger that America was facing from the gay agenda.  I believed that the gay lifestyle was depraved and corrupt and a sign of rebellion against God.  I believed that God expected me to use political activism to stand up for righteousness and his design for the family.  I believed that my "pro-family-values" activism was actually me being loving to the deceived people around me, people who were just taking the easy way out by accepting every type of lifestyle.

Then one day I accidentally met a gay person.

It was at my first real job, when I was 23 years old.  My favorite manager, Chris, called the store one day while he was off-duty.  He chatted with the on-duty manager Katie for a few minutes; when she hung up, she remarked to me, "He's so funny!  Why did he call me from a gay bar? haha!"

I was extremely confused.  "Yeah, that's weird," I said, trying to process the information, "Why would he be at a gay bar?"  Her jaw dropped, and she stared at me for a minute.  Then she said slowly, "Um.....because he's gay.  Didn't you know that?"

It was a huge moment for me, but a million panicked thoughts flooded my mind at once.  How was it that I hadn't noticed anything "different" about him?  He seemed so normal and sweet, not at all detrimental to society!  He had always been so thoughtful to me, even from the first day I walked in the store in my awkward unstylish clothes and shyly handed him my resume.  He was the first guy to tell me that I was pretty, that I looked like his favorite childhood actress Molly Ringwald (he couldn't believe that I had never heard of her).  But he was gay??  What was I supposed to do now??

I started to feel a huge spiritual burden for him, the feeling that I had a responsibility to help him get out of that damaging lifestyle somehow.  But how should I approach that topic with him?  Should I try to talk to him about turning away from that lifestyle and starting to follow Christ?  Or should I just invite him to church and let God speak to him through the sermons and the pastor?  I couldn't really see either scenario playing out very well, so I waited and thought and prayed.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had no idea what was inherently wrong with gay sex and gay love!  Why was it not equally valid?  It started to seem a very arbitrary thing to forbid, and reality didn't match what I had been taught about it in Christian culture.  In some ways, I felt like my gay boss was a better example of love than many of the Christian people that I knew.  After all, he had hired me willingly, even though he knew that I was a very conservative homeschooler and very likely to be strongly anti-gay.  I knew he would not have gotten the same treatment from many conservative Christian employers.  Cautiously, I started to think to myself, "Maybe homosexuality is ok after all."

And that was just one of many cracks that formed as my Christian worldview hit reality.  For the first time in my life, I was hearing about other worldviews directly from their source, instead of a filtered, watered-down version presented merely to strengthen my own worldview.  And, for the first time in my life, I realized it was possible to hold different opinions from my own without being "blind", "deceived," or "in rebellion against God"--my worldview was not so obvious, and "unsaved" people were not so bad after all.

But what were the implications for the Bible?  I had always tried to approach it simply, ready to believe the literal interpretation even when it required personal sacrifice.  To me, it was a timeless book, orchestrated by God, without contradiction, the only reliable source of truth.  But as cracks formed in my carefully-constructed Biblical worldview, in the end I had to decide what I thought about the Bible.  I had always avoided my natural curiosity about how the Bible came to us in its current state--it certainly didn't fall from the sky in its present form!  Acknowledging my questions about it was terrifying, but ultimately necessary.  If it were really from God, and if I really genuinely wanted to know the truth about it, I shouldn't have anything to fear.  So, very gradually, I looked at my beliefs and asked the hard questions.

My worldview said, "The Bible is the source for morality!" --But then why does it condone things like genocide, and call men "godly" when they offer their daughters to be gang raped, and advocate forced marriages between a girl and her raper?  Why doesn't it condemn slavery and child sacrifice and polygamy with child brides?  My worldview said, "The Bible is written by eyewitnesses, and their accounts don't contradict each other!"  --Then why was I afraid to look at the supposed contradictions?  They are there, after all, and just saying they don't exist isn't a valid argument.  The Bible has internal contradictions on theology and history, and there are significant variations between historic manuscripts.  Also, many of the books have unknown authors and were first written sometimes hundreds of years after the events took place. In its present form, the collection of books we call the Bible doesn't have even more contradictions because those other books were thrown out as "uninspired" simply because they contradicted too much.  My worldview said, "The Bible is the source of truth about salvation through Jesus!"  --Then why are there over 2,000 language groups in the world today that have no way to access that truth?  Why have billions upon billions of people lived and died without ever having a chance to hear it?

I was rooting for my Biblical worldview to win, I really was.  It was comfortable because it was all I knew, and I really don't like change.  However, in the end, it didn't hold up very well against reality.  In the end, there were too many cracks, and my worldview shattered.  And when it shattered, I finally saw what a tiny box I had been living in, and what a huge, beautiful, and interesting world was out there to discover.

Since much of my personal growth happened while I was in college, some have said that my changing opinions were the result of "liberal college brainwashing".  To those people, I doubt that I could say anything to change their opinion about that.  However, the fact is that at no time during my education at community college or Christian university were my opinions mocked or belittled.  At no time did anyone tell me what to believe or not to believe.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the fundamentalist Christian homeschooling environment.  That is where you are told what to believe.  That is where other opinions are belittled.  That is where even questions are dangerous.  I don't want to be part of that culture anymore.  To me, a worldview is not worth keeping if it requires ignoring or twisting reality to fit the worldview, pushing down your questions and doubts, and only listening to those who already agree with you.

These thoughts took a very long time to process, and my ideas are still a work in progress today.   For now, I am finding that many of my new ideas fit within a looser interpretation of the Bible, one where I don't completely abdicate my responsibility to think about what's right in today's world.  I see that morality was a work in progress in the Bible, and I accept that it still is today too, and that I have a role to play.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Tomboy in Christian Patriarchy

I was not the type of daughter that my mother wanted.  I was a tomboy.

My hair was very short and I preferred blue clothes.  I wanted to run faster and climb higher than anyone.  I wasn't afraid of slimy frogs and worms, and I could kill a spider without batting an eye.  I looked with confusion and disdain at the passive little girls with their hair-bows, sitting and talking about clothes and boys.  If I had known the term "badass" back then, I would have applied it to myself with pride.

When I was young, my mom was more tolerant of this.  After all, in the early days, there were mostly boys in my age group in our small homeschooling community.  So I was free to run wild with the boys and join their sports games during our weekly park days.

However, puberty was looming, and it signaled the end of my adventurous life.  It was time for me to learn to act like a "lady", and the means of teaching was through one sentence: "That's not very ladylike".

I was a difficult student; after all, the rules seemed very arbitrary and I couldn't see any advantages that compensated for the extra restrictions.  The heart of the message seemed to be that I had to become extremely aware of my body in order to keep other people from being aware of it.  A lady did not run.  A lady did not sit with her knees apart.  A lady did not lie down in public.  A lady did not make random bodily noises or find them amusing.  A lady did not use crude language like the word "crap" or "fart." A lady did not wear tight or revealing clothing--for awhile, that meant no shorts or sleeveless shirts.  A lady never pointed to or discussed her own body in public.  And most of all, a lady never called boys or invited them into her bedroom (not even when I was 23, in a group, with my family home and my door open! WHAT did my mom think I was going to do, have a blatant daytime orgy before my first kiss??).

And besides the extra restrictions, there were also extra responsibilities.  I had to learn to sew and cook, things that my brother was exempt from.  I tried and tried, but I was never able to enjoy these womanly skills.  Eventually my mom gave up on me and moved on to teaching these skills to other more grateful homeschool girls, leaving me feeling jealous and rejected.

It didn't help my situation that my sister took naturally to wearing cute dresses, having tea parties, and making crafts.  She didn't even need coaching, while I was unsatisfactory even with coaching.  As I watched my brother leave for his many outdoor adventures with other boys, I felt cheated and limited, having been born a girl.

In some ways, I was lucky compared to many other girls in the Christian Patriarchy culture that attended Hope Chapel with us.  I was never required to wear only dresses or have long hair.  I didn't have to take care of innumerable younger siblings. But most importantly, I was actively encouraged to go to college.

For many conservative Christians, higher education is seen as suspect because of the so-called "secular liberal bias" of universities and professors.  That was the case for my family as well.  However, my parents were unusual in our church and homeschooling community because they believed that even a daughter should be educated enough to support herself if necessary.  So they encouraged me to attend a very conservative Christian college such as Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College, or Moody Bible Institute. They advised me to choose an area of study that would allow me to supplement my future husband’s income by working from home after I had children.   

So, why didn't I head off to college right away?  After all, I was completely miserable at home due to the extremely authoritarian parenting style that my church promoted.  There were really two reasons: first, my severe social anxiety made the thought of college overwhelming and terrifying.  Second, my parents' pro-college message was drowned out by the sexist anti-college message of my church.

A couple more years of worsening family relationships, of increasing depression, of a sense of purposelessness, of no prospects of a church-approved way out of that mess--that was exactly what I needed to reach my breaking point.  My exact thought process at the time was this: "I've been praying for guidance about my future for years, and I haven't heard anything.  I can't go on like this.  I'm going to just start moving and hope that God will steer me if I go the wrong direction."

As I left home for the first time at age 23, I felt small, weak, timid, and vulnerable, heading out into the great wide world all alone.  There was no trace of my former badass self from childhood.  So is the Christian Patriarchy right about women after all?

People tend to live up to the expectations of those around them, what others believe they are capable of.  The sexist beliefs then become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The women in the church were told over and over that they were easily deceived and easily swayed by their emotions and needed a man's protection/guidance.  But denying women education and experience is what made them that way.  

College was a time of transformation for me; I was overcoming my severe social anxiety, discovering my true identity, learning to be comfortable with sexuality, and learning to set boundaries and take responsibility for myself.   Marriage has only continued that process, as my husband and I work to maintain an equal partnership--something truly beautiful that I didn't know existed 7 years ago.

Now I am a feminist stay-at-home mom.  I stay at home because I want to, because I love the bond I have with my little one and the adventures we have together as I introduce him to the world.  I can understand his excitement as he discovers what he's capable of....because I'm finally feeling it too.