The Soul-numbing Dangers of Patriarchy

Yesterday I read an article by Vyckie Garrison, founder of No Longer Quivering, on her move from “Christian” patriarchy to atheism. Vyckie was once a leader within the patriarchy and quiverfull movements. In the article, she describes the abuses she suffered and makes her argument for why atheism is the only appropriate response to those abuses.

I really, really feel very sad for Vyckie and her family. I agree with her that the patriarchy and quiverfull movements are full of abuses. I completely support her decision to leave an abusive marriage and to protect herself and her family. I am also very profoundly sorry that she equates patriarchy with Christianity. It truly breaks my heart to read her story.

In her article, Vyckie discusses each type of abuse she experienced in the patriarchy movement. I would like to go through her points and address each of those points. My argument is not that it isn’t abuse, but rather that what she experienced was not Christianity. I understand why she equates patriarchy with Christianity, but I would urge others who read her post to consider that what she was taught was a twisting of Scripture. Most of all, I would like to encourage those interact with anyone who has experienced abuse and rejected Christianity to treat the abuse survivor with gentleness and much mercy. May God show them His love.

I’m going to start with one of Vyckie’s last points. She sums up why she believes that rejecting patriarchy means rejecting Christ:

I did file for divorce and rescue myself and my kids from the tyranny of patriarchy. But for me, the primary break up was with Jesus. You see, being in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is a set up for dysfunctional game-playing and crazy-making head trips. According to Christianity, Jesus subjected himself to torture and death, so that we could have the “free gift” of eternal life … and by “free,” he means, it’s only going to cost you everything you have and everything you are.

When the very definition of perfect love is sacrificing your children and martyring yourself, there is no place for emotionally healthy concepts like boundaries, consent, equality, and mutuality. I could not say that my husband’s patriarchal behavior was abusive so long as I was committed to a relationship with “The Big Guy” who exemplifies the abusive bully, and who commands his followers to imitate His very warped and twisted idea of “love.”

It’s hard to know exactly where to start. The truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection and of the Father’s love for His children has been so distorted here. God loves us. And because He loves us, He sent His Son as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. While it’s true that we are called to live lives willing to put others needs before our own, we aren’t called to “sacrifice our children” and martyr ourselves. Scriptures does teach “boundaries, consent, equality, and mutuality.”

The Ephesians passage that speaks to the relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, etc. begins with the following verses:

be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18b-21 ESV, emphasis mine)

We are called to submit to one another. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, women and children are not the only ones called to submit. As Christians, we are all called to consider the needs of others for the purpose of building them up. Not to the exclusion of caring for our own needs, but thinking of others and showing them love.

God loves us and does not give us the punishment our sins deserve. He isn’t angry and looking for ways to chastise His children and keep them in fearful obedience:

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18 ESV)

And,

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3 ESV)

It’s important to go back, though, and consider how Vyckie got to this point. She gives an excellent summary of what it’s like to live in a patriarchy/quiverfull home:

Growing up in a Quiverfull home means being raised by a narcissistic father and having a mother with a huge martyr complex. The kids are treated as property to be hoarded. They are isolated, coerced and manipulated, abused and deprived socially and educationally. As surrogate moms, the older daughters bear the brunt of the work: cleaning, cooking … even homeschooling and disciplining their younger siblings when the Quiverfull mothers become too worn down and burned out from perpetual pregnancy and trying to keep up with this unsustainable lifestyle.

She goes on to explain that at one point a counselor gave her a “power and control” wheel to help her work through the various ways she had experienced abuse. She starts with Emotional Abuse and Intimidation:

Plus, I knew that as a woman, I was particularly susceptible to deception by Satan. How many times, when we were discussing an important decision, had my husband said to me, “What you are suggesting SOUNDS reasonable, but how do I know that Satan isn’t using you to deceive me?”

And,

Was I afraid of my husband? Not in a physical sense, but I was always hesitant to contradict or “disrespect” him because God had placed him in authority over me, and God-given authorities can be considered “umbrellas of protection.” Patriarchy is God’s umbrella of protection.

I have said that I believe patriarchy to be emotionally abusive because it creates an antagonistic relationship between husbands and wives, men and women. This is a good example of it. If any advice your wife gives you is automatically suspect because women are more prone to deception, then what kind of help meet can a wife be?

This is not the Biblical picture of a marriage. A marriage should be marked by mutual respect, love, and tenderness for each other. A wife should complement her husband and vice versa. We each have weaknesses and strengths, and as spouses we should help each other. A wise husband will trust his wife and hold her in great esteem. Look at the picture of the Proverbs 31 woman. Her husband trusts her judgment so much he can go about his own work without concern. And he praises her!

The third point from the “power and control” wheel is Isolation:

We taught our kids at home to protect them from the evil influence of godless humanism which we believed was the religion taught in the “government schools.” We eventually got to the point where we were so “biblical” that we felt the local Independent Fundamental Baptist church in our town was too liberal, too compromising … so we began homechurching with a couple of “like-minded” families who also were leaving their family planning up to God and homeschooling their many children.

This is the result of what I call, “parenting by fear.” While I absolutely agree that children should be protected from evil influences, isolating your family from everyone who does things differently from you isn’t healthy, and it isn’t biblical.

Scripture frequently uses imagery that we as believers are living as strangers and aliens. We are exiles. We are to be in the world, but not of it. We are also called to be witnesses and also “salt and light” to the world around us. That does require some level of interaction with people who disagree with you. We teach our children and instill good values in them. But then we have to trust the Lord to protect them (and us) as we are confronted by challenges to our faith.

The next two points, Minimizing, denying, and blaming and Using children, really get into the issue of quiverfull:

Sure there were times when submitting to my husband’s decisions was a hassle, and yes, the pregnancies nearly killed me every time, BUT … who was I to complain, considering everything that Jesus had done for me? If I thought “almost” dying was bad, just imagine how horrible it was for Jesus, who actually died!!

And

The whole point of having a quiver full of babies is to … out-populate the “enemy,” … that would be all of you; and to shoot those many arrows “straight into the heart of the enemy.” And by that, we meant that our children would grow up to be leaders in all the major institutions of our society.

There is not a strong consensus within Christianity on the use of birth control. As long as we are talking about true contraceptive (nothing that causes an abortion), there is truly no biblical evidence forbidding it. The bits and pieces that get used to support a completely anti-birth control approach are mostly proof texts taken out of context.

Do we believe that children are a blessing? Absolutely. Does that mean that every family regardless of health (physical and emotional) and financial needs should attempt to have as many children as is physically possible? Nope. Does the size of your family determine how much God loves you? No. Isaac had two sons. Jacob had twelve. God blessed them both. How many children should a family have? That is a decision that should be made by each family with much prayer and consideration.

There are two points in particular that I would note from Vyckie’s article here. One, we are not called to nearly kill ourselves joyfully so that we can be like Christ. The Psalmists regularly call out to God to hear us when things are tough. God cares. He listens:

casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7 ESV)

Two, the idea that we are called to “out breed” our political opponents is nowhere in Scripture. Nowhere. Dominionism or theonomy or reconstructionism are all political ideologies made up by men. Scripture calls us to live at peace, as far as it depends on us, with those around us. We are also called to be good citizens. We are not called to take over the government.

Should Christians who are called to government service seek to serve God in all they do? Yes. Should Christians vote for good leaders? Absolutely. Should Christians recognize that our leaders were put there by God? Yes, for our benefit or judgment. Should Christians be active in politics and seek to make good laws and good leaders? Yes, if they are called to do so.

The next topic that Vyckie addresses is Male Privilege:

I wouldn’t say that my husband used male privilege to control and dominate me and the kids. Male privilege was his rightful position. As Paul says in the book of 1 Corinthians, “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. And man was not created for woman, but woman for man.

This is a sad abuse of Scripture. I do believe that husbands are to be the spiritual leader of their families, and I know that Vyckie would probably lump me in with the patriarchy guys because of it. But I don’t believe that this is license for a power trip on the part of husbands. Biblically to be a servant leader means that husbands are to put the needs of their families first. They are to love their families and care for them gently. Jesus even warns about those who seek to promote themselves:

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28 (ESV)

Vyckie then discusses Economic abuse:

My God will supply all my needs,” and “I have never seen a righteous man forsaken or his children begging for bread” … It was really just a matter of trust, plus careful money management.

According to what she experienced, and what I’ve seen elsewhere, families are taught:

  • to have many children, regardless of the ability to feed and cloth them
  • never to take government assistance (food stamps, etc.) even if they are in need
  • wives are not to work outside the home, even if the families can’t live on the husband’s income
  • to live debt free, so cash only and no credit use

These are all extra-biblical ideas. I know that many patriarchy supporters will point to various verses, but honestly, these are man made rules. God blesses us with children, but also with wisdom. We must take care of the ones we have. Does that mean that if families must be able to afford to pay for college for each of their children? Not necessarily. But basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing (and attention) should always be considerations in how we live and care for our families. And it should be noted that the Proverbs 31 woman worked and brought in income.

Her last point is Coercion and Threats:

Because I believed our family had an ENEMY who was determined to steal, kill, and destroy our souls, and the souls of our children, for all eternity! Our only protection from spiritual disaster, was within that one little secret spot of safety which Corrie ten Boom called, “The Hiding Place.” “The Hiding Place” isn’t any physical location … instead, it is a very specific, very narrow position … directly in the center of God’s will. There, and only there, we could safely trust in God’s protection.

This again plays in to the “parenting by fear” approach common within the patriarchy movement. They take various verses, mostly from Proverbs, and use them to determine the rules to follow to guarantee God’s favor and blessings. If they do the right things, teach their children the right way, then God will be happy and bless them.

This is treating God like a capricious ruler and like a cosmic genie. God isn’t out to get us. He’s not looking for us to slip up so he can punish us. There is no perfect formula for raising children that guarantees a good outcome. Scripture doesn’t teach one. There is no list of rules that will keep you and your family from harm. Bad things happen to good people. Even more amazing, good things happen to bad people.

This whole approach looks so much more like what the Pharisees taught than the grace that Scripture teaches. Jesus said about them:

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (Matthew 23:4 ESV)

In contrast, Jesus calls us to Him and promises rest:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

Vyckie is right that the patriarchy and quiverfull movements are abusive. She was right to abandon those teachings and to seek protection for herself and her children. I believe, though, that she’s wrong to say that Christianity is equivalent with patriarchy and quiverfull. Not that there aren’t those who make that claim. Not that she wasn’t taught that it was the truth. But based on what the Bible actually teaches as a whole, patriarchy and quiverfull are not only not synonymous with Christianity but are actually antithetical to Christianity, to grace, to mercy, and to the love of God.

19 thoughts on “The Soul-numbing Dangers of Patriarchy

  1. Matt Abel says:

    Solid post. The patriarchy folks don’t consider the whole counsel of God. For those unfamiliar with the phrase “whole counsel of God”, it just means that one needs to consider all the Scriptures.

  2. Erin R Britt says:

    “My argument is not that it isn’t abuse, but rather that what she experienced was not Christianity.”

    Christianity is a belief that takes many forms. This is why we have so many denominations of it. To say what she experienced wasn’t Christianity is to say that Seventh Day Adventists don’t practice Christianity because they practice it differently than you do. Or Mormons. Or Jehovah’s Witnesses. So long as you believe that the God of the Bible is the one true god, that Jesus was his son sent to Earth to die for the sins of man, and that Jesus was resurrected three days later as the Holy Spirit, then you’re a Christian. The rest is just details.

    Islamic extremists don’t stop being Islamic because they are extremists. They may not be representative of all muslims as, like with Christianity, there are different sects of Islam, but they remain Islamic nonetheless. A person, or even a movement, does not stop being Christian because they (or it) is also abusive and manipulative. And, while strict patriarchal and quiver full movements may not be representative of Christianity as a whole construct, they are definitely facets of it. Instead of trying to distance yourself from them by saying they’re not really Christian, or they’re not really Christianity, perhaps that time would be better spent examining why Christianity allows for those abuses and manipulations to happen and then addressing those things as a united faith. Until then, I agree with Vyckie that divorcing herself from the faith in its entirety was the only reasonable thing to do.

    • Rachel Miller says:

      Hi Erin,

      Many groups and people claim to be Christians who aren’t. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are not Christians, at all. The Scriptures are the guide for what really is and what really isn’t Christianity. These aren’t my guidelines. The core belief of Christianity is trusting in Jesus alone for forgiveness of sins. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many other groups do not believe in that. They add all sorts of rules to follow in order to be saved.

      As for Patriarchy, the core beliefs of patriarchy are followed in a number of non-Christian religions. Islam is one example, but Roman pagan religions are another. In fact, patriocentric teachings have much more in common with Roman pagans than with anything the Bible teaches. Each patriarchy group that claims a religion uses their religious beliefs to support their thinking. But patriarchy is not equivalent with Christianity.

      And I don’t believe that Christianity is or should be allowing those abuses. That is why I, and others, have written against it. I believe that abusive husbands have twisted and abused marriage, but I don’t then believe that marriage is wrong. What they had wasn’t marriage.

    • William says:

      Erin you are right. There is no Christian sect with a corner on the Truth market. God has so designed his Body with all its many diverse parts, to have a sort of built in auto-correct. Thus Christ sent forth 12 apostles to counter balance his original missionary team. Peter and James saw what it was like to get push-back from Paul. Auto-correct. To bypass this auto-correct function, men seek to isolate others into groups and disable feedback. This inhibits the auto-correct function, kind of like taking the defense attorney out of a court proceeding—only one side gets heard, and because there’s no counter argument, the jury is convinced. Thus it was that in our free society, denominations were formed along with approved church libraries. What we are witnessing today via the blogosphere, is the restoration of the auto-correct function as the Internet dissolves denominational walls and restores auto-correct. The result will be a more unified and caring representation of Christ on earth….after the initial dust settles.

  3. Joelle Ubben says:

    I’d read the article previously and appreciate your sensitive, Scripture-based analysis. However I question whether the author’s unhappy situation was truly “abusive” and whether it was biblically right for her to leave, as you commented. Do you have any more thoughts or insight on that?

    • Rachel Miller says:

      Hi Joelle,

      Vyckie’s situation and others like it are not merely “unhappy.” They are truly abusive. Emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse are all abuse. And yes, I do believe that abuse is Biblical grounds for divorce. You can read three articles that I wrote on this here:

      Part 1
      Part 2
      Part 3

      • aly k says:

        Thank you for this response. I have a high view of marriage and believe as followers of Christ we are to follow through with our marriage vows that were spoken before God. How this has gotten twisted into meaning that women are required to remain in an abusive situation is beyond me. Why is allowing a man to abuse you or your children seen as a godly duty? Many famous conservative and reformed pastors seem to teach that women are sinning if they leave and protect themselves and their children from an abusive husband who has thrown his vows out the window. Thank you for posting your artices addressing thus!

  4. jilldomschot says:

    I read this same article the other day and was saddened by it. I was saddened that she was not able to separate a patriarchal reading of scripture from Christianity. A posteriori assumptions often run very deep. You provide a good analysis.

  5. Gordon Hackman says:

    Thanks for this post. It’s a Godsend. I just read Vkckie’s article last night and was saddened and disturbed by it. The part that especially disturbed me was where she said that Quiverful theology is Christianity writ large. Of course that’s false. Thanks for taking the time to articulate why.

  6. Eileen says:

    Rachel, this is so important for many reasons, so thank you for continuing to expose this terrible theology. For Vyckie, it may be very difficult to separate out the teaching from the teachers from the other teachings of Christianity. For me, it makes sense that someone has difficulty trusting the teachers when they have been so silent for so long about these doctrines. It seems that they have only found their voices against patriarchy/complementarianism now that high-profile cases have made it impossible to ignore.

    This is probably going to earn you some more abuse at the BaylyBog, because, bless their little hearts, they just can’t help themselves when women get uppity and start thinking and doing other man stuff like you do so well.

  7. joepote01 says:

    Thank you, Rachel, for an insightful post on an important topic.

    God’s word is sometimes so twisted as to no longer be recognizable. It is important to distinguish between man’s traditions and God’s heart.

    Man’s traditions tend to be legalistic and condemning, whereas God’s heart is full of grace and truth.

  8. John McKeown says:

    Rachel > “the idea that we are called to “out breed” our political opponents is nowhere in Scripture. Nowhere.”

    Yes – the natalist ideology is not in the New Testament – and earlier Christian leaders emphasised spiritual “fruitfulness” – however there are quite a few “Evangelicals” now preaching natalism e.g. some Southern Baptists.

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