[Today's post is a continuation of my conversation with Vyckie Garrison, a former follower of the fundamentalist Quiverfull Movement. Part I can be read here.]
TW: This post recounts religious manipulation/abuse and domestic violence.
Fannie: As someone who has rejected Christianity (and other organized religions) for their male-centric and male supremacist views (among other things), your discussion in another interview about how patriarchal religions enshrine "the supreme importance of males" really resonated with me.
You talk about "acquired situational narcissism" and suggest that men in patriarchal cultures hold unrealistically high opinions of themselves, their ideas, and of their importance in the world. How did this notion of male supremacy serve to legitimize the abuse you experienced from men?
Vyckie: A woman who has accepted Christian patriarchy cannot claim to be abused [and have it be recognized as abuse within that movement]. It would be like the Son of God calling the Father a brute. It's simply inconceivable -- and here's why:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
-- Philippians 2:5-11 (My apologies for all the Bible quoting. Quiverfull is all about the biblical family and in order to understand the mindset, you have to be aware of these interpretations.)
Fannie: No apology necessary. It's less the Bible that I dislike, and more the way the Bible is used (ie, Gandhi: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.")
Vyckie: According to the teaching, Jesus was in every way equal to God the Father -- just as Christianity theoretically teaches that women are equal to men -- however, Jesus willingly set aside His divine qualities and humbled Himself in order to fulfill a higher calling -- the salvation of the human race. Jesus is the Quiverfull woman's example. True -- God the Father willed that Jesus suffer unspeakable torture and death -- and any thinking person would consider such a parent to be monstrously abusive -- BUT, Jesus was focused on the Eternal -- the ultimate good which would come about as a result of his submissive obedience.
Likewise, a Quiverfull woman believes that whatever she suffers at the hands of her husband will ultimately lead to her being exalted and God being glorified -- if not in this life, then in the life to come. Rather than consider her own safety, comfort and well-being, the Quiverfull woman TRUSTS that the Lord will work all things (even that which is harmful and unhealthy) together for good. In submitting to her husband's abuse, she is opening a channel for the Lord to work in his heart. The promise of eternal gratification makes it possible, even honorable, to endure all manner of temporal injury and humiliation.
By the time I walked away from the Quiverfull lifestyle, my husband's behaviors had been so completely redefined that I literally did not have the vocabulary to name his abuse. Seriously. When I went to the local domestic abuse shelter for help, I wrote three pages in my request for a restraining order -- the gal who was helping me fill out the paperwork read it and told me, "In order to get a RO, you have to actually accuse him of abuse." I had come to think of his controlling as "protection" -- his isolation of me and the children was "sheltering" -- his unrestrained yelling and badgering of the children was "correction" -- his angry tantrums were "righteous zeal" -- his beatings were "discipline" -- his verbal attacks were "speaking the truth in love" -- his hatred was "passion for God."
Fannie: Wow. In addition to trivializing abuse, when society and religions really build up men at the expense of women, I think it would be hard, for men (and women) to get a realistic sense of their own abilities and competence.
Feminist theologian Mary Daly called patriarchal cultures "Looking Glass societies," where women are "condemned by society to function as mirrors, reflecting men at twice their actual size." When you chose to shatter that mirror, how did men in your life, particularly in the QM, react?
Vyckie: The most common reaction has been to count me as "the living dead" (an actual quote). Surprisingly, it has been the women who have been most vocal in discounting my experience and demonizing me. One friend wrote something like an obituary for me -- calling my "spiritual death" the most grievous death of all.
But mostly there has been silence and avoidance. Quiverfull leaders have denied ever knowing me -- despite having published my "pro-family" articles in their books and magazines. At first, I was shocked and baffled by these reactions, but I have come to understand just how threatened my old friends and Quiverfull acquaintances must feel -- if a woman as devoted as I was could fall away from the Faith, what guarantee do they have that the same won't happen to them? Better not to think about it.
Fannie: Indeed. So, now that you have joined "the living dead," what is feminism, to you?
Vyckie: This is something which I am still processing. It's much easier to write about what I no longer believe with regard to feminism than to make a positive statement of my current understanding. A big part of the difficulty for me is this: I used to have all the answers. I had chapter and verse for every minute detail of my life -- who I am, my purpose in life, etc. -- everything was black and white, nice and simple -- no place for complications, ambiguity or nuance. And having been so absolutely positive that I knew that I knew that I knew ... it is now rather triggering for me to even make an attempt at saying, "THIS is right, good, or true."
I have been really, really wrong in the past -- and my loved ones and I are still paying the price for my zealotry. Things are much better now, yes -- but we're certainly not out of the woods as the consequences of my choices (actually for Quiverfull women, it's more a matter of choosing not to have a choice) negatively affect us still. Getting free is a process -- the troubles don't magically disappear overnight.
The good news is, now I do have the freedom to make choices -- I am learning to trust my intuition and take back my agency. Beyond that -- let's just say that I still have a long way to go and much to learn.
Fannie: It sounds like you're feeling a bittersweet aspect to uncertainty and freedom. Do you consider yourself religious/spiritual now?
Vyckie: Short answer, No.
When I first began to have doubts about God and the authority of the Bible -- I desperately scrambled to come up with something of Christianity to hold onto -- any little thing of which I could honestly say, "This I still believe." I read "Dance of the Dissident Daughter" -- but couldn't finish it. I read "The Skeptical Feminist" -- hoping to discover some female-friendly understanding of spirituality. But the more cognizant I became of just how oppressive and damaging religion has been to me as a woman, the more intense my PTSD reactions have become to any sort of religious/spiritual ideals.
The mere sight of a Bible now causes me to break out in a sweat -- Bible verses give me an instant headache. I have gone from merely disbelieving in God to honestly hating Him. I realize it's silly to hate a God whom I truthfully do not believe exists -- not claiming to be rational here -- just saying that's how it is for me now.
I have been imagining a sort of cleansing ritual -- totally in my head, but it seems like it might be rather healing for me, and I imagine other NLQ readers who, like me, feel that we've been "burned" by biblical family principles. The ritual which I imagine involves tearing out pages of the Bible which contain a particular verse which was used/twisted/etc. to trap us in the Quiverfull mindset -- crumpling the page and tossing it in a fire. I know that bible burning seems extreme -- but for those of us who have been burned and even tormented by verses -- verses which True Believers may find inspiring and even beautiful (I know that I once did) -- watching those pages go up in smoke seems like poetic justice.
Sounds angry, I know.
Fannie: It doesn't sound extreme to me. It sounds like your anger is justified and you're doing what you need to do to try to heal. I wish you well on this journey. Thank you for taking the time to compose such thoughtful responses to my questions and for sharing with us your difficult experiences.