Monday, August 3, 2009

Quiverfull, by Kathryn Joyce - Book Review #15

A few weeks ago, I was minding my own business in the New Books section of the library while peacefully searching for some mystery about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Alas. My peace was abruptly disrupted when my eyes fell on Quiverfull. I had not heard of the book, but I certainly understood the connotation of the word. Unable to resist, I picked it up and saw the subtitle: "Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement". I immediately looked for the author's bio and when I discovered that she was not of the camp about which she was writing, I decided to read it. I read a fair amount of theology books. I've made it a point to refrain from reviewing those books here for various reasons. However, I figured that I'm not breaking my own rules by reviewing a book about Christianity written by a non-Christian.

Kathryn Joyce is a journalist whose work has focused on religion. In writing Quiverfull, she examines the philosophies and motivations behind what she calls the "Christian Patriarchy"movement within Christian Evangelicals (sometimes known as ultra right-wing-conservatives). It is evident from the outset of the book that Joyce spent a considerable amount of time not only reading the philosophies driving this movement, but also countless numbers of hours interviewing its mavericks. She even attended weekend retreats for Christian women, doing so as a self-proclaimed non-Christian (at the retreats she was told that "she really should get saved.").

It is unusual for me to read a non-fiction book on a subject about which I am very knowledgeable. I've read a majority of the books Joyce references in Quiverfull. I was unfamiliar with about 5% of the people she references. I've heard many of their lectures. I've read their blogs. I've read their books. I've read their magazines. So, I can say, without a doubt, that Joyce's reporting was quite accurate. This is fair and balanced reporting from a journalist who doesn't agree with what her subject matter believes. That is so heartening, isn't it? But it is precisely her accurate reporting that is so disheartening to this Christian.

Joyce divides the book into three categories: wives, mothers, and daughters. She explains, in detail, how this Christian Patriarchy Movement is spreading through Evangelical Christian circles. She talks about how wives are to be submissive to their husbands, how women are to stay at home with their children, and how daughters are to refrain from higher education for the purpose of learning the art of housewifery so that the entire cycle can begin again.

Now, if you are not a Christian, you need not read further. But, if you, like me, call yourself a Christian, read on because I have something to say.

[Stepping on soap box]


Evangelicals, as of late, have done a lot of whining and complaining about how the media has taken their line of thinking out of context, blah, blah, blah. Here is a case where, for the most part, Joyce (the media) didn't take things out of context. What she shows is that the Evangelicals have taken things way out of context. Joyce paints a picture of a group of people who have a serious misunderstanding of the Bible. And I have a ginormous problem with that. My problem is that my faith in which I am a devout believer is sorely misunderstood by the very people who claim to share that same faith. In short, the Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy movement has condensed the Gospel into a list of rules, including but not limited to: wives are to defer to their husbands on every matter (no matter how minuscule), wives are not to drive at night, women and girls are not allowed to wear pants, women are supposed to have as many children as possible, women are not supposed to work outside of the home, mothers are supposed to homeschool their children (public or private school is not allowed), daughters are supposed to be committed to helping their fathers' work in lieu of attending college, fathers are only supposed to work in their own small businesses, and the list continues. I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with practicing any of the above. I am saying that it is wrong to think that a requirement of Christianity is to do all of the above.

A disturbing theme seen throughout the book is the claim by the Quiverfull followers that following these rules will fix the problems in our nation. Says Rachel Scott in her book Birthing God's Mighty Warriors: "When God's people are plentiful, we can come up against society going in the wrong direction, against wicked political systems, against immoral laws and antifamily legislation, and make them back down!" If this sentence weren't so horrific, it would be funny. "God's people" are messed up. They are not perfect. Their rules are not sufficient to clean up a "society going in the wrong direction". There is an attitude of perfection by the followers of this movement. Such an attitude is divisive, isolating, and simply incorrect.

My understanding of Christianity does not have these rules as a requirement for membership. The people who loudly advocate the following of such laws have misunderstood what the Bible says. They have reduced the Christian faith to nothing other than the various religions they criticize; they've turned it into religion that is centered on what humans are supposed to do. The Christianity I understand is the opposite of that. It is centered not on what I do, but on what someone else did for me. And that, my friends, is the only faith that fills this quiver.

A Sudden Country by Karen Fisher - Book Review #14

Collectively, my four children ask me an average of 413 questions each day. Apparently children in the mid-1800's were as inquisitive. They did not care that their mothers were walking next to a wagon that was carrying all of their earthly belongings to Oregon. They did not care that their mothers were, while walking next to the wagon, having to start life over again. They did not care that their mothers would really rather have stayed in their nice homes with furniture and plates. They did not care that their mothers were expected to cook, clean, do laundry and serve their husbands while walking across the country in their long, hot dresses. No, they didn't care. They still asked their questions.

Such truths are brilliantly described in A Sudden Country, by Karen Fisher. It is a historical novel about westward expansion in 1846. Fisher based the novel on a journal she read by real people who made the journey. It is a gorgeous story that reminded me of one big poem. The writing is lyrical throughout and takes some concentration. It is definitely not pool-side-with-children-dripping-popsicles-on-you summer reading. Lucy Mitchell and James MacLaren are the main characters in the novel. Lucy, still grieving the death of her previous husband, now finds herself in a marriage to a man for whom she feels no love. Furthermore, she nearly despises him for forcing her (and her five children) to pick up and move to Oregon. James, grieving the facts that his wife left him to return to her Nez Perez tribe and that all three of his daughters recently died from illness, now finds himself desperately trying to find his wife amongst the various Nez Perez tribes he encounters. When their paths cross, Lucy and James forge a common bond in their grief. This bond provides a poignant backdrop for a tale of the sacrifice, pain and labor it took to begin again during this time in America's history.

There are two reasons I loved this novel. Many books covering Westward Expansion detail how the pioneers pillaged the land of the Native Americans. This book describes how they harmed each other. As I was reading, I felt compassion for both groups, realizing that each was striving to do what they thought was needed for survival of their people. Karen Fisher provided this perspective incredibly well.

The second reason is that, as I labor in my home daily, I have the conveniences of modern appliances, running water, peaceful neighbors, furniture, and pants. Lucy's story includes most of the same responsibilities I face each day, excluding the appliances, running water, peaceful neighbors and pants. How dare I even utter a sigh in exhaustion as my dishwasher is running, I'm loading my dryer, and I'm answering the 413th question of the day?