On the fringes of American Christianity there are many small groups that do very strange things. Some, however, rush past “strange” and wind up in places that are not only psychologically toxic, but just downright creepy. Nine years ago, I noted the existence of something called “purity balls”. I wrote:
Like a cross between a cotillion, a wedding, and a prom, fathers and daughters dress to the nines, get together, and the daughters (I can hardly keep my gorge down as I type this) pledge their virginity to their fathers. They promise to remain abstinent until marriage, making the vow public.
Later on, I found an example of the kind of thing a father “pledged”:
I, (daughter’s name)’s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.
Really just profoundly wrong, on so many levels, right? What could be worse than this?
I’m sure you’ve probably, at the very least, heard of the so-called “Quiverfull” movement. The Duggars are an extreme example: Having many babies, as close together as possible, home-schooling them, and restricting their access both to peers and the media. As a parent, I tend to get itchy when people start going after how others raise their children. I’ve never appreciated criticisms of our parenting; I’m sure there are many who probably figure we’re too lenient, allowing our girls to have as much freedom to grow and become who they are. So these folks home-school their kids and are strict disciplinarians; I have nothing against either, up to a point.
Today I discovered that this movement is rooted in what I can only call pseudo-Christian nonsense, incorporating physical and psychological abuse both of women and children, and as the above meme from one of the “leaders” shows, borders on endorsing both child marriage and pedophilia:
Vaughn Ohlman is a sick man with a twisted sense of fatherly love.
Suzanne Titkemeyer, administrator of the No Longer Quivering blog, frequently features the bizarre rantings of “Let Them Marry” in the “Quoting Quiverfull” section and has had numerous interactions with Vaughn, whom she describes as, “a nonsensical pain in the ass who refuses to accept logic, facts and legitimate figures,” reports that Ohlman was interested in a girl at his church and her daddy judged him not good enough and rejected him.
(That story is all kinds of messed up, but the good news is … whew, she dodged a bullet!)
While there is some standard right-wing rhetoric tossed around on these websites, there are also far more disturbing topics discussed in all seriousness. For example, the whole issue of women submitting to their husbands.
Submitting is not difficult, we do it all the time; we just have a hard time submitting to our husbands, and in this case they are unbelievers.
God has placed your husband to be the head of the home, the Commander. Submission is a “voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden” (Greek/ Hebrew Lexicon)
It means that no matter where our husbands are at spiritually we have a responsibility to them and to God to submit to their authority.
Submission is not a giving in and bending over to let him walk all over you.
Jesus was in submission to the Father, but He was considered equal with God the Father. We are to be in submission to our husbands, but God sees us as equals as well.
When we truly grasp the meaning of submission we will begin to see ourselves as no longer singular, but as a part of a unit, a part of a team.
Our motives for submitting to our husbands is not because “God said” so much as it is, “God said and I love God, so I am going to submit to this man God has placed over me, because I seek to please God above all else.”
Now you see your choice for submitting, in this case, to an unbelieving husband means that we seek his good above our own. Our motives for submitting are not for our good and our benefit, but for his good and his benefit.
This is a recipe for disaster. Weak and abusive men will see such behaviors as invitations to do even more harm.
There there is “disciplining” children, or as one writer puts it, “training” them.
I have observed and engaged a sufficient number of parents, both in action and in conversation, to have made a very good guess about what this frustrated father was thinking. I’m certain he was proud of his patience and tenderness, knowing that he was not being overbearing or insensitive toward this child. His philosophy clearly is, “She’s a handful, but kids will be kids! Just love them, and in time they will turn out all right.” No doubt, he was solaced by the fact that in the best of times she responds to his commands. He has “faith” that such a sweet child will survive and eventually “grow into” obedience.
I cautiously mentioned to him that he could actually train her to stop upon command, pointing out how much safer it would be if she obeyed instantly. He brushed it off with, “Oh, she is not being disobedient; we play games like that.” And then he made some comment about how he didn’t like to spank his children except in extreme situations. He didn’t really consider it to be disobedience in a child so young. He was a foolish young father, not yet having seen the final end of the seeds of self-will and rebellion he was sowing.
Nothing says someone has a twisted view of children when they talk about “training” them to “stop upon command”. Nothing says someone has a twisted view of children when they believe an 11-month-old being an 11-month-old – playing a game with Daddy – is actually an example of “self-will and rebellion”. How, precisely, are such children trained?
The methods used to create children who are always smiling, who always obey instantly, who never go through individuation, who never talk back– they should horrify us because they are nightmarish. In order to achieve this, you have to beat infants. You have to strike your children multiple times a day with a switch or a board or a belt. Age-appropriate exploration must be prevented at all costs– either through things like blanket training or slapping a baby every time they reach for a necklace or your hair. You must subject your infant or toddler to brutal physical punishmentevery single time they show a disavowed form of curiosity about their environment.
For older children and teenagers, you have to completely disallow any form of individuality. They must agree with everything you teach them. Doubts and questions are forbidden. If they attempt to express their own identity, they must be bullied by other members of the fundamentalist community to immediately stamp it out.
Being socialized as a fundamentalist child means being horribly abused.
I followed the link above about blanket training because I had never heard of such a thing.
In its simplest form, blanket training consists of 3 actions: (1) place a young child (usually an infant or toddler) on a small blanket, (2) tell that child not to move off the blanket, and (3) strike that child if they move off the blanket. Rinse, repeat.
That sounds like a healthy way to discipline a child . . .
There’s always a fine line between proper discipline at the extremes and what constitutes abuse. Certainly parents who engage in these practices wouldn’t consider themselves abusive. The ideology behind all this, however, a steaming pile of Bible verses, extreme patriarchy, and the dehumanization of women and children, is something that deserves far more attention that it currently enjoys.