Monday, November 1, 2010

the time machine

I can hardly stop thinking about the Cult of Campbell video in the previous post. I know I banned myself from my own blog but I can't help it. I need to make just a few quick observations....

There *are* a lot of factual errors in the piece. The Campbells are, in fact, New Zealanders who lived in Australia for many years before moving to Tennesee. They did not originate in the US as the video suggests. Nancy and helpers ran their magazine Above Rubies from Brisbane, I believe. And I doubt anti-Islamic beliefs are at the root of the Campbell's push for large families although no doubt it figures in there somewhere. But that line would work well for creating a nice smell of scandal on Australian television. Australian's also like to hear that the US is full of religious nutjobs who are trying to infiltrate our more or less secular society. Note journalist Mike Munroe's tone when he says things like ' the American South' .  Australians would be uncomfortable knowing these particular folk are Aussie exports - hence, I think, the reversal.

The editing is misleading also. For example, the first time we see Nancy preaching, you might think Nancy she is speaking to the same US group as was David just a few seconds earlier. But actually, we know that can't be true. Nancy, although, I believe, an ordained minister in her own right, would probably not be allowed to preach to a mixed-sex group as her husband does. At least footage of Nancy's audience - the Australian all-female seminar that features later - is interspersed with shots of Nancy and her daughter Evangeline and others at a service in Tennessee but we don't actually see Nancy preaching to men.

Some other thoughts....

What one earth possessed Colin and Nancy to allow a dodgy program like Sunday Night to put a camera on their dashboard so that they could play out their 'perfect marriage' charade for TV? Their stilted, peculiar conversation at that point, as well as their preaching style later show that their message has not changed since the 80s. From the pulpit both husband and wife provide great examples of the kind of nonsense that we got here during the Charismatic Renewal which swept Australia at that time. The arm waving, the grandstanding, the silly catch phrases ('Men can do a lot of things....but they can't breastfeed' ) it was like peering into a time machine.

While I don't think the use of spooky background music during Munroe's long voice-over explanation of QF beliefs while on-screen a montage of family life is playing anything like fair, his description of QF doctrine is pretty sound. Here's a transcript:
The Campbell's congregation is part of the growing Quiverfull movement. Followers of Quiverfull believe that children represent arrows in the fight against evil and infidels, that each man must have a quiver full of them. The children of Quiverfull are homeschool (sic) to keep them separate from the evil and corrupt influences of the outside world. Boys and girls have distinct and separate roles too. The girls are brought up to have only domestic duties: cooking, cleaning, having babies and doing arts and crafts like beading. While the boys with their quivers full of arrows are encouraged to hunt and kill wild pigs and other animals.
OK, the pig comment is drawing a long bow (heh, heh) but I didn't notice any other real clangers there.

Munroe goes on:
This 'church' teaches that true happiness can only be achieved if women totally obey their men.
It's at this point that Munroe directs a question at Colin who attempts to answer but is cut off quite rudely by Nancy. One gets the feeling that she doesn't quite trust Colin to get it right when it really matters. Despite Nancy's incredibly offensive statement uttered earlier that some women are being 'educated beyond their intelligence', it seems Nancy is the one who is toting the brains in the Campbell household. It's a strange paradox that often appears in QF families. Higher education - and sometimes even highschool education - for girls is spurned as being a sure and dangerous way to produce women who don't want to reproduce but often it's the wife who is the thinker. Interesting.

I realise there has been some criticism on the internet of NLQ and Vyckie Garrison personally. I don't know Vyckie, of course, as I live way over here in Australia and I realise the doco is biased and intended to cast the Campbells in a negative light. Still I struggle to imagine that anyone watching this video could compare Vyckie, her daughter Angel and the Campbells and come out thinking the Garrisons were the dangerous ones. Indeed, I thought both Vyckie and Angel were polite and reserved in their criticism of QF. And nothing either of them said was a surprise to me, or my kids, knowing as we do, at least how our QF family functioned. The Campbells on the other hand spoke and acted *precisely* as I remember them.

I need to admit here though that including Vyckie's story without taking the trouble to find some nice, relatively normal QFer to balance it is just not fair. But perhaps Munroe's researchers got tired to trying to track one down. Munroe does include a short statement from one of the Australian QFers who attended Nancy's seminar and it wasn't a good look. Perhaps he could have done better...but who can say?

Another comment on Vyckie's segment: Monroe must be counting on Vyckie's ex-husband not seeing this piece or I doubt Channel 7 legals would have allowed him to make such pointed accusations against Mr Garrison - on public television giving his real name and using photos. Thin legal ice I'd have thought.

When Monroe asks Nancy and Colin about their relationship with Angel, Nancy once more shows she's a little more savvy than her man. She jumps in to keep him on message - and perhaps on safer legal ground - when asked about their prior knowledge of Angel's self-harming. I have to say I became really angry at this point. It seems horribly unfair to state that the Garrisons seem to have 'gone of the tracks' and to fail to appreciate that the Garrison's feel themselves that their acceptance of QF doctrine was a critical factor in their misery. I've seen again and again how these people wash their hands of those of us who are no longer quite the right sort to associate with. And when they do it with such a condescending, mirthless smile it's just disturbing.

Colin's in-transit 'Australia has it's gods' speech is lifted right out of 80s charismania too. I can't help but wonder if he's been challenged in his thinking since then or whether he only listens to his own sermons. It's all just so simplistic and silly. It's as out of touch as the poor young QF mum's speech about how 'this world would seek to destroy' the value of being a wife and mother. Only those who don't usually have to communicate with people outside the secret circle wouldn't realise their speech is odd.

Nancy's 'womb-man' speech is crazy stuff even without the creepy, eyeless grimacing, and obviously she hasn't an etymological leg to stand on. (Here's a link to wiki's view on the roots of the word anyway.) It reminds me of a sermon I heard as a new Christian from Clark Taylor, subsequently disgraced head of Christian Outreach Centre, Brisbane which, at that time, was the largest church in Australia. Explaining how us girls came to be known collectively as 'woman' he related that when God brought Eve to Adam for the first time, Adam took one look and responded, 'Whoo! Man!' Clark was joking of course, but that serves as an excellent example of the exegetical depth of most of the sermons on offer from charismatic pulpits at the time.

Nancy needs to brush up on her science, too. As any eighth-grader would know, male and female are not species distinctions. The word is gender, or more correctly, sex. But what Nancy lacks in content and expertise she makes up for in vehemence. As one forum poster so succinctly commented about Nancy's performance,
What doesn't show up on the video version is the almost magnetic hypnotic sense of straight POWER that Nancy radiates....She is an incredibly INTENSE woman, almost dripping with power, there is so much of it all over her.
This is what I remember about Nancy's sermons, too. She almost compels you to set aside any quibbles you have with her odd mannerisms, ignore sinful doubts about her doctrine and just absoooooorb her words into your sooooooouuuuuul. I realise it might be hard to believe watching her in the context of this video, but trust me, when you are in the movement, she carries a lot of authority. Even if, like me, you tended to giggle about her at dinner parties and had given up trying to measure up to her standards long ago.

Vyckie makes some important statements near the end of the video:
I believe it's a cult. I believe every family becomes it's own little mini cult. You've got the husband as the cult leader and everyone centres and focusses their life around them. There's the control of communication, there's the isolation, there's the fear - the us versus them mentality. It's all there.
Yup. Sounds like a cult to me. The fact that adult adherents are active participants in their own brainwashing doesn't make QF less controlling or dangerous. Neither does the fact that we adore the children we produced and wouldn' send even one of them back. Not everything about QF is bad. But, in my view, it qualifies as a cult none the less.

Overall, watching this video made me realise how lucky my kids and I are to have got out. I admit I almost cried when we got to the part where Vyckie describes how different her life is post-QF.
[My life is] awesome. It's really awesome to see how my kids are just blossoming. They don't have prescribed rules that they have to fit into. They can choose for themselves, discover for themselves: what kind of person am I? what are my interests? what are my options? The whole world is open to them.
Yeah. The *whole* world - including their own minds. As the video ended I reached over and squeezed my daughter's hand and said, 'Thank God we're free'.

And I do.

Post script

5 pm, 1 November, 2010: Channel 7 has pulled the video off their website. That was *quick*! I wonder whether they have had a letter from someone's lawyer. I'm sorry I didn't get to show it to all my kids - just one daughter. It's disappointing but not surprising.

Post post script

9.30 pm, 1 November, 2010: Oooh, oooh. It's back. Get it quick and see it.

quiverfull documentary on australian tv

I know I said I was going to stop this but....

Have to embed this video here before it disappears. It contains interviews with Colin and Nancy Campbell, Vyckie Garrison and her daughter Angel.

They get some facts wrong but it's fascinating just the same.

I know I also promised not to be rude about fundies any more by, my goodness gracious, am I the only one who thinks Nancy has more than a few wallabies loose in the top paddock?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

the case of the vanishing blogger....explained

Greetings all :)

Some of you will have tried to access this blog during the past few days and so will have bumped into a notice that it was now private. Princess Jo has asked me to write a note of explanation here.

I've closed my blog. There are a few reasons for that.

Until Princess Jo and I talked about it in person on Sunday, I just assumed that my Followers List was a fair estimate of my readership - and I only had 13 of those. But hearing that Jo had a small number of followers but a heap of readers over at her blog I went looking to see if I could find out what kind of traffic was coming here. I discovered Blogger's 'stats' page and found that I have had over 5000 pagehits in the few weeks my blog has been open. That threw me a bit. I had thought just a few of my friends and one or two others were reading. If I'm being more widely read, it really puts the whole exercise in a new light. Certainly I would feel a responsibility to be more widely read on QF and ex-QF issues - and, to be frank, I really don't have the time or interest. I'd also probably editorialise my posts differently knowing more than my 4 besties are following them.

Also, after finally bothering to take a look around the internet this past weekend, I find I'm really a little squeamish about some of the ex-QF conversation. While I completely understand that people who come out want to get together and talk about it, I feel incredibly sorry for women and girls who are as deep in delusion as I was not so long ago. I am concerned that by venting my spleen openly I may be unintentionally participating in hurting sincere QFers or - God forbid - making it harder for some to come out. 

The misery that evidently has overtaken Vyckie, Angel and the Garrison family plays a large part in my decision as well. Even though I'm writing under a pseudonym there are people reading my blog who know who I am in the real world. I feel I owe it to my kids to make sure they aren't dragged into a public underwear airing which leads to their receiving personal attacks from complete strangers such as the Garrison's et al have apparently endured. I've emailed Vyckie and told her I won't be writing for NLQ either.

Actually NLQ is the reason this decision apparently happened so unexpectedly. Vyckie was planning on publishing a series of my posts starting yesterday. Clued up about my scary readership numbers, I realised that I was likely to get an increase in traffic once I made an appearance at NLQ. Further, I know that there are people from my past reading NLQ who don't know I'm dragonfly....but could probably figure it out. I feel my need for catharsis should not outweigh my kids' right to privacy. I pulled the blog without first leaving a note about my intentions concerned that NLQ might miss my email and go ahead and post my writing if it was still accessible. I'm back and addressing that now.

My weekend wanderings in the world of ex-QF writers lead me to some blogs that are far more articulate and better researched than mine. Having seen them, I feel more than a little embarrassed that my clumsy whinings were being read by so many. I realise now that the bases are well covered and others are already doing a great job of supporting those who are at various places along the rocky pathway out of QF. I don't think my wee teaspoonsworth is going to contribute much to that. And I'm not willing to risk my kids' safety on the off chance.

So I think I'll focus on my priorities: my kids, my studies, and my social and political comment blog - which is also private at this stage. I might change my mind about A Dragonfly Diary sometime in the future, but for now, I'm happy with this decision.

I'd just like to say that I am most sincerely honoured that some kind folk have taken an interest in my writing but, for now at least, I'm going to go play somewhere I feel a bit better qualified and a little less naked. 

Love to all,

dragonfly xxxx

Friday, October 22, 2010

excuse me stumbling in here but...

Pardon me. I'm new here.

I don't know much about what has been being talked about in ex-fundyland and I'm not across all the issues that have already been canvassed. In my ignorance, it's possible my gormless wanderings could be mistaken for deliberate references to others who are already writing about their own journeys.

So I'd just like to say at this point that this blog is written as a catharsis for me as I try and piece together my new life and make sense of the old one. I'm not saying I'm never going to tread on any toes but I want to say this: I haven't read widely on other blogs so any references here that bear resemblance to someone else's story are likely to be similar purely by co-incidence.

I really don't want to be doing a bunch of pre-writing research or over-editing my personal story. I just want to get some stuff off my chest. This blog is public for now in case it turns out to be more broadly helpful, but if that turns out to be something that gets a bit sticky....well, I'll review that as necessary.

End of public service announcement.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

memories in context

In the car the other day with my daughter K, I began a conversation about clothing and fashion which led to a discussion about how we used to dress when we were QF. While I regret our former excessive views about modesty, I have few particular regrets about our former attire - silly and legalistic though the skirt-wearing compulsion may have been. When they were little, I dressed the girls in Osh Kosh pinnies mostly. They were cute, practical and thrifty - they simply never wore out. I remember with real fondness my gorgeous daughters wearing them. What a cute little bunch they were. 

But that's not how my daughter K remembers it at all. From the moment the topic arose it was clear she has some pretty strong emotions attached to those memories. When I said that she and her sisters had looked super-cute in their frocks she bristled and retorted that 'freakish' was a better descriptor. I reminded her that those dresses were not unusual for the time, that pretty well everyone was wearing them, that they were not homemade or scrounged in 2nd hand stores but were purchased new from expensive stores that stocked US designer labels. K disagreed saying, 'I think you're kidding yourself there, Mum.' 


I ran the story past a close friend who knew me in my skirt-wearing years but was not in the Fundy Frock-wearing Club herself. My friend agreed: Everyone was wearing that stuff in the 90s and early 00s; it was quality, expensive and fashionable attire and waaay cute. Watching TV with the kids the other night I noticed that all the girls in the movie Matilda (1996) were wearing the same kind of stuff. I pointed out the fact but was met with a similar and strongly negative response.

So, I figure there's an important lesson in this. Each of us will remember those days differently and some of us will have memories that provoke really powerful emotional responses. While for me the clothing memories are that I selected sensible attire for my girls with perhaps an over-emphasis on femininity (and certainly an over-emphasis on modesty). To K those Osh Kosh pinnies represent something much broader and more insidious. 

For my beautiful daughter, those dresses provoke memories of the religious and authoritarian structure of our family and her parents' refusal to acknowledge her right to make simple choices according to her own tastes. My insistence that my darling girl dress to please her father and me made K feel that we wanted her to be something that she knew in her heart she never would be, and that we'd never fully accept and value her if she wasn't. K's pinnies were to her a symbol of fundamentalist views about the frighteningly limited future available to women - marriage, babies, and more babies - which K tells me seemed like a life of slavery.

So there's an interesting lesson learned: Memories of the same events can differ because of the context in which they occurred. When I exercised my choice in buying Osh Kosh for my girls to wear, it was liberating for me. When K felt forced to wear those same garments, it was an oppression to her. That my intention was not to abuse my power seemingly has no bearing on K's feelings about it. The memory hurts her just the same. Even all these years later.

I've mentioned here before that I believe it's easier for us mothers to come out of controlling lifestyles like QF than it is for our kids to do the same. We women often have something our children lack: a frame of reference we gained in the relative normalcy of our lives before patriarchal fundamentalism. As mums we need to allow that our children will have memories that are different from ours, memories that hurt. And they may want to blame us for them. 

I am glad that my children are finding their voices. I understand that they are going to grow up and want to talk about their lives inside QF fundamentalism. I know that they are going to want sometimes to criticise me. There will be occasions I'll agree the criticism is warranted, and others that I won't. However, I am committed to validating my children's feelings such as they are. Even when my memories differ from theirs, I realise need to acknowledge that all the feelings that remain are absolutely real.

Further, I feel I need to come to terms with the likelihood that some of my kids are, like me, going to find their catharisis in public blogging. No doubt it isn't going to be easy to bear that that process may leave people with misunderstandings about me, give others ammunition to use against me and inevitably reveal a few of my many, many mistakes. I think the sooner I get used to the idea the better. So here's me beginning that process.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

wbc and dummies like me

In the past week, the members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeca, Kansas have come to the attention of news media even here in far off Australia because of a case being heard in the US Supreme Court which challenges church members' First Amendment rights. WBC members apparently picketed the funeral of Matthew Snyder, a US Marine killed in Iraq four years ago. Snyder's father, Albert, subsequently sued the WBC for damages on grounds of mental suffering he claims he endured when his son's funeral was turned into a WBC debacle. In the current case, Albert Snyder is appealing the overturning of that court decision in which he had been awarded $11 million.
As probably everyone but me already knew, WBC, led by founder Fred Phelps, regularly pickets military funerals claiming that God had killed the serviceman or woman to make a point, and that he enjoyed doing it. WBC's website states that they have carried out 44, 286 such protests so far. Church members wave large, colourful signs at these events which bear such frank slogans as "God Hates Fags", "God Hates America", "God Hates You", "Your Pastor is a Whore", "The Jews killed Jesus", "Aids Cures Fags" and "God Hates Your Feelings". Subtle WBC is not.
WBC targets high-profile funerals, such as that of brutally murdered gay student Matthew Shepard, in order to attract maximum media attention. They are doing a great job with that. According to one report their membership totals less that 100 adults, over 80% of whom WBC admits are related to each other by birth or marriage. For such a small and exclusive group WBC has a very, very loud voice.
WBC's main webite is a fascinating read. There they state their position on numerous issues supplying a smorgasbord of Bible references in support of each. In a nutshell, if I'm understanding them rightly, here's are some of their core beliefs:
  • The Bible is the Word of God
  • Sodomy, sex outside of marriage, adultery, divorce and remarriage are all sins and those who are guilty of them will burn in hell for eternity
  • People who have had an abortion likewise
  • In fact, God hates everyone who is not among his chosen - the Elect
  • Only God's chosen will make it to heaven - eternal damnation awaits the rest of us
  • Pastors who preach that God loves the non-Elect are lying whores
  • America supports homosexuality and divorce and is, therefore, doomed to destruction 
  • Disasters like 9/11, Hurricanes Katrina & Rita and the Boxing Day Tsunami are all evidences that God's blessing has been removed from the nations that suffer such troubles. Indeed, those tragedies were brought about by God to make that very point
  • God laughs when sinners die
  • God is especially glad when soldiers die - anyone who would fight for a country that tolerates homosexuality is, by definition, not a friend of God's
  • God particularly hates non-elect Jews and will ensure they burn in hell (see WBC website
  • If you've missed the hit list so far you should know that sending your kids to public school qualifies you for the lake of fire
WBC members consider themselves Calvinists in that they hold to the well-known Five Points of Calvinism sometimes known as TULIP. This means, in part, that WBC believes than mankind is intrinsically sinful and cannot choose to reach out to God of his own volition. In this view, believers - the Elect, are saved by the grace of God, chosen by God to be saved. All those who do not belong to this group are destined to suffer an eternity of fully-conscious torture in Hell. Indeed, these folk were hand-selected by God for Hell before they were a twinkle in their Daddy's eye.
Although it would, I think, be true to say WBC share some of these views with many nice, ordinary Reformed Baptist and Reformed Presbyterian churches, their extreme Calvinism perhaps accounts, at least in some degree, for the group's astonishing lack of compassion. Recent posts on WBC's blog Godsmacks, one of the many websites the group hosts, include one praising God that a Moslem child was killed by a monkey in Malaysia, and another rejoicing that so many gay and lesbian young people are committing suicide. The post which states, "Thank God Fewer Than Half of Americans Oppose Same-Sex Marriage" trumpets that this is great news indeed and clear evidence that the Lord's return is imminent.
I remember the moment I realised that personal testimonials aren't worth a smidge of rat doody. It was some years ago as I watched the video suicide note left behind by members the Heaven's Gate Cult. In it several young men - wide-eyed with rapture - described the incredible happiness they had enjoyed as a direct result of cutting off their testicles. They went on to explain that - joyous day - today they would all swallow cyanide in the happy anticipation of being collected by friendly aliens later that afternoon. The sincerity of their joy was absolute. So... I'm not the one to be impressed by the glee of two of Fred Phelps' granddaughters as they explain in this video that, not only is it their God-honouring duty to be thrilled to bits when sinners suffer and die but that, even that if it weren't for the bonus of that putting them on the same page as God, they would find the sinner's misery pretty satisfying anyhow. Indeed it would be difficult to imagine even the most TULIPpy Calvinist failing to be a little disturbed at the bright-faced young things' giggly delight as they envisage the destruction of the damned.
While WBC allows that God can and does save some sinners - them for example - and that salvation, once you've got it, is keepsies for good, members are quick to cast out any in their midst who question WBC's beliefs or practices. This short documentary details the shunning of 24-year-old Lauren, oldest daughter of senior WBC member Steve Drayne. It is not so much that Steve and his wife voted with other WBC members to force their daughter to leave both the group and her home that I find shocking, but that Steve apparently experiences no sadness whatsoever about the loss of his child. Indeed, now that he realises Lauren is one of those predestined for Hell - the giveaway was Lauren's asking some sticky questions - Steve is genuinely glad to see the back of her.
Nate Phelps is one of only four of Fred Phelp's 16 children who have turned their backs on their parents' faith. As noted in this video, Nate's former friends and family at WBC aren't all that impressed with him as a result. But Nate is in good company - there are a lot of people who WBC don't like. Swedes for example. WBC don't like them *at all*. It's worth pasting here a section regarding the Boxing Day Tsunami from WBCs FAQ page as an example of the frothing venom WBC is capable of generating when their dander is fairly up.
Do you realize that among the dead and missing are 20,000 Swedes and over 3,000 Americans? Filthy Swedes went to Thailand - world epicenter of child sex traffic - to rape and sodomize little Thai boys and girls. 20,000 dead Swedes is to Sweden's population of 9 million as 650,000 would be to America's 290 million population. We sincerely hope and pray that all 20,000 Swedes are dead, their bodies bloated on the ground or in mass graves or floating at sea feeding sharks and fishes or in the bellies of thousands of crocodiles washed ashore by tsunamis. These filthy, faggot Swedes have a satanic, draconian law criminalizing Gospel preaching, under which they prosecuted, convicted and sentenced Pastor Ake Green to jail - thereby incurring God's irreversible wrath: "He suffered no man to do them wrong; yea, he reproved kings for their sakes; Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm." Psa. 105:14,15. America, who is awash in diseased fag feces & semen, and is an apostate land of the sodomite damned. Let us pray that God will send a massive Tsunami to totally devastate the North American continent with 1000-foot walls of water doing 500 mph -- even as islands in southern Asia have recently been laid waste, with but a small remnant surviving. And you wonder if this is the wrath of God?
But lest you mistakenly assume that WBC actually cares what happens to those 'little Thai boys and girls', they go on to explain that no-one is innocent, no matter his or her tender age and anyway...
...It is God's prerogative to kill children to punish their evil, Godless, vile, filthy parents and others who were raising them for the devil anyway; they are most certainly better off now than they were in the hands of such evil people...
Oh, well then. Just so long as they are better off.
WBC see themselves as modern day Jeremiahs preaching an eleventh hour sermon of repentance to a world hell-bent on destruction. They openly scoff at the suggestion that they ought to be praying for the lost, citing as their example the words of Christ in John 17. Remember, that's the scripture where Jesus states that he does not pray for the world but only for those the Father has given him. WBC accept the unlikely possibility that some may be saved in response to their 'preaching the truth' but they admit they don't care a whit either way. Their duty is just to preach the gospel, and God's business is to save - or, most likely, not. WBC seem pretty sure there aren't too many left on earth who are going to escape eternal and firey misery. They frequently make statements to the effect that the 'day of grace has passed' for the vast majority of us 'dummies'.
I've written in this blog in the past about drawing a distinction between radical Christian fundamentalism and the caring, intelligent, Bible-believing folk I know and love. But, although members of WBC are undoubtedly less shy about their views than most, as I read through their beliefs and practices, I was struck by how familiar much of it seemed. Certainly I know (and love) many self-professed Calvinists and would once have considered myself in that camp. Further, I personally know many Christians, who, for example, would agree that AIDS is God's judgement on homosexuality. And it's only a few months since I overheard a Christian woman at a homeschooling event explaining to the young non-Christian mother with whom she was attempting to share the gospel that the Boxing Day Tsunami was plainly God's judgement on Islam and Moslems. Evidently she hadn't twigged to the Swedes.
So all this has got me thinking: Are the members of WBC an aberration, a bizarre hate group that has little if anything in common with orthodox Christianity? Or are they, as they claim, just a bunch of good ol' Baptists who are willing to live and die on the ground of plain and honest doctrinal integrity? Are they dangerous fringe-Fundys? Or would it be true to say that many other Christians would agree - just quietly - that WBC's beliefs do indeed reflect the clear meaning of Scripture? I mean, although some of the fundies I have known wouldn't be saying so outside of select company, many do believe that God hates gays, and Jews, and Moslems and other unbelievers and that he is pretty chuffed when he sends some nasty suffering or other their way.
So I'm just asking the question: If God hates gays, where does it leave I don't? Can I utterly reject the bigotry of the ilk propagated by WBC and yet keep Christ? Or am I going to have to admit that I am teetering on the brink of ditching Christianity altogether? Should I face up to the fact that I can no longer honestly claim to be Christian because there is more than one segment of the Bible with which I am probably never going to happily reconcile? Am I vainly trying to ignore the unpleasant fact that the Bible is, as so many have said, a sexist, misogynist, racist and homophobic document? Am I just attempting to build a new religion that suits me because the orthodoxy of the one I used to hold so dear I now find offensive in so many respects? Is it going to come down to Integrity OR Christ? And what will that mean in real life? What will that mean for me?
Clearly there is some thinking still to be done.
Oh, but before I sign off I need to mention that WBC specialises in musical parodies. Would you forgive me if you missed 'Hey, Jews', 'Fat-bottomed Whore' or '50 Ways to Eat Your Baby'? Or if you are up for some light reading, you could try this fascinating treatise which takes subject of baby eating further than you can probably imagine.

Monday, September 27, 2010

just a little respect

I was just reading the blog of a gal who came out of a Quiverfull family and was struck by something she said on the subject of respect. She wrote about the transcript of a television program that documented the lives of 'surrendered wives'. In once scene, a young daughter was told that the reason the house was cleaned and delicious meals prepared - indeed, the reason for anything and everything they did - was to honour the father, to be a blessing to him. Not because of anything he'd done, not because of the wonderful man he was, but purely because of his position as 'king of the house'.

I remember carrying on this charade with my own children. I would go to lengths to work with the kids to prepare nice things to please their Daddy, to do things that he would like. And he was not a nice daddy. I'd make excuses for the fact that he picked and shouted constantly at the kids and was generally miserable, immature, demanding and unreasonable. I'd tell the kids they needed to respect their father and would not allow them to canvass his bad behaviour. I taught them to deny and excuse their father's faults, not as a kind sort of bearing with another human's imperfections, but as a deluded attempt to build him into some sort of worthwhile man just by pretending that he was already there. I realise how insane that sounds now, but it's a much more common strategy than a right-thinking person outside of partriarchal fundamentalism might imagine.

My ex-husband was and, frankly, still is not a particularly worthwhile human being. He is unintelligent, weak, petty, self-centred, dishonest, underhanded, manipulative and mean. I lied to myself about this for years, in part because I was embarrassed to have chosen such a loser to be my partner for life. But eventually, the harm that he was doing to me and my children overwhelmed even my powerful capacity for self-delusion; the cupboard door squeaked open and we all ran out together.

I heard sermons on submission of wives and respect for husbands many, many times. I would leave with renewed hope in my heart that a good, submissive woman could make a half decent marriage even with a man like the one I was lumbered with...but I couldn't sustain my cheer for long.

A few times over the years my then-husband and I made it to a counsellor. I remember one Christian minister - a woman - explaining that respect was positional.  Police officers, she reminded, wear a badge which is the symbol of the State's authority apportioned to them, and so we obey them, regardless of what kind of men they may be in their personal lives. It doesn't matter if I am a better person, or smarter, or know more than the police officer, they are in a position of authority and subsequently my role is to obey without question.

While I agree that we need to respect laws and the authority of the keepers of the same, the analogy falls down in one important regard: Public servants who wield power over citizens also function within systems that are designed to hold them accountable for their actions. Our judicial system has flaws and often fails but theoretically, an officer who abused his power or used it to serve himself instead of the public good would be publicly disciplined and stripped of those powers so he could not abuse them again.

But accountability is completely absent from the fundamentalist submission-cult equation. The men, and in particular married ones, are ordained by God to wield unbridled power, unchecked and unobserved by those outside the family. Indeed, the better he appears to have his wife and children under his thumb, the more kudos he will earn in the church setting. Bullying and domination are valued as expressions of manly, biblical strength. His character is never called into question. Although *plenty* of sermons are preached on the inherent sinfulness of man, no one thinks to ask whether any particular sinner is effectively overcoming his nature and so behaving properly in the relationships most prone to abuse. The husband and father is not trained or equipped to rule, and yet he is given free reign without the need to account to any superior. Even when his subordinates go public with a complaint, the blame is laid at *their* feet. If they were any good at submitting, things wouldn't be in such a mess. I mean, how can a man be expected to lead if the rabble God gave him won't follow?

On our domestic front, the any-failure-is-your-failure belief system meant that I was obliged to respect my husband - not just act right but genuinely generate an attitude of respect - or I'd be sinning and in danger of judgement. I needed to respect him - and obey him - because of the position that God had put him in, that is, in authority over me. I was to do this whether or not he treated me and the kids appropriately, whether he was right about an issue, and whether he was capable of having a single, intelligent idea and carrying it out. The less I questioned, the more I swallowed, the closer to a Biblical ideal I would become. I'd be a Proverbs 31 woman such as our brand of Christianity understood her to be.

As I've mentioned, my ex- is not an easy man to respect. Indeed, once I started to really think about it, I could think of only one thing he did that deserved honour and that was working hard to earn a living. And, don't get me wrong, I don't undervalue the fact that we were well provided for. It's just that it's not enough. You also have to be some kind of decent human being if you want the people you are providing for to genuinely love and respect you.

Towards the end, when I dared to whisper the truth as I was just beginning to see it, I received more of the same kind of bad advice. For 20 years, I never criticised my husband openly. Finally, realising truth might be the one thing that could save my kids mental health as well as my own, I confided in an older Christian woman, respected as a counsellor in the church, telling her what an average evening in our home looked like: how my ex-husband would behave and what a misery he'd make of every moment he was with us. I explained that I wanted to please God but was at a loss as to know how to do that in my situation. I asked her to tell me how our evenings should look if I was getting it right. How should I walk it? Exactly what should I *do*? She told me that, whatever happened, I must not point out that my ex- was was shouting at the kids when it was *he* who had the behaviour problem, but that I must respect him and insist the children to do the same.

That counsellor was so disturbed by some of the things I was telling her about my then-husband that at one point she said, "Whoa! Slow down! It sounds like you are suggesting that marrying your husband was (gulp) *a mistake*." I replied that, in fact, I was not any longer afraid to go even to *that* deep, dark place. She wrung her hands, speechless at my heresy and pale with worry.

I was too polite to that woman. Was marrying that man a mistake? Well, pardon my crudeness but, um, doh! That imposter, pretending to be wise woman and qualified to impart biblical truth, was just another cog in the machine that works to keep that truth at bay and women and children under the miserable control of wicked men.

Even our pastor at the time, a man who I still love and respect more than any Christian leader I ever knew (although, let's face that's not saying much), participated in perpetuating our misery. Right at the end of my marriage, my ex- called the pastor in to straighten out our troubled teenage son. I listened to my ex- lambast our lad for 10 minutes. Then, asking JC to leave the room for a minute, with fear and trembling, I stated that the problem was not with our boy at all but with his father who was a person such as I have described above.

My ex- frankly admitted that there was no untruth in any of my statements, that he was indeed the person that I had described, but that he found it so difficult to lead as he lacked confidence and I was so tricky to manage. The pastor rightly noted that he hadn't really expected to be opening such a messy can of worms that night. Suddenly, his cute little marriage relationship survey form didn't seem so helpful. He left us promising to pray and consider what was to be done next. What was done next - indeed, all that was done - was that the following Sunday, he handed me a yellow envelope containing two articles warning of the destructive nature of wifely bitterness and husband-directed anger. That was the extent of his support. And boy, was I pissed.

I realise that that pastor was probably just well out of his depth as others had been before him. And my marriage and the lies I told myself, my kids and the world about it were not that pastor's doing - our mess was not his fault. But, he remains culpable for failing to shed any real light on our situation when the privileged opportunity to do so arose. Had I taken his advice, we'd still be there, playing a soul-destroying submission game with that horrible, horrible man.

To be fair I need to add that shortly after that encounter with the pastor I had coffee with another, younger woman leader in our church who listened to my very brief explanation of our domestic situation and bluntly said, 'Doesn't sound fixable. You should consider getting out.' I wasn't even able to think in terms of a possible divorce at that point - her words genuinely shocked me. But that extreme good sense, and from a Christian too, eventually seeped into my brain and was one of the factors that empowered me, finally, to act. I feel grateful to her still. I hope she can cope with the knowledge that she was influential in my ending my marriage and leading my children to freedom and a much, much happier life.


A lovely friend of mine, who grew up in the daughter of a fundamentalist minister - a very, very sick man and a violent sexual abuser - surprised me some years ago by announcing that she didn't care who she offended, her children were not to call anyone 'Mr' or 'Mrs', or, heaven forbid, 'Pastor'. She said that she wasn't going to assist anyone in gaining her children's respect and that if they wanted it, they could damn well earn it.

Her motivation was to abuse-proof her children. She was determined that no one would ever be able to trick her children into participating in their own abuse by waving some certificate of authority under their noses and demanding respect on that account.

I just wonder how many children could have been spared the horrors of abuse at the hand of the wicked men - and sometimes women - in their lives if we all taught our kids to practice similar small but sensible acts of psychological self-protection.

Monday, September 20, 2010

coffee in my brand new laptop

Saturday morning was pretty sweary. I destroyed my brand new laptop with a cup of coffee.

So....lost a couple of posts I was working on. And some uni assignment work. It's going to take me a while to catch up.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

crushing daisies - ways in which patriarchal fundamentalism harms its children #4

I've had the privileged opportunity to talk to the kids of some of my old fundy friends recently and hear about some others. Their stories share some common threads and I learned a whole lot from listening to them. Here are some brief notes on that:

  • Kids leaving fundamentalism face some special challenges. Unlike most of their fleeing mothers they have no frame of reference to help them build a life in a world filled with ordinary folk. That capacity to harken back to our pre-fundy lives is probably one of the reasons that we as mothers were so slow to realise how damaging sheltering our children was: we understood the world and knew we would be able to re-engage at any time. Some of us lost sight of the fact that this was not true for our kids. 
  • All the young people I've spoken to say they continue to struggle relating socially to peers into their late teens and twenties. They say it takes a long time to begin to feel 'normal' and lose that fear of a generalised evil they believe lurks in the world outside their homes. Even once their own experience has shown them that this was not wholly true, vestigial worry remains. Further, the guilt and self-hatred that some of them endure make developing normal relationships difficult. And often they are competent conversing with adults but just don't know how to do small talk with kids their age. These are crippling disabilities for a young adult.
  • I'm saddened to hear that more than one of the girls has suffered from eating disorders as my own daughter K has. The lovely young woman I spoke with today told me that restricting her eating was her way of gaining control in a life that was micro-managed by her mother, and in which she suffered dreadful abuse at the hand of her father. When my daughter was being treated for her ED in an adolescent mental health unit, she commented that Pentecostal kids were significantly over-represented on the ward. I'd be interested in looking into that further.
  • These girls who have fled fundamentalism with its strict modesty regulations seem to take a very special delight in girly things like glam shoes and pretty dresses. On so many levels patriarchal fundamentalism tells children that the things they think and feel are wrong and must be suppressed. It's a joy, but a little bit sad too, to see these gorgeous gals enjoying indulging their tastes without guilt.
  • Growing up is hard anytime you do it but it's extra tough on kids who were kept 'young' and so had to make the journey in late adolescence - and often in a time of significant family upheaval. It's a testament to their resilience that they are growing into such lovely young adults. One young man told me that when he and his family left fundamentalism, they all threw a lot of babies out with the bathwater. He told me that, over time, he realised that he wanted to dust off some of those values and add them to the growing entity that is the adult he is choosing to become. He agreed with me that being a grown up and feeling equipped to make those kinds of decisions all by yourself is a very nice thing to be.
So that's some thoughts on the kids. But growing up is also hard - perhaps harder in some ways - for the middle-aged women who leave marriages and controlling church situations unused to navigating the myriad options available to them once rules are not a given. Some of us enjoy a brief revisiting of our teenage rebellious years. I suppose it's only natural to take some time to try out new freedoms and practice making discriminating choices.

One of the themes I've noted when hearing stories of child survivors of fundamentalism is that not every woman leaves in search of Integrity. I've heard about mothers who have ended their marriages and made moves to build new lives but who haven't really left behind a lot of the fundy baggage that caused them and their kids so much harm. Sadly, I've learned that more than one mother persistently refuses to canvas the possibility that they may be in some ways culpable for their children's suffering. They don't want to discuss it or they argue that things were not the way their child remembers. This causes their children a great deal of grief.

I empathise with the sorrow of those women but I am not able to sympathetise with their self-protective self-centredness. I understand that it is a frightening and distressing prospect to face the dreadful truth that some of your efforts to show your kids you love them more than breathing were misguided and have left them with scars. But our kids' recovery and growth seems to be linked to our own willingness to honestly accept that which is ours to own.

In my view, our children need us to be absolutely truthful in this regard. They need us to do some thinking about our mistakes, to approach them unbidden, to tell them they we understand how our beliefs and actions have harmed them, and to ask their forgiveness. More than once. And we need to be open to our kids approaching us with another bucketful of hurt, and another, and another. They need to know that we love them and we get it and that we are sad too. We need to let them tell the truth about how angry they have been, that even though they love us such a lot, they feel a need to say just how hurt they were by our mistakes.

I don't mean that we all move in to a perpetual Beat Up Mum Camp - we also need to know what is *not* ours to own. And as one of the young men I spoke to told me, 'I'm an adult now. My past has defined me to this point...but now I'm making decisions for myself, growing myself into the person I want to be.' At some point kids need to take responsibility for making the best of what they've been given. I just think that a mother's persistent refusal to allow them to revisit the past or to ask us to validate their feelings about it may actually inhibit their progress toward adulthood. And we don't have the right to do that, no matter how deeply it hurts to revisit our culpability in their suffering.

We mothers need to man up and hear what our kids need us to hear. I sincerely believe that every time we refuse to face a truth, every time we stick our fingers in our ears or manipulate our children into feeling that they should consider our sorrow ahead of their need to address issues from the past, we say 'No'  to growth. And that is a very dangerous thing to do. I believe we shrink a little bit each time we refuse the opportunity to take another baby step toward Integrity. I believe we need to embrace the pain that honesty brings us, to learn to love the agony of growth, to value Truth above all things.

There is no excuse for going easy on ourselves in this. Our children's healthy futures may depend on our opening our hearts to share in the truth as they see it. And the big payout is: every time we squeak open the door to those dark places, a shard of light rushes in and frightens away one of our own demons. And we find that we were wrong: the worst thing that can happen today is *not* that someone will confront us with something dreadful we may have done, but that, when that moment came, we didn't grab it with both hands.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

manipulation by any other name

As I've admitted before, I never did do very well in the submission stakes. This is not surprising considering who I am and to whom I was married. Submitting - which in QF circles means to willingly place yourself under the God-given authority your husband in every way - more or less necessitates there being something of a reasonable height to look up to and get under. My former husband, C, although he has some good qualities, was and is a particularly weak and and vacillating man. Trying to submit to C was like trying to squeeze my entire body into a dollshouse and call it comfy.
But call it comfy I did. At least in public. And while I admit I didn't manage to pull submission off very well at all, considering how low I had to crawl to properly locate myself 'under' him, my efforts to submit to my husband were pretty heroic at times. Still I came in for a fair bit of criticism for not looking or not sounding as submissive as I ought.
This brings me to a particularly distressing and frankly, in my view, nauseating aspect of the QF doctrine of submission. While some of the men I knew in QF families were domineering bullies, a good number of them were weak-kneed ninnies like my husband. Except they were the only ones who didn't seem to know it. This was because their clever and seemingly super-submissive wives concealed that inconvenient truth from them. These women managed to run the show while contriving to trick their men into believing that they were in fact in charge.
Consider the following interaction between one sweet wife and her lazy whimp of a husband. J had all the submission boxes ticked: floral frocks, long hair, heaps of kids, homeschooling, husband 'working' from home.... While I suppose she may have considered us friends, she often made her disappointment in my failure at Christian wifely submission plain with disapproving looks and sometimes helpful suggestions for my improvement. 
At the time this particular incident occurred we were enjoying our post-home church afternoon tea on the verandah of J's country acreage (tick, tick). As usual, the men were sitting at one table and the women at another. This was the usual arrangement but I don't recall it was done by explicit rule but rather a general consensus. The women talked about homeschooling and kids, the men about doctrine and work. 
J's children were making themselves unpleasant a short distance away from where we adults were sitting. I could see J was uncomfortable with her kids' behaviour but didn't want to 'usurp' her husband's authority by doing anything about it. At least, she wanted to take the opportunity of making both herself and hubby look good in front of us all. Several times she cast a slightly irritated glance in the direction of her children and then more pointedly at her husband before she hit on the perfect solution. Summoning a sickly tone reminiscent of 50s sit-com housewives, here what she said:
"R, would you mind using your big, strong man's voice and correcting our children? I think they need their Daddy to do that right now."
I almost gagged on my brownie.
This is how submission is done in many QF households. It isn't OK to say, 'Honey, how's about you get off your lazy duff and man up for a change?' but it's fine to 'motivate' your man to do whatever you want by using clever brain-circumventing, ego-massaging manipulation strategies. And if you have a good bucketful of QF cred because of the box-ticking mentioned above, nobody minds a smidge. If she wears a floral frock and talks so sweet she couldn't secretly be (gasp) a manipulative, underhanded bitch, could she?
I have had conversations with QF women about their in-good-conscience use of these techniques many times. I would point out that I was working hard to find ways to respect my husband - and that wasn't easy. Treating him as though he were an idiot would not have been a good strategy for me - even if he liked it a lot. 
And as a young woman, my eyes opening to the power of my own sexuality, I made a decision that I would never, never use tricks of that sort to manipulate a man I cared about - or ones I didn't either. I don't know anyone I despise so greatly that my conscience wouldn't prick me if I patronised them in this way. Manipulation and integrity don't live on the same planet and I don't any longer want to live where we pretend they do. Integrity is too important to trade it off for domestic peace and fundamentalist kudos.
But nonsense like J's is widespread in the QF and patriarchal Christian communities - at least it is in the ones with which I have been associated. In her book "Created to be his Helpmeet", Debi Pearl described several instances when she not only tolerated her husbands infantile tantrums but 'learned how to win', that is, got back into his good books by tempting him with goodies like sex. (I hope I'm remembering this right. I'd go check my copy of Mrs Pearl's book but the kids and I had a Pearl-shredding party a while back. Felt gooood.)
Val Stares, one of the long-time leaders of conservative women's magazine Above Rubies in Australia once told a story at a women's group I attended. Val's husband does not identify himself as a Christian - at least, he didn't then. Val said that once, as she was looking out her kitchen window while he mowed the lawn, she watched as her husband ran over and destroyed a seedling tree that was precious to her. An uncharacteristically unsubmissive ejaculation along the lines of 'Oh, no! Not the ornamental cherry...' escaped Val's lips. Hearing this, her husband pitched a fit stomping and kicking angrily. Poor old him.
While Val is a gorgeous and intelligent woman and while I think the moral of this story was intended to be 'Let him be. Don't criticise' I still don't get it. How could anybody think that anyone benefits from encouraging the man of the house to behave like an three-year-old? That just leads to nowhere good: the women have to put up with and justify a whole heap of moronic behaviours and the kids nearly go mad trying to learn how to be healthy adults while buying in to far-fetched excuses for their father's immaturity. The man himself probably gets the rawest deal - he just stops growing. And what is a life without growth?
Worst of all, bang goes everybody's integrity. The whole family is forced to perform all manner of intellectual and emotional contortions in order to accommodate their own hypocrisy and self-deceit. Trying to live with a growing disparity between your inner and outer identities is a dangerous route. Aye, thar be madness, mateys.
QF patriarchal Christianity such as I have seen it practiced does not value truth and it does not value women. It harms children...and it harms men. It trades integrity for a floral-frocked lie and then tut-tuts at those who don't toe the line as though it has a monopoly on moral high ground. It disgusts me.
My heart breaks for all those women who still believe QF's sales pitch as I once did but I'm saddest for the children growing up inside QF who are unable to develop a healthy, honest sense of self while simultaneously being forced to deny the bleeding obvious and perpetually pretend it is not so. I'm devoting my energies to helping my own darlings walk away from the lie and towards freedom and wholeness.