by Kathryn Joyce
A long time ago, I was given a great piece of advice. If you pay $25.00 to attend a conference and you come home with even one $25.00 piece of information, then the conference was worth attending. Bibliophile that I am, I maintain the same policy when it comes to purchasing books and I think I got my money’s worth when I bought my copy of Quiverfull ~ Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce.
Readers of this blog know that I see the patriocentric movement much like the reckless and activated toddler in the movie Honey I Blew Up the Kid who grew bigger and more unwieldy as he came into contact with various high tension lines. Those who are giving credence to these teachers and are providing a platform from which to speak are akin to those electrified wires, adding to the power while creating a creature that is taking on a life of its own. That is why I was anxious to read Ms. Joyce’s book and to, perhaps, find some new insights into the whys of the patriocentric movement that has declared itself in charge of Christian homeschooling.
But rather than giving me a more clear picture of this fringe but influential segment of the homeschooling culture, the reason I found this book to be so valuable was more for the opportunity it gave me to understand how a secular feminist assimilates the teachings and lifestyles within the patriarchy movement and, more importantly, how an outsider perceives the nonessential lifestyles that are being passed off as essentials of the faith within the homeschooling culture.
Covering most of the significant leaders within this faction, Ms. Joyce, for the most part, accurately portrays the key differences between the crunchy crude charm of Mike and Debi Pearl, the more “noblesse” and less “oblige” of Vision Forum’s Doug Phillips, and the myriad of other players who have wandered in and out of these circles for the past 30 years. I found little to disagree with in her perspective as she mapped out the teachings and leanings of each one. Oddly, Voddie Baucham, mentioned only in passing, and Kevin Swanson, two of the more notable and current mouthpieces for the movement, weren’t given the time of day in her book and Helen Andelin, the matriarch of fascinating childish womanhood, was curiously absent.
Interviewing both the movers and shakers, as well as the followers who have been moved and shaken, made for interesting reading, not to mention a smorgasbord of patriocentric madness. Her story, for example, of attending the Jamestown Celebration last summer and watching as the crowd jumped to their feet at the singing of Dixie, shows the neo-confederate leanings that are no insignificant part of this group. The account of Geoff Botkin praying over the ovaries of his newborn daughter along with the many testimonies of exhausted mothers who were told their salvation depended upon their childbearing, gives us a hint of the near-fertility worship these groups incite. The creepiness of Andrea Yate’s pastor, Michael Woroniecki, alone, made me want to sleep with my light on.
The lack of footnotes was probably the most troubling part of the entire book for me. Given how easily patriocentrists can spin and dissemble their own teachings to make themselves agreeable to a broad audience, footnotes and quotes ought to have been a number one priority and their absence was distressing. Skeptics and seekers reading the book will need them, in order to place these teachings in context and die hard sycophants will demand it. Note to Kathryn: please, please, please publish a corresponding booklet with your resources and remember this if there is a second edition.
I also had a difficult time getting my arms around the title of the book. “Patriarchy” is such a nebulous term, as is “quiverfull,” leaving the door open for incorrect conclusions to be drawn. There are many people, such as myself, who embrace a husband’s headship in the home and his leadership of the family as well as the Biblical truth that children are a blessing from the Lord and who welcome any children the Lord would give them, but who do not agree with the militant fecundity mindset nor seek to defile the marriage bed by declaring the use of all birth control to be sin.
Ms. Joyce, and I believe it is because she is not from within this movement, is not a believer, and is not committed to the Bible as the Word of God, does not understand the subtleties in the language or the continuum along which these teachings lie. As such, she does not possess the discernment to sort truth from error, leaving her at a disadvantage. Or perhaps, in the spirit of feminist spin, she felt the need to disdain male leadership as abusive and women, who love having lots of children, as having done so under duress, either by a man or the church. I am still trying to decide who she intends her audience to be and to what end she wrote her book.
I would also hope that those who are responsible for giving energy to the leaders within this movement through homeschooling conventions and other venues will consider what Kathryn Joyce is saying and be more circumspect in providing a forum to patriocentrists. Given the current political climate and the increasing scrutiny I believe homeschooling families will come under in the future, I would recommend that homeschoolers read this book. Then, perhaps, as in the case of the blown up kid, it will be a mother who brings sanity and control to what may become an out of control situation