Heroes: I’ve Got A Quiverfull

The difficult events of last winter and spring got me a little off track in my promise to write periodically about women and men I viewed as heroes. I think all so far have been people I’ve been blessed to know personally: My paternal grandfather, a firebrand journalist; Bible Scholar Frances Norris; Missionary and Pastor Lupita Rocha Q.; the young Western Washington woman I consider my daughter, whose undocumented status is the reason I’m not using her name; and my maternal grandmother, whose gentleness was entirely evident even after, as a widow and abused woman, she once shot a guy who tried to break in to her house.

And you would be forgiven — nay, profusely thanked — if you concluded from my writing after his death nine months ago that my father was also a hero in my eyes, from the very earliest memories of dancing a ludicrously clumsy “Swan Lake” with him as a little girl to the time in September 2008, the last time I was able to really speak with him in person, when I realized that my preternaturally youthful father was, at 72, finally beginning to look his age. Or, more accurately, the age of the late-50s-looking guy at the table next to us.

This son of a newspaperman was himself an uncompromisingly dedicated and gifted reporter, and as I sort through boxes of mementos shipped home after my visit to Tucson last month, I’m fascinated and warmed by the stories I’ve come to understand about him. (I realize now, for example, why a photograph that puzzled me greatly during my childhood showed my terribly handsome and impeccably groomed dad looking unshaven, disheveled, and thoroughly defeated. It was taken during an undercover assignment in his cop-reporter days and wasn’t, as I’d always thought, a grim souvenir of some vagabond state that my birth had somehow rescued him from).

So I grew up under the roof and in the shadow of a vastly imperfect man who I nonetheless idolized. In very many ways, a daughter can grow up to be just like her dad; in my case, I chose to study journalism and become a writer not just because I loved and respected Papa and my dad, but because I knew they were damned good at what they did, and that what they did mattered. I was raised in a household suffused with competence and conviction, which makes it easy to then recognize extraordinary virtue and talent in other people around you. And quite often that virtue and talent come to us through the written word, delivered by people who are strangers to us, words whose immediacy can jolt our complacency, feed our hearts, and sharpen our minds — and words whose permanence means that the reminder, perhaps even the rebuke, is always there, poised no less sharp between the covers just as surely as it’s etched on our consciences. Books can make heroes out of the struggling. Occasionally, heroes are made by the books they write.

Such is the case with New York writer Kathryn Joyce, a self-identified secular feminist whose just-published book, “Quiverfull: Inside The Christian Patriarchy Movement” (Beacon Press, 2009), I read last weekend. It’s powerful, more so, perhaps, than any book I’ve read in the last decade, and as a Christian woman opposed to patriarchy and doctrines of male supremacy with every fiber of her being, which I imagine you’ve picked up on, I will be discussing it here over the next month or so. It will stay in my heart and my mind for much, much longer, though. Dispatches reporting the depths to which humankind has fallen tend to do that. And the prophetic call for righteousness that usually accompanies such dispatches? It beckons forth something, planted by God, that never expires.

It was, for me, impossible to read “Quiverfull” without tears of rage and sorrow; I can’t imagine that Joyce, a journalist with extensive experience writing about culture and religion, was able to completely detach herself from the misery of which she wrote. She does not identify as Christian, and so the offense of “Christian” patriarchy likely struck her in ways similar and also different from how it wounded me. But her reporting is spot-on. She endeavored to know their stuff; she succeeded by clearly, then, knowing hers. As an important work of journalism and cultural critique, it’s a triumph.

I have read, in the last year, several books written by “secular” journalists critical of the Religious Right, and Joyce’s commitment to basic newspaper- and magazine-journalism accuracy and form is laudable. Max Blumenthal, the author of the newly released “Republican Gomorrah,” was careless in his reporting — the factual errors he makes would have earned an automatic “F” in Professor Emerine’s Newswriting 101 class, and there’s a snarkiness of tone, or perhaps just a detached haughtiness, that does nothing to strengthen conclusions that, better presented, I’d likely agree with. Jeff Sharlett’s “The Family” documents, with full journalistic vigor and abundant attribution, the “secret fundamentalism” that operates within and among the most powerful men in the world; his is an important work, impressive in its scope and chilling, as he intends it to be, in its conclusions. But a book about shadowy Christian laypeople who are nonetheless some of the richest and most influential men in power anywhere, and who don’t want you to know about them, can’t possibly be as personal as “Quiverfull,” and it’s in this that I find Joyce’s greatest success.

The stories told and the doctrines disseminated in “Quiverfull” were a kick in the stomach and a shattering of the heart — and I promise to present and analyze them very soon. But now I’m talking about heroes, about how being raised with one and seeing his work and having him expect that I would produce good work as well, maybe even writing that surpasses his, taught me to analyze and appreciate what he’d have called “solid stuff.” And, indeed, Joyce has produced rock-solid, enduring truth that speaks with authority about a movement here and now that ought to horrify men and women, especially those who hate when violence and injustice are enshrined as Christian virtues. (This should not be a subculture of the faith — which seems glaringly, even offensively, evident. But the embrace of bigotry and unrighteousness has its fervent supporters, too many of whom have pastorates and publishers). I’ve studied a lot about this and other aberrant, even dangerous, Christian movements, and it’s easily the best book I’ve read on “Christian” teachings on male supremacy. In that, Joyce has given the world, and me, a great gift.

As I write this, I’m thinking back to last weekend, when I read “Quiverfull” straight through and mentally cheered Joyce on, applauding each time she skillfully tore the veil off of evil and shined a light on some new example of bad men behaving badly. I was, even while wiping away tears and crying out to the Lord Jesus, stomping the bleachers at every solidly insightful conclusion. Finally, I thought. Someone sees, and someone finally gets it! And that’s true. Joyce sees, and she absolutely gets it. May God be praised for her work and for the good the Spirit will do through it.

But I mentioned earlier the “rebuke” that a prophetically powerful book can level, even after it’s been read, digested, and set aside, and there came a time last weekend during my cheers and tears and applause and outrage that I felt a different kind of . . . something. My more fundamentalist friends would call it “conviction,” the nudging of the Holy Spirit when we fail in our walk. Non-believing friends would call it “guilt,” and probably, because they love me, try to talk me out of it. But me? I call it the sudden, God-wrought realization that this woman, Kathryn Joyce, a hard-nosed, brilliant journalist writing as an outsider from the patriarchy movement and the Church that tragically birthed it, a writer not charged with evincing care and concern for her subjects, was nonetheless far more Christlike in her observations and conclusions than I, the publicly self-identified evangelical and preacher whose charge is to care, was. She spoke of these women with an ineffable kindness and respect. I was just mad at them.

And that brought me to my knees.

In my cheerleading and lamentations, as I burned with anger toward men who abuse women and pleaded with God to show me why, God showed me something else. Joyce, throughout her work in “Quiverfull,” demonstrates a quiet concern for the women she met — hundreds, probably, whose lifestyle choice must have seemed utterly insane, utterly tragic, to her, far beyond the tepid politeness represented by a phrase like “lifestyle choice.” She witnessed countless acts that demonstrated that in a fallen world, men can choose to act as God prohibits — and produce reams of sermons and scores of books that make them rich in the process. She immersed herself in a world where women betray themselves body, soul, and spirit — and willingly, in the name of worship, betray their sisters as well. She saw it all, in all its ugliness and rot, and emerged from it with her story intact, her facts straight, and her heart, it seems, sincerely touched by the plight of even the most arrogantly insistent woman defending her captors. In doing so, Joyce exhibits in her book nothing of the kind of battle fatigue that results in bitter despair, an “Oh, what the hell” surrender laced with contempt for the bad guys and enabled by separation from those weaker, more sullied, less enlightened, than you. Or “than me,” in some of my “Oh, what the hell” moments. And that’s my point.

I came to see, God be praised, a revelation that I didn’t feel terribly much like praising God for: It’s sometimes easier for my heart to break than for my heart to soften, and that perhaps some of the heartbreak I’ve felt in doing battle against bad theology and worse practice is because my heart has become brittle. I want the sharp mind and strong countenance, the things I know gave life to “Quiverfull,” but I see now that a broken heart isn’t always a soft heart, and without a soft heart, it can just be doing battle.

And so . . . Any woman, a stranger to me, whose words and work show me that in her book really is a hero in mine. Thanks be to God.

3 Responses to “Heroes: I’ve Got A Quiverfull”

  1. Ashwin says:

    Ms Mix said: “It’s sometimes easier for my heart to break than for my heart to soften, and that perhaps some of the heartbreak I’ve felt in doing battle against bad theology and worse practice is because my heart has become brittle. I want the sharp mind and strong countenance, the things I know gave life to “Quiverfull,” but I see now that a broken heart isn’t always a soft heart, and without a soft heart, it can just be doing battle.”

    You want it? Why? To glorify the Lord with? Or the bash some “patriarch” with?

    If it is the former, pray for it and it will come.

    If it is the latter, you are better off without it.

  2. While I think that probably your comment wasn’t as kind in nature as I’d have appreciated or you might have intended — were the subject something other than patriarchy — I nonetheless appreciate it.

    But I’ll say it again: I want all things in my life to glorify the Lord Jesus. “Bashing” unbiblical ideas like male supremacy strikes me as one of the ways I can do that.


  3. Ashwin says:

    I apologise for sounding so abrupt. Please delete that comment and substitute it with this one:

    You have identified a problem – men abusing their authority over women – and have named it “patriarchy”. The assumption is that if the “patriarchy” is demolished e.g. by women being more independent and assertive, the problem will go away.

    I contend otherwise. The problem is well known – sin. Rebellion against God. If women became more assertive, the problem would remain and manifest in other ways. Perhaps in a sort of “matriarchy” for future generation of men to rail against.

    The unkind men need to be confronted with the Holy One of Israel. Not with feminist propaganda.

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