A glimpse on a disturbing dominionist movement
Some of my longterm readers may be familiar with the term "Quiverfull"--I've mentioned it in my series on religiously motivated child abuse in relation to Michael and Debi Pearl (a series that is, unfortunately, timely again due to the recent death by chastening rod of a seven-year-old girl) and particularly in regards to my writing on Bill Gothard's "Bible-based" coercive group empire.
For those uninitiated, "Quiverfull" is a movement within both "independent fundamentalist Baptist" and neopentecostal-dominionist (including New Apostolic Reformation/Joel's Army) circles that promotes the idea of dispensing with any form of contraception whatsoever--even the rhythm method is prohibited--and actively attempting to have as many children "as God will allow".
In NAR circles in particular, this is explicitly seen as a method to breed as many future members of "God's Army" as possible using justification not dissimilar to that of the King of England in "Braveheart" ("If we can't burn them out, we'll breed them out"); segments of the Quiverfull movement also increasingly push for home births without medical assistance and even "unregistered births" (where the birth is never registered with the state Department of Human Resources or other state birth registries and where the child is never signed up for Social Security).
In fact, the term in its modern use does have NAR-ish roots--the term "Quiverfull" denotes having a "full quiver" of arrows to defeat The Enemy (in this case, secular society)--only in this case, the metaphorical "arrows" are children who are reared from birth onwards in a regimented, socially isolated manner. (In general, the only typical contacts kids in "Quiverfull families" have are with families of other members of the movement.) The term ultimately stems from a scripture-twisting of Psalms 127:4-5:
 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the sons of one's youth.
 Happy is the man who has
his quiver full of them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
(RSV. In context, this is a psalm of Solomon stating that true protection is in the hands of God and that true preparedness and security only comes from God. Prior verses explicitly note that a watchman's duty is in vain unless God is the foundation of the country, among other things.)
Promotion of "Quiverfull" is commonly done via dominionist correspondence-school circles promoting themselves as "Christian homeschooling"; the Pearls' and Gothard's empires have largely grown, in fact, through dominionist correspondence-school support networks.
A related phenomenon is that of "purity balls"--also written about in part one of my series on religiously motivated child abuse--where daughters sometimes as young as four are symbolically "married" to their fathers until such time as they are married legally--often to an arranged spouse.
As I've noted, the movement is heavily connected with dominionism and would constitute a coercive group in and of itself. As the article notes:
These children are homeschooled for the most part, in the hopes that they’ll become an army of the Lord’s mighty warriors who, through sheer demographic force, reclaim America for God. Females are kept in perpetual servitude from earliest childhood, where they are considered the property of their fathers and spend their days caring for younger siblings. When a girl reaches puberty she must pledge her virginity/purity to her father (often in writing). Once the father finds a suitor to his liking, he transfers his ownership of the young lady to her husband. Adult women in the movement are not allowed to work outside the home, and usually forbidden to speak in church (obviously, they can never be ordained!). And based upon a quirky interpretation of an obscure biblical passage (Isaiah 3:12), they are also forbidden to vote.
Lurking beneath the QF/CP lifestyle lies the teachings of R.J. Rushdoony, the leading exponent of a dire and militant form of Calvinism called "Christian Reconstructionism." In his massive tome Institutes of Biblical Law, he advocated the overthrow of modern democracy, replacing it with a theocratic state in which all the laws of Leviticus are imposed (including the death penalty for disobedient children, adulterers and homosexuals). Also, as per his reading of the Bible, the theocratic state would reintroduce slavery. Hard-line QF/CP believers think that creating a population explosion of their own is the most effective means of bringing this dystopic vision to fruition.
It is not an exaggeration in some cases--particularly Gothard's program--to compare the general setup to a dominionist version of Taliban-era Afghanistan.
* * *
Surprisingly enough, most people have seen a Quiverfull family on TV--though they might not have known it.
And, of note, there is at least one Quiverfull family that has become famous--the Duggar clan, who are known Gothard acolytes and whom are presented as pretty much the poster children for the Quiverfull movement.
Another Quiverfull family, alas, became quite infamous. This was, unfortunately, the family of Andrea Yates--who was involved in a dominionist church that promoted Quiverfull theology, and who ultimately ended up drowning five of her young children as a result of postpartum depression complicated by what may well have been cult-related complex PTSD.
* * *
As with most coercive religious movements, there are walkaway networks for support. The best known by far is No Longer Quivering, run by Vyckie Garrison (who is herself not only an ex-Quiverfull survivor, but prior to walking away was a major promoter in the movement). The images one gets are of a highly patriarchial, overtly female-hostile, coercive religious movement (and it does meet the characteristics of an overt coercive religious group, particularly in its isolation of members) in which women are expected to give all, up to and including their bodies and health, for the whim of their leaders.
And it's through these forums that we get a rare glimpse into what it is like to be recruited into a Bible-based cult.
Like a frog being boiled in water
People have asked me repeatedly how folks get recruited into coercive groups. As I am a multigenerational walkaway--that is, I was raised in a coercive group rather than joining one as a teen or adult--it's hard for me to answer this personally; pretty much, most of my life "Jesus Camp life" was all I knew, and my experiences have been more of essentially resocialising myself (not unlike a kid who was raised by wolves and having to figure out human culture).
Johnathan W. Rice's recent article in Salon Magazine, Fear And Loathing In Jesusland, describes a story I've heard across ex-cult forums from recruitees who became walkaways--that you're never given the "Full Monty" straightaway but are gradually inducted.
The big difference, here, is that--for one of the first times since Matt Taibbi's "The Great Derangement"--this is talking about a non-negligible part of the dominionist movement:
In mid-February 2010, a thread title on the forum caught my eye: How did you get yourself into this mess? The author, a female refugee from the movement, was wondering how she and so many others could have fallen for it in the first place.
After reading it, I again realized how closely the QF/CP movement intersects with mainstream evangelicalism and fundamentalism; and how easily I too could have been recruited, given the wrong circumstances. How, one may ask, do people get into such a seemingly bizarre religious movement? And how had I (in the past) been in danger of being sucked in myself?
The answer boils down to one simple word: "gradually."
The substance of my gradual experience, which I’ll summarize here, is the shared story of countless rank & file believers who come under the broad labels "Pentecostal," "charismatic," "evangelical," and "fundamentalist."
In the beginning, as a teen in the mid 1970s, my cousin, followed by my mother, became born-again Christians. It was really positive in those days: God loves you and has a wonderful plan, and so forth. It was all about having a new life, full of purpose and meaning. A life in which the very Creator of the Universe actually cared about little people like us!
Among other things, a big thing that the more coercive groups in the movement (including not just Campus Crusade and YWAM, but the infamous Maranatha) were involved in was "love-bombing"--smothering people with affection, making them feel wonderful and loved. The author himself experienced some of this, and also describes how after the "love-in" the indoctrination started to trickle in, eventually becoming a torrent:
It was all really positive in those early, idealistic years. Loving Jesus, hoping to save the world, helping homeless people, having an abundance of real friends who stood with me through thick and thin: it was all good; really good. The song that often brought tears to my eyes in the early days was written by Keith Green immediately upon his conversion (before he’d entered into his extremist phase): Like waking up from the longest dream How real it seemed Until your love broke through
A radio program called Focus on the Family that I used to hear doling out advice to crisis-wracked families, was becoming politicized. Through the show, and then through the warnings of Tim LaHaye and others, I began learning of sinister threats being hatched against us by people called "Secular Humanists." LaHaye, in a breathless, frenzied spiel, warned of the threat as follows. Humanists, he said: have been "planted" in strategic places in the United Nations, they teach children in public schools "to read the words scientific humanism as soon as they’re old enough to read," and 275,000 humanists control the American government, education, and media.
As conspiracy-paranoia mounted, politics in church began to subvert the innocent, Jesus-loving expressions of faith I'd known in the beginning. Our churches started distributing candidates' score cards in the foyers, telling us to vote accordingly.
And then there was a radio preacher, William Steuart McBirnie, whose Voice of Americanism program daily rehashed senator McCarthy's and Carl McIntire's Red Scare fundamentalism, updating it for the mid-1980s. We had much to fear and many to loathe.
( Tim LaHaye, The Battle For the Mind (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1980), pp. 27, 74, 97, 179. Summarized in George M. Mardsen, Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism ( MI: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1991), p. 109.)
In addition to describing a phenomena I've witnessed myself--the increasing radicalisation of "Christian Contemporary" performers, including Steve Taylor and Carmen (the latter of whom actually co-published (with Ron Luce of Teen Mania Ministries, an infamous NAR group targeting--naturally--teenagers) a guide for teenagers on how to recruit fellow teens into Bible-based coercive groups using love-bombing and harassment)--he notes personally meeting Francis and Frank Shaeffer, two major leaders of the dominionist movement in the late 70s and early 80s. (Frank Schaeffer later left the dominionist movement and has written a tell-all book, "Crazy for God", describing his own experiences; reportedly, per the book, he initially recruited his own father into the movement.)
Of note, the author almost makes a point I have been writing about for well over five years--that dominionism is less a political movement and more of a series of Bible-based cults that have as a common goal the establishment of a dominionist-supremacist government:
Most cults have a well-planned program for the indoctrination of new recruits, in which they deceitfully hide their more bizarre teachings from seekers (an exoteric/esoteric truth divide). The new convert is only taught the vision piecemeal; gradually gaining deeper (and weirder) knowledge over a period of months or years.
But with us, although it may have appeared that way, it wasn't exactly so. I later realized I was living in the midst of a drastic change in popular American Christianity. The movement still really was (for the most part) benign when I joined. The resentful loathing was added gradually, not as a planned indoctrination program, but because the church genuinely was in the midst of radical transition during 1980s and ‘90s.
I myself would agree and disagree with his statement--what he may not have been aware of is that, particularly during the 80s and 90s, there was an organised campaign (beginning as early as the waning days of the Latter Rain movement in the 40s) to explicitly steeplejack the non-Christian-Nationalist segment of the evangelical movement. Legitimate "Charismatic" movements in Catholic and Protestant denominations were taken over from within by neopentecostal "cuckoo churches".
In this case, the cult recruitment was less of individual people and more of a takeover-from-within and indoctrination of a very large chunk of the evangelical movement--one particularly mediated by New Apostolic Reformation groups as well as a group calling itself the Institute for Religion and Democracy that was closely connected to Christian Reconstructionists. (Probably the prototypical example, in fact, was the ultimately successful steeplejacking of the Southern Baptist Convention--formerly a conservative but relatively mainline denomination, it has gone hard-dominionist and is now quite possibly undergoing a second "consolidation" steeplejack by NAR-linked groups.)
The NAR takeovers and plans for steeplejacks--particularly of non-NAR-linked charismatic worship groups--is, to this day, woefully under-documented (about the only people who've written on this regularly are myself, Bruce Wilson, Rachel Tabachnik, and Katherine Yurica and to a lesser extent Sara Diamond), so that's an understandable lapse--to someone who didn't grow up in one of the major foci of the NAR movement (as I did), it would appear that the evangelical movement just "radicalised slowly".
Interestingly, it turns out I'm not the only one to make that argument--theologian Richard T. Hughes noted in a recent article the likelihood that the evangelical movement had essentially been steeplejacked by Christian Reconstructionists and the NAR for purposes of promoting "Christian supremacy":
This definition of the kingdom of God as a kingdom of political power helps explain why so many fundamentalist and evangelical Christians lent such broad support to America's war against Iraq. It also helps explain the rise of the Christian Reconstruction Movement led by the late R. J. Rushdoony, a Calvinist who argued that Christians should control civil government and that biblical law should govern the United States. It also helps explain a large and thriving contemporary network, closely akin to the Christian Reconstruction Movement, called the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) -- a network that works through business, politics, religion, and the media to promote Christian control of the United States and even the world.
And by 1985--and definitely by 1992--Rice was experiencing a classic hallmark of coercive religious groupthink: An "us versus them" seige mentality, a Culture Of Fear, that every researcher on coercive religious groups from Robert J. Lifton on has defined as a red flag warning of a cult:
And thus by 1985, my original faith, though still there, was mixed with anger, resentment and fear—a sense of being under siege.
After another few years, the Rev. Don Wildmon, who Max Blumenthal would later describe as "churlish," started telling us to boycott Mennon Speed Stick deodorant because it was advertised on a TV show which he, and therefore God, didn't approve of.
Then, in 1990, James Dobson openly began using the language of civil war: "Nothing short of a great Civil War of Values rages today throughout North America. Two sides with vastly differing and incompatible world views are locked in a bitter conflict that permeates every level of society."
Whether the timing of Dobson’s drum beating was cunning or just plain lucky, I don’t know. But it certainly was fortuitous.
. . .
Civil War. What a great idea! Brother against brother. A woman against her coworker. Neighbor against neighbor. Divide and conquer. A nation’s unity destroyed. And when all was said and done, Dobson emerged from the fray as the new Republican Kingmaker.
In such a milieu, those negative traits of resentment and fear had become almost central, my original faith being sickly, barely alive and far beneath the surface. We were now in the midst of full-blown culture-war. And all that the churches and Christian mailing list materials were trumpeting was also confirmed by an outside source: The Rush Limbaugh show.
By 1992 I’d made the full transition from a spirituality of awe, joy and wonder to one of hatred, fear and all-around loathing. We Christians were under siege.
"They" were taking away our freedoms. "They" had planted Secular Humanist agents in every ‘government school,’ brainwashing the next generation. Not only that, The New Age Movement (painted as a well-organized conspiracy rather than the loosely knit spiritual fad that it was) was out to forge a One World Government and wipe the final vestiges of Christianity from the face of the earth.
( James Dobson, Children at Risk (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1990), pp. 19-20.)
In noting that the movement was increasingly trending towards "two-minute hates", Rice also notes how the "Rambo Jesus" meme was becoming increasingly popularised:
As the content of our faith changed, so did our conceptualization of Jesus. He was no longer a God of love, but a muscle-bound tyrant. Speaking of the Christian Right in 2009, journalist Max Blumenthal’s following description also summarizes the view of Jesus that was gaining ascendancy among us in the 1990s:
The movement’s Jesus is the opposite of the prince of peace. He is a stern, overtly masculine patriarch charging into the fray with his sword raised against secular foes; he is "the head of a dreadful company, mounted on a white horse, with a double-edged sword, his robe dipped in blood," according to movement propagandist Steve Arterburn. [Mega-church pastor] Mark Driscoll...stirs the souls of twenty-something evangelical men with visions of "Ultimate Fighting Jesus..."
A portrait of virility and violence, the movement’s omnipotent macho Jesus represents the mirror inversion of the weak men who necessitated his creation. As [Erich] Fromm explained, "the lust for power is not rooted in strength, but in weakness [italics in original]. It is the expression of the individual self to stand alone and live. It is the desperate attempt to gain secondary strength where genuine strength is lacking." 
( Max Blumenthal, Republican Gomorrah, pp. 9, 10.)
Rice also notes that he now considers himself lucky that he was not within proximity of the more charismatic promoters of Quiverfull--as he, already inducted within what he has all-but-admitted was a coercive religious group, would have been the perfect recruit:
I knew three Quiverfull families back in those days, though I didn't yet know the term. Two of them had become discredited in my sight, one badly so. The other had moved far across the country to the Bible Belt, and thus their influence on me was minimal.
But: supposing a well-spoken, polished QF/CP promoter, who in outward appearance had an exemplary life and family, had befriended me then. And supposing this theoretical person had possessed a charismatic personality. Had this happened, I very well could have bought into the QF/CP vision.
The angry and ever-intensifying Christian Right machine had changed our churches into pre-stocked ponds in which QF/CP and other extremists fished. I was one of those pre-stocked fish.
I just happened (by no virtue of my own at the time) to always be on the other side of the pond when people like Nancy Campbell, R.C. Sproul Jr., Doug Phillips, et al., went fishing.
That's why I find it no surprise that so many of the former QF/CP people (like Vyckie Garrison, for example) are so smart and articulate. People don't join the movement because they’re idiots. On the contrary, they join because they’re thoughtful, intelligent human beings who really care about their country; who are concerned about the kind of world in which their children and grandchildren will live.
But these same good qualities became a curse when cunning fascist leaders subtly began to channel them for their ends. And thus over the gradual course of time—sometimes even a decade—we (both "regular" believers and QF/CP Christians) became foot soldiers in a zombie-army, doing the political bidding of our Christian Right masters.
In other words...the process of recruitment is a gradual one. People generally don't join knowing the "full deal"--they are recruited with something innocuous, then the indoctrination begins over time until they've been recruited and are marching lockstep to a leader's command.
The process is not unlike the old yarn on how to boil a frog. Put a frog in boiling water, he'll jump right out (just like nobody would willingly join a coercive religious group if they knew it was coercive).
Put a frog in body-temperature water, though, and slowly turn up the heat...by the time the frog realises what's going on, he's cooked.
And so it is with recruitment in coercive religious groups...and the "Bible-based" coercive groups at the heart of the dominionist movement are absolute masters at turning up the water very, very slowly for a whole kettle of frogs.
And how the frog realises, "oh dear, I'm in a pot"
Interestingly, Rice ended up walking away in a similar way to myself--only in his case, he ended up going to the Emerald City of the dominionist movement, Colorado Springs, and saw for himself that the Emerald City isn't nearly as pretty without the glasses on:
As I headed toward Colorado in a U-Haul van, my knowledge of that city was minimal. I knew it was America’s new evangelical Mecca, populated with scores of Christian organizations; and I loved the beautiful Front Range Mountains I’d seen on my visit a month before.
But my main source of information was a book I’d read seven years prior, Ted Haggard’s, Primary Purpose: Making It Hard for People to Go to Hell from Your City. In it, I’d read the amazing story of how Haggard and his initially small band of followers had transformed the supposedly pagan, anti-Christian city into God’s own country. Through spiritual mapping (identifying the ruling demons in a given area) and systematic warfare-prayer walks through each neighborhood (in which those demons were expelled from the region, presumably to resettle in Washington state, California, New York and Massachusetts), Colorado Springs was now the godliest place in America: truly a city that was "hard to go to Hell from."
Or so I thought...
Although the organization that employed me was benign and apolitical, through my involvement with it I was exposed to the other big ministries in the area. Year after year I witnessed countless episodes of hypocrisy and self-congratulatory backslapping amongst Christian Right leaders.
I soon felt uneasy amongst people I’d once greatly admired. The church we attended turned out to be a de facto outpost of the Republican Party, and according to the pastor’s bizarre interpretation of an Isaiah passage, God had foreordained Republican Jesus to defeat Babylonian Saddam Hussein.
By 2005, the church was showing a smiling picture of Sam Brownback each Sunday on the large overhead screen. The pastor would then instruct us to stretch forth our hands and pray fervently for him. Brownback, dubbed "God’s Senator" by Jeff Sharlet, was a near-perfect embodiment of America’s new civil religion. He was a syncretic marvel who could glide effortlessly between his (Fundamentalist) Topeka Bible Church, Roman Catholicism, and a smattering of Orthodox Judaism.
One cold winter Sunday, the pastor excitedly told us of the senator’s latest mystical experience: Brownback, the pastor claimed, had just been to Valley Forge with a group of prayer leaders. There, he knelt at the exact spot where George Washington had once famously prayed. While on his knees in the snow, Brownback had received "the spiritual mantle of George Washington," an anointing which would send him to the Whitehouse in 2008—but only if God’s people prayed long and hard enough.
Growing weary of weekly political rallies, we soon dropped out of the church. As the Iraq War went sour and the federal deficit went into the trillions under the "godly" Bush, I became increasingly disillusioned. Then came wave upon wave of varied Republican scandals; so many that they soon became an endless blur in my mind, and would have remained so to this day had Max Blumenthal not compiled them all under one cover in Republican Gomorrah.
I realized that we’d been duped by the Christian Right: the politicians they promoted were not godly at all. They’d exploited a few causes that people felt passionately about, using them to con millions of voters. It had nothing to do with God’s will, only the will to power.
( Florida: Creation House, 1995. Of note, the book wass a major "how to" guide for NAR churches, though a bit less so now due to Haggard's outing as gay.)
In addition to finding out that the local dominionist churches were essentially doing political stumping disguised as sermons, he also made the unhappy discovery (through his daughter, no less) that Colorado Springs was considered the methamphetamine capital of Colorado; even worse, around the time he left (in 2007) a major scandal broke regarding a human-trafficking ring where Asian women were being kidnapped and forced to work as de facto indentured servants in massage parlors.
More to the point, his breaking point was, interestingly, the same as mine--discovering that the moral crusaders were lying out their teeth:
During that season I also learned we’d been lied to. Contrary to the jeremiads of the Christian Right’s propaganda industry, it wasn’t "America's godless, secular intelligentsia" who had removed the Bible and the knowledge of God from our educational system. In reality, Christians themselves had caused it nearly 200 years ago.
By the 1820s, America’s public schools were in a dilemma. Calvinists wanted the schools to teach only Calvinism, but Arminians (mostly Methodists) wanted them to teach only their doctrines. Several other sects were making demands of their own. And all of them agreed that no matter which version of Christianity won out in the classrooms, it should never be Roman Catholicism, which they all abhorred with equal passion. The endless infighting overwhelmed school authorities, who eventually gave up on the teaching of religion, substituting a vague, generic moral science in its place.
The same thing goes for taking Bible reading out of public schools. No, it wasn’t a cabal of Secular Humanists in the early 1960s, but Christians themselves who brought it about, through viscous infighting between Protestants (most of whom championed the King James Bible) and Catholics who could only accept the Douay-Rheims translation.
Speaking of the "Bible Wars" in the mid-nineteenth century, Stephen Prothero writes, "The most visible battlefield in these early culture wars was Philadelphia, where Protestant-Catholic riots over whose Bible would be read in public schools left over a dozen people dead and Catholic churches burned to the ground in 1844." In addition to outright violence and murder, the endless polemical clashes between these groups caused school administrators to become weary and wary. As a result, by the 1870s, public schools in many states had not only done away with Christian education, but Bible reading and hymn singing as well.
Contrary to what we’d learned from the Christian Right, the rulings of 1962 and ’63 were merely the final few nails in the coffin—not the beginning of a cultural decline engineered by Secular Humanists.
. . .
Living in Colorado Springs and learning what I did there was like Neo swallowing the red pill. I’d seen the truth about The Matrix. I could never go back; life couldn’t continue as it had before.
( Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—And Doesn’t (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), pp. 109-120.
 Ibid, pp. 121-127.)
It was much the same with me--finding out I was being lied to was the "red pill" that eventually led me to reality in the end.
And it is precisely this breeding of a Culture of Fear that causes thousands--if not millions--of children to be subjected to religiously motivated child abuse; the same one that forces women to live under a system of religiously motivated patriarchy that places them at grave risk of religiously motivated spousal abuse...
...and it can be said that the Fear Engine, at its core, and the hypermasculine bravado is the very engine running the dominionist movement.
Comments are closed on this story.