(Originally printed in the Spring 2011 Issue of the MCOI Journal) beginning on page 10
Sunday, July 4, 2010, with my wife at our spot near the community center, reading and waiting for the patriotic orchestra to start—and neither of us wanted to read further.
The book was Quivering Daughters by Hillary McFarland (Darklight Press: Dallas, Texas), which was released summer 2010. I was given a copy by Don Veinot, president of Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. He’s written much on the topic of un- Biblical patriarchy—a Christian-esque belief system about sex and family relationships that overemphasizes a man’s role as head of the household and the roles of his wife and children under his authority. 1 Since then, I’ve also written much about this on my own web site. 2
However, McFarland’s book brings the worst of patriarchy’s roots and fruits to often-frightening life.
Quivering Daughters (QD) is based on the author’s own experiences as a “quivering daughter” (pg.xxi) in a household that valued conformity, supposed “spiritual” poverty and ignorance of the actual source of sin at the expense of grace and the Gospel. Most of the book is specifically intended for women who’ve been brought up in this particular lifestyle. Thus, this particular reader had a few hurdles going in:
1. I’m not a daughter, and I’m not quivering (i.e. spiritually abused the way McFarland describes it though I have researched “patriarchy” beliefs);
2. McFarland’s style is very “devotional,” and it is mostly about admitting the problems exist and finding healing with, perhaps, not as many beat-up-those-abusers-with-the-real-Bible parts as I’d favor!
The fact is, I would have preferred the book to have more direct targeting of specific notions of patriarchy. I don’t mean in a graceless way, but rather debunking the ways they have used to justify these extra-Biblical lifestyles and even worse legalisms as the most Godly way to live. Their method is to ripped verses screaming from context.
Space doesn’t permit more than the following summary of what patriarchalists believe. Many of them say they believe Biblical passages (such as Ephesians 5), which do lay out a “complementarian” vision of differing-yet-equal roles for men and women. But they go too far in seeking as their basis to avoid perceived feminism and supposed compromise—and thus, they lose sight of a Gospel center. Thus, they look to the Old Testament (or their favorite parts of it), for implications about how a father (not just parents) should uniquely manage his family. That can include keeping his daughters at home (with college and any jobs seen as the domain of feminism) and micro-managing their “Biblical” courtships. As for the “quivering” term, it refers to a belief system (inferred from Psalm 127:5) assuming that if children are the Lord’s blessing, then logically the more children (and sooner!) the better.
Organizations such as Vision Forum and leaders such as Doug Phillips promote such teachings. They tend to ignore how God does work His will among Christian women who go to college or work outside the home either before they get married and become mothers, after, or if they stay single.
But McFarland doesn’t name names or sling Scripture as much as she offers empathy for her audience. Many quotes from other “quivering daughters” (she also runs a blog about these issues 3 provide backup for the kinds of sin-denial and un-Biblical actions that can occur in patriarchy-practicing families. And she tells her own painful story—thus, the difficult reading I mentioned at the beginning of this review.
Daughters Quivering Together
One of the less-intense examples of patriarchal parents is cited by a woman named Carolyn regarding her own parents:
They told me I was “deceived” because I am a woman. That God would only speak to me through Dad. At one point I cried out and said, “I just want you to acknowledge that I can legitimately be led by God myself!” Dad answered me, “That is an oxymoron! You cannot be led by God yourself!” Dad even said I would never be his equal before God. When he said that, I tried to leave the room but Mom grabbed me and tried to physically force me to stay. Over the next four months, they tried many things. They withheld love. Refused to hug me. Told me I didn’t love them. Had “discussions” that were 2 to 3 hours in length. Told me I was “making people in my family sick.”
They blamed me for any problems, saying that since I’d never told them I had these thoughts, it was my fault. When I tried to explain that I was too afraid to share, they said they never did anything to make me afraid. Anything I told them about pain in my upbringing was called “family-bashing.” (pg.58)
The book has dozens of similar accounts ranging from struggles such as this, to the account of the girl abused by a relative whose parents, afraid of being revealed as less-than-perfect, utterly ignored the ongoing abuse. (The disturbing description of another girl, her mother, and a dead dog made us need to stop reading for a while.)
Frequently, the testimonies in the book seem quite overwhelming. As a reader, I wanted truth to shine brighter than the darkness. Yet, I recognize that a quivering daughter, not son, might need more empathy first.
All throughout, McFarland stresses not developing resentful attitudes toward patriarchal parents and other spiritual (and even physical) abusers. Rather she advocates forgiveness and reliance on the true God. It takes a while, but perhaps, the book is at its best when she encourages quivering readers not to keep buying the lies that this is what God is like and what true Christianity really is.
I might not always agree with all her advice, however. Some, including myself, could disagree with her recommendation to quit reading the Bible for a while so one’s stigma about its contents can eventually vanish, and one can read it again with joy. On the surface, that seems unnecessary and even disrespectful of God; however, since my original version of this review, I’ve heard from many women who say this is exactly how God has worked in their lives, indeed, to bring them back to Scripture with a renewed love for real truth. Yet, of the author’s suggestion to find a Christian counselor to help: I’d suggest, instead, finding a Biblical local church with solid Christ-exalting leadership that teaches the Gospel and its results in life. Some of the self-talk, also, echoes a find-your-inner-child approach, and the author’s lapses into fiction (and I’m a fiction writer!) seemed somewhat out-of-place to this reader.
But overall McFarland’s emphasis is one of grace and looking to the true Jesus—the only true Mediator Who died to save His people. That means no one else—priest or human father— should between God and us.
A Firmer Foundation
QD does get a little shaky at other times, and I don’t mean just emotionally. Some of the book could use better organization and editing; it looks and feels self-published (and probably is, in this age of print-on-demand). The introductory essay/chapter presents a great overview of many patriarchalists’ truth-minimizing search for a God-approved culture. Material such as this patriarchalists twist Scripture:
Jesus neither endorsed, nor participated in, a separatist lifestyle […] rather, He took positive illustrations from, and participated in, His culture.
[… Gordon] Fee and [Douglas] Stuart argue that “there is no such thing as a divinely ordained culture; cultures are in fact different, not only from the first to the twentieth century, but in every conceivable way in the twentieth century itself.” They caution against applying a biblical passage to a present-day situation when particulars in the passage are not comparable to the present-day situation. (pg.xi)
This is solid hermeneutics—something patriarchalists ignore in their fervor to avoid sinful corruption or to preserve the integrity of a belief system that may be consistent internally but is not consistent with all of Scripture. I would have suggested more material be written about this because, from what I’ve seen, many quivering daughters already have been conditioned to ignore shoulder-crying and empathy; and instead, they also resort to twisted proof-texting from Scripture. Thus, one could first expose the flawed foundation, gently, showing how it is not the right way to read the Word and discern God’s will.
Christians intent on finding Biblical foundations for male/ female and husband/wife roles and avoiding junk to either extreme of previous “church-ianity” strains—evangelical feminism or chauvinism—will find QD a solid place to start.
So far, while many popular and Gospel-centric Christian leaders speak out against feminism’s wrongs, I have not yet seen much about lurking “Biblical” chauvinism that is just as prevalent in other circles.
But as the bad fruits from patriarchal, Gospel-neglecting leaders and families become more evident, I’m confident more Christian authors, bloggers, and teachers will add more books and research to the discussion. Perhaps, best of all, Christians, who want to follow Biblical roles for God’s glory and teach their own children these truths, will become more aware of the wrong leaders and teachings that are still out there; and they will seek Biblical balance in their families.
E. Stephen Burnett is an aspiring novelist, community journalist, and online columnist. His hope is God’s grace and glory will help him honor Him in all things. That includes SpeculativeFaith.com (a team blog to explore Christian visionary fiction) and YeHaveHeard. com with its debunking of Christian myths. He also enjoys reading and spending time with his wife in their central Kentucky home.
- For example, see the Midwest Christian Outreach blog at http://midwestoutreach.org/blogs/category/vision-forumpatriarchy ↩
- www.YeHaveHeard.com, which exists to bust small Christian myths, lovingly, logically and Biblically ↩
- www.QuiveringDaughters.com ↩