2009 Vulgaria Child Catcher of the Year

It’s always a treat when a Killing the Buddha writer receives recognition for their work. KtB contributors have been winners or finalists for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, The National Jewish Book Award, National Magazine Awards, the Utne/Alternative Press Award, and many others. But there can be no greater honor than the annual “Vulgaria Child Catcher of the Year Award,” given to our own Kathryn Joyce for her book Quiverfull, excerpted right here on KtB. What’s a Vulgaria Child Catcher, you ask? Kathryn’s acceptance speech, below, tells all.

Robert Helpman as the Child Catcher

Robert Helpman as the Child Catcher

I’d like to thank Doug Phillips and Vision Forum Ministries for awarding me and Beacon Press their “2009 Vulgaria Child Catcher of the Year Award” for the publication of my recent book, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, a journalistic investigation of a growing fundamentalist lifestyle that opposes all contraception and women’s careers, proudly affirms biblical patriarchy, commands wives’ and daughters’ submission to husbands and fathers, and teaches homeschooling followers that feminism and gender equality—even women’s suffrage—is the root of all modern social ills.

As Phillips movingly writes, nothing captures the image of this feminist bogeywoman better than the Vulgarian Child Catcher, the bloodthirsty enforcer of the “self-indulgent” child-free state documented in the historical work, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This Child Catcher, who seems possibly on loan from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, “with his net, hook, crooked black hat, odd funeral clothing, and protruding snozzola,” sniffed out offending children and killed them. Apparently, I’ve done the same in my book (a “little book,” Phillips writes), which has been called an empathetic and respectful entry into a lifestyle that would be easy to mock by numerous critics, including evangelical flagship, Christianity Today. It takes someone with Phillips’ vision, however, to see that most of those reviewers are also “feminist leaders and ‘child catchers’ of many stripes,” and that even Christianity Today has aligned itself with anti-family forces on a mission “to destroy biblical patriarchy and the Christian family.”

Vision Forum, as a homeschooling publisher that has released numerous books that inform its self-proclaimed patriarchy movement—such as Be Fruitful and Multiply, Passionate Housewives Desperate for God, So Much More: The Remarkable Influence of Visionary Daughters on the Kingdom of God, Manly Men Write Manly Letters, and the succinct Manliness—is among the subjects of Quiverfull. I’ve read dozens of their titles, as well as listened to many hours of Phillips’s sermons and recorded messages promoting submission and prolific motherhood to girls as young as five, and heard a number of his speeches in person in reporting this book. So it’s quite an honor indeed to have beat out Barbara Walters (an also-ran nominated for scowling at the prolific Duggar clan), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (for proposing contraception coverage be included in the economic stimulus package), and even President Barack Obama (for easing stem cell restrictions). Nice tries all, but it takes a progressive press, publishing “titles too vile to name,” and a feminist reporter—preferably one “trained to become a cultural revolutionary by one of the most significant radical feminists of the 20th century, Ellen Willis“—to fulfill the antifeminist stereotypes of Vision Forum and “[prepare] the liberal media elite to target for widespread censure and persecution those men, women, and ministries committed to historical Christian notions of male leadership, biblical femininity, and the importance that parents ‘be fruitful and multiply.’”

Part of me feels undeserving of the award. After all, as several reviewers and interviewers have pointed out, much space in the book is devoted to letting Phillips and his followers speak their piece. That so much of what Phillips and his fellow travelers have said about the roles they promote for women—that they should call their husbands “Lord,” that they should view prolific motherhood to broods of ten and more children as a non-optional highest calling in life, that its more important that their daughters are taught to serve than to read, that women shouldn’t speak in church, and that those who fail in these roles are rebellious Jezebels who warrant church sanction—struck readers as appalling and nightmarish really seems like his doing, not mine. I hate to take the credit for merely documenting the work that Phillips and co. have done, but I’m loath to turn down an award. So thank you Vision Forum. An award like this from an institution like yours is cause for pride, indeed.

Jeff Sharlet is a founding editor of Killing the Buddha, coauthor with Peter Manseau of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible (2004) and co-editor of Believer, Beware (2009). Sharlet is also the author of Sweet Heaven When I Die, (2011), C Street, (2010), and the New York Times bestseller The Family (2008).