Victory Through Daughters
There were complications when Geoffrey Botkin’s first daughter, Anna Sofia, was born. The problems were physical—Anna Sofia’s mother, Victoria, could have died—and more esoteric, too. Geoffrey Botkin is one of the leading voices of a ministry called Vision Forum, the intellectual avant-garde of fundamentalism. One of Vision Forum’s chief concerns is child-rearing, which the movement considers both a process of theological conditioning and an art lost sometime in the 19th century. So as Botkin held his newborn daughter perfectly still in his cupped hands, he prayed to God for guidance: after having raised two older sons, how should he raise a daughter? He felt God move him to a specific prayer for the infant sleeping in his hands, a prayer for her body. He remembered baby girls are born with two ovaries and a finite number of eggs that will last them a lifetime. He placed his hand over his new daughter’s abdomen and prayed for Anna Sofia to be the “future mother of tens of millions.” He prayed that the Lord would order everything in his daughter’s life: “What You will do with every single egg here. How many children will this young lady have? Who will be her husband? With what other legacy will these little eggs be joined to produce the next generation for the glory of God?” He explained to a room full of about six hundred fathers and daughters gathered for the annual Vision Forum Father and Daughter Retreat that he had prayed that his new daughter might marry young.
Today, Anna Sofia and her sister, Elizabeth, strikingly poised young women in their early twenties, are the preeminent Vision Forum brand for promoting biblical womanhood to the unmarried daughters of homeschooling families, girls largely raised in the patriarchal faith but susceptible to temptations from the outside world. In all their testimony to fellow young “maidens,” the Botkin daughters, raised in both the American South and the Botkins’ Seven Arrows Ranch in New Zealand, stress the dire importance of one of their father’s favorite talking points: “multigenerational faithfulness.” That is, the necessity of the sons and daughters of the movement—especially the daughters—cleaving to the ways of their parents and not abandoning the dominion project the older generation has begun.
Some children do rebel, as Natasha Epstein recalls. There were several runaway girls from Boerne Christian Assembly, the church pastored by Doug Phillips, the founder of Vision Forum, Epstein says. Some ultimately succeeded in leaving the lifestyle after having been caught and brought back to the church by their fathers and other men in the church. Natasha herself ran away from home following the excommunication of her family, living with her grandparents in Oregon for a period before returning to Texas and taking up the modern young woman’s lifestyle that her mother grieves. But the more common—and more dangerous—rebellion is the quieter assimilation of movement children into modern society, not running away but merely drifting into more lax expressions of the faith and away from patriarchal adulthood.
A common nay-saying liberal reaction to the patriarchy movement and “Quiverfull,” a conviction that Christian women should birth as many children as God gives them as a means of “demographic warfare,” is to assume that the children of strict homeschooling families will rebel en masse—like the 1960s youth rebellions against a conservative status quo. However, the heads of the movement are already well aware of this threat, and they are taking all the precautions they can to cut off the possibility of such defection in the cradle.
As Jennie Chancey tells the Botkin sisters in their book, So Much More: The Remarkable Influence of Visionary Daughters on the Kingdom of God, children of the movement should have “little to no association with peers outside of family and relatives” as insulation from a corrupting society. Daughters shouldn’t forgo education but should consider to what ends their education is intended and should place their efforts in “advanced homemaking” skills.
Concretely, Geoffrey Botkin explains, this means evaluating all materials and media that daughters receive from childhood on as it pertains to their future role. The Botkin sisters received no Barbie dolls—idols that inspire girls to lead selfish lives—but rather a “doll estate” that could help them learn to manage a household of assets, furniture, and servants in the aristocratic vision of Quiverfull life which Botkin paints for the families around the room. The toys the girls played with were “tools for dominion,” such as kitchen utensils and other “tools for their laboratory”: the kitchen.
R. C. Sproul, Jr., in a book of advice to homeschooling parents, When You Rise Up, describes the critical secret of God’s covenants as the cornerstone of the homeschool movement: the imperative of covenants, he says, is to “pass it on to the next generation.” He’s done so himself, he relates, in what he calls the R. C. Sproul, Jr., School for Spiritual Warfare, in which he crafts “covenant children” with an “agrarian approach” and stresses that obedience is the good life in and of itself, “not a set of rules designed to frustrate us but a series of directions designed to liberate us.” In that freedom, boys and girls are educated according to their future roles in life, and girls are taught that they will pursue spiritual warfare by being keepers in the home.
To gauge the amount of secular baggage his homeschooling readers are trailing, he tells the story of a family friend whose homeschooled nine-year-old daughter still cannot read. “Does that make you uncomfortable?” he asks.
Are you thinking, “Mercy, what would the superintendent say if he knew?” . . . But my friend went on to explain, “She doesn’t know how to read, but every morning she gets up and gets ready for the day. Then she takes care of her three youngest siblings. She takes them to potty, she cleans and dresses them, makes their breakfasts, brushes their teeth, clears their dishes, and makes their beds.” Now I saw her, rightly, as an overachiever. If she didn’t know how to read but did know all the Looney Tunes characters, that would be a problem. But here is a young girl being trained to be a keeper at home. Do I want her to read? Of course I do . . . . But this little girl was learning what God requires, to be a help in the family business, with a focus on tending the garden.
It’s this kind of separatist, radical thinking, advocating both physical and mental withdrawal from the world of public schooling, that informs the mission of E. Ray Moore, a retired Army chaplain and head of the homeschool ministry Exodus Mandate. Michael McVicar, who studies Reconstructionism, the hard right edge of fundamentalism, and has written about its founder, R. J. Rushdoony, sees Moore’s homeschool ministry as one of the most direct embodiments of Rushdoony’s ideas. Exodus Mandate, as its name hints, expresses an explicitly secessionist ethos that aims for ultimate removal of Christian families from state rule—leaving “Pharaoh’s school system” for the Promised Land—but in the intermediate future, pushes Christians to remove their children from public schools as a ploy to collapse by attrition what they consider a wicked, humanist institution.
Moore has worked with Vision Forum as well as large denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to spread his message. In 2008, when California passed legislation mandating that schools teach nondiscrimination on the grounds of sexuality and perceived gender—a demand that conservative Christians quickly identified as “indoctrination”—Exodus Mandate organized a California Exodus subgroup to work together with homeschooling movement veterans, conservative celebrity Phyllis Schlafly, and Christian leaders such as Dr. Voddie Baucham, a Southern Baptist preacher, to urge California Christians to leave the public school system in droves. Baucham, a Vision Forum associate himself, further charged the SBC to pass a resolution encouraging the California exodus.
When I met Moore in Jamestown, Virginia, he told me that the homeschooling movement was growing at such a rapid clip that, if Exodus Mandate could help double the percentage of students outside the state school system (an ambiguous number, as homeschoolers assert that their population is at least twice the one million students recognized by the U.S. Department of Education), it might collapse the U.S. public school system entirely.
Susan Wise Bauer, a homeschooling author and reluctant patriarchy critic, sees such strategies as ultimately unsustainable. “By forgoing college education and any meaningful interaction with culture, they become increasingly isolated communities from the mainstream. And isolated communities are ultimately doomed to fade.”
The patriarchy community, however, is dedicated to building up its own, purist alternatives to the interaction mainstream society provides. Vision Forum gears its entire Beautiful Girlhood catalogue collection—replete with tea sets, white gloves, “modesty slips,” and Victorian manners books—to the proper raising of daughters in the faith. Both Vision Forum and Reconstructionism’s Chalcedon Foundation sponsor girls’ essay contests on subjects such as fulfilling one’s vocation as a daughter and the enduring appeal of Elsie Dinsmore—a heroine in Martha Finley’s Victorian-era children’s book series, an obedient and priggishly pious daughter of the Antebellum South who aspired to be a submissive daughter and wife. (Dinsmore, as one contest winner wrote, shows daughters how “to rise up by stepping down.”)
Elaborate courtship mechanisms are being worked out by fathers hoping to make alliances through the marriages of their daughters to the sons of men in the fold. And home business projects, largely home-based sewing businesses that produce modest clothing or home decorations, are cropping up among young daughters of the movement to such an extent that in 2007 homeschooling leaders James and Stacy McDonald urged homeschooled daughters to consider signing up with a new young-woman’s home business ministry, the Proverbs 31 Project (after the biblical verse, “who can find a virtuous woman, for her price is above rubies.”) The project, evoking the many virtues of the storied Proverbs 31 woman, is a Mary Kay-like franchise that promises to help young daughters “build a business for herself around the use of therapeutic-grade essential oils,” thereby helping her find a way to bring a home business into her marriage, making her a more attractive prospect to potential suitors.
“There’s a generation of daughters in this room today that we have not seen for one hundred years of American history,” exclaimed one of the speakers at the Vision Forum Father and Daughter Retreat, Scott Brown. He attributes the rise of this new breed of daughters to a “revival in the land.” But it’s also the fruit of twenty-five years of work, he says, when parents turned their hearts to their children and began doing “many culture-defying things,” such as homeschooling their children, fighting feminism, and leading their daughters in the opposite direction of women’s lib.
The education of the young Botkin women is the current key example that Vision Forum is offering to parents following its model, and the reasons are clear. The Botkin sisters in the past several years have released a polemical book, So Much More, as well as a companion documentary, The Return of the Daughters: A Vision of Victory for the Single Women of the Twenty-first Century, in which the daughters, staring regally, unblinkingly at the camera, appear in front of a fireplace in a vaulted room decorated in rustic country elegance. They further spread the message through their blog, Visionary Daughters, and they speak or play the harp frequently at events for women and daughters, including Vision Forum’s annual Father and Daughter Retreat. Appearing on book jackets, on film, or on stage (their iconic public personas are captured in photographs with upswept hair and softly made-up, flushed faces turned toward the camera in three-quarter profile), they’re an elegant pair possessed of the distinct, romantic beauty ideal biblical womanhood seeks to claim as its own.
“Heroine” is a key word here, and in all of their work—a mix of standard Vision Forum/biblical womanhood theology and encouraging portraits of other young movement daughters following the path—they seek to highlight “heroines of the faith,” frequently a familiar mix of daughters from families associated with Vision Forum and its sister ministries.
At the 2007 retreat, at Calloway Gardens in Georgia, the Botkin sisters delivered one such address as part of a conference that cost upwards of five hundred dollars per father-daughter couple (and which was recorded and repackaged as a CD set for families unable to afford or to attend). In it, Anna Sofia and Elizabeth speak in a soft, flat Kansas accent, Dorothies in a perpetual Oz, with a deliberate diction suggestive of public-speaking lessons. They opened by setting the stakes: if Alexis de Toqueville, the French surveyor of the budding New World, once attributed America’s prosperity and strength to its “superior” women, the Botkins see “the weakness and growing apostasy” of the country as the fault of modern women, who are selfish and petty.
Model daughters of the patriarchy movement, the Botkin girls express a hatred of feminism that is pure, and they hate it in a variety of flavors most feminists wouldn’t recognize as their cause. To the Botkins, all bad women—from the seductress hoping to “subdue masculinity” with her womanly wiles and charms to vain pageant queens to career women to even conservative Christian wives who aren’t fervent enough about spiritual war—are feministic, seeking to “weaken and dominate men.”
On stage, the sisters explained to an audience of fathers and daughters, young women to very young girls, the ways in which daughters should go beyond a lukewarm acceptance of biblical femininity to a full-on embrace of a deliberately countercultural girlhood. They should be modest servants who don’t cause their brothers in Christ to stumble with temptation. They should “learn to ignore [their] comfort zone” in the interest of a higher calling, as Elizabeth, a formerly terminally shy child, describes her father’s insistence on her “godly boldness.” They should teach their younger sisters in the Titus 2 spirit and should honor and defer to their brothers—older and younger—in recognition that even young boys need to be treated as wise leaders by their older sisters in order to gain the confidence to be leaders of their future families. They should wear feminine clothes to prove to their fathers that they are virtuous women worthy of protection. They should not learn career skills as emergency “backups” to support themselves, as “learning to ‘survive’ can teach girls attitudes of independence, hardness.” They should understand that singleness is a very rare calling from God, and so they must prepare to marry and conduct war on “the home front”: in other words, they must understand there is no opting out of this revolution without turning their backs on the faith. But most of all, the Botkins explain, a virtuous daughter should “turn her heart to her father” in the spirit of Malachi 4:6: “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
The turning of daughters’ hearts to their fathers is the driving theme of the retreat, which besides the Botkin girls, features the sermons and messages of Doug Phillips, Geoffrey Botkin, and Scott Brown, a board member of Vision Forum and a leader in Phillips’s family-integrated church movement. All three men explain what is at stake to the girls and young women in the room: they are daughters of Zion, of Judah, of Jerusalem. They are future mothers of Israel. As such, they have no time to waste, or spirits to risk, by leaving home for college, work, or missions. They must instead make the revolutionary choice to “redeem the years” they have with their fathers and view their single lives as preparation for marriage: submitting themselves to their fathers and, to some extent, their brothers, as they will one day submit themselves to their husbands.
On a practical level, practicing being a helpmeet for a future husband with one’s father can mean anything from helping fathers set up or run home businesses to bookkeeping and research to running and beautifying the home. In the Botkins’ Return of the Daughters film, graduated homeschooling daughters forego college in order to remain at home with their fathers, and their parents are quick to argue that the women are receiving Ph.D.-level educations at home, at least in the skills they will need later on as wives and mothers. Whether or not this is true, more questionable aspects of practicing being helpmeets abound. As one of the Botkins’ characters in So Much More suggests, it can mean fetching a father’s slippers for him in order to free the father up for weightier dominion tasks in reclaiming the world for Christ.
Anna Sofia has served thus herself, as her father explains in an appendix interview included in So Much More so it might contain some proper male authority to address fathers. One day, while father Botkin was entertaining a “very important political leader,” he called to his daughter. Anna Sofia, then five or six, came into the room to untie and remove her father’s shoes, and she then asked the guest if she could untie his shoes as well. Years later, Geoffrey Botkin says, the politician brought the evening up, telling Botkin, “‘You know when I decided we should have more children? It was that night your sweet little daughter helped me with my shoes.’ One simple act of hospitality had eternal consequences.”
The extent to which Botkin views his daughters as his ambassadors, or extensions of himself, is perplexingly hinted at when both he and Doug Phillips slip during the conference and refer to So Much More as Geoffrey Botkin’s book. This could seem either an indication of his daughters’ total identification with their father, or else, perhaps, indication of the heavy paternal hand guiding the virtuous daughters’ movement—as present in the writing of the book as it feels in every frame of the film and every still photograph taken of the two sisters.
Such lessons are repeated wide-scale at the father-daughter retreats, where daughters are given object lessons alongside the sermons through a series of ideological games, including a blindfolded obstacle course, where chains of blinded daughters were guided solely by relying on their fathers’ verbal commands; contests for fathers “wooing and winning the hearts of their daughters”; and intimacy-building “unity games” that teach daughters to serve their fathers by shaving their faces, grooming their hair, and knotting their shoes and ties. As three of Phillips’s young daughters, Jubilee, Liberty, and Faith, explained on a video posted on Vision Forum’s Web site, “Each of the games was designed to teach us a principle about our relationship with our fathers.”
Or as Doug Phillips explained to the fathers in attendance, he who “tells the story controls the culture,” and storytelling—setting up the basic architecture of your children’s worldview—is “one of the most significant patriarchal duties that God gives us.” So, he tells fathers, it’s imperative to start teaching your daughter now all “the stories she needs to know” because—in an alarming revelation about the young marriages patriarchs support—the nine-year-old before you now may, in six years’ time, be not just older, but married as well.
It’s a short window of opportunity for a father to guide his daughter where he wants her to go, and a short time for him to experience what Phillips calls “the greatest privilege of the ages: to have someone look at you and say, ‘Father, I love you. Father, shepherd me.’ Father, father. The very words we call our God and savior. God has given you fathers the opportunity to look at these girls and say, ‘You are mine. You are mine.'”
Copyright © 2009 by Kathryn Joyce from Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press.
Kathryn Joyce is the author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. She is a frequent contributor to The Nation, Mother Jones, and Religion Dispatches.