Drop the movement and back away slowly

by Janie B. Cheaney

Posted on Monday, September 29, 2014, at 3:10 pm

Back in my homeschool days, some of us moms used to get together once a month for coffee and mutual encouragement. I recall a morning after one of us had attended a big-name seminar. She was fired up, recalling one of the speakers who told attendees that they were on the front line of the greatest movement of the century: “Homeschooling will save America!” Wait a minute, I thought, isn’t Jesus the only one who can save America?

Movements come and go. If you’ve been involved in homeschooling for decades you can probably remember several, each with its gurus and dynamic speakers. The contemporary “Quiverfull Movement,” which encourages large families with reference to Psalm 127, either stands on its own or dovetails nicely with other Christian family philosophies. But I can tell you this: It won’t save America. It won’t even make a dent. As much as we love or hate the Duggars (who don’t claim to represent the Quiverfull Movement anyway), families like theirs will never be a significant slice of the population.

I was reminded of this recently by Vyckie Garrison, a refugee from Quiverfull who describes her awakening in an online article titled “Escape from Duggarville: How playing the good Christian housewife almost killed me.” Her experience is similar to that of other women I have known and heard of: dedicated to an ideal of biblical familyhood with Father as head and Mother as loving helpmeet and a half-dozen or more industrious and obedient children. Garrison describes herself as totally devoted to the ideal until the day she couldn’t take it anymore and fled to a women’s shelter. Later, while in therapy, her counselor introduced her to the “Power and Control Wheel.” To every spoke of the wheel, Garrison could apply a Bible passage that had been used to beat her into submission. Nothing could be clearer: She was in an abusive situation.

“Deb said [to] me, ‘You have to protect yourself and your children! You need to divorce this man!’

“She was talking about my husband, and I was thinking, ‘Well, yeah … him too.’”

In other words, Garrison needed to divorce Jesus first. That’s all Jesus was to her: an abusive husband. The movement had co-opted Him and used Him as a mouthpiece for its agenda. Unintentionally, of course—I have no doubt that Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips and a host of other homeschool and Christian family movement leaders started out with the best intentions. But—again, unintentionally—they elevated their lifestyle above the gospel. The cross was “back there” in their journey; they were now moving upward and outward and teaching others to follow their recommendations so we could take back America. Or redeem society, or turn our nation around, or something.

No movement lasts. If the Puritans, heirs of some of the most comprehensive and penetrating theology ever produced, couldn’t save 19th-century New England, neither will homeschoolers or “quiverfull” families or any pattern or lifestyle save America. At best, we’ll loose steam and focus; at worst, we’ll turn people like Vyckie Garrison away from Christ. Yes, she’ll have to answer for herself, but her ex-husband and former community will have some explaining to do as well. Jesus saves not through movements but through the work of the Holy Spirit in individual hearts—and the humble prayers and actions of saints who are still clinging to His cross.

Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine based in Missouri. She writes novels for young adults, is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series, and reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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