A Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scholar looks at the Bible and culture…

When Sarah Palin isn't Conservative Enough: Visionary Daughters Headed for a Breakdown?

When you encounter a website that slaps the face of all you believe in, makes your blood pressure rise, and basically ticks you off, should you speak against it or ignore it in hopes that it withers from lack of attention?  That’s the dilemma I face when I view the Visionary Daughters website.

On the site, Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin outline a biblically-based mission for unmarried young women:  to take up “practical, productive, dominion-oriented femininity.”

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Until they marry, young women should remain in the home, supporting their fathers’ “vision” and preparing for their future roles as helpmeets to their husbands. Unmarried daughters should “become greater blessings to their families, more effective arrows in the hands of their fathers, and better ambassadors for Christ.” “Arrows” is a reference to Psalm 127:  “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Note how they made the translation gender inclusive.)

The Botkins share the outlook of groups such as Quiverfull that women’s primary role is to reproduce–not only to fulfill biblical command but also to swell the ranks of those who will champion “biblical Christianity” in the war against feminism and related perversions of God’s intention for humanity.  (The Duggars of the TLC reality show “18 Kids and Counting” belong to the Quiverfull movement.)

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The Visionary Daughters website is a treasure trove of anti-feminism, pro-fertility, pro-patriarchy interpretations of the Bible.  The link to “Education for Women” offers advice for women who homeschool their children, an important plank in the Visionary platform. “Female Magistrates” explains why Sarah Palin’s candidacy was even more problematic than Hillary Clintons’.  Clinton blatantly challenged God’s command for women to be submissive; no one (they claim) would mistake her as living biblically.  Palin, however, put a soft face on feminism, insidiously seducing Christian women into thinking she actually followed the Bible.  The Bible, they insist, disqualifies women from holding public office forbids gender equality.  In “Dominion Oriented Femininity,” a young bride writes about learning to shift her submission from her father to her husband.

Sites like these fascinate, repel, and scare me, because I think they do what they claim Sarah Palin of doing: putting a soft, beautiful face on very, very dangerous ideas.  The patriarchy that they long for is hurtful to women–and to men, and everyone else. (See blog post on men harmed by patriarchy.)  And they present their interpretation of the Bible as the voice of the Bible itself, as well as a simple authority on all matters past and present.

I would be the first to admit that patriarchy is rampant in the Bible: most of the time, male domination is assumed.  But for contemporary readers to infer that Christians are therefore supposed to live exactly the same way is a big jump.  Although many churches use the language of “what would Jesus do?, “biblical Christianity,” and “living by the Bible,” the reality is that no one lives straight by the Bible without interpreting it and without prioritizing certain parts of the text over others.  The Botkins don’t explain why other biblical injunctions don’t hold the same weight for them as the ones they mention.  I wonder if they wear mixed fabric (prohibited in Lev 19:19) or generate fire on Sabbath (Exodus 35:3; orthodox Jews extend that prohibition to electricity, which would keep the Botkins off their computers on the weekend).  In their portrait on the site, why aren’t their heads covered, as I Corinthians 11 outlines?  Don’t claim you live strictly by the Bible if you don’t live by all of it–which I believe is impossible, given the differences between biblical injunctions in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.   The Bible also presents different takes on who “family” actually is: only the nuclear family or the extended clan.  (see blog post on the biblical economy and families).  

I wonder even more about how these women understand Jesus’ deprioritzing of family ties.   Why didn’t Jesus fill his own quiver with arrows?  Why did he call his disciples away from family?  What do his harsh statements about the priority of the kingdom over family in Mark 10 and elsewhere mean?  When in Luke 14:25-33 Jesus says that those who don’t hate their families aren’t fit for the kingdom, was he just kidding?   Oh, and then there’s Galatians 3:28:  “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

I noted above that in calling themselves their father’s arrows the Botkins assume that what Proverbs says about sons applies to them.  They also read women into the text in their in comments on Palin:  “Since the Garden of Eden, feministic women have valiantly fought for the right to get their own way, and each woman’s only standard is What She Wants — what is ‘right in [her] own eyes’ (Judges 21:25).  The Judges quote actually (in Hebrew) reads “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (it’s masculine in King James and NIV, too).  In the book, it’s a negative commentary on how bad Israel was before the Davidic monarchy, and just how badly women were treated.  In Judges, Jephthah’s daughter may have dutifully accepted the consequences of her father’s decisions, but the narrator of the story  goes to great lengths to show the reader just how stupid Jephthah was to make his vow.  

I don’t believe that I (or anyone else) can argue these women or others out of their beliefs.  If they have a change of heart, I suspect it will happen, as it has for other women and men, when they burn out:  when they reach a point that they just can’t live by someone else’s vision, havevbabies, and ignore their own needs any more.  Maybe it will come when they are dirt poor and/or clinicially depressed.   A Newsweek.com article quotes an ex-Quiverfull member has lamenting:  “For every family like [the Duggars, who are people of means], there are ten or fifty or one hundred Quiverfull families living in what most would consider to be poverty. . . Mothers are in a constant cycle, often, of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and the care of toddlers.”

Many women and men reach a point in their lives where they just can’t bear all of the expectations placed on them, where their own needs demand attention.  If that happens to the Botkin sisters, I hope that someone is there to help. And I hope someone can help them reinterpret the Bible, too.   Maybe they can be inspired by Joel 2:28-29 to have their own voice:

Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. . . . Even on the male and female salves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.


4 Responses to When Sarah Palin isn't Conservative Enough: Visionary Daughters Headed for a Breakdown?

  • I agree with the trajectory of your observations, and must disagree completely with the approach taken by the Visionary Daughters Website. While I affirm their right to organize their individual roles by themselves – including identifying themselves as producers and 2nd mates – to lay their identities at the feet of narrow readings of the Bible is terribly unfortunate. It limits them in so many ways. And i am not so naive as to think their are actually free to organize their own lives and establish their own identities without firm pressure from all sides.

    Beyond their upbringing, I can’t help but assume that the menfolk in their lives are an active part in their education, indoctrination, interpretation and subordination.

    Speaking from the sermons I have heard (in person and via radio) early in my Christian conversion I can accept a certain amount of “freedom” that having a well-defined role can feel like. One need not worry about questioning self and those you love when you accept a prescription that seems to give value to something you can do…like nurture, give birth to, and nurse future family members. But it is a false freedom, one that sets walls on the left, right, and rear so that you are free to walk forward no matter how limiting, hurtful, painful or shackling it becomes.

    A surf through their website seemed innocent and God-driven enough. But reading the lines and between them…well…you nailed much of it Julia.

    It is a sad situation to observe, from the outside. I pray that they are somehow finding peace and purpose in it all, that inspiring change is in their future, and that their message’s influence is dampened. Who knows, perhaps highlighting the problems affirms those who make choices for themselves and who make thoughtful interpretations. Perhaps someone struggling with the oppression they feel (but can’t name) will trip over criticism like this and, rather than becoming defensive, they open up to freedom and possibilities. Who knows.

  • Oh my. Evangeline McNiel wrote in her testimonial that she was miserable until she realized that “[she] was not designed to be an independent woman, but rather a part of a man’s life, a helper.” I wonder, too, whether to speak out against ideas such as this. Although, speaking up might not do much good. This poor girl seems to have been brainwashed. The idea of prescribed “freedom” Chris mentioned is dangerously right on… ignorance is bliss, I guess.

  • Thanks, an interesting site. I’m researching (PhD) natalist use of “be fruitful and multiply” and other (supposedly) profertility scriptures, and finding Augustine’s reception helpful as a foil against modern “militant fecundity” (phrase coined by David Bentley Hart!)

  • Just a few words-
    We “visionary daughters” are not brainwashed. We are not some ignorant zombies as you seem to think. We have taken the time and researched and studied scripture to form our own beliefs. My sister is more happy than i have ever known and if you went to one of these churches such as Grace Family Baptist church you would see happy truly joyful people. I can say that in the many events that I’ve been to and churches i’ve visited that i’ve never met anyone who holds these beliefs and is even close to being burnt out. I work in a public school and my assistant tells me how she yearns to be at home with her children she said “its hard when everything in your body yearns to stay at home.” Is this not some evidence that God created us to bring life into the earth and nurture and teach our children to love God? My sister will not burn out. She will not end unhappily. She is more joyful than anyone I have ever known.

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