Fundamentalist Stepford Wives

Edd Doerr

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, by Kathryn Joyce (Boston: Beacon Press, 2009, ISBN-13/EAN: 978-0-8070-1070-9) 272 pp. Cloth $25.95.


Remember Ira Levin’s 1972 novel The Stepford Wives? Or the two films based on it from 1975 and 2004? If not, they are science-fiction horror stories about a town in which the guys in a local men’s club replace their wives with beautiful, fawning, submissive, mindless, docile androids.

All fiction, of course. But Kathryn Joyce’s new book, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, explores the real-life Stepford Wives movement that is growing like a fungus within Christian fundamentalism, largely out of sight of mainstream America.

The “biblical” Stepford wife wears modest, feminine dress and avoids not only sex but also dating before marriage. She doesn’t speak in church or try to have authority over men. She doesn’t work outside the home, but within it. She is its tireless center: homeschooling her children, keeping house, cooking bulk meals, and helping her husband run a home business or ministry. She checks in with her husband as she moves through her day to see if she is fulfilling his priorities for her. When he comes home, she is a submissive wife who bolsters him in his role as spiritual and earthly leader of the family. She understands it’s her job to keep him sexually satisfied at all times and that it’s her calling as a woman to let those relations result in as many children as God wants to bless her with. She raises families of eight, ten, or twelve children, and she teaches her daughters to do the same.

This summary appears on the first page of Joyce’s introduction. The rest of the book fills in the gory details: the who, how, why, and where all this will lead.

The “who” of Christian patriarchy reveals a lot. Particularly influential is Doug Phillips, a prolific publisher of homeschool material and son of Howard Phillips, a Jew turned Christian fundamentalist and member of the ultraconservative Constitution Party. Phillips Sr. was close to Jerry Falwell and even thought up the name “Moral Majority” for Falwell’s political operation.

Others associated with the movement include a rogues gallery of fundamentalist big shots like Tim and Beverly LaHaye; Pat Robertson; Paige Patterson, one of the architects of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention; Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; R.J. Rushdoony; Gary North; Francis Schaeffer; James Dobson; the Chalcedon Foundation; Allan Carlson, an adviser to the likes of Republican Senator Sam Brownback; pronatalist Steve Mosher; First Things magazine; and Michael Farris of the homeschooling movement.

The “how” of the movement is very largely through homeschooling, or more accurately, home isolation and indoctrination. One element of the homeschooling movement, the Exodus Mandate ministry, wants to remove “Christian families from state rule” (i.e., public schools or “Pharoah’s school system”). Exodus Mandate’s guru, retired Army chaplain E. Ray Moore, told Joyce that if enough kids are homeschooled, then the public-school system will collapse. That’s a pretty ambitious goal. According to a new report from the National Center for Educational Statistics, about 1.5 million children were being homeschooled in 2007, an increase of 37 percent from 2003. This means that 3 percent of U.S. students are homeschooled. According to the NCES report, 83 percent of homeschooling parents cite religious instruction as the single main reason for homeschooling.

How significant is the Quiverfull movement? In October 2008, more than six thousand women attended the True Women Conference ’08 in Chicago. That is an impressive number, given that most of them are supposedly homeschooling, stay-at-home moms who needed their husbands’ permission and credit cards to get there. The fundamentalist Stepford Wives movement opposes family planning and abortion and wants these submissive “mature Christian women” to breed like rabbits and out-breed mainstream women and to “disciple” their daughters to emulate them. It should be clear that the movement actually threatens the rights of women, enhances the political clout of fundamentalism generally and, in the long run, exacerbates our population, global warming, resource depletion, and other pressing problems.

Kathryn Joyce’s Quiverfull merits the widest possible readership.

Edd Doerr

Edd Doerr is a senior editor of Free Inquiry. He headed Americans for Religious Liberty for thirty-six years and is a past president of the American Humanist Association.


Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, by Kathryn Joyce (Boston: Beacon Press, 2009, ISBN-13/EAN: 978-0-8070-1070-9) 272 pp. Cloth $25.95. Remember Ira Levin’s 1972 novel The Stepford Wives? Or the two films based on it from 1975 and 2004? If not, they are science-fiction horror stories about a town in which the guys in a local …

This article is available to subscribers only.
Subscribe now or log in to read this article.