A Well-Trained Wife

A WELL-TRAINED WIFE review: four stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐.

A WELL-TRAINED WIFE: MY ESCAPE FROM CHRISTIAN PATRIARCHY by Tia Levings (St. Martin’s Press/Macmillan, August 6, 2024) is a blunt and staggering account of a woman’s marriage, motherhood, escape, and recovery within the extreme (arguably now mainstream) religious right. You can call it dominionism, you can call it theonomy, you can call it Christian Nationalism: it often requires the sacrifice of women’s bodies to take over the land for Jesus. Levings decided waiting for a savior was a fool’s game: if anyone was going to save her and her children, Tia was that savior.

Reading this memoir was like swimming through razorblades. It’s a book that should be on everyone’s radar right now, a first-person account of what a Duggar-esque life is like from the inside: having baby after baby until your health collapses, listening to radical misogynist teachers, and paying a fortune for their books and conferences when that money could be better used feeding your “full quiver.” Submitting to horrors which the church covers up when you go to them for help. Hearing that this slow, living death, is “God’s plan for your life,” and that if you just submit to your husband more, you’ll be blessed. Not that all of us lived. Some of us are dead.

Having come out of this movement myself in 2001, I recognized each teacher with pure horror as they made their way into this vulnerable young family. Mary Pride. The Pearls. The Ezzos. Doug Philips and Vision Forum, and Duggar guru and pervert Bill Gothard. And finally the “manly” patriarchy of Doug Wilson (Google “doug wilson patriarch,” but hold on to your lunch). Levings’s religious journey took her from Southern Baptist to Reformed Calvinist. It was a rocky road full of crazies.

Since Senator Katie Britt’s wackadoodle kitchen response to the State of the Union address (March 8, 2024) and Kelly Johnson1her professional website presence was scrubbed when her husband got the speakership (wife of Mike Johnson, the Speaker of the House), appeared also speaking like a toddler on national television, Jess Piper of Blue Missouri popularized the term “fundie baby voice.” Levings explains that this baby voice comes from the book Fascinating Womanhood by Helen Andelin (1920-2009). The FW website ought to have the tagline “infantilizing women since 1963.”

Levings explains a lot of other things as well about the Quiverfull movement and Christian patriarchy that dovetail perfectly with my experiences and that of many other ex-Quiverfull women. The mental state that gets women into this cult, and also the revelation that wakes women up, are described in a way that outsiders can grasp. The book’s weakness: it mentions way too many twists and turns of the family’s beliefs than Levings can follow up with an explanation of how they played out, and it would be better to just leave out “home church” and “white supremacy” than to mention them in passing.

Reading in context:

A Christian critique of Christian nationalism by Tim Alberta, THE KINGDOM, THE POWER, AND THE GLORY: AMERICAN EVANGELICALS IN AN AGE OF EXTREMISM (HarperCollins, December 5, 2023), makes for good reading and excellent listening, Alberta narrates his audiobook well, and conducted dozens of illuminating interviews for the book.

If you prefer flame-throwing by an avowed atheist who is preparing for the worst after the January 6 insurrection, pick up PREPARING FOR WAR: THE EXTREMIST HISTORY OF WHITE CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM by Bradley Onishi (1517 Media, January 3, 2023). The history is astonishing; Barry Goldwater was telling Republicans to go to war for religious values in 1963, and we’ve forgotten some of the more frightening pronouncements of affable old Ronnie Reagan in the ’80s. Religious anti-democratic sentiments coupled with crazy conspiracy theories go way back. Onishi addresses the Quiverfull movement too; his highly reliable source is Vyckie Garrison.

An excellent companion read to this book: QUIVERFULL: INSIDE THE CHRISTIAN PATRIARCHY MOVEMENT by Kathryn Joyce. You can find out about the scandals that have befallen many patriarchal Christian teachers mentioned in QUIVERFULL in the final chapter of A WELL-TRAINED WIFE.

What I’m reading right now:

THE HONEY WITCH by Sidney J. Shields (Hachette, May 14, 2024).

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