By Hannah Davis Langley
“Are y’all all related?! Are they all yours?! Why aren’t y’all in school right now?” Every time we went out, we would attract stares and be stopped at least once to ask us questions about our family. I am the oldest of nine children all born before I was 15 years old. In addition to this, we were also home schooled and weren’t in school in normal hours. We were taught from a young age, that we had to protect our lifestyle from outsiders – people who were trying to steal us away from heaven and take us to hell, people and places like social workers and public schools that would corrupt us, rape us, and turn our hearts against God. Whenever anyone brought up a concern or a question, my siblings and I had been drilled on how to answer all questions and any adults with me would be watching to make sure I answered the questions correctly, that I had a cheerful smile, that I sold the lifestyle, my grades, my superior education, how social my isolated life was, and, after that, I shut my mouth, smiled, and did not let anything else slip. Under threat of discipline, a sleepless night, and the same to my siblings, telling these outsiders the truth was never an option. We all quickly learned our lines and played our roles.
Taken from a verse in Psalm 127 about a child being like an arrow in the hands of his father, this movement started in the 1980s as a way to provide a god-army full of arrows to rule the next generation to change the political nature of this country. These families are usually out in the open, but their abuse masked behind smiles and carefully coached children. What makes it so difficult to understand or see is that they don’t self-identify to a particular group and almost never self-identify as “quiverful” or “fundamentalists.” Instead, when asked, they usually call themselves “just christians trying to follow the bible in every aspect” or “just normal christians.” The terms quiverful and fundamentalist Christians were given to them by outsiders as they typically quote the verse from proverbs when asked why they have so many children.
The common covert or overt beliefs and characteristics of members in this group typically include a combination of the following: homeschooling, ultimate wifely or female submission to male authority, having as many children as “God gives you”/ as possible in spite of medical risks or financial capability, anti-government sentiments, anti-outsider sentiments, home-birthing, home-churches, and an intense desire to break children’s wills [as they are seen as inherently sinful and must conform to the parent’s will]. These teachings are based on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible and are justified using a lot of carefully selected Bible verse that are twisted to fit their desire. Many times, the homeschooling is not done to serve or educate the child but as a means to potentiate parents will and agendas. While there are many parents who believe or follow these concepts who are not abusive, these beliefs in the wrong hands or in the hands of an abuser provide a powerful tool for abuse.
There is an entire subculture of homeschooling based solely on fear. Fear of their children being corrupted, leaving their version of the faith, adopting different values than their parents, or any shows of individuality. My church used the verse “let each of you be of the same mind” to believe that everyone in the church had to literally be of the same opinion on everything. If someone differed, be it music, schooling techniques, or just an opinion on how to tie a shoelace, they would spend hours on end “reproving” until someone finally submitted to the other. They used the verse “don’t let the sun go down on your anger” to justify staying up all hours of the night until someone submitted. This included children. You were not allowed to go to sleep until you agreed to your parent’s opinion. If you did not agree with them, they would bring in other adult members of the church to back them up and you would be woken up and sat down at a table with several adults until you agreed to their opinion.
There is almost no oversight with homeschooling which makes it such an attractive option to these parents. In Georgia, you can take a standardized test at home every three years which can be signed off by a parent if they have a degree or by another parent if you don’t have a degree. The test is mailed, the parent administers the test, and then it is mailed back. Attendance is marked by the parent on a sheet of paper and mailed into the state. There are no social workers or teachers, and there are no other children to compare normal with. Most of the children that you are close with also are in the same movement, and their parents would never notify DFCS. Contact with children who are not a part of the movement is monitored very closely and in very controlled circumstances, with parents typically spying on kids or making a sibling spy on them. If your friend asked you a question, and anything slipped that may be perceived as negative, you would be sat down for hours until you apologized and came up with an answer to the question that would glorify your parents.
Corporal punishment is allowed in my state of Georgia, and a parent can discipline their child “reasonably.” But “reasonably” is a gray area and not defined well – it seems to just mean bruises – they can’t leave bruises – but even that is up to debate as it seems the quality, quantity and size of the bruises matters. So, in our case, whenever the police were called, my mom just stated it was “discipline” and “spanking” and the police would enforce that children had to listen to their parent’s rules and that the parents are allowed to “discipline” their children. Imagine that!? Getting slapped, hit, video-taped, sleep-deprived, and insulted by your parents and then your mother calls the police on you and tells them that you are unruly and won’t let her spank you?! Their response – listen to your parents, follow their rules, we can arrest you if you run away.
One of the authorities in discipline among this movement were the Pearls who wrote To Train a Child (http://web.archive.org/web/20081119041414/http://www.achristianhome.org/to_train_up_a_child.htm). I don’t know if my mother every read this book, but both her and the church I grew up in definitely followed the principles of it. An excerpt from this book is as follows:
Applying The Rod
TO DO MY DUTY
When the time comes to apply the rod, take a deep breath, relax, and pray, “Lord, make this a valuable learning session. Cleanse my child of ill-temper and rebellion. May I properly represent your cause in this matter.”
“At this point, in utter panic, he will rush to demonstrate obedience. Never reward delayed obedience by reversing the sentence. And, unless all else fails, don’t drag him to the place of cleansing. Part of his training is to come submissively. However, if you are just beginning to institute training on an already rebellious child, who runs from discipline and is too incoherent to listen, then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final.
Otherwise, tell him to bend over on the bed or couch [usually bare-bottomed]; and while he is in this position give some choice admonition. You have his undivided attention. Slowly begin to spank. If you go too fast, you may not allow time enough for the inner transformation to occur.
Use your own judgment as to what is effective. I found five to ten licks [with a rod] usually sufficient. Sometimes, with older children, usually when the licks are not forceful enough, the child may still be rebellious. If this occurs, take time to instruct and then continue the spanking. A general rule is to continue the disciplinary action until the child is surrendered.”
” Select your instrument according to the child’s size. For the under one year old, a little, ten- to twelve-inch long, willowy branch (striped of any knots that might break the skin) about one-eighth inch diameter is sufficient. Sometimes alternatives have to be sought. A one-foot ruler, or its equivalent in a paddle, is a sufficient alternative. For the larger child, a belt or larger tree branch is effective.”
It takes a lot of courage to stand up and leave an abuser for anyone, we should provide a safe place for them, the resources to help them, and justice for their abusers. It took eight adult siblings, public outcry, and a formal complaint to the inspector general on how DFCS handled the case (loosing reports, not following up, giving us incorrect information that could have gotten the child arrested) to keep this case from being closed and bring this case in front of a judge.
Even now, in Georgia, the legal system is set up to send children, who have reported parental abuse, back to their parents for six more months with court oversight. Court oversight, allows the parent guardianship and all the rights it entails, it just states that they have to do what they were supposed to be doing in the first place and lets them know the court is watching. The parent has every right to take the child and move out of state where the child will no longer be watched, the parent has every right to corporal punishment as long as she calls it spanking, the parent has every right within the law under court oversight until this child can make it to 18 years old.
Homeschooling can be a wonderful education tool if it is used to educate and serve the child, I have seen many people do it well. I am not decrying homeschooling for education or even religious homeschooling. I am solely decrying abuse and making the public aware of the abuse that may be hidden behind those kids with the carefully crafted smiles, mature answers to all the adult questions, and torn spirits inside.
I have attached the police report from one such incident mentioned. My mother began slapping my 17 yo sister on the face and punching her on the back as she was screaming insults at her in front of my 15 yo old brother, 12 yo sister, and 10 yo sister. My sisters crime- cowering. My father recorded the whole thing to use in court for his personal reasons/ to use to blackmail my mother, but did not step in and did not show it to the police. My 20 yo sister stepped between my sister and my mother and held her hands so that she couldn’t hit or slap my sister any more. My mom called the police because she stepped in to stop the abuse. The police report entails. My sisters were told that they had to listen to my mothers rules, that the 20 yo was not allowed to step in between my mother and the 17 yo as she “disciplined” her.
Later that night, my mother kicked them both out of the house and threw all of their personal property on the lawn/ destroyed their property.