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Bodily Autonomy, Reproductive Rights, and the Christian Patriarchy Motion — The Revealer

(Picture supply: Lausanne)

This previous June, I discovered myself standing in line in a progressive, unbiased bookstore in Grand Rapids, Michigan, fascinated by irony: right here I used to be, a as soon as pro-life, deeply dedicated, conservative Christian, about to signal a reproductive-rights petition a number of days after the Supreme Courtroom ended the constitutional proper to abortion. I by no means would have believed that I’d sooner or later use my identify, my voice, and my vote to advocate for reproductive freedom.

Till my mid-twenties, I lived in a household that adopted the principles of Christian patriarchy, a fringe motion that promotes biblical literalism, discrete gender roles, purity tradition, the unquestioned authority of fathers, and the submission of girls. Whereas patriarchal societies have existed for the reason that starting of civilization, this type of non secular patriarchy has unfold in america for the reason that Seventies in response to second-wave feminism and the legalization of abortion.

Regardless that males profit essentially the most from patriarchal programs, white evangelical ladies have been among the many first to popularize the patriarchal life-style. In 1977, outstanding evangelical Nancy Campbell began publishing {a magazine} known as Above Rubies, which nonetheless runs at this time, that idealizes stay-at-home motherhood and discourages ladies from working exterior the house. A couple of hundred thousand individuals observe the Above Rubies Fb web page at this time, the place posts encourage ladies to prioritize maternity above all else. One such submit reads, “Motherhood is the one profession that lasts for eternity. Don’t waste your life on issues that you’ll depart behind.”

For the Christian patriarchy motion, feminism is a harmful risk. In 1985, Mary Delight, an evangelical who was influential within the early homeschooling motion, wrote a ebook known as The Approach House: Past Feminism, Again to Actuality. Delight claimed she was a former feminist who discovered her approach to Christianity. She was in opposition to all types of contraception and believed ladies should let God resolve what number of kids they need to have.

The Christian patriarchy motion will not be a centralized group. Slightly, it spans throughout varied evangelical and Reformed Protestant church buildings, making it unimaginable to find out how many followers exist. And but, the Christian patriarchy motion’s affect has turn into more and more seen in nationwide and native politics. Understanding the teachings and affect of Christian patriarchy is essential to creating sense of the rise of Christian nationalism inside the Republican Get together and the concurrent lack of civil liberties, equivalent to reproductive rights, throughout the nation.

Life beneath Christian Patriarchy

Rising up as a toddler within the Christian patriarchy motion, I used to be taught from an early age to consider that my calling in life was to get married, present a sexual outlet for my husband, and have as many kids as God would bless me with elevating. I used to be not allowed to this point, depart dwelling after highschool commencement, work for an employer who was not my father, or make life choices independently. I used to be required to reside with my dad and mom till marriage, submitting to my father in all issues.

I turned what the Christian patriarchy motion calls a “stay-at-home daughter,” training my way forward for being a stay-at-home spouse by being a daughter who served her father. My solely manner out was to marry a person who met with my father’s approval.

As a result of my dad and mom homeschooled me, I obtained no intercourse schooling past the rule that I used to be not allowed to have intercourse till my marriage ceremony night time. I don’t bear in mind ever being taught concerning the idea of consent. In actual fact, the patriarchal church we attended after I was an adolescent thought of my lack of autonomy and independence holy as a result of it meant I had submitted to my father and to “God’s will.” If I have been to exert any semblance of my very own rights to my life and physique, I’d have been labeled sinful and presumably excommunicated. Concern of abandonment and exile stored me in examine.

Church leaders on this motion condemned contraception as individuals’s “makes an attempt to play God,” and lots of went so far as to say contraception was sinful. As an single younger lady, I used to be not allowed to obtain the HPV vaccine and was discouraged from seeing an OB/GYN as a result of it was presumed that I’d be sexually inactive till marriage. Nothing was stated about what would occur if I have been raped, as a result of in keeping with the teachings of Christian patriarchy, ladies who reside beneath the safety of their fathers don’t want to fret about that. If I have been married within the motion, I’d not have obtained any assist for potential marital rape, because the idea was nonexistent in a world the place ladies are to present all of themselves to their husbands so as to obey God.

(Picture supply: Rocco Fazzari)

I used to be taught that patriarchy would defend me, however I didn’t really feel secure as a result of I had no say in what that safety would seem like. As an alternative of defending me, my father managed all facets of my life and primarily based his guidelines on the motion’s teachings. After I began to expertise melancholy, nervousness, and PTSD signs, I started to know that Christian patriarchy was a type of non secular abuse.

I finally escaped on the age of twenty-five after discovering the sources and supportive associates I wanted to outlive exterior of the group. Even so, it took me years to course of the trauma and powerlessness I had skilled in not having rights over my very own physique. In working via my time inside Christian patriarchy, I got here to see how the motion’s affect extends far past houses like my dad and mom’ and into mainstream American politics.

Michigan’s Reproductive Freedom for All

Together with the greater than 600 individuals who visited the bookstore that summer time day, I signed the Reproductive Freedom for All petition so as to add a proposal for an amendment to the Michigan state constitution that may, partially, “set up new particular person proper to reproductive freedom, together with proper to make all choices about being pregnant and abortion; enable state to control abortion in some instances; and forbid prosecution of people exercising established proper.” All through the state, activists gathered 753,759 total signatures from voters in each county, 300,000 greater than wanted to make sure the proposal could be on the poll in November.

After the overturning of Roe, Michigan was set to have a near-total abortion ban primarily based on a 1931 legislation that predates oral contraceptive drugs. Though a Michigan decide put a brief maintain on this ban, a whole lot of 1000’s of Michiganders frightened that reproductive rights have been about to vanish.

After I first heard the Supreme Courtroom’s choice, I was surprised by the bodily response I had. I may really feel the ache of adrenaline behind my neck. My abdomen rolled. My ideas scattered, then targeted on what this ruling would imply. My physique knew what my thoughts had taken so lengthy to know: authoritarian management over our our bodies is dehumanizing, disempowering, and harmful.

With the overthrow of Roe, experts have warned that lack of bodily autonomy will trigger extra fatalities for pregnant individuals and extra extreme inequality all through the nation. This sort of inequality is nothing new, and many individuals already expertise this in marginalized communities and high-control non secular teams throughout the globe, together with america. In actual fact, an estimated 45 p.c of girls worldwide, in keeping with a 2021 report from the United Nations, lack bodily autonomy, which the report’s authors outline as ladies’s “means to make their very own choices on points referring to well being care, contraception and whether or not to have intercourse.”

(Rally in Michigan to assist authorized abortion. Picture supply: Emily Elconin for Getty Pictures)

I can attest to what it’s prefer to be managed on this manner, to reside with out self-ownership. I now worry what our nation will likely be like as Christian patriarchy ideas are utilized to legal guidelines that govern all of us.


To acknowledge how the concepts of Christian patriarchy are infiltrating American politics, we should perceive the associated ideology of dominionism, “the belief that Christians should take moral, spiritual, and ecclesiastical control over society.” Christian patriarchy and dominionism each originate from the concept the Bible is the inerrant, literal phrase of God and is supposed to rule all facets of society. In patriarchy, fathers rule the family; in dominionism, Christian males rule the church and authorities.

Youngsters like me realized the ideas of dominion theology via religion-based homeschooling curricula. One yr, my historical past course consisted of listening to tapes from the Christian Reconstructionist R. J. Rushdoony, whose hefty Institutes of Biblical Law contains such concepts as this: “The social order which despises God’s legislation locations itself on dying row: it’s marked for judgment.” Reconstructionism is a strict type of dominionism that promotes theonomy, a authorities that may be primarily based on biblical legislation. In Rushdoony’s view, a authorities that doesn’t obey biblical legislation could be topic to God’s judgment.

Rushdoony died in 2001, however his concepts and the teachings of different dominionists have been influential within the overlapping worlds of non secular homeschooling and Christian patriarchy, and followers are working to impose their views on society.

Take for instance the city of Moscow, Idaho, dwelling of Doug Wilson’s Christ Church. Wilson is a extremely acknowledged and admired pastor within the Christian patriarchy motion, and his empire-making machine of church buildings, a school, a publishing home, and a streaming service churn out content material that provides his teachings of feminine subordination and male domination the facade of validity by displaying the patriarchal life-style in an idealized, extremely polished manner.

Dominionism is a transparent a part of Wilson’s plan. Based on an investigation performed by The Guardian, “Christ Church has a said goal to ‘make Moscow a Christian city’ and public data, interviews, and open supply supplies on-line present how its management has prolonged its energy and actions within the city.” Ten p.c of Moscow’s inhabitants are members of Christ Church and its affiliated church buildings, and the congregation has been identified to achieve affect by proudly owning property and companies and working for native political workplaces. Whereas most of the different residents are immune to Wilson’s ideology, his reputation continues to rise in conservative circles and has gained the eye of national media.

One other instance is my very own earlier pastor, Kevin Swanson, who has lengthy blurred the road between church and state. In 1994, he ran for governor of Colorado as a part of the non secular Structure Get together. Forty thousand residents voted for him, lower than 4 p.c of the full votes. However regardless that he failed in his political marketing campaign, he labored to achieve energy in different methods, together with changing into government director of the statewide Christian homeschool group, Christian House Educators of Colorado. He later made nationwide information when he spoke at a Republican political event in 2015 when he stated that, in keeping with the Bible, “homosexuals” ought to obtain the dying penalty.

Each Wilson and Swanson unsurprisingly maintain anti-abortion views, however their views lengthen past abortion to broader problems with bodily autonomy.

Wilson’s ebook Fidelity, as an example, presents a distorted view of intercourse. He writes that “the sexual act can’t be made into an egalitarian pleasuring celebration. A person penetrates, conquers, colonizes, vegetation. A lady receives, surrenders, accepts. That is after all offensive to all egalitarians, and so our tradition has rebelled in opposition to the idea of authority and submission in marriage.” Such a educating about intercourse leaves no room for consent and will function justification for marital rape. As a girl who was taught this, I believed I would wish to have intercourse with my husband every time he needed it.

Swanson equally promotes patriarchy and the subordination of girls. He as soon as unfold misinformation about contraceptives on his radio present Generations: “…these wombs of girls who’ve been on the contraception capsule successfully have turn into graveyards for tons and many little infants.” It is a blatantly false declare, inflicting solely extra disgrace for ladies who search to have some management over their reproductive well being.

Put up Roe

Understanding the ideology of dominionists like Wilson and Swanson is necessary if we’re to acknowledge the antidemocracy ways of politicians influenced by dominionism. We’re already seeing a push to carry “biblical legislation” to bear on state and federal laws. Ohio, Georgia, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and South Carolina have all launched payments that give personhood to fetuses from the second of conception, and Georgia’s has handed. In September 2022, Senator Lindsey Graham launched a invoice that may institute a nationwide ban on abortions after 15 weeks. Different laws on contraception entry has been launched as nicely.

Whereas most politicians pushing this agenda are unlikely to make use of the time period dominionism, some fall into the associated class of Christian nationalism, which is the assumption that “America is Christian, that the government should keep it that way.” The distinction between dominionism and Christian nationalism is refined. Faith scholar Dr. Clint Heacock argues that Christian nationalism is a type of dominionism by which “the theology of conversionism and world missions has slowly been changed over the a long time with a view that holds that political means are the way in which to determine dominion.” Instead of sending missionaries across the globe to transform “heathens,” numerous church buildings are turning their consideration to spreading Christian authority by influencing American politics. Dominionism and Christian nationalism are a part of the identical spectrum of non secular authoritarianism—each attempt for management; each maintain Christianity because the superior faith match to control all.

Historian Dr. Kristin Kobes DuMez spoke to PBS not too long ago about how this ideology is gaining energy in america and threatening the democratic course of. She stated, “for a lot of Christian nationalists, democratic means received’t essentially obtain their ends. And so we’re seeing voter suppression, denial of voter suppression—that that’s even occurring, and, once more, this erosion to the dedication of democracy, and it’s actually fairly alarming.”

For dominionists and other people within the Christian patriarchy motion, the dismantling of democracy makes excellent sense. God, not the desire of the individuals, ought to have dominion over each a part of society. From this angle, theocratic management is way more necessary than defending individuals’s rights.

To grasp how harmful Christian nationalism is to a democratic society, we should additionally acknowledge how it’s entangled with a perception in white supremacy. Dr. Jemar Tisby, a historian of race and faith, wrote in a report released by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, “Sadly, the white Christian nationalist model of patriotism is racist, xenophobic, patriarchal, and exclusionary. Their imaginative and prescient of the nation conveniently places white individuals­—particularly males—who’re politically conservative and who make some declare of Christian adherence on the high of the social hierarchy.” Christian nationalism upholds a perception within the supremacy of white masculinity and conservative white evangelicalism.

If leaders influenced by dominionism and Christian nationalism get their manner in criminalizing abortion throughout the nation, Roe is only the start of extra laws that can limit civil liberties for all of us. These on the margins of society will undergo essentially the most, together with individuals in abusive relationships, the LGBTQ group, and other people of colour. These politicians don’t take subject with the federal government controlling contraceptives, ending marriage equality, or limiting LGBTQ rights. They won’t cease at Roe.

With the uncertainty of reproductive rights burdening all of us, I do know this to be true: a future with out bodily autonomy is an excessive amount of just like the previous to which I by no means wish to return.

However simply as I used to be capable of battle for my private freedom to flee a restrictive non secular motion, People are combating to guard their rights for the long run. Within the midterm election, almost 2.5 million Michigan residents voted in favor of the Reproductive Freedom for All proposal, making certain that reproductive freedom will now be protected within the state structure. As a lot as I do know that non secular extremism in authorities and rising Christian nationalism are harmful, greater than ever I consider that our voices and our votes do matter.


Cait West is a author and editor in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with publications in Faith Dispatches, Fourth Style, and Hawai`i Pacific Overview, amongst others. She serves on the editorial board for Tears of Eden, a nonprofit offering sources for survivors of non secular abuse, and her forthcoming memoir on escaping the Christian patriarchy motion will likely be revealed in 2024.

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