Saturday, April 26, 2014

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2014, April 26: A Quiverfull variant of neo-Confederacy

I got the idea of doing daily posts during April as a counter-observance to Confederate Heritage Month from the website of Edward Sebesta, who blogs now at Anti-Neo-Confederate and who follows this political trend in depth. In 2004, he had on his website at the time a document from a local NAACP chapter that had had a short item for each day of April describing some aspect of segregationist/neo-Confederate activity and propaganda.

Obviously, I haven't been sticking with the "short" aspect of the daily posts!

Ed in a recent post, Neo-Confederate married religious leader Doug Phillips sued for sexually abusing another woman 04/16/2014, calls attention to the neo-Confederate side of the fundamentalist Quiverfull movement, of which the Duggar family of many offspring are the most famous members. Vyckie Garrison has a blog devoted to a critique of that movement, No Longer Quivering. She says she started it "to tell the story of her 'escape' from the Quiverfull movement." The title of her blog is a clever play on the word "quiver" in English. In the "quiverfull" concept, it is a metaphor for a sack used to carry arrows; it also means trembling, as in trembling in fear, which is the state that many fundamentalists think is the proper role for women throughout their lives.

Ed points to this post on Doug Phillips organization, Vision Forum, which became a casualty of Phillips' own romantic conduct, apparently: Jonathan Wilson, Godly Heritage and Plantation Chic: The Case of Vision Forum The Junto 11/20/2014:

Vision Forum and Doug Phillips are not well-known outside of evangelical homeschooling circles. But as religion scholar Julie Ingersoll wrote at the Huffington Post and Abby Olheiser noted at The [Atlantic] Wire, they have enjoyed significant influence within a controversial subculture of that movement. They are leaders of the “Quiverfull” movement, which encourages Christians to have large families as a way of exercising influence in the world, and are champions of “biblical patriarchy,” or in other words, the principle that family life (and ultimately society at large) should be organized under the divinely instituted authority of fathers and husbands. According to a statement prepared by Vision Forum, “the erosion of biblical manhood and leadership," caused by modern ideologies that undermine God’s authority, "leads to the perversion of the role of women, the destruction of our children, and the collapse of our society."

At Vision Forum, this view stems from a particular interpretation of Calvinist covenant theology that holds that God deals with the world at large through his relationships with Christian family units. Hence, apparently, the closing of Vision Forum, which could not easily survive such a violation of family integrity by its patriarch.
Wilson notes that the American Exceptionalist pseudohistory so widely popular in the Christian Right also "that the Confederacy — and antebellum southern culture, if not slavery itself — are also part of 'America’s Godly heritage.' In these circles, in other words, the Founding is sometimes wrapped up with the Old South."

Wilson argues that while critics of Quiverfull type groups understandably focus on the male authoritarianism so prominent in such groups, "they often overlook the nationalism lurking in the background of this form of covenant theology, with its implication that an authoritarian biblical family structure will regenerate God's covenant with America."

But that nationalism shows distinct signs of white nationalism which promotes the Lost Cause image of the Old South as an ideal:

... Vision Forum sells various books and audio albums that discuss the Civil War directly as a matter of history. Although the online descriptions are vague, these materials have the usual earmarks of soft Lost Cause history. They sometimes refer to the war as "the War between the States," they fixate on southern "Christian warriors" like (of course) Jackson and Robert E. Lee, and they seem to imply that slavery's role in the conflict is not what you’ve been told. (One blurb in the print catalog warns that "most of what we 'know' about it is actually revisionist history.")
Wilson makes this useful observation about how the Lost Cause defense of slavery and the Old South fits into the psychological imperatives of present-day rightwing authoritarians:

What does seem useful to say, however, is that Vision Forum’s evident nostalgia for a slaveowning society is directly related to a general desire to rebuild an authoritarian social structure. The right to own slaves may not be the point, but the unquestioned authority of the male householder (exercised in a clear chain of command involving all other members of the family as subordinates) certainly is. No amount of talk about “complementary” roles for men and women can conceal what Vision Forum is actually eager to announce: that its key concern is patriarchy—a system of governance, not just a distribution of social responsibilities. From that perspective, the Old South represents a convenient image of white manhood and womanhood, and its fate serves as perhaps a hint of why authoritarian manhood seems endangered today.
As the quotes I've give so far probably indicate, Wilson is taking a careful academic's approach to the subject.

I was struck by how this comes out in his dicucssion of white racism:

Even more important, however, is that Vision Forum promotes a vision not just of male leadership in the family and the nation, but more specifically a vision rooted in an ideology of white male mastery. Vision Forum is not a racist organization; it does not directly or consciously advocate white supremacy. But it does deliberately promote nostalgia for the Old South. ...

What can this tell us about the reasons so many Americans imbibe a toxic nostalgia for the prewar South, its culture, and its (supposed) views about government?

To me, it seems fairly clear that racism isn't the place to start. Don’t get me wrong — I'm perfectly happy to question a slavery apologist’s claim that he isn't a racist slavery apologist. And it’s obvious that Lost-Cause, Neo-Confederate, and other ideologies of attachment to the antebellum South often do result from either conscious or unconscious racism. Even so, in this case, I don’t think it’s helpful to identify racism as the main source of the trouble. There’s little direct evidence of conscious racism, and quite a bit of evidence that the people involved don't want to be racists. If nothing else, blaming racism is the least interesting thing we could say about what’s going on. [my emphasis in bold]
This is downright confusing. Especially those first two sentences, which say that Vision Forum promotes "specifically a vision rooted in an ideology of white male mastery." But then in the directly following sentence, he says, "Vision Forum is not a racist organization."

This is splitting hairs too finely for me to follow. If your organization is promoting a worldview "specifically ... rooted in an ideology of white male mastery," the only way to say that it's not a white racist view is to define racism so narrowly as to be meaningless in practice. In the real world, if we confine "racist" to meaning only an explicit avowal of biological superiority of one race to another, it means that we can understand, analyze or even talk about white racism as it manifests itself in the real lives of real people.

In John Kenneth Galbraith's last book published during his lifetime, The Economics of Innocent Fraud: Truth for Our Time (2004), he devotes a chapter to "The Renaming of the System." In it, he sketches the history of ways the advocates of the wealthy have tried to deflect attention from any systematic faults of capitalism. The system had shown enough problematic features by the time of the Great Depression that new names for it were sought, like "free enterprise" and "social democracy":

In the next years reference was to the New Deal; this, however, was too clearly identified with Franklin D. Roosevelt and his cohorts. So in reasonably learned expression there came "the market system." There was no adverse history here, in fact no history at all. It would have been hard indeed, to find a more meaningless designation - this a reason for the choice.
The conservative effort to avoid talking about the extent to which conservatism of all kinds became intimately connected with white racial demagoguery and with what has now become an open advocacy of clearly segregationist voter-suppression laws in the Republican Party took an opposite tack. Rather than find a new name to describe the institutions and practices of white racism, it instead sought to define racism so narrowly that it couldn't be discussed at all.

Jonathan Wilson's discussion of the Christian Right and neo-Confederacy in that post is certainly not one that would be pleasing to today's "movement conservatives," since neo-Confederate pseudohistory is so closely integrated with so much of Republican Party politics today. And he correctly notes in a footnote on David Barton's popular brand of Christian Right pseudohistory, "David Barton has come under strong and sustained criticism in, e.g., World Magazine, a leading evangelical conservative newsweekly."

Still, the "ideology of white male mastery" that he otherwise describes so well in this particular neo-Confederate manifestation is an important part of what white racism in American politics and religion looks like. Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter showed integrity as scholars by challenging David Barton's ludicrously distorted presentation of Thomas Jefferson's ideas, which is what Wilson links there. But among prominent Christian Right figures like Mike Huckabee, Barton's pseudohistory is a comfortable part of their ideology. The Republican Party now embraces a wide variety of anti-science dogma, from creationism to climate denial to bizarre pseudobiology about women's bodies. Some of that is driven by industry lobbying (climate denial) and some by religious obsessions (the antiabortion movement, whose adherents are generally willing to lie about anything in the name of "saving innocent babies"). Barton-type pseudohistory is part of that victory of raw political-religious ideology over considerations of scientific, scholarly or journalistic accuracy.

No, the "ideology of white male mastery" i s white racism, in theory and in practice. And, yes, if we're going to talk about white racism and it's real-world manifestations, white racism is a perfectly good "place to start."

More on Vision Forum:

If the woman who publicly charged Doug Phillips with coercive sexual conduct is correct, the Vision Forum group itself may have been a cult: Morgan Lee, Vision Forum Founder Doug Phillips Accused By Woman of Treating Her Like 'Personal Sex Object' in Lawsuit Christian Post 04/16/2014.

Also, another article by Lee highlights the connection of Quiverfull stars Jimbob and Michelle Duggar to Vision Forum in Duggar Family's Close Relationship With Vision Forum Founder Doug Phillips and Wife Highlighted After Scandal Christian Post 04/13/2014

Libby Anne, Is Vision Forum Gone? Love, Joy, Feminism 01/07/2014

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