Duggars, homosexuality, politics, religion

“We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child…”

I remember in August 2014, Bill and I were living temporarily in an apartment in Kemnat, a suburb near Stuttgart. I spent my days hanging out with Zane and Arran, burning up because it was hot outside. The Duggars were in the news because Michelle Duggar had made a controversial political robocall to people in Arkansas. Why was she robocalling? It was because she was hoping to influence Arkansans to vote against an anti-discrimination ordinance designed to allow transgendered people to use restrooms and lockers that correspond to their gender identities.

People were calling for the Duggars to be canceled in 2014 after this call… little did they know what was coming! And yet, they’re STILL in the public eye.

This morning, today’s featured photo was in my Facebook memories. Given that Josh Duggar is currently in huge trouble with the feds for being caught receiving and possessing images of child sexual abuse, it’s pretty crazy that in 2014, Michelle Duggar was saying things like “We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child…” Wow… the hypocrisy is astounding!

As I waited for Bill to come home the other day, I ran across an episode of 17 Kids and Counting. In the beginning, you hear Michelle Duggar’s annoying baby voice as she lists all of her children’s names. At that point, Jennifer Duggar, born in 2007, was the youngest, and Michelle was pregnant with Jordan, who was #18 and would be born in December 2008. She would have one more live birth, when youngest child Josie was born very prematurely the following year. Then she got pregnant one last time and eventually lost that baby, Jubilee Shalom.

In the opening credits for 17 Kids and Counting, Ma and Pa Duggar talk about their “very conservative values” and how the children’s Internet access is “closely monitored.” Obviously, it wasn’t monitored that closely. And they weren’t allowed to watch TV, and yet they were ON TV.

I remember Michelle Duggar once had a good reputation as a wonderful, caring, and compassionate mother. I have never seen a lot of proof that she was a wonderful mother. On the contrary, I’ve seen evidence that her daughters are good moms, mainly because they’ve always been doing the heavy lifting of raising their siblings while their mom worked on perfecting her “baby voice”. And she used that voice to promote anti-LGBTQ propaganda while her eldest son, supposedly sheltered from the Internet, was looking at porn. Such hypocrisy!

As Bill and I were sharing coffee this morning, I was reading the Duggar Family News Facebook group. Someone had shared a link to a post from the truly creepy blog, Biblical Gender Roles about the practice of “domestic discipline” and wife spanking. I’ve written about this blog a couple of times before, most recently in July 2020, when a friend of mine shared with me a different post about “grooming one’s wife” to accept domestic discipline that came from the Biblical Gender Roles blog. I also wrote about a post that appeared in 2019 regarding marital rape— a woman’s husband wanted to have sex with her when she wasn’t interested. The blogger from Biblical Gender Roles wrote that according to the Bible it’s impossible for a married woman to be raped by her husband. And of course, my take is that marital rape is certainly possible and it can be perpetrated by either spouse. It happened to my husband when he was married to his ex wife.

Legally, rape means that a person hasn’t consented to sexual contact. It does not matter if the participants are married to each other. But fundie Christian women are taught to always be “joyfully available” to their husbands. When their husbands fall from grace, as Josh Duggar repeatedly has, the woman is liable to be blamed. Why? Because she wasn’t available enough for her husband to satisfy his sexual needs. Michelle Duggar, the same woman who, in a robocall to Arkansans said “We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child…”, told her own daughter Jill, before Jill married her husband, Derick Dillard:

“And so be available, and not just available, but be joyfully available for him. Smile and be willing to say, ‘Yes, sweetie I am here for you,’ no matter what, even though you may be exhausted and big pregnant and you may not feel like he feels. ‘I’m still here for you and I’m going to meet that need because I know it’s a need for you.’ ”

In other words, this “wonderful mom”, Michelle Duggar, told her daughter that her body isn’t her own. It’s either going to be used by her husband for sex, or used to nourish and develop a fetus, who will either also be used a vessel for developing new life and as a sexual plaything, or will be a user, as males apparently are in fundie Christianity. Josh Duggar grew up being taught that his wife was to be used, and she was expected to be “joyfully available” to him, on the pain of being disciplined by the head of the family. His sister Jill, on the other hand, got a very different message. She was to be “available” to her husband, whenever he wanted her. She was to submit to his will. In short, she was physically an adult, but in all other ways, she was basically expected to be like a child– seen and not heard– quiet, submissive, and available always.

I’m sure, behind closed doors, Anna Duggar has been blamed for not satisfying Josh Duggar’s “needs”, causing him to fall into the dark web and view “forbidden images” of a sexual nature. But here she is, still in her early 30s and pregnant with her seventh child, another girl. Obviously, she was available to Josh, and he was fulfilling his sexual needs with her. But that wasn’t enough, and he’s evidently been indulging in illegal and immoral activities involving children. How did this happen?

I have never been impressed by either of the Duggar parents. For years, I’ve heard them both talk about how children are blessings and gifts from God. Rather than being good stewards of their children and raising them properly, Michelle Duggar basically turned into a brood animal and popped out children that were then farmed out to their sisters to raise. That’s not fair to the children at all. There was a time in history when having a huge family might have made some sense, since a lot of children died before coming of age and people had farms they needed help to run. Nowadays, I think having that many children is selfish and irresponsible. I don’t like to tell people how many children they should have, but I do think that if you’ve gotten to the point of farming out your kids to their older siblings, you’ve had too many. It’s not the job of underage children to raise their siblings.

Childhood is a brief time in a person’s life, and that’s when people should be focused on their own development and maturity. The way it’s been done in the Duggar family is that some of the children– the eldest sisters– had to grow up too fast. And yet, they were treated like children, forced to share a room and not allowed to choose what they wanted to wear or who they wanted to date or marry, in the sense that they needed Jim Bob’s permission and their husbands to be were forced to answer excessive questionnaires before Boob would give his “blessing”.

When I look at Michelle Duggar’s comment that “We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child…”, and then I see that her very first child– one of the few that she must have had the biggest part of raising– has turned out to be a sexual deviant, I can’t help but think her thoughts on protecting children are warped. She didn’t even protect her own daughters from their brother– her precious firstborn son– who took liberties with them when he was an adolescent. They didn’t get appropriate and effective help for Josh when his deviant behaviors presented themselves when he was still a child. They also didn’t get help for their daughters, who were victimized by Josh. In a sense, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar failed Josh as much as they did their daughters… and all of those innocent children in the pictures and videos found on Josh’s computer who were exploited, abused, and even murdered for the perverse pleasure of Josh and his ilk.

Josh is a MASSIVE hypocrite. Here he is speaking about religious liberties and how businesses should not be forced to pay for birth control. You can hear him talking about how birth control harms unborn children, and yet he apparently enjoys victimizing innocent children who have already been born. He sounds articulate and well-spoken here, which is probably why he got away with this for as long as he has.

Notice in the above video, there are two men speaking about birth control and how it “causes abortions” (it doesn’t). Neither of these men will ever have to do the hardest work associated with pregnancy and child bearing. And they are in religious organizations where women are taught to be “joyfully available” to them and satisfy their “needs”, even when they are “big pregnant” (as Michelle Duggar put it). They’re more concerned about unborn children than they are born children… especially the female ones who will be born to satisfy their sexual “needs”. Well… that is revolting. It really is.

From the Biblical Gender Roles blog… a woman needs her husband’s “help” to control her spending and choose the “right” friends. Based on this, it sounds like he thinks women are never much more than children.

I’m sitting here reading the Biblical Gender Roles blog again. The poster on the Duggar Family News page had linked to an article on that blog about a young wife who was being “introduced” to the concept of Christian domestic discipline. In other words, she was being spanked by her husband. But the blogger wrote an earlier post about the husband’s perspective. In that post, he referenced his earlier post about how to “groom” one’s wife to accept the man as the authority in the home. He mentions that the wife must be young and sheltered, otherwise, she will never accept being “spanked” or otherwise disciplined by her husband.

This blogger has “mentors” who help teach these “Biblical principles” to couples who are interested. He says he vets the participants carefully, because he knows that more worldly people are “spying” on him and want to undo his work in teaching Christian couples to live by what he deems are “Biblical gender roles”. And based on what the young husband writes in the post from the gender roles blog, his wife has come to “accept” his leadership. She speaks to him “respectfully”, sticks to a budget, and I guess most importantly (to him, anyway), makes herself “available” to him sexually whenever he’s in the mood. She’d better, of course, or he’ll turn her over his knee and spank her, as if she’s a child (and personally, I don’t think spanking children is appropriate, either). How fucked up is that? The woman is a child in all ways, except physical. I am not saying the Duggars engage in these practices. I do think, however, that their collective mindset seems to be very similar to the one espoused by the guy who writes the Biblical Gender Roles blog.

More from the Biblical Gender Roles blog… where the writer explains that it’s “right” for a husband to discipline his wife for not putting out sexually, on the pain of being spanked.

Michelle Duggar, obviously, is very much in agreement that there are only males and females; they were all created by God; and that any person with “male parts” is a threat to female children. But apparently, once the females have reached physical maturity, that protection for them is no longer necessary. She unleashed her son, Josh, on Anna Duggar when he was 20 years old, knowing that he was a pervert. And she paid a lot of lip service to “monitoring” her children’s television and Internet exposure, although Josh obviously still figured out a way to get to the forbidden fruit. Maybe if she had been less “Christian”, he would have turned out to be a better person… or maybe, he was born to be this way, despite our “awesome God” who gifted the Duggars with so many children that they were obviously not equipped to raise properly on their own.

How dare Michelle Duggar try to tell Arkansas voters that she is concerned about putting the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child? Where were her concerns about her own daughters’ safety and innocence when they were growing up in her home? Where were her concerns about Josh’s future, when his deviant sexual proclivities came out? Why didn’t she help him possibly avoid falling into sins that could send him to prison? He is about to be the father of seven innocent children, but he won’t be around to take care of them. That task will fall to his long suffering wife, Anna, who has been taught that because she’s a female, she belongs to her husband and has no say over whether or not she wants to have sex! Michelle Duggar is concerned about transgendered people “victimizing” girls… but she was not at all concerned about her vile predator son victimizing her own daughters, and possibly her granddaughters, along with the children who were victimized in the images and videos that were found on Josh’s computer! And she’s all for letting the women be “childlike” in all ways, except for when it comes to giving their husbands sex. She’s even childlike in the way she speaks!

I really think our society is very sick. The Duggars are still influential to many, even though they are massive hypocrites. As recently as last year, they were still trying to get involved in politics, when their son Jed, ran for office against a woman who was clearly much more qualified than he was. He lost, thank God, but I will bet people still voted for him because he’s a white man, Christian, and a Duggar! There are still so many people, especially in the United States, who speak about their rights as “free people”. But they only want freedom for white Christian males with money. They don’t want women to have dominion over their own bodies. They don’t want people of color to have the right to live peacefully, and enjoy freedom of movement without being harassed by law enforcement. They don’t want poor people to be able to receive temporary government assistance, or children to be able to attend school without the fear of being shot. Their right to own weapons is more important than the safety of innocent people to be out and about without fearing being killed by their guns. And they want to be able to dictate to people which restrooms they can use, claiming that transgendered people are “mentally ill”, while they cover up for people like Josh Duggar and give him a platform.

I wrote about Michelle Duggar’s robocall on my original blog. In that post, I explained that homosexuality and transgendered people are not necessarily pedophiles or child molesters. At that point, we didn’t know about Josh… it was just months later that that particular bombshell dropped. One would have thought the Duggars would have been canceled, once and for all, after Josh’s hypocrisy came out. But, as my Italian friend Vittorio has pointed out, the United States is a “weird-o-rama” culture. The Duggars are oddly fascinating to many. Some of us are fascinated as we are repulsed. Others find them to be people they want to emulate. And so, they continue to people we talk about, and write about… and in some cases, make money on. I’m sure the people making YouTube videos about the Duggars are making some cash, anyway. I’m sure not.

Well… I guess I’ve rambled on long enough. Arran has just come to me, expecting a walk. So I guess I’ll close now, and take him out for a much needed constitutional. Hope everyone has a nice Monday.

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book reviews, religion

Reviewing Sins of the Father: The Long Shadow of a Religious Cult by Fleur Beale

Alright… so I’ve had my nap and finally finished Fleur Beale’s fascinating book, Sins of the Father: The Long Shadow of a Religious Cult. Neville Cooper, who died of cancer at age 92 in 2018, was the founder of the Gloriavale Christian Community currently located on the West Coast of New Zealand. Many people regard the Gloriavale Christian Community as a religious cult. I had not heard of it until recently, when I got a message from a lawyer in New Zealand who invited me to write about it. This book, originally published in 2009, is about Phil Cooper, one of the sons of Neville Cooper, and his first wife, Gloria.

I recently reviewed Daughter of Gloriavale, which was written by Lilia Tarawa, one of Neville Cooper’s granddaughters and one of Phil Cooper’s nieces. Before I get going too far into this review, I have to explain something. Due to a revelation Neville Cooper got from God, he later went by the name “Hopeful Christian”. Many of his followers have also changed their original names, mostly to adjectives that describe a “Christlike” quality. For instance, Neville has children named Hope, Faith, Miracle, and Charity. Lilia Tarawa is one of Miracle’s daughters. Sins of the Father is about Phil Cooper, who is Lilia’s uncle, and six of the children he had with his first wife, Sandy, who was later renamed Prayer. Sandy/Prayer also has another daughter by Phil. Her name is Cherish, and at the time the book was published, Phil had never met her in person. Phil also has a daughter named Jess by his second wife.

Phil Cooper was born in Australia in 1962. His parents moved him and his then ten siblings to New Zealand in 1967, when he was five years old. At the time, Neville Cooper was a traveling preacher who had developed a following and was invited to speak around the country. However, his teachings were at odds with mainstream Christianity. He was considered a fundamentalist. So Cooper decided to start his own community at Haupiri, located on New Zealand’s West Coast. He eventually named the community Gloriavale, in honor of his first wife, Gloria, who had predeceased him by many years. At this writing, several hundred people still live in Gloriavale. The women wear long blue dresses with white headdresses. The men wear blue shirts and blue trousers. The women of the community do what’s commonly considered traditional women’s work– cooking, cleaning, childcare, teaching, and the like. The men work in Gloriavale’s businesses or do manual labor such as farming or construction.

As he got older, Phil Cooper decided he wanted to leave Gloriavale. He chafed under his father’s oppressive rules, as well as his narcissistic and controlling behaviors. When he was sixteen years old, Phil ran away from Gloriavale, eventually landing in Australia. He had nothing, but managed with help from kind strangers. At one point, having landed in Brisband, he met Mormon missionaries who helped him out by giving him a ride. He ended up converting to the LDS religion, knowing that his father would disown him if he knew. Neville Cooper considered Mormonism as “false religion”. But as a sixteen year old, free from the compound, Neville wasn’t that worried about temporarily being Mormon. He bought himself a tape player, something that was forbidden in Gloriavale, and became familiar with the contemporary music of the late 1970s. Eventually, he was tracked down by his sister, Charity, who tried to talk him into coming home. Although he didn’t want to go home, he realized he missed his family, and he returned to Gloriavale to face his father.

When he first arrived home, Phil’s father welcomed him and he was allowed to return to his apprenticeship. But being on his own had given Phil a bit of an attitude that Neville didn’t like. Phil wore a watch, which Neville considered “worldly”, and he didn’t like that the young man had a tape player and listened to worldly music. So Phil was subjected to his father’s discipline. There he sat in Neville’s room, where 25 to 30 of the community’s men were also gathered. Neville severely chastised his son, demanding that he change his name because he didn’t want to be associated with him. Neville took Phil’s beloved watch and smashed it. Phil didn’t react, so his father got his mother and sisters to lay on the guilt, pressuring Phil to give in to his father’s demands for compliance and obedience.

Neville tried to threaten Phil with stories about how terrifying and dangerous the world was, but Phil had just come from the world, so he knew it wasn’t true. Then Neville told him that God would do terrible things to him and he would die a gruesome death if he didn’t repent. Finally, after hours of berating and extreme pressure, Phil cracked because he was exhausted. And then he took that precious tape player that he bought in Australia and threw it on the floor, breaking it. Meanwhile, Phil’s older sister, Faith, and her husband, Alan, had decided to leave Gloriavale with their five children. Like Phil, they found the community’s rules stifling. Moreover, Neville Cooper was a sexual deviant, who dictated just about everything in his followers’ lives, from who they were allowed to marry, to what they named their children, to what they wore and ate. Unlike Phil, Faith and Alan were successful in leaving permanently the first time they left.

For awhile, after he ran away, Phil became an obedient, model son, working very hard to win his father’s approval. In 1981, he decided he wanted to marry a young woman named Sandy, so he asked his father’s permission and Neville agreed. Phil was 18 and Sandy was 21 when they got married. They had plenty of time to make many children, so that’s what they did. Neville constantly reminded his followers of the importance of being Godly and obedient. However, he and the other men of the community used pornography. Young women who put on weight were forced to fast and were verbally abused. Sandy was fondled by Neville, and some of the girls in the community were forced to join the elders in hot tubs. Children grew up living in one room with their parents and witnessing them having sex.

Neville also believed that once girls hit puberty, they were ready to be married and start having babies. Pregnancy was an opportunity for the women not to work as hard, since they were allowed to rest more when they were having babies. Children in the community were involved with overseeing births, most of which took place at home, unless there were medical issues. Childbirth was considered totally natural and something that should not take place in a hospital unless there was a medical need.

In 1995, Neville Cooper went to prison for about a year on sexual abuse charges. His son, Phil, and some of the girls who had fled the community testified against him. His followers remained steadfast in their loyalty to their leader.

Before long, Phil Cooper was once again at odds with his father’s strict rules and abusive methods. When he was 27 years old, with help from a couple of his brothers, Phil left Gloriavale for good. At the time, he had five children between the ages of eight and sixteen months. After he left, he was told by a community elder that he would no longer have any communication with his children. Phil was heartbroken, so he decided to abduct his children, and his wife, Sandy. Again, he was able to pull off his plan with help from a couple of his brothers. Phil and his family eventually landed in the United States, where Sandy gave birth to Phil’s sixth child, a boy named Andreas. Sandy was never happy outside of Gloriavale, though. She went back twice, despite Phil’s protests, because she didn’t think she could live a Godly life without being in the Gloriavale community. After the second time, Sandy stayed, and later granted him a divorce.

But unbeknownst to Phil, when she left him the second time, Sandy was pregnant with his seventh child. He did not know about his daughter, Cherish, until she was much older, and at the time this book was published, had never seen her in person. One of his other daughters, Dawn, also willingly went back to the compound. The rest remain happily outside of Gloriavale. They have been able to go back a couple of times, but with every visit, there is both the pressure to stay and conform to the community’s culty standards, and careful minding of their visit so that they don’t influence anyone else to leave.

Phil and the other children eventually left the United States, having spent some time in the Hutterite Community in Minnesota. One of his children, Andreas, was named after one of the Hutterites who helped Phil. That group was apparently a much nicer one and more Christlike, and they treated Phil and his family with kindness. But they needed to go home and be closer to their family. So Phil and his kids moved to Australia, even though Andreas, having been born in the USA, was an American citizen. They had to get him Australian citizenship.

My thoughts

Fleur Beale has done a fine job with Phil Cooper’s exciting and amazing story of escaping his father’s cult. She’s a good writer, and her style is engaging and interesting. I liked that she included photos, some of which are in color, and is careful to explain some of the more complicated aspects of this story.

Oddly enough, aspects of this story and some of the methods used to get Phil to comply with his father’s wishes reminded me a lot of my husband Bill’s ex wife’s methods. One of the ways Neville would get his children to fall in line was to get other family members to put pressure on them and employ abusive methods like shunning, lovebombing, and group or family pressure. Bill’s ex wife also does this. Younger daughter has said that when she left home, her sisters would call or email her, berating her for being on a “high horse” or being “prideful” and telling her she should humble herself. Incidentally, when Bill was freshly divorced and leaving Mormonism, younger daughter also accused him of being “prideful”. Ex resorted to extreme measures to get her way and always punishes anyone who goes against her wishes. Neville Cooper was like that, too.

Neville Cooper/Hopeful Christian is often described as a very charismatic narcissist. Everything had to be done under his conditions; it was his way or the highway. Bill’s ex wife is the same way, and he has described her as “charismatic”– the type of person who can sell ice to Eskimos. Or, at least she can if they are unaware of the type of person she is.

Neville Cooper sounds like he was the same way, controlling and convincing people to do everything in exactly the way he wanted it done. A wide variety of abuses were employed to keep everyone in line, to include ostracizing members of the community. It’s no wonder Phil Cooper couldn’t stand it anymore. He recognizes that he has some of his father’s qualities, too, although he does his best to temper them. The children who left the compound with him are grateful that he got them out, even though they had to grow up without their mother. Neville Cooper was addicted to power, and he was ruthless in his quests to get it.

This is an excellent book about Gloriavale, and a young man who decided to risk everything to escape it, even though his father was the leader of the cult. Phil Cooper’s story is very interesting, and I think Fleur Beale has done well in writing the tale. I would definitely recommend Sins of the Father: The Long Shadow of a Religious Cult to anyone who is interested in learning more about this community, especially if it’s paired with other books about Gloriavale. It really is an interesting cult– and a reminder that the United States is not the only place where dangerous and charismatic leaders get into power and enslave people.

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book reviews, religion

Reviewing Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life in a Religious Cult, by Lilia Tarawa…

Roughly a month ago, I wrote a post about Gloriavale Christian Community, a religious sect founded by Neville Cooper, otherwise known as Hopeful Christian, and located in New Zealand. That post was prompted by a message I got from a lawyer in New Zealand who is involved in litigation against the community. The lawyer had read my review of I Fired God, by Jocelyn Zichterman. Zichterman was raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church, but left the church after many years of abuse. The New Zealand based attorney was hoping I would spread the word about a similar situation in his country. At the time, I didn’t think I’d heard about Gloriavale Christian Community, but then I went on YouTube and, sure enough, found a video of a TED Talk done by Lilia Tarawa that I’d seen a few years ago.

I included this video in my previous post about Gloriavale, but it bears repeating here.

Lilia Tarawa also wrote a book about her experiences growing up in a “religious cult”. In her case, it was a church founded by her grandfather, a charismatic man who was born in Australia and came to New Zealand in 1969 to start his movement. Because Tarawa’s grandfather’s name was Cooper, the group was originally called “Cooperites”. But then one day, Neville Cooper had a revelation that all of the sect’s members should change their names to something more “Christian”. So Neville Cooper became Hopeful Christian. Just about everyone else in the group also abandoned the names given at birth and adopted positive “Christlike” adjectives as their names. For instance, one man changed his named to “Fervent”, while another was called “Stedfast”. Another changed his name to “Willing”. Many of the members also changed their last names, as Cooper did. Lilia writes that her parents were high ranking enough that she and her siblings weren’t forced to change their first names, although they did adopt the surname “Just” for a time… until they eventually fled the group.

A screengrab from Tarawa’s Ted Talk.

In her 2017 book, Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life in a Religious Cult, Lilia Tarawa describes what it was like for her and her siblings to grow up in a very regimented community. Lilia is one of ten children, nine of whom were raised in Gloriavale. Only her youngest sister, Arielle, was not born on the compound. Lilia’s parents were also born in Gloriavale; her mother was named Miracle because Miracle’s mother had been pregnant with her when she, Neville Cooper, and two others were in a plane crash. Truly miraculously, everyone involved in the crash survived with cuts and bruises.

Growing up, Lilia wore long blue dresses and white headdresses. She was not permitted to cut her hair, shave her legs or armpits, or wear makeup. The community had a school and a library, but the books Lilia and her friends and family members were allowed to read were limited and highly censored. Lilia was not allowed to listen to “worldly” music. She and the rest of the females in the community were taught that they were to follow men, specifically Tarawa’s grandfather, who was regarded as a living prophet of sorts.

Once the girls had their first menstrual periods, they were deemed old enough to marry. The marriages were arranged, and the women were expected to have many babies and do what was regarded as “women’s work”– cooking, childcare, teaching, and the like. Females were not encouraged to excel academically or aim for careers outside of the community. The men were expected to work for the many companies owned and operated by the community, or to do manual labor. Everyone read the Bible. The whole community ate meals together, and whole families lived in large, single rooms. When the women had babies, they were mostly delivered on the compound. Childbirth was considered a natural thing, and medical people were not involved unless it was unavoidably necessary. From the age of seven, Lilia was helping women give birth. So were her brothers and sisters.

In spite of what many of us “born worldly” folks might think, Lilia Tarawa grew up thinking she lived in a paradise. Everything was taken care of, and she was surrounded by family and friends, as well as New Zealand’s natural beauty. And everyone wore the same clothes and lived the same lifestyle, so it wasn’t like Lilia missed anything more “normal” kids had. Sometimes, new people would join the community. Lilia’s friend, Graciela, who had been born in Chile and adopted by a white family, came to the group and introduced Lilia to things she had never known about. Lilia couldn’t pronounce Graciela, so she just called her friend “Grace”. Grace and her family eventually left New Zealand for the Elmendorf Christian Community in Minnesota, but Grace eventually returned to Gloriavale. She had a great impact on Lilia’s coming of age. It was through Grace that Lilia first got a taste of the world beyond her grandfather’s artificial utopia.

As she got older, Lilia’s view of the community began to change. She was a smart young woman who did well in school. One day, her grandfather rebuked her in front of the community. He read in her progress report that she had “leadership capabilities”. Hopeful Christian was miffed, since he didn’t think girls should be leaders. Lilia was humiliated as he berated her in front of everyone. Another day, she was in a library and found a romance book. It was forbidden for her to read such a book, since it was considered “worldly”. But she started to read it and became hooked, then smuggled it out of the library. Her brother, Sam, found out that Lilia had taken the book and snitched on her. Musical artists, like Shania Twain, were very attractive to Lilia. But Shania’s music, as well as Justin Timberlake’s, Taylor Swift’s, and Beyonce’s, were forbidden to Lilia. She was still introduced to them by way of friends like Grace, or by chance.

And then there was the shunning. Lilia’s older sister, Sara, and her brothers, Sam and Victor, decided they couldn’t tolerate Gloriavale anymore. They left, and were shunned by the family. Of course, Sara, Sam, and Victor were wholly unprepared for life outside of a religious cult. They had to figure out how to live in the modern world before they were legal adults. There were also other abuses detailed in the book, such as corporal punishment. The group is, not surprisingly, a proponent of not sparing the rod as a way of showing “love” to children.

Naturally, Lilia and her family eventually left Gloriavale, or this book would not exist. I don’t want to give away more of the story, since I do think this book is well worth reading if you’re interested in religious communities. Lilia Tarawa writes well, and has an engaging voice. My one complaint is that the lead up to her “escape” is a bit long. Once you get to the escape and her emergence into the world, the book is pretty much ending. I think this book would have been an even stronger account if she’d spent a little more time writing about adjusting to life outside of Gloriavale. But maybe she’s planning a new book for that part.

I did find it interesting to read about how Lilia went from reading the Bible, waterskiing in long dresses, and birthing babies, to clubbing, wearing tight pants, shaving her legs, and drinking liquor. I see on her official Web site, which I linked above, that Lilia is into yoga, public speaking, and writing. She writes of wearing Tommy Hilfiger sunglasses and typing on an iMac, a far cry from the more luddite existence she had when she was a child. Lilia writes that she found herself embracing her sexuality, but it was a shock to get to that point. Even the act of having her hair trimmed and layered was a bit scary for her, although she enjoyed the results. Again… these were aspects of the book that I found intriguing and would have liked to have read more of, rather than stories from her coming of age. Or, at least I think she should have balanced them out a bit with explaining more about what it was like to become of the world. A lot of her experiences seem to be about discovering pop music, fashion, and being a “normal” young person by attending clubs. But as we all know, plenty of “normal” young folks aren’t obsessed with pop music, fashion, or clubbing.

In any case, I’m glad I read about Gloriavale. It is an interesting community, and Lilia Tarawa has offered the world a fascinating look at a group a lot of people don’t know about. I wasn’t as horrified by her story as I was Jocelyn Zichterman’s, but I am glad she was able to leave the community with her family, and they have been able to find peace and joy outside of the cult. And perhaps most tellingly, when Lilia did go back to visit Gloriavale, she listened to her grandfather speak, and realized he was nothing more than a narcissistic charlatan. The hero image she’d had of him when she was growing up was shattered. I think a lot of us can relate to that experience, as we mature and start seeing the world and the people in it through more experienced eyes. It’s kind of sad when that happens, but I think it eventually does lead to more enlightenment and the chance to live a more authentic life. So… here’s to Lilia Tarawa and her family’s new life of freedom and discovery. May they live long and prosper in this crazy, modern world.

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book reviews, religion

Repost of my review of Lynn Wilder’s Unveiling Grace.

Here’s another exMo lit book review I’m trying to preserve.  This one is about a former Mormon BYU professor who leaves the LDS religion and becomes a Christian.  It was originally written November 25, 2013 and appears here “as/is”.

If you’ve read many of my book reviews, you may know that I often read what I refer to as “exmo lit”– that is, books written by people who are former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).  I became interested in exMormons because my husband is one.  He converted to Mormonism with his ex wife, then left the faith a few years after they divorced.  Watching the aftermath of that decision has led me to discover a couple of online exMormon communities.  I’ve made new friends, many of whom are very interesting and intelligent people and I’ve read lots of books about the “exmo experience”.  Of course I’d want to read Lynn K. Wilder’s 2013 book, Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church.  I downloaded it to Kindle and finished it over several hours in one sitting. 

Who is Lynn K. Wilder and why did she write a book about qutting Mormonism?

Dr. Lynn K. Wilder is currently an associate professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, where she teaches courses in education.  Prior to her work at Florida Gulf Coast University, Dr. Wilder taught at Mormon owned Brigham Young University and was on track to become a full professor.  She and her husband were raised as mainstream Protestants, then converted to Mormonism in 1977.  They raised their three sons and daughter in the faith, first in Indiana, then later in Utah, when Wilder was hired to teach at BYU.

In her book, Unveiling Grace, Wilder explains what about Mormonism attracted her husband and her to the faith.  Much of it seemed to have to do with coincidental “miracles” that coincided with good and bad events in the Wilders’ lives.  Dr. Wilder was a teacher who worked with kids with special educational needs.  But she longed for a family.  It was challenging for her to sustain a pregnancy; she had at least a half dozen miscarriages at around sixteen weeks before her first two sons, Josh and Matt, were born.  Her next son, Micah, and daughter, Katie, rounded out the family.  Having the children was difficult and she relied a lot on prayer and good works through the LDS church to win favor with God…  or at least that’s what I got from her story.  She explains that for thirty years, she attributed her eventual success to Mormonism instead of traditional biblical Christianity.

It was her son, Micah, who facilitated her family’s exit from Mormonism.  Micah was always a very devout Mormon and had dutifully applied for a mission when he was about to turn nineteen.  He was originally supposed to go to Mexico City, but a medical emergency during his training necessitated a change to Orlando, Florida.  While he was in Florida, Micah and his missionary companion tried to convert a black Baptist preacher, who apparently convinced them that Mormonism is a false religion.  Micah got in touch with his mother just as he was exiting his mission and very soon, the rest of the family followed Micah out of the church.  The entire family, apparently to include the young women who married Wilder’s sons, are now “biblical” Christians.

My thoughts

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about Unveiling Grace.  I am not a particularly religious person myself, so I wasn’t reading this book looking for a faith promoting story.  Wilder, like my husband, is an exMormon.  Those who have never been exposed to Mormonism may not know that it’s usually a very big deal to leave the LDS church if you have other family members in the faith.  Wilder is very fortunate that she and her husband were converts and everyone in their family was willing to leave the church.  I know of many people who have lost contact with siblings, parents, and children because they quit Mormonism.  My husband is, in part, estranged from his daughters because he’s not LDS anymore.  The LDS church can make a very effective alienation tool, since it requires everyone to pray, pay, and obey before everyone gets the promised blessings.

Wilder does a good job illustrating some of the less appealing aspects of being LDS, especially for women who have career aspirations.  She writes that she was expected to be involved in several time consuming “callings” within the church.  Perhaps the most demanding role she was pressured to take on was presidency of the Relief Society.  Every LDS woman over the age of 18 is a member of the Relief Society; it meets every week on Sunday and one evening per week.  Being president of the ward’s (congregation’s) Relief Society was a very large commitment and required Wilder to be an example to other women in the church.  But Wilder had decided she wanted to pursue her doctorate and, besides taking care of her four kids, was also working outside of the home.  Wilder explains that the church’s prophet at the time had asked all the women to quit working outside of the home and be homemakers, tending to their husbands and children.  She also explains that her decision to work went against the prophet’s words, which put her at odds with local church leaders.

Wilder repeatedly writes about how prestigious and excellent Brigham Young University is, and yet it’s a university that almost lost its accreditation in its School of Education because there were too few professors working there who had gotten their degrees at universities other than BYU.  Another complaint was that the student population was not diverse enough.  When BYU did start taking students who were more diverse, some of whom also had disabilities, Wilder claims that some professors wondered allowed how some of them had gotten into “their” program.  It seems to me that any university that has that much “group think” and lacks diversity can’t be a real beacon for higher thinking.

Years later, when Wilder was a professor at BYU and determined that she no longer wanted to be LDS, she also realized that if anyone in the church found out about her disbelief, she would lose her job.  Her work at BYU required that she be an active Mormon who believed in and promoted “the gospel”.  The fact that Wilder’s disbelief in Mormonism seriously threatened her job at BYU is a sign that the school is not as excellent as it is purported to be.  If anyone should be at liberty to think freely, it’s a college professor.  And yet apparently most professors at Brigham Young University (the ones who are LDS, anyway) are not allowed the freedom to think freely about religion and other subjects.  Deviating from Mormonism means losing their livelihood, which to me, seems counterproductive in a university environment. 

Dr. Wilder was one of the few education professors at BYU who had been entirely educated at other universities and was also a convert.  She writes that she encountered some discrimination in Utah for being a convert and having a career.  One would think that Wilder would be more logical, given that she was educated at secular universities outside of Mormonism.  However, Wilder seems to rely a lot of feelings and “signs” when she is presented with a dilemma.  She presents several instances in which opportunities seemed to “fall out of the sky” and claims that they were signs from Jesus rather than recognizing that they could have come from something else.

Wilder writes one story about wearing a cross and having to hide it under her clothes, since Mormons don’t revere the cross the way other faiths do.  She lost the cross while working and went to the lost and found at BYU, where the girl working the desk told her that they wouldn’t have any crosses there.  It turned out several had been turned in, though none were the professor’s.  As she was walking away, the lost and found girl ran after her and said someone had just turned in Wilder’s cross.  Wilder took that as a “sign” from God rather than considering that she might just have been lucky. 

Dr. Wilder writes about how her sons had each gone on missions– all three originally were assigned missions abroad, which supposedly means that they were “more impressive” than other Mormon missionaries.  Let me state for the record that I don’t know if the missionaries who go to foreign countries really are better or more impressive than other missionaries are.  Wilder mentions that common belief in her book, that those who are called to foreign countries, especially in Europe, are somehow more prestigious than those who end up in the United States.  She is obviously very proud that her sons got called to Russia, Denmark, and Mexico (then Florida, but only because of the medical issues).  And yet, it doesn’t seem to occur to her that all three young men, who each served “honorably”, were out spreading what she later calls a “false religion” to innocent people around the world.  In fact, her youngest son, was actually led astray by someone he was trying to lead to Mormonism.  I’m not disappointed that Wilder’s son’s beliefs changed, though I don’t think that his mother is as “recovered” from Mormonism as she seems to think she is.

This book also rambles a bit, which makes it hard to follow sometimes.  Wilder starts in the recent present, introducing readers to her family and explaining how her sons were all different, yet amazing people.  In 2006, her third son, Micah, had an epiphany that changed everything.  Then she abruptly goes back to 1977, when she and her husband decided to convert.  From there, the book skips around somewhat, rather than progressing in one direction.  If you aren’t paying close attention, it’s easy to get lost.

Overall 

I think this may be good reading for Christians, especially those who are former Mormons.  Many parts of Unveiling Grace are interesting and it’s basically a well-written book.  Wilder does bring up several aspects of Mormonism which can be problematic for those who can’t entirely buy into the belief system. 

On the other hand, I get the feeling that Wilder still has some recovery to do.  Some of her faith promoting thoughts seem to be the same kind of thoughts Mormons have, only rebranded as evangelical Christian.  She seems to rely a lot on feelings and “signs” as to what’s right, rather than rational thinking and logic.  Given that she’s a college professor, I find that a little troubling.

For more information about Lynn Wilder…

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book reviews

Repost: A review of My Name Is Mahtob: The Story that Began in the Global Phenomenon Not Without My Daughter Continues

This review was written and posted on my original blog on March 4, 2018. It’s being reposted as/is.

In the early 1980s, Betty Mahmoody was an American housewife married to an Iranian anesthesiologist.  She had sons from a previous marriage and a little daughter named Mahtob (Persian for moonlight) from her marriage to Iranian Sayyed Bozorg Mahmoody (who went by the nickname, Moody). 

Betty and Moody had once lived a comfortable lifestyle in Texas and Michigan. Moody had earned a PhD in mathematics and worked as a math professor and an engineer at NASA before he decided to go to medical school. Having lived in England and the United States since he was 18 years old, Moody seemed fully assimilated to western style living. He and Betty married in Houston in 1977, and Mahtob was born in 1979.

In August 1984, Moody took Betty and Mahtob to his native country of Iran.  It was supposed to be a two week vacation.  Moody had taken Betty’s and Mahtob’s passports, claiming that if he had them in his possession, they would not be confiscated.  Betty trusted her husband and they went on their vacation. 

At the end of the two weeks, Moody told Betty that they would not be returning to the United States.  Moody also told his wife that if she tried to leave his family’s house, he would kill her.  Because Moody was an Iranian citizen by birth, according to Iranian law, he automatically had full custody of Mahtob.  Betty was also an Iranian citizen because she was married to an Iranian.  She and Mahtob were trapped. 

Unwilling to spend the rest of her life in Iran and not wanting her daughter to be raised there as a Muslim, Betty decided to take action.  Her husband kept her and Mahtob under extreme surveillance.  In early 1986, Betty learned that her father was dying.  Moody insisted that she go back to the United States without Mahtob.  He purchased a plane ticket for Betty; she was set to depart Iran on January 31, 1986.  But then a couple of days before the flight, Moody was unexpectedly called away.  Betty and Mahtob finally had the opportunity to make a run for freedom.   

After eighteen months of being held captive by Moody and his family, Betty and Mahtob escaped Iran via the mountains of southern Turkey, smuggled out on horseback.  Betty very nearly died of exhaustion and exposure.  In 1987, Betty Mahmoody published her very famous book, Not Without My Daughter.  In 1991, a feature film starring Sally Field and Alfred Molina was released.

Betty Mahmoody talks about Not Without My Daughter.

I read Betty Mahmoody’s book years ago and have seen the film based on the book.  When I noticed a book written by Mahtob Mahmoody, I decided I wanted to read her version of events.  I downloaded Mahtob Mahmoody’s 2015 book, My Name Is Mahtob: The Story that Began in the Global Phenomenon Not Without My Daughter Continues and just finished it this morning.

Mahtob Mahmoody’s book is extremely well written.  She obviously inherited her father’s keen intellect and her mother’s talents as a writer.  Mahtob has a gift for language.  She was a good student in school and was accepted to a prestigious academic program at Michigan State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Mahtob is also a devout Christian.  She makes many references to her Christian faith in her book.  I suspect her being so Christian is, in part, due to the fact that her father had told her she had the blood of Fatima and he would not allow her to be anything but Muslim.  I sense that Mahtob is very faithful to Christianity, not just because she believes in it, but also as an act of defiance toward her father.  Moody never gave up on being in Mahtob’s life and terrorized Betty and Mahtob by constantly trying to communicate with them.  Betty eventually divorced Moody in 1989.

Mahtob and her mother are very bonded.  The constant stress of worrying about Moody had forced them to maintain a strong relationship.  Mahtob developed lupus when she was thirteen years old and stress exacerbated the problem. 

One aspect of Mahtob’s story that was especially interesting to me was her continual references to Armenia. As regular readers might know, I spent two years in Armenia, which borders Iran. Many Armenians live in Iran, and Mahtob was clearly exposed to the culture and food. I enjoyed reading about that, as well as reading some of the communications she got from Iranians. A mutual friend of Moody’s and Betty’s wrote letters referring to them as “jon”. In Armenia, the term “jon” is a term of endearment. It’s basically akin to “dear”. Apparently, it means the same thing in Iran.

Since I am the wife of a man who was denied access to his daughters, it was intriguing to read about what it was like for Mahtob to be estranged from her father.  She did remember him and, despite being terrified that he was going to force her to go back to Iran, had stories that made him seem more sympathetic.  For instance, she writes of how, as a young child, her father taught her the best way to eat pomegranates.  In the 80s, pomegranates were not easy to get in Michigan.  Betty had not grown up with them.  But pomegranates are very common in Iran and Moody knew the best way to extract all of the delicious juice.  He taught Mahtob.

When my husband’s daughters were young, they claimed they didn’t remember Bill.  They didn’t remember his being part of their lives.  Now that they are adults and one of them is talking to Bill again, we now know that of course they remembered him.  It appears at this point that Bill’s younger daughter is reconnecting.  Of course, Bill is a very different kind of man than Moody is.  He’s not from a vastly different culture than his daughters are.   

Moody repeatedly claimed that his ex wife had made false claims about his character.  He even made a documentary called Without My Daughter.  Supposedly, it presents his side of the story, although I haven’t seen it.  Mahtob thinks that Moody may have had narcissistic personality disorder (he died in 2009).  It’s entirely possible that he did.  On the other hand, when it comes to these kinds of relationships, it’s really hard to know where the truth lies. 

I suppose this story was especially interesting to me because in many ways, it’s a lot like Bill’s story, right down to the religious aspect.  Naturally, mainstream Mormonism is not quite the same as Islam, although fundamentalist Mormonism has some eerie similarities. 

I read Betty’s book years before I met Bill.  I had no way of knowing that one day, I’d be married to a man who was estranged from his kids.  I guess, in a way, that made it harder for me to completely condemn Moody.  Although Mahtob claims that she forgave her father, she refused to have anything at all to do with him.  I found that sad, though understandable.  I could see that being Persian is a big part of who Mahtob is.  She loves the food and the culture and has maintained ties to it.  She’s Persian because of her dad.

Mahtob does state that her mother told her that she was welcome to be in contact with her father.  In fact, she even encouraged her to talk to him because he had kidney problems (which later killed him) and Mahtob’s lupus had affected her kidneys.  Mahtob declined to get in touch with him and, when he died in 2009, forever closed the door on mending the rift with her father.  While that’s the way Mahtob says she wanted it, I got the impression that she was actually kind of ambivalent.  She will now have to live with that for the rest of her life.

Anyway, I liked My Name Is Mahtob and would recommend it to the interested.  I found Mahtob’s writing insightful, sophisticated, and at times, beautifully poignant. 

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