I don’t remember what prompted me to download Kate Bowler’s 2019 book, The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities. Maybe someone in the Duggar Family News recommended it. Or maybe I saw something about it on YouTube. I imagine Jen of Fundie Fridays could have suggested this well-written and researched book about the wives of high powered evangelical leaders like Joel Osteen and his ilk, and women who are high ranking evangelical leaders themselves, like Paula White-Cain and Juanita Bynum. In any case, Amazon tells me I bought this book in July 2022. I just finished reading it this morning, and that seems fortuitous, as it’s Sunday– the Lord’s day. 😉
I have never been a very religious person myself, although I grew up going to the local Presbyterian church. I do come from a very Christian family, with musical parents who were avid churchgoers, although church was never a family affair for me. My mom was always the organist at some church, so she never sat with the family. My dad was always in the choir. My sisters are much older than I was and out of the house for much of my childhood. Consequently, although I was compelled to go to church, and even had a job working at a church camp for two summers, I have never been particularly devout.
However, even though I’m not much of a Christian, I do find religion interesting. For over half of my childhood, I lived in Gloucester, Virginia, a once rural county about an hour’s drive from Pat Robertson’s Christian mecca, Virginia Beach, Virginia. I watched a lot of television in the 80s, and back then, we had independent Channel 27, WYAH, which was owned by Robertson, who also owned the Christian Broadcasting Network cable channel. Because Channel 27 was owned by a Christian evangelical leader, a lot of religious programming was aired. I would occasionally watch some of the shows, mainly getting a kick out of the over-the-top televangelists and local programs. For example, the late John Gimenez and his wife, Anne, of The Rock Church in Virginia Beach used to air their services every Saturday night on Channel 27. I would watch in amazement, as the church had a full band, complete with electric guitars and keyboards, and Gimenez would dance and sing. This was not something I had ever seen in my very conservative whitebread Presbyterian church, which was quite traditional, and at least for me, as a child, extremely boring.
As time went on, religion became more polarized… and polarizing. I noticed extremes on both ends. It seemed like a lot of people were abandoning traditional “boring” churches for megachurches or fringe religions. Or they were going atheist, or embracing non-Christian faiths. I started noticing a lot more mainstream programming on television, like Joel Osteen’s broadcasts from his Lakewood Church. When we were living in the States, it was a rare Sunday morning that we didn’t catch at least part of his show– lots of feel good prosperity platitudes from the Houston Astrodome, his gorgeous wife, Victoria, at his side.
In her book, The Preacher’s Wife, Kate Bowler explores the women who are married to famous celebrity evangelical church leading men. After all, even though they aren’t typically the ones leading the church– as many religions require that men do the leading– the women are often the ones prodding their husbands to go to church, rather than staying home and watching sports or doing chores. Bowler rightly points out that the wives of church leaders are role models to the women and girls of congregations. They are expected to lead by example, and sometimes they even get involved with actual leadership roles. For example, Bowler writes about how, as Joel Osteen delivers his folksy, feel good sermons, Victoria follows up by imploring people in the 40,000 strong congregation, as well as those watching at home, to support the ministry with “love gifts”.
I shouldn’t be surprised by the quality of Bowler’s work, by the way, or the comprehensive scope of her research. She has a PhD, teaches at Duke University, and has written several well-regarded and top selling books. The Preacher’s Wife is her third book exploring the “prosperity gospel”, and how it’s used to sell faith based lies to a public desperate to believe. She can also be found on YouTube. Below is Kate Bowler’s TED Talk, which was very well received, as it accompanied her first book by the same title, Everything Happens for a Reason– and Other Lies I’ve Loved.
I was impressed by the scope of women Bowler profiled in The Preacher’s Wife. Yes, she mentions people like Ruth Peale, wife of Norman Vincent Peale– and parents of the man who taught my philosophy class at Longwood College (now University) in the 1990s. Ruth Graham also gets some discussion, as does the daughter of Ruth and Billy Graham, Anne Graham Lotz, who was arguably the most talented preacher of the Graham parents’ brood, but did not inherit the ministry because she’s a woman. But Bowler also writes of Paula Stone Williams, a well-known pastoral counselor who started out life as Paul Williams, and later transitioned to a woman. I’m sorry to say that before I read Bowler’s book, I had never heard of Paula Stone Williams, but I’m now listening to her TED Talk. She’s a great speaker, and I have Bowler’s book to thank for letting me know she exists.
This book is not about religion, per se, but it is about the business of religion. And make no mistake about it, today’s religion is very much a business. Bowler writes about how some of today’s megachurches have fashion shows, where congregants can shop for the beautiful dresses or statement necklaces worn by the “preacher’s wife”, who is often perfectly coiffed, manicured, and dressed to the nines. She includes photos of flyers for makeovers sponsored by churches, where makeup and fashion experts mix the proper Christian beauty image with Bible verses. But she also includes discussion of Christian leaders like Liz Curtis Higgs, who promote forgiveness, grace, and acceptance, even if they wear a size 22 dress.
I would not recommend this book to anyone looking for devotions or encouragement. That’s not what this book is about– it’s not meant for preachers’ wives who need to be uplifted. Rather, The Preacher’s Wife is more of a secular expose of powerful, influential, and frequently wealthy women in evangelical circles. Bowler also doesn’t just stick strictly to the wives of the preachers. She also mentions female preachers, like Joyce Meyer, who admitted to having had a facelift to make herself more appealing to her followers, and the late Gwen Shamblin Lara, who famously died last year with her husband, as they flew in their private jet over Nashville. Gwen Shamblin Lara is famous for her Weigh Down Workshop and her church, the Remnant Fellowship.
I will admit that it took some time for me to get through this book. For me, it wasn’t necessarily a page turner. However, when I did sit down for reading sessions, I was impressed by the quality of the writing and research, as well as the broad spectrum of evangelical women who were profiled in this book. There were so many that I’d not heard of before, as well as some who were very familiar to me. And the fact that I am interested enough to look up Liz Curtis Higgs and listen to Paula Stone Williams speaking on YouTube, shows that for me, The Preacher’s Wife was well worth reading. I think it would make an excellent resource for anyone doing academic research on this subject, as well as good reading for smart people who are just interested in what drives the world of evangelical Christianity– particularly those who are rich, powerful, and beamed to us on television and the Internet. This book was an eye opener for me, and I thank Kate Bowler for writing it.
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This morning, as I was looking at my Facebook memories, I remembered that six years ago, Jan Crouch, wife of the late televangelist Paul Crouch, died. Paul and Jan Crouch, you might recall, founded Trinity Broadcasting Network, a religious channel that appears on a lot of cable networks around the world. Back when Bill and I first got married, we were pretty broke, and I used to watch TBN for fun. There was some really crazy stuff on that network. That was also where I first encountered Paula White, who later became famous for being Donald Trump’s “spiritual advisor”, and current wife of Journey songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Jonathan Cain. Paula White is pretty extra, but so were the Crouches, who often made me laugh.
In the above two videos, beneath Paula White’s “queen bee dance”, Jan Crouch is dancing and whacking the tambourine with the late Roger McDuff, who always reminded me of a Q-Tip. But even if I find Christian faux country numbers creepy, I have to admit that at least his songs made me laugh. And so did Paul Crouch, as he spoke of “doctrinal doo doo” and “shooting people” who get in God’s way.
A lot of people say and do a bad things in the name of religion. Whether it’s doing a ridiculous queen bee dance, singing a song about Jesus “coming”, or claiming to be a “little God”, these folks who appeared on TBN and preached to shut ins and bored housewives like me were spreading some stuff that really stunk to high heaven. However, as messed up as this stuff is, it doesn’t compare to the Preacher Boys podcast I watched yesterday, in which the host, Eric Skwarczynski, talked about a preacher at a church who got up and confessed to committing “adultery”.
The pastor’s victim, now a woman approaching middle age, bravely got up (at 9:33) and confronted the pastor. She reminded him that he “took her virginity”, and did abusive things to her. But here he was, “confessing to adultery”, minutes after the “flock” applauded when he introduced himself. And instead of comforting the victim, the people in the congregation are quick to “forgive” Pastor John Lowe. The woman who was his victim left the church with only one or two people comforting her. What gives? These people are Christians? Why don’t they care about the woman who was this man’s victim, when she was just a teenager? Why are they falling for the “pastor’s” line about how he’s a “victim”? In his mind, the teenager was a temptress, and it’s her fault he raped her… but he doesn’t admit to rape. He calls it an “affair”.
As the woman is trying to confront the pastor, people are telling her to sit down and be quiet. And other men are yelling that they need to hear from their pastor. Then we hear a woman yell about how the woman was sixteen, and was complicit. Amazingly, they then yell, “We love you, pastor,” as the woman walks out, almost alone, while people gather around the pastor and “forgive” him.
This is coming in the wake of Josh Duggar’s sentencing. There are still people who claim Josh was “framed”, even though there is overwhelming evidence that he’s a sick predator. Why are religious people in certain evangelical sects so quick to forgive the sins of the pervy men in their midsts?
This morning, as I was eating breakfast with Bill, I ran across a Twitter feed posted by a guy named Nathan Ryan, who related the story of going to an evangelical church camp during the summer of 2002. That was just after 9/11, right around the time when Al Qaeda and ISIS were ramping up in the United States. This dude tweeted about how, as an object lesson, he and fellow campers did an activity in which they were accosted by men in ski masks, holding fake guns, and forcing them to choose between loving Jesus Christ and dying, or denouncing Christ and “living”.
🧵 Since we’re talking about guns and religion, buckle up and let me tell you the absolute most bananas thing that ever happened to me at church camp. It was summer 2002, right after 9/11, and Evangelical religious fervor was hot, hot, hot. 1/
The first of a shocking series of tweets by Nathan Ryan about his experience at a evangelical church camp… click the link to read the whole thing.
“If you’re found by a ‘gunman’ you need to decide if you believe in Jesus or not. If you say you don’t, you get to ‘live.’ If you say you do, they will ‘kill’ you and you’ll get to come back to the chapel, which is heaven in this game, and reunite with your fellow believers.” 9/
So here, we have a belief system where children are taught that they will either be violently killed for their religious beliefs, or they will eventually go to Hell. And we have a faith system where men who rape teenagers are given a pass, while their victims are told that they must forgive, be silent, and cover themselves up, so that their brothers in Christ don’t “fall” to temptation.
Of course, it’s not just evangelicals who do this stuff. I’ve written a lot about things in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that I don’t like. One woman on Twitter, responding to Nathan Ryan’s tweets, posted this about the Mormons and her experience being raised LDS…
Holy fuck. I was raised Mormon, and at one teen activity we were given tickets to “spend” at a fair set up in the cultural hall. In the end the lights shut off and a booming voice informed us we would be sorted into kingdoms by the amount of tickets we had left. (1/2)
And since I was having fun spending tickets on “worldly” things (that were tame as hell) I got sent to hell. For yeeeeears after that I was always vaguely anxious in darkened movie theatres, thinking this would be the time i would get judged, doing the wrong thing. Fucked up.
All of this stuff is mind blowing to me. I grew up in the mainstream Presbyterian USA Church. The worst things that happened to me at church was being bullied by some of my mean spirited classmates from school, and being bored as hell during church services. No one ever tried to scare me with stories about being blown up by Muslims, nor was I ever asked any questions about my sexual habits. I was never shamed about the way I dressed or told that I was “tempting” members of the opposite sex. And, although the creepy neighbor who used to show me men’s magazines did attend our church, that abusive habit had nothing to do with religion. Religion wasn’t used to abuse me, unless you count my being forced to attend church.
But now, we have evangelicals in bed with our government leaders. And they have managed to indoctrinate a lot of people into thinking that submitting to these abusive churches is the only way to “save” America. Have a look at the tweet that followed these stories…
Here’s another tweet from someone who was abused during church camp in the 1990s.
Similar experience in the 90s. Took us to the mountains for 2 weeks, kept us hungry and left out tables of food scattered around the compound from the “devil” as temptation for a bunch of starving children. Then they would celebrate us not eating it by destroying it. We’d cheer.
I actually worked at a Presbyterian church camp during the summers of 1993 and 1994. None of this weird shit went on where I worked. Kids played games like “Capture the Flag” and “Barnyard”; they went on hikes, bike trips, and canoe trips; they sang songs and attended devotions and vespers; and they made S’mores or homemade ice cream. It was a lot of wholesome fun in a truly beautiful setting. I’m still good friends with a number of people who worked with me during that time. I feel fortunate that I never had the toxic and abusive experiences some of these folks on Twitter have had.
I don’t have any need for church anymore. It doesn’t mean I’m an atheist. I do believe in God. But I don’t believe in going to churches, because there are too many that have turned abusive and sick. What I mostly took away from church is basic understanding of the Bible and exposure to a lot of church music, mainly because my mom was an organist, and my dad was in the choir. I think if I had a child and they experienced church the way some of these people have, it would absolutely mortify me. That goes double if I ever exposed an innocent child to the likes of Greg Locke, who is an absolutely vile person and a totally fake representation of a “pastor”.
Remember when “pastor” Greg Locke said that you can’t vote Democrat and be a Christian, because supporters of abortion are “Baby Butchers”? 8/ pic.twitter.com/gAbc0UWFLX
“You CANNOT BE A DEMOCRAT AND A CHRISTIAN!”, according to dipshit “pastor” Greg Locke. He needs to be arrested.
This is what we have in America now. This is what some people regard as “religion”. A lot of it is really sick and perverted. Greg Locke hates Democrats and calls them “baby butchers”. But he doesn’t have a thing to say about the gun toting conservatives who scream about their Second Amendment rights, as more kids die in their classrooms. These folks care about money and controlling women, people of color, and the poor. And one way to do that is to force women to give birth, which keeps them occupied and impoverished. Greg Locke is the same man who cheated on his ex wife with her former best friend, then cried about it on Facebook.
I think that if being a Christian means that I have to associate with people like Greg Locke, I’d rather not be a Christian. But, for the record, the Christ I learned of in my church going days, embraced the poor, the sick, and the disenfranchised, and operated for peace, compassion, and love. More and more often, these days, we’re seeing some churches turn very toxic and abusive, which leads people down a path away from Jesus Christ. What a shame that is.
Happy Saturday, everybody! I woke up early this morning, determined to finally finish my latest reading project. It’s not that the book I just finished, Sex Cult Nun (2021), by Faith Jones, wasn’t interesting. It definitely was. I just find it hard to read as fast as I used to. I tend to read when I’m lying in bed, and I drift off to sleep. I definitely need naps more than I used to. It’s probably because Bill wakes me up at 5:00am, most mornings.
I think I discovered Sex Cult Nun when I saw it recommended in the Duggar Family News group. I am fascinated by books about religious cults, so when someone recommends a new one– especially one that is highly regarded– I usually take notice. However, when I realized that Faith Jones was raised in The Family, which used to be known as the Children of God, and is now known as The Family International, I almost didn’t read the book. I’ve now read several books about the Children of God cult, and I always find it difficult to get through them because books about that particular cult are often rife with stories of child sexual abuse. I don’t enjoy reading about children being sexually violated.
As of this morning, I have already reviewed three other books about the Children of God/ The Family. Sex Cult Nun is number four. And although I do find The Family disturbing to read about, there are some aspects of that particular religious group that really are interesting. I’m glad that I did finish Faith Jones’ story, because ultimately, it ends with triumph. Also, although Jones endured a lot of abuse on all levels, her book doesn’t include graphic stories about children being horrifically abused. Make no mistake– Jones was abused and severely neglected when she was growing up, and she does share stories about that abuse. But she manages to share her story without causing the shock and horror I’ve encountered in other books about this particular cult.
Background about David Berg and his cult
Faith Jones comes from a long line of evangelists and proselytizers, which she details in the first chapter of Sex Cult Nun. But the most famous/infamous of her ancestors is her paternal grandfather, David Brandt Berg, founder of the Children of God. Jones explains that Berg’s religious convictions were cemented, in part, because he believed that he had experienced a miracle. Berg was drafted into the Army in 1941, when he was 22 years old. Berg’s mother, Virginia, was a famous preacher who had been miraculously healed, due to her religious convictions. She was a very charismatic traveling evangelist who held tent revivals. Virginia had three children, but only her son, David, was interested in pursuing a life in the ministry. She took him with her on her travels as her assistant and driver.
But then Berg was summoned to military service. Although he could have gotten out of being drafted because he was pursuing a life in the ministry, he decided not to try to get out of military service. He had gotten tired of working with his mother and craved adventure. But then when he was in boot camp, he contracted double pneumonia, and was not expected to recover. Berg prayed to God, promising that if was healed, he would devote his life to God’s service. And, just like that, he was “miraculously healed”, just like his mother was. Berg was medically discharged from the Army, and he went back to work with his mother. However, Berg was not happy with his modest role as his mother’s assistant. He wanted to preach, too. He would have to wait awhile before that would happen.
While he was working with his mother, David met a pretty brunette woman named Jane Miller. She was a devout Baptist from Kentucky who had moved to California. Jane worked as a secretary at The Little Church of Sherman Oaks. David and Jane eloped in 1944, and the couple had four children, including Faith Jones’s father, Jonathan “Hosea” Emmanuel. Berg became ordained as a minister of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. He began to preach about integration and sharing one’s wealth with the less fortunate. Jones writes that her grandfather was formulating his ideas about “Christian communism”, which is essentially what his cult, the Children of God, would become while he was still living. Berg was unhappy with his lot in life, and engaged in a number of “antics” that would infuriate local religious leaders, who would call law enforcement. The situation got so bad that Berg decided to go on the road. Faith Jones’s father was in the eighth grade at the time. He was pulled out of school, and that was the end of Hosea’s formal education.
In 1968, David Brandt Berg, finally started a religious movement in California. The group originally consisted of “hippie types”, young people and troubled teenagers– drifters attracted to the counterculture movements of the that era. He originally called his cult “Teens for Christ”, but later changed the name to Children of God.
David Berg was charismatic and enigmatic, and he brought together young, attractive, and talented people and convinced them that his brand of evangelical Christianity was the right way to live. In reality, the Children of God was historically a group with extremely abusive and misogynistic teachings. Young people were sent all over the world to beg on the street, sell religious reading materials, and “flirty fish” new converts, who would live in poverty in diverse locations. The children raised in that cult, at least when Berg was still living, were horrifically abused on all levels. Faith Jones, one of David Berg’s many grandchildren, was no exception.
Faith Jones never met her paternal grandfather, who went into hiding in 1971. David Berg divorced Jane Miller (known as Mother Eve) in 1970 and that same year, he married a cult follower named Karen Zerby, who had worked as his secretary. Karen Zerby now leads The Family, as the Children of God cult is now called. She is known as “Mother Maria”.
Karen had a son named Ricky Rodriguez in 1975, while she was living in Tenerife, Spain. Ricky was fathered by a “flirty fish”– a man Karen had been trying to lure into the cult by having sex with him. David Berg “adopted” Ricky, whose childhood was recorded in a book called The Story of Davidito. The book was supposed to be a guide to cult followers on how to raise their children. However, the book strongly encouraged child sexual abuse, which Karen Zerby allegedly participated in against her son.
Ricky Rodriguez endured horrific abuse, and in 2005, invited his mother and his former nanny to lunch. After lunch, he murdered his nanny by stabbing her to death. He had meant to murder his mother, too, but she hadn’t accepted his invitation to lunch. Rodriguez then committed suicide. It’s my understanding that a lot of the really abusive practices that took place while Berg was still alive no longer happen. “Flirty fishing”– using sex to lure new converts– went out in the 1980s, supposedly due to the AIDS epidemic.
Who is Faith Jones?
Jones was born to David Berg’s son, Hosea, around 1977. At the time of Faith’s birth, Hosea had two wives, Ruthie and Esther. Ruthie is Faith’s mother. Like many people who were born into the Children of God cult, Faith wasn’t always raised with her family of origin. She spent her growing up years living in different religious communes around the world, mostly in Asia. The communes, which were called “homes”, were led by shepherds– usually married couples– who kept the members accountable to the cult’s teachings and doled out punishments for infractions of the rules. Jones mostly grew up in Macau and Hong Kong, but she also spent time in Taiwan, mainland China, Thailand, and Russia.
Children were “homeschooled”. They were not allowed to read any books that weren’t approved by the cult’s leadership. They were forced to read “Mo Letters”– these were letters David Berg, who had taken to calling himself “Moses David” (hence the “Mo”), wrote to his followers. When members were punished, they were often required to read and reread the Mo Letters, over and over again, even if they had already memorized them. Jones did get a couple of tastes of formal education, and that ignited a thirst for knowledge within her. But children were severely punished for seeking information, reading unapproved books, or breaking other rules, such as eating sugar without permission. Children were also trained to “share” with other members. “Sharing” is a euphemism for having sex. The cult members were not to work with “Systemites”– normal people who weren’t in the cult.
Faith Jones was taught that she owned nothing. She had to share EVERYTHING with the group… and that included her body. She was told that her body didn’t belong to her; it belonged to God. God wanted her to share her body with anyone who wanted access to it. And using birth control was forbidden, as was refusing sex.
Faith breaks out at age 23
Eventually, Faith realized that she wanted a college education. But cult members were forbidden from studying at a university. They were also forbidden from working at jobs for money. They got all of their money by begging, performing in the street, or selling religious materials or music productions. Once she’d made up her mind, she told the leaders of the commune, who promptly did all they could to force her to stay. Jones was told that if she left the cult, she would end up on drugs or homeless. This is the same threat repeated by other cult leaders, who try to make their victims believe that they can’t make it through life on their own. It was a threat my husband heard, when he decided to quit Mormonism.
But Faith was determined, and fortunately, her mother’s parents were not in the cult. They were able to help her a little bit. Faith also had to rely on her own resources to raise enough money to buy a plane ticket to the United States from China. Living outside of the cult caused Faith Jones significant culture shocks at times. At one point, she lived with a Chinese woman who became enraged with her when she tried to borrow a fan without asking permission. Faith was raised in an environment where people lived communally. She didn’t have a concept of privacy or people not using things without permission.
When she moved to California and looked into attending college, she found that none of the big schools would accept her, because she didn’t have any credentials. Her solution was to attend community college, where she made excellent grades. But she couldn’t relate to other people, since she’d spent her life outside of the United States. She didn’t get pop culture references, and didn’t know how to be “normal” with “Systemites”.
Nevertheless, Faith Jones was an extraordinary student, and she eventually managed to win acceptance to Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. That would have been an exceptional feat regardless, but she made it in as a transfer student, which is a very rare achievement. She graduated Summa Cum Laude, having learned to speak Russian and Mandarin fluently. Then she went to law school at the University of California- Berkeley. Jones writes that she wasn’t particularly attracted to the law, but decided it was a profession in which she would always be able to make a good living. She would not be impoverished again, nor would she ever be beholden to other people. She is now a very successful attorney with her own practice. But she still has many hang ups and complexes that stem from her upbringing in a cult.
I didn’t really enjoy this book to its fullest until I got to the end. In fact, I really wish that Faith Jones had spent a little more time writing about her life outside of the cult. It was during that time that she “awakened”, and I found that part of the book fascinating and exciting. For instance, she writes about meeting a military officer who was also studying law when she was at Georgetown. He became her boyfriend for a time, and he helped her to overcome some falsehoods that she learned while she was in the cult.
Faith had never learned that sex is not supposed to be painful. When she was in the cult, she was forced to have sex with men she wasn’t attracted to, so she wasn’t prepared to have normal sex. Faith was also raped a couple of times. Her ex boyfriend taught her that sex shouldn’t hurt. He also defined rape to her, which caused Faith to realize that, actually, all of the sexual experiences she’d had before they dated were basically rapes. She hadn’t actually wanted to have sex with those men; she was pressured, coerced, and a couple of times, actually forced to have sex with them. I’m sure that realization was very traumatic for her, but I suspect that in a way, it was also liberating. She learned that she could and should say “no”, and that consent is necessary before sex.
Unfortunately, Faith’s relationship with her boyfriend ultimately couldn’t work out, as he and his parents were members of a different controlling religious cult–the Seventh Day Adventists. Their religion was not as toxic as Faith’s was, but there were too many dynamics within it that were like the Children of God/The Family. Moreover, because of the religion her boyfriend was in, she was asked to lie to his parents, who were not aware that their son had strayed somewhat from the religion’s teachings– no meat, no alcohol, and no sex before marriage.
I was a little surprised when Faith wrote that she hadn’t necessarily been attracted to studying law; she had just wanted to be able to get a good job and make plenty of money on her own. For one thing, I know that not everyone who goes to law school is successful in launching a legal career. For another thing, Faith Jones is obviously very intellectual and has a gift for making cases. She once got a professor at Georgetown to change an A- to an A, when he told her he’d never been convinced to do that before. She laboriously went through all of her work to make her case and managed to change his mind. And she’d done it because she had her heart set on graduating from Georgetown with straight As so she could get the distinction of Summa Cum Laude. I doubt many students are that single-minded and dedicated. To me, it seemed natural that she would become a lawyer. I thought that even before I knew that is, in fact, what she had done after she graduated from college.
I also liked that this book ends on a good note. While I’m not so naive to think that Faith is completely recovered from her traumatic childhood, I do think she’s made great strides toward overcoming some very significant challenges. She does point out that not everyone who was in the cult was that lucky. Her father, for instance, is still impoverished, although she has a good relationship with him and her mother. Her mother was able to pick up the pieces post cult life and start a career in her 50s. That gave me hope, as I will be 50 soon myself, and sometimes I worry about potentially having to support myself. 😉
Finally, I want to comment that this book reminded me a lot of Tara Westover’s book, Educated, which I have also read and reviewed. I think Jones and Westover have a lot in common, although Westover was raised as a fundie Mormon. Personally, I think Educated was a bit easier and more entertaining to read, but both books are worthwhile and gratifying reading. They’re both books about young women who overcome tremendous odds and severe handicaps to achieve great success and greatness in the world. Ultimately, both books are “feel good” stories when all is said and done, but readers have to wade through some disturbing and upsetting passages to get there. Likewise, Tara Westover’s book reminded me of The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls.
Anyway… I am amazed by Faith Jones’s determination, tenacity, resilience, and brilliance. She is a very unusual person and her story is worth reading, if you can stomach the parts about the abuse she and other members of The Family endured. I recommend Sex Cult Nun, but be prepared for some unpleasant shocks– though not as many as I’ve read in other books about the Children of God/The Family.
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Dave Ramsey… that’s a name I’ve heard bandied about in fundie Christian circles. Before this morning, I didn’t know much about him. I’d heard a little about what he does. He’s a Christian financial guru. I probably first heard about him from the Duggar family– Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, specifically– who used to tout their theories on how to stay out of debt and raise a humongous “quiver full” of children who would grow up to be God fearing, tithe paying Christians.
While religion is not supposed to be tied to politics, it often is. Fundie Christians have huge families, in part, so that they can make more voters who have been trained to vote for political candidates that champion their religious beliefs and make laws that favor Christianity. Dave Ramsey appears to be one of those people. He’s made a career out of courting Christians and recruiting them into his financial programs.
I don’t actually know too much about the quality of Dave Ramsey’s financial advice. I have read that some people like his budget plans. However, after reading an article about him this morning, I’m reminded an awful lot of another famous person who was recently in the news… Tom Cruise. Cruise, as we all know, is famously devoted to the Church of Scientology. He’s also quite narcissistic and abusive, as evidenced by his recent verbal tirade that put him in the news a couple of months ago. I’ll get to why Dave Ramsey reminds me of Tom Cruise in a minute.
Dave Ramsey is in the news this morning because he has said that he doesn’t agree with giving people stimulus checks to help them through the pandemic. Dave Ramsey said on Fox News, “If $600 or $1400 changes your life, you were pretty much screwed already.” He continues, saying “That’s not talking down to folks. I’ve been bankrupt. I’ve been broke. I work with people every day who are hurting. I love people. I want people to be lifted up, but this is, again, it is just political rhetoric,”
Probably because of Ramsey’s comment on Fox News, someone in the Duggar Family News group shared an illuminating article about people who have worked for Dave Ramsey’s company, Ramsey Solutions. It’s said that the company is run more like a church than a company, and being employed there means giving up a lot of privacy. Ramsey reportedly has a lot of dictates about his employees’ personal lives. People have been fired, for instance, because of things their spouses post on social media. In fact, according to the article, when a person is considered for a job working for Dave Ramsey, their spouses are also interviewed. Why? Because Dave wants to make sure no one is “married to crazy”. He says being married to crazy means that employees won’t be at their best. According to Ramsey’s Web site:
“When hiring someone, you are employing more than just the person… You’re taking on the whole family. And when they are married to someone who is domineering, unstable or simply full of drama, you’ll end up with a team member who can’t be creative, productive or excellent.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be judged for jobs that my husband takes. It was bad enough being an Army wife, which has really affected my life a lot. When my mom was an Air Force wife, back in the 60s and 70s, she was often judged as much as my dad was, when it came to promotion decisions. I remember hearing that my dad was once passed over for a job because the leadership didn’t think my mom was a good enough hostess. Thankfully, those days are mostly over in the military community. I think that nowadays, maybe the only people whose spouses might be judged are those who are going to be Generals. Ramsey’s running a private company, so I guess if his employees don’t have a problem with him running their private lives, it’s perfectly legal. But it sure doesn’t seem right.
Ramsey is being sued by a former employee after she was fired for having premarital sex, which is against company policy. Ramsey, angry about being sued, yelled at his remaining employees at a company meeting:
“I am sick of dealing with all this stuff,” Ramsey bellowed, according to a recording obtained by Religion News Service. “I’m so tired of being falsely accused of being a jerk when all I’m doing is trying to help people stay in line.”
Right… but who appointed Dave Ramsey as the person who has to “help people stay in line” in their private lives? Reading that quote by Dave Ramsey reminded me a lot of Tom Cruise, both when he screamed at his employees back in December… and back in 2008, when he famously said this:
“Being a Scientologist, when you drive past an accident it’s not like anyone else. As you drive past you know you have to do something about it because you know you’re the only one who can help,”
It sounds to me like Dave Ramsey and Tom Cruise are similar in their beliefs that they’re the ones who ought to be in charge. However, unlike Cruise, Ramsey isn’t taking the pandemic seriously. He thinks people who would rather work at home to avoid getting sick are “wusses”. While Tom Cruise screamed this to his employees about COVID-19:
“They’re back there in Hollywood making movies right now because of us. We are creating thousands of jobs, you motherfuckers,”
“I don’t ever want to see it again! Ever!,” he rages. “If I see you do it again, you’re fucking gone.”
“And if anyone on this crew does it, that’s it — and you too and you too. And you, don’t you ever fucking do it again.”
Dave Ramsey says this to his customers and employees:
“You would think that the black plague was coming through the U.S., listening to people whine,” he told his audience. “You guys have lost your mind out there.”
“We have people calling in, they are wanting to cancel stuff for a live event in May — let me tell you how much of your money I am going to give you back if you don’t come for the coronavirus in May,” he said. “ZERO. I am keeping your money. You are a wuss.”
The messages are different, but the disrespectful, snarky, directive tone is very much the same. It’s abusive and mean-spirited. And again, even though Ramsey isn’t giving a paycheck to the spouses of his employees, the spouses are expected to toe the line as much as the employees are. They aren’t supposed to have credit cards, and their social media posts are monitored. One former employee’s wife who suffers from asthma and worries about COVID-19 posted this on Facebook:
“Jon’s company [Ramsey Solutions] wants to bring all 900 employees back asap when a majority can do their work from home… I do *not* understand how people don’t see we are setting ourselves up for a huge second wave. Ugh, people make me so angry.”
“Jon” was soon called by a supervisor, who chastised him for his wife’s Facebook comment. The wife of a co-worker had screenshot the comment and sent it to their boss. And yes, Jon was fired for it. On his way out, he was offered $18,000 in severance pay if he and his wife would sign a nondisclosure agreement and promise not to ever say anything derogatory about the company. To their credit, the couple chose not to sign the agreement. They have had to rely on the generosity of friends and family members to help them survive during the unemployment. Meanwhile, Ramsey’s legal goons are still trying to silence them by sending cease-and-desist letters.
When an anonymous employee sent a letter of complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for Ramsey’s failure to take precautions against COVID-19, Ramsey’s response was to berate his entire staff, calling them “morons”. First, he complained that the pandemic was ruining his golf game, then he reportedly said:
“So whoever you are, you moron, you did absolutely no good, except piss me off,” he told his staff. “You are not welcome here if you are willing to do stuff like that. If you are really scared and you really think that leadership is trying to kill you … please, we love you. Just leave. We really don’t want you here.”
After warning his employees not to complain to anyone outside the company about the working conditions, he continued:
“If you really think the people here are evil, bad people and you think that you can effect change by reaching outside of here, you are wrong… And you are not welcome.”
Then, against the advice of his board not to speak about the OSHA investigation, Ramsey went on:
“I love this place and I really don’t want any morons here.” If he found out the person’s identity, he threatened, “I will fire you instantaneously for your lack of loyalty, your lack of class, and the fact that you are a moron and you snuck through our hiring process,” And then he reiterated that he “loves” his employees and Ramsey Solutions is the “best” place to work in the entire world. It’s also a place where your boss tells you he loves you as he calls you a “moron” and threatens you.
Ramsey supposedly “loves” his employees. But he calls them “morons” and tells them they aren’t welcome if they have a legitimate complaint or concern about workplace safety. Seems strange to me… but also familiar. Because after Tom Cruise screamed at his employees in December, he said something rather similar:
“That’s what I’m thinking about. That’s what I’m doing today. I’m talking to Universal, Paramount, Warner Bros. Movies are going because of us. We shut down, it’s going to cost people their fucking jobs, their homes, their family—that’s what’s happening. All the way down the line. And I care about you guys. But if you’re not going to help me, you’re gone. OK? Do you see that stick? How many meters is that? When people are standing around a fucking computer and hanging out around here, what are you doing?“
Now… it’s not that I don’t think Cruise had a right to insist on proper COVID-19 protocol. My issue is with the extremely disrespectful way he addressed his staff. He called them names. He swore at them. He threatened them. That is verbal abuse. Dave Ramsey does the same thing, for the opposite cause. But they’re very much the same in terms of how they deal with people. They treat them very much as if they’re objects who don’t deserve the most basic of respect. That’s what narcissists do, and I speak from experience when I say that being in an environment like that will take its toll. I definitely wouldn’t consider a fear based workplace where people are pressured to shut up and color the “best” workplace in the world. Far from it.
Ramsey’s company also has a policy against gossip. Gossip is defined by Ramsey as “when you discuss a negative with anyone who can’t solve the problem.” He fires people who “gossip”. Below is a famous Ramsey rant about gossip. Just listening to this, and Ramsey’s mocking tone, is kind of triggering for me.
Many employees supposedly love the culture of Ramsey’s company. People are reportedly helpful and kind… until someone has a criticism. And then, Ramsey reportedly goes on a rampage to find out who is complaining. He even goes as far as to offer “bounties” to those who are willing to snitch. It sounds a little culty and East German-ish.
Ramsey also preaches a lot about Judeo-Christian values. He reportedly goes as far as to fire people for adultery and being pregnant outside of marriage, claiming that people have violated the company’s “righteous living” code. And yet, I see him writing and hear him saying things like “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.” and “I’ve got a right to tell my employees whatever I want to tell them. They freaking work for me.” That doesn’t sound very “Christlike” to me. It sounds controlling and abusive.
Unfortunately, Tennessee, where Ramsey Solutions is based, is an “at will” employment state. So Ramsey is within his legal rights to fire people for almost any reason. He has a lot of fans, too. Like Tom Cruise and Donald Trump, Ramsey has charisma and people are drawn to that, even if that magnetism includes a helping of narcissistic abuse.
Well… before this morning, I didn’t really have much of an opinion about Dave Ramsey one way or another. Maybe his plans do help people get control of their finances. But I don’t find him to be a likable person, and I think I would hate working for him. I sympathize with those who are trying to take action against his policies. He seems to delight in being the “boss” of his employees, telling them what they can and can’t do, even when they’re off the clock. It’s hard to escape such an environment, particularly when there’s a pandemic going on and jobs are scarce. And so, people who are legitimately frightened of getting COVID-19 have to suck it up and drive on, maskless, because wearing a face mask indicates that God isn’t in control. It doesn’t matter that the virus has spread through the company and people, in general, are getting sick and dying of the virus.
If you try to use your own free will to protect yourself, Dave Ramsey doesn’t want you to work for him. Working for him apparently means your ass is his, on or off the clock. No thanks. I’m an adult and can make my own decisions. And… as Bill and I found out, I can even get us out of debt without Dave’s financial plan. So I don’t have to buy what he’s selling.
This book review appeared on my original blog on November 10, 2018. I am reposting it as is.
Some time ago, I joined Duggar Family News: Life is not all pickles and hairspray, a Facebook group that is mostly dedicated to discussing the Duggar family, but also delves into other topics of religion and conservative politics. I don’t participate in that group very often. Mostly, I just lurk. Sometimes, I find good book recommendations there.
I’m not sure if I found Linda Kay Klein’s 2018 book, Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free, in the Duggar group. I might have found it after downloading a similar book about American evangelicals and the purity movement. In any case, I just finished reading this very substantial book this morning. It took me longer than I expected to get through it, although it wasn’t because I didn’t find the subject matter interesting. It was more that Klein included so much information about young women who grow up going to evangelical churches, submitting to extreme rules and social mores about their sexuality. To be frank, that kind of upbringing has a way of really messing up people.
Linda Kay Klein, who was raised in an evangelical Christian household, spent years interviewing other women like her. These were the products of the white, evangelical Christian culture that really came to a head in the 1990s. When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, I don’t remember ever hearing about events like “purity balls”, where young girls attend fancy dances with their fathers and pledge their sexuality to their dads until they transfer it to their husbands on their wedding days. I don’t remember purity rings being a thing. I did know some of my peers were religious, but most of them were the garden variety protestant types. There were only a few who attended the local Assembly of God church and literally wore their Christianity on their sleeves in the form of religious t-shirts.
When she was in high school, Klein broke up with a boyfriend because she thought God wanted her to, and she feared being labeled a Jezebel. The youth pastor at Klein’s church was convicted of sexual enticement of a minor– a girl who was just twelve years old. It was then that Klein began to question her church and its teachings about purity, morality, and shame. She started to think about her experiences growing up in a culture where girls are taught that it’s their responsibility not to tempt boys. She spent over ten years interviewing women, compiling their stories, and turning it into a groundbreaking book about the purity movement.
Religion is more polarizing than ever these days. I know a lot more atheists today than I knew in the 80s. I also know a lot more religious zealot types. In her book, Klein explores how growing up in a hyper Christian culture affects young women. She includes a lot of stories, some of which are pretty graphic and involve frank discussions of sex. She writes heartbreaking anecdotes of young women who felt deep shame for being sexual and having sexual feelings. Some of her subjects discovered that they were lesbians or transgendered, and struggled with the aftereffects of that in a very religious culture shrouded in secrecy. While God should have been a comfort to these young women, the church represented an authority that made them fear for their very souls.
I am not a very religious person myself. I grew up a mainstream Presbyterian in a church that was pretty low key, religiously speaking. My dad was in the choir and my mom was the church organist, either at the church I grew up in, or at another church that had hired her. My sisters were grown by the time I was in middle school, so I often sat by the wife of one of my dad’s choir member friends. Although my pastors knew me, I never had to answer to them about my purity or anything else. I hated church, but my church didn’t scar me… except for putting me in contact with a few bullies, that I also knew from school.
Given that I had that upbringing, I’m not personally familiar with the “purity culture”. I am, however, married to a man who is an ex Mormon. He and his ex wife joined together and my husband’s daughters were raised Mormon, largely without his influence. I don’t really know my husband’s daughters and I have spent a number of years actively disliking them, mainly due to the way their religion and their mother’s toxic influence has caused them to behave toward my husband. It’s because of them that I started to explore Mormonism, another culture that prizes sexual purity, particularly among its young women. I have met some wonderful ex Mormons and read some hair raising stories about what it’s like to grow up Mormon.
Klein does include some commentary about Mormonism in her book, mostly in passing. For instance, she writes about Elizabeth Smart, who was taught as a young LDS girl the importance of saving her virtue for her husband. Like many young LDS women, Smart was given an object lesson involving a treat that was somehow defiled and then offered to another person. They message was that no one wants a “licked cupcake” or a “chewed up piece of gum”. When Smart was repeatedly raped by Brian David Mitchell, the man who kidnapped her and forced her to “marry” him”, she began to think that no one would value her because she was now akin to a chewed up piece of gum. It was a damaging lesson she had learned in her church.
Besides doing a lot of interviewing, Klein also did a lot of reading. She mentions Jessica Valenti’s book, The Purity Myth, a book I also read about ten years ago. Valenti’s book was a shorter, less interview heavy, and more caustic and rabidly feminist version of Klein’s book. I remember appreciating and valuing the message, but not enjoying Valenti’s book very much, mainly due to Valenti’s tone. However, Valenti’s book was somewhat groundbreaking in 2009 and I think Klein was right to reference it in her own work, which seems to show more of the aftermath of having been raised in the purity culture.
I’m not sure if the purity culture is as popular today as it was ten years ago. A lot has changed since those days. In 2009, the Duggar family was respected by a lot of people. I remember a lot of my friends, themselves lighter weight Christians, really admiring the Duggars and their enormous family. But then, in 2015, that very wholesome Christian facade split violently when it came out that Josh Duggar, the oldest child in the massive Duggar brood, had molested several of his sisters and a babysitter. And then, to add insult to injury, it came out that Josh had also cheated on his wife, Anna, multiple times. However, even if the culture is less popular now (and I don’t know that it is), there is still a generation of young women who grew up in that culture and are dealing with the aftermath.
What I like about Klein’s book is that the overall tone is hopeful and comforting. Yes, it took me a long time to get through every part of this book, but the writing is engaging, kind, and informative. I could tell that she was gentle and empathetic with her subjects, some of whom revealed very personal and heartbreaking stories to her. I think, for some readers, this book could be very healing. I definitely recommend it to those who are interested in this topic. I think it would also be good reading for a book club, particularly because Klein includes resources for club discussions.
If I were rating this on a five star scale, I think I’d award five.
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