(originally published on December 11, 2017)
Not too long ago, a video appeared on my YouTube recommendations from Buzzfeed called I Was in a Cult. I know Buzzfeed doesn’t have a good reputation, but this video was really good. However, I was very frustrated that they didn’t say any of their names! The good thing was that one of the cult survivors, Brooke Arnold, left a comment on the video and left the link to her Twitter. Hooray! I quickly followed the link and she and I started following each other almost instantly. From there, I got to talk to her about her escape from a cult.
This cult is known as the Quiverfull Movement (Yes, like the Duggars!). Brooke told me that the cult was started by a man named Bill Gothard in the 60’s. When he was first starting out, he would go to college campuses and preach things like rock music being evil. (You can read a little more about his origins here.) She went on to tell me that in the 80’s, he switched his teachings to focus on parents and their children. Bill would tour churches in the all over the south, stay in each church for a week and hold these workshops for parents, in which he would preach fear and how evil public schools are. There was so much fear put into these parents, that they would be scrambling to take notes because they were so convinced by what he was telling them.
This was the time he had introduced his own home school curriculum, which is still practiced in the Quiverfull cult to this day. The kids learn from his “Wisdom Booklet.” Brooke told me that the booklet is very anti-Christian. Kids were, and still are, denied a real world experience according to what they’re taught to do in his curriculum. She told me that he believed that the laws of the U.S. needed to go back to the ways of the Old Testament.
Everything they learned was/is based on a different Bible verse. They’ll try to somewhat sneak in something a little educational by picking a Bible verse with a word like “meek” in it. The particular chapter would then say something to the tune of, “What does it mean to be ‘meek’?” Then they would be pointed to the fact that it came from a Greek word and define that. So, that’s how the curriculum would try to act like it was at least somewhat educational.
To give you all some of Brooke’s back story, growing up in Texas, Brooke had a normal childhood and her family didn’t attend church at all until she was seven. She described them as “Very secular. A typical lower middle class family.” All of a sudden, her parents came home one day and announced to Brooke and her brother that they were going to be home schooled and everyone would start attending church. This came out of no where and Brooke was pretty surprised.
The two children felt out of place at their church and she said they “just sat there.” They had their home schooling for two hours a day and would just keep to themselves after that. Families in the Quiverfull cult aren’t allowed to have a TV, internet, or read “regular” books. Kids growing up can’t talk to other kids except at church. So, while Brooke had friends (of her own gender, of course), growing up was lonely for her and her brother. The highest education they got was that of a second grader. Even as she got older, she got the same curriculum taught to her and that everyone got until they were married. (By the way, in the cult, most families have at minimum five kids and you were considered to be one of the “cool kids” if your family had the at least five kids.)
Her family allowed some things that aren’t normal for kids growing up as Quiverfull. As a teen, Brooke was allowed to get a driver’s license, and a car from her grandmother. This usually isn’t what girls are allowed to do in the cult until they are married and expecting. Another way her family was a little “less normal” was that Brooke could read fiction such as Jane Austen books. Brooke said her books were the only friends she could spend time with growing up outside of church, and they were also her only guides to the outside world. The beautiful thing is that her books inspired her creative side and she credits them for saving her life, because they gave her a hope that there was more to life than what she was living.
When it comes to what it’s like to be female in the cult, all of them are submissive towards whoever is “in charge” in their personal lives. It starts with their father. Then they get married and their husbands are the heads of the family. Every wife must obey her husband no matter what. Brooke told me if the wife has been on her feet, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of five kids all day and the husband comes home and wants sex, you better give it to him or else you would be sinning. This is everywhere with the Quiverfull cult. Just ask Michelle Duggar.
Bill Gotherd taught that God created a Chain of Authority, and if you ever disobey you are sinning. The elders of the cult are at the heads of the chain, then the husband in each household, then the wife, children, then your pet if you have one. So, going back to giving you husband sex whenever he wants it, this is part of obeying Bill’s referring to. Women and children (especially daughters) must always obey their fathers or else they’ve sinned.
While on the subject of women’s “roles” in the cult, Brooke told me that once a female turns eighteen, the parents of said female can volunteer at one of the Institutes for Basic Life Principals, but her parents have to pay for her to volunteer! The main point of her going there is hoping that she’ll find a husband.
I asked Broke if courting, as the Duggars have shown on TV, is normal for them. She said yes, but the Duggars choose to present it in a nicer way. Normally, couples are set up by their parents, and usually don’t even know each other. It’s true when the Duggars said that they don’t allow kissing until the wedding day. And what they don’t show is, the couples set up by their parents are engaged right away.
The normal age for people to get married is eighteen. If a woman doesn’t get married until much later, then she will still have to be home schooled until then while helping take care of the house and sibling/nieces/nephews. Other than volunteering, women aren’t supposed to work or go to college, despite what you’ve seen the Duggars do on TV. A woman’s profession is to be a wife, mom, and housewife. (To be clear, Brooke is not insulting a woman choosing to be a housewife, it’s the fact that they have no choice in the cult.)
I asked Brooke about an issue that has been circulating for a few years now. I wanted to know if Josh Duggar’s actions in regards to molestation, cheating, and porn addiction, are all common in the cult. Brooke said that they are, but domestic and child abuse are, too. Wives normally develop anorexia because they are so concerned about their looks in order to keep their husbands happy. They will go through dangerous measures in order to be obedient. Also, the anorexia is kind of a way of “coping” because they can’t control anything about their lives except for food.
As far as sexual abuse, while Brooke noted that it’s all too common, the cult itself plays the biggest role as to why this has and always will be a problem. By no means is Brooke defending Josh, but she said that by not allowing children to speak to other members of the opposite sex until they’re engaged, have access to any form of entertainment (TV, internet), masturbate, or even talk about sex at all, it’s allowing a monster to be created. Once again, Brooke IS NOT defending Josh, but she knows that if kids growing up are expecting to suppress all sexual feelings, then nothing good will come out of it, and this vicious cycle will continue.
So many women in the cult are miserable. Brooke told me a heartbreaking story about a former friend of her’s mother who refused treatment for her breast cancer. She was so unhappy that she would have rather died than to continue living a life she didn’t feel like was worthwhile. (She did die later.) I cannot begin to tell you how sad that makes me, but considering the way women are often treated in various cults, it’s regrettably not surprising.
I, personally, am a mental health advocate. So I asked her, when it comes to issues such as mental illnesses, what are they taught? I wasn’t surprised to learn that it’s something such as a mental illness (or any illness, including an eating disorder) is considered either to be the fault of the person with the illness (because they sinned) or of their mother for raising them incorrectly; or something she must have done while pregnant. The cult teaches that if you can pinpoint exactly what you must have done to cause you whatever illness you have, then you’ll be “cured.”
Now we’re at the point where Brooke made the decision to leave. For a long time, Brooke knew that she could not possibly be married to a man she didn’t know, continue to have no life, and be completely submissive. Although she knew nothing about the outside world, she knew she’d rather risk it all in order to break free from the life she was living. So at the age of eighteen, when Brooke’s parents were out of town one day, she got in her car and drove away, never looking back.
As you can imagine, life was hard for several years. Brooke spent several years homeless and couldn’t get a job due to the fact she never graduated from high school. Also, she couldn’t go to community college for a few years because the loan applications required her to have a social security card. Since her parents had refused to sign off for her to get one, she struggled to survive until she was old enough to apply for one on her own. She finally got into community college and graduated with a four year degree in English.
After graduating, Brooke moved to New York to pursue her PHD, but she realized that wasn’t for her. During this time, she had made some friends who saw the essays she would write. Everyone who saw them told her how funny she was and suggested she try being a stand up comic. As nervous as she was she went for it, and couldn’t be happier pursuing a career in comedy!
Looking back on everything, Brooke doesn’t want to blast her parents in any way. No, they aren’t in touch, but they’re still her Mom and Dad; and she never wants to disrespect them. That’s a mature way of handling all this and that’s a very impressive attitude to have!
In addition to pursuing comedy as a career, Brooke is trying to raise money to help with a book proposal because she’s planning to write about her experience. (Originally, she was going to do a documentary, but has since switched her focus. I look forward to reading it!) Here is the link to her Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/brookeandsara Please consider donating because I believe this book can save a lot of lives. (Right now, info about the documentary is still up, but any money that has/will be donated will be spent on funding her book.)
You can find her on Twitter here.
Brooke, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me. I admire you greatly and I have no doubt you will be successful in your career. I think you’re an excellent role model for many people of all ages who have either gone through something horrible or are currently struggling. Your story is one of hope, and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings.