I recently wrote an article for Religion Dispatches about Voddie Baucham, the far-right extremist and long-time homeschooling proponent who lost his bid to become President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors Conference by only 82 votes. While writing the article, I had the privilege of interviewing a number of women who grew up in homes influenced by Baucham’s teachings. They told me of the long-term damage those teachings inflicted on them and their families.
What they shared with me needs to be known by the larger public. Since I could only include a fraction of what these women told me in the article, I wanted to publish a companion piece to my Religion Dispatches article here that shares the interviews in fuller detail.
The women that I interviewed included the following:
Cait West, Writer and Editorial Board Member of Tears of Eden (nonprofit supporting survivors of spiritual abuse), she/her
Rebekah Drumsta, Writer, Consultant, and Spiritual Abuse Advocate
Danielle, Full-Time Veterinary Student
The interview questions and answers follow:
In what context did you encounter Voddie Baucham’s teachings?
Cait West: I first heard of Voddie Baucham through Vision Forum, which was an organization promoting teachings such as Christian Patriarchy and strict gender roles. Baucham was a well-known speaker and writer in the homeschooling community I was raised in. A key moment for me was when Vision Forum released Return of the Daughters, a video they promoted as a documentary about daughters who stayed home as adults until they were married. Baucham and his daughter were interviewed in the film as one of the examples of this lifestyle.
Rebekah Drumsta: The name Voddie Baucham had circulated in my homeschool circles for years. As a homeschool graduate, but now a young mom, I was not highly active in the homeschool world at the time the bulk of my exposure to Baucham’s teachings began influencing those around me.
Because the ideas were being accepted by leaders I respected, my husband and I decided to visit Baucham’s church one Sunday to see if it might be a good fit for our small family. Our daughter wasn’t even two years old at the time. Upon entering the auditorium, I was flabbergasted to see these short, leather straps sticking out of dads’ pockets and moms’ bags. It appeared to be the trending, matching accessory. These “spank sticks” were being sold at a resource table in the back along with a myriad of other books and materials.
A little while into the service—which was filled primarily with large families—a woman approached me saying my daughter and I would be far more comfortable in the nursing mom’s room and would I please follow her. (No nursery or children’s programs were provided.) My daughter was squirming, but quiet, and playing with the few toys I had in my diaper bag. I followed, and was escorted to a dark room in the back where another mom and I sat for the remainder of the service.
I remember overhearing a conversation where a father was boasting about welding in seats into their van to maximize space for their family.
Heather: I encountered Voddie’s teachings at homeschool conferences and Vision Forum events. I also read his book (Fathers and Daughters) and watched the stay-at-home daughter documentary (Return of the Daughters).
Katherine Mitchell: In my early teens, my father ordered Return of the Daughters from Vision Forum’s catalog and several accompanying lectures by Mr. Baucham. At the time, my family was homeschooling me and all my siblings and attending a mainstream PCA Reformed Church. We also followed Vision Forum teachings closely and used ATI character training curricula. We were already fully invested in hyper-calvinist, fundamentalist beliefs before learning about Mr. Baucham.
Mr. Baucham was an anomaly in fundamentalist leadership as a black man, because the US Southern Reformed Church has a significant racism issue, which stems from being built around the white supremacist teachings of Rushdoony. (What a surprise!! How could that happen??) Because of this, Mr. Baucham was fetishized and held up as an example of “one of the good ones” and he built a brand around Black Fatherhood and Conservative Fatherhood being “the only way to fix America.”
At the time, I loved my father very much and I wanted his approval more than anything else. I read the book, listened to the sermons while riding in the car with my dad, and highlighted sections, making notes in the margins of the book. I even argued with some of the books’ claims and had passionate discussions with my father about them. I, internally, hated the teaching that women were inferior to men, but I tried to go along with the mental gymnastics (cognitive dissonance) that argued submission and inferiority weren’t bad things and didn’t really mean inferiority.
Vision Forum also recommended young marriage for female teens raised in the movement, and I remember talking with my father about arranging a marriage for me when I was approximately 15 or 16. These arrangements were with specific older men within our religious group—one was 26 and the other 32. Neither ended up being successfully arranged, and my parents told me it was because I didn’t have a “quiet spirit” that nobody wanted me as a wife.
What did you think of Baucham’s teachings when you first encountered them?
Heather: My own upbringing was very similar to the teachings of Voddie Baucham so I was primed to become a believer in the stay-at-home daughter (SAHD) movement. I was raised to fear the world outside my home so the SAHD movement gave legitimacy to that. Voddie Baucham provided outside affirmation to the abusive teachings I was hearing from my parents.
Cait West: I took what Baucham taught about Christian Patriarchy and the role of daughters as biblical, godly advice. It was presented to me as the way I should follow in order to be a godly woman who wasn’t tainted by the world’s sinful ways. I didn’t question these teachings, but I didn’t always like them. Christian Patriarchy put so much emphasis on fathers being the regulators and approvers of a daughter’s relationships, and I dreamed of falling in love with someone on my own terms. Christian Patriarchy also emphasized that daughters should be trained to serve their husband’s life purpose, and I secretly held on to my desire to follow my own purpose in life.
Rebekah Drumsta: At first, they just sounded like another idea, another idea homeschool parents would grab onto. His book, What He Must Be If He Wants to Marry My Daughter, felt like a repeat of I Kissed Dating Goodbye. They had similar themes with the ideas of courtship, Christian Patriarchy, Quiverfull, modesty, and submission being popular in fundamentalist and homeschool communities.
The teaching of a family-centered or family-integrated church seemed exclusive and I felt the children would lack important interactions with other kids, some good or fun Sunday School memories and being forced into an adult space with mature behavior expectations was not truly best for the child.
Katherine Mitchell: Baucham’s whole premise is that daughters are property and they are tools to use to further the glory of God and demonstrate the headship of the father. He claimed that domestic violence, sexual harassment, abuse, rape, and other bad things wouldn’t be an issue if teens or young women remained under the direction of and obedient to their fathers, and the husbands selected for them.
At first, I thought maybe this book was the answer to fixing my relationship with my father. I had been a daddy’s girl as a child, but our relationship became incredibly strained as I grew into my teens and our family size increased. My relationship with him turned into a difficult one that was punctuated with frequent verbal and physical abuse towards me and other household members. I knew many other people with fathers who were abusers, so that called Baucham’s teachings on every father being absolute into question for me. I remember initially really resisting the “give your heart to your father” teaching because I felt like my father didn’t understand me, and I recognized even as a young teen that he was not emotionally reliable.
Additionally, I hated being treated differently than my brothers and this difference became more pronounced the deeper my father became invested in fundamentalism. I longed for the respect and approval of my father, and I didn’t identify with the frilly femininity that fundamentalism allows for women. I wanted to be an architect like him, not grow up and have children. I struggled to fit in with other teen girls in our family circle, and struggled to meet the expectations for young women within fundamentalist culture.
What was the end result of trying to follow Baucham’s teachings in your life?
Danielle: I left Christianity and religion entirely and am still dealing with ongoing anger from religious trauma syndrome.
Katherine Mitchell: The end result of trying to follow these teachings was a deep, unrelenting self loathing as a young person. I developed a self harm addiction and an eating disorder, both of which my parents didn’t see. The teachings of Baucham and associated fundamentalists were an unrealistic and impossible standard and I was set up to fail.
As I developed my own identity and began “rebelling” against the abuse in my home, Baucham’s teachings became the focal point of our contention. I was dubbed a “rebel,” a “reprobate,” and “incorrigible.” My parents questioned whether I was a member of the elect, and speculated on why God sent me to them as a punishment. The fact that my parents’ marriage was difficult and my mom was not cherished and supported (a la the Baucham ideal) made me further question the validity of the teachings as well.
There’s no delicate way to say it. Voddie Baucham directly preaches emotional incest as the correct form of relationship between father and daughter. This emotional incest damaged my relationship with my mother, because (when we weren’t fighting) my father relied on me for emotional support. He told me about his day. He told me about his suicidal ideation. He told me about his financial worries, and talked with me about his relationship problems with my mother.
My father doubled down on his beliefs and initially resisted allowing me to attend college after graduating homeschool. I was taking dual enrollment courses at a local Christian college during my homeschooled high school years. It took a professor of mine talking with him to convince him that I should go “because it would help me become a better prepared homeschooling parent.” This was a formative memory for me, sitting in her office and holding my breath, hoping against hope, while they talked.
Ultimately, my father continued to hold these beliefs, even after I left home to live on my own. In 2012, I began dating and my father was furious because I refused to do the Vision Forum method, called “courtship.” My father was upset that I would go out to lunch or dinner with my boyfriend and then be unavailable to meet with my father when it was requested. My dad would show up unannounced at my home, and I lived in fear of him also showing up at my job. On one occasion my boyfriend decided to accept his invitation to breakfast and was then lectured by him on the importance of fathers. He said that my boyfriend should be trying to “win” him first before dating me.
In 2014, when I moved in with my boyfriend, I knew my father would be upset. At this point he had already “disowned” me and given me the silent treatment for months at a time, several times over. But I’m stubborn and I wanted to live my life out loud. I was also leaving the church and deconstructing and I was working and making my own income.
I remember the day when I called my dad and told him that my boyfriend and I had moved in together. “What have you done, flesh of my flesh?” was the first thing he said. (YIKES.) But, then, he was furious. We had multiple conversations over the next year. He told me it was his God-given right and responsibility to stone me to death. He told me he would not allow me “to bring sin into the camp” and “drag the family to hell with me.” He told me I would not be welcome in his home until I “repented” to the church publicly and to my siblings and either break up or get married.
After that, he wouldn’t speak to me except to tell me to “break up or get married.” He said he would never attend my wedding because I was in sin, but I could work to earn the right to be “grafted in” again if I married and we (as a couple) submitted to his “headship.” He estranged me from my siblings by telling them that I didn’t care about the family, and that I didn’t love them. He told them not to have contact with me. He called my boyfriend’s parents and tried to get them to also become estranged from us. I heard from reputable people in the area that both my parents told their community that I was living in sin, doing sex work, and using drugs.
My father was passive aggressive in his disownment of me. He would invite me to Thanksgiving and then the morning of the holiday state that I “was only welcome if I repented.” He held that infuriating line for 7 years. Suddenly, this year, he called and said he “doesn’t remember why we’re fighting,” and that he wants to be part of my life.
Truthfully, I don’t know if my father still holds the same beliefs because he has been completely absent from my life. I do know that one of my younger sisters is currently living the Stay-At-Home-Daughter Lifestyle. And, I know that my life has been permanently and deeply affected by the abusive and cruel teachings that Mr. Baucham touts.
My partner and I just celebrated our tenth anniversary together and I am forever grateful for his patience and support as I left fundamentalism. I’m not sure how I feel about my father’s recent request to be part of my life, but I’m certain that if I ever have children, my father will not meet them.
Cait West: The teachings of Baucham and other promoters of Christian Patriarchy were extremely harmful in my life. Because of these teachings, I was a stay-at-home daughter until I was twenty-five years old. I had no autonomy during this time, and my relationships, finances, and day-to-day activities were effectively controlled by my father. I was not allowed to go away to college, move out, or work at a job outside my home. Instead I had to live under my father’s authority, train to become a wife and mother, and wait for a father-approved suitor to court and then marry me. I was coerced to accept this passivity as my proper place in life because I was told that was what God wanted. I experienced emotional and spiritual abuse in my home, but I didn’t think that was a valid reason to leave because I was told God would reward me for suffering and submitting to my father in all things. My only hope was to one day get married to a man who would not be abusive.
Heather: I was woefully under prepared for the outside world. I was in my mid twenties without a driver’s license, education or job. My knowledge was limited to running a household and child care. My parents were in complete control of my life. The lack of development and growth I experienced as a result of the SAHD movement is something I am still recovering from.
For people unfamiliar with Baucham, what do you think is the most important thing they should know about him?
Katherine Mitchell: I think the most important thing to know about this man is that he is using his notoriety to sell books, sermons, and build his brand. It’s a form of grifting. Then, he preaches that women are property and young children are ultimately evil and manipulative. He refers to children as “vipers in diapers” and advocates frequent, sadistic child abuse as vitally necessary for their salvation. He rose to “fame” by partnering with Doug Wilson and Doug Phillips (the former being exposed as an enabler of sexual abuse and the latter as a perpetrator of it). His other doctrines were considered heresy when they were first espoused by Rushdoony as “Christian Reconstructionism.”
Cait West: I would advise anyone considering Baucham for a position of leadership to do a complete evaluation of Baucham’s history, his past connection to Vision Forum, and his failure to apologize for the harmful teaching of Christian Patriarchy.
Heather: His connection to the SAHD movement and fundamentalism.
Danielle: He comes across the same as any other evangelical pastor or author I’ve ever encountered: they all rely on misogyny.
Do you believe Voddie Baucham is fit to be President of the SBC or the SBC’s Pastors Conference? Why or why not?
Heather: If Voddie Baucham is at the head of the SBC, it will confirm the organization’s descent into extreme fundamentalism.
Katherine Mitchell: The SBC was formed in 1845 and continues to exist as a body because of the desire to continue human trafficking and chattel slavery in North America. There is nothing the SBC can do or believe today to make me think less of them than that. Taking over the leadership of denominations and “reforming” them to fundamentalist beliefs has long been an established goal of Dominionism/Christian Reconstructionism. Steven Wilkins tried to do this in 2001 with the southern PCA, and Baucham is doing the same with the SBC today.
Cait West: While I do not have ties to the SBC, I wouldn’t want to be under the authority or influence of anyone who maintains a patriarchal ideology. I think that any organization, especially one as large and influential as the SBC, should prioritize the safety of all members. And I believe the teaching of Christian Patriarchy is harmful to women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and children. This teaching is a powerful tool used by abusive people to control and disempower others. If Voddie Baucham continues to teach Christian Patriarchy (and I have not seen him ever change his viewpoint on this publicly), then I would consider him unqualified for a position of church leadership because it would put vulnerable people, particularly women, at risk. Having the leader of the largest Protestant denomination in the US be a promoter of Christian Patriarchy would normalize and promote this extremely harmful teaching.
Rebekah Drumsta: Because of the foundational insensitivity to the emotional and mental health needs of children he has encouraged, (i.e. spanking a shy child until they shake an adult’s hand) encouraging violence to children I’ve seen displayed in his own church, and the continued adherence to harmful fundamentalist mindsets and beliefs, I could not in good conscience recommend a vote for Mr. Baucham to lead a denomination.
Is there anything else you would like to tell me about Baucham or your upbringing?
Cait West: Materials such as the film Return of the Daughters and teachers who promoted Christian Patriarchy made it seem like stay-at-home daughters had a choice to submit to their fathers. They made it seem like we had some level of consent to this lifestyle. But the very nature of the teaching was manipulative. For instance, if I decided to leave my life as a stay-at-home daughter, get a job, and rent my own apartment, I would be considered rebellious and defying God because I was disobeying my father. In fact, this did happen when I decided to leave the movement in my mid-twenties. I have been out for almost a decade, and I am still dealing with PTSD from the abuse I experienced—abuse that was fueled by the teaching of Christian Patriarchy. I have had to learn how to take care of myself, how to apply for jobs, how to get an education. It has been a long struggle to survive outside of the only system I ever knew, but leaving was the best decision I have ever made because now I am free to choose my own life, to love who I love, to exist outside of an abusive, high-control environment.
Danielle: I remember the day I mentioned in passing to my mom that I would most likely be the working parent while my future husband would be the stay-at-home dad. I was earning my Bachelor’s degree at the time. My mom was absolutely mortified and warned me that my family would be dysfunctional and that I would be socially ostracized. I later overheard her say in private to my dad that she wished I hadn’t gone to college. She once even said to my face that my university education “indoctrinated me.” Now I’m currently earning my Doctorate degree!
Rebekah Drumsta: Growing up in conservative, Christian homeschooling I saw, even as a young adult, that parents in that world were easily swayed and tended to follow thought leaders who were accepted into the inner circle. If it had radical or systemized, parental control, culture-changer and being set apart from the world by Godly living vibes, the person or teaching was more readily welcomed. Voddie was just the next in a long line of outspoken, confident men who took their place in leadership of the conservative homeschooling sphere. While Baucham has branched out, his roots were strongly planted in the home education corner.
Also, Baucham’s own daughter has separated herself from many of her father’s teachings, while it appears, attempting to maintain a relationship. This alone is a caution flag concerning what Mr. Baucham truly believes.
Heather: I cannot emphasize enough the importance of listening to people who have firsthand knowledge of the extreme fundamentalist teachings of people like Voddie Baucham.
Katherine Mitchell: In many ways, I consider myself “one of the lucky ones.” First, because I had my identification documents. There are many fundamentalist parents who refuse to get Social Security Numbers for their children, refuse to teach their daughters how to drive, and refuse to allow their daughters to work. I was “lucky” because I was allowed to get a job, despite it being under protest. I was “lucky” because my dad let me go to college so I actually have an education credential instead of just homeschooling (lack of) records. I was “lucky” because my dad’s attempts to marry me off as a child were unsuccessful.
Girls and women trying to leave fundamentalism have many unique challenges and need support to integrate into society. Yes, my father was an abusive person, but he was encouraged and emboldened by the teachings of Baucham. All the abuse I experienced was done with the knowledge and full blessing of pastors and spiritual leaders who are currently supporting Baucham to this day.