Inside The Institute For Basic Life Principles — The Organization That Inspired ‘Taliban Dan’ Ad

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“Wives, submit yourself to your own husband.”

Those words, spoken by Tea Party backed Republican Daniel Webster, were spliced into a September campaign ad called “Taliban Dan,” produced by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), who is in danger of losing his conservative-leaning Congressional seat.

The problem for Grayson was that those words were taken out of context. Speaking before a gathering of a fundamentalist group called the Institute for Basic Life Principles, Webster said “[First] write a journal, second, find a verse. I have a verse for my wife. I have verses for my wife. Don’t pick the ones that say she should submit to me. That’s in the Bible. But pick the ones that you’re supposed to do. So instead “love your wife, even as Christ loved the church he gave himself for” as opposed to ‘wives, submit yourself to your own husband.’ She can pray that if she wants to.”

Webster’s been with IBLP in its various forms for decades. After he released the full footage of his remarks, many critics indicted Grayson for dissembling. It appeared, after all, as if Webster had repudiated female submissiveness to husbands. So Grayson took his lumps. And the underlying claims in the ad — including that Webster opposes all abortion, even in cases of rape — went largely unaddressed.

However, the distorted remarks notwithstanding, a former member of IBLP told TPMDC last week that Grayson has every right to compare the organization’s mores — and Daniel Webster’s as well — to those of the Taliban.“I watched that ad, that video that the Grayson guy…and after I watched it, I thought, yeah, that’s definitely provocative, but I don’t think that’s an exaggeration to compare Dan Webster and IBPL ideals to the Taliban because, as far as women go, we are reduced to non-personhood status,” said Vyckie Garrison, in a wide-ranging interview with TPM.

Garrison, 44, became affiliated with IBLP in her mid-twenties, and followed the Institute’s teachings until one of her daughters attempted suicide. She divorced her husband and left the Institute at the age of 41 and now writes about her experiences at the website No Longer Quivering.

What we now call IBLP was founded decades by Bill Gothard, an influential, and deeply conservative minister. In a Time Magazine article written over 30 years ago, Gothard, then 39, was quoted as advising women, attacked by their husbands, to pray, “God, thank you for this beating.” His group has existed in different forms, until it was finally incorporated as IBLP about 20 years ago.

According to Garrison, IBLP gets its hooks into evangelical parents by offering them a program for home schooling their children, to protect them from the evils of public schools — “Satan’s indoctrination centers.” (Webster’s six children have all been home schooled.)

“The next thing we heard was to trust the Lord with our home planning,” Garrison said.

They pretty much pushed in IBLP the primary ideal is that you will not use birth control, that you will accept all the blessings the Lord sends your way. There’s all these code words, but basically what they’re saying is women should not use birth control for any reason. In my case I had a lot of health reasons, it was recommended to me after my third that I not have any more kids — I’d had a C-section — but once I got into this whole teaching, I felt that I was going against Scripture by not allowing the Lord to bless me and I needed to trust that if he was going to give me a baby he’d protect me.”

So Garrison had four more children.

Those children, and Garrison herself, wound up in a position of complete subservience. Whether Webster preached it directly or not, the Institute teaches that women should indeed submit themselves to their husbands.

“There’s a big emphasis on this authority structure within Gothardism and the whole IBLP. If you’re submitting to him that’s how you obey God, that’s how you gain physical, spiritual, financial protection, is being basically obedient to the spiritual head, which would be your husband, or if you’re a child, your father,” Garrison told me. “Being in submission, that’s how you’re going to keep the devil from ruining your life.”

“The main trouble for us was there’s such a focus on this patriarchal teaching, that the husband is the head, he is the leader, the wife is to submit, the children are to obey,” she described. “And it gives so much authority and power to the man that it turned my husband into just a tyrant. He had the idea in his head that as our spiritual covering he had a responsibility for my spiritual life, our children’s spiritual life. And if he feels like he’s the one who’s ultimately going to answer to God, he has the authority and the responsibility and the obligation to use so much control over all our actions, down to our thoughts and beliefs.”

The lifestyle is known as “Quiverfull”, because, as Garrison put it, “children are arrows in the hands of the holy man.” Adherents believe themselves to be in a “battle for the Kingdom of Righteousness, and you want to have as many arrows in your quiver as you can and you want them to be sharp, you want them to be focused…you are raising up an army for God.” Kathryn Joyce, author of Quiverfull, a book about a movement Gothard helped inspire, estimates that tens of thousands of people in the country live their lives this way.

I asked Garrison whether it would be possible to be a member of IBLP and not adhere to the patriarchal aspects of its teachings.

“No,” she insisted. “It’s one of the foundational principals. It’s what gets you into it. There’s the whole thing: This is what a godly woman looks like. There’s very clearly delineated roles for women, and those roles are all based on submission, they’re based on self denial, on obedience, and respect, and even the word respect translates into ‘you just take it, and with a smile.’ Because that’s how God would have you respond to tyranny and abuse.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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