Vision Forum and “Biblical Femininity”: An Introduction

saicff-headerI was eighteen years old when, in October 2007, I attended the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival (SAICFF) for the second time. Hosted by Doug Phillip’s Vision Forum in the downtown Gonzales convention center, this event draws hundreds of aspiring filmmakers and their families to San Antonio’s beautiful Riverwalk area. This year I enthusiastically enrolled in the Filmmaker’s Academy, a three-day intensive boot camp for young people aspiring to learn more about the art of filmmaking.

film rollThe days were chock-full of lectures and demonstrations on philosophy, screenwriting, directing, producing, animation, music scores, cameras and equipment. Geoff Botkin gave a lecture on art and finished by sharing some of his own paintings with us. Mr. Botkin’s son Isaac led a tutorial of cutting-edge animation techniques, creating an animated short right in front of our eyes. All the Botkins teamed up to try to break the world record for fastest time creating a television commercial (they didn’t quite make it, but it was entertaining!) In every session, I sat, absorbed, and soaked in every word. I took extensive notes, mingled with the other students to discuss ideas and aspirations, and came away every day with the feeling I had learned something new and valuable.

At the end of the final day of the Academy, we were told we were going to see something really special, the premiere showing of a “controversial documentary” Vision Forum would soon begin to market. The documentary was produced by the Western Conservatory of the Arts and Sciences, aka the Botkin family, and starred Anna Sophia and Elizabeth Botkin, daughters of Geoff and Victoria Botkin. The documentary’s title? The Return of the Daughters

As I sat there in the conference room with about 150 other students and watched the film, I slowly became conscious of a divide between myself and the other attendees. I had noticed before that I was a little bit of a misfit. My pants definitely made me stand out in a sea of long navy and khaki skirts, but it was more than that. I was the only young female to participate in the Academy unattended by a parental figure. “So are you here with your dad?” parents of other students would ask me. When I would reply that no, it was just me, they gave me funny looks. I would hasten to explain that my dad couldn’t come (he was working) and my mother wasn’t really interested in film. However, I could sense that they still thought my independence odd. Now, as I watched my fellow students absorb the ideas presented in the Botkin’s documentary, I found myself alone in a deeper way. My mind and heart struggled with the film’s philosophy, yet I found myself unable to speak of my doubts to anyone in that room. Am I the only person here who is questioning this? I wondered. Deep inside, another part of me stirred uneasily. Should I really be questioning this?

SAICFF AcademyThe confusion and doubt I experienced in that moment created a dilemma for me. I liked these people. I had learned much from them. I appreciated their insight and experience in film and art. I had had friendly chats with Anna Sophia and Geoff Botkin, and hoped I might be able to keep in touch with them as I worked through whether or not I should pursue film as a career. In some place deep inside me, I craved the acceptance of the Vision Forum people, their esteem, their friendship. Part of me wanted to agree with them just to claim membership in their camp.

I also wondered if maybe Anna Sophia and Elizabeth were right. I had just graduated high school, and was in the middle of preparing to attend college. Now, I questioned whether I should go–if it was right to go. Maybe my family had it all wrong. Maybe I had it all wrong.

It’s been more than five years since then. I’ve done a lot of thinking, and a bit of living. I have my B.A., I’m married, and I’m working towards pursuing a career as a professional counselor. (How’s that for a dramatic change in life directions?)Return of the Daughters

In the intervening years, I didn’t pay that much attention to Vision Forum’s evolving philosophy of family relationships, but recently I have felt the need to revisit some of their teachings, particularly those addressed to women, to daughters, and to wives. This is important to me for a couple of reasons. I know there are quite a few people out there who are blogging about these ideas, and a number of them are coming from a position of deep hurt and anger brought about by the implementation of certain ideas that Vision Forum promotes. That gets my attention. A philosophy that causes offense or even anger is not necessarily wrong, but when a large number of people choose to stand up and say “I think this philosophy is harmful, and this is why” — I think that merits attention and  examination. Also, while I grew up in a Christian subculture and believed many of the things that Vision Forum also endorses, I’m not angry or bitter towards Vision Forum. Perhaps simply because of that, my voice might be given more weight in some circles than someone who could be written off (however unjustly) as a hater, an atheist, or (god forbid!) a feminist.

So, for my friends who grew up with Vision Forum, I’ll just put my cards on the table. I don’t hate Vision Forum, and I don’t hate the Botkins.  However, I have experienced growing up in a Christian subculture infiltrated with Vision Forum doctrine, and I think there is room for a thoughtful critique of some of their theology and philosophy. I think that some of their teaching to and about women has some serious flaws.  I am going to focus on this teaching (and its flaws) in a series of articles, which I will post on this blog. If you’d like to participate in the discussion, feel free to comment!

8 thoughts on “Vision Forum and “Biblical Femininity”: An Introduction

  1. Thank you for that insightful post. You are not the only non-feminist woman to be concerned with their family message. In fact, I haven’t even had the exposure you have had and I react more strongly. Their magazine for instance. It makes me cringe because the boys have their section of outdoor activities and warrior toys and the girls have their section of indoor activities including dresses and dolls, but there is not any clear sign of sibling interaction, and I think that is a problem. Not to mention, I never was an indoor dolls and dress-up kind of kid, being raised in the country to garden and tend animals, so I prefer a more rounded life experience for all humans, if you will. On another note, Return of the Daughters? While all girls and women are indeed daughters, do they mean daughters of their Heavenly Father or earthly fathers? If the latter, that perspective looks dangerous to me. Ultimately I think godly women should see themselves as brides, not daughters, in order that they not live forever in subservience but in preparing their hearts and lives for the coming of our Bridegroom. What say you?

  2. Right on! I will be especially be interested in your critiques given your depth of exposure to the patriarchy/quiverful/vision forum cult. (Yes, I do see them as a cult. :) Speaking of exposure, what were the botkin sisters like btw? I’ve heard so much about their (very strange) writings, I wondered if they live up to their reputation.

  3. Nali,

    I’m glad you make it clear that you aren’t a Vision Forum hater. :) Remember Dr. Mitchell’s Faith and Reason about our debt of gratitude? God forbid that our disagreements with fellow believers should lead us to arrogantly disregard them entirely or abase them. Anyhow, I think lots of Vision Forum’s ideas are founded on Biblical principles, but I think they are applied in the wrong way. The main flaw I’ve noticed is that they are so often removed from Christ. The focus of their ministry is creating a Godly family–but by this, that, and the other principle, not by feeding Jesus to needy and sinful souls. Do you think that’s fair to say?

    Just a few thoughts. :)

    ~Tiffy

  4. Very good post. :) I’m looking forward to reading your other articles on the subject; this is a general topic that has bothered me for quite a while. I haven’t actually watched “The Return of the Daughters” or read much of what Vision Forum has to say on the subject, though, so I’m curious to hear your perspective in more detail.

    Elizabeth, I was going to say something quite similar. :) I used to become angry whenever I looked at the Vision Forum catalogs, because all the “fun” toys (such as ziplines, for instance – I particularly remember that one!) were listed in the boy’s section, while the girls had to content themselves with dolls, tea cups, and sewing kits. Not that dolls, tea cups, or sewing kits are somehow “oppressive” (I loved my dolls as a kid, and I hope to pass them on to my future girls someday), but girls should have a broader vision of fun. Boys and girls alike should be encouraged to play outside, run around, climb trees, get their hands dirty, and interact with animals.

    I also really appreciate your point that we should live as brides for The Bridegroom rather than as earthly daughters subject to earthly fathers. Our conscience must be captive first to our heavenly Father, rather than to our earthly fathers, and I believe that implies a strong degree of independence. Since God has called us to love Him with our minds as well as with our hearts, we should not be afraid to think and act differently from our parents, if we are truly giving ourselves to God.

    Just my two cents. :)

  5. I am really looking forward to reading this series. I have a lot to say, but I keep backspacing and rewording – perhaps I’m being prompted to keep my mouth shut for now. =]~

  6. Elizabeth, “Return of the Daughters” is definitely addressing women primarily as daughters of an earthly father, since the message is for girls to choose to be “stay-at-home daughters” (more on that later).
    Anne, I won’t say I know the Botkin girls well at all — I only interacted with them at this one conference (and I don’t think I actually spoke to Elizabeth). And it’s hard to get a good grasp of who someone is at a conference anyway — interaction is brief, and everyone is trying to present themselves as confidently and graciously as possible (at least, it is to be hoped so!) My impression of the Botkin girls is that they are extremely poised, seemed comfortable in their own skins, and sincerely interested in other people. While some people have questioned whether they can actually believe what they write (insinuating that they are really pretty faces for a male agenda), I don’t think that is the case. I think that for whatever reason, they believe deeply what is taught in Return of the Daughters and in their other books and DVDs. I happen to think they are wrong in the way they interpret much of history and Scripture, but I do respect them.
    Tiffany, that is an interesting thought, one which I may possibly choose to elaborate on when I get more time to think about it. I think the emphasis on precepts and principles above Christ is definitely one of the problems that needs to be addressed (and by addressed, I mean corrected, not merely talked about…)

    Thank you all so much for your thoughts! :) I’ve enjoyed reading them.

  7. I watched The Return of the Daughters several years ago and more recently read Anna Sofia and Elizabeth’s book on guy/girl relationships, It’s Not That Complicated. Both I find disquieting as well as their section on higher education in their previous book, So Much More. So, I am highly interested in reading your upcoming articles. One of the things which I have been pondering is if the Botkins/Vision Forum create distinctions between men and women which aren’t really there. Obviously, there are differences between men and women–God created them so–however, I wonder if they have added extraneous differences. Does God really care if I was born a Jo March (Little Women) and like the outdoors and played all day with my younger brother–dressing up as Indians and cowboys? Wait! God must care, because that is how He made me. I find it ironic that people who believe so firmly in an almighty God seem to constrain His creativity by their theology of men and women and families. Anyway, I am curious to see what else you have to say. :)

  8. I have watched “Return of the Daughters” several times and read “So Much More” and found them inspiring as well as slightly disturbing. I think it should be noted that they are in their productions, addressing a particular issue – they are not trying to build a religion or a church in these products, and they cannot make every qualification and add every doctrine to their theme. They are seeing a problem and offering a practical solution. The reality is that there are many confused young women out there who think they just ‘have’ to go to college to ‘do something’ with their lives, yet would truly thrive in a lifestyle like the Botkin sisters presented (I was one of them). For me it was freeing to see ‘Here is a vision to do something with your life that doesn’t demand college’ because I thought that Christian college was that next needful step into life-fruitfulness. Not necessarily. Though I think the Botkins over-emphasize the importance of being stay-at-home daughters as if it is the answer for everyone (when it is not) – it *is* a great idea for some girls who might never have heard of it anywhere else.
    The Botkins, however, present this helpful idea in a manner that is not helpful to many people. They make it a matter of epic proportions, a vision for all generations, a necessary accompaniment to the gospel… it’s not. It’s a good application of Scriptural principles for certain situations. Unfortunately, many viewers/readers respond as if guilt has been laid on them – they either swallow it like the bread of life, strive to conform and raid the thrift stores OR feel condemned and resentful and start hating on Vision Forum. Thank you, Sarah, for not doing so. But I ask, “Can’t we be secure enough in Christ that we can look at ideas like this and consider them without feeling threatened?” If we feel threatened and defensive, is it really because they are actually attacking our faith, or because we are as devoted to our lifestyle as they seem to be to theirs?
    Also, in response to some of the other comments, I would point out that Vision Forum has been promoting more resources for the ‘adventurous girl’ and challenging girls that being feminine does not mean wearing lace and sewing skirts all the time. But again – they are a *resource* for families. You don’t fault Dick’s Sporting Goods for not carrying groceries. They are sports resource. Same with Vision Forum’s products. They minister to a certain area of culture that needs some help and we should appreciate them in the same calm and interested way we appreciate our hardware store or the weather channel. That’s my bit. :)

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