A Real-Life Handmaid’s Tale: Amy Coney Barrett’s Involvement With People of Praise
Supreme Court justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett – remember her? – has made no secret of her devotion to Catholicism and has said her faith has no influence on her judicial rulings. One subject she has not spoken publicly about, however, is her involvement with People of Praise, a small charismatic Christian group that believes in the tenet of male supremacy.
The organization itself is secretive about her involvement. It has refused to confirm or deny that she is a member and removed from its website editions of a People of Praise magazine — first those that included her name and photograph and then all archives of the magazine itself.
According to a report in today’s Washington Post the 48-year-old federal appellate court judge, whose confirmation hearing is set to begin next week, served in the position of “handmaid” with the group:
“A 2010 People of Praise directory states that she held the title of ‘handmaid,’ a leadership position for women in the community, according to a directory excerpt obtained by The Washington Post.
“Also, while in law school, Barrett lived at the South Bend home of People of Praise’s influential co-founder Kevin Ranaghan and his wife, Dorothy, who together helped establish the group’s male-dominated hierarchy and view of gender roles.”
A spokesperson for the group, Sean Connolly, was evasive in responding to questions about Barrett’s membership in People of Praise and her tenure as handmaid: “Like many religious communities, People of Praise leaves it up to its members to decide whether to publicly disclose their involvement in our community.”
The title of handmaid was adopted by People of Praise in reference to the biblical description of Mary as “the handmaid of the Lord,” according to the group. Former members including Art Wang, a member from the late 1980s until 2015, told The Post that handmaids, now known as “women leaders,” give advice to other women on issues such as child rearing and marriage.
But the role did not carry authority equivalent to positions held by men in the group’s formal hierarchy, former members interviewed by The Post said. The community is led by an overall coordinator and a board of governors. They oversee coordinators of each branch across the country, who in turn oversee coordinators of areas within the branches.
The Post reports that in 2010, Barrett was one of three handmaids in the South Bend branch’s northwest area. She and 10 other area handmaids were overseen by the branch’s principal handmaid.
A 1986 community handbook obtained by The Post said each member is “personally accountable to God for his or her decisions,” but also emphasized “obedience to authority and submission to headship.
“Members are typically assigned a ‘head’ to give them spiritual leadership and guidance on life matters such as buying a car or finding a romantic partner. Younger men and women are led by older members of the same sex, according to former members, but husbands typically take over as “heads” for their wives following marriage.
“Men’s ‘headship’ of their wives, and the male-dominated governance of the community, has been the basis of accusations from some critics of Barrett that People of Praise is built on the sexist expectation that women defer to men.”
People of Praise now claims about 1,700 members in 22 cities in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. It’s not known if Barrett is still an active member of the group.