A few days ago, I finished reading Katherine Joyce’s new book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. I intended to write about the book immediately, but I found that I really wasn’t able. I needed some time to process after what was a definite “through the looking glass” experience.
The Quiverfull movement, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, espouses an extremely conservative view of the family, with emphasis on female submission, masculine headship, and “militant” fertility. The term “Quiverfull” comes from a Bible verse that describes children as arrows in the army of God. Adherents, generally evangelical Christians, avoid all forms of birth control, including the “natural family planning” methods approved by the Catholic Church. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who have 18 children and their own reality TV show, are probably the best-known Quiverfull proponents.
Joyce interviewed people from across the country about the specifics of their lives and beliefs, and “bizarre” and “chilling” are the most benign adjectives I can come up with to describe what she found. The extreme submission of devout Quiverfull women is deeply unsettling (and not a little reminiscent of stories about women’s lives under the Taliban). Some Quiverfull women are forbidden to drive cars. Others make lists of their household chores and submit them to their husbands so that the husbands can decide which tasks should have the highest priority. Quiverfull wives are warned that it is their duty to be sexually available to their husbands at all times, and that if a husband “sins” as a result of a wife’s refusal, it is her fault and she will be held accountable by God.
Leaders urge wives to repent of their “feministic” thinking and behavior and dedicate themselves to “reverencing” their husbands. Any longing for equality of power or authority should be confessed as a sin and renounced in favor of even greater submission. The wife should always remember that her husband has the “burden” of control. If she disagrees with one of his decisions, she should respectfully ask him to reconsider. If he does not, she should consider the husband’s opinion to be the same as the will of God.
The requirement of submission also extends to children, of course. Corporal punishment is not only encouraged, it is very nearly a requirement. For many, it begins in infancy. Children, especially girls, should be “covered” by their fathers and “protected” from any contact with the secular world. Girls’ education should always be home-based and heavily focused toward those skills they will need when they themselves become wives and mothers. One adherent spoke approvingly of a family whose nine year old daughter had learned to care for her younger siblings, but had not yet learned to read.
Not surprisingly, Quiverfullers aren’t happy with the current state of the world. According to those interviewed, dangerous “feministic” ideas like women working outside the home, having access to divorce, and, yes, birth control, are responsible for all sorts of social ills. Some complained about the damaging effect of things like pay equity laws on the Biblical family. Others see a more fundamental problem: according to at least one Quiverfull proponent, God has cursed America because it granted women the right to vote, thus subverting the divinely-ordered right of men to speak for their families. But not to worry, the faithful have a plan: out-breed the heathens and then send the armies of God against them (metaphorically speaking, of course).
After falling down this rabbit-hole and climbing back out the other side (and hauling my jaw up off the floor), I spent some time wondering just how much danger the sustainable population movement actually faces from this philosophy. We don’t talk about armies, metaphorical or otherwise, and we certainly can’t plan on out-breeding the competition. We don’t make absolute pronouncements about how all people ought to live.
Quite the opposite, in fact: whenever the Duggars or other mega-families are in the news, our office always gets calls from reporters wanting to know what we in the “population control” field think about them. We always reply that we advocate freedom of choice for everyone and are not in the business of telling people how many children to have, and we point out that enormous families are newsworthy precisely because they are so rare.
Does this mean we’re doomed to lose? Are the Quiverfull really going to inherit the Earth? After reflecting for a few days, I’ve calmed back down enough to say no.
These people are creepy, and given the abuse many Quiverfull women and children are suffering, I certainly wouldn’t call them harmless. But the bottom line is that they are a nutty fringe group. The movement may, as Joyce claims, be growing, but as the membership increases, so do the ranks of the disgruntled ex-members, who have an established and growing internet presence. And society as a whole shows no interest in embracing the Quiverfull mindset. Men don’t want robots for wives. Women like things like voting and going to college and earning paychecks and deciding how many children they want. We’re not going to give those things up that easily.
But I admit: I’m going to keep a closer eye on the Duggars from now on.