Both Newsweek and The Nation have both posted articles about the “Quiverfull” movement – the extremist anti-birth-control movement among right-wing Protestants. (The title of this post is a quote from a leader of the movement, quoted in the Newsweek article). Here are some excerpts from the articles. First, from Newsweek:
Beyond such purists, the anti-birth control message appears to be gaining ground among some evangelicals. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has become one of its most prominent advocates. “If a couple sees children as an imposition, as something to be vaccinated against, like an illness, that betrays a deeply erroneous understanding of marriage and children,” says Mohler. “Children should be seen as good by default.” His stance isn’t as extreme as that of quiverfull followers; for instance, he condones the use of condoms for married couples in extreme circumstances, like illness. Still, Mohler’s views are considered “an oddity” in mainstream Baptist circles, according to Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Land admits, however, that Mohler has certainly expanded his following. “He is seen as the popularizer of a position that is still very marginal, but 15 years ago, it wouldn’t have even been discussed,” says Land, adding that he knows of at least two former students who had reverse vasectomies after hearing Mohler’s arguments. […]
Stephanie Coontz, director of research for the Council on Contemporary Families, says she has increasingly noticed articles on the subject in the Christian press. Part of the reason, she argues, is that conservatives are reacting to revolutionary changes in women’s social roles and seeking to re-impose a more traditional order. “The rhetoric is getting more shrill because people are getting more desperate,” she says. “It’s a backlash that I don’t feel will triumph. In the past, large families were helpful economically, but today, they become a disadvantage, especially to younger kids who don’t get as many resources.”
Coontz has it right; what’s at issue here isn’t just how many children to have, but the sex roles for men and women. Men on top, ruling the household; women below, raising the kids. Lots and lots and lots of kids. From the Nation article:
Quiverfull parents try to have upwards of six children. They home-school their families, attend fundamentalist churches and follow biblical guidelines of male headship–“Father knows best”–and female submissiveness. They refuse any attempt to regulate pregnancy. Quiverfull began with the publication of Rick and Jan Hess’s 1989 book, A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ, which argues that God, as the “Great Physician” and sole “Birth Controller,” opens and closes the womb on a case-by-case basis. Women’s attempts to control their own bodies–the Lord’s temple–are a seizure of divine power.
Though there are no exact figures for the size of the movement, the number of families that identify as Quiverfull is likely in the thousands to low tens of thousands. Its word-of-mouth growth can be traced back to conservative Protestant critiques of contraception–adherents consider all birth control, even natural family planning (the rhythm method), to be the province of prostitutes–and the growing belief among evangelicals that the decision of mainstream Protestant churches in the 1950s to approve contraception for married couples led directly to the sexual revolution and then Roe v. Wade.
“Our bodies are meant to be a living sacrifice,” write the Hesses. Or, as Mary Pride, in another of the movement’s founding texts, The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality, puts it, “My body is not my own.” This rebuttal of the feminist health text Our Bodies, Ourselves is deliberate. Quiverfull women are more than mothers. They’re domestic warriors in the battle against what they see as forty years of destruction wrought by women’s liberation: contraception, women’s careers, abortion, divorce, homosexuality and child abuse, in that order.
Although the Quiverfull movement is an extreme, it’s my impression that an anti-birth-control movement has been rising among American evangelicals. Having sex without women risking pregnancy is seen as abdicating the role women have been assigned by God.
You know what the scariest sentence in the Newsweek article is? “His stance isn’t as extreme as that of quiverfull followers; for instance, he condones the use of condoms for married couples in extreme circumstances, like illness.” Yes, that’s what makes someone a moderate on birth control: Condoms are okay if the mom is too deathly ill to risk pregnancy.
Note also the final page of the Nation article, in which DLC1 paid researcher Kenneth Longman is quoted recommending that Democrats should bid for these voters by urging a return to patriarchy (and giving up on abortion rights). Unsurprising, but still annoying as hell.
- DLC stands for Democratic Leadership Council, an extremely influential Democratic Party organ. [↩]
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From the Nation article:
She [Quiverfull mother Wendy Dufkin ] recounts the “seven stages of decline of the Roman Empire” as illustration: from men failing to lead their families to God, through adultery, divorce, homosexuality, barrenness, atheism and then, in the end, an invasion of barbarians from abroad.
Um, the way *I* learned it, the Roman Empire stood a good three-quarters of a millinium through adultery, divorce, homosexuality, barrenness, and virtual atheism. The barbarians invaded just a century or two after Rome converted to Christianity, didn’t they?
Pity all children who are here solely as a testament to their parents’ ideology that more is better. No doubt the spokespeople for this group profess equal enthusiasm for all the members of their large families, but as one goes down the chain of adherents, who are simply following the leader, I assume that one will find all the same kinds of problems that manifested themselves in the large Catholic families I grew up with. And for those who need a partial list: being raised by one’s siblings, not always gently or kindly (funny how teenagers coerced into babysitting take it out on their siblings); growing up in a “squeaky wheel” environment, where the troublemakers and stars get most of the attention — stars are born, troublemaking is open to anyone with sufficient desire; zero privacy; and intense pressure to conform.
Some of these things are countered by lots of money. And the happiest big families I have known are, indeed, the children of affluent professionals or executives.
“extremist anti-birth control movement”? As far as I know, the Quiverfull people don’t advocate making anyone follow their beliefs. They just want to follow themselves. That would make them perhaps unusual, but hardly extremist.
I think that Families like theirs should be taxed locally at a higher rate to cover the public expense of so many children.
because the cost to the public will be so much less when we have to deal with the fact that those kids lack basic needs because their parents, who probably already have strained incomes, are now being taxed at a higher rate too! halelujah! a money-saving plan at last.
The Newsweek article is a bit alarmist. I’ve seen the Discovery Channel programs about the family with 16 kids, and they’re all but devoid of discussion of the family’s religious beliefs. Otherwise, all the article can point to is 2500 families, a meeting of 250 activists, a manifesto, and a non-binding resolution urging families to have more children in a Utah town of 3500 people. There doesn’t seem to be any suggestion in the article that these people have any influence toward denying birth control to others.
This article has shown up roughly seven million times on the RSS feed. Or at least, on the LJ version thereof (at http://syndicated.livejournal.com/alasablog3/).
[Whoops! Thanks for letting me know – I think I’ve fixed it now. –Amp]
Right. Just like grassroots movements of misogynist christians who are opposed to abortion have had little or no influence toward denying abortion to others.
Anyway, this does seem to be cropping up more and more, expecially during the plan b fight. I heard one radio interview where an opponent of plan be was asked ‘is it really an abortificant? isnt it jsut birth control?’ and the opponent answered that all hormonal birth control was tantamount to abortion.
Robert and Tom, I don’t think it defies the dictionary to label as “extremist” people who hold a view well outside the norms of society. A group, regardless of their size or political influence, who maintain that only their god can decide against pregnancy, that women should have no control over their bodies whatsoever, that women should be completely subjugated to the authority of their husbands, and that marriage is solely about producing as many children as possible, is an extremist group. That they do not currently have the numbers or influence to inflict their views on others, does not make their views any less alarming.
I guess you’ve never heard the pro-choice position falsely characterized as a call for all abortions, all the time. The normal position, that people should be able to decide how many children they want to have and when is often presented as extreme. How could this not be?
Environmentally this is not a sound idea and I hope it does not take off. I’ve seen the specials about the Duggers and it’s a little frightening. I wonder at which point Michelle’s health will fail… I don’t doubt IF it will, just when.
Kate L. and I have talked about that Learning channel special, and it is just crazy, but here is my question. What do these people think about INFERTILITY treatments? (I would suspect that they support this. Does anybody know?)
To answer your question, Rachel-according to the Newsweek article they are against infertility treatments-as this is a man made way to get pregnant and therefore not the will of the Lord. Hope that helps.
Here is the text of it from the Newsweek article.
“Also taboo: any form of artificial fertility treatment. “The point is to have a welcoming heart,” says Mary Pride, a mother of nine whose 1985 book, “The Way Home,” celebrated a return to traditional gender roles.”
At least that is how I read it.
The Newsweek article is a bit alarmist. … There doesn’t seem to be any suggestion in the article that these people have any influence toward denying birth control to others.
Reverand Debra, quoted on a slightly later post here at Alas:
The Bush administration yesterday announced its appointment of Dr. Erik Keroack as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs, the nation’s official in charge of the national family planning program. … Dr. Keroack is an anti-contraception advocate who has been serving as medical director of “A Women’s Concern,” an organization with an official policy that states “birth control…is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality, and averse to human health and happiness.”
Yeah, I know these are not exactly the same people, but they are clearly allies on the same side and at pretty much the same point of extremity.
There certainly does seem to be quite a feminist backlash coming from the more fundamentalist groups, a sort of “we have to take our women back” mentality. It’s real easy to use the Bible for subjugation, and while most of these movements might start out innocent enough they rarely stay that way for long. Maybe, just maybe, this woman really did choose this lifestyle for herself. But what about her daughter? Homeschooled and sheltered, she’s not gonna have many options. And her daughters will have even less. This “movement” has all the signs of a cult in the making.
Also, this woman already can’t say “no” because she’s worried about another mouth to feed. How long before she can’t say “no” at all? Is it her purpose in life to be available for sex whenever the husband wants it?
“Right. Just like grassroots movements of misogynist christians who are opposed to abortion have had little or no influence toward denying abortion to others.”
I think misogyny is the wrong word here. Misogyny means “to hate women”. These people do not hate women. You hate the roles they feel are proper, so you feel they hate you. You are mistaken. The Bible feels that this is the best way to care for women and children. Men are charged with protecting, caring and loving women above themselves. This is not about hatred.
Not everything that is against feminist doctrine is against women. That is misleading to assume feminism speaks for all women, or that feminism is the only way for women to live. It is not.
“Also, this woman already can’t say “no” because she’s worried about another mouth to feed. How long before she can’t say “no” at all? Is it her purpose in life to be available for sex whenever the husband wants it? ”
The homeschooled kids in our church have been traveling the world at age 16, and going to top notch colleges (RIT for example). They have lots of options available to them. The Bible does not tell you women cannot hold a job. But we find that homeschooling, large families, and faith raise strong steady kids, so that is why many parents do it this way. If these kids hated their lives they would not be such wonderful examples of the way of life. They would not continue to live that way as adults.
No, feminism is the only way for women to live, because it is just about the only way that ensures that women and children will be allowed to live on their own merits. Feminism expounds a concept of equal value for the hopes and aspirations of women, no matter what they are. This includes the freedom to have eleventy hundred kids. Without respect for the quality of someone’s life, you can’t have respect for the simple fact of its existence, either. The lack of such respect is the cause of much death in this world. Simple, really.
I strongly agree with you when you state that the “issue here isn’t just how many children to have, but the sex roles for men and women. Men on top, ruling the household; women below, raising the kids. Lots and lots and lots of kids.” I strongly believe that now that the world has seen how successful and vital women can be, women all over the world should not be restrained from their capabilities and reaching their full potential ( at a job, at home, at school, etc.). Unfortunately, children in most cases can be a major factor that holds back women from reaching their full potential and/or success-at school, at a job, at a career and it is vital to understand that women should receive the same opportunities as men and should be considered as equals. Therefore, women should have the right to choose to either have or to not have children.
The Bible feels that this is the best way to care for women and children
The Bible does not “feel” anything. But I am curious as to where the Bible says that women should homeschool their children and not bring home a paycheck.
Just annoying ? I think you’d be beyond annoyance into full-blown rage by now, considering that reproductive rights have been such an effective tool to keep feminists in the Democrats’ pen for years now. I mean, on top of the way the last two Supreme Court Justices were handled with kid gloves, on top of Casey, Dean’s footsie with the fundies on TV, and the so on, and so on. Is there any point at which feminists will finally have had enough of this manipulative bullshit ?
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I had forgotten this thread until the trackback above appeared.
Now that I look at again, it occurs to me:
the dad in the posted picture bears a striking resemblance to Amp.
You’ve discovered my secret.
That’s not a family. It’s a nest of Russian dolls. Each kid fits into his next-size-up sibling, and they all fit inside mommy, who in turn fits snugly into the Ampersand-lookalike. Somebody should film them doing it and post it to youtube.
I’ve always believed that birth control is against the perfect will of God. But I personally would not want to have so many children.
“Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate.”
You know, no one would say, “Blessed is the man who has more children than he can feed,” or “Blessed is the man who’s lost two wives in childbirth.” (At least not directly—it certainly falls under the beatitudes, but I don’t think the intent of those was that you should *strive* to be poor and to mourn.)
An interesting thing about the “quiver” metaphor is that there’s a huge variety of quiver sizes. Some hold half a dozen arrows, some a dozen, some twenty or thirty. So to me, taking from that verse that you should have as many children as humanly possible seems like a misreading. You could just as easily interpret “a full quiver” as “enough,” whatever “enough” might be. In ancient Israel, or even two or three hundred years ago, more kids meant more help on the farm or family business, and you could expect some to die young anyway. Not really the case for modern Americans. A modern couple’s quiver might only hold two or three. Or none. (I know, that implies that women get to make their own choices, as if they were actually people rather than objects for men’s and God’s use.)
The quiverfull movement also, like a lot of Evangelical movements tend to do, grabs one verse and elevates it above the whole rest of the Bible. I would love to hear someone who’s part of that movement square their mandate to have a dozen children with Paul’s statement that he wishes everyone could be single.