A quiverfull of kudos for the BBC

As an Evangelical in the media, I’m sympathetic to the struggle journalists have with reporting on our peculiar tradition. When simply defining what the term “Evangelical” means poses a challenge, it can be difficult to know how to report on shared beliefs within Evangelicalism, much less the on the more controversial sub-movements within the tradition.

The BBC news magazine recently ran a feature on the Quiverfull movement, though, that had me taking notes on how to do it right. Here are a few Journalism 101 tips about reporting on religious trends that I gleaned from the article:

1. Explain the movement in terms its adherents would agree with. – The BBC provides some helpful background by mentioning the term “Quiverfull” comes from Psalm 127:

The psalm – where children are compared to arrows for war – is the inspiration for the Quiverfull movement.

“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They shall not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.”

Christians in the movement believe in giving up all forms of contraception and accepting as many children as God gives, both as a sign of obedience to God and in a bid to ensure the future of the faith.

2. Explain why the movement is newsworthy. – Almost any genuine religious trend is worthy of coverage, but the average reader should be given some reason for caring enough to read the article. The BBC provides a helpful, succinct explanation:

In the US, Quiverfull families frequently reach up to a dozen children with the numbers of adherents in the tens of thousands. But now the movement is gaining popularity in other countries.

In the UK, where the average family size is 1.7 children, this makes couples who follow its teachings stand out.


3. Provide background on the movement in neutral language. – Consider how the BBC provides background on the movement’s influences:

The movement is growing in the UK through informal social networks and the Christian homeschooling community. Doug Philips, a leading American Quiverfull figure, is behind the organisation Vision Forum, a major provider of home education materials.

Vicki and Phil were encouraged by the teachings of Nancy Campbell, a Tennessee-based preacher influential in the movement. Her ministry, Above Rubies, advocates motherhood as a woman’s highest calling. Its magazine is distributed to more than 100 countries worldwide, with a circulation topping 160,000.

It’s hard to imagine that most media outlets in the U.S. wouldn’t be tempted to add an extra adjective—such as “conservative” or “patriarchial”—to modify Vision Forum and Above Rubies.

4. Provide balance by quoting critics familiar with the movement. – The article mentions that the movement is partially a “backlash against the growing acceptance of birth control and feminism.” It would have been perfectly acceptable for the BBC to quote  a feminist group or a secular proponent of birth control to provide an alternative viewpoint. But instead the articles quote women who have left the movement:

One woman who tested her faith in Quiverfull to the limit is Vyckie Garrison, a mother of seven. Once a cornerstone of the Quiverfull movement in the US, she left in 2008. Her website No Longer Quivering is described as a “place for women escaping and recovering from spiritual abuse”.

Because the critics are intimately familiar with Quiverfull beliefs, it provides a more balanced perspective on the movement than secular critics would have provided.

5. Explain the broader implications. – Rather than spending three paragraphs explaining the larger socio-political implications of the movement, the BBC lets their sources explain the potential ramifications:

Within the Quiverfull movement, having larger families is part of a broader plan.

“Mothers determine the destiny of the nation,” Campbell says. “We’re in a battle for the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. And our children are all part of that battle.”

Campbell believes there are specific groups of people with high birth-rates that she is worried will soon outnumber Christians. “We are limiting our children. And then we are allowing other cultures to come into our nation who are having a lot more children than us.

“Gradually, down the line, the culture is going to change, without anyone doing anything except having children, or not having children,” she says.

Again, we see the BBC trusting its readers to understand what is being said without feeling the need to connect-the-dots for them or resorting to clever metaphors (e.g., babies as arrows in the Culture War).

While no news article is without flaws, this one could serve as a model for how to report on controversial movements within larger faith traditions. The feature isn’t flashy as make the reporting seem rather easy. But I suspect reaching such an unbiased tone took extensive editorial effort. The BBC deserves praise—a quiverfull of kudos—for both a fine article and for showing us all what solid reporting should look like.

  • Catherine Addington

    And yet as we speak the BBC’s Nick Robinson is describing the attacker(s) at Woolwich as being “of Muslim appearance” and giving vague sources for allegations that they exclaimed “Allahu Akbar,” unreported by any eyewitness. So they’re not 100% when it comes to religion, evidently.

    • MollieZHemingway

      I’ve been listening and the coverage has improved. Earlier, I heard, Robinson kept calling this an “attempted” terrorist attack. Given that a man was brutally beheaded on the street, I’m not sure that’s the word. As for “Muslim appearance” — the man with the bloodied hands on the video explaining why he did it did not “appear” to be any given religion (although his words might be interpreted differently).

    • wlinden

      And what does a Muslim look like? Like my 6′ blond cousin the dervish?
      (We are a very diverse family. From before “Thou shalt love Diversitee” was declared the 11th Commandment.)

  • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

    I know to capitalize God, but what about Evangelical? I have always used lowercase evangelical but notice that you uppercase in your post. Arguments for or against? And maybe that question deserves a post of its own sometime, but I’d love to know what you think.

    • http://Culture11.com Joe Carter

      Personally, I prefer the lower case-”e” when “evangelical” is used as a noun. That’s the way I always wrote it until recently. But I’ve heard from Catholic friends that it should be capitalized since other Christians (e.g., Catholics) can be evangelicals too. (I should ask tmatt for a ruling on the standard usage here at GR.)

  • Jerry

    Thanks for the pointer to that story. It’s always refreshing to read a well-written story. And I think your comment about quoting critics familiar with the movement is a very important point.

  • Carlh

    I appreciate the coverage of the BBC article as an example of the way journalism ought to approach a story about religion.

    It provides quite a contrast to the way in which an allusion by Mitt Romney in to the same “quiver full” verse was handled in some U.S. press coverage. A New York Daily News article was very even-handed, and despite a zing with “failed Republican presidential candidate” and a suggestion that only now was Romney willing to open up about his “religious ideas” (despite the fact that he was addressing a group of college graduates who are overwhelming Mormon), an NBC News report actually quoted from the Psalm. But others, such as blog posts at both the UPI and the Washington Post simply used his remarks as another opportunity to continue their rather puerile (and predictable) campaign assaults on Gov. Romney as an out-of-touch fuddy-duddy, or worse.

    • Darren Blair

      Don’t forget news commentary blog Forward Progressives, which tried to link Romney and the Quiverfull movement to the Third Reich in that they claimed the goal of Quiverfull was to produce a “Master Race”. (http://www.forwardprogressives.com/fundamentalist-christians/)

      []

      In the process, Forward Progressives – like a number of other outlets – missed a key part of Mormon theology. In an address made in *1978*, Dallin H. Oaks (then the President of Brigham Young University, now a member of the senior church leadership) declared that women need to obtain as much education as they can, both so that they can support themselves if they remain single and so they can support their families if they marry. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1975/03/insights/women-and-education?lang=eng) In that sense, the LDS faith actually *rejects* the “stay in the kitchen” stereotype that so many media outlets seem to hold in regards to conservative Christianity and womens’ rights in favor of a stance that says “everyone in a family has an important role to play, and as such they should be supporting one another in those roles.”

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    The week before, the same program, Heart and Soul, had another piece called “More Trouble with Pakistan’s White Stripe” that was superb. Unfortunately, it’s only available as a download now (http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/heartsoul), but it’s well worth the listen. The White Stripe on Pakistan’s flag is supposed to represent religious tolerance. The narrator of this story takes you behind the scenes of the persecution that Christians are suffering in Pakistan. It made one feel a personal connection to something that seems galaxies away.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    I should note, however, that the title of the program, The Womb Is A Weapon, leaves much to be desired. With that title, I was expecting an all-out attack on the movement. Fortunately, that didn’t materialize.

  • David D

    “‘Campbell believes there are specific groups of people with high birth-rates that she is worried will soon outnumber Christians.’ ….[W]e see the BBC trusting its readers to understand what is being said without feeling the need to connect-the-dots for them”

    I’m unclear on what you’re saying here. Earlier you (rightly) praise the author for not using an adjective to describe the movement’s leadership and organizations. Are you also saying it was good not to say which “specific groups” Campbell was referring to? Doing so would have allowed us to ask questions about the theology at work here. For example, do Quiverfull adherents believe the “enemies in the gate” of Psalm 127.are, say, members of all other religions or just certain ones? And by “contend”, do adherents mean physical violence or spiritual struggle?

    Vicki also makes clear this is a political issue for her, “I do think I’m raising my children to be future voters, and possibly to be future politicians, the MPs.” Given the events of the last two days: a far-right historian killing himself in Notre Dame Cathedral as a protest, in part, against Muslim immigration; an Islamist murder in South London, and then riots and reprisal attacks by the English Defence League, it’s a shame the article (which was written before those events) didn’t explore the political angle..


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