What is Quiverfull? An Introduction

Because I have some new readers, I thought I’d take a moment to explain what Quiverfull and Christian Patriarchy are, since I throw these terms around from time to time. This post you get Quiverfull; you’ll get Christian Patriarchy next.

Quiverfull: The Basics

The Quiverfull movement takes its name from this verse:

Psalm 127:3-5 - Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.

First is the idea that children are a blessing and always something to be welcomed. The more children a man has, the more blessed he is. Children should never been seen as a burden, but always welcomed with open arms.

Second is the whole arrow part. What do you do with arrows? You shoot them at your prey. The Quiverfull movement holds that these arrows, or children, are to be shot out into the world to win converts and make the world more Christian.

So, have many children because they are a blessing, and because you can shoot them out into the world to influence it for Christ. 

The Military Rhetoric

Now there’s quite a bit of military rhetoric involved here. Don’t let you throw that off. The whole “army for Christ” thing isn’t literal. The Quiverfull movement isn’t arming its children or sending them to jihad camps. It’s called a metaphor.

As an example, Prominent Christian homeschool leader and Quiverfull advocate Michael Farris likes to tell homeschool parents that they are the “Moses generation,” taking their children out of “Egypt” and training them up in “the wilderness,” and that their children will be the “Joshua generation,” who will go out and conquer the land of Canaan. (Or as he also phrases it, “retake America for Christ.”)

Now Farris doesn’t mean these children will retake America for Christ with guns and tanks. What he means is that they will retake it for Christ by winning converts and influencing the politics, law, education, and culture of our nation. And yes, there is dominionist influence at work here.

Ideological Uniformity

It should be obvious that implicit in all of this is the idea that Quiverfull children will share their parents’ beliefs, ideas, and values. After all, what good would it be to have arrows that go astray when you shoot them? Part of this metaphor is the idea that arrows are shaped carefully, whittled to the perfect size and balanced just so – and that parents are to do the same with children. If a child is raised properly, the Quiverfull movement holds, that child will become the ideological and lifestyle clone of his or her parents.

It should be obvious that this creates problems for children in Quiverfull families. It’s not just young people like me growing up in Quiverfull homes feeling stifled by the expectations of conformity who have noticed that there’s a problem. There are articles by Quiverfull leaders who talk about the problems of children “jumping ship” or children who “went wrong.” Of course, their solution is not to change their ideology, but to try different tactics to shape their children.

Birth Control

There’s one more thing to be mentioned, and that’s birth control. Hardcore Quiverfull families reject birth control entirely, believing that it subverts God’s plan for the family. They believe that if they follow God and go without birth control entirely, God will provide for them. God controls the womb, after all, and going without birth control allows God to choose a family’s size and timing.

But a family doesn’t have to go all the way and reject birth control to be influenced by Quiverfull ideas. There are lots of families who, influenced by these ideas, have much higher than average numbers of children and raise them to be “arrows shot out into the world” even as they use birth control to space the children out a little bit or to call it quits when they feel they can’t handle any more.

Conclusion

When I speak of the “Quiverfull movement” I really mean all of those who are influenced by Quiverfull ideas, not simply those who go all the way and reject birth control entirely. For me, the idea of raising children to be arrows shot into the world is a more important part of Quiverfull than is a complete rejection of birth control.

When people look at families like the Duggars, all they see is the “we don’t use birth control” and “we think every child is a blessing” part. Would that that were all. It’s the idea of raising up children to be a metaphorical army for Christ, miming their parents’ beliefs and lifestyle while winning converts and influencing America’s political and legal systems and its culture, that is more problematic.

Note: Remember that most Christians think this stuff is loony.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • otrame

    So all those well-meaning people who are out there half-killing themselves to have as many babies as possible and try to provide them with food and clothing and of course a great deal indoctrination–if one of their kids manages to learn enough and is intellectually honest enough to say “Hey, wait a minute…” it is the parents’ fault. They weren’t good enough to rear them up in the way they should go. They failed at this very important commission from God.

    I guess I will have to start saving a little sadness for the parents, as well as for the kids raised within this horrible ideology. Libby Anne, the work you are doing is important. You must feel like an aide worker in a third-world slum, seeing the devastation and knowing you can only help a little.

  • http://thewelltimedperiod.blogspot.com ema

    God controls the womb, after all, and going without birth control allows God to choose a family’s size and timing.

    If they believe that God controls the womb, how can they also believe that the will of an omnipotent deity can be thwarted by a mere pill, vaginal ring, IUD, etc.?

    • Sas

      I’m going to hazard a guess that it falls into the “God allows us free will” basket.

    • Uly

      There was an earthquake in Boston in 1755. Many or most of the residents of the city had never experienced such a thing before.

      So what did they attribute it to? God’s anger over lightning rods.

      Yes, God found that simple lightning wards kept him from punishing people with thunderbolts. The astonishing, hypocritical hubris of this assertion is not to be believed.

      People never do change.

  • Ace of Sevens

    This is not only the impetus of the home schooling movement, but the entirely parallel Christian culture. This is why there are Christian board games, low-budget movies, toys, children’s lit, board games, etc. It’s a rare family that’s hardcore enough about this to ban their children from the secular snares of Sorry! or something, but the idea is that one’s entire cultural milieu can promote Christianity. It can traumatize the kids, but retention rates aren’t all that good.

  • DLC

    Libby Anne, thanks for writing. I’ve been concerned about these “quiverfull” people ever since finding out about them back in 2004. weird and disturbing people.

  • http://potatoesarenotvegetables.blogspot.com Ashton

    I’ve been wondering something for a while. There must be a high amount of pregnancy complications in the hardcore Quiverful movement, or am I wrong? If these families aren’t listening to medical advice that would tell them that it would be dangerous if a woman were to conceive due to some medical condition, doesn’t this cause problems? Are there a higher than usual number of families where the husband is a widower? (Of course, it would still be a small number I’m sure) Or do many of these families leave the movement or accept that maybe bc is okay in these limited circumstances but not in general?

  • Meggie

    Quality versus quantity? Quiverful are really good on quantity. There are a lot of fundy Christians in my family. The fact that most of them are uneducation with poor socials skills does not seem to worry their parents. (I know this is not the case in every family but it does seem common.) The children are expected to be arrows flying out to convert people but if they are unable to relate to people due to their lack of social skills and experience with others who are different and unable to argue their point due to lack of education, what is the point? Wouldn’t it be better to have one or two children who are educated, can get along with people and might actually go out into the world and do something useful? Better still, go out into the world yourself and do what needs to be done and let your children choose their own path?

    • Brawne Lamia

      If you’re curious, Libby Anne had a post to this exact effect on her old blog. It’s really good.

  • Lauren

    The whole “army for Christ” thing isn’t literal.

    The hell it isn’t. Just peruse a couple of your new neighbors right here on FTB who post about the christianization of the US military: Rock Beyond Belief and This Week in Christian Nationalism.

    • Effie

      No kidding.

      I know from firsthand experience that many CP and Quiverfull families send their sons off to the military as a type of proselytizing mission. Something they won’t publicly admit to, but do discuss amongst themselves, is the goal of these boys getting combat and weapons experience, making close connections with young men from similar backgrounds across the country, and becoming military officers who can be groomed for political positions. It’s service with the goal of subversion, which is quite easy to do in a post-9/11 military and government, thanks to the Bush administration’s treating of OEF and OIF as a Christian war on Islam.

      It’s not just the U.S. military, either. There is a terrifying level of overlap between the CP and Quiverfull movements and New Apostolic Reformation/Christian Identity/Seven Mountains ideologies, which are militant dominionist Christian sects. They hold that the U.S. government is evil and must be forcibly overthrown in order to install a hardline OT-type christian theocracy, complete with stonings of gays and “uppity women.” If you’ve ever read “The Handmaid’s Tale,” well, they consider it a blueprint.

      Bruce Wilson and Frederick Clarkson of Talk To Action are experts on them.

      http://www.talk2action.org

      Another good place to get information on these people is the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate and violent extremist groups in the United States across the political and theological spectrum.

      http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2008/fall/arming-for-armageddon

      These people are, if Libby Anne will pardon my French, completely batshit. They’re also nothing to joke about. They’ve been planning and executing this movement from the ground up for the last several decades in response to the Civil Rights and Women’s movements, which they see as a direct threat to the supremacy of white male patriarchy. With the advent of high-speed communications and the internet, it’s becoming easier for them to organize and spread their messages of hate. Take them seriously.

  • Jet

    “They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court.”

    So, shouldn’t they all be raised to be lawyers?

    • Meggie

      All the quiverfuls in my family have been raised to be ministers/missionaries if male or the wives of ministers/missionaries if female. They were suppose to go out into the world and convert the heathens. Unfortunately, those that have graduated school have either not been accepted in bible school or have failed when they got there. No ministers or missionaries yet.

      • Gordon

        I used to “teach” Sunday school. My biggest hope is that none of what I said stuck.

  • Steve

    Are there any numbers of how many people are in this movement? Not just Quiverfull, but generally patriarchy and some of the other more extreme and authoritarian Christian movements.

    I know that this isn’t a strictly controlled cult like Scientology or Mormonism, but more of a loosely connected movement. So there aren’t membership lists, but there have to be some rough estimates.

    • Judy L.

      Please don’t call some sects of Christianity ‘movements’ and other sects and religions ‘cults’. All religions should be called what they are: irrational, non-sensical, perverted alternative lifestyles.

      • Steve

        Some are more evil than others though. The way Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses for example dominate one’s daily life and social activities, squelch any dissent, have “prophets” who speak with the voice of god and who must be obeyed, build parallel societies and shun apostates makes them a lot worse. Those are all signs of cults.

  • Gordon

    This is even more terrifying than I’d imagined. Thanks for sharing.

  • grumpyoldfart

    It is not surprising that Christians are keen proselytisers because 1 Chronicles 16:29 says they should:

    “Give unto the Lord, the glory due unto his name.”

    And even less surprising when we turn to Malachi 2:2-3 and discover the punishment for those who fail to glorify his name:

    “If ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name … Behold, I will corrupt your seed and spread dung upon your faces.”

    • tbrandt

      The parable of the minas (Luke 19:11-27, Matthew 25:14-30) might be even more appropriate, and is at least as horrific. The Gospels are not all sweetness and light.

  • Nicole

    In the article you linked about kids “jumping ship” it scares me to no end that they stated there are families where kids are practicing incest with one another. That is sick. What disturbs me most is that it is presented as though it is the same thing as if little Johnny was caught smoking cigarettes.

    If this is something that is happening in these families where they have no contact with the outside world, it really needs to be examined by child protective services.

    Of course, that example could have just been a false scare tactic but from someone on the outside who knows no different it scares me too for reasons other than “If the kids are doing it with each other, well by golly they can’t be an arrow for Christ!”

    • Another Anonymous Coward

      I believe that it’s a near inevitable consequence. After all, Mom and Dad are doing it, and say it’s good, and are praised by the entire (restricted) social milieu for it (and besides, it’s FUUUUUUNNNNNN). Also, unless the family is living in an enclave or neighborhood of like-minded people, the kids have a limited choice of partners.

      It’s the old Law of Unintended Consequences in full bloom.

    • http://potatoesarenotvegetables.blogspot.com Ashton

      Thelink about Jumping ship was completely creepy. The other link about when things go wrong was more compassionate and I actually thought that the writer had a lot of good points. He talked about how family can become an idol and how families often focus on their childs external actions to the detriment of what’s going on inside. I suppose if you know someone in the movement you could suggest Rob Bradley over Michael Pearl.

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Melissa@Permission to Live

    About Above Rubies again, another issue they did recently was how good serial pregnancies are for women. Including a bunch of stories about how a pregnancy “saved the mother’s life” as in the mother had aome mysterious problem and then her 9th pregnancy magically healed her. It’s so frustrating, beacuse all these exhausted drained and sick women will read that and think that if they just leave their womb open for God a little longer they are going to be healed.

  • RW Ahrens

    A bit late, but are folks in this movement always Protestant, or is there a Catholic offshoot of it? Because I’ve got a daughter who married a catholic, and their beliefs and actions (6 kids and growing, homeschooling & social isolation – especially from their atheistic grandparents) sure sounds like these folks.

    • Libby Anne

      There is. There is a little bit of this ideology in Catholicism in general (especially the no birth control bit), but Catholic homeschoolers also find themselves (sometimes unwittingly) influenced by the Quiverfull ideas that are increasingly widespread in the largely protestant Christian homeschool community.

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  • http://DerekLeman.com/Musings Derek Leman

    Some of us, who for spiritual reasons, feel we should have as many children as come naturally are not closed-minded religious militias in the making. Some of us believe in medicine and do not encourage women to have high risk pregnancies in the name of ideology. Some of us simply believe in the value of children, in teaching them to think for themselves, that the world can be improved by people raised in unconditional love, that the world can be repaired by people who know what it means to love and have faith. My wife (42) and I (44) have 8 kids (ages 4-20) and we are a Messianic Jewish family. In spite of certain extremists and take-over-the-world talk by ideologues making their living off of their special interest groups and lobbying, I simply wanted to say that people of faith may make a choice to have large families with the best intentions and the truest desire to do good in this world.

    • Don

      Thanks Derek – It’s heart breaking to read these posts. So many people in or out of the Christian faith mess things up. We all have our good intentions – on either side of the “fence” – but in the end, only God holds the truth. So, having read all the comments and holding an understanding of the “Quiverfull” mind-set, let me just say this: all of us must choose whether we will serve ourselves or God. Obviously if we don’t believe in God and the bible, the choice is clear. But if you’re on the fence, consider a personal look at God and seek out people who can answer some of the hard questions. The truth is that God loves us – even when we mess up our kids (not that all home-schoolers do). For many, it’s a matter of striving to grow in their faith and obey what God has said to do. But when Christians actually strive to obey, it’s offensive to the world.

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