Answering the Quiverfull Party Line #1: If We’re Not Trusting God, We Are Playing God

As a counter-cultural movement, the Quiverfull philosophy and lifestyle are frequently subject to substantial criticism from outsiders (friends, neighbors, random strangers in grocery store check-out lines) – and, given the life-altering ramifications of embracing the Quiverfull ideal, even the firmly-convinced often ask tough questions with respect to the practicality and wisdom of “trusting the Lord with our family planning.”  ”Answering the Quiverfull Party Line” examines  the Quiverfull apologia.

by Barbie Getzreal

The Quiverfull Party Line: If We’re Not Trusting God, We Are Playing God

Are We Pro-Choice or Pro-Life? Most Christians would answer Pro-Life. By this they mean that they are against terminating a life that has already been conceived through abortion. But are they really Pro-Life? What if God should so desire to bless them with another family member? Usually not. The majority of the church has openly embraced birth control, even though it’s very name clearly implies that someone else is in control other than God. Their bodies, destiny, family size, timing and structure have never been turned over. God’s creed has always been conception, birth and life. The world’s creed has always been birth control, sterilization and abortion. It all accomplishes the same purpose. Life has been stopped. Whose side are we on? (excerpted from Who Is In Control?)

Not surprisingly, the central issue regarding birth control is CONTROL. Namely, who (Who?) is really in control when it comes to the making of a new living being?  ”Jess” at Making Home, engages her readers in a thought-provoking dialogue regarding the significance of determining God’s will:

I see one very KEY and CRITICAL difference between the determination of God’s will regarding a new house or job and the determination of God’s will regarding birth control, and it is this: house and job decisions have much lower stakes. Those kinds of decisions will not determine whether or not a human being is ever conceived.

There are some questions to consider that have some critical implications for what we believe about the sovereignty of God:

IF (and this is a big if) there is some implied standard in the Word that because children are a blessing and everyone must therefore partake of as many blessings as possible, THEN is the at-large Christian community intentionally and willfully bucking the will of God for our own ease?

At Boundless.org, Candice Watters, co-author of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies, weighs in with her observation that generally, it appears that God lets couples have their own way when it comes to family planning:

Yes, God can work around and through birth control, should He so desire. And birth control can and does fail on occasion. But as a rule, God follows the principles He set in place to govern our natural world; stories of miraculous conceptions despite a couple’s efforts to prevent more children are an exception, not the norm. I believe God is not inclined to make the pill or patch fail in order to impose His will for our families on us. When we erect barriers to God’s blessings, He often lets us. We limit God by decisions of our free will.

Is God really sovereign over the womb? Can God be limited by mankind’s exercise of free will which He himself, has conferred upon us?  God gave us brains, doesn’t He expect us to use them?

But maybe that’s our problem – perhaps we’re thinking too hard. In The Way Home: Beyond Feminism and Back to Reality, Mary Pride suggests a simple alternative to “scheming and plotting how many babies to have and when to have them”:

It can be summed up in three little words: trust and obey. If God is willing to plan my family for me (and we Christians all do believe that God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives), then why should I muddle up his plan with my ideas?

Consider this: If we use birth control, we are “playing God” by making a conscious determination regarding the prevention of life – and if we forego birth control, we are also “playing God” by making a conscious determination regarding the conception of life. Either way, we make a choice. Knowing good and evil – having the capacity to choose – this is what makes conscious human beings “like god.”

If we refuse to make an active choice regarding family planning, we are nevertheless making a choice.

Do our choices to use or not use birth control actually result in the prevention or conception of a baby? Who can know for sure? There are entirely too many variables and unknowns to reach any verifiably objective conclusions. Does God exist? If yes, does He supernaturally interfere with the natural course of a Christian couple’s reproductive life? Is His specific will regarding believers’ fertility revealed in the Bible? Whose interpretation of the relevant passages of scripture are most accurate? How do the “laws of nature” or “random chance” figure into the equation?  The list of relevant considerations goes on and on …

Seeing that, for all practical purposes, these deep philosophical deliberations about “Who’s in control?” and “trusting God” vs “playing God” are essentially irrelevant to the question of whether Christian couples will have two babies, or a dozen babies, or no babies at all – believers should feel free to consider practical matters such as family dynamics, financial concerns, health risks to moms and babies, parental energy levels and temperament, and even individual personal preference, when “playing God” in their choice to welcome, or prevent, future pregnancies.

The real hinderance to mature discernment and clear thinking with regard to Christians and birth control comes from the absolute, black and white, either/or mindset implied in the phrase “trusting the Lord with our family planning.”  This terminology should be recognized as a thought-stopping tactic contrived to arrogate the moral high-ground from anyone who might dare to question the validity of the claim that eschewing birth control is the only means of “trusting the Lord” with one’s reproductive life.

Reducing the issue to a simple matter of “Who’s In Control?” essentially derails the conversation and leaves no room for consideration of extenuating circumstances or personal conviction.

What do you think? Yes, you are allowed to think – and to express your personal views without fear of judgment regarding your spiritual maturity, personal devotion, or level of commitment to the Quiverfull party line. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

This is the first in a series intended to address real life issues that we former QFers faced – and the pat answers and comforting platitudes we repeated to console ourselves when the ideal did not exactly match up to reality.

Read all posts by Barbie Getzreal!

Discuss this post on the NLQ forum. Comments are also open below.

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

  • SecularGal

    I do not have a comment, but a question. As an outside observer of the Quiverfull movement, I have often wondered: If God is in control of the “family planning”, then what if the couple is infertile? Is it “playing God” to go to modern science & doctors in order to conceive through fertility treatments such as artificial insemination, hormone injections/pills or in-vitro fertilization? Also, is adoption looked down on within the community? What if a doctor said a mother could die if she had another pregnancy, could the family then adopt in order to grow their family? Or is that also subverting “God’s will”?

    • abba12

      As a general rule, those who follow quiverful, and not ‘stop-breastfeeding-asap-to-have-more-babies-faster’ beliefs, DO believe that artificial means of concieving are also subverting God because he ‘opens AND closes the womb’. There ARE infertile, childless quiverful couples. There’s also quiverful couples with just a couple of children who are now infertile. Not all quiverfullers have 20 kids, but those who do gain more attention for it. Some churches apparently see infertility as a punishment and a lack of children as a lack of blessing, but others accept it as God’s will being for them to do something else. My mother in law had 8 babies with very uncomplicated pregnanies, but number 9 was stillborn and premmie. I don’t know great details but what happened with that child resulted in her infertility (she was nearing menopause anyway which didn’t help, but she probably still had a few years left otherwise.) Similar situations do occur with smaller families too, and generally, at least around the quiverfullers I know, it’s accepted as Gods word and will that your quiver is full and this is his will for you.

      However, there is a certain amount of leway, as most also believe if there is something physically wrong with the body, it should be fixed. So hormone injections to fix obviously ‘wrong’ hormone patterns will be accepted by more people, whereas IVF is generally frowned upon by everyone.

      The conception of my first child is a bit inbetween, I had a physical issue preventing me from actually inserting anything larger than a finger, making sex impossible. She was our ‘dropper baby’. You’ll probably find opinions are divided on whether that was a biblically correct choice.

  • madame

    Secular Gal,
    adoption is considered a “ministry”, so it’s good.

    I respect the quiverfull belief that not using birth control is all about turning that responsibility over to God, or trusting God, and I’m ok with that. For many, it is a result of them examining their trust in God.

    But I also think that the decision to prevent conception (I prefer the term contraception)is personal and doesn’t mean the couple doesn’t trust God. Why would a couple who don’t LIKE parenting give birth to a dozen children? Why would a couple going through financial stress or instability go ahead and keep having children? God also gave us a brain and I think he meant for us to use it.

  • Liz

    The Bible talks about trusting God with food, clothes and money a LOT. It never discusses whether to trust God with how many kids you will have.

    Yet Quiverfull adherents would probably not suggest that we fail to open savings accounts, fail to buy clothes at the store, or fail to go to the grocery store and cook. They’d never say that “trusting God” for that stuff means abdicating all the decisions surrounding it. Instead, they’ve picked one thing to harp on that never gets directly addressed in scripture.

    I rest my case.

    Liz

    • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

      Off topic, but the phrase ‘God will provide’ always sends up big red warning flags for me. For one, it reads as a sign that things are bad, but more than that, it negates the need to actually THINK and PLAN and DO anything, and I worry that the people who say that phrase aren’t doing everything they could to improve their situation.

      Getting back to the topic, if we’re supposed to trust in God to run our lives, why did he bother with giving us free will in the first place?

  • Madamoyzelle

    My response to “God is in charge of my family planning” is

    Just because I CAN do something, doesn’t mean I SHOULD do it. So. Just because I CAN have 20 children does not mean I SHOULD have 20 children.

    Additionally, to simply have unprotected sex, or to have sex without considering the consequences (maternal death, lack of space, insufficient finances, unemployment and layoff, needs of other children) is IRRESPONSIBLE. It is as irresponsible to have ill-considered sex IN marriage as it is irresponsible to have sex OUTSIDE of it. It shows a lack of restraint and a lack of maturity.

    And finally, it puts the responsibility for the decision to have sex with abandon right on God’s head. And that is hypocrisy. People plan weddings, they plan financially for houses, and cars. They plan for an education and they plan for what careers they will pursue. But suddenly, when it comes to FAMILY planning, “well! we just can’t have that!”

    Baloney.

  • Meggie

    I have no problem with people who genuinely leave it to God to decide when they have children. The problem I have is that very few people seem to do this. Claiming that you are leaving it to God but actively trying to conceive seems a bit contradictory. I include following Old Testament rules on when you can and can’t have intercourse. Following these rules and having intercourse on the first “clean” day, which is also the most fertile time in a womens cycle, seems to me like trying to conceive.

    Examples:
    # Jim Bob Duggar’s “we are trying” comment.
    # Gil Bates explanation that they are not taking fertility drugs but drugs to maintain a life that is already there. I am sure that he genuinely see it as the same as treating one of his other children for an illness but I don’t. If you trust God to decide when you get pregnant, why don’t you trust him with the outcome of that pregnancy?
    # Anna Duggar buying pregnancy tests in bulk and multiple negative tests after only four months of marriage. (Hence asking Josh to look at the test results.) This sounded to me like she had performed many tests and was desperate for a positive. Waiting for God to bless them or actively trying for a child?
    # From my own family, the relative who doesn’t have start having intercourse again until a child has started toilet training because she doesn’t want two children in nappies.

    I have no problem with people trying to get pregnant. I only object when those same people are so against anyone trying to not get pregnant.

    • abba12

      There are quiverful families, and there are have-lots-of-children families. They are really not the same thing, and it bothers me to no end when a family calls themselves quiverful, and then tries to have another child as fast as possible by limiting breastfeeding and following cycles. The duggars aren’t quiverful, they have stated that themselves, they believe children are a blessing and want as many as they possibly can. While the two groups often overlap they’re just not the same.

      It’s unusual for a truly quiverful family to have children into the double digits unless the mother married young enough to allow a lot of child bearing years. Most quiverful families have about or at least 2 years between kids, whereas have-as-many-kids-as-possible families can often pop them out every year or so.

      There’s exceptions of course, I know one woman who, try as she might with on-demand breastfeeding and even avoiding her most fertile periods it takes no more than 6 months after birth to become pregnant again, but they’re the exception, not the rule.

      Amy from Raising Arrows talks about the big gap between her older children. Her three eldest are 13, 10 and 6. She learnt through those experiences that quiverful does not automatically mean a large family, and that trusting God means both ways, both in pregnancy and lack thereof.

  • Lynn

    Hmm, I am Christian, and this is a question my husband and I have wrestled with, and we have come to this conclusion for our personal lives: IF we are going to trust God (and we both want to), we need to trust Him for everything, including the huge decision about children. BUT… we do not think that means we invent a rule about having unlimited children or God won’t approve of us. We feel that, for us, cutting God out of the decision altogether equals faithlessness on our parts. But setting up a legalistic rule about how many children we have can be also just as faithless because it disinclines us to actually ask and seek God, instead we have a “rule book” to follow, loosely based on scripture.

    So instead, we just take it a child at a time, praying about each one. We pray about preventing birth, we pray about having another child, and then we go on and make our decisions, fully trusting that God will direct us and redirect us as needed, because He loves us and is not going to let us mess up if we truly want to follow His lead. It is not a strict or fearful thing, just talking to God and living our lives. We thought our last baby would be our LAST baby. We had been praying about it and taking measures to prevent another baby. But guess what, another baby is on it s way, regardless of our preventative measures! So after this baby comes, we will keep talking to God, making our choices, and trusting that He will direct us. That probably sounds way too simplistic, but it works for us, and we are at peace with it. I do wonder if the QF families are maybe making it too hard and missing out on what it means to be free in Christ when they invent “New Testament Law.” Legalism can be a substitute for faith.

    Thanks for this post. It has been really good food for thought.

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