Quoting Quiverfull: Christianity Improved Women’s Lives?

Quoting Quiverfull: Christianity Improved Women’s Lives? January 24, 2013

QUOTING QUIVERFULL is a regular feature of NLQ – we present the actual words of noted Quiverfull leaders and ask our readers: What do you think? Agree? Disagree? This is the place to state your opinion. Please, let’s keep it respectful – but at the same time, we encourage readers to examine the ideas of Quiverfull honestly and thoughtfully.

John Piper from desiring God – December 19, 2012

As Dana Robert tells the story of the conversion of the Irish, lessons abound for our day. For example, here is a paragraph about the effect of Christianity on the condition of women in the seventh century.

Although little is known of women’s roles in Ireland before the coming of Christianity, its spread launched a new day for women’s rights once a Christian leader gained the public authority to limit warfare. In 697 the Abbot Adomnan (d. 704) issued the “Law of the Innocents” that gave the testimony of women legal force, and gave women limited property rights. Endorsed by ninety-one Irish kings and bishops, Adomnan’s law repudiated the previous situation of women as abused slaves and forced warriors. This attempt to legalize Christian standards toward women and children was unprecedented in Europe in that period. Christianity in medieval Ireland became known for this leadership of royal women as the heads of monasteries, and as political and spiritual advisors to men.

Three lessons stand out.

One is that, wherever Christianity has spread, the condition of women has been improved. This is often forgotten in a day like ours where discussions often revolve around the refinements of the finer steps in the choreography of manhood and womanhood. The fact is that the Bible is revolutionary in heralding the dignity of woman created in the image of God and recreated as a fellow heir of the grace of life.”

Comments 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


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I don’t doubt that there are and have been places in the world where women were treated horribly and that Christian influence changed some things for the better. But that doesn’t mean that treating women with dignity should stop at Christianity, that there isn’t a higher standard to pursue. Christian treatment of women might be better than some others, but it doesn’t make it the best. Besides, comparing yourself to the worst of the worst doesn’t say much about how good you are at something.

  • Nightshade

    Lynn ~My thoughts exactly! It’s like going upstairs and stopping halfway, you’re further up than when you started, but you still have the rest of the way to go.

  • Red

    Sigh. I just don’t even know what to say about this one. It’s like ten thoughts are trying to get out of my head at once.

    The main thing is this: is Piper talking about Christianity making women’s lives better, or about Christ making them better? Christianity is simply the act of flawed humans trying to follow Christ, so Christianity is not always going to do things perfectly.

    When I read the Bible, I see Christ treating women as equals to men. Period. Whether or not specific Christians will live that out in specific ways in a specific age, without messing it up in some way, just depends.

    I’ve no doubt that there have been lots of instances where Christianity improved things for women (it’s pretty well-documented that this was the case at Christianity’s beginnings in ancient Rome). But it’s silly for Piper to imply that we should therefore assume modern Christians are treating women well enough. We’re not God. We are capable of getting things wrong, so we should keep ourselves in check.

  • Nea

    I find it incredibly ironic that the *spread* of Christianity has bolstered the rights of women, but the *establishment* of Christianity does much the opposite. There’s not much of the “fellow heir of the grace of life” in decrying women’s education, decrying women’s health care, decrying women working, etc., etc., etc.

  • Karen

    Christianity may have improved the lot of women in many places, but not all. Pre-Christianity Roman women had more rights than post-Christianity Roman women. A lot of pre-Christian tribes had more respect for women in many ways than after Christianity took over. It varied a lot by time and place. I don’t think one can make a blanket assertion.

  • saraquill

    Many slaves in the US were Christian, and I doubt this made their lives, male or female, inherently better.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Historically, Christian treatment of women hasn’t been better at all (and some people are aching to go back to those days.) I’m not an authority on Irish history, but I know that John Piper is leaving out some rather important information in this account. Early Irish Christianity probably WAS relatively progressive towards women–but only because Ireland was kind of a far outpost of the Christian world and the actual Church hierarchy in Rome just didn’t have as much authority there. Irish Christianity was kind of its thing for a while. When Rome started to really reach its tentacles into it, the condition of women regresssed, making it, well, more like what standard treatment of women was like for most of the history of the Christian world (and the rest of the world too…patriarchy is universal).

    I wonder if Piper has ever heard of the Magdalene laundries? Church-run slave labor camps that “fallen” women in Ireland were forced into, the last of which did not close until the 90s? Yeah, post-Christian Ireland has just been a PARADISE for women. *snort*

  • Al Lo

    This, exactly. When I read the headline for the post, my first thought was, Christ improved women’s lives. Whether or not Christianity has is a question with a million facets and represented by millions of stories that reinforce both “sides” of the argument. There’s no simple yes/no answer — there are considerations on the macro level of cultures being influenced for better and for worse, and on the micro level of, say, one husband who treated his wife and daughters better as a result of his faith and one who treated them worse — and each of those experiences answers the question in a different way.

  • Persephone

    The lot of women in Ireland during Celtic times was much better than under Christianity. Women had property rights, divorce rights, were often rulers, chose to be warriors, they were not forced, and so on. Christianity forced the Roman patriarchal system on the Irish, bolstered with religion and the fear of eternal punishment.
    Once Jesus died the shift to first the Jewish patriarchal system, then to the roman patriarchal system ensured the marginalization of women, and the treatment of women and children as chattel.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Lord, how I wish “Jesus was totes a feminist hippie” type liberal defenses of Christianity didn’t have to include an “unlike those backward Jews” part, like, 90% of the time. Christianity did plenty of lousy things that cannot be ultimately blamed on other cultures and religions, seriously. (Well, actually, I don’t think “Christianity” or any other ideology does anything. I think people do things and use whatever ideology is handy to justify them. Just tired of hearing “Well, all that bad stuff was THEIR idea…”)

  • Persephone

    I don’t know if you’re labeling my comment, or comments in general. I’m not a christian, I don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, the Bible is a book of stories selected by a patriarchal culture (Roman) to best fit the religion they wanted to control people and not inspired by any god, and ancient cultures contributed to our behavior.
    Jesus was a product of his culture, as we all are. He didn’t have female apostles. He did teach women and children of both sexes, and did step outside the prevailing culture when he did so.
    It’s the normal, and often sad, course of things that after the death of a charismatic leader who does break down some barriers (not just religious leaders) his followers at least partially revert back to the culture in which they were brought up, and much of the progress is lost.
    I will say that Jesus did exhibit a socialist view in his behavior and teachings, but he was hardly a hippie.