If you’re interested in Christian pop-culture, you’ve probably seen the Duggar family documentary Shiny Happy People. This documentary outlines the lives of the family from TLCs reality show 19 Kids and Counting. What appeared to be a strong family unit was exposed as a faltering IBLP and Quiverfull experience.
Jim Bob Duggar followed the teaching of Bill Gothard, the founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP). These teachings included simple living, homeschooling, and rigid gender roles. They also discouraged any birth control or contraception. Each child was a blessing from God.
We see the same sentiment in the Quiverfull movement. With similar tenets, the Quiverfull movement takes its name from the 1985 book The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality by Mary Pride. The man who has a ‘quiverfull of children’ will be happy and safe according to Psalm 127. Contraception actually goes against God’s will for your life.
While more Progressive American Christians hold liberal ideas on family planning like safe abortions and contraception, many Christians in America find themselves somewhere in the middle. How did we become so divided? Is there hope for the American Church to reunite?
The Anglican Church’s Reconsideration on Contraception
This first example comes from across the Pond. In 1930, the Church of England came together for their Lambeth Conference. This years conference was attended by over 3o0 bishops and they passed 75 resolutions. These included general reaffirmations of theological beliefs and roles of men and women in the Church. However, this conference made waves on the discussion of contraception.
In Resolution 15, they affirmed that “in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles.” Basically – if you don’t want to have kids stay abstinent. If you can’t stay abstinent, you can use contraception if it aligns with Christian principles. The they define unChristian principles as “motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.”
This is a far cry from Progressive thought. They go on in the same conference to denounce abortion and remarriage after divorce. Yet, they saw a moral argument to providing people with the ability to plan their family.
Southern Baptists and Abortion
The abortion debate has been raging in our culture war for the last 40 years. Conservative Southern Baptists are pro-live while liberal Mainline denominations tend to be more accepting of abortion. However, this has not always been the case. This Politico article does a fantastic job outlining the history of the Religious Right’s movement on abortion.
Around the time of Roe v. Wade, the Conservative American Christianity made statements about the unclear moral argument for abortion and defining what a baby is. The Christian Medical Society was brought together in 1968 to discuss the morality of abortion. At the end, they affirmed the nuanced and difficulty of a black and white answer. In a joint statement, they said, “Whether the performance of an induced abortion is sinful we are not agreed but about the necessity of it and permissibility for it under certain circumstances we are in accord.”
At the Southern Baptist Convention in 1971, W.A. Criswell comments “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person… and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.” They reaffirmed their positions twice – in ’74 and ’76. This doesn’t sound like the modern Southern Baptist Convention.
How Did We Get Here?
The rise of science and critical thinking in America at the dawn of the 20th century was a major factor. Fundamentalism was starting to wane in favor and they retreated, but never gave up. After the Scopes-Monkey Trial, Fundamentalist Christianity began to create parallel institutions. These schools were designed to teach only the fundamentals of the Bible – inerrancy in the face of science and piety against ‘evil modernity’.
As Fundamentalism has continued throughout the last century, the ideas that come from reading the Bible literally have become more available. The Quiverfull movement and the ideas found in the IBLP are no exception. While Fundamentalist reading techniques have been used for societal ills like condoning slavery and oppressing the poor, the shift to sexuality and ‘traditional family’ has been prevalent for the last 4 decades.