What is Quiverfull?

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on February 18, 2012. It has been slightly modified for HA.

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.

5 comments

  • Reblogged this on The Road.

  • Thanks for posting this balanced article. It’s funny that we sort of “backed into” Quiverfull. We had been involved in the “Shepherding” movement of the ’70’s and ’80’s, which had a very strong dominionist bent. Since we weren’t well off, we weren’t encouraged by church leadership as baby after baby arrived, even though we used a form of birth control.(I chose not to use hormonal birth control LONG before it became popular in Christian circles because of some health issues, but that is another story).

    That said, as members in our church embraced Bill Gothard’s teaching, we became less “weird”.

    Due to our eventual disagreement with the dominionist theology, and the control of others by the “shepherds”, we left that church. In the meantime, we had conceived our 7th baby, five years after the birth of our 6th. I really didn’t want him to be this tail end youngest with no close sibling, so we chose, for the first time in our marriage, to “try” for another baby. It took longer than we expected, but 2.5 years later, we had another. During that pregnancy, I was introduced to the book, “Full Quiver” and Mary Pride’s books.

    After reading them, and having had 7 children while using birth control, we prayed and decided to stop using any birth control after the birth of our 8th. We went on to have 4 more(with a couple miscarriages in there) over the following six years. So, we had six children in 9.5 years using birth control, and six children over 9.3 years not using birth control for a total of 12. But I digress.

    In 1995, we got internet in our home, and I discovered Quiverfull Digest, an e-mail digest to discuss things like bedroom space, laundry, and 15 passenger vans. Or so I thought. All of our school aged kids were in public schools at the time(after having been in a Christian school attached ot our former church…and the theological problems thereof). On QF, I found myself defending our choice for the kids until I just went silent on the issue.

    Then it was the courtship issue. My husband and I had already hammered out what we felt were reasonable dating rules, understanding that they probably would not marry the first person they date….But no one there seemed to be willing to listen to anyone but Bill Gothard, Reb Bradley, or…..well, I can’t remember the other name that was thrown around a lot.

    Finally, after 20 years of marriage , my husband and I had a great marriage, and an understanding of “submission” that did not include him being the “priest and KING” of our family. I tried to be totally submissive, but he hated it as much as I did, lol.

    At that point, Quiverfull became something I just could no longer be involved with. And, I think they kicked me out anyway. I tried to get them to see the harm done to many who had grown up in the system, and I never received a digest in my e-mail again. Since I didn’t really care, I never approached them again.

    I still believe that God opens and closes the womb. I still believe that EVERY child is a blessing to be welcomed unconditionally. I also believe that God calls some people to limit their family size and there are ways to do that that don’t threaten the wife’s health.

    Some of our children are struggling with their faith…..but that’s how we grow. Most of our children are limiting their family size. Why or how they are doing that is none of my business. It is my business to love them as Jesus loved us. To spoil their children(just a little…..I mean, M&M’s are a food group, right?). To embrace them when things are tough, and to leave to God the leading them to Himself.

    If they ask questions about my faith, about the scriptures, about God, we answer them as far as our own understanding will allow, and always direct them to prayer and reading the scriptures FOR THEMSELVES. The Holy Spirit is the interpreter, not their dad and me.

    Mostly, Christian parents need to put away fear, and pray for FAITH in God. Trust Him. He loves my children more than I do, and He does not fear for them.

  • Oh, and to add……God does not give us kids so we can “Take xxxxx location for Christ”. That’s just ludicrous. It denies their inherent value as His creation. He gives us children to love, to raise up understanding His love, mercy, and grace, and to give us more grandchildren….oh..sorry, strike that part….lol….I’m just lovin’ the grandchildren thing…. The scripture states clearly what we are to be doing in these days……I Thessalonians 4:11 “……that you also aspire to LEAD A QUITE LIFE, to MIND YOUR OWN business, and to work with your own hands,as we commanded you.” And Titus 2:11-13 “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” I propose that the grasp for political power is a “worldly lust”, not one from Above. But that’s just me…..

    No where does it say to “change the culture”, “redeem the culture”, or “take the country” for Jesus. We are to love individuals and make disciples by His Grace and Mercy…..not by the Law.

  • Hi, anonymous. I admire you for having 12 children. That must have been a challenge and a joy. It is very interesting what you said. One thing I disagree with is that Christians CAN influence US culture because we are very free. Christian families have a passive influence on society by having children as well for the positive. Also, it is so important to win people to Christ. I don’t know how we can completely obey the great commission as Christians if we are having less children who have all the opportunity in the world to accept Christ and can carry the gospel into the world because they are being raised by Christian parents. Maybe the parents won’t, but personally I would love if Christians have a lot of children who will be missionaries in areas of the world that have no knowledge of Christ and are dying in their sins every day. I think people can trust God in their family size. He doesn’t give more than you can handle. Of course, it will stretch you and challenge you. I have had just one child a son in about 8 years of marriage because of personal problems and sin issues that have prevented pregnancy ( I am severely overweight, but now working on it.) I was not given more children than I can handle even though I have struggled a lot. I love my son so much and I want to take care of him. Even with the big mistakes we make my husband and I do a better job than any of the schools we have put him in. One thing I don’t like about the dominion ideology is that it seems a little prideful to think you are going to have these amazing children who have such an impact on society, but just having children who will have impact on their spheres of influence is really enough to have quite an influence on the world. I think it is right to have children and it is a woman’s right to have children. Oh, and based on the people who I know who do limit the amount of children they have usually they are more than capable of handling children or more children financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Of course there are people who are in bad marriages. That causes problems and I don’t really speak to them. I think children are wired to have their siblings as well and it harms children not to have them. For example, my parents limited their family size to 3 and I feel like I was really hindered because of that. I didn’t learn how to raise children. I had never been around babies. I didn’t have much to do in my late teens and early twenties and felt kind of useless in the family. I was able to be quite selfish and still struggle with that. I never developed those life skills that I would have had if my mom and dad had had more children. I don’t want my son to have those problems. I don’t think I was meant to struggle so much in these areas. Children like having siblings too even if they decide to not have as many children usually they really love having brothers and sisters. You must know more than me though because you have such a large family.

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