Review: “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement”

I just finished reading Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce and I can’t stop thinking about it. The whole book was fascinating and hard to put down even though Joyce has one of the same writing flaws I have: long, complicated sentences. I have GOT to work on that because in reading this book, I realized how tiring it is to read sentences with too many clauses.

This book was a detailed look at one of the extreme factions of the Christian conservative movements. I’m frequently attracted to this kind of information because I’m rather bewildered by Christianity. The fundamental teachings of Jesus are groovy and I like all of that messaging but the practice of the religion we call Christianity is so slippery and uncentered that I wonder that it can be called a single religion at all. The type of worship and lifestyle I read about in this book bears so little resemblance to the beliefs and lifestyle of other Christians I know personally that I’m not sure they’d even recognize one another’s theology.  I also have trouble with the absolutism of modern Christian fundamentalism because it seems to ignore the numerous and rapid changes in the practice of Christianity that have occurred throughout its existence.  To say any one way of practicing Christianity is right and final strikes me as disingenuous because history shows us that it has and will change.

Anyway, I read this book both out of a theological curiosity and an anthropological one. I knew about the so-called quiverfull movement, wherein families leave the birth of children in the hands of their god and eschew any and all forms of birth control. The guiding idea behind it is a Bible verse about many sons being many arrows in a man’s quiver.  The Duggars are the most famous of these families. What I didn’t know is  much else is involved in the theology of this brand of Christianity and this book gives me that information in spades. The large families are merely one aspect of a philosophy of traditional family structure wherein the man is the leader, the woman is submissive, and the children are raised to emulate their parents. These families are generally homeschoolers, profoundly socially conservative, libertarian separatists who prefer not to accept any government assistance even in the case of extreme poverty, and proponents of self-sufficiency and living debt-free. Many of them are engaged in conservative political action such as the anti-choice movement and they claim to be on the front lines of the fight against a “culture of abortion” created by promiscuity, birth control, feminism, and actual medical abortion. They believe that their many children are going to be foot soldiers in a Christian army that will eventually “win back” the US and make it a Christian nation.

I strongly suspect that the descendants of the Native populations from whom American land was wrenched by Christina fundamentalists of another age would find that sentiment objectionable. But I digress.

The lives of the women in this book ran the gamut from those who are leaders in the movement who write books and run successful workshops on how to be a good Biblical wife and who revel in their role as the helpmeets of their husbands to women who escaped from lives of abuse disguised as patriarchal privilege. What seemed universal to their experience – at least from the limited view this book gave me – was a constant struggle to sublimate their individuality and model themselves after a wifely ideal that was not a good fit for most individuals. They all talked about repressing elements of their personalities to be better submissive wives, leading me to wonder, is it the right religion if it doesn’t allow you to be you? Or is there just something I don’t understand about deep faith?

When it comes to personal choices about religion, I am, or try to be, pretty live-and-let-live. I basically don’t give a shit where you worship. If your religion brings you comfort and joy and does not engage in abuse, have at it.  Wanna handle snakes? Super. Are you into meditation? Awesome. Do you pray to the Flying Spaghetti monster? Rock on. So my initial reaction to families who live 11 to a trailer, refuse to use credit cards or the Pill and spend their lives dedicated to their interpretation of Jesus’s teaching is to say “It’s a free country”.  The problem is, they don’t feel the same way about me and everyone else who isn’t a Christian patriarchal devotee. And therein lies the rub. Rather than making their space in the American landscape and leaving me my space, they wish to convert me to their thinking or create policies that subject me to their beliefs whether I like it or not.

Not. Cool.

I take such deep umbrage with evangelism because the act of trying to convert others to your way of thinking strikes me as an arrogant gesture. I know, that’s pretty rich coming from someone who writes an opinion blog. But understand this: I do not mind if you don’t agree with me, will never agree with me, and hate every word I type. You will never find me praying for you to come around to my way of thinking. You will never hear me issuing threats of condemnation to hell, here or in the afterlife, if you dissent from me. You will seldom find me declaring absolutely that my way is the only way and all who fail to follow it are wrong. But the most fervent of Christian evangelicals appear to feel all those things about their faith and are working toward building voting blocs that will bring forth the mechanisms to implement theocratic rule. And even though I don’t think they will succeed, it scares the shit out of me because I worry that their voices will drown out mine because Christianity is more widely accepted than non-Christianity.

Our political discourse is already riddled with Christian alnguage and candidates try to out-Christian each other on the campaign trail. Look at the furor that erupts whenever there’s anon-Protestant Presidential candidate. Both Mitt Romney and John Huntsman are having to figure out how to overcome their Mormon-ness. And remember when people thought Barack Obama might be Muslim? You might as well have said he eats puppies. Right now Michelle Bachmann is surging in the polls, largely because of her appeal as a homeschooling, anti-choice, pray-the-gay-away conservative Christian. And can you name any Republican Jews or Muslims in Congress? I can. Eric Cantor (R-VA).  That’s it. End of list. He’s actually the only non-Christian Republican in Congress.  That says to me that Christianity has a stranglehold on one of the two major parties in this country and that’s disturbing to me as a non-Christian. Our leadership – in both parties – should be representative of our population and our population includes many faiths. I don’t want to see government become a bastion of religious absolutism nor do I want to only be able to count on Democrats to protect the freedoms of the non-Christian population.

Anyway, I strongly recommend this book because it was so interesting and so well researched.  I find it troubling but I understand others will find it comforting. So far those who believe in what the quiverfull movement represents and those who do not coexist peaceably. May we all continue to do so.

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14 comments for “Review: “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement”

  1. amy
    July 20, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    And once again a wonderful post!

  2. July 20, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    I love this post.

    It always made me tilt my head slightly when I hear people that pop children out like litters of puppies. My partner’s sister is like this. They live in a barn, have children spraying out of her vagina to the point that, when they’re born, they walk out, no pushing required. They also have church in their barn, and life is good.

    I don’t have a problem with them doing this. I couldn’t care less. I’m not a religious man, at all. But she also has a great distaste for my partner and I. She doesn’t talk to me, she almost never talks to my partner. It’s just very, very sad.

    And it always cracks me up when being Christian is a requirement to hold a political office. Because being Christian has stopped them from having affairs, fucking over our government/economy/freedoms. Why don’t we, as a nation, vote for people that we feel will do what is BEST for us, not who we feel is closer to our God. Well, their God, not mine.

    But still, not everyone in this country is Christian. And it’s horrifying to me that ALL except one in our congress is a Christian? That’s hardly representative of our nation as a whole. At all.

  3. July 20, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    Great post! And it really is a real movement, I grew up in it. I wish more people were aware of the political undercurrent in these conservative religious mindsets.

  4. anthrogrrl
    July 20, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    Ever since I saw this was on your reading list, I’ve been looking forward to this post!

    You have hit the nail on the head here — it seems as though the intolerant always have a better chance of winning. The tolerant may fight for what they believe, but not with the same single-minded conviction as the intolerant. And yet, I don’t want to have to become intolerant in order to ensure that my beliefs are protected. It’s a major conundrum.

  5. July 21, 2011 at 9:10 am

    The classic argument is pointing to Genesis and insisting that God said “Be fruitful and multiply.”

    To which I reply, “Yes….but God didn’t explicitly say how many TIMES to multiply.” You produce two children, you have in effect, multiplied. Well done in the eyes of the Lord.

    And therein lies my major beef with fundamentalists: they pick and choose at their inconsistent convenience where to be literal with scripture, and where to be interpretive, with their arrogant certainty that they KNOW what God meant….

  6. Donna
    July 21, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Great post. I too am fearful of the Conservative movement because of their complete lack of tolerance for anyone who does not believe in the same B.S. that they spew. They barely believe it themselves, but rah, rah on at every political gathering they can get to in order to have a “side”. I’m convinced half of them have no idea what they are even rahing about let alone the future implication for our country and/or their own personal welfare.
    I was raised in a Catholic, republican family. In high school (Private Catholic school nonetheless) I wrote a paper comparing and contrasting the Republican/Democratic party platforms. During my research for the paper it became clear to me that I was NOT in fact a Republican and nether were most of my family members, when you considered them as people and what was important to them, but I digress.
    I really could not care less what religion or party affiliation ANYONE belongs to, as long as it does not infringe upon mine. Isn’t THAT the American way??
    What bugs me the most about the Conservative movement is their complete and utter hypocritical nature. They think that government should be “less” and not involved in our private lives, then they turn around and demand that the government tell a woman what to do with her own body and reproductive health. They want to force women to have babies they are not ready for or willing to take care of, and then don’t want to have anything to do with the welfare of the baby once it’s born. Give me a break. You can’t have it both ways!

  7. July 22, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Great post…I find it very interesting that the policies they preach and envision for the ideal are already in practice. Just look up “The 60 Worst Places In The World” and the set up is generally:

    “the man is the leader, the woman is submissive, and the children are raised to emulate their parents. These families are generally homeschoolers, profoundly socially conservative, libertarian (or other extreme-ism) separatists who prefer not to accept any government assistance even in the case of extreme poverty, and proponents of self-sufficiency and living debt-free.”

  8. Holly
    July 23, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    I have been a conservative Christian my entire thirty-something years, and though I know people who veer even further to the right than I do, I can honestly say that I have never met anyone who espouses the quiverfull philosophy. Even though their beliefs are extreme and stray from the mainstream, don’t the quiverfull folk deserve the benefit of the doubt? Would you all be saying the same things about some Muslims, who similarly live in a conservative manner with an overbearing male as family head?

    Though I don’t always agree with what is written in the journal _First Things_, one of their articles by R.R. Reno struck me because it relates to the comments here. Reno argues that the ones who are truly tolerant are the conservatives. Many liberals fear that faith will be used to justify the political decisions of our nation, but most conservatives (and most of us have brains, you know) understand that not all people share our beliefs. We know that laws must reflect hearts and minds and not be top-down legislation to get America to become a “Christian nation.” Any opinion about reality must be defended, and conservatives have reasons for their beliefs. However, “[t]he liberal does not see the conservative as a man or woman with ideas and convictions to be engaged but as a person with prejudices and interests to be diagnosed and treated.”

    I will leave you with another pertinent quote from the article and a link to the entire piece. Speaking of conservative Christians, Reno says:

    “It is natural that we try to convince and convert. It is an act of love, not aggression, to bring another to see and affirm deep truths about God and human destiny. But we also seek points of agreement in order to establish a modest, ad hoc commonwealth of conviction, a practical consensus able to meet the challenges of providing a free, just, and humane public life.”

  9. A.Roddy
    July 27, 2011 at 2:37 am

    i disagree with the above for tow reasons. one, our country was founded on the concept of church and state. Two, many liberals practice Christianity. They want to keep it out of the government. I think those like Michelle Bachman and the Duggars do not see liberals as people with ideas but as evil influences that abort babies and let women work outside the home. Say if Michelle Bachman or Jim Bob Duggar was elected president. They would base policies on a 2000 year old book instead for the good of the people.

    “They want to force women to have babies they are not ready for or willing to take care of, and then don’t want to have anything to do with the welfare of the baby once it’s born. Give me a break. You can’t have it both ways!” No you cant but you also can’t force sterilization or withhold information about certain procedures. This is where both side should come together and attack the root of the problem. liberals can be just as unbendable.

  10. July 28, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    “That says to me that Christianity has a stranglehold on one of the two major parties in this country and that’s disturbing to me as a non-Christian.”

    It’s disturbing to me as a Christian, too, but I’m one of those uber-liberal, universalist, pro-choice, pacifist, pro-gun-control, God-loves-love Christians. Which, from the fundamentalists’ perspective, is to say that I’m not a Christian at all. That part I can live with. The making laws and bossing my daughter’s uterus around and insisting my sister can’t marry the woman she loves and on and on and on? I can’t live with those things.

    We’re Mennonites, and Mennonites were the pioneers of separation of church and state, so that’s sort of our brand.

    In any case, I’m fascinated by the quiverfull movement because I am a Christian but their version of it is so different, it’s hard for me to believe our bibles say the same things. I can’t find the part where Jesus went around beating the crap out of poor, sick, and lonely people, then stood on a rock, pounded his chest, and told everyone that he hated them, but especially women. Maybe someone tore that part out?

    Anyway, this is not a theological discussion, or it wasn’t before I got here. I just had that tangent in me today.

  11. Holly
    July 28, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Why does everyone think that conservative Christians hate women? I’ve known some misogynist conservatives in my time, but they did not live as faithful Christians.

    As for Michele Bachmann not wanting women to outside the home, where are you getting that idea? As a lawyer herself, wouldn’t she be an advocate of women having vocations other than that of mother?

    A pro-life feminist, and yes, I’m also a mother who works outside the home.

    P.S. — I’m really tired of people stereotyping followers of orthodox Christianity. Please, develop a sense of nuance already!

  12. Amy K
    July 29, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    Great post. And I love that you recommend this book alongside Kim Kardashian’s book.
    PS. I read recently that the only reason Bachmann became a tax attorney was because her husband wanted her to do so. So is she running for president because her husband wants her to? And if she were to become president (God help us all), would we have the ultimate in co-president in her gay-cracking husband?

  13. Allison
    July 30, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    Love your blog…one of my favorites. Thank you for presenting intelligence. Keep up the good work!

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