QuiverFull is an Ideology, not a Movement or a Cult.

By Nicholas Ducote, HARO Director of Community Relations

In the last three years, the mainstream media has dedicated unprecedented coverage on Christian fundamentalism, QuiverFull, and Fundamentalist Homeschooling. One of the big parts of my and Ryan’s positions with HARO is to help journalists and researchers navigate the sub-cultures and their many niches and intricacies. I don’t claim to be the end-all of information about homeschooling and I am always learning new things. I hope this article can provoke a discussion about the nature of QuiverFull as a pronatalist ideology and how it relates to other ideologies in the Christian Homeschooling movement. I have to thank Kathryn Joyce for accurately labeling QuiverFull pronatalist over six years ago.

It may seem petty to dedicate an entire post to a discussion of terminology and definitions, but it’s vital to bring clarity to our experiences. Given the amount of time I spend with journalists parsing terminology, explaining the differences between Bill Gothard, Michael Farris, and the plethora of homeschooling organizations, we need to have more clarity in our terminology.

“QuiverFull” has become a catch-all term to describe Fundamentalist Homeschooling and Christian fundamentalism. At its core, QuiverFull is a pronatalist ideology about reproduction and family purpose that stems from a verse in Psalm 127. QuiverFull is not a self-contained cult, it is not an organized movement with clear leadership, but it does have a number of core advocates. QuiverFull is most useful to understand as a number of points on a sliding scale of reproductive ideology. It can seem like its own movement because the QuiverFull ideology can have a massive impact on your lifestyle. However, QuiverFull was likely pitched to its victims as a part of a greater menu of fundamentalist beliefs that provoke a wholesale lifestyle change. The most prominent and widespread conduit for QuiverFull was Christian Homeschooling. It was popular among that sub-culture to encourage families for “filling their quiver,” to crochet the Psalm 127 verse and hang it on the wall, or barely disguise QuiverFull language in family-first ideology.

Michael Farris, head of HSLDA and one of homeschooling’s oldest and loudest advocates, believes in the demographic battle that is central to QF, but he’s made it clear his version of patriarchy is not nearly as radical as Bill Gothard’s or Doug Phillips.

Michael Farris and his Pronatalist Ideology

What I see as the most commonly used definition of QuiverFull is one developed by Vyckie Garrison at No Longer Quivering. I’m very thankful for what Vyckie has done to elucidate the perspective of a parent who adopted QuiverFull ideology.

This may be merely an issue of journalists inferring things from her statements that she never says – and I understand things being lost in translation. However, I think her definition and explanations of QF are obscuring the variety in Christian fundamentalism and homeschooling. The movement and culture is far from monolithic because there are so many different “leaders” looking to claim a sliver of the base with their unique ideology. 

In each one of her descriptions of the individual beliefs of QuiverFull, there is a spectrum that runs from individualism at one pole to authoritarianism at the other. I saw a spectrum in the families around me each ideology spread across these two poles. Not all QF families attended home churches – we didn’t. We didn’t attend “QuiverFull seminars,” but Christian Homeschooling conventions where QuiverFull ideology was woven throughout the movement’s core. Vyckie explains that most in QuiverFull would never use that term to describe themselves, which makes it hard to understand how a QuiverFull movement existed without even using some sort of organizing rhetoric. And the reason for that is because a (limited) spectrum of Christian fundamentalism was on display at Homeschool Conventions.

There were many families who bought into the culture war and using children as cultural weapons, but would also emphasize individualism. The relative individualism was expressed in more liberal ideas about consent, gender equality, the ability of a child to individually discern God’s will, and the spiritual role of the father. I was often the most conservative and fundamentalist among my peer group, so I often marveled at the freedom allowed at more liberal ends of the Christian Homeschooling spectrum. The authority and omniscience of the Patriarchal Father also varied. ATI and Bill Gothard emphasized the “Umbrella of Authority,” which claimed God’s will was interpreted through the father’s will. If your dad agreed with you, it was God’s will; if he didn’t, it wasn’t God’s will.

However, QF was far from the only ideology present in Christian Homeschooling. Most of the fundamentalist cults, like the IFB churches, Bill Gothard’s ATI, or Doug Phillips’ Church, incorporate QuiverFull ideology into their menu of beliefs. ATI was radically QF in that they encouraged men who had vasectomies to get a surgical reversal and for women to have as many children as possible. Despite being deep in ATI and Christian fundamentalism, and the Christian Homeschooling movement, I picked up on a slightly different set of values on the spectrum.

QuiverFull is the Christian version of pronatalist ideology, not a singular movement or an organized cult, that is shared by most fundamentalist religions.  A movement requires an organized social component. A cult requires, among many other things, central organization. Literally across the world, different forms of religious pronatalism are impacting demographics. Conservative religious people are having more children

Eric Kaufman’s 2011 work Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century, (http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/shall-the-religious-inherit-the-earth-by-eric-kaufmann-1939316.html) examined the modern trends of pronatalism across the world. Kaufman summarized his work thusly (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2010/03/19/interview-with-eric-kaufmann-author-of-shall-the-religious-inherit-the-earth/) :

Fundamentalists have large families because they believe in traditional gender roles, pronatalism (‘go forth and multiply’) and the subordination of individualism to the needs of the religious community.

Speaking to the nature and variety of these beliefs and trends, Kaufman explained that the pronatalist demographic trend is “more advanced in the developed world” because of urbanization, contraception, and modern medicine have reached a zenith. Kaufman adds:

The pattern is most immediate and intense within Judaism where the ultra-Orthodox are already a significant share (over 10 percent) of the population and have three or four times as many children as liberals and seculars. But even within Christianity and Islam, fundamentalists have twice the family size of seculars.

Catholics practice a form of pronatalism and they have claimed birth control, contraception, and all non-reproductive sex as immoral. Muslims of various sects practice pronatalism and the most orthodox and radical absolutely see their children as weapons in a demographic struggle. This pronatalist rhetoric is also a key component to racist nationalist movements through history. 

Additional readings on the international tradition of pronatalism:

Heather Jon Maroney, “‘Who Has the Baby?’ Nationalism, Pronatalism, and the construction of a ‘demographic crisis’ in Quebec 1960-1988,” Studies in Political Economy, 1992. http://spe.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/spe/article/viewFile/11878/8781

“Demographic trends, pronatalism, and nationalist ideologies in the late twentieth century,” Ethnic and Racial Studies Volume 25, Issue 3, 2002. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01419870020036701d#.VeNZVvlViko

Brown and Ferree, “Close Your Eyes and Think of England: Pronatalism in the British Print Media,” Gender Society 2005. http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/~mferree/documents/BrownFerree-Close.pdf

Laura L. Lovett, Conceiving the Future: Pronatalism, Reproduction, and the Family in the United States, 1890-1938 (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).

Monica Duffy Tuft “Wombfare: The Religious and Political Dimensions of Fertility and Demographic Change”, in Goldstone, JA; Kaufmann, E; Toft, M, Political Demography: identity, conflict and institutions, (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Press, 2011).

11 thoughts on “QuiverFull is an Ideology, not a Movement or a Cult.

  1. Julie Anne August 30, 2015 / 3:20 pm

    Thanks for this, Nick. When I have done interviews, this is one issue that comes up a lot and there is much confusion. A couple of months ago, I did an interview which was to be aired nationally, but the interviewer had in her mind what quiverfull meant and obviously when I spent most of the interview trying to correct the misinformation, it didn’t go to well (and was never aired). This should help.


  2. Bonnie Jessee August 30, 2015 / 4:33 pm

    Thanks for the information. It think of the movement that it is kind of like a franshize. like McDonalds and Burger King. Each family is slightly different but the hamberger (authoritarian patriarchy) is the same.


    • nickducote August 30, 2015 / 5:10 pm

      Well, in the case of a franchise there’s a singular organization licensing that franchise. The Authoritarian Patriarch model is literally as old as agriculture, so I’m not sure how that is unique to QuiverFull. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


  3. Cherilyn Clough August 30, 2015 / 7:36 pm

    Yes, quiver-full is an ideology, but many have chosen to treat their many children as though they live in a cult and presumed to speak for God until all shreds of who God actually is are obliterated. Not all who profess to follow Christ are His followers. Many lack the other-centered love manifested by Jesus. When it comes to placing our idealogy over our love that opens the door to cult like behavior.


    • roooth August 31, 2015 / 8:25 am

      well said


    • nickducote September 2, 2015 / 5:45 pm

      I guess I don’t really think a cult can be a single family unit. I think the family could have a highly authoritarian dynamic.


  4. Eleanor Skelton August 31, 2015 / 7:12 am

    Because I grew up with Quiverfull families, I keep getting asked about this distinction by secular friends. Thank you for writing this, now I have an article to send them. 🙂


  5. Muriel September 1, 2015 / 9:22 am

    This is so handy to have as a reference point in explaining this ideology to others, thank you for the work of putting this together.

    Quiverfull is not a cult, but many cults are quiverfull.
    A car is not a garage, but many garages have cars.

    I think being quiverfull was so part and parcel of the patriarchal lifestyle many of the families I grew up around espoused, that it’s become mentally enmeshed and difficult to separate as two ideologies. A garage without a car??? *gasp* (Meanwhile totally normal people all over America have garages crammed full of not-cars. I’m really liking this analogy, hehe.)

    I do know one family who was quiverfull but not patriarchal, and they were simply mind-boggling to the rest of the community.


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