What is Quiverfull?

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 7.35.42 PM

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.

Brainwashed Shock Troops

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on July 17, 2013.

Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and probably the most visible Christian homeschool leader, is fond of calling his generation the Moses Generation and my generation the Joshua Generation. Christian homeschooling parents, he says, removed their children from the perils of Egypt (aka the public school system) and educated them in the wilderness (aka homeschooling them) in order to send them forth to conquer Canaan (aka take America back for Christ). This really is the entire point of Christian homeschooling (as opposed to homeschooling done by those who may or may not happen to be Christian but do not have religious motivations for homeschooling). This is also why Farris’s daughter started NCFCA—to train Christian homeschool youth in argumentation and debate in an effort to prepare them for their assault on “the world.” In that light, I recently saw an interesting comment left on a Homeschoolers Anonymous post:

The idea that someone thinks that they can find really bright young people, teach them exceptional skills of debate and argument, and then unleash them upon the world as adults while still controlling their thoughts and attitudes is nothing short of insane. Young people have been growing up into adults who reject the authoritarian views imposed upon them for literally centuries. Why does this group of fundamental Christians – who often behave abusively to that self-same group of bright young people – think that they are exempt from the questioning and breaking away process that all young adults do as they grown into independence?

Because they believe they have completely brainwashed their young people into absolute loyalty to The Party as part of their training/indoctrination. Like the Uruk-Hai coming from the spawning pits below Isengard, they were raised and indoctrinated to be living weapons and nothing more.

Why do they think they are exempt from their best and brightest living weapons breaking away? Divine Right, of course.

My father spoke at my graduation. It was a homeschool graduation held at a local church, of course, and each father presented his son or daughter and gave a short speech. I was preparing to begin university the following fall. In his speech, my father said that many people had questioned his wisdom in sending me off to a secular university, asking whether I was ready for that. His response, he said, was that the real question was not whether I was ready to attend that university, but rather whether that university was ready for me. His confidence in my performance disappeared over the following years as I did indeed become “corrupted” by my time at university, and halfway through college my father launched into a tirade against me in which he brought up his remarks at my graduation and told me, his voice full of emotion, that those who had warned him against sending me off to a secular university had been right, and that he wished he could go back and undo that.

What happened?

Put simply, the commenter quoted above is right.

It is completely unreasonable for Christian homeschool parents to think that they can train up ideological clones whom they can train in debate and argument and then unleash upon the world without at least some of them going rogue or asking questions they shouldn’t. If these parents limit their children’s interaction with the world outside of their religious communities and avoid teaching their children critical thinking skills, creating ideological clones is simpler. But if you’re going to train them in argumentation and debate and then send them out into the world to wage ideological war on your foes, well, that’s more complicated. My parents equipped me with the very tools that ultimately led me to think my way out of their mindset, and meeting and getting to know people in “the world” meant that I realized the portrayal of “the world” my parents had given me growing up was wrong and extremely backwards. The system my parents constructed around me, in other words, was built with an internal weakness.

Why, then, did my parents have so much confidence? The commenter quoted above does have a point when referring to divine right—my parents believed that they were right, that their ideology was sound and true and demonstrably so. They therefore assumed that if they equipped me with Truth, that would be enough.

That I might grow up to disagree with them on what is true and what is not wasn’t really a concern, because they believed that the truth of their beliefs was completely obvious to anyone with eyes. When they would talk about people who “left the faith,” they would always attribute it to some sin—the person just wanted to have premarital sex, or to be able to be selfish and not care about others, or what have you. In their conception, it was never a disagreement about fact that led people once saved astray, but rather fleshly desires—because the truth of their beliefs, they were certain, was manifestly obvious to anyone and everyone.

There was something else, too, something more related to Christian homeschooling. My parents believed they had hit upon the perfect formula for raising children who would never fall astray. They believed this because this is what they were told by the books, magazines, and speakers of the Christian homeschool world. And they had done everything on the list from keeping me from friends who might be bad influences to teaching me with curriculum that approached each issue from a Christian perspective. This, quite simply, is what I consider the number one reason my father said what he did at my graduation. He was convinced that he had produced a culture warrior, following the proper formula and all of the proper advice, and that I was, in a sense, infallible—that I couldn’t possible go wrong.

But what was I, really?

I was chock full of apologetics arguments and conservative talking points, but utterly without lived experience or any real understanding of the arguments against the ideas my parents had taught me. After all, I’d never really interacted with people with different ideas or beliefs and my parents provided me only with straw man versions of opposing arguments in order to then knock them down. I’d grown up in an echo chamber and was happy contributing to that echo chamber, but I had no experience stepping outside of it.

I wasn’t a culture warrior. I was a teenage girl who thought she knew everything and wanted very much to please her parents.