'Arrows for the War' | The Nation


'Arrows for the War'

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As a movement, Quiverfull has grown in a grassroots style. There's little top-down instruction or organization from church leaders; instead it spreads through community Bible studies, home-schooling forums, "prolife" activist circles or small ministries such as "Titus 2" wife-mentoring groups, which instruct Christian women in biblical wifehood. Supporter Allan Carlson, an economic historian who heads the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society and advises conservative legislators like Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, sees Quiverfull's most significant roots in the home-schooling movement, and as with the early days of home-schooling, he sees Quiverfull as a populist movement with "a wonderful anarchy to it."

About the Author

Kathryn Joyce
Kathryn Joyce is the author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption and Quiverfull:...

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But while home-schoolers may be more receptive to the idea of unplanned families, most prospectives actually learn about the Quiverfull conviction through the movement's literature: Pride's and the Hesses' books, Nancy Campbell's Be Fruitful and Multiply, Rachel Scott's Birthing God's Mighty Warriors or Sam and Bethany Torode's Open Embrace. And most people find these books after hearing the theory that birth-control pills are an abortifacient (that hormonal contraception such as the pill can cause the "chemical abortion" of accidentally fertilized eggs). This belief is something the Quiverfull conviction has in common with the larger Christian right, which has recently embraced a radically expanded "prolife" agenda that encompasses not just abortion but birth control and sexual abstinence. Taking a page from the antiabortion movement, anticontraception activists have gradually broadened their aims, moving from defending individual "conscientiously objecting" pharmacists who refuse to dispense contraceptives on moral grounds to extending the same "right of refusal" to corporate entities such as insurers, to an out-and-out offensive against birth control as the murder-through-prevention of 3,000 lives a day and also as the future undoing of Western civilization.

The latter two points were recently made in Illinois by British demographer Andrew Pollard, a speaker at the pioneering "Contraception Is Not the Answer" conference in September. That event served as a sort of coming-out party for the anticontraception movement, following an August cover story on "The Case for Kids" in the evangelical flagship magazine Christianity Today. Pundits warning of a coming "demographic divide," wherein fecund red staters will far outnumber barren blue state liberals, are further ratcheting up interest in fertility politics. But before the movement made this mainstream splash, a quieter opposition to birth control had been building for years.

Among the first contemporary Protestants advancing the theory that contraception is anathema to Scripture was Charles Provan, an independent Pennsylvania printer, lay theologian and father to ten who was until recently deeply involved in the Holocaust revisionist movement. In 1989 Provan, whom both Pride and the Hesses name as an inspiration, published The Bible and Birth Control, which has been called the authoritative source for Protestants seeking scriptural guidance on contraception. In it, Provan traces Protestant opposition to birth control to three main scriptural bases: Psalm 127, the Genesis command to "be fruitful and multiply," and the biblical story of Onan, slain by God for spilling his seed on the ground (seen by Provan as a form of birth control).

No Protestant denomination accepted birth control until 1930, when the Anglican Church endorsed contraceptive use among married couples. Quiverfull author Rachel Scott sees that moment as the beginning of a biblically prophesied era of "70 years in Babylon"--in this case a spiritual Babylon that declared children to be a "choice"--that ended (rather inexactly) with 9/11, seventy-one years later.

The fall of the Twin Towers is a popular turning point in the Quiverfull narrative. Becca Campos, a 34-year-old Nebraska mother of five who works as an administrator for a sterilization reversal ministry, Blessed Arrows, explains: "The Bible says that if a nation humbles itself and prays together, God will turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children. After 9/11, people started looking inward." Campos sees the schedule change of her 2001 tubal ligation reversal in Mexico--from September 10 to September 8--as God's provision that she shouldn't be stuck south of the border during her recovery, unable to board a plane home. The references aren't so much Falwellian bombast--9/11 as God's judgment on a sinful country--as the magical thinking that goes along with a faith strong enough to convince poor families, who are struggling to make ends meet as it is, that God will provide for them unequivocally.

"Lean not on your own understanding," Quiverfull mom Tracie Moore tells me, describing the scriptural foundations she's discovered for the movement: Children are a blessing, a reward, an inheritance. Don't worry about money--the Moores have never had much of it--because God will provide for his flock.

And in its most innocuous self-explanations, this is what Quiverfull is about: faith, pure and simple. Faith that God won't give women more children than they can handle, and faith that by opening themselves up to receive multiple "blessings," they will bring God's favor upon them in other areas of life as well: Their husbands will get better jobs; God will send a neighbor with a sack of used children's clothes just when the soles on Johnny's shoes fall out. God, many Quiverfull women say, deals with their hearts about birth control, and if they submit, they are cared for.

This last equation--submit, and be cared for--is a fitting summary of the social logic of the Quiverfull life. While most Quiverfull families appear to be solidly working class or low income, even those in the middle-income brackets struggle with the financial challenges of caring for a ten-person family. But for many Quiverfull mothers, this struggle is still preferable to the alternatives they see society offering working-class women--alternatives they see as the fruit of secular feminism. For poor women, the feminist fight for job equality won them no career path but rather the right to pink-collar labor, as a housekeeper, a waitress, a clerk. The sexual revolution did not bring them self-exploration and fulfillment but rather loosened the social restraints that bound men to the household as husbands and fathers. Even for women who stayed in the home, the incidence of women in the workplace led employers to stop offering a "family wage" that could sustain both parents and children.

Mary Pride puts it in biblical terms--feminism made wage slaves out of women who had once been slaves to God; it made "unpaid prostitutes" out of women who should have been godly mothers and wives. Yet there's something deeper here than standard antifeminist backlash. While economic and cultural complaints may attract believers to Quiverfull, conviction, and the momentum of a growing movement, are what sustains them.

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