Quantcast

'Arrows for the War' | The Nation

  •  

'Arrows for the War'

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

Quiverfull is not yet a large movement. The number of families wholly committed to its path doesn't represent any pollster's idea of a key demographic. But it's nonetheless culturally significant for representing an ideal: an illustration of the family structure many conservatives reference in condemning modern society. Not every family has to be "Quiverfull," in the sense of having six or eight children, for the movement to make an impact. Mothers who have four kids instead of three can also reinforce the Quiverfull goal of a return to the traditional, patriarchal family as the basic economic unit of society.

About the Author

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

Also by the Author

After Mexico City liberalized its abortion law, a fierce backlash followed. Is its striking resemblance to the US “pro-life” movement a coincidence?  

Declaring a global “orphan crisis,” US evangelicals ride to the rescue—with unintended results.

Even as the movement seeks to mellow its image to mainstream its message, the revival dreams the Hesses had in the 1990s have become popular talking points in their own right through the work of social scientists like Phillip Longman, a demographer at the centrist New America Institute and the author of The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It, and the man Longman describes as his "dark shadow," Allan Carlson. Though Carlson comes at natalism from the right and Longman, putatively the secular vanguard of the movement, works on the issue from the middle, their positions are sufficiently similar for Longman to have endorsed Carlson's controversial pro-Quiverfull treatise, "The Natural Family: A Manifesto."

Carlson is fond of recalling early opponents of birth control such as Teddy Roosevelt and the New Deal-era "maternalists" who pushed through the traditionalist strictures written into the first Social Security Act, which defined beneficiary families as breadwinning fathers and homemaking mothers. Roosevelt, according to Carlson, associated birth control with "race suicide" and selfish white women who "import our babies from abroad" rather than honor their duty to bear children for the nation. Like Roosevelt and the maternalists, Carlson wants to construct a secular, social-policy case for natalism based on the importance of large families to sustaining a Social Security system crippled by childless "free riders." As with the "family friendly" tax policies Carlson has written for conservative politicians such as Senator Brownback and Nebraska Representative Lee Terry--which reward large families with hefty tax cuts for each child--Carlson says that "the sub-theme of all I do is pro-natalism."

But faith, he says, is the necessary yeast for any secular movement, and religion has always been the driving force behind the family movement. In the same way that Carlson recalls the "strand of garrison life" that the cold war fight against Communism brought to American society, in the conservative Christian world that sees Europe as the measure of mankind's fall, a besieged war mentality is a given. In both Carlson's writings and in the work of Mary Pride and the Hesses, this is reflected in their description of patriarchal families as the basic "cellular units of society" that form a bulwark against Communism, as well as in the military-industrial terminology they assign to biblical gender roles within such "cells": the husband described as company CEO, the wife as plant manager and the children as workers. Or, in alternate form, the titles revised to reflect the Christian church's "constant state of war" with the world: "Commander in Chief" Jesus, the husband a "commanding officer" and his wife a "private" below him. And the kids? Presumably ammunition, arrows, weapons for the war.

Thus patriarchy, and its requirement that wives submit to their husbands, becomes a mission in itself, the inversion of a reactionary movement into a seeming revolution against modern society. As Pride writes, "Submission has a military air.... When the private is committed to winning the war, and is willing to subject his personal desires to the goal of winning, and is willing to follow the leader his Commander has put over him, that army stands a good chance of winning."

But how well are these arguments being received in the larger society? There are signs of denominations and churches picking up the Quiverfull philosophy, not least among these the statements made by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler last year, who wrote that deliberate childlessness among Christian couples is "moral rebellion" and "an absolute revolt against God's design." Meanwhile, Phillip Longman hardly offers a left-wing counterpoint. Instead, he's searching--at the request of the Democratic Leadership Council, which published his policy proposals in its Blueprint magazine--for a way to appeal to the same voters Carlson is organizing: a typically "radical middle" quest to figure out how Democrats can make nice with Kansas.

"Who are these evangelicals?" asks Longman. "Is there anything about them that makes them inherently prowar and for tax cuts for the rich?" No, he concludes. "What's irreducible about these religious voters is that they're for the family." Asked whether the absolutist position Quiverfull takes on birth control, let alone abortion, might interfere with his strategy, Longman admits that abortion rights would have to take a back seat but that, in politics, "nobody ever gets everything they need."

Aside from the centrist tax policies Longman is crafting to rival Carlson's, he urges a return to patriarchy--properly understood, he is careful to note, as not just male domination but also increased male responsibility as husbands and fathers--on more universal grounds. Taking a long view as unsettling in its way as Pastor Bartly Heneghan's rapture talk, Longman says that no society can survive to reproduce itself without following patriarchy. "As secular and libertarian elements in society fail to reproduce, people adhering to more traditional, patriarchal values inherit society by default," Longman argues, pointing to cyclical demographic upheavals from ancient Greece and Rome to the present day, when falling birthrates have consistently augured conservative, even reactionary comebacks, marked by increased nationalism, religious fundamentalism and deep societal conservatism. Presenting a thinly veiled ultimatum to moderates and liberals, Longman cites the political sea change in the Netherlands in recent years, where, he charges, a population decline led to a vacuum that "Muslim extremists came in to fill." Though individual, nonpatriarchal elements of society may die out, he says, societies as a whole will survive and, "through a process of cultural evolution, a set of values and norms that can roughly be described as patriarchy reemerge."

Longman's answer to this threat is for progressives to beat conservatives by joining them, emulating the large patriarchal families that conservatives promote in order not to be overrun by a reactionary baby boom. Any mention of social good occurring in regions with low birthrates is swept away by the escalating rhetoric of a "birth dearth," a "baby bust," a dying hemisphere undone by its own progressive politics.

That's how Quiverfull mother Wendy Dufkin sees it, give or take a few mentions of the Lord's name: God is leading Quiverfull families at the head of a "return to patriarchy, to father-led families. Patriarchy may be a loaded word for some, but it's not for me. There are so many woman-led families, whether single mothers or families where the father is just absent. I think it's gone to such an extreme with those families for a while that now we're returning to another extreme, patriarchy."

She recounts the "seven stages of decline of the Roman Empire" as illustration: from men failing to lead their families to God, through adultery, divorce, homosexuality, barrenness, atheism and then, in the end, an invasion of barbarians from abroad.

The invasion, the war, is to be understood on both planes: the worldly war that a good patriot like Dufkin likely supports, and the spiritual war of the church, which will continue indefinitely. Where the two meet--in the generally low-income households of believers who feel bound to supply their children, their arrows for God--you might expect a clash of consciences, such as when Deidre Welch explains what she sees as a "media attitude" about bearing many children. "This idea of, why bring children into this world, a world of violence, just to get drafted?" The example seems poignant--her oldest son has just left for Iraq--but Welch remains optimistic, bearing in mind the biblical promise that "God can use your Quiverfull to bring up his army of belief." As a believer and a loving mother, perhaps she sees this path--worldwide redemption through spiritual and actual warfare--as the one that will lead to the end of wars, even if that path means the wars will be fought with arrows such as her son.

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size