To a lot of people, the word "Quiverfull" conjures up images of "famous" conservative Christian families such as the Duggars. Even if you don't know much about them, you've probably at least heard of Jim Bob and Michelle, the Arkansas couple who don't believe in using contraception and recently welcomed their 19th child. Despite the fact that the Duggars have never officially labelled themslves as "Quiverfull", they're often seen as representative of the movement, which is mainly concentrated in the US but apparently has adherents in Canada, Australia and the UK.
The Quiverfull movement emerged in the 1980s after the publication of Mary Pride's The Way Home: Beyond Feminism and Back to Reality, which urged women to live under the authority of their husbands, stay at home and focus on motherhood. Its main teaching is that all children are a blessing from God, urging couples to 'trust the Lord' with their family planning - by refraining from using contraception and having 'as many children as the Lord chooses'. With chemical birth control considered to be abortion and natural family planning seen as showing a lack of trust in God, the emphasis is on 'restoring the family' and raising up many children in order to further the spread of Christianity.
And this is only the most well-known aspect of the Quiverfull lifestyle. Far-removed from people practising such values, I think it's all too easy for us to dismiss them as weird fundamentalists, or people who simply choose to live differently to other Christians. I know that in the past I've been guilty of thinking "I may not understand or agree with the way Christians who do x live, but as long as it's not hurting anyone then that's ok". Over the past few years, however, due mostly to a few high-profile articles, documentaries and books on the subject, the realities of Quiverfull have become more apparent - and more disturbing.
Once you get past the whole childbearing thing and look at the other aspects of the movement it's easy to see why. Quiverfull adherents base their lives on the principles of Biblical Patriarchy, where there is male leadership in all aspects of family life and society, women's dominion is as a mother and 'keeper at home' and children, who need to be 'trained' from birth, are under the command of their fathers until they marry.
Some basic values adopted by Quiverfull families have been defined as:
- Courtship/Betrothal, meaning that fathers have the final say in who their children marry and relationships are generally orchestrated by the parents of the couple, with chaperoned visits, no physical contact allowed before the engagement or wedding, etc.
- Sheltering of children from 'the world'
- Biblical Manhood and Womanhood - very distinct gender roles with men as leaders, teachers, providers and decision makers and women as their 'helpmeets' in complete submission.
- Living debt-free and without government aid, often farming and building their own home
- Home church, meeting only with other like-minded families
- Modesty in women's clothing, which may mean only wearing dresses, the wearing of headcoverings etc.
Looking at training resources, magazines and websites related to the movement, you'll often see an obsession with the 19th century and its morality/values, a commitment to 'simple' or 'frugal' rural life, a lot of time spent reiterating the 'differences' between men and women. Many adherents appear happy and fulfilled. Some don't homeschool; some are slightly more 'liberal'.
But you'll also find a commitment to corporal punishment of children, often using specially-made implements such as paddles and sticks. You'll find forums with posts from women asking what to do about their emotionally or physically abusive husband, with replies telling them to 'examine their own sin', be a better wife or pray more. You'll find men who obviously have an unhealthy preoccupation with subjugating women and children. People who believe that for women to hold any position of power just isn't right - to the extent that a woman as a manager in the workplace, a magistrate or a politician is 'wrong'. People who refuse the help of medical professionals in childbirth and bring up large families in grinding poverty because they won't take government aid. People who feel that women should not be able to vote, drive or leave the house without their husband. People who advocate 'Christian domestic discipline' (that's wife-beating to you and me).
To me (and I would expect this includes most of my fellow Christians), these beliefs have no place in a loving, happy marriage and family life.
It's not difficult to find blogs, message boards and other sites run by women who have left the movement, or people who were brought up as Quiverfull children. The emotional scars left by years as Quiverfull adherents are truly awful for many of them. Some were suicidal by the time they managed to get away. For many, leaving Quiverfull means being shunned or attacked by their families and old friends. Some first-hand experiences are detailed here, here and here at Women's Space, the blog of Cheryl Lindsey Seelhof, a former Quiverfull adherent.
For a while now I've been reading one such blog, No Longer Quivering. Vyckie Garrison, a mother of seven who left the movement, set up the site in partnership with another ex-Quiverfull friend, to tell her story. I was really interested to discover that a group of women from the No Longer Quivering forums have recently set up an organisation with the intention of helping women who want to exit Quiverfull and other spiritually abusive patriarchal groups.
The Take Heart Project site explains:
The Take Heart Project is spearheaded by a group of women who, while exchanging thoughts on Vyckie Garrison's No Longer Quivering discussion forums, noticed a disturbing lack of psychological, legal and shelter services geared specifically toward women attempting to exit their oppressive religious and patriarchally controlled lives with five, ten or even more children to care for.
These women, some having already struggled through the exiting process completely on their own, have gathered together to volunteer their myriad of skills, insights and sheer determination to see that any woman's dream of personal freedom is not further hampered by the size of her family nor by a lack of understanding of the dynamics of spiritual abuse.
The project aims to not only help women exiting the lifestyle, but to educate churches, religious leaders and therapists about the dangers of Quiverfull and the potential it has for spiritual abuse, to provide financial help, shelter and emotional support for mothers and young single women who were raised as Quiverfull daughters.
Although it's early days for the Take Heart Project, I was pleased to learn from Vyckie's Twitter that she was able to refer a 'desperate Quiverfull walkaway' to a counsellor with the group this week. Over the past few years, we've seen several examples of disturbing practices and spiritual abuse within Patriarchy circles come to light. I just hope that women looking to leave the lifestyle in the future will be able to find the support and love they deserve without feeling any condemnation or shame over the choice they've made.
FAQs on Quiverfull on the Take Heart Project site
All God's Children, a Salon feature on Quiverfull
Kathryn Joyce's book, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement