Apologetics Index

Quiverfull

The Quiverfull Movement

The Quiverfull movement is a small but growing conservative Protestant group that eschews all forms of birth control and believes that family planning is exclusively God’s domain.

This is a leaderless, unorganized movement without a central authority and without official membership. Due to its teachings and practices, it is considered a cult-like movement. It claims to be based on the Bible, but a closer examination shows that it is in fact a cult of Christianity.

The name Quiverfull is a reference to Psalm 127, in which children are metaphorically described as arrows in a full quiver:

{1} Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.

Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.

{2} In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for he grants sleep to those he loves.

{3} Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.

{4} Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth.

{5} Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.
– Source: Psalm 127

Adherents refer to themselves as “quiver full,” “full quiver,” “quiverfullminded,” or “QF.”

Children are a Gift from God; So No Birth Control

The Quiverfull movement does not have official leaders, spokes person, organizations, or an agreed-upon list of doctrines.

Many credit the book, The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality (first published in 1985), by Mary Pride, as helping to spearhead the movement.

Adherents generally believe that

Based on these Scriptures followers believe they please God by maintaining an “open willingness” to joyfully receive however many children God chooses to give them.

Therefore both contraception and abortion are seen as ‘going against the will of God.’

Hence any form of birth control, including sterilization and natural family planning is rejected.

They believe God will not give them more children than they can handle.

Many adherents also believe that raising up as many children as possible as Christians is, essentially, part of a missionary effort. Some followers have said they believe they are ‘building an army of soldiers for Christ’. Others simply say that they more children they have and raise as Christians, the more control Christians can exert on local and national politics.

Backlash Against Feminism

The movement is, in part, a backlash against feminism:

When the Gospel Community Church in Coxsackie, New York, breaks midservice to excuse children for Sunday school, nearly half of the 225-strong congregation patters toward the back of the worship hall: the five youngest children of Pastor Stan Slager’s eight, assistant pastor Bartly Heneghan’s eleven and the Dufkin family’s thirteen, among many others. “The Missionettes,” a team of young girls who perform ribbon dances during the praise music, put down their “glory hoops” to join their classmates; the pews empty out. It’s the un-ignorable difference between the families at Gospel Community and those in the rest of the town that’s led some to wonder if the church isn’t a cult that forces its disciples to keep pushing out children.

But after the kids leave, Pastor Stan doesn’t exhort his congregation to bear children. His approach is more subtle, reminding them to present their bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord, and preaching to them about Acts 5:20: Go tell “all the words of this life.” Or, in Pastor Stan’s guiding translation, to lead lives that make outsiders think, “Christianity is real,” lives that “demand an explanation.”

Lives such as these: Janet Wolfson is a 44-year-old mother of eight in Canton, Georgia. Tracie Moore, a 39-year-old midwife who lives in southern Kentucky, is mother to fourteen. Wendy Dufkin in Coxsackie has her thirteen. And while Jamie Stoltzfus, a 27-year-old Illinois mom, has only four children so far, she plans on bearing enough to populate “two teams.” All four mothers are devoted to a way of life New York Times columnist David Brooks has praised as a new spiritual movement taking hold among exurban and Sunbelt families. Brooks called these parents “natalists” and described their progeny as a new wave of “Red-Diaper Babies” — as in “red state.”

But Wolfson, Moore and thousands of mothers like them call themselves and their belief system “Quiverfull.” They borrow their name from Psalm 127: “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons 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 enemies in the gate.” Quiverfull mothers think of their children as no mere movement but as an army they’re building for God.

Quiverfull parents try to have upwards of six children. They home-school their families, attend fundamentalist churches and follow biblical guidelines of male headship — “Father knows best” — and female submissiveness. They refuse any attempt to regulate pregnancy. Quiverfull began with the publication of Rick and Jan Hess’s 1989 book, A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ, which argues that God, as the “Great Physician” and sole “Birth Controller,” opens and closes the womb on a case-by-case basis. Women’s attempts to control their own bodies — the Lord’s temple — are a seizure of divine power.

Though there are no exact figures for the size of the movement, the number of families that identify as Quiverfull is likely in the thousands to low tens of thousands. Its word-of-mouth growth can be traced back to conservative Protestant critiques of contraception — adherents consider all birth control, even natural family planning (the rhythm method), to be the province of prostitutes — and the growing belief among evangelicals that the decision of mainstream Protestant churches in the 1950s to approve contraception for married couples led directly to the sexual revolution and then Roe v. Wade.

“Our bodies are meant to be a living sacrifice,” write the Hesses. Or, as Mary Pride, in another of the movement’s founding texts, The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality, puts it, “My body is not my own.” This rebuttal of the feminist health text Our Bodies, Ourselves is deliberate. Quiverfull women are more than mothers. They’re domestic warriors in the battle against what they see as forty years of destruction wrought by women’s liberation: contraception, women’s careers, abortion, divorce, homosexuality and child abuse, in that order.

Pride argues that feminism is a religion in its own right, one that is inherently incompatible with Christianity.
[…more…]
– Source: Kathryn Joyce, ‘Arrows for the War’, The Nation, posted November 9, 2006 (November 27, 2006 issue)

Quiverfull advocated Rachel Giove Scott explains her views in an interview on Fox News:

Rachel Giove Scott Birthing Gods Mighty Warriors  on Fox News

Criticism

Critics of the movement’s teachings include former adherent Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff, who says that within Quiverfull

…women and children are routinely and systematically subordinated and subjugated by the men in their lives – fathers, husbands, older sons,. . .pastors, elders, leaders – as a matter of biblical principle.
– Source: I Name (and Blame) the Patriarchs, Part 2: Fallacies About the Full Quiver Movement

John Piper writes

just because something is a gift from the Lord does not mean that it is wrong to be a steward of when or whether you will come into possession of it. It is wrong to reason that since A is good and a gift from the Lord, then we must pursue as much of A as possible. God has made this a world in which tradeoffs have to be made and we cannot do everything to the fullest extent. For kingdom purposes, it might be wise not to get married. And for kingdom purposes, it might be wise to regulate the size of one’s family and to regulate when the new additions to the family will likely arrive. As Wayne Grudem has said, ‘it is okay to place less emphasis on some good activities in order to focus on other good activities.'”
– Source: Does the Bible permit birth control?

Is Quiverfull a cult?

In our opinion Quiverfull is a cult-like movement — both sociologically and theologically.

Theologically, Quiverfull is a cult of Christianity, as Scripture is misused and misinterpreted to subjugate women.

Though many women enthusiastically express their support, this is a movement in which men exert a lot of influence over women.

Most of these men believe, based on their reading of the Bible, that God has placed them in positions of authority — particularly, but not exclusively, ‘spiritual authority.’ They believe — as many women in this movement do as well — that God wants women to willfully and unquestioningly submit to husbands, pastors and possibly others ‘whom God has placed in authority over them.’ 1

This belief nearly always results in spiritual abuse on one level or another — and often in various levels of domestic violence as well.

Vyckie Garrison: No Longer Quivering
Growing Up Quiverfull - The Duggar's Destructive Cult

Growing Movement

Back in 1995, when the quiverfull.com Web site was founded, it had only 12 subscribers; today, the site, which is administered by the Bortels, has more than 2,600. Many followers have abandoned mainstream churches in favor of smaller nondenominational congregations of like-minded families.

A cottage industry has sprung up in support of them. There are books like “A Full Quiver,” by Rick and Jan Hess; Web sites like blessedarrows.com [Correction: BlessedArrows.orgAI] , which raises funds for couples to have reverse vasectomies or reverse tubal ligations; and scholarly treatises like “The Natural Family: A Manifesto,” put out by the Rockford, Ill.,-based Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society and the Sutherland Institute, a Mormon think tank. “We’re still on the fringes,” says Jan Hess. “But it is much more embraced than it was before.”

Quiverfull beliefs are absolutist. Purists don’t permit even natural family planning methods, such as tracking fertility cycles (the only form of birth control condoned by the Roman Catholic Church). Also taboo: any form of artificial fertility treatment. “The point is to have a welcoming heart,” says Mary Pride, a mother of nine whose 1985 book, “The Way Home,” celebrated a return to traditional gender roles. It has sold about 80,000 copies and has inspired many quiverfull families.
[…]

Beyond such purists, the anti-birth control message appears to be gaining ground among some evangelicals.
[…]

There’s a curious twist to all this. “What quiverfull looks like is a group of Protestants who are more Catholic than the Catholics,” says John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Protestants have tended to embrace the contraceptive revolution that began in the 1960s. But recently, some conservative evangelical leaders–alarmed by what they deem a “contraceptive mentality” that has separated the act of sex from procreation–have begun to question mainstream Protestant stances. One possible explanation for the shift in thinking: the alignment between evangelicals and Catholics on some social issues, says Brad Wilcox, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. “The increasing cooperation of Catholic and evangelical leaders on abortion and same sex marriage has allowed some cross-pollination where evangelical leaders are starting to become familiar with Catholic thinking on the family.”
– Source: Eileen Finann, How Full Is Your Quiver? In a new movement, Christians ‘open their wombs to God.’ Newsweek, Nov. 13, 2006

Numbers are hard to come by since this is a leaderless, unorganized movement without a central authority and without official membership.

Currently estimates — guesses, really — generally suggest numbers in the “low ten thousands.”

Articles

  • ‘Arrows for the War’ Kathryn Joyce, The Nation, posted November 9, 2006 (November 27, 2006 issue)
  • The Case Against Birth Control [Pro] by Nate Wilson
  • Extreme Motherhood “Understanding Quiverfull, the antifeminist, conservative Christian movement that motivates popular reality-TV families like the Duggars.” Kathryn Joyce, Newsweek, May 17, 2009

    At the heart of this reality-show depiction of “extreme motherhood” is a growing conservative Christian emphasis on the importance of women submitting to their husbands and fathers, an antifeminist backlash that holds that gender equality is contrary to God’s law and that women’s highest calling is as wives and “prolific” mothers.

    Mary Pride, an early homeschooling leader whose 1985 book “The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality” is a founding text of Quiverfull, convinced many readers that regulating one’s fertility is a slippery slope. “Family planning is the mother of abortion,” she writes. “A generation had to be indoctrinated in the ideal of planning children around personal convenience before abortion could be popular.” Instead, Pride and her peers argue, Christians should leave family planning in God’s hands, and become “maternal missionaries”: birthing as many children as He gives them as both a demonstration of radical faith and obedience, as well as a plan to effect Christian revival in the culture through demographic means–that is, by having more children than their political opponents.
    […]

    It’s this ideological grounding, tying the Quiverfull conviction to growing anticontraception efforts among abortion opponents worldwide, that makes Quiverfull arguments relevant far beyond the movement’s small but growing numbers. (As a movement, it likely numbers in the tens of thousands, though hard numbers are not available.)
    […]

    Quiverfull doesn’t follow from any particular church’s teachings but rather is a conviction shared by evangelical and fundamentalist Christians across denominational lines, often spread through the burgeoning conservative homeschooling community, which the U.S. Department of Education estimates has more than 1 million school-age children, and which homeschooling groups say easily has twice that number.

  • How I spent 16 years in an abusive, conservative Christian cult — and finally escaped [Contra] by Vicky Garrison, who runs the ‘No Longer Quivering’ blog.

Blogs

Books


  • A Full Quiver [Pro] by Rick and Jan Hess
  • Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement [Contra] by Kathryn Joyce
    blockquote>Journalist Joyce has conducted a groundbreaking investigation of a little-known movement among Christian evangelicals that rejects birth control and encourages couples to have as many children as possible.

    The movement, which takes its name from a verse in Psalm 127, advocates a retreat from society and a rejection of government policies that encourage equal rights for women, pregnancy prevention and an individualistic ethic. Quiverfull families share with more mainline Protestant groups, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, a belief that wives should submit to their husbands. But the group goes further by insisting that children be homeschooled and daughters forgo a college education in favor of early marriage and childbearing.

    The book probes a San Antonio–based ministry called Vision Forum, which began as a Christian homeschooling resource and now promotes “biblical patriarchy” through seminars and retreats. Members of the movement use militaristic metaphors and see themselves waging a war to win back the culture and rescue American society. The book lacks an in-depth historical account of the movement’s connections to 19th- and 20th-century American fundamentalism or its accommodation with modernity, especially its heavy use of Internet blogs. Yet future historians and journalists will owe Joyce a debt of gratitude for her foray into this still nascent religious group. (Mar.)
    – Source: Publishers Weekly as cited by Amazon.com

  • The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality [Pro] by Mary Pride. Seen as a founding text of Quiverfull.

Websites

Notes:

  1. This belief is not exclusive to the Quiverfull movement. Many other Christians also believe this false, unbalanced understanding of the Bible.

Article details

Category: Quiverfull
Related topic(s): ,

First published (or major update) on Tuesday, November 14, 2006.
Last updated on March 28, 2018.

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  1. Amanda Wilson November 15, 2006
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