Quiverfull by Kathryn Joyce

Nonfiction — print. Beacon Press, 2009. 272 pgs. Library copy.

The Quiverfull movement is a subculture to the fundamentalist Christian movement and a component of the Christian patriarchy movement – the former rejects birth control and the later values submission as a cornerstone of Christian womanhood. The most famous adherents of the Quiverfull movement in the United States are the Duggar family from Arkansas with nineteen children and their own show on TLC, although they do not use the term “quiverfull”.  In this culture, women live within stringently enforced doctrines of wifely submission and male headship  by the Quiverfull philosophy of letting God give them as many children as possible so as to win the religion and culture wars through demographic means.

In this book, Joyce traces the rise of the movement and its transition from the fringe to a more prevalent aspect of Christian fundamentalism and attempts to provide a complete picture of the movement and its patriarchal underpinnings. Most adherents are drawn into through homeschooling and at-home birth literature rather than through their own churches; one of the biggest advocates for the Quiverfull movement and Christian patriarchy is actually a homeschooling organization.

Men and women at the forefront of the movement blame feminism for society’s problems arguing that putting women on equal footing as men allows for men to escape their responsibilities as fathers and women to engage in premarital sex, and argue such ills will be solved by return to the biblical principal woman as a piece of man rather than a separate being worthy of independence. Women should aspire to their biblically supported roles as mothers having as many children as biologically possible, and daughters should remain under the authority of their fathers shunning work and college while they wait for their fathers to approve of someone to marry them.

But there are also racist underpinnings to this movement. The cover of the book shows a hand clutching a collection of arrows because the movement often cites a passage about how blessed a man with a full quiver is, and adherents of the movement view their children as arrows in a war against demographics and secularization. To prove this point, Joyce cites the ultra-orthodox communities in Israel who believe God wants women to be submissive and have as many children as possible and who readily confess that this is the best defense against the higher birth rates of Muslim women in the region. (Arab leaders have presented the womb as a weapon in their war against Israelis, as well.) In America, the movement is seen as a way of reversing declining white birth rates, combating the higher birth rates of Catholic Hispanics and Muslims, and creating “warriors for God” who will undoubtedly vote against gay marriage, the right to choose, and equal pay for women among other issues. (So, no, the Duggars are not the wholesome family TLC presents them as being.)

Most of the information Joyce presents is information I have read before from either the primary sources she cites within her text or in shorter articles published elsewhere. But this is the first time the information has been condensed into a single volume and is quiet comprehensive in its explanations and scope of analysis.

One particular chapter, however, details one family’s attempt to reconcile with their church after the wife refused to be submissive and began to quest the authority of men within the church. While interesting, this antidotal evidence went on for far too long and distracted from the overall message. I’m sure it is rather heartbreaking to be shunned by your church, particularly when you believe such doctrine is the only admittance to heaven, but I fail to see how this incident deserves more attention than the stories of women and children who are abused in the name of God and Jesus.

The chapter on the “stay-at-home-daughters” of the movement is easily the weakest chapter with Joyce citing a few blogs, but I think that’s largely because the movement started in the 1980s and early 1990s so these teenagers are the first generation to go through courtships and marriage within the movement. Who knows if they will continue to be Quiverfull like their parents before them, or even if they will be able to find someone to marry? Clearly, a follow-up book is needed ten to fifteen years from now.

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