Quiverful Movement – an abusive idea

quiverfulAs readers will know I am often exploring the Internet to discover new aspects of Christian behaviour which may become abusive to those who come under their influence. The Quiverful Movement is such a movement while, on the face of it, it teaches something apparently wholesome. It commends to families a practice of family life which welcomes the ‘blessing’ of numerous children in accordance with Psalm 127. This psalm states that a man is happy when he has a quiver full of children. It goes on to say ‘such men shall not be put to shame’. The movement, which takes its name from this verse, believes that a Christian family, by welcoming the ‘blessing’ of as many children as the Lord provides, can trust in him to meet their material needs. I am grateful for the information put out by Vyckie Garrison on her web-site and her blog about this distinct movement within conservative Christian circles in the States.

While I would not want to suggest that large families are necessarily a burden to those who have them, a setting which puts pressure on a woman to go through child-birth year after year, for theological reasons, is likely to be an abusive one. Living in a family with eight, twelve or more children will bring the mother of the family to a place of exhaustion. In the conservative evangelical setting of the Quiverful movement, the father of the family is likely to leave most of the work to the mother while adopting a controlling, even abusive, patriarchal role within the family structure. This unequal division of labour is, as we have seen, in accordance with ‘Biblical principles’. The exhausting round of cooking, feeding and caring will leave the mother with effectively no time to have any social life or interests beyond the family. Vyckie Garrison suggests that the women who submit to what is effectively an abusive style of life, are often those who have known only chaotic patterns of living in their birth families. By entering into a ‘quiverful’ marriage, they may well believe they are entering an environment of encompassing love that they lacked for themselves as children. What is not clear to them, in their state of vulnerability, is that they are also being sucked into an abusive controlling environment which will suck them dry. The demands of a controlling husband and the needs of numerous offspring threaten to overwhelm such a mother. It is a kind of martyrdom, a self-sacrifice to an ideology that insists that it is indeed Christian to have total disregard for one’s own interests and comfort.

The reader might wonder as to who benefits from these large families. Even though the father, in his divinely ordered patriarchal role of authority, does probably far less than might be expected in normal families to care for his large brood, the struggle to provide financially will probably hang heavy on him. However much the church, to which the family belongs, proclaims that father and mother are fulfilling God’s word in Scripture, the costs, financial and emotional, are heavy, particularly when there is not sufficient money. But one group does benefit. This is the industry that sells the products promoting the idea of ‘Biblical Family Values.’

Vyckie’s article, on which this post is based, spells out the extent of this industry. Publishers are pouring out books on the importance of bringing children up in a Christian fashion against the background of a world that many believe has reached the ‘end-times’. This also creates a huge market for home-schooling materials. Typically children of ‘quiverful’ families will be taught at home by the mother, using the material from Christian publishers. The home-schooling material consists, as we have seen, of workbooks which present the world in a very binary fashion. History and politics are presented with strongly right-wing views while science is also contaminated by creationist and anti-evolutionary ideas. The children of these families will grow up socially and ideologically isolated. It is hard to see how they can ever adjust to a society where opinions and attitudes are varied. Can they ever get used to the idea that it is possible to get on with another person who does not share their biblically-formed version of truth?

Vyckie writes as a survivor of this particular strand of fundamentalist culture. Having been burdened in three ways, – by a fundamentalist patriarchal culture which sees the mother as the main nurturer of the children, an abusive husband and the practical demands of a large household, it was hard to escape. Somehow Vyckie did escape and was able to write a book about the experience and maintain a blog on this issue. While applauding her liberation, we can see that the vast majority of ‘quivering’ women will never escape. Vyckie makes the point that the women who do not escape, but continue until death within this patriarchal biblical straightjacket, are nevertheless examples of enormous strength and single-mindedness. They have nevertheless had to expend all this strength just to be able to physically survive and enable their children to grow up. They have been pushed beyond all reasonable limits – in short they have been abused by a system thought up by men. To quote Vickie’s article, ‘women are knocking themselves down trying to maintain a lifestyle which was manufactured by greedy, controlling men who don’t actually care about the well-being their wives and children at all’. In a later sentence which is worded yet more colourfully she says, ‘The rigidity and restrictiveness in maintaining strict gender role-based relationship will result in narcissistic assholes for husbands and manipulative martyrs for wives’.

The victims of this particular abusive culture are once again individuals who have learnt to think that God wants them to be devoid of self-esteem, pride in themselves and a sense of their unique value. Fortunately this particular abusive system of thought does not appear to have reached the shores of the UK. But, as we have seen, misogyny within UK conservative Christianity is alive and well. We must all remain vigilant that these particular mysogynistic ideas do not take root in this country to add to the sum total of pain and suffering endured by women whose only wish is to serve God. Tragically they are made to pay a high price for that loyalty and devotion.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

10 thoughts on “Quiverful Movement – an abusive idea

  1. How sad. There are communities, and/or people within certain communities, who believe that you should just take what comes. And there are “borderline” cases. Families of five or six, usually with the less common Biblical names! (At one time, these would have been Joel or Noah, but these are becoming fashionable!) I have also had friends who believed in “living by faith”. I knew one saintly couple (and they were) who raised three children working for a missionary organisation that expected them to find their own income. It just seems to make life more of a struggle than it is already. And it assumes all of your children are healthy. What if they’re not? I’m afraid I always think of my own situation. (No surprise there!) I had to have an emergency Caesarian due to pre-eclampsia. And then an elective. I was a late starter, too. An older woman, not perhaps easily able to bear her children naturally, would be put under almost intolerable pressure.

  2. I have been following your blog for a little bit now. Today, I feel the need to speak up.
    I have seen families like the ones you write about, but honestly not too many. I see more families who have a moderate number of children (I myself have 5 and I realized many people would consider that a lot!) It seems to me that you may generalize a bit too much based on one testimony. I don’t think that it’s fair to say that all the fathers in these families are like this. I don’t even think it’s fair to say that most of them are. My real issue is what you write about homeschooled kids. That is just not true. Just because a kid is homeschooled does not mean they will grow up isolated with a less than adequate education. Here in the states the vast majority of people who homeschool their kids are part of one of the multitude of homeschool co-ops that can be found all over the country. The days of kids being isolated at home with no input other than immediate family are over within the homeschool movement. Yes, there are pockets of dysfunctional groups, but the majority do not fall into the category you talk about here. It worries me that you give the impression that all of the conservatives here in the states are back-woods, authoritative, misogynistic, abusers of women and children. Please, you have so much good to say and so much truth to put out there! Please don’t contaminate it by promoting unnecessary stereotypes! I do not question the woman you speak of or that her testimony is true, but she is only one person. There are literally millions of kids homeschooled in the states now. Most of them are taught by loving, God-fearing, emotionally healthy parents and they are raising smart, productive, responsible members of society.
    Bullying within a church system and abusive churches is a very important subject. It it a widespread problem. I think you do yourself and your message a disservice when you focus on such a tiny subset of the population.
    I wish you all the best in your endeavors and I hope you are successful in reaching many people with your message but I feel I must say goodbye and good luck. Your blog just doesn’t feel very welcoming to me as a true, healthy conservative (and yes, there are many of us out here!).
    Oh, and on a side note – I do not choose to homeschool my kids so I am not speaking from a place of bias.

  3. If a woman, after responsible discussion with her husband and with full understanding of the practical implications, chooses to abandon birth control in favour of a huge family, that is her choice. If, however, a woman comes into a relationship, where she is told by men that the Bible says it is her duty to have a large brood regardless of the consequences, that is abuse from, if not slavery to, an idea. It is seeing the boundary between these two scenarios that I am concerned about. Vyckie speaks of the culture that promotes the second of these two options and the concern of this blog to raise it as a way of helping people to think. People in conservative circles often allow other people to do their thinking and in the process they easily become victims. This blog is aiming to show to people on the edge of the conservative Christian world that it is possible to be a Christian without buying in to the authoritarian packages on offer. I once defined a conservative fundamentalist Christian as belonging to a group who cannot and will not listen. I hope that anyone coming on to this blog, even if they disagree, will have the humility to listen. I write to encourage choice, choice in thinking and acting. I am against any kind of coercion, even when this coercion is being perpetrated by a ‘pastor’ who knows his Scriptures better than you do. Once again, Jesus invited people, he never put pressure on them.

  4. Thank you Happymom2five,

    I am partly responsible for this blogs existence. Please don’t stop your responses. It is when we cease to communicate that terrible things happen.
    I hope we have moved on from the way that Paul and Barnabas dealt with their disagreement: Acts 15. 36- 41? You are very welcome on this blog, I solemnly assure you, I honestly do!

    Peace, Chris Pitts.

  5. Indeed. Very well put, Chris. I’d have loved to have had five children, but I wasn’t young enough or well enough. And both mine have Biblical names, too. We also considered home-schooling due to bullying. It is of course, quite true that not everyone conforms to a stereotype. But, Stephen is writing about specific situations. Abusive relationships cause endless misery, and the church doesn’t like talking about it. It is ok to disagree, you know, happy mom! Having people here to remind those of us who have been made wretched by the church that it isn’t always like that is very valuable. But don’t forget the needs of those for whom it is like that.

  6. I was raised in a church that was very abusive, more of a cult really, so I understand where you are coming from. I think what you write about abuse and bullying within the church is wonderful. It is statements like ” People in conservative circles often allow other people to do their thinking and in the process they easily become victims.” and ” I once defined a conservative fundamentalist Christian as belonging to a group who cannot and will not listen” that cause me concern. I think these types of generalizations dilute the power of your message. I consider myself a conservative fundamentalist Christian and so do most, though not all, of my friends. I certainly don’t allow someone else to do my thinking and we do not belong to a group that cannot and will not listen. On the contrary! We are always seeking the Lord and searching the scriptures and finding things out for ourselves. That is what I know to be common among those who consider themselves mainstream conservative Christians. I realize there is a subset that fits exactly into the mold that you speak about. Please don’t think I am arguing their existence or the need to be on guard against and warn others about them! All I’m saying is that when you make such broadly sweeping statements about what is a huge group of people here in the states, I’m afraid you lose some credibility and that is a shame because you have so much to say that needs to be heard.
    So please continue sounding the alarm against abusive churches and religious systems, but please don’t lump all of us conservative Christians into the same pot with them! I’m not trying to offend anybody, it’s just my opinion.

  7. I think we are witnessing an example of the way that the British and Americans are peoples ‘divided by a common language.’ It is almost impossible to find single words to describe the different tribes of evangelicals and the way that we have an enormous continuum of varying beliefs and capacities to do harm. In Britain we cannot use the word ‘fundamentalist’ without causing offence, whereas in the States some people use the word with pride. Long term readers will know that I do not tar all evangelicals with the same brush. It is just that I identify a section of that tribe who are up to mischief. This subsection want to destroy denominations, they freely exploit others through power games, financial and sexual and they certainly never, never talk to anyone or listen to anyone who is not part of their tribe. Such people will never come on this blog as their beliefs will not let them. So if there are Americans out there, please read my earlier piece on evangelical tribes and the other on my appreciation for evangelical theology and spirituality. ‘Conservative’ is a shorthand for the destructive and abusive end of things. These are the people I study in Britain and try to read about in the States. Please believe me when I say that I do not equate evangelicals with toxic Christians. It is a continuum which most do not belong but some do. I may from now on use this expression ‘toxic Christian’ as a summary of the people I want to identify.

  8. I am reminded of two famous occasions when British people were in the American courts and their words were misunderstood by an American judge. The first case was Louise Woodward who was accused of murdering the child for whom she was a nanny. She spoke about ‘popping’ the child on to the bed. The judge and jury heard this word as meaning that she did something violent to the child. In English useage the word ‘pop’ has no such meaning, but simply means putting something down. The secord case was the use of the niggardly, meaning, in English, mean or ungenerous. The word was heard to mean something to with negro or black and certainly a word verging on the insulting. I shall do my best to define all my terms when I suspect that a word might have a different content for a transatlantic reader! Over the 180 posts I have more than once tried to define terms but it is not easy to do this even for a UK audience, let alone for people from the States!

  9. I regard myself as evangelical. My Anglo-Catholic acquaintances have been known to tease me that my roots are showing when I make certain remarks. Over here, with a bit of a history of some high profile evangelicals being incredibly narrow minded and cruel, I have felt obliged to add “normal” to the description, lest I am tarred with the same brush!
    And may I echo Chris’ sentiments. Glad you’re still with us.

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