Born to Breed: The Quiverfull Movement and its impact on patriarchal policies and right wing politics; an interview I conducted with Vyckie Garrison, a courageous woman who left the biblical patriarchal Quiverfull movement.
Sarah Jones: Can you define “Quiverfull movement” and what you’ve identified as the patriarchal beliefs behind it?
Vyckie Garrison: I like to define Quiverfull as a very powerful head trip. It’s an all-encompassing vision of a big, happy family which infects the mind and affects every aspect of a Believer’s life. The term “Quiverfull” comes from a reference in Psalm 127 which likens children to “arrows” in the hands of a mighty man, “blessed is the man who has his quiver full of them.”
Quiverfull Believers eschew all forms of birth control in favor of “trusting the Lord” with their family planning. The Quiverfull ideal embraces a “biblical” model (read, fundamentalist) of the traditional family which insists that the husband is the head of the household and the wife is the submissive “helpmeet.”
Sarah Jones: How do those beliefs manifest for wives and female children? Can you give us some examples of expectations of wives and daughters that might surprise our readers?
Vyckie Garrison: In practice, the Quiverfull ideals often result in larger-than-average families (think, Jim Bob & Michelle Duggar of TLCs “19 & Counting” fame) in which the woman stays at home having babies, homeschooling, homesteading, dressing “modestly,” and most importantly, serving and submitting to her “lord,” i.e., her patriarchal husband.
The Quiverfull lifestyle is extremely demanding and the only way a woman can hope to succeed is to rely heavily on her older daughters. It is expected that a Quiverfull daughter will be fully capable of running the household, including all meal-preparation, laundry duties, child care and homeschooling of younger siblings by the age of twelve. Many girls are doing all this by the time they’re eight or ten because their mothers are so consumed with birthing more and more “arrows” to fill the quivers of their husbands.
A Quiverfull daughter is taught from a young age that her purpose in life is to serve the man whom God has placed in authority over her. She serves her father while she lives at home (she does this primarily by assisting her mother in domestic duties and child care). She absolutely must remain a virgin and is taught to expect to meet and marry her future husband through a father-led match-making process called “courtship.” Her education is geared toward developing domestic skills ~ college is generally considered unnecessary and even dangerous for her spiritual well-being.
Sarah Jones: What justification was given for the rule of the patriarch and how does that fit in with mainline Christianity versus fundamentalist, extremist versions of Christianity?
Vyckie Garrison: It is my contention that the Quiverfull movement is regular Christianity lived out to its logical conclusions. When Christians teach “the husband is the head of his wife” (Eph. 5:23), Quiverfull Believers put that into practice ~ and nearly every time, the husband becomes a despot in his own home.
While the majority of Christians will have their excuses for why their wife has to work outside the home, or why they personally cannot have more than two children, or why it won’t work for them to homeschool. If you ask the average Evangelical what a truly godly, “biblical” family looks like, they will begin to list Quiverfull ideals:
• Husband as head of the household and final authority (Eph. 5:23)
• Wives submit to their husbands (Colossians 3:18)
• Obedient children (Eph. 6:1)
• Trust the Lord with family planning (i.e., no birth control ~ Psalm 127)
• Stay-at-home-mothers (Titus 2:3)
• Homeschool the children (Matthew 12:17 ~ “render unto God that which is God’s” ~ since children bear the image of God, parents ought not render them unto Caesar, i.e., government schools. See also, Deut. 6:7)
• Modest dress (1 Peter 3:3)
• Debt-free living (Romans 13:8)
• Political domination (Psalm 127 and The Dominion Mandate in Genesis 1:28)
In my experience, the “average Christian” believes most all of the principles of patriarchy taught in the Quiverfull movement, fortunately for Christian women, few actually put it into practice the way Quiverfull Believers do.
Sarah Jones: How did these beliefs impact your political positions while you were still in the movement, and were you encouraged to get your political worldviews from a particular source?
Vyckie Garrison: As a Quiverfull Believer, I considered myself “radically pro-life,” which I described this way:
“Why do Christians seek to limit the size of their families through the use of chemical birth control? The truth be told, our reasoning generally parallels that of the abortion culture – additional children will cause inconvenience, financial hardships, lifestyle constraints – all this coupled with the desire to separate sex from procreation. How can the Church expect to speak with any moral authority on the evils of abortion when we ourselves are guilty of the very anti-life values fueled by the family planning mentality?” [Excerpt from a column I wrote for the "pro-life, pro-family" newspaper which I published from 1993-2008.]
The most prominent “pro-life” groups such as National Right to Life, Concerned Women for America, etc., were much too wishy-washy for me. I was exposed to the most extreme aspects of Dominionism. I felt that James Dobson, Tony Perkins, even Don Wildmon were lightweights; I much preferred the uncompromising Randall Terry, and Paul dePairie was better yet. When Flip Benham of Operation Save America came to Nebraska, I baked chicken-pot pies for him and we packed all our friends and associates into our livingroom to hear Flip speak about what it really means to storm the gates of Hell (Planned Parenthood) and take back America for God.
A woman’s “choice” was anathema to me because I believed that I was not my own; I had been bought with a price (the blood of Christ ~ 1 Cor. 6:20) and therefore, I sought to “honor God with my body” which essentially meant dutifully birthing seven “foot soldiers for Jesus,” nearly losing my life on more than one occasion.
Sarah Jones: Do Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann (both of whom share a belief in the bible replacing the constitution; i.e., a theocratic takeover of the American government) represent the beliefs you were taught and if so, how? If not, why?
Vyckie Garrison: When I was a fully-convinced Quiverfull believer, I did question how Sarah Palin could justify her political activities so long as she had children still living at home. I also thought it ironic that, according to the ideals she espouses, women should not hold authority over men, or even be allowed to vote for that matter.
Still, I supported Palin because she understands and promotes conservative Christian “family values.” I was especially impressed by her convictions with regard to “taking back America for God” — in my Quiverfull-colored opinion, Sarah Palin “got it.” Meaning, of course, that she has a decent understanding of Dominionist principles and she has a plan to lead America toward a “truly Biblical” (read, theocratic) society.
I left the Quiverfull movement before Michelle Bachman came into much prominence on the political scene, but … ditto for her.
Sarah Jones: How do you see this far right religious movement impacting far right politics today?
Vyckie Garrison: The extreme Quiverfull ideals are picking up momentum recently due to the following process:
Rampant FEAR is spreading among the Evangelical community. This fear is a result of the “culture wars” which the religious right perceives it is losing ground on all fronts: Gays are taking over, Feminists are taking over, Liberals are taking over, Atheists are taking over, Muslims are taking over! And to make matters worse, we are living in The End Times — the AntiChrist is poised to be revealed and Armageddon is right around the corner.
Between the culture wars and the Left Behind madness, this world is a very scary place for Christians, which leads more and more Christians to homeschool in order to protect their children from the influence of secular society. The Christian homeschool community is fertile ground (pun intended) for the promotion of Quiverfull ideals.
When parents attend a Christian homeschool fair, they will be offered Creation Science and Christian revisionist history curriculum … and they will also encounter a plethora of “biblical family living” materials. “Family Values” is a profitable niche market. What is being sold is protection: guaranteed methods for Christian parents to insulate and isolate their children from the big, scary, godless world.
As the Christian homeschool community flourishes, the peddlers of Quiverfull principles, such as Vision Forum, American Vision, Wallbuilders, the Home School Legal Defense Association, and Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles are enabled to exert more and more influence on right wing political thought and policy.
Thus we have Doug Phillips (president of Vision Forum Ministries, and son of Howard Phillips) urging Christians at the San Antonio Tea Party rally to “honor our fathers” (he’s talking about patriarchy), Congressman Dan Webster (R-FL) promoting male headship at Gothard’s Advance Training Institute conference, Mike Huckabee stating that he wishes every American could be forced at gunpoint to listen to David Barton’s Christian Reconstruction messages, the Family Research Council’s Values Voters Summit bestowing the “Pro-Family Entertainment Award” on Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, etc. The entanglement of Quiverfull leaders with right wing politics is huge.
Sarah Jones: What was the most compelling reason for your departure from the movement?
My life as a devoted fundamentalist Believer had become a living hell of physical, mental and spiritual abuse. For all our efforts to know God, to love Him, discern His will and live out His precepts for a Godly home according to the Holy Bible, our family was going crazy. We hated ourselves and we hated each other and we all wanted to die.
The Quiverfull movement offers a one-size-fits-all model for family relations, but in truth, that never works. “Biblical family values” lock men and women into atavistic gender roles which do not allow individual families to maximize their strengths and compensate for weaknesses. In the end, it is unrealistic and unsustainable. The ultra-demanding lifestyle of Quiverfull is a recipe for abuse, neglect, burnout and insanity.
Sarah Jones: Many people may not be able to comprehend the courage it took for you to leave this movement. Can you please explain the cost of such a decision and what that says about the movement itself?
For me, it was more desperation than courage — it was either get out or die.
Because Quiverfull is an all-encompassing worldview, it consumes every aspect of a woman’s life — it IS her life. It is difficult enough for an abused woman to leave her husband, but add in half a dozen or more kids, no marketable job skills because she never went to college and has been out of the workforce for decades, loss of her entire support system since her extreme ideals have led to the alienation of all but a few “like-minded” Believers who will shun her the minute she questions the principles. Yikes!
Stir in the whole God-thing, and you have an overwhelming challenge. But if anyone can make it, Quiverfull women can; they are the some of the toughest, most resourceful and determined women ever. Through No Longer Quivering, I have met dozens of women who have left, or are in the process of leaving, the Quiverfull lifestyle. Not all become atheists, but none escape without serious modification of their faith.
Sarah Jones: After reading your blog, I began to clearly identify several patriarchal agendas that I (raised as a complicated Presbyterian) had previously only sensed trickling into our culture, source unknown. Knowing the roots of biblical patriarchy first hand, do you see it impacting our political landscape today in ways that perhaps someone without that experience couldn’t see?
Vyckie Garrison: Political domination is a core principle of the Quiverfull worldview. Quiverfull’s proof-text, Psalm 127, promises that the man whose quiver is full of arrows “will not be ashamed, but will speak with the enemies in the gate.” We were taught that in Bible times, the city gate was the place where male leaders made decisions regarding local government.
The whole point of having a quiver full of babies is to
1) out-populate the “enemy,” that is, the godless, liberal, lesbian feminists, and
2) launch those many arrows “straight into the heart of the enemy.” And by that, we meant that our children would grow up to be leaders in all the major institutions of our society: Faith, Family, Education, Art, Business, Media, and Government — this is known as the “Seven Mountains doctrine.”
I see the Quiverfull movement accelerating the implementation of patriarchal and dominionist ideas and policies using an impressive marketing saavy (see above) which is proving frightfully effective among the Evangelical population.
Hierarchy. Tradition. Control. Privilege. Conformity. Intolerance. Hegemony. These are the values of right wing politics. Under the guise of “family values,” the Quiverfull movement is bolstering the legitimacy of the Right’s misogynistic agenda. Where you’ve seen a trickle, Quiverfull is the break in the dam which is building up to a flood of extremism.
Whether by an appeal to tradition and authority, an appeal to nature, or an appeal to fear, Quiverfull leaders are providing the moral justification for right wing political battles which have been raging in our country for decades. Because these are thoughtful people with well-defined and high-minded propositions, their influence is giving wings to a vestigial body politic which thus far has been rightly grounded by the weight of the Right’s own discriminatory and inequitable baggage.
Let me give you just one example.
An uninitiated modern woman might think it’s irresponsible and impractical to toss out her birth control pills and leave her reproductive life “in the Lord’s hands.” But, let that woman spend a weekend with Nancy Campbell at an Above Rubies retreat, and she very well could come away with a new understanding of the power of motherhood and God’s vision for families. What higher purpose could there be ~ what better eternal use of her time, energy and talent ~ than to invest herself in the lives of her children? If she catches the vision, her entire life from that point forward will be consumed by her determination to conceive, birth, and raise as many of “God’s mighty warriors” as she is capable of producing.
In other words, Quiverfull teachers are masters at SPIN. They have the ability to convince a woman that she WANTS nothing more than to stay home, have lots of babies and serve her husband. In today’s world of seemingly unlimited choices for women, making the best choice can be an overwhelming responsibility and it’s extremely tempting for a woman to choose to have no choice.
Sarah Jones: Thank you, Vyckie. It’s been extremely enlightening speaking with you about the beliefs and agendas behind the biblical patriarchy infringing itself into our laws at the hands of radical religious leaders. Readers can read more about Vyckie and other women who have left the Quiverfull movement on Vyckie’s inspiring blog, No Longer Quivering.
Image: No Longer Quivering