1977: Nancy Campbell launched the magazine, Above Rubies.
1985: Mary Pride published The Way Home.
1987: The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was founded.
1991: Wayne Grudem and John Piper published Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
1998: The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution on women’s submission to their husbands.
1998: Doug Phillips founded Vision Forum.
2010: Vision Forum named Michelle Duggar “Mother of the Year.”
2013: Doug Phillips resigned from Vision Forum.
2014: Bill Gothard resigned from the Institute for Biblical Life Principles.
2015: TLC canceled Duggars’ 19 Kids and Counting.
The term Quiverfull refers to a specific fundamentalist Christian view of the biblical function and structure of families, especially its attendant gender arrangements. Quiverfull is not an organization or a group but rather, a perspective. Quiverfull families can be found in relatively obscure Christian contexts such as Bill Gothard’s Institute in Biblical Life Principles/Advanced Training Institute (IBLP/ATI), the Christian Reconstructionist home-school world formerly associated with Doug Phillips and Vision Forum, among others. Quiverfull families gained some popular attention as a result of the TLC “reality” show “29 Kids and Counting” that followed the lives of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s Quiverfull family, until the show was cancelled amidst revelations that their son Joshua had molested several children, including some of his sisters. The TLC show focused on the challenges of raising a large family but sanitized some of the more controversial elements of the Quiverfull lifestyle to make it seem to be mainstream Christian.
It should be noted that the label Quiverfull is imprecise and rarely used by those typically identified with it (Libby Anne 2015). Those we call Quiverfull tend to share a commitment to the idea that large families should be the norm and the determination of family size should be left to God; a strong view of male headship and female submission as biblically required; and the conviction that home schooling is the biblical standard for the education of children. The long-term strategy is to infuse them with a culturally transforming biblical worldview. But, the way in which Quiverfull families prioritize these commitments and the completeness with which they put them into to practice varies such that many who might be identified as Quiverfull by outsiders sometimes disagree sharply and strongly with each other.
Conventional wisdom might lead us to think that gender norms and expectations have changed over time in a relatively consistent trajectory from what we think of as conservative gender ideology toward increasing support for gender equality. The very language of conservatism suggests an effort to return to the older form. Yet scholars have shown that conservative Christian gender norms are far more complex; fluctuating between restriction and expansion of rights for women and often tracking with parallel changes in secular culture (DeBerg 1990; Bendroth 1996; Ingersoll 2003).
In the U.S., the 1970s brought changes in favor or women’s equality in the family, the church and society, even within conservative Protestantism. T here was a flourishing feminist movement within evangelicalism and fundamentalism that was promoted in publications like Eternity magazine and the Priscilla Papers and even Christianity Today and also in such organizations as Christians for Biblical Equality and Evangelical Women’s Caucus (now Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus). Referred to as “Biblical Feminism” and sometimes ”Evangelical Feminism,” this movement took root at important conservative institutions like Fuller Theological Seminary, and its supporters produced bookcases full of books making biblical arguments for women’s equality and “mutual submission.” One of the most important books was All We’re Meant to Be by Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty (1974).
The Backlash against feminism about which Susan Faludi (1991) wrote, had a conservative Protestant counterpart in the rise of “complementarianism,” an emphasis on gendered differences in both function and perceived essences rooted in biblical Creation. Over against the egalitarianism of biblical feminism, complementarianism teaches that God made men and women to be essentially different and complementary in ways that reflect their distinctly different biblical roles. Put forth by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, complementarianisms range from a rather benign headship that sociologist John Bartkowski labeled patriarchy of the last resort (i.e. couples are to seek God’s wisdom together and husbands are to rule only in the last resort when wives must submit) to an extreme form in which women are expected to make no decisions without the explicit direction of their husbands, and women are never to have any authority over any man in any sphere (Bartkowski 2001, 2004; Piper and Grudem 1991; Ingersoll 2003, 2015).
In this context, Mary Pride wrote The Way Home (1984), promoting male headship, women’s submission and domesticity, and home schooling. The publication of her book is often cited as a key moment in the rise of today’s Quiverfull movement, though others cite the work of Nancy Campbell as the most important early influence. Campbell’s magazine, Above Rubies, began publication in 1977. Both authors critique the influence of feminism as a deeply destructive force undermining the “Christian” values of American society in favor of selfishness, individualism, and unbiblical autonomy. They see the availability of abortion as the most egregious example. For them, however, contraceptives are not preventative of abortion, they are, rather, the first step down a slippery slope in which children are seen as a burden rather than a blessing and a woman’s most important calling. Both authors advocate what they see as a return to a biblical family structure in which men are the leaders, women are in submission to men, and children, are welcomed into the family in whatever number God determines.
In the early 1970s, Protestant Christians did not join Catholics in opposition to the use of contraceptives. The fight over abortion, in the wake of Roe v. Wade in 1973, brought together Catholics, who had a developed theology making the case against contraceptives in Humane Vitae (1968), with anti-abortion Protestants. Their work together in the anti-abortion movement likely had the effect of tamping down the fundamentalist anti-Catholicism of the 1950s and 1960s and fostering the view that contraceptives and abortion are both life denying practices (the view that contraceptives do not prevent abortions, they make them more likely by changing cultural attitudes toward sex outside of marriage and the value of children).
By the first decade of the twenty-first century, complementarianism combined with the views on procreation promoted by Campbell and Pride to produce so-called “Biblical Patriarchy” whose most important proponent was Doug Phillips and Vision Forum. Phillips and Vision Forum helped disseminate Quiverfull and Biblical Patriarchy through their work in the home school movement that included the production and sale of much curriculum, a string of conferences and events for home school families, and extensive networking among related organizations making up the conservative Christian world. The overlap between Quiverfull and Biblical Patriarchy is a point on which Quiverfull families divide. Nancy Campbell’s Be Fruitful and Multiply (2003) was published by Biblical Patriarchy proponent Doug Phillips’ Vision Forum, but Mary Pride has rejected Biblical Patriarchy as unbiblical (Pride 2009).
On the whole, Quiverfull families are traditional, conservative, orthodox Protestants. They embrace the Church’s historic creeds, biblical inerrancy, and Creationism. There are no specific denominations that are “Quiverfull,” though many Quiverfull families can be found among Baptists and Presbyterians (especially Presbyterian Church in America and Orthodox Presbyterian Church), as well as in Pentecostal/charismatic congregations and in nondenominational churches.
The core belief, from which the movement gets its name, is drawn from Psalm 127:3-5 “Children are a heritage from theLord…happy is a man who has his Quiverfull of them.” These families eschew contraceptives and other forms of family planning. They believe that producing and raising as many children as possible is central to the calling God gave to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the earth.
They embrace a version of a traditional reformed teaching known as sphere sovereignty in which God is thought to have ordained authority in human affairs in three distinct spheres: the family, the church and the civil government. The spheres are understood as autonomous from each other, but each is under the authority of God and the Bible.
Quiverfull families embrace a patriarchal authority structure in which men lead their wives and children who submit to them in allthings as they would to God. Wives serve as helpmeets to their husbands, in submission to their husbands’ vision for dominion. Children are taught at home, and the primary goal for education is the cultivation of successive generations of godly children who will marry and produce their own Quiverfull families. The long-term goal is the complete transformation of every aspect of life through a process one Quiverfull leader labeled “multi-generational faithfulness.”
Three of the most important practices in Quiverfull families are home schooling, Biblical Patriarchy, and stay-at-home daughters.
Perhaps the most important practice among Quiverfull families is home schooling; it is the primary mechanism by which these Christian parents seek to impart a biblical worldview and create what some of them call a family dynasty, with the goal of exercising biblical dominion. These families typically understand responsibility for education as given by God directly to families and therefore see public education as irretrievably unbiblical (Ingersoll2015). Quiverfull family participation in the networks of the larger home schooling movement is also, perhaps, the most important way they bring Quiverfull ideas to other conservative Christian home schooling families who then adopt them in whole or in part.
There is apparently some disagreement among Quiverfull proponents over the parallel movement known as Biblical Patriarchy,and an effort to draw careful lines of distinction (Libby Anne 2015), but the there is also enough overlap that many use the terms interchangeably. The chief proponent of Biblical Patriarchy was Doug Phillips and his organization, Vision Forum. Until Vision Forum’s demise in 2014, the website maintained a document entitled “The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy” that outlined an extreme version of complementarianism. Biblical Patriarchy rejects the traditional view that God transcends human gender, that masculinity and femininity are both included in the image of God, and that both male and female human beings are created in God’s image. They say instead that men are created in the “image and glory of God in terms of authority, while the woman is the glory of man.”
As one might expect, Biblical Patriarchy asserts that the “husband and father is the head of his household, a family leader, provider, and protector, with the authority and mandate to direct his household in paths of obedience to God.” It also teaches that seeking marriage and motherhood are the only biblical life courses for women. Singleness for women is described as an “exceptional state” but the “ordinary and fitting role of women [is] to work alongside men as their functional equals in public spheres of dominion.” One of a father’s greatest responsibilities is to raise his daughters to be child-loving godly women.
Girls’ education focuses primarily on these domestic roles. The ideal is for them to remain in their father’s home until they aremarried through a process, under their fathers’ direction, that precludes dating and autonomous decision making. These ideals were depicted in “Return of the Daughters,” a documentary film produced by Vision Forum and starring many fathers and daughters that were connected to that ministry. In the film, Anna Sophia and Elizabeth Botkin narrate the stories of several young women and theirs father who choose this path. Each family situation is different, but the young women emphasize that the goal of the close relationship in which they serve their fathers is to prepare them for their lives as submissive and dutiful wives in which they serve their husbands.
“Quiverfull” is more accurately understood as a movement within fundamentalist Protestantism than as a specific group, and therefore there are also a handful of founders and a multiplicity of groups that both overlap and set themselves apart from each other. The movement takes its name from Psalm 127 that compares children to a warrior’s arrows and says “happy is a man who quiver is full of them.” There is broad overlap between those in the Christian Home School Movement, the Quiverful Movement and the Biblical Patriarchy Movement, though there are also some cleavages that will be explored below. Generally, Quiverfull advocates critique broad cultural trends in which women are afforded increasing reproductive choices and equality with men, suggesting that such choices are tantamount to a rebellion against God’s will and result in the rejection of a culture of life. They eschew the use of contraception and insist on women’s complete submission to men as the biblical model for family.
The most well-known face of this movement is the Duggar family, stars of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting. Presented as a reality show
depicting the trials and tribulations of this extraordinarily large wholesome Christian family, much of the specific detail related to their background and beliefs remained in the background. The Duggars had ties to both the Gothard and Phillips wings of the Quiverfull world: they homeschooled with IBLP materials and attended the various IBLP/ATI seminars as both participants and guest speakers. In 2010, Phillip’s named Michelle Duggar “Mother of the Year” at Vision Forum’s “Historic Baby Conference.”
Quiverfull movement has come under criticism for its strong emphasis on male authority and female submission. Some of this criticism, as has been noted, has come from within the movement to promote a “return home” for women and a rejection of feminism. Other criticism has arisen from those who have left the movement like Vycky Garrison who’s website “No Longer Qivering” serves as a support network for women leaving. Garrison herself left the movement in 2008 with seven children. She struggled with the difficulties of supporting her large family, facing everything from a lack of resources (and little training or expertise to make a living) to shunning of her former community.
While one can expect all Quiverfull Families to home school, it is also certainly true that most home schoolers are not Quiverfull. That said, criticisms and challenges faced by the home school world are central challenges for the Quiverfull movement. The home school movement has matured to the point that there are now grown home schoolers, some of who have much to say about the way they were raised. Many who are critical of the largely unregulated practice remain supportive of home schooling in general but concerned about the the quality of education and the potential for abuse. There are now numerous bloggers and resource websites for adult home schoolers, Home Schoolers Anonymous being an important example.
Finally, between 2013 and 2016, three major scandals rocked this world and brought down some of its most important leaders.
At the end of 2013, Doug Phillips resigned from Vision Forum in the wake of his admission to a “lengthy inappropriate relationshipwith a woman.” The ministry was closed and its assets sold as the woman involved, Lourdes Torres, filed a lawsuit. In the legal complaint, Torres argued that from 1999 to 2006 Philips groomed her for sex by fostering an emotional intimacy, intensely pursuing opportunities to be with her both public and private, and touching her repeatedly in a sexual manner just short of intercourse. While both Torres and Phillips maintained that they did not have intercourse, their interactions became increasingly sexual over time. The lawsuit was settled out of court at the end of 2015.
In June of 2014, Bill Gothard resigned his position as leader of IBLP amid rumors that he had been accused of decades of sexual abuse of girls associated with the ministry, all of whom had been minors at the time. In October of 2015, five women who had worked at Gothard’s IBLP headquarters sued the organization for negligence. They claimed that they had experienced “sexual abuse, sexual harassment and inappropriate/unauthorized touching while theywere minors” by Gothard and that the organization’s leadership had done nothing to stop it. In early 2016, that complaint was amended to name Gothard himself and to include five more plaintiffs (for a total of ten) and more specific charges, including an accusation that Gothard had raped one of the women. That legal action is pending at the time of this writing.
In 2015, TLC cancelled the popular reality show 19 Kids and Counting following a stream of revelations about the family’s eldest son’s molestation of underage girls, including his sisters (dating to 2002),more recent marital infidelity, the parents’ failure to report the molestations, and the parents’ inadequate response that included minimizing its seriousness.
Bartkowski, John. 2004. The Promise Keepers: Servants, Soldiers, and Godly Men. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Bartkowski, John. 2001. Remaking the Godly Marriage: Gender Negotiation in Evangelical Families. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Bendroth, Margaret Lamberts. 1996. Fundamentalism and Gender, 1875 to the Present. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Campbell, Nancy. 2003. Be Fruitful and Multiply. San Antonio, TX: Vision Forum.
DeBerg, Betty. 1990. UnGodly Women: Gender and the First Wave of American Fundamentalism. Minneapolis: Augsburg/Fortress Press.
Faludi, Susan. 1991 Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Feminism. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Hess, Rick and Jan Hess. 1990. A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ. Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt.
Ingersoll, Julie. 2015. Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction. Oxford University Press.
Ingersoll, Julie. 2003. Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles. New York: New York University Press.
Joyce, Kathryn. 2009a. Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Boston: Beacon Press.
Joyce, Kathryn. 2009b. “Women’s Liberation Through Submission: An Evangelical Anti-Feminism Is Born” Religion Dispatches, June 16. Accessed from http://religiondispatches.org/womens-liberation-through-submission-an-evangelical-anti-feminism-is-born/ on 7 January 2016.
Libby Anne (pseudonym). 2015. “A Quiverfull of Definitions,” September 2. Accessed from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2015/09/a-Quiverfull-of-definitions.html on 3 January 2016.
McFarland, Hillary. 2010. Quivering Daughters: Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy. Dallas, TX: Darklight Press.
Phillips, Doug. 2014. “The Tents of Biblical Patriarchy.” Accessed from https://homeschoolersanonymous.files.wordpress.com/2014/04/the-tenets-of-biblical-patriarchy-vision-forum-ministries.pdf on 7 January 2016.
Piper, John and Wayne Grudem. 1991 Reclaiming Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Pride, Mary. 2009. “Patriarchy, Meet Matriarchy.” Practical Homeschooling #89.
Pride, Mary. 1985. The Way Home: Beyond Feminism and Back to Reality. Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishing.
Provan, Charles D. 1989. The Bible and Birth Control. Monongahela, PA: Zimmer Printing.
Scanzoni, Letha Dawson and Nancy Hardesty. 1974. All We’re Meant to Be. Waco, TX: Word Books
12 January 2016