Last week, articles abounded when Mitt Romney advised Southern Virginia University graduates to "Get married, have a quiver full of kids if you can." Many readers noted the silliness of this remark; not as many noted its significance. Romney was not talking like your out-of-touch uncle, trying to say something encouraging about hearth and home but missing the big picture. Not by a long shot. He was speaking the language of conservative patriarchal Christian ideology — an ideology that, increasingly, is shaping both our policies and our discourse. To ignore or dismiss his statement would be a mistake. It's time America took a crash course in Christian fundamentalism, so that we understand why a white Christian man with money and power would tell recent college graduates to go forth and multiply.
I first learned about the Quiverfull movement (yes, it is a movement) via Frank Schaeffer’s Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible’s Strange Take on Women Led to Crazy Politics — and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway. Frank Schaeffer helped to lead the conservative antiabortion movement of the 1980s, and then changed his mind, his heart, and his politics. His book discusses his reasons for this shift, and gives some very interesting insights into the unholy union between evangelical Christianity and American politics. When he was working within Christian fundamentalism, Schaeffer helped to publish Mary Pride, the founder of Quiverfull, which advocates for the submissiveness of women: according to the Quiverfull ideology, women are here to incubate and raise children, and they are happiest when in submission to men.
Here’s the scoop on Quiverfull:
- The name comes from Psalm 127, 3-5: "Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them."
- Mary Pride’s first book, The Way Home, became the “Bible” for the Christian home school movement.
· - Nancy Leigh DeMoss extended the Quiverfull movement to a much larger audience; her work discusses the liberating qualities of submission for women. Yes, you read that correctly.
- Children are seen as "God's army," the idea being that if fundamentalist Christian families have tons of kids, over time there will be so many of them that they can enact Christian patriarchal will (which they see as divine will) via policy.
- A woman's womb belongs to God.
Put these ideas together with those we've heard from Rick Santorum, Todd Akin, and Ken Cuccinelli (who has political power and is using it) and you get quite a patriarchal picture, with fundamentalist Christian white men holding the paintbrush. Policies that would ensure equal pay in the workforce and affordable access to contraception, abortion, and childcare are adversely affected. These are feminist policies, and fundamentalist Christianity loudly opposes feminism.
It is significant that women are leaders of the Quiverfull movement; these are Christian mothers, not middle-aged white men, talking about female submission and children. In arguing with Christian fundamentalist ideals, feminists who believe women can and should control their own fertility can sound, to the Christian ear, as though we value neither children nor God. We are, in fact, put in this ideological box by default. We need to understand Christian fundamentalism so that we can have a fuller conversation, one which includes a discussion of God and faith but doesn't promote female submission. (For information about how Quiverfull can lead to the spiritual abuse of women, see No Longer Quivering.)
We should be taking the voices of fundamentalist patriarchal Christianity who speak its tenets in mainstream society very seriously. Mitt Romney may have been speaking to a receptive audience — a largely Mormon student body, many of whom were female supporters of his campaign — but he came awfully close to speaking to us all, as president of the United States.