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April 01, 2009

Weapons of Mass Distraction

Quiverfull As the resident "birth dearth" guy, I wasn't prepared for my reaction to this NPR story. As a Catholic who has written a lot about the impact of falling birth rates (if you are so inclined, Google "Roberto Rivera" and "birth dearth" or "empty cradle" to see just how much), you would expect that I would applaud a story about my evangelical brethren eschewing birth control and having big families.

Instead, I felt kind of creepy. It obviously wasn't the subject matter and it wasn't the families featured in the report -- I liked them a lot.

It wasn't the quality of the reporting, either. While, as my friend Terry Mattingly will tell you, the press doesn't "get religion," NPR does. This is especially true of Barbara Bradley Hagerty. And it certainly wasn't anything that Kathryn Joyce, the author of Quiverfull: Inside The Christian Patriarchy Movement, had to say. I tune out terms like "Patriarchy movement" and those who speak them.

No, what creeped me was what Nancy Campbell, "a leader of the Quiverfull movement," told NPR:

"The womb is such a powerful weapon; it's a weapon against the enemy . . . I think, help! Imagine if we had had more of these children! . . . My greatest impact is through my children. The more children I have, the more ability I have to impact the world for God."

Sigh. Stuff like this strengthens my growing conviction that translating the scriptures into the vernacular was, on balance, a bad idea. While I guess that I should be grateful that Campbell doesn't think that children are literally projectiles (although you never know), calling them "weapons" is the kind of thing that if we were Jewish would be called a shanda fur die goyim (a shame before the Gentiles), something that brings us all into disrepute before the world by confirming some of the worst suspicions about us.

It's not that I disagree with Philip Longman when he writes that "the great difference in fertility rates between secular individualists and religious or cultural conservatives augurs a vast, demographically driven change in modern societies." He may be right that, as a result of the intersection of demographics and religion/culture,

Societies that are today the most secular and the most generous with their underfunded welfare states will be the most prone to religious revivals and a rebirth of the patriarchal family. The absolute population of Europe and Japan may fall dramatically, but the remaining population will, by a process similar to survival of the fittest, be adapted to a new environment in which no one can rely on government to replace the family, and in which a patriarchal God commands family members to suppress their individualism and submit to father.

But there's a world of difference between this being a foreseeable outcome of religious practice and having children for the express purpose of bringing these changes about. Do we really need to say that children are ends, not means? 

I guess so. Consider it said.

(Image © Barbara Bradley Hagerty for NPR)

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Dan Gill

What's disturbing to me is not the statement that the womb is a weapon, but the idea that large families are newsworthy and somehow strange. The author of the article seems to choose words to convey this idea.

My father, born in 1922, was the oldest of four children. Their family was fairly small by the standards of the time. My mother-in-law's family had seven children, and my father-in-law's family had eight. Families as large as those among the Quiverfull adherents were commonplace just a few years ago.

We have three children, and I remember when my wife was pregnant with our youngest, that people asked us if she was planned or an accident. As it turns out, she was not planned, but has been one of the greatest blessings of our lives.

And in one respect, our children are like arrows from a bow (if the womb is a weapon, it must be a bow and the children arrows). Not a weapon against the seen things in this world, but against the unseen. All believers are combatants in this battle with darkness.


Whether or not such changes are even desired - by God or man - the ends do not justify the means. And, if there is truth to the recent discussion about evangelicalism's inability to raise its own children with a useful, meaningful faith, then the Quiverfull concept is not only unjustifiable; it is also impractical.

Dan Gill

Wait a minute? What ends don't justify what means? Are you saying that the lives of faithful children don't justify foregoing birth control? There is no reason to justify foregoing birth control. It is the way we are made. Big families are natural. I don't believe that birth control is wrong, although my Catholic friends may. But to say that not using birth control is wrong makes no sense.


No, that is certainly not what I am saying! The means I was speaking of is creating children as "weapons" to accomplish the end .... well, I am not sure what end can be accomplished, other than gaining numerical advantage over groups who believe differently. The end that is achievable by increasing birthrates certainly isn't ushering in God's kingdom. (I believe he has reserved that for himself.) I am merely saying that creating children as weapons for earthly or spiritual combat is unwise, and, insofar as I can tell, not mandated by God.

By the way, I am also a member of a large "Christian" (and not Catholic) family, and it is definitely a blessing. We help the numbers, but our spiritual impact is... mixed. Also, I am pretty sure my positive influence for God's kingdom would be virtually nil if I sensed that I was created in order to outnumber secular humanists.

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