Friday, November 18, 2011

Thoughts on the "Quiverfull" Movement

A grass-roots movement has been growing for the last 20 years among evangelical/fundamentalist Christian families. Using a literalistic approach to the Bible, these families withdraw from modern culture into a strict patriarchal structure where birth control of any kind is eschewed and fathers control an ever-growing brood of children, home-schooled by a submissive wife. Considering children to be a “quiver of arrows” in the culture-wars over “family values,” people in this movement describe themselves in many terms. “Quiverfull” is perhaps the most convenient.

This movement defines Christianity largely in terms of the raising up of “godly families” to lift up God’s standards to the surrounding culture. Women are asked to lay down any individual hopes and dreams, for the sake of motherhood as their “highest calling.” The wife is there to support the vision and calling of the father, and the children are to do the same until (if they are boys) they become fathers themselves, or (if they are girls) they are given by their father to a husband, so that they can fulfill their own call to motherhood. Women can also have a ministry in this movement of teaching other women to be good wives and mothers-- but all of a woman’s existence revolves around these roles.

But as we look at Jesus’ practices and teachings, and the practices and teachings of the apostles, we simply don’t find anything to indicate that the kingdom of God that they preached about consists of, or is to be ushered in by, the raising up of “godly” families-- or any evidence that this is what the kingdom consists of for women.

The best way to determine the main message Jesus preached is to look at His words at the beginning and the end of each gospel: the words that set up and wrap up His earthly ministry. Matthew 4:17 encapsulates Jesus’ basic message like this: “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” In a nutshell, Jesus taught that His listeners should listen to His message and change their ways, for a new kingdom was coming and was already among them. Most of the rest of what He taught was either a fleshing out of what He meant by “repent,” or of what He meant by “the kingdom of heaven” -- or both.

Luke’s gospel sums it up best. Jesus began His ministry by teaching that the Scriptures about the coming of the Messiah had been fulfilled in Him (Luke 4:18), and wrapped it up by saying that He had completed “what was written” about Him, and that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations. . . and ye are witnesses of these things.” Luke 24:47-48.

Jesus’ message was that He was bringing in the kingdom of heaven through His life, death and resurrection. The kingdom, He taught, was a new way of simply being in harmony with God, a new way of living in God’s abiding presence (John 15:10) which would grow and mix with all of life until it had changed everything. (Matt 13:31-33) The kingdom is characterized by loving our enemies (Matt 5:44), laying down power and authority (Matt. 20:25-28), and putting our trust in Christ (John 3:15). Jesus said nothing whatsoever to His disciples or to the people along the lines of “Now go and marry godly women and raise up children to be arrows for the kingdom of heaven, to raise up God’s standard in the culture around you.” He said instead that His followers were to “go and make disciples” to follow Him as he had taught them. Matt. 28:19. In a patriarchal society that was very focused on fatherhood, Jesus consistently taught that human fatherhood was not to be the focus of His disciples: “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” Matt. 23:9.

Paul showed throughout his ministry that he had dedicated himself to this message and no other. 2 Cor. 5:20; Gal. 1:8. The only other injunction that was laid on Paul (besides being an ambassador calling, “be reconciled with God”) was that he should “remember the poor.” Gal. 2:10. And though Paul taught principles for the conduct of marriage and family, he did not treat marriage or family as anyone’s “high calling” -- rather, he taught that marriage was one option only, for both men and women: “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.” 1 Cor. 7:8.

If the calling of women as Christ’s followers is a call to homemaking, marriage and motherhood-- if women’s place is to serve their families and support their husbands in their callings-- then what can we say about Christ’s words to Martha in Luke 11:38-42? Martha was working in the kitchen to prepare a meal for the men while Mary joined the other disciples and sat “at Jesus’ feet” (which meant to be taught as a disciple -- see Acts 22:3). Martha was fulfilling everything this teaching says it is a woman’s role to do-- but it was Martha, not Mary, whom Jesus rebuked for focusing on what was not “needful.” And it was Mary whom He defended as having chosen “the good part.” Jesus said nothing to either of them about getting married, having children, and supporting their husbands’ callings. Instead He commended Mary for choosing to sit with the other disciples and be a disciple herself.

Homemaking, marriage and family are simply not held up in the Scriptures as the focus of the kingdom of heaven for anyone-- and women as well as men can be co-workers in the gospel (see Phil. 4:3). Many women traveled with Jesus in His earthly ministry (Luke 8:2-3), and Paul commended many women in Romans 16 for their discipleship. Neither Paul nor Jesus ever told these women that they should be home having children and taking care of the house.*

I believe the idea that Christianity is about getting married and raising up children to be “godly arrows” in warfare against worldly cultures, is a distortion of the gospel that Jesus brought, and of everything He came to do. In Him men and women alike are set free. I would encourage anyone who wants to follow Jesus, to stick with what Jesus actually taught, and not to be distracted by what Paul would have called “another gospel.”

*Paul did tell Titus that younger women should be taught to love their husbands and children and be "keepers" of the home-- but that word was the same word used for the "keeper" of the garden where Jesus was buried. It did not mean "homemaker" or "housekeeper," but "guard/watcher." And he said this should be done so that the gospel movement would not get a bad reputation in the surrounding (patriarchal) culture they were trying to reach-- not so that women would be restricted to "keeping the home" and nothing else. Titus 2:4-5 (compare with Romans 16:1-15).


Anonymous said...

There aren't enough words to thank you for this post. I read it with great enthusiasm. This is possibly the most concise argument for the REAL place of women in Christianity that I've read on a blog before.

I am dismayed by how often even mainstream Christianity slips into the idea that the wife's calling revolves around the husband and kids. You don't even have to go as far as the Quiverfull movement to find women who believe that their only worth lies in how perfect they can make the home for their kids. Usually, these women feel that focusing on their own emotional needs makes them a "bad mom."

Perfection in motherhood is not the goal, people. Loving God and your family, being a person of Christ-like character, and doing whatever God has called you to--be that staying home, running a ministry, being a lawyer, whatever!--is the goal.

Thank you again.


Vanessa said...

Thank you for this post - I agree with you.

I do have some questions.
1. At the end you said: "that word was the same word used for the "keeper" of the garden where Jesus was buried."
From my study, the word used in Titus 2:5 is "oikourgos" which means
"1) caring for the house, working at home
a) the (watch or) keeper of the house
b) keeping at home and taking care of household affairs
c) a domestic"

According to the concordance, that word is used only once in the New Testament, in Titus 2. What word are you referring to regarding the keeper of the garden? The word for the gardener in John 20:15 is "kēpouros", meaning "1) a keeper of a garden, a gardener", also used just once in the New Testament. I don't know if that is the verse you were referring to or not....

2. You said: "he said this should be done so that the gospel movement would not get a bad reputation in the surrounding (patriarchal) culture they were trying to reach". I assume you are still talking about the book of Titus? I read the whole book and did not see where this came from... Could you point me in a direction?

Again, I do agree with the point of your article, so I'm not trying to tear it down. I am genuinely interested in the answers to these questions, as I would like to add this post to my arsenal of "quiverfull critiques" but those of that mindset will ask me the questions above and I would like to have an answer for them. Thanks!

Kristen said...


You have to be kind of careful when using word study aids like Strong's. A lot of what they say Greek words mean is good, but as with anyone else, bias can creep in. The word "oikouros" (I think putting a "g" between the "r" and the "os" is an error) and the word "kepouros" are both compound words. "Oik" means "home" and "kep" means "garden." "ouros" in both words means "guard, watcher, keeper." "oikouros" really is not about being "domestic." The same word, in verb rather than noun construction, is part of "phroureo" in 1 Peter 1:5. "Phroureo" combines "phr" ("before" or "above") with "oureo" ("to guard/watch") and means "to watch over." 1 Pet 1:5 in the NIV translates, "shielded [phroureo] by God's power."

Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words confirms this. Also, this website might be helpful to you:

Kristen said...

Secondly, you asked where Titus 2 conveys the meaning that Paul asks this so the movement would not get a bad reputation in the surrounding culture. Tit 2:5 says, "so the word of God will not be maligned." Other texts translate it: "so the gospel will not be hindered." I know the KJV says something along the lines of "so that the word be not blasphemed," but that's 1600's English. It really doesn't mean that wives not being submissive is somehow directly "blaspheming" the word of God. It means that if wives are not submissive to their husbands, the surrounding culture will think there's something wrong with Christianity.

This is clear when looking at the context. Paul goes on to talk about two more groups: young men and slaves. At the end of each section he repeats, in slightly different words, the same concept: In verse 8 he says that if the young men will be self-controlled, then "those who oppose you will be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us." Then in verse 10 he says that if slaves will please their masters and not steal, then "in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive."

Paul was interested in how the gospel message appeared to the surrounding culture. That's what he's telling Titus: to make sure everyone behaves themselves according to the bounds of propriety. Otherwise, the young church in Crete might fail.

Hope that makes sense.

Vanessa said...

Both of your responses make sense. Thanks so much for your explanation, it set my mind at ease. I just needed a little help. ;)

Please keep up the good work on your blog! I loved your "sandwich" colored illustration and explanation in the "Is marriage really an illustration of Christ's relationship with the Church?" posts.

Kristen said...

Thanks for your kind words, Vanessa and Red!