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Christian Fundamentalist Group Preaches Patriarchy and Women's Fertility as Weapons for Spiritual Warfare

Author Kathryn Joyce explains the bizarre Quiverfull movement dedicated to exploding the birthrate of ultra-conservative Christians.

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Joyce: I think you're right that it is kind of characteristic of the whole fundamentalist movement, but there's also a subset of people within it who actually call themselves patriarchs or members of the patriarchy movement. They advocate a very extreme version of wifely submission to male headship -- the idea that wives are submissive in everything to their husbands, and before that, to their fathers. The women are never out from under the covering of the men, and this is very important, because getting women back to the submissive state is the first step towards a Christian revival. 

That's the most extreme type. You have people who don't allow women to speak in church, who believe that women need to submit an hour-by-hour schedule of what they're going to do with their day to their husbands.

I think also there's a milder version of this that often raises a few eyebrows but doesn't seem as too dangerous within the broader Christian community. They sometimes call themselves complementarians, and they speak about submission and headship, but, really, it is more in their speech than in actual practice. I think there's really a continuum. It's not that they're not taking those ideas seriously, but they use gentler language among people who are promoting it, in a more mainstream sense -- more mainstream being like the Southern Baptist Convention, which is very mainstream in numbers, but they speak explicitly about the need for wives to submit to husbands. 

And this is getting some very prominent play. Mike Huckabee signed on to their 1998 doctrinal statement that women need to submit to their husbands, so this is something that's very much a part of mainstream faith. But it's tied much more closely than people acknowledge with these much more extreme elements. 

Karlin: Before I get back to Quiverfull as a movement, let's just continue on this patriarchal concept in the fundamentalist movement. I personally do not recall ever seeing in the fundamentalist movement any of these leaders, bing women. I just read that James Dobson has resigned from his organization, but if you look at Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Tim LaHaye -- they're all men. There simply are not women here. They're all men. And Mike Huckabee signed on to the concept that man is the leader, and that that's something Biblically engrained. 

But again, with Quiverfull, we might see people working in our offices and not know that they're members of this movement, leading their own communities. 

Joyce: It's not a particular church or denomination, although some denominations have made statements that openness to as many children as possible is a good idea. A lot of churches are starting to move against contraception, which is kind of the core of Quiverfull's real practical thrust --  that contraception is wrong. Some churches are increasingly talking about that. But really, it's more of a community of believers that transcends doctrinal differences, transcends just denominations and different churches. It's something that goes instead across conservative churches that are Baptist, Reformed, Calvinists, or the congregations that are charismatic.

Karlin: Does a married woman who's part of this movement self-identify? If I go up to a woman and ask what sort of Christian are you, will she perhaps say I'm a member of the Quiverfull movement? 

Joyce: I think they would list that among their convictions. I think a lot of Christians in the last twenty years have started to see more significance in where people lie along the political spectrum or what issues they find most important, rather than denominational issues, which is why you're seeing all these breakups of these different churches between conservative and liberal factions. Someone might say, I am a Christian, and because of that, I believe in letting God determine my family planning and letting God determine how many children I have. I follow the Bible, so I believe that I must be submissive to my husband.