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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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But a thousand issues play into it that are in some ways understandable. I think there is some effort in various churches to promote these patriarchy doctrines as a safer deal for women. Then the setup is, wives submit to their husbands, but also that husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church. How that actually plays out in reality varies a lot with the husband, of course.  But they're told that this is the trade off. You will submit, and your husband will love you. So there's that promise. 

I think primarily they're just taught that this is what God requires of you. These are women are very devout and believe that the word in the Bible is true, and that what their pastors are telling them is true, and they want to be right with God. I think that can be a hard thing for secular people to understand. It's an incredibly powerful drive for women to feel that they're right with God. If they're told that to be right with God, they need to be more submissive, then they're going to try to be more submissive. If they're told they need to be open to having ten children, then they'll struggle with that.  Some of them will say this is what I have to do to be right with God. They would feel, this is what God is telling me, and I feel God is speaking through male pastors and male leaders. 

Karlin: The patriarchal fundamentalist movement leaders are the be-all to the women who are locked into this belief system. If you really want to break away from this belief, then the whole structure falls apart. 

Joyce: Right.

Karlin: Is this a growing movement? 

Joyce: Yes, it is. It's really been going on for the past 20-25 years, so the first generation is starting to have their own children now. Obviously, not every child is going to continue in their parents' footsteps, but I think a lot of them do. These children often are raised in very cloistered home school environments, where their interaction with the outside world is very closely monitored. Their parents will discourage them from backsliding, particularly their daughters. They understand how important it is to keep the children of the movement within the movement in order to make this generational demographic victory possible.

There are quite a few women leaders in the submission and patriarchy and Quiverfull movements. They are under the headship of male leaders themselves, so you can question how much authority they actually have.  But one of the most popular authors in bringing women about to this conviction has been a woman writing in a personal way. I think that's in keeping with tradition, as with Phyllis Schafly's example during the Eighties.

Karlin: How much of this do you think is a backlash to the feminist movement?

Joyce: I think generally it is, and that they have taken motivation and even structure from looking at the feminist movement. They organize in small groups and small mentoring models that seem to me very reminiscent of the rap groups, or the consciousness-raising groups of the early feminist movement, that appealed to women where they are, that talked to them about personal issues, and then exposed them to a political thought.

In this case, they are leading women or getting them organized into small groups and teaching them about submission and patriarchy rather than telling them about feminism and opportunities for women's liberation. But I think there's a lot of inspiration there. I think what they're attacking most vocally is feminism, and the idea that women are independent. They take feminism as a threat more seriously than probably anybody has since the 1970s. They talk about it obsessively. It's their main concern.