In 1930 the Anglican Church issued a statement permitting birth control "when there is a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence." Coinciding, a feminist movement which began about a decade earlier under American Birth Control League (which eventually became Planned Parenthood) founder Margaret Sanger emerged to advocate for modern birth control. In the decades that followed, birth control became gradually accepted among Protestants, even among the most conservative evangelicals.
Within that context, Quiverfull as a modern Christian movement began to emerge. The movement was sparked most fully after the 1985 publication of Mary Pride’s book The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality.
In her book, Pride chronicled her journey away from what she stated were feminist and anti-natal ideas of happiness, within which she had lived as an activist before her conversion to conservative evangelical Christianity in 1977, toward her discovery of happiness surrounding what she said was the Biblically mandated role of wives and mothers as bearers of children and workers in the home under the authority of a husband. Pride wrote that such a lifestyle was generally Biblically required of all married Christian women but that most Christian women had been unknowingly duped by feminism, importantly in their acceptance of birth control.
As the basis for her arguments, Pride selected numerous Bible verses to lay out what she felt was the Biblical role of women. These included verses she saw as containing her ideas of childbearing and non-usage of birth control, which she argued were opposed to what she called "the feminist agenda" by which she had formerly lived. Pride's explanations became a spearheading basis of Quiverfull.
The name of the Quiverfull movement comes from the Old Testament Bible verses in Psalm 127:3-5 that Pride cited in The Way Home.
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:
they shall not be ashamed,
but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.(emphasis added).KJV
Pride stated in her book, "The church’s sin which has caused us to become unsavory salt incapable of uplifting the society around us is selfishness, lack of love, refusing to consider children an unmitigated blessing. In a word, family planning."
As the Internet exploded onto the scene several years later, the informal networks gradually took on more organized forms as Quiverfull adherents developed numerous Quiverfull-oriented organizations, books, listserves, websites, and digests, most notably The Quiverfull Digest. The largely decentralized "Quiverfull" movement resulted.
From their onset, Quiverfull ideas have sometimes had a rather polarizing effect between Christians who hold to the position and those who are skeptical of or disagree with them.
According to journalist Kathryn Joyce,
Population is a preoccupation for many Quiverfull believers, who trade statistics on the falling white birthrate in European countries like Germany and France. Every ethnic conflict becomes evidence for their worldview: Muslim riots in France, Latino immigration in California, Sharia law in Canada. The motivations aren't always racist, but the subtext of "race suicide" is often there.
Quiverfull authors Hess and Hess, along with Joyce, also connect the proliferation of conservative politics as a motivation behind Quiverfull. Hess and Hess state,
When at the height of the Reagan Revolution the conservative faction in Washington was enforced with squads of new conservative congressmen, legislators often found themselves handcuffed by lack of like-minded staff. There simply weren't enough conservatives trained to serve in Washington in the lower and middle capacities.
Hess and Hess continue by envisioning that the offspring of Quiverfull families might enter national and local politics to bring conservative majorities, publicly-funded education to bring the teaching of creationism, and business to adjure companies to adhere to what adherents see as Christian sensibilities.
The principal Quiverfull belief is that Christians should maintain a strongly welcoming attitude toward the possibility of bearing children. With minor exception, adherents reject birth control use as completely incompatible with this belief.
Most Quiverfull adherents consider children to be unqualified blessings, gifts which should be received happily from God. Quiverfull authors Rick and Jan Hess argued for this belief in their 1990 book.
"Behold, children are a gift of the Lord." (Psa. 127:3) Do we really believe that? If children are a gift from God, let’s for the sake of argument ask ourselves what other gift or blessing from God we would reject. Money? Would we reject great wealth if God gave it? Not likely! How about good health? Many would say that a man’s health is his most treasured possession. But children? Even children given by God? "That’s different!" some will plead! All right, is it different? God states right here in no-nonsense language that children are gifts. Do we believe His Word to be true?Quiverfull authors such as Pride, Provan, and Hess extend this idea to mean that if one child is a blessing, then each additional child is likewise a blessing and not something to be viewed as economically burdensome or unaffordable. When a couple seeks to control family size via birth control they are thus "rejecting God's blessings" he might otherwise give, and possibly breaking his commandment to "be fruitful and multiply".
Accordingly, Quiverfull theology opposes the general acceptance among Protestant Christians of deliberately limiting family size or spacing children through birth control. For example, Mary Pride argued, "God commanded that sex be at least potentially fruitful (that is, not deliberately unfruitful).... All forms of sex that shy away from maritial fruitfulness are perverted." Adherents believe that God himself controls via Providence how many and how often children are conceived and born, pointing to Bible verses that describe God acting to "open and close the womb" (see Genesis 20:18, 29:31, 30:22; 1 Samuel 1:5-6; Isaiah 66:9). Hess and Hess state that couples "just need to trust God to provide them with the perfect number of children for their situation."
Rejection of birth control by some Quiverfull adherents is based upon the belief that the Genesis creation and post-Noahic flood Bible passages to "be fruitful and multiply" (see Genesis 1:22; 9:7) are un-rescinded Biblical commandments. For example, Charles D. Provan argues,
"Be fruitful and multiply" ... is a command of God, indeed the first command to a married couple. Birth control obviously involves disobedience to this command, for birth control attempts to prevent being fruitful and multiplying. Therefore birth control is wrong, because it involves disobedience to the Word of God. Nowhere is this command done away with in the entire Bible; therefore it still remains valid for us today.
Quiverfull advocates such as Hess and Hess, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and Rachel Giove Scott, believe that the Devil deceives Christian couples into using birth control so that children God otherwise willed to create are prevented from being born. A Quiverfull adherent quoted in 1991 in the Calgary Herald made the statement: "Children are made in God's image, and the enemy hates that image, so the more of them he can prevent from being born, the more he likes it."
Samuel Owens considers that there may be aspects of a fallen universe that sometimes justify an option to use a non-potentially abortive birth control method. Example situations include serious illnesses, inevitable Caesarian sections, and other problematic situations such as disabling mental instability and serious marital disharmony. Owen additionally argues that birth control may be permissible for married couples called to a "higher moral purpose" than having children, such as caring long-term for many orphans or serving as career missionaries in a dangerous location.
Despite some variances, all Quiverfull families and authors agree that God's normative ideal for happy, healthy and prosperous married couples is to take no voluntary actions to prevent having children.
Quiverfull authors and adherents advocate for and seek to model a return to Biblical Patriarchy. Families are typically arranged with the mother as a homemaker under the authority of her husband with the children under the authority of both. Parents seek to largely shelter their children from aspects of culture they as parents deem adversarial to their type of conservative Christianity.
Additionally, Quiverfull families are strongly inclined toward homeschooling and homesteading in a rural area. However, exceptions exist in substantial enough portion to where these latter two items are general and often idealized correlates to Quiverfull practices and not integral parts of them.
Quiverfull adherents Brad and Dawn Irons run Blessed Arrows Sterilization Reversal Ministry. The couple advocates for Quiverfull ideas while providing funding, physician referrals, and support to Protestants wishing to undergo sterilization reversal surgery. Protestants such as Bill Gothard also advocate for reversals, saying that sterilized couples have "cut off children" but should instead devoted themselves to "raising up godly seed".
Jeffrey J. Meyers examines the biblical and theological arguments that Pride puts forth and carefully points out the shortcomings of her interpretations.
James B. Jordan maintains that, while children are indeed blessings, they are only one among a wide range of blessings God offers, and prayerfully choosing foci among them is part of prudent Christian stewardship.
John Piper's Desiring God Ministries criticizes Quiverfull by saying that
just because something is a gift from the Lord does not mean that it is wrong to be a steward of when or whether you will come into possession of it. It is wrong to reason that since A is good and a gift from the Lord, then we must pursue as much of A as possible. God has made this a world in which tradeoffs have to be made and we cannot do everything to the fullest extent. For kingdom purposes, it might be wise not to get married. And for kingdom purposes, it might be wise to regulate the size of one's family and to regulate when the new additions to the family will likely arrive. As Wayne Grudem has said, "it is okay to place less emphasis on some good activities in order to focus on other good activities.
Pope Paul VI further stated in Gaudium et Spes, No, 50, "let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God.
In addition, Humanae Vitae reconfirmed that conjugal life between married people is both unitive and procreative, and that mis-attention to either of those is disordered. "It is in fact justly observed that a conjugal act imposed upon one's partner without regard for his or her condition and lawful desires is not a true act of love, and therefore denies an exigency of right moral order in the relationships between husband and wife."
The Catholic teaching therefore is that, while humankind have been commanded by God in Genesis to increase and multiply (Gen 2:18), parents also have a responsibility to their families and to society to ensure that the children they have, can be appropriately cared for. In addition, the health of the mother is a concern; having pregnancy after pregnancy with no recuperative time does not fall under responsible parenthood.
Seelhoff and others claim that Andrea Yates was a victim of Quiverfull thought. Yates and her husband Rusty described themselves as nondenominational Christians who did not use birth control, agreeing to accept as many children as God sent their way. On June 20, 2001, Andrea murdered her five young children, ages six-months, two, three, five, and seven, by holding them down and drowning them in their home bathtub. She was found "not guilty by reason of insanity" and is currently institutionalized. Her husband, Rusty, was aware that she was depressed and unwell, and did not ensure that his wife was well enough to stay home and take care of five children. Because his actions were not deemed criminal, he was not prosecuted, and in fact he obtained a divorce from Yates and remarried only two days prior to the beginning of her trial.
Quiverfull adherents argue that the Yates never specifically self-identified as Quiverfull and thereby reject that they were actually part of the movement.
Although there are a few similarities between the two, Roman Catholics sometimes adopt the Quiverfull label without understanding the quite substantial distinctions.
Moreover, Roman Catholic theology emphasizes the relationship between sexual intercourse and fertility, rather than children per se, as part of the natural law of God, and considers artificial interference with fertility such as barriers or hormones to be a grave sin. While frivolous or materialistic reasons for avoiding children are seen as immoral, the Roman Catholic Church permits natural family planning (NFP) for grave reasons, although the translation of the Latin word "grave" is sometimes debated. Use of NFP to avoid pregnancy may be actively promoted in extreme circumstances such as serious health problems, dire poverty, and active persecution.
Dissimilarly, Quiverfull emphasizes the continual role of Providence in controlling whether or not and when a woman conceives due to God having exclusive prerogative in "opening and closing the womb". Quiverfull regards all birth control methods alike in so far as they further such avoidance, while Catholicism permits natural family planning.
While Quiverfull had previously garnered some attention in the Christian press, the Canadian press in March 2001, and in various scholarly pieces, it began to receive focused attention in the U.S. national press in 2004.
In an article on December 7, 2004, New York Times journalist David Brooks described an arising movement he called simply "natalism" and sought to show how in the future it could shift the U.S. political landscape from a philosophy of liberalism to conservatism. Brooks concluded, "Natalists are associated with red America, but they're not launching a jihad".
Journalist Kathryn Joyce connected Brooks' "natalism" with Quiverfull and disagreed with him in her November 9, 2006, 5-page exposé on Quiverfull in The Nation. Joyce emphasized that the movement uses what she described as "military-industrial terminology" to articulate the belief that "only a determination among Christian women to take up their submissive, motherly roles with a 'military air'" and within a milieu of becoming "maternal missionaries" will lead to what Joyce described as Quiverfull's "Christian army" achieving cultural "victory."
Four days later, on November 13, 2006, Newsweek provided a 2-page piece on Quiverfull, characterizing the movement as conservatives who are "reacting to revolutionary changes in women's social roles and seeking to re-impose a more traditional order". The piece ended by quoting a Quiverfull family as stating they were "exponentially happier" after relinquishing control of their womb to God.
On January 3, 2006, ABC News Nightline aired a special segment, "The More the Holier?", on the Quiverfull movement. The coverage was re-aired on ABC's World News Now about four hours later. On September 15th, 2007, Nightline revisited the issue as part of their "Faith Matters" series, again featuring the Carpenter family.
In the proximate aftermath of the U.S. national print articles, responses from Quiverfull adherents in The Quiverfull Digest ranged from "feeling betrayed" to assertions that the articles were "fair". Additionally, a few disagreeing Quiverfull adherents undertook apologetic responses on the Internet discussion forums provided by the latter national publishers in immediate on-site connection with their articles.