Christianity as Abuse: A Case Study of the Quiverfull Movement

I recently came across an article written by former Quiverfull member Vyckie Garrison regarding her experiences with the movement and how it made her relationship with her husband toxic. She found, after years of risking her life having children and submitting to her husband unquestioningly, that many aspects of her life were abusive, and that she wanted out of the movement as well as the relationship. However, she did not really find her husband at fault for the abuse itself, but seemed to blame it on the movement and Christianity in general. She really showed how when taken to extremes, religion poisons everything.

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Before going into the article itself, I would like to give some background as to what the Quiverfull movement is. It is basically an extreme sect of Christianity based on Psalm 127:3-5, which states the following:

“Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord: and the Fruit of the Womb is his reward. Happy is the man that hath a quiver full of them…”

They believe that children are a blessing from God, and do not believe in birth control. As a result, they do not believe in family planning, and put how many children they have in the hands of God. This was particularly dangerous in Garrison’s case because she had a condition that made having children extremely risky. She put her life on the line time and time again obeying the teachings of the movement by having seven  children.

In practice, she described the Quiverfull movement as very cultish and centered around the family. It required complete obedience to her husband, who was very autocratic in the relationship. The teachings of the Bible justified this of course, and she mentioned many Bible verses that emphasized the authority of men, the submissiveness of women, and the rejection of any kind of birth control. Essentially, the vision I get from Garrison’s article is the quintessential sexist vision of the woman being barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen making hubby a sandwich. The Quiverfull movement portrays a world that I really hoped we had been moving on from in the past fifty to one hundred years, but apparently it still finds a stronghold in traditional religious teachings.

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Eventually, after putting up with this for years, Garrison decided she had enough and tried to leave her family, but in needing a protection order, she needed to accuse her husband of abuse. However, as with many women in such a situation, she did not really consider her husband to be abusive. In this case, she considered her husband to simply be doing that which was Biblical. However, her counselor then introduced her to the power and control wheel, a model to help people unaware of abuse to detect it more easily. She found that the teachings of the Quiverfull movement, which are grounded in the Bible, were abusive in every way. She found that there was a lot of emotional abusive in the sense that Christianity is full of put downs and constantly reminds one of how they can never be righteous enough. She found emotional abuse in the story of the Garden of Eden too, because Eve was deceived first and therefore women were inferior to men. She found intimidation in the submission that she had to give to her husband and to God, who gave her “protection.” She found that Biblical teachings isolated her and her children from the outside world, making her more vulnerable to abuse. She found denying, blaming, and minimizing in the fact that her suffering and risk of death in childbirth was largely ignored because Jesus literally did die and that because of this she should risk her life too for the sake of the Gospel.

She points out that if she had died in childbirth, she would be a martyr, which is truly chilling. She saw using children in the sense that the Quiverfull movement encourages men to have as many children as they can to outpopulate potential enemies, pointing to the fact that having a quiver full of children of like having a quiver full of arrows. While she did not see her husband as necessarily using male privilege against her, she definitely saw the fact that the structure of a biblical marriage gives her husband all the power and privileges to begin with. She saw economic abuse in religious teachings, and how we should rely on God to provide for us. When she could not afford to have another C-section, she was encouraged to give birth at home instead, which put her life at risk. She also saw coercion and threats in the fact that if she did not go along with the demands of the Quiverfull movement, she would be punished by God.

That being said, while she did not directly implicate her husband in being abusive, and seemed to simply see him go along unknowingly with the abusive teachings of the movement, she definitely began to see the abusive aspects of Christianity poisoning their relationship in general. After seeing how abusive Christianity is, she decided she wanted out of the relationship and she got out.

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With some final thoughts, Garrison encourages other women in the Quiverfull movement to quit like she did, and points out that Quiverfull women are so used to doing the impossible that leaving, which seems so hard, will be a relief when it finally happens. She also reflects on children within the movement, and how the environments for them are not good and do not adequately prepare them for life. She also mentions that she has a blog, which one can check out over at Patheos.

Personally, I found Garrison’s story to be very compelling, and I have the utmost respect for her for recognizing that she was in fact in a bad situation and got out of it as a result. I also think that it was interesting that she pointed out how abusive certain fundamentalist interpretations of Christianity are. I was actually considering writing an article on this subject at some point in the future, but she really summed it up well. There are, in fact many aspects of Christianity that are abusive, and this abuse is far worse if one is a woman, since the Bible was written by people who were pretty sexist, and these kinds of messages can be found and implied throughout scripture.

I will dispute the fact, however, that Christianity necessarily becomes this abusive when taken to its logical ends, at least to the extent portrayed. I have no doubt that Christianity is often unfair to women, and definitely makes them to so called inferior sex in relationships and otherwise, the the obsession with children in the Quiverfull movement is not necessarily the logical end result of Christianity, but rather a certain interpretation of specific kinds of scripture found within. I think that Christianity’s teachings are far more diverse than what the Quiverfull movement expounds, especially when one examines the New Testament and other early Christian writings.

Jesus, preaching of the end times, talked about how dreadful it will be for pregnant women and nursing mothers in Matthew 24:19. Since Jesus was talking about his generation, he seemed to be very much against child rearing on the basis of it just creating more unnecessary suffering because the end times were coming soon (Matthew 24:34). Paul, despite being pretty sexist at times, also did not place a high priority on marriage and child rearing, and actually kind of saw it as a distraction from focusing on God (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). However, he did mention that women who were married should be submissive and bear children (1 Timothy 2:11-15), so this can be disputed.

If one turns to noncanonical Christian sources from the early days of Christianity, we can even see that in books like the Acts of Paul and Thecla, that things like virginity and chastity were highly valued among women, not unrestricted childbearing. Taking these things into consideration, while the New Testament very clearly emphasizes the Quiverfull movement’s teachings for those who are married, there is a lot of dispute about whether one should even get married and put oneself in such a situation to begin with. The New Testament actually seems to emphasize that people are better off remaining single so they can focus on God and spreading the Gospel.

In conclusion, I have to respect and admire Vyckie Garrison, who found out the hard way that she was part of an abusive movement, and had the strength and resolve to finally leave. While I do not think the Quiverfull movement represents Christianity at large, especially the moderate versions of it, it definitely does represent modern Christian fundamentalism particularly well.  Also clearly shown is the very relationship with “God”, as taught in the Quiverfull and other fundamentalist movements, as essentially an abusive relationship that I would encourage everyone to break, especially women.

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