Monday, August 3, 2009

Quiverfull, by Kathryn Joyce - Book Review #15

A few weeks ago, I was minding my own business in the New Books section of the library while peacefully searching for some mystery about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Alas. My peace was abruptly disrupted when my eyes fell on Quiverfull. I had not heard of the book, but I certainly understood the connotation of the word. Unable to resist, I picked it up and saw the subtitle: "Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement". I immediately looked for the author's bio and when I discovered that she was not of the camp about which she was writing, I decided to read it. I read a fair amount of theology books. I've made it a point to refrain from reviewing those books here for various reasons. However, I figured that I'm not breaking my own rules by reviewing a book about Christianity written by a non-Christian.

Kathryn Joyce is a journalist whose work has focused on religion. In writing Quiverfull, she examines the philosophies and motivations behind what she calls the "Christian Patriarchy"movement within Christian Evangelicals (sometimes known as ultra right-wing-conservatives). It is evident from the outset of the book that Joyce spent a considerable amount of time not only reading the philosophies driving this movement, but also countless numbers of hours interviewing its mavericks. She even attended weekend retreats for Christian women, doing so as a self-proclaimed non-Christian (at the retreats she was told that "she really should get saved.").

It is unusual for me to read a non-fiction book on a subject about which I am very knowledgeable. I've read a majority of the books Joyce references in Quiverfull. I was unfamiliar with about 5% of the people she references. I've heard many of their lectures. I've read their blogs. I've read their books. I've read their magazines. So, I can say, without a doubt, that Joyce's reporting was quite accurate. This is fair and balanced reporting from a journalist who doesn't agree with what her subject matter believes. That is so heartening, isn't it? But it is precisely her accurate reporting that is so disheartening to this Christian.

Joyce divides the book into three categories: wives, mothers, and daughters. She explains, in detail, how this Christian Patriarchy Movement is spreading through Evangelical Christian circles. She talks about how wives are to be submissive to their husbands, how women are to stay at home with their children, and how daughters are to refrain from higher education for the purpose of learning the art of housewifery so that the entire cycle can begin again.

Now, if you are not a Christian, you need not read further. But, if you, like me, call yourself a Christian, read on because I have something to say.

[Stepping on soap box]


Evangelicals, as of late, have done a lot of whining and complaining about how the media has taken their line of thinking out of context, blah, blah, blah. Here is a case where, for the most part, Joyce (the media) didn't take things out of context. What she shows is that the Evangelicals have taken things way out of context. Joyce paints a picture of a group of people who have a serious misunderstanding of the Bible. And I have a ginormous problem with that. My problem is that my faith in which I am a devout believer is sorely misunderstood by the very people who claim to share that same faith. In short, the Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy movement has condensed the Gospel into a list of rules, including but not limited to: wives are to defer to their husbands on every matter (no matter how minuscule), wives are not to drive at night, women and girls are not allowed to wear pants, women are supposed to have as many children as possible, women are not supposed to work outside of the home, mothers are supposed to homeschool their children (public or private school is not allowed), daughters are supposed to be committed to helping their fathers' work in lieu of attending college, fathers are only supposed to work in their own small businesses, and the list continues. I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with practicing any of the above. I am saying that it is wrong to think that a requirement of Christianity is to do all of the above.

A disturbing theme seen throughout the book is the claim by the Quiverfull followers that following these rules will fix the problems in our nation. Says Rachel Scott in her book Birthing God's Mighty Warriors: "When God's people are plentiful, we can come up against society going in the wrong direction, against wicked political systems, against immoral laws and antifamily legislation, and make them back down!" If this sentence weren't so horrific, it would be funny. "God's people" are messed up. They are not perfect. Their rules are not sufficient to clean up a "society going in the wrong direction". There is an attitude of perfection by the followers of this movement. Such an attitude is divisive, isolating, and simply incorrect.

My understanding of Christianity does not have these rules as a requirement for membership. The people who loudly advocate the following of such laws have misunderstood what the Bible says. They have reduced the Christian faith to nothing other than the various religions they criticize; they've turned it into religion that is centered on what humans are supposed to do. The Christianity I understand is the opposite of that. It is centered not on what I do, but on what someone else did for me. And that, my friends, is the only faith that fills this quiver.


  1. Well said, Staci... I like your soapbox.


  2. Thanks, Staci, for having the courage to step into this one.

  3. You preach it, Sister! I'll turn the pages!

  4. Thanks, Kristen and Gail.

    Randy...It is much easier to be courageous on such matters when one hears statements like the following on a weekly basis: "We cannot use our good works as currency before God." I heard that recently, from a local theologian. If you know who he is, thank him for me. :-)

  5. Hopping off to look for a copy of this sounds awesome! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it. I'm very curious to hear the arguments of this book.

  6. What did you think about the title?

    While I agree that "quiverfull" and the "the Christian Patriarchy Movement" overlap, I would venture to say that they are NOT synomymous. Wouldn't you agree?

    Does she address that?

    Everything I've heard about the book indicates it is well-researched and an accurate portrayal of a certain subculture, but I've been very bothered by the equivalency statement in the title. Your thoughts?

  7. TulipGirl,

    I do think that Quiverfull is an unfortunate title for this book. The subtitle, "Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement" is much more accurate. It isn't as catchy as "Quiverfull", though. The Quiverfull discussion is covered in a section of the book that only spans about 70 pages. She discusses many other aspects of the Christian Patriarchy Movement. The book certainly is NOT about only being Quiverfull.

    Kathryn Joyce certainly found Quiverfull synonymous with the Christian Patriarchy Movement. I get the impression that her research started with a curiosity about the Patriarchy Movement. She found that the people subscribing to that movement happened to be Quiverfull, among other things.

    Do I agree that they are not synonymous? Well, frankly, I know some Quiverfull families and they all pretty much subscribe to the other characteristics of the Christian Patriarchy Movement (with the exception of the wives being physically abused and not being allowed to drive at night). Some of these very people are concerned for my salvation, as I've not ever been pregnant during my 15-year marriage. They believe that a sin in my life is prohibiting my quiver from ever being full. For them, full quivers are a Christian membership requirement. Do I think they SHOULD be synonymous? Absolutely not. Are they becoming synonymous in practice? I think they are. And that, as you know, is not the Gospel.

    I'd love to discuss this further with you. Maybe we could go to a place that allows for more detail and caffeine?


  8. Thanks, Staci. I can see it as a "catchier" title and a significant aspect of the subculture she's describing.

    And you know I'll never turn down coffee and conversation! Any evening you're free. . . Just let me know. *grin*

  9. w00t! love this post! Having spent a great deal of time around people that subscribe to quiverful and Christian Patriarchy, I do have to agree that they are generally one in the same...

    It was very freeing for me to realize that there are many ways to faithfully follow Christ as a woman (and a person), not just one.

  10. In the absence of someone actively seeking to defend the organization's perception in the minds of people, it will be defined by others to fit their individual agendas.

    Any organization that seeks to be successful in the marketplace needs people who are actively seeking to counter opinions that are not truthful,while at the same time arranging for opportunities that show what it is really doing. I am not familiar with all the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that went on to make this book happen, but if the Quiverfull people were smart, they had a substantial communications plan in place to maximize their opportunites for positive news and minimize the negative. I will say at the outset that I think any publicity at all for this organization is likely to help it, as I mention below.

    That being written, some quick thoughts since I am on a deadline and don't have time for nice transition sentences.

    What is interesting about Joyce is that she often writes for the Nation, which is considered to be a magazine that is "left of center." Therefore, we need to be aware of not only biases, but the biases of the people for whom she ultimately works. Reporters who write books often do so on sabatical from their jobs and return there when there work is done. So, we need to assume that the slant she was going to take was not going to be "objective," though one could argue that there truly doesn't exist objective analysis. That does not, however, mean that the characterization of something can't be accurate, as it would appear to be in this case.

    The organization obviously thought it would benefit from this book and we could argue that the characterization benefits the group because it is likely to be less than accurate by those who truly believe in Quiverfull ideas. This "us against them" feeling is incredibly important and useful when an organization is small and wants to get bigger. In other words, uniting against a common enemy brings people closer together, as every military officer knows when confronted with a unit that is not functioning as a team.