Quiverfull is a movement among some conservative Christian couples, chiefly in the United States, but there are some adherents in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The movement sees children as a blessing from God and it encourages procreation, abstaining from all forms of birth control (including natural family planning) and sterilization. Adherents are known as quiver full, full quiver, quiverfull-minded, or simply QF Christians. Some have referred to the Quiverfull position as Providentialism, while other sources have simply referred to it as a manifestation of natalism. One 2006 estimate put the number of families subscribing to this philosophy as in "the thousands to low tens of thousands".
As birth-control methods advanced during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many conservative Christian movements issued official statements against their use, citing their incompatibility with biblical beliefs and ideals.
In addition, there are those who contend that Quiverfull's "internal growth" model is a manifestation of a broader trend reflected in such groups as ultra-Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Calvinists of the Netherlands and Laestadian Lutherans of Finland. The former may also be a case of a manifestation of a movement of opinion within some ethnic, linguistic, religious, regional, or other identifiable groups who have felt concern about their continued existence for historical and/or other reasons. Such philosophies and groups are diverse amongst themselves—being found in all segments and sectors of the political spectrum—and usually represent, to varying extents, the diversity within their group. The manifestations of such movements and opinion are everything from comparatively high rates of in-group marriage being applauded and gently suggested to more explicit calls for endogamy such as is the case with the Druze to concerns expressed by Northern Ireland Protestants about a higher birth rate amongst Catholics to Decree 770 by Nicolae Ceaușescu's government in Romania concerning contraception and other population topics as part of the local variant of North Korean Juche.
In 1930 the Lambeth Conference issued a statement permitting birth control: "Where there is a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, complete abstinence is the primary and obvious method", but if there was morally sound reasoning for avoiding abstinence, "the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of Christian principles". Primary materials on the contemporary debate indicate a wide variety of opinion on the matter. 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. While a newsletter by Nancy Campbell espoused Quiverfull ideas early, and Campbell is in measure responsible for formulating them, the movement 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 labeled 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, especially 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 perpetuating her ideas of compulsory childbearing and the non-use of birth control, to which she argued were opposed to what she called "the feminist agenda" by which she had formerly lived. Pride's explanations then 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. 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."
After the publication of Pride’s The Way Home, various church women and others took up her book and ideas and spread them through informal social networks. Around this time, numerous church pastors issued sermons in accord with Pride's ideas and various small publications and a few Quiverfull-oriented books emerged.
As the Internet expanded several years later, the informal networks gradually took on more organized forms as Quiverfull adherents developed numerous Quiverfull-oriented organizations, books, electronic mailing lists, websites, and digests, most notably The Quiverfull Digest. The largely decentralized "Quiverfull" movement resulted.
From their onset, Quiverfull ideas have sometimes had a polarizing effect between Christians who hold to the position and those who are skeptical of or disagree with them.
Quiverfull authors and adherents express their core motivation as a desire to obey God's commandments as stated in the Bible. Among these commandments, "be fruitful and multiply",[Gen 1:22;8:17;9:1] "behold, children are a gift of the Lord"),[Psalm 127:3] and passages showing God acting to open and close the womb[Gen 20:18;29:31;30:22][1Sam 1:5-6][Isaiah 66:9] are interpreted as giving basis for their view. Quiverfull adherents typically maintain that their philosophy is first about an open, accepting and obedient attitude toward the possibility of bearing children. Within the view, this attitude may result in many, few or even no children, because God Himself maintains sole provenance over conception and birth. The duty of the Quiverfull adherent is only to maintain an "open willingness" to joyfully receive and not thwart however many children God chooses to bestow. Contraception in all its forms is seen as inconsistent with this attitude and is thus entirely avoided, as is abortion.
Quiverfull's principal authors and its adherents also describe their motivation as a missionary effort to raise up many children as Christians to advance the cause of the Christian religion. Its distinguishing viewpoint is to eagerly receive children as blessings from God, eschewing all forms of contraception, including natural family planning and sterilization.
According to journalist Kathryn Joyce, writing in the magazine The Nation: "[T]he Quiverfull mission is rooted in faith, the unseen, its mandate to be fruitful and multiply," even if it "has tangible results as well." Although Joyce claims that "Population is a preoccupation for many Quiverfull believers... [and] [t]he motivations aren't always racist, but the subtext of 'race suicide' is often there." Still, she asserts, "This is what Quiverfull is about: faith, pure and simple." Others remark that Quiverfull resembles other world-denying fundamentalist movements that grow through internal reproduction and membership retention such as ultra-Orthodox Jews, Amish, and Laestadian Lutherans in Finland. Many are thriving as seculars and moderates have transitioned to below-replacement fertility.
The principal Quiverfull belief is that Christians should maintain a strongly welcoming attitude toward the possibility of bearing children. With minor exceptions, adherents reject birth control use as completely incompatible with this belief.
Most Quiverfull adherents regard children as unqualified blessings, gifts that 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 marital 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."
Some Quiverfull adherents base their rejection of birth control 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, and indeed was the first command to a married couple. And since birth control obviously involves disobedience to this divine command, birth control is seen as an attempt to prevent being fruitful and multiplying. As such, birth control is wrong, because it involves willful disobedience to the Word of God. Since nowhere is this command done away with in the entire Bible; it still remains valid for us today.
Quiverfull advocates such as Hess and Hess, 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. In addition, a Quiverfull adherent was quoted in the 1991 Calgary Herald as making this 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."
Adherents view barrenness, referred to as an "empty quiver", as something to be accepted from God as His choice, which then becomes a matter of prayer in the hope that God may decide to miraculously intervene. Quiverfull also sees infertility treatments as a usurpation of God's providence and accordingly reject them. Adoption is viewed as a positive option on which couples can also rely on God's providence to send children. Biblical references to God's love for the orphan and the belief that people are saved through adoption into God's family are often noted.
Some circles do accept medical interventions, since improving opportunities for pregnancy is not seen to guarantee it any more than with any healthy couple. Also, some reproductive health problems may be seen as symptomatic of other health problems which need to be addressed generally.
Not all Quiverfull families and authors would agree with each statement made by the movement's principal authors.
Samuel Owens considers that some aspects of a fallen universe may possibly 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. Owens 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 adherents maintain that God "opens and closes the womb" of a woman on a case-by-case basis, and that any attempts to regulate fertility are usurpation of divine power. Thus, the defining practice of a Quiverfull married couple is not to use any form of birth control and to maintain continual "openness to children", which is the possibility of conception, during routine sexual intercourse. This practice is irrespective of the timing of the month during the ovulation cycle, and is considered by Quiverfull adherents to be the principal, if not the primary aspect of their Christian calling in submission to the Lordship of Christ.
Proponents of the Quiverfull movement also regard the pill and other similar contraceptives as unacceptable abortifacients.
Some Quiverfull adherents advocate for child spacing through breastfeeding, so that the return of fertility after childbirth could be delayed by lactational amenorrhea, however this is far from certain.
Quiverfull authors and adherents advocate for and seek to model a return to Biblical Patriarchy. Mary Pride recently distanced herself from the patriarchy movement in an article for Practical Homeschooling. In her article, she clearly stated her disapproval of the movement, and sets the record straight that she should not be considered a founder of it.
Quiverfull authors typically organize family governance 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 religious beliefs. Additionally, Quiverfull families strongly incline toward homeschooling and toward homesteading in a rural area. However, exceptions exist in substantial enough proportions that these latter two items are general and are 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" and should devote themselves instead to "raising up godly seed".
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 made some comments that relate to 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.'"
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 a rising 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".
On July 25, 2005, Good Morning America aired a segment, "Is eight really enough?" about the Quiverfull movement. Deborah Roberts interviews Rachel Scott, author of "Birthing God's Mighty Warriors." Rachel Scott discusses the trend toward larger families, managing finances with more mouths to feed and she states, "when good people stop having kids, society fails."
On January 3, 2006, 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 15, 2007, Nightline revisited the issue as part of their "Faith Matters" series, again featuring the Carpenter family.
Journalist Kathryn Joyce connected Brooks' "natalism" with Quiverfull and disagreed with him in her November 9, 2006, 5-page article 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."
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 describing themselves as "exponentially happier" after the wife relinquished control of her womb to God. On March 17, 2009, Newsweek published a second piece on Quiverfull through their website.
On January 16, 2007, Fox News Channel's Live Desk with Martha MacCallum aired a segment, "When birthing children is a religious experience." Martha MacCallum talks with Rachel Scott, author, "Birthing God's Mighty Warriors." Rachel Scott answers common questions asked to large families and disputes myths that "Quiverfull" women are made to stay home and tend to babies. Rachel Scott describes the Proverbs 31 woman as a business owner, educated and very capable. Rachel Scott also shares about "the dream with a warrior angel" that started her "Quiverfull" experience and led to writing her book, "Birthing God's Mighty Warriors."
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.