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When Americans think of patriarchal societies, female submission, or extreme gender inequality based on religious teachings, visions of Muslim women in burkas or Hindus in poorly arranged marriages may come to mind. The reality, though, is that a growing number of American Christian fundamentalists also have rejected feminism and egalitarianism, embracing instead male dominance and what they call the "Quiverfull" belief system. Picture the Massachusetts Bay Colonies before Hester Prynne's day. The women in such communities live within a stringently enforced doctrine of wifely submission and male "headship," including a selfless acceptance of possibly constant pregnancies and as many children under foot as God might bring. They reject not only "reproductive rights" of any kind, but also higher education and workforce participation for women.
In her book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, journalist Kathryn Joyce approaches Quiverfull followers with deep curiosity and the restraint of a good journalist. In a recent interview, she discussed the beliefs and lifestyle of inequaity that has taken a foothold in corners of American society.
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Mark Karlin: You wrote the book called Quiverfull, Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. In the beginning of the book, you give an overview of what the Quiverfull movement is. Can you describe it to us?
Kathryn Joyce: Quiverfull itself is a movement and a conviction among deeply conservative, theologically conservative Christians and pro-life purists who believe that you should accept as many children as God will give you based on Psalm 127, which reads: "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies at the gate." So it's kind of a dual emphasis on accepting as many children as God will give you, both as a demonstration of radical trust and obedience in God and also a really concerted effort to win the culture wars demographically.
From Psalm 127, a lot of emphasis is placed on militaristic imagery, particularly arrows. So the children become the arrows of the parents, part of their tools of war, in order to go out against the enemy. They put a lot of stress on the fact that Christians need to remember that their way of being in the world is a way of being at war with the world, so having more children than their enemy can help them to effect their changes.
Karlin: I assume it also is tied into a group that is primarily white. It often seems to me that many of the fundamentalist movements coincide with racial identity, and that white culture is under attack. There's more minorities in the world, so the idea to go forth and multiply is to get the white birth rate up, in essence.
Joyce: I agree. I think that that's not the only motivation or not necessarily the motivation of everybody who follows these convictions, but I think there's often a really strong racial undertone when people talk about the "demographic winter" occurring in Europe. There's the idea that Europeans, which we can read easily as white Europeans, are not having enough children, so this is necessitating vast immigration. They talk about the demographic winter in Europe, which is not to say a concern for a lack of enough total babies being born, but a lack of the right babies.
Karlin: Or the white babies.
Karlin: When I first saw this title, I looked up Quiverfull and saw that it was associated with the larger Christian fundamentalist movement. But the subtitle said, "the Christian patriarchy movement." My perception of the fundamentalist movement overall is that it is a patriarchal movement. What makes this distinct?
Mark Karlin is the editor of buzzflash.com