Saturday, October 24, 2009

How do you know when your quiver is full?

The Sacramento News and Review ran a very interesting article last week on a local chapter of the Quiverfull movement, a conservative Christian movement that restricts the use of birth control and encourages women to submit to their husbands.  Submitting in this context means staying home, having lots of children, and liking it (by God).  According to Quiverfull teachings, modern-day ills can be directly traced to the feminist movement, "as society allowed women and girls more freedom and equality, instances of rape and sexual abuse skyrocketed."  The followers have sketched out an effective antidote, however: have as many babies as possible, homeschool them, don't let your daughters go to college, and prevent women from voting.  

In the article Theron Johnson, a founding father of the Quiverfull church in Roseville, illustrates his ideal world where "racism is eliminated" and "personal liberty and freedom reign supreme".  He goes on to say that the government's primary role in society should be to "protect family and individual rights".  Of course, this all sounds wonderful, but while Theron's lips say personal liberty and individual rights, his practice and beliefs say that women have no rights at all.  More than that, women need to be taken care of by a good Christian man, but if anything bad does happen, it is the women's fault.  Theron sites one Bible story in which  Jacob's daughter Dinah leaves the protection of her father and is subsequently raped.  Her brothers kill the offenders, but the rape is seen as Dinah's punishment for disobeying.  Based on this, the Quiverfull movement believes that, "men are not responsible or culpable for their own actions. Rather women either commit sins or somehow cause men to sin." This convenient dichotomy means men can have all the power and control with none of the consequences.

What's fundamentally wrong with this ideal world? Putting aside for the moment the utterly contradictory nature of the tenets, and the potential for patriarchal megalomania, the biggest problem is that not all women want to live in this type of society.  If personal liberty is important to the faith, it should be extended to women who may want to have a career and choose not to have children at all.  I am one of those women, who at 31 has yet to marry or procreate, and is looking forward to a rewarding career that is completely separate from the family life of my choosing.  The members of Quiverfull act as if women are happier and healthier when they are taken care of and kept at home, but the article chronicles an example of a women who was a member of the Quiverfull movement until one of her daughters tried to commit suicide.  Vyckie Garrison, who now pens a blog called No Longer Quivering, said her daughter "wanted to be an autonomous being, and this was not being allowed."  Garrison points out that women in the Quiverfull movement are expected to give and give and give.  This can't be done indefinitely, she says, "without falling apart."

This begs the question, are Christianity and feminism mutually exclusive?  The ultra conservative website reiterates that the role of women is to care for and nurture her family, and that a "Christian woman has no place supporting or being a part of" the feminist movement.  Thankfully, not all Christians feel this way.  Former President Jimmy Carter, a member of his Southern Baptist Church for more then 60 years, recently decided that his beliefs about women were not compatible with the church's reluctance to ordain women ministers.  Writing in The Age about his decision, Carter made it clear that religion has played a role in the current and historical mistreatment of women:

The truth is that male religious leaders have had -- and still have -- an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world.

I couldn't have said it better myself, Jimmy.  The truth is, I want to believe that Christianity and feminism are compatible.  Which is why I hope that movements like Quiverfull, which blatantly role back what I consider to be significant progress for humankind, will ultimately fail to gain more than fringe support among the faithful.  

1 comment:

student said...

Great post. I have to say, I agree with you; I agree with Jimmy. Personally coming from a very conservative, religious background, I understand, first-hand, the pressures placed women to submit to the “wisdom” of men, all the while making baby after baby. When I first started questioning the role of women in the church where I was raised, I was given colloquialisms: “behind every good man is a good woman,” was the most popular. Men and women alike tried to convince me that marriage was a sacred partnership, with both parties happy in their distinct roles.

All it took was one look around the congregation one Sunday morning (I think I was 12 or 13) for me to realize that many of these women were MISERABLE. The men, however, seemed happy, well rested, and confident. Apparently the “family unit” was meeting their needs nicely.

Obviously the injustices perpetuated by Quiverful are extreme. It is easy to see the basic human rights violations. More difficult to find, are the injustices happening in communities that are more mainstream, or “normal.” I admire Jimmy Carter for taking such a strong personal stance and identifying the injustices still present even mainstream American Christianity.