MISS MOOX + time


This morning I came across an article via Fark.com titled "Evangelical Group's Motto: Breed to Succeed."

It's a long article, but for those who aren't interested enough to read it in full, here's a brief digest: a small but growing number of conservative evangelicals, mainly in the United States, subscribe to the belief that a married woman's main function is to bear children. They oppose all forms of birth control, believing that it's "obedience to God" to allow nature to take its course, and, in their view, to allow God to determine how many children they have. Logically, he will then take care of them financially, because if he gives them, he has to provide. Women stay home and take care of the children, including homeschooling, while men are the sole breadwinners. Patriarchalism is a given, with the man the head of the home.

The reasoning behind this? Well, the more children Christians have, the more Christians there will be. Conservative (Republican) voters will be raised up, outnumbering liberals who are disobedient to the God-given mandate to reproduce. A Christian army will be launched who will vote red, fight the culture wars, and take the mission to the next generation. America will once again return to its "roots" and become the godly nation it was intended to be. The growing threat of Muslims, who often have large families, is a stimulus.

This movement is called "Quiverfull", from Psalm 127, which reads in part, "Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. 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."

This all sounds eerily familiar to me. That's because I grew up steeped in this reasoning, and I watched its effect on not only my family but countless others in our homeschool group and circle of friends who subscribed to this philosophy.

My parents had five children and homeschooled. We were among the smaller families in our group—10 or 14 children was not unknown. Large extended vans with stacking-doll-like gradations of the same physical type spilling out were common. My parents' best friends were a couple, the weary wife-half of which produced a child about every year for as long as I knew them. Homeschooling was a given: if you were righteous you didn't expose your kids to the evils of the godless public school system. You taught them at home where you were free to indoctrinate them as you chose. The assumption was that if you raised them right and sheltered them enough, they'd turn out believing what you believe.

Patriarchalism was also the norm. Men were the heads of their homes, and depending on the man, this could be a good thing or a very bad thing. Taken to its extreme, some men, my father among them, believed this conferred the right to do whatever they pleased to their wives and children—including ordering them around, shouting at them, and beating them. The men worked outside the home, and no matter how financially or materially deprived the family was, the wife never, ever did.

Of course this was all backed up by certain well-worn verses from the Bible, interpreted by the men, and wives believed their duty was to submit.

But I'm not interested in writing a story about my experiences. I'm more interested in explaining why I believe this mentality to be so sadly wrong. I don't write with any rancour against the people who believe this; I'm well-familiar with the reasoning and, at one time, would have swallowed it myself to some extent. However, I believe it to be a radically flawed system based on a very faulty understanding of the Scriptures, and that's why I don't subscribe to it and never will.

Before I begin, a caveat: I realize with any response like this there's a danger of stereotyping or lumping all people in a certain belief system together. I certainly don't believe all "Quiverfull" families are headed by abusive men; or that they're all militant, hyper-legalistic, or naive. I'm sure there are many if not most who are gracious, well-intentioned, and lovely people. However, I do believe the reasoning itself to be misguided at best; and it's that which I'll attempt to address.

The belief that Christian families are required to have as many children as possible and to leave birth control "up to God" is an Old Testament one. In Genesis, Adam and Eve were commanded to "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28). Abraham was told that he would be the father of nations and his offspring would be as numerous as the stars of the sky (Genesis 15 & 17). Psalm 127, as quoted above, states that children are a blessing and implies that the more one has, the more blessed.

In Old Testament Israel, that was true. The Jews were God's "chosen people" out of all the nations of the world. To birth more ethnic Jews was literally to increase the number of God's people (outwardly speaking, at least). Added to this were the practical implications, not unique to Jews but common to every agriculturally-based society both ancient and modern, that the more children you had, the more labourers to work your fields and herd your flocks. Children were also the ultimate "old-age security", guaranteeing a future of provision when you were too old to take care of yourself.

Barrennes was considered the ultimate curse. In Psalm 113:9, God is praised as the one who "settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children." Barren wives such as Sarah (Abraham's wife), Leah (Jacob's wife) or Hannah (Samuel's mother) were grieved and deeply distressed by their failure to have children. In each case, God miraculously intervened and gave these women a child, sparing them a lifetime of dishonour. Often, however (as with Sarah and Leah), the ancient custom of giving the husband a female bondservant to bear him a child on the wife's behalf was practiced. This was seen as a better alternative than no children at all.

The Jews were not unique in these beliefs and practices. However, one factor unique to the Jews was that the Messiah was expected to be born to a Jewish woman. Every Jewish woman hoped that she could be the one to bear the Messiah, or at the very least, to further his line. She was doing her duty to her people (and possibly bringing great honour and blessing upon herself) through childbirth.

However, all of this radically changes with the New Testament. What was implicitly stated throughout the OT is now made explicit: that membership in the true people of God is no longer tied to ethnicity, but belongs to those who repent and have faith (e.g., John the Baptist's preaching: Matthew 3:9-10). In fact, we're even told that all along this has been the case: not everyone who was born an Israelite was a true child of God, but only those who had the same faith as Abraham (Romans 2:28-29; 4:12). The Jews' idea that by the simple fact of membership to a physical nation they were guaranteed right status with God, was knocked on its head repeatedly by Jesus (e.g., Matthew 8:10-12).

All of this may seem rather pedantic and irrelevant, particularly to those who don't claim a Christian faith; but it's central to the reasoning behind this modern-day movement.

Going further in the New Testament, we nowhere find commands to Christians to "be fruitful and multiply" in a physical sense. We do find very clear and explicit commands to be fruitful and multiply in a spiritual sense. In the so-called "Great Commission" (and in other passages throughout the gospels), Jesus commands us to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:18-20). The people of God are now the church, those who receive the mysterious new birth by the Spirit, those who repent and cast all their faith on Jesus. This people grows not by physically reproducing, but as those who've experienced it go out and share it with others, teaching and proclaiming what Jesus taught, accompanied by physical demonstrations of his power. In this way, the kingdom extends.

If, as "Quiverfull" advocates state, a Christian's main duty is to produce children to grow the kingdom of God, then why is Jesus, the Lord and Head of our faith, completely and totally silent on the subject? He blesses children (Matthew 19:13-15), but never commands us to bear them. Even on this occasion, he uses it to teach a spiritual lesson. One would think if childrearing was a main goal of his church, he would have said something about it somewhere. Something to the effect of, "Blessed are the fertile, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." But there's nothing.

When Jesus does mention offspring, it isn't with the kind of positive spin that the "Quiverfulls'" beliefs would indicate. A sample: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:25-27). Jesus is not talking about hatred in the sense that we normally understand it, but a willingness to put him first, above even our closest family, to the extent that we'll suffer their loss if obedience to him requires it. Surely we'd expect that given Jesus' very limited discussion of earthly families, he'd devote the time he did spend to ideals like having lots of children! Instead, when he does mention the subject, it's to tell us that even this area of our lives is to lie in subjection to him. Jesus is paramount, not procreation.

As we move into Acts and follow the apostles' example, the pattern continues. They go out, preach the gospel, heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out demons. The church grows. No word in Peter or Paul's preaching about the duty to have kids. 3000 were saved in one day as a result of Peter's first sermon (Acts 2)! Pretty effective church growth strategy: it would take a long time to achieve those kinds of numbers through physical birth.

Moving on to the rest of the New Testament, we find nothing, anywhere, commanding Christians to bear children, or to have as many as possible. There are brief commands to women to love their husbands and children and to care for them (Titus 2:4-5); commands to fathers about how to treat their children (Ephesians 6:4); and a command to Christian children to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1). The New Testament does not direct but assumes that many if not most of the new believers come from families. The kingdom, this new way of life, has its bearing and effect on every aspect of life, including how one treats one's offspring. Family life is important. But considering the proportion of importance the "Quiverfull" adherents give it, there is remarkably little about it in the NT.

Instead, the primary thrust of the New Testament, and most of its commands, is about how we are to treat one another in the church. The church is the family of God. Even single people and widows have their rightful place in this new community. Spiritual ties, our common Father God, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit indwelling us, are stronger than physical ties. There are clear warnings to those who neglect their families (1 Timothy 5:8), but the main focus of the NT is the newly-created family of God, made up of Jews, Gentiles, men, women, young, old, married and single. This family is to love one another, care for one another, practice family life as commanded by Jesus, and grow the family by telling others.

In summary, the method of growth for the kingdom of God is this: preach the gospel. Make disciples. Do the works of Jesus. This kingdom will affect how we treat our biological families, but the family of God is our primary allegiance.

But outweighing it all for me, is one striking factor that I can't help but believe the "Quiverfulls" don't take into account: the simple fact that Jesus, our Lord and Master, was single. He didn't ever bear children (extra-biblical speculation like Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code notwithstanding). Paul, the greatest apostle, author of most of the New Testament, was single. Not only that, both Jesus and Paul state explicitly that some will be called to singleness for the sake of the kingdom (Matthew 19:11-12 & 1 Corinthians 7:1-9). Paul even says that if one can accept it, singleness is a better option because it allows undivided devotion to the Lord (1 Cor 7:32-35)! So were Jesus and Paul, and single Christians today and throughout the ages, radically disobedient? Were they missing the purposes of God, not furthering the growth and cause of the church, by not having kids? What would all the churches Paul founded say? What would Christians throughout two millenia of church history, myself included, who have benefited from the fact that Paul was single and free to travel and risk his life to spread the gospel, say?

I think I know. I know what I would say.

There are questions I'd love to ask the Quiverfulls. Like, how can you assume that by having children you'll further the kingdom of God when membership in the kingdom is not by physical birth but spiritual? Can you assume that all of your children will be Christians just because you are? Because you "raise them right"? What if a majority of your children choose to rebel (as so many do), and live their own lifestyle? What if they grow up outwardly conforming but inwardly empty? What if they carry on your values but never know God? How tragic!

What about single Christians? What about Christian couples who are infertile? Are they somehow disobedient to God? What about women whose lives will be endangered if they bear more children? Are they "rebellious" if they undergo tubal ligation? Or should they simply "trust God" and risk major health problems or death?

How are you living Jesus' radical call to leave it all and follow him if your main goal is a steady job and a nice home life for your kids and you wouldn't even consider getting up and going to another nation to give the gospel, perhaps to people who have never heard? How can you justify having little to give because your limited income is stretched to its capacity by the needs of multiple kids? How do you explain the fact that no New Testament command exists to have children?

What about adoption? If the main goal is to raise kids who will carry on your Christian faith, why not make room for those who otherwise wouldn't have a chance by not having so many of your own? Why not show mercy by giving family life and the privileges of education, culture, and health care to a poor child from a third-world country? Why not adopt a child from another ethnicity? If you're white, take in a black, Asian, or Latino child. Why not help those who are already born but destined to a lifetime of disadvantage, rather than producing so many of your own?

Please understand I am not saying it is wrong to have children. I am not even saying it is wrong to have multiple children, if a particular couple feels that is their calling from God and they have the desire, energy, and resources to care for them. I can't help thinking it's excessive and unnecessary, but then, that's my personal opinion. What I am decrying is the notion that equates having lots of children and raising them in a particular way is somehow integral to the purposes of God and advances his kingdom. It's not and it doesn't. It misses the point of the New Testament entirely. It's trying to build a kingdom on earth, and well-intentioned as it may be, it's never going to happen. Not only that, a lot of the kids raised in these families (like myself, my siblings, and many others I know) are going to see the emptiness and fallacy behind this mentality and either reject Christianity entirely, or discover a Jesus whose kingdom is not of this world. Like I, I'm thankful, did.

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