Friday, May 20, 2016

The Quiverfull Movement, Part 2

The legal fundraiser is over for the time being; I may report on some more results and related issues later. For now it's time to get back to some old E-Block postings, and here's one from March 2013.


This is our second and, for now, final look at the Quiverfull movement, with my subject being the book A Full Quiver (FQ) by Rick and Jan Hess. In this, I will be looking in the main for anything new compared to our prior essay that was in the last issue. I did not find much that was new.
For the record, we should briefly cover the points which are mirrored in our prior essay.
  • Scripturally speaking, the Hesses add little or nothing to the case for having a "full quiver." The usual citation from Psalm 127:3-5 is said to reflect "God's eternal feelings about children." Absolutely no consideration is given to relevant contexts (i.e., the presentation of this thought in a Psalm, a poem nonetheless[!], and in the setting of the ancient world where infant and child mortality was so high). Once again offered, are statements by Jesus praising children, and a claim that Satan is deceiving Christians into not wanting as many children as they really could have. With that, of course, we have the admonition that if Christians would have more babies, we could take over [167] the White House and most of the Senate, House, and governor's mansions by 2088. Really? What if unbelievers get wind of this idea and start having large families to counter Christians? What then is the plan from the Hesses, to have 16 children instead of 8?
  • The theme of "trusting God" is used, as before, as a club -- those that don't simply let themselves have children without discretion are implicitly accused of lacking trust in God. As they put it: "If the couples have a deep desire to be godly and to follow Christ in their marriage, God will make the necessary changes in their lives." [123] Of course, if things don't work quite that way, it's easy to predict the Hesses response -- they will offer a version of what we have called here "parking space theology". Whatever does happen, they will say, God had a plan for you and you should just shut up and accept that it is God's will that you deal with these problems. Not that Scriptural support for this view is any better; we find the Hesses pressing into service Psalm 37:25-26, in which David says that he has never seen the righteous begging bread. This the Hesses take as meaning: "you can predict that believers with large families will be taken care of." [144] We need not comment again on the irresponsibility of using a poetic passage for support of literalist doctrine, but we can no doubt add that if this doesn't bear out from statistics, the Hesses will surely have some ready pious explanation such as, "You're not faithful as believers" or "God has a plan for your suffering."
  • Also as before, potentiality arguments are thrown into consideration, for which the opposing potentiality is ignored. It is noted, for example, that many famous figures, like George Washington, were fourth or later to be born to their parents. Just as before, this sort of argument is worthless to the extent that it can readily be turned around (i.e., if we find a serial killer who was the eighth child in a family, what does that prove about having large families? Nothing!). Potentiality is also extended into the realm of stating that we should avoid vasectomies because "we wouldn't be at all surprised to discover all sorts of unexpected ill effects from this attempt to thwart God's design for the male body." [127] By the same logic, why not say, "we wouldn't be at all surprised to discover all sorts of unexpected health benefits" from the same procedure?
    With that…let us now turn to what is unique in FQ.
  • The authors make much of what they perceive to be unfair treatment of those with children. For example, they compare a loudly coughing elderly man with an occasionally cooing baby, asking which one gets the hard stares in church. Well, from what I have seen, they both do; or sometimes one and not the other. Either way, it's hard to buy what comes across as a persecution complex by the Hesses. That we wish for a church service where it is possible to concentrate without interruptions by noisy children does not express, as they indicate, that people do not "love" children.
  • Perhaps the most radical (and outlandish) point offered by the Hesses comes of their analysis of how several Biblical women experienced miraculous pregnancies. From this infinitesimally small sample, the authors conclude, with the massive non sequitur, that ALL pregnancies are the result of direct action by God. When the Hesses advise readers that, "we would do well to give God control over how many children we have," [57] they do not simply mean we should allow God to be sovereign; rather, they envision God as having direct, micro-managerial command of conception ("lock, stock, and baby" as they put it [94], and elsewhere, "pregnancy is not going to occur except through God's active agency" [106], and yet again, "...the Scriptures prove that God Himself is our birth Controller" [141], and finally, "God Himself is all the birth control we need" [158]…and let us add, as a related point, this quote: "Menopause occurs at exactly the time in a woman's life when God decrees that she is to bear no more children." [189] I have not seen even a Calvinist assign God that much micro-managerial control!). In line with this radical view, the Hesses go as far as indicating that sexual intercourse between married couples is off limits unless there is at least an option for procreation. Thus, in reply to someone who says that they have health problems (which would mean pregnancy could literally kill them), the Hesses legalistically say, "If you're too sick to have babies, you're too sick to have sex." [102] Apparently, the Hesses have no conception (pun not intended) of there being any difference in how particular acts may affect particular conditions. For them, it is "all or nothing" – representing an appalling lack of logic.
    Adding to the self-centered character of their response, the Hesses add that "God has a way of miraculously healing people, too -- sometimes through the very pregnancies that were supposed to kill them." [102] In support of this view, they offer a single, undocumented anecdote of such a thing happening -- certainly an excellent data pool on which to base such a critical decision!
    Even more outlandishly, the Hesses put God directly in charge of genetics, asking, "does God decide eye color or does Mendel's Law?" [183] and, quoting a source as saying: "God individually chose and gave each child his or her blue eyes. We have to keep in mind that God can modify or abolish genetic or reproductive trends as He wills." [184]
  • One chapter features 20 questions the authors have apparently been asked. Most are rather odd, but a few are valid. One, for example, relates to questions of overpopulation and stewardship of our environment. As before, the answers are too simplistic to be taken seriously. For the Hesses, it amounts to thinking that if it were not for overpopulation, "some suffering baboon in Upper Bongo-Bongo would have had enough living space, food, lumber, and minerals." [71] While I am by no means a radical environmentalist, this sort of issue is hardly little more than the leftist political football they make it out to be, and the sarcasm, lacking as it does in hard facts, does more to indicate irresponsible childishness than it does responsible stewardship. The Hesses only reply source is a booklet from a group called "Basic Life Principles", which contains no documentation for its claims, and some points that are outlandish on their face. One is a point we have seen prior, about how the world's population (back then, 4.5 billion) could fit into an area the same as Jacksonville, Florida, with each person being given 2.6 square feet. I would very much like to see the Hesses and other Quiverfull advocates live within such a space for as little as a few months just to actually see how they like it and just how that works out (i.e., the typical prison cell, in contrast, holds two inmates within a space of about 50-100 square feet)! A little later they allow for some expansion, of up to the area of Nebraska, Kansas, and a bit of South Dakota, allowing 1000 square feet per person. It is very considerate of the Hesses to declare that each of us can have a space equal to ten prison cells so that they can have as many children as "God" leads them to have.
    Another section relates how the Hesses respond to someone who asks why they have so many children. A response they say "never fails to stop them in their tracks" is, "to pay for your Social Security." My retort would be: "Good, because I will need it to pay for groceries when everyone has as many children as you do, causing the food supply to be short, which in turn will raise food prices to astronomical levels." While that's rather simplistic, so is the Hesses retort. The Quiverfull movement doesn't seem too keen on basic economic principles of supply and demand.
  • The Hesses rather naively assume that admonitions for household management in the New Testament reflect some sort of universal blueprint, such that wives always and forever are to stay at home and be mothers. They are apparently unaware that the NT here substantially mirrors the household codes of that day. Their logic is no better than the "Dr. Laura" fundamentalist who could not explain to President Bartlett why some OT laws were still to be obeyed and others would not be obeyed.
  • The Hesses claim to have Scriptural support for their views would be aided considerably if they did not commit abuses like this one: They note 1 Cor. 7:5, which says, "Stop depriving each other, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you." The Hesses say that this verse shows that "the rhythm method [of birth control] is unacceptable." [116] As with all their exegesis so far, this is a vast non sequitur -- their assumption is that because Paul gave a specific reason to withhold sexual relations, no other reason to do so is permitted! In this the Hesses mirror the horrendous legalism of fundamentalists like the Church of Christ, who forbid musical instruments in church on the same flimsy grounds.
    This closes our look at Quiverfull literature, at least for now. The nicest thing I can say is that FQ is no better in terms of having anything to commend it as a reasoned and Scripturally valid expression of the movement. We'll close with a reminder that in our last issue, we affirmed that none of this is intended to condemn those who choose to have large families; however, if one wishes to do so, FQ will not provide any formal sanction for it from Scripture over and above those who select to do otherwise.
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