Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement

Kathryn Joyce’s Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement is an expose of sorts on a curious theological trajectory among conservative Protestants who seem to believe that raising large families–with the man as the head of the household–is the means for taking America back to it Christian roots. As an Christian egalitarian who finds any theological justification for hierarchal gender roles to be mistaken, I was curious to see what Joyce, an outsider from a secular persuasion, would have to say about those who take up the banner of “complementarianism.” Not surprisingly she focuses on the fringes the evangelical/fundamentalist landscape where such extreme views are taken to be normative:

-A woman may not work outside the home in any capacity.
-Women should abstain from developing intimate female friendships so as to safeguard the highest levels of intimacy for her husband alone.
-A woman is to view her husband as God’s ordained representative to whom she must entirely submit. If a woman fails to submit and is deemed unrepentant by her (male) pastoral leaders, she is subject to church discipline.
-A woman ought to stay with an abusive husband and try to “win him” with submissive behavior.
-A woman should be ready and willing to gratify her husband’s sexual desires at any time.
-Couples should have as many children as biologically possible so as to fulfill God’s commandment “to be fruitful and multiply.”
-Any form of contraception or natural planning is absolutely forbidden.
-All sex acts ought to be performed with the intention of being open to the possibility of conceiving a child.
-Families ought not to send their daughters to college.
-Homeschooling is the only moral option for educating children.
-A woman’s contracts or promises may be nullified by her husband or father as she has no moral or legal right to autonomous self-determination.
-A woman must be courted by a suitor by first seeking her father’s permission/blessing. Dating is absolutely out of the question.

In my experience, few if any who hold to a complementarian reading of gender roles abide by such strict moral standards. Joyce’s storytelling does not seem to note the fact that many self-styled complementarians–dagreement with regard to biblical interpretation notwithstanding–function as practical egalitarians who see their marriages as instances of equal partnerships. In this sense, Joyce’s portrayal is unfair. Nonetheless, I think she paints a fair picture of what it looks like to take complementarian ideas too seriously: a blinkered culture of patriarchy that exemplifies male domination at all levels.

Readers will be scandalized by the teaching and behavior of Doug Philips, RC Sproul Jr., Michael and Debi Pearl, and many others, but one will wonder why there are no citations, no footnotes, and no bibliography. Joyce’s book is seriously lacking by way of needed documentation so discerning readers can go to the hoars’s mouth so as to warn those  under the influence of such false teaching. Alas they will have to take her word for it, which may good enough for some, but hardly helpful for others.

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