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More than 170 million American adults identify as Christian, spread among hundreds of denominations, and a fundamentalist Christian movement known as Quiverfull has drawn a lot of attention in recent years. Its adherents believe in building big families — a philosophy they say is rooted in Psalm 127, “Blessed is the man who hath his quiver full.”
While some families say Quiverfull has helped them find happiness, others who have quit the movement say it’s exploitative. America Tonight spoke with people on both sides of the controversial movement.
Nancy Campbell, the leader
One of the leaders of the Quiverfull movement is Nancy Campbell, a charismatic 75-year-old New Zealand native who is the mother of 10 children — six biological and four adopted. We met her at her home, an hour outside Nashville, Tennessee, where she enthusiastically turned to the book of Psalms in her well-worn Bible and read aloud.
“‘As arrows in the hand of a mighty man, so are children of our youth,’” she read. “Then it goes on to say, ‘Blessed is the man who hath his quiver full of them’ …because they will have children who they have raised to be mighty young men and women of God.”
Campbell runs Above Rubies, a glossy quarterly magazine, from her office in the basement of her large rural home. The magazine, which she started 35 years ago, bills itself as “full of godly wisdom for mother and wife,” promoting “Christian procreation” and urging women to “birth as many babies as God grants.” The website reports that 160,000 copies of Above Rubies are circulated worldwide.
She laments that young men and women are increasingly making the decision not to have children.
“They’ve been brainwashed that they've got to get out in their career and they can't stay at home looking after some children ... Sadly, there are many, many women today who are cutting off the function of their womb,” she said. “And yet, this is who they are, who God created them to be.”
Campbell raised her 10 children. Now they have children of their own. She says her flock now includes 42 grandchildren.
But her philosophy is more than just a celebration of motherhood. The Campbell clan is leading what she describes as a necessary fight against the rise of non-Christian religions. She fears that a low birth rate among Christians means that others, such as Muslims, will outpopulate them.
“We pray for Muslim people that they will come to faith in Christ,” she said.
Books and articles promoting Quiverfull and Christian homeschooling are on display in her office. She also has a collection of politically charged literature that claims Islam is not a religion of peace and warning that holy war is coming to America.
“I have nothing against Islamic people,” she said, “The thing is, it depends whether America wants to stay America or be an Islamic America.”
‘I think anything that is against the ways of God is really our enemy.’
Vyckie Garrison, the critic
Vyckie Garrison is a well-known — some might say controversial — figure in the Quiverfull world. A former devout Christian, Garrison,is now an outspoken opponent of the lifestyle she once faithfully lived.
Garrison was a Quiverfull convert. After the birth of her third child in, she and her then-husband, who is blind, decided their family was complete: Three children, a painful bone condition and a physically challenged spouse made her feel overwhelmed. So her husband had a vasectomy.
But then she started reading Campbell’s books.
“I started getting this idea that God designed women to give birth, to bear children and that God loves big families,” she said.
Garrison’s husband decided to have his vasectomy reversed, a procedure promoted by Campbell. Against her doctor’s recommendation, Garrison eventually gave birth to four more children. She even sent her daughter to live in the Campbell’s home.
“I knew that I was potentially putting my life at risk, but I was willing,” she said. “I was so consumed with that mindset that God is all powerful, he's all knowing, he has the perfect plan for my life and I just need to trust him for that. And if that does involve dying, then, you know, he has his reasons for that.”
‘Quiverfull is an extremist movement.’
Eventually, she began to doubt the Quiverfull lifestyle. She says that the final straw for her was seeing how unhappy her children were.
“Our house felt like some kind of prison where nobody was allowed to be actual humans,” Garrison said. “It had become very sad. Everything was always tense.”
After she and her husband divorced, in 2009 she launched a blog, No Longer Quivering, which she describes as a gathering place for women escaping and healing from “spiritual abuse.”
For Garrison, the term “spiritual abuse” is appropriate.
“People have this innate desire to connect … They want to have that feeling of belonging,” she said. “And so, these leaders, they home in on that, and they exploit that feeling.”
She says that many leaders are genuine. She thinks that they aren’t trying to scam anyone and that they really buy into the ideas. But, she says, the Quiverfull movement is about “dominionism,” or working toward a nation governed by Christians.
“It’s very much this idea that you can take back America for God and the way that you’re going to do that is just by outpopulating the enemy,” she said.
Garrison says she does not have any doubts that she made the right decision. She feels she can be herself.
“It’s so freeing,” she said.
On the top of her website is a banner that, at first glance, has a misspelling of the word “quivering”; the absence of the “u” in “qivering” was deliberate.
“The tagline is ‘There is no “you” in quivering.’ Because you're not allowed to consider yourself, your preferences, your likes, your dislikes, whatever,” she said. “It’s like, what does God want? That is all that matters.”
Jennifer Flanders, a conservative Christian and mother of 12, says Quiverfull isn’t a label she would necessary pick for herself.
“But the Bible talks about children being a blessing and ‘Happy is the man that has his quiver full,’” she said. “And we're very happy and our quiver’s very full, so in that sense, yes, we’re part of that.”
Flanders asserts that the lifestyle was her choice, “something that God put in my head from early on.” She told America Tonight how important it was for her to find a partner who shared her beliefs and values. She and her husband, Doug Flanders, happily maintain traditional gender roles.
“As a Christian, I knew that God's design for families was for the husbands to be a leader and the wife to respect and submit to that,” she said.
But when asked about the idea of the wife being submissive — a trait often associated with the Quiverfull lifestyle — she appears uneasy. While he may have the final say in decisions that they don’t see “eye to eye in,” she says, “he’s very gracious” and takes her beliefs into consideration.
‘I’m not brainwashed. I chose it.’
Jennifer Flanders, who runs a family-focused website from home, knows women judge her for her lifestyle and often receives negative comments. Unashamed of who they are and fiercely committed to their beliefs, the Flanderses seem to enjoy having a quiver full of children; the older ones have studied and worked around the world, from Europe to the Middle East.
“They don’t know anything about our life,” Flanders said of the critics. “But they want to say that I'm brainwashed because I want children and love my husband and am content to be at home. I'm not brainwashed. I chose it.”