There has been much recent discussion regarding the quiverfull movement and its relationship to dominionism since the Duggar family announced the impending birth of their 20th child. Last week I reintroduced this analysis of the militant fecundity teachings and since then I have had several people request podcast notes from the series I offered on this topic. This is part one and I pray you will find it helpful.
A few years ago Clay and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with a three day trip to Chicago, part of which was admiring the amazing architecture for which the city is noted. Towering above every building in the city, except the Sears Tower, the 100 story John Hancock building stands as an impressive symbol of creativity and commerce in the very heart of Chicago. One afternoon we rode the elevator to the 94th floor observation deck where we enjoyed a panoramic view of the city and Lake Michigan’s shore line dozens of miles to both the north and south. We marveled at how far across the lake we could see ships coming in to port and were mesmerized by the endless stream of traffic in all directions.
Later that evening after dinner, we thought it would be fun to return to the Hancock observation deck and take in the city at night, a site that proved to be even more spectacular as entire buildings became jeweled boxes and the streets below were transformed into sparkling snakes as cars and trains meandered in all directions. As we stood looking out at the vast expanse of light and darkness, we were amazed at how different the city seemed in the darkness. Lake Michigan that had spread out before us commanding its presence be known in the middle of the day was now nonexistent, replaced by the gaudy trappings of Navy Pier’s carnival atmosphere. The tiny parks and grassy places of respite from the concrete city could no longer be seen and were now filled with thousands of small twinkle lights in the trees, little stars in the vastness of a black hole. It was stunning to see the same place from two such different and unique perspectives and it was almost too much to take in, to process what we were seeing.
This week as I share with you some of my thoughts on the concept of militant fecundity and as I contrast and compare it to the Biblical concept of seeing children as a blessing, I am reminded of that experience in the Hancock Observatory, two views that are very much the same thing and yet, they are so very different, depending on the perspective one has. And since this is such a large and multi faceted topic, I will not be examining every aspect but rather have chosen ones that I believe will be helpful for homeschooling mothers as they sort through the various issues regarding bearing children and family size.
I was not familiar with the phrase “militant fecundity” until about a year ago when I read a piece written by Pastor Scott Brown who is a leader at the National Center for Integrated Churches as well as one of the leaders within the patriocentric movement. He used the phrase in discussing the reasons couples ought to purposefully have large families and specifically addressed the problem of under population in the United States with its birth rate of 1.8 children per family. Not long after that I began to research this topic because I was seeing this phrase being embraced and widely promoted in many blog articles written by homeschooling mothers and being discussed in online forums and in support groups for homeschoolers. In fact, what really got my attention was stumbling across a Café Press site where you could purchase t-shirts, totebags, coffee mugs, onesies for babies, and boxer shorts for their dads emblazoned with the phrase “militant fecundity.” It was obvious that the concept and phrase, as well as a general attitude, was now considered mainstream by some homeschoolers.
So what does militant fecundity actually mean? If we take the two words and define them we end up with some interesting insights that, I believe, help us understand the attitudes behind this phrase and the motivations for using it as well.
The word fecundity is pretty straight forward. According to the 1828 edition of Noah Webster’s Dictionary, fecundity is “fruitfulness, the quality of producing fruit, fertility, the power of bringing forth in abundance, impregnated. It implies, and some people in this movement even define it, as a young woman who is capable of producing off-spring having as many babies as possible starting as early as possible to do so. In some circles, 20 by 40 is the goal, that is, having 20 children by the time you are 40 years of age.
I can remember one of my sons relaying an interesting story about an acquaintance of his who had the goal of meeting just such a fecundant woman. He was in a group with several friends, many of whom were young ladies in their early twenties, and they weren’t all that impressed, feeling like breeding stock being sized up for purchase. To add icing on his cake, he concluded his soliloquy by saying “did you know it is true that you can have one a year?” Needless to say, that young man is still single while most of those young women have since married more intelligent and thoughtful young men and are now having their own babies.
The word militant, also according to Webster’s 1828, means fighting, combating, and serving as a soldier and is associated with warfare and defeating enemies, all of the things we would picture related to that word. But here is an interesting insight from Noah Webster under the word militant that I think gives clarity to its use among some evangelical homeschoolers: The church militant, which is a phrase that historically means the church on earth today, is supposed to be engaged in a constant warfare against its enemies, thus distinguished from the church triumphant or the church in heaven. So when we bring the two words, militant and fecundity together, we get one of the key reasons for the phrase, that of having a large family on earth so as to wage warfare here on earth against the enemies of God.
One of the key passages of Scripture that is often cited by those who profess militant fecundity is Psalm 127 that says “ Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves. 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. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.”
I have always loved this passage of Scripture, the rich imagery of a man who is ready to do battle with the enemy and I can imagine sharpening the arrows, preparing them for battle, which, I believe that we are called to do, that is, prepare our children for defeating God’s enemy. But, the imagery I see in the New Testament and under the new covenant that we now have because of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross, is one of seeing our children, not as the weapons themselves needed to defeat anyone or anything that comes against God, but rather, as our brothers and sisters in Christ who stand beside us in battle using the weapons of warfare that we are all now commanded to use: Listen to this instruction from the Lord in Ephesians 6:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord……Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”
What I see Paul saying, what I believe the Holy Spirit is teaching us in this passage, is that we are to see our children as warriors who fight alongside of us using the weapons God has given all of us and that we are to train them to use those weapons, to embrace truth, righteousness through Jesus blood, faith, salvation, the power of God’s word, and to always be prepared to present the message of the Gospel to others, being always alert and in prayer. And, being sure that we do not exasperate our children in the process, making sure they are prepared as believers and that they understand and embrace their tremendous value to the Lord and their purpose as bringing glory to Him.
Another aspect of militant fecundity that is also related to this is the notion that we are building an earthly Kingdom for God rather than filling heaven with the souls who have been evangelized by preaching the Gospel. In John 18:36, Jesus warned his disciples saying: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” What he said was beyond comprehension to the natural man and even to those who had witnessed his miracles; it must have made little sense. How could Jesus build his kingdom, even if it were from another place? But later, Jesus appeared to the 11 remaining disciples after the resurrection and explained it to them: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus’ plan for building his kingdom is by presenting the Gospel message far and wide, even telling them how to do it as he did in Acts 1, to proclaim it “ in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” You see, His plan is to build His heavenly kingdom by saving those who are lost in their sins and bringing them into the light of salvation. And he told his disciples to begin first with those closest to them and then spreading out to proclaim the Gospel to all nations.
I see militant fecundity standing in stark contrast to Jesus’ words, as having a different agenda, that of building earthly kingdoms by militantly and combatively having as many children as possible. As I was trying to piece this puzzle together, wondering where this notion of militant fecundity was coming from, I came across two interesting articles that helped me gain understanding. The first was one written by Stephan Beck who is making a case for militant fecundity for those who are concerned about the downward spiral of morality in this nation. First he quotes author David B. Hart who offers this solution:
“Probably the most subversive and effective strategy we might undertake would be one of militant fecundity: abundant, relentless, exuberant, and defiant childbearing. Given the reluctance of modern men and women to be fruitful and multiply, it would not be difficult, surely, for the devout to accomplish in no more than a generation or two a demographic revolution. Such a course is quite radical, admittedly, and contrary to the spirit of the age, but that is rather the point, after all. It would mean often forgoing certain material advantages, and forfeiting a great deal of our leisure; it would often prove difficult to sustain a two-career family or to be certain of a lavish retirement. But if it is a war we want, we should not recoil from sacrifice.”
Mr. Beck then goes on to quote a New York Times article written by David Brooks who informs us that this is already happening. “All across the industrialized world, birthrates are falling – in Western Europe, in Canada and in many regions of the United States. People are marrying later and having fewer kids. But spread around this country, and concentrated in certain areas, the natalists defy these trends. They are having three, four or more kids. Their personal identity is defined by parenthood. They are more spiritually, emotionally and physically invested in their homes than in any other sphere of life, having concluded that parenthood is the most enriching and elevating thing they can do. Very often they have sacrificed pleasures like sophisticated movies, restaurant dining and foreign travel, let alone competitive careers and disposable income, for the sake of their parental calling.
Then Mr. Beck concludes with this statement “And it must be said, there are worse ways to go about the business of saving civilization.” He is painting a picture that the solution for immorality and the fall of this nation is having more children, thus building a new culture.
I then came across what I believe is one of the missing puzzle pieces to understanding the push for militant fecundity within the modern evangelical homeschooling movement when I discovered a series of articles from 1999 and 2000 quoting the founder of the Heritage Foundation, Paul Weyrich. Mr. Weirich had declared that “politics itself had failed” saying that the people who had once called themselves the moral majority should drop out of this culture and find places where we can live godly, righteous and sober lives.” His message set off a firestorm and caused many evangelicals who had spent decades trying to have political influence to publicly renounce him, the Family Research Council to run ads on 200 radio stations to counteract Weirich’s statement, and Gary Bauer who was running for president, to call his views silly. But, weighing in in support of Paul Weirich was Howard Phillips, the head of the Conservative Caucus, the US Taxpayers party candidate for president in 1996 and the father of Vision Forum president Doug Phillips. In essence, Doug Phillips’ father was calling for the creation of a new culture, perhaps a culture that has its own family integrated churches, its own film festival, its own radio personalities and is populated with homeschoolers who embrace the Old Testament law, a culture where there would need to be many children in order to exert dominion. It was at that point that I remembered a quote by Doug Phillips’ mentor, Pastor Scott Brown, the one whom I first heard use the phrase militant fecundity, that “the goal of a man should be to bring glory to his earthly father” and all of this began to make more sense to me.
Christian author Cal Thomas who was one of the founders of the Moral Majority and has since renounced his own involvement with the group, states that the core focus of any ministry ought to be “preaching the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ, unencumbered by the allures of the political kingdoms of this world, because that is where the greatest power lies to transform lives and ultimately nations.” And then of those who have worked to build their earthly kingdoms, Thomas says this “the reconciling message they used to preach has been obscured by the crass pursuit of the golden ring of political power. In the end, they got neither the power, nor the kingdom, only the glory and even that is now fading.”
The second puzzle piece in understanding the goals and influence of the militant fecundity mindset is to realize that to these people, bearing and raising children has a salvitic nature itself and that women, in order to be saved, either eternally or in this life, must bear children. The text that is referred to is 1 Timothy 2:15 that states: “But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” While the main focus of this podcast is not on exegeting thus passage of Scripture I think it is important to note that the majority of those who promote militant fecundity would hold to the interpretation that this Scripture is teaching that women will be saved not only by the bearing of children but also by focusing all their attentions on domestic life. Both Martin Luther and John Calvin held to this view and though Luther was the great advocate for salvation by faith alone as taught in Scripture, he still held to a perspective of this passage that seemed to imply favor with God only for women whose lives centered around motherhood, teaching: “Women, it is held, will be spiritually saved by adhering to their God-ordained role in the domestic sphere.”
There is also the belief that according to Andreas J. Köstenberger from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, “woman, a weak, gullible creature, should find her natural vocation in a life of domesticity in subordination of her husband.” In other words, women must have many children and make their lives central to the raising of those children because they are more prone to deception and the busyness of domestic life will keep them out of trouble.
In her book Be Fruitful and Multiply, a book that, in fact, contains many true biblical concepts that I heartily agree with and will be discussing next week, author Nancy Campbell makes this amazing statement: “ The context of 1 Timothy 2:15 denotes that this is not talking about salvation from sin, but salvation from deception. Women will be saved from getting into deception and from being lured away from their divine destiny if they continue to walk in the role of motherhood which God planned for them.” In essence what Mrs. Campbell is saying echoes Mr. Kosteberger’s quote. Sadly, militant fecundity shames women into childbearing by telling them that they will not be acceptable to God if they aren’t fecundant or that they are so weak and gullible that they are a threat to their husbands and children. Dear sisters, neither of these things are true. The Bible makes it very clear that the only way to salvation is through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, trusting Him alone for salvation. In his letter to Titus, Paul reminded us “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
In part two of this series, we will continue this discussion as I compare militant fecundity with what the Bible really tells us regarding the blessing of children and motherhood.