Vyckie Garrison’s seventh child, Wesley, was born by emergency caesarean section, at the Faith Regional Hospital in Norfolk, Nebraska. She had planned to give birth at home, unassisted, but her uterus partially ruptured during labour, almost killing her. For a month, she was confined to bed, barely able to move, let alone look after her family.
The doctor said it would be reckless for her to conceive any more children. But when she turned to her friends, they offered bleak counsel, with the force of biblical truth. “I was told that a woman shouldn’t shrink back from supposed dangers and that we should honour God with our bodies,” she says. “Jesus died for us, we should be willing to die for him.” She became pregnant twice more, suffering two miscarriages.
Garrison and her husband, Warren Bennett, had originally decided to stop at three kids. He had a vasectomy, to make sure. But after reading The Way Home, by Mary Pride, they decided to reverse the procedure and called one of the “natural family planning” organisations listed inside the back cover. In the next six years, they were blessed with four more offspring.
Pride’s book is one of the founding texts of the Quiverfull movement, which encourages Christians to refrain from using all forms of birth control, including abstinence. Child-bearing women are like missionaries, to be commended for their courage and sacrifice. “I had it all calculated out,” Garrison says. “I had seven kids and they were each gonna have twelve. They were all going to continue in the faith, to be warriors for Christ when they grew up.”
Calvinist pastor Doug Phillips, whose Vision Forum Ministry provides spiritual guidance, educational materials and an online catalogue of approved activities and clothes, has eight children. He preaches that Christianity can only triumph over secular liberalism if believers practice “multi-generational faithfulness,” by raising an army of devout soldiers. His 200 Year Plan envisages a godly United States, six generations from now, with fundamentalist evangelicals in the majority and a theocratic government in charge.
Quiverfull is a radical offshoot of the Christian Patriarchy movement, which is itself a subset of fundamentalist evangelicalism, and the nuances of observance make it tricky to estimate how many people adhere to its beliefs. What is certain is that tens of thousands of American families are withdrawing from the world, educating their children at home and living according to a literal interpretation of the Bible that stresses absolute submission to male authority.
“It is growing, and the reason it’s growing is that there’s a lot of fear among evangelicals right now,” says Garrison. “The more fearful evangelicals become, the more they retreat and start home schooling, and that is where they’re going to encounter Quiverfull ideals. Families are taught that getting into powerful institutions is part of their dominion mandate. They get internships at state level, get involved in political campaigns and in the justice system. That’s the whole point of having all these sons: to have an influence on policy and reclaim the country for God.”
Patrick Henry College, the headquarters of the conservative Christian Home School Legal Defence Association, sent more interns to the George Bush White House than any other institution. Republican Presidential front-runner Rick Perry has close ties to Vision Forum, through multi-millionaire campaign contributor Jim Leininger.