Baby makers

Preaching patriarchy and procreation, Quiverfull and like-minded groups live by the (good) book

Eight is not enough? Quiverfull members Theron and AnneMarie Johnson have seven kids of their own and have adopted one other. If they follow their religion’s teachings, more may be on the way.

Eight is not enough? Quiverfull members Theron and AnneMarie Johnson have seven kids of their own and have adopted one other. If they follow their religion’s teachings, more may be on the way.

Photo By Kyle Monk

West Sacramento resident Theron Johnson has a vision for an ideal society. In it, racism is eliminated. The United States disbands its large standing army and refrains from engaging in unjust wars. People live within their means and accrue no debt. The weak are protected, taxes lowered and inflation is considered theft. Government agencies stop encroaching on our daily lives, doing little more than protecting homes and property from fire or theft. Personal liberty and freedom reign supreme.

In his ideal society, women do not have the right to vote.

Male politicians fill government posts, as women seek higher personal meaning through submission to their husbands. Parents raise little girls not to attend college but to marry godly men and bear as many children as the lord gives them. Abortion, same-sex marriage and divorce: illegal.

This, to Johnson, is a Christian society.

Johnson’s vision reflects a growing cross-denominational Christian theology that has recently come to be known as the Quiverfull movement, comprised of evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants. Followers typically home-school their children, operate home businesses and attend home-based churches. The movement takes guidance from many Bible passages, including Psalm 127: “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 shall not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.”

Under this ideology, followers understand the Bible as the divine word of God and follow the book’s literal meaning, including the Old Testament’s strict gender divisions. Wives must submit to their husbands and stay at home and raise children, passing on the same values to their progeny.

The movement touts complementarian roles of female submission and male headship. In this arrangement, a woman provides unending service to her husband.

One such service is to bear children, as ministers advise women to “reject women’s liberation in exchange for the principles of submissive wifehood and prolific stay-at-home motherhood. … Women’s bodies and lives did not belong to them, but to God and his plans for Christian revival,” writes Kathryn Joyce in her book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.

The ills of modern society and the need for a new Christian vision lies, largely, in confusion over sex roles brought by increased gender equality. The culprit: feminism.

Although the loosely tied Quiverfull movement goes by other names, such as family-integrated churches, the Christian family-renewal movement or the practice of biblical family values, followers of its central ideology are estimated to number in the tens of thousands, primarily in the Midwest and Bible Belt of the United States. Their numbers are steadily growing, according to Joyce, who has spent the last few years intensely following the movement.

Here, in Sacramento, a handful of these churches exist, in rented rooms and halls, including Church of the King, of which Johnson is a founding elder, located in downtown Roseville. Johnson, his wife, AnneMarie, and their eight children live in West Sacramento.

Meet the Johnsons

Except for the soft sound of crayons neatly filling in black-and-white drawings, the Johnson house is nearly silent. It’s an amazing feat, since there are nine family members now occupying this immaculate five-bedroom suburban home. The home is filled with modern furniture and appliances. A screen saver dances across the computer screen in the kitchen. Costco goods fill the cabinets. Theron and AnneMarie sit at the table in their bright sunlit dining room.

As soon as the morning alarm rings in the Johnson’s home, Bible-based teachings lead the day. The routine begins with prayer, making beds and getting dressed. Sometimes, a few of the children rise early, eager to get a head start on their schoolwork for the day. At 8:30 a.m., the family reads the Bible for 15 minutes. Then, the home schooling begins.

The children learn about grammar, science, history and geography. Mom does the majority of the teaching for continuity’s sake, because the children’s dad works as an airline pilot, often spending nights away in Hawaii.

As the couple explains their reasons for keeping the children out of public school, one daughter approaches AnneMarie with a question, pointing to a page in book, God’s Gift of Language. The mother responds, and her daughter jumps back to her spot on the carpet in the living room.

While AnneMarie, 32, was home-schooled during her upbringing, Theron, 47, earned his education in public school and later the United States Air Force Academy. Theron, an African-American man, remembers being held back from advanced classes in school because of his skin color. So when the time came to decide how to educate their own children, it was a no-brainer: Mom would home-school them.

The Johnsons cite several reasons for home schooling, which includes not wanting to be separated from their children for hours at a time, taking a direct interest in their children’s education and establishing a moral code.

“Knowledge in itself is not enough,” Theron says. “You need a moral compass to hold you up.”

Additionally, by using a Christian-based curriculum, they don’t waste time countering lessons taught in public school, such as the theory of evolution.

The children’s education isn’t entirely home-based, either. Home schooling gives them the flexibility to visit the Joshua trees in the California desert or the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield. The children also participate in a music cooperative where they play instruments with fellow home-schooled students.

But the Johnson’s choice to home-school is based on more than the drawbacks of the public school system. Their take on education, along with other Quiverfull families, is also biblically inspired. Not only does scripture teach that parents maintain primary responsibility for the education and development of their children, but, according to Church of the King’s Web site, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t contain any “provision for schools financed and run by the civil state,” which means followers see the American public school system as unconstitutional.

The U.S. Department of Education reported that in 2003, 1.1 million students between the ages 5 and 17 were home-schooled, up from an estimated 850,000 home-schooled students in 1999. In the same 2003 survey, 30 percent of parents cited “religious or moral instruction” as the primary reason for home-schooling their children.

Vision Forum Ministries, a nonprofit organization based in San Antonio, is one of the leading resources for Christ-centered home-schooling curricula and is dedicated to the preservation of “our covenant with God through biblical patriarchy and multigenerational faithfulness.” To reverse what it sees as the long, steady erosion of biblical standards for men and women, Vision Forum advocates teaching history as the province of God and training character through home education.

Church of the King Pastor John Stoos preaches that men should be fruitful and multiply. Women should facilitate the process.

Photo By Kyle Monk

Theron shares Vision Forum’s view, as do other Quiverfull proponents.

“As Christians, we gear everything we’re doing toward our faith,” Theron says. “It’s how we conduct ourselves, how we define ourselves. It’s the core.”

For Theron and his family, while the core of their faith lies within the home, they find support, fellowship and guidance in a small rented hall in downtown Roseville.

His kingdom come

It’s late Sunday morning, and music flows down the narrow stairwell into the street. Climb the wooden steps and the music grows louder. Sixty people stand on their feet, singing from the Book of Psalms:

Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord
And the fruit of the womb is His reward
As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man
So are the children of the youth
Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them:
They shall not be ashamed,
But they shall speak with enemies in the gate

As the hymn ends, the congregation—men wearing shirts and ties and women in long dresses and hats—sit down in stacking chairs. Pastor John Stoos, a balding man of medium height, stands and addresses his predominantly Anglo congregation about the Annunciation, the morning of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

Pastor Stoos and his family formed Church of the King five years ago. They began, like so many modern churches, in humble circumstances. Stoos and a few families met in a rented room at the Days Inn off Watt Avenue. Church ranks soon swelled, however, and now about 80 members meet each Sunday in the upstairs room of Eagles Hall on Vernon Street in Roseville. The location may be less than ideal—a disco ball hangs from the ceiling and the hall shares building space with a smoke shop on the corner—but for now, it’s home.

Until five years ago, Stoos and his family, including his daughter AnneMarie Johnson, attended Covenant Reformed Church in Sacramento. CRC touts itself as “pro-family.” But, over time, Stoos confronted a serious doctrinal issue: The church barred children from communion. Stoos found no biblical justification keeping children “from the table,” referring to the practice of families taking bread and wine from a table each week. Stoos raised the sacramental issue to CRC elders, but they wouldn’t budge; CRC’s denomination, the Reformed Church in the United States, had previously found “no conclusive evidence favoring either infant or young child communion in either the Old or the New Testament.”

Stoos disagreed. And so, in 2004, he and a few families split.

They had a few options when it came to finding a new place to worship. There are churches in the Sacramento region that preach conservative, pro-family values. Among them: Living Hope Christian Church and The King’s House, both in Citrus Heights. The National Center for Family Integrated Churches identifies these congregations within its network (churches could not be reached for comment by deadline). However, neither of these fulfilled their vision. Faith Baptist Tabernacle in North Highlands is also listed in the network, which came as a surprise to church Pastor Mike Rodgers, who says although his church is “very much for the family,” it doesn’t specifically identify as “family-integrated.”

Faith Baptist Tabernacle resides in a large white building off Watt Avenue. It sits across the street from a vacant lot, a towing-and-repair facility and some campers. Roosters cock-a-doodle-doo nearby. Pastor Rodgers calls his church “fundamental” in relation to “mainline Protestant denominations that have become more liberal.” He believes in Christian home schooling, but doesn’t demand his congregation subscribe to this practice.

Unlike Quiverfull churches, Faith Baptist Tabernacle offers Sunday School, but similarly, the church promotes female submission. The church’s Web site states: “The wife is to submit herself to the Scriptural leadership of her husband as the church submits to the headship of Christ.”

The men who became the founding elders of Church of the King also considered All Saints Reformed Episcopal Church in Vacaville. But Stoos and his wife had been impressed by their visits to the Reformation Covenant Church in Oregon City, Ore., and, with that church’s support, started their own place of worship.

Stoos served part time as Church of the King’s pastor until retiring from his job with the state of California in 2005. Stoos says his weekly service differs from most evangelical churches. Church of the King includes traditional practices such as a call to confession and weekly communion, and services focus more on adhering to biblical principles than maintaining tradition.

“We don’t believe that women should teach in the church; you wouldn’t see a woman leading services or leading prayer,” Stoos says, adding that the policy prohibiting women from speaking in church dates from the Garden of Eden to the apostle Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, which states that women should not speak in church.

The church’s emphasis on childbirth and child raising is also biblical, according to Stoos. In fact, there’s no separate Sunday school for children; little ones stay with their parents at all times.

“Again, it starts at the beginning, at the time of creation and even after the fall,” Stoos said. “God told man that he should be fruitful and should multiply and replenish the Earth.”

Indeed, members of Church of the King are multiplying. Each Sunday, church elders announce the birth of a new child. One middle-aged woman tells the story of her daughter, also a Church of the King attendee, who is expecting her ninth child. Even though her daughter’s pregnancy is fraught with complications, she beamed about welcoming yet another grandchild.

This way is up: Church of the King’s humble meeting place at the Eagles Hall in Roseville.

Photo By Kyle Monk

Church of the King belongs to the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches, a denomination that split from the Presbyterian church in 1998. The split was partly due to that church skewing more liberal on some issues; Presbyterianism was becoming more concerned with addressing social-justice issues than with bringing sinners to repentance.

For self-described traditionalists, Presbyterianism’s break from Calvinism proved alarming. In their interpretation of Calvinism, religion and faith inform not only Sunday sermons but every aspect of a Christian’s life. So in 1998, some traditionalists formalized their split from Presbyterianism and formed the CREC.

The return to Calvinism is not merely a religious revival; to followers, it’s a push to restore biblical principles to their rightful place at the forefront of society. That Christian restoration begins not in the courts or in the legislature, but in the home.

[page] Children of men

Thirteen years ago, Theron and AnneMarie married, after a courtship that began at the church where her father, John Stoos, previously served as pastor. The couple developed a friendship on the porch of AnneMarie’s parents’ house, where congregants gathered on Sunday evenings to eat popcorn and discuss religious and philosophical issues. The men smoked cigars.

Six years after marrying, the couple already had three daughters and, eager for a boy, they adopted an 8-year-old. He’s now 14. Since then, they’ve had two more sons and two more daughters. The couple doesn’t use birth control or natural family planning, which is typical of followers of the Quiverfull movement. Its staunchest proponents argue against family planning, proclaiming the practice’s immorality as it attempts to dictate the will of God.

Pastor Stoos is disturbed by what he calls the modern notion that posits children as a burden rather than a blessing. Nor does he see his church’s stance against birth control as restraining women.

“If anything,” he says, “[childbirth] makes them stronger. … Women who take that seriously are stronger and wiser for it.”

Indeed, the womb has become central to Christian revival, a “weapon of demographic warfare,” as author Kathryn Joyce puts it. Quiverfull writer Mary Pride, author of The Way Home: Beyond Feminism and Back to Reality, writes, “My body is not my own.” It’s a slap in the face to generations of feminists who fought for recognition of the exact opposite. Quiverfull and like movements see women’s value inherent in pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. Couples are encouraged to bear children, and if a woman dies in childbirth, at least it’s for the sake of God’s kingdom.

As Joyce writes in her book, “Women are domestic warriors in the battle against what they see as 40 years of destruction wrought by women’s liberation: contraception, women’s careers, abortion, divorce, homosexuality and child abuse.” Christian women can undo the damage wracked by their feminist peers by raising more and more children who will seek a return to biblical values.

However, childbirth and child rearing doesn’t constitute the only role for women in a Quiverfull society. They also exist for the purpose of men, a belief drawn from the Bible’s first story, when God created Adam and Eve. As Joyce writes: “She was not some independent, new creation who could do what she liked. She was part of man. Out of man. Made for man.”

The Johnsons echo this sentiment, arguing the scriptural basis for gender divisions, noting that God is characterized as a father figure in the Bible. The husband heads the household, but not as an overlord. Someone needs to make the final decision when it comes to big issues, such as buying real estate, cars and business endeavors, and that someone is the man. The relationship, the Johnsons say, is mutually beneficial.

“God created woman not as a slave, but as a help meet,” Theron says, referencing a phrase from Genesis 2.

During a Sunday service in August at Church of the King, Pastor Stoos also preached that upon Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, he first appeared to the women who had come to the tomb to prepare his body for burial. The women served this man even in death.

Yet the feminist movement has put women in a position of independence and authority that defies their role in the Christian economy, which identifies gender equality as one of the greatest threats to the Quiverfull movement. Or, as Pastor Stoos says, “Modern feminism is anti-God.”

Fighting feminism, to Stoos and his parishioners, requires two actions: bearing Christian children and preaching the word of God.

One overcast morning in August, as AnneMarie prepares peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches for the children’s lunch, Theron describes how scriptures use militaristic language to describe God’s kingdom and the conflict that arises in terms of spreading Christianity.

“That’s where the battle is,” Theron says. “It’s not at the ballot box or trying to overpopulate the world. The challenge is to talk to people and evangelize. That’s what we try to do.”

And so Theron talks about his ideal Christian society. He talks about current problems—government intrusion into our lives, loss of personal liberty, the retreat of the Church, laws that subvert parents’ authority over children. Firmly against the Iraq war, Theron says he doesn’t support the notion that “might makes right.” He believes in converting by the word, not by the sword. In his ideal society, he places more emphasis on personal responsibility and the country’s return to the Christian principles upon which it was founded.

“The family is the basic unit of society, and government should be there to protect family and individual rights,” Theron says.

The U.S. Congress would be comprised of men, as women stay home to raise children. Although no woman would be granted the right to vote under God’s perfect design, AnneMarie actually cast a ballot in the last presidential election, after consulting with her husband to make sure her choice didn’t conflict with his. They didn’t particularly care for Republican nominee John McCain, but voted for him because they liked Sarah Palin. Otherwise, AnneMarie would be fine with giving up her voting rights for the sake of a Christian world.

When women vote, “You’re not working together with your husband,” AnneMarie says. “We’d be at odds and at conflict.”

Unmarried women would also not be allowed to vote, because single females remain under the leadership of their fathers until marriage.

That describes the course of AnneMarie’s life. As the daughter of a church pastor, she was home-schooled, but later attended college and trained in nursing while waiting for a good husband to come around. When he did, she quit school to begin a family. Now, AnneMarie has her own daughters. While the Johnsons say they’ll encourage their sons to move away for college (as long as they find good churches in the new place), their daughters will stay local.

“I’m looking out for my girls,” Theron says. “I’m not going to send her out by herself. It’s part of being a Christian man, protecting women.”

According to Quiverfull’s interpretation of the Bible, women are not allowed to preach or teach at Church of the King.

Photo By Kyle Monk

According to the Johnsons, females need all the protection they can get, as American society no longer treats women with respect. Ironically, that’s the very thing feminists have long demanded, although in a much different form than imagined by Quiverfull.

“As society allowed women and girls more freedom and equality, instances of rape and sexual abuse have skyrocketed,” Theron says.

In this view, feminism and equal rights are to blame for violence against women.

As Quiverfull thinking goes, if a woman was simply a better wife, didn’t nag her husband, submitted to man’s domination and didn’t mess with gender roles, then domestic and sexual abuse wouldn’t occur.

Indeed, the Bible promotes women’s placement under men’s protection, most notably with the story of Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, who went out into the world and was raped. Her brothers avenged this by killing all the men in the village, but the rape remained Dinah’s punishment for having the audacity to go out and carouse about town. This, argue Quiverfull proponents, is the lesson of the Bible: Men are not responsible or culpable for their own actions. Rather, women either commit sins or somehow cause men to sin.

In the Johnsons’ ideal society, females would dress modestly and not be seen as sexual objects for male consumption. However, she must always be sexually available.

As the Johnsons do what they can to promote a Christian revival, they also share a vision for their own daughters’ futures: Be of good character and high moral standing. Obtain an education. Remain a Christian. Marry godly men. Have children.

Breakaway blogging

For a long time, Vyckie Garrison, 43, lived out the Quiverfull image of a good Christian wife, with seven beautiful children and a popular newsletter run out of their Nebraska home. But two years ago, that all changed. Garrison, who lived in Sacramento as a child, now runs a blog called No Longer Quivering, writing about what she calls her escape from the Quiverfull movement.

At 17 years old, Garrison accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior. After marrying her second husband in her mid-20s, she started to explore biblical family values, attending home-school conventions, urging her husband to adopt the lessons of the Bible, and to follow God’s plan in their lives and marriage.

“The promise of this ideal family, the security, the closeness, the high value placed on motherhood looked very appealing,” Garrison says. “I had a chaotic childhood and was looking for stability.”

Gradually, she grew so consumed by the teachings of the Quiverfull movement that she encouraged her husband to reverse his vasectomy. By that time, Garrison had mothered three children, each pregnancy life-threatening and each child born through Cesarean section.

To make ends meet, Garrison and her husband published a conservative Christian newspaper. Her husband held the title of newspaper president, but Garrison says she did the bulk of the work. As her family became more isolated and withdrawn—they home-schooled, operated a home business and had a home church—Garrison says her husband became tyrannical and paranoid. Held up as the leader of the household, his narcissism magnified itself, she writes, as he attempted to control every single aspect of the household and its occupants.

The family’s demanding lifestyle eventually began to take its toll. All the food was made from scratch. There was no television, no baby sitters, no time for a break. Meanwhile, Garrison’s eldest daughter began cutting herself, an act of rebellion that wasn’t supposed to happen. In the Quiverfull movement, it is believed that teenagers trained in the ways of the Lord will transition seamlessly to Christian adulthood.

One day, her daughter attempted suicide.

“That’s when it all crumbled for me,” Garrison says. “Her self, her emotions, her desires were completed negated. Something inside of her wanted to be an autonomous being, and this was not being allowed.”

Garrison divorced her husband and left the Quiverfull movement. She hasn’t looked back. “I have no regard for the Bible,” Garrison says. “I’m not hip to Jesus either. His symbol of martyrdom, the cross and laying down your life for others—you can’t just give and give and give without falling apart.”

Welcome to the patriarchy

Church of the King and its sister churches are preparing the world for Jesus Christ’s triumphant return and the establishment of a perfect society: a theocracy where the Bible, and the men who interpret it, reign unchallenged.

“No Christian says we will have it in this lifetime,” Stoos says. Rather, home schooling, pronatalism and a patriarchal church organization function to erect the basic pillars of a new society in time for Christ’s second coming, during which all Christians will be taken up to heaven in the Rapture.

The pro-Bible, pro-patriarchy movement extends far beyond the Church of the King. The church has received e-mails from congregations around the world hoping to implement similar pro-family teachings. Pastors from as far away as Japan, Russia, Hungary, France and African countries have contacted the Church of the King, according to Theron.

Meanwhile, the Quiverfull movement has gone mainstream, thanks to the popular cable show Eighteen and Counting, about the Duggar family, which comprises a Christian husband and wife and their 18 children. The couple’s 19th child is due next spring.

Last October, 6,000 women attended the True Woman conference, an event in Chicago promoting “biblical womanhood.” Part of the event included a signature drive for the “True Woman Manifesto”: The two-page document has garnered more than 10,000 signatures worldwide and claims that when women “respond humbly to male leadership in our homes and churches, we demonstrate a noble submission to authority that reflects Christ’s submission to God His Father.”

It is precisely this promotion of female submission that troubles women’s rights advocates.

“There is no difference between the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Quiverfull movement here in the United States,” says Patty Bellasalma, president of the California chapter of the National Organization for Women. “Whether these men are Christian, Muslim or any other religion, each uses God to justify brutality and oppression. Violence against women can never be justified, nor can women’s equality be denied or justified by hiding behind religion.”

But the Johnsons and others in the Quiverfull movement see no problem. This is their life, their family and their belief system, albeit one they hope to spread. We can either live in a Christian society or a non-Christian one.

Ultimately, the controversy is a conflict of worldviews. The question, though, is which one, if any, will win out? For the Johnsons, the answer clearly lies within the pages of the Bible.

In the end, their God wins.