Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

TLC and the Fundamentalist Family: A Televised Quiverfull of Babies

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

TLC and the Fundamentalist Family: A Televised Quiverfull of Babies

Article excerpt

[1] "Barefoot and pregnant" lost cache years ago, but in the world of Quiverfull, a fundamentalist Christian movement, the adage is alive and well. Nowhere is the image of a barefoot and pregnant wife more prevalent than on The Learning Channel's reality television show 19 and Counting which brings viewers into the home of Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar and their 19 children. Due to the popularity of their show on TLC, the Duggars have become the unofficial spokespeople of the Quiverfull movement.

[2] Quiverfull adherents believe God should control family size; therefore, they do not practice any form of birth control and often have very large families. The movement is a relatively small branch of the Christian faith, with adherents in the thousands to possibly low ten thousands from many different fundamentalist and conservative evangelical denominations. (1) Yet, while the movement is small, the Duggars have brought it to the forefront of American popular culture. The television coverage of the Duggars has evolved over a five year period, with the family's first television special in 2004, 14 Children and Pregnant Again! (2) which premiered on TLC and was followed with three more television specials before the Duggars' current television show premiered in 2008. (3) As of June 2009, 19 and Counting averaged 1,409,000 viewers a week, (4) illustrating that, while the cable show does not garner as many viewers as a network program, it still has a substantial following. Furthermore, until the Duggar family burst onto the cable television landscape, the Quiverfull movement had flown under the media radar for almost 20 years.

[3] While there may only be several thousand adherents of the Quiverfull movement, the Duggars have given it a prominent place in popular culture with more media coverage than many larger religious groups ever receive. The movement first began to gain traction in the late 1980s through the writings of anti-feminist Mary Pride and her book The Way Home: Beyond Feminism and Back to Reality. (5) Pride preached that the decline of the Christian family was a result of women seeking jobs outside the home and allowing other people to have control of their children's schooling and upbringing. While Pride's notion that a woman's sole role was wife and homemaker was first presented in the mid 1980s, the term "Quiverfull" did not come into widespread use until five years later, with Rick and Jan Hess' book A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ. (6) The Hess' writings, and the writings of other Quiverfull advocates after them, have stressed the importance of Old Testament scripture and the lifestyle of the ancient Israelites (who had large families) as the primary justification for the movement.

[4] As a result of their belief that it is God's will for Christians to produce large families, Christians who practice the Quiverfull ideology oppose any form of birth control, including natural family planning. Families who are a part of the Quiverfull movement are also strong advocates of traditional family roles that centre on male headship. Followers subscribe to a literal interpretation of Scripture, citing passages from both the Old and New Testament about a woman's homemaker role and wifely submission to her husband's authority. Homemaking and mothering are seen as the higher calling for women, who will devote their lives to raising godly children. As Samuel Owen notes in his book Letting God Plan Your Family:

   A woman's role as a homemaker gives her an important sphere of
   authority. She is in charge of all the domestic arrangements. She
   must provide for the care and well-being of the whole family. A
   wife's responsibilities include planning and instructing her
   children. Anyone who has read Proverbs 31:10-31 knows that her role
   is anything but mundane. She is active and significant, and she
   faces continual challenges. (7)

Thus, the Quiverfull movement places emphasis on Old Testament passages such as Proverbs 31:10-31 which shows a woman who buys her family's food, runs a business from the home, cares for the children, makes her own clothes and helps the poor. …

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