This and the following post are a review of “Quiverfull – To be or not to be” by Brenda Weatherly. Brenda approached me if I could review her book in exchange for a free e-copy. After making sure she had understood my own background and position, I agreed to write this review. Apart from the free copy, I did not receive any form of compensation. The review is my own, honest opinion.
You are probably wondering why I would review this book. Well, I’m still wondering myself. For some reason, I felt that it would be fun. I was eager to read a QF book at this point in my life, with my new ideas and convictions. I wanted to see what changed in my views. It seemed like a great opportunity to reflect myself. At the same time, Brenda is a lovely woman who approached me with so much kindness that I didn’t feel like I could possibly turn her down. Yet I was very hesitant. Why should I in particular review a book written by a quiverfull mother? What positive could possibly come from it? She’d said that it is about quiverfull faith, contraception and valuing life. I imagined that it would be a rather technical book, and that I would feel terrible writing an honest review on it. I am still unsure whether I’m the right person for this review, nevertheless I will do my best to be objective and point out what I liked and didn’t like.
Here is what Brenda says on her blog about the book:
“Quiverfull: To Be Or Not To Be” is a 50-page book that discusses a somewhat controversial topic, that of birth control in the Christian family. The first portion of the book is the story of my life and where the Lord has brought me, from teen mom to a mother of 7. The next portion of the book goes into a brief history of the birth control movement and what the Church’s views on contraception have been and how they have dramatically changed since Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, came onto the scene. Natural family planning is mentioned as a positive alternative to the conventional ‘wisdom’ most women typically have heard. I discuss sensitive issues such as mental and physical illness. The topic of abortion is covered in detail because it has personally affected the life of my family. Orphan care and adoption are covered in the final section of the book when I ask the question, ‘Which children are blessings?’
The book is a relatively short read. There are 52 pages. However, Brenda doesn’t waste space on fancy layout, so these are full-text pages with an occasional family picture. I generally like Brenda’s style. I can’t quite figure out what to call it: Conversational? Blogger-style? Either way, it is fun to read, easy to access, and doesn’t feel “holier than thou”.
I believe that the title (and description) are slightly off. Yes, it is about all the technical issues (contraception and faith etc), but it is also a journey through Brenda’s life, especially the first half of the book.
As mentioned, the first part of her book is pretty much her biography. Brenda comes from a christian background. Throughout her life, she went to several stages of christian beliefs. If you yourself come from any of the conservative christian movements throughout the US, you will likely be able to relate to numerous parts of her story and her experiences. From the perspective that traversing through different groups of christians offered up to Brenda, she describes the changes she went through concerning her beliefs in contraception.
I think what is particularly interesting in the first half of the book is the way in which these hardships changed Brenda’s views on family planning – I want to tell you right now that Brenda’s beliefs today would label her a heathen in the community I’m from. This doesn’t mean she isn’t conservative. I’m having a very hard time placing Brenda on the typical QF scales of believers and unbelievers. She doesn’t quite fit in.
If you like reading biographies of QF people, you will greatly enjoy this part. I really don’t want to quote here because I’m having a hard time reviewing it without revealing too much. But there are many problems Brenda faces and goes through: Relationships with parents (and her own children, of course), difficulties of life, job problems, financial problems, health problems, to name a few. In this sense, Brenda experiences many things all of us experience, and I applaud her bravery to talk about it so openly and to dissect her own choices she makes in those situations. Brenda is not afraid to talk about right and wrong choices, and she does a great job using her experience as means to explain how these shaped her beliefs.
Yes, that’s all I want to say. I think Brenda’s biography is worth reading, though it is short. I have encouraged her to add some more perspectives because I truly believe her life is worth telling a bit more extensively.
The second part of the book is where it gets as “technical” as promised by the title. Brenda had mentioned a sort of essay on birth control she wrote in her biography already, and I tend to believe that this is what makes up the second part.
Now, the thing with the second part is that almost all of it was “already known” for me. But please remember that I grew up in these same beliefs, so it is only natural that I am familiar with it.
The first section discusses the backgrounds of Planned Parenthood and “artificial” vs “natural” family planning. This is also the section which I criticize most. I used parenthesis because Brenda doesn’t quite clearly state the position of certain means of family planning – I’m talking condoms here. The section about Planned Parenthood shouldn’t be news to any insiders of QF, but nevertheless useful to newbies. I like that Brenda gives references to her sources.
However, I truly missed a connection back to the actual beliefs derived from the history of Planned Parenthood. I do not want to discuss Margret Sanger here – it’s not really important for the review – but I am wondering: If Sanger in fact had racist views on birth control (something not entirely proven), how does that influence modern Planned Parenthood? Sanger is long gone after all. I think the argument that the Planned Parenthood organisation must be rejected based on Sanger’s views is a bit like blaming others for mistakes they didn’t make. The churches likewise had difficult relationships to several nazi organisations, nevertheless I don’t see anyone condemning the churches today on the basis of that. That’s exactly the point here: It is ok to reject Planned Parenthood, but doing so on the basis of Sanger’s private ideology that is not the same as Planned Parenthood’s modern stances is a bit mushy to me – it doesn’t seem religiously correct to reject/judge.
Another chapter which receives almost the same criticism from me is the chapter about environment and population. While it is fine to have certain beliefs, I still miss the connection of the facts with the corresponding beliefs. I also would have wished for a more thorough investigation of this. One thing that struck me was the following:
Gene Edward Veith, of WORLD Magazine, writes, “In 1968,
Paul Ehrlich published The Population Bomb, panicking the
world with dire predictions of a population explosion. By the
year 2000, he predicted, the world would be so crowded that
hundreds of millions would die of starvation. Although Mr.
Ehrlich’s prophecies have turned out to be almost comically
wrong […]. (p. 35)
I think the final sentence is quite off. Unfortunately, we do live in a world were millions – unfortunately most of them children – died of starvation or malnutrition since 2000. Whether this is due to overpopulation or not I do not want to discuss – I would have to do research. I think the issue is much more complex that just overpopulation yes or no. The issue is also that we are not willing to cut down on what we have, that we believe we deserve what we earn and if somebody else doesn’t earn the same, he or she probably doesn’t deserve it. I don’t think you can discuss overpopulation without keeping in mind that there is also the matter of distribution, or what we expect to get. Just an example: If we were to not eat meat, the world could feed more people with the resources we have than if everybody wanted meat at least twice a week. And in this sense, I do believe there is something like overpopulation, not to forget that we can’t simply use all land we have at our disposal to produce food. And this is only food, the list goes on. Either way, I had a problem with this part, simply because I do believe in limits population-wise and also because we certainly already hit a limit of some sort. Otherwise, we wouldn’t see all those children starve when we turn on the TV.
Both the criticism of Planned Parenthood as well as the criticism of environmental beliefs are collected under the hood of a “humanist” thinking. Humanists are believed to strive for a decrease of population and, ultimately, to a destruction of the human race, by furthering contraception and abortion. In these senses, this book is very much in line with core QF beliefs. And, just like every QF classic, this book too fails to tell me why exactly “humanists” would want to do these things that they are supposedly doing. Why would humanists want the human race to die out, or live in agony, or anything else? What is the agenda behind the “agenda” of abortion?
In my youth I was told by my parents that humanists worked for satan. This means that humanists are actually working for him – consciously or unconsciously – to win the “cultural war”. The underlying idea is that Christian are in a war against satan’s army. The army consists of more than just humanists, however: Anybody who is not a christian (muslims, Buddhists, atheists, you name it) is a member of satan’s army with the ultimate purpose to destroy God’s army. There are so many things about this ideology that bother me. The idea of a war of cultures is also what nurtures the christian idea of being different from “culture”, often by dress to make it obvious.
I think you get the point I’m trying to make here: The stance this book expresses on specifically these two issues is very much the same as you will find in the classics – and just like in the classics, there is very little reflection on the actual consequences for beliefs based on the facts. It is “This was a bad person, so don’t like the organisation”.
The idea of this group of “humanists” with some shady agenda to hurt humanity is troubling. I think it generally remains underspecified what is actually meant here, not just in this book but in pretty much every book on these issues.
Yes, these chapters were a drawback for me, the two reasons being 1) my familiarity with the rhetoric and therefore my unfulfilled hopes for “something new” and 2) the fact that I cannot agree with these parts. I simply can’t. Sorry.
However, I agree with many things mentioned in the chapters on NFP and the general stance towards birth control. The chapters in which Brenda deals with the “tough” questions of QF are very interesting.
OF COURSE I heard these questions in my youth: “What should the family do if the woman is ill?” is just one of them. But the answers I got and believed in were different from the answers Brenda gives here. I like the way she deals with questions like illness (a mother’s or one of the children’s), severe financial problems and others.
While Brenda makes it obvious enough that she believes that children are blessings, she does not mindlessly press that a child is a blessing at all times. Something that struck me as very strange (for an evangelical, that is) was the fact that she quotes roman catholic stances on family planning extensively. That’s not a negative thing, actually, because she manages to make quite a point that despite children being a blessing in this mindset, she acknowledges that this may not be true at every point in a person’s life. Especially her opinions of delaying children in instances of illness struck me as unusual for Evangelic circles:
“For goodness’ sake, can there possibly be any judgment aimed at the desperate woman who fears for her own children’s safety because of mental issues? Certainly not!” (p. 28)
Brenda advocates family planning whenever another birth poses a threat to either the mother’s health or the other children’s health. This is also the major point in which I see potential shunning for Brenda’s attitude and bad critiques from the core QF movement: By their ideologies, she does not fully “trust the Lord”. Brenda justifies this ideology by saying that the intentions of the heart matter. If you are truly open to having more children, but are overcome with fears for a reason, that is theologically fine. I do not think that this is necessarily a bad position, but it is certainly a position which can be easily attacked by core QF believers. “God’s ways are best” is a traditional QF quote which typically goes a long way “exposing” people who think like Brenda as “unbelievers”. While I don’t agree with this logic, you will have to agree with me that in this aspect, it is unfortunately impossible to dispute the issue. There is always that all-knowing, loving God who does everything for a real good reason. Why not would he allow a physically ill woman to have another child? Why not
One of my favourites was the following quote:
I believe the Lord wants His children cared for… not just given birth to. (p. 43)
Here, Brenda adopts a rhetoric that is also used by liberals (christians and atheists alike) to point out that merely birthing children is not the point. IF you are pro-life, you cannot stand there and cry out against abortion and then lose interest as soon as the child is born (or, alternatively, pound on the idea that the mother should give her child up for adoption). Things aren’t black and white like some people want them to be. Children must be cared for. Some people need help. In some cases that may be adoption.
As a part of the discussion on caring for children, Brenda (of course) discusses orphans and foster parents. But within this chapter, I also find that she discusses state and welfare means to protect children in the US (not overseas). A general stance towards state intervention by the core QF groups is that it is an invasion of privacy and a threat to parental control over their families. Recently, Libby Anne has extensively discussed the fact that a home school organisation is greatly involved in cases of suspected child abuse, actually defending the abusive parents by advocating their rights to raise their own children. From a book written by a QF follower, I expect a similar position, but Brenda delivers quite a different comment:
State welfare emergency hotlines throughout the nation reportedly receive over 5 million calls each year of suspected child abuse or neglect. Of those calls, about one million meet the criteria for state intervention. What happens to the remaining four million families that don’t qualify for help? (p. 47-48)
Brenda correctly points out severe issues such a lack of funding and an overwhelmed structure of agencies. I think this is another point in which Brenda greatly deviates from core QF, and I think her points are interesting. It was refreshing to see that a QF believer would actually speak out for help from welfare agencies. Some groups within the QF movement put a parent’s right far above the rights of a child to grow up unharmed, both physically and emotionally. The thing is: A child has rights. The fact that this is acknowledged here, and that child neglect and abuse calls must be checked, that they are not an inappropriate invasion of privacy but merely the best thing for children in a very difficult situation, astonished me.
Overall, I get the feeling that Brenda is caught between worlds. It’s not that I feel she wants to please anyone with her book. I do think she bravely defends the points she known won’t get her praise in the evangelical circles. The thing is that Brenda switches back and forth between ideas that I consider deeply QF and almost liberal ideas how families should work.
At some points I was surprised by the liberal views, which in turn caused me to feel surprised when very conservative views showed up. I was constantly torn between really liking what Brenda writes and some very bad memories I connect with certain conservative teachings.
Would I recommend this book? Well, yes. I didn’t regret reading it. It didn’t feel like I was wasting my time. I think this book is interesting to people outside of QF, and helpful for people inside QF. There is very little “biblical” background to the core QF values, and I do think that this is beneficial for the book. Brenda repeatedly points out that there is no literal evidence that one must have as many kids as possible – she says that while children are a gift and you shouldn’t be so concerned about planning everything to detail (because planning doesn’t make much sense anyway, in my opinion!), you should still use your (god-given) brain to make good decisions. That is the core message of the book, and in my opinion, it is a refreshing one for QF – one that should be taken to heart!
What I liked about this book:
– Brenda’s biography was a real “page turner” for me – there were some serious moments of suspense that had me thinking “Oh please do the right thing!”
– I liked reading a mother’s perspective instead of a daughter’s or young wife’s perspective
– Brenda’s story is not “core QF”, neither is it “ex-QF” – her story offers a very interesting middle ground; keep in mind that despite the fact Brenda considers herself QF (which is ok, no critique here!), she would still be considered an unbeliever by core QF
– Brenda can very pointedly reflect events in her life and how they changed her beliefs over and over
– It doesn’t blame women
– Brenda acknowledges the existence of mental illness, and points out how serious this issue is – she recommends not having children in cases of mental illness – this is NOT typical for QF at all. The ignorance towards mental illness has led to cases of mothers killing their children and I find it great how Brenda stresses the seriousness of this type of illness.
– Brenda offers genuinely good advice for QF families who find themselves in a difficult situation. She does not reject family planning and repeatedly points out that a large family is not the best way for everyone, while not being judgemental towards others.
What I didn’t like that much:
– It’s not that it’s bad or anything, but much of the ideology behind her beliefs in QF was known to me
– Sometimes I missed a deeper connection between facts and beliefs (this goes particularly for the Planned Parenthood section)
– I think it should be longer, specifically the biography. It is so interesting and I was genuinely sad when I had finished it so quickly – but this may be personal preference
To whom would I recommend this book?
– To anyone unfamiliar with the QF movement and the ideology behind it – you will find a widespread collection of beliefs in Brenda’s biography, while the actual QF part provides insights into pretty much all branches of the beliefs behind QF
– If you are interested to understand QF and don’t really know where to start, this will give you all basic information on a relatively short page count – definitely an advantage to reading 1001 blog posts without really knowing what’s going on
– If you are a christian and you are interested in QF beliefs for yourself. I would carefully recommend this book over the “classics” provided by Mary Pride because Brenda is not a mindless, vicious woman who doesn’t care about mothers. Brenda DOES care. Props to that.
– To anyone who needs condensed information about QF due to professional reasons: I know there are people who do research (e.g. thesis for university) on these issues because I do get emails and questionnaires occasionally. It is great for single use or as a supply to the classics mentioned above.
The e-book is available via amazon for $2.99.