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In Quiverfull Movement, Birth Control Is Shunned

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In Quiverfull Movement, Birth Control Is Shunned

Religion

In Quiverfull Movement, Birth Control Is Shunned

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Some conservative Christians are living out the biblical mandate to be fruitful and multiply. Those in the Quiverfull movement believe that God will give them the right number of children, which turns out to be lots. NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty has more.

Ms. LYDIA SWANSON: How many?

Ms. KELLY SWANSON: There's a whole dozen, I think.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: A typical predawn breakfast in the Swanson household in Shelby, Michigan. Ten-year-old Lydia Swanson cracks a dozen eggs laid by the family chickens. Her mother, Kelly, fries three pounds of sausage from their own pig and toasts a 12-inch loaf of homemade bread.

If they didn't raise their own food, Kelly says, they'd spend $1,000 a month on groceries for her gaggle of growing children

Ms. K. SWANSON: Josiah's 15 and Elisha is 12 - 13, you're 13, I'm sorry. At least I remembered your name.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRADLEY HAGERTY: She can perhaps be forgiven the lapse. The 40-year-old mom has seven children - the youngest six months - and she'd like to have more. The Swansons subscribe to the Quiverfull movement. It's based on Psalm 127, which says: 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.

Mr. JEFF SWANSON: When we first got married, we actually didn't want children.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRADLEY HAGERTY: But then, Jeff Swanson says, they began to notice that the Bible was very high on big families. And Kelly says they decided that God knew how many children they could handle.

Ms. K. SWANSON: We just started thinking, God is sovereign over life and death. God opens and closes the womb. That's what his word says, so why we're fiddling around with all of them and trying to control it ourselves, we need to stop doing that.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Eighteen years and seven children later, the Swansons live on his dairy farm salary of less than $50,000 a year. And they've gotten used to the comments from outsiders.

Ms. K. SWANSON: Do you know what causes this? That's always my favorite one when I'm pregnant. And my husband has a lovely response.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SWANSON: Of course we know what causes it - we practice all the time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRADLEY HAGERTY: So do their friends. The average family at their evangelical church has 8.5 children, children that the Swansons hope will spread the message of Christ.

Ms. NANCY CAMPBELL (Leader, Quiverfull Movement, Author, "Be Fruitful and Multiply"): The womb is such a powerful weapon; it's a weapon against the enemy.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Nancy is a leader of the Quiverfull movement. The author of "Be Fruitful and Multiply" has 35 grandchildren. She and her husband stopped at six kids, and it is her great regret.

Ms. CAMPBELL: What a waste. Wow, to have more of these children. My greatest impact is through my children. The more children I have, the more ability I have to impact the world for God.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: A Christian God, that is, and she says if believers don't starting reproducing in large numbers, biblical Christianity will lose its voice.

Ms. CAMPBELL: We look across the Islamic world and we see that they are outnumbering us, and they are, in countries, taking over those nations -without a jihad, just by multiplication.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Still, Quiverfull is a small group, probably 10,000 fast-growing families, mainly in the Midwest and South. But they have large ambitions, says Kathryn Joyce, who's written about the movement.

Ms. KATHRYN JOYCE (Writer): They speak about, if everyone starts having, you know, eight children or 12 children, imagine in three generations what we'll be able to do. We'll be able to take over both halls of Congress, we will be able to reclaim sinful cities like San Francisco.

(Soundbite of piano playing)

BRADLEY HAGERTY: In a suburb of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Misty and Seth Huckstead, both 31, are making last-minute preparations for a birthday party -no small task with six kids and one on the way. With such a large family, they get by with one car, they shop at thrift stores and occasionally rely on the local seminary's food bank.

Mr. SETH HUCKSTEAD: Is it difficult? Yes, but do we have regrets? No.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Seth Huckstead says they didn't always have this attitude. When they were 23, already with four children, he had a vasectomy. But they searched the Bible and concluded that sterilization was an affront to God.

Mr. HUCKSTEAD: And He presents children as a blessing. And so we started to evaluate whether or not our decision was ethically right. And we came to regret our decision.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: They turned to a ministry that raises money and finds doctors to reverse vasectomies at a bargain price. Their family grew. Misty Huckstead says she'll have as many children as possible. She loves having babies and believes it's the proper role for women.

Ms. MISTY HUCKSTEAD: It's not individual. It's not I'm a woman, you know, hear me roar, I'm going to go take on the world. Family has always been the foundation of church and society. It's God's design; it's beautiful.

(Soundbite of singing)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) The children of...

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Moments later, another Quiverfull family drops by, and for a few moments, they entertain themselves as would a large family 100 years ago.

(Soundbite of singing)

Unidentified Man: ...oh happy is the man that hath his quiver filled with hope...

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Singing Psalm 127 - a song that seems to be written just for them.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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