Perhaps you’ve noticed them, too. People have been talking about them throughout the web. Feministing.com described a "disturbing," "terrifying" group that thinks the "vagina has a divine purpose," while someone at DemocraticUnderground.com called them " an unclean mix of twisted religion and NAZI doctrine ."
The Nation ran a hit-job on them, twisting the biblical understanding of spiritual warfare and the vocation of motherhood: "Only a determination among Christian women to take up their submissive, motherly roles with a ‘military air’ and become ‘maternal missionaries’ will lead the Christian army to victory." It portrayed members as viewing "their children as no mere movement but as an army they’re building for God." Meanwhile, Newsweek ran a fairly sympathetic article , noting "No, they’re not Catholic. Yes, they’ve heard of birth control. And no, they’re not crazy."
In case you haven’t heard, I’m talking about the Quiverfull movement among evangelicals. And though the media has just recently given them special attention, they’re only one of the many groups of people, and notably young people, rethinking and recapturing the moral and human logic of sexuality.
They take their inspiration, and their name, from the Psalmist: "Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is His reward. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them" (Psalm 127:3¯5).
And they describe themselves in this way: "We exalt Jesus Christ as Lord, and acknowledge His headship in all areas of our lives, including fertility. We exist to serve those believers who trust the Lord for family size, and to answer the questions of those seeking truth in this critical area of marriage." "Dedicated to providing encouragement and practical help to those who are striving to raise a large and growing, godly family in today’s world!"
Some Christians will undoubtedly take issue with their understanding of trust in God’s providence (describing their attitude as presumptuous) and wish they would place emphasis on discerning God’s will for family size and come to see Natural Family Planning as a responsible way to avoid conceiving when spouses have good reasons to postpone pregnancy. Be that as it may, the Quiverfull movement does embody a powerful reaction against a contraceptive mentality that views children and childbearing as inconveniences in adult life, to be planned around adult desires, using whatever means necessary.
The Quiverfulls remind me of another evangelical group. You’ve probably already heard of them, too. I’m thinking of the Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption Program . It is how one group of evangelicals is responding to the problem of misguided in vitro fertilization (IVF) and the resulting "spare" human beings living in suspended animation in laboratory freezers. These women and their husbands, coming to the aid of the least in the Kingdom, adopt, bear and rear what some claim are "mere clumps of cells" best suited for biological research.
But have you heard about the students at Princeton? Frustrated with the sexual chaos on campus, they founded the Anscombe Society , named for the Cambridge philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, author of the famous essay " Contraception and Chastity ." Without appeals to revelation or authority¯that is, by human experience and reason alone¯members of the Anscombe Society are making the case on the Princeton campus for chastity, authentic feminism, and traditional marriage. And I believe that thinking through the case for traditional marriage may be a key element in the reevaluation of attitudes toward sex even within marriage.
All these groups have got me thinking. Although contraception was rejected as intrinsically immoral by Christians¯Eastern and Western, Protestant and Catholic¯for centuries, the juggernaut created by the invention of the anovulent birth control pill in the early 1960s drew hardly a word of criticism from Christian leaders. Yes, the Vatican made a ruckus; but no one listened, least of all Catholics. Now, after several generations, some Christians are beginning to reexamine the fruits of the pill. And for the Quiverfulls, the fruit is so sour that they have responded with a complete rejection of any human family planning. Of course, the Quiverfulls are a minority. Most Christians continue to accept contraception as morally legitimate. Some, like Southern Baptist theologian Albert Mohler, take something of a critical stance , while not going so far as to reaffirm the traditional Christian teaching that contraception is intrinsically immoral. But other prominent groups of Christians are propounding traditional orthodox doctrine: See the United States Catholic Bishops’ statement released last month, " Married Love and the Gift of Life ."
As people continue to see the bad results of the sexual revolution, they are likely to reevaluate their current attitudes toward sex, and while doing so they may find that the logic of human sexuality leads right back to traditional Christian orthodoxy. Might the continued push for same-sex "marriage" and the normalization of homosexuality prove to be the tipping point, the catalyst for a widespread reexamination of Christian sexual practice? Might these issues push the envelope so far that, as faithful Christians reflect on the reasons why they must conclude that homosexual acts fail to embody the truth of human sexuality, they come to realize that these same reasons entail the immorality of contraception? (For the moment I’ll assume that anyone entertaining this line of thought has already concluded that premarital and extramarital sex likewise fail to embody the truth of human sexuality.)
In other words, as Christians articulate the reasons why marriage can be only between sexually complementary spouses, and why only within marriage can sexual activity enrich and elevate rather than damage and degrade, they might come to see that these same reasons entail that every marital act must be open to life. They’ll naturally be led to consider whether the "procreative" and "unitive" aspects of marriage can be separated; whether organismic marital unity is really achieved when there is a latex barrier between spouses; whether the choice to render oneself infertile (through the pill, a vasectomy, or otherwise) also frustrates a complete gift to one’s spouse by holding back one’s fertility. It may even point them to the heart of the traditional argument on contraception: whether the object of one’s intention in contracepting is precisely contra-life. None of these questions are settled in the minds of most Christians today, but the issue of homosexual sexual acts may well spark renewed interest in recovering the fullness of Christ’s teaching.
And if this happens in regard to contraception (baby-preventing), could it happen in regard to baby-making? Adoptive Snowflake mothers have clearly recognized the bad fruits of IVF¯"leftover" children in freezers. The plight of these children has been highlighted by the continued attempts to normalize their creation and destruction for biomedical research. Already we see the envelope pushed so far that a group of Christians has responded in a radical way¯nine months of personal, bodily solidarity and a lifetime of nurture and care. Still, many do not see the harm of IVF. Or, if they do, they see the problem primarily in the leftover frozen embryos, wondering what damage is done provided that all the embryos are gestated.
Yet the envelope is being pushed further. And human cloning may prove to take things too far. At the very least, most Christians demonstrate a gut-level aversion to cloning and seek to articulate the reasons why they have this reaction¯what Leon Kass would call their " Wisdom of Repugnance ." And as Christians seek to articulate this wisdom, might they themselves begin reflecting on whether any means of creating children outside of marital love is wise?
In doing so, they may well ask whether an attitude of "manufacture" is assumed in embryo "production." Don’t the processes of cloning and IVF set the "creation" of a new human being as the precise object of one’s choice? Doesn’t this intention effectively treat the child as an object of adult preferences rather than as a subject of intrinsic dignity, a means and not an end? Some, no doubt, will be led to the conclusion that any technical procedure that functionally replaces the conjugal conception of children (rather than assists conjugal conception) is not in accord with human dignity. Along with St. Paul, they may embrace "a more excellent way." For in marriage, even when a child is hoped for as the culmination of the marital embrace, one doesn’t set one’s intention on the manufacture of a new life. Rather, one embraces one’s spouse for the good of the marriage itself, welcoming the possibility of being blessed by an additional gift¯a child, who is the fruit of love.
Same-sex marriage and cloning. Sounds like a thoroughgoing rejection of traditional morality. Yet it could be these issues that lead to a reexamination and a wholehearted embrace of human dignity and God’s plan for human sexuality. I’m not certain of this, but with God all things are possible.