Imagining racism

quiverfullA reporter friend sent along the following story that appears on BBC. It begins with such a promising headline: "Fighting the 'contraceptive mentality'." Unfortunately, the article approaches the topic narrowly. It deals only with the Quiverfull movement in the United States, not the wide range of opinion that questions the "contraceptive mentality" that is pervasive here and abroad. What is the Quiverfull movement? Well, we've looked at other stories about it before, but here's how the Beeb puts it:

Families with more than 10 children are becoming the norm among a group of traditionalist US Christians. The so-called Quiverfull families believe they are carrying out God's work, and providing a new generation of moral leaders. The BBC's religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott went to Illinois to meet some of them.

That's the introduction to the piece. Nowhere will you find any data to support the idea that 10 children are the mathematical average or standard for people who are not gung-ho about avoiding children. I mean, I come from a religious tradition that views children as a gift from God to be welcomed -- and not avoided. And I knew many families with 10, 11 and 12 children. But still, the average number of children was probably around four. Higher than the national average, sure, but not four or five times the national average.

Anyway, the reporter emphasizes the culture warrior aspect of the movement that encourages large families. He says that it has a quasi-military feel and intimates that it's anti-feminist because husbands are heads of the household -- pretty standard fare for writing about this group. There is an interesting reference to the idea that some congregations are in decline because they've forgotten the old-fashioned primary church growth method of procreation.

But then there is this utterly bizarre part:

Simply filling the world with white Christians is not what motivated either the Sanfords or the McDonalds - for them having large families was a matter of faith.

The Sanfords have adopted children from around the world.

But many of the traditionalist Christians who make up the Quiverfull movement are perplexed by the low birth rate of their co-religionists.

There is no overt talk about the need to boost white populations but, according to authors who have studied the movement, there is an underlying worry about "race suicide".

Okay, so the families profiled in the story have adopted children from around the world, and there's no discussion in the movement of racism. So why are we bringing up the spectre of racism (other than this slur seems to be all the rage these days)? Well, unnamed "authors" have said there is an underlying worry about racism. We don't know who these people are who make this claim. We don't know anything about the strength of their claim. And we have evidence that rebuts the claim. The term "race suicide" is in quotes but we don't know where it comes from. It's just bizarre.

The thing is that there are so many more interesting theological angles to explore with this movement. You don't need to throw around the racism slur to have an interesting story. You don't even need to cry racism to have a critical story. A few months ago, Newsweek published an extremely critical story -- mostly from a feminist perspective -- by the author of the book above. But, unlike this pale imitation of that piece, it was well-written, full of fascinating information and quoted sources on the record.

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