Christian Unity No Matter What?
I read a very interesting blog post last week regarding the Quiverfull movement centred largely around the States, a movement that concerns me on several levels. The post covers the creation of “Take Heart Project”, which is involved in helping women trapped in the Quiverfull movement to get out and move on in life, but the question I really want to deal with is whether Christians should put a limit to what they will tolerate in the name of unity.
Just to recap: the Quiverfull movement’s defining characteristic is the belief that all Children are a blessing from God and that contraception is a barrier to God’s will being carried out. Alongside policies like families homeschooling, building their own houses, growing their own food and having no debts, the result is often grinding poverty for families with 10+ children.
But over and above this, it is a movement centred around fulfilling the Husband/Male in the family; he might not have much, but he has (so the theory goes) a loving wife who serves him and provides him with many children to be proud of. As such, some women are refusing to cope any longer, and are simply getting up and going.
On the one hand, as a movement, it is an expression of Christianity, backed up through rigid biblical interpretation. To act against it is to actively criticise others, creating potential for media coverage of infighting. It breaks the “united front” that is sought for very reasonable reasons; it doesn’t look good to be always fighting, and “we” are supposed to be “one body”, the “One Holy Catholic Church” (Catholic here meaning universal).
I can certainly see the argument for pursuing this kind of thinking in most cases; there is no point ripping one’s own organisational network to shreds, there is plenty we can agree on, and very little we can do to enforce common doctrine that doesn’t involve the worst forms of religious authoritarianism. But this thinking does breed a kind of moral relativism, something Christians generally don’t like, and which I’m accused of promoting too much of from time to time.
The Quiverfull example is a good one: well established biblical arguments flow both ways – many women proudly claim that they have a biblical marriage because they allow their husband to take decisions without fully consulting them, whilst many Christians are horrified at the idea. For the most part, these two groups co-exist.
But Quiverfull does seem to cross various lines, not least because, on closer inspection, some women are leaving the movement in search of a life free from its constraints. One question I would like to pose is this: “do people from within a group have to visible be leaving it in anger, before we can break Unity and call it out for being problematic?”.
I’m glad people are setting up this organisation, especially as leaving a religious community can be very devastating emotionally, before the practicalities of setting out by oneself are tackled. People have reasons for joining these movements, which are often tangled up in their reasons for leaving. But as with so many of these movements, its taken a few people to make the journey alone first. Perhaps this is the greater tragedy?
But this case also highlights another phenomena: when we refuse to speak out on injustice, choosing to “stay neutral” instead, we implicitly help those in the position of power or privilege in the situation. This case is no different. It might be easy to say nothing, knowing that the media and society in general love to make the most of a split in the Church, but does that excuse saying nothing when other people’s welfare is going to suffer as a result?
Also, I simply don’t believe for one moment that going to the leader of the church and saying “I don’t like this” is going to help. These people get hundreds of letters to that extent every year, and they’re already pretty much “us against the world” in mindset from the outset. I’m aware many Christians just don’t like the bad vibes of making a complaint full stop, but even the whole “do it out of sight” thing isn’t going to work. Instead, there are few options that don’t involve publicly visible confrontation.
I realise there probably isn’t a hard and fast rule on this one, that people have to make their own minds up about what is and isn’t worth the hassle and disunity of complaining about or intervening in, but at the end of the day, what does it say about our compassion for those at the bottom of the pile if it ceases the moment its other Christians pushing people down? And can we really afford to dismiss movements like Quiverfull as just quirks of a diverse faith without stopping and asking how they affect all the groups members? I’m not convinced.