The Duggars and Quiverfull: Inside the Extreme Religious Movement That Teaches Children Are 'Weapons in the Culture War'
The movement takes its name from an Old Testament psalm that likens children to "arrows"
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Although they have carefully avoided an association with any specific ideology, the Duggars’ publicly held beliefs mirrors that of the conservative patriarchal movement, a catch-all term that encompasses several fundamentalist Christian sects – including the best known, Quiverfull.
The movement took off in the mid-’80s with the publication of Mary Pride’s book The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality, in which Pride argued for a bible-based role for women.
Quiverfull takes its name from an Old Testament psalm that likens children to “arrows” and says, “Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”
“In the Quiverfull movement, your kids are blessings from God and they are also weapons in the culture war,” says Cavan Concannon, assistant professor of religion at the University of Southern California. “Some people in the movement would say that part of having a lot of kids is an attempt to birth more conservative Christians in a world that doesn’t have enough of them.”
For families in the movement, the general belief is “that husbands are the Biblically ordained heads of their household and that wives must graciously submit to their leadership,” Kathryn Joyce, author of Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story.
“Sexuality is meant to be saved for marriage and to always be open to the possibility of children,” she adds.
The Duggars, of course, famously have 19 children – all of whom are forbidden from nearly every form of physical contact with the opposite sex before marriage.
When it comes to sex after marriage, “the wife is obligated to provide sex to her husband on demand,” says Vyckie Garrison, a former disciple of the movement who now speaks out against it on her blog, No Longer Quivering.
“Your body doesn’t belong to you, and you are just required to submit to that.”
In some such families, husbands “are catered to like temper-tantrum-throwing 3-year-olds,” says Garrison. “The wives become total martyrs, and the husbands become complete narcissists. It is a really bad dynamic.”
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A key tenet of the belief system is that “women are responsible for men’s sexual reactions to them,” says Joyce. “It has been common not just in Quiverfull circles but also more broadly in some fundamentalist Christian communities to hold women responsible for men’s sexuality and choices, whether by accusing women of causing men ‘to stumble’ because of how they dress, or accusing wives of causing their husbands’ affairs because they didn’t satisfy them.”
A source with ties to the Duggar family previously told PEOPLE that in the wake of Josh Duggar‘s Ashley Madison cheating scandal, his wife, Anna, might “on some level” try to "absorb some of the blame".
Michelle and several of her daughters have all spoken publicly about their role in preventing lustful thoughts in men, and in their 2014 advice book Growing Up Duggar, four of the Duggar daughters wrote about the family’s code word, “Nike,” which is used to signal men in the family that they should look down at their shoes if an attractive woman is poised to cross their path.
Bill Gothard, a disgraced minister who was a prominent figure in the conservative patriarchal movement, also preached many of the Duggars’ publicly held beliefs, and although the family tried to distance themselves from him in recent years, they have been a fixture at annual conventions in which Gothard’s teachings are advanced.
Furthermore, a Duggar family source tells PEOPLE that the 80-year-old minister is a favorite guest at the family’s guarded compound in Tontitown, Arkansas.
“Everyone who has ever spent any real amount of time with them has known forever that they are essentially devout Gothard followers,” says the source with ties to the family, “and that there’s not a whole lot different between what they’re doing and a cult.”
Cheryl Lindsey Seelhoff, a mother of 11 who was involved in the movement in the ’80s and ’90s and has since left it, describes Quiverfull as “a world all to its own, and it exists under our noses.”
• Reporting by CHRISTINE PELISEK
For much more on the fallout from Josh Duggar’s secret life and his family’s ultra-conservative lifestyle, pick up this week’s PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday