When Having Kids is a Religious Experience

Followers of the Quiverfull movement oppose contraception and family planning.


Jan. 3, 2007— -- In the Carpenter family's nicely decorated living room outside Nashville, Tenn., the "Nightline" team stared at a couch that couldn't possibly fit another human being.

The eight kids squished together began shouting out their names, "PEYTON! COLE! OWEN!"

Ken and Devon Carpenter are the parents of eight kids, aged 1 to 15. It might sound like a sitcom or a remake of "Eight is Enough." But this isn't a sitcom. This a movement.

The Carpenter family is part of the "Quiverfull Movement." The name comes from the Bible -- Psalm 127/128:

"Children are a heritage from the Lord / children a reward from him/ like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one's youth. Blessed is the man /whose quiver is full of them."

What does that mean? Quiverfull followers believe that all forms of contraception, all forms of birth control and any form of family planning goes against God's plan.

"As I understand, and to the extent that we are involved in it, it is just a matter of, it's a mind-set that says we will take as many children -- happily -- as God blesses us with," Ken Carpenter said.

It isn't simply about having as many kids as possible, though.

"It's not a contest," he said. "For us, it's about having as many as the Lord gives us, and being happy with that. If the Lord gives us more, great. If we are done at eight, that's fine. Whatever He gives us. "

Quiverfull is largely an American phenomenon, beginning with the release of the book "A Full Quiver" in 1989.

There is no official organization, but in 1995, the Web site quiverfull.com went online with just 12 subscribers -- now there are more than 2,600. There are probably several thousand Quiverfull enthusiasts all over the United States right now -- and the movement is believed to be growing.

There are certainly a lot of question about the practice. Is it dangerous for a woman's body to keep having children, one after the other?

"I don't struggle in that area, I have pretty easy pregnancies and deliveries and recovery," Devon Carpenter said. "God designed us to have children, and thankfully, we do have good doctors out there for things that come up."

If there is a grandmother to this movement, it's Nancy Campbell. Her magazine has been advocating this lifestyle for decades. Campbell explained why followers even have a problem with natural family planning or the "rhythm method."

"When we really stop and think about it, it's not natural," she said. "We have to go against the way that God designed our bodies. He designed them to be fruitful, so if a couple [doesn't] want to have childrenthey've got to do something to their body so it doesn't work the way God planned it."

What about simply not having sex?

"What married couple is not going to do that?" Campbell asked.

There are other questions. How can anyone afford this? Ken Carpenter has a good business producing videos for some of Nashville's biggest names. That puts a roof over their head. And what about planning for his children's college education? He isn't sure about college, but it isn't about the money.

"There is a mindset and worldview that's taught on a college campus that is in conflict with the scripture we read this morning," he said.

The Carpenter children are home-schooled. Ken Carpenter hopes his sons find professions and that his daughters learn to be mothers. He believes that it is a woman's primary function to become a mother. And a father's primary function?

"I think a dad ought to be the primary instiller of wisdom and ought to be teaching his sons leadership," he said.

The role of the father as the head of the household is at the center of the Quiverfull movement.

"I know that notion is going to rile a number of people," Ken Carpenter said. "[But] I do consider myself the loving head of this family, responsible to lead them. That's the biblical model of fatherhood."

Devon Carpenter concurred, saying that her role is to be "nurturing and loving and submissive to my husband and shepherding to the children."

Both husband and wife say this is the life they want to lead, and want their kids to lead -- which means thousands more diapers, and many more chaotic mealtimes.

If there is one thing that this life guarantees, it is nonstop motion.

How about the future? Are more kids on the way?

"Yes," Ken Carpenter said. "Should the Lord bless us with more, I would be thrilled."

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