Monday, March 27, 2017

Pastor Waxes Poetic About the Amish, Calls for More Childbearing

Peter Witkowski, associate pastor of preschool and children at the First Baptist Church in Eastman, Georgia, recently wrote a commentary piece about how to shore up declining evangelical Christian numbers. In a March 17th post at the Family Research Council blog, Witkowski argued that Christians should emulate the Amish by raising large families, doubling down on Christian instruction for children, and "protecting" children from the supposedly pernicious influence of "the world".

Witkowski approvingly cited a population study by the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies showing that the Amish population has increased 18% over the past five years (more here).  He contrasted Amish population growth with declining Southern Baptist Convention membership. The culprit for these developments was breeding patterns among the Amish and Southern Baptists, with Amish couples having an average of 6.8 children compared to Southern Baptist couples' 2.1 children. Moreover, Amish retain most of their children in the faith, while children raised in evangelical homes are increasingly abandoning their natal faith as adults.

Witkowski interprets these trends to mean that evangelical Christians must breed more children if they want their faith communities to survive. He urged evangelical Christians to reproduce prolifically, even if they must sacrifice "traveling, nice homes, and our own tranquility" to do so.
"These numbers show that evangelism is not the major failing of our local SBC and evangelical churches. Our problem has everything to do with our view of children and the family. Churches that do not have members having children will not succeed.

Now, every Christian does not have to embrace the "19 Kids and Counting" lifestyle. Christ is still our ultimate goal and not family size. But, we must begin to revive pro-family values in our churches. Being pro-family goes well past having a catchy kids’ program. We need to celebrate birth. We need to praise parents for having big families instead of chastising them with snide comments. We need to come to the point where we value kids more than traveling, nice homes, and our own tranquility. We need to live as if children are a blessing."
No, parents should not raise large families if doing so would plunge them into poverty. People are entitled to make sound financial decisions, including the decision to have a small family or no children at all. The "tranquility" that comes from knowing where money for the electric bill will come from is called a good quality of life, and it has a profound impact on one's mental and physical health. No one should consign themselves and their children to a life of deprivation just because a pastor wants to boost church membership.

Prolific reproduction was only part of Witkowski's equation. Parents must also submerge their children in evangelical Christian culture, he claimed, so as to counteract the influence of "the world" which "evangelizes our kids 7 days a week" with "dangerous doctrines".
"And then, we need to commit to training our kids. We need to organize our families around the Gospel. We need to have intentional times of family worship. We must realize that going to church twice a week or twice a month will not provide our kids with an adequate religious framework. We must realize that the world evangelizes our kids 7 days a week. We must do the same. And we must intentionally find ways to protect our kids from the dangerous doctrines of the world and find ways to train them in righteousness."
Do any of these strategies sound familiar? I can think of one evangelical subculture that pressures couples to breed prolifically so as to increase Christian numbers, shelters children through hyper-Christian upbringing, and demonizes the outside world as a dangerous and contaminating influence: Quiverfull. Even if Witkowski doesn't use the terms "Quiverfull" or "Christian Patriarchy Movement" in his commentary piece, the strategy he describes is Quiverfull in everything but name.

If more evangelicals use these strategies to promote growth and retention in their faith communities, we can expect harm to befall women and children. For too many women, life in the Quiverfull subculture means patriarchal subjugation, health problems from repeated pregnancies, and spiritual trauma, as multiple ex-Quiverfull bloggers can attest. For too many children, life in that subculture is one of insularity, parental domination, and indoctrination as they are raised to be torchbearers for their parents. The existence of abuse in the Quiverfull subculture is well-known, thanks to the high-profile scandals involving Josh Duggar, Doug Philips, and Bill Gothard. The Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy Movement subculture shows us that using women as brood mares, raising children as human tools, and isolating families in insular communities creates suffering. No amount of growth or retention justifies so much human suffering.

The implications of Witkowski admiration for the Amish are unsettling. The reason why the Amish retain so many people born into their culture is because it's very difficult to leave (not unlike Quiverfull). Someone raised in insular Amish society may not know what options are available to them in the "English" world. Even the practice of rumspringa only gives Amish youth a short, superficial taste of the outside world. Unless they have loved ones living outside Amish society, they would have no support system or mentors if they left. With little education or money, how could they build a life for themselves without that support? Under those conditions, is it any wonder that most Amish youth stay within their natal culture? While some disaffected Amish people do leave, they are in the minority.

Let's not forget that insular, patriarchal societies where women are expected to breed prolifically are not automatically safe places for families. No matter how much Witkowski wants to label the Amish  "pro-family", the reality is that child abuse and rape culture exist in Amish communities, just as they do in the "English" world. Insularity and patriarchy do not prevent these evils, but only make it more difficult for victims to seek help. If evangelicals truly want to be "pro-family", they should focus on preventing and addressing family violence instead of making their faith communities more insular and fecund.

This kind of culture may help the Amish community retain members, but it comes at the cost of self-determination and individual flourishing. This is not something that evangelical Christians should emulate for the sake of stabilizing their numbers. The Amish insularity and fecundity that Witkowski praises could easily produce Quiverfull scenarios if cross-bred with evangelical Christianity. Furthermore, these strategies would do a disservice to women and children in those communities.

Southern Baptists and other denominations hemorrhaging members should either accept their declining numbers, or address the reasons why members are leaving. Urging believers to breed prolifically and raise children in sheltered, hyper-Christian environments to shore up denominational membership will only result in misery.


  1. They can't stem the flow of young people deconverting and becoming secular unless they achieve the same degree of insulation from outside influences as the Amish have, which means giving up modern technology. Not very plausible. As long as the influences of "the world" have some access, the dreary and half-baked fundamentalist culture can't compete in the long run.

    The kinds of values and attitudes he's talking about to support religion already exist, more or less, in some Islamic countries, yet those places are still undergoing social change and upheaval as younger people reject frustrating traditional taboos and restrictions.

    If anything, if the Baptists start hectoring their members to have ridiculously large numbers of kids they don't want and can't afford, it will just drive even more young people away.

    1. Infidel -- On one hand, technology would give these children access to information and alternative viewpoints, which would increase the likelihood that they would defect from their natal faith. Look at how it helped Megan Phelps-Roper.

      On the other hand, people in the Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy subculture have access to technology, but escaping that world remains challenging.

      I hope, for the sake of the generations to come, that evangelicals resist these calls to mimic the Amish (and the Quiverfull folks).

  2. Hello Ahab,

    I like your blog name, just read The Handmaid's Tale for the first time last year. I believe the "c"hurches will start pushing polygamy, and the women will have to follow or no salvation for them. I believe that all this gender role stuff is to break down their resistance to it. Breed them and break them is the Mormon fundies motto.


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