One defining aspect of the Trump era is the way it has enabled far-right arguments to slip into the mainstream, most notably with the migration of white and Christian nationalist ideologies — formerly relegated to the outermost margins of conservatism — into the center of the Republican Party.
On Monday night, it happened again: Trump's former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, now a co-host of the Fox News show "Outnumbered," called for fighting the forces of "darkness" (which were not clearly delineated) by "filling the world" with "Christian babies" during an interview with conservative Christian actor and activist Kirk Cameron.
For the entirety of her public career, McEnany — who is described by those who know her as smart and relentlessly ambitious — has made her faith a prominent aspect of her public persona. Raised Southern Baptist, she often tells the story of how, on the day of her first White House press conference, she calmed her nerves by praying, allowing her to step to the podium with "this total serenity that was only made possible because of Christ."
Her predecessor in the Trump White House, Sarah Huckabee Sanders (who is the daughter of McEnany's former boss, Mike Huckabee, for whom she worked as a Fox News production assistant), counseled her to "read a Jesus calling before every press briefing." Sanders gave McEnany a book of her own pre-presser devotionals as inspiration, and McEnany took up the tradition, leading a group prayer with her staff before every media briefing that followed. She famously wore a cross in all her public appearances, led a weekly Bible study for the Trump campaign, and in 2021 published her third book, "For Such a Time as This: My Faith Journey Through the White House and Beyond," proclaiming that Jesus had installed her in the briefing room.
All that rhetoric might seem par for the course for a Republican operative on the move, but in McEnany's case, it also appears to be sincere. While attending a Catholic girls' school as an adolescent, McEnany wrote a conspicuously evangelical poem about Jesus: "I shout his name, for he is king." In one of the post-college columns she wrote at Glenn Beck's website The Blaze, she argued that atheism was the main driving force behind the carnage of World War II. (Historians would find that premise debatable, if not bizarre.)
In 2018, McEnany dedicated her second book, "The New American Revolution: The Making of a Populist Movement," in part to Rachel Scott, a victim of the 1999 Columbine mass shooting who became a figure of martyrdom to many evangelicals for testifying to her belief in God just before she was murdered. At the time of McEnany's promotion to main spokesperson for the Trump administration, writer and religion historian Peter Manseau, who once taught her at Georgetown University, noted that McEnany's new role represented the elevation of "a uniquely American strand of faith formed by ideas of religious persecution" to the highest levels of U.S. political influence.
In her conversation this Monday with Cameron, on his Trinity Broadcasting Network talk show "Takeaways," another such elevation occurred. Amid a discussion of her career and faith, McEnany declared that Christians have "gotta be bold. You know, the [antidote] to darkness is light. And the [antidote] to a really grim future is filling the world with a lot of Christian babies who could bring that light to the world."
Less than a decade ago, that sort of exhortation was primarily heard only in minority religious communities like the Quiverfull movement, a fundamentalist Christian subculture that urges believers to eschew all forms of contraception and have as many children as God chooses to give them, both as a means of demonstrating their pro-life convictions and of reclaiming the culture from the left.
That movement was guided by the scripture verse Psalm 127: "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate." And Quiverfull adherents commonly used military rhetoric to describe their calling: Raising a large family was their "war," their "battle station" and as political an act as canvassing for conservative candidates; children were understood as "our ammunition in the spiritual realm… handcrafted by the warrior himself …to achieve the purpose of annihilating the enemy."
One prominent advocate, Nancy Campbell, editor of the fundamentalist women's magazine Above Rubies, wrote in her 2003 book "Be Fruitful and Multiply," that "an evil world is the very reason for having children. We train them to be the 'light' and the 'salt' in this dark world. We train and sharpen them to be 'arrows' for God's army." Campbell continued, "What were they trained for? For war! We cannot live with our head in the sand. We are in a war. Our children must be trained for battle. They must be trained to stand and fight against the enemy of their souls. They must be trained to be warriors for God."
In another foundational text for the movement, the 1989 book, "A Full Quiver: Family Planning and the Lordship of Christ," authors Rick and Jan Hess offered conservative Christian readers a tantalizing vision of what they could achieve by having large families.
"When at the height of the Reagan Revolution, the conservative faction in Washington was enforced [sic] with squads of new conservative congressmen, legislators often found themselves handcuffed by lack of like-minded staff," they wrote. "There simply weren't enough conservatives trained to serve in Washington in the lower and middle capacities." But if enough Christian families began having six or more children each, they reasoned, there might be hundreds of millions of committed Christian right activists within a few decades, delivering overwhelming victories over national and state politics, sinful liberal cities and companies that offend Christian sensibilities.
Doug Phillips, founder of the now-defunct homeschooling publishing company Vision Forum (which shut down after Phillips was accused of coercing his children's nanny into a sexual relationship), wrote in a similar vein: "If the Christian Church had not listened to the humanistic lies of the enemy and limited their families, the army of God would be more powerful in this hour. The enemy's camp would be trembling. Instead they are laughing."
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While the number of people fully committed to the Quiverfull lifestyle never approached anything resembling mainstream status — in my 2009 book about the community, I estimated its numbers in the low tens of thousands — the movement nonetheless represented a sort of purist vanguard that inspired broader sectors of the church. While the Quiverfull faithful proudly reclaimed the term "patriarchy" to describe their model for the family, a looser version of that argument was made by far more influential entities like the interdenominational Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which urged evangelical churches to adopt conservative doctrines on the "complementary" roles of men and women, or the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, which echoed its reasoning in a 1998 statement — endorsed by Mike Huckabee — calling on wives to graciously submit to their husbands.
Quiverfull-style ideology also found a more mainstream expression through the related advocacy of Christian right pronatalist movements. From the late 1990s through the 2010s, Quiverfull-lite ideas became a cornerstone of the "pro-family" movement espoused by networks like the World Congress of Families, an international right-wing coalition with abundant political connections that proposed transcending interdenominational differences with a shared culture-war agenda. Much of that agenda was summarized in the group's pro-natalist treatise, "The Natural Family: A Manifesto," which called for policies that would encourage women to become "wives, homemakers, and mothers" who were "open to a full quiver of children" and which redefined women's rights as those "that recognize women's unique gifts of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding."
In service of that vision, in the late 2000s the World Congress of Families aggressively promoted the narrative of "demographic winter": the claim that feminism and liberal sexual mores had led to a Western depopulation crisis, particularly in Europe, that would destabilize society. Underneath the narrative's professed concern about how the "birth dearth" would cause "the graying of the continent" — with too few young people to support an aging population — was the clear racial subtext that the resultant population vacuum in Europe would be filled with Muslim immigrants too difficult and too numerous to assimilate. European countries that wished to avoid the total transformation that would bring, the WCF argued, would have to find ways not just to encourage more children, but to urge citizens to restore the traditional gender roles and family structures that make large families possible.
Or as Quiverfull leader Nancy Campbell once said to me, "You see what happens when the Christian church refuses to have children. That" — she meant Muslims — "starts filling the earth, instead of what we're meant to be filling the earth with: a godly seed."
These days, the WCF movement and its associates are better known for their reliance on Russian religious, political and business networks to fuel their movement. Their initial narrative of demographic winter has been largely supplanted by the much more overt claims of the far-right "great replacement" theory, which has transformed the racial subtext of the Christian right pronatalist movement into a boldface declaration that Western nations are the target of a concerted conspiracy to replace white populations with immigrants from the Global South.
In that context, it's almost impossible to hear Kayleigh McEnany's call for more "Christian babies" as distinct from that mission and that message. And it's equally hard to imagine that she didn't intend it that way.
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