What Exactly About Patriarchy Needs to Go?

In April I responded to the Doug Phillips sex scandal by publicly decrying that Patriarchy Has Got to GoMy little tweet in the wilderness made an impact, but homeschool leader and co-founder of HSLDA Michael Farris dropped a bombshell last week.

Doug Phillips and his family strategies

The ideology of patriarchy spread far and wide within homeschooling through the resources of Doug Phillips.

Not only did he oppose it, but he publicly apologized for not doing so earlier. And his statement is more than just a passing opinion: it is the official brief from HSLDA’s second quarter report (read it here). Doug Phillips was not only a homeschool advocate of the past 25 years of the movement, but he was once a lawyer for HSLDA.

Patriarchy — the theological proposition that men are the authority of family, government and society — has had a welcome home in home education environments, and I believe it has harmed it. Sure, homeschooling has grown exponentially over the years, but people have peaked inside our communities — our conventions, co-ops, and support groups — seen the tenets of patriarchy hailed throughout, and have responded, “Not for me.” Most parents, I believe, want little of patriarchy, but they got the impression that in order to homeschool, they needed to follow the patriarchal tenets.

Since my article published, I have gotten a common response from those who condoned that with both Michael Farris and I condemn. They have this rebuttal that sounds, on its surface, logical: “I condemn the vile behavior of Doug Phillips, but I agree with the tenets of patriarchy.”

Pause right there. Don’t be so sure that that which you have followed is true. Now is the time to analyze that which could have been tolerated too easily.

There are fundamental problems with the tenets that are bound to produce dysfunctions in any family, church or homeschool community that practices them. I have found it helpful to pull back the curtain and examine these tenets carefully, questioning that which many homeschoolers simply accepted as truth. When you understand these problems, you can see how they are theologically dysfunctional, they have hurt people, and they must go.

menGod in Man’s Image

God reveals Himself as masculine, not feminine. God is the eternal Father and the eternal Son, the Holy Spirit is also addressed as ‘He,’ and Jesus Christ is a male.”

This is the first tenet, arguably the most important in the mind of a patriarchal believer. For me, the gender of God is a very strange contention. This is God who created the universe here, and his gender is somehow considered apriori to the patriarchs.

I propose that this is an insignificant point of theological contention that should not be a framework for a person’s worldview.

Maybe this upsets you. I’ve seen the refutation of this tenet send some people into a rage, but I’m not sure why. They think that God is definitely, positively, absolutely, exclusively male in gender, and any who doubt this — or even consider scriptural discussion — are somehow advocating worship of Mother Earth or radical feminism. In the mind of the patriarchal believer, doubting the first tenet is where Christendom itself starts crumbling. God is most certainly male, and hinting otherwise is heresy.

There is a ton of conservative theology that challenges this tenet. This Vision Forum tenet overreaches, assuming much from the Creator of the universe, packaging the mighty God into a narrow box created by a few men. It doesn’t take too much rhetorical thought to bring this tenet into question. Consider:

  • God reveals Himself as masculine. God reveals himself the way God wishes, and often it has nothing to do with gender. Sometimes he does so as a burning bush, a dove, and a chicken.
  • The Holy Spirit is also addressed as “He.” Gender neutral pronoun usage is only about 50 years old in the English language. This tenet’s argument is linguistically deceiving.
  • Jesus Christ is a male. Okedoke. So what? Building a theological tenet because of this is really missing what Jesus was about.

Just as patriarchs think this tenet to be most important, I believe it to be the fatal flaw of the entire ideology. It is the great Red Herring. Patriarchy puts out this “indisputable” assumption of male Godhood as perhaps the most important theological fundamental. Those who disagree are seen as theologically weak, even contributing to the moral degradation of all society. This is how important they think the gender of God is.

And the kicker: men are more important. Women lesser so. What a crafty, diabolical theology.

If you were Satan and you wanted to alienate half of humanity, you could craft an image of God that proclaimed a gender as his sole identity. Deconstruct God into either a man or woman and presto: half of the human race (in this case, all female) is a little further from glory. And the other half (us men) proudly think we’re closer than the other.

This, I believe, is why people get so wound up about the gender of God. It allows them to squeeze and twist the demented reality of Vision Forum.

God is not bound by gender. Does this idea repulse you? For a moment, consider how you feel when a radical feminist insists on referencing God as “she.” They’re wrong to assume that God is exclusively female, just as wrong as you are to assume God is exclusively male. You are arguing an insignificant, creepy, stubborn theology that doesn’t do any good for the love of Christ.

Drop this silly argument about the gender of God. There’s a reason this tenet is number one, but it has little to do with understanding the Creator of the universe. It has to do with hierarchy, power and control…

womenThe Hierarchy of Genders

Take a look at this list from the tenets of biblical patriarchy (emphases added):

God ordained distinct gender roles for man and woman as part of the created order.

A husband and father is the head of his household, a family leader, provider, and protector.

Male leadership in the home carries over into the church: only men are permitted to hold the ruling office in the church. A God-honoring society will likewise prefer male leadership in civil and other spheres.

Since the woman was created as a helper to her husband, as the bearer of children, and as a “keeper at home”, the God-ordained and proper sphere of dominion for a wife is the household and that which is connected with the home.

Both sons and daughters are under the command of their fathers as long as they are under his roof or otherwise the recipients of his provision and protection.

The first clever move made women feel less important, but the remaining tenets put this feeling into action. They mandate the authority of the male gender. To the patriarch, women have strict and inferior “roles” in their homes, and any woman who steps outside the expectations are to be dealt with — one supposes — by church or homeschool authorities.

It doesn’t take too much analysis to see the clever rhetoric. Summed up, these tenets mean, “Men are in power; women aren’t.”

The advocates for these tenets quote plenty of scripture to justify their ideology. Yes, the Bible says much about women submitting to their husbands, etc. But a simple rhetorical truth quickly turns all of their argumentation on a dime. The bible is written within the most patriarchal times in history. So all the references to submission, head coverings, hair length, speaking in church, etc., are references that actually liberated women from a culture that treated women as slaves.

Speaking of slavery, slave owners used the exact same argumentative strategy to keep the institution of slavery intact for the first hundred years of America. Plenty of scriptures appear on its surface to justify slavery, but they are verses that simply speak to the issue rather than condone it. A deeper, richer exposition of the bible leads to freedom, not slavery, and using scripture to justify slavery is a repulsive abuse of the spirit of the Word.

In this light, patriarchy advocates are little different than the slavery advocates of old.

Here’s an interesting side note: the most radical of patriarchy are sympathetic to slavery. No kidding. Vision Forum published Elsie Dinsmore books for some time, a series commonly known for racism. Doug Wilson, another patriarchy leader, published a controversial work Southern Slavery As It Was, a biblical expose on the validity of slavery itself as a practice. Much of the influence of many of patriarchy’s leaders come from the late R.J. Rushdoony, grandfather of the Christian Reconstructionist movement noted for its sympathy for slavery and the Confederate South.

This thinking is poison, plain and simple, a twisting and manipulation of scripture to wield authority of one people over another. Equality is a beautiful, Christian ideal that needs a strong defense from such sinister ideas like patriarchy. It is an attempt to undermine the natural and biblical balance in genders.

Just as slavery caused so much pain and harm in our world for its years of justification, so patriarchy has caused harm to homeschooling families and the institution itself.

The dominoes fall from there…

childrenThe Victims of Patriarchy

The culture of patriarchy stemmed from the tenets above, but two other tenets stem from subtle deceptions that have created unhealthy homeschool environments. They are worth some commentary:

God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” still applies to married couples.

Christian parents must provide their children with a thoroughly Christian education, one that teaches the Bible and a biblical view of God and the world.

That one on “be fruitful and multiply” bothers me personally. Here’s why: my wife, Wendy, and I are proud parents of 16 children. The biblical admonition to have children clouds the patriarchy issue, often confusing it with another problematic ideology called “quiverfull.” In fact, we have made it somewhat of a ministry of ours to explain what we actually mean by the term “quiverfull.”

Here’s where patriarchs have it wrong: the “blessing” of children is to the patriarch a mandate born of duty, not of love.

Childbearing is used as a tool for control. Their argument is numerically detailed and legalistic, attempting to promote a formula for world domination. I recall Vision Forum conferences announcing with giddy pride how we homeschoolers were just a few generations away from outbreeding public schoolers. It’s rather sick, an abomination of the beautiful, fulfilling and rewarding gift of children.

My wife, Wendy, and I have reams of writing on this topic. Our book Love Another Child goes deep into what it means to love children and welcome them as gifts from God. It has nothing to do with breeding out contrary worldviews, but everything to do with the blessing that children are. The book’s subtitle says it all:

Children. They’re blessings. Always.

The same goes for the next tenet, the one that emphasizes “a biblical view of God and the world.” This is as loaded as a fallacy gets, because obvious to everyone but the patriarchs, they are pushing their view, not the bible’s. The Christian Reconstruction movement is militant, marching to a draconian beat that has little to do with biblical love, redemption or salvation.

This is where legalism fills the gaps. Patriarchal families tend to emphasize how guys and girls should dress, how teens should date or court, and how families should alienate themselves from anything they deem too “worldly.” Perhaps this is why patriarchy was so welcome in the homeschool movement.

Homeschoolers sought to educate the humanity out of their children, and patriarchy appeared to be the silver bullet to that end.

All this proves a point that homeschoolers need to grapple with, especially those of us who dabbled in the ideology: patriarchy harms the family. Mothers, fathers and children alike are victims.

  • Women. Especially those who are natural born leaders. Patriarchy attempts to bend the nature of a person, perhaps a woman, who happens to be a leader at heart. And Phillips/Vision Forum knew this. Their very businesses and ministries consisted of women who were doing a heavy share of the managerial load. They were hypocrites, allowing female leadership when it suited their interests, and thwarting it when it didn’t.
  • Men. Ironically, patriarchy hurts men, too. The ideology puts men in a box the leaders define. Not all men are leaders, but they have been shamed in patriarchal cultures to excel in that which they just aren’t cut out for. I’ve witnessed weird, dysfunctional undertones in patriarchal families where the women secretly wield their leadership through deception and manipulation, and the man postulates his “biblical leadership role” on Sunday morning while getting thrown around the rest of the week. It’s sadistic and dysfunctional.
  • Children. Patriarchy relishes in the idea that children should stay home into adulthood to help the father — boys and girls alike — and girls only able to leave by betrothal to another man deemed worthy by the keyholding father. This is perhaps one of the most heartbreaking realities of the homeschool movement. We have promoted the liberation from traditional schooling models that bound our children in thought and education, only to slap the more weighty chains of the twisted patriarchal ideology.

Patriarchy is so messed up. If anything good has come from the sex scandals of homeschool leaders it is this: homeschoolers are waking up and kicking out the tenets of patriarchy. Have nothing to do with it. And if you’ve been seduced by its teachings, start cleaning things up and ridding your family from it.

One final note: I am not Mr. Clean here casting my stone at you or other homeschoolers who have fallen for the tenets of patriarchy. As a homeschool dad of over 20 years, I was seduced, too, and have had to deal with the painful results of the ideology (read this article for my more personal reflection of how patriarchy affected me). If you find yourself caught up in it, I invite you to question that which you have been taught to believe. You will certainly find that the patriarchal road you were traveling on was not the narrow path after all. My hope and prayer is that your honest quest for the truth will bring for your family a fresh discovery of freedom, joy, and love.

The tenets of biblical patriarchy can be reviewed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_patriarchy.

Are you a debater? Join me in Colorado in July for the Training Minds Camp!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Sarah F.

    There’s a good quote I read once. I can’t remember the exact wording who said it, but it went something like this, “God made women out of a rib. Not from the head to rule over him. Not from the feet to be dominated by him, but from the side to be helpmates with him. Under his arm to be protected by him, and next to his heart to be loved by him.”