Patriarchy On Trial

Judging by the intense conversations all over the Internet and within homeschooling circles, there continues to be much confusion about what patriarchy really means and how its proponents believe it should be applied.

The first point I want to make today is that I see the most common views of men and women within the body of Christ in more recent times as being on a continuum. At the far left end of the spectrum is the radical, secular view that there are no differences between men and women and this is where those in the second wave of feminism (modern day feminists) camp out. A woman becomes the focal point, the measure or standard of all things so that even abortion on demand is acceptable. Then at the far right end of the spectrum are those I would call patriocentrists, even misogynists, those who believe women are less than men and some even believe we are “poisonous.” 

 

What exactly is patriarchy? What is the patriarchy movement? What influence does it have within particular areas of the homeschooling culture? How has it influenced the evangelical church in recent years? Who is promoting it? Why does it matter? Where is it headed?

For some people, the word patriarchy was just that, a word, until it was introduced into evangelical vocabularies last fall when patriarch Doug Phillips, founder and owner of Vision Forum Ministries, confessed to having an “inappropriate relationship” with a woman who was not his wife. Overnight, his teachings were placed on trial in the media throughout evangelicalism only to see them nowfacing a similar trial in the courtroom in coming months.

Interestingly, many of the more familiar voices within the homeschooling culture are now making pubic statements about patriarchy. Kevin Swanson from Generations Radio declares: “I am not a patriarchal-ist. I have never been a patriarchal-ist, and I’ve never called myself a patriarchal-ist,” in a blog article that brings even more confusion to what exactly he now believes. James McDonald,courtship apologist and teaching elder in a church whose recommended reading list includes Doug Wilson’s Federal Husband, continues to (and proudly) embraces the word. 

And Michael Farris, founder of Homeschool Legal Defense Association, an organization that has advertised and promoted Vision Forum in the past, has recently stated: “It would be easy to contend that Doug’s sin was separate from his patriarchy views. I am saying the opposite. His views of women were integral to his actions.”

Judging by the intense conversations all over the Internet and within homeschooling circles, there continues to be much confusion about what patriarchy really means and how its proponents believe it should be applied.

I would like to discuss this here in several blog articles and will be starting the conversation today by offering two thoughts to get us started. As always, please share your own thoughts and ideas in the comment section or privately via email if you prefer. Please keep in mind that I am much more interested in discussing the teachings themselves and the repercussions and ramifications of them rather than considering Doug Phillips’ sordid behavior.

The first point I want to make today is that I see the most common views of men and women within the body of Christ in more recent times as being on a continuum. At the far left end of the spectrum is the radical, secular view that there are no differences between men and women and this is where those in the second wave of feminism (modern day feminists) camp out. A woman becomes the focal point, the measure or standard of all things so that even abortion on demand is acceptable.

Then at the far right end of the spectrum are those I would call patriocentrists, even misogynists, those who believe women are less than men and some even believe we are “poisonous.” They tend to believe our only function is to have babies, provide for a man’s every need, and to seek to fulfill a man’s calling rather than have callings of their own from the Lord. (Interestingly, Calvin, Luther, and many of the early church fathers believed many of these things as well.)

There are people who profess to be Christians at either end of this spectrum.

Between these two, there are all sorts of perspectives. The question then becomes “where are the lines of orthodoxy?” And further, where is someone on that spectrum who calls himself or herself “complementarian” or “egalitarian?” What theology is the foundation for those beliefs? And how are they applied in each relationship, each home?

For example, Voddie Baucham, who believes women are not biblically allowed to run for public office and says men are to be “prophet, priest, and king” in their homes, calls himself complementarian. Stacy McDonald, who believes there is only one single “role” for women, that is, to be homemakers, calls herself complementarian.

Geoffrey Botkin whose daughters penned So Much More, a treatise on stay-at-home daughterhood, teaches that only men are given a calling and that women must work toward the callings of their fathers or husbands, would most likely call himself complementarian.

John Piper calls for a “masculine church” and drafted the first document that used the word “complementarian.” It all depends on who is using the words. And, as Doug Phillips himself has often said, “he who defines wins.”

In my first series of podcasts I described myself as complementarian because I do believe men and women are different and do complement each other. And in the truest meaning of the word, they have differing roles. (For example, only a woman can be a mother.) However, the way the word is now used is troubling to me so I no longer use it to describe myself. For the record, I also do not label myself an egalitarian. I reside somewhere in “the normal middle.”

At one time I can remember reading articles from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that were edifying; now their website is a scary place if you are a woman. I remember reading articles there by James Boice and being so blessed by what he said about women using their gifts. He did not call for women to be pastors but he didn’t have a problem with women using their teaching and speaking gifts in the church. There also used to be an emphasis on women and where they were needed in the church. That discussion has shifted to listing all the things women cannot do outside of working in the nursery and putting on potlucks. 

On a personal note, I am a great cook and am never happier than when I am feeding someone AND I love taking care of babies! But I also recognize other gifts the Lord has given me, some that fall outside of the currently acceptable ones in the patriarchy camps. I recognize those gifts in many women, including other very conservative women who are valued everywhere outside of the church. George Barna has even recently noted how many women are leaving the church and I cannot help but recognize that their departure coincides with the dramatic shift to the right toward patriocentricity that has happened through the influence of the homeschooling patriarchs.

Secondly, there has been much debate since last fall as to whether or not Doug Phillips’ behavior is a reflection of his beliefs and teachings on patriarchy. As absurd as it seems to me, many pastors and homeschoolers continue to defend these teachings, pointing out that adultery and abuse happen among many who do not hold patriocentric views. But here is what seems so strange to me: this perspective is coming from the same people who preach and teach because they hope and pray their teachings will take root in the lives of those they mentor and will have a profound influence on behavior! Their’s is double-minded thinking at its finest!

So, it is crucial that we examine the teachings of patriarchy and attitudes that are an organic by-product of being saturated in them.

Karen Campbell is a wife of 39 years, mom, grandmother, speaker, and author of The Joy of Relationship Homeschooling ~ when the one anothers come home. This article appeared on her blog, That Mom, and is used with permission.