Gender Roles, part 2–Patriarchalism

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Vision Forum founder Doug Phillips and family

I’ve been aware of Vision Forum (VF) ever since I began searching the internet for Reformed websites back in the late 1990’s into the early years of the first decade of the twenty-first century. What I saw in Vision Forum was a site promoting traditional, conservative Americana of all kinds. Cool reprints of things like Of Plymouth Plantation and the writings of John Quincy Adams, the sixth American President who dabbled with Calvinism in his early adulthood, but would ironically return to the Unitarianism of his father and the intellectual elite of his day. Fun stuff, if you are into strident third party ultra-conservatism (for the record, VF founder Doug Phillips is son of Nixon-era figure and third party founder, Howard Phillips, whom I was providentially prevented from voting for in the 1992 election, but that’s another post!).

But then I found Phil Johnson’s Hall of Church History and any fledgling interest in Vision Forum fell by the wayside. My initial introduction to Vision Forum and its association with homeschooling and conservative politics raised no red flags. To me, it was what it was.

It was not until more recent years that I grew in my familiarity with the details of Vision Forum’s vision for families by their promotion of concepts like patriarchalism among others like the so-called family-integrated church (FIC), quiverfull and multi-generational faithfulness movements. Classified under these headings we find the dark side of the homeschooling movement. At the time of this writing, I have nothing against homeschooling, per se, but these movements which find their origin within the homeschool movement leave much to be desired, in my humble opinion. For more information on the latter movements, see here, here, and here.

Please recall that in the last post, I summarized my understanding of egalitarianism as practiced among “mainline” liberal Protestant denominations and an increasing number of Evangelical denominations and movements, and noted that there have been two major responses to this movement: namely, patriarchalism and complementarianism. The former is an extreme response, the latter is more moderate, unless you’re an egalitarian.

Complementarianism agrees with patriarchalism that:

 (1)   Eve was created to serve as “an help meet”(KJV) for Adam, or a “helper suitable” (NASB) for him, and that this is a creation ordinance binding on all human marital relationships; that a relationship of loving leadership by example and sacrificial protection on the part of the husband, and of respectful and voluntary submission on the part of the wife typifies the relationship between Christ and the church for which he died (Ephesians 5:22-33),

(2)   and that consistent with this state of affairs, the New Testament explicitly limits offices of ordained church leadership to men (1 Timothy 3:1-7, notice candidates for church office are assumed to be male, and evidence to the contrary is lacking elsewhere in the New Testament).

 Nevertheless, complementarianism disagrees with patriarchalism that wives, or women in general, should therefore necessarily refrain from seeking work or leadership roles in civic or commercial society outside the home. In short, complementarianism respects a greater degree of liberty for women than does its more extremist counterpart, patriarchalism.

In what ways does patriarchalism restrict the Christian liberty of women in the name of following the teaching of Scripture? To answer this question, let us consult a Vision Forum Ministries-published semi-creedal statement, “The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy” drafted by Phil Lancaster, in consultation with Doug Phillips and R.C. Sproul, Jr. This statement lists 26 points under the following headings:

(1)   God as Masculine (point 1)

(2)   The Image of God and Gender Roles (points 2-4)

(3)   The Authority of Fathers (points 5-7)

(4)   Family, Church and State (points 8-11)

(5)   Men & Women: Spheres of Dominion (points 12-14)

(6)   Procreation (point 15)

(7)   Education and Training of Children (points 16-21)

(8)   A Father and His Older Children (points 22, 23)

(9)   The Sufficiency and Application of Scripture (points 24-26)

 Let’s look at point 11, under the heading of “Family, Church and State”:

 11. 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 as an application of and support for God’s order in the formative institutions of family and church.(1 Tim. 3:5) (emphasis mine)

By this statement, patriarchalists cannot state that the Bible teaches that women shouldn’t work outside the home (among other things, like vote, for instance!), but appeals to the biblical mandates of male leadership in the home and the church and asserts that a society can only honor God if it “prefers” male leadership in societal spheres. By implication, this means that a society actively dishonors God if it allows women to vote, work outside the home and lead in other societal venues. They do allow for exceptions in the case of single women—“unmarried women may have more flexibility” (point 14), but I submit that in patriarchal circles, this exceptional circumstance will likely be discouraged, if not frowned upon. They only concede the possibility that single women may have more flexibility, which means, when in doubt, see point 11.

While we’re on this point, let us consider the Tenets’ reference to “a God-honoring society.” Did I mention that Vision Forum is postmillennial (not necessarily a problem) and theonomist (a big problem!)? Political liberals commonly refer to theonomy as “Dominionism,” which is a movement among interdenominational charismatic churches. The fact is, dominionism is based on theonomy, aka Christian Reconstructionism. Vision Forum’s vision for patriarchalism is a means to the end of taking dominion over the nations of the world and subjecting them all to the Law of God, and it is in this way that they believe Christ’s Millennial Kingdom will be established in the earth. These facts are implicit in their notion of a “God-honoring society.” In the radical patriarchalist’s perfect world, therefore, all women will be restricted to the domestic vocation of housewife, barring the undesirable exception of singleness. But in a future glorious Kingdom of Christ, would not He be willing to provide a husband to provide for and protect every woman? In the meantime we have to make due with conceding the possibility that single women may have the flexibility to work outside the home, and perhaps even vote.

Then there is the matter of “A Father and His Older Children,” points 22 and 23. Notice the extra restriction on adult daughters as compared to adult sons.

 22. 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. Fathers release sons from their jurisdiction to undertake a vocation, prepare a home, and take a wife. Until she is given in marriage, a daughter continues under her father’s authority and protection. Even after leaving their father’s house, children should honor their parents by seeking their counsel and blessing throughout their lives. (Gen. 28:1-2; Num. 30:3ff.; Deut. 22:21; Gal. 4:1,2; Eph. 6:2-3) (emphasis mine)

23. Fathers should oversee the process of a son or daughter seeking a spouse. While a father may find a wife for his son, sons are free to take initiative to seek and “take a wife.” A wise son will desire his parents’ involvement, counsel, and blessing in that process. Since daughters are “given in marriage” by their fathers, an obedient daughter will desire her father to guide the process of finding a husband, although the final approval of a husband belongs to her. Upon a Marriage taking place, a new household with new jurisdiction is established, separate from that of the father. (Gen. 24:1ff.; 25:20; 28:2; Ex. 2:21; Josh. 15:17; Jdg. 12:9; 1 Sam. 18:27; Jer. 29:6; 1 Cor. 7:38; Gen. 24:58)

The implication is that an adult daughter of a Christian patriarch ought not move out of her father’s home until she has been “given” by him in marriage. There is a dangerous wooden-literalism in patriarchalist biblical hermeneutics which leads to imposing this aspect of Ancient Near Eastern culture on twenty-first century Christians. Here is one of the other problems with patriarchalism as a response to egalitarianism: it looks back fondly on the way things were done in the past and makes some of the customs of that era moral absolutes for the present.

Another era which patriarchalists mine for unbiblical moral absolutes is the ante-bellum American South. This era is considered by Phillips, and other patriarchalist leaders as the greatest form of Christian culture ever experienced on earth, and patterns much of its ideals accordingly. Arch patriarchalist Doug Phillips is a huge fan of southern Presbyterian theologian R.L. Dabney, who was in many ways a fine Reformed theologian, with the exception that he was a bitter opponent of emancipation for slaves, and is a poster-child for the use of the Bible in support of the institution of chattel slavery. You can read more about the inherent racism and sexism of patriarchalism in a blog post entitled “Patriarchy, Christian Reconstruction and White Supremacy” at the blog Diary of an Autodidact. The fact that Southern idealism is a strong influence on this movement is further evidence of the extra- and unbiblical nature of the patriarchalist movement as directed and informed by Vision Forum.

For these and other reasons, it would be unwise for an Evangelical Christian to resist the cultural pressures of liberal egalitarianism by subjecting one’s self and one’s family to the so-called “Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy.” In the gracious providence of God, complementarianism is the name of the more biblical approach to the roles of husbands and wives in the family, the church and society. Keeping in mind what we’ve discussed about it above in contrast with patriarchalism, we’ll look at complementarianism in more detail in the next post.

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5 responses

  1. Loved your observations and insights. Appreciated the research you have done on Patriarchalism. Still wish there was considerable more dialogue on the topic. Feel like the Patriarchalism has some good things to challenge and refine what complementarianism has to say. Not that I don’t side and find myself agreeing with complementarianism. does any that make sense?

    1. Patriarchalism can seem admirable in that it is a system organized to ensure that things are “the way they ought to be.” But it focuses so much on certain aspects, matters of authority and submission, that a higher risk of abuse by those in authority exists. It is not a necessary result, but fits the profile of relationships which major on control. When a church majors on control we say it bears a mark of cultism. From what I’ve heard, the rate of abuse is higher than among churches which do not major in control. Therefore, it is likely that a similar risk exists among controlling family relationships.

      By comparison, complementarianism focuses on the essential equality of the husband and wife, emphasizing the performance of roles as an expression of love and desire to magnify the gospel, whereas patriarchalist writings seem to mention this essential equality much less, and also mention the gospel less frequently, which their marital roles are to typify, focusing more on the undesirable nature of society and our obligation to attempt to fix our culture by our patriarchal hierarchy.

      I also wish there was more discussion of this issue, but I guess many pastors find it hard to deal with because it doesn’t involve any denial of essential doctrine, and so they may feel we must grant members the liberty to practice patriarchalism as long as it doesn’t become a divisive issue among the congregation. Something tells me that if left unchecked the numbers will climb and polarization will begin to increase. I suppose we should be praying for those who seem to be practicing patriarchalism, and to increase attention to the issue, be asking our pastors or those Christians with public platforms to address such issues. This is why i felt a need to blog on it, even though i’m a layman and no expert, the conversation needs to take place. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

  2. […] to part 3 of my series on Gender Roles, dealing with liberal egalitarianism and hyper-conservative patriarchalism and the more genuinely biblical and evangelical movement known as […]

  3. What experience have you had with “Patriarchalism”? Either one of you.

  4. It needs to be talked about if only b/c those promoting it affect members of churches. The present themselves as cultural warriors ready to save the family and this appeals to many in the homeschooling crowd (which they mostly speak to). In fact, they have a duty as those speaking the loudest to invite discussion in good brotherly fashion instead of crossing the country in speaking in the back yards of many good churches that likely do not agree with them.

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