The controversy over Doug Phillips’s resignation from Vision Forum has caused a general re-evaluation of what’s become known as the “Patriarchy” movement. At Faith and Heritage, you’ll find no sterner critics of feminism and its abuses. We support the idea of patriarchy, but the restoration of a father’s authority must take place in a context of the re-establishment of all legitimate, overlapping authorities above the level of the basic family. However, as is often the case, the remedy proposed by deracinated fundamentalists is almost as bad as the disease itself.
We see this most acutely in the related movements led by Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips and in their fellow-travelers. Both men are prone to the evangelical error of taking verses out of context, improperly interpreting them, and using them as a sort of manual for solving everyday problems faced by families. Instead of using the brain God gave them in the light of natural revelation, these biblicists will take some piece of wisdom literature from Proverbs or the Sermon on the Mount, and attempt to apply it universally as if it should be interpreted by strict Western standards of logic. Properly interpreted in the Hebrew cultural context, we see these texts are full of Hebrew idiomatic content, which include overstatement, repetition, and absolute statements to emphasize probabilistic wisdom or make a point. Because they are biblical idolaters, these men plant their flag on these poor interpretations and ignore natural revelation, and in some cases, their own conscience. As legalists, they predictably teach against many lawful pleasures (alcohol, nicotine, dancing, makeup, fashion, etc.) and then, having denied their God-given drive for pleasure, take secret or not-so-secret comfort in unlawful ones. Gothard is particularly creepy in this regard. The more everyday occurrence of this is the increased prevalence of obesity, the visible symptom of the now-ignored sin of gluttony, often found among teetotaler, more legalistic Baptists as opposed to Methodists, Presbyterians, or Episcopalians.
I am pro-homeschooling, pro-homemaking, and anti-feminist to the core. To my mind, the ideal Christian society in gender relations was most closely achieved in the England of Jane Austen. However, what we see in such a society is not the complete subjugation of women, but rather proper gender relations in a context of extended kinship networks. Women enjoyed a very high status, and while male authority was implicit in society, it was so properly balanced and subtle that unpleasant “pulling of rank” by a man explicitly declaring his authority rarely occurred. Of course, in a feminist society such as ours, a man may often have to pull rank on his wife, depending on the extent of feminist influence he is trying to correct.
The big problem with “Patriarchy” as I see it is not its purported tenets, but two blind spots, both incidental to the fundamentalist environment from which it springs: A) the biblicist literalism and inability to apply principles with wisdom, as explained above, and B) its view of an atomized nuclear family that isolates women from their male blood relatives under the exclusive, unaccountable authority of a husband.
As a father of two daughters, I feel a constant tension as I think about potential suitors. On the one hand, I do not want them to marry a nominal Christian or a man who is not well-versed theologically to lead his family. On the other hand, I’d rather them marry a nice local Methodist, if a true Christian, than a zealot from the Gothard or Phillips movements. As I’ve observed families around me, it seems that the families who latch onto the legalist movements are the most socially isolated in the community. As Kinists might put it, an organic community of extended blood relatives self-regulates a lot of the silliness, which is why the most isolated families, often with no local relatives, tend to fall prey to the teachings of a Patriarchy guru with a catalog, website, and P.O. box. I pray often that God will send a young man to both of my daughters who is from a “normal” homeschooling, traditional Christian home, but not a biblicist following a set of legalistic formulas.
I do find that being part of a church which baptizes infants is a very helpful filter. The worst legalists are usually found in small “non-denominational” Baptist or Bible churches. Their theology is probably best described as biblical literalism mixed with a Magic 8-Ball. They read their Bibles not only to understand what is there, but also to divine what God is trying to tell them right now, a sort of biblical horoscope. I like to say they view themselves as the co-star, with Jesus, of one of those crazy road trip buddy movies; every little event in their life, or shiver in their spine, is a plot twist in a never-ending personal drama. This theology is so self-centered that they cannot even consider the baptism of infants as a practice which, while not salvific in the Reformed view, does communicate something about the privileged status of children of believing parents. Even this very basic difference is, in my view, the beginning of Kinism, as it is, normally, the physical relation between parent and child that brings about this special, but not salvific, status conferred by infant baptism.
Now I will turn to what I consider the fundamental problem with the contemporary “Patriarchy” movement. They are correct to establish the authority of a man in his home over his wife and children. Where they are incorrect is in their understanding of the nature of the nuclear family. Since pre-historic times, the women of a family have been protected by their blood male relations, usually brothers and fathers. The husband’s authority exists within the context of the larger authority structures of the extended family, tribe, and nation. Biblicists draw a big bright line at the border of the nuclear family, with no legitimate counter-balancing authority between the nuclear family and God. Perhaps I can illustrate with an example.
I am raising my daughters to be anti-feminist, as I consider it essential to their long-term happiness and the good of the multi-generational family. However, you can never know everything about a suitor, and indeed there are some bad eggs out there who do not reveal themselves before marriage. The situation may be abuse, neglect, or laziness. In an extreme circumstance, I think it is proper for a woman to seek the help of her extended male kinship network to correct an intolerable situation in a marriage. If my daughter comes to me with a black eye inflicted by the husband, and if after diligent investigation – taking into account her character, the natural tendency of people to only tell their side of the story, etc. – I determine that an abuse situation does clearly exist, I do believe I have a right and duty to intervene. Her brothers and I may decide to capture the young man, take him out in the middle of the woods, and beat him half to death. He will learn at the point of a stick or whip that other men have an interest in this woman and that his authority is not unlimited. And in a proper society, such interventions by blood relations, within reason, would be ignored by local law enforcement, and to this day still are in many parts of the rural South. Some may be shocked by an advocacy of personal violence, but the truth is that men have been doing this for centuries. All civil society is ultimately held together by properly ordered male violence. In a fallen world, it can be no other way.
As it is now, Doug Phillips will enter “therapy,” “be restored,” and likely continue in some sort of ministry. In a proper Kinist society, his public dishonoring of his wife and her extended family should make him fear for his life, or at least some part of his anatomy, from her male relatives. In a society with any sense of decency, he would never be in spiritual authority again.
Perhaps we should be gentler with Phillips, as we do not know the entire situation, at least not officially. While it is certainly no excuse nor does it mitigate the sin in any way, many Christian husbands, given the opportunity, would be tempted and succumb, and those in ministry positions tend to be tempted more often, as dealing with vulnerable women is part of the job description, and the position of authority is naturally attractive. If we accept that high-status men like Phillips or the biblical King David will, absent external controls (i.e. the risk of violence), reliably succumb to temptation at some non-trivial rate, then the proper structuring of those external controls is critical to preserving the family and a civil society to minimize the occurrence of these types of incidents. Sometimes knowing that an act will have consequences leads to avoiding situations of temptation.
In the world of the deracinated “Patriarchy,” however, there are no overlapping spheres of authority to counter-balance husbands like Phillips with the means, motive, and opportunity to succumb to sexual temptation; he faces no real consequences for his actions. Only Kinism, with its properly ordered view of supernatural and natural revelation, and its lending scriptural legitimacy to extended kin relations, can restore a proper Christian society with all of its necessary organic checks and balances.