Patriarchy, sounds like a word from the middle ages where feudal lords ruled supreme on their estates, doesn’t it? It’s not. Christian Patriarchy is a small, but vocal, minority among Christian fundamentalists.
And just this week, the movement made headlines in Christian circles. The culprit?—Doug Phillips, former leader of Vision Forum whose affair shook the Christian Patriarchy world last year. Now, his family’s nanny is suing him for sexual molestation.
Other famous adherents of Christian Patriarchy are the Duggar family from the TLC show 19 & Counting. Michael and Debi Pearl, whose child-rearing book, To Train Up a Child, has been in the news for several years now as the catalyst behind severe physical abuse, are proponents of Christian patriarchy. There’s even a ring of 20-something bloggers who write about the ills of growing up in Christian patriarchy.
Christian Patriarchy, apart from garnering Christians a lot of bad press, is blatantly anti-Biblical. How do I know? I grew up as a homeschooler in Christian Patriarchy.
But I was friends with a lot of Patriarchy families. I went to a college where I saw the products of Patriarchy in the flesh. The premise of Patriarchy is that males should make all the decisions. All. If your husband doesn’t like the type of toilet bowl cleaner you bought, you make a midnight Walmart run to fix it.
Because the husband, father, sometimes even brother is such a lofty figure, if anything goes wrong in the household, it is invariably the woman’s fault. Your husband criticizes your cooking and the dirty house all evening while putting his feet up and refusing to lift a finger for your three wailing children under three? (Patriarchy is notoriously anti-contraception.) It’s your fault for not vacuuming before he got home.
Your husband starts viewing porn on the side? It’s your fault for “ballooning out” to a size 10 after giving birth to his six children. If you were “meeting his needs” at home, he wouldn’t be doing it.
Ten children in, your husband decides he’s transgender and makes an appointment for a sex change operation. Ok, Patriarchy is adamantly enough against LGBT that they may not blame the wife for that one.
A central tenet of Patriarchy is that the husband is the prophet, priest, and king for his family. There’s just one little problem. That belief is heretical. Majorly! The Bible teaches that Christ is the high priest, the one and only mediator between God and man.
In the Old Testament, before Christ became Christians’ high priest, only the sons of Aaron could approach the holy place and offer sacrifices. Now that Christ has died and rose again, every Christian (man, woman, or child) is a priest and all Christians are told to offer their lives to God as a sacrifice.
Ok, so a Christian father can’t be his family’s priest, what about prophet? Well, where does prophesy come from?
It comes from God through His outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And who receives the gift of the Holy Spirit? Um, every believer, male or female, slave or free. As Acts 2:17 says: “ I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”
Later in Acts, we meet an evangelist, Phillip, who we learn has four unmarried daughters who prophesy. Guess Phillip was doing a pretty lame job of being his family’s prophet. And what about Anna? She was a prophet at the time Christ was born who, through the Holy Spirit, recognized that the baby in Mary’s arms was the Son of God. Dare we mention Deborah, the one Old Testament judge and prophet that Patriarchs would very much like to snip out of their Bibles?
Ah well, I guess a Christian father can’t be priest or prophet of his home. Too bad. But king? Surely a father can at least be king of his domain? Even tubby Mr. Banks from Mary Poppins sang about an Englishman’s home being his castle and he the lord of it.
This idea of king strikes at the heart of authority in the home. Besides patriarchy proponents, Christians fall into two camps on this issue: Complimentarians and Egalitarians. Complimentarians believe that husbands are head of their household and have the final say in decisions. Yet, Complimentarians would probably balk at the word king and mention 1 Pet 5:3 and servant leadership. Egalitarians believe that truth matters much more to God than gender and decisions at home should be made based on truth not the X or Y chromosome.
Regardless of one’s stance on egalitarianism vs. complimentarianism, non-power hungry Christians can agree that the language of king and subject is not particularly helpful to the Biblical love between husband and wife that is artistically termed the two becoming one flesh. I also suspect that nominating your kids as your subjects could exasperate them, and exasperating your kids is a huge Biblical no-no.
Which leads one to the question, what kind of egomaniacs dreamed up the idea of being lord and king over their wife and entire brood of 15? In orthodox Christian circles, the offices of prophet, priest, and king have typically been assigned to Christ. What kind of narcissist decided he could fill Christ’s role? While I shan’t detail the beginnings of Christian Patriarchy, Quiverful: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement does a pretty good job of that, the current goings-on of patriarchy leaders proves my point.
Doug Phillips’ sexual exploitation has already been mentioned. Bill Gothard, leader of ATI, which is affiliated with Christian Patriarchy?—His sexual harassment case aired in 2014. Michael & Debi Pearl?—as mentioned previously, their literature motivated multiple child abuse cases often resulting in death. In addition, the internet is rife with people spilling their story of how they were abused by patriarchal parents, husbands, and pastors.
Patriarchy is at its core about power: the power of husband over wife, father over child, church leaders over laity. Thus, it attracts power-hungry people who enjoy controlling others either through emotional, physical, or spiritual tactics. We could call such people abusers or use the good old elementary school term—bully.
While many religions are about spiritual leaders grasping for power, Christianity is not one of them. The apostle Paul, arguably the greatest Christian leader who’s ever lived, refused to even take a salary from his congregants. Did Paul proclaim himself king over his flock? Far from it. He pointed people to Christ, telling them, Christ was the one that was crucified for you, not me.
So there’s nothing Biblical about patriarchy, no matter how many authors stick the word Christian in front of it. If you’re thinking of instructing your kids in Christian Patriarchy, do them a favor and teach them the Bible instead. If you’re considering a Patriarchal marriage to please God, rather try praying together daily. (And throw the Pearl’s marriage book, Created to Be His Helpmeet, in the trash. It was written by abusers, for abusers.)
But most importantly, if you’ve decided you’re done with Jesus because a Patriarchy adherent controlled, manipulated, or bullied you, reconsider. Don’t dignify Patriarchy by believing its proponents correctly represent the word of God. Jesus didn’t.