A LINE IN THE SAND
The following article will appear in the Second Quarter 2014 Home School Court Report, due in mailboxes late August.
Two prominent speakers on the homeschooling circuit have experienced dramatic falls from favor due to admitted sin. Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips have both been accused of serious sins involving young women. The accusations are sexual in nature. Both men have admitted to some form of sin with regard to these accusations, although each has disputed some of the details. Gothard disputes that his sins were sexual in nature. Phillips admits to an improper physical “relationship” with one young woman.
In sum, patriarchy teaches that women in general should be subject to men in general. The Bible teaches no such thing.
Phillips’ teaching is representative of a larger group—albeit a small segment of the homeschooling world—called the patriarchy movement. It offers an imbalanced and (in my personal opinion) unbiblical view of the roles of men and women. It particularly teaches a distorted view of raising daughters.
Contrary to the assertions of the patriarchy movement, the following propositions are not universal commands from God:
>> Patriarchial teaching: Women should not vote.
Example of this teaching:
“ … God does not allow women to vote (cf. 1 Tim 2:11ff). But by ignoring God’s law, American Christians both destroyed their own credibility … and the integrity of [their] own families … .
[W]hat practical benefit does allowing women to vote provide? If husband and wife agree on an issue, then one has simply doubled the number of votes; but the result is the same. Women’s voting only makes a difference when the husband and wife disagree; a wife, who does not trust the judgment of her husband, can nullify his vote.”1
>> Patriarchial teaching: Higher education is not important for women.
Example: “[D]oes it really make economic sense to invest tens of thousands of dollars for a woman to get an advanced education (often having to go into debt to finance that education) that she will not use if she accepts that her highest calling is to be a wife and mother?”2
>> Patriarchial teaching: Unmarried adult women are subject to their fathers’ authority.
Example: “Until she is given in marriage, a daughter continues under her father’s authority and protection.”3
In sum, patriarchy teaches that women in general should be subject to men in general. The Bible teaches no such thing.
Take the voting example. If women should not vote, it means that Vickie Farris is to be in subjection to men like Bill Maher, Dennis Rodman, and Bill Clinton. Nothing in the Bible can possibly be twisted to expand the duties between a husband and wife in a loving marriage to reach the conclusion that Bill Maher can vote but Vickie Farris cannot.
Gothard’s teaching is also unbalanced regarding family relationships and the treatment of women, but he does not specifically promote the patriarchy movement. Rather, it would be more accurate to describe his teaching as legalism. In this sense, legalism occurs when someone elevates his personal view about wise conduct to a level where it is claimed that this person’s own opinions are God’s universal commands. It is not wrong to have personal opinions. What is wrong is to usurp the role of God.
It is not sinful to hold a very conservative view of gender roles or child rearing. If people believe such ideas are wise, then our legal system should protect their choices, provided those choices do not result in abuse. My own views, while certainly moderate within the Christian homeschooling movement, might be considered too conservative by some on the extreme cultural left.
What I should not do is claim that my personal views are universal commands of God. Those more conservative or more liberal than I am should not claim that their personal views are universal commands of God. God speaks for Himself, and He does it in the Bible.
People are misled when human ideas are wrapped in false claims of being God’s directives. Different forms of critical analysis are necessary when one is examining God’s words versus man’s words. Innocent people follow teachers in good faith thinking they are following God. And when the directives turn out to be only man’s ideas, the followers often find that someone in their family has been damaged in the process. Only God’s ideas are infallible. Man’s ideas will always fall short.
While people are entitled to personal opinions within a broad range, there are some views within the patriarchy movement that go too far. Women are not to be the de facto slaves of men. Women are created with dignity equal to that of men. Women have direct and unmediated access to God. Daughters should not be taught that their only and ultimate purpose in life is to be the “helpmeet” of a man. While being a godly wife is a worthy ideal, the only statement that is universally true for every woman is that she should love and serve God as her highest priority. My wife and I raised our own daughters to believe that being a wife and mother was a very high calling but did so in a way that would not crush them if God’s leading had been different.
We have a really easy way to know God’s universal commands. They are written in the Bible.
If children are raised with a false idea of God, it shouldn’t surprise anyone when they walk away—they are rejecting something other than the God of the Bible.
Gothard and Phillips are entitled to share their personal opinions if they label them correctly. When it is claimed, for example, that God never wants any daughter to leave home until she is married, the patriarchy movement goes too far. That is human opinion wrapped in a false claim that God has announced a universal truth.
This particular example is a good way to demonstrate a common error in both men’s theologies. Phillips has stated that daughters should remain in their fathers’ homes until married. His principal biblical citation for this argument is the story of Rachel and Leah in the home of their father, Laban.4
It is a fundamental error of scriptural interpretation to assume that one narrative passage reveals a normative rule that we should all follow. In this same story, we see Laban embracing bigamy, selling his daughter in exchange for labor, and even resorting to sexual trickery. If we believe that one fact in this story reveals a universal rule from God, then all of the facts in this story should create such rules as well. Obviously, it is nonsense to use Laban’s treatment of his daughters to create universal norms. While the story may have lessons for us, the decisions of Laban are not universal commands from God.
Some young people who were raised in patriarchal and/or legalistic homes are now telling their stories. It is from their stories that I have learned that these men’s teachings are being applied in ways that are clearly unwise and damaging from any reasonable vantage point—Christian or secular. People are being hurt.
A similar kind of imbalance can be found in the area of child discipline. The overuse of physical discipline is causing real harm to children. (I am particularly concerned about the overuse of physical discipline with adopted children. Children need to feel loved in any discipline situation. Using spanking for adopted children poses a very high risk of being perceived by the child as an act of hatred instead of loving discipline, no matter what words surround the immediate act.)
From my understanding of Scripture, I believe the Bible encourages spanking as a form of discipline. But it certainly does not tell us at what age we should start, at what age we should stop, or what offenses deserve such discipline. The application of the general rule requires common sense. And when teachers tell you their answers to these questions, they are doing nothing more than sharing their own personal opinions. They cannot speak for God at this level of detail because the Bible itself does not give this level of detail.
A LOOK AT THE OUTCOMES
Sometimes it is hard to know whose advice one should follow in such child-rearing matters. One way to evaluate a teacher is this: anyone who elevates his or her personal opinions to the level of speaking for God should generally be ignored.
Claiming to speak for God has been essential for the patriarchy movement. Advocates of this movement will have a difficult time selling their theories to very many people if the theories are properly portrayed as personal opinions rather than the commands of God.
Even if advocates shift to repackaging their ideas as human opinion, it does not mean such views should be accepted at face value. It is entirely proper to examine the outcomes of such teachings to determine whether they are indeed wise.
Look at the outcomes of these teachings. The personal failure of Doug Phillips in the area of marriage and his mistreatment of a young woman bears directly on the legitimacy of his teaching. So does the mounting evidence coming from the women raised in such homes. As a homeschool leader for 30 years and chancellor of Patrick Henry College, I’ve come in contact with many young people who were raised in patriarchal or legalistic homes. Almost none of them are following these philosophies today. Some have rejected Christianity altogether. After all, if they were raised with a false idea of God, it shouldn’t surprise anyone when they walk away—they are rejecting something other than the God of the Bible. But those who continue in Christianity have, for the most part, rejected the extreme views of their childhood for a more balanced approach.
If public policy makers understand that there are only a few homeschooling families who mistreat their children, our freedom is not likely to suffer. Officials will reasonably conclude that the punishment should be meted out only to the few guilty parents. But if officials believe that the homeschooling movement promotes teachers and ideas that inherently treat women as second-class citizens or result in physical or sexual abuse of children, then we can expect that homeschooling freedom will be negatively impacted.
And far too many families, children, and parents have already been harmed. This must change.
Much of the spread of these philosophies has been done through homeschool conferences and conventions. Teachers who claim that they speak for God on matters of personal opinion should be suspect. Conference planners need to be very careful about whom they promote as speakers. And I believe it’s wise to carefully evaluate the messages we hear from any speaker.
Many well-meaning families have been misled by these teachers. I understand the appeal. Formulas promising great success are very attractive. Good, loving parents make mistakes. I know. I have made and will continue to make mistakes. For a long time I have been convinced that the measure of spiritual maturity is not whether you stumble, but what you do in response. Seeking forgiveness from those you have wronged is always the right first step. God will heal and restore.
If you are struggling with these issues, I would encourage you to get good, balanced teaching. I think that Dr. James Dobson’s book The New Strong-Willed Child: Birth through Adolescence is a great resource for child-rearing issues. And Willard Harley, Jr.’s book His Needs, Her Needs gives a very balanced and helpful view of marriage. Treating one’s wife with love and respect is the best antidote to patriarchy that I know of.
Click here for a list of additional resources.
I truly hope that our movement will continue to demonstrate considerable tolerance for differences of opinion. But I also hope that we will show the maturity to understand that some opinions deserve no promotion. Our movement will only be tainted by extremist views if we give our platforms over to such teachers.
There will be more to say on this in the days ahead—by me and many others. I am not trying to give an encyclopedic answer; I am just trying to draw a line in the sand.
1 Brian M. Abshire, “Biblical Patriarchy and the Doctrine of Federal Representation,” July 15, 2005, accessed August 5, 2014.
3 “The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy,” Vision Forum Ministries, Tenet 22, accessed August 5, 2014.