Michael Farris, Patriarchy, and Doug Phillips: An Expose

HSLDA President J. Michael Smith, Doug and Jubilee Phillips, and HSLDA board member Dick Honnaker at HSLDA's 2004 National Leadership Conference in Spokane, Washington.
HSLDA President J. Michael Smith, Doug and Jubilee Phillips, and
HSLDA board member Dick Honnaker at HSLDA’s 2004 National Leadership Conference in Spokane, Washington.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published in a slightly longer version on Patheos on April 15, 2014.

Yesterday’s WorldNetDaily article on Lourdes Torres’s lawsuit against Doug Phillips quotes at length from Michael Farris’s reaction to Doug Phillips downfall. I thought it was worth going over that section specifically, and placing it within the context of other things I have written about Michael Farris, HSLDA, and Patrick Henry College, both to clarify the issues here and to reveal the serious dishonesty of Farris’s statements.

I will begin by quoting the section, and will then respond.

Before Phillips founded Vision Forum, he spent six years as an attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, or HSLDA, a nonprofit advocacy organization that defends the right of American families to homeschool their children.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris told WND, “The reason Doug left HSLDA is because [President] Mike Smith and I, who were his bosses, were growing more and more uncomfortable as he started developing his patriarchy theory. We started limiting his ability to speak on those things while traveling on our behalf. We basically made it clear that he could not pursue those things with his HSLDA hat on. So he eventually chose to leave us so he could do those things because we were not comfortable with where he was headed.”

As for the patriarchy movement, Farris said the teachings are not widely accepted in the broader homeschool community.

“It’s a minority of homeschoolers that believe in it,” he said. “But unfortunately, until very recently, they were getting a lot of visibility in certain places. We have sought to avoid inviting any patriarchy speakers to speak at our national conference.”

While state homeschool organizations run their own events and may choose to have such speakers, Farris said HSLDA has never promoted them.

“Doug has never been invited to speak at our national conference since he left,” Farris said. “We have tried, by example, to keep this stuff outside the mainstream of the homeschooling movement.”

He added, “Frankly, we think it’s time for us to stand up and publicly say this is just wrong.”


And here we need some explanation. Within the Christian homeschooling movement, and by that I mean those Christians who choose to homeschool for religious reasons, whether in part or in whole, there is a range of belief on gender roles. In general, beliefs about gender roles fall somewhere on a spectrum between the following two camps:

Complementarianism: Many of those in the Christian homeschooling movement, including both Farris and my own parents, hold fairly conventional conservative evangelical views on gender roles. The wife’s role is to obey her husband, nurture her children, and serve ask a keeper at home. The husband’s role is to be the head of the family, provide for the family, and protect the family. Men are to be masculine and manly, women are to be feminine and womanly. God has laid out different and complementary roles for each gender, but all are equal before God.

Biblical Patriarchy: Some of those in the Christian homeschooling movement go farther. They proudly use the word “patriarchy” and teach that daughters are to be under their father’s authority until marriage, serving as “stay-at-home daughters.” They argue that daughters should not go to college, or hold jobs outside the home, and that daughters must obey their fathers even as adults. Only when daughters marry (through a courtship process controlled by their father) do they leave their father’s authority and transfer to their husband’s authority.

I don’t have numbers on how many Christian homeschoolers adhere to complementarianism versus how many adhere to biblical patriarchy, but I also don’t think it’s completely clearcut. Even those solidly in the complementarian camp will have noticed promoters of patriarchy speaking at homeschool conferences, will have seen their literature, and will have met those in its folds. My own family was fairly solidly in the complentarian camp, and yet they adopted some of the beliefs of the biblical patriarchy camp even as they rejected others (they sent me off to college, but believed I was still to obey my father, as an adult daughter under his authority).

Biblical patriarchy differs little from complementarianism except in its open embrace of the term “patriarchy” and its teachings about the role of adult daughters.

Michael Farris

So where does Farris fall, particularly? From what I’ve read of his writings Farris very much believes that wives must obey their husbands and that a woman’s role is in the home nurturing her children. But what of the rest? Farris’s strong rejection of the patriarchy movement as quoted above and his recent strong words for the stay-at-home daughter movement in a facebook comment would seem to indicate that he falls in the complementarian camp rather than the biblical patriarchy camp.

There is also this from a statement written in response to February’s article on sexual assault at Patrick Henry College and read aloud during chapel at Farris’s Patrick Henry College.

Some readers have wondered if the overall aim of the article is to associate PHC with a set of anti-women attitudes that we do not hold, and to insinuate that we are connected with outside movements that we positively reject (like the “Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy Movement”). This philosophy, incorrectly attributed in the article to Dr. Michael Farris, Chancellor, espouses that college is inappropriate for Christians in general, and especially women. As his own life at PHC and with his own children reflect, Chancellor Farris has never agreed with such an offensive philosophy.

Farris rejects the word “patriarchy” and is not against daughters going to church. In fact, this statement from Farris’s Patrick Henry College indicates that Farris views biblical patriarchy as “anti-woman” and “inappropriate for Christians.”

But even as he rejects biblical patriarchy, Farris believes that wives should obey their husbands to the extent of not attending church if her husband so commands, and he believes that daughters, even as they go to college, should be preparing ultimately for motherhood rather than for careers. I think maybe this is why Farris’s continued refrain of “no no no, I’m not like him, he believes crazy things!” strikes so many as so odd. Farris is not as far removed as he would like us to think.

But there’s something else going on here too.

The Entanglement

Farris insists that he has long gone to great lengths to publicly distance himself and HSLDA from Phillips in particular and biblical patriarchy in general. Unfortunately for him, this is simply not true.

A quick search of HSLDA’s website reveals that the company was openly advertising for Vision Forum. From a 2010 email alert to HSLDA members:

—[ 20% Off at Vision Forum! 5 days left! ]————————–

Extra 20% Off at Vision Forum! Code: HSLDA. Toys, Books, Movies, More. Everything on sale for 5 Days only!


Indeed, this sort of advertisement for Vision Forum has been a bit of a trend for HSLDA, complemented by positive recommendations of various Vision Forum products.

It’s also worth noting that Farris was at the very least being grossly misleading when he said of HSLDA that “Doug has never been invited to speak at our national conference since he left” and that “We have tried, by example, to keep this stuff outside the mainstream of the homeschooling movement.”

As R.L. Stollar wrote a year ago, before Phillips’ downfall:

1996 seems to be the last year that Phillips appears as an HSLDA attorney. But since then, HSLDA has made zero efforts to distance themselves from his viewpoints. In fact, almost a decade after Phillips left HSLDA to run Vision Forum, he was still featured by HSLDA as a peer. In 2007, HSLDA referred to Phillips as one of “the nation’s top leaders.” Also in 2007, Chris Klicka received an award from Doug Phillips and Vision Forum for his homeschooling advocacy. In 2008, HSLDA says of him that he is “one of the most popular conference speakers in the nation today because of his ability to encourage, inform, and inspire.” In fact, HSLDA proudly sponsored a reception at an event where he was the keynote speaker. The official relationship between HSLDA and Doug Phillips is thus one of continued mutual admiration.

I’m unsure of how Farris expected people to understand that HSLDA disapproved of either Phillips or biblical patriarchy when continually wrote of Phillips and his abilities as a homeschool speaker with such accolades. And this wasn’t the only time. HSLDA advertised Doug Phillips as a speaker at event after event. HSLDA member families were urged to attend. They also allowed Doug Phillips to advertise in their publication, the Home School Court Report, as recently as 2012.

Beyond this, HSLDA has also promoted other leaders whose teachings center on biblical patriarchy, including Voddie Baucham and Geoffrey Botkin. And to the best of my knowledge, HSLDA as an organization and Farris as an individual have never denounced any one of these leaders.

There was more, too. In 2007 Vision Forum published Passionate Housewives Desperate for God, by Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald. Jennie Chancey founded Ladies Against Feminism and Stacy McDonald founded Steadfast Daughters. Both are not just complementarian but fully embrace biblical patriarchy. Farris’s wife Vickie wrote a review of the book, which can be viewed on Amazon:

Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald have spoken the Truth with a capital ‘T’ in their wonderful book Passionate Housewives Desperate for God. Totally grounded in Scripture, this book winsomely presents the true picture of a godly homemaker. Prepare to be stimulated, challenged, and encouraged as a woman. This book is a real gem!—Vickie Farris, wife of HSLDA founder, Michael Farris, Esq.

Now maybe Chancey and McDonald tone it down in Passionate Housewives Desperate for God, or maybe Farris and his wife disagree here. But Farris has to be aware how these sorts of endorsements will come across to Christian homeschoolers.

My Question

Now I want to turn back to the recent article I began with.

After insisting that HSLDA has never collaborated with a supporter of patriarchy—an assertion I have here called into question—Farris added that ”Frankly, we think it’s time for us to stand up and publicly say this is just wrong.” And that is where I have to wonder—why didn’t Farris stand up publicly and say this prior to Phillips’ resignation and disgrace? Because he didn’t.

Further, Farris wrote that “Doug has never been invited to speak at our national conference since he left” and that “We have tried, by example, to keep this stuff outside the mainstream of the homeschooling movement.” Was Farris unaware that, regardless of whether he invited Phillips to speak at HSLDA’s national conference, if he spoke nary a negative word about Phillips in public and HSLDA wrote of Phillips only to promote him, the message that would come across to the homeschool community would be one of approval?

My sources tell me that Farris views Bill Gothard and Michael Pearl in the same negative light that he has long viewed Doug Phillips. Why, then, does he not publicly warn homeschool families against them? Why does he remain silent?

I think I know the answer. HSLDA operates off of membership dues. If Farris or HSLDA come out and publicly denounce toxic homeschool leaders, they will lose members. Farris has felt that Phillips was in error and dangerous for years, but only when Phillips was already defrocked and dethroned did he feel comfortable saying that out loud. Farris would rather tolerate patriarchy in the Christian homeschool movement than lose money for denouncing it.

Farris, it seems, is only willing to shoot patriarchy when it’s down.

6 thoughts on “Michael Farris, Patriarchy, and Doug Phillips: An Expose

  1. Headless Unicorn Guy April 16, 2014 / 9:34 am



  2. Patrick McKay April 16, 2014 / 9:51 am

    I think it would be relevant to post some additional comments by Michael Farris on the subject that he made on his Facebook page yesterday, which the author of this piece might not be aware of.
    [Initial post]: “I have no pleasure in posting the following link to a very important story about Doug Phillips. I am quoted at length in the article, so there is not as much need to comment here.

    I will say one thing. I wish I had spoken up sooner. There was no way that I could have known that Doug was involved in sexual misconduct, but I knew that he was involved in unscriptural views about women in his teaching.

    He was teaching that girls should never go to college. I started a college where half the student body is female and PHC just elected a woman student as the President of the Student Body. He was teaching that girls should basically stay in their father’s home until marriage. I sent my oldest daughter off to Cedarville University and my second daughter off to Romania as a missionary. I thought my actions would speak louder than his words. I wish I had used words too.”
    [In response to a question]: “I don’t know the exact date, but yes, HSLDA did allow Vision Forum to advertise fairly recently. Though I wasn’t involved in the decision, I now bear part of that responsibility and it is something that I deeply regret.”
    [In response to another question]: “The Patriarchy Movement has been successful because it mixes truth with error. If it was plain error, then no one would be attracted to it. Legalism takes a truth and contorts it beyond any proper application.

    I have admitted my errors in failing to speak out. And I have admitted HSLDA’s errors in allowing advertising.

    But no longer. And it is not because Doug sinned sexually that I am speaking out. I am convinced that this movement is harmful to people–children, women, and even men who buy into these deceptive ideas. The freedom of the homeschooling movement is threatened if this kind of dangerous legalism is allowed to become the dominant view.

    I have tried to distance myself quietly and imperfectly for a long time. I am now convinced that I need to be forthright and say out loud what I have thought for a long time.”
    [Another response to a question]: “I have six daughters. All are married. Three went to college and three went straight from our family home into marriage.

    I do not believe that it is unbiblical to encourage either path. What is unbiblical is to erect a manmade rule that demands that all girls follow one path or the other when it is not explicitly stated in the Bible.

    There is so much more to Patriarchy as well. Some teach that women should not vote. As if godly women should be in submission to men like Bill Clinton and Dennis Rodman.

    Balanced biblical teaching not extra-scriptural formulas is what we need. \”

    Based on these comments, I think Farris would agree with you that he was wrong not to speak out and unequivocally condemn Doug Phillips’ teachings earlier, and that HSLDA was wrong to allow Vision Forum to advertise in its magazine. While it may have taken a long time for him and HSLDA to come to the realization that they need to openly oppose Doug Phillips and the Patriarchy movement, from Farris’ comments I am hopefully we will see more leadership from them on this issue in the future.


  3. Hester April 16, 2014 / 6:46 pm

    Farris’s strong rejection of the patriarchy movement as quoted above and his recent strong words for the stay-at-home daughter movement in a facebook comment would seem to indicate that he falls in the complementarian camp rather than the biblical patriarchy camp.

    …and yet I sat in a lecture by Farris in which he talked about how his family practiced some form of father-directed courtship. MASSHope homeschool convention, DCU Center, Worcester, MA, sometime in the late 2000s (can’t remember the exact year). So I’m not completely convinced he’s as non-patriarchal as he comes off in the WND article. The FB posts above are encouraging, but he could have prevented a lot of pain and suffering if he had come around earlier – like, years earlier. If he doesn’t start actively opposing patriarchy, I’m not sure I’ll be convinced that this isn’t just CYA.


  4. Cheryl April 20, 2014 / 2:42 pm

    I don’t believe HSLDA has as great an influence as Vision Forum did. No man or woman should be put on a pedestal.

    As we deal with our disappoint and disgust, it is important to remember that forgiving grace that nail our Saviour to the cross for ALL of us.


  5. littleblackcar May 20, 2014 / 11:52 am

    I’m a rank outsider when it comes to fundamentalist Christianity, homeschooling, etc., so I say this pretty much rhetorically, but I’m still struggling with how shortsighted the entire concept seems to be. If you raise your daughters to be perpetual children, how do you expect them to become adults? Magic?

    I’m in my mid-thirties and never married, so the idea of not having the education and skills to support myself is one of my biggest personal fears (a worry that I suppose I wouldn’t have if I were part of this movement, since somebody would have picked a husband out for me years ago).

    That aside, I understand, in theory, the objection to “overeducating” women but I still have to wonder why men would want their kids–their boys–homeschooled by a wife with such an incomplete academic background. My mother stayed home a lot when we were kids, even though she had most of a Ph.D. She was the one who oversaw our homework, corrected our writing, helped us wrestle with our math problems, etc., while Dad worked. Not that it takes advanced degrees to do that, but I can’t imagine being asked to do that with the education I received in high school. (I went to a public high school, but a good one, and had lots of supplemental input from my parents. And by “supplemental input” I mean extra practice, not them doing my homework for me.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s