Thoughts on Christian Marriage Teachings, Part Three

Image courtesy of Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on March 20, 2015.

Part Two

I can’t talk about bad Christian marriage teachings without addressing one of the most common ones that tends to lead to all the rest of them. It goes something like this:

“The husband is the head of the family. He is the spiritual leader. He is responsible for the spiritual life and growth of his wife and children. God’s blessings to the family come through the husband and father who is connected to God. A man out of sync with God can take down his family. A woman submits to God by submitting to her husband’s leadership. A woman cannot usurp her husband’s spiritual leadership or God will not bless the family. “

There’s variations of those sentiments, but that’s about the gist of it. A family cannot be a godly family, or a successful family, without the spiritual leadership of a godly man. The requirements for such a man are numerous and many words have been written and spoken and debated about them. Everything from “must lead family worship every day” to “must be active in the church” to “must lead his wife with the Word of God”.

It is clear from most Christian marriage books, conferences, and counseling material that when the man fails in his duty of spiritual leader, the family will also fail. Failure to lead spiritually is the root of all manner of dysfunction and sin in a family. This has caused a lot of women much heartache as they call into Christian radio programs or sit crying with their pastors over their husband’s behavior and character flaws. His sin? “Not being a spiritual leader.” Consider this article from Family Life Today, a program that is considered solid Christian family material, whose founders do marriage conferences around the U.S.:

“How can I motivate my husband to get right with God and become the spiritual leader of our family? This question represents the longing of many wives who are growing in their faith but are married to men whose Christian growth seems stagnant or who seem unwilling to take the spiritual lead in the family. If one of these represents your situation, realize that you are not alone.”

The article goes on to showcase the various popular teachings on what a husband is expected to do and what happens when he isn’t following through. It also goes into the expectations of a wife whose husband is failing at leading. And, in a very predictable manner, blames the wife for her husband’s shortcomings. Because that’s how it always ends up in this paradigm: the wife wasn’t submissive enough, or godly enough, or giving enough sex, or being spiritual enough, or being quiet and meek enough, or she usurped his authority and dared to lead for a bit, and THAT’S why her husband isn’t doing her job. “…carefully evaluate if you are inhibiting your husband’s spiritual leadership by taking the lead yourself….[if] he is instinctively looking to you to set the spiritual atmosphere in the home because of your experience or your spiritual maturity, you may actually be robbing him of the opportunity to become the leader God desires.”Oh noes. Men’s leadership abilites are apparently so fragile as to disappear altogether if the wife doesn’t submit properly. It doesn’t matter if she is actually better equipped than he is, it’s his job and she better not do it, for the sake of their family’s spiritual status.

In another article by Focus on the Family, entitled “How Do I Spiritually Lead My Family?”, the author explains:

“Naturally, there is a great deal of controversy in the church today surrounding the precise meaning of these words. Some husbands wonder, “What am I supposed to do – act like a preacher?” Some wives ask, “Why is he supposed to be the only spiritual leader? Why can’t we both do it?” In the end, it all comes down to a very simple and fundamental truth: families need leaders. The buck has to stop somewhere if the household is to function smoothly and efficiently.”

He then goes on to give out some basic qualifications on what this looks like practically, such as  “he must have a strong connection with his Heavenly Father, finding his happiness in Christ first, realizing that he can lead effectively only if he maintains an intimate relationship with the Lord.”

When you get into popular theologians like John Piper and John MacArthur, you get even more specific and deeper into the murk of the teachings on male spiritual leadership. Piper says,

“I define spiritual leadership as knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to use God’s methods to get them there in reliance on God’s power…If we would be the kind of leaders we ought to be, we must make it our aim to develop persons rather than dictate plans. You can get people to do what you want, but if they don’t change in their heart you have not led them spiritually. You have not taken them to where God wants them to be.”

His following list of how to benevolently dictate the lives of everyone under him in the name of God is very long and tedious and I would imagine looks a bit overwhleming to your average husband, father, and church-leader

I once shared this:

“What I didn’t realize until recently was just how much my husband was hurting from these teachings. I remember going to church without him one week years ago and listening to a guest speaker rail on the men for not being better leaders, better husbands, and better fathers. (This was his usual sermon when he visited.) How I wished my husband had been there! I confess I thought he could use a good ass-whipping to be the man he wasn’t being (and since I was trying to be the perfect submissive wife, I certainly couldn’t give it to him). When I told him later who spoke, he muttered under his breath “Another guilt-trip for not being a good enough man. Oh yay.” That hit me hard.”

I was so convinced that our marriage wasn’t working, our family was falling apart, and I was being stunted spiritually all because my husband wasn’t interested in spiritual matters. At least, not to the extent that everyone said he should be. I was the woman in the article I posted first, from Family Life Today, wringing my hands because the man who was supposed to be in control of not only my physical life, but my spiritual growth, wasn’t doing his job. I was stuck. I felt hopeless. I had no concept at all that I could be in control of my own spiritual growth or that of my children, no concept of autonomy or agency. 

And this brings me to one of the biggest problems with these teachings. They cause women to be stuck. If your man is supposed to be your leader but he’s not leading, and if blessings from God are supposed to come through your man but he’s not doing his job to get the blessings, and if you are told that you must always submit and always respect and never usurp his authority by leading your family yourself because that’s Satan tempting Eve, then what is a woman to do? Well, she manipulatesShe jumps through hoops to grovel to her husband’s position over her while still passive-aggressively manipulating her man to do what she wants him to. The much-revered book on marriage, Created to Be His Helpmeet, is an entire book on how a woman can manipulate her man to do what she and God wants while still being a submissive “godly woman”.  It becomes the only option left. Real communication cannot happen in such an atmosphere.

Women are inferior in this paradigm because they cannot lead themselves but must depend on a man — a man who is naturally superior in position and spirituality. Though no complementarian teacher will admit this and many protest against the idea, there is no way to operate within this worldview without spiritual and physical inequality between the sexes. They say things like “equal in value but not equal in role”. They can try to redefine “value” all they want but it doesn’t change the practicality that women are inferior in this teaching. 

The fact of the matter is, no one is responsible for me except me. No one is my “spiritual leader”. I am my own person with my own beliefs and my own journey and NONE of that is dependent on my husband. Because he is his own person with his own journey too and that’s not dependent on me. We walk our own paths even as we have chosen to walk together. To say that a marriage can only work if the husband is the spiritual leader is ridiculous. Look outside this narrow worldview for one moment and see all the marriages that have worked and are working splendidly without a male leader. Or with the wife leading. Or with one or both of them atheists and no spirituality whatsoever. Or with equal partnerships. Or in Egalitarian Christian marriages. Or in any number of variables and beliefs and situations. Look outside the confines of the cages built by the Complementarian leadership of the American Church and breathe free air for a minute. Then tell me I should go back to a system that says I can’t be anything without my husband’s leadership. That my children will go to hell because he doesn’t go to church or lead prayer or ever talk about God with them, regardless of whether he is a good husband and good father. That it’s probably all my fault the formula isn’t working because it’s always the wife’s fault in this paradigm when her husband isn’t doing his job.

I watch as conservative religious friends go to various marriage seminars where they are instructed on how to have a good marriage within the confines of complementarian teachings. They come back all fired up and high off repenting for not being submissive enough and not being loving enough. But it never lasts. And after a while, back they go to another conference to have it instilled yet again how to operate their relationship in forced, gendered, hierarchical ways. Some manage to last, many don’t. It’s no wonder to me that marriages in these confines need so much encouragement, so many books, yet another conference. Because this type of relationship is not sustainable. Not in a healthy way, not for very long.

Now contrast everything I wrote above with how my marriage is now, years after giving up the teachings of male spiritual leadership. We are equal partners. We are free to use our strengths for the growth of our family without worrying that I’m not being submissive enough or he’s not being leaderly enough. I can call him out when he’s being unreasonable and he can tell me when I’m being a butthead and we can set up boundaries to ensure healthy communication and actions without some weird hierarchical paradigm within which we to try to manipulate each other. We are individual, separate, independent people who adore doing life together and are free to do that in a way that works best for us. I am strong and free to operate my own life and he is free from the burden of treating me as child that needs his direction. We offer each other support, wisdom, criticism, trust, respect, and love. We are not bound by gender roles that force us into unnatural ways of being. We are free. So very free, to be ourselves for each other and for our children. And it is a beautiful thing to behold. Because where freedom lives, love can grow in leaps and bounds.

Once again, giving up saved our marriage. And we didn’t even need a marriage conference to do it.

End of series.

Thoughts on Christian Marriage Teachings, Part Two

Image courtesy of Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on March 17, 2015.

< Part One

So with my story in mind from Part 1, let’s talk about the teachings that claim that without the Christian god, marriage cannot work.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the problems with that belief. But it does take objectivity and willingness to look outside the confines of your world and paradigm. The fact is that marriages, all relationships really, work just fine (or don’t) across all religious and ethnic and historic boundaries.Atheists, Catholics, Protestants of every flavor, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, New Age folks, Pagans, Wiccans, Mormons, Jews, and every combination of these have had great, life-long, healthy marriages throughout history (they’ve also all fucked up a lot of relationships). So what is the constant there? Because it obviously isn’t the Christian God.

Christians think that if their marriage goes wrong, it’s because they aren’t doing Christianity well enough. But even the casual observer can see that that has nothing to do with it. That people without any god at all can manage to do relationships well. God, anyone’s version of it, is not what holds relationships together. Those that say they are only together because of God make me pause and wonder what will happen when their idea of god changes, or if one spouse’s journey leads away from Christianity.

If belief in Jesus causes you to treat one another better and therefore have a more fulfilling relationship, then that’s great! I’m not knocking that at all. But there’s some concerns with that line of thought. To say that belief in your god is *the only thing* that can hold together a marriage is not only false, it’s dismissing of every good marriage outside your paradigm. And it’s concerning to watch people go through highs and lows and to constantly blame the way they treat their spouse on whether they are doing religion correctly or not. Human beings have managed to be respectful, loving, and empathetic, be they Christian or not, and if one cannot be compelled to treat another person in those ways without allegiance to one’s god, then I have to ask why, because non-Christians manage it every single day.

I see my husband as deserving of my respect and empathy, not because a deity declared him so, but because he’s a human being and valued. He values me purely because he loves me and I am worth it as another human being, not because he has to “see Jesus in me” in order to see my worth or because he can’t love me without first loving God.

So while I do think that faith can enhance one’s life and relationship, I can also see where it has been used as a crutch and a get-out-of-jail free card that people use to blame their problems on.

But when you’ve been used to blaming your actions on God, lack of Him, flesh nature, Satan, Eve, and everything else *but* your own self, it’s tough to start admitting personal responsibility.

No, my flesh nature is not responsible for me yelling at my husband. *I* did that, I chose that action, *I* am responsible to make it right. No, my lack of empathy toward my wife is not because I didn’t pray enough this week, but because *I* chose to act in that way and *I* alone am responsible to fix it. God isn’t going to fix it for me. That’s on me. And it’s on you.

Thankfully, I know now by both reason and experience that I can do good without anyone’s version of god. I can have a great marriage with myself and my spouse at the center of it and without a god in the equation. That many people, the world over, throughout history, have managed to do much good and have fulfilling relationships with others with and without God (anyone’s version of him/her). The traits that make us human, that cause us to have healthy relationships with other humans, are not exclusive to Christianity.

We all have access to them, we all have the opportunity for amazing relationships, god or no god.

Part Three >

Thoughts on Christian Marriage Teachings, Part One

Image courtesy of Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on March 17, 2015.

“God needs to be the center of your marriage or it will fall apart.

“Marriage takes three to work well.”

“A good husband is one who helps his wife fall more in love with God than with him.”

“The most important thing in marriage is for both to have faith in God.”

“Without God, marriage cannot work well. We are two selfish to accomplish a good marriage on our own without his sanctification and redemption.”

“A husband must be completely surrendered to God in order for his wife to completely surrender to him.”

“The closer you move toward God, the closer you move toward each other.”

“God ordained marriage and God sustains marriage.”

If you look up “Christian marriage quotes”, you’ll find thousands of pages and tens of thousands of quotes like the ones above. Some of us don’t have to Google, these things were drilled into us from babyhood. We heard them from our parents, the pulpit, pre-marital pastoral counseling, Christian marriage books, our own wedding ceremonies, and marriage seminars and conferences.

This type of thinking is a type of religious-centrism, or the idea that your perspective based on your religion is a universal truth. In reality the world around you is a much bigger place with broader views that don’t follow your rules or operate within your paradigm.

I’d like to talk a little more thoughtfully about the idea that “having a relationship with God and God as the center” is not necessary for having a wonderful marriage and how dependence on this concept can be damaging.

But first, a story. My story, and what led to the broadening of my own views on healthy marriage.

These teachings about having God at the center of your marriage, almost tanked my own marriage. Along with the erroneous teachings of Complementarianism, the idea that God had to be the center of my marriage, and all that entails, was disastrous for my marriage.

I came into marriage with a lot of funny ideas on what a Godly marriage was supposed to look like. I’d been raised a good little female homeschooler and read all the right books, including Created to Be His Helpmeet. I knew that in order to have a godly marriage that lasts a lifetime, I had to learn submission to my husband, he had to be in tune with God in order to lead correctly, we had to both be in daily communication with God, prayer together daily, discuss our faith, be part of Bible studies that would encourage us in our personal faith and our godly marriage, and be sure to “keep God at the center” of our marriage. We could only love each other well if we loved God more. Every church we were part of reinforced these teachings. Every couple we talked to in the church declared them to be true.

But nothing worked out like it was supposed to. As my husband said to me just last night, “Doing marriage the Christian way almost killed our marriage”. The more I tried to respectfully get him to lead prayer with me, or to go to men’s retreats where he’d learn to be a more godly leader, the more he resisted and the more distant he got. He’d cave and go to a retreat where, in his words, “they’d spend the whole time telling us how we weren’t good enough men and needed to repent and get closer to God and we’d come home feeling both dejected and on a repentance high.” (He likes to refer to the emotional upswing that happens after a spiritual encounter as a “spiritual high”.) We had quite a few of those experiences in the first 5 years of trying to be a godly couple. There seemed to always be something to repent of, something we weren’t doing quite right, something we needed to do better in order to obtain what we were supposedly missing: connection with God and therefore each other and therefore God’s blessing on our marriage.

Somewhere along the line, we both gave up. We loved each other, had great chemistry, were committed for life. But we were tired. So tired of trying to fit into boxes we didn’t fit in. Trying to pursue the elusive spiritual connection that would finally help us obtain “godly marriage”. We never fought, we just disconnected. I was sure it was over because we never prayed together and he was sullen because I lived in fear that we’d messed up, that God wasn’t the center of our marriage, that we could never have what all those smiling couples on the marriage books had. And we were both miserable.

Giving up saved our marriage. 

When we were both able to give up on expectations of each other and ourselves, expectations we were told came straight from God, we were finally able to see the people we were and the relationship we had. We were able to appreciate the uniqueness that was us instead of forcing something that wasn’t us and was killing our hearts and souls and relationship. We gave up the idea that either of us had to be close to God to be close to each other and started connecting based on who we were as people, not as Christians. We stopped sharing our personal faith journeys with each other in a forced “we have to share because it’s what we’re supposed to do” way, which was really me trying to pry his thoughts out of his head in order to feel some sort of spiritual connection to him. We stopped trying to model the male headship structure and decided that Egalitarianism was more true to who we were and made more sense for a healthy relationship between adults. I started to blossom as my own person, an independent individual, something I had never done before as a conservative homeschooled female. I no longer needed him to shape up spiritually in order to lead me. I didn’t need a leader, I needed a partner, a companion. He didn’t need me to be another child that needed leading, he needed and wanted a partner in life.

We stopped asking “what are we supposed to do? What are we supposed to get out of this relationship? How can we glorify God with our marriage?” and started asking “what do we want to do? What do we want from this relationship? How can we live a fulfilled, healthy life within our marriage?” We threw out the books, stopped going to conferences, and completely gave up any spiritual and religious aspect of our marriage. We didn’t talk about God with each other for *years* and just let the other person have their own faith and do whatever they liked with it. We stripped it all down to two people, madly in love, who like each other and want to do life together, and now what? 

That was the first 5 years of our marriage. The last 5 years have been truly phenomenal. Real connection, mutual respect, freeing each other to be individuals, talking til 2 AM about everything and nothing, sexual fulfillment, laughter, partners in crime, best friends, each on our own spiritual journey and not threatened by the others’, doing life together in an easy, non-forced way. According to every sermon, every book, every conference, every meme and internet quote passed around Facebook, our marriage should be falling apart without God. But without God and the expectations that came with the idea of him, our marriage is thriving, as are many others in the same place as we are. I am sometimes angered by the fact that something that started out so good was almost destroyed because we submitted to teachings of men in the name of their god. I’ll talk a little more about those teachings and the problems inherent in them in Part 2.

Part Two >

The Day We Fall Silent is The Day We Don’t Care Anymore: Nikki’s Story, Part Two

Homeschoolers U

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Nikki” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author.

< Part One

Part Two

I was raised in a fundamentalist homeschooling family.

To say my parents were patriarchal is an understatement. My father once sent me this article from Rushdooney’s Chalcedon Foundation to explain why I couldn’t choose my own husband. For those who don’t care to click through, the article’s thesis is summarized by this quote: “As strange as it may sound, in the peculiar relationship of the father and daughter, God, as it were, takes a back seat. God has created a hierarchy such that the daughter is directly answerable to her father, and her father then answers to God.”

Needless to say, I was grateful to get out.

I chose PHC because it was 1000 miles away from my parents. I was young and naïve—homeschooling in the hands of controlling, fundamentalist parents has that effect. I had no idea at the time that I could have applied to other schools. PHC also seemed safe. I had attended PHC’s constitutional law camp a few years before (I know, I know, homeschool nerd). The campus was small and not intimidating. And being around other, conservative Christians meant I would be able to trust everyone around me—or so I thought. PHC just seemed right.

It’s been almost eight years since I first stepped foot on that campus as a new student. Now I’m hated by the administration and have been told by Dean Corbitt that I’m not fit to speak to freshmen.

But in August 2006, I wanted nothing more than to be at PHC and to belong.

The first few weeks were a lot like summer camp. We were the class of 2010, the redemption class, the first students to arrive post-Schism. (Yes, we really did name the faculty’s dramatic departure the year before after the famous church split in the 11th century. Homeschool nerds.) Everything seemed hopeful. It was a new beginning for everyone. Of course, that didn’t last long.

At the time, PHC was cursed by something called an ASE or an “all student e-mail.” Sometimes, ASE wars would erupt, and our inboxes would be flooded with the (rarely witty) back and forth between our fellow students. One such war started shortly after the beginning of the semester. An older male student emailed this link to the entire school, thinking it a marvelous joke. For those who don’t want to watch the video, one of the punch lines is that over-education in women leads to “ugliness, premature aging, and beard growth.”

Unfortunately, sexist banter and jokes are common at PHC. A year or two ago they were still sending out “girl-friend applications” to incoming freshmen, a form that compared getting a girl friend to signing up for extracurricular activities. “Make me a sandwich” and barefoot and pregnant jokes are ubiquitous. Not that sexism is extinct in the rest of American society—far from it. But sexist jokes at PHC have an especially cruel edge because as much as people claim it is all in fun, in PHC’s culture women are expected to marry and stay home with their children, men are expected to be providers, women are expected to be submissive and to obey their husbands, and men are expected to be the leaders in the home.

The majority position at PHC is that a woman can have a career only if it does not interfere with or limit her primary purpose, which is to be a wife and mother.

Complementarianism, the idea that men and women have distinct roles and that women must submit to their husbands, is taught in PHC theology classes as fact. Until recently, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology served as the primary textbook in that class—for those who don’t know Grudem, he co-founded the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and devotes much of his academic work to combating Christian feminism. It is also not a coincidence that the past two Faith and Reason lectures (school-wide, mandatory lectures held each semester to highlight the work of a Christian thinker) were anti-feminist screeds damning both birth control and domestic violence laws.

Sexist jokes are damaging in any environment—at PHC they are a maddening reminder that some people think it’s funny to mock women’s ambitions, abilities, and experiences in a place where many women had to fight their families to even come to college and where even more must fight for the freedom to choose their own husbands (or wives, let’s not forget there are queer students at PHC).

But let’s return to that ASE. At the time, I was rooming with two of the more liberal women on campus—by which I mean we were all moderate Republicans. The video and the universally positive reaction it elicited enraged us. One roommate and I decided to fire back—with our own ASE.

It was really quite tame, in hindsight. We were impertinent freshmen who told older students they weren’t nearly as funny as they thought they were. Shots were fired both ways. There was no cursing, no name-calling, and probably way too much Christianese. But we had dared to stand up to older students in front of the entire school.

It doesn’t take much to mark you as one of them at PHC. And by “them,” I mean the vague and nebulous group of “bad kids” we were warned not to join. RAs told us about them. “Stay away from those seniors,” “That person is a bad influence,” “That group will ruin your reputation,” you get the idea. Few ever explained to me what these people had done to earn the red letter sewn onto their clothes. When there wasn’t an older student taking you under their wing to steer you away, there were still feelings and whisperings. You got to a certain point where you just knew, based on how the good kids behaved and the subtle changes in conversation, who was in and who was out.

It would be years before I realized that most of those “bad” upperclassmen were just as boring as I was my senior year, kids just trying to keep their heads down, finish their assignments, and get out. But young, impressionable, freshman me wanted none of that—I wanted to be good. I wanted to be one of the well-liked RAs who seemed so on top of everything. I didn’t think that fighting back about that video would be the first tick mark on my record.

A week later two, older male students stuck a pig’s head on a stake, pounded the stake into the ground outside our first-floor dorm window, and attached a note to it: “Thus to all feminazis.”

They were never caught. No one even looked for them. There was no investigation. The administration never interviewed me or either of my roommates. At a school where Student Life seeks to know everything about everyone’s business, this incident was simply unimportant, and the entire thing was shrugged off. It would be years before one of the perpetrators came forward to tell me what he’d done—not to apologize, but to reminisce about an “awesome joke,” one of the great “unsolved pranks of PHC.”

It wasn’t funny to us.

I was so ashamed. I never even told my parents. I was afraid of what they would do to me, since I was obviously advocating for “feminist” (and therefore evil) things while away at school. I never sought help from the administration, believing instinctively that they would take the perpetrators’ side. I never even told my professors, even though I would form close relationships with many of them. I buried the incident so deeply, I had to go back to old gchat records to verify it happened—there comes a point where it just sounds too outrageous to have ever happened to me. And there it was. September 25, 2006.

I know it’s hard to comprehend, but we were so naïve, so sheltered, so ignorant about the world, we didn’t even realize the gravity of what had happened to us. I didn’t understand that I had the right to express my opinion and not fear reprisal for it. It seemed to be just another example of “boys will be boys,” a comeuppance for my temerity.

Whatever it was, I mark this incident as the first time I realized everything at PHC was not as it appeared.

To be continued.

Why the Distance Between “Christian Patriarchy” and “Complementarianism” Is A Sleight Of Hand: Rebecca Irene Gorman’s Thoughts

 

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Also by Rebecca on HA: “The No True Homeschooler Argument,” “I Was Beaten, But That’s Not My Primary Issue With Homeschooling” and “‘Fake Someone Happy’: A Book Review.” 

My pastor was the director of the Chalcedon Foundation and the other teachers I studied under were Mark Rushdooney, President of the Chalcedon Foundation, Doug Wilson, Howard Phillips (father of Doug Phillips) etc. Ground zero of the ‘Christian Patriarchy’ movement.

The context in which they use the word ‘patriarchy’: It’s not always capitalized. It’s not always typed as ‘Christian Patriarchy’. They don’t think of ‘Christian Patriarchy’ as the name of their movement. Yes, they do think that patriarchy is a good thing, and say so explicitly. They love to talk about the Biblical patriarchy, and are often happy to capitalize Patriarchy as a value essential to Biblical Christianity.

If you ask them what their movement is called, they’ll probably tell you ‘Biblical Christianity’. They might go on to mention the Reformers or covenentalism or Reconstructionism or postmillenialism or paedobaptism, because all of these things are central to their identity. Which ones they mention is purely personal preference. If you ask them what they believe about gender roles, they’ll say: ‘complementarianism’. NOT ‘Christian Patriarchy’.

For these people at ground zero of the ‘Christian Patriarchy’ movement, they talk about ‘Patriarchy’ as a positive thing, method behind taking dominion, the reason for quiverful beliefs, beliefs around baptism, communion, etc. While their promotion of this word is very telling about their objectification of women, it’s not what immediately comes to mind for them when they’re thinking about gender roles. What immediately comes to mind for them when thinking about gender roles are various Bible verses and stories that make up the culture’s dialogue about gender roles, and when they have to boil their gender role perspective down to a term, they think of it and talk of it as ‘complementarianism’.

It’s disingenuous to say ‘I’m not a Christian-Patriarchalist, I’m a Complementarian.’ Show me a person who claims to be a Christian Patriarchalist, or a Christian-Patriarchalist who doesn’t define their gender beliefs as ‘Complementarian’, and I’ll show you a fairy. NOBODY claims to be a Christian-Patriarchalist. Claiming to be a Complementarian ‘because that’s what the Bible teaches’ IS the definition of what we now-outsiders call Christian Patriarchy, end stop.

Saying ‘I’m not a Christian Patriarchalist, I’m a Complementarian’ is like saying ‘I’m not a giraffe, I’m a large African mammal with a very long neck and forelegs and a coat patterned with brown patches separated by lighter lines.’

My Homeschool Graduation

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on March 7, 2014.

Sometimes I think about the part of homeschooling that bruised me the most. Undoubtably it was first the extreme purity culture and second the sexism. In fact, the purity culture bothered me so much that it was the first thing I questioned, tested, and rejected in college, but I felt its effects more weighted on me until later on. (I recommend the sex eduation series on Homeschoolers Anonymous.)

The second is the sexism. This is because the sexism was constantly in my face. It’s not just Sunday morning. I had to put on dresses, but boys did not. I had to wear funky bathing suits, boys went topless. I could not go rock climbing, the boys did.

Even before I rejected complementarianism, I just knew the gender roles in our homeschool circles was extreme. One of the first times I vocally got angry about it was at my homeschool graduation. Read the program, and see if you can figure out why.

grad

The dads gave us the diploma, which came from HSLDA, and gave individual speeches. Moms were on the pews.

But that did not happen without an appeal from me. At graduation rehearsal, I told the family in charge that the moms and dad should stand up together, and I said that my mom was the one who had homeschooled me, not my dad, and so discriminating against her was wrong. I also said that we should not have the candles (too much like a wedding) or the singing (only two people could sing). My voice was hit at a dead end.

Here’s the song we sang. “Go Light the World” is definitely a homeschool motto. It’s not surprising the parents choose for us to sing it.

I do not have the rest of the graduation program with me, so I not remember the details.  I also don’t remember much of the dads’ speeches (the pastor spoke a while; one dad said just a couple words). I just remember that it was a really crappy day. I had spent all those years as the solo kid of my class, and it all came down to some dumb moment.

Oh, and my name is misspelled on that diploma. Thanks, Mrs. K.

Oh Daughters of Fundamentalism, Take Upon Yourselves the Cloak of Self-Deception

Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 10.28.56 PM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on August 28, 2013.

I recently witnessed a young girl who is struggling a bit who expressed that she was a bit unhappy with her life, being told that she just needs to take it one day at a time, and be happy with it. To me it is shameful to express to a child or a teenager that their discomfort or unhappiness with a difficult situation stems from their own inability to cope. What message is being given to girls when they are told that although they are not the creators of the bad situation, they must be the authors of the solution, but the solution must only be to swallow their feelings and smile.

This is a relatively common comment made to daughters in conservative families. The basic idea stems from the idea if you are unhappy with your life, it is important to change your attitude about your life. Girls are not taught that they can cause change in their own lives. Of course this serves the purpose of preventing girls from making plans to get out. If they are responsible for their own happiness, and they do not get to make their own choices, fundamentalism is able to produce a new generation of women who not only do not fight back and fall in line with whatever rules and tasks are assigned to them, in the ideal scenario they will actually start to enjoy the fact that they are fulfilling their purpose, and own their own oppression.

This is a very difficult concept to understand if you did not grow up in patriarchy. How can women not only agree and allow themselves to be oppressed, but also seem to be happy and flourish in their own oppression? How can women become party to their own oppression, and in fact add their own restrictions to their own activities and assign themselves even more responsibility for the physical and mental well-being of the men around them? Because they are taught to believe it.

They believe that women are created to complement their husbands. They believe that any unhappiness they experience is selfish and sinful. They in fact quench their own desires and resentment at being treated as chattel, and tell themselves they enjoy it. Today I had the misfortune of reading the story of a young woman who was picked up from work by her husband with an entourage of other people to celebrate her last day of work. There was a banner on the car stating that she was free at 27, but her exit interview read that her new employer was her husband, and she would be a house wife from then on.

Teenaged girls in quiverfull families are taught that their purpose it to serve as a daughter, and then as a wife and mother. They try to fulfill their purpose in life by working hard, taking care of younger siblings, and generally not trying to rock the boat. They do not ask for things that they want or need, they do not tell their parents if they are pain, and they do not ask questions about their futures or their bodies. I can tell you that there are probably many teenaged girls right now that are suffering from severe menstrual cramps or low energy due to health problems, that will not say anything because they do not want to cause shame to their families by not being a strong contributor to the family.

These girls are trotted out at family and church gatherings to showcase their homemaking and child-rearing skills. To fail at cooking a dish or to not be able to handle several children at a time would be an unbearable humiliation. No self-respecting girl would allow that happen, and after a girl has put all of her time and effort into being a homemaker and mother for a few years, she is taught to take pride in it, and also starts to take pride on her own. After all, how many girls of 13 are capable of running a household of 8 or 10 or more on their own. How many girls can feed a dozen people with very few ingredients? How many can juggle a house cleaning and cooking a dinner and calming a crying infant and changing a toddler at the same time?

Untold numbers of innocent teenagers are living this life every day, and they take pride in their ability. They put their own desires away and learn to run a family that isn’t even theirs to keep. They are encouraged to compare their accomplishments with other girls, and on a church day they will go to their mothers and offer to take care of the babies for their mothers. They plan for their own happy families and wash laundry and cook meals and put band aids on babies. They change diapers and administer assembly line baths to dirty children. They make beds and clean up toys and wipe noses and do not go to school. They teach phonics and math and sewing and read the Bible to little children and make sure they listen to the parts about obeying your parents and making sure you do not think bad thoughts.

They tell themselves that this is what they want and that they can’t wait to have their own families and carry on god’s plan. And now they will grow up and teach their own baby girls to serve men and god. To deceive themselves.

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.”

Background

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!

http://www.hslda.org/alink.asp?ID=282

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.