The “TBB” in the name of this post means that it is part of The Big Box series. If you’re new to Scarlet Letters, read the introductory post to see what The Big Box is all about.
It’s appropriate that I should be reviewing A Home School Vision of Victory this week, as I’m currently attending New England’s largest Christian homeschool convention and in fact, I’m posting this review from my hotel room. Unfortunately, Doug Phillips and Vision Forum won’t be making an appearance. But that doesn’t mean we can’t crack open the Big Box and take a peek inside…
Homeschool to save America!
As silly as the above may sound, it seems to be the premise of A Home School Vision of Victory:
It’s this great fact that God works through not majorities, but minorities of faithful people that is why the homeschool movement is so significant in America today. … It’s a time of great contrasts, and I believe that God is working through faithful families, fathers and mothers who are committed to seeing a righteous generation rise up, that if there is a hope that we are going to find, if there is to be a generation which will be part of helping America regain the glory that we once had, that must come from the homeschool movement.
The roots of Phillips’ idea lie in what’s probably the most commonly quoted verse in Christian homeschooling, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (also known as the Shema):
Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Phillips also references Jesus’ restatement of Deuteronomy in the Gospels:
Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?”
Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31
Taking these two passages together, Phillips concludes that homeschooling is the main application of the greatest commandment to love God and as such “goes to the very heart of the Gospel.”
Don’t feel bad if this seems shaky to you. There are many applications of this commandment, and plenty of ways parents can fulfill the requirements of Deuteronomy 6:6 without homeschooling their children in the modern sense. Phillips would deny this, of course, but he has other reasons for finding homeschooling in the Shema, such as his and his associates’ objection to age-segregation, and their belief that fathers should not delegate teaching authority. If these premises are not accepted (and I’ve already dealt with them in previous posts – see here and here), Phillips’ reading of Deuteronomy starts to look suspiciously eisegetical.
After establishing homeschooling as mandatory, Phillips states that God spares nations because of faithful remnants (in this case homeschoolers) and goes directly into the quote I began with. The righteous, godly generation we need to restore America cannot come from public, private or even Christian schools, since only homeschooling fulfills all the Biblical requirements for godly education. Christian parents who don’t homeschool are putting their children at risk of being seduced by the world, and presumably don’t have “vision” (seven Big Box posts and counting and this term remains undefined).
Time for a vision test
Phillips then says this:
I believe that we are seeing at this precise point in time, 1997, the fulfillment of forty years of God’s progressive sanctification.
“Progressive sanctification” is here referring to the educational movements that led up to modern homeschooling. Phillips begins in the 1950s, when most Christian children went to public school, and traces this “sanctification” through the advent of Christian schools in the 1960s; the teaching of “Biblical worldview” in said schools in the 1970s; and finally the homeschool movement in the 1980s. The “sanctification” is “progressive” because each of these movements, according to Phillips, moved one step closer to homeschooling (the “godly” option) – for instance, while teaching “Biblical worldview” in Christian schools was a step in the right direction, it was not enough as the children were still age-segregated.
So what’s so special about 1997? As someone who grew up in the Christian homeschool community, I can tell you that the late ‘90s were a bit of a “golden age” of Christian homeschooling. The movement was still fairly small, and most homeschoolers were still Christian, so the community was tight-knit, homogeneous and “safe.” Homeschooling had finally been legalized in all 50 states and HSLDA (whom Phillips still worked for in 1997) had recently won a resounding victory against H.R. 6, a bill which would have instituted a national certification requirement for homeschooling parents. In other words, Christian homeschoolers appeared to have finally “won” and had high hopes for their children’s future.
But 1997 was a long time ago. Where are those thousands of homeschooled “soldiers for Jesus” who were so carefully trained up by their parents? What ever came of Phillips’ “vision” of a “godly generation” of homeschoolers rising up to reclaim America and rebuild the family?
Frankly, it’s become painfully apparent in the sixteen years since 1997 that the rosy picture painted by Phillips and others has largely failed to materialize. The homeschool movement, by and large, is becoming more and more secular by the year (which is a bad development only in the eyes of Phillips and his ilk). Christians who follow the strict lifestyle advocated by Phillips and others are still a tiny minority in America, and have made little or no significant progress in public policy except perhaps at the local level in a few isolated communities. And for such a small group they seem to produce an outsize number of horror stories, as a brief perusal of the sites Homeschoolers Anonymous, Recovering Grace, and Why Not Train a Child? will demonstrate. Perhaps conservative Christian homeschoolers will do an about-face in the near future and suddenly begin to make huge strides toward their goal of fundamental cultural transformation. But I doubt it.
The perfect homeschool family
After discussing educational “progressive sanctification,” Phillips goes back even further and claims that the Puritans who came to the New World established the “fully functional family” (hereafter referred to as FFF), which has five characteristics. The first is that husband and wife are colaborers on a “joint dominion mission.” I’ve discussed this term in a previous post, so if you aren’t familiar with it you can read up on it there.
The second characteristic is the belief that children are a blessing. What Phillips really means by this, of course, is that Christians should have a lot of them. He states that Christians must reject the world’s “barrenness principle” and that “God wants children to be born in Christian homes to defeat the work of the devil.” This is very close to (if not actually) “militant fecundity,” a form of Quiverfull theology which Karen Campbell has defined as “having a large family on earth so as to wage warfare here on earth against the enemies of God.” In this view, as the birth rate in the West (especially America) continues to fall, Christians should make themselves a cultural majority by simply outbreeding non-Christians:
Probably the most subversive and effective strategy we might undertake would be one of militant fecundity: abundant, relentless, exuberant, and defiant childbearing. Given the reluctance of modern men and women to be fruitful and multiply, it would not be difficult, surely, for the devout to accomplish in no more than a generation or two a demographic revolution. Such a course is quite radical, admittedly, and contrary to the spirit of the age, but that is rather the point, after all. It would mean often forgoing certain material advantages, and forfeiting a great deal of our leisure; it would often prove difficult to sustain a two-career family or to be certain of a lavish retirement. But if it is a war we want, we should not recoil from sacrifice.
I don’t have the space here to get into all the problems with militant fecundity (though I’ll likely end up addressing it at some point later in this series), so for now I’ll direct my readers to this article by Karen Campbell and this excellent comment by Adam for a brief critique.
The third characteristic of an FFF is that their home is a source of “economic vitality,” which appears to mean debt-free, frugal living. Now it’s certainly admirable to be frugal (and probably required for a family with a large number of children) and few would argue that it’s bad to be debt-free. But Phillips seems strangely focused on these things, especially a lack of debt. In fact, he seems to place it on the same level as homeschooling and militant fecundity, and portrays it as a practice that distinguishes Christians from the “worldly” culture:
In this best-of-times, worst-of-times world, in this time when on the one hand the world is aborting their children, and you are bringing forth godly children. On the one hand, the world is getting more and more in debt and more and more Christians are saying no to debt, that we want to be free men to serve Jesus Christ, free from the bondage of debt so we can do what’s right. It’s a time of great contrasts, and I believe that God is working through faithful families, fathers and mothers who are committed to seeing a righteous generation rise up, that if there is a hope that we are going to find, if there is to be a generation which will be part of helping America regain the glory that we once had, that must come from the homeschool movement.
Phillips’ take on debt and frugality is eerily similar to that of a certain subculture within Reconstructionism. I’ll explain those similarities in detail at the end of this post.
The fourth characteristic is that the home is the center of children’s education and discipleship. This, of course, goes hand in hand with A Home School Vision of Victory’s title, as well as the previous lecture by Scott Brown on a father’s role in the home. It also dovetails neatly with militant fecundity as Phillips states Christian children must be given a “warrior’s education.”
The fifth and final characteristic is the use of the home as a place of ministry, evangelism and hospitality. Phillips talks often about hospitality and sees it as a private, Christian alternative to the state welfare system. Whether we agree with him about welfare or not, he seems to be on solid ground when he says that lodging strangers and helping widows and orphans is an important part of the Christian faith (1 Timothy 5:3-16, Hebrews 13:2, James 1:27). However, I can’t glean much about the finer points of his position from this lecture alone, and given his track record on other topics, I currently consider him “on probation” and “data deficient” per hospitality. There’s another lecture in my Big Box, Hospitality: The Biblical Commands, which I plan to review around Halloween. So we’ll see then whether Vision Forum’s take on hospitality is a “treat” or yet another “trick.”
The good ole days?
So since, according to Phillips, the FFF first existed in America in Puritan times, and doesn’t exist today except in a few isolated cases, when and why did it disappear? What went wrong?
Phillips’ answer seems to be that the Industrial Revolution started the decline of the FFF. Before the Industrial Revolution, home life and work life were one and the same – think of home-based craftsmen or family farms – and households were usually self-sufficient. Men’s, women’s and children’s roles in this system were relatively clear-cut and there was little disagreement about those roles. The Industrial Revolution, however, “broke up” the family by sending parents to work in factories and children into public schools.
From a historical perspective, the above assessment is not necessarily inaccurate – no one argues that the Industrial Revolution caused tremendous upheaval in Western family and social life. But that’s all it is: history. For Phillips to establish that this home-centered life is Biblically mandated, he has to do more than merely observe that it was the norm historically. He has to provide actual Biblical proof that this is the way God wants society ordered, and he did not do that in this lecture.
It’s true that many of God’s commands were first given in and to this type of home-centered agricultural society. But if the Bible is, on some level, for all people, in all times, in all places, shouldn’t these commands be applicable to all types of societies? Are we really required to “turn back the clock” to a specific type of society to be “truly Biblical”?
It may be helpful, since the pre-industrial age is so often romanticized today, to use a less idyllic example. The agricultural societies Phillips admires developed out of a more primitive form of civilization, the hunter-gatherer society, in which there isn’t always permanent settlement (due to the need to follow the animal food source wherever it may go) and hence no “home” as Phillips conceives of the term. What, then, is a Christian missionary to a hunter-gatherer society supposed to do? Must he force them to adopt agriculture and a settled lifestyle, simply because the Bible was written in the context of an agricultural society? Or should he find ways to wisely apply God’s commands to the given context? (I’ll also note that this is hardly a flippant hypothetical scenario – missionaries in some parts of the world must do this every day.)
I must also add that even when Phillips approaches accuracy with his statements about the former economic importance of the family, he is not perfectly accurate. He aims for the picturesque – an early American father laboring in his home workshop, while his wife takes cares of their seven children and cooks dinner at an open hearth. There were, however, many situations which were far less romantic. As a submariner’s daughter and a native New Englander, I can assure you that whaling, fishing and other seagoing professions often took men away from their families for weeks, months or even (in the case of whaling) years at a time. And Phillips has the nerve to complain about a fourteen-hour work day!
May I suggest to you that a young man who has set his goals on a job that will require him to be fourteen hours away from home each day cannot be a faithful father? It is impossible to properly fulfill your responsibilities as a husband and a dad and not be there with your family. You can’t do it.
Well, there you have it. A Christian whaler in 19th-century Nantucket could not be a good father! It would apparently have been better for him to impoverish his family and put them on the streets, in an era with little or no social services (which incidentally is exactly how Phillips would have it – see above about hospitality replacing welfare), than for him to quite literally risk his life to provide for his family on the high seas. Jesus gave His life for His bride the Church – but similar actions on the part of a human husband are inappropriate if they take too much time to accomplish. So much for women and children first!
Phillips also ignores the fact that “switching jobs” in early America was not a simple proposition. Most men were apprenticed in their early teen years and trained for only one profession, and if they could not work at that profession, they were often out of a job, period. A whaler who wanted to spend more time with his family could not simply go to the local community college to learn cooperage or carpentry. Puritan historian Edmund Morgan explains it better than I can (and since Phillips claims the FFF was operating in Puritan times, citing a case from the 17th century is perfectly appropriate):
The importance of making a good choice [of occupation] was heightened by the difficulties involved in changing one’s mind later. After a man had gone through seven years of preparation for an occupation, he would not lightly undertake to learn another. The petition of a Boston brewer, whose license the authorities had threatened to revoke, shows the predicament of a man who was forbidden to exercise the calling in which he had been trained. The petition, dated Jan. 27, 1653/4, states that Clement Grosse ‘hath all his life tyme beene bred up a Brewer and knoweth not in any other lawful calling how to ymploy himself to gett an honest living to mayntaine himself his wyfe and famyly.’ … After a boy had chosen his calling, then, he seldom had an opportunity to change it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s high time we put all these scattered puzzle pieces together. In A Home School Vision of Victory, we have learned that Christian families should homeschool; have lots of children; live without debt; and be organized along strict gender lines. Fathers must not spend so much time outside the home that it detracts from their “faithful fatherhood”; social services should be replaced by Christian generosity; and we should admire and attempt to return to a period when the (mostly) self-sufficient household was the center of economic life. So if Phillips’ “vision” were somehow implemented in full tomorrow, what would that look like?
First, the world would become highly decentralized. The size of government would be drastically reduced, and most people would end up working in family or home businesses (remember how much Phillips criticizes the modern office, where women “serve” men other than their husbands, and men are tempted to value their suspiciously pretty secretaries more than their wives). Second, it would mean a greatly reduced standard of living for most families – eight or more children are a real drain on the family budget in most cases. Third, women would rarely if ever work outside the home, since it’s inappropriate for them to be above or “functionally equal” to men (see here) and they’d be caring for such large numbers of children. Fourth, since men cannot spend too much time away from their families, standing armies and navies might be abolished – regular training, patrols and deployments take too much time – and be replaced with voluntary militia. Time-intensive traveling professions like shipping would also likely shrink, causing a large reduction in global trade. All this would necessarily result in a much more rural and agrarian society than we have today. (The last few points are admittedly a little more speculative than the first three, but are still perfectly logical conclusions based on Phillips’ statements.)
Remind you of anything? Updated technology aside, this looks, socially, very much like the world before the Industrial Revolution – which is exactly the world that Phillips holds up as the ideal. He claimed in the lecture that he doesn’t want everyone to become a farmer, but the results would be largely the same as if he did.
The above picture is also quite similar to the doomsday scenarios of Christian survivalists, many of whom have been influenced by the particular brand of Reconstructionism championed by Gary North (the full paper linked to in the citation below is well worth reading for a look at the history of and internal theological divisions within Christian Reconstructionism):
Unlike Rushdoony who focused most of his attention on ideas, North explicitly worked to pull together disparate church groups, most notably reaching out to charismatic and Pentecostal congregations in the South in an effort to fuse Reconstructionism’s grassroots activism with committed congregations. When American society collapses under the combined weight of massive foreign debt, military overstretch, and internal decadence, North hopes to have a network of churches ready to step into the breech. In preparation, he has written book after book aimed at educating Christians on how to live debt free, avoid electronic surveillance, and develop the skills necessary for surviving economic collapse. In short, North’s version of Reconstructionism blazed a path for the militia and Christian survivalist groups of the 1990s to follow.
Lest we think North, the son-in-law of R. J. Rushdoony, was some kind of oddball in the family, think again (emphases mine):
Many newcomers (post-1980) to Christian Reconstruction do not know the early history of the movement. For the record, I [Gary North] was an investor in the rural retreat set up by R. J. Rushdoony in 1965-66. So were my parents. So were dozens of other families. The property was located near San Luis Obispo, California. The investors were people who had bought gold and silver based on Mr. Rushdoony’s recommendation (and mine). The project collapsed, as communes tend to do, in a nasty split. No one ever actually moved there. It was at the time of this survival center that he wrote his booklet, Preparation for the Future, in which he outlined his hard-money, survivalist views. Mr. Rushdoony now lives at the top of a hill in the gold mining country of California. Would-be urban survivalists would salivate over his set-up. He went there in 1976 to get away from Los Angeles. … In short, the two founders of Christian Reconstruction preached survivalism and eventual social collapse even before there was a Christian Reconstruction paradigm – before The Institutes of Biblical Law.
If North is to be believed, then, survivalism was a core belief of Rushdoony’s as well. North himself, a perpetual prognosticator, most famously claimed that Y2K would cause the global economy to collapse, but also predicted a national crisis because of widespread AIDS infection (see his 1987 essay The Plague Has Come At Last) and is currently predicting mass inflation in the United States.
More importantly for our purposes, the most popular survivalist site on the Internet, SurvivalBlog, is run by James Wesley Rawles, a Reformed Baptist who has posted a theological defense of his survivalist philosophy. His recommendations correlate exactly with the ones made by Rushdoony above: relocate to a rural area with a low population density (he specifically recommends the northern mountain states and even includes a list of recommended “prepper-friendly” Reformed churches), buy tangible assets like gold and silver, etc. And as expected, he frequently shares articles by Gary North.
So is Doug Phillips a Christian survivalist? I can’t say for sure. But given his glorification of the self-sufficient, frugal homestead (see also his marketing of Joel Salatin) and frequent recommendations of Christian Reconstructionists, I have to wonder. The similarities may be a little too “coincidental.”
In the end, then, Phillips’ “vision of victory” may have much more radical implications than merely pulling the kids from school and teaching them the Bible. In which case, we have to ask: though the title of A Home School Vision of Victory only mentions home education, is that really all this “vision” is about?
Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family, p. 68-69.