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.
Imagine for a moment that you are trapped in an old, drafty and apparently uninhabited castle. Since you cannot get out, your only option is to continue downstairs, toward the dungeons and all sorts of other unpleasant places. You know from the start, in your gut, that something is wrong with the place: it makes your hair stand on end, and after a while dark, eerie figures begin to appear in distant doorways and then mysteriously vanish before you can investigate further. But you try to keep your spirits up, and hope against hope that maybe things will get better and you can find a way out. Soon, however, comes that inevitable turning point – the moment you realize that not only are things not going to get better, they are about to get much, much worse.
The above is actually the basic plot of a video game I played last year. But it also happens to be a good description of Sleeping Beauty and the Five Questions. When I started listening I was expecting an easy, predictable trip with few or no surprises. Instead I got the most disturbing lecture yet to emerge from the Big Box.
Once upon a time…
In the first half of Sleeping Beauty, Doug Phillips tells us what he calls a “pretend story,” a parable through which he expounds his philosophy of SAHD (stay-at-home daughterhood). In this story, a king and queen ask God for an heir to their kingdom, and He hears their prayers and blesses them with a little girl. As she grows, the princess has many questions for her father; the king, however, is often away at war, and finds he either doesn’t have the time to answer them or doesn’t know the answers. His relationship with the princess also deteriorates, as he is away so often.
Finally, once the princess has become a young woman, the king sends out a proclamation stating that whoever can answer her questions will be welcomed at the castle. At this point a handsome young man arrives wearing a hat that says “youth group” (and no, I’m not making that up) and offers to answer the princess’ questions. Unfortunately he does no better than the king, and under his tutelage the princess begins talking, dressing and acting differently than she had before. Finally Mr. Youth Group hands the princess off to his friend the Very Handsome Young Man, who also claims he can answer her questions; he not only fails to do so, but also spreads his attentions around to multiple princesses.
Eventually, unable to find answers in her own kingdom, the princess goes on a long journey and ends up in the city of Vanity Fair. It appears to be a beautiful place filled with all sorts of exciting things, but the longer she stays there the drowsier she gets, until finally, by the time she gets to the other side, she is sleepwalking and completely unaware that Vanity Fair is actually a horrible slum. Even worse, as she sleepwalks, she begins to lose her beauty and die.
One day, however, one of the king’s messengers passes by Vanity Fair and sees the princess staggering around in a daze. He tries to talk to her but she is sleeping too deeply to hear him, so he returns to the kingdom and tells her father. The king, horrified, issues another proclamation, promising his entire kingdom to anyone who can give him back his daughter, but the summons goes unanswered. Finally the king must ride to save his daughter himself. He arrives in Vanity Fair on a white horse and whispers the answers to her questions in her ear; and when she hears his voice, the princess awakes, recognizes him, and returns home to her own kingdom and her father’s house.
It may seem like a silly little story, but there’s actually quite a bit to unpack here. Those who’ve been following this series from the beginning can probably see at least one of Phillips’ assumptions right away, that youth group and age-segregation are unbiblical, homewrecking menaces. In fact, I wonder if anyone could miss it, as said nefarious villain arrives wearing an easily read, convenient label in the form of a giant hat. Hardly sophisticated symbolism.
But today I’m not concerned about Vision Forum’s views on age-segregation (I’ve already debunked them here and here anyway), or Doug Phillips’ painfully transparent allegories. I’m much more interested in SAHD, and Phillips’ little story has loads to say about that. It first reminds me of one of my previous observations (made here just above the last header), which is that mothers get remarkably little press whenever SAHD comes up. Sleeping Beauty is a perfect example, as the princess is never shown interacting with her mother at any point, and the queen is mentioned only once or twice at the very beginning of the story. In fact, her only purpose seems to be that of a womb: necessary to bring the princess into the narrative, but otherwise unimportant. This is unsettling, to say the least, especially in light of Phillips’ self-proclaimed adoration of mothers and motherhood.
Paging Dr. Freud
My main concern, however, with the vision of SAHD laid out in Sleeping Beauty is that it seems to progressively break down healthy boundaries in father-daughter relationships. We got an inkling of this earlier in the series, when Phillips referred to daughters as their fathers’ “helpmeets” (see here under second header). In Sleeping Beauty, however, it becomes clear that “helpmeet” is only one example of a more extensive terminology shift. Fathers are said to “court” and “woo” their daughters and ultimately “win their hearts.” Even stranger, near the end of the story the king says this to the princess:
I want you to know that you are so special that I have decided to commit my life to raising you up for the glory of God, and to walking beside you in noble womanhood until the day that I pass you on to another king, who you will walk beside at some future day, and I want you to know that your mission between now and then is clear. You will be serving God, helping me to rule over this kingdom, and there’s so much work for us to be done in this kingdom, my darling, and I need you. I need you to help me rule this kingdom. I need you to help me to execute my duties as a king. Will you stand beside me?
If we hadn’t had the context provided by the first sentence, which makes it clear that the princess is in view, we’d probably think the king was talking to his wife. The similar terminology is obvious: for instance, the princess is asked to “stand beside” her father, only three sentences after being told she will someday “walk beside” her future husband. Now would also be a good time to remember that the king’s real wife hasn’t actually been mentioned, except in passing, for nearly half an hour! It would be easy to walk away from this thinking that a daughter’s relationship to her father is supposed to be some sort of mini-marriage, sans sex. In fact, Phillips seems to confirm this later in the lecture:
You’re not gonna learn how to be a godly wife unless you learn how to serve your father first, because God has put your daddy in your life as a model, as a picture of the man that someday your heart will be entrusted to.
Which isn’t creepy at all…right?
Can’t touch this
But terminology is only first step in the massive boundaries breakdown encouraged by Sleeping Beauty. Next Phillips makes this amazingly naive statement:
Dads, I wanna ask you: are you appropriately physical with your daughters? Do you know what I mean by that? Do you come up, do you love them, do you hug them, do you put your arms around them? Do you kiss them? Different men will do it different ways, that’s fine. I’m probably overzealous.
Now first of all, I don’t believe for a moment that Doug Phillips is promoting or endorsing incest or child molestation here. In fact, I guarantee my readers that he is vehemently opposed to both those things. However, given his past track record of glossing over and minimizing abuse within families (see here and here), I don’t have confidence at this point that he’d be willing to tackle the issue of fathers who are “inappropriately physical” with their daughters. And since he thinks CPS should be eliminated (as documented here by R. L. Stollar), it’s not clear how he would deal with such a problem if it arose in his church. If his solution does not, at a bare minimum, involve calling the police and immediately excommunicating and expelling the molester from the church, it is woefully inadequate.
Second, though I’m sure Phillips thinks he’s encouraging healthy affection between fathers and daughters, there’s still potential for overstepping of bounds here, because it doesn’t seem to occur to him that some people may not want this level of physical affection. He only seems concerned with whether a father has met some sort of undefined “quota” of hugs and kisses, beneath which he is insufficiently affectionate. But it’s hardly a healthy relationship to impose physical affection on someone who doesn’t want it, or demand that they give you more physical affection than they’d like. Perhaps a daughter has high personal space requirements; perhaps her father is not a “hugger” and wouldn’t feel comfortable with so much physical contact. In other words, just because someone isn’t physically affectionate, doesn’t mean they don’t love you!
Third, stepping beyond the bounds of the lecture for a moment, photographic evidence exists that Vision Forum, at least in the past, seems to have pushed the envelope of what’s considered normal father-daughter activities. Lewis at Commandments of Men has documented here (with video) that Vision Forum’s Father and Daughter Retreat included an activity in which girls shaved their fathers, and not only shaved them but shaved them on a stage (begins at 1:34), seemingly in front of an audience. Having never attended a Vision Forum father-daughter retreat, I can’t say if this is a regular occurrence or what kind of context surrounded this event. But suffice it to say that I, and others, have found it to be more than a little odd, even if it does turn out to have been nothing more than some kind of misbegotten and ill-advised attempt at a party game.
You will be assimilated
Moving beyond physical affection, we reach the next stage of boundaries breakdown, in which a daughter’s identity begins to be subsumed into, or at least inextricably tied to, that of her father and family. We can see the roots of this in my last post about SAHD, where Phillips claimed that daughters serve their fathers until marriage. It gets even worse in Sleeping Beauty, when we remember the king’s words to his daughter:
…I want you to know that your mission between now and then is clear. You will be serving God, helping me to rule over this kingdom, and there’s so much work for us to be done in this kingdom, my darling, and I need you. I need you to help me rule this kingdom. I need you to help me to execute my duties as a king. Will you stand beside me?
In other words, the princess’ life is to be completely defined by her father’s goals, pursuits and “vision.” And once she’s married…well, we already know what happens then (emphasis mine):
We have women that say, “I want to have my own cosmetics business. I want to have my own this business. And I’ll bring income into the family.” Sounds really good, but there’s a dangerous, perilous direction we can take there if it becomes my business, my ministry. You see, a woman isn’t about her business. She’s about completing and fulfilling her husband’s mission and ministry and the two of them are yoked together as one as co-laborers in a joint dominion mission for the glory of God with the division of labor and with a hierarchy of priorities and responsibilities. This is the way the Scripture teaches.
What this all adds up to is that a woman, normally, is never to have an identity separate from a man. This gets even weirder after Phillips treats us to this odd rant about individualism:
The war of this generation, our war, is the war over the Christian family. You are under siege. It’s in the culture, it’s in the music, it’s in the dress, it’s in everything around us, but those things are small potato [sic] to the philosophies that are dominating the church. Those are the adornments to the heart and soul of a spirit of individualism which would take our daughters and say, you’re not part of a family where you’re welcome, you’re an integral part, you’re part of the life mission of your father. You’re just an individual. Yes, we all are individuals, but we’re individuals with purpose, and God has placed us in families, and this is the war that we’re fighting.
Perversely, Phillips here reasons that women are actually devalued when they have their own identities separate from their fathers, husbands and families. How this can be is anyone’s guess. To my knowledge he can’t legitimately back it up with any Scripture (though he did try here and here). Until he can, I maintain that this sounds more like “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY” from Nineteen Eighty-Four than anything else. But even more frightening are the words of Vision Forum’s favorite ladies, Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, quoted in the excerpt below:
For instance, stay-at-home daughterhood means, among other things, subsuming one’s own identity into the family unit. The Botkin sisters write in So Much More that loving your parents means agreeing with all their opinions. “When your parents have your heart you will truly ‘delight in their ways,’” write the sisters in one blog post. “You will love what they love, hate what they hate, and desire their approval and company and even ‘think thoughts after them.’”
Whatever we choose to call the above – and there are lots of things we could call it, some of them much less diplomatic than others – it is most definitely NOT psychologically healthy and certainly not Biblical. We are supposed to delight in God’s ways, not our parents’ ways, because our parents’ ways could very well be dead wrong (Ezekiel 18:1-18). The bar is set much, much higher than our parents, and what the Botkins are promoting here is nothing more or less than good old-fashioned idolatry. As for the psychology of the matter, Overcoming Botkin Syndrome has already explained it better than I could (emphasis mine):
Enmeshment occurs when individuals within families fail to develop a healthy and functional identity and ability to survive apart from the family group identity. There is a high degree of emotional fusion, poor if any boundaries at all between individuals within the family, and this fusion interferes with the individual’s ability to develop a clear sense of self. It interferes with normal growth and development for children who are raised within an enmeshed family, producing relationship problems as well as varied degrees of psychological problems.
Vision Forum crusade?
Speaking of idolatry, it’s time for the fourth and final stage of Sleeping Beauty’s boundaries breakdown, in which the boundaries in question are not those between fathers and daughters, but those between God and man:
This weekend, girls, if you haven’t given your heart to your dad, this is the weekend that needs to happen. And if your heart has strayed, if you’ve forgotten your dad, if you’ve broken the commitment of your heart, this is the time, now is the time to recommit: ‘I thank God for my father. My daddy, though he may be a sinner, is nonetheless my love and my hero and God has given him to me and he is my gift and I will follow him and I will serve him and I am grateful from the bottom of my heart for my daddy.’ That must be our daughters’ cries.
Back the truck up, sir – I’ve heard this before. I attended AWANA as a child, I know what an altar call sounds like. And there’s no discernible difference between those two bolded sentences and what I heard at AWANA, except that the girls are being told to “give their hearts to their fathers” instead of “ask Jesus into their hearts.” Plenty of people have pointed out that altar calls are often full of horrible theology (and in general I agree with them), but at least the preacher is usually talking about Jesus in some way. Phillips has removed Him completely and replaced Him with human fathers! (What’s perhaps even more bizarre is that a staunch Calvinist like Phillips would be utilizing an altar call in the first place, as they’re one of the favorite whipping boys of modern Neo-Calvinists.)
I find this disturbing. Deeply disturbing. Especially in light of Vision Forum’s documented belief that husbands are the “priests” of their homes (see here under the first heading). I’ve already shown that, if taken to its logical conclusion, this doctrine puts a mediator – husbands, fathers or men in general – between women and Jesus, which is, to put it mildly, a huge theological problem. But if this is what Phillips really believes – which is impossible to tell for sure from his public statements – then an altar call urging daughters to give their hearts to their fathers would, actually, make perfect sense. In fact, it could be their only shot at heaven.
And now, at long last, comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the moment when we can all take deep, calming breaths, find a comfortable chair, and pour ourselves a really big cup of coffee (or maybe something stronger), because the worst of this little pageant of dysfunction is over.
Of course, we’re not quite finished yet: Phillips said so many strange things in Sleeping Beauty that I couldn’t possibly pack them all into just one post. But the rest of them are far less disturbing, and in fact, some are downright hilarious. So for now, enjoy your cup of coffee. I’d join you, but still I’m too busy pounding my head against my desk.