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.
This week, our examination of stay-at-home daughterhood (SAHD) continues with a look at the two-lecture set Strength and Dignity for Daughters. The two lectures are How to Be Your Father’s Arrow, Ambassador and Princess by Anna Sofia Botkin, and How I Learned to Help My Father by Elizabeth Botkin, but since they were each only twenty minutes long and the content was closely related, I’ll be critiquing them simultaneously. This will once again take two posts, the first for the central themes and the second for the assorted strangeness that could not be easily categorized.
But before we start, a little background on the Botkin family is in order, especially Anna Sofia and Elizabeth’s father Geoff. Anyone who has been around Vision Forum for even a short length of time will recognize his name, and a cursory look around Vision Forum’s website reveals that he has frequent spoken at their events (most recently, it appears, at the History of America Mega-Conference). Here is how Vision Forum describes him:
Geoffrey Botkin is a Christian leader and mentor to pastors in New Zealand, a nation that holds promise for the reformation of Christian civilization. Geoffrey is currently traveling in the United States with his wife Victoria and seven children. He has lectured on philosophy and history at Hillsdale College, on politics at the Heritage Foundation, on film at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, and on theology at worldview conferences in the U.S. and New Zealand. Geoffrey is the father of Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, recent co-authors of Vision Forum’s bestselling book, So Much More, a book which is reintroducing the West to concepts of multi-generational family fruitfulness and the ways daughters can become cultural leaders by becoming dynamic assets of family and church.
Note that the above statement doesn’t tell us much about Geoff’s pre-Vision Forum days. Fortunately Cindy Kunsman has, once again, done the heavy lifting for us and produced an excellent series on Botkin’s past, in which we learn that he has intimate and longstanding ties to a particularly infamous cult group, which he has apparently never renounced. Since this post is about Strength and Dignity for Daughters and not Geoff Botkin, I won’t get into the details here, but I URGE you to read Kunsman’s entire series in chronological order (one, two, three and four), as it is vital to understanding the Botkin family and their worldview. At the very least, read the first post.
As you probably know, one of the most common criticisms leveled at the theology of groups like Vision Forum is that they put the husband and father in the place of God. Supporters of these groups will, of course, deny this, but do their objections hold any water? They seem to have a good many holes already, what with John Thompson’s limitation of the priesthood of all believers to men only, and Doug Phillips’ “altar call” for girls to turn their hearts to their fathers. This week, Anna Sofia Botkin dug the hole even deeper:
Now Jesus said to His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” If we don’t love our father’s commands and instructions and reproofs enough to heed them, then maybe we don’t really love our fathers at all.
We can’t get much clearer than this, can we? Anna takes the words of Jesus, in which He refers to Himself, and then changes the referent from Jesus (i.e., God) to human fathers. Should we infer from this that a father’s commands have the same force as those of Jesus Himself? Or perhaps that a human father can never be wrong? Anna’s wording leaves no room for sin and human error on the part of sinful and oh-so-human men. Is a daughter obligated to submit to her father if he asks her to sin? Or, treading for a moment in murkier territory, if he asks her to violate her conscience (something Christians are told not to ask each other to do)?
But maybe that’s still not enough for you. Perhaps this is simply a bad analogy, an ill-conceived metaphor, a poor choice of words. Well, then, let’s try this one on for size:
Be careful how you speak of your father to others. Some girls speak of their fathers as they would of a little brother. They tell funny stories about funny things that Daddy did or said. Most of the time they’re just trying to be affectionate, but this is disrespectful. Some girls speak lightly of their father’s policies. ‘Oh, Dad would never let me do that, he’s so overprotective. Mom might think it’s okay, but you know my dad.’ Sometimes the very way they say the word ‘dad’ makes it sound like a pejorative. I think we can make a Biblical case that this is a sin. …
Have you ever considered that the third commandment might be able to apply to God’s earthly representatives as well as to Him? Did it ever occur to you that there might be a way that a daughter can take her father’s name dishonorably? We can do this by attributing things to our father that are not strictly true. ‘Oh, my dad would never understand.’ Never. ‘Oh, my dad always does this.’ Or by failing to talk of his true wonderful qualities.
We all know the third commandment (or the second, in Lutheran and Catholic numbering) – “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Thus, under the Botkins’ system, it is apparently possible to take not just God’s name in vain, but also your father’s, because he is the appointed representative of God on earth!
To be honest, after the above we really don’t need any more reasons to write the Botkins off as idolaters. But for the sake of argument, let’s examine Anna’s reasoning here a little more closely. Notice that she emphasized the idea of ascribing qualities to your father that are not strictly true. As it turns out, when applied to God instead of a human father, this is one of the classic definitions of blasphemy, as explained here in the Catholic Encyclopedia (emphasis mine):
Blasphemy is a sin against the virtue of religion by which we render to God the honor due to Him as our first beginning and last end. St. Thomas says that it is to be regarded as a sin against faith inasmuch as by it we attribute to God that which does not belong to Him, or deny Him that which is His (II-II.13.1). De Lugo and others deny that this is an essential element in blasphemy…but as Escobar…observes, the contention on this point concerns words only, since the followers of St. Thomas see in the contempt expressed in blasphemy the implication that God is contemptible – an implication in which all will allow there is attributed to God that which does not belong to Him.
In essence, then, Anna is claiming that daughters can blaspheme their fathers by telling stories about them that may not put them in the best light. Now I’ll grant that if we have a girl actively running down her father without cause, this is problematic. But it still hardly qualifies as blasphemy. Maybe we could call it slander, if what she was saying about him was false. However, it’s far more likely to be simple disrespect – which is a lot less exciting than throwing around the second commandment as if it will magically cure adolescent bad attitudes.
There is an even scarier problem here, however. If the Botkins teach that telling funny stories about your father to family friends is “taking his name in vain,” I can only imagine what they would tell a girl who was reporting her father’s abuse of her, her siblings, or her mother. Clearly this would completely destroy her father’s reputation, which, according to Anna, daughters are supposed to protect. So, I must ask – in a Botkin-style patriarchal home, which would win out: justice for the victimized wife and children, or protecting Daddy’s precious “reputation”?
I also wondered, as I listened to this part of Anna’s lecture, what her father’s position on the Catholic church is. This may sound like it has nothing to do with the subject at hand, but let me explain. I’m reasonably sure, since Doug Phillips has called the Catholic church the “defining Western syncretistic institution” and claimed that it merged paganism with Christianity, that Geoff Botkin has, to put it mildly, a far-less-than-favorable view of Catholicism. I find it ironic, then, that while Anna claims girls can take their father’s name in vain and blaspheme him, the catechism of the Catholic church, to my knowledge, nowhere claims that this can be done to the pope’s name. It does indicate that Mary and the saints can be blasphemed (which I do not agree with) – but Catholic theology also holds that Mary was conceived sinless, and saints have to go through a rigorous canonization process. In other words, the standards that must be met before your name can be blasphemed are much, much higher than merely being male and siring a child! And yet, for all that, I’m almost certain that Geoff Botkin would claim that the pope, and not him, is the one who doesn’t know his place.
For the final nail in the father-as-God coffin, I’d like to revisit something I wrote early on in this series (the “doctrinal misstep” I refer to below was John Thompson’s redefinition of the priesthood of all believers to include only men):
Thompson’s doctrinal misstep here has some frightening theological consequences. First, it’s in flat contradiction of Scripture, which states that all believers are priests regardless of gender (1 Peter 2:9). Second, it’s also quite clear from the Bible that priesthood has an essential intercessory function (see Leviticus, where priests had to perform all sacrifices, for just one example) and even clearer that high priesthood does (Hebrews 9:6-10). So, unless the Biblical definition of “priesthood” is stripped of all its essential meaning, removing women from the priesthood of all believers and redefining men as the priest or high priest of their homes leaves women (and possibly children too) in the position of having two mediators – first Jesus, and then their husbands. Unfortunately for Thompson, this destroys the heart of Christianity.
Frankly, not only have I been given no reason to retract the conclusion I came to above, Anna’s statements in Strength and Dignity for Daughters only bolster my confidence in it. Anna refers to husbands and fathers as “earthly representatives” of God. How much more priestly can you get? And since priesthood, as I stated above, is inseparable from intercession – if you have no priest, how do you get to God? The Israelites in the Old Testament could not approach God without a priest; and today Jesus is the high priest of Christians, without whom we could not approach the Father. Thus, if the father and husband is the priest or high priest of his family, how do his wife and children get to God? Through Jesus, Botkin’s supporters would object. To which I would respond, absolutely – but then the husband and father’s “priesthood” doesn’t amount to much, does it?
I run the risk of repeating myself now but I believe this point bears reiteration. Botkin and Thompson are trapped in a double bind of their own making. If the husband and father is the high priest of his home, then they have placed mediators between women and Jesus and have thus denied Christianity. But if, to get around this, they claim that women and children have direct access to Jesus, then all their “priesthood” language about fathers and husbands is rendered meaningless and they should stop using it. In other words, they cannot logically be correct here. That is the take-away. Remember it next time a Vision Forum supporter tries to throw this theological claptrap in your face, or plant the seeds of it in your church.
In the end, however, we may not need all these logical gymnastics after all, as Joy at True Womanhood reported the following after listening to the Botkin sisters live in a session at the 2008 Home Educators Association of Virginia Conference (see also here):
State that there is no relationship with God without the father’s umbrella (once I get the recording, I’ll get the exact quote – I actually shuddered out loud.)
I strongly recommend you read the entire comment thread leading up to this excerpt. Joy also reported that several people walked out of the session before it finished, openly using the word “heresy.” Personally, I’m inclined to agree with them.
Stay tuned for next week’s post, where I’ll explore the other odd elements of Strength and Dignity for Daughters which were not as closely related to SAHD. In the meantime, though, I’d like to propose a new name for what the Botkins are promoting: patriolatry. Because as much as I love the term “patriocentricity,” this seems to have gone a bit beyond merely centering your life around your father. It’s beginning to verge on deifying him – and in a much more literal sense than I ever expected.
The Spotless Bride, reviewed here 6/23/13.
The second commandment forbids the abuse of God’s name, i.e. every improper use of the names of God, Jesus Christ, but also of the Virgin Mary and all the saints.
“But before I actually get into what they said…I thought I’d fill you in on some of the reactions. In a room filled to standing room only (the workshop was actually closed due to space/fire code constraints) I would say that 10-15 people walked out in anger. Most of them were mothers practically dragging their daughters out. I would say that another 20-50 stayed through the speech, but were very upset and angered by what they had heard. (My husband, by twist of fate, got stuck outside, and shared what he heard and saw during the speech and immediately afterward – I was stuck inside.) James said he heard ‘heresy’ from 9 out of the 10 people who walked out (before the speech was over). Of that first wave of people who left quickly as soon as the doors were opened…there was a lot of anger and confusion.”