How to Evaluate a Suitor (TBB)

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 post is a first for Scarlet Letters. Not because there’s anything particularly special about the post itself, but because it will be the first Big Box post to analyze a lecture by Doug Phillips since the rather…erm…exciting events that have transpired at Vision Forum over the past week and a half. But never fear, dear readers: romantic indiscretions, no matter how lengthy or inappropriate they may have been, will never stop the Big Box. And so we press on, this time into the nebulous, but also strangely familiar, waters of How to Evaluate a Suitor.

How can two walk together unless they be identical in every way?

Let’s begin with some extended quotes from Phillips about unequal yoking, which he himself said was the main thing he wanted his audience to remember about the lecture:

There is no relationship in the entire earth in which agreement is more necessary than marriage. It is the most heightened level of agreement that is necessary in marriage, because two people become one. It’s the only relationship that we have in which two become one, physically and spiritually you become one. And so if one is at complete differences with the other, you’ve got a formula for disaster. That’s the Buddhist philosophy of yin and yang. Good and evil coexisting together, both in a constant state of war to create a one. That’s Buddhism, that’s Daoism, that Confucianism. It’s not Christianity. We don’t believe in yin and yang. We believe the two should be one, they need to be in agreement.

Okay, well, other than the fact that Phillips seems to think all eastern religions are interchangeable and exactly the same (hint to Doug: they’re not), this doesn’t sound so bad, does it? We all know marriages require at least some agreement to properly function, right?

Two people can be equally yoked in unbelief. Two atheists can be equally yoked together. They’re both unbelievers and yet they’re equally yoked. Two people with limited convictions can be equally yoked. They don’t have to agree on the issue of eschatology, because they don’t have an opinion on eschatology. The things they have opinions on, they’re equally yoked and maybe they only have ten opinions – I’m being a little bit silly here, but let’s say they only have ten opinions. As to those ten opinions, they better be equally yoked, if they’re gonna walk together with unity. Now you take a family committed to covenant at home, a family that has strived for fifteen to twenty-five years to be faithful to the Lord – now you take a family that cares desperately about theology and orthopraxy and, hold on one second – the level of agreement is not just on ten things, now you’ve got lots of stuff that you need to consider.

Ah, yes. The devil is, as usual, in the details.

Let’s first establish if Phillips’ theory even passes the smell test. What exactly is “unequal yoking,” anyway? The phrase was originally derived from 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1:

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion as light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Therefore “come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

Yoke_of_Draught_Oxen,_MON_1909As you can see, Paul doesn’t exactly give us a step-by-step outline here for what constitutes unequal yoking in everyday life. He does make one application at the end (7:1), but even this doesn’t give us much information about who exactly we should and should not associate with, let alone marry. So given these ambiguities, what can this passage tell us about choosing a spouse? Certainly it’s been used to support the idea that Christians should only marry other Christians, which doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch. But Phillips expands the idea of unequal yoking far beyond that in his second quote above, where he claims that two Christians can be unequally yoked due to differing theological opinions. How he gets that from 2 Corinthians is a bit of a puzzle to me, as Paul clearly states that, whatever unequal yoking is, it can only happen with non-Christians – unless, of course, we’re willing to claim that a Christian who doesn’t share our opinion about, say, baptism or church government, is “lawless” and an idol worshipper. Or worse, a minion of Belial (i.e., Satan)!

This isn’t to say, of course, that we shouldn’t use wisdom in selecting a spouse or talk about potential theological issues before marriage, since, after all, some differences of opinion on theology can cause legitimate problems. For instance, I am an organist who firmly believes that musical instruments not only belong in the church, but should be joyfully and exuberantly used there to the fullest extent possible. If I were to marry a man of the old-style Reformed persuasion – that only a cappella worship is proper in the church and anything else is idolatry and a return to the Old Covenant – that would pose a huge difficulty as I would, essentially, be an idolater in the eyes of my husband. Not exactly conducive to easygoing dinner conversation, that. However, as difficult as that situation would be, it would not qualify as unequal yoking. At least, not according to Paul.

Then there’s the question of just how much agreement Phillips thinks is necessary for a Christian couple to qualify as equally yoked:

Two people with limited convictions can be equally yoked. They don’t have to agree on the issue of eschatology, because they don’t have an opinion on eschatology. The things they have opinions on, they’re equally yoked and maybe they only have ten opinions – I’m being a little bit silly here, but let’s say they only have ten opinions. As to those ten opinions, they better be equally yoked, if they’re gonna walk together with unity.

He seems to be saying here that if a Christian has a conviction on a certain point, they should only marry another Christian who agrees with them on that point. Thus, to use Phillips’ example, if a man is premillenialist, he should only look for premillenialist women to marry, as oppsed to amillenialist or postmillenialist women.

Personally, I’m not sure I can completely agree with this. First, as I pointed out above, not all theological convictions will cause the same amount of division in a marriage. Baptism, yes, but eschatology? Probably not in the majority of cases. Second, Phillips doesn’t seem to grasp that two mature Christians can agree to disagree on certain issues. In fact, it might even possible (though I suspect this is beyond Phillips’ grasp) for them to teach their children both their parents’ theological convictions and then let them decide for themselves!

We must also remember here that Phillips’ “minimum requirements” for a spouse may not be the same as ours:

Will he provide for his wife? If he’s not willing to provide for her – meaning he needs to be the provider, not his wife. She is his helper, she’s not an independent provider working for another man. And so a young man that came up and said, well, I’m not sure, maybe I’ll have my wife work outside the home – forget it, get outta here. Goodbye. When you’re ready to lead and provide, you come talking to me. Until then, no way. Because what you’re doing is you’re coming to me and you’re saying you want my daughter, but you’re not sure where you’re going and you’re gonna send her out to work for another man…

Another reason Phillips would reject a suitor out of hand is, of course, that he is not a Christian. It’s thus not a stretch at all to say that Phillips, at least when it comes to courtship, places his views on women working outside the home on the same level as Christianity itself. For a review of Phillips’ other basic requirements for marriageable men, see my previous critique of The Blessed Marriage. The most important takeaways are that his views are, as usual, inextricably tied to his heretical notion of male “coverings” for women and men as mediating “high priests” of their homes; and that he never mentions basic disqualifiers for suitors, such as the signs of a potential batterer or abuser as listed here and here.

But there may be even more alarming implications to Phillips’ focus on unequal yoking, ones I frankly didn’t expect to encounter in this lecture. Immediately before the discussion of unequal yoking, Phillips claims that God commands Christians to “discriminate” – since, after all, God “discriminated” when He chose Israel above all other nations. He then comes up with this, presumably out of either left field, his hat or somewhere else entirely (emphasis mine):

I hope and pray that no one here in this room in this room would lightly discriminate against another person on the basis of their color or melanin count, because I don’t see that in the Scripture as a basis for normal discrimination, although there may be some interesting issues that come up.

demotivation.us_Equality-Yes...-wait-what_129958473119Wait – “interesting issues”? What kind of “interesting issues” could possibly arise in a discussion of racial discrimination, especially as it relates to spouse selection? Now would be a good time to remember that Doug Phillips admires Reconstructionist R. J. Rushdoony, who is on record as opposing not just interracial marriage, but also “inter-cultural” marriage:

St. Paul referred to the broader meaning of these laws against hybridization, and against yoking an ox and an ass to a plow (Deut. 22:10), in II Corinthians 6:14. … But Deuteronomy 22:10 not only forbids unequal religious yoking by inference, and as a case law, but also unequal yoking generally. … The burden of the law is thus against inter-religious, inter-racial, and inter-cultural marriages, in that they normally go against the very community which marriage is designed to establish.[1]

Ouch. That’s a doozy, isn’t it? Even Rushdoony’s own son-in-law, fellow Reconstructionist Gary North, recognized his error here and wrote against it extensively. Phillips, however, doesn’t just like Rushdoony but venerates him, to the point where he apparently spoke at his funeral and brought his magnum opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law, to class daily when he was in law school. (What’s perhaps even more interesting is that the pages confirming both these things, one of which was from visionforum.com, have gone missing since the not-so-flattering articles linking to them were posted.)

Now of course I can’t say for certain, just from the above, that Doug Phillips agrees with his theological hero about interracial marriage. But I, for one, can’t imagine any “interesting issues” that might come up with my parents if I were to start dating a black man. The fact that Phillips not only can, but also conveniently fails to explain what those issues might be, is disturbing to say the least.

[Update 11/23/13: After reading through this interesting exchange at Spiritual Sounding Board, I’ve obtained more information about Rushdoony’s position on interracial marriage. Apparently Rushdoony did perform a few interracial marriages, so his position is somewhat more nuanced than a blanket prohibition. However – and this is a big “however” – he still appears to view them as exceptions to the rule and even describes them as “just barely legal” (note: I DO NOT in any way endorse the site this quote comes from! – though it does contain a large number of extremely disturbing Rushdoony quotes):

The answer is, there is not a law against it, but there is basically a principle that militates against such marriages, so that you might say they are just barely legal, but in principle Scripture is opposed to them. Because the whole point of marriage is that the wife be a helpmeet to her husband, and the term “helpmeet” means in effect a mirror, an image, one who reflects him spiritually; that is, in terms of faith, in terms of a common background, in terms of a common purpose. Now, marriage between persons of very different races generally doesn’t fulfill that requirement, you see. So that it can be technically a marriage, but it isn’t one in which the wife can be a helpmeet. So that while it can legally qualify, theologically you could say there are factors which normally, in almost 99 cases out of 100, would militate against it.[1]

Personally, this doesn’t do much to rehab Rushdoony in my eyes. It also doesn’t change the salient fact that Gary North, who presumably knew his father-in-law had performed these marriages, still viewed his position as racist and even described it as “the once-familiar segregationist argument against racial mixing.” More importantly, however, Rushdoony, at least here, never delineates what would make that elusive 1% of interracial marriages (which presumably are the ones he did in fact perform) acceptable – just as Phillips never defined the “interesting issues” that might arise from racial discrimination. This would probably be enlightening information to have, if it’s available.]

How much is that virgin in the window?

416px-Anders_Zorn_-_Bruden_(The_Bride)Phillips’ other main theme in How to Evaluate a Suitor was the bride price. Thankfully he spent quite a bit of time explaining his reasoning on this point, so we won’t have to do much guesswork. (Cindy Kunsman has also explored the practice in her excellent post here.) Phillips begins by claiming that Adam’s rib was the “bride price” paid for Eve, and that this is a type of the “bride price” Jesus paid on the cross:

…what we are seeing right now, I believe, I think, it is reasonable to conclude, based upon a pattern we see throughout the rest of the Scripture, is that God is demonstrating the principle of the bride’s price in the very act of the removal of the rib from Adam. Why? Because what we see throughout the rest of Scripture is that when a man, a qualified man, approaches a woman or has a woman brought to him by his father, or a woman is appointed or whatever the Biblical pattern happens to be, there is evidence of the man’s qualification through a Biblical pattern called the bride’s price, the most perfect example of which is found in the person of Jesus Christ, who paid the bride price, the Scripture says, He paid it through His own flesh and blood. He died for His bride. Here Adam is not required to die for his bride, but part of him is given up for this bride. He gives of his own flesh and it’s a supernatural giving that God requires of him.

Now I’ll admit, when I first heard this, it did strike me as somewhat interesting from a typological perspective. After the initial novelty wore off, however, the analogy began to break down relatively quickly. The main problem is that the Atonement, to my knowldge, is never described in the Bible as a bride price. It has obvious parallels in the Old Testament sacrificial system, and it is described as a “ransom” a few times (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, 1 Timothy 2:6). But neither of the Greek words for “ransom” has anything to do with a bride price (see here and here), and animal sacrifices obviously are not related to marriage at all. Phillips must thus rely on quite a bit of inference here, and certainly doesn’t have enough evidence to prove that all grooms, for all time, must pay a bride price to their fathers-in-law.

Later in the lecture Phillips gets into more practical issues:

And is he willing to pay the bride’s price? Now you say, wait a second, Phillips, are you saying that a son needs to give three years’ wages? No, and nor does the Bible. That was a Hebraic pattern of a son giving three years’ wages. But the principle of the bride’s price was twofold. Number one, the man demonstrated his ability to provide for the bride, number two, as a safeguard and a protection against the man’s potential default, a safeguard for that daughter.

Well, thank goodness Doug will let the poor boys get married without forking over three years’ wages! That’d be nearly $23,000 for a part-time job at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. What a generous fellow he is!

Being serious now, however, I have no idea where Phillips got this amount, let alone that it is a “Hebraic pattern.” A cursory search of the internet for it on my part revealed nothing, and Phillips himself admits that it doesn’t come from the Bible. Neither can we find his twofold “principle” above in the Bible (though it is a decent explanation of the social function of a bride price), because the bride price is never actually explicitly mandated in the Bible. It is, however, mentioned a few times (see the Hebrew verb and noun forms here):

Then Shechem said to her father and her brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. Ask me ever so much dowry and gift, and I will give according to what you say to me; but give me the young woman as a wife.” (Genesis 34:11-12)

If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins. (Exodus 22:16-17)

Then Saul said, “Thus you shall say to David: ‘The king does not desire any dowry but one hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to take vengeance on the king’s enemies.’” But Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines. (1 Samuel 18:25)

Many patriocentrists also seem to take the following passages to be referring to a “bride price,” but personally I suspect these have much more in common with a fine:

If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and detests her, and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings a bad name on her, and says, “I took this woman, and when I came to her I found she was not a virgin,” then the father and mother of the young woman shall take and bring out the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. And the young woman’s father shall say to the elders, “I gave my daughter to this man as wife, and he detests her. Now he has charged her with shameful conduct, saying, ‘I found your daughter was not a virgin,’ and yet these are the evidences of my daughter’s virginity.” And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. Then the elders of that city shall take that man and punish him; and they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name on a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days. (Deuteronomy 22:13-19)

If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out, then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)

Since only the Exodus passage seems to be potentially prescriptive, we’ll focus on that. I will grant Phillips that it does seem to presuppose a pre-existing standard bride price for virgins. This shouldn’t surprise us, as bride prices were hardly uncommon in Biblical times. However, this standard bride price, whatever it was, was never mandated in the Law and thus cannot be binding on anyone today. Even if it was included in the Law, Phillips would still have to prove that it’s required for Christians under the New Covenant, which, as I’ve already shown, requires several very large leaps. So, in short, he’s once again confused something old with something mandatory. What else is new?

Daddy’s girl

Since Phillips’ qualifications for suitors have already been described elsewhere, let’s take a look at his instructions to fathers. His heretical theology of men as mediators between Jesus and women is on full display here, as is obvious below (emphasis mine):

So on the one hand, a father is to protect the purity of his daughter and to present her pure. And on the other hand, he is to prepare her to give her away. I mean, if you think about it, it’s a heartbreaking conundrum. You mean I’m gonna be spending twenty-some-odd years of my life protecting, preserving in holiness this precious, precious daughter, and then I’m gonna give her away to someone else who will be her earthly lord, as Sarah called her lord, meaning that he will guide her, he will direct her, she will be under his authority, she will no longer be answerable to me, she’s gonna be answerable to him, she won’t be in my family, she won’t be helping me anymore, she’s gonna be helping – you mean I’m doing all this to give her away? What are you, nuts? I’m keeping her to myself. And such is the Satanic confusion deception that many well-intentioned fathers fall into. …

It is a beautiful thing for a father to give away his daughter’s hand in marriage. It is a difficult thing. It is a time of transferring of authority from himself to another. She will be committed for the rest of her life to that husband. To that husband and not her father will she be in a state of submission and direct reverence and obedience. Although she must continue to honor her father and to reverence her father, she is no longer under his direct authority. She will be bound to follow her new husband wherever she goes and her father understands that in transferring his daughter to this young man, or however old the man happens to be, that that girl is put in the position of vulnerability. She is the weaker vessel who is saying, I’m going from the protection of my father under the covering of this new man to whom I am now accountable.

Phillips has missed two things here: first, that women are answerable not to their husbands and fathers, but only to God; and second, that though a father can certainly encourage his daughter in this area, the decision to abstain from sex until marriage is ultimately hers and hers alone. Losing your virginity requires consent (except of course in cases of rape and coercion), which only the daughter can give. And if she consents to premarital sex, her father will not be the one held responsible for that decision. Perhaps in Phillips’ world this is not true. I hope that’s not the case. But given how badly he’s mangled the role of husbands and fathers already, I’d pretty much expect anything of him at this point.

Fathers are also given quite a bit of power over their children’s mate selection:

But the father is the protector of the daughter, and that’s why my charge today is to the fathers. Men, dads, choose, don’t settle. Oh yes, your daughter – it has to be your daughter’s choice, obviously, but father, you are the guardian along the way to make sure that your daughter doesn’t find herself in a compromised or confused situation. You are the leader appointed by God to bring her down this path, ultimately unto marriage. Yes, there is give and take, there absolutely is give and take. No daughter should ever be forced into a marriage against her will, and by the way I think the Bible teaches that. I think that can be defended in 1 Corinthians 7 and elsewhere. But the point is obviously, a wise father desperately cares what his daughter thinks and cares, but he still has to be the guardian at the gate.

This may sound like the daughter’s opinion is taken into account, but we must remember here what we learned in S. M. Davis’ Seven Bible Truths Violated by Christian Dating: that all suitors must go to the girl’s father for approval before she is told about their interest. In other words, if the father disapproves of a certain suitor at the outset, the girl’s opinion will never be taken into account because she will never even know of the suitor’s existence. This is what’s known, in other contexts, as “bounded choice.”

I also know from personal experience that it’s not only girls who can be kept in the dark by this practice. As a teenager I was interested in a young man in my homeschool group and, in an effort to follow proper procedure, asked his parents for permission to pursue a relationship. They declined and, as far as I know, never even mentioned the matter to him. So once again, as has been pointed out many times before, women are not the only ones harmed by patriarchal systems.

How to Evaluate a Suitor also hearkens back to stay-at-home daughterhood (SAHD) in all of its semi-incestuous creepiness (emphasis mine):

You mean I’m gonna be spending twenty-some-odd years of my life protecting, preserving in holiness this precious, precious daughter, and then I’m gonna give her away to someone else…she won’t be in my family, she won’t be helping me anymore, she’s gonna be helping – you mean I’m doing all this to give her away? What are you, nuts? I’m keeping her to myself. And such is the Satanic confusion deception that many well-intentioned fathers fall into. …

We want God’s time, and we wanna make sure that God’s time is God’s time, not Daddy’s time. Daddy’s time is never, because Daddy wants daughter to stay with him forever and ever and ever and to be his daughter for the rest of his life and never leave the house. That’s what daddies want. That’s not what God wants, usually. Rarely does God want that.

Really? All fathers want to keep their daughters at home, forever – even if the girl is lonely, bored and frustrated? Granted, Phillips was being somewhat facetious here, but unfortunately what he’s describing is far from amusing in real life. It’s unhealthy possessive behavior, and an indication that many, many boundaries have already been crossed that should not have been. Phillips also called the thought of giving your daughter to a young man “horrifying” apart from the grace of God. So I must ask, given that most people think of weddings as happy occasions, what exactly is so horrifying to the father in this scenario? That he will not see his daughter every day? That he won’t have free labor around the house? That she and the boy in question will be – gasp! – having sex?

Phillips also issued a strangely large number of warnings to fathers about not cheating and abusing their daughters’ suitors. Now clearly Phillips is correct when he tells them it’s inappropriate to act like Laban, but why did he feel the need to emphasize the point so strongly? Has patriocentricity been hit with a rash of selfish, power-tripping fathers who make it a habit to manipulate their daughters’ suitors? I hope not. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this is a common problem, since Vision Forum has given fathers such an enormous amount of control over their wives and children. Absolute power does, after all, corrupt absolutely.

So, in closing, if you were looking for help in choosing a mate, would I send you to Doug Phillips? I suspect you already know the answer to that question.

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5 comments on “How to Evaluate a Suitor (TBB)

  1. Eva says:

    I noticed the Mr. Rushdoony divorced his first wife and the mother of his children when he was 40. But I can’t find any information as to why. Even his own son, Mark Rushdoony, doesn’t mention his own mother in a biography on Chancedon Foundation web site.

  2. The X Wife Files says:

    “Now would be a good time to remember that Doug Phillips admires Reconstructionist R. J. Rushdoony, who is on record as opposing not just interracial marriage, but also “inter-cultural” marriage”

    And yet Rushdoony married two women NOT from his own ethno-cultural background.

    These guys are all “do as I say, not as I do” narcissists.

  3. From what i have heard on the blog-o-sphere fathers of marriageable daughters in this sub-culture can come on very strong, insisting that suitors write 20 page position papers on theological questions and so forth before even getting a chance at a date. But this heavy handedness backfired in at least some situations. The young men in question found a nice girl to marry who didn’t have a father interested in making a siutor jump through hoops. The upshot in some communities was that most of the young men married outside the community, leaving aging daughters at home. No young man from outside the community would make any sense out of the bizarre demands, and with the fellows from inside voting with their feet…the patriarchs hopefully realized they looked petty stupid. Of course, the dughters are really the ones to pay the price.

  4. […] Christian patriarchy movement, and women’s and gender issues within Christianity. I came across a post featuring one of Doug Phillips’s lectures, entitled “How to Evaluate a Suitor,” on marriage and being “unequally […]

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