Remember this post, where I compared the views of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) to a black-and-white cookie? This is also, I think, one of the underlying problems behind So Much More (and really, all of patriocentricity) – black-and-white, all-or-nothing, extreme thinking. Here’s a perfect example (emphasis A&E’s):
Many of the answers and solutions we, and they, have found will seem incredibly extreme and drastic. We believe that in a day of extreme apostasy and judgment, extreme measures are exactly what is called for, and that a drastic step in the opposite direction is exactly what we need to take.
My question to A&E, after reading the above, is this: do you think your ideas are the solution to society’s problems because they are right and godly, or because they are extreme? It’s true that in many ways, we do live today in a culture of extremes and polarization. We are fascinated by extreme sports, extreme survival situations, extreme weather, extreme politics – so hey, why not have extreme theology, too? But we should know by now something is not necessarily right, just because it is extreme, and that an extremely bad situation won’t necessarily be best remedied by the showiest, loudest and most extreme solution. And yes, it is true that just because something is extreme does not necessarily make it wrong or bad, either. But what this should tell us is that any extreme solution, needs to be proven to be a good or workable solution before we adopt it. In other words, it would be better if we looked for the best solution, and not the most extreme one – and I fear that A&E have confused or conflated the two.
Another problem with black-and-white thinking is that it leads to false dichotomies. In the post referenced above, I showed how the NCFIC’s view of age-segregation sets up one of these, by contrasting children’s church, in which children are physically removed from the sanctuary, with complete family integration and the dismantling of Sunday schools. But any sensible person could tell you that these are hardly the only two options. And so it is with A&E, when they attempt to set up a false choice between radical feminism and broken father-daughter relationships, and radical patriocentricity. Is the world really this simplistic, when even many moderate complementarians admit that feminism has benefited women in various ways, and we can find plenty of non-patriocentrist families that have functional, loving father-daughter relationships? Am I really expected to believe that my only two options are Andrea Dworkin and Doug Phillips?
False dichotomies and extremes also permeate So Much More at subtler levels, to the point that I doubt A&E even notice their existence. Take, for instance, A&E’s consistent emphasis on men protecting women (emphasis A&E’s):
As we grew older, we became acquainted with problems and predicaments that tortured so many of these young ladies. Broken homes. The desire to have families. Futile, politically-correct college courses. The need for protection. Confusion about the meaning of “true love.” Disinterested fathers. Confused mothers. The longing for spiritual guidance. An irrelevant Church. The need for security and stability. It is no wonder many of these girls felt orphaned, unloved, and without hope for the future. What they all seemed to want more than anything else was truth, safety, purpose, and faithful male companionship and protection. …
Many girls are spiritually and emotionally abandoned by parents during their “day care” years. After high school graduation, they are left to fend for themselves in a dog-eat-dog world. Feminism promised that women in a feminist society would live on a utopian playground, enjoying liberation and equality. What we see instead is women being exploited by men to an extreme never before seen on such a wide scale in the West. Most of our friends have an inner longing to be loved and protected, but most of the men they have ever known are either cowards or predators. All these girls know is what they see around them, and it makes them cynical about their families, their parents, their future husbands, and their future children. Many of them are confused about what womanhood is all about and don’t know where to look for godly, feminine role models.
This is a similar to the common teaching in patriocentric and complementarian circles that marital roles are strictly divided and one-sided – wives submit to husbands (not husbands to wives), and husbands protect and provide for wives (not wives for husbands). This sounds good, but let’s pause and think it through for a moment.
It is, first of all, self-evident that though A&E and other patriocentrists make protection sound one-sided and non-mutual (i.e., done only by men), it isn’t, even in their own theology. For example, Doug Phillips and A&E have taught extensively (see here, here and here) that wives and daughters should not speak disparagingly or negatively about their husbands and fathers to others. The reasoning behind this springs partly from commands to women to respect their husbands, but often there is another element at play – wives publicly dishonoring their husbands:
And then there’s Vashti. Her disrespect, het presumption, her dishonor brought shame on her husband.
What this basically adds up to, is that a wife is not supposed to disparage her husband to others, in order to protect his reputation. Ignoring for a moment how this teaching could be used to discourage reporting of abuse within families (which I’ve discussed before), how does this work with A&E’s idea that protection only works in one direction? Patriocentrists themselves have explicitly taught that it is a wifely duty for a woman to protect her husband, at least in some ways. How, then, can protection be an exclusively male quality or job?
The same goes for the teaching that all submission is done only by the wife. In order for this to be true, a husband would never be allowed to defer to his wife on any matter whatsoever. This not only flies in the face of the way every healthy marriage on earth functions (whether it is nominally patriocentric, complementarian or egalitarian), but also doesn’t square with the historical periods that A&E and company idolize. For instance, in the 17th century when there were clearer lines between “men’s work” and “women’s work,” what would society at large have thought of a husband who, despite having never been trained to spin, tried to make his wife “submit” to his opinions about spinning? Let’s just say I’m much less than convinced that they would have approved of his behavior, any more than they would have approved of a wife trying to tell her seafaring husband how to captain his ship. In other words, husbands have always deferred to their wives on something, even in “the good old days” when gender roles were set up in a more patriocentric-friendly manner. How do A&E explain and theologically justify this?
I’d finally like to address another underlying assumption that tends to permeate not just So Much More, but all stay-at-home daughterhood (SAHD) literature, and much of purity- and modesty-related literature as well. This is the assumption that, if you live your life according to God’s will, you will be blessed and avoid the misfortunes that befall those who do not live their life according to God’s will. See, for instance, this passage (emphasis A&E’s):
As we grew older, we became acquainted with problems and predicaments that tortured so many of these young ladies. Broken homes. The desire to have families. Futile, politically-correct college courses. The need for protection. Confusion about the meaning of “true love.” Disinterested fathers. Confused mothers. The longing for spiritual guidance. An irrelevant Church. The need for security and stability. It is no wonder many of these girls felt orphaned, unloved, and without hope for the future. What they all seemed to want more than anything else was truth, safety, purpose, and faithful male companionship and protection.
The subtext here is that, if you adopt SAHD, you will avoid all the the negative things and circumstances listed in the first half of the paragraph. But does this reflect reality? I think not. The Bible (Psalms especially) is full of examples of godly people bemoaning the fact that the wicked are prospering and going unpunished for their crimes. It is also full of examples of godly people who are in, let’s just say, less than pleasant circumstances. And that’s just the Biblical evidence – history provides even more. Jack the Ripper is never captured; Rebecca Nurse is hanged. We live in a world in which gunmen shoot children in elementary schools, disgruntled misogynists murder college students, and schoolgirls are kidnapped by terrorists. These events rarely make sense, and are almost never correlated with the godliness or ungodliness of the victims. Smaller misfortunes, like the ones outlined by A&E above, are even harder to correlate and are hardly limited to non-Christians.
In other words, patriocentricity and SAHD do not answer all the questions that swirl around the problem of evil, or stop bad things from happening to good people. It is naïve at best, and dishonest at worst, for their proponents to act as if they do. Granted, A&E were only teenagers when they wrote So Much More, so we could perhaps forgive a little naivete. But they’re hardly the only offenders here, and I’d be interested to know if they have modified their views at all, now that nearly ten years have passed since So Much More’s publication and they (hopefully) have had some more life experience.
And with that, I say…stay tuned for Chapter 2!