IMPORTANT ADDENDUM (11/8/14): A&E fully explain their concept of submission and how it relates to gender in chapter 4. Please read this post for the entire picture.
You may remember a few weeks ago that Michael Farris, chairman of Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), published a white paper entitled “A Line in the Sand,” in which he rejected and condemned so-called “Biblical patriarchy.” This caused a big dustup in the homeschool community, for a variety of reasons that I don’t have room to cover in this post (see here at Love Joy Feminism for a summary). Today, I want to explore only one of the concepts that was widely discussed in the fallout from Farris’ paper: the question of whether patriocentricity teaches that all women must submit to all men.
Farris, apparently, thinks that patriocentricity does teach this, and alleges as much in “A Line in the Sand”:
In sum, patriarchy teaches that women in general should be subject to men in general. The Bible teaches no such thing.
Many people on both sides of the patriocentricity fence strongly objected to this characterization. Beall Phillips, wife of Doug Phillips, became particularly upset in a Facebook comment:
I’m glad for Vickie that she is not under Dennis Rodman’s authority. And I am glad that I am not under your authority. I would choose my husband again any day.
Libby Anne at Love Joy Feminism – hardly an ally of Beall Phillips! – also accused Farris of constructing a strawman (emphasis Libby Anne’s):
That’s…not what anyone says “patriarchy” means. I’ve used the term plenty of times and I’ve never meant that. Even Doug Phillips never believed that women in general should be subject to men in general. No, the idea is that wives are to submit to husbands, that women’s primary role is in the home, and, in the case of Phillips, that adult daughters should obey their fathers.
Serendipitously, chapter 2 of So Much More contains some statements that may help us riddle out the answer to this question. Since most of the discussion surrounding “A Line in the Sand” has focused mainly on Doug Phillips, I think it’s useful to add the Botkin sisters’ voices to this discussion – since Doug Phillips, while arguably the most famous patriocentrist, was hardly the only one, and may not have agreed with other patriocentrists on certain points.
Error carried forward
The exact spot where A&E go wrong on this topic, is extremely easy to spot. It’s quite a glaring mistake, complete with a verse reference ripped from its context and applied to something it was never intended to address. (As I mentioned in the last post, the quote in question is Gloria Steinem’s (in?)famous “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”)
Ms. Steinem’s statement was not only absurd; it was blasphemous. This is because the relationship between men and women parallels the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:23). It’s the equivalent of saying, “The Church without Christ is like a fish without a bicycle.”
Can you see the mistake here? Anyone even a little familiar with Christian gender debates be able to spot it immediately. If you’re still stumped, here’s Ephesians 5:23.
For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.
Hey, A&E, I see what you did there. You changed “husband” to “men,” and “wife” to “women.” And you didn’t notify your readers of that fact. Bad form.
The other foundational text to A&E’s reasoning seems to be Genesis 2 (emphasis A&E’s):
God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone and said, “I will make a helper suitable for him.” Being companions and helpers is more than just a job God gave us. It’s what we were actually created for. It’s what we were designed and specially equipped to be. In fact, it’s an intrinsic and inextricable part of our natures to be helpers to men. It’s not something we can get away from, even by choice.
Notice that neither of these statements is limited to an individual woman in relation to an individual man (i.e., marriage). Rather, they are phrased to include all women. Thus, if we take their own words at face value, A&E apparently believe that all women are by nature helpers to men, and relate to them in the same way the church relates to Christ. Logically, since the church submits to Christ, this should mean that all women do, in some way, submit to all men in A&E’s thinking. This conclusion, I think, is made even stronger by the following:
Every woman’s life is built around men and men’s role and leadership in some way. This is true for the parasitical women who live like leeches off men and whose lives revolve around attracting men, and for the die-hard feminists who dedicate their lives to proving that they don’t need men, and for the godly, virtuous women who understand that submitting to God means joyfully submitting to the authority He has placed over them. Women have really only two ways of relating to men: helping them lead poorly, for Satan’s glory, or helping them lead well, for God’s glory.
There are two key statements here. First, A&E describe Christian women as “joyfully submitting to the authority [God] has placed over them.” Given that the only antecedent for “authority” in this paragraph is men (as a group), it seems A&E are presenting men (as a group) as some kind of generalized authority over women (as a group). The second key statement is the last sentence, in which we learn that women can only relate to men in a leader-follower relationship. In other words, a woman can never relate to any man as an equal in any way. This seems to plainly contradict the assertion that patriocentricity never teaches that all women must submit to all men.
Now to be fair, I will add that Michael Farris was not talking about A&E, but about Doug Phillips. So it may in fact be true that Doug Phillips does not believe all women must submit to all men. But as I stated earlier, Doug Phillips is not every patriocentrist – though personally I believe we have reason enough to suspect him too, as the Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy (formerly posted on Vision Forum Ministries’ website) included the following:
14. While unmarried women may have more flexibility in applying the principle that women were created for a domestic calling, it is not the ordinary and fitting role of women to work alongside men as their functional equals in public spheres of dominion (industry, commerce, civil government, the military, etc.). The exceptional circumstance (singleness) ought not redefine the ordinary, God-ordained social roles of men and women as created.
To me, this would indicate once again that women are not generally supposed to relate to men as equals in any meaningful way. It’s not as straightforward or detailed of a statement as A&E’s, so I don’t think as strong or certain of conclusions can be drawn from it. But it still makes me deeply suspicious of Phillips, and makes me wonder how badly Farris really “strawmanned” patriocentricity after all.
I will grant, before I go, that A&E may have one or two outs to disentangle themselves from this sticky theological wicket. I say “may” for two reasons, which I’ll explain below.
Out #1 (the “Charity”): claim that men have some kind of generalized, nonspecific authority over women, but that the only headship-submission relationship is that of husband and wife. Thus, all women don’t “technically” have to submit to all men, only to their husbands. I call this the “Charity” because, while we might be able to make ourselves believe it if we were charitable enough, it doesn’t hold any water logically when compared with what A&E actually wrote. It’s pretty hard to maintain that some random guy walking down the street has no authority over the women he meets, when you already previously stated that “the relationship between men and women parallels the relationship between Christ and the church” (which A&E believe entails authority and submission).
Out #2 (the “Cognitive Dissonance”): A&E so closely connect women with marriage on a fundamental (and probably subconscious) level, that they honestly cannot see that their statements are worded to include all women, whether married or not. I think this works better than Out #1 – patriocentricity does, after all, have a bad habit of giving lip service to singleness and celibacy while denying their existence in practical terms – but it still has to explain the many places where A&E seem to know (and believe) exactly what they’re saying. How can you write that women are to men as the church is to Christ, and not understand that that implies a kind of submission? How can you write that women can only relate to men by helping them lead, and not see them as a follower?
In summary, if A&E meant what they wrote, then they believe that all women must submit to all men in some way. If they don’t believe that, and didn’t intend to teach it in their book, then they phrased their arguments terribly and should clarify them as soon as possible. Because I’m confused, and I suspect others probably are too.