So Much More, p. 15-22 – Part 3: Of Straw Men and Submission

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.[1]

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.[2]

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.[3]

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.

Escape hatch?

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.

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9 comments on “So Much More, p. 15-22 – Part 3: Of Straw Men and Submission

  1. As a woman past age 40 who has never married, I’ve never had sex (I’m a virgin and celibate), I tend to pick up aspects of these topics that others do not.

    I have noticed that gender complementarian or patriarchy supporters usually only discuss womanhood in so far as motherhood and parenting is concerned. Someone such as myself – never married, never had children – doesn’t figure into their universe, or very rarely.

    The Bible only specifically calls out women who are wives to submit to their husbands, in the book of Ephesians. There is no command like that one given to un-married women such as myself.

    Over the last few years, though, I’ve seen it discussed on various sites that comps/pats believe all women, married or no, must or should submit to all men, and whether those men are Christians or not.

    (I have seen a few gender complementarian men, preachers, dispute this in sermons and argue that no, a married woman is to submit only to her spouse, not another woman’s spouse, etc)

    I’ve seen patriarchy teachings discussed on other blogs – that quote or summarize pat material – as saying even secular women in secular jobs should submit to all men, and/or that men should not have to report to a woman boss, etc.

    I don’t believe the gender complementarian teaching is correct, as it rests on a misunderstanding of the Bible, but, even if one grants their view, the Bible mentions only married women submitting to their spouse.

    I am incredulous that some of these groups try to stretch the submission views (which are usually applied only to married women) to mean all women everywhere to all men – that has zero biblical support.

    And you are totally correct that all of these Christian groups merely pay lip service to singleness and celibacy. There is no actual support or ministry in place in most churches directed towards mature singles, and ones who are celibate. Everything in most churches is aimed at helping young married couples with children.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Over the last few years, though, I’ve seen it discussed on various sites that comps/pats believe all women, married or no, must or should submit to all men, and whether those men are Christians or not.

      Let me guess… All those in favor of this are male?

  2. P.S.
    I have read farther down your page and saw this quote by Phillips:

    “The exceptional circumstance (singleness) ought not redefine the ordinary, God-ordained social roles of men and women as created.”

    No. No, singleness is not “exceptional.”

    About two weeks ago, BLS released a new study which says that there are now, for the first time in American history, more adult singles than there are married couples.

    This study also shows there are about 20-30% (I forget the exact number) of never-married adults in the USA.

    There are many different news sites carrying this information, this is but one:
    Single adults now outnumber married adults
    http://nypost.com/2014/09/09/single-adults-now-outnumber-married-adults/

    Marriage is no longer the norm in the USA for most of the population.

    For any gender complementarian, patriarch advocate, or other conservative Christian, to keep stating in this day and age that “singleness is rare” and that “God calls most adults to marriage” and similar rhetoric, is an argument from past cultural norms, not from the Bible.

    God does not state in the Bible if he considers singleness or marriage to be the norm for humanity – he’s quite silent on that. Preachers just often assume God considers marriage (and having kids) to be the norm for 99% of humanity.

    Most of them (the gender comps and pats) would claim they believe in the Bible, or that they derive their views from the Bible, but this view of theirs that “singleness is rare, and therefore not God’s plan for humanity” is false on two levels.

  3. fiddlrts says:

    While I can’t speak specifically to the Doug Phillips (official) position, I do know from experience and the experience of friends and family that there is a significant section of Christian Patriarchy that does in fact believe that all women are to submit to men. Thus, if a woman is widowed, she is to submit to her eldest adult son, or to the closest adult male relative if she has no sons. A single woman, if she doesn’t have a living father to serve, must find a relative – or her pastor – to submit to and serve.

    I should also point out that Phillips expected single, adult women, to submit to their fathers – and serve them in the home – until they should be married. Thus, the only kind of female that would NOT be required to have a male authority would be an adult, single woman whose father had already died. (In practice, this could easily require a woman to wait until her 60s before she could be free from the “headship” of a man.)

    So, I don’t think Farris was stretching at all. (Since Phillips worked for him for a number of years, he may well be aware of Phillips’ private opinions on female submission too.) My problem with Farris is that he is trying to pretend that he himself didn’t advocate this stuff. HSLDA was in tight with Rushdoony for years – and he is the real father (pun not intended) of the Patriarchy movement. Until Farris is willing to come out and say that he and his organization were in fact pushing Patriarchy for decades and apologize – and indicate that he has rejected Rushdoony’s theonomy – then I don’t think his attempts to distance himself are really meaningful.

    • Hester says:

      Oh, I totally believe you that this idea is widespread among patriocentric laity, even if the leaders won’t come right out and say it for PR reasons. I was actually surprised that Libby Anne had never heard of it and thought Farris was overstating his case. Initially I left a comment on her post agreeing with her, but shortly after I read the next chapter in the Botkins’ book and realized I was working from incomplete information.

      I’m also not surprised it was the Botkins who came out and said it. They seem to be unusually blunt about the real theology. They’re also the ones who had people storm out of a seminar at a homeschool conference after they (allegedly, at least) said women could only be saved through a man.

      Curious question – did I miss something about fatherless adult women and submission, because it seems like in your first paragraph they have to find a relative or male pastor to submit to, but then in second paragraph it seems Phillips is letting them off the hook. Could you clarify?

      • fiddlrts says:

        Ah, the problems of commenting in short form. I am not sure exactly what Phillips taught or didn’t regarding whether a single woman with a deceased father could be without a direct male authority. If I am remembering the Tenets correctly, he just assumes that all women marry eventually, and doesn’t address what happens to widows. However, I do know that Jonathan Lindvall (my wife’s family was involved with his home church when she was a teen) did believe that all women needed a male authority at all times, and thus would require a woman without a natural authority (father or husband) to find one, even if that meant the “authority” of her own son.

        So, I would say that I do not believe Phillips would let a woman off the hook and make her own decisions. I strongly suspect that he would, if pressed, say that a woman needs a male authority at all times. However, I don’t have solid proof of that, just an educated surmise. Particularly in light of his teaching that women should not lead men in society at large, I doubt he would be amenable to an independent woman. I would also note that he – and the rest of the Patriarchists – sure spend a lot of time and ink claiming that women are by nature easily deceived, which would make the idea of a woman independent of a man to be the most dangerous possible sort.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      This the same Doug Phillips ESQUIRE who used to cosplay in the pulpit or in front of a camera and went down recently in a Commander-Keeboarping-his-Handmaid sex scandal? Complete with a technical “no Tab A in Slot B so It Wasn’t Really Sex/it all depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is”?

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