“A&E” refers to Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, authors of So Much More. I chose the abbreviation to save space and time.
So I said last time that I was going to devote at least one post to the abusive relationship dynamics held up as positive in chapter 4. Well, as expected, there’s going to be more than one post. I’ll begin this first one by giving some necessary background information that’s related to something I explored in a previous post on stay-at-home daughterhood (SAHD) – an unhealthy breakdown of boundaries between fathers and daughters. This has been explored at length at the site Overcoming Botkin Syndrome (see here for their explanation of the term “Botkin Syndrome”).
In brief, my main concern with A&E’s model is that it seems to teach enmeshment as the only godly way to conduct family relationships:
Enmeshment occurs when individuals within families fail to develop a healthy and functional identity and ability to survive apart from the family group identity. There is a high degree of emotional fusion, poor if any boundaries at all between individuals within the family, and this fusion interferes with the individual’s ability to develop a clear sense of self. It interferes with normal growth and development for children who are raised within an enmeshed family, producing relationship problems as well as varied degrees of psychological problems.
It isn’t rocket science to see how patriocentricity’s near idolatrous focus on family could lead to this dynamic. This is because they seem to take Biblical instruction such as Proverbs 1:8-9 to mean, not “listen carefully to the wisdom of your elders,” but “adopt your parents’ thoughts and opinions and have none of your own.” In other words, they lose sight of the fact that parents (esp. fathers) are flawed people too, and in practice, seem to regard them as semi-infallible conduits of God’s will to their children.
Here’s just one example from chapter 4, in which Ruth (one of A&E’s model SAHD adherents) describes a facet of her “submission” to her father:
One of the ways I show submission to my father is by asking his opinion – Daddy is my God-given authority. I want to honor him by knowing his thoughts and views so that I can properly represent him and be able to understand and articulate what I believe. He enjoys answering my questions and helping me to search the Scriptures. If he, for instance, has a preference in colors that I wear, I seek to honor him by finding that out and dressing in a way that would please him. By asking what he thinks, and then taking the advice he might have to offer, I am indicating that I am delighted to know what his wishes are and glad to follow them.
Pay special attention here to the second sentence. Ruth asks her father’s opinion so she can “be able to understand and articulate” what she believes. Note, she did not say that she sought out her father’s opinion as one among many while formulating her own opinion. She is asking her father what he thinks, so she can find out what she thinks. We can know this because of the last sentence, in which “asking what he thinks, and then taking the advice he might have to offer” is functionally equated with the submission in the first sentence. In other words, Ruth is saying here that one way daughters submit to their fathers is by asking them what to believe and then conforming their own beliefs to their fathers’. (Remember also that since the entire point of SAHD is for daughters to practice submission before they marry, then this must be part of wives’ submission as well.) Thus, Ruth’s usage of terms “opinion” and “advice” is misleading. Opinions and advice can be accepted or rejected; divine dicta transmitted through God-given authorities cannot. So what A&E are really teaching here (via Ruth) is basically a father’s divine right to tell his family members what to believe about any topic on which he holds an opinion.
Sound too extreme? It isn’t, and I’ll prove it. Notice that Ruth did not limit her father’s authority only to spiritual matters; it also apparently includes his “preference in colors” in her wardrobe. And following Ruth’s segment, A&E fail to put any topical limits whatsoever on fathers’ “guidance and instruction” (emphasis A&E):
Actively seeking our fathers’ authority and guidance and instruction can be difficult, especially when the things our fathers want for us are not what we want. But this is the pattern God lays down, and our obedience is rewarded with blessings.
I can’t see any other meaning in this except that, anytime a father and daughter disagree about something, the father’s opinion wins out by divine right, and it is the daughter’s duty to submit and conform to his opinion as part of her growth in Christ. And later in the chapter, we learn from another contributor, Kelly, that fathers are apparently not even obligated to explain themselves:
Out of all the members of my family, I am probably the most opinionated and strong-willed. My mother and siblings have never had quite as hard a time loving and embracing the wishes of my father as I have. … I, on the other hand have a tendency towards questioning what he says. “Why?” I want to know. “Why is what you say right? What if I don’t hold the same conviction you hold in this area? Why do you have to make choices that will make our family so different from everybody else? Why?” …
There are many, many things I appreciate and admire in my father, but one of the things that has meant the very most to me is the way he responds to my selfish questions. “I know this doesn’t make any sense to you,” he would often say. “But because I feel so strongly in this area, so convicted by the Lord, I’m asking you to trust me. I know it won’t be easy, but I need to support of my family in this. I’m sorry it’s painful, but I love you.”
Notice that Kelly’s (perfectly sensible) questions about her father’s position are recast as “selfish,” and she views her natural “opinionated and strong-willed” disposition as a bad thing. Thus, in SAHD-land, it is apparently “selfish” to ask your father to explain his position to you, and “trusting” to simply accept his ideas without critical thought. Furthermore, if a daughter has a natural inclination toward critically analyzing others’ ideas, that inclination must be suppressed (at least in relation to your father’s ideas) for the sake of “obedience.” Taken together with A&E’s statements above about fathers and daughters disagreeing, a picture emerges in which any questioning by a daughter, or any opinion held by a daughter which differs from that of her father, is equated to sin, selfishness and rebellion.
I also want to point out how woefully inadequate Kelly’s father’s response is on a logical level. Granted, I do not have the entire context of his and Kelly’s conversation, but working just from the above, his response to Kelly, when translated out of Christianese, basically reads, “I feel very strongly about this issue so I must be right.” He makes no attempt whatsoever at a reasoned defense (or even explanation) of his position, but instead appeals only to his strong “convictions” about the topic at hand. Personally, faced with a response like this, I have to question whether Kelly’s father has really analyzed his own position as thoroughly as he thinks he has, since he is apparently either unwilling or unable to defend it against criticism, and is instead hiding behind own (apparently inviolate and infallible) emotions. In any case, to this reader, this may reveal an anti-intellectual slant on A&E’s part, and definitely portrays a damaging definition of “trust” (i.e., never using your brain or asking questions) as positive.
A&E are also completely ignoring Romans 14 here. They’re hardly alone in this, of course; most conservative Christian gender commentators do. I, however, believe that Romans 14 is extremely relevant to how gender roles are preached in evangelical Christianity. In brief, it’s commonly taught that wives must submit to their husbands unless their husbands ask them to sin, which in and of itself is correct (from a complementarian standpoint). But what’s left out of this picture is the fact that no Christian can demand that another Christian violate their conscience, or impose upon their conscience scruples they do not have. To use Paul’s example, a 1st-century Christian who ate meat, could not force other Christians who ate only vegetables to do the same, and neither could the vegetarian Christians demand that the carnivores become vegetarians. Thus, headship and submission (whatever they mean) must never allow either spouse to force the other to go against their conscience.
Applied to SAHD, Romans 14 changes the picture dramatically. Since the father and daughter in question are both Christians, the father has no right to force his daughter to conform to the dictates of his conscience, or make her violate the dictates of her own. Thus, in Kelly’s situation, if Kelly honestly disagrees with her father about a debatable point of Christian morality, then he cannot demand that she change her beliefs as part of her “submission” to him. Neither does Romans 14 leave any room for simply asking your father what to believe. Instead it assumes that every Christian will examine their own conscience and come to their own conclusions:
One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. (Romans 14:5-6)
Note well, A&E: there are no gender or “role” restrictions on this passage whatsoever.
Besides the above, there are two more damaging messages here. The first is actually directed, in a backdoor sort of way, at men, and is found in this quote from Rebekah:
It is my duty as a girl and as a daughter to seek out what pleases him, and what makes him strong in his vision, so that I too can embrace his vision and make his passions my passions. My position as a daughter is to be feminine and content with whatever my father does, and in being feminine, I can help my father in his masculinity and can give him confidence by being confident in whatever he says or does.
So how do women encourage men in their masculinity? By being content with the men’s decisions, seeking out what pleases the men, and becoming passionate about what the men are passionate about. In other words, by making their entire universe revolve around men, and nodding their heads “yes” to whatever the men say. To do anything else is, apparently, to tear down and discourage men’s masculinity.
This is, of course, nothing less than a recipe for selfish, narcissistic men. If you teach your sons that women’s God-given role in life is to please them, serve them, and agree with them, and that when women do otherwise they pose a direct threat to their masculinity, what do you think they’re going to do when they have their first disagreement with a woman? (I think you can do that math yourself.) This also makes me wonder how many flesh-and-blood men A&E have actually talked to, because I know several men, both in “real life” and over the internet, who tell me that they would be completely miserable if their wife did nothing but agree with them – I assume because, in the end, it must be awfully lonely to simply talk to your reflection all the time.
The other damaging message relates back to a point I made in a previous post on SAHD, in which I described Doug Phillips’ version of SAHD as “some sort of mini-marriage, sans sex.” This is not helped at all by Ruth’s reference above to her father’s influence over her wardrobe choices:
If he, for instance, has a preference in colors that I wear, I seek to honor him by finding that out and dressing in a way that would please him.
I’ll be blunt here: I find this creepy and semi-incestuous. How is this any different from a wife choosing to wear colors or styles that her husband finds sexually alluring? It isn’t – except that the parties involved are a father and daughter instead of a married couple. So, once again, the only difference between SAHD and marriage, is that the father and his daughter are not having sex.