“A&E” refers to Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, authors of So Much More. I chose the abbreviation to save space and time.
Remember the last post, where I said that A&E came off as clueless about abuse in the church? Well, now I know they’re clueless. I’m also 100% convinced that if they ever encountered an abuser or manipulator in real life, they would be completely taken in by him (and yes, obviously abusers and manipulators can also be female, but So Much More is about fathers so I’ll be using “him”), and either disbelieve his victim(s) or minimize their experiences. They are dangerous to anyone who is being abused, and I would never recommend So Much More or any other material by A&E to an abuse victim.
How can I say this with such confidence? Because in chapter 5, A&E attempt to address “less than perfect” father-daughter situations. The carnage begins immediately, in fact in the first three sentences.
All fathers are less than perfect. So are all daughters. We can’t wait for our fathers to be perfect before we become the perfect daughters. We must begin finding ways to honor and value our fathers where they are, as God’s law commands us.
Right out of the gate we have “sin leveling.” (And also a blatant contradiction – if all daughters are less than perfect, how can we ever become “perfect daughters”?) This is when two bad behaviors are treated as equally heinous, even though they are in no way equivalent. For example, let’s say a teenager is molested by her youth pastor. In the process of telling her mother about this event, the teenager swears. But when the senior pastor discovers the molestation, he barely mentions the youth pastor’s actions and instead focuses on the fact that girl swore, telling her “she is a sinner too” and needs to repent of her profanity.
The above scenario is exaggerated a little, but not a lot. A more typical situation is where a well-meaning pastor believes “there’s two sides to every story” and tries to discover what an abused spouse has done to contribute to their marital discord, when in fact the problems stem completely from the fact that the husband is, say, sexually abusing his wife. Applied to A&E’s statement, while it may be literally true (no one is perfect), the effect is to minimize the father’s actions and point the finger at the daughter’s behavior. If we’re dealing with a dad who accidentally miscalculated the shipping time on his daughter’s Christmas presents, it won’t be a problem. If we’re dealing with a dad who is molesting his daughter, it will be a huge problem – especially given what follows it:
Even the worst father is worthy of respect from his daughter, simply because he is her father. Even if his daughter could find nothing to respect him for personally, she can and should respect his position as father. If nothing else, a daughter must be grateful to her father – for giving her life; if he has fed and clothed her; if he has ever done anything kind for her – because gratitude is the beginning of honor.
However, we believe that most fathers, if not criminally wicked, do have at least some admirable qualities somewhere. Be quick to see these qualities. When you think of your father, you shouldn’t think of his weaknesses that spring to your mind, but of how much you love and appreciate his good qualities. When you speak of him to others, you shouldn’t talk about his mistakes, but of the good things he’s done. When you speak to him, instead of criticizing and nagging him for his faults, you should tell him how much you admire his strengths. For example, if your father is the slowest, laziest man on earth, perhaps he’s slow about getting angry. There’s an asset! You could appreciate him and thank him for not getting mad and impatient with you.
What A&E are actually doing here is contradicting their own advice from the last chapter, only in reverse (emphasis mine):
If a girl has a deep, abiding inner reverence for her father, she will value every good thing about him. She will want to understand him, what he does, and why. Some daughters see a few faults in their fathers, resolve to find these faults despicable and unbearable, and never see anything but these faults.
Here A&E do stumble upon a grain of truth: we should not fixate on one single quality about a person and blow it so out of proportion that we lose sight of the overall pattern of their behavior. But they apparently fail to understand that this does not only happen with bad qualities, because they do exactly this in their example of the slow, lazy dad. Sure, he’s an inveterate sloth who can’t hold down a job and is letting the house fall down around his family. But hey, at least he doesn’t scream at you every day! So how about, instead of noticing that his overall pattern is one of extreme irresponsibility and negligence, you focus on what a nice person he is and praise him for it? And besides, he got your mom pregnant once and that’s why you exist. You need to stop criticizing him!
The practical result is the same here. One or two lone qualities, blown all out of proportion and confused with the whole, and thus your barely employed negligent father is still a “good father” in the normal sense of the phrase, just because he doesn’t yell a lot and managed to impregnate your mother. I think A&E should follow their own advice, and consider setting the bar a little higher.
(Also, the implication that people who are slow to finish projects are also slow to get angry, is laughable. My grandfather is a compulsive hoarder whose entire house is one massive unfinished project, and has an extremely short temper. So I have some personal experience with this particular naïve fantasy of A&E’s. He’s also the oldest living male relative in my father’s family, so if I subscribed to patriocentricity and my father died when I was still single, I might have to take on my short-tempered hoarder grandfather as my new spiritual head and covering, which means he would have the authority to tell me what to wear and who to marry. Patriocentricity meets reality – which will win???)
The next important point here is A&E’s little phrase “criminally wicked” (emphasis mine):
However, we believe that most fathers, if not criminally wicked, do have at least some admirable qualities somewhere.
This phrase is (sort of) defined in a footnote:
We understand there are some fathers who are abusive, exploitive, and engaged in ongoing criminal activity, as defined by Scripture. In such cases, girls can only help their fathers long-distance by praying for them after being geographically separated from them. If church officers are unwilling to intervene in such circumstances on behalf of the victim(s), direct state intervention may be necessary.
On the surface, this looks okay because A&E do manage to recommend separation from a criminal father. However, when weighed against all the other problems riddling chapter 5, the recommendation gets so lost that it’s reduced to little more than lip service. First, A&E don’t go into much detail about what exactly constitutes “criminal wickedness” except to say “criminal activity, as defined by Scripture.” This comes with no verse references, and though there are plenty of things that the Bible condemns which modern law codes also define as crimes (for example, theft), there are plenty of things condemned in the Bible that are not legally criminal. And it isn’t just things like gluttony and vanity that fall into this category, either. For instance, adultery is Biblically defined as a serious sin, but has been decriminalized by most U.S. states. So right of out of the gate we have some ambiguity about when exactly a father has passed into “criminal wickedness.”
Second, I wonder how long it would take, and how bad the situation would have to get, before A&E would actually recommend a separation in real life. Do we really have to wait until things reach the level of things like battery, sexual assault, tax fraud, drug possession and child pornography before we consider leaving? Do A&E recognize more subtle (but equally harmful) things like verbal and emotional abuse? And since they spend so much time telling their readers to overlook and downplay their fathers’ faults, would (or could) their audience recognize these things?
And once we do actually get to a separation, what do A&E recommend? Do they unequivocally recommend families call the police? No – they first say “church officers” should get involved in the situation. If, and only if, this church intervention fails, do they recommend that families contact the state – and even at this point they hedge with “state intervention may be necessary.” Why they wouldn’t want a crime to be reported to the police – i.e., the governing authorities in Romans 13 who are supposed to punish evildoers – is beyond me. Perhaps the family would risk blaspheming the criminal father’s name in the process? You may laugh, but if a daughter violated the above procedure (church first, then cops), it’s possible that a devoutly patriocentric church would accuse her not only of dishonoring her father, but also of slander and gossip to boot.
A&E also seem to have an extremely one-dimensional mental image of criminals. Look again at this sentence:
However, we believe that most fathers, if not criminally wicked, do have at least some admirable qualities somewhere.
The surface meaning here is that, since the reader’s father is almost certainly not a criminal, he possesses at least one good quality that she should admire. But if we take this literally, then the flipside is that, if the reader’s father is a criminal, then he possesses no good qualities whatsoever. Except in the real world, criminals are not cartoon villains who plot to destroy the world while cackling evilly and twirling their mustaches. Criminals are just as human as the rest of us, which means most of them probably do have “some admirable qualities somewhere.” For instance, a terrorist may have a son, whom he genuinely loves and adores, and a drug lord may love his mother. So if A&E are looking only for cartoon villains, they will miss very real crimes and criminals right in front of their faces. And if they tell their readers to look only for cartoon villains, their readers might miss those same things and choose to stay with a toxic or dangerous person, which, under certain circumstances, could endanger their lives and safety.
After the bit about lazy fathers comes another dose of sin leveling, along with my next question:
You don’t have to respect his weaknesses, but you should be sensitive to them. We are all weak.
What I want to know is, exactly how are girls supposed to raise concerns to their dads? One of the featured stay-at-home daughters, Amy, gives us the answer:
Remember to keep a reverent spirit when speaking. Balaam’s donkey could appeal and be heard, simply because he had nothing in the past that Balaam could accuse him of. He basically said “Haven’t I done everything you asked me to, and been your faithful donkey so far?” Balaam had to agree, and he listened. If we have been disrespectful, selfish, lazy, disobedient, etc., in the past (and didn’t put it right), our dads are going to be less likely to hear us. They must see and know that we trust them, obey them, honor them, and want to make them successful. Also, in the case of appeals, or concerns, once the problem has been respectfully and prayerfully expressed, we need to leave it to God and our fathers. Nagging and constantly complaining are not signs of trust and surrendering all to the Lord. No matter what things may happen to weaken your family, God is fully able to work it out for good, as He promised in Romans 8:28.
Once again, there are grains of truth mixed in here. No, nagging, whining and complaining don’t usually solve problems. Yes, if we’ve treated someone badly in the past, they will be less inclined to trust us in the present. But these are all overshadowed by what I think is a worrisome overemphasis on respect and “reverence.” True respect is the foundation of all healthy relationships and communication. But is that the kind of respect Amy is advocating for? Because most of what I have seen recommended within patriocentricity, is not that healthy kind of respect, but something closer to dancing around the real problem so as not to hurt dad’s feelings (or worse, never bringing up a concern in the first place). Except in honest communication about a true sticking point, it’s pretty hard for the criticized party’s feelings to escape completely unhurt. No one likes to be criticized, and yes, sometimes expressing your honest feelings about another person’s behavior, to that person, will be heard as an accusation. In other words, this kind of conversation is often uncomfortable enough without patriocentricity, and stifling communication by encouraging daughters to speak indirectly or downplay the disagreement, will not make it easier, let alone solve anything.
Another way A&E discourage open communication is by telling girls to second-guess their own reasoning:
You will need to study Scripture carefully to know what God’s commands really are and what would constitute disobedience to Him. We also need to be able to discern the difference between God’s real commands and the interpretations of our own imaginations. We must not assume that God is leading us through our hearts and passions, which are “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9; see also Ezekiel 13:2-9, 17), but only through His infallible Word.
I find this interesting in light of things A&E have said in earlier chapters. The basic idea here is that a daughter cannot trust that she has correctly interpreted God’s Word, because her emotions are controlled by her heart, which is sinful and wicked. But in the last chapter, it was apparently fine for Kelly’s dad to use his emotions as proof that he was being led by God (emphasis mine):
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.”
This is obviously a double standard. Doesn’t Kelly’s dad have a “desperately wicked” heart just like Kelly? And yet, his emotions are seemingly infallible, while Kelly’s are not to be trusted. This probably comes from the idea that women are driven by their emotions, while men are driven by logic and rationality. Thus, Kelly’s dad’s heart is desperately wicked, but he doesn’t have all those pesky lady feels to cloud his judgment. He can thus disentangle God’s will from his own feelings about the matter, while Kelly cannot.
Finally, returning for a moment to Amy’s quote above, I’d just like to point something out to A&E. You’ve already put women in a nearly identical position to that of black slaves in antebellum South, and many outside observers see your movement as a return (or near-return) to chattel status for women. So I’m curious: what on earth made you think that including a quote which literally compares daughters to talking animals and their fathers to those animals’ owners, was a good idea? Did you actually think this was insightful? Did you miss the fact that women are made in the image of God and donkeys are not?
Also, aside from being patently offensive, there’s a mistake in Amy’s quote. See if you can spot it. Here’s the relevant Bible passage.
And when the donkey saw the Angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam; so Balaam’s anger was aroused, and he struck the donkey with his staff.
Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”
And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have abused me. I wish there were a sword in my hand, for now I would kill you!”
So the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey which you have ridden, ever since I became yours, to this day? Was I ever disposed to do this to you?”
And he said, “No.”
Then the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the Angel of the Lord standing in the way with His drawn sword in His hand; and he bowed his head and fell flat on his face. (Numbers 22:27-31)
Still stumped? Look at the pronouns. Balaam’s donkey was female. Amy, however, portrayed her as male. Not sure if it sits well with your theology that God can use even a female donkey to convey His will to a man. Seems to me that if He can use a female donkey (or actually, any donkey), then He can certainly use a female human with no problem.
You can go stew on that now. In the meantime, here’s another talking donkey. This one is male. He’s also a lot funnier.