The Christian Patriarchy (CP) lifestyle was born in the home school movement during the 1980s as a reaction to the increasing worldliness of the church world that the people were a part of. Aside from promising to improve society so that it can be a fit place to rear up future Christian generations, their form of OT patriarchal hierarchy and clearly defined roles is reassuring to parents within the movement. Parents are taught that this secure arrangement will bless and guard their children from the evils of materialism, feminism and immorality, as well as from the influence of lukewarm Christianity. A few in the movement are not much different from regular conservative Christians with an overemphasis on headship that affords the husbands and fathers some excessive control. However, most are extreme, maintaining a tight control over several generations in the name of headship and fatherly duty.
The leaders in the CP movement rely on the home school community to further their political goals and theological ideas because they do not form their own denomination. A large percentage of home schoolers are not part of CP, but almost all of those in CP are avowed home schoolers who insist that home schooling is the only truly biblical, God ordained way to educate children. They will not go so far as to say that Christian day schools are a sin, but because of their interpretation of texts in Deuteronomy, they come very close to it when they insist that even all earthly, academic education is only their sole calling to accomplish as the parents. They contend that day schools of any kind erode the family structure, which they consider to be the only structure blessed by God, and that home schooling protects their children from being led astray by lax, apathetic Christians. Doug Wilson is the only one I found so far who is becoming involved with CP and currently advocates private Christian education over home schooling.
The gender roles and behavioral rules promoted by CP are strictly adhered to. For them, male authority is all-encompassing and often includes micromanagement of wives and children. The biblical calling for wives to submit is turned into a command to men for rule beyond what is authorized in the Bible. The family unit becomes a theocracy where father’s word is law as if it were God’s word. Numerous testimonies from former members of CP consistently describe the beliefs of the movement and how it affects the families.
For most in CP, their theology in practice means that all men have rule over all women, not just husbands over their own wives. Some will go so far as to address a woman only through her husband. It means that women cannot work outside the home for any reason or be in business, and many do not vote. Women should pursue only domestic things and should not be in a position of leadership over men in business or politics. Adult men should never serve or work under a woman or be instructed by one. They teach that the value of a woman before God is only in bearing children and serving their husbands. This is a high calling, but not a woman’s value before God. Many childless couples feel they have no place and eventually leave the movement.
Total submission becomes critical for the wives and daughters of CP. They stress a form of female submission that allows for no questioning of the decisions or rules of the household heads. A Fundamentalist Baptist writer from their midst named Dr. Jack Hyles stated, “A woman has no rights except to submit to her husband.”
This saying is eerily similar to a Muslim saying, “A woman’s heaven is beneath her husband’s feet.” Women within CP become compelled to express their love for God by the depth, breadth and micro-completion of their submission to men, as well as the bearing of as many children as physically possible. This includes exaltation of any personal suffering that their submission incurs. This absolute and unquestioning submission is the measure of their strength of faith, and many purposely seek to endure great suffering to prove (strengthen by trial) their faith within their own hearts. Though we believe that beauty and spiritual strength comes from the sufferings in life, we do not purposely seek out, create, or subject ourselves to suffering or make it into an idol. We are not called to glorify suffering by cultivating it in that way.
Unmarried adult women are subject to their father’s authority no matter what their age is, and no daughter should leave home until married. If they remain single, they are expected to continue to serve the family and forgo personal pursuits. There is a great extolling of the obedience of daughters who depend on their fathers to choose their husband for them. Courtship is the process to be used in order to secure the blessing of God for the resulting marriage, since they believe that dating is a recipe for divorce in their children’s marriages. There is an inordinate pressure for marriage that is placed on all boy-girl relationships. Being alone or unchaperoned as a couple, handholding, hugging and kissing outside of marriage are considered sinful activities. They teach that it is the only and ultimate purpose for girls to grow up to be the helpmeet of a man; and the rest of their ideology distorts their definition of helpmeet into unbiblical servitude. Higher education is discouraged as unimportant for girls unless it will make them better homemakers. Sons are to remain under their father’s jurisdiction until they are “released.” All children are to express honor to their parents by seeking their counsel and blessing throughout their adult and even married lives. Their idea is that God commands fathers to rule through the generations. Young people are to promote the family unit to the denial of their own unique, God-given identity. Conformity within each family is exacted. The preparation of the country for the kingdom of Christ, as well as the preservation of the families, is at stake for them. Honor of parents is distorted into expecting young people to be what the parents and grandparents decide they should be. This is a misuse of parental authority. Christ taught men to leave their parents and cleave to their wives and to make a new family nucleus rather than a continuous multi-generational dynasty.
Outsiders are usually impressed with the conservative look and wholesome behavior of the entire family and especially the children. It is appealing to see how the children put the family first and are so obedient. They appear to be the ideal that we wish our own families could be like. However, the young people are so busy fulfilling their role in the family that when they come to “years of discretion,” they are almost unable to function apart from their parents. Many become crippled Christians. Jesus taught us to follow him and him only. If our believing parents provide a good path for us to also walk in, that is a blessed thing, but following them in every example simply because they are one’s parents is not the teaching of the Bible. A parent’s task is not to teach their children to follow them, but to point them to the Savior so that the youth learn to look to Jesus for all their needs. God gives each generation unique challenges and opportunities that parental examples may not be able to answer.
Family members in CP believe that keeping obedience to the God-ordained roles as defined by CP will attain for one’s family a blessing from God that is special or higher than the blessing that an average Christian can expect to receive. Obedience maintains the family’s covenant with God, so a disobedient family member could doom them all. This is why shunning becomes part of their system as a form of discipline. As Rushdooney taught, the “family unit is one’s best church.” Therefore the keys of the kingdom, given to the apostles for use in the church, falls into the possession of the family and are wrongly applied in order to keep their family unit pure. They also teach that obedience to all father-authority is true spiritual life. This teaching creates an omission of the NT truth that spiritual life comes through the preached word. This is necessary because they replace the instituted church with their extended families and fellow CP followers and many home-churches for purity’s sake. The godly roles they define are presented as being for God’s glory and Jesus’ kingdom, but they move the pure preaching and the cross out of the picture. The family becomes the end all and be all of their devotion. They believe that they live a more holy obedience to the scriptures than other Christians who are either complacent or ignorant of the truths of CP, and this gives them a condescending air towards other Christians. They forget that even a holy life is a gift from God.
CP goes against what the Catechism teaches about sin and salvation when they teach that every human problem is caused when someone steps out of the ordained roles and “that which is inferior and subordinate refuses to submit to that which is stronger and superior.” The cure is a re-establishment of the natural, God-ordained order. This raises their roles to the level of a doctrine. Personal shortcomings or failures in relationships are remedied with the stronger application of their theology instead of with pastoral care. An example of this would be that if there were marriage problems, including abuse and infidelity, it is a result of the wife’s not submitting enough, and she is simply encouraged to go home and try harder. Since for men the role of husband and father is often blurred, encouragement of the husband’s marital responsibility is minimal and rare. In CP, the man is the head of his own house and more under the jurisdiction of his father than any instituted church; one can see the potential for danger and oppression in this system where accountability is limited and shared with only other like-minded men. Some extremists in CP use corporal punishment on their wives. Many also rely on written guides that describe various rebellions against the father’s rules with step-by-step ways to handle the various offenders to restore them to compliance. Some also teach that the husband is his wife’s mediator and he somehow is acutally supposed to “wash her with the Word.” Many men in CP will not abide anything less than a smile from their wives or daughters at all times. An unhappy countenance can get a woman put under discipline within their group and even get her shunned, thereby jeopardizing her own salvation. Outsiders often comment that whatever CP is, it cannot be a bad situation because the women always look so happy. Many do not realize that the women do not dare to appear remotely unhappy, especially in public.
It is wise to be careful when reading books by CPs, most notable leaders which include but are not limited to Steven Wilkins, Doug Phillips, Bill Gothard, Geoff Botkin, Michael Pearl, R. C. Sproul Jr., and Doug Wilson, who seems to be joining the movement, although his earlier writings do not evidence much of CP. Some women authors used by CP to promote their ideology include Helen Andelin, Marlene Evans, Cindy Schaap, Elisabeth George, Martha Peace, Debi Pearl, and Elisabeth R. Handford. Their most public figures are the Duggar family with their self-asserted TV ministry, website, and blog.
CP is the ditch opposite feminism on the road of faith and life and like Aristotle, it teaches that women are unfit for any authority or leadership of any kind by virtue of their emotionality, weakness, and susceptibility to deception. This is not how we are called to view or treat the regenerated and redeemed, adopted daughters of God who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. By the work of Christ on the cross and the power of the preached Word, the Genesis curse is lifted from women in Christ just as it has been lifted from men in Christ. We live to Christ not through a role but as redeemed individuals with a path of discipleship that God sets for each of us.
Why should you care about this little cult-like group out there? The appeal that their doctrines make to our natural mind is one reason. Aristotle’s philosophies prevailed for centuries for the same reason; it makes sense to our natural human mind. The Bible always challenges us to think like God instead of like men, and CP is carnal patriarchy propped up by erroneous interpretations of scripture and self-labeled as God-ordained. Another reason is that when these people do join a church, they gravitate to conservative Calvinistic churches such as ours. Furthermore, since we are conservative, we may find ourselves being accused of this mindset. We should know what this is so that we can answer this error. As more of our members opt for home schooling, whether by necessity or preference, we should be aware of this group. We can like what we see and even want to emulate what they do, but we should understand the doctrines they live by and what motivates their outward lifestyle. We could be unguarded when considering their admirable outward walk and begin to adopt for truth their life-expression of things like headship and submission, authority and honor. We could be lured into believing that the gospel message is indeed wrapped up in living a God-ordained role and fail to present and witness the message of the cross and of Christ’s work of mercy and love there for his people. When we encounter these people and hear them use familiar terms, we should be ready to challenge their meanings and speak to them of the Bible’s true meaning for marriage and families and the calling of believers to repent and believe in Christ only for their salvation. We could talk to them about why obedience is thankful service to God rather than an OT yoke.
Last, I think a danger that they represent for us is their exaltation of family. We dearly love our families and the idea of the line of generations, and we should; but we may not make idols of our families. I also know that Luther referred to his family as his “little church.” CP takes that idea and defines church differently from what the apostles developed in the NT and makes their clans the true church. Aside from OT Israel, there is always a difference between earthly families and the family of God. The Bible is very clear that we are to love the family of God, and that family is found in the local instituted church. We are to love it more than life itself, family or friends. We may be called to live far away from loved ones for the good of the church or even to forsake our unrepentant earthly families or friends. We are to desire that our right hand cease to work properly if we ever forget to love the family of God above all else. As we may find ourselves encountering some of CP’s members, we should be ready to witness to them the message of the mercy found in the cross of Christ.