Christian Patriarchy is a philosophy on how one should live as a Christian. It is a moralism that leads to elitism. It is also a political force. Its political and theological ideas are grown from the teachings of the reconstructionist, postmillennialist Rousas Rushdooney. He desired to re-establish America as a “nation under God” by having the OT Mosaic laws from Deuteronomy re-introduced into modern society. He claimed that the instituted church made itself irrelevant and that the hope and power to conquer humanism and state control and to shape the world is found in the [extended] family unit. He greatly exalted the family unit and viewed it as the way to take control of the nation by outnumbering and out-voting the liberals. He promoted the idea that the tribal, patriarchal commonwealth of Old Testanent Israel (before the kings) was the God-ordained style by which modern society should govern itself, especially if it wished to retain a covenant with God. He taught that the Aristotelian roles and hierarchy that had developed in America from Old Europe should be synthesized with that Israelite system of family government with its rule of the fathers. He taught that this system could Christianize the nation when combined with Old Testament laws. He stated that “some people were by nature slaves” and taught that certain people were naturally inferior just as Aristotle, the Dutch and British high societies, and the antebellum South did. Much of his writing fixated on the struggle between state power and family power. He and many who follow his teachings, like the christian patriarchy movement, regard children as future soldiers in this struggle. He was a strong promoter of home schooling, emphasizing that it was “a waste of our heritage” to use a state school. He taught that the family is “man’s basic government, his best school and his best church.” To him, the home was the training ground for dominion of this nation for Christ. His message strayed from sin and our fight against its dominion in our lives. Rather, it often focused on the Christian family’s fight against the state. He regarded the Christian’s true enemy to be any institution, including churches, that intruded on the family unit and the father’s right to direct his family as he saw fit and according to his conscience. Rushdooney also stated that “gratitude is an unsuitable motive for good works” and that “regeneration comes through education,” which is another reason he strongly promoted home schools.
Like Rushdooney, the leaders of Christian Patriarchy (CP) synthesize the Bible with cultural patriarchy and insist on strict obedience to the roles they give and define. The adherents of CP have taken the good biblical teaching of marital headship and morphed it into a fundamentalist social structure. They embrace the idea that males of European descent are God’s ordained fathers of society. Adherents of CP teach that the family unit is the focus of one’s existence and that the rule of the fathers prevails over other authority structures, including the church and the society they live in. The fathers’ rules can override other rules and laws. The adherents of CP consider themselves as members of a grassroots effort leading and transforming America towards a theocratic rebirth in which biblical laws (Mosaic law) are eventually implemented. The leaders applaud their followers as “quiet revolutionaries doing God’s work, one family at a time.” Many believe the role of the instituted church is to promote moral patriotism, oppose secular humanism, and support Christians in their conservatism by helping them network for their causes and lifestyles. Like Rushdooney, they interpret the biblical mandate for mankind’s dominion over the earth as found in Genesis 1:28 to mean direct, fatherly dominion over families and then nations. They often use phrases such as “God-ordained society,” “God-honoring society,” and “biblical law.” They believe that America has a covenant with God, and they must help to keep it through their obedience to and promotion of their “God-ordained” roles. Their political ancestry can be traced from Rushdooney to the Tea Party of today. Many in CP also promote citizen and church-based militia groups as well as distributing paramilitary manuals. Rushdooney’s son-in-law worked with various churches in the south and some western states to build his grassroots efforts. Christian-based militias remain strong in those areas. Much of CP media also speaks more of second amendment rights, patriotism, and freedoms, rather than the gospel. Secular things are treated as sacred and Zionism, dominionism, patriotism, free enterprise, federalism and the next American revolution have become articles of faith. Their leaders have changed Christ’s words of promise to the church into Christ’s word for the nation and its conditional covenant with God. Even though we would like to see this country have moral improvements made, it is not the new Israel, and no other earthly nation had or will have a covenant with God the way that Old Testament Israel did.
Christian Patriarchy is a prescribed lifestyle formulated from passages that are descriptions of Old Testament cultural life and from some Mosaic laws. CP does not have one particular leader or organizational structure, but its many leaders run a variety of organizations and also vary in degree of extremity. Its adherents are predominantly conservative in their walk, church affiliations, and politics. They are usually found in Reformed circles and express Calvinistic leanings. They exhibit a great concern for holiness and purity in their lives, which is admirable, but also is of a Puritan persuasion. They are clean-living, wholesome people and many may be sincere and honestly trying to live godly lives. Many have come out of large and/or evangelical churches that have gotten progressively worldlier or entertainment minded. They often seek a “truer” Christian existence with a holier experience, but are now caught in a theology that is similar to that of the Pharisees. The word of grace is lost in their scramble for obedience. Their message for a holy life becomes their message to society in order to redeem it for Christ’s return.
The leaders of CP promote their belief that racial and gender equality is responsible for the decay of morals and society. They believe that the antebellum South was the last true Christian society because it had maintained a christianized hierarchy. They choose some Old Testament texts to support their idea that the Bible teaches that “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.),” as stated in their Fourteenth Tenet. This is not male headship or a God-ordained society, but patriarchy with a biblical twist. In America, before the industrial revolution, men and women usually worked alongside each other in their family-run businesses and farms. Many did this as Christians. God appoints the final authority in the church and the home to men, but the woman, as the man’s spiritual equal, is also given significant and varied authority (the right or power to do something). We should note that in scripture, godly women have authority to proclaim the gospel (Matt 28:7–8; Luke 24:6–10; John 4:39; 20:17–18), prophesy (Is 8:3; Acts 2:17–18; 21:8–9), run a household (Prov 31:10–31), manage commercial enterprises (Prov 31:10–31), give men corrective accountability (1Sam 25:18–38; Luke 18:1–8; Acts 18:26) and serve as co-laborers with men in ministry (Judges 4; Rom 16:1–3, 6; Phil 4:2–3).
The adherents of CP take their version of what scripture teaches believers about marriage and promote it as God’s directives for mankind. They re-establish among themselves the patriarchal, tribal commonwealth with the extended family power and generational rule that defined Israel; they believe that a larger blessing from God will rest on them for it. They declare their formulations of God-ordained gender roles to be God’s universal and timeless commands. Although the Bible does teach us the calling of husbands and wives in the home, it does not teach that “a God-honoring society will likewise prefer male headship in civil and other spheres as an application of and support for God’s order in the formative institutions of family and church” (Eleventh Tenet). This is stretching biblical teachings above and beyond what the Bible intends. Scripture does not condemn societies for having women rulers, and in the book of Judges, Deborah was placed in a position of authority and civil leadership over men. Patriarchal systems, feudal systems, kings and nobles, tribal living, or communal living are not more Christian or less Christian; they are just man-made social structures or cultural systems that people live within. There is no single God-ordained social order or form of government. The Bible does not endorse any particular social structure. Jesus did not preach a kingdom that affirmed any system of culture; he preached a kingdom that transcends human systems, and in his kingdom the first shall be last. In his kingdom the King girded himself with a towel and washed feet. We believe that God guides and uses the various man-made social structures for the good of his church. John Calvin, whom they claim to follow, was himself opposed to a theocratic nation, as indicated in his Institutes in Book IV.XX.14 and IV.XX.16.
It is not the calling of the Christian to christianize a society, government, or culture or to overtake it in the way that CP promotes. It is the Christian’s calling to live in one’s own society and culture as a Christian. This is evidenced by Paul’s writings. The New Testament church began with an emphasis on communal living while existing and growing in the midst of a very Aristotelian society. Paul’s writings guided the church away from much of the patriarchal mindset of their culture by reminding the new converts that they were equal heirs of salvation in Christ and called to work together to spread the gospel. I also would say that there is a significant difference between those who are of the CP movement and those who happen to be Christians reared with a cultural patriarchal mindset. I believe that many of our European forefathers were of the latter group. Much of the influence of our culture and its effects on our lives also falls into the area of Christian liberty. If some of the Aristotelian roles define our existence and relationships, it is not necessarily sinful. Caution is always recommended because oppression can lurk where authority is not held accountable or made available for outside scrutiny. The world around us makes the dangers and abuses of overzealous patriarchy of any kind clear enough.
Even though they claim to have biblical support for their ideas of hierarchical and separate gender spheres, what CP promotes is cultural and straight from Aristotle, ancient Greece, the Victorian era, and the antebellum South. If the ideas of CP were Christ’s message, he would have upheld the Pharisees with their rigid formulations for how obedience should be expressed in the lives of the people. Like the Pharisees, CP has developed a very outwardly holy lifestyle that is full of obedience while bereft of mercy. Like Rushdooney, CP adherents brush aside the church, while they idolize the family unit in the name of the Bible. When we use the word family, we should think first of the family of God, since that is the most important family to God and to believers. Christ calls many to forsake their earthly families in order to follow him. God’s covenant is with his family, the church, and not our nation. His family may include our earthly families in the line of generations, but his covenant is not based on our earthly families. Psalm 87:2, “The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob” teaches us that God loves his family unit, the church, above our earthly family units and so should we.
Christian Reconstructionist tendencies and theonomist ideas play a significant role in the approach to family relationships among those involved in the CP movement. It may have the temptingly sweet smell of the Old Testament, but it creates a father rule that stretches through the generations and disregards the command of God for men to leave their fathers and mothers and cleave unto their wives with a nurture and cherishing that is like Christ’s nurture and cherishing of his bride, the church. Last, we will see their theology for family relationships.