On Patriarchy and Legalism

Mike Farris has distanced himself (and HSLDA, I guess) from patriarchy and legalism, focusing on Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard.

It's a good article - I had no outright disagreements with it.

On patriarchy, Farris' summary " that women in general should be subject to men in general" is accurate and rightly rejected.  I've noticed certain cultures pursuing old-style deference of all men to all ladies in manners and protocol.  This is usually a good thing, but can be read wrongly as an assertion that women in general should be subject to men in general.  Farris may be a bit off target to summarize patriarchy with a list of things women can't or shouldn't do, though.  

Farris' section on women not voting is the weakest part of the article.  This is a fairly minor aspect of patriarchy, and the Bible is pretty much silent on women's suffrage in a democracy.  Farris argues mainly from disgust that women should vote.  (He would have done better to point to the daughters of Zelophehad, perhaps.)  He seems unaware here of the impulse among patriarchy folks to reconstruct a biblical society, regardless of the political or cultural situation and assumptions today.  If the Bible infers a patriachal system where only heads of families or clans speak or vote, then that's what we should have, is the thought.  Anyway, I'm with Farris in the end.  I don't think the Bible forbids women from voting as a standing norm today.

The discussion of legalism, too, could have been a bit more careful.  It's true that "personal views are [not] universal commands of God."  And Farris' main point is right: teaching as "God's way" views that go beyond Scripture is the main problem.  But what do we do with differing interpretations of Scripture?  One person thinks Deuteronomy 6 forbids public education, while another person doesn't think that inference is valid.  Is the first person a legalist, if they honestly think the Bible teaches their view?  Is the less-conservative person who is offended by that interpretation the right person to judge whether they are legalistic?  Do we just go by common consensus (or scandals?) to judge whether a person's teaching is extra-biblical?

On the main point, I have seen Gothard adherents vacillate between saying "It's God's way," and saying "It's just a choice we've made for our family."  Maybe they are confused.  Or they just know when they can assert extra-biblical teaching as God's way, and when they have to back off because their audience rejects their position.

Ultimately, this will shake out in what the next generation does on their own.  Farris makes a striking statement toward the end: "I’ve come in contact with many young people who were raised in patriarchal or legalistic homes.  Almost none of them are following these philosophies today."  Too often, patriarchy folks have relied on authority to advance their cause, when they need instead to persuade their older children that their inferences from Scripture are reasonable, sound and wise.  Sometimes they can't make that case, because they arrived at their position out of fear and/or seeking too much control, not from the Scriptures.  Other times there is a Scriptural case that should be made.

The positive thing patriarchy contributes to the Christian world today is getting men to take responsibility for their lives and families.  Overzealous advocates sometimes argue that if a woman does x, it makes it hard for the man to take responsibility, so she should not do it (example: looking down on a wife who does most of the finances, because she has more of a knack for it).

I just reread Vision Forum's Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy.  90% of it is really good.  There are a couple paragraphs, where I would disagree with an extra-biblical implication they seem to be trying to make.  A lot of those assertions are made in situ instead of on paper.  I'm fine calling myself a biblical patriarchy guy, as long as I have 15 minutes to clarify and explain what that means.  This is probably why Farris rejects the term.  There is a bad patriarchy (patriarchalism?) to avoid as Farris describes it.  But the general principle that husbands should lead is biblical and good.

As a pastor, it's important to equip men to lead their homes well.  It's just as critical to call them on the carpet if they are over-doing it to the detriment of their family.

My main prayer is that

  • Christians will help each other look to Scripture as we make discipleship and family/parenting choices,
  • we don't over-react to a straying culture by insisting on extra-biblical practices,
  • we filter all teaching through the grid of Scripture,
  • we teach and show our children the Lord's ways in our loving lives as well as our true words and boundaries

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