The Bible is the Problem: Where Christian Patriarchy Gets Their Beliefs

doug phillips and family

As many of you know, Doug Phillips of the Vision Forum/Vision Forum Ministries, a religious extremist and promoter of Christian patriarchy, recently confessed to having an inappropriate relationship with a woman who is not his wife. I did not write on this because I considered it just to be a-n-o-t-h-e-r case of a man who spent his life telling other how to live but couldn’t live that way himself. Phillips is just another, in a long line of, moralizing Christian men who couldn’t keep their pants zipped up. (and no I don’t believe his story that he didn’t “know” the woman in Biblical sense of the word) Do I find some sort of perverse joy when people like Phillips get caught with their pants down? Sure. When men who take the high moral and ethical ground get caught acting like the rest of us unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines, I find great amusement in their peccadilloes.

The Homeschoolers Anonymous blog recently had a post on Doug Phillip’s and his “I did not know the woman in the Biblical way” problem. I read this blog on a regular basis and I, in general, support what they are trying to do. In the comment section, a woman asked:

How on Earth did the Patriarchy movement grow out of what Our Lord came to accomplish?

‘patriarchy’ seems more like a cult that worships masculinity . . . and the price? the human dignity of women who must cater to the narcissism of these ‘patriarchal’ men . . . no one wins in such a world.

I responded:

Read the Old Testament. Read Christian Church history. Look at the structure of the NT church. Look at the writings of the Apostle Paul. Look at how there were no female disciples and no female church leaders. Patriarchy is not some new, aberrant belief that has all of sudden shown up. It is the Biblical NORM not the exception.

The Bible itself, promoted masculinity, calls women a weaker vessel, tell them to be silent in the church, and tells them their highest calling is motherhood and keeping the home.

In short, the Bible is the problem. I commend Christians who try to hang on to Jesus and jettison the rest of the stuff. However, when taken as a whole, the Bible is a misogynistic book that promotes patriarchy from Genesis to Revelation. This is not my personal opinion. There is no other way to read the Bible. It is fine to take a cafeteria approach to the Bible but let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking that the beliefs of Doug Phillips and others like him were created out of thin air. They weren’t.

A woman named Donna  responded:

The Patriarchy Movement and Vision Forum’s theological AND political beliefs grew out of the OLD Testament system of laws and culture, not the NEW Testament. Big difference, and that’s where the problem is.

I responded:

Donna,

Uh, the ecclesiastical structure and the prohibitions against women that are part of the patriarchal belief system come straight from the writings of Paul. Last I knew his writings were in the NT. :)

Even Jesus did very little, if anything, to buck the patriarchal power centers of his day. Jesus can hardly be seen as the great liberator of women. Many Christians believe the Bible is a divine text given to humans by God. (Jesus) If this is so then Jesus approved of the misogynistic writing of Paul.

Then another woman by the name Teresa responded:

I come in peace but I feel a need to say this. We get that you are not a believer, in fact, you are an enemy to the cross. The problem is not Jesus Christ, his grace, salvation, God or the bible. The problem is extremism and poor hermeneutics of the bible. Doug P takes one extreme and you take another.

Bruce, you have a very warped view of the bible, God and Jesus Christ….how sad for you.

Donna responded:

Bruce, as you say yourself, you are an unbeliever, so it makes sense that you wouldn’t interpret it the same way Christians do. I get that.

The fact remains that the New Testament does NOT model the same patriarchal system of the Old Testament and Hebrew cultures. According to our Constitution, as an American citizen, you have the freedom to NOT believe that, just as I have the freedom TO believe it. ;o) “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7) I’m sure you have faith in something, Bruce… if not the Bible, then in something else. Even if it’s just in yourself, a fallible human being.

I responded:

Yes, I have faith in human reason and rational thought. I also am a theologically-trained man who spent 50 years in the Christian church, 25 years as an Evangelical pastor. While we certainly have the “right” to believe what we want, we should not confuse this “right” with being the same thing as a particular belief being a fact.

I could write a long ,long comment on this but I won’t. Doing so would distract from the purpose of this blog (which I heartily support since we were home schoolers for 15 years) and this particular post. Please remember that the original comment I responded to was a person who wondered where people like Phillips get their patriarchal beliefs. I answered her based on the accepted historical interpretation of the Bible and Church history. The view I advanced is taught in countless seminaries and Bible colleges.

I do appreciate you being decent in your response. Unfortunately, Teresa could not do the same. Instead she attacked my character. She did not bother to address any of the issues I raised. Instead, I am an enemy of the cross, an extremist, have a warped view of the Bible, Jesus, and the Bible and I should be pitied. I filed this under…if I had a dollar for every time a Christian said…. :)

To deny that the  Bible is part of the problem with patriarchy (and many other things, IMO) is to deny reality. I have often wondered if many Christians rue the day that the early church said, hey, let’s make the OT part of the canon. Modern Christians who believe the Bible is the authoritative, inspired Word of God are now left with the task of defending things that most of us now consider abominable and immoral. I suspect Thomas Jefferson got it right when he took scissors to the Bible. Unfortunately, we live in country where the Evangelical view of the Bible dominates the religious landscape and it leads to abusive beliefs like patriarchy, authoritarianism, and egomaniacal, controlling pastors and church leaders.

Well, I suspect I have said all I can say. This discussion has provided me with some fodder for a blog post so… :)

Again, I appreciate your civility.

Bruce

This discussion is a reminder that we live in a day of revisionism, where old, accepted interpretations are thrown out and past history is ignored or explained away. All of a sudden, the Bible, a patriarchal book from cover to cover, is reinterpreted to be a woman-affirming, non-patriarchal book. I think many Christians think, or want to think, that Jesus, if he were alive today, would be at the forefront of the modern feminist movement.  Or that Paul, misogynist Paul, would somehow now welcome woman as pastors and women leaving the home and entering the workforce.  This is well-meaning, but delusional, thinking.

The Bible is a book that promotes subjugation; the subjugation of slaves, people groups, the environment,  non-Christians, and women. It is a book that promotes authoritarianism, and, for the life of me, I don’t understand how any woman would want to continue to be a part of the institutional church. I know of no sect, certainly not Evangelicalism, where women are truly treated as equal to men. Even in sects that now have female clergy, women still run into the proverbial glass ceiling when it comes to gaining access to  the upper echelons of ecclesiastical power. In the Evangelical church, women are, for the most part, considered inferior to men. After all, they ARE the weaker vessel, right? They need to be protected by men. They are subtly, and not so subtly told that God says they are best suited  for marriage, bearing children, keeping the home, and putting out whenever her knight in shining armor demands it. No wonder young men and women are running from the Evangelical church in droves. As young people become more and more egalitarian and reject the cultural warring of their church, pastor, and parents, they are leaving the church for more progressive/liberal churches. Many of them are leaving religion altogether. The fast growing segment of atheism is young adults.

While I do not think atheism is going to become a dominant social and intellectual force any time soon, I do think  Evangelical churches are turning countless young adults into people who have no interest in religion. They may still believe in some sort of God, but they most certainly no longer believe in THAT God. Evangelicals will continue to stand their ground. How can they not? Once you hitch your wagon to the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God, you are forced to defend beliefs that many moderns now consider abominable, indecent, or immoral.  It is becoming increasingly harder for them to defend the God of the Bible and the teachings of men like the Apostle Paul.

Here’s to hoping that when my great-great-grandchildren come of age decades from now, Evangelicalism will be a mere footnote in the page of human history.  Here’s to hoping we grow beyond our need to subjugate people in the name of the Christian God.

Comments (16)

  1. carmen

    WOW!! I was nodding my head all the way through this. . . I think this needs to go on many other Blogs – you need to spread YOUR word!

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thanks, Carmen.

      Reply
  2. Virgil T. Morant

    I agree that there are a good many modern ideas that not only have no basis in Scripture but also fly in the face of it, and the approach many are taking is, as you say, a cafeteria approach to Scripture. It’s even more than that, as in cases where some folk try in the most baroque of ways to interpret Scripture to meet modern notions. They go from picking and choosing at the cafeteria line to taking the food into the kitchen and cooking it a different way. There really shouldn’t be any doubt, say, that Scripture condemns homosexual activity, or that there is no serious Christian basis for a female priesthood. The people who support such things and remain Christians are branching off to a new faith in their choice not to abandon the faith altogether—rather than becoming, for instance, atheists.

    I can’t agree, though, with the idea summarized in your post’s title, that the Bible is where Christian Patriarchy gets their beliefs. Not entirely anyway. If, for instance, the Apostle Paul has anything to say about virgins or unmarried women and who should direct their lives, it is a fact of his writings that “Biblical” Patriarchalists consistently overlook that the Apostle also explicitly notes that such regulations are not commandments of God. If people in the so-called Biblical Patriarchy want to turn to the Torah, they would do well also to turn to the Acts of the Apostles and the Council of Jerusalem: Christians are not under the vast majority of Old Testament laws, including any that might be interpreted as requiring adult unmarried women to obey their fathers in all things.

    Of course, nonetheless the vision of men and women in Scripture is not one that you have any truck with, and, again, I agree that the Bible is contrary to certain things that some modern Christians want to read into it (or they want to ignore the contrary parts), but the abuses of “Biblical” Patriarchy are far from Biblical. They are convolutions. They are a cultural phenomenon with a dishonest understanding of Scripture.

    Reply
  3. Paula

    I was raised in a pretty conservative Baptist church and while there was still some lingering opinion among some members about a woman’s “place”, I never saw anything remotely like the craziness of Phillips and his ilk. The only thing they were seriously hidebound about was women preaching.

    On a day to day, real world basis, the women did not live suffocated under the authority of men. I consider the modern patriarchy people to be a throw back to a level of crazy that most Christians gave up many decades before I was born.

    Reply
  4. henotheist13

    How can you say there were no female disciples and leaders in the early church? What about Mary Magdalene and the other women who were the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection (e.g. Luke 24:10; John 20:18)? In these stories it is in fact the male apostles who come across as pretty weak for not believing their testimony (Luke 24:11). What about Junia, who is, not indubitably, but quite plausibly, called an apostle by Paul (Romans 16:7)? What about Priscilla, teacher of the gospel together with her husband, Aquila (Acts 18:26)? What about Phoebe, deacon of Cenchrea (Romans 16:1) and Euodia and Syntyche, co-workers with Paul (Phil. 4:2-3)?

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I used the word disciple in the sense of the 12 apostles.

      Yes, there were female disciples (followers) of Jesus. This in no way suggests that Jesus was against the patriarchal structures of the day. There is no evidence for such a claim, and a normative reading of early church history suggests women were subservient to men. Even in the Bible, take Mary and Martha, they were serving a man/men. I don’t see the man/men serving them.

      I see little in church history before the 20th century that suggests the Christian church was woman affirming. Instead, I see a hierarchal, patriarchal power structure that treated women as second class citizens.

      Reply
    2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I would also add that three examples, in a text overwhelmingly dominated by men and their exploits, does not a woman-friendly, woman-affirming church make.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  5. John Arthur

    Hi Bruce,

    Evangelical churches are the main remnant of overt and covert patriarchy. Although the bible is interpreted differently by many Christian groups, ‘biblical egalitarianism’ in the male-female relationship has not been supported through most of church history. But then neither was the abolition of slavery generally supported by most Evangelicals until AFTER the slaves gained their freedom. Today, apart from some theocrats, most Christians would not support the re-institution of slavery, even though much of the bible supports slavery.

    Let’s hope that egalitarians get control of Evangelical churches and allow women pastors and equality on church boards and ruling bodies. The sooner patriarchy dies, the better.

    If only Evangelicals would admit that the bible in neither inerrant nor infallible, these churches might make more progress on women’s equality and on same-sex equality in their churches. They wouldn’t have to become progressive Christians. They could become neo-orthodox evangelicals or red-letter evangeilcals and give priority to Jesus of Nazareth rather than Paul and the OT.

    But the real tragedy is that they would ,more than likely, be dismissed from their Evangelical churches if they openly advocated equality for women and same-sex oriented people.

    Thanks for your exposure of the ‘biblical’ patriarchy movement, Bruce

    Shalom,
    John Arthur

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Your comment, John fits well with what I wrote today.

      Thanks!

      Reply
  6. Crystal

    Dear Bruce,

    I understand your anger, perhaps even bitterness towards patriarchy depending on the lifestyle you were raised. I believe a large problem is not biblical patriarchy but rather mans interpretation and application of biblical patriarchy. Patriarchy is not to be abused as it all to often is. Biblical patriarchy isn’t about a man controlling a woman and his children. It isn’t about a man being allowed to do as he pleases without regard to his wife or children. Rather, biblical patriarchy applied correctly looks like this:

    - a man who seeks The Lord above all else first for the sake and well being of his family denying his own human desires.
    - a man who loves his wife as Christ loves the church (understanding theology sir, you understand that Christ loves His church so much to have died on the cross an agonizing death so that we may be spared that pain of our sin) therefore a man would never inflict pain on his wife or children if he were following Christ’s example and this man would also consider his wife’s desires out of love for her and value her opinion and ultimately lay his life down out of love for her.
    - biblical patriarchy would be a man who strives to be as Christ-like as he humanly can be, understanding we all sin, but it is a matter of staying on guard at all times and stopping sin the second it enters ones life, seeking forgiveness at the foot of the cross and also quickly forgiving others who have offended you.
    - he would love and nurture his children to follow The Lord, training them in the love and admonition of our Father.

    This doesn’t cover every aspect of a true biblical patriarch, however I do hope it paints a clearer picture. Women are not silenced. Their husbands should be hearing them, prayerfully heeding their comments and advice and making the best decision for their family when all is said and done. It is when a man’s pride takes center stage in his life that patriarchy becomes less biblical and more worldly/manly.

    I pray you would find your way back to our Father and that He would open your eyes to His true understanding of patriarch and not the world’s understanding of it.

    Blessings,
    Crystal

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I am not going to take the time to answer you. Maybe others will. Perhaps you will do a bit more reading on this site than you have. (2 posts related to Doug Phillips)

      I will say you have a naive way of looking at the patriarchal movement, a movement I was NOT raised in. The wreckage and devastation of the patriarchal movement is there to see IF you are willing to see it.

      I am not an angry, bitter man. You make a judgement without knowing me. Surely your Bible says something about that, yes? What I am is one man who want to do everything he can to help people get away from Christian Fundamentalism and Christian Patriarchy.

      Pray if you must. I have no interest in your God.

      Bruce

      Reply
  7. Crystal

    Dear Bruce,

    I was not making a judgment on your personality or character as you correctly stated, I do in fact not know you. I based the anger and bitterness on your post, not knowing you personally. I apologize for the misunderstanding in that as I am, as you correctly stated, in no position to judge anyone.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      You confuse directness and passion with anger and bitterness. It is a common problem Christian Fundamentalists have when former insiders dare to critique their beliefs and practices. It is a way of deflecting and demeaning in hopes of moving the discussion away from what I actually wrote. In the case of this post, its focus was on Bible and how those in Christian patriarchy interpret it.

      Reply
  8. Crystal

    I am not certain that using the words “former insider” as a credit for your post would work in your favor. Perhaps predestination was not a topic ever discussed with you before, but there are no “former insiders”…..in that respect, one never was an insider. However this is off the topic of this post. I do sadly think you have chosen a narrow-minded interpretation of biblical patriarchy and assumed it is mainstream when in fact it is not. The extreme patriarchy you speak of is not as typical as you make it out to be.

    I shall not waste anymore of my time nor yours on this. I shall kindly agree to strongly disagree with you on this matter.

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      I was a Calvinist for many years. I am quite conversant in all things related to Calvinism.

      I am a former insider regardless of whether you can square this with your theology. I once was a Christian, a devout follower of Christ, am now I am not. You can theologically dismiss me if you like, but here I am, bearing witness. :)

      I wish you well.

      Reply

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