There are some very bad fathers out there, and the world is hurting because of it! Daughters are being controlled or ignored. Wives are being abused or neglected. Sons are following in the footsteps of their arrogant, bigoted, narrow-minded fathers. And it is happening in a movement known as “Patriarchy.” It is also happening in the movements known as Feminism, Green Peace, Gay Pride, Liberalism, and any of the Civil Rights movements.
You don’t have to look very far to find a dad who has failed his family. Fathers were given the monumental responsibility of lovingly protecting and providing for their families. When the father is removed, or chooses to abandon these obligations, the family is left vulnerable and suffers greatly. Because fatherhood is vital to a healthy family, and thereby a healthy world, Satan hates fatherhood!
I want to warn you about some ways that Satan sabotages fathers, but I also want issue a challenge to support the men who are fighting for biblical fatherhood.
What it means: Biblical patriarchy
Patriarch simply means “male head of the family,” is in contrast to Matriarch, which is female headship. I see it as the attempt to define the family according to biblical truth rather than according to feminist expectations. When I refer to “patriarchy,” I’m defending the ideal laid out in Scripture.
First, men are commanded to love their wives like Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:25).There can be no higher command for loving tenderness than this. Jesus laid down his life, his rights, his reputation, so that we could be saved. There is zero room for selfishness or arrogant pride in true biblical husband-hood. Husbands are also commanded to live with their wives with understanding (1 Peter 3:7). This means listening carefully and paying close attention to the needs of your wife.
In addition to all the commands to love their children as Christ loved, with gentleness and humility, fathers are also told to not provoke their children to wrath (Eph. 6:4).
Maybe I’m missing something, but all this does not sound like a bad thing for the family!
I need to be clear at this point that when some people refer to patriarchy, they mean fathers who control adult kids, refuse higher education to women, and refuse to let women leave home until they are married. There are some within patriarchy who hold these beliefs, but I think for the most part this is a false representation of what most actually believe and these ideas are not intrinsic to patriarchy. I believe it is divisive to accuse those who are associated with biblical patriarchy of believing these things. This is the ploy of the secular media who often hate the biblically defined gender roles. We should not be helping them in this attack.
Does patriarchy ruin fathers?
The short answer is that sin ruins fathers. There are grave misuses of authority in some homeschooling circles and the teachings of many godly leaders have been misapplied by power-hungry dads. The abuses of scripture and the family need to be dealt with, but by addressing the ideas themselves and not castigating a movement that has done much good. Patriarchy is not to blame, and attacking the patriarchy movement will not fix the problem!
A huge problem with humanity is that thinking for ourselves hurts, so we are always looking for a man to follow or a herd to run with. Movements and subcultures will always contain fallen and dangerous people. They will also contain weak men who stumble and have trouble living consistently with what they teach.
Certain men saw problems with how public education was becoming secular and anti-Christian, so they suggested an alternative: homeschooling. Many people flocked to this idea, including some who failed to be diligent to give their children the care and education they needed; these families gave homeschooling a bad name. Is homeschooling to blame?
Other men saw how sexualized the dating scene was becoming and called for the church to return to the biblical standard of purity. They suggested an alternative to sexual immorality and called it courtship. Thousands of families became courtship flag-wavers. Included in this throng were heartless control freaks who didn’t take the time to listen to their children’s desires, as well as deceptive men who fooled their future father-in-laws into letting them ruin their daughters’ lives. All this gave courtship a bad name. Is courtship to blame?
And then there were men who looked around at a world full of abusive or absentee fathers, and husbands who were neglecting their wives. These men saw the damage and sought to return to the biblical standard of loving leadership, challenging others to do the same. Men of many colors and creeds were inspired to father for the glory of God. Mixed in among them were hardened, power-hungry men who twisted scripture to meet their selfish purposes. All this has given patriarchy a bad name. Is patriarchy to blame?
The depravity of man
It is easy to forget how radically depraved fallen man is apart from the grace of God. Our problems run deep: We have twisted perceptions of ourselves and those around us. We are prone to addictions and self-deception. We crave and devour the things that destroy us. Any attempt to following practical teaching without first having our hearts changed by Christ will always result in failure. There is no teaching from any man, no matter how passionate or brilliant, that can substitute for the grace of God and the empowering of his Holy Spirit. We are nothing; we can do nothing unless we are constantly abiding in Jesus Christ (John 15).
It’s my leader’s fault!
Ideas have consequences and there is always going to be unbiblical human opinion that is presented as if it is the infallible word of God. But the human problem runs much deeper than the prone-to-error messages of zealous men. When God raises up leaders, he doesn’t make them perfect or infallible. John Calvin and Martin Luther were two men who left an amazing legacy of cultural impact and kingdom growth. They made major blunders and taught some really ugly things. People have taken their teaching and misapplied it in their own lives or used their errors to justify ungodly behavior, but Calvin and Luther are not to blame.
Recently two leaders in the homeschool movement were disgraced because in moments of weakness they succumbed to temptation and did some reprehensible things that caused real pain and destroyed their ministries. These men are passionate communicators with a heart for truth and God’s glory. They taught things that were perhaps out of balance, and have been used by sinful people to justify their sinful behaviors. But I do not believe these men are the prime culprits behind the very real problems in the home school community. Come judgment day, when the fathers who have failed their families and driven away their children with their pride and bitterness stand before God, do you think God will let them say “Have mercy on me, I would have been a terrific father, but unfortunately I read a book by Doug Phillips, and it totally screwed me up.” Yeah, it’s all Doug Phillips fault.
None of this is to diminish the responsibility leaders have before God to teach the truth. James warns in chapter 3: 1 “Let not many of us become teachers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment.” (NKJV) Leaders need to be held accountable and will be so on judgment day. But in this new covenant that includes the priesthood of all believers, we all have a direct responsibility to test things for ourselves and not blindly follow any one, no matter how charming or charismatic.
A solution that reaches the heart
There are heartbreaking stories of real abuse in the homeschool community and the Christian community at large. It grieves my heart to see leaders look the other way when there are cases of sexual abuse because they are worried about how it will affect a ministry’s reputation. I really do care about the children being raised by oppressive and abusive parents. These are serious problems that need to be brought to light and dealt with by our leaders and churches.
But I want a solution that will get to the heart of the real problem. It is not enough to stone Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips and wash our hands of courtship and patriarchy. We need a revival of God’s spirit. We need to repent of our pride and idolatry. We need to learn what true humility and utter dependence on God look like. We need to prayerfully keep testing every idea and new teaching in light of God’s word.
The leaders in the much-maligned patriarchy movement got a lot right. Even now, there are thousands of fathers who are associated with the patriarchy movement who are not perfect, but they are faithfully and humbly sacrificing their lives for their family. They are showing true servant-hearted leadership. Rather than support and encourage these men, we are making them guilty by association. It is intellectually lazy to create a pejorative label and indiscriminately categorize large groups of teachers and followers with this label because they all bear superficial resemblances to each other.
My own father would easily fit into the patriarchy category. He holds many of the same convictions that other patriarchy leaders hold: ideas about protection, moral purity, serving and cherishing your wife and daughters, raising sons to be courageous defenders of truth and beauty. They travel on the road and do concert ministry. But because of all the blogs carelessly thrashing patriarchy, people are going to jump to the conclusion that they are part of a dangerous movement.
I can testify that my family seeks to follow Christ alone. The Bible is their final authority in all their convictions. We all love to hear an inspiring message, but it is always tested against the Bible. My father is a great leader with backbone. He is also a very kind, gentle, and humble man. I know he is weak. I have seen him lose his temper and bring himself down to the level of the obnoxious adolescent who is arguing with him. But I have also seen him cry tears of repentance and heard him cry out to God for the grace he desperately needs. I grew up in a “patriarchy” home. I am inspired to lead my family with the same love and devotion I saw in my father.
People, this world needs godly men! Men who can stem the tide of wickedness that is flooding our countries. Men who will protect and affirm their wives and daughters, who will set an example of moral purity for their sons, and fight the dragons of lust and addictions. But above all, we need men of humility!
The real culprit
Pride is the real destroyer of families and relationships and churches. Pride turns our eyes away from the source of our strength and makes us vulnerable to Satan’s destructive attacks. When you see men who are abusing their families or using proof texts and man’s opinion to justify harmful behavior, pray diligently for them. The spirit of pride is so blinding that harsh words and stern rebukes are not enough to open their eyes to the damage they are causing. Seek a revival of the Holy Spirit’s power in your own life. Your example of humble dependence will give you a greater chance at influencing hardened hearts.
Give them grace
There is so much ugly venom out there for men like Josh Harris, Bill Gothard, and Doug Phillips, and most of it is coming from people who are claiming they have discovered grace. I need to ask: have you discovered grace or license? If you have truly discovered the grace of God, then your eyes have been opened to your own weakness and depravity. Your heart is so filled with gratitude to God for the mercy he has shown you that there is no room for judgmental bitterness.
With the case of these men, I don’t know the whole story. It’s hard to separate truth from fictitious slander. I do know the human hearts’ capability for self-deception and rationalization should make us all tremble with the fear of God. When the dirty garbage on once respected leaders comes out, we can either be filled with self-righteous condemnation or with humility ask God to search our hearts and reveal our own hidden sins. The sins we fall into can be so ugly and devastating! None of us are immune to epic failures. We will all make mistakes; some will be more public than others. We all need the support and prayers of the body of Christ. We need God to remind us who the real enemy is in all this mess.
The transforming love of God
Embrace the love of God. The only hope of becoming a godly father is to really know your heavenly Father. When you are captivated by his kindness and beauty, it will soften your heart. As you experience God lavishing his undeserved love on you, you’ll be filled with a new wellspring of love for your wife and children. It is a love they urgently need.
Since posting this article, it has become clear to me that the word “patriarchy” is being used in two very different ways. This is causing much division. It is a travesty that the same word that is used to describe something so beautiful, (sacrificial, Christ-like fatherhood) is also being used to describe something that is very ugly (self-centered, male oppression.) I am hearing of some heart-breaking cases of daughter and wife abuse and gospel distortion. I am grateful for the people who are bringing awareness and speaking out against these abuses, but I think we need to describe these offenses with a term other than patriarchy. The reason is that there are so many loving, Christ-like fathers, who have also claimed this term to describe their vision of something very kind and loving. It is a noble term, and I believe the fathers who are failing to demonstrate the love of God to their children, do not deserve this title.
There are many in secular and Christian circles (myself included) who use the word patriarchy to refer to male headship in the home. This is clearly a biblical truth, but it is not the whole story. In fact, the bible places a greater emphasis on the man’s obligation to submit to the kingship of Christ. I do not think the bible anywhere says that the father is “king” of the home. Jesus Christ is the only one worthy of that title.
The heart of fallen man is so wicked, that when he claims the right to male headship, without first surrendering himself to the Lordship of Christ, this un-surrendered authority will bring out the worst in him. Men are naturally, lazy, arrogant, controlling, blame-shifting, and self-centered. To empower man in this natural state is to curse the family unit. This sinful male domination is not a problem because of patriarchy teaching. It is the universal problem in the heart of man. Since the dawn of time, man has been cruel and subjugating to women. It was through Judaism and then Christianity, that women became valued and men were called to sacrifice their time and comfort to serve and cherish the women in their life. Biblical male headship that is modeled after the character of Christ is such a beautiful thing. Ask any wife who has found a husband like that and she will praise God for the work He has done in her husband.
It is for this reason that any man who seeks to promote biblical patriarchy will do all he can to fight against sinful male oppression no matter where he finds it. I beg of any man who is reading this. If you see a father who is claiming male headship, but is not also showing the fruits of the selfless and sacrificial servanthood, challenge him with the truth: He is not the king of his home, he must surrender to the King of kings, or his family will suffer, and he will face a terrible judgment day!