Doug Wilson, Patriarchy, and Missing the Point

Doug Wilson is at it again, defending serial sheep-abuser Doug Phillips, who last week resigned from his own homeschooling ministry Vision Forum and then proceeded to close down that ministry after admitting to an extramarital affair involving “romance and affection,” whatever that means.

Now, I haven’t written anything about Phillips yet on this blog, mostly because information seems to still be pouring in, and we will know more in the future. Partly, my reticence to write about Phillips is that he is more or less irrelevant to the wider Christian world, a nutbag way out in left field, playing in the weeds. But as I have pondered the fall of his empire, I have come to realize that his influence is widespread, and that people as mainstream as Mark Driscoll and John Piper are saying essentially similar things. Something more will have to be done, but that is for a later post.

For now, my interest is not in Phillips but in those who have rushed to his defense. Doug Wilson is one of the more “high-profile” folks doing so, and we need to take a second to look at what he is doing.

Doug Wilson is defending wolves and attacking wounded sheep.

Two weeks ago he wrote a brief piece nodding his approval at Phillips’ resignation, which is true. But the second half of his piece turned sour, fast. His second observation is to point out those who display “snark” and “who see such things as an occasion for venting their spleen.” It is not at all clear who he has in mind with this comment, though it is likely he is at least in part referring to the vast and growing network of recovery blogs of those (mostly women) who have escaped the poisoned spring of patriarchy and have made their experiences known.

But if he does have these victims of abuse in mind, his next comments are not only wildly off the mark, they are dangerous and, indeed, evil. Wilson tells us that the reason men like him are so careful is so as not to “by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme . . .” (2 Sam. 12:14).

Ahhh, so victims who have gotten out and shared their stories in the hopes of processing and healing are referred to as (or at least allied with) enemies who blaspheme. This is entirely bizarre and at odds with what Wilson claims he does. He has a saying which he loves to say: “Love of sheep means hatred of wolves. And love of wolves means hatred of the sheep.” Well, Rev. Wilson, you have just sided with the wolves. So what’s with that?

He finishes his first post by writing, “But for those who know how the story goes, this is one of those occasions where the enemies of the Lord can be readily identified. By their glee ye shall know them.” Here’s a bit more information on who he views as enemies of God. Anyone who shows “glee” at the fall of the House of Phillips. But who decides whether someone is displaying glee or not? The comment is certainly open-ended and ambiguous enough to include anyone who points out the fall of Douglas Phillips and thinks this is a good thing.

But given this, we are suddenly not in the realm of light and darkness anymore, gospel and anti-gospel, but instead in the realm of opinion (two realms which Wilson frequently conflates). We’re now in the realm of evaluating the ministry of a man and his views on men, women, gender roles, and the fruits of that man’s life and ministry. On all counts, Doug Phillips was teaching Pharisaical and Judaizing positions while denying justice and mercy to those who had sought to submit to him. The proper response is not to circle the wagons, but public declarations of his errors, as Paul did in the epistles toward the lies of the Judiazing movement.

But yesterday, Wilson expanded his first round of thoughts, continuing to blame sheep and give wolves a free pass.

He begins with a presentation of patriarchy from Scripture, misusing passages we have no time to deal with in this post. Nevertheless, his reading is hardly obvious. He concludes this paragraph by saying, “Father rule. That’s the good part.”

That’s the good part? Not sure I want to see the bad part.

The first bad part is that “many men are fools and idiots.” He then says women shouldn’t marry fools and idiots. Sure, we agree with that for sure. But he then says that a wife married to a fool and idiot shouldn’t make this worse by, you know, expressing herself like a human being and telling him to knock it off, appealing to 1 Pet. 3:1-2, which would seem to tell wives to win over troublesome or unbelieving husbands with quietness and respectful conduct.

This passage from 1 Pet. 3 is routinely abused to blame women when there is trouble in the home. Patriarchal churches routinely throw this passage in the faces of women who seek help with brutes and swine and boarish husbands. Instead of, you know, helping her. They question whether she has adequately practiced what they see this passage teaching, and conclude that if the husband is not being won over, she must not be submitting enough. Such is a nightmarish situation of never being able to prove to the satisfaction of her shepherds that she is actually doing what they insist she do, and that some situations are simply broken and cannot be repaired in this way.

So when Wilson appeals to the example of Abigail in the next paragraph, this appeal is worse than useless. Imitating Abigail is seen as rebellion and high-handed refusal to submit to God’s authorities for the home. It is no help to say that women can “act like Abigail” when, at the very moment they do act like Abigail, they are struck across the face with 1 Pet. 3.

This sort of ill-considered comment just shows to me that Wilson is more or less oblivious to the real situations that are developing right now across the patriarchal/complimentarian churches in this country and around the world. It does no good at all to talk the talk when you refuse to walk the walk. “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead,” (James 2:14-17).

Wilson’s second “bad part” of patriarchy is that it can be abused like Phillips has done, but this abuse must be overcome with more obedience rather than disobedience (to the teachings of patriarchy, presumably). This must be so, because, according to Wilson, “words of God in Scripture” grant “this position to men.” “Those people chortling over this particular fall were opposed to the Pauline instructions on marriage back when they thought no such sin had occurred.”

Now, here Wilson simply assumes the patriarchal reading is blindingly obvious, the sort of blinding obvious that means anybody who disagrees must therefore be in rebellion against God and His designed order for the world. But this is nothing more than a refusal to acknowledge there is a real and legitimate discussion going on about the words of those Scriptures Wilson trumpets as being so obvious. You know, the kind of obvious that three-year-olds and chimps could figure out.

But those of us who disagree do not disagree because we don’t like what Paul says. We disagree because we don’t see Paul saying those things. This is not a debate about taking the Scriptures seriously or refusing to do so, but a discussion on how we are to read the Scriptures which both sides are taking seriously. Sure, there are some people who solve the problem by throwing up their arms and claiming Paul must not have really written those patriarchal bits, but this is an unacceptable conclusion for an evangelical Christian. There are other, better ways of reading Paul, and this is really the problem. Wilson and the other patriarchalists refuse to admit that they’re cowardly trying to redefine the game to ensure they come out the winners. This is something which Christian philosopher Cornelius Van Til was always at pains to point out was a problem, and Wilson at least ought to know better, since he acknowledges an intellectual debt to Van Til.

Next, Wilson reveals his sneering sort of sexism by dismissing critics as “screeching” feminists. Then we get the big whopper: “I said on the air that men were necessarily dominant. The only question before the house was whether or not that dominance was going to be constructive or destructive… The point is that patriarchy is inescapable, and our only choice is between men being faithful, for blessing, and men failing, for humiliation and chastisement.”

This clears matters up quite a bit. Not only does Wilson equate “patriarchy” with “dominance,” he also says male dominance is “crucial” and will be exercised regardless of what men do. Such is the patriarchal system, and because of how it framed gender roles, women will always get the short shrift and the predominance of abuse.

He then also claims that Phillips had trouble with the “abusive” sort of patriarchy, but he once again fails to understand that the problem is not with “abusive forms” of patriarchy. The real problem is with “abusive forms” of gender roles. The problem with patriarchy is not that it can be abused, but that it is, by nature, abusive. These abuses will continue to crop up in patriarchal circles until such a time as they pony up and admit this, and then shut the whole business down. Which is why, by the by, the closing of Vision Forum ministries is necessarily a good thing.

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8 thoughts on “Doug Wilson, Patriarchy, and Missing the Point

  1. This passage from 1 Pet. 3 is routinely abused to blame women when there is trouble in the home.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Although I don’t know about Phillips, I do know about how the view of complementarianism is not always so … complimentarian, if you catch my drift.

    1. Royce, as you quote, I said that people who hold to gender roles similar to Phillips are “as mainstream” as Driscoll and Piper. This is not to say they are mainstream in a broad sense, but that they have large, public, vocal followings and are quite popular and known in evangelical circles.

    1. Denise, I agree. I just ran across that particular article a few days ago and influenced the discussion in the last paragraph of my post. I plan on expanding that commend later in my series on patriarchy.

  2. Disagree with Doug Wilson on a whole host of issues (I do) but you need to be fair. YOu are slandering the man. He wrote two paragraphs. Two. That is the total of his “article.” There is zero defense of Doug Phillips. Zero. He does not defend him at all. Not for a moment. Disagree and even dislike both men if you like, but be fair. I’ve never heard of Phillips before this scandal. I don’t follow the Christian Patriarchy movement if there is such a thingm but your misrepresenting of WIlson is crazy.

    1. I am citing two different posts by Wilson on this subject, in both of which he sides with Phillips in that they both believe in patriarchy. Wilson isn’t defending Phillips’ sexual or marital failings, but he is defending the position which Phillips holds to. Even in his first post, however, Wilson calls everyone who doesn’t mourn over Vision Forum’s closing “enemies” who give occasion to “blaspheme.” By implication, Phillips is placed in the position of noble, fallen David, hero-saint. If that isn’t defending him, I’m unsure what might qualify. I stated my case strongly, but so did Wilson. He’s a big boy and presumably he can take them as much as he gives them out.

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