Against Patriarchy, Part Five: Patriarchy Distorts the Gospel

We come at last to the final, and fourth, pillar in my case against patriarchy. (The previous parts can be found here.) Today I will argue that patriarchy distorts the gospel by inverting what God says about who will be saved. They create a system of authoritarian power structures which set people up for spiritual abuse, which the patriarchalists claim image God’s nature, and then abuse their sheep. In so doing, they turn God into an oppressor, instead of a deliverer of the oppressed.

Siding with the Oppressors

We’ve already looked at the ways in which patriarchy teaches that the Son is in eternal subordination to the Father in the inter-Trinitarian life, a subjugation which gives the Father complete authority over the Son, which is an unintentional revival of neo-Arian heresy. This subordination is then carried out downward into family, social, and cultural life (Wilson, Father Hunger) and creates a circular structure of systemic abuse and manipulation of men, women, and children. How is it abusive?It begins by claiming the full might of Biblical authority for itself. Disagree with the “clear” exposition of Scripture and you’re nothing but a rebellious spirit. Those who disagree are enemies, “screeching” feminists and an egalitarianism that flattens out the Trinity and is “poison” and “heresy” (Wilson, Father Hunger, 5-6, 43). There is no real discussion here, simply a conflict by some other folks who refuse to submit to God’s Word. This is known as authoritarianism, which paints the world as existing between light and darkness, and defines the “light” as that which happens to be conveniently right where they’re standing. Thus, when the teaching, whatever it happens to be, comes down from on high, those listening are predisposed to adopt that teaching of belief as “revealed truth” on par with the Scriptures themselves.

So patriarchalists, having adopted this “light vs. darkness” mentality, are opened up to the abuse of the system. How are they abused?

Men are abused and manipulated. Having accepted the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, patriarchy describes the differences between masculinity and femininity, and blames the husband/father for abdication from God’s commands. Men, they are told, are “in a position of inescapable leadership. He cannot successfully refuse to lead. If he attempts to abdicate in some way, he may, through his rebellion, lead poorly. But no matter what he does, or where he goes, he does so as the head of his wife. This is how God designed marriage. He has created us as male and female in such a way as to ensure that men will always be dominant in marriage,” (Wilson, Reforming Marriage, 24. Emphasis his). In other words, men have no choice; you can either suck as a patriarch (thereby destroying your family by being in “rebellion”) or dominate well as a patriarch. There are no other choices. No man (or woman!) wants to be told that he is literally killing and cursing his family by either his activity or inactivity.

Next, the man is told that everything that happens in his house is his fault. As we have noted, he is to intercede for his family as priest of the home. He is told that the responsibility for home is his alone: “The couple together is a corporate person. … he bears the responsibility for the spiritual state of the family,” (Wilson, Federal Husband, 24). Such a burden is too great for any person to bear, and is absolutely a manipulative tactic to push men further into the patriarchal scheme. Failure to lead can cause the wife to backslide into rebellion (Wilson, Federal, 25) and he ought to confess his own sins that led to this place, which “may include the initial decision to marry her,” (p. 25). Examples of her “sins” include “spending habits, television viewing habits, weight, rejection of his leadership, laziness in cleaning the house, lack of responsiveness to sexual advances,” (p. 25). Thus, the husband’s responsibility for his family is more or less comprehensive, extending to just about every area of life imaginable. And because no one person is ever perfect, no family ever will be, and he will always have personal culpability and headship responsibility for every little moral failing, even down to the weight of his wife. He will always be striving and pushing to take his authority further into every corner his family’s life in a vain attempt to finally “fix” them and achieve rest. The temptation will be to blame himself for not only every little error of doctrine and character in his wife and children, but also for whether his children remain Christians. “When God-fearing parents are confronted with a God-defying child, shame is an entirely appropriate response” because such shame means the parents recognize “they are responsible for what has happened,” because the “results would have been different had the behavior of the parents been different,” (Wilson, Standing on the Promises, 45). In such a system, there is no victory, not ever. Fathers are responsible for the salvation of their children, as well as for their every failing, great and small.

Women are abused and manipulated. Having accepted the eternal subordination of the Son to the Father, women are then told that they are inescapably made in such a way as they desire to submit. Submission is inevitable on account of their ontological status as secondary helpers. Wilson writes that “the creation order tells us that Adam was not created for Eve, but rather that Eve was created for Adam,” (Reforming Marriage, 29; Father Hunger, ch. 11). As a result, “submission for women is not optional. They will be in submission in some way and to somebody,” (Wilson, For a Glory and a Covering, 64). Sproul Jr., writing about the creation of woman in the Garden, says that this “affirms that she is in a position of submission,” (Bound for Glory, 64). In other words, just as with the men, women are told they have no choice; they are by nature submissive and therefore will submit no matter what they do. So obviously they ought to buckle down and get to it.

They are then told that the woman must submit in “all things” (Wilson, Fruit of Her Hands, 15), that being in submission will decrease their likelihood of being deceived by the Serpent (p. 26), and are told to “look at what you are supposed to be doing yourself” instead of “focusing on your husband’s problems and shortcomings,” (p. 32). It is then argued that such meekness, gentle, and quite submission in everything will solve the problems of the home. Wives who practice such submission see “transformation” for the home, since the husband will feel it a “tremendous relief to come home to a sympathetic and encouraging wife, rather than a cynical, unhappy, self-centered one,” (p. 32). The inevitable result of such teaching is that women are blamed for the unpleasant nature of the home, while the poor, beleaguered husband tries to deal with and reign in such a rebellious, unsubmissive wife who’s causing all the problems. It becomes all too easy to assume that when trouble arises in a marriage that it must be the wife’s fault. She clearly hasn’t been submitting in “all things.” The “thing that wins a disobedient husband is the conduct of his wife,” and that which “will win your husband is your godly and humble behavior,” (p. 54). God has “given women great abilities with the tongue” and therefore an unsubmissive women “tears the place down with her tongue,” (Wilson, Reforming Marriage, 50, 51). The health and well-being of the home is placed squarely upon the shoulders of the wife, who is incapable of non-submission, but who can also sink the whole ship by trying to fix it. And when the house has a problem, it is probably because she has not submitted enough. Such a system will never give women (or men) the rest and peace promised in Christ, because they must be constantly striving for perfection, perfection in submission for the women, and perfection in leadership for the men.

Children are abused and manipulated. The abuse of children begins with the manipulation of the parents. Parents are told that if they don’t physically discipline their children they hate their children: “A man who does not spank his son hates his son,” and to set your “heart on his destruction,” (Wilson, Standing on the Promises, 41). No man wants to hate his son, so he must obviously therefore spank. Despite claiming that such discipline is no substitute for salvation (p. 15), it is hard to reconcile this with the rest of the claims found there, that discipline will result in faithful children. As Wilson says, “the way in which they are shaped in their upbringing has eternal consequences” and “how parents treat them . . . affects that eternal destination,” (p. 71). Every Christian parent wants their children to be saved, and this sort of teaching places the responsibility for that eternal destination squarely upon the shoulders of parents, and especially fathers. This creates desperation for “problem” children and leads directly into abuse, as we shall see.

Having set up the theology of physical disciple as a means by which parents “deliver his soul from hell,” (p. 71), the specific methods they offer also lead to abuse. The principle is as follows: “You are bigger than they are. If what they are doing is wrong, make them stop,” p. 119. Emphasis his). This establishes dominance and power as the foundation of this philosophy, despite the fact they tell parents not to discipline in anger (p. 121). Failure to do this lays out a fundamental antithesis: “The choice is clear–discipline now or punishment then,” (p. 107). And once you start, you can’t stop until the child submits: “Because discipline seeks to correct, it has accomplished its purpose when correction has been made,” (p. 105) because it is designed to “alter behavior,” (p. 106). The best solution to a house with discipline problems is a short “reign of terror” in which “every infraction was dealt with painfully, every time,” (p. 107) and “the pain should be memorable,” (p. 125). The implication here is that parents cannot give up or stop until complete obedience is achieved. This even means that if, “after a spanking” a child “turns away” from the disciplining parent, they “should be disciplined for it,” (p. 109). This is supposedly done in order to ensure that restoration of relationship is achieved, but such a sign is deceptive: even a rebellious child will learn to hug his parents afterward in order to avoid another spanking.

The result is child abuse. Under these principles, Robert Andrews delivered his third-grade-aged daughter a “dire” spanking, despite the fact that she had a fever of 102, because “sickness if no excuse for disobedience,” claiming that “I had to enforce the standard I had set with biblical discipline” in order “to be consistent,” (The Family, 100). Speaking personally, I recall my pastor telling me he had disciplined his 15-month old adopted son for an hour for refusing to eat his food, until his legs were raw and flaming red (and he was finally forced to stop because he felt bad, “losing” the battle). One young woman who escaped patriarchy recalls a moment when her parents disciplined her one-or-two year old brother for not saying “thank you.” After several spankings, he finally said “thank you.” But, “He’s still rebelling–I can see it in his eyes,” said mom. “We need to break his spirit,” said dad. They continued to spank him until “his diaper started to shred and they took it off,” using a stick “once Dad’s hand became sore,” (McFarland, Quivering Daughters, 100-101). Two patriarchalist parents, both ardent followers of patriarchal ministries and Michael and Debbie Pearl’s book To Train Up a Child, actually beat their adopted daughter to death back in 2011 while trying to get her to “submit” and “break her spirit.” But overt physical abuse isn’t the only sort to be found in these circles. Far more common (because it is more or less invisible) is emotional manipulation and abuse (McFarland, Quivering Daughters, is required reading here).

Such disciplinary methods begin with manipulation of parents, and result in the abuse and emotional manipulation of children. And it is all done in the name of God, with the parents standing as representatives of God for their children, just as the husband in having authority “over” the wife is a representative of God to her, and the elders of the church are representatives of God to the men.

The Gospel of Deliverance

By constructing an authoritarian headship/submission structure, patriarchy sets up everyone for abuse and manipulation. And by arguing that this structure represents and symbolizes God, patriarchy claims that God sides with the powerful, not with the oppressed, with the freeman and not with the slave. In doing so, they have inverted the gospel of liberation.

In the Garden, man and women stood equally in their tasks (Gen. 1:26-28) and in their submission to their angelic instructors (Gal. 3-4; Heb. 1-2). The Hebrew word for “peace” is Shalom, and the Garden represented this perfectly. Shalom is the “central vision of world history” in which “every creature [is in] community with every other, living in harmony and security toward the joy and well-being of every other creature,” (Brueggemann, Living Toward a Vision, 15, 16). Shalom is the “basic biblical word that encompasses the Bible’s holistic vision of salvation, justice, and peace,” (Belousek, Atonement, Justice, and Peace, 60). It refers to a “pervasive sense of well-being in personal, social, economic, and political spheres” and can be said to have been achieved when “there are right relationships among people in every area of life,” (Kraybill, Upside-Down Kingdom, 219).

This was what the Garden was like, and after the Fall, shalom in the world was broken and shattered. But all was not lost. God began a long and painful process of returning shalom to the world, a redemption that would grow and expand in history until the coming of the Messiah. When Israel sojourned in Egypt it was like the Garden, and so was the Promised Land (Gen. 13:10; 45:18; 47:5-6, 11, 27; Joel 2:3). Said another way, what Adam and Eve experienced in the Garden was Sabbath-Shalom, and Solomon’s glorious reign brought about a return of this sabbath rest–for a time (1 Chron. 22:9; 1 Kings 4:24). The Psalmists yearned for the accomplishment of God’s eschatological Sabbath-Shalom (Psa. 4:8; 29:11; 34:14; 37:11). The Messianic King would bring about justice, righteousness, and shalom (Ps. 72:1-8, 12-16; Zech. 9:9-10; Isa. 9:6-7; Ezek. 37:26-28; Hag. 2:6-9; Isa. 32:1-7, 15-18).

Yahweh had always been a God who sided with the oppressed and not with the oppressors. He had always moved to liberate. He called Abraham out of Ur into liberty (Gen. 12). He brought Israel up out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage (Judges 6:8; Jer. 34:13). The basis of the Torah was this deliverance and liberation from Egypt: “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt,” (Ex. 22:21). Because God had helped them when they were helpless, “You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword,” (Ex. 22:22-24). God’s mighty action of mercy toward the poor and helpless and enslaved and oppressed was the very foundation of the whole Law (Ex. 20:2). The Law reflects this redemptive move toward a return to Sabbath-Shalom.

In the Torah, the Sabbath day was to be a day of rest and peace for the child, the slave, the animal, and the sojourner might have rest and peace (Ex. 20:8-11). That the Sabbath was a day of liberation and shalom becomes more clear as we move from the beginning of the Torah to the end. “On the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed,” (Ex. 23:12; Deut. 5:12-15). The Israelite was to rest so that those below them might have rest. The Sabbath Year was a wider application of the peace and rest of the Sabbath day, in which the the creation is given rest so that the poor will be fed (Ex. 23:10-11). The Sabbath Year cancelled all debt, released all slaves, and the wealthy commanded to give widely and deeply to the poor (Deut. 15:1-18), and all of this done in order to eliminate poverty: obeying God’s Sabbath Year liberation will mean “there will be no poor among you,” (Deut. 15:4). Then, every forty-nine years there was a massive Sabbath-Shalom, known as the year of Jubilee, the “year of Yahweh’s favor,” when the laborer and creation would find rest (Lev. 25:4-7). It was to include the restoration of property (Lev. 25:33-34), generosity to the poor (Lev. 25:35-46), and the liberation of slaves (Lev. 25:47-54).

As the promised Messiah, Jesus came and brought about the eschatological Jubilee, in which the sick and lame and blind were healed, the poor set free, the prisoner released, and the oppressor defeated. Isaiah announced that the gospel was specifically “good news to the poor” and the “year of the Lord’s favor,” the eschatological Jubilee (Isa. 61:1-8). Jesus reads this passage of Scripture at the announcement of His ministry and proclaimed, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” (Luke 4:21). Paul quotes from Isa. 49:8, in which Yahweh declares that the coming of the Messiah will be the “time of favor,” or eschatological Jubilee, and then proclaims, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation,” (2 Cor. 6:2). Any Israelite familiar with the Psalms knew that God had promised to fill His Temple with the poor and oppressed (Psa. 10:8; 14:6; 22:24; 25:16; 34:6; 35:10; 37:14-15; 40:17; 69:29; 72:2-4, 12; 86:1; 88:15). Jesus gathered around His table all those who were poor and broken and unqualified and excluded and welcomed them (Matt. 11:28-30), healing them and bringing them into the Temple (Matt. 21:12-16). The one with whom Yahweh keeps faith/covenant faithfulness is the poor and broken (Psa. 146:4-9). Likewise, Yahweh keeps faith with the “righteous,” who are defined as “the man who deals generously and lends; who has conducted his affairs with justice,” and has “distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness shall endure forever,” (Psa. 112:3, 5, 9). The English words justice/judgment/justification/righteous/righteousness/vindication/deliverance are all used to translate the same word group in both Hebrew (sedeq, sedaqa and sapat, mispat) and Greek (dikaioo, dikaiosyne), which tells us that the proper meaning of these words is the justice-doing of actively putting the world back to rights by helping and restoring the poor and oppressed. 

All of this is what Jesus did in His earthly ministry. Jesus brought shalom to the barriers that divided the world (Rom. 2:10; Eph. 2:14-15, 17; Col. 1:20). The very gospel is a “gospel of shalom,” (Eph. 6:15). The Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of justice/righteousness and shalom (Rom. 14:17). The person in the Spirit will have shalom (Rom. 8:6). And just as Jesus brought shalom to the whole world, so the Church is to go forth bringing shalom also (Acts 10:36; Rom. 14:19; 2 Cor. 13:11; Gal. 6:9-10, 15-16; James 3:18; 1 Pet. 3:11; 2 Pet. 3:13-14). The person who does “good” (justice and righteousness) will inherit shalom (Rom. 2:10). “Blessed are the shalom-makers,” declares Jesus (Matt. 5:9), for only they will be called “sons of God.” The one who forgives debts will be forgiven (Mat. 6:14-15; 18:32-35) and the one who shows mercy will be shown mercy, for “mercy triumphs over judgment,” (James 2:13). The one who shows partiality toward the rich is a “transgressor,” one who has sided with the oppressors, and will fall under judgment and be destroyed (James 2:1-9, 13). Why? Because “Yahweh works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed,” (Psa. 103:6), but woe upon the oppressors. At the conclusion of A.D. 70, the old heavens and old earth passed away in principle, and the new creation descended as the great city New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:1-3), the place God dwells with man and the restoration of the Edenic shalom (Rev. 21-22; Isa. 65:17-25) and the nations will stream into God’s holy mountain (Isa. 2:2-4; 11:9; 25:6-9; 56:3-6; Mic. 4:1-4). This was the final, eschatological rest to which the Promised Land could only point, the eternal Sabbath-Shalom (Heb. 4). The Church is to be the community of liberation (Acts 2, 4; 2 Cor. 8-9), freeing the slaves, releasing the captives, caring for the poor and orphaned and widow, for this is the true religion (James 1:27) and the true sacrifice (Heb. 13:16). Those who are oppressed and those who work to free them and care for them will enter the Kingdom of God (Matt. 25).

By constructing a system of perpetual affliction of those beneath them with physical, emotional, pyschological, and spiritual abuses, patriarchy sets people up for abuse and them abuses them, holding their consciences captive. They have become oppressors, little different than the Pharisees. “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger,” (Matt. 23:4). “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces,” “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves,” (Matt. 23:13, 15). “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness,” (Matt. 23:23). “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you,” and “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits,” (Matt. 21:31, 43), fruits of justice and mercy and liberation.

To those who teach patriarchal theology, it must be said strongly and firmly: “Let our people go!”

To those who labor endlessly under such teaching, we must gently and compassionately open our arms and receive them. We must declare to them that there is rest for the weary and the heavy-laden. There is justice and mercy and shalom waiting for them, that there is healing and blessed peace from constant striving and endless doubt and fear. There is light at the end of the tunnel, a heavenly Father who does not nitpick and demand perfection of His people, but a loving and glorious Father of mercy and justice, who keeps short accounts, who forgives without punishment, whose love is infinite and deep and strong. He summons all those oppressed in this system, “Come out of her, my people!” (Rev. 18:4).

Be like Abraham. Set out from Ur. Trust the God who delivers and saves and liberates. Cling to Him, and sojourn with Him. There is a land of promise, and it is ready and waiting for you.

Stay tuned for more on patriarchy in this series, Against Patriarchy.


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