Many of you are aware that our current Journal article “Who Will Be First in the Kingdom?” has received enough interest that we put the Journal online earlier than usual. We have recently received a letter from Bob Renaud at Vision Forum Ministries answering the questions we had asked in January. Within a few days of that we received a letter from Pastor Brian Abshire, the author of “Biblical Patriarchy and the Doctrine of Federal Representation” one of the articles we quoted from on the Vision Forum website. Pastor Abshire also called last week (just as I had hit the send button with an email acknowledging receipt of his letter). I found him to be kind and enjoyed our visit by phone. I won’t be responding to his letter at any length in this blog piece but will address a couple of points as well as raise some other issues of concern about patriarchy.
In “Who Will Be First in the Kingdom?” we quote Pastor Abshire’s statement:
In regards to a woman’s right to vote; if husband and wife are truly “one flesh” and the husband is doing his duty to represent the family to the wider community, then what PRACTICAL benefit does allowing women to vote provide? If husband and wife agree on an issue, then one has simply doubled the number of votes; but the result is the same. Women’s voting only makes a difference when the husband and wife disagree; a wife, who does not trust the judgment of her husband, can nullify his vote. Thus, the immediate consequence is to enshrine the will of the individual OVER the good of the family thus creating divisions WITHIN the family.
In his letter he writes:
The very next paragraph is again, ripped from its context and illogically used to try and make me say something OTHER than what the essay actually said. You cite me discussing the PRAGMATICS of voting but you do not include the HISTORICAL background which was used to demonstrate the humanist attack on the integrity of the covenant family and the rise of individualism as a cultural force. The paragraph does NOT take away the modern women’s right to vote, nor in any way deny that women have the ability to make wise decisions, but rather is an attempt to demonstrate an underlying cultural force that breaks up what was, until very recent times, the traditional concept of family.” (emphasis in the original)
The problem is that the paragraph immediately preceding this he writes:
By the 20th century, American Christians saw the “height” of Christian activism as banning alcohol while at the same time affirming a woman’s right to vote. Both ideas were unmitigated disasters; God has not allowed the civil magistrate to outlaw wine and God does not allow women to vote (cf. 1 Tim 2:11ff).
The first thing that I have here is a question. Is women’s suffrage truly an “unmitigated disaster?” We have actual evidence that Prohibition was a disaster because not only did it fail to achieve its objective of elevating the moral level of society, but it actually fueled the growth of organized crime, its immense unpopularity made it extremely difficult and expensive to enforce, and the 18th amendment was ultimately repealed. But where is the evidence that the Constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote has failed? What specific ills have befallen society that can be proven to be a result of women voting? Why has there never been an attempt to repeal the 19th amendment? If it has failed, it would appear that no one except those few who are opposed to it in principle seem to be aware of it. It certainly has not failed in any of the senses in which Prohibition failed, and thus putting both in the same category as “unmitigated disasters” is highly misleading, and in reality only empty rhetoric.
The second thing I have here is an observation. If “God does not allow women to vote” than wouldn’t it be the case that if a woman votes she is sinning by doing that which God does not allow? Wouldn’t a husband who permits her to vote or encourages her to vote be prompting her to sin? Wouldn’t a church that encouraged women to be involved in the political process by voting be further promoting that sinful behavior?
Thirdly, I see no evidence that the passage cited (1 Tim. 2:11ff) gives biblical weight to his contention that God does not allow women to vote.
It is indeed difficult to speak to the issue of patriarchy definitively for as Pastor Abshire points out in “Biblical Patriarchy and the Doctrine of Federal Representation” there is no actual agreement on what it is:
Those who self-consciously identify themselves as supporting “patriarchy” are not yet united in just what this term entails but there are enough people affirming this view that many in the wider Christian community now believe them to a “serious threat” that needs to be addressed.
There are likely gradations with in the patriarchal camp of those on the one end who like the word and view it as more or less the family tie breaker in a difficult decision to the other end where everything revolves around the father. In those settings the daughter is the property of the father and even God defers to the father. Sarah Faith Schlissel from The Chalcedon Foundation write in her article in “Daddy’s Girl: Courtship and a Father’s Rights”:
The order of God, as indicated in his word, is that God himself defers to the will of the father when it comes to his daughter. God says, “You heard your father. The answer is no.”Thus, the will of the father regarding his daughter IS the will of God.
We are not told why it is that the father knows better how to care and decide for his daughter than God does but there you have it.
She affirms for the reader that daughters are property owned by the father:
Beyond being an X-chromosome donor, may we think of the “-‘s” in “Daddy’s” in the possessive sense, and affirm with legitimacy that Daddy is my owner?
Any man seeking to beg, borrow or steal a daughter’s hand without her father’s endorsement is seeking to gain, in unlawful ways, “property” not his own.
Others view patriarchy as the dividing line between true Christians and non-Christians:
“I am convinced that the fight against patriarchy represents a modern plumline [sic] that separates the faithful from the faithless churches.”
Pastor Abshire’s paper “Biblical Patriarchy and the Doctrine of Federal Representation” states:
The word “patriarchy” simply means “rule by fathers” and stands in opposition to such alternative ideas as “oligarchy” (rule by elites), “monarchy” (rule by one-usually a king), “aristocracy” (rule by a privileged class), or “democracy” (rule by the “people”) etc. In all the above “systems,” rule by SOMEONE is inevitable; somebody must have the final authority for making decisions.
While the word “patriarchy” is sometimes used in the sense that Pastor Abshire indicates, these days it is more often used in the broader sense of a culture characterized by male control or dominance. But the word “patriarchy” is not a biblical word, while the word “patriarch” is found only in three New Testament contexts (Acts 2:29; 7:8-9; Hebrews 7:4) where it simply means “father of a nation” or “ancestor” (cf. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, eds., [Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1979], 636. Note: the fact that the NIV uses “patriarchs” to translate the Greek word for “fathers” in John 7:22, Romans 9:5, 11:28, and 15:8 obviously has no bearing on this discussion). It cannot be tied to any specific form of government, since three times it refers to the head of a family (Abraham, in Hebrews 7:4, and sons of Jacob in Acts 7:8-9), and once it is used of the king of Israel (David, in Acts 2:29) whose rule was above that of the multitude of fathers who were spread across the nation’s twelve tribes. However, using the word patriarch and patriarchy gives the air of biblical credibility to the claims of those involved.
Where will the patriarchal movement go? It is hard telling. It seems very likely that it will continue to become more strident as others look at their writings and challenge their conclusions. It is beginning to and if it continues in the direction it seems to be headed will become the “plumbline” by which true Christians (those who practice patriarchy) will separate themselves from false Christians (those who don’t). Along the way to creating modern day fiefdoms many will be hurt and the cause of the gospel will suffer in an increasingly pagan world.