The Cult of “Godly” Womenhood

(Originally printed in the Fall 2011 Issue of the MCOI Journal)

Godly-WomanhoodA couple years ago, I happened across an interesting blog article written by an older woman, I will call Anne, who lives in the Midwest. With refreshing honesty and engaging style, she wrote in poetic detail about the two worlds in which she lived. In real life, Anne explained, she has a husband who is a pastor and grown children—one of whom is starting to come around after living a life of total rebellion to her Christian upbringing. Anne lamented the fact she longed to become a Titus Two* woman for younger women—following those directives given regarding biblical living, but no one apparently was interested in what she had to say. She talked about her life in a small town, shared delicious recipes, and wrote articles about her ministry to the elderly people in her church. Anne went to Bible studies and taught Sunday school, sewed and crafted—doing all those things she believed a “Godly” woman ought to be doing with her time. Even then, it was never quite as wonderful as her other world—her imaginary place on the internet: The “blogs of ‘God-ordained’ womanhood” world.

In Anne’s idyllic world, women were more her version of godly: They wore only dresses and had tea parties with chicken salad sandwiches, being taught proper etiquette from Miss Janice, the certified tea educator. She envisioned their daughters were her type of godly, too, so they never would go to college or even entertain a single romantic thought until their manly fathers had betrothed them to worthy young men. In this unrealistic world, were large, happy families with perfectly behaved children. Women shared thoughts from Proverbs 31 or Titus 2—passages which soundly instruct women regarding Godly living, but are craftily distorted by patriocentrists—and exhorted each other daily on the virtue of domestic pursuits.

In spite of the fact Anne was absolutely overwhelmed with guilt and discouragement each time she browsed through her magical blog roll, she found herself returning there day after day because it aroused something in her she couldn’t explain. Though she admitted this depressed her, she thought if she vicariously participated in the lives of these women, she might find some happiness. Anne, as with others who become cult followers, was seeking Utopia. Like the matriarch of Stepford, “all she wanted was a perfect world.”1

As absurd as this all sounds, Anne was being drawn into a growing aberrant movement in evangelical and reformed circles known as the patriarchy or “patriocentric2 movement that places a husband or father at the center of family life—much like the center of a wheel—with the other family members being the spokes. Within this framework, the role of a “godly” woman is to keep all the spokes firmly directed toward the father and radiating around him … no matter the cost.

In reaction to radical feminism’s anti-life/anti-family agenda and the overwhelming acceptance of homosexuality in the culture and even in some churches, many conservatives are now swinging the pendulum far, far to the right of sound doctrine regarding true relationships within the Body of Christ, painting a picture of the “role” of women as a quirky combination of antebellum femininity, 1950’s homemaking, and Jane Austen drama. The truth is, the patriocentric definition of “God-ordained” womanhood—as opposed to genuine “biblical” womanhood—cannot be applied to all Christian women, in all places, and in all times. It is a movement that promotes both the sin of partiality, against which James 2:1-83 warned, and the sin of triviality, which was most keenly demonstrated by the Pharisees;4 poor Anne had succumbed to both.

Let’s take a look at some of patriocentricity’s “core curriculum” used to advance the cult of “God-ordained” womanhood, and let’s see how it erroneously teaches only one particular “role” has been prescribed for all women—from the earliest of their years up through their golden years.

The False Paradigm of “God-ordained” Womanhood

The first book on the list is Passionate Housewives Desperate for God written by Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald and published in 2007 by Vision Forum. According to the book’s subtitle, what they call a “Fresh Vision for the Hopeful Homemaker,” (cover) the role they declare is “the glorious picture painted for us in Scripture” (p.xvii). They use phrases like “the role God ordained for us since the beginning of time” (p.36), “the sacred calling God has given us as women” (p.46), “God has given women a sphere that is naturally and wonderfully their own to manage and wisely govern” (p.93), and “Why is God’s role for women so important? Because God says when we reject it, we blaspheme His Word.5 This rewording and misrepresentation of the true teaching of Titus 2 ultimately leads to the false conclusion that being a wife and mother in the home is God’s undisputed calling for all women without any qualifications or exceptions.

Patriocentrists have established a one-size-fits-all model for women. They have assigned them one role with home as their only sphere. Some writers have even made Proverbs 7:11—which describes a harlot as a woman “;whose feet do not stay at home”—apply to any woman who works outside the home. By establishing the housewife/mother role as the only one acceptable to God, they have brushed aside many of the women mentioned in the New Testament who followed Jesus as well as those who worked alongside Paul. They have dismissed missionaries like Gladys Aylward, Betty Greene, Amy Carmichael, and Elisabeth Elliot. Through their skewed model, they have marginalized single women, not to mention single mothers. They have pierced the hearts of women who are barren either from birth, because of illness, because of a husband’s infertility, or because they have gone through menopause. In reality, given the fact most woman are able to bear children for only about 40 years of their lives, what are we to make of the fact that roughly since the time after the Flood—as life spans were greatly reduced to approximately 70 or so years—women have been barren for just about half of their expected length of life on earth? How do these women—whom the patriocentric movement often call “non-normative6 —fit into God’s plan?

Further, let’s consider cultures outside of the Westernized or Americanized world in which we live today. How can the harsh realities of living in a third-world country—where both men and women are solely trying to survive from one day to the next—fit into the patriocentric model? There are over two-billion people in the world who have incomes of roughly $420 dollars or less each year7 —many of them with every family member working just to provide the few potatoes, rice, or dried beans they have in their huts. They have no running water, no available medical treatment, and/or no books to read. How does the patriocentric “God-ordained” womanhood role apply to women in these cultures? Another toxic dose of this can be found in McDonald’s first book, Raising Maidens of Virtue. Recommending moms train their daughters to have both a morning shower and an evening bath with essential oils and sweet-smelling powders in order to present themselves as “godly” young women with the proper testimony, McDonald claims physical cleanliness can be an outward sign of inward purity (p.147). So what about the three-to four-million women in Africa8 who suffer from obstetric fistula,9 a chronic vaginal hemorrhaging and total loss of bowel and bladder control as a result of complications from childbirth? How can these women practice “God-ordained” womanhood when they have been made social pariahs by a philosophy of a sub-culture that also has told them there is only one role for women—that of being wives and mothers? Can these women who are doomed to a life of physical uncleanness have any hope for spiritual purity? Is all hope for them to have a “sweet smelling” testimony as women lost forever? This nonsense is what happens when an empty ideology becomes the paradigm—when the more trivial aspects of life are spiritualized and certain tastes and styles are taught as “Christian decorum10 and “God-ordained” womanhood.

Mormon Influence in the Cult of “God-ordained” Womanhood

Another book that, perhaps, more than any other publication, has established the agenda for the role playing of patriarchal husbands and wives is one of the most unbiblical, bizarre, and offensive books I have ever read. On the pages of Fascinating Womanhood,11 which was written in 1963 by Mormon Helen Andelin and is promoted and sold on many Christian web sites that promote “God-ordained” womanhood, you can find nearly every single catch phrase of modern-day patriocentricity. Portraying men as sad sops who need to be better than women at everything, who desire their wives to be childlike in both manner and dress (p.322), and who are easily manipulated for their own good, Andelin instructs wives in patriocentric “God-ordained” womanhood better than just about anyone else of this ilk. Andelin began by teaching classes to women around tables in church basements, and her “feminine perfection” (p.13) teaching quickly spread to adult education classes in YWCA’s across the country. She soon became the champion of certain homeschooling moms, who loved her (undo) emphasis on the “godliness” of becoming “domestic goddesses” (p.28, p.228),12 devoted wives and mothers.

Through personal “success stories” (p.397), Andelin proudly suggests every woman will see positive results if she follows the Fascinating Womanhood principles, reminding readers the burden of a happy marriage and home life is on the wife. In what I call a treatise on feeding a man’s fleshly desires, Andelin’s book is 380 pages of feminine manipulation and role playing at its finest, teaching that women must become accomplished actresses in order to please their husbands. Andelin admonishes women never to be more intelligent than their husbands, to dummy themselves down if they must, and never to offer an opinion on manly subjects like politics, current events, math, or science (p.276).

She (wrongly) reminds women that fathers own their children and, in spite of what current laws mandate, mothers do not (p.111). Therefore, she might have to acquiesce to a husband’s methods of teaching and disciplining, while using feminine wiles rather than logic to try to persuade him to her way of thinking (p.265) Andelin believed young women ought to prepare for marriage and family life rather than pursuing training for careers (p.285), and she admonished women that “devotion to your household, family, and charity enhance feminine charm, whereas employment outside the home does little or nothing for it” (p.283). She encouraged wives to become completely dependent on their husbands (p.270), because it is in a wife’s neediness that his “love and tenderness” grows. However, unlike some other teachers within the patriocentric movement who imply that women are more flawed by the Fall than men, leaving a woman with impaired judgment,13 Andelin stated women possess angelic qualities that awaken a feeling near worship that bring a man peace and happiness when cultivated (p.28).

She also says women are more emotional than rational, should never speak out in front of men, employment outside the home is an abomination, and a man’s ego is sacrosanct and must be maintained at all costs. And the silliest notion of all: Wives are exhorted to become childlike to please their husbands, because husbands find little-girl behavior attractive.14 Andelin suggests women visit the little girl’s section of a department store to find clothing styles to copy—like ruffles, lace, and ribbons.15 She says even “unattractive women” (p.303)—like those whose faces are marred by freckles—can be attractive to their husbands if they are careful not to blur the male/female lines by dressing in man’s clothes16 —that is, jeans—or doing man’s work around the house—like mowing the grass or using a screw driver (p.103ff). Even more important: Never, ever allow your husband to do any of your chores—like laundry, dishes, or running a vacuum cleaner—especially since your sons might see this and become homosexuals (p.104). And if you aren’t already amazed enough, here is, perhaps, my favorite quote in the book from her chapter on how women are to practice and perfect using childlike anger which, she says, husbands love:

Learn childlike mannerisms by studying the antics of little girls. Stomp your foot, lift your chin high, square your shoulder, pout, put both hands on your hips, open your eyes wide, mumble under your breath.17

This notion that it is normal for men to be attracted to young girls is particularly disconcerting when combined with some of the other teachings regarding father-and-daughter relationships coming out of the patriocentric movement. The popular Elsie Dinsmore books for young girls, promoted and sold by Vision Forum, tell the story of a young girl whose mother has died, and who is raised by her black slaves while living on her father’s plantation in the deep south. Though Elsie is touted as the perfect role model for girls to emulate, there are dangerous lessons woven throughout these books—even some that could send many inappropriate messages. Elsie’s virtue rests in her complete obedience to her father, even in one situation where he is about to beat her with a horse whip for something she did not do. Additionally, she is the object of affection even at age eight for an older man whom she eventually marries. When she does marry, she grieves and weeps because she has to leave her father. In fact, the father-daughter relationship is central to the story in each book, and the perpetual childlike-adult Elsie never appears to become a true grown-up woman. Detailed descriptions of her sitting on her father’s lap and kissing him long and hard on the lips18 are creepy and distasteful.

Indeed, the unhealthy aspects of the patriocentric father-daughter emphasis can move the God-given boundary lines in many ways. For example, Doug Phillips hosts father-daughter retreats where little girls shave their fathers.19 And this alarming statement from Voddie Bauchaum20 sent shock waves throughout numerous and varying circles:

A lot of men are leaving their wives for younger women because they yearn for attention from younger women. And God gave them a daughter who can give them that. And instead they go find a substitute daughter … you’ve seen it, we’ve all seen it. These old guys going and finding these substitute daughters.21

(Don’t old men “yearn for attention from young women” for the same reason young men “yearn for attention from young women?” Is it really to find a “substitute daughter?”)

In addition, So Much More,22 the go-to book for the patriocentric-endorsed stay-at-home daughter movement, describes daughters as “helpmeets” to their fathers.23

However, the book No Will of My Own by Jon Zens critically examines the chilling parallels between modern patriocentric teachings and research done during the 1980’s within a similar patriocentric paradigm, demonstrating the potential for abuse.24

Submission in the Cult of “God-ordained” Womanhood

Created to Be His Help Meet by Debi Pearl—founder of No Greater Joy Ministries—along with her husband, Michael, is, perhaps, the most popular book that advances the key teachings in the cult of “God-ordained” womanhood. The Pearls’ teachings on marriage and family life have been all the rage for more than two decades, their books being distributed by the case among church groups and classes. The Pearls’ book To Train Up a Child, full of its own heresies25 and dangers (including the documented deaths of two children whose parents religiously followed the Pearls’ instructions for beating children with plumbing supply line until they were “repentant”),25 has sold nearly 600,000 copies, influencing two generations of Christian parents.
Central to Debi Pearl’s belief is a wife’s submission to her husband as defined by the patriocentric paradigm. Created to Be His Help Meet and its corresponding book for daughters called Preparing to Be a Help Meet, are based on the premise:

If you are a wife, you were created to fill a need, and in that capacity you are a “good thing”, [sic] a helper suited to the needs of a man. This is how God created you [sic] and it is your purpose for existing.26

She goes further to say what happens if you do not embrace this teaching:

When a woman gets old and realizes that there is no man to love and cherish her, it is sad indeed, for she has failed in the very purpose for which she was created—to be a suitable helper for man.27

While submission** is absolutely biblical, a man and a woman in a Christian marriage are, first and foremost, brothers and sisters in Christ who are commanded to practice all the “one anothers”*** in their homes: Admonish one another (Rom.15:14), serve one another (Gal.5:13), submit to one another (Eph.5:21), love one another (Jn.13:35, Rom13:8), forgive one another (Col.3:13), exhort one another (Heb.3:13), etc. But these very real exhortations of the Word of God are abysmally missing from Created to Be His Help Meet, and in fact, some are discouraged altogether.

Pearl promises a “heavenly marriage” (p.30) for all women who follow her formula to success, which includes accepting her assertion that wives are responsible for the sins of their husbands (p.30). [Note the Bible instructs: “… Each one shall be put to death for his own sin” (Dt.24:16, ESV, emphasis mine).] Pearl uses the failings of Adam, Solomon, David, and Samson to bolster her view. She goes on to place the blame on women if their husbands commit adultery, telling them it is their responsibility to keep their husbands faithful. She warns:

You can stand on your rights and stand on truth, but it won’t save your marriage … if you feed him well, emotionally and sexually, her cooking won’t tempt him. God is on your side. Fight and win.28

Rather than embracing the means provided in Scripture, that is, prayer, intervention from fellow believers, or confrontation, Pearl encourages her followers to employ the same fleshly techniques for wooing their husbands as recommended by Andelin, repeatedly warning women they will end up divorced and destitute if they don’t heed her counsel.29

Pearl also places the burden of a husband’s spiritual growth on women by claiming:

God has provided for your husband’s complete sanctification and deliverance from temptation through you, his wife.30

Perhaps, the most dangerous perspective Pearl preaches is that the limits of physical abuse of a husband toward his wife are negligible, and there is no clear cut directive for her to even temporarily leave a physically abusive husband. Once again, a wife’s submission is considered to be the solution in these situations.31

The cult of “God-ordained” womanhood is growing, and its influence is widening within conservative, Bible-teaching churches. While it is impossible to provide numbers for this movement, the fruits of its teachings are now becoming more and more apparent. Broken and often abusive homes, disillusioned husbands and wives, and broken-hearted children are no strangers to its destruction.32 Like Jonah, we must warn those who are tempted to go down its path that “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (Jonah 2:8, NIV 1984). True, biblical womanhood is found when a woman trusts in Jesus Christ alone for her salvation, and it blossoms under sound doctrinal teaching that encourages her to trust the Word of God alone as her standard for truth!

*“Titus Two” here is the term ascribed to the section of the Book of Titus, Chapter Two, which contain instructions to various ages and groups, particularly as those instructions to women.

**Submit=Hupotasso A Greek military term meaning “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader”. In non-military use, it was “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.” (BDB/Thayers # 5293)

***“One anothers” is the term used to describe the group of Scripture verses which employ those words.

Karen-Campbell-pic-100x150
Karen Campbell has been married to her husband, Clay, for 36 years. They have six children and 12 grandchildren and enjoy ministering to and encouraging homeschooling families through blogging and podcasting at www.thatmom.com. For more information on the patriocentric movement, please feel free to contact Karen at shesthatmom@gmail.com

  1. Ira Levin’s 2004 science fiction thriller, The Stepford Wives closes with Stepford’s matriarch, Glenn Close, holding the dismembered robot head of her husband and lamenting “All I wanted was a perfect world.”
  2. Patriocentricity: Taken from the Latin and Greek prefix “patri” meaning father and the root word “centric” meaning “situated at or near the center.” The term was specifically coined to describe the philosophy of family life promoted within some non-Christian, extreme Christian and Reformed communities and among some homeschoolers who teach God gives a “calling” in life to only men, specifically fathers, and the purpose of the wife and children is to fulfill the father’s calling. Those who embrace this position believe that it changes only when a son assumes his own household responsibilities by taking a wife or when a daughter is given in marriage and she can then leave her father’s home, because her new purpose is to fulfill the calling of her husband.

    Though there are varying degrees of this taught within different groups, the father is sometimes described as the “prophet, priest, and king” (http://www.christianbook.com/the-four-ready-to-lead-audio/voddie-baucham/9781933431789/pd/431784 and Phil Lancaster Family Man, Family Leader, chapters 7, 8 and 9 http://www.peacehillfarm.com/LearningToBeAMan/FamilyManFamilyLeader.htm) of the home and there are other common ideals that often accompany patriocentricity, such as militant fecundity, family-integrated church, neo-feudalism, as well as neo-agrarianism

  3. James 2:1-8 (ESV): My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
  4. Luke 11:42 (ESV): But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
  5. http://www.visionforumministries.org/issues/family/jennie_chancey_responds_to_tit.aspx (accessed 09/14/11).
  6. Kevin Swanson sermon on daughters and college http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=32508946513 (accessed 09/14/11).
  7. Robert Heilbroner in American Government and Economics, A Beka Publications, page 4.
  8. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/january/17.48.html
  9. Obstetric fistula (or vaginal fistula) is a severe medical condition in which a fistula (hole) develops between either the rectum and vagina (see rectovaginal fistula) or between the bladder and vagina (see vesicovaginal fistula) after severe or failed childbirth, when adequate medical care is not available; “Obstetric fistula”; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obstetric_fistula
  10. Stacy’s bio http://familyreformation.org/ (accessed 09/14/11)
  11. Helen Andelin, Fascinating Womanhood; (Bantam Books, 1990) p.322
  12. Helen Andelin, Fascinating Womanhood; (Bantam Books, 1990), This comes from a chart in Andelin’s book that describes “celestial love” a very Mormon concept. It is a theme carried throughout all the books in this article, that of the high priority of being a homemaker to be “godly.”
  13. A false understanding or misuse of 1Tim.2:14 would lead to this idea. A. Duane Lifton in The Bible Knowledge Commentary comments on this passage: “Some chauvinists see Paul arguing here that women, as represented in their archetype Eve, are more gullible and thus more susceptible to error, than men. Thus, they say, females should not be in places of teaching or authority in the church. Others believe Paul was saying, in effect, ‘Look what happens when the Creation order is reversed and the man abdicates the leadership role to the woman’ In any case, Paul was emphatically not excusing or absolving Adam for the Fall. Elsewhere Paul put the blame squarely on Adam’s shoulders (cf. Ro,5:12-21). A. Duane Lifton, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty, John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck, Victor Books, Tenth Printing 1989, 736.
  14. Helen Andelin, Fascinating Womanhood; (Bantam Books, 1990) op. cit. p.334
  15. Helen Andelin, Fascinating Womanhood; (Bantam Books, 1990) p.343
  16. Helen Andelin, Fascinating Womanhood; (Bantam Books, 1990) p. 104
  17. Helen Andelin, Fascinating Womanhood; (Bantam Books, 1990) p.322
  18. Martha Finley, Elsie Dinsmore, as originally published by Hendrickson Publishers (and currently sold by Vision Forum) Amazon review at http://www.amazon.com/review/R1JAP1C3DNEML5/ref=cm_cr_old_cmt_rd
  19. Vision Forum’s Father-Daughter Retreat: http://vimeo.com/20113981
  20. Voddie Bauchaum is the Pastor of Preaching at Grace Family Baptist Church (http://web.me.com/voddieb/vbm/home.html) and author of numerous books
  21. Voddie Bauchaum, “Biblical Womanhood”, Part 5 of 8; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qljgjT2Q4-g 2:08 to 2:34 mark on the video
  22. So Much More by Anna Sophia and Elizabeth Botkin, published by Vision Forum
  23. So Much More by Anna Sophia and Elizabeth Botkin, published by Vision Forum
  24. Jon H. Zens, No Will Of My Own: How Patriarchy Smothers Female Dignity & Personhood, Ekklesia Press (March 15, 2011)
  25. See “Remembering Lydia Schatz” at http://www.tulipgirl.com/index.php/2011/02/remembering-lydia-schatz/
  26. Debi Pearl, Created To Be His Help Meet, (TN: No Greater Joy Ministries, 2004), p.21
  27. Debi Pearl, Created To Be His Help Meet, (TN: No Greater Joy Ministries, 2004), p.58
  28. Debi Pearl, Created To Be His Help Meet, (TN: No Greater Joy Ministries, 2004), p.29
  29. Debi Pearl, Created To Be His Help Meet, (TN: No Greater Joy Ministries, 2004), p.29. An analysis of Debi Pearl’s teachings on a wife’s responsibility for a husband’s sanctification can be found at: http://spunkyhomeschool.blogspot.com/2005/07/created-to-be-his-help-meet-part-1.html
  30. Debi Pearl, Created To Be His Help Meet, (TN: No Greater Joy Ministries, 2004), p.29
  31. Pearls on abusive husbands and fathers http://www.nogreaterjoy.org/articles/general-view/archive/1999/september/01/abusive-husband/
  32. For a fuller critique, see Quivering Daughters: Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy by Hillary McFarland and Megan Lindsay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *