At first glance there seems to be little in common between an obscure religious movement and a disgraced Hollywood producer.
Harvey Weinstein and patriarchalism appear to be polar opposites. One a purveyor filth who made a career of undermining traditional American values and profited greatly from sexual exploitation. The other a loosely knit group of pious religious folk who promote a notion of sexual purity and believe they are defending their families against men like Weinstein.
What does a lecherous “progressive” elitist, one who championed the feminist agenda all-the-while sexually exploiting young vulnerable women, have in common with a group of extremely conservative people who refuse to participate in this “worldly” entertainment?
That is a question that hopefully will be answered by the time I’ve finished. However, first a definition of a term…
What is Patriarchalism?
A patriarch is an elder male. A matriarch is an elder female. Families have both patriarchs and matriarchs within them. However, some cultures are more “matriarchal” and others are labeled as “patriarchal” depending on how they distribute power to members of the group.
Our American culture tends to be patriarchal, we typically elect men as political leaders, women traditionally take the surname of their husbands, and this is not, in-and-of-itself, an abusive arrangement. There are many women who want a strong male presence in their lives, there are many men willing to lovingly provide that for a woman, and that’s not patriarchalism.
Patriarchalism is when a man has absolute (or near absolute) and unquestionable authority over others. It is a term first used to describe the tyrannical power of a king over his subjects and is an arrangement that is completely forbidden for a Christian leader:
“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not Lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:1-4 NIV)
That quotation above being further exposition of words first spoken by Jesus:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NIV)
Patriarchalism, specifically for the purposes of this blog, is a Biblically-based religious movement that incorrectly uses Scripture (primarily Old Testament) to justify male dominance over others and dominion over female family members in particular. It is a religious doctrine that is both negligent of the clear instruction given in the quotes above and also represents regression to a previous system that ultimately failed to provide salvation for anyone.
The Patriarchal movement has grown in reaction to the ever-encroaching influence of secularism represented by Hollywood. Unfortunately it is as sex-obsessed and destructive as the mainstream culture it was intended to protect against. When you strip away the superficial differences between them they are essentially the same or two sides of the same coin…
1) Separatism and Elitist Arrogance
Patriarchalism, in the Christian context, is a religious separatist movement. It gets its ideological energy from Old Testament examples (men like Abraham, Issac and Jacob) then merges that with a sort of Biblical fundamentalist twist on 1950’s era Americana.
Common characteristics of the patriarchal movement include quiverfull teaching along with corporal punishment and home schooling of children. Basically the man rules the roost, the female is there to be his adoring “helpmeet” (a word they distort for their own ends) and produce his many children. Men like Michael Pearl, Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips have made their mark by selling this vision of male dominance to Biblical fundamentalists everywhere.
Hollywood, by contrast, is stocked full of globalists and preachers of a kind of multiculturalism that seems more aimed at elimination of European/Western/Christian influence than it is in celebrating *all* cultures. These multi-millionaires live in their gated communities, hide behind layers of security and send their own children to private schools (or home school) then fight against school choice, want citizens to be disarmed and oppose measures to ensure an orderly immigration system.
In the case of one you have those who wish to erase, layer upon layer, a positive identity for traditional Americans. In the other you have those who have basically voided the New Testament and seek to revert back to the Abrahamic covenant. In both cases you have an incredible amount of arrogance, a woeful lack of introspection about the possibility they might not be as morally entitled as they feel themselves to be, and conditions ripe for abuse.
2) Purity Culture and the Objectification of Women
Another characteristic of patriarchalism is promotion of an idea of modesty focused almost entirely on clothing and female clothing in particular. The claim is that it is a woman’s job to control male lusts, that clothing and falling under male domination is her protection from abuse, and positions her father and brothers as protectors.
The result is too often a sort of weird incestuous picture (sometimes literal incest like in the case of Joshua Duggar) where fathers and brothers become practice for their daughters and sisters who aren’t allowed to date otherwise. In some places there are these creepy “purity balls” where young women are encouraged to pledge themselves to their fathers until marriage.
The dirty little secret is that not all protection is benevolent. Yes, men in patriarchal purity cultures rant and rail against Hollywood’s objectification of women. However, they are in no better moral position themselves in their promotion of an idea that a woman’s worth is in her virginity. The patriarchal claim they are protecting their families, but in many cases they are simply trying to create special privileges and entitlements for themselves.
Hollywood men, for their part, make vast sums of money from turning women into sex objects and then pretend to be feminist when the cameras start to roll. For example, Weinstein, while publically giving money to feminist endowments and backing female candidate Hillary Clinton, was pressuring young vulnerable women for sexual favors in private.
3) Silencing of Women and Non-disclosure Agreements
The worst part of patriarchalism is how abuse is too often swept under the rug or is blamed on the woman. Bill Gothard, in his “character sketch” treatments of Biblical stories, even went as far as to suggest Dinah and Tamar were at fault for their being raped because (by his convoluted logic) they were not under their father’s “umbrella” thus unprotected and at fault for what happened to them.
The effect of that kind of victim blaming nonsense is to drive women into silence. Putting it out there that rape is always somehow the fault of a woman discourages an already difficult task of reporting on a sexual assualt. It is even worse in a purity culture where a woman may feel she risks reducing her worth to potential suitors by speaking out.
This disadvantage for a sexual abuse survivor only gets uglier in “non-resistant” (and patriarchal) Mennonite and Amish communities. The abusers often know how to play the game and, if outright denial doesn’t work, they will lay the repentance card. After this the victims might be accused of harboring bitterness and having an unforgiving spirit if they dare protest.
And, if that is not grotesque enough, men who do get exposed in their evil are often treated as victims themselves. Both Joshua Duggar and Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein have that much in common. They are excused as having a “sex addiction” and go for counseling as if they did not have a choice to resist their own primal urges.
At least the women assualted and raped by Weinstein got money or something for their troubles. Young women in purity cultures are saddled down with guilt and shame because they are constantly reminded that it is their job to keep both themselves and their ‘brothers’ pure. Patriarchal men are never guilty of their sins, at least not in their own eyes.
The Christian Case Against Patriarchalism
Since most of my audience probably agrees already that Hollywood is not morally upright, I will move right on to addressing the patriarchal movement and whether or not it meets a Christian standard.
One could argue (and I’ve heard this as justification before) that abuse happens everywhere and that means the patriarchal movement should get a pass. I expect some, in response to this blog, would protest and say: “Sure we have our problems, but who doesn’t? …at least we are promoting Biblical values and better than those liberal elites, right?”
But the truth is that patriarchalism is not Christian. Yes, there were Old Testament patriarchs and, sure, they did rule their own domains. However, they were also born in a time different from our own and without the benefit of the example and teachings of Jesus Christ. We can live to a greater standard than Abraham because we have a more complete revelation of God’s word.
Patriarchalism represents a turning away from Christ and regression back to a prior, less advanced system. Instead of building on the OT using the NT, many attempt to amend and overturn the clear teachings of the latter with the prior.
For example, when John writes about “having no greater joy” in reference to his spiritual children, many twist this around and apply it to their own biological quiverfull. This maltreatment of Scripture turns something that encourages brotherhood into a reinforcement of pride that already comes naturally for most parents. The Pearl’s whole “No Greater Joy” homeschooling empire is built on this misuse of Scripture.
That is the biggest problem with the patriarchal movement in a nutshell. The covenant to Abraham was clearly focused on a unity built around ethnic clans and tribes made up mostly of blood relatives. But the Gospel transcends this and establishes a new covenant, a church, a family centered on Jesus Christ and unified in the Spirit.
One of the practical implications of the patriarchal movement is that those caught up in it neglect their brothers and sisters in Christ. The patriarch, while demanding submission from his wife and children, refuses to submit to other believers as he is told to do in by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:21 and answers only to his own self-serving interpretation of Scripture.
Why Do Some Women Prefer Patriarchalism?
Scripture contains many examples of independent and strong women who had no problem making decisions for themselves. In fact the ministry of Jesus was bankrolled by women (Luke 8:3) and played a very important role in the Gospel accounts. Their involvement didn’t simply come at the behest of their husbands.
But many women in the patriarchal movement aren’t like that ideal woman of Proverbs 31 who bought and sold land and managed her own business. They like playing the part of someone weak and ineffectual outside of certain domestic duties. The reality is that some of them are really just lazy and refuse to apply themselves as fully as they ought.
They are enablers of the abuse as much as their domineering husbands. I have talked to mothers who discouraged their daughters from getting an education (that could help further the practical mission of the church) because according to them women should be at home serving their husbands and popping out babies.
Christ Is Our Head and Men Are Supposed To Follow His Example
Many have taken the concept of Christian headship order and turned it on it’s head. Jesus taught (and showed by his own example) that in his kingdom the greatest served others rather than demand others serve them. Patriarchal men, by contrast, follow a worldly example and demand to be served.
Christian leadership is supposed to be about servanthood. Husbands and wives are told to submit to each other and all Christians are supposed to have this attitude:
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:1-8 NIV)
You can’t claim to believe that and be a patriarchal separatist who only fellowships on his own terms. You cannot say that you “value others above yourselves” while believing that your influence is better than all others (not blood relatives) in the community of faith. Being like Christ means giving up special privileges, offering yourself as a sacrifice for the good of others, and being involved in the church where it counts.
Patriarchal men deliberately isolate themselves from accountability to the church and then demand absolute obedience from those in their own homes. They might claim to be protecting their families, but they are also privileging themselves with power that is not theirs to wield. Their behavior is too often as predatory as that of men like Harvey Weinstein.