Vision Forum, the Titanic, and “Honor and Protection”

Doug Phillips of Vision Forum has just announced details for a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic to be held this coming April in Branson, Missouri. He’s calling it an “International Centennial Event,” and if you click the link you’ll see the huge poster he’s using to advertise the event.

Now you may be wondering, what is there to celebrate about the Titanic? The ship sunk and over a thousand lives were lost, after all! Never fear, Phillips has an answer:

Next to Noah’s Ark, no other seagoing vessel has captured the imagination of so many. Certainly no event in history has done more to remind Western culture of the Christian doctrine of “women and children first.” Now, on the centennial anniversary of Titanic’s demise, the international obsession over the famed ocean liner is set to reach a feverish pitch as new books on Titanic are published, popular Titanic films are re-released, and a spate of Titanic commemorative events are scheduled to be held around the globe. But only one international event will be dedicated to presenting a distinctively Christian message with a historical interpretation designed to inspire the next generation to embrace and advance the ideal that men should sacrifice for women and children.

Phillips is obsessed with the Titanic because of what he sees it as representing – the last gasp of a chivalrous society in which men were men and women were women and each fulfilled their distinctive gender roles with honor and courage. Now of course, Phillips’ version of the story never really happened, and the society he thinks existed at the time never really existed in the first place.

But something struck me as I read this advertisement. It may be hard for some to understand what attracts women to Christian Patriarchy, a system in which women are expected to obey their male authority (first father, then husband) absolutely and without question, and in which women are allowed only the role of homemaker, wife, and mother, but this ad helps explain this seeming paradox.

Every element of the Titanic 100 is designed to leave your family with stories they will retain for the rest of their lives, inspiring them to remember the heroism of the past and to embrace a fundamental principle of Christian civilization—that women and children are to be honored and protected.

Christian Patriarchy promises women a world in which they are held in high esteem, honored, and protected. If they embrace the teachings of Christian Patriarchy, they are promised, they will be cared for tenderly and given every protection. And more than that, women embrace Christian Patriarchy with the promise that if they do their husbands will be like the chivalrous men of old, who willingly sacrifice for their wives and children and put family first.

I’ve written before about the way Vision Forum tries to fix the problems of our current world by turning back the clock, and this is what you see going on here as well. Are you being pulled apart trying to balance a job and children? Does your husband prefer to watch football with his friends rather than spending time with you and the children? Are your children becoming unruly and disrespectful? Christian Patriarchy offers to turn back the clock to a time a hundred years ago when (supposedly) women weren’t pulled in a million different directions, men put their families before all else, and children were cheerful and respectful.

I’ve also written about the problems with Vision Forum’s views on what it means to “respect” women. Vision Forum offers women respect because of their gender, it puts women on a pedestal and then confines them there like a prison. In contrast, I would prefer to be respected for my qualities, talents, and skills.

In the end, the Titanic is the epic Christian Patriarchy fantasy. It is the emblem of a fictional time to which they aspire to return. Even through tragedy, it symbolizes what was good and right with the world and is no longer.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Incongruous Circumspection


    This is a brilliant assessment. Thank you.

  • Miarianna

    “a fundamental principle of Christian civilization—that women and children are to be honored and protected.” addendum: “unless you are in steerage.”

    • purpleshoes

      Yeah, the gender roles of those of us who have been in the steerage of history – that is, the majority of people the majority of the time – go remarkably unnoticed. There’s certainly a missing step there: first become as wealthy as an Edwardian woman who didn’t work for a living, then confine yourself to being the angel in the home. I don’t know where you’re supposed to get your servants, though.

      If I were meaner I’d say you give birth to them. At least half of the time.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Yeah, I was just going to write something similar. This was the REAL motto of those happy olden days and it manifested itself in plenty of ways. “Honor your wife–you can always go rape one of your slaves!” (Or your Irish maid, if you’re in the North…). People back then didn’t believe in honoring women. They believed in honoring LADIES. Not that many women actually qualified for that status and, even if they did, it was still conditional on them being well-behaved. Pregnant out of wedlock? Want to vote? Your humanity is forfeit.

  • Rod

    Funny, Noah’s Ark doesn’t even make my list of significant shipwrecks.
    He’s clearly never heard of the Empress of Ireland, the Hood and the Bismarck, the Arizona, the Wilhelm Gustloff, the Lusitania, even the Vasa and the Mary Rose.

    • Joy

      Well, to be fair, Noah’s Ark wasn’t a ship*wreck*.

      On the other hand, the vessels you mention actually existed.

  • Nentuaby

    Well, women and children first, as long as they have first class tickets…

  • Ashton

    Does this ideology attract more women who have been abused than others? Do some who have suffered abuse like what CP sells because it might be better or at least sounds better than what they grew up with?

  • Latebloomer

    I recently watched a movie that deals with idealizing the family life of the past…in this case, the 50s. It’s called Pleasantville….definitely check it out if you haven’t already seen it!

    • Maggy

      Good flick! The “good old days” are not nearly as rosy as some folks paint them out to be.

  • Iain Brown

    Which Christian virtues were more at play? Women and children first, or first-class before steerage?

    • lordshipmayhem

      To give the first-class men and the crew their due, survivors from the Boat Deck after the last lifeboats had left, were astonished to discover a crowd of people suddenly appearing from Steerage – those quartered in the stern of the vessel. They’d had to try to make it through the twists and turns of unfamiliar passages through the non-public sections of the ship to make it up there.

      Plus, there were a larger proportion of men from steerage who survived, simply because many of them been quartered forward and knew what danger they were in, and went up to escape the rapidly rising flood waters. Too many on board that vessel, of every class and even of the crew, felt the doomed ship to feel more secure on that large ocean than some dinky little rowboat. That’s why so many of the early departures left with just a handful of men and women on board.

  • Joy

    I think of the Titanic as manifesting arrogance ending in tragedy–the ship’s crew and/or captain (I forget exactly who did what) ignoring the iceberg warnings, considering the ship “unsinkable,” etc. So I guess it’s as good a symbol for Vision Forum as any.

  • lordshipmayhem

    George Bernard Shaw says this better than I ever could.

    Why is it that the effect of a sensational catastrophe on a modern nation is to cast it into transports, not of weeping, not of prayer, not of sympathy with the bereaved nor congratulation of the rescued, not of poetic expression of the soul purified by pity and terror, but of a wild defiance of inexorable Fate and undeniable Fact by an explosion of outrageous romantic lying?

    What is the first demand of romance in a shipwreck? It is the cry of Women and Children First. No male creature is to step into a boat as long as there is a woman or child on the doomed ship. How the boat is to be navigated and rowed by babies and women occupied in holding the babies is not mentioned. The likelihood that no sensible woman would trust either herself or her child in a boat unless there was a considerable percentage of men on board is not considered. Women and Children First: that is the romantic formula. And never did the chorus of solemn delight at the strict observance of this formula by the British heroes on board the Titanic rise to more sublime strains than in the papers containing the first account of the wreck by a surviving eye-witness, Lady Duff Gordon. She described how she escaped in the captain’s boat. There was one other woman in it, and ten men: twelve all told. One woman for every five men. Chorus: “Not once or twice in our rough island history,” etc. etc.

  • MrPopularSentiment

    Makes sense, but totally not where I thought he was going when he made the comparison to Noah’s ark. I figured it would be something like how they are both huge boats, but that Noah’s ark was made with God’s sanction and therefore floated just fine, whereas the Titanic was constructed out of human hubris and that’s why it sank.

    Man, the Bible is so tricky. I expected them to condemn the Titanic based on his comparison to a Biblical story, but instead he’s lauding it. Human hubris ftw!

  • eric

    I am not sure what honoring and protecting women has to do with the quiverfull belief that women should stay in the home, not work, defer to men, etc… One simply does not follow from the other. If I’m willing to take a bullet for you, great, yay me. What the frak-all does that have to do with you deferring to me before that moment? ‘I’m altruistic…therefore I get to make our collective decisions’ is a complete nonsequitur.

  • Arakasi

    Let’s see – the Titanic disaster left 710 survivors out of a passenger and crew total of 2227, or a 31.9% survival rate. Out of the women and children, almost 70% survived, with most of the fatalities coming from the third class passengers.

    Now, since Phillips wants to compare the era of the Titanic to modern attitudes, we should be able to compare the shipwreck to a modern one. The Costa Concordia carried 4229 passengers and crew. and had 32 missing or dead, for a .75% fatality rate. I don’t have a gender breakdown of the CC fatailities, but even if they were all women or children, it still appears that the modern era is better for them than a century ago.

  • Common Destiny

    I’ll never forget a comment I saw on another feminist blog…

    “Women and children – now tell me, is that one category, or two?”