Under Her Father’s Authority

In many ways, my upbringing and background isn’t that weird. Yes, I had twice as many siblings as most people have cousins, but in general my upbringing was very normal—for the evangelical subculture, that is. But when I tell people about my background, the thing that always trips them up is the part about unmarried adult daughters being under their fathers’ authority, to the point of requiring complete submission and obedience. This is . . . weird, even for the evangelical world. But in the Christian homeschool subculture, it’s actually not that uncommon.

In this post I want to do two things. First, I want to sketch out a few points of analysis on this whole phenomenon. Second, I want to offer some quotes from various blog posts to serve as examples, so that you can hear these ideas in the words of their adherents.

The basic idea is that women—young and old—are always in need of male protection. This idea as promoted as especially honoring to women, as holding them in high esteem and in fact putting their needs above the needs of men. The trouble is that this idea infantilizes women, assuming that they are incapable of making their own decisions and protecting and providing for themselves. Further, just who is it that women need protecting from? Other men, of course. This also divides men into protectors and predators, and positions women as objects to be possessed and fought over. Better to assume that every adult human is capable of caring for him or herself, and capable of showing empathy and respect for others—and to work towards a world where that ideal is the reality.

Unfortunately, it is the failure of feminism to transform society more fully that has created the space for these ideas to take root and grow in this subculture. This is not to blame feminism, of course, but rather to blame its opposition and the cultural inertia that often makes lasting and deep change difficult. Nevertheless, those who promote the idea that women need to be always under the covering of a male protector are quick to buttress their argument with rape statistics, the wage cap, sexual harassment in the workplace, and societal disrespect for women. They argue that we as a society have dismantled traditional protections for women without eliminating the dangers women face in the world. Of course, they miss that these traditional protections were often never more than an illusion, and they very much overestimate the current dangers women face and underestimate women’s potential to face them. And to top that all off, rather than seeking to eliminate the dangers that (supposedly) so concern them, they instead seek to rebuild (and in some cases invent) older “protections” that rob women of agency and only replace one form of objectification with another.

There is a lot of variation within Christian homeschool world, even among those who adhere to the idea that unmarried adult daughters are under their father’s authority. I was lucky—my parents sent me away to college. They still considered me to be under my father’s authority, as did I, but they saw my college education as a dowry to present to my future husband (their words, not mine). I knew other families, though, where college was seen as frivolous, unnecessary, and corrupting for women—and I had arguments about this with other girls in my circle as a teen. There is also disagreement over whether it is appropriate for adult daughters to hold jobs outside of the home before marriage; some hold that outside employment both places a daughter under some other man’s authority and has the potential to corrupt her by giving her a taste of financial freedom and the career world. Again, I was lucky—my parents were okay with the idea of me working outside of the home between college and marriage, within certain spheres and with my father’s permission, of course.

And now for some excerpts. I intentionally looked around for some not written by Vision Forum, because I want to make it clear that this idea isn’t simply the province of that one organization. This first excerpt shows the lengths to which some men in this subculture go searching the Bible for clues as to how they are to treat their unmarried adult sons and daughters differently:

God places men and women differently in the structure of authority. “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ” (so as my son matures and can function as a “man,” I release him from my authority to that of Christ) “and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (1 Cor. 11:3)

This passage says to me that as my daughter matures and becomes a woman that she remains needful of the protection and authority of a man. As her father, I am that authority until she moves from my authority to that of another man. There are possible exceptions, but most commonly that transition is to her husband.

My son is working in another city. I am comfortable allowing him to make unsupervised decisions regarding friends, place of worship, and leisure activities. I would not be as comfortable with a daughter of the same age. God’s word indicates to me that regardless of her age, commitment to godliness, ability to discern good from evil, etc., that it is my responsibility to function as her authority until I turn that right, or burden, over to another. A transfer of authority to someone other than a husband would be unusual.

Temporarily, the man in charge of an overseas missionary team might function as my delegated authority. Before I would allow that there would be a clear understanding between us of how seriously I regarded that honor! Scripture gives us a principle for this circumstance in Exodus 21:7-8: “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as man servants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners because he has broken faith with her.” While the specific situation would be different, the principle is clearly that the daughter’s authority must revert back to the father when it has been temporarily transferred to another man. This passage and principle would also apply following a divorce or death of a husband.

A second situation of transfer of authority outside marriage involves the death of a father. Numbers 36 describes a situation following the death of Zelophehad, a man who had no sons. His land was inherited by his daughters. In order that the land not pass out of the clan upon their marriage, Moses directed (as their spiritual authority) that they must marry within their clan. The elders of the clan had come to Moses with the problem. In this passage the principle appears to be that authority over an orphaned daughter lies not only with her mother, but also with the male relative (older men within the clan) and pastors/elders (spiritual authorities). The relationships of Esther and Mordecai and Ruth and Naomi give additional insights into this complex issue.

Here is a similar passage, also written by a man, also working on figuring out exactly what he should be doing with his unmarried adult daughters:

That is the question of many parents when their daughters have finished their schooling but with no marriage prospects in sight. You have been carefully guiding your daughter towards being a stay at home wife and mother and preparing her with the skills needed to excel in this role. Now she seems ready, or nearly so, but where is the young man God would have her marry? What if there is no young man for quite some time? Or could God be calling your daughter to serve Him as a single woman? So what do you do now? How do you direct and advise her to proceed with her life? This question gets harder when your 18 year old daughter becomes 20 and then 25 or older with still no marriage prospects in sight.

Should she be sent away to college? If so, for what purpose? Is there something of real value for her there? Or would you be sending her there mostly to keep her busy and in hopes of finding a husband? A safer course might be college by correspondence or staying at home while taking some courses at a nearby community college.

In the Bible we see daughters generally remaining in their father’s home until marriage, continuing to be supported and protected by him until another man assumes that role as her husband. There is nothing I find indicating it would be a sin to send your daughter away to school, just principles that point to it often being unwise, exposing her to temptations and dangers that would be better to avoid.

Consider just what real benefit the schooling will provide. Would this be the most profitable use of her time (I don’t mean in terms of income, but for her future and where God is leading).

Should she get a job and work until she is married or has children? If you believe she will one day marry and that God would be most pleased that she be a “stay at home” wife and mother … does it make sense to first give her a taste of working outside the home for an employer? The path that many young women follow today is one of moving out on their own, working side by side with many young men, most of whom are non-Christian, and working for a non-Christian boss. I believe our daughters are generally more vulnerable in this environment than our sons. Nor does this seem the best way to reinforce a commitment to being a “keeper” or “worker” at home after marriage. Along with its hardships and dangers, the working world also offers an allurement of more money, independence, status, competition with men, acceptance and respect from the world, etc.

Of course there are other work experiences available where the daughter is in a more protected environment, much different from most of the working world. The best of these is probably working for her own parents in their home business. Close to this might be working in the small business of a trusted Christian friend of the parents or perhaps working for a church or Christian organization. Personally I favor work opportunities that also help prepare the daughter better for the role of wife and mother. These might include providing services for other Christian families in the areas of child care, helping with homeschooling or teaching music, caring for the elderly, house cleaning, etc. But in all of these I would exercise a degree of care to ensure it is a good and safe environment and is a benefit rather than a detriment to your daughter’s maturity and spiritual life. In some instances each of these work opportunities can bring negative influences or temptations.

I know of no direct Biblical instruction telling fathers and mothers precisely what they should do in this instance. However, there seems to be a consistent example of daughters remaining in their parents’ home until marriage.

As you know from previous discussions of the Botkins, it’s not just the men and fathers who endorse the idea that unmarried adult daughters are under their fathers’ authority and must be obedient to them—not a few of the daughters in this subculture embrace this idea as well. Here is an example:

As a single adult woman I have made the choice to be a stay-at-home daughter.  I live with my family and flowing out of that I have chosen to submit to my parents; and more specifically my father’s authority.  I have chosen to do this until the day I am given in marriage to my future husband, when I will willingly begin to submit to him.

Today I’ve just been considering what a wonderful gift I have in submitting to my father’s leadership and authority.  So many wonderful things have come out of this arrangement and I feel truly blessed.

Today I’d like to take a moments to share with you just a few of the many benefits of submitting to your father’s authority while you remain a single woman.

1.}  Protection

Between creepy guys wanting your number, the subtle lies of our culture and our own deceptive emotions it’s a dangerous world out there girls!

One of the greatest benefits I’ve enjoyed as a stay-at-home daughter is the loving protection that my father has faithfully given me.  He takes his job seriously when it comes to protecting me physically as well as my heart and purity.  He’s older, wiser and because he’s a man he isn’t as easily swayed by passing emotions.  My daddy can see through the lies the world (or certain young men) try to feed me much better than I can and he always steps up to protect me.

2.}  Provision

My father takes the financial responsibility in our home upon himself and by God’s grace he provides for our needs.  I’ve been very grateful that as I have remained under his authority he has also continued to take the financial burden off of me.  I know this is a sacrifice on his part but it has allowed me to minister and have more time to hone the homemaking skills that I will need in the future.

My father has also taken the brunt of the pressure of choosing my future husband off of my shoulders.  He has actively looked to help provide a future mate for me.

3.}  Leadership

Feminist try to tell us that it’s “freedom” to make ALL of our own decisions. I don’t call that freedom I call that PRESSURE.  To me that’s a big responsibility I just don’t want.

As an adult, my parents do allow me to make a lot of my own choices; but I still trust and submit to my father’s leadership in such a way that I don’t have the weight of ALL of those big decisions on my shoulders.  My father is a wise, experienced leader created for that job, I’m not.  Submitting to his godly leadership practically and spiritually is a big blessing.

4.}  Preparation

No one can ever be completely ready for marriage but good preparation is important.  Living at home and under my father’s authority and observing my mother has allowed me to learn and practice, in a small way, the submission I desire to have towards my future husband.  Studying my parent’s strong marriage has also helped me understand better what I need in a husband one day.

5.}  Relationship

Being a stay-at-home daughter helps me have a good, close relationship with my entire family, including my father.  Living in the same home as my father allows me to regularly see and learn what things are important to him. I would have missed out on so many opportunities to get to know my father if I did not choose to live under his loving authority!

Those were just a few reasons why being a stay-at-home daughter, submitted to my father’s authority is so attractive to me.  I hope this post was an encouragement to you and maybe even brought up a few things to consider in regards to your years as a single woman.

Note:  I understand that not every woman in my stage of life has the luxury of submitting to a godly, caring father.  This post in not meant to push you into a cookie-cutter mold that your were not meant to be in but rather to encourage those who do have godly fathers to strongly consider embracing their authority.  For those who, for whatever reason, cannot remain under their father’s leadership but wish to experience some of the wisdom and protection I mentioned in this post please don’t be discouraged!  There are other good, God honoring options!   

For their part, the Botkins write that unmarried adult daughters who do not have fathers—or whose fathers refuse to act as their authorities—should find another man to serve as their authority. This might be a family friend, or a relative, or a church elder. And indeed, we’ve seen an example of this before here on this blog.

I know this post has gotten long, but I thought the excerpts might be useful to some. It’s important to realize just how much thought goes into creating these frameworks. It’s not that people haven’t thought it through but rather that the framework within which they are thinking it through runs at complete odds from the framework from which I view the world. Concepts like “consent” are absent from their world while concepts like “total depravity” are absent from mine. Still, this isn’t so easy to explain when I’m discussing my background whose mental processes have just been slowed by their shock at the very idea that unmarried adult daughters should be required to submit to and obey their fathers.

The Tomboy in Skirts
What Courtship Was for Me
Anna Duggar and the Silencing Power of Forgiveness
When Marriage Looks Like the Only Escape
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.


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