Michael Farris, Patriarchy, and Doug Phillips: An Expose

The article I linked earlier quotes at length from Michael Farris’s reaction to Doug Phillips downfall. I thought it was worth going over that section specifically, and placing it within the context of other things I have written about Michael Farris, HSLDA, and Patrick Henry College, both to clarify the issues here and to reveal the serious dishonesty of Farris’s statements.

I will begin by quoting the section, and will then respond.

Homeschool movement and Christian ministry

Before Phillips founded Vision Forum, he spent six years as an attorney for the Home School Legal Defense Association, or HSLDA, a nonprofit advocacy organization that defends the right of American families to homeschool their children.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris told WND, “The reason Doug left HSLDA is because [President] Mike Smith and I, who were his bosses, were growing more and more uncomfortable as he started developing his patriarchy theory. We started limiting his ability to speak on those things while traveling on our behalf. We basically made it clear that he could not pursue those things with his HSLDA hat on. So he eventually chose to leave us so he could do those things because we were not comfortable with where he was headed.”

As for the patriarchy movement, Farris said the teachings are not widely accepted in the broader homeschool community.

“It’s a minority of homeschoolers that believe in it,” he said. “But unfortunately, until very recently, they were getting a lot of visibility in certain places. We have sought to avoid inviting any patriarchy speakers to speak at our national conference.”

While state homeschool organizations run their own events and may choose to have such speakers, Farris said HSLDA has never promoted them.

“Doug has never been invited to speak at our national conference since he left,” Farris said. “We have tried, by example, to keep this stuff outside the mainstream of the homeschooling movement.”

He added, “Frankly, we think it’s time for us to stand up and publicly say this is just wrong.”

Farris, who said he has known Phillips for two decades, expressed concern that Phillips could re-emerge in the homeschooling movement and as a leader in a Christian ministry.

“I think it would be one of the greatest tragedies for the homeschooling movement if Doug Phillips was allowed to be rehabilitated and go right back into leadership,” he said. “This kind of behavior is so bizarre – no matter which version of the story you believe, even if you take Doug’s own version of the story – it’s so bizarre and inappropriate that he needs to get his life in order and not be thinking about how quickly he can come back into leadership.”

Farris added, “Knowing Doug for 20 years, I’m confident he’s going to try to come back quickly. I’m also confident that would be an absolutely horrible outcome if he does.”

Background

And here we need some explanation. Within the Christian homeschooling movement, and by that I mean those Christians who choose to homeschool for religious reasons, whether in part or in whole, there is a range of belief on gender roles. In general, beliefs about gender roles fall somewhere on a spectrum between the following two camps:

Complementarianism: Many of those in the Christian homeschooling movement, including both Farris and my own parents, hold fairly conventional conservative evangelical views on gender roles. The wife’s role is to obey her husband, nurture her children, and serve ask a keeper at home. The husband’s role is to be the head of the family, provide for the family, and protect the family. Men are to be masculine and manly, women are to be feminine and womanly. God has laid out different and complementary roles for each gender, but all are equal before God.

Biblical Patriarchy: Some of those in the Christian homeschooling movement go farther. They proudly use the word “patriarchy” and teach that daughters are to be under their father’s authority until marriage, serving as “stay-at-home daughters.” They argue that daughters should not go to college, or hold jobs outside the home, and that daughters must obey their fathers even as adults. Only when daughters marry (through a courtship process controlled by their father) do they leave their father’s authority and transfer to their husband’s authority.

I don’t have numbers on how many Christian homeschoolers adhere to complementarianism versus how many adhere to biblical patriarchy, but I also don’t think it’s completely clearcut. Even those solidly in the complementarian camp will have noticed promoters of patriarchy speaking at homeschool conferences, will have seen their literature, and will have met those in its folds. My own family was fairly solidly in the complentarian camp, and yet they adopted some of the beliefs of the biblical patriarchy camp even as they rejected others (they sent me off to college, but believed I was still to obey my father, as an adult daughter under his authority).

Biblical patriarchy differs little from complementarianism except in its open embrace of the term “patriarchy” and its teachings about the role of adult daughters.

Michael Farris

So where does Farris fall, particularly? From what I’ve read of his writings Farris very much believes that wives must obey their husbands and that a woman’s role is in the home nurturing her children. But what of the rest? Farris’s strong rejection of the patriarchy movement as quoted above and his recent strong words for the stay-at-home daughter movement in a facebook comment would seem to indicate that he falls in the complementarian camp rather than the biblical patriarchy camp.

There is also this from a statement written in response to February’s article on sexual assault at Patrick Henry College and read aloud during chapel at Farris’s Patrick Henry College.

Some readers have wondered if the overall aim of the article is to associate PHC with a set of anti-women attitudes that we do not hold, and to insinuate that we are connected with outside movements that we positively reject (like the “Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy Movement”). This philosophy, incorrectly attributed in the article to Dr. Michael Farris, Chancellor, espouses that college is inappropriate for Christians in general, and especially women. As his own life at PHC and with his own children reflect, Chancellor Farris has never agreed with such an offensive philosophy.

Farris rejects the word “patriarchy” and is not against daughters going to church. In fact, this statement from Farris’s Patrick Henry College indicates that Farris views biblical patriarchy as “anti-woman” and “inappropriate for Christians.”

But even as he rejects biblical patriarchy, Farris believes that wives should obey their husbands to the extent of not attending church if her husband so commands, and he believes that daughters, even as they go to college, should be preparing ultimately for motherhood rather than for careers. I think maybe this is why Farris’s continued refrain of “no no no, I’m not like him, he believes crazy things!” strikes so many as so odd. Farris is not as far removed as he would like us to think.

But there’s something else going on here too.

The Entanglement

Farris insists that he has long gone to great lengths to publicly distance himself and HSLDA from Phillips in particular and biblical patriarchy in general. Unfortunately for him, this is simply not true.

A quick search of HSLDA’s website reveals that the company was openly advertising for Vision Forum. From a 2010 email alert to HSLDA members:

—[ 20% Off at Vision Forum! 5 days left! ]————————–

Extra 20% Off at Vision Forum! Code: HSLDA. Toys, Books, Movies, More. Everything on sale for 5 Days only!

http://www.hslda.org/alink.asp?ID=282

Indeed, this sort of advertisement for Vision Forum has been a bit of a trend for HSLDA, complemented by positive recommendations of various Vision Forum products.

It’s also worth noting that Farris was at the very least being grossly misleading when he said of HSLDA that “Doug has never been invited to speak at our national conference since he left” and that “We have tried, by example, to keep this stuff outside the mainstream of the homeschooling movement.”

As R.L. Stollar wrote a year ago, before Phillips’ downfall:

1996 seems to be the last year that Phillips appears as an HSLDA attorney. But since then, HSLDA has made zero efforts to distance themselves from his viewpoints. In fact, almost a decade after Phillips left HSLDA to run Vision Forum, he was still featured by HSLDA as a peer. In 2007, HSLDA referred to Phillips as one of “the nation’s top leaders.” Also in 2007, Chris Klicka received an award from Doug Phillips and Vision Forum for his homeschooling advocacy. In 2008, HSLDA says of him that he is “one of the most popular conference speakers in the nation today because of his ability to encourage, inform, and inspire.” In fact, HSLDA proudly sponsored a reception at an event where he was the keynote speaker. The official relationship between HSLDA and Doug Phillips is thus one of continued mutual admiration.

I’m unsure of how Farris expected people to understand that HSLDA disapproved of either Phillips or biblical patriarchy when continually wrote of Phillips and his abilities as a homeschool speaker with such accolades. And this wasn’t the only time. HSLDA advertised Doug Phillips as a speaker at event after event. HSLDA member families were urged to attend. They also allowed Doug Phillips to advertise in their publication, the Home School Court Report, as recently as 2012.

Beyond this, HSLDA has also promoted other leaders whose teachings center on biblical patriarchy, including Voddie Baucham and Geoffrey Botkin. And to the best of my knowledge, HSLDA as an organization and Farris as an individual have never denounced any one of these leaders.

There was more, too. In 2007 Vision Forum published Passionate Housewives Desperate for God, by Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald. Jennie Chancey founded Ladies Against Feminism and Stacy McDonald founded Steadfast Daughters. Both are not just complementarian but fully embrace biblical patriarchy. Farris’s wife Vickie wrote a review of the book, which can be viewed on Amazon:

Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald have spoken the Truth with a capital ‘T’ in their wonderful book Passionate Housewives Desperate for God. Totally grounded in Scripture, this book winsomely presents the true picture of a godly homemaker. Prepare to be stimulated, challenged, and encouraged as a woman. This book is a real gem!—Vickie Farris, wife of HSLDA founder, Michael Farris, Esq.

Now maybe Chancey and McDonald tone it down in Passionate Housewives Desperate for God, or maybe Farris and his wife disagree here. But Farris has to be aware how these sorts of endorsements will come across to Christian homeschoolers.

My Question

Now I want to turn back to the recent article I began with.

After insisting that HSLDA has never collaborated with a supporter of patriarchy—an assertion I have here called into question—Farris added that “Frankly, we think it’s time for us to stand up and publicly say this is just wrong.” And that is where I have to wonder—why didn’t Farris stand up publicly and say this prior to Phillips’ resignation and disgrace? Because he didn’t.

Further, Farris wrote that “Doug has never been invited to speak at our national conference since he left” and that “We have tried, by example, to keep this stuff outside the mainstream of the homeschooling movement.” Was Farris unaware that, regardless of whether he invited Phillips to speak at HSLDA’s national conference, if he spoke nary a negative word about Phillips in public and HSLDA wrote of Phillips only to promote him, the message that would come across to the homeschool community would be one of approval?

My sources tell me that Farris views Bill Gothard and Michael Pearl in the same negative light that he has long viewed Doug Phillips. Why, then, does he not publicly warn homeschool families against them? Why does he remain silent?

I think I know the answer. HSLDA operates off of membership dues. If Farris or HSLDA come out and publicly denounce toxic homeschool leaders, they will lose members. Farris has felt that Phillips was in error and dangerous for years, but only when Phillips was already defrocked and dethroned did he feel comfortable saying that out loud. Farris would rather tolerate patriarchy in the Christian homeschool movement than lose money for denouncing it.

Farris, it seems, is only willing to shoot patriarchy when it’s down.


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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.