Raising Boys To Be Patriarchs?

Raising Boys To Be Patriarchs? April 30, 2015

Please welcome Emily from Christian Patriarchal Watch List For Parents

Grooming boys/men to “rule” the home/church as a “PROPHET, PRIEST, LORD, & KING“?
Is this the world what we want for our girls?

Have you encountered this movement? Along with distressing gender regressions we see globally in other religions, this highly authoritarian, egregiously preeminent masculinity is spreading through American Christianity, right before our eyes . . .

Image from Christian Patriarchal Watch List For Parents
Image from Christian Patriarchal Watch List For Parents

This quote captures exactly the mindset of this neo-Christian patriarchy movement that this watch list seeks to “out”—a mindset that is centered around raising boys to be “patriarchs” (aka “prophets”, “priests”, lords, and “kings”) and girls from a young age to serve their fathers and eventually their future husbands. Here is a sampling of what all of the organizations on this list are teaching and implementing:

Every father hath the care of souls upon him. He is prophet, king, and priest in his own house, and from these will appear his duty. First, he is a prophet to teach and instruct his family. Wives are bid to learn at home of their husbands (1 Col. 14:35); then surely they are to teach them at home . . . Again, he is a king in his house to rule his family in the fear of God . . . Lastly, he is a priest in his own house; and where there is a priest, there must be a sacrifice.

“The idea behind the munus triplex (i.e. prophet, priest, king) is that all of the Old Testament offices ultimately point to and is fulfilled in Christ.  For example, Moses was one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament (Deut. 34.10).  It was his job to reveal the knowledge of God to Israel (e.g. Exo. 7.1ff)…  In like manner the High Priest was supposed to go into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement and make a sacrifice on behalf of the people of Israel to atone for their sins (Lev. 16).  The role of the High Priest is ultimately fulfilled in Christ as the High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek who has entered the heavenly Holy of Holies and intercedes for the people of God (Heb. 8-10).  The same pattern holds true for the Old Testament office of King.  It was King David, for example, that ultimately points forward to Christ in His role as the King of Kings (e.g. Ezek. 37.24ff).  Again, these Old Testament offices of prophet, priest, and king find their ultimate fulfillment and significance in the person and work of Christ… The munus triplex, however, has special implications for fathers… The analogy is that the husband is representative of Christ and the woman is representative of the church.  This means, then, just as Christ fulfills the roles of prophet, priest, and king for the church, the husband must fulfill these roles to his wife and of course his family.”

You might be thinking, Is this for real? In the 21st century?  

Yes, this ideology of male sovereignty —which twists Scripture to normalize and equate the role of husband/church leader into these repackaged, exalted Old Testament “offices” (prophet, priest, lord, king) — seems to be the latest hip “fad” creeping into American evangelicalism.  It is honestly all over so many websites and is nothing short of shocking.  This mindset of the father/husband as the High Priest of the family is not isolated to extremist cult-like groups, rather it is a movement which has fingers in many churches and ministries (some that you may know) and has led to a whole movement of survivors, like Vyckie Garrison who describe how the Bible was used to create an environment where her husband had such absolute power as the family patriarch supported by a host of ministries which helped them create a total patriarchal ideology around their family that was not healthy and which ultimately led her to a domestic violence shelter.  As she describes here, the mindset is benevolent in intent, claims to be “Biblical” and blurs very closely with literalist gender views found in many churches:  

At the women’s shelter, I was given a form to complete … I wrote three pages describing the situation in our home, and after reading what I had written, the crisis volunteer said to me, ‘The judge will not grant you a protection order unless you actually accuse your husband of abuse.’.. I told her that I didn’t really think my husband was “technically” abusive, and in fact, I had no doubt that he truly loved me and the kids. He always put us first … he basically centered his entire life around us! We were a good Christian family. The Bible commands husbands to “love your wives as Christ loved the church.” That’s the sort of godly man I was married to: a true patriarch who ruled his home according to God’s principles for marriage and family… And it’s not technically a cult in the strict sense of having one central leader … is a mindset (a very powerful head trip) in which each family becomes a cult unto itself with Daddy enshrined as the supreme Patriarch.”

She describes in very personal terms how she herself got so taken in by this mindset and how it created an unhealthy environment for her children: We eventually got to the point where we were so “biblical” that we felt the local Independent Fundamental Baptist church in our town was too liberal, too compromising … Growing up in a Quiverfull home means being raised by a narcissistic father and having a mother with a huge martyr complex…”  For the rest of her story of survival which leads to her loss of faith in Christ…

Aka “Family Discipleship,” “Family-Integrated Churches,” “Biblical Manhood & Womanhood,” “Triperspectival Leadership,” “Biblical Counseling,” it has a few different sources but uses a very similar language and an Old Testament-based theology that has been cultivated and cross-pollinated by a few charismatic, highly authoritarian leaders (many of which have lawsuits surrounding them and highly narcissistic leanings) working across organizational lines.  The basic consensus is that as family prophet the husband/father “teaches” Scripture to his wife and children, as family priest he mediates God to them, and as family king he governs them.

If you are not steeped in this yourself, it may sound very “fringe” and extremist. Unfortunately, this is not just a fringe movement, it is in fact creeping into the “mainstream” of a whole web of churches and ministries, particularly many hip new start-up churches. It has slightly different variations, but speaks in this very similar prophet/priest/lord/king vernacular with roots in two primary corners of the American Christian landscape:

    1. the homeschool/”family discipleship” movement spawned by Bill Gothard’s web of ministries which had a vast impact in the 1970’s, particularly on the Baptist wing of the church, and is now being popularized in many evangelical family ministries


  1. the neo-Reform movement which has spawned a whole network of church planting, counseling, leadership, family ministries

Plain and simple, their vision of gender, marriage, and organizational/church leadership is fundamentally incompatible with the social contract of contemporary society most of us presume for our daughters and our sons which includes working toward a level social standing for all human beings to thrive and flourish and participate fully in society.  Yet many of us go into these churches and don’t even know what is being taught and often we turn a blind eye because we don’t want to be seen as “unbiblical” or rock the boat…

“Patriarch,” it sounds like a word from the middle ages, doesn’t it?  I have been in the evangelical world pretty much my whole live and I have never heard this word being used in churches or ministries until just recently.  As a term it basically means “male rule” and goes back to a social structure where the father was the ruler of the home, a microcosm of the rulership of the king/emperor over his kingdom.  How could it be that a word like this is coming back into vogue in the 21st c.?… after centuries of shifting from the the pyramid social structure of the Old World (with divine-right-to-rule monarchs, landowning patriarchs owning slaves and wives like cattle, male honor codes, colonialism, etc) to the more level social structure of the New World where we are collectively working to establish equal human rights and flourishing for all?  Yet, if you peruse these websites, you will see that ministry after ministry, (many that you may know) are encouraging boys and men to “step up” and “resume their rightful place” as “patriarchs” who lead, instruct, rule, discipline/disicple, and mediate God to their wives and children.  Honestly, this is extreme.

This stair step graphic captures wordlessly the hierarchical gender terrain envisioned by this movement.  In a world where girls still grow up with such a low social status and humanitarian efforts are working so hard to uplift and empower girls and women to claim their full human agency/authority, is this really a responsible use of the Bible?

From Family Life Today/Cru and Stepping Up.

What about girls? What does their graphic of human development look like? 

Image from Christian Patriarchal Watch List For Parents
Image from Christian Patriarchal Watch List For Parents

Ironically, I stumbled upon this graphic while looking for materials for a mother/daughter weekend! Click here to see all of the lovely “raising girls” parenting advice I foundNot exactly a vision of human development or female empowerment that I want for her! In a world where girls and women are still treated very literally as second class citizens, this is fundamentally at odds with the massive humanitarian movement many are involved in which is seeking to uplift the Girl Child and empower girls and women to rise above limiting and harmful social norms.

If you are concerned about the world we are giving our daughters and believe that a level gender playing field for our daughters and sons to grow up in is a good and just and Godly ideal, please be on the watch for this movement. If you are interested in understanding more about the origins of this gender ideology and what critics are saying about how it is a fundamental distortion of Scripture and not healthy for human development/gender relationships see Survivor Testimonials & Prayer of HopeCreating Conditions for Abuse.

You might be thinking, but isn’t the Bible patriarchal?  Isn’t Christianity, like all the world’s religions, at its core patriarchal?  Patriarchy is the backdrop of the Bible but is this the main story line?  Yes, the Bible is filled with loads of patriarchal stories, metaphors, highly authoritarian gender norms, gender-based violence and human rights violations that most of us see as patently archaic ( The Bible was written from a male perspective within a backdrop of a male-dominated society, but with one’s spiritual eyes open there is a deeper story of human freedom from start to finish which, seen through the lens of Christ, shows exactly the opposite impulse:  a leveling of cultural hierarchies and a human oneness that inspired his followers to see through social norms to embrace one another as unique human beings each with our own calling here on earth.  If conforming to ancient patriarchal codes is deemed the main story line of Scripture, we females should just pack up our bags and jump ship!  Many in fact do just this. For good reason.

If we want a church that is good enough for our incredibly capable and strong daughters, we have some work to do!  What a shame to have the church be seen in the world as preserving male power and privilege and using the Bible to claim that boys/men have a quasi-Godlike role as kings and girls/women as little more than serfs to be governed.  If you think this is an exaggeration, please read this website!  Is this the witness we want to have in the world?  Or can we do better for the sake of our girls and our boys?  As people of faith who care about justice, we need to keep our watch out for gender regressions, like this, which mirror in many ways the dangerous fundamentalist patriarchal movements we see in other religions around the world which are fundamentally not compatible with our contemporary social contract of shared human rights and equality.

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