Have you ever encountered something so alien to your sensibilities that you simply had to share it with others? That's how I felt upon exposure to one of Doug Phillips' workshops at the 2011 CHAP Convention, entitled, "Toxic: Seven Poisons that Threaten the Health of the Homeschool Movement." Overflowing with patriarchal messages, the workshop offered a heavy dose of Christian Patriarchy Movement ideology.
Phillips began the workshop by observing that the Christian homeschool movement has gone through changes over years, celebrating the "pioneers" that God raised up in the early days of the movement who were willing to endure "persecution." Twenty-five years ago, he said, parents were fighting for their right to homeschool children when states weren't clear on their own laws, and some pastors were even "persecuting" homeschoolers.
Phillips listed common denominators among Christian homeschoolers, including the "reformation" of the family, transformation of individuals in the likeness of Jesus, and glorification of the kingdom of God. Another theme of the movement is freedom, he said, with early homeschool advocates arguing that the state had no lawful oversight under the Constitution and the law of God to oversee homeschooling. Homeschooling was also about raising a generation of young men "confident in holy masculinity" and young ladies "confident in holy femininity," which drew applause from the audience.
The homeschool movement demonstrated the importance of struggling for Biblical foundations, he said, adding that no evangelical group is allegedly more unified in defense of the Book of Genesis. He spoke warmly of Ken Ham for teaching people to believe in the words of Genesis.
However, Phillips claimed that the homeschool movement is facing multiple threats, including bad theology, love of security, fear of man, gossip, radical independence, misplaced love, and rejection of "creation-ordered distinctives", which he defined as the duties of men and the duties of women. The supposed proliferation of homosexuality, as well as "effeminacy and feminism" were particularly distressing to Phillips, who claimed that more and more Christian homeschooler fathers are "losing their sons" because of it.
These comments troubled me. If young men find that they are gay, or choose to define their gender outside of stereotypical masculinity, will they find support from such fathers? If parents look askance at homosexuality and non-stereotypical gender expression, as Phillips does, how much more alienation and hurt will their LGBT children experience? In an age of anti-gay bullying and LGBT youth suicides, parents need to love their LGBT children, not lament that they are supposedly "losing" them.
Phillips emphasized Scripture -- the "book of the law" -- as a necessarily foundation for homeschooling and life. In his congregation, for example, worship follows the protocol outlines in the Books of Acts, including the breaking of bread, preaching from the scripture, singing, etc. It also includes rigidly patriarchal rules that allow men to speak but forbid women from doing so.
"After a message is given ... the men are allowed to dialog about that message. And so if I give a message, I open up the floor for questions to be asked, and we will talk about the preaching of the word itself, but women are not allowed to ask questions. Does that upset you? You know, it upsets a lot of people, and honestly, it probably upset a lot of people in our congregation until they opened up the book of Corinthians which said, ladies, don't ask questions in the congregation. Ask your husband at home. People said, "Well, I didn't know that!" Well, there it is in the scripture. Why does it say that? Well, not because women don't have intelligent things to ask or even to say. It's because the priority is on men leading and shepherding their families. And if the men are not the ones asking the questions and leading and shepherding, the women will and the men won't, and everything will be turned upside down."Judging from Phillips' revealing comments, this policy may be rooted in patriarchal men's anxiety over their own status, manifesting in an impulse to dominate and silence women. This anxiety is further demonstrated by Phillip's comments about the supposedly skewed gender roles in our society.
"One of the clearest signs that a nation is about to be destroyed is when our men become effeminate and our women rule over the men, and we know that because the Bible actually tells us that. One example is found in the Book of Isaiah, chapter 3 ... The nation of Israel is described in a state of rampant effeminacy with the men, not homosexuality, but effeminacy, and by that I mean an unwillingness to lead, and womanly aspects taken on them, even as the Bible describes the women literally walking and carrying themselves like men. In Isaiah 3, it says, "O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err. Children are your oppressors and women rule over you."One of the signs of Christian progress, Phillips insists, is a return to stereotypical gender roles, which give men authorities over their wives and children and emphasize motherhood for females.
"One of the things that happen with true revival is that men reclaim their responsibility as loving, sacrificial, generous, tender, weaker-vessel-concerned-leaders who will shepherd courageously their families. And women return to the principle that motherhood is noble, femininity is virtuous. It's wonderful to be a woman, and we don't need to try to play both roles at the same time to be successful or happy. That she will be saved through childbirth, a very controversial passage which, however you interpret it, still points out the fact that a woman who is blessed with the ability to bring forth children plays a very, very important role in the context of her motherhood.""Weaker-vessel-concerned-leaders"? OUCH.
What Phillips fails to explain is why women need to be shepherded by their husbands in the first place, as if they weren't capable of making their own decisions. Calling it "shepherding" instead of "dominating" doesn't change the nature of such a relationship. A truly "loving" and "generous" husband respects his wife as an equal, acknowledges her as an adult, and makes decisions with her, not for her.
Don't even get me started on Phillips' assumptions about motherhood . . .
Phillips continued to discuss signs of Christian revival in modern culture. Another sign of revival, he claimed, is that more Christian parents are realizing that they have a responsibility to teach and disciple their children, "not some humanist who thinks we came from monkeydom past." Children's hearts are turning toward their parents, and parents' hearts are turning toward their offspring, he said. Phillips cited the John 5:19-23, in which the Son does what he sees the Father doing, arguing that the incarnation demonstrates parents teaching offspring.
Phillips listed several forces that, while still problematic, are not the biggest problems facing Christian homeschoolers, including the tough economy and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (an antipathy he shares with the makers of the film The Child: America's Battle for the Next Generation). Rather, the major problems facing Christians are internal, not external.
Referencing the alleged internal problems he mentioned earlier, Phillips described each alleged problem in the homeschool movement at length: gossip, misplaced love, bad theology (that is, non-fundamentalist theology), love of security (taking government money such as vouchers for educational efforts), radical independence (a lack of accountability and authority in the family), fear of man (fear of other people's disapproval and upheavals),and rejection of "creation-ordered distinctives" (feminist influences in the homeschool movement).
In conclusion, in a changing world where gender equality is slowly gaining ground, the LGBT community is making its voice heard, and a multiplicity of viewpoints are being expressed in the public square, Phillips responds by hearkening for the perceived stability of an earlier time. By emphasizing traditional gender roles and a return to an inerrant interpretation of scripture, he seeks the stability that fundamentalism offers its followers.