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In Defense of Patriarchy

Category Articles
Date February 19, 2024

The following post was published on the Reformation21 Blog, and is reproduced here by their kind permission.

Last week I noticed that Ryan Gosling was nominated for an Oscar for playing Ken alongside Margot Robbie’s Barbie in last summer’s hit by the same name. Robbie, incidentally, was not so nominated. I won’t watch the film, but I recall reading that the plot features a wayward Ken promoting patriarchy, and that Barbie—won’t this help us all sleep better—rescues the world from patriarchy. It is likely that I am not the only one to detect a total public relations failure when the man gets the trophy after all.

This in turn reminded me of something I read around the time the movie came out: that the Archbishop of York of the Church of England was also worried about patriarchy, and that its troubling existence makes some understandably uncomfortable with a certain prayer that begins with the words “Our Father.”1https://www.christianpost.com/news/our-father-in-lords-prayer-is-problematic-says-archbishop.html

And the bishop is hardly alone. Many professing Christians sound just like Barbie and the bishop, and tell me that the church has missed something—a two-thousand-year-old fifth column called patriarchy must be rooted out of Christianity for Christianity to survive in our enlightened age.2This same tired argument is raised against the church’s defense of the inerrancy of Scripture, the doctrine of special creation, miracles, the Virgin Birth and the resurrection. Without pulling this invasive weed, they tell me, we are doomed.

What do we make of this assessment? Is this really a noxious weed? What is patriarchy?

What is True: Decades of Bad News Concerning Bad Men

In 2002 the Boston Globe published a series of stories revealing a pattern of criminal sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. The hypocrisy caused a crisis of confidence that spread in the church worldwide, and continues to the present day—the fathers were not what they claimed to be.

American evangelicalism has not fared much better. Vision Forum promised the restoration of the Christian family through “The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy;” instead its president confessed to inappropriate sexual conduct. Mr. “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” left his wife and left the faith.  Leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention faced serious allegations. To our shame the church has often looked more like Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein than Job or Joseph.

My own tribe—evangelical Presbyterianism—has its own cases of the same sordid substance. This is the hypocrisy of which Jesus said: “Woe to you!” This is also the way of sinful flesh; there is nothing new under the sun, and what has been will be. Sexual desire, apart from the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit, produces all manner of wicked fruit. The lust of the flesh is destructive and evil.

But some suggest that these failures are not fundamentally rooted in individual fallen human nature but rather social structures that unequally place men in positions of influence, leading to the imbalance and abuse of power. If we solve the imbalance, so the logic goes, we will eliminate the abuse. Utopia requires the elimination of patriarchy.

What is Patriarchy?

Patriarchy simply means father-rule. The word clearly indicates an apportioning of authority. It is an uncomplicated word, used by the church for millennia. Today’s use of the word, however, appears to be confused by two things: (i) people who use it to describe unbiblical schemes (we will call this not-patriarchy) or (ii) people who think patriarchy itself is actually bad.

About not-patriarchy: The promises of I Kissed Dating Goodbye or Vision Forum or Bill Gothard should never have appealed to Christians, ever. These schemes went beyond the Law of God, lacked Gospel basics, and understated dependence on the Holy Spirit. It is no surprise that adherents later kiss Christianity goodbye. All forms of legalistic, harsh, and sinful leadership are not fatherhood but delinquency. We need to learn to recognize and reject counterfeit patriarchy.3For more useful reading on these errors and dangers read “The Patriarchy Movement: Five Areas of Grave Concern”, https://www.reformation21.org/blogs/the-patriarchy-movement-five-a.php

The second concern is the unequivocal rejection of the whole thing: Patriarchy is simply very bad. Countless journalists, opinion writers and professors, the bishop and Barbie (and a growing chorus of evangelical-egalitarian influencers) are in agreement: Very, very bad.

I hear this sentiment in the Presbyterian denominations in which I travel: “Beware patriarchy,” which then is inexplicably defined as “men being unkind to women.” This particular definition often makes its appearance during discussions of abuse or sexual sin; for some this is apparently indistinguishable from patriarchy. If we were playing Clue, it was patriarchy in the church that did it. Case closed.

The net effect? Listen up, everybody: Patriarchy is a big problem. Father-rule is bad. The father is bad.

The Dangers That Follow the Loss of Patriarchy

So why even try to rescue a sullied word? Doesn’t language change? I would submit that acquiescence to the popular equation patriarchyis-evil will result in the loss of our nation, the Christian home, the church and the Gospel. How, you ask, could this little word be so important?

First, the Bible honors fathers. God instituted fatherhood when he made Adam (first), then Eve, then marriage and then gave the command to be fruitful and multiply. Paul honored Israel’s patriarchs. Peter preached about the patriarch David, and Stephen said the p-word, twice, just before going to heaven as a martyr. The writer to the Hebrews thought Abraham a fine patriarch.4Romans 9:5, Acts 2:29, Acts 7:8-9, Hebrews 7:4 Jesus was not ashamed of his Father.5John 14:31, “But that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do.” This is God’s design and this is God’s language.

Second, this is God’s language with profound meaning and import. The association of patriarchy with evil runs against the grain of the nature of God and His creation. It induces in me a cognitive dissonance that surges on the Lord’s Day as I lead the people of God in the confession of our faith:6The Apostle’s Creed.

“I believe in God the Father, Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.”

Is this not patriarchy? Is this not “father-rule”?

My mind scans the created order and lo, the fatherly structure echoes in my own home—I am a patriarch! There are fathers throughout the natural world, that lead, are stronger than women7Check your local golf tees, watch the Olympics and read I Peter 3:7., and are designed by God to serve and protect women and children. Creation is stamped with patriarchy. Sin has distorted and twisted what was beautiful—yes—but the good pattern is unmistakable.

The creeds amplify an inextricably related pattern in redemption, the pattern of marriage: “I believe in Jesus Christ, [the Father’s] only begotten Son, our Lord.”8At this point I wish to publicly repudiate an error in Trinitarian theology; I do confess that the Son is “of one substance with the Father.”[viii] Jesus is the bridegroom and the church is his bride; Paul says that marriage is a mystery that points to Christ and His church; and so wives are to submit to their husbands and husbands are to love their wives. Husbands and fathers exercise rule.

It is this entire weight of the superstructure of reality—God and man made after his image, male and female—that is under crafty attack by the kingdom of darkness. Since Satan cannot have the kingdom, he appears to be trying to burn it all down. The smoldering peat fire underfoot is breaking out in all kinds of places, such as the NCAA women’s swimming championships and in the last summer’s SBC debate over the future of Saddleback Church and in discussions of abuse in NAPARC churches.9In which the main issue was the ordination of women to the office of pastor.

We have to think carefully. It is true that powerful men have long abused anyone weaker. History’s Epsteins will face an eternal reckoning for their monstrous evils. They should also face consequences in this world, regardless of their professed repentance. It is also very Christian to care for victims. It seems—and this is a critical point—that Satan is keenly aware of this compassionate impulse, which he is presently co-opting by pointing to patriarchy (and not the sinful failures of patriarchs) as the abusive system that caused the pain.

If you doubt this, let’s return to the Church of England: The Archbishop of York believes that the “Our Father” of the Lord’s Prayer is problematic for those who have suffered under—wait for it—an “oppressively patriarchal grip on life.”10https://www.christianpost.com/news/our-father-in-lords-prayer-is-problematic-says-archbishop.html Bishop Cottrell and I, from vastly differing perspectives, have noticed a nexus of ideas being pressed together: Fatherhood and oppression. Fatherhood is abusive. Patriarchy is bad.

Satan’s false flag operation is fueling misgivings about Biblical teaching concerning gender differences, fatherhood and motherhood, roles in marriage and male leadership in the church. (The church’s government notably has as its head a man, the man Christ Jesus, who set it up, who shed his blood for sinners in love and appoints men to shepherd the flock he loves.) 11This must say something about what kind of men such men ought to be! (cf. I Tim. 3:1f) Satan’s operation is a deceitful emotional appeal that can be summarized by a short and familiar formula: “God is evil, isn’t he?”12Genesis 3:1f. Satan always tempts us to question God’s goodness. Fathers rule, or they aren’t fathers. Patriarchy is father-rule. God the Father rules jointly with His Son (Psalm 110). If Peter-rule is evil, then my leadership would be evil. It is no less offensive to take the name of God the Father and equate it with abuse and evil. We defend the goodness of God when we defend the office of father.

But the truth is the opposite. The Fatherless realm—the dark kingdom—is the abusive source of abortion, human trafficking, sexual molestation, torture, the self-hatred of homosexuality, transgender mutilation and death. “Patriarchy is evil” is a tragic bait and switch, where Satan disguised as an angel of light promises relief while leading the world ever deeper into dark chambers of Fatherless horrors.13I would recommend reading research on the effects of fatherless homes on the development and protection of children. [Banner Ed. – a starting place for finding such research may be found here: https://americafirstpolicy.com/issues/issue-brief-fatherlessness-and-its-effects-on-american-society]

Remember: Reality was designed a good patriarchy, ruled by the Triune God. Patriarchy is not a bad word.

In Defense of Godly Fatherhood

If you are a father, you carry the mantle of patriarchy. You rule your home. To make this a pretext for abuse is vile. Your rule is to be a sweet echo of the eternal love of God made known in Jesus Christ His only begotten Son. It is to be lived in daily prayer for the Spirit of God to pour more of the love of God into your heart in order that you might cheerfully exercise sacrificial leadership and care. Biblical fatherhood is strong, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in mercy and forgiveness, and holy.

We have from the Lord an eight-month-old baby in our home—the happiest kind of surprise. What strikes me anew is the vulnerability and wonder of a little child. I pray that I, with renewed repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, by the help of the Holy Spirit, would protect and love her together with all our children as long as I am able. “Father in heaven, please make me a husband and father that in some small way might reflect your glory and goodness to my family. Please forgive my many failures. Grant me the help of your generous Spirit. In Jesus name, Amen.”

If you believe in Jesus Christ, in Him you have come to the Father. You now trust a good and kind heavenly Father. You and I are under Fatherly rule, mediated by the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. You are under fatherly and husbandly protection and safety. This is very good news for undeserving sinners, and for believing victims of delinquent fathers.

And if you chafe under God’s design—it may simply be that you’ve never submitted to His rule. Listen to this description from the prophet Isaiah of what Jesus came to be and to do, and submit to the Gospel of God’s good and gracious fatherly rule in and by and with His Son:

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. (Is 9:6–7, NKJV)

Here is the fatherly redeeming work of the Triune God: by the Father who sent the Son, in the power of the Spirit, His kingdom rules over all—state, church and family—for His glory.

Our confused times call not for retreat from or the obfuscation of clear Biblical truths, but instead a renewed embrace of patriarchy, while praying exactly like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…for Jesus sake, Amen.”

Peter Van Doodewaard is the Pastor of Covenant Community Presbyterian Church in Taylors, South Carolina.

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