Christian patriarchy: Here’s how you replaced God

“Everything came to a head in my mid-twenties,” she was saying. “So that’s when I finally got out.” She balanced her child on her knee as she spoke. “I want to help others get out.”  

I was having tea with a daughter of patriarchy.

She told me one story after another, about her own life and the lives of others, about control and domination and refusal to allow independent thinking and for some, eventual escapes.

“So of all the ones you know who got out,” I asked, “how many are still following Christ?”

My new friend paused, figuring. “I guess three out of about thirty that I know for sure.”

Three out of thirty. Ten percent were still following Jesus.

She was one of that ten percent. She was one of the small minority who had left this  system but still looked for freedom and hope and truth in the Christ who is shown in the Scriptures and through the Spirit.

I thought about the young people the parents of patriarchy used to be, when we all sat in homeschool conventions together in the 1980s and 1990s, the air crackling with the energy of hope and optimism that we would raise up a godly generation.

The homeschool conventions I attended got to be very large, with a wide range of choices for curriculum ideas.

What had happened in those intervening years? How had so many of them gone so far astray as to think oppression, manipulation, threats, and control were part of the right way to raise their children, especially their daughters, in godliness?

My father told me so often that God works through men to reveal his will for women. My parents nailed me with it before I left home: ‘You can’t know God’s will without a father or husband. Women are too easily deceived. They cannot trust their own hearts.’”  


I don’t mean to be saying that oppression, manipulation, threats, and control this extreme are present in every patriarchal family. . . . But it’s been the case in the majority of the ones I’ve heard about.

But the root problem . . . the root problem isn’t that oppression.

The root problem of God’s Old Covenant people

God’s Old Covenant people were oppressors too. Their sin of oppression is described in the Old Testament prophets—Isaiah 1 and Jeremiah 5 give just two examples. (And as a side note, among the beautiful promises God made in this book is that those who mourned—that is, the oppressed—would be comforted.)

But what did God say was the root problem?

You have left Me.

The root problem of patriarchy

The root problem in patriarchy for many of its adherents is that while lip service was being given to Jesus Christ, He Himself was removed from the place of centrality and supremacy in their individual lives, their families, and their churches.  

Maybe many of the people who followed patriarchy said, “I did all those things wrong when I was a teenager, so now I’m going to follow in this path, and then my children won’t do any of those wrong things. They won’t make any of those mistakes.” Maybe they put a system in the center of their lives where the Jesus Christ belonged.

So, in my mulling and pondering, I remembered a significant incident from my own life in about 2002, around fifteen years ago.

My own experience with this replacement

I was asked to speak at a gathering of about two hundred homeschooling mothers, at an annual “ladies’ luncheon and curriculum sale” (which I usually didn’t attend because it cost twenty dollars, but if I spoke I got to go for free). The leader, whom I had recently met and whom I didn’t know well, asked several different local women every year.

I recall that an encouraging friend said to me, “Maybe after you do this, you’ll get asked to speak other places too.”

When I asked the leader what I should speak on, she said, “Whatever the Lord lays on your heart.”

Well, indeed there was something the Lord was laying on my heart at that time, a phenomenon I was observing in the homeschooling world that I figured was simply an error, a mistake that needed a reminder.

I worked for many days on my hour-long talk, with much prayer, making posters and cut-outs (that would look oh-so-archaic now) with this theme:

Don’t forget that Jesus Christ should be at the center of your life. Don’t make the mistake of letting your husband or your children take that center role. As homeschoolers it’s so easy for us to fall into this error, so we need to keep recalibrating our hearts toward Him.

My poster diagram was fancier than this, with more circles and arrows and other things, but this was more or less the basic thrust of it.

I dressed it up with funny stories and passionate examples and all the rest, but in my mind I knew all I was doing was reminding them of truth. I knew I was telling them something they already knew.

But as it turned out, I was wrong. As it turned out, I was saying something extremely controversial.

Afterwards, my encouraging friend said, “That was really good. But a whole lot of women here aren’t going to like it.”

I was taken aback. “Why?” I mean, this was just something obvious and extremely non-controversial. How could they possibly disagree with it?

“Because they believe their husbands should be at the center of their lives.”

I remember staring at her, wondering if she was joking. “You’re kidding,” I said.

“No, I’m not. That’s what they believe.”

Now, that story shows you how clueless I was. And the word patriarchy was never mentioned. But that was what I was up against.

I’m sure after she heard me speak, the leader had second thoughts about inviting women to speak on whatever the Lord laid on their heart. (And I was never invited back!)

But I didn’t follow up on the mystery of it all, maybe because I felt intimidated, maybe because my life was full with homeschooling and caring for a mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s.

And because I didn’t, I never really investigated what my friend was talking about until years later when I began to read online about the problems with patriarchy, from the people who were coming out of it.

And yes, it’s really idolatry

I’ve blogged before about idolatry and how I wish Christians wouldn’t be so quick to accuse themselves and others of it. (Among other things, don’t confuse idolatry with grief, fear, or doubt, don’t think all Christians are idol factories, and don’t think that every sin has to have an idol at its base.)

But idolatry is real when someone consciously puts something else at the center of his life, where Jesus Christ alone belongs, as the case of any woman who willfully does this with her husband. It’s idolatry even if you think that person or thing you’re putting at the center is going to help you reach God. After all, that’s what all the idols of any religion are about.

Jesus Christ is the only right way to reach God. There is to be no one between you and Him.

It’s about desires. When you think “what is my deepest heart desire,” and the answer is something other than the love and joy of Jesus Christ, then idolatry is incipient at the very least.

A clash of kingdoms

 “My father told me so often that God works through men to reveal his will for women. ‘You can’t know God’s will without a father or husband.”   


This clash of kingdoms is what I wrote about in a blog post years ago (link) regarding patriarchy. Whose desires will the women and young adults of patriarchy consider first? Whose kingdom will be promoted? The Kingdom of God or the kingdom of man?  Will Jesus Christ be both central and supreme for each one of His people?

What does the Kingdom of God look like? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” Jesus said in Matthew 22:37 regarding the vertical relationship. And regarding the horizontal relationships He said in Matthew 20:25-26, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you. But whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.”  Love and service, not earthly “lordship”: this is what the Kingdom of God looks like.     

Who is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise? Revelation 5:12 says it is the Lord of that transcendent Kingdom, Jesus Christ. And in relation to that Kingdom, “We ought to obey God rather than men,” said the apostles in Acts 5:29. When there is a disparity between the will of God and the will of man, then the will of God holds sway.

These are kingdoms in conflict.

Broken cisterns for living water

So many of my generation, the generation that caused the air to crackle with the energy of hope and enthusiasm at those early homeschool conventions, put something else at the center of their lives and their ministries. They made something else the focus of their hopes. So many of them expected to find LIFE in something other than Jesus Christ alone.

Be appalled at this, O heavens! Be utterly horrified and dumbfounded,” says the LORD. “My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me—the spring of living water—and they dug their own cisterns—cracked cisterns that hold no water.”       

I’m appalled, with the heavens. I’m horrified and dumbfounded. I never imagined, those years ago, that this would happen.

What are their broken cisterns?

A system. They put their trust in the system of patriarchy, thinking if they would cleave to the system, all would turn out well. But if we just work harder at keeping the rules and commands, all will be well. All will surely be well. God will see the works of our own hands and surely bless them.

A person. They exalted the man, the flawed (and sometimes duplicitously wicked) man, the husband/father or sometimes the pastor or another leader, to the place where Jesus Himself should be. They looked to the man to give them the words of Jesus Christ, to stand in His place. God will surely see how much we honor the man He put in a place of authority over us, and all will surely be well, He will surely bless us.

An institution. The family became an idol, the picture-perfect family, and I mean that literally. Do you know how many patriarchal families have looked picture-perfect while all hell is breaking loose behind closed doors? But just look at those pictures; God will surely honor how godly our family looks and all will be well and we’ll raise up a godly generation if it kills us and them.

 Whose kingdom will be promoted? The Kingdom of God or the kingdom of man? 

Will Jesus Christ be both central and supreme for each one of His people?

PART TWO is here.

23 thoughts on “Christian patriarchy: Here’s how you replaced God

  1. The part about “if you think your idols are helping you get to the real God, they are still idols. After all that’s what all idols are” had a big impact on me as I thought about the golden calf. I remember being told that the calf was just a way of worshipping the true God.

    You also pointed out the “obey God not men” and that when they clash – God is what rules – is so central to everything – and challenging.

    It made me think of the young people who say “I don’t do xyz because my father/parents wouldn’t let me or don’t believe in that,” “I couldn’t be in a courtship with him/her because my parents aren’t reformed and it makes them furious.” I’ve heard that from young (homeschooled ) men – that they can’t go to college or get a job – or that they are forced to go to college or work for their parents – or that their relationship with their parents fell apart when they left their parents’ church or ate pork – or believed in non-charismatic ways or non-reformed ways or wanted to date/marry a girl who is not “Jewish minded” or ?

    These are young adults whose parents have determined what their kids can/can’t do in secondary areas and then hold out their blessing, financial support and relationship with their child as blackmail to make their child do what they want.

    That is emotional manipulation at best and emotional abuse in worse cases.

    The thing is that by this point for most of these young adults, especially the girls, it’s not that difficult to get their compliance because the kids are trained by now not to think for themselves or to have desires – so they say “I want to do courtship,” “I want to be a stay at home daughter,” “I want to become an engineer/farmer like my dad,” etc because it is so ingrained that that is their openly choice and they wouldn’t dare cross their parents or even have different desires. In abuse/oppression you don’t have your own desires or thinking.

    The kids that end up with their own ideas have been exposed to things outside the family (not isolated). It’s no wonder the diehards keep their kids from those experiences, it does spoil their plan. But for the kids it adds to the damage that is done. Their parents are their only world and that isolation and brainwashing is abuse.

    Many diehard homeschool families don’t go to church because their kids get exposed to “wrong” ideas there. So they live in the wilderness and do church alone or with a couple other families (really) that they eventually have a falling out with. These patriarchal dads can’t find anyone identical to them that’s safe for their kids to play with. They can’t be friends with someone who reads Narnia books or anything except missionary biographies or watches modern movies or if their daughters wear pants etc. It’s so hard not to offend them when inviting a family over, because it’s not okay to be different. The kids are raised to view others in this self-righteous judgmental way.

    • Yes, I know someone who lived in the wilderness and did church alone for several years.

      I made so many mistakes along these lines myself personally, with my independent Baptist background. I was always so analytical and studying the Scriptures, re-thinking so much in the way of doctrine, but when it came to outward appearance it was really hard to shed the rules, and my children paid a price for that. But one thing I was determined to do, and Tim too, and that was get them out of the house when they became adults, get them out from under us. I wanted so much to not be holding them by the shoulders as they matured as adults, and I was afraid I was going to do that if they stayed at home. (Tim wasn’t in any danger of doing that, only me, lol!)

    • Wow!

      “Many diehard homeschool families don’t go to church because their kids get exposed to “wrong” ideas there. So they live in the wilderness and do church alone”

      This was my family. Interesting to know other diehards did the same.

      My father started following the patriarchy movement and eventually pulled us out of church and we did ‘home church’ in our rural town. He said he was the pastor since he was the leader of his family. I come from a large family and he also didn’t believe that we needed to have too many friends, that our siblings should be our friends.

      “It’s so hard not to offend them when inviting a family over, because it’s not okay to be different.”

      This too. After finally breaking free from my father’s tyrannical system, we had a huge falling out where we don’t even talk until this day. I received an email from him that I am not permitted to talk to my siblings without his consent because I don’t agree with my family. Besides throwing his family away, he also threw away friends for not agreeing with him too.

      The patriarchy movement is destructive. Period. It has been years of sorting for me between what is truth and what are unbiblical teachings that just keep people in bondage.

  2. continued . . .

    There is no love for others, no freedom and no love within the family, just control. I guess it comes from that fear that we will lose our kids from our own specific ideas and that it will be a slippery slope that will lead them from God altogether. Maybe it’s even a deeper unspoken fear of them rejecting us as parents by not being just like us and that others would see that and think that we are bad parents and we would lose our peers and reputation in that cult or that our kids wouldn’t like us if they think differently about music or clothing etc., that it is a rejection of us.

    I think that the doctrine of obeying earthly authorities is way overemphasized. It is true but not balanced. My kids at church heard it in every kids’ meeting (“disobey your parents only if they ask you to sin – like rob a bank”). The focus is the parents, not God, and it is said to parents “you are God to your children.” Like John Piper recently said in a blog post, and that is said to the kids too. Your parents are God to you until you are old enough – like 30 years old? Or ever?

    I think the deeper reason behind why parents isolate is not trusting God to work in our kids’ lives, which goes back to the parents’ own faith and living that out, as parents, when the stakes in life feel higher. But parents have to model true faith and trust in God, even in their parenting–or especially in their parenting–if they want their children to have true faith and trust in God. The reason their kids leave the faith is the hypocrisy of their parents.

    I am just at a place where I am examining everything.

    Your article is thought provoking! And I pray that it is for others as well!

    • For me, there were issues from my own past that I hadn’t worked through. I had fears that I wasn’t aware of in the least. Ugh. I’m guessing this might be the problem with a number of people in patriarchy–if I had joined it the way I wanted to, it would have added those extra layers to the fundamentalist legalism that I was already practicing without really understanding what I was doing. Ultimately, a robust understanding of the New Covenant and what Christ has actually accomplished for us and who we are in Christ is the answer to all of these confusions.

  3. So looking forward to Part 2! Another aspect of patriarchy is the man’s desire to control which is of course ultimately removing Jesus Christ from the throne. Some patriarchy followers may genuinely believe what they believe because they think it’s what God wants, but I think for many (or most) it’s the deep desire, whether conscious or subconscious, to control.

    Oh, and as I was cleaning out my attic the other day I came across two Vision Forum patriarchy DVD’s my mother gave me: ‘The Return of the Daughters’ and ‘What is Femininity?’. Of course, I wasn’t thrilled to receive them as gifts years ago, but watched them and well, if you feel like getting mad, you should definitely watch them! ‘The Return of the Daughters’ was about daughters returning from their “selfish” snd “feministic” ways, such as attending college, so that they could work for their fathers (until they were married off to someone their fathers approved of). I think it was the Botkin girls that went as far as making sure to wear clothing in their father’s favorite colors to please him…as if he was their husband!

    • Yes, the idolatry of the man and the man wanting to be treated as god has seemed to some like the most basic problem, but the first problem is *leaving* the true God.

      I think that these things can start out as wanting to do what God wants. For me, when I gave my husband the very first issue of Patriarch magazine and asked if we could subscribe and be part of this big thing, my hope was to learn to be a good submissive wife. (I didn’t want to become like some controlling women I had known.) At the base, though, as I said in another comment, were fears and other yucky issues that I didn’t recognize and hadn’t dealt with at all. So over time those things can morph more and more in a bad direction.

      Yes, I’d be very interested to watch “Return of the Daughters” and “What is Femininity?” I never have watched them and feel like my education is incomplete. 🙂

      • You are right because in order to want to be in control of everything, you have to leave God first.

        Does Patriarch magazine still exist? I would probably would find a lot of triggering/angering things in there, but it would be interesting to read as well.

        I think many join movements such as these for a reason such as yours: to become a submissive wife, or a godly leader, etc. So many people are searching hard to find the *it* movement/religion/answers, thinking they will be given the right answers to be the person they’re supposed to be. I think it’s much more simple than people are making it
        though; all of those answers are right in the Bible and followers and leaders are making it much more complicated than it really is!

        • Here’s info about Patriarch magazine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarch_(magazine)

          And yes, I agree. My own journey of understanding of the freedom and joy and focused energy that’s available in Christ has been a long road with a lot of untwisting that needed to be done, but it’s been worth it to find the beautiful simplicity that is in Jesus Christ alone!

  4. Just this year I have realized how much patriarchy stuff I had been exposed to and assimilated. Even though I only had a peripheral association with such thing the crud did seep in a mess with me and my views about family, marriage and even God.
    Keep up the good writing work about exposing this kind of crud

    • I’m so sorry, and I pray that your healing and freedom will be speedy. A similar thing happened to me, I’m sorry to say, though my influence was from a different “stream,” independent Baptist. I didn’t understand how much I had assimilated and continued to hold on to, primarily because of fear of man.

  5. Well aren’t you a breath of fresh air.
    While I was not saddled with Patriarchy growing up, my experience at church was horrifying . That is another subject altogether.
    I did get drawn into homeschooling in Canada. From what I can recall in those mid 90’s, was the appeal of wholesomeness. They made it look Godly. They made it look superior to public or Christian schooling.
    What I found interesting was that as soon as you made that decision to home school all of a sudden we were apart of an elite group. All of a sudden it made us better parents. It made us more spiritual parents. All of this was hidden in idealism. Hidden in hope. Hidden in faith.

    As I look back I can almost feel the air of arrogant pride creeping in my thoughts.I valued my children so much I was not going to allow their heads to be filled up with worldly ideas, notions.etc.
    My kids would be wholesome , godly. I had control of my kids, not the school system.
    One of the very first conferences we went to was put on by Gregg Harris. He made it sound so good. We bought his season of life cassette tape series.

    Patriarchy really wasn’t a “thing” back then in Canada.
    I cannot fully recollect what curriculum ushered it in but, I do recall words like “Classical Education”
    or Vision Forums stuff. Abeka. MathUSee stuff like that. Train up a Child, Honey for your Childs Heart…..and junk like that.

    I find all the literature, teaching, and the endorsing of programs much like a used car salesman. The product he pitches is new,shiny, it will surely give you safe, secure, ride that will pave your way to success as you drive off into the sunset.

    Homeschooling appeared to be a Godly approach but it was a trap for those people to get caught up into a movement which then branched out to so many different teachings . It actually bred a whole new era of rogue wanna be preachers/teachers/ and who knows who else to influence parents far more negatively than any public school.

    To be honest I hated school passionately as a kid. And when my kids were school age I hated it equally as much. So my plan was to make learning fun. All I was interested in was fun.
    Thank goodness for that!!!! I think I saved my kids and family from so much heartache and sorrow.

    Homeschooling didn’t last long. We moved excessively. My kids were at home for portions of time.Some time was spent at Catholic Schools…which was a fantastic experience or just plain old public school.

    Each of my children spent at least 4 years each at home for various reasons. But all ended school in high school and graduated.

    I think part of the problem with Patriarchy is the misunderstanding of the Old Covenant vs the New Covenant and our understanding that we are New Covenant Christians and what does that really mean?

    It became easy with the onslaught on these rogue teachers to become deceived into things. Instead of reading scripture, allowing the HS to speak to us we allowed other deceptive teaching in our lives to lead us astray. We took their word for it. We let others be our watchman. We took their interpretation of scripture and put it above the Bible.

    It still is happening in all walks of Christianity. There is always a new Jesus, and a new Christ,a new phenomena. People getting carried away by every wind of doctrine.

    The funny thing is this wayward doctrine has never really changed. The tactics of Satan are the same, his usage of twisting scripture is the same.
    Patriarchy was the mainstay of the Roman Empire. People creating their own doctrines and bringing them into the church.

    I kind of laugh and my husband thinks I am too extreme, but in my personal belief system I really think this “quiverfull’ movement is nothing more than another form of worshiping fertility. People through out the ages have worshiped fertility goddesses.
    Why not become your own fertility Goddess? Why not worship the womb? It’s worshiping the created rather than the creator.

    “Blessings” have become nothing more than the fruit of this idolatry . Anyhow those are my own thoughts .”Purity” has become another form of Idolatry.

    And in patriarchy sex has become another god. I won’t go down that path of thinking on here but in my mind it is nothing more than sexual perversion you would have found in Rome. Just wrapped up neat and tidy in a “Godly” marriage.

    Thanks for letting me ramble on…..and thank you for posting. I had spent the day trying to unravel a prominent bloggers theology, and her ungodly way of dealing with people who didn’t fall in line with her thinking. It is heartbreaking , sad, grievous , and frustrating. So finding this here was quite refreshing.

    • I have such happy memories about homeschooling. (I retired from 24 years of it in January of 2015.) Yes, there were tears for sure, but overall my memories are truly happy ones. My children, all adults now, say they wish some things had been different, but I think they understand that no parent is going to do child-raising perfectly. I think that among the four of them, they have mostly happy memories too.

      I remember Gregg Harris’s Seasons of Life seminar—I borrowed it from a friend when I was in my mid-thirties and listened to it while I cleaned up the kitchen in the evenings. I found it really helpful, since I wanted to “do it all” and all at once, but I had (for some reason) never really thought about the timeline of life. The season I’m in now, that of mentoring, became one I was willing to wait for because of that seminar.

      Your thoughts about the fertility cult are intriguing. It’s a sure thing that their desire to increase exponentially mimics the Muslims in a fleshly attempt to take over the world for Christianity by brute force, which I talk about on this post: http://www.heresthejoy.com/2013/12/for-shame-beautiful-botkins/ I remember hearing a fellow homeschooler saying that wanting to have more children was a “godly desire.” I recoiled, thinking “That might be a godly desire, but it might not be. It might be a desire born of peer pressure or pride.”

      You said, “I think part of the problem with Patriarchy is the misunderstanding of the Old Covenant vs the New Covenant and our understanding that we are New Covenant Christians and what does that really mean?” I believe you nailed it here. I talk quite a lot about our New Covenant identity on this blog—that’s even one of my Categories—and I believe many of those in Patriarchy have no real understanding of the difference.

    • No I don’t think any teaching is Biblical that puts anything at the center of anyone’s life other than Jesus Christ. And thanks for calling me young. 🙂

    • Patriarchy has to be sewn into scripture except where it is mentioned as part of the old testament culture. There is no patriarchy in the new covenant.

  6. I wish we wouldn’t let the world steal the word patriarch. The Bible always uses it in a positive sense, so using it to mean something other than the fathers of the faith, especially using it negatively, is problematic for receiving sound doctrine from scripture. I fully agree with you about what you’re arguing against. I just wish we wouldn’t join the world in calling it patriarchy.

    • But it was the people who started the movement themselves who called it patriarchy. I didn’t intend to be joining “the world” (not sure how you’re defining that, tbh) in calling it patriarchy, but trying to use the name they gave themselves. “The world” didn’t steal it, unless you’re calling the group themselves “the world.”

      “Patriarch” as a biblical term to name people like David and Abraham is legitimate–as I recall, they were the only ones called patriarchs, and that was one or two thousand years after they lived, so by that time they had earned titles of distinction. These people have not.

      • Wow. I never cease to be surprised at fundamentalists (and I was raised as one!). I’ve only heard it used disparagingly in recent years. I was confused by it about 10 years ago when I was in a certain BJU related forum of which Camille Lewis was sort of the den mother. She was slamming “the patriarchy” and I was like, what, you don’t like Abraham? lol

        • Christian patriarchy as a movement, or as it’s sometimes called “Biblical patriarchy,” started only in 1991, so that could be why you missed it, especially if you were in a different stream of fundamentalism. The patriarchy stream believes very strongly in homeschooling, so if you went to public school or Christian school you wouldn’t have heard much about it. They also tend in general to be Reformed rather than IFB (which focused more on Christian schools), so that would be another distinction. Different streams.

I welcome your thoughts