“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.
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.
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?