Hard-Core Christian Patriarchy and Abuse

Two outstanding articles—really two of the best I’ve read in the last year—highlight the trouble with hard-line Christian Patriarchy.

The first article, “Let Us Prey,” appeared in Chicago magazine in December 2012. It is about the sex abuse scandals in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church (IFB), a movement which promotes complete male authority, complete female submission, and severe corporal discipline. When each italicized word is taken to its logical extreme, abuse abounds.

The second article, “Doug Phillips: The Big Scandal You Didn’t Hear About and Why It Matters,” appeared November 8 in the Huffington Post. Author Julie Ingersoll, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida, raises questions about the Quiverfull Movement and Phillips’s far-reaching empire in the aftermath of his resignation from Vision Forum (read his resignation letter here, prefaced by a blogger who has her own story to tell about Doug Phillips). My friend Julie Anne Smith over at Spiritual Sounding Board has written several posts about this latest scandal.

In case you’re unfamiliar with it, the Quiverfull Movement believes in biblical manhood and womanhood (whatever that means—the terms do not appear in the Bible), dominion theology, large families (the Duggars are part of this movement), and a quasi-religious hardcore patriotism which looks back to the Founding Fathers as Christian men of biblical principle (instead of humanist Deists, as most of them were). It encourages believers to act like men and women did in the 1700 and 1800s. I am not making this up. I used to subscribe to the Vision Forum catalogue and gladly bought their books and CDs when I was in my cult.

The closely-entwined IFB and Quiverfull groups have a troubling track record. My readers from Maine will be interested to know that Jack DeCoster, the former egg-baron from Turner, was/is a member of the IFB and donated large sums of money to the church. DeCoster’s well-documented abusive practices, use of migrant workers as slave labor, and the unsanitary and abysmal living conditions he forced his vulnerable employees to live in, are unfortunately reflections of a theology of sanctification through pain, dehumanization, and—let’s call it what it is—abuse, that certain congregations in the IFB subscribe to. Notice I say certain congregations. I dislike using a broad brush when considering the theology and practice of an entire denomination. Individual churches and people vary.


Doug Phillips

I am not out to get Doug Phillips. I wish him well and hope that his worldview can change as he recognizes that his public theology and private life don’t jive. But if Phillips had not made himself the head of a movement, his fall into sin and his subsequent public resignation (a letter troubling for its qualifications, I might add) would concern few but his own family. However, when the self-anointed leader of a Christian movement—a movement which purports to follow the Bible more closely than other groups, promotes traditional family values, holds conferences and distributes films and literature about the sanctity of marriage and personal integrity—commits long-term marital infidelity, it should stop us cold.


It should also cause us to question the basic assumptions of the group. This is the criteria of “livability” for worldview, by the way. A worldview only works if it is consistent, true, and livable.

Do I have to say it? Yes, I do. None of us is perfect. Each of us has blind spots in both doctrine and practice. There is grace for us when we sin. There is ample grace for Doug Phillips.

But a church—a church!—which claims to follow Jesus Christ must be held to biblical standards. And in the Bible it says “let not even a hint of sexual immorality be found among you.” It also says, “whatever you do to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done to me.”

The question we must ask ourselves as Christians is this: is the reason a movement is riddled with sex abuse scandals because of unfortunate coincidences and temporary lapses of judgment by its leaders, OR is it because the theology of the group is legalistic (meaning it is an external mask which fails to change the heart) and because it dehumanizes certain demographics of people, making them easy to abuse?

That was pretty wordy. Let’s try again: does the doctrine of the IFB and Quiverfull Movement create a climate of  hypocrisy and abuse?

I believe that it does.

The arrest of numerous leaders in the IFB–and Doug Phillips’s resignation from Vision Forum–should cause the members of the IFB and the Quiverfull Movement to question their doctrine which makes it easy for the powerful to abuse the vulnerable.

11 comments on “Hard-Core Christian Patriarchy and Abuse

  1. I have a theory on the sexual abuse in many churches… Similar to yours, I think but slightly different. Yes, we are taught that men are superior and women are nothing but baby makers and housekeepers, but the part that gets to me is that we are taught that men are POWERLESS to the “wiles” of a woman, and if a woman shows ANY skin or Sits the wrong way, or Hugs a man “wrong” or Looks a man in the eyes, that means that she is asking for sex… (It is the same story with Infidelity as well) There is so much pressure put on women to be “Modest” because we “Might cause our Brother in Christ to Sin”… Men are taught this, and assume that if a woman is not conforming to THEIR standard of Modesty, they are a slut and are asking for it; and Women are taught that if a man LUSTS after her, it is Somehow HER fault because she led him on- even if she did nothing wrong, or did not know she was doing so… Or if a woman’s husband cheats on her, it is her fault because she was not “pleasing him”… Men are taught to view women as OBJECTS- made for one purpose- Their Pleasure… And women are taught that their ONE JOB is to be submissive to men, so if a man makes an unwanted pass at a woman, it is not only her FAULT, (which would prevent most women from speaking out about the abuse,) it is also her duty to be silent and let him do as he pleases… ESPECIALLY because speaking out could “ruin the TESTIMONY of their church”… which is why a LOT of abuse is swept under the rug. . It is a broken system that breeds rape…

    This also translates into physically and Emotionally abusive relationships as well -with a lot of what you have said… Women are taught that they are to be submissive, so if their husband hits them, or insults them, they must not have been submitting hard enough… Again, it makes the abuse the WOMAN’S fault, and standing up for herself, or leaving are out of the question… I know a girl personally who was told by the Pastor of her church that she should stay with her physically abusive husband because Divorce is a sin, and “God wants her to lead her husband to Him…” It is so broken…

    I definitely agree with you about the dehumanization… I think that is the biggest thing wrong with the world we live in… We fail to see the people around us- whether in person, or on the internet, or Celebrities- as HUMAN BEINGS… We either see other people as Super-human, as many people do with their pastors (who we all know can do no wrong…) or Sub-human as is the case with anyone who disagrees with their PASTOR’S personal set of beliefs… We forget that we are all created equal, and the only difference between US and THEM is where and how we were raised and what we were taught to believe…

    The modern American “Christian” Fundamentalist Church in my opinion has come full circle back to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day- who on the outside were pure and clean, but on the inside were full of dead men’s bones… Legalism, Manipulation and Control… That is all it is anymore, and I think Jesus would be heartbroken at the lives being destroyed in “His Name”…

    • Kia, you raise some great points. When a person is viewed as an object, abuse will almost always occur. That’s the danger not only for many churches in the IFB, but American society in general with the objectification of women. It just becomes more inexcusable for Christians to do this. I pray that God’s people can elevate women as Jesus did, rather than repress, hide, shame, suppress, and control them as the world does. Thanks for your comment.

      • These groups claim to believe the Bible, yet conveniently forget that in Matthew 5:27-28, that Jesus placed ALL of the blame on the men for lust.

  2. Whoa now… I think you are most definitely ‘painting with a broad brush’ to somehow link Phillips and IFB, and quiverfull. The quiverfull idea is very simple (and biblical); Children are a blessing. Blessings are good. The Lord Controls the womb. I’d say quiverfull is really difficult to oppose biblically. Phillips’ ‘vision’ is debatable. And IFB? criminal.

    The Huff-po article you cite is full of straw men concerning biblical patriarchy. There is nothing outstanding about that article. ‘Jen’s Gems’ is so chocked full of cynical, sarcastic, and hyperbolic outright lies that I cannot see the value in it whatsoever. She cannot use lies to expose the truth; e.g. does she really believe that a young woman ‘is not allowed opinions of her own right”? That’s just not true.

    I think what most miss about the ‘call of the patriarch’ is, simply stated, ‘Men, stop abdicating, and do your jobs.’ Men are natural bums, and sloths, especially when it comes to leading their families. It is about cherishing one’s family and creating a lasting (Christ-centric) vision. Is ‘patriarchy’ the solution? Certainly not the straw man version your very misleading blog buddies (huff-po and ‘jen’s gems’) describe. I think though, the idea of a patriarchal (meaning father lead; spiritually, economically, and practically) families in submission to local assembly (new testament church) is a biblical model. For me, patriarchy is a small stepping stone to simply get men to take the helm, because it is our job. Over-emphasizing family to the point of idolizing either the father or the family unit itself is a possible mistake that can be made, because those that would make that mistake leave out the local assembly. maybe thats where I can give credence to your term ‘hard-core’ patriarchy, I dunno.

    Phillips screwed up. Big Time. Thats why it was good for him to resign. Whether his words were proper or not, he acted properly. Is he an ‘abusive leader’, like the ‘jen’s gems’ blog states? I dont’ know. The ‘facts’ seem convoluted. He could be. Power easily corrupts. I would say he could very easily find himself unaccountable to any of those around him. His type would tend to become surrounded with yes men, not brothers that would call him out in boldness and love.

    I think your work here is very valuable as far as cults are concerned, but with that said
    I think you are misrepresenting some Godly movements that just so happen to get picked up and used (legalistically) in some cults. Don’t throw the Bible out with the bathwater, brother.
    I would love to discuss these thing with you in person or on the phone. There is so much that is missed in this format.

    I hate typing this stuff out, that’s why I don’t keep a blog 😉


    • Hi Jeffrey, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think you bring some helpful nuance to the topic. I’ve received several personal emails from folks who called me out for using a broader-than-I-intended brush. There are some IFB churches which are relatively healthy and helpful to their members. I know of at least one. Because the IFB is a loosely-affiliated group, individual congregations tend to follow their leader, whoever he is. If he is more balanced and healthy, so goes the church. If not, well… we know what happens then.

      I realize that there are different interpretations of Christian patriarchy, and I am certainly okay with a spectrum of belief here. But I oppose hard-core Christian patriarchy because I see it as a system rife with abuse. Lots to discuss here, and I appreciate your willingness to stay balanced and fair. Not everyone has to come down where I have. I tend to get defensive about this topic because my cult was hard-core patriarchical and everyone got abused. Personal baggage coming up here, but I see it happen again and again as I read books, articles, blogs, and hear personal testimony from across the country. It sounds like your interpretation of Christian patriarchy is more along the lines that a husband and father should take responsibility for his family. I’m all for that. But I am more along the lines that a husband and wife are an equal partnership and both should take responsibility as they work together to lead the family spiritually, economically, and emotionally.

      The biblical concept of the blessing of children, and the Quiverfull Movement are two different things, in my opinion. I don’t disagree that children are a blessing from the Lord. But the Quiverfull Movement in general tends to run with the IFB, Vision Forum, and harder-line Christian Patriarchy. Again, individual churches and people will vary, but the themes often intersect.

      Anyway, I’d love to discuss these topics more and learn from your perspective. Any resources you’d recommend in the meantime? I have a family trip this weekend and will be off the grid (no iPhone), but I’d love to continue this conversation. Thanks for putting your thoughts out there! In so many blogs, balance is achieved in the comments section.

      • @Christine Smith, when i used the word ‘criminal’ for IFB, I was specifically referring to sex abuse that had been mentioned in the news story stephen referenced. I Shouldn’t have said it that way. My bad.

        I definitely understand where you are coming from, Stephen. Coming out of a bad situation certainly makes one wary of associated and abused ideas (even if they stem from a truth). Contrariwise, it’s easy for me to be defensive church/family practices that I see working so beautifully in the Church family I am a part of. I’d say though, the root of most misunderstandings is different definitions. I know not everyone agrees with my definitions of what Patriarchy, or quiverfull means (even adherents to such ideas). Such is life since Babel.

        Really enjoyed your gracious response. Sign of a true brother, I’d say.

        As far as resources are concerned. I’d highly recommend reading/listening to some of Pastor Voddie Baucham’s work. He is an SBC pastor leaning Reformed Baptist, and he is not crazy ;-). He explains and fleshes out these ideas of Quiverfull (That psalm 127 is the Lord claiming dominion of the womb, not just a pretty idea), and How to properly, in real life terms, shepherd ones family (Patriarchy). I don’t wholly endorse this church or him by any means, but i find his teaching very good.

        These links i think are some of his best stuff.




  3. Hi,

    I sent one of the personal emails Steve received (he’s my brother). He suggested I consider posting my thoughts, so that is what I am doing. If we knew each other you would likely know me as a thoughtful, reflective person. I hope this post comes across with that tone.

    I’ve been going to an IFB church in the northeast for the last three years.

    To give some background on that, I grew up believing that fundamentalists were angry, pulpit-pounding, hypocrites. In addition, I went to two evangelical Christian colleges where fundamentalists were also criticized. I never thought I would have anything to do with fundamentalism, especially coming out of a legalistic background.

    But God had other plans. He worked it out that by the time I realized this was a “fundamentalist” church I had already started to reap benefits from it. The rhetoric that I heard from others about how awful fundamentalism was didn’t match with what I was seeing in life. At this point I’ve interacted with a variety of other IFB churches and heard a couple dozen IFB speakers from outside my own church. No one in those circles fits the description of IFB in Steve’s article.

    That said, I do agree the IFB movement has shortcomings, some very serious, and I agree there are IFB churches and circles that fit Steve’s description. I just think we need to be careful about taking pejorative labels and applying them to cross sections of people, especially when you’re calling into question the motives and integrity of others.

    What I have benefited from in the IFB movement is a focus on sincerity before God, diligence in studying God’s Word, careful instruction in doctrine, music that helps me experience God as a God of a beauty, warm friendships within the church, a concern to reach out to others in evangelism, etc. It hasn’t been the scary place I thought it would be.

    I laughed when I read the comment by Jeffrey defending quiverfull and calling IFB “criminal.” I initially would have been more generous to IFB and less generous to quiverfull based on the associations I have with each term. But because Jeffrey explained what he meant by quiverfull, I have a much better understanding of what he was saying. I hope with my explanation here people might have a better understanding of what I mean when I refer to IFB.

    Thanks for reading!


    • Great comment, sister! Thanks for helping nuance my post much better than I did. I failed to properly distinguish the various circles of the IFB. The article which talks about the pastors convicted of sexual abuse refers to a single church and training college. There are problems with some other groups, and I still believe that extreme patriarchy usually results in abuse. But your comment should help folks realize that we should never paint an entire group with the same color brush. Thanks =)

  4. Steve
    Hope everything is well in your world?…. and blessings to you and your family.

    I would like to state that whenever you have a works based philosophy or theology you will always find that abuse follows suit. One thing I have noticed with consistency is that where there is the lack of the Holy Spirit, a flower cannot bloom. The Holy Spirit is the water, sun, and soil of a believer- because the Holy Spirit is God and Jesus Christ. We have been given Him as a Counselor, Guide, and Teacher- He is our Authority into all things. Over the many thousands of years man has tried to usurp that authority and place himself over man- whether on the throne or in the pulpit. I know you know these things but anyone who happens to visit this site I would implore to them to stop giving man the glory that he does not rightfully have. ONLY and I say ONLY when a man can lower himself with humility as a servant can he be fit to lead. Does not Jesus say “Those who are first will be last, and those who are last will be first” (paraphrase)? Works based doctrine puts people back under the law- did not Paul so eloquently state so in Romans and to the churches, such as the church of Galatia? Did not Paul state we are now free and not under the law, but to use our freedom for what is righteous and good? Law only places guilt upon the believer and in turn, from experience, creates a weed garden of more sin to flourish and grow; causing more anguish and destruction. Law places an elite few who think they are God’s mouthpieces for righteousness (and many started out with good intentions) to eventually become tyrants. Law is a killer when Christ is not the Head; Law was meant to bring people to the understanding that they need a Savior to not be under its oppression any longer. He has completed it (the law)- why pastor make people live under it? Can we not trust that the Holy Spirit is able to transform and change in sanctification a Christian brother or sister? I believe He can, because I am one who has been change over the years, softened and more pliable to hear His clear and gentle voice. Yes, I said gentle voice. This is how God speaks.

  5. Reblogged this on theophiluspunk and commented:
    More greatness. Follow Liberty for Captives; thoughtful & thought-provoking.

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