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.
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.