The Hegemonic Patriarchy
The Hegemonic Patriarchy
by P. Andrew Sandlin
The article appeared originally in the January 2004 issue of Christian Culture. Visit the Center for Cultural Leadership web site: www.christianculture.com
Today’s secular culture is at war with the family. Lax divorce laws, radical feminism, rampant pornography, legalized abortion, “children’s rights,” mainstream homosexuality, and inheritance taxes — all these and other factors collude to assault the family, particularly the Christian family.
It is perhaps inevitable that the Christian reaction will at times become overreaction and that the family, a central institution in God’s plan, should begin to monopolize all of life. In fact, a renewed patriarchalism in some quarters is working for hegemony over the other legitimate spheres of God’s authority. But patriarchalists don’t justify their (over)reaction only to the ravenous egalitarian society. They also (over)react to a reckless, egocentric Church that is oblivious to family prerogatives (“After all, I am the elder [or bishop, or pastor, or deacon, or what have you], and I am the supreme authority in the Church”).
But the solution to social and ecclesiastical tyranny is not patriarchal tyranny, which, in fact, is no less culpable than the former. Tyranny is tyranny, and “spiritual” tyranny is perhaps the worst form of all (think: Spanish Inquisition).
Old-Fashioned Conservative Tyranny
Today’s hegemonic patriarchalism seems at points to bear an eerie resemblance to the pagan patriarchy of ancient Rome (before the rise of the Empire). Pre-Empire Rome was a patriarchal culture. The housefather was given virtually unlimited authority. His word was law — not metaphorically, but literally. If his wife bore a daughter, and he preferred a son, he could simply cast the daughter into the streets to die of starvation or be eaten by a wild animal. He could beat and otherwise abuse fellow family members at will. With limited exceptions, the father was the central authority in society. Many other ancient cultures were similarly clan-based, and these extended families (not just Mom and Dad and Junior and Susie, but the grandparents and third cousins and “in-laws”) ruled the countryside by blade and blood. At the center of this tyranny was the patriarch, generally the oldest surviving male of the family. (Mario Puzo’s rendition of The Godfather furnishes an embellished, but generally accurate, portrait of this arrangement.)
For this reason it is sometimes ironic to hear Christians declare that they are championing a “conservative view of the family.” If they are conserving the old-fashioned pagan patriarchy, they are deviating from Biblical Faith, which repudiates this tyranny. We are called first to be obedient Christians, not card-carrying conservatives. Today’s Christian patriarchalists are far removed from the violence of the pagan patriarchalists (in most cases, at least!), but in their commitment to hegemony, they are too close for comfort.
Some Christian men that I have observed treat their wives as baby machines. The wife is never under any circumstances permitted to work outside the home, despite the fact that the Bible nowhere forbids such work. True, the young mother’s central Biblical responsibility is domestic — her family (1 Tim. 5:14). Today’s “career-minded moms” whose work is a separate track from her husband’s generally conflict with the Bible’s pattern of the woman as a suitable help to her husband (Gen. 2:18-25). However, the Bible does not prohibit women, including wives and mothers, from working outside the home. We must not, therefore, allow “conservative” standards to supplant Biblical standards.
Apron-Centered, Kitchen-Table Tutelage
The authority that some patriarchalists arrogate to themselves truly borders on tyranny. One has written that a father who sends his daughter off to college is guilty of irresponsibility. Apparently, all daughters must maintain residence in their father’s household to be deemed “under authority.” Not a shred of Biblical evidence supports this theory and, in fact, at times the father may be guilty of irresponsibility if he does not dispatch an intellectually gifted daughter to college. (The idea that children should ordinarily stay home and take Internet college courses is fraught with peril. We will never train culture-reclaiming physicians, nuclear physicists, and engineers by such apron-centered, kitchen-table tutelage.)
Other patriarchalists have gone so far as to suggest that Christian day schools are sinful or erosive of the family. While this sentiment is not true of most home-schoolers, among whom are the most dedicated Christians in the nation, an increasing number of patriarchalists are dedicated to squelching top-notch, culture-reforming educational opportunities by subordinating virtually all training to the four walls of the homestead. This is a formula for cultural — and familial — defeat.
Patriarchalists sometimes do even a greater disservice to sons. In ancient, clan-based societies, a son (even one in his thirties and forties) would remain obsequiously apprenticed to his father and would become the new, blood-based patriarch only when his father died. This is a pagan idea, not a Biblical one, even though some patriarchalists today demand almost unswerving obedience and servanthood from their forty-year old married sons. Sometimes in the process they completely trample on their sons’ obvious gifts, which could be used most profitably elsewhere. Any daughter-in-law that that permits such an outrage will suffer greatly for it.
Disservice to the Church
Perhaps, however, the most hazardous element of the new hegemonic patriarchy is its easy diffidence or downright hostility toward the church. This patriarchalism emerges largely because too many churches are anything but “family-friendly”; and, of course, they abdicate their calling when they act so irresponsibly. The solution to this problem, however, is the reformation of the church, not the institution of “The Family Church,” i. e., the Daddy pastor, the Mommy assistant pastor, and the kiddy members. The Church is authorized to do three things that no family in ordinary conditions is ever permitted to do: preserve orthodoxy; administer sacraments; and excommunicate heretics and egregious, unrepentant sinners.
Hammering out and maintaining proper belief is not the responsibility of the family, but the church, or more accurately, true churches throughout the world. A careful scrutiny of beliefs (both true and false) demands greater expertise than the individual father (or mother!) enjoys. Orthodoxy is a communal matter, and the community in question is the church, not the family. Similarly, the church administers the sacraments. Jesus vested the authority to administer both communion and baptism to His apostles as the human foundation of the church, not as fathers in their own families. And the same is true of discipline — and by this I mean ecclesiastical discipline. No husband may excommunicate his wife (though some husbands, I hear, have tried!). No father may excommunicate a child, and so on. Excommunication is the exclusive job of the church (Mt.18). It is for this reason that the family, even an extended family, does not constitute a church. Two or more families joining together pioneer a church, searching for legitimate oversight, may, in fact, constitute a church, but this is a different matter altogether. Simply put, the family is not the church.
The new patriarchalists would be less offensive if they couched their hegemonic views, well, less hegemonically. Why not simply say, “We’re attempting to recover a more consistent view of the family, and we know some dear Christians will not agree, and we know that most of orthodox Christianity stands against us, but we would humbly ask that you consider these things.”
No, it often is something like this: “Fathers, until we came along, have been irresponsible, and they are irresponsibly sending their daughters off to college, and they are sending their children to Christian day schools, and they are irresponsibly attending churches that sponsor age-graded Sunday School. They need to quit sinning, and start taking responsibility.”
I am exaggerating, but not by much. Christians, like all humans, are susceptible to fads, and this hegemonic patriarchalism is one of the latest fads that has emerged popularly, and will eventually die quietly. Until then, it may harm a number of wives and children — and, yes, fathers — whom it is creditably trying to help. We will be less likely to fall into its seductive trap if we recognize that our life must be Faith-centered, not State-centered, Church-centered, or even family-centered.
P. Andrew Sandlin, B.A., M.A.
(Excerpted from a statement
to the readers of www.SharperIron.com
following June 2007 posting of the artcle)
The charge that my essay from several years ago “The Hegemonic Patriarchy” was deficient in that it did not cite Scripture is understandable. That article was written for he CCL audnce, almost none of whom would question whether its argument was Biblically warranted. I do understand that a wider audience reading that article might arrive at a different conclusion, and one day I may draft a subsequent article on the topic that will carry explicit Biblical evidence.
I maintain only one actual misgiving about the article “The Hegemonic Patriarchy”: that I did not speak more forcefully and resolutely. I consider the “Patriarchy Movement” a pestilence that should be opposed and exposed, and I am grateful for all Christians who oppose and expose it responsibly.
P. Andrew Sandlin, an ordained minister, is president of the Center for Cultural Leadership, a Christian educational foundation dedicated to reclaiming contemporary culture for Jesus Christ and teaching elder at Church of the King, Santa Cruz, California. An interdisciplinary scholar, he holds academic degrees or concentrations in English, English literature, history, and political science. He has written several monographs and books, including The Full Gospel: A Biblical Vocabulary of Salvation; Totalism: God’s Sovereign Claims in All of Life; Christianity: Bulwark of Liberty; and hundreds of essays and articles, both scholarly and popular. His book Lord of the Dead and the Living: The Significance of the Christian Resurrection is forthcoming. He was formerly a pastor, Christian school administrator, president of the National Reform Association, and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation.
Andrew and his wife Sharon have five children.