Part of the fallout from the Vision Forum mess has been the attempted discrediting of “patriarchy.” Since Doug Phillips definitely taught headship and submission in marriage, and since he sinned in the way he did, it is thought that the whole project should be abandoned in favor of something friendlier to women, like, say, abandoning them and aborting their children.
Since the controversy erupted, a great deal of nonsense has been written about what the Bible teaches, and about what those who believe the Bible teach on this subject. So I thought I should briefly summarize.
1. Bible plainly teaches the submission of wives to their own husbands. At the end of the day, our generation has a quarrel with the apostles of Jesus Christ. “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord” (Eph. 5:22). “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord” (Col. 3:18). “That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Tit. 2:4–5). There are certainly difficulties of application that will arise in a sinful world, about which more below, but if we swear off any hermeneutical horsing around, there is no difficulty in understanding the basic standard that is to be applied.
2. Having stated the first principle, we must immediately begin to deny false inferences from it. In the Christian understanding, the mere fact of submission is not a premise from which inequality can be derived. There is a craven kind of submission that does imply inequality, but this is not the model given to Christian husbands and wives. The ultimate model we have is the submission that Jesus rendered to His Father, and it is a crucial point of orthodoxy that His submission to His Father was an indication of His equality with the Father, not His inequality. “Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6–7, ESV). The Son of God is equal to God the Father, and submitted to God the Father. This is what the Christian model of headship and submission looks like–equality and submission together.
3. Although the ultimate model for submission is found within the Godhead, it must be applied and imitated by sinners in a sinful world. This means that checks and balances are required. In this fallen world, no submission can be considered absolute. Everyone to whom submission is owed must also be in submission, and there needs to be a network of authorities that mitigates potential abuse.
No submission is to be absolute and unquestioned because hypocrisy and abuse are very real possibilities. Hypocrisy would be when the right doctrine is taught, more or less, but the practice behind closed doors contradicts what is publicly taught. This would be the Vision Forum scenario. Abuse would be when a radical distortion of the Bible’s teaching is put forward, as though it were the Bible’s teaching, as you might find on a polygamist compound. And other times, there is a dangerous mixture of the two.
4. Hypocrisy and abuse do not remove the need for the reality. If God has commanded us to live in a particular way, it must be important for us to do so. The enemy of our souls is going to attempt to chase us away from obedience by two means — one is a frontal assault from outside (feminism) and the other is a corruption from within. But the counterfeit is no disproof of the reality. It has been commonly said that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, and it is no different here.
A forged Rembrandt does not mean that the real Rembrandt never painted, and it certainly does not mean that a genuine painting of his has no value.
5. The reality of hypocrisy and abuse do require that Christians who affirm that the doctrines of headship and submission, as they are taught in the Bible, must take responsibility to police our own ranks. When confronted with conservative outliers in compounds with weird beards, we must be willing to call it what it is — even if the compound is named The Anti-Feminist Yahweh Lightning 666 Assembly. Actually, especially if it is named that. The fact that they are “anti-feminist” is not an all-purpose disinfectant. And we have to do the same thing if the weirdness is more mainstream than that — even if the brochures to the conferences are glossy.
6. Because we believe that God has woven all this into the structure of creation, any kind of denial of it is going to lead to serious weirdness. Submission denied can take pathological forms. This is why we have sado-masochism, rape fantasies, bondage and submission games, and Fifty Shades of Hurt Me, Baby. Such is the nature of our demented times. If you abuse God’s order of headship and submission at Vision Forum, you ruin your life and the lives of those around you. If you do it to the polite golf applause of the secular elite, you make it on the New York Times bestsillier list.
7. Related to the previous point, submission is an inescapable concept. Not whether, but which. This means that we are not debating whether women will submit to men, but rather which men they will submit to. The apostles of the Lord Jesus taught that in the vast majority of cases, the submission should be to a woman’s “own husband.” This is liberating, because it means that there are billions of other men that she does not have to submit to. Contrast this with the alternative. Set the alternative side by side. A woman can submit to a man who covenants before God and these witnesses to be faithful to her and to their children, as long as he lives, or she can submit to a man who might agree to pay for the abortion. Or he may not, depending on whether he has a plane to catch.