Satan’s false flag operation is fueling misgivings about Biblical teaching concerning gender differences, fatherhood and motherhood, roles in marriage and male leadership in the church. (The church’s government notably has as its head a man, the man Christ Jesus, who set it up, who shed his blood for sinners in love and appoints men to shepherd the flock he loves.) Satan’s operation is a deceitful emotional appeal that can be summarized by a short and familiar formula: “God is evil, isn’t he?” But the truth is the opposite.
Last week I noticed that Ryan Gosling was nominated for an Oscar for playing Ken alongside Margot Robbie’s Barbie in last summer’s hit by the same name. Robbie, incidentally, was not so nominated. I won’t watch the film, but I recall reading that the plot features a wayward Ken promoting patriarchy, and that Barbie—won’t this help us all sleep better—rescues the world from patriarchy. It is likely that I am not the only one to detect a total public relations failure when the man gets the trophy after all.
This in turn reminded me of something I read around the time the movie came out: that the Archbishop of York of the Church of England was also worried about patriarchy, and that its troubling existence makes some understandably uncomfortable with a certain prayer that begins with the words “Our Father.”[i]
And the bishop is hardly alone. Many professing Christians sound just like Barbie and the bishop, and tell me that the church has missed something—a two-thousand-year-old fifth column called patriarchy must be rooted out of Christianity for Christianity to survive in our enlightened age.[ii] Without pulling this invasive weed, they tell me, we are doomed.
What do we make of this assessment? Is this really a noxious weed? What is patriarchy?
What is True: Decades of Bad News Concerning Bad Men
In 2002 the Boston Globe published a series of stories revealing a pattern of criminal sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. The hypocrisy caused a crisis of confidence that spread in the church worldwide, and continues to the present day—the fathers were not what they claimed to be.
American evangelicalism has not fared much better. Vision Forum promised the restoration of the Christian family through “The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy;” instead its president confessed to inappropriate sexual conduct. Mr. “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” left his wife and left the faith. Leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention faced serious allegations. To our shame the church has often looked more like Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein than Job or Joseph.
My own tribe—evangelical Presbyterianism—has its own cases of the same sordid substance. This is the hypocrisy of which Jesus said: “Woe to you!” This is also the way of sinful flesh; there is nothing new under the sun, and what has been will be. Sexual desire, apart from the controlling influence of the Holy Spirit, produces all manner of wicked fruit. The lust of the flesh is destructive and evil.
But some suggest that these failures are not fundamentally rooted in individual fallen human nature but rather social structures that unequally place men in positions of influence, leading to the imbalance and abuse of power. If we solve the imbalance, so the logic goes, we will eliminate the abuse. Utopia requires the elimination of patriarchy.
What is Patriarchy?
Patriarchy simply means father-rule. The word clearly indicates an apportioning of authority. It is an uncomplicated word, used by the church for millennia. Today’s use of the word, however, appears to be confused by two things: (i) people who use it to describe unbiblical schemes (we will call this not-patriarchy) or (ii) people who think patriarchy itself is actually bad.
About not-patriarchy: The promises of I Kissed Dating Goodbye or Vision Forum or Bill Gothard should never have appealed to Christians, ever. These schemes went beyond the Law of God, lacked Gospel basics, and understated dependence on the Holy Spirit. It is no surprise that adherents later kiss Christianity goodbye. All forms of legalistic, harsh, and sinful leadership are not fatherhood but delinquency. We need to learn to recognize and reject counterfeit patriarchy.[iii]
The second concern is the unequivocal rejection of the whole thing: Patriarchy is simply very bad. Countless journalists, opinion writers and professors, the bishop and Barbie (and a growing chorus of evangelical-egalitarian influencers) are in agreement: Very, very bad.
I hear this sentiment in the Presbyterian denominations in which I travel: “Beware patriarchy,” which then is inexplicably defined as “men being unkind to women.” This particular definition often makes its appearance during discussions of abuse or sexual sin; for some this is apparently indistinguishable from patriarchy. If we were playing Clue, it was patriarchy in the church that did it. Case closed.
The net effect? Listen up, everybody: Patriarchy is a big problem. Father-rule is bad. The father is bad.
The Dangers That Follow the Loss of Patriarchy
So why even try to rescue a sullied word? Doesn’t language change? I would submit that acquiescence to the popular equation patriarchy–is-evil will result in the loss of our nation, the Christian home, the church and the Gospel. How, you ask, could this little word be so important?