No Will of My Own

by Jon Zens | May 25, 2011
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"Home-schooled girls do not need 'further' education; they should just prepare for being a wife and mother." "A daughter should stay at home and serve her father until he chooses a husband for her." "The daughter is a 'helpmeet' for her father." "Parents should never let their daughter be out of their sight." "Women should never work outside the home." These and many similar sentiments are being dogmatically expressed by leaders of the Christian Patriarchy Movement.

The home-schooling movement in America has been growing for the past forty years. The momentum of this movement spawned hundreds of national and regional home-schooling conventions and events. Among the featured speakers are some who espouse a patriarchal view of Christianity in which men and boys hold authority over women and girls. On the tables and in the booths at such conventions will be found many books and media options espousing this viewpoint.

"Patriarchy" is a human social construct wherein "a woman must conform to expectations, be subservient, stay in the background, be quiet, sweet, and caring, and above all care for and serve the men" (Christianity and Incest, Annie Imbens and Ineke Jonker, Fortress Press, 1992, p.138). Further, "girls are trained to take a back seat to boys. Boys and girls are brought up in such a way that men's power over women remains intact" (CAI, p.239). "The basic premise [of patriarchy] is that women are inferior to men and that women should therefore obey men" (CAI, p.275).

Sadly, the visible church has been shaped and dominated by males because the primary players have always been men. Women were systematically removed from the church's story, and marginalized in church functions (cf. Anne Jensen, God's Self-Confident Daughters: Early Christianity and the Liberation of Women, Westminster John Knox, 1996). "Traditional theology...examines reality primarily from the standpoint of the experiences and insights of men" (CAI, p.287; cf. Marielouise Janssen, Sexism: The Male Monopoly on History and Thought, Farrar/Straus/Giroux, 1982). These facts are all the more significant as we consider how the church has treated women in its practice (Garry Wills, "Excluded Women," Papal Sin: Structures of Deceit, Doubleday, 2000, pp.104-121).

"Why is it," Imbens and Jonker ask, "that a relatively high number of children who are sexually abused by men within the family come from very strict religious families?" (CAI, p.7) Based on their studies they conclude that "the sexual abuse of girls within the family [is] the ultimate consequence of patriarchal thinking, of patriarchal theology, and of the patriarchal experience of Christianity" (p.3). The following is one key reason why patriarchy and the humiliation of women go hand in hand.

Great pressure is put upon girls in many Christian homes to be passive and submissive in extraordinarily unhealthy ways. Bible themes are interpreted in a manner giving the impression to a young woman that she can only honor God by doing whatever her father says.

The most important message a woman hears in church is obedience. Eve was disobedient and that's why sin came into the world. A daughter sees this obedience in Mother, with whom she identifies herself. She must honor her father and mother...A woman must keep silent. That was quite normal in the church. A girl has to stay in the background, is not allowed to be an altar "boy." She must love her neighbor and be self-sacrificing...She learned from the Bible that she is the property of men, someone "in relation to others" (CAI, p.140).

Teaching of this sort stereotypes girls so they feel they must give in to whatever their fathers or other male authority figures desire of them.

The use of Scripture by adults can become a very tricky exercise. It is clear that the Lord wants parents to be properly honored. Children are instructed to "obey" their parents in the Lord. But it can become a convenient thing for fathers to use these biblical themes to threaten, abuse, intimidate, manipulate, and control children. A child's mind can begin to grasp the concept of "obeying" as taught by adults, but things can become very fuzzy and confusing when the "obedience" called for feels instinctively wrong to the youth. It is a very grave aberration for a mom or dad to use "obey your parents" as a means to fulfill their self-centered agendas.

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