Spiritual Abuse and Patriarchy


In Christian groups where Patriarchy is valued, as a main component of the Christian faith, spiritual abuse can be found.   The theological underpinnings of this flawed belief system need to be examined and exposed for the error that it brings to the Christian faith and the harm that it brings to God’s people.

People feel sorry for women and girls oppressed in other religions and cultures.  There is a need to take a hard look at what is being peddled as Christian in patriarchal circles and see if there are not some disturbing similarities.  Spiritual abuse runs quite high in Christian patriarchal churches.

A patriarchal belief system is far from the Gospel of Grace found in the New Testament Scriptures.  It is a convoluted weaving of Old Testament stipulations for the children of Israel and a present day patriarchal view for the Christian home and the church. It does not esteem the completed work of Christ in redemption and his pouring out of the Holy Spirit on men and women in this era.

The liberty that is to be found in Christ is twisted and frozen in a lifestyle that though it appears to honor God, does not.  It appeals to a perversion of Christian belief based on a flawed view that females are not on equal status before God with males.  It is an offense to the true Gospel of Christ.

So What Is Patriarchy?

According to Wikipedia, we read that “Patriarchy literally means “rule of fathers” . . . which was taken from the Greek culture of autocratic rule by the male head of a family.  Patriarchy is seen in many cultures.

When a culture puts greater value on males, as being:

Central, Superior, and Deserving,

the converse is that females are of lesser value in that society:

Peripheral, Inferior, and Servants.


“Patriarchy is a social system in which the male acts as the primary authority figure central to social organization, and where fathers hold authority over women, children, and property.  It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege  . . .  Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.”*

(* Wikipedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patriarchy)

Stretching Numbers 30

Using the Numbers 30 passage, as a support for fathers or husbands to have the biblical right to exercise male supervision over a woman today, is unfounded.  The context of the passage was about making a vow to the Lord or taking an oath to obligate oneself by a pledge.  The end of Numbers chapter 29 talks about what the people vowed (or pledged) along with their freewill offerings that they were to offer to the Lord at their appointed festivals.

Though slightly different for females than males, the Numbers 30 passage rather supported the idea that Jewish fathers, with their unmarried daughters still living at home, and husbands, with their wives, could provide backing for women as a trustee or guarantor, who would act on her behalf, so that she could fulfill her offering pledge to Yahweh.

Patriarchs and Patriarchy Today

Julie Anne Smith looks at this term in Christian circles and makes this distinction, in order to bring clarity.

“I don’t think people really understand what is going on with this movement–even in Christian circles.  They think “Patriarch” — oh, that’s like Abraham.  Abraham was in the Bible, so it must be good.  They just do not understand what is going on.  Doug Phillips on Vision Forum has done a good job of CONvincing us that his ways are God’s ways. Who can argue with God?”*


Patriarchy has become a movement within the Christian faith.  It is important to understand this belief system.

An excellent article on this topic can be found on Julie Anne Smith’s blog:  Spiritual Sounding Board .com on Nov. 6, 2012 entitled:  “Fathers and Daughters: Who Owns a Daughter’s Heart?”

Link:  http://spiritualsoundingboard.com/2012/11/page/3/

~ ~   The following article is used with permission.   ~ ~

November 6, 2012
Fathers and Daughters:  Who Owns a Daughter’s Heart? 

“Daughters aren’t to be independent. They’re not to act outside the scope of their father. As long as they’re under the authority of their fathers, fathers have the ability to nullify or not the oaths and the vows. Daughters can’t just go out
independently and say, ‘I’m going to marry whoever I want.’  No. The father has the ability to say, ‘No, I’m sorry, that has to be approved by me.’”            ~Doug Phillips

Earlier I discussed influences in the homeschooling movement *and mentioned that patriarchy has infiltrated the movement as well as in churches.  I was surprised at the accuracy of Wikipedia’s definition of Biblical patriarchy and, in particular, the men they identified who are associated with patriarchy:



“Biblical patriarchy (also known as Christian patriarchy) is a set of beliefs in evangelical Christianity concerning marriage, the family, and the home.  It sees the father as the head of the home, and responsible for the conduct of his family.  Notable adherents of biblical patriarchy include Douglas Wilson, R. C. Sproul, Jr., and Douglas Phillips.  Notable publications include Patriarch magazine and Above Rubies.  The biblical patriarchy movement has been said to be “flourishing among homeschoolers.”


The “Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy” published by Vision Forum advocates such beliefs as:

  • God reveals Himself as masculine, not feminine.
  • God ordained distinct gender roles for man and woman as part of the created order.
  • A husband and father is the head of his household, a family leader, provider, and protector.
  • Male leadership in the home carries over into the church: only men are permitted to hold the ruling office in the church.  A God-honoring society will likewise prefer male leadership in civil and other spheres.
  • Since the woman was created as a helper to her husband, as the bearer of children, and as a “keeper at home,” the God-ordained and proper sphere of dominion for a wife is the household and that which is connected with the home.
  • God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” still applies to married couples.
  • Christian parents must provide their children with a thoroughly Christian education, one that teaches the Bible and a biblical view of God and the world.
  • Both sons and daughters are under the command of their fathers as long as they are under his roof or otherwise the recipients of his provision and protection.

Doug Phillips of Vision Forum Ministries is probably the biggest proponent of the Patriarchal Movement that I have seen in my circles.  I remember when Doug Phillips was speaking at home-school conventions in the 90s.  He had packed out audiences promoting his brand of Christianity as “the” brand of Christianity. Some of his brand of Christianity included:  patriarchy, full-quiver, family-integrated churches, and homeschooling–as the only choice for educating one’s children, etc.

Don and Joy Veinot of Midwest Christian Outreach examined Vision Forum’s stance on patriarchy and wrote an article on their conclusions.

I took a few screen shots from the pdf file.  The words in bold font are taken from Biblical Tenants of Patriarchy taken from Vision Forum. The words in normal font are Don and Joy Veinot’s words.

Don and Joy sum it up nicely here:

“A Patriarchal Gospel is patriarchy, as defined by Vision Forum, part of the “grand sweep of revelation” which Scripture requires to be believed, lieved and taught in order to be faithful to Christ?  Does Vision Forum practice patriarchy as it was practiced in Old Testament times, for we find no instruction on it in the New testament?  Are those who disagree with Vision Forum truly rebellious believers?  These answers have to be “no.”  Vision Forum asserts that patriarchy is “Gospel-centered doctrine.”  If Vision Forum’s claim about the practice of patriarchy being “Gospel-centered doctrine” is true; then according to this thining, if one rejects the Vision Forum view, one is rejecting the very Gospel!”

It is important to understand this teaching because it can infiltrate a church not only from the pulpit, but from church members on the inside. And of course there are varying degrees of patriarchy that I have noted from readers who have sent me their personal stories.

I have been shocked at the treatment of women from patriarchal homes.  If the church preaches a patriarchal lifestyle, an abused wife cannot only be abandoned physically, emotionally, and spiritually by her husband, but by her pastor as well.  It is a very difficult system to leave.

I want to focus specifically on the daughters of patriarchal homes. Below is a clip from the movie, Courageous, which includes some patriarchal themes.  Take a look and see if you can spot how the father uses his position as father to “own” his daughter’s heart.

(*To see this movie clip, go to Julie Anne’s blog:  http://spiritualsoundingboard.com/2012/11/page/3/)

This scene involves the father explaining that he wants to be the guardian of his daughter’s heart and gives her a “purity” ring, symbolizing her virginity, which will later be replaced by her wedding ring when she gets married.  It is notable that the movie’s director and producer, Stephen and Alex Kendrick, have ties with Vision Forum.

Blogger, Cindy Kunsman, from Under Much Grace, discusses this particular movie scene shown above.

Dating Daddy and his Proposal
I found the daddy-daughter date scene to be disturbing. Essentially, the father proposes to his daughter, using language which indicates that he considers himself to be on equal footing and of the same order of person with his daughter’s potential mates. Consistent with the belief within this subculture, that young women remain married to the father through ownership until they marry another father-vetted and approved man, the father in the film uses the language of Vision Forum to reinforce the ideology of courtship. Such a system which Vision Forum promotes as Biblical was not even demanded under Judaism, a concept that they filter through their distorted version of Covenant Theology.

So to adapt and cope with the inherent risks of trusting a daughter to conduct herself with dignity, grace, and chastity, the father overcorrects for his legitimate concerns and fears through an extra-Biblical ritual which signifies ownership. I felt sick at the close of the father-daughter date scene as the daughter gazed at the father’s heart-shaped ring that he actually places on her finger after his proposal – a proposal that she was duty bound to accept as an obedient daughter. (With a suitor, she presumably has the liberty to decline such a proposal, that is, if her father decides to allow her that liberty. Not all do in patriarchy.)

This idea of dad owning his daughter’s heart is commonplace in families and churches which promote patriarchy.  We are now beginning to see young adults who have come out of this environ- ment, many times filled with negative emotions and a host of other issues as they come to grips with this type of control in their personal lives.  These young adults are blogging and telling their stories.  We will be discussing more on this topic.

If you are reading this and have a personal story to share, please contact me, Julie Anne at:   bgbcsurvivors@gmail.com.


It is imperative for believers who value the message of the Good News of Christ to ponder the inroads of flawed belief systems.  It is important to discern that which is biblically based and profitable to God’s people from that which is harmful and twisted.

When those who are misinformed try to regenerate and reinstitute beliefs and practices which are from a former era and which bring confusion and maltreatment today, those beliefs need to be discerned and jettisoned for the sake of spiritual health and well-being of believers in Christ—both in their homes and in their churches.

Taking time to investigate where Patriarchal beliefs are defective will give individuals their own answers regarding its inaccuracies.  Too much harm has come to too many in the Body of Christ by placing dedication in this faulty structure.

If Christian women and girls are daughters of the King of Kings, then why are they being treated in ways that are not God honoring?

A question you could ask yourself might be:

What can I do to be a part of the solution?


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With Thanks to Julie Anne Smith for use of this excellent article.



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For Further Reflection

This is how Wikipedia defines chattel marriage:

“Chattel marriage refers to a form of marriage in which the husband owned his wife, and any children of their union, in a legal relationship similar to that of slavery. The only meaningful difference was that there were a few legal restrictions to the husband’s right to physically abuse or sell his wife or child. The term refers to the root word ‘cattle’, from which comes ‘chattel’, which refers to personal property, as opposed to real property, such as land.

Most European noblewomen were party to chattel marriages, although if they brought money or property with them to the marriage, there were usually contracts involved, and “dower rights” were preserved to the wives. The only English wives who were neither wealthy nor chattels were princesses, the daughters of kings.”

If Christian women and girls are daughters of the King of Kings, then why are they being treated in ways that are not God honoring?


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© 2013   Barb Orlowski, D.Min.