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Adultery and Patriarchy

November 12, 2013

Here’s what this article is not about. It is not slamming the Christian Patriarchy movement per se – or Complementarianism. Both belief systems teach that males in a family are in charge, and in order for females (wives) to find their true place in God, they must submit to their husbands in all things. According to a few Patriarchy teachers, this can even include  violence, lying, harsh words and adultery. If the husband is doing any of those things, then it is ultimately the wife’s fault or she has to somehow take responsibility to fix their relationship. This extreme position is taught by many teachers, but Michael and Debi Pearl  are the best known advocates of this instruction. In their teaching, if a husband has an affair, at some level the wife was not doing her duty properly.

But I am not primarily writing about the wrongness of those movements. I don’t agree with them, but let’s just leave it at that.

Nor is this article about the dangers of adultery. A lot of people commit adultery and that does not necessarily negate their belief system. We all fail and many of us fail spectacularly. Anyone who claims they do not fail is faking it, and those who do not fail spectacularly are either lying or hiding their problems really well. Adultery is a problem because we all want to feel good, and when marriages have problems, an affair can seem to soothe the hurts for awhile. Or the boredom. Or the resentment.

But this article is not about that. Adultery causes many problems and let’s just leave it at that.

Doug Phillips has admitted this past week to having a long-term affair. If you don’t know him, he’s one of the prime teachers and leaders of the Christian Patriarchy movement, President of Vision Forum, which along with Gospel Coalition seems to represent the most conservative wing of the conservative marriage movement.

He has many extreme teachings including that President Obama is allied with the Antichrist (because of the emergence and legality of homosexual marriage), that every family should keep having kids until the woman’s uterus is worn-out and won’t work any more, that godly parents will ONLY homeschool their kids, that a wife must never disagree with her husband, must submit to all his commands and whims, must teach their daughters how to serve a future husband and this same wife must provide a safe and sacred place where all sexual needs of her husband are fulfilled – even if her needs are not.

It is an extreme position. Doug Phillips also puts himself forward as the example of what a Christian husband should be.

Now he has had an affair. Let me try and help  you understand some of the implications of this. First, I consider Doug Phillips to be something of an outlier, in that the majority of Evangelical Christians do not hold to his extreme views. Second, just because he has had an affair does not mean his views are wrong. I believe the Bible shows that his views are wrong. But there are Egalitarians (i.e. those who believe husbands and wives are equal partners) who have had affairs, cheated on their taxes and watch soap operas. I am not bringing up Phillips’ affair because it disqualifies him.

I am introducing this subject because it points out an endemic problem with this approach to marriage and sexual sin.

The view that says the husband is the Patriarch of the family arises out of ancient agrarian societies where this approach was necessary and practical. In ancient times, any woman not attached to a family unit led by a powerful and protective man was in danger. Women who did not marry a man who could protect her often were beaten, raped and would ultimately starve. Women had no education, no opportunities, and faced constant dangers during an epoch when the strongest dominated the weakest. This is why polygamy was allowed. It gave protection to many women at the same time.

In those days, a man had very little contact with anyone outside of his family. He was accountable to very few people except his immediate family and a few friends. He met very few single women, and the ones he did meet were often brought in as third or fourth wives.

But in today’s culture, men and women contact each other daily. And strong men can no longer marry all the women they meet. If his wife is not strong, aggressive and able to hold her husband accountable for his actions, adultery is much easier to do. Unless the husband agrees to never talk to another woman (and how is that even possible in our day and age), the only two things which will hold his sinful tendencies in check are an equally strong wife and an even stronger relationship with the Holy Spirit.

But the Complementarian movement does not teach that women should be strong and equal partners. It teaches that women should be subservient and never disagree or ask their husbands to account for their actions. It does not surprise me that Doug Phillips had a long-term affair before he admitted his problem. Since he had no one at home to call him on his crap, he was able to hide his problems over a long period of time. His wife was ordered never to question him or disagree with his actions.

What bothers me even more is that Phillips’ wife will ultimately be called upon to take responsibility for fixing their marriage. All Phillips has to do, according to his teaching, is admit the affair, apologize and move on. His wife now has to try harder to please him, hoping to fend off future affairs.

If you believe that the marriage culture of the Old Testament is God’s plan for your marriage, consider that it no longer fits well with our urban modern society. Even though affairs happen in Egalitarian families, they are treated much differently afterward. This failure by Doug Phillips should serve as a warning that Christian Patriarchy is not as ideal or biblical as it purports to be.

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12 comments

  1. Thank you Mike. Well said.


  2. Not here to defend Doug Phillips, but the part about him pastoring a mega-church is not correct. First, he is not a pastor at any church (having apparently resigned his eldership 9 months ago); Second, the church at which he was previously an elder is far from a “mega-church”. I do not know how many attend, but every description I have read is considerably smaller than (perhaps one tenth the size of) a mega-church (defined as 2000 attenders http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Megachurch).


    • Thanks for your clarifications Jay. I don’t know Mr. Phillips personally and I have only read his website a few times. Others described him as a megachurch pastor and I just parroted their comments. My mistake.


  3. […] “…He has many extreme teachings including that President Obama is allied with the Antichrist (because of the emergence and legality of homosexual marriage), that every family should keep having kids until the woman’s uterus is worn-out and won’t work any more, that godly parents will ONLY homeschool their kids, that a wife must never disagree with her husband, must submit to all his commands and whims, must teach their daughters how to serve a future husband and this same wife must provide a safe and sacred place where all sexual needs of her husband are fulfilled – even if her needs are not….” […]


  4. Just a correction regarding the Pearls’ position on adultery. It is never the non-offending party’s fault, and no spouse (husband or wife) is responsible for the others actions. In each of their titles (Created To Be His Help Meet for wives and Created To Need A Help Meet for husbands) they point this out. They do encourage offended wives or husbands to examine themselves to see how they could have missed the signals that are usually precursors to adultery and what they might have done differently.
    As hard as many feel that the book for wives is hard on women, in the book for husbands, Mike is much harder on the men. Each addresses its respective audience and what they should be doing and not how they should try to change the behavior of the other.


  5. Just noticed another inaccuracy that probably should be addressed …

    “But there are Egalitarians (i.e. those who believe husbands and wives are equal partners)”

    “But the Complementarian movement does not teach that women should be strong and equal partners”

    I wouldn’t recognize these 2 camps from the descriptions you have given here. The distinction between egalitarian and complementarian has nothing to do with whether the wife is a “strong and equal partner”, but, as a strong and equal partner (which both affirm), does she have roles that differ from his, or are there no distinct roles in marriage (where the two camps differ).

    Complementarians’ very first affirmation, in their “Danvers” statement specifically affirm the woman as equal to the man, and in affirmation 4.1, they point out that it is a result of the Fall that woman are sometimes sinfully relegated to servility by men. That, though, is not at all what your straw-man description says.


  6. Jay your presentation of Complementarianism is not accurate. I am not going to waste your time or mine disputing this but if a person says “equal but different” they mean “not equal”. That has been the case all through history and is the case now. You are not equal if you do not carry the same authority, have the same privileges and the same freedoms. The Danvers statement can say whatever it likes, but the truth is that until men treat women as real equals (with the same amount of authority and gifting) they are not viewed as equals.


    • I see you have your opinion, which flatly contradicts the stated beliefs of the most authoritative statement of what complementarians believe.

      You are certainly free to believe differently than they do, but there are words for misrepresenting what others believe because you yourself do not believe it.


    • Mike, I still think you are misunderstanding the complementarian position, which is equal *in worth* and different *in role*. Just as the Holy Spirit is equal in worth to the Father, yet he has different roles.

      That’s fine if you disagree with what we believe, but at least argue against the actual position. And if you believe having different roles does not mean equality in worth, then we just agree to disagree.


      • Sorry, that comment was for Jay, not Mike!


      • Actually, Ethan, I think it WAS for Mike. I think you will find that what you wrote is right along the lines of what Jay wrote — that Mike is arguing with a straw-man.


  7. CJ…I don’t know what you’re reading, but that is not the Pearls’ position on adultery. They teach it is the man’s fault, but they also teach that a woman has to take responsibility to make sure it doesn’t happen again by making herself more available sexually.



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