In Which I Finally Speak Out about Vision Forum

3:45 PM

For context to this post, see this link. It contains sexually explicit language, so please use caution.

Vision Forum's president's adultery surprised me. While I long ago distanced myself from Vision Forum's teachings and lifestyle, I still respected their sincere desire to defend families, manhood, and womanhood from secular erosion. So many young women came out of stay-at-home daughterhood angry, bitter, and crushed by misleading or downright false teachings. I determined not to be a victim. Part of that meant refraining from vilifying the organization that provided a hub for these extrabiblical teachings that kept me in spiritual bondage so long.

Turns out, the Vision Forum scandal went far deeper than an inappropriate emotional relationship. It involved predatory sexual abuse of a young woman whom many Vision Forum aficionados will recognize from the Botkins' documentary, The Return of the Daughters. My heart breaks for this beautiful young woman who still clings to her faith in Christ -- something refreshingly different from the many women who walk away from Christ's healing after experiencing patriarchal abuse much less than this. I still have no wish to unfairly attack any adherents to Vision Forum, but this depressing incident gives me boldness to fairly speak out against the abuses I've seen.

While, yes, exceptions to abuse may abound, there appears a strong link between Vision Forum's vision and abuse, especially spiritual abuse.

The patriarchal dogma on daughters staying at home under their fathers' protection (and indeed, any man's protection -- a brother's, perhaps, if the father is deceased) wreaks havoc on women's lives. For one thing, this teaching creates a relationship nowhere found in Scripture. It is an odd mash-up of submission to one's husband and children obeying their parents. The daughter has the responsibility of an adult woman, a wife, to be the helpmeet to her father, while at the same time possessing only the status as a child. She further takes on the role as mother and homemaker. Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a big sister mothering her little siblings or helping around the house -- I can personally attest that! The problem comes not from the action but the expectation. The daughter must share her mother's sphere and duties, otherwise she ceases to be fully woman.

Such a relationship is nowhere found in Scripture. Because of this, there are no clear scriptural guidelines governing this sort of hybrid relationship -- no guardrails against abuse. Indeed, parents feel pressure to make their daughters into this wife-child, lest she defect to feminism and apostasy. Thus, they micromanage their daughters' lives with the sincerity and severity of a normal parent disciplining their child against any other moral failing. This leads to the most prevalent abuse of spirit and emotions. Countless women experience crushing guilt from their parents because they desire ministry opportunities, jobs, and education outside of their predetermined sphere. Relationships, development of a personal conscience, freedom in Christ, and adulthood itself gets run over by an overarching paradigm of what a young woman must be and do. Many girls have come to me bewildered over their parents' bizarre criticisms, hurtful backstabbing, and inconsistent rules -- clear signs of manipulation. A common tactic is to treat the young woman as both an adult and a child (consistent with the stay-at-home daughter relationship, I suppose): it extends freedom while withholding affection and approval if the daughter chooses wrongly. For instance, a girl who finds a cute skirt that hits the knees instead of the floor might be told, "Fine, you can make your own decision" yet is criticized every time she wears it. Think Mother Gothel from Tangled -- in behavior only, not in motives. I sincerely believe many parents are totally unaware of how their beliefs bind their daughters' souls in bondage.

That is the emotional abuse. The spiritual abuse comes about when the daughter believes that indeed she ought to be something that she has no desire or capacity to be. She creates her own guilt and punishments, begins to hate herself, and spirals into depression or at least intense unhappiness. Of course, parents can also compound spiritual abuse by twisting a common spiritual ground they share and misapplying it to the daughter -- claiming she's a rebel or a feminist or disobedient or brazen or something similar.

Much more can be said on this subject. Word of advice to any girl still trapped in this situation -- reach out to someone outside of this patriarchal view. Reach out to someone steeped in Gospel grace. Believe it or not, the majority of homeschoolers and Christians reject this patriarchal view of daughters, and there is another alternative to womanhood besides raging feminism and stay-at-home daughterhood!

Along similar lines, Mr. Phillip's sexually abusive behavior and the subsequent deceit brought to light how destructive Vision Forum's teachings on manhood are. Vision Forum presented a picture of manhood as salvific heroism -- men protecting their wives and daughters, rising up as spiritual leaders against the evil forces of secular culture, and standing strong as mature husbands and fathers. Of course, I have no quibbles with men being great men, husbands, and fathers! My problem lies with the image and expectations of manhood dissociated from the Gospel. Knights in shining armor, antebellum Southern gentlemen, and manly '50's daddies -- these are older stereotypes enforced by their cultures that Vision Forum retold in such a way that promotes their good side and ignores the ever-present sin. It it quite possible for men to doff their hats to ladies, open doors for older women, and feed their pride and pornography addiction in the quiet of their own soul. I know groups of guys who are perfect gentlemen around girls and very. . .immature and inappropriate when the ladies aren't around.

Emphasizing a manhood that centers around correct treatment of women and proper fulfilling of assigned roles does nothing but uphold empty images from cultures that eventually degenerated to where we are now -- not because guys abandoned fatherhood but because "gentlemen" abandoned Jesus. There needs to be a far stronger emphasis on the Gospel, grace, and dealing with sin than Vision Forum puts. Manhood needs to be defined according to how closely a man aligns to Jesus Christ, the perfect man, who was neither a father nor a husband.

It does not surprise me that Mr. Phillip's fell into egregious sexual sin when he espoused an idea of manhood that focuses more on external dress and behavior than on seriously dealing with sin. Many (including me!) put him and men like him on a pedestal for being manly, strong, bold, and a spiritual leader. Many of us younger women have been encouraged to seek husbands in his stereotypical likeness. Our adoration of such facades of manhood have created a culture where pride, ambition, and inappropriate sexual desire can run undetected and thus unchecked.

I feel little need to beat the dead horse of Vision Forum like many watchdogs have. I think I have only to point to the truly Biblical picture of manhood, womanhood, and family that is subordinate to the Gospel and the spreading of Christ's kingdom. It vastly outshines the patriarchal vision of life espoused by this company, to its president's and other people's spiritual destruction. More than ever I am convinced that their view is not a valid alternative but instead a dangerous, potentially abusive teaching. Please tread gently yet persuasively with those still entrapped in this patriarchal culture, both the victims and the perpetrators.

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25 impressions

  1. My heart is broken over this whole thing... and my heart goes out to the young girl and Phillip's family. I can't even imagine the chaos and pain in their lives right now. I completely agree with you about the Vision Forum... I haven't been a fan for two years now, ever since our family came out of the SAHD lifestyle.

  2. Well stated. I need to personally take to heart the lesson of being compassionate towards those still trapped in that mentality. It's easy now for me to look at that lifestyle and go, "what??? what the heck are you THINKING?" but love is what changed me and love is what will change others.

  3. Well, you probably know where I stand and what I think, more or less, but I thought I would mention two things:

    1. Every system has abusers of that system; the system shouldn't be judged by its exceptions. "Patriarchy" defined rightly (i.e. something totally different from what WORLD magazine or WND will present as "patriarchy") is rooted in Scripture (though I know you'd challenge that assertion :-), and the failure of people claiming that doctrine to live in accordance with the teachings of Scripture points to a problem with the people, not with the Word. Just like with any other doctrine.

    2. The whole Phillips scandal is an illustration of what happens when patriarchy (by which I mean Scriptures related to household authority and gender roles) is not practiced. Mr. Phillips wasn't practicing what patriarchy teaches; he was explicitly violating it. And the young woman in question was also obviously spending a lot of time outside of the protection of her father, which is also contrary to the patriarchal model.

  4. Gabriel,

    You bring up an important point that I didn't make clear -- just because Mr. Phillips fell hard doesn't mean that everything he theoretically believed in is automatically false. Otherwise, with the amount of fallen Christian leaders, all of us Christians would be doomed.

    Notice, however, that I specifically targeted certain ideas within patriarchy (not protection, not gender differences or household authority in general) that have CONSISTENTLY brought about spiritual and emotional abuse. I also drew a link between how the lack of Gospel I see in Vision Forum teachings could easily lead to something like Mr. Phillips' tragic sin.

    You're a smart kid, Gabriel. I really hope God opens your eyes to how damaging patriarchy -- at least in the certain areas I mentioned -- is to the young women you wish to see protected. You'd be a strong voice of truth and healing.

    Consider it.

  5. "I specifically targeted certain ideas within patriarchy (not protection, not gender differences or household authority in general) that have CONSISTENTLY brought about spiritual and emotional abuse. I also drew a link between how the lack of Gospel I see in Vision Forum teachings could easily lead to something like Mr. Phillips' tragic sin."

    And I appreciate that. The many denominations of Christianity benefit from people who point out potential weaknesses. We all need that. And "patriarchy" certainly has plenty of potential pitfalls that we need to be looking out for.

    But, again, two points in response:

    1. You mention the consistent spiritual and emotional abuse. I have no doubt that this has happened, does happen, and will happen, and that but by God's Grace it would happen to me. But I've never seen it happen, myself. What I have seen? So much good fruit, so much joy and happiness, so many lives changed for the better, so many women who have embraced this vision and love it.

    Conversely, there's plenty of abuse out there where unprotected girls (and guys, for that matter) are following the non-patriarchal model. Plenty of broken hearts and soiled souls and young adults leaving the faith. (I would point to the Phillips scandal as an illustration of the abuse that happens outside of the patriarchal model, actually.) Abuse is everywhere. Misery is everywhere. Which is why the ultimate question has to be "what does Scripture say?"

    2. If those certain ideas within patriarchy are the problem, then should the approach be "patriarchy needs to be eliminated because of these problems" or "patriarchy, like any other doctrine, has some pitfalls that we need to be aware of and address"?

  6. Well, considering how I don't believe patriarchy in its full, as espoused by Vision Forum, is Scriptural, I'd say scrap it altogether. ;) Certainly some of its elements are Scriptural, but I think those can be taught without the patriarchal model -- it's superfluous to me, and introduces far more pitfalls than good.

    Two things about abuse: people under spiritual abuse aren't always aware of it. They may seem perfectly happy. I was perfectly happy for a while, because I'd never known anything different than patriarchy. When I discovered true Gospel-based life that centered around Jesus and not family, THAT'S when I started to become unhappy. Ignorance is bliss. But you'd be surprised how so many girls who seem happy and fine on the outside have secret doubts and questions that she may not even understand herself or attribute to patriarchy. It doesn't surprise me that you only see happiness and passionate vision -- girls aren't likely to come out and share their doubts. Even as an outspoken girl, I absolutely paled at questioning out loud patriarchal assumptions. The spiritual pressure to be like the crowd you're running with is too strong.

    Having been under the patriarchal influence, I can assure you that it was not the ABUSE of patriarchal teachings but the OBEDIENCE to patriarchal teachings that led to much spiritual bondage in my life. My parents weren't even devotees of Vision Forum; I evangelized them into the patriarchal lifestyle. And I paid the consequences of leading my family into legalism and guilt-tripped beliefs about womanhood.

    Any girl still under the influence of patriarchy will scoff at what I've just written, "Please, Bailey. I'm perfectly happy and fulfilled." But you know, that's exactly what I did when I was in their position, and here I am on the other side denouncing this dangerous teaching.

    A life preparing for marriage and family is totally unfulfilling. A life wrapped around marriage and family is totally unfulfilling. The only life that completely fulfills is the one wrapped around service to Jesus Christ -- not to one's father, brother, or husband. Any girl who thinks otherwise will be in for a rude awakening or has a very shallow soul, indeed. I don't doubt that they're "happy" -- but they'd be far happier scrapping patriarchal beliefs for something way better and way more Scriptural.

  7. For anyone who's interested, this website was the only gentle rebuke of patriarchy that I found when I first started questioning it:

    I don't remember if I agreed with everything, but it provides encouragement for the spiritually and emotionally abused through patriarchy and more information on how to reach out to girls coming out from authoritarian abuse.

  8. Thank you for your thoughtful critique, Bailey.

    I would like to add two points to your discussion. The first is that we need only to look back through Christian history to see the number of women - many of them single - that God used mightily for His purposes. Amy Carmichael, Lilias Trotter, Gladys Alyward, Lillian Trasher, and Elisabeth Elliot are just a few examples. These women answered God's call on their lives and went wherever He directed. What might have been their stories had they remained at home for the rest of their lives?

    Secondly, the stay-at-home daughter movement is yet another example of Christians reacting to the secular culture around them and going as far as possible in the opposite direction. "[T]here is another alternative to womanhood besides raging feminism and stay-at-home daughterhood!" Yes, indeed! These are the two extremes. Instead, the women that I mentioned above and many of the women in my life are seeking a more moderate and balanced path. Scripture speaks often of cultivating moderation, temperance, and orderliness (e.g., I Corinthians 14:40, Galatians 5:23).

    Thanks again for your post. Continue to stand for the truth as you seek God's good, acceptable, and perfect will for your life.

  9. Thank you so much for this. You put into words thoughts that have been rattling around in my mind about this whole movement. It's so sad when people put leaders on a pedestal, because sooner or later, they will fall. But like you said, the whole Stay at Home Daughter model that Doug Phillips preached encourages such behavior. Thank you for your honesty.

  10. "Certainly some of its elements are Scriptural, but I think those can be taught without the patriarchal model -- it's superfluous to me, and introduces far more pitfalls than good."

    Could you sum up for me what "the patriarchal model" means to you?

    "A life preparing for marriage and family is totally unfulfilling. A life wrapped around marriage and family is totally unfulfilling. The only life that completely fulfills is the one wrapped around service to Jesus Christ..."

    Certainly don't disagree with that! Though I would qualify the statement by saying that a life wrapped around serving Christ might include preparing for marriage and family.

  11. Requiring girls to stay at home, teaching that women's sphere is the home only, relegating all women to a man's protection, centering the kingdom of God on good families.

    I completely agree that serving Christ MIGHT include preparing for marriage and family! In the patriarchal model, however, there is no "might." That's one of my biggest problems with it.

  12. OK, good. Thanks.

    I could give you my arguments, definitions, and Scriptural backing for each of those points, but you know the passages I'd use, I'm sure. Instead, could you give me your Scriptural argument for what you're arguing?

  13. I know. I used to argue for all those positions, definitions, and Scriptural backings too. :)

    See, the problem is that we're probably going to end up playing Prooftext Ping Pong. So let me try to present the framework for how I'm understanding these issues instead of just throwing verses at you.

    Probably one of the biggest differences is in our understanding of the kingdom of God. I believe it's a spiritual kingdom until Christ comes back and that His people and His kingdom will not be established on this earth EVER. On the new earth, yes. So I see cultural transformation and political revolution and all that as the wake of faithful Gospel proclamation, not the goal. Because obviously, the Gospel radically changes lives, and enough changed lives can change nations and cultures. So the goal in my life is to preach the Gospel and live holy lives. I don't believe we should focus on judging the culture; we ought to be busy judging ourselves, the body of Christ. By that I mean that the purity of the church should be our first priority, not the purity of the culture. Whenever Jesus or the Apostles ran into kings, kingdoms, and politics, they didn't urge revolution. They urged SUBMISSION. Why? Because by submitting to wicked governments, we appear blameless before the culture. A morally Christian culture is DEATH to true Christianity. Better a Corinthian culture than a culture of dead Christian hypocrisy. Nothing short of true repentance and new life should be our goal.

    The reason I mention this is because patriarchy -- especially as espoused by Vision Forum -- is steeped in a form of postmillennialism that encourages radical change of the culture as the goal of Christianity. They then see the visionary family under the head of a patriarch as the institution that achieves that change.

    In my view, the CHURCH is the institution that collectively fulfills the Great Commission. The church is not "a family of families." It is a family in and of itself. Everywhere, EVERYWHERE in the NT it emphasizes the supremacy of the church and indeed the call to follow Christ over traditional family ties (marriage and caring for dependents being the exception). I think the patriarchal model usurps the primacy of the church both in theory and in practice. Instead of emphasizing making disciples, it emphasizes militant fecundity, birthing children into an already formed circle instead of GOING OUT into ALL the nations and making disciples. Of course, discipling one's children is a good, right thing!! But that's NOT the focus of the church's mission as a whole.

    The third thing that guides my criticism of the patriarchy model is that the NT doesn't emphasize marriage and family half as much as that model does. Of course, it's very interested in orderly homes and loving marriages where those exist. But as far as creating new ones, Paul urges caution -- marriage and family DISTRACTS from serving the Lord and the Gospel exclusively and wholeheartedly. Everything done for the Lord is of course great, but still Paul wishes that all were single like he was for greater gospel impact. He doesn't say this to degrade marriage/family -- he's just stating a reality. And it's true -- it was so much easier for me to serve the Lord without the wonderful distraction of a boyfriend. It's an extra set of cares that can take time away from specifically spiritual cares.

    Indeed, when talking about whether to marry or not, he insists on remaining as you are -- don't seek for something more than singleness (or marriage for that matter) if that's the place you find yourself. His focus is not on marrying off people and creating families but in fruitful service specifically for Gospel proclamation.

  14. All this FLIES in the face of the patriarchal model, especially regarding young women. It desires unmarried daughters to take on the burdens and distractions of being a helpmeet and a mother and a homemaker instead of allowing them to serve the Lord in the unique way only singles can. Paul wouldn't be cool with that. (He also wouldn't be cool with dysfunctional households, which is why he called on older women to reach out to younger wives and mothers.) The patriarchal model takes away a strong force of capable women from serving the church family, instead insisting they focus on their own home sphere under their father's guidance. By the church family, I mean the global church family -- not just her local church. We NEED more women missionaries and ministry workers, and nothing in the NT suggests that daughters should forego that.

    Even further, Paul insists that widows work with their own hands and provide for themselves. He doesn't encourage them to move back in with dad. These are certainly younger widows, too, because he gives guidelines on whether they should remarry. This was during a patriarchal culture where it was perfectly acceptable for widows to move back in.

    And the NT doesn't seem to care about "protection." It makes not distinction between male and female when it comes to suffering and serving, saying goodbye to family and friends for Jesus' sake. A woman should be prepared to expose herself in dangerous situations for the sake of the Gospel.

    Perhaps the biggest Scriptural blow to the patriarchal model, at least as far as stay-at-home daughters go, is that said relationship is NOWHERE FOUND IN SCRIPTURE. When the Botkin sisters wrote "So Much More," detailing the Scriptural backing for that lifestyle, they twisted Scripture specifically referring to wives to apply to daughters. Why? Because there was literally NOWHERE ELSE TO GO in Scripture. There's NOTHING on stay-at-home daughters. ZIP. If staying at home and patriarchy was such a huge emphasis in Scripture, it would be emphasized 10x more than it is.

    This is why I finally gave up patriarchy for good. I read the entire New Testament through and discovered to my surprise that it emphasized nothing that the patriarchal model emphasized. Not staying at home, not serving my father, not being protected. I found a radical call to go out in the world and proclaim the Gospel, defying danger and persecution, and serving the whole world through the church.

    Indeed, an argument from the silence of Scripture might be the best argument against the patriarchal model.

  15. Out of curiosity, was there any particular event that caused you to re-examine patriarchy? What led you away from this lifestyle? Do you think your college experience has influenced your stance?

  16. Andrea, thanks for your questions! The last one is easiest -- by the time I was in college, I was out of the patriarchy lifestyle, so no, it didn't change my mind. It has indeed solidified that abandoning patriarchy was the right thing and that my hunch was right -- life outside it is so much better!

    I think the first thing that caused me to reexamine it is when I started blogging and had to defend it -- both to critics and to myself. I struggled to put together a coherent argument for it and saw huge gaps and jumps in my argument (which I brushed under the rug and hoped nobody would question me on them). As I studied more, I had to radically change my approach to patriarchy in order to make it fit with Scripture. Instead of allowing those incongruities to change my mind, it made me even more defensive and zealous about it.

    Then I started writing for "Raising Homemakers," a website for mothers who were raising their daughters to be homemakers. I started to read more variety of women within patriarchy and identified far more with the less limited views (as in, motherhood and homemaking are great but not all women are called to it) and really started being repulsed by the more dogmatic views. Plus, I saw firsthand how moderators would try to block opposing comments for no reason, even after I requested that those comments to be allowed through.

    I started doing research online to see what critics of patriarchy found so terrible about it. At first there were a lot of bitter ex-patriarchy girls and unsympathetic haters, but I found some really sound critiques of the book "So Much More" and the patriarchy group in general. I heard stories of more secrecy and narrowmindedness like I encountered when writing for "Raising Homemakers." It made me sick, and I didn't want to be associated with this kind of close-mindedness and irrationality.

    Another thing -- I HATED homemaking stuff. I didn't like cooking or baking or crocheting or any of that. I wanted to go to college and get a job using the talents I naturally possessed. I just didn't fit in with the stay-at-home daughters, and it pained me to try so hard yet still hate my upcoming life as staying home being a homemaker-in-training until I got married. If I got married. So I questioned whether there were any alternatives to serving God.

    Eventually, the patriarchal culture just became totally irrelevant to me and my life and my understanding of Scripture. Since it wasn't helping and was actually harming me and my friends, I walked away from it. It was really hard and took a while -- but that's another story that I'm not really able to elaborate on due to privacy.

    Sorry for the long answer. :)

  17. Bailey, this is so well-spoken. I agree entirely.

    I think so many families fall into this trap because it uses Biblical-sounding words and ideas. These families think it's Biblical, when really it is just a man-made system.

    I pray that families will be discerning, and realize that this is a harmful way of thinking.

  18. Concerning the phrase "spiritual abuse": No one can suffer "spiritual abuse" unless God is abusing that person, and God does not abuse anyone.

    There is abuse of authority, and that is what you have stated as "spiritual abuse."

    Please consider this.

    -Daniel Abbott

  19. Daniel, I didn't coin that term. :) In my research, it's used to specify a type of authoritarian abuse, especially found within cults or ideologies that cause spiritual harm.

  20. Also, after thinking about it, it's not at all true that only God could cause spiritual abuse. We are all spiritual creatures and can abuse and hurt one another in our spirits that affects our relationship with God. Not all spiritual abuse is from an authority figure, though that's the most common.

    1. You think so?

      I disagree. What more can be said?

      I believe God protects his people and that is a spiritual protection.

      "For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus."

      Romans 8:38-9

      I'm sure you know it better than I.

      I do not believe spiritual harm, which would be the separation of us from love of God, is possible.

      I assume you mean something other than this by the phrase "spiritual harm," but I cannot perceive what.

      -Daniel Abbott

  21. I don't think it's accurate to equate spiritual harm with separation from the love of God. You can be physically abused without being killed, just like you can be spiritually abused without being separated from the love of God (which would be the equivalent of spiritual death).

    Paul wrote that passage because Christians ARE involved in spiritual warfare and temptation and suffering of all kinds. He wrote it to encourage them that nothing can overcome the love of Christ, not even the horrible experiences they have gone and are going through.

    Your disbelief denies the thousands of Christians who came out of cults, cliques, or abusive churches that negatively affected their walk with God. You're essentially saying that God abandoned them or they were never in Christ in the first place because their faith was damaged by someone else's sin. I can personally attest to this. It was not emotional damage -- it was spiritual damage that God graciously brought me out of and helped me combat.

    God allows people to sin and be sinned against, which directly causes spiritual problems. Sin creates spiritual harm. Depression and suicidal thoughts can overwhelm the soul. Abusive authorities or fellow Christians can entrap true believers into actions or beliefs that negatively affect their spiritual walk. But praise be to God that He protects His children from being absolutely crushed and destroyed by this harm! His promise is not protection from ever encountering spiritual abuse but the power to struggle free. Otherwise, every Christian would have a perfect, sin-free life.

  22. Shall I assert what you do not believe?

    Or perhaps, say what the essence of what you are saying is?

    I cannot read the hearts of others, and I will not put either beliefs or disbeliefs in your possession, nor will I attempt to reduce what you have said to its essence.

    Thank you, for considering my thoughts and position.

    -Daniel Abbott

  23. Just so you know, Bailey, it was you who helped lead me out of patriarchy. I latched on to your blog back when we both adhered to it, and then identified with your struggles to defend it. We both reexamined college at the same time, and, though we chose different paths, your thoughts supported my changing beliefs in what a woman should be. So, again, thank you, thank you for blogging so honestly.

  24. Finally getting around to this. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this with me; you're bringing up a lot of very well-thought-out points that I've never heard before.

    I am curious- in everything you said there, it seems you only referenced specifically the New Testament. Is there a reason for this? Does the Old Testament have anything to say to this issue?


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