Michael Farris misses the mark...

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Homeschoolers can be a fractious bunch, so it's a wonder to behold how Homeschool Legal Defense Association's Michael Farris has been able to unify homeschoolers in supporting his work. For years now, he's spoken for homeschoolers as Tim Keller speaks for the Presbyterian Church in America and Bill Clinton speaks for the Democratic Party.

It's noteworthy, then, what Farris recently declared concerning manhood and womanhood in the wake of the fall of his fellow homeschool leaders, Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard. Posted to the HSLDA website, Farris starts by saying he doesn't intend to condemn Phillips and Gothard's sexual sins, but rather their teaching. It's a curious way to begin, but maybe his tack makes sense when you consider that Phillips and Gothard's teaching has been the same for many, many, years whereas their sexual sin is the new revelation hitting Farris now. You know, it takes him a while to decide what he thinks about things, so helped by the scandal surrounding their sexual sin, he's finally been able to come to an understanding concerning their teaching. You get my point?

Back around 1980, our Dad confronted Bill Gothard publicly in the pages of Eternity magazine. He wrote a column exposing Bill Gothard's teaching on authority and he took Gothard to task for his tolerance of sexual sin at Gothard's headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. Which is to say Gothard's failures are very, very old. So why didn't Michael Farris condemn Bill Gothard for his bad teaching many years ago?

Because men who want...

to be players in the conservative church scene in these United States scratch each other's backs, protecting each other's income stream. I'll write a book for your blurb if you'll write a book for my blurb. I'll invite myself to speak at your conference if you'll invite yourself to speak at my conference. You'll not say anything critical of my teaching if I'll not say anything critical of your teaching. You'll not say anything or ask me questions about the reports you've received about my character if I'll not say anything or ask you questions about the reports I've received about your character.

When Dad exposed Bill Gothard publicly, Gothard was much like Michael Farris is today—at the top of his game, nationally, with myriads of people who hung on his every word. No one was criticizing Gothard publicly, so when Dad did so, he paid dearly for breaking the see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, and say-no-evil rule of the Evangelical big boys club. Shortly after his column went into print, Dad flew down to Dallas where he had an engagement to preach in chapel at Dallas Theological Seminary. He was picked up by a friend at the airport and, as they drove to the campus, his friend apologized to Dad, telling him that the administration had made a mistake. They had double-booked chapel speakers and another man would be speaking rather than Dad.

Dad asked his friend, "is this because of Bill Gothard?" and his friend said, "yes."

So what were the issues that caused Dad to call out Bill Gothard? As I said, sexual immorality tolerated at his ministry headquarters and bad doctrine concerning the nature and exercise of fathers' authority. Both doctrine and practice, and Dad spoke up thirty-five years ago.

Now comes Michael Farris to the scene and he finally has something to say. OK, Michael, now that you've got your sea legs, say on.

Farris writes:

...with these recent scandals in view, we think it is now time to speak out—not about these men’s individual sins, but about their teachings (which) continue to threaten the freedom and integrity of the homeschooling movement. That is why HSLDA needs to stand up and speak up.

Gothard's teaching has suddenly become a threat to homeschoolers' "freedom and integrity," so now he will finally "stand up and speak."

Then this:

Frankly, we should have spoken up sooner.

This admission is followed by a justification for not speaking up before, ending with an apology for allowing Doug Phillips to pay HSLDA for the placement of Vision Forum ads in their publications. The, about a third of the way into the article, Farris comes out with it. The evil threatening the great freedom and integrity of the homeschooling movement is "patriarchy and legalism."

Of course. If only I had thought of that. The real threat to homeschooling is patriarchy.

So how does Farris define patriarchy?

Well, before defining it, Farris makes it clear he'd never use the word himself. He says he's a "traditional complementarian," like all the other big dogs. Then the definition:

...patriarchy teaches that women in general should be subject to men in general.

Here we have the great threat to the freedom and integrity of homeschoolers, says Michael Farris.

But what does God say? Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul exegetes God's Creation Order of Adam first, then Eve, as follows:

But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. (1Timothy 2:12, 13)

Inspired not by money or fame but by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul declares that a woman teaching and exercising authority over a man is wrong because God established the order of the sexes when He created Adam first, then Eve. But Michael Farris is a complementarian so quite naturally he disagrees. There is no order of the sexes established by God, he says; no subjection of women flowing from Adam being created first, then Eve. Trust me, says Farris:

...the Bible teaches no such thing.


...the only statement that is universally true for every woman is that she should love and serve God as her highest priority. 

The man is audacious. Outside of body parts and reproduction, sex is meaningless.

Now right here, let's quell a potential disturbance. Reading the above, a man or woman might well wonder, "Tim, are you saying every woman must obey every man?"

No, that's not what I'm saying, so let's talk about adults and children to help clarify the issue.

Say Michael Farris hadn't written on sex, but rather age. Say he had written that the great threat to the liberty of the homeschooling movement is adultarchy (literally, "adult-rule"), and that Farris had gone on to describe himself as someone who has always refused to identity as an adultarchist, choosing instead to call himself a "complementarian." And he'd gone on to define adultarchy:

...adultarchy teaches that children in general should be subject to adults in general.

Following which, he had declared:

...the Bible teaches no such thing.

Now where are we, dear homeschoolers? How will you teach your children if children need not obey adults?

But here's where Farris gets sneaky. What he takes away with sex and age he gives back with family. He'd respond that the Bible doesn't teach that children are to submit to adults, but only that sons and daughters are to submit to their fathers and mothers. Similarly, the Bible doesn't teach that women are to submit to men, but only that wives are to submit to their husbands.

So then, what about the church—are children to submit to adults in the Household of Faith Sunday morning, or is it allee-allee-in-free for children outside the home?

Similarly for women and men—are women to submit to men in church Sunday morning, or is it allee-allee-in-free outside the home for women, also?

To which we can expect Michael Farris to answer that in the church children are to submit to adults and women to men because the church is our own Christian turf where we're free to follow God's laws. That's quite a relief, isn't it?

But of course, it's no good. Nothing less than a theology of sexuality is faithful to Scripture. The Eternal Father Himself deposited His Eternal Fatherhood in man rather than woman, and those who seek to atomize fatherhood into this and that role that applies in this and that place are not defending the liberty of homeschoolers, but defying the liberty of God to define sexuality as He wills.

To get a handle on what's going on here, let's go back to adults and children. Imagine how it would have hit his supporters if Michael Farris had written opposing Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard's "adultarchy," saying that children ought not to submit to any adults but their own fathers and mothers. And thinking about age leads us to realize Farris's error about sex. If father-rule is contrary to Scripture, so is adult-rule, and we're left with this and that relationship of superior and subordinate in this and that place and time given these and those conditions applicable to some and not other circumstances. And of course, who knows the key to the details, really?

Either sex and age carry authority and submission or they do not carry authority and submission. You can't have it both ways. Either the child is to submit to his father and mother because, in addition to being his parents, they are older than he is, or children are free of any constraints to submit to adults and we're simply left with a whole host of specific roles and situations where authority may or may not apply. Say, for instance, the teacher-student role, yet even there we have a problem: is every student to submit to every teacher? What makes teachers so great and students so weak and pathetic?

Similarly with sex: either the wife is to submit to her husband because Adam was created first, then Eve—just as the Apostle Paul said—or women are free of any constraints to submit to men and we're left simply with a whole host of specific roles and situations where authority may or may not apply. So which is it?

Now at this point, readers may wonder, "Is Tim saying that my husband can walk into the cry room Sunday morning and tell every baby to stop crying and every woman to return to her seat next to her husband in the sanctuary?"

No, I'm not saying that.

"So then, are you saying that my husband can walk into another man's home and tell that man's wife he'll be eating dinner with them, and he wants her son to polish his shoes while he waits to sit down at their table?"

Uh, no; I'm not saying that.

"So what are you saying, then? I thought you believed every child was to submit to every adult and every woman to every man?"

Stop a second and think about that word 'submission.' It pushes the discussion far beyond where it ought to occur and that's part of Michael Farris's sneakiness. He wants to eviscerate male sexuality of any innate authority and that's why he frames the discussion in terms of every woman having to submit to every man.

What if we were, instead, to define patriarchy as it's been historically defined? What if, instead of commanding every woman to submit to every last man, we were to request politely that women show a certain deference to men? And that not only husbands with wives, but men with women live in an understanding way since women are weaker vessels?

You see, Michael Farris set up his discussion in a way that was certain to make every church father across the centuries groan in his grave. Every last one of them held to patriarchy, yet they never defined patriarchy as Farris does. Every last woman was not to submit to every last man, but rather every man was to be a gentleman and every woman was to be a lady. And at the center of her ladiness was a certain deference to the sex God placed His Own Father-authority in: man.

The real problem with men like Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard is not patriarchy (literally father-rule), but rather the corruption of their teaching and exercise of authority caused by their own refusal to submit to authority themselves. A man who rebels against those in authority over him is recognized by his abuse of those under him. Not willing to submit to his elders, he abuses his wife, his children, and his supporters.

Michael Farris would have been much more helpful had he written a column condemning Doug Phillips and Mark Driscoll's rebellion against the elders of Christ's church, taking the opportunity to commend submission to elders to every homeschooling father. That would have been a true blow for the liberty and integrity of homeschoolers across the country.

There's much to agree with in Farris's article, but his doctrine of sexuality is contrary to Scripture. In most of the specifics he addresses, I agree with him against Gothard and Phillips. Dad said much the same thirty-five years ago concerning the formulaic nature of Gothardism, Gothard's rigid hierarchical understanding of authority, the abuse of corporal punishment by Gothard's followers, etc.

But Dad never said anything as foolish as "the only statement that is universally true for every woman is that she should love and serve God as her highest priority."

Every woman is a daughter of Eve, not Adam; and therefore every woman is to aspire to the gentle and quiet spirit characteristic of Biblical femininity:

Your adornment must not be merely external--braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves... (1Peter 3:3-5)

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!