Last weekend, Michelle Duggar—mother of 19, grandmother of one, and star of the hit reality series on TLC 19 Kids and Counting —was named Mother of the Year by the Christian Reconstructionist group Vision Forum at its “Historic Baby Conference.”
According to Vision Forum’s statement, the conference “featured encouraging messages on the blessing of children and the culture of life, special lectures and panel discussions for mothers, forums on child-training, and presentations for the whole family that explored the wonder of God’s creation through the intricacies of the womb.”
The event, the award, and the TLC show are excellent illustrations of how a Reconstructionist worldview has trickled into the broader American culture in ways that are not always obvious.
Vision Forum and its president, Doug Phillips (who is the son of conservative movement icon and Constitution Party founder Howard Phillips) are strong advocates of the biblical patriarchy movement. Since the 1970s there has been an influential biblical feminist movement, advocating equality in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Changing attitudes led to many controversies which I documented in my book, Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles. Biblical patriarchy was a direct reaction to this biblical feminism.
While Christians traditionally hold that God is beyond gender (even while often using masculine language for God), in “The Tenets of Biblical Patriarch,” Doug Phillips asserts that God is male, and explicitly not female; that the human male is the “image and glory of God in terms of authority, while the woman is the glory of man.” That is, men are in the image of God in terms of authority over their households; women are created in God’s image in a decidedly different way, sometimes called “reflected glory.”
Christian Reconstruction “dominion theology” is rooted in the creation story in Genesis in which God creates Adam and Eve and tells them to exercise dominion over the Garden of Eden. As in other Reconstructionist writings (Rushdoony, for example) Phillips argues that while men are to exercise dominion, women are to assist their husbands’ dominion by serving in the home. Women in the “exceptional state” of being unmarried, according to Phillips, may have “more flexibility” but it is not the “ordinary and fitting role of women to work alongside men as their functional equals in public spheres of dominion.”
Fathers are responsible for the education of their children, primarily in the home (these folks are all homeschoolers). Grown sons may leave their father’s home but daughters should not so until they are married to suitable spouses found by their fathers.
Male leadership “carries over from the family to the church insofar as only men are to lead the church” and “a God-honoring society will likewise prefer male leadership in civil and other spheres as an application of and support for God’s order in the formative institutions of family and church.”
In Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement, RD contributor Kathryn Joyce reported that women in biblical patriarchy are expected to ask their husbands about every detail of household management, remain silent in church, are discouraged from speaking in the company of men, andare typically considered at fault for marital difficulties, all of which are thought to stem from their lack of submission.
In the TLC program, the Duggars are portrayed as a wholesome American family who just happen to have a lot of kids; in one episode we see their resourcefulness as they shop for baby clothes at a thrift store. Absent from the screen, and smoothed over in the public representation of the “Baby Conference” (as well as in much of the homeschool movement in which the Duggars work with Phillips and Vision Forum) is the specter of biblical patriarchy, which is completely at odds with contemporary notions about the roles and the rights of women.