Gimme That Old Spice Religion

A small start-up Web zine, The Art of Manliness wanted readers to know that they were not looking for girly men.

Sponsored by Old Spice, the venerable line of men’s shaving and hygiene products, the zine solicited nominations from readers for its first annual Man of the Year, to honor men who “epitomize the manliness that used to exist before the arrival of metrosexual pretty boys.”

They were looking for “men like Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. Men like your grandpa,” who “understood things like hard work, responsibility, and looking out for others. They lived by a code of honor and respect for others.”

Winner Matthew Chancey, a marketing and communications consultant from Ashville, Alabama—an up-and-coming Republican politician—topped a field of ten finalists with thirty percent of the vote (3038 votes). He is now honored as one who knows “what it means to be a man,” which includes a $2,000 prize “and a manly stash of Old Spice products.”

“It was not possible,” according to the contest rules, “or even desirable to quiz each candidate about their political, religious, and social views.”

But as it happens, it was precisely those views that led to his win.

The Manly Theocrat

Matthew Chancey is an aspiring religious right politician who hails from some of the most unusual and archaic precincts of modern American religious, political, and social life. These precincts apparently turned out for him during a “get out the vote” campaign in the 48 hours before the contest deadline.

Key to Chancey’s victory were the efforts of both his wife, who nominated him, and an entrepreneur named Doug Phillips, an important figure in the homeschooling movement, and his large family and network of supporters.

Phillips is an old pal of Chancey’s and a religious and political co-belligerent from their days on the staff of the Home School Legal Defense Association; he heads a Texas-based organization called Vision Forum, which produces and markets books and other materials for conservative Christian homeschoolers.

But to describe Vision Forum as ‘conservative’ does not tell the half of it. Phillips is a follower of Christian Reconstructionism, a movement whose seminal figure is Calvinist theologian R.J. Rushdoony, who died in 2001. Rushdoony’s voluminous, and explicitly theocratic work, (such as the Institutes of Biblical Law) was a pivotal influence in the development of the religious right, and more particularly, the countercultural homeschooling and Christian school movements.

Vision Forum’s product line includes the Beautiful Girlhood Collection, which, “aspires, by the grace of God, to /images/managed/Story+Image_beautifulgirlhood.jpgencourage the rebuilding of a culture of virtuous womanhood. In a world that frowns on femininity, that minimizes motherhood, and that belittles the beauty of being a true woman of God, we dare to believe that the biblical vision for girlhood is a glorious vision.”

Phillips is also the publisher of Matthew Chancey’s wife Jennie’s latest title, Passionate Housewives Desperate for God, a book that asks the question: “Do you wrestle with cultural messages that demean the homemaker’s calling and exalt instead the emotionally androgynous power-woman?” Mrs. Chancey is a popular speaker on matters of wifely submission and “faithful” daughterhood (namely, eschewing college to stay under a father’s protection until marriage).

And then there is Vision Forum’s “All-American Boy’s Adventure Catalog.”

“I knew my husband was a real man from the start,” Jennifer Chancey wrote in the her nominating essay, noting that he wore “impeccable three-piece suits and natty ties at age 19.” Her essay, which mentions his humanitarian work in Sudan (Christian missionary and relief work, carried out in consort with Phillips’ brother, Brad), is illustrated with a photo of Matthew dressed like a Texas gentleman rancher, holding a long unlit cigar, and inexplicably accompanied by two armed Sudanese “freedom fighters” in military garb. “The photo was taken,” Jennifer writes, “in the upper Nile. My husband, cool as a cucumber in the 120-degree heat, demonstrates that it is possible to be well-dressed even in the far reaches of Africa.”

RD contributor Kathryn Joyce, author of the forthcoming Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement (Beacon Press, March 2009), calls it “pretty savvy marketing” in our e-mail interview:

One of Vision Forum’s strongest suits is in finding and developing charismatic and photogenic representatives of the lifestyle they promote. To this end, VF creates a beautiful glossy catalogue populated with high quality photographs of [the] Phillips children and friends in romantic historic costumes and settings: Jamestown, the Massachusetts Bay Colonies, and the Wild West. In these images, and generally in the literature and stories of Vision Forum, gender roles are greatly exaggerated and glamorized. The featured women are often attractive in a somewhat fragile, old-fashioned way, and the men are depicted (and dressed up) as adventuring heroes.

Chancey’s dashing image as a gentleman looking comfortably at home in a dangerous and faraway land fits the image—as does Jennifer (with help from friends and family) boosting her husband’s Art of Manliness-Man of the Year campaign on her Web site Ladies against Feminism and on various homeschooling blogs.

Doing Demographic Battle with Nonbelievers

When Doug Phillips blogged Chancey’s award campaign in the final 48 hours—he noted the large families of various other campaigners. Matt and Jennifer Chancey themselves have eight children. So far. According to Joyce, this fact is at the heart of the story:

[The] Phillips, the Chanceys, and nearly the entire Vision Forum roster of authors and authorities are among the staunchest promoters of the Quiverfull conviction and the patriarchy lifestyle, both of which hold that Christian couples should have as many children as God gives them, forgoing any form of family planning, as both a demonstration of their obedience and trust in God and as a militant method of demographic battle with nonbelievers.

This archaic term, which suggests a quiver full of arrows, is in surprisingly common use in a wide subset of conservative Christianity—often the same people who populate the Christian homeschooling movement:

“Quiverfull,” Joyce explains, “envisions children as weapons of the righteous that can help take dominion of the world for Christ, and, practically speaking, they hope will give them a majority vote that will enable them to shape American society to conservative Christian mores.”

One does not have to look far for evidence of such views. Doug Phillips on the Vision Forum Web site, explicitly opposes the American cultural and Constitutional doctrines related to religious pluralism, claiming that Jesus is the only lawmaker.

He believes that Americans have fallen away from the true biblical order and models for manliness, stating: “the absence of biblical patriarchy leads to male effeminacy which leads to homosexuality. Biblical patriarchy must be re-established within the home. To the extent that families have embraced evolutionary or feminist principles of family life… they must repent and return to the old paths.” He adds, “the Church needs to repent” and “begin to promote biblical manhood.”

Of course, even the hardcore have to live in the marketplace of ideas. Jennifer Chancey has generated controversy with her views on women and voting. She told a newspaper during Matthew’s unsuccessful 2008 campaign for the Alabama Public Service Commission that she thought that while husbands and wives should talk about it, women should submit their vote to their husband, because to vote opposed would cancel each other’s vote out.

Joyce informed me that Chancey also “spoke about her opposition to women’s voting in a film by the Gunn Brothers, winners of Vision Forum’s annual Christian film contest, The Monstrous Regiment of Women.” Vision Forum like other Christian Reconstructionist-oriented agencies teaches that women should not vote or hold public office.

The Alabama PSC race was not Matthew Chancey’s first foray into electoral politics. Chancey was the campaign manager for current Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker, the former spokesman for disgraced Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was ousted after refusing to carry out a federal court order to remove the monument to the Ten Commandments he’d had installed in the rotunda of the state courthouse.

In light of the Chanceys’ religious orientation and profoundly anti-secular, evangelical world view, it is a little odd that he entered a contest that required him to elide all references to the ways his religious beliefs shape his life and manly character.

Whether Chancey’s victory in the Old Spice, Art of Manliness-Man of the Year contest is a harbinger of another run for office remains to be seen.

frederick.clarkson@gmail.com'

Frederick Clarkson is a Senior Fellow at Political Research Associates in Somerville, Massachusetts. He is the editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America (Ig Publishing, 2008), and co-founder of the group blog, Talk to Action.