Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Few More Thoughts on the Farris "Line in the Sand" Article

I've been interacting with people some on this issue. Here are some additional thoughts that I've written in these interactions:

That Farris Calls Patriarchy Harmful, Dangerous, and Extreme

Allow me to point out that a huge hole is missing in the Farris article. Farris fails to explain in any fashion whatsoever precisely what dangers are brought by these views, or why these views are dangerous. He also does not explain why so many have and do hold to such views and why such views are now harmful or dangerous when they have not been seen as such before.

Who claims the right to label these (or any views) as harmful or extreme apart from such proof? Isn’t that itself a misuse of terminology for these views? Is it “extreme” or “harmful” or “dangerous” for someone not to attend higher education? Is it “extreme” or “harmful” or “dangerous” to encourage daughters to remain under the provision and protection of fathers until married? Is it “extreme” or “harmful” or “dangerous” for someone not to vote (many DON’T vote in any given election). I cannot make the connection. Such views may be inconvenient or restrictive in the eyes of some, but not dangerous. Maybe the views come from poor exegesis or bad logic (or maybe people just don’t understand the reasons or logic that cause people to come to such views).

Is it too much to ask for an argument to be clearly articulated against any clearly documented view? Is it unfair to ask for someone placing any such label on a view to present more than just opinion, and to identify and demonstrate how it is harmful or extreme? It has to be a convincing argument as well, not an opinion. Opinions are not enough to limit someone elses freedom. Opinion is all that Farris offers by his own admission.

I would again point out that these things now labeled extreme were the norm. How can such things now be considered harmful that were the basis of our nation for over 130 years?

Whole groups before Phillips or Gothard ever breathed a breath believed in a patriarchal system, where the man was the provider and protector and the woman was the homemaker and mother. That is not dangerous. It may no longer be politically correct, but it is still a view that can be held (and is held) by many people, believing that such is what the Bible teaches.

What’s worse, Farris doesn’t actually define the patriarchal view (as if there was one definition anyway). He only hints at things that lead people who read his article to believe that holding to a traditional view of marriage and family and gender are harmful. He gives no boundaries, only vague warnings, and that affects a much larger group than any that would hold to the “patriarchal view” as it is now known, including many throughout history.

It is not wrong to come to different conclusions. It is wrong, harmful, extreme, and dangerous to attack such views with those same labels without going beyond just assigning labels. That is incredulous, and why I’m so blown away by this article by a man that I sincerely admire.

I can go further. Who’s job is it to determine who or what has a boundary placed around it? It was apparently wrong for Phillips or Gothard to do that, teaching what they believed to be the truth (and I believe that they did so with sincerity). Is it not wrong for Farris to turn around and do the same? Phillips and Gothard at least had concrete teachings that they delineated in detail (however they might have derived at them), whereas Farris does a poor job at even expressing his objections, let alone any principles that led him to his conclusions (none of which were exegetical in nature). Farris has not approached this with any true argument or evidence. He pointed out beliefs, and assumed that they were dangerous without proving so. How can there be a “moral and ethical requirement to delineate boundaries” on that basis? He also marks any and all that somehow identify with any view of Phillips or Gothard (he drew no boundaries around them or their beliefs) as suspect, and indeed harmful, dangerous, etc.

Someone or something determines absolutes, or there are none. On what basis are these things decided, and by whom?

That Farris Presented Adequate Evidence (Victims, Moral Failure, Poor Exegesis) 

Farris does not “present evidence.” He only infers victim reports (which I addressed in my original post as unusable as they are not themselves specified, extracted, studied, and validated in any way) with absolutely no clear information about who, what, how or why such harm has been done. It is interesting that the school for which he serves as chancellor has discounted sexual attacks which have much more specific details, and yet he doesn’t suggest that this school shut down.

To say that either Phillips or Gothard has a “poorly exegeted belief system” is simply opinion until a time when it is clearly argued and demonstrated to be so. This would also seem to require reasonable proof that the person doing so has a demonstrably solid and provable belief system as well. Farris has done neither.

As with my previous point above, this amounts to name-calling or empty accusation without evidence. There is none presented in the Farris article regarding what or why either man’s belief system is the result of poor exegesis. It is a horrible article because of this. Had Farris argued from that angle (a great place to start), then he could proceed on to show why various beliefs that either man held were wrong based upon a provably solid hermeneutic. He does not establish the men’s failures in their studies, so he cannot fairly label them as such (though many readily grab the labels and run with them).

Leaders fall. As I mentioned in some fashion in my original article, no group or belief system would stand if judged by moral failures within, regardless of the group. What makes this group different? (And it really isn’t a single group in any fashion, but rather a various interpretations that are similar but may or may not have anything whatsoever to do with the men Farris calls out.)

Further, Farris has not in any way connected what was taught with the presumed sins of these men. I am all for evaluating the teachings of anyone, and it should happen constantly, not just after moral failure. However, to suggest that, for example, Phillips’ teaching led him to have some sort of immoral relationship needs to be substantiated, Farris has done no such thing. There is a large group of people that hold to such traditional views who have not fallen as Phillips has fallen. Do they count for any evidence to the contrary? Why does one fallen leader who holds to a view make suspect an entire body of disconnected people who hold to the same views?

Regardless of the number of women who have come forward for Gothard (I know little about the accusations, but apparently they were not in the same realm as Phillips’ accusations), teachings and principles need evaluated. Gothard impacted people for years, and what I have been exposed to wasn’t harmful or dangerous (having a clear conscience, etc.). I did not like his hermeneutic (or lack thereof) but I wouldn’t call any of his teachings that I ever heard “dangerous” or “harmful.”

That Farris Accurately and Adequately Presented the Patriarchal View

Farris does quote from a small segment of a very large Vision Forum document. The document, though, is not an explanation of beliefs but a summary of them. That is not, therefore, a good source. You can find out what they believe from such a document, but you cannot understand fully why they believe it without further explanation. The verses at the end of each statement are just related verses which cannot be understood until the presenter explains how they related to the summary they are listed under. (We have the same kind of thing in our belief statement at our church.) How can one effectively argue against a summary paragraph and label it as dangerous? (And Farris does not argue against it.)

Farris states that the Laban passage (was it Gen 28?) was the primary Biblical citation to prove the point. That is false. The passage is simply listed below the summary, along with four other Biblical references in English canonical order. Farris is arguing against a summary rather than an explanation, and he gets it all wrong. He needed to find a full detailed explanation as a source instead of arguing from ignorance. Until one hears their explanation of the passages, they are drawing from a very limited source.

The entire argument of Farris is built upon the false premise that somehow this passage is the primary proof of this particular view:

It is a fundamental error of scriptural interpretation to assume that one narrative passage reveals a normative rule that we should all follow. In this same story, we see Laban embracing bigamy, selling his daughter in exchange for labor, and even resorting to sexual trickery. If we believe that one fact in this story reveals a universal rule from God, then all of the facts in this story should create such rules as well. Obviously, it is nonsense to use Laban’s treatment of his daughters to create universal norms. While the story may have lessons for us, the decisions of Laban are not universal commands from God.
The paragraph above the reference Farris argues against does not indicate that it is a normative rule that we should follow. The summary paragraph doesn’t explain the passage at all. That is my point. He needs better ammo before he chooses to fire. His logic is applied to a wrong premise.

I believe the next Biblical reference under that summary paragraph was Numbers 30. That passage would probably be the “primary Biblical citation” if Farris were to actually research or ask. It proceeds to define a father’s responsibility over an unmarried daughter regarding vows she might make until she is married, and once married the husband assumes that responsibility. That, to some, does indeed support the principle of staying under the protective care of one’s father until marriage – giving only two scenarios apart from being divorced. (I assume you’ve read the passage, but if not, at least look at it.) I am not arguing for or against the view. There is Biblical basis that leads some people to believe such a practice. Is it fair to let people believe such things without labeling them as extreme or harmful? Do people have the religious freedom to be Amish? To be atheist? (I hear that’s harmful…) Why not this?

That Farris Is Simply Saying Opinions Should Not Be Taught as Essential Truths

Any beliefs can probably be classified as opinions by others. Embracing absolutes really fall into another realm, don’t they? If one believes that the Bible defines gender roles and responsibilities by virtue of creation (God’s design), I might take that as an absolute, whereas someone else with an egalitarian view would not. People would approach the same passage with two completely different approaches. Regardless of which (if either) is accurate, is it fair to label one as harmful or dangerous and the other not? (I would guess that both sides might label the other view “harmful” or “dangerous” when pressed because of the ramifications of the views on many other things affected by one’s view.) Thus “God ordained” and “essential” is really somewhat subjective also. Whether they are “elevated to the same level of orthodox essentials” probably isn’t the point. If they feel the Bible teaches something, it is important to follow. It then goes back to engaging people in their views and arguing for or against the premises and proofs rather than labeling them in some way.

Marriage has been such an issue. Some could care less who you marry or if you marry at all. Others believe that marriage is specifically defined as one man and one woman, and even though that does not save someone, it is nonetheless nonnegotiable. If someone holds to any belief at that level, it is more than just an opinion from their perspective (whether others agree or not).

If we have a right to our own opinions, we should at least allow others to have those same rights. Determining what is “essential” is really what someone needs to be persuaded in his or her own mind, not by someone else.

That Farris Was Wrong to Wait, But Was Right to Call Out Men's Teachings

From what I understand, some were pressuring Farris from Patrick Henry College to denounce these leaders because of their strong affiliation with them in the past. I believe HSLDA and the college would have been better served in denouncing the men’s sins (even tentatively at the outset, since they didn’t know all the details), rather than their teachings. That’s for others to address (churches, pastors, individuals).

The role of the HSLDA has been much broader. They could just say that “We have a very broad group in the home school community which we serve. We will seek to make wise choices about advertising and affiliation, but we will continue to seek freedom for all homeschoolers. We encourage people to diligently study the Bible, and follow their convictions.”

That Farris Had to Do This Because Organizations Lack Good Accountability

I do not think that “it has to come to this” because organizations are independent and autonomous. The accountability has to be fought on a scale of ideas and arguments, not labels and shallow accusations.

The Farris article has done no one any favors. HSLDA and Farris have been harmed. The homeschooling movement as a whole has been harmed. Homeschoolers that hold to a more patriarchal view are now considered “harmful” (even though such views have been the norm until the last century).

Farris has only given the public policy makers quotable snippets from an “expert” (who spoke out of his realm of expertise) to use against anyone who schools their children at home. (Homeschooling is seen by some as harmful; this will make it even more so.)

I honestly think the homeschooling movement in general is one of the few remaining movements that resists the anti-Christian, evolution-based neo-education of the increasingly atheistic government (and I went to public school, but in a very, very different era). Firing a volley at others in one's own defense line is unthinkable, but now, reality.

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