In 2008, the movement calling itself “Biblical patriarchy” was in its heyday.
In 2008, the beautiful Botkin sisters, paragons of the visionary daughterhood espoused by “Biblical patriarchy,” were 20 and 22 years old. Three years earlier, at 17 and 19, they had published their book So Much More: The Remarkable Influence of Visionary Daughters on the Kingdom of God which went on to influence many impressionable teen girls that their highest calling was to fulfill their father’s every whim.
One year earlier, with many parents and teenage girls looking to them for guidance, these young women had made a documentary called The Return of the Daughters, about how staying (or returning) home with their fathers had affected several young women’s lives for good. Very, very good, in fact, according to them, being as it was, the Biblical thing to do.
Though I’d been aware of “Biblical patriarchy” and the Botkin sisters, for me it was 2013 before I fully explored “Biblical patriarchy” and the devastation it had wreaked in the lives of countless young women and even some young men. (That was thanks in part to the ongoing exposé written about Doug Phillips on a website that was relatively new at that time, Spiritual Sounding Board.)
I found that in 2009, not long after the Botkin sisters had risen to fame, the website Quivering Daughters had been published (a play on the word “quiverful” that every good patriarchal family was supposed to have, based on the quiver of arrows in Psalm 127:5).
That website had reverberated like an earthquake through the Daughters of Patriarchy.
And I, behind as usual, was finally reading it four years later.
in response to a part of what I was learning, I wrote the blog post “For shame, beautiful Botkins.” It was my first to take on some of the troubling aspects of conservative Christian culture (and I wouldn’t begin doing that regularly for another 3 years).
In 2013, to my shame, I was newly aware of the rampant sexual abuse in our churches. As I read about the often bizarre and truly unhealthful relationships being promoted between fathers and daughters in the Patriarchy movement, I thought, “I think someday I’m going to find out about father-daughter incest in some of these families.” It just seemed so obvious.
And I couldn’t have been more right. I didn’t see then the darker things I would learn about (sex trafficking, sexual abuse by mothers, etc), but I at least could see that much.
But back in 2008 . . . the video documentary The Return of the Daughters didn’t ignore sexual abuse. No, in fact, the story was referenced of Jacob’s daughter Dinah (Genesis 34), who was sexually assaulted by a city leader.
Then this story was used to prove their point—if she had stayed at home with her father, this wouldn’t have happened to her.
And this is where Rachael Denhollander comes in.
Rachael Denhollander is the Christian who worked relentlessly through 2016 and 2017 to expose the abuse of an Olympic doctor, Larry Nassar, providing the encouragement for over 200 other Nassar victims to speak out. I wrote about her here.
In 2008 Rachael had already been sexually assaulted multiple times as a teen, and was now a woman in her 20s, teaching, going to law school . . . and attending a family camp with her soon-to-be fiancé Jacob.
I’m quoting from her book, What is a Girl Worth? (which I highly recommend) about what was taught at that camp.
At some point, one of the presenters decided that showing a video documentary titled The Return of the Daughters would be an excellent complement to that year’s message, the camp’s purpose, and the beliefs of these families. . . . [O]ne of the men teaching in the film turned his attention to the rape of Dinah—a story from the Old Testament about a woman who [was] raped while visiting women in town. Her brothers avenge[d] her, while her father [did] nothing.
As soon as I heard the name Dinah come out of the teacher’s mouth, I went stiff. I knew exactly where this was heading. I’d heard it so many times before. Don’t go there. No no no no no.
But he did. This rape, this abuse, he taught, is what happens when a daughter steps outside her father’s protection.
I wanted to scream. It was a lie from the pit of hell, and I knew the damage it would do. No one else moved or registered any concern. I’d been here before. Abuse is the woman’s fault. It’s a common assumption that if you are abused, it’s because you did something wrong.
No blame on the rapist. No guilt for the father who shrugged it off. It’s the daughter’s fault. This is what happens to girls who . . . .
Damaged. And it’s your fault.
Notice she’d “heard it so many times before.” From others who followed leaders such as Bill Gothard, who taught this very thing about this very story.
When I read this in Rachael’s book and decided to blog about it, I wrote to Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin to ask them if they would like to make a statement about their documentary The Return of the Daughters (especially in light of the fact that the lives of several of the young subjects of that video have now taken significantly different turns from much of what they said there).
I didn’t hear back from them, but I hope they’ll consider saying something publicly about the error of their teaching that indicates that simply staying in her father’s home under the care of her father will keep a girl safe from sexual assault.
It didn’t happen to Rachael Denhollander, even though she has loving parents who have supported her every step of the way in her fight against these crimes.
And for those who don’t have loving supportive parents? For those whose parents have even sexually assaulted them? There have been so many so deeply harmed in outwardly “Christian” homes that perhaps the Botkin women might be aware that this is one of the primary reasons young adults walk away from Christianity.
In fact, sometimes the worst danger of all is in the father’s home.
We ignore it to our peril.
One of my deepest prayers is that those precious souls who have been harmed by the evil ones who take on Christianity as a façade—those precious souls who are now moving in any direction but Jesus—that they will see and know the truth, that no matter what destructive teachings they have been taught, they’ll see that Jesus Christ is indeed their only hope.
He is our only hope.
Our Lord Jesus can save them from their sin, He can rescue them from the shame they carry and are trying desperately to escape, and He can heal and cleanse them thoroughly.
And as satisfying as it was for over 200 women to see Larry Nassar brought down, we as the people of God fighting for these souls in the Name of Jesus . . .
. . . we will one day see all the evil ones brought down at His feet.
I pray that many daughters who have wandered because of horrors done to them in the Name of Jesus will return to the loving Shepherd of their souls.
That is the return of the daughters for which I pray.
Edited on 10-31-19. I’ve heard back from the Botkin sisters, a gracious letter in which they asked me to take the Dinah quotation in context. So I’m including the entire quotation here, from Vision Forum founder Doug Phillips. It is a brief reference to Dinah, near the end of the section, in bold. (The theology of this section is something to be addressed perhaps at another time.)
One of the most interesting chapters in the Bible is Numbers chapter 30, which is a rich depository [sic] of instruction for fathers and daughters. Here in Numbers chapter 30 we see an interesting legal question arise. What happens if a daughter goes out and makes a contract, or she makes an oath or a vow, but she wasn’t approved of her father? What happens? Here’s what the Bible says. If the father discovers that either his wife or his daughter who still lives under his roof and under his protection and care have gone out and have covenanted or contracted or vowed without his consent in a manner that is inconsistent with the direction of the household, he has the ability to nullify that. On the other hand, if he doesn’t nullify it in the day in which he hears it, he ratifies it and approves it.
Now what does this mean? Why is this important? Well it’s important because what it tells you is that the family is a unified whole. That the father is the head of the home. And that both the wife and the daughter are not independent individuals, but that they are agents of the father. Now we see this in Proverbs 31, where the woman is going out and the husband has no need of spoil; in fact, he is in the gates of the land, he is a leader, because he trusts his wife, who manages the affairs well, and he is even engaged in amazing acts of entrepreneurship.
But if the father did not authorize that, then those contracts and those vows would not stand. Well, the implications of this include some of the following ideas.
Number 1. Daughters aren’t to be independent. They are not to act outside the scope of their father as long as they’re under the authority of their fathers, fathers have the ability to nullify—or not—the oaths and the vows. Daughter can’t just go out and independently say, “I’m going to marry whoever I want.” No, the father has the ability to say, “No, I’m sorry, that has to be approved by me.” She can’t even go out and represent him on a business level unless the father says, “Yes, you’re authorized and you’re approved by me.”
Is this some sort of oppressive patriarchalism? Absolutely not. This is order. This is love. This is integrity. Because what it means is Instead of a whole bunch of individuals living under one house, you have a unified structure, you have a unified whole with a God-appointed head. It also means protection for everyone else out there. It means order for society itself, and it’s a great blessing.
And so what we see from Numbers 30 is the presumption, “My daughter’s at home, under the roof of my house, protected by the father.”
What we see from Numbers chapter 30 is that there are even legal oath-based covenant-based implications for this. Daughters need the approval of their dads to marry. Unless of course the fathers say, “Daughter, get out of here I release you from my authority.” The problem is we don’t see any example of that in the entire Bible. We don’t see a principle that leads us to that conclusion, we see no precepts. We see no patterns. And the only examples we see are negative examples where fathers let their daughters out and they find themselves in peril. Dinah would be one example, a daughter that went out unprotected and was raped, and brought devastation on the family line. That’s not to suggest that would always happen, only that the Bible is replete with examples of daughters under the roof of their protecting fathers, and it’s completely absent of any examples or principles that lead us to think that it’s normative for a daughter just to go out on her own. Numbers 30 says, “Daughters, you’re under the authority of your dads.”