Friday, January 25, 2013

Adult Daughters and Authority, Part 1

"Daughters should be under their fathers' authority until marriage." "Daughters should realize that their father has insights into potential suitors that they do not have, and they should therefore avoid any romantic relationships that do not have their fathers' blessing. " I've heard these, and variations of these, for as long as I can remember. I have many friends and relatives that believe them still, and I consider the ideas of absolute parental authority and parental authority in romantic relationships in particular to be some of the most insidious lies I have encountered. I see no support for them in scripture, and no way to support them logically or morally.

What exactly am I talking about? First, the concept of parental authority. Proponents of the above ideas believe that even legal adults are accountable to their parents for their actions until married, (though some limit this to daughters only) that God "speaks through authorities", which includes parents, and that "authority" works like an umbrella- stay under your "authorities" and God blesses you; stray from their counsel and you will "not have God's best." "Authorities" in this context can mean boss, pastor, etc, but most often means parents, as their "authority" is considered to take precedence over the others.

So- logically and biblically, does this view of authority hold water? One could certainly say that there is precedent for parents controlling adult children or selecting mates for them, but there is equal precedent for polygamy and slavery, so I don't think that precedent alone proves the heart of God for His people. =) Children are treated as property of their parents in the Levitical law, but again I'm assuming that does not mean that we should live that way; else it would be a sin to be intimate with your wife on her period or to eat pork. From where I'm coming from, there is a big difference between descriptive biblical precedent here, meaning x happened a certain way in the bible, and prescriptive biblical precedent, meaning x is commanded to all believers for all time. For example- the great commission ("Go ye unto all the world and preach the gospel, making disciples etc.") is prescriptive. Tithing exactly as Abraham did would be a good example of  descriptive being taken as a prescriptive.  I'm not saying that descriptive examples should never be followed- just that the fact that it happened a certain way in scripture does not mean that that is God's intent for us; this is true particularly when we are dealing with what people did apart from divine commands, I think. The exception would be the life of Jesus- though He was human while He was here, He was not a fallible human, at least to those of us who believe in His divinity. His example is safe to follow- we are, after all, basing our entire faith on being His followers.

But back to authority- what does the bible prescriptively say about children's responsibility to their parents? Eph. 6:1 says "Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right." It is important to note that "Children - τέκνα  tekna This word usually signifies those who are young; but it is used here, evidently, to denote those who were under the care and government of their parents, or those who were not of age." (Barnes)  This is referring to literal children, not adult offspring who are able to be independent. The next verse says we are to honor our parents, (age limit not specified here) which here means to revere and value them. However, there is a huge difference between honor and obey! You can honor a person while disobeying them, and you can obey a person without honoring them. Col. 3:20 says basically the same thing- children, obey your parents. I do think it interesting that these commands are never to fathers alone, but equally to both parents. So- are children required to obey parents, as long as parents do not ask them to sin? (the "in the Lord" bit) Yes. Are adults? NO. I can find no prescription for it. Supporting your parents when they are old? Yes. Obeying them? No.

I personally believe that Jesus did not sin. Yet, when he was 12 and a man in his culture, he left his parents' caravan to spend time in the temple. Was this independence wrong? I think not. Also consider- where in scripture does God speak through parents? When the angel came to Mary, did the angel first go to her parents? Did she or Joseph ever consult their parents' advice about what to do with her pregnancy? If they did, it isn't mentioned. When God spoke to Samuel did he speak through an "authority"? Now- of course parents do have a degree of responsibility for their children. But that responsibility is to train them and teach them so that when they are old, they will not forsake their training, from which I infer that doing as you've been taught as an adult is a choice, not something within legitimate parental control.

Logically, how much sense does it make for a parent to exercise control over adult children in this culture? Who must live with the decisions made and their consequences, the adult child or their parent? Which would make the adult child more capable, responsible, and productive? A freedom to make their own choices, hear God for themselves, and live with their mistakes, or the bondage of having to live with career, education, marriage, etc. choices that were not their own and the ability to shove off the (very important, if they are ever to hear God for themselves and be able to function without a parent at their side) difficult decisions on an "authority"?

Closely related to this subject, though too long to fully address in this post, :) is the idea that adult Christians need this hierarchal relational structure, like the submission of adult children to parents or adult wives to their husbands. Contrast this with what Jesus taught about oneness in Christ and our spiritual equality before God. Nowhere in scripture does Jesus say that we need a mediator between ourselves and Himself, or that we need someone to interpret His voice for us. In fact, I'm pretty sure that Jesus lists Himself as the only mediator between God and Man. According to my reading of scripture and my experience as a follower of Christ, anyone who tries to control another fully-functioning adult and interpret God's will for them is in effect putting themselves in the place of God, which is entirely too close to idolatry for comfort.

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