FamilyParentingSubmissionWomen's Ministry

The Stay at Home Daughter Movement

By January 6, 20115 Comments

Last month I received a link to the following article that ran in Time Magazine entitled Meet the ‘Selfless’ Women of the ‘Stay at Home Daughters Movement’. I had never before heard of the Stay at Home Daughters Movement (SAHD for short) so the information came as quite a shock. Especially given that the article was written in what I would call an uncharitable manner.

Since that time I came across another article on Christianity Today’s blog for women, Her.meneutics (if you aren’t following this blog you SHOULD be!), that offered an arguably more balanced perspective on the movement. The post was called What Is the Stay-at-Home Daughters Movement and it was written by Karen Swallow Prior, a professor at Liberty University. I also highly recommend it. She summarizes the movement as follows:

Essentially, adherents of SAHD believe daughters should never leave the covering of their fathers until and unless they are married.

Of the movement’s strengths as listed by Prior, she included their emphasis on non-traditional, higher education and their high regard for the father-daughter relationship. I agree with Prior, and was pleased to read a review of the movement that did not throw the baby out with the bath water. While I disagree with many of SAHD’s conclusions, we can still learn from this member of Christ’s Body.

However, along with Prior I also share some concerns. Fortunately, Prior said them better than I could have in the following excerpt:

But the real issue is less “to stay or not to stay” than the underlying principle for doing so. While SAHD advocates cite ample scriptural passages to support their orthopraxy (the practice of their orthodoxy), the principle underlying that practice seems to me to lack explicit scriptural support. This principle is what they claim is a clear divide between “public and private” (terms less connected to biblical language than to Enlightenment concepts) or separate “spheres of dominion” for men and women. Vision Forum Ministries states that “men are called to public spheres of dominion beyond the home,” and “the God-ordained and proper sphere of dominion for a wife is the household and that which is connected with the home.”

It’s possible that this bipartite division is more a social construct than a biblical one. If separate spheres were extrapolated from biblical language and principles, it is more likely such realms would fall along a more complex, tripartite division like family, church, and society. Such a trinity of spheres complicates neat alignments with the God-given binary of male and female. 

Perhaps this helps explain some of the problem. For while the SAHD movement calls for daughters to “be helpers to their mother and blessings to [their] entire family,” their attentions appear largely focused on the ministry and business of the fathers. (By the way, none of the fathers, apparently, work at the local automotive plant.)

After I read that section the first time, I read it back to my husband word-for-word because I thought it was so dead on! The distinction between public and private spheres for men and women is indeed a liberal construct, not a Christian one. And as the last line implies, the SAHD ideology would be difficult to live out in a family living within a low economic bracket. 

Now, I am always wary of setting up straw men that are easily knocked down, especially when the leaders of the movement aren’t here to defend themselves, so I must affirm that if these women feel led to stay at home with their fathers in preparation for marriage, then more power to them! Does that mean that ALL women are called to do the same? Certainly not. As mentioned above, we have to be very careful of belief systems that develop out of our financial privilege or personal convictions, lest they exclude entire populations within the Body of Christ.

What is the take-away lesson here?

In the face of these disagreements it’s important to remember that there are central issues to the Christian faith, but there are also debatable ones. Mark Driscoll refers to this difference as close-fisted and open-fisted issues. Some doctrines, such as the Trinity and the divine nature of Christ, are “close-fisted” doctrines. We do not let go of them. They are non-negotiables. On the other hand, there are also open-fisted beliefs, such as speaking in tongues or worship style. When it comes to the open-fisted beliefs, we can have union with other Christians even if we disagree with them.

I believe that  SAHD is an open-fisted belief. I disagree with some of their conclusions (some very strongly!) but they are still my sisters in Christ. In contrast with the many articles that have slandered SAHD without mercy, a response of kindness and gentleness is, I believe, more faithful to the character of Christ.


  • Eric says:

    Thanks for drawing attention to this issue. You might be interested in a website (and book) called “Quivering Daughters” that is written for and by women who have come out of SAHD and related movements. There are some very serious components of spiritual and emotional abuse that go along with this theology in many cases. The author, Hillary, is doing a marvelous job explaining it truthfully. I recommend it very highly (and not just because I’m a guest writer!).

  • Sisterlisa says:

    Personally, I think it’s sad to use the word ‘fisted’ with Christ. I prefer to view him as opened armed. Doctrines can be adamantly held to by people or they can be deserted, that is the freedom people have. Some people do not believe that speaking in tongues is an open issue to debate. So Mark’s view on that is just that, HIS view. He is not God’s chosen pastor for the century to be the authority on such matters. This is the kind of thing that enables more abuse. And as with SAHD’s, they are free to choose to stay home or not. All of this religious hierarchy strict adherence to what other men, who claim to be an authority, have to say is what feeds the continuing abuse in religions today.

    People have the freedom to explore God, have their own unique walkabout with Him and fully rely on His Spirit alone. I believe “in a multitude of counselors there is safety” but in that group of counsel there is still freedom to follow God as He guides. Choosing to close the door on spiritual gifts leaves a Christian hindered in their walk with God. He gave us these gifts to protect us and guide us in our communion with him and others.

    My daughter has chosen to stay home at this time, but not for any religious reasons. In this economy, it is wiser to remain at home until she can finish her higher education and get the finances to support herself outside our home. We spoke as a family and let her know she was free to go with our support and love and she chose to remain with us at this time.

    I cringe when I see blogs writing about daughters who don’t stay at home are sinners destined for downfall. They write with passion, but they don’t realize how their passion comes across as arrogant, judgmental, and abusive.

    The more abuse that grows, the harder the people will push back to protect their freedom.

    “Do not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage”
    “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty”

  • Katie says:

    The vitrol against the stay-at-home-daughters movement, which I discovered shortly before all the reporting centered in on it, seems to stem from a few places. First of all, the women themselves often seem to be placing extra-biblical constraints on all Christians. They seem to be saying, “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.” People who said those sorts of things to churches in the New Testament were not gently treated by the apostles and author New Testament authors, and since those words are in the Bible it is safe to say they show us the heart of God on the matter. Second, often where these women have an online presence saying such things, their fathers are very close behind. In some blogs the father is the official, acknowledged moderator, responding to negative comments for his daughter and illustrating an adult child-parent relationship that seems worth questioning and sounds like something right out of the website Eric mentioned or any of the other myriads of stories of difficult situations in father-controlled (which I mean as “beyond complementarian”) families.

    I mean here to imply in no way that all involved in this movement, or even any, deserve the vitrol. In my own reading, however, I’ve come to understand it. If those on the SAHD side of the debate exhibited the graceful desire to believe the best about those of us they disagree with, I think there would be a lot less vitrol. I applaud those on both sides who are trying to exhibit charity.

  • Sharon says:

    Sister Lisa, I appreciate your thoughts and your candidness, however in the spirit of the post I would encourage you to extend a spirit of charity to Pastor Mark Driscoll. By using the word “fist” I don’t think he meant anything symbolic about that particular part of the body. A fist can be a positive thing–it is a part of the body that we use to hold tight to the things we value or to rescue another person. Any other negative nuance would probably be imposing an interpretation that he did not intend.

    And as far as the “close-fisted” doctrines are concerned, his view is not necessarily his in the sense that he came up with it. In regard to the doctrines which he considers central, he has the entire weight of the Christian tradition behind him. He is essentially deferring to uncontested church dogma as his “close-fisted” beliefs.

    All of that to say, there are some doctrines that have been affirmed by the majority of Christians over the last 2,000 years. Christians have almost universally agreed certain doctrines are central to what it means to be a Christian, and without them we are not following Christ faithfully. These specific doctrines must be held onto MIGHTILY. But in everything else there should be some room for disagreement. As the ancient church father St. Augustine once said:

    In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.

  • Sisterlisa says:

    People tend to have differing opinions on what is essential and what is not.

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