Several weeks ago I outlined the way modern conservative Christian leaders avoid confronting feminism by pretending that something mysterious has happened to men. This is something that is easy to prove and yet is a surprisingly well kept secret. Nearly all conservative Christians are in denial regarding this fact, as the whole exercise is one of denial to avoid something terrifying. Non Christians and even liberal Christians are generally not aware of this either, because the reality goes against the stereotype of conservative Christians as patriarchal throwbacks.
For this reason, most would be quite surprised to learn that Father’s Day is generally viewed very differently by conservative Christian culture than by secular culture. Secular culture generally accepts Father’s Day for what it is, a day to honor fathers. There is of course a recurring theme of a few single mothers arguing that like Mother’s Day, Father’s Day should be all about them, but this is greeted with a surprising degree of pushback from feminists. For the most part, in the secular world Father’s Day is about honoring fathers.
Unfortunately it isn’t so simple for conservative Christians. Instead of setting Father’s Day aside as a day to honor fathers, it has traditionally been used as a day to tear Christian fathers down in front of their families. As Sunshine Thiry’s pastor explained (emphasis mine):
…Father’s Day is one of the worst days that dads can ever choose to go to church. Because often it’s the only time churches feel like they’re going to have the ears of dads and so what they do is they plan to beat them up royally for all they’re not doing right. Ever been to one of those Father’s Day services? Oh man, I have…
Thiry’s pastor decided to try a different approach on Father’s Day, and try to encourage all of the terrible dads in the congregation to be better instead of beating them up:
We don’t do that anymore. What we want this to be is an encouragement to you, we want this to lift you up…
What makes the conservative Christian aversion to honoring fathers so striking is that honoring fathers (and mothers) is one of the ten commandments. If anything, conservative Christians should be the gold standard for honoring fathers.
This brings us to a relatively new movement among conservative Christians to do something simple but truly radical. They propose that Christians honor fathers on Father’s Day:
Imagine the national and global impact if every family, organization, and church were sharing the same message this Father’s Day: s for children, young and old, to Honor Your Father.
Again, in secular culture such an initiative would seem pointless. This is what Father’s Day is for, after all. But in conservative Christian culture this is a break from tradition, and such an initiative is badly needed. The group is called Honor Your Father Today. They explain on their About page why they want to break with conservative Christian tradition on Father’s Day and instead use the day to honor fathers (emphasis mine):
Helping Dads from the “Bottom Up”
Traditionally, churches, organizations, and social or government groups try to tackle the problem of fatherhood “top down” by teaching, encouraging, and often begging fathers to step up to become better dads. But what if we approached it from the “bottom up” by encouraging children, both young and old, to honor their fathers in some small way? One of the strongest motivators for men are their children. If anything can move a dad, even one who’s disengaged, it’s their child reaching out and honoring him with a word, video, or a letter of thanks.
Note that even here the tone is one of how terrible Christian fathers are. Honoring fathers, an act that is simple to everyone else, is an enigma to conservative Christians. Honoring fathers can’t simply be about honoring fathers because God commands it, or even about a means to receive the blessing God promises for those who obey. It has to be a means to a different end, honor begrudgingly offered to fathers in an effort to move them to be better. As with Thiry’s pastor, this group founded on the simple idea of honoring fathers on Father’s Day ends up landing instead on encouraging fathers to be better. If anything can encourage fathers to finally straighten up, surely this new movement will.
This isn’t a problem conservative Christians have regarding Mother’s Day. Honoring mothers, even single mothers by choice, is natural and easy to conservative Christians. It is honoring fathers that is deeply uncomfortable, especially honoring married Christian fathers. Mitch Temple, Executive Director of the Fatherhood Comission, discusses the unique discomfort Pastors have with honoring fathers in the opening of his message to pastors about his radical idea of honoring fathers on Father’s Day (emphasis mine):
Hey Pastor this is Mitch Temple, Executive Director of the Fatherhood Comission. As a pastor for over twenty years I used to get very nervous after Mother’s Day because, I always wonder now what, we’ve only got a few weeks, what are we going to do with Father’s Day?
Well, we want to try to help solve that problem for you. The Fatherhood Comission along with about a hundred and fifty other organizations have come together to really encourage dads. And one of the things that God lead us to was this idea of doing something around Father’s Day.
In the opening to a different promotional video for the program, Christian filmmaker Stephen Kendrick describes the ease conservative Christians have with honoring mothers, and how different it is when it comes to honoring fathers (emphasis mine):
There is a command in Scripture that comes with a promise. It says if you honor your father and your mother God will give you a good life and a long life. Well it’s easy for us to oftentimes to honor our moms, but too often we don’t honor our dads.
Kendrick opens yet another video with the same basic statement:
It’s easy for us to honor our moms, but too oftentimes people don’t honor their fathers. And so this Father’s Day, and leading up to it, we want to encourage you to honor your father.
Again, the idea of honoring fathers on Father’s Day is so foreign to conservative Christians that the About page and all three of the promotional videos above open by acknowledging this fact! Even though this is denied, the idea of honoring fathers is so counter-cultural that they can’t broach the topic of honoring fathers on Father’s Day without dealing with how strange, how foreign, this concept is.
I pray that they will be successful in their initiative to have Christians honor fathers on Father’s day, but as they repeatedly acknowledge what they are proposing is a truly radical idea.