While House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is rounding up votes to seal his bid to succeed John Boehner as speaker of the House, far-right congressmen are backing an insurgent bid by Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Fla., who tried to unseat Boehner earlier this year.
Webster could also win support from the Religious Right, as he has, in the words of University of North Florida professor Julie Ingersoll, “aligned himself with organizations and individuals who advocate the application of biblical law to contemporary society, including wives submitting to their husbands.”
Specifically, Webster has long history of collaborating with the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), a ministry founded by Bill Gothard. Ingersoll writes that Webster’s speeches to Gothard’s group emphasized that “God is on his side and that God opposes his opponents,” even “attribut[ing] the fact that he has often run unopposed to God’s intervention as a result of these prayers.”
Most controversially, Webster spoke at one IBLP event about the need for wives to submit to their husbands and for husbands to be the heads of their households, which, as Sarah Posner notes, is strongly in line with Gothard’s views about the dominance of male authority. Posner writes:
[S]ubmission is a central tenet of Gothard's teachings. His evangelical critics have described the insular world of Gothard's organization as "a culture of fear" and Gothard's teachings as a "parody of patriarchalism," the "basest form of male chauvinism I have ever heard in a Christian context," and "anti-woman." The core of Gothard's authoritarian teachings is a chain of command of spiritual authority from God to the husband and father, who is responsible for seeing to his wife's and children's obedience in order to ensure their eternal salvation.
While GOP leaders like Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Rick Perry have also worked with Gothard groups, his best known disciples are the Duggar family, which recently faced its own sex abuse scandal. Gothard’s teachings on patriarchy and sexual abuse, which appeared to blame women survivors, drew controversy in the wake of the Duggar scandal.
Even Michael Farris, a Religious Right activist and leader in the conservative Christian homeschooling movement, felt compelled to condemn Gothard and Doug Phillips, another Christian patriarchy movement leader embroiled in a sex scandal, claiming that their teachings are “truly dangerous.”
While a court-ordered plan to redraw Florida’s congressional map is seen as endangering Webster’s chance at re-election by adding more Democratic voters to his district, Posner describes how Webster told participants at Gothard events that God is protecting his district to make sure that conservatives are in the majority:
Webster boasts of how his “commitments,” based on Gothard’s teachings, cause his enemies to fail. In the [Advanced Training Institute] video, he recounted making “commitments” that included never watching TV in a hotel room, getting up early in the morning, and praying for a “hedge of thorns of protection” around his Florida district so that he would win reelection. (Both Webster and Gothard have made much of the fact that for several of his reelection bids in the Florida legislature, Webster ran unopposed.) Webster said that he prayed for anyone considering a run in his district to “lose interest.”
That “that hedge of thorns has protected me all these years,” Webster continued, even when his political opponents referred to him and allies as “conservative, gun-toting Bible thumpers.” He claims that “pride is so destructive,” yet seems quite proud that his “hedge of thorns” has made his political career a success.
Razing Ruth, another anti-biblical patriarchy blog, describes Gothard’s teaching on the “hedge of thorns”:
Bill Gothard teaches that Satan can gain “jurisdictional authority” over a person’s soul. When a father or husband, as the authority and spiritual protector of the family, fears that this (Satan attempting to get ja) has happened or may happen, the man is instructed to “pray a hedge of thorns” around his wife/family/son/daughter. In doing so, Gothard teaches that the man will have created a “stronghold for Christ.”
We will see how far Webster’s rhetoric on spiritual warfare and biblical authority takes his campaign for speaker.