Tuesday, September 19, 2006

On Women and Their Role

There have been, of late, a number of provocative questions launched in the comments section. I want to take a day and answer some of the fair and interesting questions that I've seen.

We are concerned here with the idea that girls should be raised to be homemakers and moms.

Claire, a dear friend from college and an awesome Christian girl, asked what I meant by saying that many Christians raise their girls to be economically and politically ambitious. She asked how she was to practically understand this statement--did I mean that she was simply supposed to cook casseroles all the time and not work? I would reply to this by saying that it is well and good for a Christian girl to work after college. There is a big difference, though, between working (and doing one's best in one's job) until marriage happens and working with ambitions of a long and accomplished career. These are polar opposites. The first, which I would strongly encourage, means a girl goes after something until a man gives her the opportunity to be a wife and mom. The second means a girl intentionally avoids marriage until she has fulfilled her careerist goals. This I do not encourage, and this I do not think a good model of femininity. I myself have come into contact with the second brand of femininity and have observed a number of young Christian young men fall victim to it. In a good number of cases, godly young men have pursued godly young women and have been rebuffed, in large part because the young woman wishes to fulfill her career goals and delay marriage for a while. That is the triumph of feminist ideals over biblical principles.

Feminism's promise of the joys of careerism is a lie. As a dear mentor and wise brother once said of women of a particular city who come to make a career, "Many women come here with dreams of upper management and huge influence. A few years later, when they've gotten a raise and moved up a post, and the world still isn't conquered, and their friends are experiencing the joys of childrearing and homemaking, they leave, disillusioned." The feminist push to play the role of men ends in fruitlessness and unfulfillment. Well, perhaps worse than this, it leads a woman to a fulfillment she was never meant to have.I will state this again so I am not misunderstood. Women may well be single for a time, and they may find it difficult in places to find the godly husband they desire. But they should seek marriage in prayer and decorum, and when a godly man who they are attracted to and who will lead them well shows up, they should lay aside their career goals and take up the joyful work of the wife and mom. I know numerous women who have done so, women who were going to be doctors and media professionals and political dynamos, but who have because of Scriptural conviction joyfully exchanged the work world for the home world.

To conclude on a personal note, my own wife is an omni-talented woman. She could have been a concert pianist, an actress, or a professor (several of her college professors urged her to be one). Where there were hundreds of capable, bright young men who could have been a Teacher's Assistant to one of her college's most popular professors, she was asked to fill the role. She had every opportunity before her to make a career in a theology career, an acting career, or a music career. Bethany is godly, smart, beautiful, and talented. How incredibly thankful I am, then, that she was trained by her father not to aspire to a career, but to aspire to be a godly homemaker. She was trained, and trained by the excellent example and teaching of her mother, to be a wife and a mom. Our marriage is young, and she will have to work for a little while to help us through school, but suffice it to say that I am reaping the fruits of this training. These fruits are not bitter, friends. They are delightful. Bethany's decision to be my wife and homemaker means that our ministry will, Lord willing, multiply many times over as I am freed to fulfill my role, which I am gifted for as a man, and she is freed to fulfill hers, which she is gifted for as a woman.

Such is the plan that only an all-wise God creates.


Anonymous Mark T. Cicero said...

I detest feminism; its perniciousness lies in the fact that it promotes a false doctrine of freedom that cannot deliver on its promises. Its very spirit is inimical to the spirit of Christianity and the message of the Gospel. Feminism says if you want to be free, remove as many obstacles to personal autonomy as possible and make sure that your own will is always done. Christianity says if you want to be free submit yourself to Christ and the Church and say "thy will (not mine) be done." As Owen points out, feminism (like any other human doctrine) will only lead to restless hearts. Christianity realizes that our hearts will always be restless until they rest in our loving God. Though I would hesitate to say I am godly, I am one of those who bears scars caused by feminism, scars that have made loving more difficult. I know what it is like to have someone for whom you care deeply tell you that you are (and will always be) second to her career, that she believes that THAT is where her happiness lies (more so than in you). And even though I am in a better, far happier relationship now, my heart still aches to remember those words. I hate feminism. But greater than my hatred for feminism is my love for my God and his Word. That is why I am such a stickler for the finer points of interpretation. My wounded heart tells me to join up with the fundamentalists in my views regarding women, for the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But yet a still, small voice reminds me: The Truth--not (American) cultural conservativism--shall set you free. May the Church discover and hold to the truth on this important issue.

1:28 AM  
Blogger Dad said...

One other verse that ought to be considered:

ESV 1 Timothy 2:15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing- if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control


4:41 AM  
Anonymous claire said...

Owen, thanks this is helpful.

5:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a slightly modified view: Perhaps, the question is not whether a woman should pursue a non-domestic vocation. Rather, the question is what the hierarchy of goals should be for any Christian. Both a Christian man and a Christian woman should, generally speaking, put the goal of family--and fulfilling their particular role in the government of a family-- above career goals. But this looks different for men and women, because their roles in the government of family are different. For men, this means that they should not be wedded to a way of life that would be inimical to family life (see Consumed's earlier blog about perpetual male youth). When married, their specific role entails lovingly leading, serving and providing for their family. For women, this also means that they should not be be wedded to a way of life that would be inimical to family life. This will not necessarily mean the woman does not pursue a non-domestic occupation. It means, rather, that in the hierarchy of goals, her domestic vocation is first. Nuture of her family, support of her husband in his vocation (in the fullness sense of the word); raising her children: these together comprise her primary goal. Her non-domestic goals (both work in the church and work in the business world) are ranked lower in the hierarchy of goals. This means she pursues her non-domestic vocation only insofar as it does not prevent her from maximizing her fruitfulness in her primary mission. This seems consistent with Proverbs 31; the women is working, but it does not seem to take her away from the raising of children and caring for her husband. This caveat is key.

Here's an example of what this might look like. A friend of ours was a flower shop owner. His wife kept the books and took care of the details; she was the business manager of a very successful business. She was, apparently, very good at it. When she had young children, she was busy with them and had less time for the shop: her domestic vocation came first. No one else would raise her children. When the kids were old enough for school, she was busy in the shop while they were away. But she made her way home around noon to prepare lunch for her kids (who came home for lunch during school) and for her husband. They'd eat, leave, she'd straighten things up in the kitchen, and then she too would return to work. This is a picture of the hierarchy of goals. I'm not sure it is centrally important, either, that she was working for her husband's shop. Whoever she worked for, the moral of the story holds: She pursued a non-domestic occupation, but her primary goal in theory and practice was caring for kin. When the two conflicted, she choose her primary goal.

This example is quite unlike the story of a woman who, confused as to the relative important of career vis a vis husband and children, willingly leaves her children to be raised by childcare workers in order to earn unnecessary income. (See below for cases when this is not UNNECESSARY income.)

I am arguing for two things, then. First, the primary goals of husband and wife are differnt, but both are filiocentric (to make up a word). The husband must lovingly lead, serve and provide for his family. The wife must nurture and care for her children, and support her husband in his vocation. These goals are primary for each other them. This does not deny, however, that there exist, lower in the hierarchy, other goals to be pursued when they do not at all interfere with the primary goal.

So far, this "hierarchy-of-goals" argument has been explained exclusively with reference to married women with children. But what about (1) unmarried women, (2) married women without children, (3) married women with grown children and (4) women in other unspecified stages of life. It seems, in slightly different senses, that the hierarchy of goals principle applies to all of these women as well.

The unmarried woman is free to use her gifts in the marketplace, though aware that should the opportunity arise to marry well, she should take that opportunity and set her occupation in its properly subordinate role in the hierarchy of goals. But absent a family of her own, she should feel unconstrained in her pursuit of an enjoyable, fulfilling and God-glorifying occupation.

The married woman without children would apply the hierarchy principle as well: she can pursue her occupation so long as it does not conflict with her domestic vocation (caring for & supporting her husband in his vocation). In many cases (such as the case of the author), a wife pursuing her career goal will be a means of her supporting her husband in his vocation. If she chooses not to work, however, this is fine as well and in no way violates the hierarchy principle.

The married woman with grown children will apply the hierarchy principle too. In many cases, she will find that she can return to non-domestic employ while still fruitfully fulfilling her primary goal. If she chooses not to return to the marketplace but rather spent her days in other ways, this is also good.

Now, a small revision to the hierarchy principle is glaringly necessary. In truth, the Christian's primary calling is of course to love and serve Christ. What I have called "primary" and "subordinate" goals are in fact all subordinate to the supremely Primary Calling. But, I think it is helpful to conceptualize our duties this way.

Final point: There is much room for grace in these matters. There are times when a woman truly must work full-time in order to support her family financially, for a variety of reasons that are not difficult to imagine. This is not the ideal, and it is important that we recognize it as such. But God can give grace in these situations, and sustain the Christian family through them.


6:48 AM  
Anonymous Go Phillies said...

Keegan, "slightly modified" from Owen's? I think it is fundamentally different from Owen's. Let the debate commence. P.S. I've emailed you both to explain why I think this is so.

8:15 AM  
Anonymous Colin said...

Jed, why don't I get a stinking email? Because I'm a third rate intellectual getting a JD? That has the word "doctor" in it. Jeez. No love.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Colin, you got the email, mate. It's just that Keegan was responding to Owen's blog so it was their respective views under question.

12:19 PM  

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