June 10, 2009

Is Industriousness Compatible with Biblical Womanhood?

Apparently there is something inherently gender-oriented about household chores, but I’m not quite sure where to draw the line. Is it the basement door? The entrance into the garage from the back of my kitchen? Perhaps it is the lawn and the shrubbery. Maybe someone can help me to understand this…

I’ve always thought of myself as a complementarian, but typically don’t advocate strongly for biblical womanhood because of its inability to speak boldly to women on the fringes. I continue to firmly hold a view that women are not to be elders in a local church, and I believe every passage of scripture that indicates that the husband is the head and the wife is his helpmeet, but how the latter plays out is not absolutely defined in scripture. I am also very weary of needing to state these things each time I discuss the logical and practical failures of the biblical womanhood movement, but I will continue to do so as necessary.

So here I am, going out on a limb I fear will break, but I am going anyway knowing I may be fully rejected by the complementarian camp I embrace. In a blogpost by Carolyn Mahaney, she writes about the disapproval she has--and scripture has--for a world where husbands and wives share the tasks of running a household. She begins the post by talking about how she wasn’t feeling well one day and turned on the Today Show as some sort of distraction. That was her first mistake, as the Today Show is co hosted by a professional career-driven female. I would think that watching that would in some way be supportive of Ann Curry’s pursuit of a career outside of the home. But I digress.

Carolyn describes in her post what the Today Show was featuring at that moment. I will let Carolyn speak for herself:

Ann Curry was interviewing two moms who recently wrote a book entitled Getting to 50/50. The point of the book is this: A woman can have a great career, a great marriage, and be a great mother—all by getting her husband to share equally in the responsibilities in the home. Thus the title, Getting to 50/50.”

These two authors were very pleasant and gracious. They were not the militant, angry type who can easily offend many. And they weren’t men bashers; in fact, they seemed to want to pursue a loving relationship with their husbands.

And yet, the premise of their book is in direct contradiction to Scripture, which assigns men and women equally important, yet different roles (Gen. 1:26-27, 2:18, 21-24; 1 Cor. 11:7-9, 1 Tim. 2:12-14).

These women believe that there is no difference or distinction in the roles men and women are assigned. They want men to take on fifty percent of the woman’s role and women to assume fifty percent of a man’s role. Their assertions fly in the face of God’s creation design and mandate—and they do it all with a smile.”

Without watching the interview that Carolyn watched, I’m forced to admit that there may have been some things stated about women and feminism that did not make it into Carolyn’s account in her blogpost. There is no fault in this. But if what Carolyn quoted is the full essence of what was communicated, I would suggest that her post demonstrates a lack of understanding of the fuller picture.

Very simply, scripture speaks of women “keeping the home” in Titus 2 and husbands as the heads in Ephesians 5, but neither passage suggests that a husband is walking outside of his role by participating in the management of the home or that she is stepping outside of her role by asking for help with household management. In fact, according to Susan Hunt, Titus 2 is not arguing necessarily that a woman never work outside of the home, but that she be “industrious” in all she does, including the home (Spiritual Mothering, Crossway Books, 1992. p. 64). A good example: The evangelical community was quick to embrace the VP nomination of Gov. Sarah Palin with the full knowledge her husband was helping at home.

One could easily come to the conclusion that 50/50 was an industrious way for these women to come alongside their husbands financially and to be a helpmeet to them in a sense other than handling the daily household chores. We live in a society where it is difficult for many families to live on a single income, and the language of “career” does not necessarily take from the priority of the family. Dependent on her personal circumstances, a woman may be wise by pursuing career-oriented employment that offers a salary structure compatible with her gifts and talents rather than a job that wears her down and makes her useless to the rest of her family because of frustration and fatigue.

If the women on the Today Show stated and believe that there is no difference or distinction in the roles men and women are assigned, I would agree that they are in error. But I disagree strongly that somehow a man and woman are abandoning those roles by sharing in the responsibilities of work and household management. To frame roles in this way places a number of families in irresolvable situations. I could cite various family scenarios that would more firmly root the husband in the home and the wife in the workplace, situations based on matters of health, job loss, and similar situations. If these were to be regarded as acceptable qualifications for how we are suppose to understand gender roles, then I would suggest that the doctrines of biblical manhood and womanhood are not as tightly wrapped up as claimed to be.

I get that the worldview of secular feminism is an assault on the Christian worldview and that it perpetrates great evils in our society. The days are, indeed, evil in this respect. But to frame the sharing of responsibilities of the home, which certainly do include financial responsibilities, within the context of secular feminism’s assault of God and the family is somewhat short-sighted.

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