Violent Men, Working Women, and Evangelical Gender Norms

My friend Paul Matzko is a doctoral candidate at Penn State studying the intersection of religion and politics in modern America under Philip Jenkins. Paul agreed to do a guest post, writing an immensely helpful article arguing that evangelicals often get their conception of gender roles from cultural norms rather than Scriptural principles. I’m really grateful he’s allowed me to post it here. It’s well-worth your reading.

Lately, the conservative evangelical blogosphere has been abuzz about gender. The underlying question that is being debated is whether or not contemporary evangelicals are allowing culture or Scripture to shape their gender norms. “Gender norms” is the label we give to a group’s understanding of how men and women ought to behave. Every society or sub-culture has a set of gender norms, even if those norms are informally expressed or not openly discussed. Of course, gender norms vary greatly from society to society—from American soccer moms to Maasai mothers—and their ideal forms change over time—from John Wayne to Leonardo DiCaprio. These are just a handful of the thousands upon thousands of variations in gender norms that exist in the modern world.

For the evangelical Christian, a series of logical questions follow: If there are so many different expectations of gender, which is right? Does the Bible mandate a particular kind of manhood and womanhood? Should Christians imitate broader cultural standards of masculinity and femininity? Do my gender norms conform to Scripture?

My purpose in writing this essay is to caution our small conservative evangelical subculture from answering those questions too hastily. It is tempting to fit Scripture to our ideas rather than the other way around. All too often, we try to legitimize our beliefs by ignoring contradictory opinions and rationalizing away inconvenient evidence. As harmful as that tendency is in politics, education, and family life, it is devastating when it shapes our interpretation of the Bible. Moses’s warning that the children of Israel should not add to or subtract from the law (Deut. 4:2) condemned them for allowing anti-Biblical cultural biases to inform their behavior. The blending of Yahweh-worship and Baal-worship was relatively easy to spot in an age in which physical idols denoted divine allegiance.

Our modern day version of adding to Scripture is subtler but just as dangerous. We read back into Scripture (eisegesis) our contemporary cultural biases, informed by a mishmash of questionable tradition, faulty memory, and secular assumptions. When we do so, we allow cultural practices to accrete onto the gospel like battery acid building up around the terminals in your car. Eventually, the accretion becomes so dense that the terminal is completely covered by corruption and the battery can no longer power the engine. When we add to the gospel, we impede its progress in hearts and in society by placing additional burdens on people’s sanctification beyond what the gospel demands. That treads dangerously close to the path of the Pharisees who so swaddled the law in additional rules and regulations that the more important matters of the law—promoting justice, mercy, and faithfulness—were neglected! The Pharisees’ intentions may originally have been honorable, a desire to avoid violating God’s law in even the slightest way, but their good intentions paved the way to heresy and hypocrisy (Matthew 23).

This is not an exhaustive list, but I would like to enumerate two areas of particular danger for modern evangelicals.

We idealize middle class Victorian domesticity. Victorian domesticity promoted a “two spheres” conception of gender in the late-nineteenth century. Society was divided into public and domestic spheres. Men worked, socialized, and politicked in the public sphere, a zone where they might be forced to interact with unsavory people and dangerous ideas. Women—whom Victorians assumed had a more delicate and virtuous nature—were relegated to the domestic sphere where they could avoid besmirching their virtue. This Victorian gender ideal was restricted to the middle and upper classes because these domesticated women did not need to work for pay. Lower class women did. Thus, middle and upper class reformers questioned their virtue, honesty, and basic maternal compassion for their families.

So how does this middle class Victorian domesticity filter down to us today? Modern evangelicals—who are disproportionately middle class suburbanites—continue to idealize the role and virtues of the housewife. Although we accept that many wives will have to work outside the home at some point during their lives, whether to help pay their husband’s way through school or to save for a down payment on their first home, we idealize women who work solely at home. The ideal evangelical wife—often spotted playing the piano at church before her husband preaches—is one who prioritizes the home over paid work. For women, the family should come first. That means only working when absolutely necessary and quickly moving back into the domestic sphere when it is not. The home is the proper realm for women leaving men to engage in the public responsibilities of work, politics, and commerce. Men should provide income while women provide a comfortable and nurturing home.

Perhaps while reading the previous paragraph you thought, “Why is this a problem?” If so, compare the gender norm I have just described with that of Proverbs 31 in which Solomon gives us his picture of the ideal woman. Several of the behaviors and virtues of this ideal woman clash with the Victorian domestic ideal.

10 A wife of noble character who can find?
She is worth far more than rubies.

13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.

16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.

24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
and supplies the merchants with sashes.

31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

The Proverbs 31 woman manufactures goods, trades those goods at market, makes capital investments in land, oversees the planting of a vineyard, keeps track of her profit margins, works late into the night providing for the family, and is known for her public charity. All of these actions win her public acclaim from the governing authorities. Today, we rightly quote Proverbs 31 to honor our wives and mothers, yet our subculture discourages many of the behaviors described in this passage! Solomon makes no division between public and domestic spheres for the Proverbs 31 woman. She provides family income, works outside the home, and is a smart businesswoman (and a bit of a workaholic). She is not a housewife in the Victorian meaning of that word.

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. How do these Victorian separate spheres percolate down into our churches? One example that comes to mind is our tendency to design women’s ministries around the needs and interests of housewives rather than those of careerwomen, perhaps by holding women’s bible studies during the day on weekdays when housewives are able to attend but women with full time jobs are not. Also, I have noticed that women who are unable to attend a church function because of work obligations like a conference or training seminar receive less sympathy than those who are unable to attend a church function because a child is sick. (I have observed no such distinction for men.)

These are just two manifestations of the two-sphere gender norm, but you can probably think of many others. I do not critique the Victorian two spheres gender norm in order to denigrate housewives, who honorably provide for their families, but I do want us to ask ourselves whether the contemporary feminine domestic ideal is being shaped by modern culture rather than by Biblical precept.

We too readily incorporate secular ideas of masculinity and femininity into contemporary evangelicalism. In my introduction, I briefly mentioned that ideal of mid-twentieth century manhood, John Wayne. Tall, commanding, and taciturn, Wayne’s manly cowboy shot first and asked questions later. For Wayne, emotions other than anger were for sissies. The same was true for Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name.”

While writing these thoughts, my mind immediately jumped to Mark Driscoll’s identification of Mixed Martial Arts as an expression of masculinity. Mixed Martial Arts may well be a Biblically-defensible activity, but what I want to draw your attention to is Driscoll’s casual equation of masculinity and violence: “I don’t think there is anything purer than two guys in a cage, no balls, no sticks, no bats, no help, no team, and just see which man is better.” Driscoll’s Biblical justification is slim: “Men are made for combat, men are made for conflict and dominion.” Men are made for combat? Somewhere up in heaven, Jael—praised as the “most blessed of women” for driving a nail through an enemy’s skull (Judges 5:24-27)—is laughing.

Driscoll’s idea of aggressive, violent manhood stands in stark contrast to the manly virtues listed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-24. Paul exhorted his “brothers and sisters” in Galatia to walk in the spirit and be filled with “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” rather than the fruits of the flesh, “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Galatians 5:19-24). Neither the fruits of the Spirit nor the fruits of the flesh are gendered. Yet in many churches, we have feminized the fruits of the spirit. We expect women to be kind, gentle, and self-controlled while giving men greater license in those areas.

To return to the original debate between bloggers, Douglas Wilson has argued forcefully that manly worship was worship with martial themes. Wilson posed a series of answers to the titular question “Your Worship Might Be Effeminate If…”, including the following gems:

Your music and sermons almost never contain references to judgment, wrath, battles, enemies, Hell, the devil, or apostasy.

Your music minister is more concerned that the choir trills their r’s correctly than that they fill the sanctuary with loud sounds of battle.

The worship team gravitates toward “Jesus is my girlfriend” songs, and their facial expressions while up front are those of guys in the backseats of their cars, having just gotten to second base with their actual girlfriends;

The minister wears a robe, but the effect is not that of being robed for battle. If that same minister were to wear a kilt, everybody would think it was a skirt from a nearby all-girls private school. But, contrariwise, if the minister were able to wear a kilt in such a way as to terrify sinners with the imagined sound of skirling bagpipes, and the sounds of a small version of Armageddon across the misty moors, and the sermon text were a claymore whistling over their heads, then that kind of man could think about a robe if he wanted.

Notice how Wilson uses words of battle and violence to describe his masculine worship ideal. Those men who do not delight in battle are wussy emoters. To repeat, violence and aggression are manly, intimacy and emotions other than wrath are feminine. Of course, the God of the Bible delights to do battle against his enemies; He is a warrior indeed (Isaiah 42:13)! Yes, Christ will return on a white horse with fiery eyes and a sharp sword (Revelation 19), but he also suffered the little children to come unto him (Matthew 19:14). Nor was Christ afraid to wear his emotions on his sleeve; he was a man of sorrows, much acquainted with our griefs. He wept with Lazarus’s friends (John 11:32-36) and sorrowed over those in Jerusalem who would soon crucify him (Luke 19:41-42). Masculinity can be martial, but it can also be tender, emotional, and intimate. Our ideas of manhood should reflect Christ’s robust masculinity, not be reduced to a militant caricature more informed by spaghetti Westerns than by Scripture.

So what is our takeaway from these examples of evangelicals reading culturally-informed gender norms back into Scripture? First, we are fighting the wrong battles. A large segment of conservative evangelicalism has decided to die on the hill of traditional, Biblical masculinity when that hill is neither all that traditional nor necessarily Biblical. Rather than fighting to keep our wives at home, we ought to be showing how the gospel applies to women in the workplace and to men at home. We do not make much of the gospel by shifting the focus of our preaching and teaching to the defense of questionable gender norms. Second, we need to denounce evangelicals who stray into unbiblical rhetoric and behavior because of their elevation of contemporary gender norms to the level of Scripture. Unfortunately, evangelicals were not the loudest voices condemning the recent words of Baptist Pastor Sean Harris. Third, if we want to understand which of our contemporary gender norms are the products of broader cultural influences, then we desperately need evangelical gender historians. As it is, we typically cede gender history to those who are the least sympathetic to evangelicalism. Similarly, we need to send vastly more conservative evangelical women to seminary, training them as professional theologians rather than shunting them off into “Women’s Ministries” degrees. Fourth, let us avoid turning the complementarian position into a kind of “complementarianism+,” which defends culturally-constructed gender norms as vehemently as it does the gospel itself. Male ecclesiastical authority can stand on Scripture alone.

32 thoughts on “Violent Men, Working Women, and Evangelical Gender Norms

  1. Pingback: God’s Thoughts on Gender Roles? « Taking Back the Bible

  2. Kaylah Driskell

    This is outstanding! This has kind of been a bit of a controversy at our church the last several weeks, so I’ve been doing some studying to try to figure out where I stand on the issue. This helps a lot, so thank you!

    Reply
  3. LINDA CALDWELL

    Thank you for having the guts to write this. You (and other I’m sure) are heading in the right direction. Now if we can just get the mass of Christianity to understand that this is not a “threat” but simply the truth, we can move on to bigger more important matters in what I believe are the worlds “last days” ahead for all of us.

    Reply
  4. Michael C.

    With the off-the-wall things Driscoll says about masculinity, and the hyperbole about gender issues from other evangelicals I’ve been thinking along these same lines recently. You’re right that we too easily adopt wrong ideas from the culture around us.

    After looking anew at Scripture passages that deal with wives, I’m still not convinced that prizing domesticity is an unbiblical value. In this context, the lesson I draw from Proverbs 31 is that Christians should honor multi-faceted, high-performing women. It’s certainly a corrective to the mincing Victorian stereotype.

    But when I’ve come back to Scripture recently to explore what it really says about gender roles, I still get a sense that biblically wives have a unique role in the spheres of home and family. The Victorians got gender roles wrong, but I think we are missing the point if we react by denigrating feminine domesticity.

    In other contexts I’m often the one reading the verses in Prov 31 about commerce, as a corrective to subcultural gender norms. :-) But to be fair, the intervening lines of the passage do talk a good bit about ways in which she tends to home and family. So, we’ve got to do justice to all of it, as well as honor what we see in Titus 2 and other NT passages.

    I’m purposefully playing the devil’s advocate here. I wouldn’t say that I have all of this worked out in my own head, but I’m wary of trading the Victorian’s wrong ideas for the wrong ideas of contemporary culture.

    Thanks for starting this discussion, guys!

    Reply
  5. CharlieJ

    Thanks, Paul. I appreciate the work you’ve done on the sociological and historical side. You say we need evangelical gender historians. I agree. We also need evangelical feminist theologians. Viewing God as male is a perennial temptation for Christianity. Pagan religions could balance the genders in divinity through a pantheon of gods and goddesses. Our monotheistic commitment, along with the potentially problematic titles Father and Son, precludes that route. Catholics found a devotional outlet through the progressive enthronement of Mary until she achieved a quasi-divine status. Protestants, unwilling to go that direction, need to mine Scripture to recover feminine images of God.

    Some good attempts have been made. See Janet Soskice, “Calling God ‘Father’” in The Kindness of God; and Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is. I’m unaware, though, of serious attempts by evangelicals.

    Reply
    1. Paige

      I am sorry, but there is not a place in scripture that even remotely equates God with femininity. He is masculine, most definitely male and not unigender. Feminism has been the downfall of women when saying that equality is equal to being recognized as exactly like a man. Women are completely different. Feminism missed the equal but different part of male and females. Equal in inheritance, equal in salvation but not equal in physical or mental makeup. Women were made for a different path than men.

      Reply
      1. Jeri Massi

        Paige, God is not male. Being male is a material manifestation of masculine gender. And God is not subject to the material elements of this world. But God is also only masculine by relationship to things. He is progenitor, creator, hero, and savior: masculine to the feminine creation. But we still cannot assign what we consider to be masculine characteristics to God as though He were male. Again, that is making God material. He is all virtues. Those virtues are expressed through the material world differently (to an extent) according to male and female. But the virtues themselves are neither masculine nor feminine.

        Reply
  6. Chris Nissley

    I really appreciate your “Lets get back to the Bible view.” That is right on! Thanks for your well thought through and biblical approach. While writing and preaching I realize that it is impossible to say all the “on the other hand(s).” So if I may bring up where the rubber is meeting the road for me… I am not struggling with how to present to the women in my church how to be better business women and workers, but how do you balance that with what the Bible says in Titus 2:5 “To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” God is saying that when men don’t fulfill their role earlier in the passage, and in this verse, women don’t fulfill their role that God’s Word starts to be blasphemed or somehow “thought as though it is meaningless and powerless.” The women in God’s church her in Wichita are not struggling with throwing off Victorian ideals but what does it mean to follow Titus 2; Eph 5; Col 3; 1 Cor 7; 1 Peter 3;Gen 3:16; Mat 5:32…. I think today that the real cry is… what does God say that is against this current culture and warning (as you did so well) not to go to the other extreme.

    I wrote because I am seeing battle lines drawn on both side of conservative Christendom… One side is saying let’s throw off the old way of thinking and all the “old” standards because all they care about is fighting and holding on to tradition… Yet most of us know this is not true for we know many of the men in the “old line.” And many of them show more of the fruit of the Spirit than I do and many of my fellow “young” friends. These are wise men who have had to have Biblical reasons for doing what they have been doing for longer than I have been alive… And yet we assume that they are holding these views just out of thick headedness. Because some have no answer and are just stubborn we assume that all of them are this way…I also see that sometimes we are counted as sissies and not real men because we don’t have the swagger of John Wayne. Or that all we care about is what the latest fad in theology is instead of the Word…But can we not look at the Bible and walk humbly with our God.

    Thank you for thinking and writing so eloquently Paul. I am proud to call you friend! Keep on for Christ!

    Reply
  7. Holly Huffstutler

    Dave or Paul, I appreciate greatly the desire to encourage us to make Scripture supreme as we evaluate gender roles. However, this article did concern me for a couple reasons. I am sure that the intent was not to blur or obliterate gender roles, but it sounds dangerously close to doing so. I write this not as a woman who was shunted off into a “Women’s Ministries” degree, but as a wife and mom who works part-time as a RN, holds a M.A. in Biblical Ministries (including classes in systematic theology, apologetics, worldviews, hermeneutics, etc.), has a daughter who will never be allowed to major in any type of Women’s Ministry degree, and does not play the piano. :)

    I find it concerning (and somewhat insulting, actually) that the article lists as a danger the “idealiz[ation of] middle class Victorian domesticity, which it states has led to the “idealiz[ation of] the role and virtues of the housewife.” It goes on to say in the description of this dangerous ideal, “The ideal evangelical wife—often spotted playing the piano at church before her husband preaches—is one who prioritizes the home over paid work.” I don’t know of any housewife who thinks she is living out the Victorian ideals. I also didn’t know that prioritizing one’s home was a dangerous Victorian ideal.

    The article then cites the woman of Proverbs 31 as evidence that the Victorian ideal of the housewife clashes with the businesswoman and slight workaholic of Proverbs 31. However, a careful look at this proverbial woman will tell you that she does prioritize her home in the midst of business transactions and intense labor. A further look at the whole of Scripture will declare the same. Beginning at creation, the woman is made with a distinct role–helper. The Apostle Paul cites the order, method, and purpose of woman’s creation multiple times in the NT as being significant. In Titus 2, four of the seven prescriptive qualities in which older women are to mentor younger women are related to home and family. All of these qualities are listed as characteristics of one living out sound doctrine/the Gospel.

    The relationship between men and women is also a reflection of the relationship among the members of the Trinity. They are equal in persons, yet different in roles. 1 Cor 11:3 makes this comparison. We do make much of the Gospel when we make much of gender roles.

    Women do have unique gender roles. Women do make much of the Gospel when they allow the Gospel to change their hearts, lives and gender roles in accordance with Scripture. I make much of the Gospel when I prioritize my roles as a godly wife and mother (what else is a home??) over being a nurse. I live out what I learned in Systematic Theology when I love and care for my husband and children–as a housewife.

    I appreciate your addressing this important issue. I felt like the potential conclusions one could make were unintended on your part, which led to my comments–feel free to clarify.

    Reply
  8. admin Post author

    Hi Holly,

    Thanks for the interaction! I’ll let Paul respond if he has time, but let me offer a couple brief thoughts:

    I agree with you that men and women are created equal in essence and distinct in roles (e.g. Trinity analogy) and that the woman’s role is described in terms of helper.

    I agree with you that we make much of the Gospel when we make much of roles and call men and women to faithfully live this out by the Spirit.

    I agree with you that a godly woman takes care of her family and that the Proverbs 31 woman exemplifies that.

    The issue revolves around what faithfulness looks like in this area. It certainly can and often does look like a housewife, but it can and often does look like something more than that. And that’s ok. What Paul is pointing out is that we often functionally show that our gender norms are shaped more by culture than Scripture on this subject when we think the ideal Christian wife is one who will not work outside the home (unless she “has to”) or we structure church calendars in a way that only considers stay-at-home moms, etc.

    To be clear: no one is arguing for eradication of gender roles. I’m confident that we would both affirm the traditional complementarian position (equality in essence/distinction in roles, male headship in the church, etc), while acknowledging that complementarianism has often added tradition to its position.

    Hope that helps.

    Blessings!

    David

    Reply
    1. Paige

      I think that using Proverbs 31 to validate women working outside the home and even for men to be “house husbands” is stretching it. The woman that is being referred to is a woman married to a leader who is well off. She has servants and a large house. It never states that she leaves her estate to work but works within its gates. It is important to understand that this woman was one that Soloman’s mother was encouraging him to hand the throne to if he ever met her. She was one who could help rule a kingdom, not a regular citizen of the time. It should never be held out as an excuse for a man to say to his wife, “see, a good Proverbs 31 woman should contribute to the income of the family”. I have seen this in a lazy man who did not want to do without the income of his wife, while putting his kids in a daycare. It is disgraceful that this article would imply that it is of equal importance for a woman to work than keep at home. There are numerous places in the bible that instructs the man to care for his family’s physical needs while the woman cares for the home and children. It is the honor and calling of a woman to be at home and keep her house and children. To use the few lines of a privileged queens ability to use her husbands money to earn money as an example of a woman working outside the home is one more slap to the Christian woman who knows that God calls her to be a keeper at home yet a lazy man wants the benefit of more income for his own pleasure at the price of his children and wife. This article gives that selfish man an out and a weapon to use against his wife and children.

      Reply
  9. MC Champlin

    I tend to agree strongly with the article: the point that I would make to those who responded with critique is that this is not arguing against women pouring their lives out for their families in their homes, it is arguing that that is not the ‘only’ or maybe even ‘best’ way to be a godly woman, if I understand the article correctly.

    I presume that we would all agree that husbands/fathers should be pouring themselves out for their families in the home too. But, evangelical believers don’t typically consider it more godly for them to work primarily ‘at-home.’ Similarly women, including wives and mothers, are free to work. (Inside and outside the home)(…while prioritizing their family appropriately, though we don’t often feel the need to say this when talking about men…)

    Regarding the Titus 2 emphasis on family aspects of a godly woman, I would just note that I Timothy 3 lays out family aspects of godliness for a man and does not mention them for the woman. This must be an emphasized priority for all of us.

    I do appreciate Holly responding and would love to hear more feedback from the ladies, instead of men dominating the discussion about women… we could discuss the part about us. :)

    Reply
  10. Pingback: Gender roles in the second millennium | To the Glory and Praise of God

  11. Paul Matzko

    @Michael C. — I think we are on the same page. I certainly don’t want to denigrate the importance of home life for women (or, for that matter, for men). Looking back over what I wrote, I think that I could have clarified my argument by having a more precise definition of what I labeled variously “Victorian domesticity” or a “two spheres gender norm.” The more common term for that specific kind of domesticity is “The Cult of Domesticity” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cult_of_Domesticity) and it refers specifically to a feminized domestic sphere.

    @Chris Nissley — For length’s sake, I cut a portion of this post that would have dealt with Titus 2:5 and the creational arguments for wives having a primary responsibility to manage the household. Based on the comments, I may work that up into a follow up post.

    @Holly Huffstutler — I wrote the line, “often spotted playing the piano at church before her husband preaches,” partly in jest to try and rile up Dave whose wife Stephanie plays the piano at their church. (Stephanie will punch me next time I see her, no doubt, thus proving her lack of true Victorian virtue.) (-; That was not a wise attempt at humor because it could have communicated a flippancy about pastor’s wives that I did not intend.

    My goal was not to question giving the home a high priority–that is a Scriptural virtue, I think–but to question our gender specific prioritization. In other words, both men and women have clear Scriptural responsibilities in household management and yet we tend to dump most of those responsibilities on women while excusing men from them. While that may be a fine way of organizing your family depending on individual skills and preferences–my wife and I have a pretty traditional looking household–I think it is A way of doing things, not THE way of doing things.

    As I mentioned to Chris, I may do a followup that includes a look at Titus 2.

    Thanks all for your comments.

    Reply
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  13. Hannah R Anderson

    Like some have mentioned (and I think Paul eventually clarified), a truly biblical understanding of gender will be robust. The trouble we’re facing has less to do with SAH vs. working moms or John Wayne vs. DiCaprio, but the need to understand the fullness of human identity–God is a multi-faceted, multi-layered being and as his image-bearers, we are as well.

    That being said, there are some very basic reasons why women (and myself included) often choose to stay at home with young children and it has less to do with Victorian values than it does with simply having certain body parts and the physical demands placed on them through pregnancy and (if you chose) breastfeeding. But for me, this is no tension. I find my place in this world through the intersection of my god-given abilities–my spiritual, mental, emotional, and yes, even physical gifting.

    Because the truth is that John Wayne couldn’t be a prima ballerina even if he wanted to.

    Reply
  14. Joann

    The author did not add all of the verses from Proverbs 31. One in particular says a lot more than he added there. Proverbs 31:27 “She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.” The most important things a woman can do for her family.

    And one has to look to other places in Scripture as wel,l like Titus 2. Titus 2:3-5 “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, (4) and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, (5) to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” I take the working at home part to mean what it means. But the most important part of these verses is the last. Everything we do should be done with the goal “that the Word of God may not be reviled”.

    Reply
  15. Josh

    I am slightly fuzzy on the reasoning behind his third point and was hoping for a little help. I agree with the idea that we shouldn’t be ” shunting them off into “Women’s Ministries” degrees”, but i wonder what does a women with a seminary degree making one a “professional theologian” do ? It would seem many seminaries may not hire a women prof to train men for ministry … so in one sense what is the point of being a professional theologian when one may not be able to be a professional theologian? How does going to seminary help one to become a woman more in line with the example laid out for us in Prov 31?

    Reply
    1. MKC

      Being a professional theologian gives them a significantly more stable, accurate, weighty, and practical approach to the Word that facilitates deeper, richer God-centered teaching of children, wiser interaction with the “poor and needy,” and authentic, joyful submission to earthly authorities (husband included) growing out of constant, keen-eyed, energetic submission to the Creator, Word-giver, Ruler, Father, Master, etc.
      Women are masters at “helping” Scripture mean what they think it means or want it to mean, and this often happens simply because they lack the tools/training to do otherwise. “Professional theologian housewives” could do a phenomenal job of passing on both a love for God and His Word as well as an adequate hermeneutic to the next generation. Moral principles weakly and vaguely tied to Scripture have become a norm in the Christian family. If we equipped our women to interact with Scripture in weightier ways, the home and everything that issues from it–the husband’s business, the wife’s enterprises, the children’s present and future worldviews and relationships, the friend and guest interactions–would be massively benefited by the increased depth and discernment and character and stability borne out of the kind of healthy, rigorous interaction with the Word that is nurtured by seminary training.
      (For what it’s worth, I just graduated from seminary…) :)

      Reply
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  17. Holly Huffstutler

    @Dave: I knew you believed all those things. My post was simply to bring out the clarifications! :)

    @Paul: Actually, the piano comment did not bother me; it annoys me when people expect a pastor’s wife to play the piano. :) The comment that bothered me was the criticism that the ideal Christian wife prioritizes the home over paid work. I don’t think the argument is really whether a wife/mom works outside of the home or not (whether she “has to” or not). Titus 2 does not forbid a woman working outside of the home; it mandates that a woman work in the home (as opposed to being lazy). However, I don’t think we can deny that the home is her primary responsibility–whether or not she additionally has responsibilities outside of the home. The emphases of Prov 31 and Titus point towards the careful watch over and provision for the needs of the family. Obviously, this is done in conjunction with the husband who is to manage his household well (1 Tim 3:4).

    The question comes down to individual situations and motives. God does call women (implicitly) to prioritize the home over other responsibilities. If a woman and her husband choose to have her work (even if she does not “have to”), they must carefully examine their hearts. First, are their motivations for her working stemming from a biblical or selfish desire? Secondly, is she still able to make her husband and children a priority while still working? If their motivations stem from a biblical desire (for example, saving for kids’ college) and she is able to at the same time pour herself into serving her husband and children effectively, great!

    Practically, I think working while children are young makes it challenging to be able to pour yourself into serving your family. Personally, I long for the day when my job description is “only” housewife. I will miss the paychecks, but I won’t miss the opportunities of spending more time with my children and husband.

    On another practical level, there is (from what my husband has told me and from official surveys I’ve read) a strong desire in men to provide for their families. When the roles are reversed (even for a temporary time, because a family “has to”), a man feels a sense of defeat and weakness in not being the provider. This can have effects on family dynamics and interaction. Here I do not speak as a man, but as a woman who has seen and heard such.

    Again, Paul, I assumed that your intent was not to degrade housewives, to give selfish men an out, or to call for blurring of gender roles. I just thought that clarification was needed, which you were quick to give!

    @Josh: Some seminaries do hire women to teach women’s studies (e.g., Mary Kassian at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). However, most of us with seminary training will never teach professionally. However, a firm theological foundation is essential for every Christian–including women. If a woman has the opportunity to attend seminary and/or get a degree, she should jump at the chance! I was able to take 12 credits of Systematic Theology with my husband at seminary, then transfer some of the credits into an online master’s program. It has helped me immensely spiritually and practically. I am better equipped to study the Bible myself, teach/counsel other women, write, and view the world through a biblical worldview. I will be better trained to teach my children the gospel and its practical implications because of it. (As a side note, seminary and further training is not necessary to do any of these things, but it’s an added bonus!)

    Reply
    1. Paul Matzko

      Holly, since I may do another post on Titus 2 and I Timothy 3, I will try to be brief. By placing those two passages side by side, you’ve touched on the crux of the problem with gendering domesticity. Scripture commands both men and women to manage the household, yet we interpret that as a command more applicable to women then to men. Men should also prioritize the family and domestic responsibilities, yet we are more likely to give them a pass when they do not.

      As far as how things “feel,” I’d be careful of basing what we ought to do on how we feel about it. Culture usually operates at the level of assumption. When a certain belief or behavior is “common sensical,” so obvious as to be beyond question, it is typically a cultural product. For example, it used to be “common sense” that women should not be allowed to vote because they were emotionally unsteady and dependents of their father or husband. Women’s suffrage was beyond question. It just “made sense” that women shouldn’t vote and so nineteenth century evangelical preachers wielded verses about submission and domesticity to justify that assumption. Yet now it doesn’t “make sense” and I can’t think of any contemporary evangelical who would argue that it is unbiblical for women to vote. Culture operates on the level of unconscious assumptions and feelings.

      So when a man feels defeated or depressed at not being the primary breadwinner, I have to wonder if it is a cultural product that guys internalize. We expect that of ourselves because society expects it of us. That doesn’t mean the feeling is fake–I’m sure it is an awful feeling. But I wonder if it is a Biblically-grounded or culturally-constructed feeling.

      Which is true has practical consequences. Should a pastor spend his time praying with the man for a new job so that he can return to his rightful position as the primary breadwinner and his wife can return home? Or should a pastor counsel the man against allowing cultural expectations to dictate his contentment and caution him against the pride that he derived from his job?

      Reply
  18. Taborri Walker

    I used to be a christian but am not anymore, nor will I go back to it. The severe right position of the majority of every church I ever attended drove me away. If they had thier way, if there was no one like you, good author, we women would be back in Victorian Times. Most christians only follow the verses they want to obey and forego all the others. Isn’t it true that if you disobey one law you break them all? So many christians are worse sinners than us who are not christian. I also thought that christians now are living in the era of GRACE and not law. Jesus said ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ but this is not being followed, not even in homes. Women are treated with contempt (I was abused for 15 years by a “godly man” according to other church-goers, emotionally, physically and sexually all in the name of the Law, God’s Law. The Bible tells men to love thier wives as themselves, but this is a rare occurrence. If I had been in a church with a preacher such as yourself, I might not have left the christian religion. Thank you for a well written and astonishingly brave report on the true value of women in society

    Reply
    1. Paul Matzko

      Taborri, I am sad to hear about the abuse you endured. Conservative Christians need to seriously take account of stories like yours; all too often, abusive husbands and authoritarian pastors have justified their sin against their wives and church members with complementarian arguments and found cover in cultural assumptions about absolute patriarchal authority. Conservative evangelicals should be the harshest critics of these hypocrites; unfortunately, all too often we are not.

      I am also sad to hear that your experience drove you away from Christ. Unlike human husbands, He is a perfect bridegroom. He loves you more than any other person ever could. Like you, he suffered at the hands of hypocrites, ultimately dying on the cross for our sins (including the sins of those who had crucified and vilified him). The only way that we can fulfill the greatest commandment that you mentioned–since we are depraved, lost, hypocritical sinners by nature–is through Christ. Cling to him.

      Reply
  19. MKC

    Taborri, I, too, was abused…while growing up in the very conservative Christian circles. I’m sure our experiences differed significantly, and I’m sure there are many things that I don’t understand and can’t fathom about your pain. Nevertheless, as one who has also tasted the bitterness of abuse and hypocrisy, I wanted to echo Paul’s words: Jesus is the True Husband…He is the perfect Lover. He is good and satisfying. And He can heal you..something I’m still learning in new ways… Cling to Him.

    Reply
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  22. Doug Hodge

    I kind of wonder if everyone is missing the point I think both the author and David are trying to make – the point I see is – from where do we get our standards – from Scripture or from societal norms?

    Reply

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