In my first post in this series, I mentioned that Grudem believes that a wife’s primary responsibility is “to care for home and to nurture children.” “Each can help the other,” he writes, “but there remains a primary responsibility that is not shared equally” (from page 44). Perhaps at his place it’s true that his wife takes primary responsibility for the home and the children, but his preference really shouldn’t be imposed on others, especially when there’s nothing in the Bible that tells us this is the way it should be. I worry about this “primary responsibility” language; it sounds to me very similar to the idea of motherhood being the “highest calling” for women, which is not only theologically questionable, it’s unhelpful and can be incredibly harmful.
I fear this attitude has been a huge factor leading – wrongly – to the glorification of marriage and family in our churches, and therefore the (accidental) pushing of singleness to the other end of the “YAY!” scale (marriage: “Super YAY!” Singleness: “Not very much YAY! at all”). On this scale, singleness is slotted in at the bottom; getting married bumps us up a notch (more points for becoming a ministry wife?), and having a baby promotes us to our highest calling: Motherhood. The top of the pile. It seems that we Christians are obsessed with hierarchies, which is ironic given we follow a guy who, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).
So, once again, my questions to the churches who embrace Grudem’s complementarian theology are these: If a woman’s primary responsibility is to look after her home and children, then is the primary responsibility of a single woman to find herself a husband ASAP? After all, there are only so many kids’ ministry positions available. What messages (implicit or otherwise) are these single women hearing from their churches? Are they words of grace and comfort and empowerment? Words that excite them and send them back into the world on fire for God’s ongoing work in and through them in this season of their lives?
And what about married women who are unable or have decided not to have children? What messages (implicit or otherwise) are these women hearing from their churches? Words that embrace them, bless them, bring them peace and affirmation? And what about mothers who, perhaps only because they find housework and child-rearing mind-numbingly dull and depressing, work full-time? What messages (implicit or otherwise) are these women hearing from their churches? Are they words understanding and refreshment and encouragement?
I don’t know. I’m a woman who (externally) looks somewhat like I agree with Grudem’s idea of responsibilities (I stay home with my son, but my husband’s name appears on our Saturday morning cleaning roster as many times as mine). I have some beloved friends who are single, though, and I know I’ve ached for them in church sometimes (and argued with ministers/lay people on their behalf after church sometimes). I’ve ached for those women who struggle with infertility, surrounded in church by couples gushing over pregnancies and new babies, many suffering in silence. I've ached for fellow mums who wrestle with the stay-home-or-not question, and accept that they'll probably be negatively judged for choosing the ’not’ option.
I’m going to pass it over to more gifted writers to respond to the “motherhood as highest calling” claim; I especially like this post and this post and this post. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed with all the linking and have decided you'll only click on one, make it this one about biblical womanhood by Sarah Bessey, who concludes that biblical womanhood doesn’t look all that different from biblical personhood: male or female, single, married, childless or surrounded by small people, all Christians “live and move and have [our] being in the daily reality of being a follower of Jesus, living in the reality of being loved.” (Karen, please forgive her for saying some of this in bold.) And, as you know, I LOVE this book on singleness by Taryn Rose. If you haven’t yet read it, go find yourself a copy right now. RIGHT NOW! You can borrow mine, I’ll post it to you.
And that, my dear friends, is all I have to say about Grudem. I may have a small rant about the phrase “equal but different” (seriously, what part of ‘equal’ are they wanting to qualify, leading to the use of ‘but’ rather than ‘and’? Would it be okay to say, “Asians are equal, but...” or “Cleaners are equal, but...”? I know that complementarians can’t say that women are equal without having to then explain why they have to concentrate on getting dinner ready rather than preparing a sermon, but why advertise it?), but probably not. So, with all of my againsts cast aside, I’m now freeeeeeeeeee to move on to sharing the fors for evangelical egalitarianism, the “equal and different” team.