If you’ve read even a tiny bit of evangelical literature on gender roles, you’ve probably encountered the idea that men are supposed to provide and lovingly self-sacrifice for their families. Not surprisingly, A&E agree with this idea – though as usual, they’ve put their own subtle, peculiar and damaging twist on it. It starts out looking relatively ordinary:
Adam’s curse pertained to the difficulty he would have providing for his family. This is the man’s duty. 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”
Never in Scripture are women given the responsibility to provide for their families. This is a job specifically given to men, to the extent that if they fail in their responsibility, they are worse than unbelievers.
Sounds okay, right? Isn’t it a bad thing to neglect your family? Of course it is. But as always, there’s more going on here. Beginning with A&E’s spin on the curse in Genesis 3.
Plants are for boys
For reference, here’s the actual text of Adam’s curse:
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
Now to return to A&E. The essential claim here is that only men are affected by this part of the curse. A&E can sustain that claim, however, only by failing to define the word “provide,” because if we actually bother to do that, it becomes abundantly clear that A&E’s interpretation of Genesis 3 just doesn’t work.
First let’s look at “provide” in the narrow sense – i.e., a paycheck. Only men should work outside the home, and “provide for their families” by bringing home wages, while the wife keeps house and takes care of the children. Sounds nice, but what does a paycheck have to do with the ground (which is, after all, what’s being cursed here)? A man who works as, say, an accountant, has nothing to do with farming or agriculture. He sits in an office behind a computer screen, crunching numbers. He may not even know how to garden. So how does this part of the curse practically affect him, other than potential disruptions to his food supply?
A&E would probably respond that the curse has broader implications, and that Joe the Accountant has to work hard for his wages. Okay, fine. It seems to me like a bit of an interpretive leap to go from agriculture to computer accounting, but if A&E want to interpret the curse this broadly, I suppose they can. Especially since it undercuts their main thesis, which is that only men can provide for their families. In other words, if they can turn farming into a desk job, then I can certainly look at “provide” in the broader sense – i.e. food, clothing and shelter.
Has it ever been true that only men were involved in the process of providing food, clothing and shelter to their families? Obviously not. The Bible itself recognizes this, and in one of A&E’s favorite passages, Proverbs 31. The “virtuous wife” of Proverbs 31 is intimately involved in these activities. In fact, many of these things earned her the title “virtuous” in the first place:
She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands. She is like the merchant ships, she brings her food from afar. She also rises while it is yet night, and provides food for her household, and a portion for her maidservants. … She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. … She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household is clothed with scarlet. She makes tapestry for herself; her clothing is fine linen and purple. … She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes to the merchants.
This makes A&E’s assertion that women are never “given the responsibility to provide for their families” completely ridiculous. Their actual citation for this teaching is 1 Tim. 5:8, which states that those who do not provide for their families are worse than unbelievers. But if women are never responsible for doing this, then we’re left in the position of having to claim that a widow who lets her children go hungry, has not neglected her obligations, because as a woman, that really wasn’t her job anyway.
As for A&E’s root claim, that only men are affected by the curse on the ground, does this hold any water at all? Of course not. I shouldn’t have to ask whether women have ever been involved in agriculture, and I won’t, because the answer is so painfully obvious. If a woman (like me) has ever had a garden (like I have), she knows exactly what the curse on the ground looks like in practical terms. Unless weeds only grow in men’s gardens in A&E’s world.
Love me tender Make me a sammich
As it turns out, however, all that stuff about curses and provision is really only an appetizer for the real bombshell of chapter 3 – wives are not called to agape love their husbands:
It’s interesting to see that there is even a distinction in the kind of love that men and women are to bear to one another. In the original Greek, the word “love” used here is agape. Carolyn Mahaney, in her book Feminine Appeal, explains, “The Greek word agape refers to a self-sacrificing love. It’s a love that gives to others even if nothing is given back.” In contrast, whenever women are instructed to love their husbands, the word agape is not used. Women are to have phileo love for their husbands. Phileo love refers rather to a tender, affectionate, brotherly love. It is men who are commanded specifically to show sacrificial love and be, as Christ was, “the Saviour of the body” (“body” referring to the wife, see Ephesians 5:23).
(Scarily, this may actually mean that women in general are not commanded to agape love men in general – notice that A&E have once again conflated marriage with gender itself in the first sentence. I don’t want that to be the case, but given that A&E have already taught that all women should submit to all men in some way, I wouldn’t put it past them to teach this too.)
This, frankly, is the dumbest, most easily disprovable assertion I’ve yet encountered in patriocentric literature. Here’s a list of all the instances of the verb form of agape (agapao) in the New Testament. It occurs 147 times. (That’s only the verb form – a search for the noun yields an even bigger list, which includes the famous 1 Corinthians 13 “love” passage often used at weddings.) Many of these are verses telling Christians to love each other, with no gender clause tacked on the end. So while A&E’s discussion of the different words for love in Ephesians 5 may be interesting, it’s ultimately not that meaningful for the practical working out of love in a marriage. In other words, this is all smoke, mirrors and crap, and, as we’ll see below, a lame attempt by A&E to redefine self-sacrifice out women’s love. In fact, A&E seem to know that their teaching here will be controversial, and thus immediately do some preemptive damage control:
Yes, all Christians are supposed to die for another in various ways. But the Bible does have specific, different instructions for men and women on this subject! Certainly, women are supposed to make sacrifices, even lay down their lives, for others, but never in Scripture does God issue a command for women to die for men. He does lay it down as a command for men, though.
I’m not sure where the gender-specific command to men to die for women is. No reference was given, so I assume they derived it from their faulty teaching about agape applying only to men/husbands. More importantly, this seems pretty darn general, doesn’t it?
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)
Was Jesus talking only to men here? He must have been, according to A&E, or else He would have been holding up self-sacrifice to the point of death as a possibility for women, and that would be a violation the created order. That He created.
What is a woman supposed to do if a truck is speeding toward her husband and he’s unaware of that fact? It would be self-sacrifice to the point of death for her to knock him out of the way and get hit by the truck herself. That’s his job, not hers. Right? And what about female martyrs? Was it wrong of them to die for their faith? A&E’s conclusion may shed light on these questions:
Women are, by all means, called to make sacrifices for others and give their lives for the Christian faith. How? A true woman of God will spend her life serving God with every aspect of her being, glorifying Him by following His pattern for the family. A woman who is willing to lay down her life for others will devote her life to her family, to her husband and children.
What A&E are teaching here, in essence, is that “dying for others” is literal for men, but figurative for women. Men, like the noble men on the Titanic (who of course were mentioned), are called by God to sacrifice their actual literal lives for women. Women are called by God to “die” by committing themselves to being a stay-at-home mother and never working outside the home.
There’s a few conclusions we can draw from this. First, overall this section reminds me of John Piper’s little story about Jason and Sarah, in which a physically incompetent man is supposed to defend a woman with a black belt in karate from a mugger, simply because he is a man. Second, I can only assume that all women are required to marry, or else they are not “true women,” not really glorifying and serving God, not giving their lives for the Christian faith, and not making sacrifices for others. This is the only logical conclusion I can see, given that A&E have narrowly defined self-sacrifice for women only as “being a wife and mother.” I also worry that by so downplaying the term “self-sacrifice” in reference to women, A&E risk demanding that women sacrifice a great many things (time, career, independence, etc.), all while appearing unwilling to call that sacrifice what it is.
Finally, given that they claim to be honoring traditional femininity, I find it interesting that A&E ultimately equate stay-at-home motherhood with death. That’s hardly a glowing description of the lifestyle they supposedly want to promote. In fact, it sounds an awful lot like something one of those evil godless feminists they so despise would (supposedly) say. (Personally, I’ve encountered many feminists in my journeys through the blogosphere, and none of them have equated stay-at-home motherhood with death.) The irony is so thick I think I could cut it with a knife.