“A&E” refers to Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, authors of So Much More. I chose the abbreviation to save space and time.
Pictured above are the beautiful badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Medora, ND. (Photo taken by your adventurous blogmistress this past summer.) Hey, if Doug Phillips and A&E can quote him – and A&E did, briefly, in this chapter as part of their defense of mandatory homemaking – I can post pictures of the park named after him and call it relevant to my post.
And speaking of mandatory homemaking, I will say one thing for Chapter 9. For once, A&E were direct and said exactly what they were thinking. They believe homemaking is God’s will for women, and that careers outside the home are sinful. In fact, they believe that when a woman pursues a career outside the home, she is “pretending to be a man” and harming civilization. Numerous quotes to this effect are scattered throughout the chapter.
Women were designed by God to be the happiest, most fulfilled, most productive, most appreciated, and most honored as homemakers. No other career can come close to the importance of homemaking. Most other careers actually undermine God’s order by cheating women out of their first and best calling and taking civilization in the wrong direction. This is because homemakers are so central to guiding and shaping civil society. When women leave that domain to pretend to be men, it’s not just silly, it’s detrimental to a woman’s life and her culture. (p. 111)
Because only God can dictate what sin is, and because sin is a very serious thing, we must be very cautious about what we label as sin. Careerism may not technically be a sin in theological terms, but doing one’s best to get out from under God’s order for families and society may be sinful action done with sinful motives. It may not be “want of conformity to the law of God,” but it does appear to be want of conformity to His design for civil society. (p. 116)
This does not mean that women should be kept prisoners in their homes. It means that women should be the guards, protectors, and keepers of their homes. God did not create the home to be a “house” or a cage for women, or a place to keep the women because they weren’t allowed to be anywhere else. But devoting herself to any other sphere would be a waste of her time and her life and would keep her from realizing her full potential. (p. 116)
On one level, this is refreshing, especially after chapters and chapters of vagueness in definitions. On the other hand, I obviously disagree, since reaching A&E’s conclusions requires accepting several of their prior premises about gender roles, which I’ve spent the last eight chapters debunking.
There were one or two small points, however, on which I (kind of) agreed with A&E – for instance, on attempts to make “career women” out of specific female figures in the Bible, specifically Ruth and the woman in Proverbs 31:
Some argue that Ruth was a biblical example of a widow who got a job to support herself and her mother-in-law. Closer reading of the book of Ruth reveals a woman living off the charity of a benevolent man who understood God’s order. … Boaz assumed responsibility for her safety and support, extending his protection and cautioning her to stay on his estate with the other young women.
It is true that, in the historical and social context of the day, Ruth did not have a “career” as we would define it today, and neither did the Proverbs 31 woman. So yes, I would say Ruth is mostly irrelevant to the question of whether women can work outside the home. Unfortunately for A&E, Ruth is also irrelevant to their views on gender roles. They just assume here that Ruth is a book about “God’s order” for the sexes, and until they produce any arguments for that position, I see no reason to view it as anything other than an argument from silence. (Better questions to ask, I think, include how do A&E explain Ruth’s forwardness with Boaz in light of their patriocentrist associates’ views on courtship? How can the words of King Lemuel’s mother in Proverbs 31 be considered inspired and inerrant if women can never authoritatively teach men in the church? And what do A&E do with Lydia, who appears to have had her own business and is never mentioned in connection with a husband or father?)
The other small point of agreement is that having a career outside the home is not a “duty” for women (as A&E characterized it in a chapter heading: “Don’t I have a duty to…support myself with a career outside the home?”). It’s not a sin to marry right out of high school and spend your life as a stay-at-home mom and a homemaker. But again, this is only partial agreement, because I also don’t think it’s a “duty” for a man to have a career outside the home, or that it’s sin for a man to stay home with his children.
Getting back to the chapter, however, what exactly do A&E propose that women do with their lives, besides homemaking? Mostly, it seems, serve in the church:
Women, regardless of whether or not they are busy full-time taking care of children, are too precious to the body of Christ to be squandered in worldly pursuits. … Throughout Scripture, women are praised for laboring in building up the body of Christ through deeds of benevolence and generosity. There is a desperate need for women doing these things in our churches! If we are too busy earning that second income to reach out to others, it shows that we have followed the world’s path of skewed priorities and are not worthy of honor. It is precisely those women who have no children to keep them busy who are available to fulfill these great needs.
Again, I do agree that service (and not just service in and to the church) is extremely important and women should participate. But to frame the question as either service or a career is unhelpful, especially in A&E’s obviously gender-skewed manner. Are they equally worried that a man who is too busy with his career will forget to serve, or is this only a female problem? Notice also that even though they are ostensibly talking about all childless women, they still use the phrase “second income” when referring to women’s careers – yet another indication that, no matter how hard they try, A&E simply cannot conceive of a woman independently from a man, and how such situations don’t work well in their proposed system.
It should be noted first that the Bible never encourages us to follow our passions or pursue our dreams. And though it speaks of using our spiritual gifts, it doesn’t permit us to use any gift or ability for purposes that are contrary to God’s order or God’s timing.
But insofar as our aptitudes and gifts can be used for the glory of God, we should use them. Church and families thrive on the diversities of gifts women can develop. Gifts in music, academics, medicine, and many other areas can be channeled into womanly, God-honoring realms, and used to enrich and edify fellow believers.
However, we can’t structure out lives around our gifts, but rather around our calling as women, as helpers in the Dominion Mandate (though this calling may well involve these gifts). We have to be willing to set them aside if duty calls.
Here again, it is obviously good for women to use their gifts. But while the above might give the illusion of a wide selection of options, A&E make it clear that a woman’s corporate gender-based prupose (see here for more detailed explanation) still takes precedence over her individual gifting and purpose every time. Thus, this is operating fully within the restrictions previously in this and the previous eight chapters. However, A&E did manage to overlook one thing from previous chapters that they seemed quite insistent about at the time:
We believe that most gifts God gives to women can be developed and used, in some way, for His glory. But we can’t let them lead us into fields that are off limits to us. Just because a woman might be brilliantly talented in business affairs doesn’t mean she should be the CEO of a giant corporation. But she may use this ability to be an outstanding helpmeet to her husband. Regardless of interests or talents, there are some roles that women aren’t meant to assume.
Here A&E say, indirectly, that some women may have gifts that cannot be “developed and used…for [God’s] glory” (i.e., within their prescribed gender role). However, in previous chapters they made it clear that women are gifted by God according to their gender role. In fact this idea came up so often that I eventually gave it the official title Sex-Based Gift Distribution (SBGD). But how can this be true if some women’s gifts cannot be developed for God’s glory?
(I’m also having trouble not seeing a highly convenient aspect to this theology. Rather than channeling their gifts into a career (i.e., be paid), women are instead supposed to use them in service to the church (i.e., for free). The end result of this, of course, is droves of unpaid labor for churches – which, let’s just say, must be very appealing if your small patriocentrist church is having budget problems. I’m also curious what A&E would make of my job as a church organist, because I’m serving in the church and making money in my career of choice at the same time.)
A&E also claim that women who are not homemakers are wasting their lives (emphasis mine):
This does not mean that women should be kept prisoners in their homes. It means that women should be the guards, protectors, and keepers of their homes. God did not create the home to be a “house” or a cage for women, or a place to keep the women because they weren’t allowed to be anywhere else. But devoting herself to any other sphere would be a waste of her time and her life and would keep her from realizing her full potential.
It’s probably obvious to everyone who is not a patriocentrist that this is a preposterous thing to say. All women who have devoted their lives to something other than homemaking have, in fact, wasted them? Does that include Marie Curie? Florence Nightingale? Elizabeth Agassiz? And on the church side of things, Lottie Moon, Gladys Aylward, Amy Carmichael and Mother Teresa? True, Curie and Agassiz were married and worked together in their fields with their husbands, but that’s still a significant chunk of time devoted to something other than homemaking. So when does a woman’s non-homemaking interest become too all-consuming? Or is it all good as long as she’s also a homemaker and her husband has the same interest?
As usual, chapter 9 also contains a number of rhetorical devices designed to keep readers from questioning A&E’s dicta. On today’s menu, the “why play with fire” technique:
We should not be asking ourselves, “How unbiblical is it for a woman to get a career?” or “In what circumstances would it be permissible?” These questions amount to “How close can I get to the fire without being burned?” or “How far away can I get from God’s perfect will without crossing the line into technicalities of sinning?” Isn’t this kind of “testing the limits” the course of passive rebellion in itself?
If you ask probing questions about our position, you are “passively rebelling” against God and seeking to flirt with sin. If you really took your sanctification seriously, you would be playing it safe by just accepting what we say is God’s order for gender roles! After all, the most limiting position is the most cautious, and therefore must be the most correct if you want to be devout and diligent against sin like you should be.
A&E even go so far as to claim that women who work outside the home are inviting God’s curse on America:
If a woman wants to do her society a favor, the last thing she should do is extend God’s curse even further by perpetutating the feminist tactics that helped invoke His curse on our society in the first place. However good a woman’s intentions may be, the ends never justify the means. … A godly woman might seem more qualified to serve the office of civil magistrate than any man around, and, in fact, she might be more qualified. She might be able to do more immediate outward good, but in the end it will be to the ultimate detriment of her society. It has been God’s practice to bless entire nations because of an individual’s godliness and obedience (one example is Joseph in Egypt). The best thing a woman can do for her country, regardless of its situation, is to pursue God’s perfect design for her life and her role as a woman, so that her righteousness will entreat God to revoke His judgment on her country and instead shower blessings on it.
Finally, I think it’s worth addressing this idea:
Careerism for women became “correct” simply because the alternative has become “incorrect.” Women of this century are surrounded by savage ridicule of the choice to stay at home, help their husbands and train their children.
I have mixed feelings about this. It is generally true that most women today work, and it is more acceptable today for women to choose not to have children. That probably disturbs A&E, but I don’t share the theological assumptions that led to their distress and so I can’t really sympathize on that point. As for stay-at-home mothers being the targets of “savage ridicule,” I personally haven’t seen this much. I will grant, however, that I grew up in Christian homeschooling circles, and thus my experience might not be representative. So what happens if we look at a larger sample of people – for instance, the internet?
I don’t know what any of my readers’ experience has been, but I have found, again, a mixture of good and bad behavior by everyone. I’ve seen feminists who look down on women who decide to stay home with their children. I’ve seen just as many (actually more) feminists who are in favor of women making whatever choice works for them. I’ve seen angry childless people who don’t like children and call them things like “crotchfruit,” and make fun of people who choose to have them. I’ve also seen parents who think all non-parents are selfish and clueless and will only socialize with other parents. So I find it a bit difficult to construct a society-wide pattern out of all this.
One thing I do have serious doubts about, however, given the rhetoric in this chapter alone – let alone the past eight (and esp. this one), and the 40 or so hours of Vision Forum material I listened to previously – is whether a career woman in a patriocentrist community would fare any better than A&E’s stay-at-home mom living among radical feminists.