Miyamoto Musashi, one of the greatest swordsmen of all time, taught that you become a warrior when you stop trying to become a warrior. It’s all very zen-ish, and it took me years to understand what he meant. Now that I understand it (I think), I can see how this perspective applies to many areas of life—including the area of becoming a good husband (or wife). Now there are several topics about which I feel that, if I have to offer advice, then our society is probably beyond hope. Gender relations is one of those areas. But because I see so much angst between men and women in our society, I’d like to offer my thoughts on the issue in hopes that some may be more inclined to build bridges rather than walls. Because this is such a touchy issue these days, I’m liable to piss off everyone who reads this article, but I’m going to address it anyway, although admittedly, as a husband, I still have much to learn. So take it from someone who is still trying….
I’m not positive about this, but I’m getting the distinct impression that gender relations are gradually deteriorating in American society. I sometimes wonder whether this is mostly drama manufactured by the media, but other indicators seem to show that while much of the drama is fomented by the media, many people are buying into the hype and actually becoming more irate and divisive rather than building relationships and making an attempt to get along. They seem to take the view that “there are problems, so we’re going to generate as much anger as we can against any and all who would disagree with us.”
Now it is probable that the vast majority of people are not caught up in the craziness and simply go about their business in a quiet and respectful manner, attempting to get along with others as best they can, but I have heard very few public voices that actually take a rational and balanced approach to gender issues.
As part of growing up, boys and girls need to figure out how to get along with each other. Then they reach the courtship years where choosing a mate is a constant source of anxiety and drama. Once one enters marriage, men and women spend the remainder of their adult lives figuring out how to relate to each other and teaching their children how to relate to the opposite sex. It’s a headache, and that’s when people are trying to be decent human beings and treat each other right.
There are a few points in the Genesis creation account that are worth remembering. I was challenged to reconsider this story some months ago when listening to Jeremy Myers’ podcast series on the first few chapters of Genesis. What is clear is that God deliberately created man and woman to be distinctly different—together revealing His image. He created them to be complementary—neither complete without the other, both working together to rule over creation. Fast forward a bit, and we see God confronting Adam and Eve about eating the forbidden fruit in their attempt to usurp God’s authority. At that time, God foretold of the conflict between men and women that would result from Adam and Eve’s self-promoting and prideful attitude (thinking they were able and worthy to do the job that only God could do). God’s prediction, of course, came true. Men and women frequently find themselves at odds with each other, to the great frustration of both. This conflict is often comedic, with many plays, books, and movies poking fun at the frustration experienced by men and women who struggle to understand each other.
The conflict also manifests itself in ways that aren’t funny at all. Many instances abound of men using their physical strength advantage to sexually assault or physically abuse women. Many instances abound of women using a sexual relationship to gain status or money. Men have tried to manipulate women in order to satisfy sexual urges. Women have tried to manipulate men in order to satisfy emotional needs. Loyalties have been betrayed. Families have been torn apart. The selfishness, spitefulness, and vindictiveness have left both men and women with severe spiritual and emotional wounds. Because of the cause-and-effect nature of our world, children often suffer horribly from these battles. Men abandon their pregnant girlfriends, leaving them to raise a child on their own. Women, sometimes due to pressure from their boyfriends, take the lives of their own children for the sake of a career.
There are two huge problems in human society that are the root cause of pretty much all other problems: they are, in order, men and women. And now that gender relations have come to the forefront of public debate, as usual, Christians are veering off onto one side of the road or another because religion always clouds the issue rather than clarifying it.
I sometimes see a couple of approaches to biblical advice on male-female relations that are frustratingly wrong. The first is “if it’s in the bible, then God said it, and that settles it.” Ironically, even those that believe in the divine authorship of the bible don’t operate according to that principle. For instance, Paul clearly directs women to submit to and obey their husbands. Yet most Christian husbands, even those who take the verse as a literal command from God, don’t treat their wives as if they were subordinates. The second approach is “since men and women are equal, we should disregard entirely what Paul says about husbands and wives.” Neither of these approaches are useful, and they undermine our attempts to live together in harmony as God intended. I believe that a tremendous amount of wisdom on gender relations can be found in the bible—even in the words of Paul. I’d like to look at some of the more challenging questions that Christians are struggling with, as well as at the advice that Paul gave on some of these issues.
Should women work outside the home? Should wives be submissive to their husbands? Should women be allowed to teach in church? Can women be pastors? Why are men so afraid to talk about these issues? How should Christians follow Paul’s advice on gender relations? Egalitarianism vs complementarianism? Might as well jump right in.
Women and Work
A very popular conservative view is that women should stay at home to raise children rather than working outside the home. Let’s take a look at how this view developed. It’s important to note that this view is always held in the context of the family. I’ve never heard anyone say that a single woman should not hold a job. So let’s look at how family life has developed over the centuries.
For thousands of years, families worked together to survive. They all helped tend the fields or the flocks. Preparing meals was a major undertaking as fires had to be built and maintained, grain had to be ground into flour, and animals had to be milked and butchered. Cooking is usually seen as something women tend to excel at more than men. That may be true, and domestic chores may have come to be viewed as feminine due to the natural division of labor in ancient times. But make no mistake, there was nothing easy about domestic chores in those days. Farming, husbandry, or work in the family trade was the normal way of life for most people. Children’s education was facilitated mostly at the family level as fathers and mothers taught their children the family trade—farming, hunting, weaving, blacksmithing, etc.
The industrial revolution changed the family survival dynamic as factories and retail stores were opened. Men began to work away from the family and women generally reared and educated the children. If only for biological reasons, it made sense for women to care for very young children more so than men. Fathers and mothers worked together to ensure family survival, but the family dynamic was changing.
Educational requirements began evolving as well. To be competitive in the work force, children needed to learn more than just the family trade. Over time, communal schools became viewed as a way for children to receive a more well-rounded education.
During WWII, American women began working in factories in large numbers to fill the gaps left by men who joined the armed forces and were shipped overseas. When the men returned home, we started seeing tension between men and women as men went back to work. Men may have felt threatened by women who held similar jobs, or their egos may have been bruised by feeling that their role as provider for their families was diminished. Babies were born and men wanted their wives to stay home and raise the children. Women, feeling slighted by men who thought that they should not be in the work force began to speak out, insisting that they could do anything a man could do. Rosie the Riveter became their champion, and modern feminism was born.
Today, dual-income families seem to be the norm. Housing, utility, food, and transportation costs in many areas exceed what can be afforded by a single average income. Kids are frequently sent to day care centers and then to school—usually government schools. More women are in the work force than ever before. All military jobs, even combat arms jobs, are now open to women. Yet over the last six decades or so, the feminist movement has become increasingly virulent, espousing equality, but wreaking havoc on society as it seeks to emasculate men and holds up abortion as its most sacred idol. The pop culture male mindset is no better as men have come to expect sex without commitment. Women are treated as a source of entertainment, to be disposed of when they become more trouble than they are worth. Many men seem stuck in perpetual childhood, prioritizing careers or entertainment above family. Fatherless children struggle to find good examples of manhood.
Stating without qualification that women should remain in the home strikes me as unbalanced. Allow me to offer a few thoughts on the issue of women and work.
- I think all women should work.
- I think all men should work.
- I think that men and women should be committed to each other before they engage in sexual relations. By committed I mean married, although I am not a fan of either the government or religious institutions holding a monopoly on marriage.
- I think that all men and women should consider their families to be more important than their careers.
- I think that all men and women should play a significant part in their children’s education. I can’t state this emphatically enough, as no school teacher could ever care for a child as much as his or her parents should. Child rearing is the responsibility of the parents alone, and this responsibility should not be abdicated and delegated to teachers.
- I think motherhood is the hardest job there is.
- I think mothers who raise children to be good citizens impact the world for good more than almost anyone else.
These principles will likely play out differently for every family, as each mother and father work together to help their family to survive. It all boils down to this: if a man and woman join together and start a family, they should subordinate their own personal desires and ambitions to what is best for the family. I agree with Paul’s admonition that men should love their wives unconditionally, and women should respect their husbands. More to follow on this in Part II.
Solomon thought that the ideal woman was an extraordinarily hard worker—who took exceptional care of her family. I dare say that an ideal man might be measured by the same standard. And Paul’s instruction to Titus to admonish older women to teach younger women to be “keepers at home” (as translated in the KJV) was not to suppress them but to encourage them to take care of their families rather than neglecting them. Too often in our society, both men and women are measuring success by their careers. Their work becomes the end rather than the means to provide for their families.
When men and women work together as God intended, they place the good of the family above their own ambitions. Family life sets the stage for every other relationship, which is why it’s sad to watch our society diminishing the value of the family. When a man and a woman join together to form a family, the family should be the new priority.