Thursday, November 15, 2012
Raised Evangelical: Bob’s Story - III
Section 3: Gender and Family
Question 1: What did your church teach about gender roles, the family, and marriage?
For the most part these were issues that I can recollect. This was before the "Sexual Revolution" and the Women's Lib movement. We lived in a middle class, suburban community in which the two parent family was the norm. It was more or less taken as a matter of course that the husband was the "Head of the House" and that mom stayed home and took care of the kids. Thus our church's beliefs on the subject weren't noticeably different from the thinking of the rest of society, and didn't receive a whole lot of attention.
Question 2: Describe your parents' marriage: was it complementarian (i.e. "soft" patriarchy) or more openly patriarchal, or in practice egalitarian? Did your family or church use any of these terms?
I don't think that my family or church even ever heard of any of those terms. If you were to ask most women at the time, they probably would have said that the husband was the head of the household, but often what really went on in the family was another story. My mother had her issues – let's just say that she could be difficult to get along with. I think that in actual practice we operated on the principle that "if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."
Question 3: In what ways were boys and girls in your family expected to dress or act differently from each other? Were there certain things it was appropriate for girls to do but not boys, and vice versa?
Question 4: In what ways were girls and your family expected to be stay at home mothers or to hold jobs? Did your mother work, and if so, how was that viewed by your family and church?
I think that it was generally assumed in society at the time that men and women were different from each other and should be treated differently. The expectation was that when girls grew up they would get married, have children, and stay at home to take care of them. Day care centers were unheard of. Why would you pay someone else to raise your own children for you?
Child rearing was aimed at preparing boys and girls for their future roles as husbands and wives. The gender roles were reinforced through a formal code of etiquette. Men were expected to show deference to women, to respect them, and to treat them gently. To that end boys were taught to hold doors open for girls and to help them into their seats. In high school boys were required to take shop classes and girls home ec.
There was also a real difference in the way that boys and girls were treated. Boys were expected to be tough and "take it like a man," while girls were consoled when they cried.
Much has been said in recent times about the alleged "misogyny" of the Bible. It must be frankly admitted on any honest reading of the Bible (which is the way that the Bible should be read) that the Bible definitely assigns a subordinate role to women in the family and the church. This is probably the major reason why many American women today either object to a literal reading of the text, or reject the Bible altogether.
Is the Bible wrong on this issue? By whose standard? Where does that standard come from? The contemporary standards of modern society? The problem here is that the atheist has no objective standard by which to judge anyone's beliefs or behavior, because an atheist will not admit any moral absolutes. But who is the judge, anyway? In the end will the Almighty give a hoot about what American feminists think? And if the so-called "evangelical feminists" resort to a contorted exegisis to eliminate the patriarchalism of the Bible, aren't they picking and choosing what they wish to belief? Aren't they in fact chasing a God Who in the final analysis is merely a figment of their own imaginations? Doesn't this give credence to the charge of atheists that religion is all make-believe?
But more to the point, subjection to lawful authority is not "oppression." Several different New Testament passages discuss a wide variety of relationships that involve the exercise of authority by one person over another: husbands and wives, parents and children, masters and servants, rulers and subjects. The Bible never questions the legitimacy of any of these relationships per se. In fact, Paul even goes so far as to call the civil magistrate "God's minister to you for good" (Rom. 13:4; NKJV). And this was written at a time when Nero was the Roman Emperor! The plain fact of the matter is that human society cannot function without such hierarchical relationships, and so we are instructed in Scripture to "submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake . . ." (I Pet. 2:13).
Rather than challenge the legitimacy of such relationships the Bible instructs us on how to treat each other within the context of these authority structures. In general, persons in authority are to treat their subordinates with justice and humanity, and the subordinates are to honor and respect those in authority over them.
The apostle Paul gives us a beautiful picture of the ideal of Christian marriage. He compares the relationship of a husband and wife to that of Christ and the church. Is it an egalitarian relationship? Obviously not. Is husband free to mistreat and abuse his wife any way he pleases? "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her" (Eph. 5:25).
The underlying principle here is Christian love, expressed in humility, patience and a willingness to serve others. Paul enjoins believers of both genders to "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others" (Phil. 2:3,4). Christianity and Feminism are operating on diametrically opposed value systems.