CEO of The Living RoomCulture, Essays, Featured, Features — By Emily Timbol on July 19, 2011 at 10:25 am
There are three things a Christian woman in her twenties can be guaranteed to experience: weddings, bridal showers, and baby showers. It doesn’t matter if you’re single, married, a rich corporate lawyer, or a poor freelance writer – your friends are going to get married and reproduce, and they’re going to expect presents.
Depending on my life stage, I have approached these events with different emotions. When I was in my early twenties and still reeling from being dumped by my then-fiance, I hated weddings and showers, and did everything I could to avoid them (or drink myself into oblivion at them.) Now that I’m in my late(er) twenties and in a stable loving relationship, I am more inclined to enjoy these activities, as I can see myself someday having my own (I’m selfish and terrible). Despite the fact I actually enjoy going to weddings now, and buying my friends pink blenders, I still hold some reservations about what I like to call, “Traditional Christian Cultural Wife Expectations.”
It seems that lately at these events, I am meeting more and more girls who are half a decade younger than me, married, jobless, childless (for now) and content with their day to day lives the way they are – full with little more than trips to the grocery store and gym. They cook and decorate, as they think those are duties that go along with the new identity that they have happily enveloped themselves into – the identity of “wife.” To them, wives live to serve their husbands. Mostly serve them dinner.
It saddens me that so many of these women want nothing more than to be the patriarchal, non-Biblical ideal of what a “wife” should be. Yes, I said non-Biblical.
Since we’re on the subject, let’s look at a few “Christian” quotes on marriage, and being a good wife:
Rev. Daniel L. Akin, president of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Wake Forest, N.C.:
“She is not lazy or a busybody, nor is she distracted by outside pursuits and responsibilities that eat up her precious time and attention,” he said. “This woman is not seduced by the sirens of modernity who tell her she is wasting her time and talent as a homemaker, and that it is the career woman who has purpose and is truly satisfied.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:
“It would be hypocritical of me to suggest that I would be perfectly happy to have Christian young women believe that being Vice President of the United States is more important than being a wife and mother.”
John MacArthur, author and Pastor of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California:
“One expression in Titus 2 deserves special notice. It is the word homemakers. The Greek word is oikourgous, which literally means “workers at home.” Oikos is the Greek word for “home,” and ergon means “work, employment.” It suggests that a married woman’s first duty is to her own family, in her own household. Managing her own home should be her primary employment, her first task, her most important job, and her true career.”
You’d be amazed how hard I had to look to find quotes that were from denominations other than Southern Baptist. Baptist preachers sure do love to tell women where they belong (re: the kitchen.) It seems that to these men, the Bible is clear that God created women to be married, home, cooking, cleaning, and maintaining order for her husband and family. According to them, when God said he created women to be “helpers” of men, He meant “housekeepers” of men. Thankfully, not all Christians view the definition of “helper” this way.
From Grace Women’s Ministries:
In Genesis 2:18, God saw it was not good for man to be alone and determined to make a “helper suitable” for him, or in the original Hebrew an “ezer-kenegdo”. As a female image bearer, a woman’s core calling is as an ezer, or essential counterpart. However, the idea that woman was created as a helper has taken on a negative connotation over the years, one that denotes weakness or inferiority. Yet, the word ezer (pronounced Eh’-zair) is far from a weak word. It is used twenty-one times in Old Testament Scripture: twice in the creation story, three times as a military term, and sixteen times God refers to himself as our Ezer.”
This might seem to some like semantics, but it’s far from it. The original word that so often is translated to mean “docile housekeeper” was used not just to describe military men, but God himself. No one describes the guys from 300 as docile. Nor do the types of people who expect women to behave, naturally assume that God would sixteen times refer to himself as a “helper.”
It’s sad that so many Christians just puppet and mimic the understanding of the current culture of what the Bible says, and never investigate it themselves. No one asks how we got from “Ezer” to “homemaker” and no one wonders if the actual point of ”submission” has nothing to do with how well we can cook a roast.
There is so much more to women than how good we are at keeping a home.
My sister, who is an excellent baker, constantly gets compliments about “what a great wife she will make someday.” Not because she is intelligent, funny, smart, strong, or beautiful, but because she makes really good cookies. There is something very wrong about that.
My friend, who is in her mid thirties and not married, saw a blog post I wrote about this and brought up her perspective, which is incredibly valid. What about the increasing number of 20, 30, and 40 something women who are not married, and might not ever get married. Do their lives up until marriage (if it happens) not matter? Are they just “waiting” , or “preparing” themselves until they can fulfill their “true” role? I’ve read more than one Christian book that said as much. Married or not, there is a very clear message sent to women, that their lives are defined by marriage, and their “submission” to their (future or present) husbands. Very few books directed to women encourage them to, as Paul said, strive to be single and use their time to serve God. Most encourage women to strive to be a good wife.
For the longest time, I thought that the Bible told me that if I ever wanted to be a good wife, and honor Him, that my only option was to be a stay-at-home slave. The most important, defining characteristics about me would be how well I cooked, cleaned, and kept house, because that’s what the Bible said was my job. I thought, because that’s what Christian culture told me, that the word “submit” meant to “keep quiet,” because I was not equal. That completely wrong cultural interpretation of scripture seriously damaged my view of God for a long time, because I questioned not just why I’d ever want to get married, but how I could worship and love a God who created me only to be a servant. I knew in my heart that’s not what I was created for. And I was right.
Tim Keller, who is quickly becoming my favorite authority on scripture and the Bible, so wonderfully puts it like this:
“In marriage, wives are told to give headship to their husbands (Ephesians 5:21 ff.) This does not mean that the man simply can make all the decisions nor does it mean that he gets his way whenever there is a difference of opinion… A “head” may never overrule his spouse simply to get his way or please himself (Romans.15:2-3). A head sacrifices his wants and needs to please and build up his partner (Ephesians 5:2ff.)…In a marriage, where there are only two “votes”..There can be no unity unless one person has the right to cast the deciding “vote”. That person knows that, along with this “right’ comes the greatest accountability and responsibility…The Bible directs that a wife, when she marries, give that “right/responsibility” freely to her husband. The husband realizes that ordinarily, his authority does not take the form of “over-ruling”—in fact, the servant-model directs the “head” to usually put aside his own tastes and preferences in deference to pleasing his spouse.“
If you read further on that link, you see that according to Keller’s interpretation of the actual Biblical model, a woman only “submits” because a woman’s role in marriage is modeled after Christ himself, in his relationship to God, who he submits to. Is God “better” than Christ? No. Really, they are the same in terms of power. But Christ was created to love through submission, as hard as it was. Submission to God, as well as the disciples (washing their feet). Was he a leader, and a King? Absolutely. But remember again why the Jews had such a hard time accepting him as the Messiah? Because the way Christ led was not through violence, but submission.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home Mom. There is nothing wrong with enjoying to cook, clean, or keep a house. There is also nothing wrong with practically deciding with your husband, that of the two of you, it makes more sense for you, the wife, to take on the majority of these duties. What is wrong is the attitude and lie that all a woman COULD and SHOULD do, is be a full-time stay at home wife or Mom, and that in order for her to truly “submit” to her husband, she cannot work, or desire to be anything other than a wife or mother. It is not a sin for a woman to work, or choose a career over a family, anymore than it is a sin for a woman to choose a family over a career.
The people that propel the idea that a woman is not capable of being a CEO, a Vice President, or anything outside the home, use the Bible as a tool of oppression. When used this way, the Bible has the power to make people feel worthless and subjected. But that’s not what it was intended for. It was intended as a tool to bring freedom. It’s true that for some women, there is freedom in marrying a man that they can submit to for every wish, desire, choice, and direction in life. Some women want nothing more than to cook, and clean, and have kids, and stay at home loving their husbands through these acts of service. Others stay home not because they “want” to, but because they see the need, value, and gift, in being able to spend all day with their kids. There is freedom in that. It’s important to note that those women who do stay home can still be Ezer’s, who are not defined by how well they fold clothes.
Still, there are other women, like myself, that find immense joy and freedom in knowing that if and when we do get married, the Bible does not tell us that the only way for us to “submit” is by being homemakers. We can enjoy cooking, and cleaning, and decorating, but we don’t have to be defined by that, or see that as our “true job and calling.” Our role as “helper” is not one defined by helping to do “woman’s” work, but one defined by helping our husband in spiritual battle. According to God, man can’t do it alone.