In Which I Tell Women How To Live

If you spend any time on the interwebs, you know about mommy blogs. These are blogs in which the joys of parenting and domesticity are extolled, accompanied by a robust dose of guilt and competitiveness delivered in that inimitably female way. (Like Paul, I speak as a man, yea, as one who writes a blog for men.)

I don't particularly enjoy reading them. The best of them are too domestic for my tastes, the worst of them too self-effacing or passive aggressive. Either way, not my cup of tea. And although marvelous things are displayed in these blogs, particularly the Christian ones, I can definitely see some things that could be troubling about these blogs taken as a whole phenomenon. And not only the blogs, of course, but the larger culture of which they are an expression.

Over at BreakPoint Rachel McMillan has taken exception to these blogs. She says that she sees the point of valuing the domestic arts, and of looking to reconnect with tradition. But she has

been wondering if the number of blogs and websites dedicated to these arts is unintentionally feeding an idolization of a domestic sphere that many Christians will never inhabit. I am not criticizing these sites. Rather, I use them to raise awareness that we may be facing a problem in our churches. I should add that I’m speaking specifically to the female experience, though I have no doubt that similar insecurities are experienced by my brothers in Christ. 
Are we inadvertently turning homemaking into one of the Church’s idols?
McMillan is particularly concerned that Christians will be raising a generation of young women who will not be able to support themselves, who will not be able to make their own way in the world.
Let’s prepare young women to be financially self-sufficient. This is a need dictated by the time in which we live—and also something to be grateful for. We are blessed to live in a social structure where our Ruths need not pick up the leftover wheat from the gleaning field. Unmarried and widowed women have opportunities to set up a life for themselves.
Beyond financial independence, McMillan is concerned that women will place too much of their self-value into domesticity, when that might not be what God has chosen for them.
Let's make sure our daughters place their self-worth in several buckets, not just one. Having been raised in church circles, I sometimes wonder if I would feel my single status as acutely had I not been conditioned to believe that marriage was something bound to happen.
Most importantly for her, we must live according to this injunction, that "there are no certainties, only trust."

There are no certainties, only trust.

Well, yeah.

Although I do think that some of McMillan's concerns regarding domestic culture are valid, I think her conclusions are wrong-headed. So this is where I might get a little catty, and do things like say "well, yeah".

The problem isn't too much domesticity, nor is it an insufficiency of self-reliance. It is not a lack of artistic or technical excellence, nor of engagement with the world. The problem is being too much of the world. Of saying something that is obviously true from our mortal perspective, "there are no certainties, only trust", as if the Triune God we trust didn't have a plan and an end for us.

Yes, it is a good thing if Ruth doesn't have to pick over the leftovers. Yet the poor will always be with us, and such a dispensation within the people of God is a very good thing. And there is the crux of the matter: that we are the people of God. As such, we are to live differently. And part of living differently might be to look after each other and disregard what our age wants to require of us.

We are, of course, to be wise as serpents. We should steward our money, and work our jobs, and pay our taxes. We should compete in the marketplace and deal with worldlings shrewdly. But the decisions we make about how we live our lives are not made only in binary code. It is more than just "is this a sin or not?" These decisions are made on a spectrum, one created by direction, by teleology.

By that I mean, why are you doing something? Is this young Christian woman studying accounting because she loves order and systems, or because she wants to be able to provide for herself, or because she wants to be divorce-proofed? These several motivations make the act of studying accounting three different things. If anyone studies accounting because they want to be safe in the world, they are not being wise Christians, but wise worldlings. It would be better to become a Latin scholar, or a poet, or something equally foolhardy.

McMillan ends her article with a beautiful paragraph, which I will quote here in its entirety.
Let’s concentrate not on raising homemakers specifically, but raising women of God—women who are virtuous and strong, who can sew a button and raise children, but can also hear His calling beyond a domestic sphere. Let’s make sure our daughters are modest and virtuous and that they protect what is important to them and they walk strong in God. Let’s teach them to cherish the domestic arts but also let them know that the skills they hone may not flourish in a conventional format. They may not have families. They may not be married. They may have to use the cooking and sewing skills you taught them while sitting in their own rented apartment or between working two jobs to support themselves as a single mother. God calls women to be aunts and friends and caregivers and missionaries, single and married, traditional and non-traditional. Put all your eggs in one basket—whether they be gleaned from the domestic sphere or gathered from your singlehood striving to live independently—and give them to God. He is doing a great work in your days, even beyond the hearth and home.
Amen. Although how she can urge women to put their self-worth in several buckets, and later tell them to put all their eggs in one basket and give them to God, I don't know. But giving all your eggs to God, whether man or woman, is what I, and also McMillan, would urge you to do.

Without question the binary division of labor that exists in certain Christian quarters is problematic. Because of it we might indeed be turning homemaking into an idol. And a great part of this is the idea that the home is the wife's purview, while job and externalities are the husband's. Although I think this general orientation is a good one, making it absolute and binary, and counting spices about it, has become a vice of many in the Christian church.

Taking this binary idea up a level, Christians often think and shape their lives as if they were supposed to be opposites to the world. But they're not. We're not opposite, we're other. We're not opposite, we're fulfillment. It is a vice to take an aspect of the world, say, feminism or statism or job-as-life, and do what we think is the opposite of that thing. We think that the opposite of feminism is women staying at home, so women stay at home.

Get away from this opposition, then oppose the world as a righteous other. The question we have to ask ourselves is, what does God want us to be? As individuals, and as a family, how shall we live? And will it be oppositionally, or positively? Will we beat the world at their game, or will we show a glorious other?


What is this glorious other?

The biggest problem in the Christian inability to see this is, I believe, a lie that we have bought into that is more masculine than feminine. Or rather, a lie that is about men first, and then about women. We believe that men are supposed to have jobs. And a job, as McMillan suggested in her article, is a thing without which it is very difficult to along in this little ol' world. Jobs, that is, specialized endless work, are what the hockey stick of human prosperity depends on. That gives jobs something of a messianic nature. Jobs save you and save the world! But jobs are not what Christians, men or women, are called to.

Christians are called to work. And to what end are they called to work? (Once again, the why, the teleology of the thing, rears its head.) Christians are called to work to make the world new. To take dominion over it. To name the animals. To preach to the nations. To raze mountains and raise valleys.

We are not called to prop up human prosperity, nor to keep the economy going.

Once we dispense with the idea of jobs as necessary, I believe we can be more free to look at how men and women ought to live, both when single and when married. What is the work you ought to do? It could very well be a job. But whatever it is you're doing, as much as is possible for you, it ought to build the Kingdom of God.

As a society, which the holy Church of Christ is, we ought to reward and encourage such work. We ought to esteem those who create without regard for money, without encouraging foolishness.

The home is the purview of the family. Husbands and wives ought to be homemakers. Is the inward/outward paradigm of husband/wife roles Biblical? As long as we're not binary about it. Ought the husband to be the warrior, protector, and provider? Ought the wife to be the nurturer, supporter, and homemaker? Yes. But bacon is delicious and nutritious regardless of who brings it home. Husbands nurture and wives protect. We are not jobs. We are callings and roles and vocations. Husbands ought to be good husbands, and wives ought to be good wives. We will have different roles, as biblically ordained, yet the jobs each role entails will be flexible depending on the economy of each family.

The work that prosperous women did centuries ago is the sort of work many Christians would consider masculine now. Household gardens were small farms. Wives were traders and millwrights.


So what am I doing here? Am I agreeing with Rachel McMillan or not?

Yes and no, finally settling on emphatically no.

Yes, it can be a vicious thing to pigeonhole one's daughters into a life of knittery and cookery. It is a vicious thing to ignore her God-given talents in favor of a "worldview". And I've seen it done. It is indeed awful. Like when the Vision Forum catalog showed swords and shields for boys' toys, but pictured girls with toy laundry baskets. This, little girl, is the greatest adventure you'll ever have.

This is an evil to be rejected. But what is it we ought to want instead? Not what we think is the opposite of that. Not a job, or financial independence. Instead, we ought to give ourselves to God, as men and women, for, as McMillan said, he is doing a great work in our days, even beyond the hearth and home.

Assuming the Biblical paradigm of the husband having authority over the wife, certain economic tendencies within churches and within Christian families will begin to show. But they ought not to be normative. They are not God's law. When we give ourselves to God, as men and women, as gifted in a particular way, as cognizant of the way God has made us, and as desirous to build his Kingdom, we will do good.


  1. I really like this post, it strikes a chord with me. I used to read a lot of mommy bloggers but then got turned off for much the same reasons. Too much moaning and groaning about how HAAARD it is to be a wife/mom/woman, it made marriage and children sound so gawd-awful which I'm sure it actually isn't. And oh the passive aggression. One time I started a flame war by suggesting a recipe with shortening in it but apparently shortening is of Satan/Monsanto or something, I dunno. It really feels like a lot of women never got past 8th grade social skills.

    I read the breakpoint article too, and I get what she's saying there - although I would add that personally I've had a really hard time figuring out what a God-centered non-feminist woman should look like. I work as an engineer in academia (try finding a Christian female non-feminist engineer in academia) and it's really lonely sometimes. What doesn't help is how all women are so afraid to talk about feminism/lack-thereof that it's an eggshell nightmare.

    But I digress. Nice blog post.

    1. Thank you kindly. And I appreciate your perspective.


Post a Comment