State of the Union

There have been 2 viral or semi-viral articles posted by friends of mine this week that can be found here and here. Please read these articles before continuing with this blog. I’ll wait. [insert Jeopardy theme song here]

 

One reason for why both the Moore and Venker articles have taken off is shock. Those of us who exist in egalitarian, even feminist, worlds feel a social and political whiplash when we are reminded that a sizeable number of people have a different perspective. I am concerned about balancing charitable and indignant responses. Don’t forget- Jesus calls all people neighbors.

 

While these are different articles with different points and perspectives, both raise concerning questions about role and social understandings of women. Though I could write volumes in response, allow me to focus in & offer both broad and detailed responses:

 

Both the Moore and Venker articles point toward social brokenness. It is too easy to consider gender role issues as a battle of the sexes. In reality, gender issues are more about ideological differences than anything else.

 

Inequality and unhealthy competition exist because of a fallen world. The often quoted verse from Galatians 3:28 says, “there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul desires and describes perfect Christian unity in the passage. Temporary [on a cosmic timeline] distinctions unfortunately and often times lead to limitations for political kingdoms as mistrust and discrimination reign, but temporary distinctions such as social standing or gender do not determine one’s standing in God’s Kingdom. Passages There is radical, unimaginable, gracious, inclusion and equality for all in God’s Kingdom! This is Good News. I challenge Russell Moore to describe God’s Kingdom without a vision of equality and inclusion.

 

An article I was interviewed for was published in a local newspaper this week. The article was fine, but the finished product was a different angle and a different emphasis than I intended. My most charitable self wonders if a similar process happened with Moore, as the article is based on a “wide-ranging interview”. Overall, many quotes point to Moore’s “us” and “them” mindset [on gender, SBC, conservatives, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission vs. the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty., etc.] that is ultimately antithetical to Christian community.

 

Moore and most other complementarians that I am familiar with depend heavily on natural theology. Natural theology was also relied upon for Nazism and for beautiful ways of connecting with Creator God through nature. Natural theology is a powerful tool to be used very carefully. Moore says, “God designed us in such a way where we learn about him through family relationships… We learn about the nature of reality in family relationships, and in terms of what it means to image God, by being faithful fathers and husbands and mothers and wives.” Moore inadvertently opens the door to understanding God in feminine terms. If God is understood in family relationships, then God could be understood as both feminine and masculine. Mothers and fathers, males and females, both “image God”.

 

This brings me to Venker article. From what I can tell, Suzanne Venker is a social commentator- not a theologian or a sociologist. Also, her article is not inherently religious, though many who read her article on Fox News are conservative Christians and conservatives of other faiths who will interpret her comments with a particular religious lens.

 

Even though she broadly quotes a Pew study, this article should not be interpreted as a serious sociological piece. She writes, “over the past several decades”. Translation- lacking detailed, particular, concrete study of changes between this year and that year. Venker also depends on loaded and emotional words and phrases such as “profound change”, “independent”, “most women”, and “research shows” without enough mention of statistically significant findings or operational definitions. Ambiguity benefits her argument.

 

I would also appreciate more discussion about why women began working outside of the home. Firstly, blue collar women have a long history of working outside the home out of necessity [I’m thinking of my grandmother], but many American middle class women joined the workforce during WWII. Blue collar or working class families and women probably think [and thought] of the “opportunity” to work outside the home as survival rather than liberation. Venker’s lack of mention of class differences in her discussion about women’s work in and outside the home signals ignorance of her own presumed financial privilege. Work outside of the home is not always a choice.

 

Feminists must be careful not to be misguided in their enthusiasm. Some women [and men!] enjoy working in the home and find fulfillment there. This should be supported. I recall reading an academic article on a study in a Women’s Studies course that concluded that women do not report higher life satisfaction working inside the home or outside of the home. Women report highest life satisfaction when they have a choice.

 

If anyone can secure Venker’s mailing address, I will cheerfully mail her a copy of the 50th anniversary edition of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique which discusses growing dissatisfaction of many women who worked inside the home during the 1950s and 60s.

 

From a Christian perspective, yes, I agree with Venker that overemphasis on independence can be problematic, but this is also antithetical to Christian living. Leaning on one’s husband, partner, relatives, church, friends, is an entirely appropriate and acceptable approach to managing the many demands of life- whatever one’s main work happens to be.

 

Venker spends a bit of ink on women living “balanced lives”. Balance is incredibly subjective and cannot be prescribed with blanket statements. More important than balance are sustainability and stability. What in my life is sustainable? What in my life needs change in order to be sustainable?

 

Moore and Venker both point to broken society. Maybe working mothers “are more concerned with having a flexible work schedule”, “women prefer part-time work”, and “men see it as their duty to support their families” as a result of social conditioning rather than inherently created order. The current state of American society cannot simply be blamed on women or a few factors. A complex and intricate series of events and factors contribute to how contemporary American society functions, and the state of the union. Growing education and recognition of the complexities of gender, theology, sociology, and psychology would do Moore, Venker, and all social commentators [including me] a lot of good!

 

“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” -2 Corinthians 13:11

 

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