(I presented the following talk on December 13, 2008 in San Jose, CA.)
My husband and I have this running joke. He can work with a man for years and years and hardly know anything about him apart from the job. Yet, I can find out all sorts of interesting things about him: where he was born, where he grew up, whether or not he is married, how many children he has, and whether or not he attends church -- all within about ten minutes. What’s the difference? It is as old as the Garden of Eden. Men and women are different and were so designed. In fact, the first “not good” mentioned in the Bible is that God felt it was not good for man to be alone. In other words, God never intended for this to be a man’s world. In fact, God didn’t think a man’s world would be such a good thing.
It is fashionable today for women to be cast as victims – oppressed by men, the culture, religion etc. Yet, I submit to you, that the highest expression of value and respect for women comes right out of the pages of the Bible. God’s Word never casts women in a degraded or subservient light. Women are not the slaves of men, nor are they to attempt to become their masters. The Bible depicts the relationship of a man and woman in marriage as a partnership.
It is important to note that when God sent His Son to take on human form in order to act as our Savior and Redeemer, He could have had Him miraculously appear on the scene. Or, I suppose, He could have cloned a fine specimen of a man to fulfill that role. Or, He could have chosen a man and then deified him. But that is not how the second person of the Trinity came to earth. No, just like you and me, He came in the womb of a woman, to be nursed by a woman, and nurtured and raised in wisdom and grace by a woman. That should give us a picture of the high calling women have in God’s eyes for shaping and directing the future. God placed His only begotten Son in a family, under the care and nurturing of a woman. God has given women a custodial role to further the faith and traditions of family and culture, thereby ensuring their continuance.
One would think that if an enemy were attempting to sow seeds for the eventual eradication of the institution of the family, he would work diligently to dislodge that vital person who holds the family together. And yet, isn’t that exactly what has happened in the past five decades in our culture? Women have been told that their only true worth can be evaluated by how they measure up to men in men’s jobs and careers. We hear expressions tossed about such as: breaking the gender barrier or penetrating the glass ceiling, as though women will only be validated when they follow in the footsteps of men. Sounds to me that an enemy HAS been at work and done a fairly successful job of undermining family life by devaluing the vital role a wife and mother play in the home.
Another trend in our day is to blur the distinctions between men and women as if each could fulfill the other’s role without negative outcomes. Yet God created women to be the counterparts and compliments of men – something that implies gender distinctives.
History is replete with views in direct opposition to the biblical model of womanhood. With the Enlightenment, for example, women were put on pedestals as ornaments and depicted as helpless creatures, something that was both detrimentally romantic and unrealistic to the core. Then, with the Age of Reason women were depicted as emotional and willful, unable to deal in any reasonable fashion. This same philosophy also opposed religion itself and deemed it to be the domain of women and children – certainly opening the door to secularized thinking. This set the stage for the women’s rights movement, which correctly identified serious wrongs that needed correction, but aggravated the problem by promoting a feminist mindset which put women in competition with and in opposition to men.* This has led to the masculization of women and the feminization of men.
The picture we are given in the Bible of Christ’s relationship to His church is that of a husband to a wife. And we know that the teaching of Scripture involves the good news that this Husband laid down His life for His wife. By example, a correct application of Scriptural truth magnifies the position and role of a woman – neither as a subservient nor independent creature – but as a vital element of a healthy family and culture.
Unfortunately, with a culture like ours so dominated by film and television, we have lost site of how unique the application of a biblical world and life view has been in the creation of Western civilization as we know it. Too often events of the past have been reinterpreted into modern think, losing the pertinent details that shaped them.
A good example of this phenomenon is the story of the Titanic. As depicted in the theatrical release of some years back it comes across as a chronicle of class hatred and selfish motives. Aside from playing into the stereotypes of gender and class prejudice of our day and massacring the actual story, it failed to depict the account of men demonstrating the high regard in which women were held. The story was memorialized in a poem entitled Women & Children First! In Memoriam to the Gallant Men of the Titanic.**
It is only within the context of a Christian world and life view that women are deemed so valuable that men would lay down their lives for them. This IS the model that is given in Scripture of God who became man and laid down His life for His bride. Do you see how unique the Christian faith is compared to the other major religions of the world? This is a far cry from religious views that hold that when a man dies, his wife should be burned with him at his funeral because she has lost all value or worth. Or, that women should be covered from head to toe because they are temptations and snares and only useful to serve sexual and procreational needs. Or, what is more prevalent in our secular society -- the view that women should be content with and desirous of intimate relationships without the commitment of life-long marriage. In every culture that Christianity has spread, the respect and position of women have been elevated as full citizens in God’s Kingdom life and work. History testifies to this fact.
Recently I have had the opportunity to visit a number of businesses where women are the visible representation of hard-working, dedicated employees. Their workspaces look attractive, they are dressed well, and they are competent and industrious in most cases. In short, it’s not hard to see why employers would value their services. But, being that working women are just human, rather than superhuman, and have only so much energy and effort at their disposal, I often wonder what the effect on family and community life in our culture would be if our inflationary economy no longer necessitated depriving families of the person whose presence makes all things run smoother. The very reason these women are deemed valuable as employees has to do with those God-given attributes of nurture and custodial care. In fact, some women find themselves in the unexpected position of being single much longer than they anticipated because they have satisfied their inclinations toward care and nurture in the workplace. Am I saying that women shouldn’t work outside the home? That’s not my point. What I am saying is that so many of the negatives we can all easily enumerate that plague our culture are the direct result of the creativity and efficiency of women being directed away from the family and the home rather than toward it – with serious social and religious consequences.
What most people don’t know about American history and the influx of immigrants over the first two centuries of its existence is the role agencies staffed by volunteers had on the shaping of American culture. It was often the Christian women of the community through private associations who helped the immigrant wives and mothers adapt to their new location, ways of living, and introduce them to the Christian faith. In short, women as volunteers and good neighbors worked to instruct the new arrivals as to how to live and adapt to American society.
In fact, one very early traveler in the United States, the eldest son of the king of Naples under Napoleon and, himself a crown prince—had these very negative remarks to make about the Christians in America. Here is what he said:
The great number of religious societies existing in the United States is truly surprising: there are some of them for every thing; for instance, societies to distribute the Bible; to convert, civilize, educate the [Indians]; to marry the preachers; to take care of their widows and orphans;… to extend, preserve, reform, purify the faith; to endow congregations, support seminaries; catechize and convert sailors and loose women; to secure the observance of Sunday; to establish Sunday schools where young ladies teach reading and the catechism to little rogues, male and female; to prevent drunkenness etc.....***
Today, we’ve all but lost that shoulder-to-shoulder influence because the workplace has robbed the community of this valuable resource of women.
The Bible describes the wife as the weaker vessel, and some view this as a put-down. Certainly the story of Eve and her succumbing to the temptation of the serpent comes to mind in this context. But, I view St. Paul’s description of women more in line with the way we describe fine crystal. Crystal glasses are often weaker than the ones for everyday use. (Most folks don’t put them in a dishwasher for example.) Yet, they are also more expensive and more valuable and thus should get treated with greater care. In a like way, we should recognize the high calling the Bible places on women and overcome and disregard the ugly stereotypes that are often thrust upon us.
The last chapter in the book of Proverbs describes a worthy woman. It is a notable end to the book because many of the preceding chapters are full of warnings against the seductive, adulterous woman whose influence can ruin individuals and cultures. Either way you look at it, the Bible reveals that women play an influential role one way or the other.
It’s my hope that women will reflect on the uniqueness of our God-given role and seek to find ways and means to further develop it to His honor and glory.
* Rushdoony, R. J., “Marriage and Woman” in Institutes of Biblical Law, vol. 1, 346-53.
*** “Rushdoony, R. J., from the lecture “DeToqueville: Tithe Agencies” in American History to 1865, CD Set, available from ChalcedonStore.com.
- Andrea G. Schwartz
Andrea Schwartz is Chalcedon’s family and Christian education advocate, and the author of eight books including: A House for God: Building a Kingdom-Driven Family, The Biblical Trustee Family: Understanding God’s Purpose for Your Household, Empowered: Developing Strong Women for Kingdom Service, Woman of the House: A Mother’s Role in Building a Christian Culture, and The Homeschool Life: Discovering God’s Way to Family-Based Education. She’s also the co-host of the Out of the Question podcast, and Homeschooling Helps (weekly live Facebook event). She can be reached at [email protected].