Christian. Woman. – Part I
A lot of readings in the blog-osphere have been pricking my thoughts lately. Most of them have to do with big words that pack a lot of punch: femininity, womanhood, egalitarianism, complementarianism (that last one is a tongue-twister). Two seemingly opposing perspectives seem to be emerging (well, they’ve already emerged, I’m just a latecomer to the conversation): I’ll term the one “Biblical Womanhood” and the other “New Christian Feminism”. I’m not sure if these terms are 100% accurate or if they really reference what I think they reference, but in my mind they define two separate approaches to Scriptural definitions of womanhood.
The latter, New Christian Feminism, is cropping up a lot. I find this perspective most prevalent in the blogs I read written by young, “modern”, Christian women. It is, in many ways, a rejection of the somewhat-skewed school of thought that Christian womanhood means staying at home, bearing children, being diminutive and submissive. They orate, debate and insist that this manner of thinking promotes abuse, rape and general anti-Christian behavior. They insist that complementarianism promotes this evil. I can neither affirm nor deny. Abuse, rape, etc., are very bad things, no doubt about it, but in this world where all have gone astray, they would probably happen no matter what opinion of womanhood is prevalent. Egalitarianism is not going to prevent sin.
And then there’s the other school of thought, termed Biblical Womanhood (Check out the linked site — they make a good point: Oh yeah, men have a gender too! Women really like to talk about themselves or maybe just read about themselves… When was the last time a man threw a hissy fit for his Masculine rights? Except they would rather abdicate than insist — it all goes back to Adam and Eve. But that’s a different conversation. Or is it?). Rachel Held Evans made the term “Biblical Womanhood” a moralistic farce (Is that the right way to say it? She intended to make her point by being ridiculous and purposefully ignorant… I’m not sure what you call that kind of behavior) in her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I don’t want to talk about that book because #1: I haven’t read it and #2: I’d rather just leave her opinion out of the conversation for now. I’ll focus on Biblical Womanhood a little more in a follow-up post, but today I just want to share some thoughts on the NCF perspective.
So I will talk about of these blog posts in particular that has spurred these thoughts lately. Primarily this one from the blog Emily is Speaking Up by blogger/writer Emily Maynard. I went to college with Emily, so it’s interesting to read her opinions considering what I knew (or thought I knew) about her 5-6 years ago. She seems to have had a change of perspective somewhere along the way, and I’m not always sure how I feel about her conclusions. Not that it’s any of my business what she thinks (except that she puts it on a blog for the public to read and praise/criticize), but it does make me consider my own response to the questions of life, womanhood, femininity and, most importantly, being a Christian.
So let’s talk about her post (I hope you clicked the link above…): Is it a Christian woman’s duty to bear children? Scripture tells us that children are the natural and God-given result of a Christian marriage… so should a Christian couple willingly reject the results of “knowing” each other (Gen. 4:1)? A devout Catholic’s reply is obvious (I love that they’re so clear about it): children should by no means be rejected or prevented in any way. A Christian Feminist’s reply, according to Emily’s perspective, would be quite the opposite: no woman (assumedly married) should feel forced to bear children according to some cultural standard that may or may not be Bible-based. It seems clear to me that this “cultural standard” is based on age-old Biblical principles, but I guess some people think it started in the 40s & 50s. Why everyone thinks that “traditional femininity” started a mere 70 years ago is a mystery to me.
I do think Emily makes a point worth remembering. Plenty of men/women in the Bible didn’t have children — the apostle Paul included. And that’s obviously a good thing. Singleness is also a calling from God which can be blessed and a blessing to many. But children are not the natural result of singleness anyway, so that really becomes a moot point. Of course you don’t have to have children if you’re single (in fact, it’s not really recommended)! But should you want to have children when you’re single? Well, maybe — some women think about it, some women don’t. I happen to be one of those women who has always known I wanted to be married and have a family. It feels like a natural calling for me. So is she bad for not wanting that? Nope. It is clear that God is using her life and talents for different things right now and I don’t think it’s anybody’s business to be asking rude questions like “Don’t you want to get married and have a bajillion babies???” That’s just poor etiquette. But etiquette and Christian Womanhood are two different things…. or are they? (Maybe that will be Part III).
But the point I want to make is this: when you enter into marriage as a Christian, part of the understanding should be that you are entering into a binding relationship in which children are a natural and expected result. Barrenness is not the norm. It can be a challenge (or, for some, a welcome relief) that the omniscient Creator bestows on some couples for His own reasons. But based on examples we find in the Bible (Sarah, Rachel, Samson’s mother, Elizabeth, and others, even metaphorical examples of Jerusalem/Zion reference a barren woman) it is never a positive thing. It never occurred to me until I read Emily’s post that perhaps being barren in the Bible refers not only to a physical state, but also to a mental/spiritual state. Apart from God’s influence, our lives and hearts are barren. We have no capacity for love outside of ourselves. We worship self alone and refuse to make room for others (even if we’re really good at pretending). This very well could be living in a mindset of sin which is not acceptable for a Christian woman. Not because it has anything to do with children, but because it means idolizing self over worshiping God alone. Christian singleness can become an idol if its purpose is skewed to self-fulfillment rather than God’s plan. Even children can become an idol for some mothers whose lives lose all meaning outside of their child’s wants/needs or for barren women whose sole desire is for a child. The negative here is not the object itself (wanting children vs. not wanting children), but the sinful state of idolatry which can take its form in any object, concept or lifestyle.
As I grow closer to having children and starting a new way of thinking about life (because that’s inevitable with children, right?), I am grateful for the reminder that Emily’s post provides. The point of bearing children is not to make babies for their own sake, or because it’s culturally expected, or even because it’s a blessing (although all of things these may be true, in a sense). The point is, as in all things, to bring glory to God. He gives children to fulfill His purposes — not our own. And, whether we want children or not, it is His providence that will prevail.
Next time I want to talk about the perspective from Ruthie Dean’s blog. Until then, here’s another post that offers food for thought: http://sarahbessey.com/in-which-words-like-real-and-true-mean-things/
Perhaps I am too stuck in my traditional beliefs to think that “Biblical Womanhood” is a bad term for a woman trying to live according to standards presented in the Bible. It makes sense to me. Or do we really need to differentiate that a “Sinful/Worldly Women” is not going to be doing the same things as a “Biblical Woman”? Culture (“cult” = religion) dictates nomenclature (“name-calling”). Our faith dictates our philosophy of language. If our faith states that the Bible is God’s Word and the only source for Truth and where we ought to turn to learn to live lives that are pleasing to him, wouldn’t it make sense to distinguish that type of living from the kind that is degraded and misshapen by sin? A human born with female genitalia is not a “true woman”. A “true woman”, as God intended her to be, is an adopted, regenerated and sanctified version of the shadow that we see in the mirror. We won’t reach that on this side of the grave, but until we do, I think Biblical Womanhood should suffice.