In the March 2012 issue of More magazine, a publication aimed at women, Lindsay Van Gelder celebrates the changing social norms associated with men, women, and the workplace in her article, “The New Gender Economics.” In her article, Van Gelder draws out the connection between the role of primary wage earner and the very structure of marriage itself.
Van Gelder is absolutely right in her assertion that how much money a particular spouse makes in a marriage determines who has the role of primary authority. Quoting Andrew Cherlin from Johns Hopkins University, Van Gelder argues:
“As women have brought more money into marriage, their authority and decision-making power have grown.”
At first it seems innocuous—some women make more money than their husbands. That in itself isn’t necessarily a problem. The problem arises when you start to see all the underlying doctrinal assertions that form a foundation for wanting to out-earn your husband. In other words, the motivation for out-earning your husband reveals more than a neutral, unbiased attachment to the workplace.
For Van Gelder, the leap from breadwinner to woman-independent-of-man, free from societal constraint or social norm (in many ways the Christian conception of marriage) is immediate and effortless. She celebrates financial independence as the path to individualism, elevating the woman to the place of authority figure in the family.
So it is in her examples, where the women she cites do not merely make more money, but either leave their husband at home to care for the children or divorce him to find someone more palatable to their taste. In this way leaving the constraint of a man as a provider is only the first step through the door on the way to a complete rejection of every other undesirable role assumed by women (to the feminist, liberation).
Ultimately, the things that drive a woman—at least in these kinds of examples—to pursue a spot as primary wage earner in the home are a rejection of biblically defined, God-created roles. The woman’s refusal to submit to a providing, protecting authority-head figure, i.e. a husband, runs parallel to another chapter in her life, namely, her rejection of God as her final authority and head. Her refusal to accept the husband authority figure is really a rejection, at least in part, of the God who designed it that way.
But just because the present culture finds a scripturally grounded division of labor rather passe doesn’t mean we should abandon it. As people like Van Gelder celebrate the very disintegration of creational roles, they are also celebrating (unwittingly) the destruction of culture itself. Yes, women are becoming financially and personally independent of cultural structures at a rising rate, but at the same time divorce rates, STD’s, abortions, pregnancies out-of-wedlock, and broken homes are at an all time high as well. As woman tries to be what she was never meant to be, culture falls apart.
The challenge for Christian men and women, in the wake of all this, is to hold firm to God’s creational design and purpose according to our nature. Man was created first, then woman from him to be a suitable helper. Man was given the authority to carry out the creational mandate, and his wife was given to him to aid in that task. As Christ is the authoritative head of man, so man is of woman. Man, not woman, was given the primary task of providing for his family (Gen 1-2; Ephesians 5:29). This is God’s design and purpose, not a cultural or man-made invention.
As the world falls apart while rejecting creational roles, what they need to see from the Christian, in the midst of the church, is the beauty of the life lived embracing those same biblical roles. They need to see men who use their authority to get a job that provides for the family, even if it’s not their “dream job.” They need to see men who provide spiritual nurture and protection for their kids through discipline and instruction. Men who kneel with their kids for prayer, who sing with them. And they need to see women who adore submitting to this kind of servant leadership. Women who rejoice in their God-given role as steward of the home and children. Women who exult in sacrificial leadership and embrace a submissive, helping role.
But maybe the most important audience isn’t primarily the culture—maybe it’s the audience standing three feet tall, just three feet away. Maybe in all of his infinite wisdom Christ brings about his kingdom through the watching eyes of infants and small children (Psalm 8).