To Protect and Provide
I have an unfortunate tendency to forget to make notes or save links to blog posts and articles that engage my curiosity. Oftentimes I will be inspired to write something, but because I didn’t note that information I cannot credit whomever gave me the original idea. Sadly, such is the case with this post. While scanning some random blog out there I came across a post discussing the subject of Christians wives working outside the home. Now, this is a subject which comes up every so often among various Christian blogs, and its always good for a contentious debate. I decided to dedicate my next post to this particular subject for three reasons:
1) I haven’t covered it before on this blog, so its about time I explored the topic.
2) My last few posts have been about marriage, so this seems an appropriate segue.
3) The authoress of the blog post (I remember that it was female writer, and not much else) made an economic argument which used terms which would be familiar to readers of my last few posts.
To clarify that last point further, the authoress argued that as part of their end of the marriage contract men provided resources and protection for the woman, and that it was not part of the woman’s obligation of the marriage contract to provide resources. Interestingly enough, she was a Christian, and was also arguing that it was against Christian teaching for a wife to work outside of the home. In fact she went so far as to say that a wife should disobey her husband if he commanded her to work outside her home. Her basis for this was that women were obligated to God first, and their husband’s second. And in order to justify the argument that it was against God’s will that she (which is what she meant when she referred to Christian wives in general, no doubt) work outside the home she drew up that secular economic argument.
Reading her commentary, my immediate impression was that the woman was being selfish and lazy. From what I could see, she was displaying a massive entitlement complex which is far from uncommon in many Christian circles these days. But as I read over her post again, I noticed that her argument made no sense from a rational perspective, which was unsurprising because it was never meant to. Rather, all of this was cover for the real purpose of the authoress: to attack wifely submission to a husband. Rebelliousness, no doubt originating in the Curse of Eve, was the motivating force at play here. She didn’t want to submit to her husband, and was looking for any kind of justification to escape that command.
Now, the depths of when submission is not required have been plumbed by others before, including those whose knowledge of scripture and theology is greater than mine. From them I have derived this way of approaching wifely submission: A Christian wife is required to subject herself to her husband’s authority, and obey all of his commands, save those which would require her to commit a mortal sin. Since a woman submits to her husband as a divine command, it does not comport with Christian teaching or reason derived natural law for her to commit a mortal sin as a means of pleasing God by her submission. Before anyone cares to argue the point, this isn’t the heart of this post. Rather, the next section, which covers the economic/transactional aspect of marriage from multiple perspectives, is the real subject of discussion.
Secular v. Christian Marriage: Whats for Sale?
The authoress whom inspired me made what was essentially a secular argument for marriage when she discussed its transactional nature. Under that kind of thinking, marriage is treated like a contract, and frankly this is an excellent way of examining the institution (something I have indicated before). So let us examine what each party in the secular marriage she described had to sell:
Husband: Protection, Provision, Genetic Material, plus in some cultures legitimacy and status
Wife: Sexual Access, Sexual Fidelity, Legitimate Children, Home-keeper
From this perspective marriage makes sense. Each party exchanges something of value which the other party doesn’t or can’t provide. Seemingly win-win. However, once human nature is considered, it becomes obvious that there is a problem with this approach. The purely transactional nature of the marriage makes it seem like some form of business partnership. Unfortunately, there is no clear line of authority in this partnership. Which means that each partner, driven by selfish human nature, will try and derive as much benefit from the partnership while minimizing his or her costs. There is no higher purpose behind the marriage, both partners entered into it only because they saw it as beneficial to themselves. This ensure that the marriage is a constant competition between the two partners, unless one can somehow clearly establish dominance. If the man achieves dominance (say through “Game”), then he can align matters more to his liking. If the woman takes control, then the marriage is probably doomed, at least in the long run when divorce is an option.
Lets’ compare this to the nature of the exchange involved in a Christian marriage:
Husband: Love wife like Christ loved the Church, honor and cherish wife, wash wife with the Word, be fruitful and do not deny spouse sex
Wife: Submit to husband’s authority, respect husband, be fruitful and do not deny spouse sex, be a helpmeet to husband
Note that the exchanges present in the secular marriage contract are still present in varying forms. The husband’s requirement to protect and provide all fall under the love your wife as Christ loved the Church command. The teaching of 1 Cor 7 accounts for his providing genetic material. And the command to love and cherish your wife would include the status and legitimacy part of the secular exchange. At the same time the wife’s exchange includes the same commodities as before: sexual access and fidelity fall under 1 Cor 7 (plus the commandment against adultery), as would legitimate children.
The real differences are found in the wife’s duty to submit to her husband’s authority and her role as a “home-maker.” The “home-maker” aspect of the secular marriage contract is folded into the role of helpmeet. What does this mean exactly? The example of the woman from Proverbs 31 provides us with an idea of what is expected of a Christian wife:
10 A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
11 The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
12 She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
13 She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant,
she brings her food from far away.
15 She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant-girls.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
17 She girds herself with strength,
and makes her arms strong.
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
20 She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
for all her household are clothed in crimson.
22 She makes herself coverings;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the city gates,
taking his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them;
she supplies the merchant with sashes.
25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
26 She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
27 She looks well to the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children rise up and call her happy;
her husband too, and he praises her:
29 “Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.
What we can see from this example is a woman who is diligent and very much active outside the home. She is essentially acting as both a sales agent and a merchant, not to mention a real estate agent on the side. If that isn’t working outside the home, I don’t know what is. What we see in Proverbs 31 is a woman who is a clear benefit to her husband. She adds a huge amount of value to his life, and lets him rise to his maximum potential. And for this she is to be lauded. Clearly working outside the home is not considered a sin, much less a mortal one. Nor is there anything dishonorable about it either; as long as the woman is acting diligently in her role as helpmeet than she is to be praised for her works.
Also, it is important to remember that a lot of work and manufacturing back then could be accomplished inside the household. That isn’t really the case these days, a considerable amount of jobs which used to be done from home are no longer economically feasible on a small scale. So if there is work to be done, much of it has to be done outside of the home.
Now what about wifely submission? The requirement that wives submit to their husbands serves several purposes. One of them, which I have covered before, is to provide an example of proper authority to children. But I suspect the principal reason is to try and combat the competition which would otherwise engulf a marriage without a clear leader or single head.
Whatever the Lord’s purposes, it is clear that when the wife is commanded to carry out something which isn’t a mortal sin that she is to obey her husband. And that can include working outside the home, if need be. I should mention that I for one think that it isn’t an ideal situation, especially when there are children. But before children enter the picture, a wife working is something that might be advantageous to the household. The extra resources might prove essential in helping offset the future costs of children. It is up to each individual family, with the husband as the head, to decide what best works for them at any given time.
With this in mind, we can see that Christian marriage is a more complicated and extensive affair than a purely secular approach to marriage. The additional requirements shift the nature of the marriage from a business partnership with two partners vying for power to something else entirely: a family or household with clear lines of authority, duty and responsibility. In a way the marriage becomes much like the ship which the Captain/First Officer model analogizes. The husband acts as Captain of a ship (family) which he leads in order to carry out the ship’s mission (to serve God), and he is aided in this task by his wife, who acts as First Officer. While the marriage is still transactional and contract based in its formation, the final product which emerges is one that exists not to cater to selfish human needs, but instead serve a higher cause.
[Sorry for any typos, I will fix them in the morning]