This was sent to me by Steve Perdue as a follow-up article to the Letter to Focus on the Family. I'm not sure where it was originally published at this point.
Putting Women in Their Place
For too long churches have fostered judgmental attitudes toward women who work outside the home. Isn't it time we allowed God's women to fulfill their destinies?
By Linda Mintle
What do Christians and Sigmund Freud have in common? No, this is not a trick question. And yes, the answer is, not much.
The association came to me, however, when I read the story of how a group of Christians in Berryville, Arkansas, dealt with working mothers in their community. Berryville, a small town in middle America, is hardly a hotbed of psychoanalysis. But mother-blaming, a hallmark of Freudian psychology, is alive and well. As a Christian mother and psychotherapist, I was intrigued.
Here's the story.
For 11 years the First Baptist Church of Berryville operated the only day-care center in the town--and they did it well. Tammy Wilson was one mother who enrolled her 5-year-old son at the center.
"I loved taking my son there, and he loved going there," she told a reporter recently. "The staff and curriculum taught good morals and manners."
But Tammy's son and his buddies play elsewhere these days. On March 12, 1997, the center abruptly closed its doors. Clyde Gray, First Baptist's pastor, pulled the plug overnight, leaving parents scrambling to make arrangements for their children the next day.
Some parents were notified of the closing late the night before; others were greeted with the news as they attempted to drop off their children in the morning.
What happened? The church leaders decided that operating a day care was encouraging women to work outside the home. They added (here's the Freud part) that working mothers "neglect their children, damage their marriages and set a bad example." Moreover, they claimed these women were causing, not easing, financial distress. The husbands' salaries would be sufficient, they said, if families went without "big TVs, a microwave, new clothes, eating out and nice vacations."
I suppose the men at First Baptist had good intentions. They, like many Christians, worry about the breakdown of the family. Increases in crime, divorce, premature sexuality, absent fathers and other ills of society make us desperate to find solutions. But blaming working mothers and sending them home is a desperate solution--and a bogus one.
What worries me is that the men at First Baptist represent many Christians who think that forcing women to return to "traditional roles" is the answer to our social problems. Think about "traditional values" for a minute. They promote commitment to the institution of marriage and stability in the home. That's good.
As practiced in past decades, however, "traditional values" also included racism and gender bias. Personally, I have no desire to return to a time when racism abounded and women were treated as second-class citizens. Remember: In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (see Gal. 3:28). As we focus on racial reconciliation in the church, perhaps we should consider gender reconciliation as well.
Women, especially mothers, are constantly on the firing line for their choices. Women today are not reared to be only mothers, as they were decades ago.
Many go to college, develop careers and use their talents to serve God in ways other than, or in addition to, caring for children. This does not diminish the role of mother nor devalue it.
It's not easy, to be sure. Working outside the home while mothering takes a lot of creativity, planning, prayer and good support systems.
But times have changed. In the 1950s, families were not as mobile as they are now. Extended families lived in the same town, and two-parent families were the norm.
Today, most of us don't live near our relatives, many single moms are having to fend for themselves, and jobs keep us on the move. Our support systems have vanished. For working mothers, good, Christ-based day care can be a godsend.
A Parenting Team
My mother worked outside the home when I was growing up. We had a large extended family to help when necessary. Most of all, though, we had my dad, who teamed with my mom to make sure one parent was always covering when the other was at work. Mom and Dad were flexible. Their parental roles were clearly defined but not segregated.
I have wonderful memories of both parents' involvement in my life as a child. And the backup was there--grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors. Contrary to First Baptist's logic, we did not have a big TV, lavish vacations and money to burn because my mother had a job. My mom and dad worked hard to send all three of us kids to college and graduate school. My parents wanted us to have opportunities they did not.
My working mom did not neglect me, ruin her marriage or set a bad example. If anything, she modeled the Proverbs 31 woman. She put the needs of her children first, and she made it clear to her employer that her family was her priority.
She worked her schedule around our school schedule, purposely taking a job that allowed her flexibility. She attended every recital, play, activity, you name it. She made arrangements for my dad to be present with us when she could not.
Does this mean that all women should work outside the home? Of course not. The decision should be made by parents who have prayerfully considered this option, not by a church staff who may or may not know the circumstances of the family. It's disturbing when other Christians presume to know what's best for women they hardly know.
The Scriptural View
Scripture, the weapon most used against women, does not limit women to one role. Titus 2:4-5 is the passage cited by the Berryville group and others. This passage admonishes spiritually mature women to mentor those who are less mature. Women are to love their husbands and children and "be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands" (NKJV). To take this list and assume it means that women should stay in the home 24 hours a day is a cultural adaptation.
Working mothers are homemakers. Being a homemaker doesn't have to be an exclusive role. But don't take my word for it. Look at the Scriptures.
The Bible lists characteristics of godly businesswomen (Titus 2:9-10; Titus 3:1; Ecc 9:10; Col. 4:6) and gives examples (Lydia in Acts 16:13-14, Priscilla in Acts 18:1-3). It acknowledges types of businesses in which women served--Shallum's daughters in construction (Neh. 3:12); Dorcas in the garment industry (Acts 9:36,39); Deborah in government (Judg. 4:4-5); Priscilla in manufacturing (Acts 18:2-3). Rhoda was the maid of John Mark's mother Mary (Acts 12:12-13), and Shiphrah and Puah were midwives (Ex. 1:15-16). The list goes on.
To take one Scripture (Titus 2:5), ignore other biblical accounts and proclaim "homemaker" as the only role for women is wrong. It's narrow-minded and does not acknowledge the God-given talents and abilities women bring to the work force. Christians should stop insisting we all be the same. The Bible doesn't.
What are some men afraid of when women go to work? Here's what comes out in therapy with Christian men:
* "My wife may find another man attractive in the workplace and leave me."
- If she does, the marriage has the problem, not the workplace.
* "My wife may earn more money than I do."
- Here's a man who needs to work on his self-esteem and not count his worth in dollars.
* "My wife wants to escape from the home."
- This is a serious problem that needs family attention. What does she want to escape from?
* "My wife will become a liberal feminist."
- Obviously, spiritual leadership and mutual submission to one another and to God is not taking place. You get the idea.
* "My wife may neglect me and the kids."
- This can be a legitimate concern. But the vast majority of mothers, unless they are mentally unstable, do not want to neglect their children. If neglect is occurring, families should be dealt with in love--not cut off and condemned.
Yes, there are women who work and neglect the care of their children. The same is true for men. How long have we supported men as workaholics, holding down two jobs and never seeing their children for the sake of money--or ministry?
Part of the Solution
The church needs to be part of the solution to modern times--not the constant arm of judgment and condemnation. Jesus did not condemn women nor patronize them. He accepted them as He found them and ministered to them. How can the church do the same?
1. Stop blaming mothers.
Mothers are not singularly responsible for problem children. Groups like Promise Keepers and Focus on the Family help remind us that fathers play a vital role in the raising of children, as do peers and social influences. Working mothers are not the source of all society's ills.
2. Recognize our diversity.
God has given different women unique gifts and talents. Stop trying to pigeonhole us all into the same role.
3. Recognize the complexity of modern society.
What about the single mother who has no husband to bring home income? What about women who share the economic responsibility for the family so husbands won't have to have two jobs and never see their children? What about deadbeat dads?
What about women who work because their husbands insist that they do? I've counseled a number of women who feel called to stay home with their children, but their husbands want more income and will not support them as stay-at-home mothers.
4. Don't react.
Trying to get back to the "good ol' days" when men were men and women were mommies will not solve our problems. We don't live in the 1950s, and to insist that a traditional American view is biblical is naive.
5. Encourage prayerful planning.
First Baptist believes God gives clear instructions for parents to train up their children. Who would argue this point? But the Bible does not say that mothers who perform any function outside of mothering are neglecting their children. And the mandate refers to both parents, not just mothers.
Did the church leaders talk with the fathers to see if the children were neglected or suffering? After all, training up children involves both parents, and a wife's decision to enter the workplace should be a mutual decision, prayed about and agreed upon by both spouses.
6. Address abusive behavior.
There are abuses. I had a client who wanted to put her 4-week-old twins in "preschool." Who was she kidding? Obviously, 4-week-olds don't go to preschool!
After much discussion, I learned that she didn't want the children to interfere with her life. This is selfish and should have been dealt with before the conception of her babies. You can't have children and not be "interfered with."
7. Support families.
We should be supporting the family as a unit, not trying to undermine it with criticism. Shouldn't the church be the place you go to for help; to fill in the gaps; maybe even to train for more flexible careers that would allow work and parenting to co-exist?
Several Christians I know searched diligently to find jobs that allow them to work from home. Others work only part time, and some have jobs to which they are able to take their children.
I know by taking this position I open myself to receive a lot of criticism. I'll be labeled by some a radical feminist, an angry woman, a liberal, even anti-biblical. If you knew me, you wouldn't go there--and if you love God, you won't either!
Did the action of First Baptist Church of Berryville succeed in sending mothers back home? The irony of this story is that the board of another church across town, First Christian Church, met the night after the day care closed and recognized the dilemma facing several families.
A temporary state license to operate a new day care was secured five days after First Baptist shut its doors, and First Christian converted its fellowship hall and Sunday school classrooms into a day-care center. Donations poured in while word spread and provision was made.
The leaders of First Christian Church are grateful for the opportunity to support women in fulfilling God's call on their lives. Asked how they feel about the new day-care, they answer, "The Lord has really blessed us."
About the Author: Linda Mintle is a licensed clinical social worker who lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. She and her husband, Norm, have two children.