by Barton Gingerich (@bjgingerich)
With the marriage debate raging around the SCOTUS decision, orthodox Christians have not only discussed the public understanding of marriage, but also the character of humanity’s oldest institution. What is marriage? What should it look like and how should it be lived? More controversial, do the differences of men and women point to different behaviors and responsibilities for each? Christians today are not united on the issue; in fact, some of the fiercest in-fighting occurs when this discussion is broached. Since sexuality and gender are a very important part of human life, the Church does need to discuss them with honesty and clarity. IRD itself has no position on the controversy, but we do want Christians to have well-informed debate in the public square. Here are a few tips for egalitarians, complementarians, and all those in-between.
1. Make sure your historical picture is accurate.
Much of the debate pivots on “traditional gender roles”—bogeymen for some, ideals for others. This often cuts against some complementarians who condemn fathers working at home and passionately defend the “nuclear family.” Sadly, such language reveals historical short-sightedness. First, the “nuclear family” is a recent invention of the West that became the staple for the United States after World War II. The explosion in automobile ownership coupled with the construction of the Interstate (and many other innovations) to separate the interconnected network of family. When America’s sons headed off to war, their fathers bought tractors to help on the farm. When G. I. Joe returned, he had to find work elsewhere. Thankfully, business would boom since nearly all international competition had its factories and facilities bombed out. In earlier days, the family lived in one area—generally grandparents lived in the same house as their grandchildren. Nursing homes did not exist. Counties and cities would have large webs of cousins by varying degrees. Mom, Dad, and kids far away from the rest of the clan is far from humanity’s usual practice. Family gatherings occurred far more often than at Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Second, “stay at home dads” as per household economies were the uninterrupted norm up until the Industrial Revolution. Parents and children stayed together to help the family business. After all, the family “unit” functioned more like a producer than a consumer. Work for both sexes tended to be strenuous. (Have you ever washed clothes the old-fashioned way?) At the Industrial Revolution, Papa left the home to go work at the factory, the productive facilities of which were owned by someone else. For most of its history, America was sheltered from the brunt of these shifts since the population was largely engaged in agriculture. Again, the first generation to leave the farm in great droves was the one featured in “Leave It to Beaver.” What is more, modern conveniences made the wife’s duties much easier. Add to that longer hours at compulsory education facilities for the kiddies, and you’ve got a frustrated person who wants to “do something worthwhile” with her life. All too often, we misconstrue the verse about “leaving father and mother” to mean that a man leaves his household to marry and become a breadwinner who must always leave the house to provide for his family. This is neither accurate nor helpful.
2. Eschew Whiggery.
Whig history asserts that the present is superior to the past. Human history is but the inevitable progression toward ever greater liberty and enlightenment. Whiggery requires a blind faith in the myth of progress. Democracy is the unquestionable ideal. If anyone has read De Tocqueville (or a plethora of other great thinkers), democracy has many problems that should give Christians pause if not qualms. Christianity does not equal democracy, though the two have been able to co-exist for a couple centuries now.
For Christians (especially egalitarians), it is important to remember that newer is not always better. Sexual dysfunctions are a near-permanent feature of human life. There has never been a time when the Church has not had to deal with issues of gender and sexuality. It is important to note that–while the Church fought victoriously against the dichotomous misogyny of classical culture (wife is for childbearing, lover is for actual love)–she held views of men and women that fit into a rather narrow scope for nearly 1800 years. This includes roles within the ecclesiastical sphere.
One cannot help noticing that the 20th century has not been the best for sexual virtue, the family, or marriage. After all, ours is the generation of many divorces, out-of-wedlock births, widespread acceptance of homosexual activity, and the hook-up culture. Whether feminism had an aggravating or countervailing role in this devolution into barbarism is fair game for debate. “That’s just not how it’s done today” is not a valid argument. We do lots of things today, like murder millions of babies and stuff corn syrup into everything. We are active moral free agents. Thus, we can swim against the cultural current if we so choose. We do not have propagate the social disorders of our own day. One such disorder is the cult of volitional self-realization, and that error looms large in many of these gender debates.
3. Beware the bandying of “Biblical.”
Prohibiting habits, manners, institutions, and expectations on a “biblical” basis needs to be found on a truly Scriptural foundation—the Holy Bible correctly interpreted must speak to the issue. If you think a behavior is wrong, it does not mean that the Bible explicitly demands a particular position. However, just because the Bible does not explicitly outline your contention does not mean that your argument is untrue. Maybe your belief can find support in natural law, healthful custom, or some other basis. Sometimes, issues do not pivot on faith but on prudence. Something might not be heretical, but it might be foolish and wrong. Truth demands our allegiance, regardless of its source, since all truth is God’s truth.
4. Look at how you view human society before asserting a position.
Does nature and/or essence exist? If so, is it knowable? If nature exists, what does it demand of man and woman as sexual, gendered beings? Does a biological reality (maleness/femaleness) require a certain kind of character or soulish volitional behavior (masculinity/femininity)? Are artificial things like manners, customs, and social expectations infinitely malleable? Can we limitlessly shape human society as we please? What would be the repercussions of a “fashion and fad” culture that perpetually attempts to push the boundaries and innovate when most of human history has been much slower and continuous?
5. Avoid caricatures.
The field of opinion is wider than arch-patriarchists on one side and hyper-feminists on the other. Don’t inaccurately paint your opponents with the same brush.