Kristin Rudolph (@Kristin_Rudolph)
In a piece responding to the controversy over the “New Radicals,” titled “Suburbia Needs Jesus, Too,” Andrea Palpant Dilley offers a mother’s perspective, pointing out that fixation on big, dramatic acts as the way to “really” follow God disqualifies most Christian mothers from a meaningful Christian life. (Read the article that started it all here) To say that real life happens in the dramatic moments of fighting injustice or feeding the hungry on foreign shores discounts the value of the quotidien, mundane realities of life for most mothers.
This “stereotypically male way of thinking that often values the dramatic over the mundane and loses sight of people who engage the greater good through the invisible monotony of home-making, childrearing, and other unseen acts of service,” she writes. Dilley explains although both men and women have a deeply ingrained desire to contribute meaningful work to the world, women are more biologically and traditionally in tune with the significance of the “mundane good.” She continues: “By New Radical standards, we moms aren’t Christian enough unless we’re serving at a soup kitchen in the inner city or adopting orphans from Ethiopia.”
That is a stark, but accurate assessment of the implications of New Radical thought for Christian mothers. I would add that marriage and family precludes most Christian fathers from “radical” life as well. Although in evangelical circles we frequently hear married life discussed as an identity defining “calling” for women in the form of child rearing and homemaking, we don’t often hear of how having a family fundamentally shapes the identity of men. Common thinking says mothers are to care for the children and attend to the family home. Men, as husbands and fathers are to provide for and “lead” their families. What form that takes is rarely questioned, but in our economy, it usually means spending at least (but probably more) 40 hours a week away from one’s family.
Although Christian denominations vary in their definition of marriage (sacramental vs. non sacramental, etc.), we all hold a high view of the family and believe marriage is permanent, sacrificial, and central to the lives of those who pursue it. But in theory though perhaps not in practice, men are still largely free to pursue “radical” causes and sometimes even encouraged to advance up the career ladder. It seems although family is important for Christian men, it is not expected to define them as it does women. Men who are fathers often still lead with their profession as the first identifying property, where women are known for their relationships.
To truly model a relationship-centric, self-sacrificial way of life, Christians should strive to structure their family/work balance in a way that reflects these priorities. Fully recognizing that our unique circumstances and economic conditions don’t lend themselves to family and home centered productive work (which may prevent most men from spending significant time with their families just as women don’t always have the option to stay at home), if we truly believe family is critically important, we should cast a truly alternative ideal.
Children — boys and girls — need their fathers for more than economic provision. Evangelical Christians would of course agree, but often it seems men primarily fulfill their duty to their families through economic provision. But can men really “have it all?” Can they be substantially present for their wives and children while “radically” serving Christ and/or advancing a career? These are questions in need of answers as our concept of the family is increasingly individualized even in the Church.
Marrying and starting a family is not (yet) perceived as radical by the world or most within the Church. But it is a significant calling for both men and women. There is no ‘one size fits all’ mold, but lifelong service to one’s spouse and children should be primary and defining for all who have a family. Raising and passing the faith onto the next generation requires the daily, mundane dedication of mothers and fathers. This, I think, is a significant endeavor.