Society tells us that if we believe there are different roles for men and women then we are narrow minded bigots. Clearly, this puts many Christians at odds with the world around them. But sadly, even in a conservative Christian context, many men give lip service to gender roles without any effort to live these roles out. To put it another way, many Christian men want to be king of their castle and princess too.
Those who read the last blog in this series know that I do not think “king of the castle” is a biblical teaching, and this will be explained further in a future blog. However, many men associate this colloquialism with male leadership in the home, using it as an expression rather than a theological term. This expression can be relatively harmless, depending on how one chooses to apply it. While I was growing up, my mother never used the “king of the castle” expression. Probably because she would have thought it was cheesy. But she did teach the children to basically treat my father like a king. When my dad entered the living room, and the children were seated around in it, she told us we should stand up so that he could sit wherever he wanted. That may sound too dad-centric to some, but it is worth thinking about where he was usually coming in from. My dad was a hay loader in the Imperial Valley, CA. He would work in 120 degree weather in the Summer days and 40 degree weather in the winter nights to provide for his family’s needs and wants. I seldom, if ever, heard my dad demand a privilege that came with being the father, but he certainly earned them, and my mother was quick to teach us to treat him like a king.
I am reminded of the scene in C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew when Aslan appointed a London horse-drawn cab driver and his wife as the first King and Queen of Narnia. The scene takes place thus:
“My children,” said Aslan, fixing his eyes on both of them, “you are to be the first King and Queen of Narnia.”
The Cabby opened his mouth in astonishment, and his wife turned very red.
“You shall rule and name all these creatures, and do justice among them, and protect them from their enemies when enemies arise. And enemies will arise, for there is an evil Witch in this world.”
The Cabby swallowed hard two or three times and cleared his throat.
“Begging your pardon, sir,” he said, “and thanking you very much I’m sure (which my Missus does the same) but I ain’t no sort of a chap for a job like that. I never ‘ad much eddycation, you see.”
“Well,” said Aslan, “can you use a spade and a plough and raise food out of the earth?”
“Yes, sir, I could do a bit of that sort of work: being brought up to it, like.”
“Can you rule these creatures kindly and fairly, remembering that they are not slaves like the dumb beasts of the world you were born in but Talking Beasts and free subjects?”
“I see that, sir,” replied the Cabby. “I’d try to do the square thing by them all.”
“And would you bring up your children and grandchildren to do the same?”
“It’d be up to me to try, sir. I’d do my best: wouldn’t we, Nellie?”
“And you wouldn’t have favourites either among your own children or among the other creatures or let any hold another under or use it hardly?”
“I never could abide such goings on, sir, and that’s the truth. I’d give ’em what for if I caught ’em at it,” said the Cabby. (All through this conversation his voice was growing slower and richer. More like the country voice he must have had as a boy and less like the sharp, quick voice of a cockney.)
“And if enemies came against the land (for enemies will arise) and there was war, would you be the first in the charge and the last in the retreat?”
“Well, sir,” said the Cabby very slowly, “a chap don’t exactly know till he’s been tried. I dare say I might turn out ever such a soft ‘un. ‘Never did no fighting except with my fists. I’d try—that is, I ‘ope I’d try—to do my bit.”
“Then,” said Aslan, “you will have done all that a King should do. Your coronation will be held presently.
When Aslan appointed a king, there was no talk about palaces, thrones or fantastic feasts. Aslan addressed the subjects of hard work, justice and courage. And the fact that the Cabby did not ask any “what do I get out of this?” questions showed that Aslan had chosen the right man for the job. I also find it interesting that C. S. Lewis, a Cambridge Professor of Literature, thought that the ideal king would be a London cab driver.
If we follow Aslan’s basic idea of what makes a good king, we find that many men want to be treated like kings, but few want to act like them. For many men, the “king of the castle” idea is all privilege and no responsibility. Where does that come from? In a word, syncretism. Syncretism is a mixing of religions or world views. For example, much of South American Roman Catholicism is a combination of European Roman Catholicism, and the animism of the native tribal religions. What is the specific syncretism of those who want to be king of the castle and princess too? Allow me to give this some historical context. Not all that long ago in the United States of America, women were treated as second class citizens. They had no right to vote, very little access to higher education and virtually no right to have any sort of career. Thank God that there have been many hard-fought victories that changed these limitations…for the most part.
What happened after that? Many women decided that the right to vote and have an education or career was not enough. All basic distinctions between men and women had to be obliterated. A woman could do anything a man could do. I’m not sure there was any particular push to prove that a man could do anything a woman could do, but that would seem to be the natural corollary. The politically correct narrative took the form that women who found their identities as wives and mothers were somehow selling out. There was some quite nasty language used to describe women who wanted to do things in what some would call “a more traditional way.” It was no longer that women had the right to have careers, it was that women had the responsibility to have careers.
Initially, many men resisted this trend. Their pride was threatened by the idea of the empowered female. But gradually, those sneaky male shysters figured out how to work the new situation to their advantage. How? More work for women without any more responsibility for men. The terms of the new situation were intended to work this way: husbands and wives would share the responsibility to provide for the family, and they would also share household duties like doing the laundry, washing the dishes and caring for the children. It all sounds so equitable. But somewhere in a dark man cave there was a covert meeting where the dark forces of manhood hatched a secret plot. “We’ll insist that our modern, empowered women share the responsibility to provide for the family, and we’ll agree to do our share of the household duties. But (and here’s the tricky part), we just won’t do any of the household duties.”
If you did not understand that much of the previous paragraph was tongue in cheek, it was. So far as I know, there were no dark meetings. However, the situation that developed is often one where both a husband and wife work equally hard to provide for the family, but the wife does all the work at home. Because, whether deliberately or not, husbands just don’t bother, and many women feel like it is easier to do it themselves than to ask.
What about the syncretism we previously mentioned? This refers to the situations where men insist their wives share the financial responsibility for the family, but don’t bother to help with the household duties, and yet, still consider themselves to be head of the house with the right to make final decisions. In short, they assume the title of king while living like a princess.
In case this is going over anyone’s head, let me describe the situation in a slightly different way. Our progressive men became so captivated with the idea of empowering women that they empowered them to share half, or more, of the responsibility for providing for their family, and then, after work, letting them do all the housework and child rearing while the modern male innovators sit on the couch playing video games, watching sports, or whatever. Then, many of the Christian men saw what the progressive men were doing and did pretty much the same thing. They just continued to consider themselves head of their house so as not to have too much in common with those nasty liberals.
Allow me to pause for a moment and tell you a few things I am not saying. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with women working to help provide for their family. I live in San Diego, CA. Here it is very hard for many families to even squeak by on one income, though for some it is easier than trying to pay the outrageous costs of child care, which out strip many incomes. These are things husbands and wives must work out together in their own situations. I am also nowhere close to suggesting that men should not help with domestic duties. In fact, I find that the men who take the most responsibility for providing for their families are often those most likely to vacuum floors, do dishes, etc. I am also not saying that there is anything wrong with watching sports or playing video games. Though I’m a little rusty, I can probably still take you down in Street Fighter II on the Super Nintendo, and I even know that there are some important athletes out there named Lebron and Tom Brady.
What I am suggesting is that, in biblical marriage, God has designed primary roles for men and women. I am further suggesting that Christian men often shirk their primary roles while expecting Christian women to fulfill theirs. And I am even further suggesting that it is high time for Christian men to knock it off! Time to turn that pony around, Cowboy!
“Primary roles?” you ask, “What is he talking about?” Let us look at a couple of Bible passages. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12, the Apostle Paul does not mince words:
“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”
To this we may add 2 Timothy 5:8:
“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
These passages are not saying that if a man is unemployed, under-employed or injured, he is in sin. Many of us have been there. They are saying that if a man is stubbornly refusing to work and provide for the needs of his household, he is in serious sin. In fact, 2 Timothy 5:8 comes to us in a context of providing for one’s widowed relatives. This should not be a burden of the church if the widow has a male relative to provide for her needs.
Now, how do I know that these passages are talking about men’s responsibilities rather than a gender-neutral use of the words “man,” “brother,” and “his?” I know this because the Bible assigns a very different primary role for married Christian women. In Titus 2:3-5, Paul gives this instruction to his young protégé:
“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”
Oh my goodness, Pastor Pete! You’re telling me that the Bible says that? Why yes. Any of my feminist friends who have read this far are, no doubt, gathering stones. But more bothersome than that is the fact that our king-princesses will look at a passage like this, assume their whiniest voice, and say “See, women are supposed to work in the home and be submissive!” This causes our king-princesses to tap their feet, cross their arms, and make demands. Oh, but king-princess, let us make a couple of observations from the passage. Who does Paul say should be the one to teach women these things? You? Why no! Older, godly female mentors. What is your responsibility? To do everything you can to enable your wife to fulfill her God-given role. In other words; providing for the family is your primary role, and keeping the household is her primary role. As leader of your household, you have no ground to worry about your wife’s primary role unless and until you are doing everything in your power to fulfill yours.
Again, this does not preclude men and women helping one another in these responsibilities. It does, however, preclude the biblical viability of shirking these responsibilities. Titus 2 does not mean women should never work, have careers, earn advanced academic degrees, or anything of that sort. It does mean that if there is a conflict between these goals and the needs of the family, then loving her husband and children comes first. In the second post of this series, I mentioned that men might need to curb their own self-actualization and possibly give up dreams for the sake of their family. Yes, my friends, following Christ can also mean something similar for the ladies. More time spent with your children might mean less respect in the world’s eyes, but not in God’s. The importance of your family might mean a smaller house, less expensive vacations, and less spending money. Is your family worth it? Is Christ worth it?
These are legitimate questions, but male family leaders have no right to ask them if they are not assuming primary responsibility to provide for the family, and possibly foregoing their own dreams. Unfortunately, it is often the husbands and fathers with the concerns about big houses, vacations and spending money, etc. Men, if this is your situation, do not dare to try to exercise male headship, for you are not practicing it. Let me finish this post with some premises I think we men need to embrace for male headship to work.
It is not your wife’s responsibility to provide financially for the family! Circumstances may, to one degree or another, make her help necessary, but it is your ultimate responsibility. When your wife knows you are doing your utmost to fulfill this duty, I believe she will be happy to help with no resentment.
You can provide for your family AND help with household duties! What if Christian men assumed the responsibility to provide and were also quick to help with the vacuuming, dishes and diapers when their wives were worn out with their responsibilities? I would suggest that is a mark of true leadership.
You can provide for your wife AND support her in following her dreams. All of us need to put our dreams and desires on hold sometimes. Sometimes we must give them up altogether. However, should a Christian woman want to pursue degrees or career paths, her husband should be the first to support her. He might observe that it is not a good time, or request that she wait until a certain point for the good of the family. But if a woman is 100% confident that her husband always puts the family over his own dreams and desires, I think such a request could be met without resentment.
Brothers, if we use Aslan’s working definition of what makes for a king (and I think it is a good one), then it is high time we stop saying we’re kings, and even higher time that we start acting like them. Selah!