Wednesday, November 02, 2005


Traditional roles

One of the reasons why I think I can be so, er, (in)scrutable is that my thinking on some issues doesn't fall out along conventional lines. Take, for instance, my views on cultural tradition. On one hand, I insist that extra-Biblical tradition is not binding on my conscience, a stand that's gotten me pegged as a rebel against society on several occasions, but on the other hand I think that a lot of traditions are good and right. In fact, I often wish that Western society would experience a "revival" of traditional customs. Although I certainly don't wish for a return of all old traditions, I think we would benefit if many of them were to experience a resurgence.

In particular, let's consider the roles of men and women. Although I most heartily welcome the way in which Western society has granted women nearly equal liberty to exercise their gifts and talents in practically every way, and I remain convinced that women were shamefully under-utilized and disrespected in the past, I have noticed a movement to treat women as though they ought to strive to do whatever men do as well as men do it. To put it another way, if men do something, women ought to try to do it, too. Who hasn't seen an article about a woman who's pursuing a field of endeavor that is usually pursued only by men? In such articles, we read about how great of a job she's doing, so good that many of the men in her field are amazed by her talent and ability. Although in most cases I think it's commendable for a woman to pursue a given social or professional role, even if that role is non-traditional, I think it's rather sad to see how so often women who choose to pursue traditional roles are overlooked. Although it's wonderful if a woman becomes a great race car driver or rocket scientist, I think it's just as wonderful if she becomes a great wife or mother. In fact, I would argue that the self-sacrifice that's often involved in the pursuit of such traditional roles is worthy of just as much praise as the often considerable effort that's involved in pursuing a non-traditional role.

Long before human society grasped the notion of the equal value of men and women, Scripture revealed that "in Christ there is neither male nor female." (Galatians 3:28) Men and women stand equal in value before God, but yet Scripture also reveals that men and women are different in role. To be frank, this generation despises the notion that a person's role may be substantially determined by facts of birth. To be sure, the racism that's so long been a cancer on most human societies is utterly evil: the same Scripture I just quoted goes on to say that in Christ there is "neither Jew nor Greek, nor slave nor free." Likewise, the view that women are inferior in value to men is alien to Scripture, but yet the Word tells us that wives are to submit to their husbands, and that only men are to lead and teach in the church. (Scripture does allow for women to lead and teach other women and children in church-related functions such as Sunday School, and has relatively little to say about whom women are to teach or lead outside the context of home or church.) Scripture draws this distinction not because women are inferior in value to men, but because they are given a different role than that of men. In my opinion, we ought to embrace not only the equality but also the difference of men and women! I think past Western culture had a tendency to respect the difference in the roles of men and women but at the same time treated women as being inferior to men, but today we've seen a flip-flop: men and women are equal in value and in role. For my part, I would like to see us embrace both equality of value and distinction of role.

As I've written in the past, I lament the decline of formality in my culture, and I sense this decline most strongly regarding the social roles of men and women. So much of the time nowadays, men and women look and act so much alike, and I think this works against the distinction in role that today's society is so eager to deny. Therefore, I'd like to see a revival of distinctions in the appearance and behavior of men and women in social situations. I find it to be attractive and becoming when men and women look and act different. However, I recognize that we ought not go beyond Scripture. Regarding apparel, God strictly prohibits transvestism (Deut. 22:5), but yet history refutes any notion that any particular type of garment is inherently male or female for all time and in all cultures. In Moses' and Jesus' day, both men and women wore robes, in today's America both men and women wear trousers, and in Scotland both men and women wear kilts to this day. Thus, the thinking of certain fundamentalists that women ought not wear pants is unbiblical. However, God did command that there be a distinction of some kind in appearance between the sexes. Although I would reject any notion that women ought to put away their trousers (or the Scotsman his kilt :-) ), I would nonetheless like to see a greater effort on the part of both men and women to cultivate a distinction in appearance so as to better reflect the God-ordained distinction between the sexes.

Although I am glad to see the increasing opportunities that are available to women in my culture, I am grieved to see how quick we have been to throw aside what was good and right about our old ways. The fact of the matter is that God has appointed men and women to different roles. Although all people, both believers and unbelievers, are responsible to obey God's Law as revealed in Scripture, I believe that professing Christians bear a special responsibility to set an example of obedience to the Lord in this respect. I do not advocate a wholesale return to old ways, nor do I say that old ways are good merely because they're old. Instead, I believe that we are responsible to thoughtfully evaluate our society's view of gender roles in comparison with Scripture, discarding what is bad in our practice and holding fast to what is good.

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