Saturday, March 04, 2017

Antiquated Ways of Thinking

I might fall over laughing if it weren’t so sad.

If feminists want to minimize their own joy in life, that’s one thing. God bless ’em and have at it. But it’s another thing entirely when they set out to trash the culture so comprehensively that nobody else enjoys their lives either.

If you are driving into Winston-Salem from Kernersville, about 85 miles northeast of Charlotte, N.C., expect to encounter a billboard that reads, “Real men provide. Real women appreciate it.

Better drive fast though: last Sunday at 11:00 a.m., the owner of a Winston-Salem women’s boutique called Kleur organized a demonstration against the billboard’s message and its “antiquated way of thinking”.

If that’s their metric, I’m an antique and proud of it.

The Great Depression and Average Income

And the idea of a husband who is the primary provider for his family isn’t THAT antiquated, though you wouldn’t know it if you look around our churches.

“Providing” was still the historical norm a year into the Great Depression. The workforce remained mostly male. In 1930, the average annual income was $4,887, which had the purchasing power of $68,597 in today’s dollars. Back then, the IRS helped itself to $128.58 of that, or a measly 2.6%. It probably hadn’t yet figured out what it could get away with.

Fast-forward to 2014, when average U.S. income had reached $44,600, but now the government’s share was closer to $7,200, or 16%, and that’s not factoring in sales or state taxes. Actual after-tax buying power today is about HALF what it was a year into the Great Depression.

June Bails on the Beaver

If you want to really depress yourself, have a look at the numbers for 1929, the last year before the effects of the Great Depression showed up in U.S. taxation revenues. Average income was $6,132, equivalent to $86,577 today, taxable at the same microscopic 2.6%.

Now, obviously these are averages of the entire population and probably do not reflect your individual situation. Just as clearly, there are things other than take-home pay that impact our lifestyles. But a look at the change in average income gives us a pretty good sense of what has happened to the U.S. economy over the last 87 years and how those changes have affected both secular and Christian homes and relationships.

So today when June tells Ward she just can’t afford to stay home with Wally and the Beav anymore, she’s not necessarily a greedy consumerist out to land that second car and third vacation. There might well be a genuine cash flow problem in the Cleaver household.

The Demographics of Workforce Participation

Sure, Westerners are very well-off compared to Christians in the third world, but a significant portion of that apparent affluence is actually ready access to debt, from which the ultimate beneficiaries are the banks. When those young Christian couples with their two-to-four kids climb out of their Dodge Grand Caravans or the equivalent in the church parking lot on Sunday morning, don’t ask how far underwater they are on their leases, and definitely don’t inquire about their mortgages. It’s probably not a pretty picture.

Not the least bit unrelated: in 1930, American women made up 22% of the workforce. Today, they’re at 57%. If you like, we can debate which of these two factors — average income from employment and the level of women’s workforce participation — is the chicken and which is the egg, but when we’re talking about great societal forces, I’m not sure it much matters. Blame feminism, consumerism, WWII, income tax rates or even a government conspiracy if you like, but working women are a fact of life, as are average incomes that are insufficient to give you an “average” lifestyle.

My father may be old enough to remember when most Christian wives stayed home to raise their kids. I’m not.

The Elephant in the Room

All to say, there is plenty of real and perceived pressure on both younger husbands and wives in our churches today to be equally present in the workforce, and we should not ignore the temptation it poses, especially when a family is carrying a high level of debt about which their fellow believers may be quite unaware. And especially especially when everybody around us seems to be doing it too.

But I would be overlooking the elephant in the room if I failed to point out that this is NOT the pattern of the New Testament:
“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”
“Working at home.” Hmm.

Putting Things in Order

Much has been said about this passage and others that speak to the role of young Christian wives in their marriages, and I won’t retread well-trodden territory. But these are instructions from the apostle Paul to Titus, his fellow worker and child in the faith, to “put what remained in order” in the Cretan churches. They are not “antiquated” or “cultural”, they are simply more difficult to apply (or rather, more tempting to disobey) in some cultures than in others. Paul gives these instructions not because Cretan wives were culturally inclined to be homebodies, but because they almost surely were no such thing. Moreover, he did so because he desired that the “word of God might not be reviled”. It was testimony about which Paul was concerned.

Now, Paul does not set a hard and fast rule that Christian wives are never to work outside the home under any circumstances; and we would be unwise to start making our own little laws that we will soon find ourselves keeping with as little consistency as Israel kept the Law of Moses. The immediate context shows Paul is talking about young Christian mothers. He is not making some general social statement about women working. He does not, for instance, address the issue of older Christian wives working after their children have grown. He has no specific words for childless couples. He does not even forbid younger women from running their own businesses from home if they can do it without short-changing their families, which are their first priority.

What Paul does provide is wise general guidance that will tend to make the average Christian family that follows it a great deal happier than the one that doesn’t. The wisdom of these instructions has been evident down through the centuries. It is only in the last century that believers in large numbers have seen fit to dispute the meaning of these texts. We need to be clear that WE are the oddballs here, not the first century Cretan believers who may have taken Titus’ instruction to heart.

The Provider Mindset

But for a young Christian wife to successfully follow these instructions while she has children at home, her husband needs to put himself in the position of being a provider:
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.”
Unless you have come into family money, happen to have won the lottery or can command an above-average salary, providing for a family — and doing so consistently without the benefit of a second paycheck — will likely involve a whole lot of hard work, following the example set by the apostle himself. Maybe working more hours, or maybe getting creative with the skills you do have. Having crunched the numbers above, it is evident that was a whole lot easier in 1930 for a man to do that than it is today. But it is not impossible.

You probably know a Christian family or two who are doing it. Sure, they’re not well acquainted with the McDonald’s drive-thru line, and they probably go to a Bible camp in the summers because that’s all the vacation they’ll ever afford. None of the younger kids have passports because they’ve never been across the border. Their teens hitch rides to church with other Christians when dad is out of town because there is no second car. They wear hand-me-downs and they eat a lot of leftovers.

But Mom is busy at home and she seems to be happy there. And, take it from me, godly fathers are rarely happier than when they’re working for the benefit of those they love, especially when they know their children have the best possible care and their wife is doing the thing for which she was designed.

To Their Own Master

All kinds of people meet together in the name of God, and you find a variety of levels of maturity and understanding of scripture in most churches. Not every father who is a recent believer is going to take instantly to the idea of being the primary provider, especially if he is not used to carrying his weight financially. Not every young Christian mother will find the idea of staying home with her children viscerally appealing.

(I find these are exceptional, though; even the unsaved women I’ve worked with generally wished they could have stayed home with their kids when they were small, and one or two actually did it. What usually held them back, oddly enough, was resistance from their husbands.)

Given the differences in maturity and understanding among believers, not to mention the differences in present financial obligations that exist from family to family, we need to be careful not to allow a legalistic church culture to build up around issues like Titus 2, keeping in mind that others stand or fall to their own Master with respect to how they order their homes.

But we also need to acknowledge the practical teaching on family matters that exists in scripture and encourage those who are seeking help to follow it. Those of us who are not ready to live that life ourselves must be very careful not to drag down those who are trying to be obedient to God as best they know how, sometimes at considerable sacrifice. There’s a verse about stumbling a brother somewhere that may be on point …

Feminists in Winston-Salem are protesting a billboard for its “antiquated way of thinking” because they cannot bear the suggestion that the way they have ordered their own family relationships is, to say the least, sub-optimal.

But it is. Real men do provide, and real women do appreciate it.

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