Monday, October 22, 2007

Whose Hospitality? Whose Kingdom? Women's Place in Abraham Kuyper's Theology

The following paper by Professor Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen (reprinted by BlueChristian with her kind permission) explores Christian philosopher, politician/statesman, and theologian Abraham Kuyper's contributions to today's gender debate. This blog's author, a teacher in the "Project 12" school run by Jesus People USA, finds the below essay interesting for a number of reasons. First and foremost is that I am vitally interested in the current sharply defined gender "war" taking place among evangelical (and even -- sigh -- some "post-evangelical") Christians. Second, as just as vital to me, is how the in many ways compelling ideas of Reformed theology interact with (for good and ill) the issue of gender.

Whose Hospitality? Whose Kingdom?
The Stob Lectureship at Calvin College & Seminary
November 4, 2003
Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen

The text for my lectureship title comes from the 1987 edition of Psalter Hymnal of the Christian Reformed Church, from two hymns penned by poet Marie Post (1919 – 1990). The first is the hymn “In Our Households, Heavenly Father,”[1] the third verse of which reads as follows:

Help us make our homes a haven,
Quick with hospitality.
Move us, Lord, to serve each other,
With true love and charity.

The second is a wedding hymn, “Lord, Today Bless This New Marriage,”[2] in which Post writes:

May the home they are preparing
Be a place of faith and prayer
Fruitful for this life, and fruitful
For the kingdom, which they share.

These verses clearly allude to ideals for family life that are as old as the church itself. The first exhorts Christian homes to be not just a place of mutual service for their immediate members, but also a magnet of hospitality to others.[3] Developing both these themes in more detail, Abraham Kuyper wrote as follows over a century ago:

A family-life, that seeks to develop a rich social life within its own bosom, is indispensable for the formation of heart and character … [But] this flourishing of happiness in one’s own home must not degenerate into incapacity for general fellowship, into cold indifference to what goes on outside …Where such becomes the case, the spirit of narrow-heartedness creeps in, which over-estimates everything that belongs to one’s own home and hearth, which with disgust and envy spies out what others do and not do, and surliness that repels rather than generosity that invites and attracts is made the rule of life.[4]

He was also quick to add that hospitality is not to be rendered in a calculating, tit-for-tat fashion, or to be limited only to the household of faith. Appealing both to the doctrine of the church and to the wider doctrine of all humanity’s creation in God’s image, Kuyper wrote that “Hospitality must be shown, not because the company of the stranger gives you pleasure, nor because presently in turn he will receive you, but because man (sic), created after God’s image, is not to be left to himself, and the brother in Christ must not be neglected.”[5]

Sphere Sovereignty in the Family and Beyond:
Kuyper often noted that in all domestic activities – the raising of children, the sharing of responsibility for material welfare, the practice of hospitality to others like and unlike ourselves -- homes are the settings where we learn (or don’t learn) with an intensity rarely duplicated elsewhere what it means to practice the fruits of the Spirit at the interpersonal level. But, as Marie Post intimates in the second hymn I quoted, Kuyper and his descendants also believe their Christian world view calls them to be ‘fruitful for the kingdom.’ That is to say, all their behavior is to be guided by an eschatological vision of the new heaven and the new earth whose ‘first fruits’ Christians are to cultivate, with the help of the Holy Spirit, in the here and now.

On this account, Christians are to be agents of light and salt in every arena of human life, bringing biblical principles to bear on activities within, but also beyond, the domestic and ecclesiastical. As Kuyper put it in an oft-quoted 1880 monograph, “There is not one part of our world of thought that can be hermetically separated from the other parts, and there is not an inch in the entire area of our human life of which Christ, who is sovereign of all, does not cry ‘Mine’!”[6] Furthermore, each of many God-ordained human activities has its own unique set of rights and responsibilities before God, according to Kuyper’s theory of ‘sphere sovereignty.’[7] That is why he and his descendents in various times and places have formed -- sometimes with, but more often without public financial support -- Christian schools, universities, trade unions, political parties, hospitals, adoption agencies, farmers’ federations, art galleries, newspapers, public policy think tanks and other organizations. Sphere sovereignty calls for each of these associations to be free from both state and church control, and to be ‘fruitful for the kingdom’ as it works out the implications of a biblical world view for a given kind of human activity.[8]

Thus for Kuyper families had their own unique calling in terms of mutual troth and hospitality. Indeed, he regarded the family as the foundation of civilization, the only social sphere explicitly ordained by God prior to the fall of humankind. It was for him a microcosm of society since it “contained every type of relationship found in society and taught all the skills and duties needed there.”[9] But for this very reason homes were also to be launching pads for Christianly-grounded service in every other sphere of life: the marketplace, the academy, the political forum, the laboratory, the art gallery, the concert hall, in addition to the church. In contrast with the pietist tendency to separate and rank-order these spheres according to a sacred/secular dichotomy (with church and devotional life at the top of the value scale) Kuyper’s understanding of the cosmic drama of creation, fall, redemption and future hope led him – though not always consistently, as we shall see -- to postulate both autonomy and interdependence, both created goodness and sinful distortion, both functional continuity and a recurring need for reform in all spheres of life.

World Views and Scholarship:
In resisting the separation of so-called sacred from so-called secular arenas of life, and having a robust doctrine of creation, Christians in the Kuyperian tradition have been particularly strong supporters of scholarship. They regard the life of the mind as one of many activities by which humans, as God’s accountable stewards, fulfill the cultural mandate of Gen 1:26-28 to ‘subdue the earth.’ At the same time, Calvinists in general have resisted the modern intellectual separation (dating at least back to Kant and arguably even to Descartes) between facts and values – the idea that human reason, rightly applied, is capable of complete objectivity and ideological neutrality. On the Kuyperian account, all human thought patterns – in all spheres of life and in all academic disciplines – are guided by a world view that reflects either allegiance to the one true God or else (inevitably) to some substitute idol. On this account, all of life – including the life of the mind -- is religiously motivated, and when humans do not yield to the true Author of the cosmic drama, they will certainly succumb to worship of one or more aspects of creation, such as science, politics, art, or personal pleasure – things which are God’s good gifts in their rightful place, but when substituted for God get turned into idols. “It is simple make an idol,” Reformed theologian Lewis Smedes once memorably observed. “Just slice one piece of created reality off from the whole and expect miracles from it.”[10]

This mix of appreciation for creation and the human calling to explore it on the one hand, and a zeal for exposing the foundational faith-assumptions behind so-called objective inquiry on the other, has led to much creative scholarship by Kuyperian-leaning Calvinists in the past few decades – from Nick Wolterstorff’s philosophical inquiry into Reason Within the Bounds of Religion[11] to Stephen Bouma-Prediger’s book on environmental stewardship, For the Beauty of the Earth,[12] from George Marsden’s historical work on The Soul of the American University[13] to James Skillen’s political analysis of the state as God’s servant, called to maintain the rights and responsibilities not just of individuals, but of all creationally-ordained spheres of life.[14] For a Christian academic like myself, this tradition of scholarship and activism has been both an intellectual and spiritual blessing. It affirms that one need not put one’s mind into cold storage as a Christian, and provides a well-explicated world view -- embracing the entire biblical drama – as a basis for cooperation with, but also critique of, mainstream scholarship and its applications. Indeed, I consider it part of my mission, now that I teach at a university with American Baptist roots, to turn at least some Baptists into Kuyperians who embrace the concepts of sphere sovereignty, common grace, and the importance of world views in all human thought and action.

Kuyper’s Mixed Pronouncements on Gender Relations:
However – and here is where the family quarrel begins -- the Kuyperian tradition is somewhat less helpful when it comes to explicating the questions implied by the title of tonight’s lecture: "Whose Hospitality? Whose Kingdom? " So let me now explain my choice of that title. On the one hand, Kuyper’s theory of sphere sovereignty holds that family life is no more, but also no less important than life in the academy, the marketplace, the political forum, the artist’s studio or the church. In keeping with this conviction, Kuyper wrote regular meditations, as well as essays, on family relations many of which were collected in books such as When Thou Sittest in Thine House,[15] Keep Thy Solemn Feasts[16] and The Practice of Godliness.[17] On the other hand, listen to historian James Bratt’s summary of Abraham Kuyper’s own daily and yearly schedule towards the peak of his career in the 1880s:

Breakfast alone at 8:30. Writing and reading, absolutely undisturbed, in his study from 9:00 till 12:30. A quick processing of visitors until 1:00 then off to the Free University to lecture and consult. Dinner and devotions with the family (their only slot) from 5:30 to 6:30. Then [came Kuyper’s] famous walks, covering the same route and the same two hours every evening, during which he rehearsed editorials and articles for the next day. Back home, some conversation and to bed. As to the annual cycle, a short winter vacation … for the first few days of the new year. In midsummer, a longer holiday at the baths … with no family, friends or work along. Absolute rest was required for absolute work. [Kuyper’s] labor-breakdown-recovery cycle had been ritualized into every day and every year.[18]

Clearly, Kuyper did not spend much time with his wife and their eight children, and probably practiced hospitality rarely to visitors other than those connected with his work. Indeed, his activities as a pastor, a journalist, a theologian and a politician (including a four-year stint as prime minister of the Netherlands) were so all-consuming that they led, as Bratt notes, to periodic nervous breakdowns, each necessitating months to years of recovery.[19] And Kuyper’s lifestyle leads to the main question of tonight’s lecture, namely: In the 21st century, how are women and men to ‘serve each other with true love and charity?’ What does it mean that husbands and wives are to be ‘fruitful for the kingdom, which they share? Do they share kingdom tasks as generic humans, made in the image of God, with little if any distinction in roles or status, as Evangelical feminists have claimed?[20] Or, at the other extreme, are women and men endowed by nature and God with some kind of unchanging essence of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ that dictates – or at least recommends -- behaviorally-distinct ways of serving each other? And if so, is this division of labor set within an unchanging gender hierarchy in family and/or church, and/or all other spheres of life, as variously defended by writers such as C.S. Lewis, Elisabeth Elliot, the founders of the present-day Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and, indeed, various Synods of the Christian Reformed Church in the years between 1970 and 2000?[21]

Or is the truth, as John Calvin believed, somewhere in between? On Calvin’s account, women and men are equal both in creation and in redemption, with no natural or moral superiority accruing to either. If, as Calvin believed, men were mandated by God to be in authority over women in family, church and other spheres of society, this was simply for the sake of maintaining social order. Consequently, commenting on Paul’s injunctions about women speaking in church (1 Cor 14:34), Calvin urged “the discerning reader” to “come to the decision that the things which Paul is dealing with here are indifferent, i.e., neither good nor bad; and than none of them is forbidden unless it works against decorum and edification.” Clearly, however, Calvin did not see such a move as being conducive to decorous and edifying church activity in his lifetime.[22]

Kuyper, writing at the turn of the 20th century, falls somewhere between Calvin and the strict gender essentialists/gender hierarchicalists on this issue. Following Calvin, he views women as equal to men both in creation and redemption. In church life, Kuyper supported women’s right to vote and do certain kinds of diaconal work. In public life he recognized that there was much injustice in the treatment of women, and he worked as a politician to counteract it, crafting labor laws that protected women from overwork and making certain that workmen’s insurance included coverage for their widows. In brief, Kuyper was an advocate of what he himself called social feminism: “We support feminism,” he wrote in 1914 in a series of articles on The Woman’s Position of Honor, “insofar as it wants to free woman’s position according to civil law …[as it applies to] business, industry, labor and much more.” He even envisioned that “[j]ust as there are now Chambers of Commerce, so it also is conceivable that Chambers of Women’s Rights ought also to be established” to promote justice for women in civil law, business, and labor relations.[23]

However, what Kuyper seems to give with one hand he takes away with the other, for his much stronger theme in The Woman’s Position of Honor is exemplified in the following quotation:

There are two kinds of life. A life in the family, with the relatives, with the children, which has a more private character, and almost completely outside of that, a different life in Councils and States, in the navy and in the army, which has a more public character. These two kinds of life require clearly distinguished gifts and talents; and now it is the lesson of history and the empirical given of today, that those two kinds of gifts, at least as a rule, seem to fall along the lines of the natural distinction between man and woman. The private and public life form two separate spheres, each with their own way of existing, with their own task … And it is on the basis of this state of affairs, which has not been invented by us, but which God himself has imposed on us, that in public life the woman does not stand equally with the man. Nor more that it can be said of the man that he has been called to achieve in the family that which is achieved by the woman.[24]

Kuyperian Inconsistencies:
What’s going on here? Why does Kuyper speak with such mixed voices about gender roles? In light of his various writings on this subject, I conclude that Kuyper regarded public justice for women in industry, law and commerce rather like the compromises of Just War theory. The theologians who developed Just War theory – including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin – agreed that war was not part of God’s creational intentions. However, they recognized that in a fallen world ruling authorities must sometimes choose the lesser of two evils. Just War theory was meant to delineate the criteria under which war – if it really is the lesser of two evils in a given situation – should be declared and then fought.[25] In parallel fashion, Kuyper did not think it was God’s intention for women to be active in the academy, the marketplace, or the political forum (not even as voters), let alone the preaching and ruling levels of the church.[26] But, confronted with late-19th century challenges of industrialization and urbanization, and with young men’s growing tendency to delay marriage while pursuing pleasure and material prosperity, Kuyper saw the need for legislation to protect women’s interests in various public settings -- at least as potentially-exploited workers -- even though he was adamant that both God and nature had designed them to specialize in domesticity as wives and mothers. Thus, he concluded that

the women’s position of honor is most effectively maintained if she can sparkle in private life, and in the public domain, for which man is the appointed worker, she will never be able to fulfill anything but a subordinate role, in which her inferiority would soon come to light anyway. The woman who, in order to cover this up, wants to imitate the man, does not elevate herself, but descends on the social ladder … and whoever has man take his place at the cradle and woman at the lectern makes life unnatural.[27]

To be fair, we should note that there is a kind of symmetry to Kuyper’s gender essentialism: for him, women and men are in a sense ‘separate but equal.’ To Kuyper, men were more gifted by God and nature for work in the public sphere, and were God-ordained leaders of churches and families. But women’s unique talents for domesticity were supposed to give them a distinct advantage as well, one which he and many of his 19th century male colleagues regularly idealized. Indeed, his view of gender relations was much more influenced by the class and cultural forces of his era than he himself recognized. I say this because in the process of justifying this gendered division of labor Kuyper fell short of his own neo-Calvinist world view in at least three ways.

First of all, Kuyper never attempted to exegete Gen 1:26-28 – the passage Reformed theologians have referred to as the ‘cultural mandate’ -- in terms of its significance for gender relations. In that passage God addresses both members of the primal pair and gives them this blessing: “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion … over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” It is not that Eve is charged to be fruitful and Adam to subdue the earth: both mandates – to be fruitful, to have dominion -- are addressed to both sexes. But Kuyper, ignoring the implications of this passage, effectively dichotomizes the cultural mandate by sex: women, he insists, are meant to be fruitful and nurturant while men are meant to subdue the earth, and for the most part these callings should not overlap.

In making such assertions, Kuyper appeals instead to a combination of divine command and a mystical sense of gender essentialism that may be rooted in the same streak of pagan mythology that later affected C.S. Lewis’ views of gender.[28] On the one hand, male headship in marriage for Kuyper is based neither on uniquely male virtues nor uniquely female limitations. As it was for Calvin, husbandly leadership for Kuyper is based purely and simply on God’s divine pleasure, so much so that

[i]f God had wanted to say to the man: “Your will shall be under submission to the woman!” then the woman would have to operate as queen in the home with the scepter in hand, even if the man was ten times stronger and smarter. But because it so pleased God to say just the reverse to the woman … it is now settled once and forever that … in the name of God, headship of the home belongs to [the man].29

On the other hand women’s domesticity for Kuyper seems to be built into their nature, though he offers no clear biblical theology to justify such a conclusion. He simply asserts that

in the public arena … the All-disposing Creator and Master of our life did not give the special gifts to women. Undoubtedly within the feminine nature and feminine life is hidden delicate, tender, moral and religious strength which are of the highest significance for State and Society, but.. it is not at the voting booth that the woman shall best and most abundantly feed the religious element into public life, but only if she remains a woman, and a housewife in the fullest sense of the word, and if she causes the deep tone of God’s glorification to resound in her husband and son.[30]

Secondly, Kuyper’s concept of sphere sovereignty reflects his concern that God-ordained institutions (such as church, family, business, education, science, politics and art) develop as creationally intended without being overwhelmed by the state, ignored in the pursuit of individual liberty, or reduced to one another among themselves. Spheres thus refer to activities, not groups of people. Thus there is little indication in Kuyper’s work that racial groups (and the activities that make up their common stereotypes) constitute creationally-separate ‘spheres’ as he used that term,[31] although this is just what the Afrikaaner Apartheid theorists – many of them trained in Kuyper’s thought at the Free University of Amsterdam – claimed through much of the 20th century. Likewise, there is no reason intrinsic to the notion of sphere sovereignty that the sexes (and the activities and traits stereotypically ascribed to them) must be assigned to permanent, largely non-overlapping spheres of activity, resulting a kind of ‘gender Apartheid.’ Yet this is what Kuyper is arguing for and apparently how he organized his own family life.

Thirdly, Reformed scholars have often noted that Calvin did not believe stations in life to be immutable. In contrast to Luther, who believed that God had ordained a fixed social hierarchy and that sin was only to be understood an individual misbehavior in one’s station, Calvin recognized that social structures, as well as individual behavior, could be the result of human sin, and thus might be in need of change.[32] And it seems that Kuyper was a thoroughgoing Calvinist in applying the principle of semper reformanda to the public sphere. Business, government, education, science, art, and certainly the church were all to be continually scrutinized with a view to rooting out structural distortions and bringing them more in line with God’s intentions. With regard to the domestic sphere, however, he was evidently more Lutheran than Calvinist: women -- and, it turns out, servants and even grown-up children still living at home -- cannot negotiate or question their divinely assigned domestic roles. Neither does it matter if women’s gifts (as Kuyper admits is sometimes the case) might equally suit them for service to their neighbor in other spheres instead or as well. The ‘separate but equal’ pattern of gender relations, within an overall pattern of male headship, is in principle not open to development, and any exceptions are more to be compared to wartime emergencies than seen as biblically-warranted reforms, or as the responsible stewardship of talents.[33]

The 19th Century Doctrine of Separate Spheres:
In short, one could hardly find a more thoroughgoing endorsement of what has variously been called the doctrine of separate spheres, the cult of true womanhood, or the cult of domesticity. This was, among other things, a 19th century attempt to deal with the industrial revolution in Europe and America by turning middle-class women into ‘angels of the home’ and their husbands into ‘captains of industry,’ as well as of the academy, the marketplace, and the political forum.[34] Thus Kuyper appeals (selectively) to nature, to God, and to local Dutch behavioral patterns in an attempt to build a timeless case for what was in fact a historically limited and class-specific construction of gender. For if there is such a thing as the ‘traditional family,’ then historically and statistically it has been the one in which workplace, dwelling space, and child rearing space have overlapped almost completely for both sexes. Think of your recent ancestors who had family farms, or family businesses with living quarters above or behind the shop.[35]

Moreover, up through the beginning of the 19th century in America, households, though centered around a nuclear family, could and often did include single relatives, apprentices, indentured servants, borders (including what we would now call mental patients and paroled prisoners) and others as well. The basic social unit was thus not the biological family but the highly- hospitable – though still patriarchal -- household. In addition, as family law historian Joan Williams notes: “The view that the biological family needed its privacy and that minor children needed large amounts of parental attention were far in the future: these beliefs became prevalent only when the family was reconceptualized as primarily an emotional rather than an economic unit. This reconceptualization was a central element of the cult of domesticity.”[36]

Moreover, although in pre-industrial times men and women generally did have different work roles (inevitably in an era when men’s upper-body strength was needed to do heavy tasks, and women were vulnerable to many pregnancies), women frequently did work traditionally associated with men – everything from blacksmithing, wheelwrighting and shipbuilding to butchering, tinsmithing and shoemaking. Joan Williams notes that

[w]omen doing “men’s work” did not jar contemporary sensibilities because men and women were not primarily defined by their separate spheres. Women were defined, instead, by their inferiority … A father’s authority over his family, servants, and apprentices was simply one link in what early commentators called the ‘Great Chain of Being,’ the line of authority descending from God: humans above animals, the higher classes above the lower, God above the king, men above women … Not only was religious, political and familial power concentrated in men: men were also associated with [greater amounts of] all good character traits. Women were the weaker vessel … Sexually voracious and intellectually and morally inferior to men, women needed firm family governance.37

In contrast to all this, the doctrine of separate spheres, as a response to the pressures of urbanization and industrialization, made it normative for men to leave home on a daily basis to earn (at least in theory) a ‘family wage,’ while allocating to women the tasks of nurturing husbands and children and maintaining the home. Men were to become what later sociologists labelled the ‘instrumental’ specialists: rational, individualistic, oriented toward public achievement, and tied to their families and to their own sense of masculinity mainly through their wage-earning role. Women, by contrast, were to be the ‘expressive’ specialists: emotional, relational, and concerned mainly with ties to family, church, and neighborhood – or as Freud memorably to it, to kinder, kuche und kirche.[38] To put it another way, women were the ones to be ‘quick with hospitality’ in a limited orbit centered around the home, while their husbands, sons and brothers specialized in being ‘fruitful for the kingdom’ everywhere elsewhere.

In one sense, this was an improvement over the social arrangements that preceded it, for “it represented an early attempt to conceptualize women as equal to men in a tradition that had defined them as men’s inferiors.”[39] Relieved of much of their former heavy labor in the family’s material production, middle-class women now became the chief agents of household consumption. At the same time, they were now cast as morally superior reminders of the virtues of community to their husbands, sons and brothers, whose work in the increasingly competitive world of capitalist individualism ever threatened to debase them. As Don Browning puts it in his recent book Marriage and Modernization, “ It is as if an unmitigated market economy require[d] a strong antithesis, i.e., a private family with one partner in the work world and the other in the sphere of domesticity functioning as a balance wheel to the dynamism and excess of market-driven modernity.”[40] Now this may seem to have been a sensible – even if not eternally-mandated – division of labor by sex, given the hazards and opportunities that attended the process of industrialization in Europe and North America. But it was also subject to the law of unintended consequences. What do I mean when I say this?

First of all, the doctrine of separate spheres was a cultural ideal that was enjoined on all people, and especially those residing in urban settings. But in practice it could only be lived out – whether in Kuyper’s Netherlands or his descendents’ America – by couples that could afford to have one spouse in a position of financial dependence at home. Interestingly, when my African-American students learn the history of the doctrine of separate spheres, they often point out (if I haven’t done so already) that their own mothers and grandmothers did not even have the choice to be bored in suburbia, because for reasons of sheer economic survival, most of them had to take on low-paying, labor-intensive jobs, often far from their own homes. They are understandably indignant about the economic discrimination that forced their mothers (and often their fathers) to work a ‘double day’ to care for their families in terms of waged and unwaged work. But most are happy that their ethnic legacy is one that did not divide the cultural mandate by sex.[41]

Secondly, if the cultural mandates of family formation and dominion have been jointly given by God to both men and women, then any construction of gender relations involving a rigid separation of activities by sex is eventually going to run into trouble, because it is creationally distorted and therefore potentially unjust toward both sexes.[42] The doctrine of separate spheres not only relieved women of the heavier physical work of colonial days: it also took away their stake in all family economic activity except childcare and household maintenance. Thus we have heard a great deal since the second wave of feminism began in the 1960s about the economic and intellectual injustice of confining women’s talents to the domestic sphere. Only recently, however, have we begun to see how women, children and even men themselves have been shortchanged by men’s virtual removal from domestic life. With regard to his psychology of gender we can hardly hold Kuyper accountable to the standards of a discipline that was still in its infancy when he penned The Woman’s Position of Honor early in the 20th century. But in light of accumulated research on family dynamics we can begin to see how Kuyper’s adherence to the doctrine of separate spheres was short-sighted psychologically as well as theologically.

I say that Kuyper was short-sighted – rather than ill-intentioned – because for many of its advocates the doctrine of separate spheres was not a nefarious patriarchal plot intended to keep women barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen.[43] When all is said and done, Kuyper and many of his contemporaries believed that the cult of true womanhood elevated the status of women. Not only did full-time domesticity relieve many (though, as we have seen, not all) women of the often-dangerous physical labor in emerging industries; it also gave them a life sphere – for Kuyper ‘a position of honor’ – in which, despite the continuing rhetoric of male headship, they were considered men’s superiors for perhaps the first time in western history. At least in theory, the doctrine of separate spheres proclaimed women and men to be equally virtuous but suited to different kinds of activities, each of which had its own burdens and satisfactions. For example, greater male power in the public arena was accompanied by the burden of competition, the risk of economic failure, and the physical and emotional distancing of men from their families. By contrast, women’s specialization in the domestic realm limited their development in other spheres, but gave them immense emotional power over their children. But it is precisely this asymmetry in parenting arrangements under the doctrine of separate spheres that leads to problems. ‘Parenting’ is effectively reduced to ‘mothering,’ with the consequence that girls are raised primarily by a same-sex parent and boys are not. To understand the questionable results of this asymmetry, I will review some relevant research in psychology – both intra-cultural and cross- cultural – beginning with material from the area known as feminist object-relations theory.

Father Absence as an Intergenerational Source of Misogyny:
A central claim of feminist object-relations theory (which is a revision of classical Freudian theory) is that the physical and psychological absence of fathers from their growing sons is, ironically, an important source of misogyny – that is, men’s devaluation of women. I say ‘ironically’ because, as we have seen, the doctrine of separate spheres was meant to elevate women’s status, not decrease it. So how did it backfire, according to object-relations theorists? To begin with, because mothers are usually the primary caretakers of infants, object-relations theorists refer to her as children’s ‘primary love object.’ Boy and girl babies are equally dependent on her and therefore equally attached to her emotionally. They do not, for the first two years or so, distinguish her as ‘female,’ any more than they understand what it means to be a male or female themselves. Nor do they understand that, in the world at large, their mother’s power is quite limited, since they are barely aware that there is a larger world. As mother is the center of their world, and so apparently in control of everything, she is not only their first love-object, but their first role-model: the person that both boys and girls identify with and want to be like.

Around age three children begin to get a clearer cognitive grasp of their own biological sex and its permanence, as well as that of their parents. And for little girls raised under the sway of the doctrine of separate spheres, this is at first very positive and reassuring. It means that in order to develop a relatively secure gender identity (the sense that she is, and is comfortable being a female) she simply needs to do what she would do anyway – that is, stick close to and continue identifying with her primary caretaker. But for a boy at around age three, along with the increasing certainty that he is and always will be male, there comes another message: no, you can’t grow up to be like your mother. You have to be like your father – that large male person whom you see for a little while mornings or evenings, and sometimes for a bit longer on weekends. In other words, the boy discovers that since they are not of the same sex, he cannot derive his primary identity from his ever-present, nurturing mother, but must have as his role model the same-sex father with whom he interacts very little.

This asymmetrical parenting arrangement can result in a kind of double bind for boys. They cannot simply stay unambiguously attached to their mothers, yet the role model they are supposed to imitate is largely unavailable. As a result, boys are forced to figure out masculinity more in the abstract, or from dubious secondary sources such as peers and the media. See-sawing between a desire to ‘like mother’ (who is a constant, nurturing and powerful presence) and the vague recognition that he must suppress this in order to be ‘like father’ (with whom he interacts much less frequently), he is at risk of developing deep but largely unarticulated doubts about his ability to meet the demands of masculinity.[44] Historical sociologist Michael Kimmel summarized this dilemma as follows: “[O]nce the young boy links his sense of masculinity to being separate from mother, can he ever get far enough away? How much distance from the feminine is enough? Psychologically, his sense of masculinity becomes a constant test to demonstrate the fact of that separation. But how does he prove it? And to whom?”[45]

How do boys reared under the doctrine of separate spheres deal with such doubts? For many, the safest way is to have as little to do with women and their activities as possible – to repress or deny any stereotypically feminine qualities or impulses in themselves. In extreme cases a man may do this by openly scorning or even maltreating women as he himself grows to adulthood. Less extremely, he may simply avoid women except for domestic and sexual needs, spending most of his time in exclusively male groups, and sometimes try to prove and re-prove his masculinity by engaging in risky or confrontational behaviors. Under the cult of true womanhood, he may also idealize women, metaphorically placing them on a pedestal, as Kuyper seems to have done. This too keeps them at a safe distance, but as we have seen, is often accompanied by unrealistic demands of sacrificial feminine and maternal perfection.

You can perhaps see how this masculine insecurity perpetuates itself from generation to generation. The under-fathered boy risks developing a fragile, ambivalent male identity; to compensate for this as he grows older, he may distance himself from women and ‘women’s work.’ And what is most obviously women’s work under the doctrine of separate spheres? Caring for young children. So he avoids nurturant contact with his own sons and thus contributes to their own development of insecure masculinity, ambivalence toward women, and the compensatory, woman-rejecting behavior that can result. In this way he helps to reproduce a cycle of father-absent parenting and misogyny in succeeding generations.

Nor do the results of such asymmetrical parenting stop with boys’ temptation to embrace an exaggerated and compensatory style of masculinity. Whether due to the doctrine of separate spheres -- or more recently, due to escalating rates of divorce and unwed childbearing – underfathered girls are at parallel risk of embracing a kind of compensatory, lowest-common-denominator femininity in the form of premature sexual activity and unwed pregnancy. The presence of nurturant fathers signals to girls that they are valuable and interesting persons in their own right, and that their status does not depend solely on their sexual and reproductive value to men. For example, in one study of women students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fathers of these high-achieving women were recalled as encouraging, mentally stimulating, proud of their daughters’ budding scientific interests, and involved in intellectual activities with them in their growing-up years.[46] Conversely, as David Blankenhorn has noted in his book Fatherless America, “Deprived of a stable relationship with a non-exploitative adult male who loves them, [underfathered] girls can remain developmentally ‘stuck,’ struggling with issues of security and trust that well-fathered girls have already successfully resolved.”[47]

Even – indeed perhaps especially – among men who are conventionally successful in the public realm there can be a double sense of loss as a result of this intergenerational cycle, as psychiatrist Samuel Osherson found in his study of male Harvard graduates who came of age in the 1960s. On the one hand, most of these men grew up knowing their fathers as dutiful but distant economic providers, who were often socially and emotionally ineffectual at home and sometimes more childish than the children themselves. On the other hand, lacking fathers who were adequate models of male nurturance (however well they modeled economic upward mobility), they found themselves repeating the same cycle with their own wives and children. Thus, writes Osherson:

I began to see how profound and painful were the consequences of the predictable dislocation between fathers and sons, a separation we take for granted in our society. Many of the male-female skirmishes of our times are rooted in the hidden, ongoing struggles sons have with their fathers, and the varying ways grown sons try to complete this relationship in their careers and marriages.Yet despite their psychological importance fathers remain wrapped in a mystery for many men, as we idealize, degrade or ignore them. And in doing so, we wind up imitating them, even as we try to be different.[48]

Empirical Evidence for the Benefits of Nurturant Fathering:
Osherson’s clinical conclusions about “male-female skirmishes” and their relationship to father absence is corroborated by sociologist Scott Coltrane’s recent analysis of gender relations in close to a hundred pre-industrial cultures, using an extensive data base known as the Ethnographic Atlas. Coltrane was particularly interested in what cultural patterns best predicted flexible and mutually-supportive relationships between men and women. These he measured by the extent to which women had a voice in domestic and public decision making, whether formal positions of influence were open to women, and the extent to which women figured positively in the origin myths of various cultures. In his random sample of ninety premodern groups (which included hunter-gatherers, simple horticulturalists, cattle herders, and subsistence farmers) the best predictor of flexible, respectful and mutually-empowering gender relations was nurturant, involved fatherhood, as measured by the amount of time men spent in proximity to their young children, the degree to which fathers shared in children’s routine caretaking, and ratings of the culture’s overall degree of paternal affection.[49]

As a parenthetical observation, there is a contemporary rendering of the doctrine of separate spheres – namely, evolutionary psychology – which in its cruder versions claims that stereotypically masculine and feminine behaviors (and for some even male dominance) are genetically-enshrined adaptations from the Pleistocene era when all humans were hunter-gatherers, and thus are less subject to change than starry-eyed liberals might like to believe.[50] But if this were so, we would surely expect to find the least gender-role flexibility and the greatest male dominance among the hunter-gatherer groups whose lifestyle has remained relatively unchanged to this day, such as the pygmy and the Bushmen. In fact the opposite is the case: it is in these hunter-gatherer groups that gender role overlap and mutual respect between women and men is just about the highest in the world. For example, in one detailed study of the Aka pygmy by anthropologist Barry Hewlett it was found that fathers spent 47% of their day holding or staying within arm’s reach of their infants, and when holding them were actually more likely than mothers to hug and kiss them. This is consistent with the Akas’ own stated ideals about paternity: for them, a good father not only co-provides food for his family, but shows affection for his children, stays near them, and assists his wife in her tasks, just as she assists him in his.[51]

By contrast, whether in the industrialized or the pre-industrialized world, cultures whose fathers avoid nurturant contact with children are not only the ones that devalue women the most. They are also the ones most likely to practice aggressive male competition, and to impose painful initiation rites on adolescent boys as a way of suppressing residual identification with the world of women once and for all.[52] For this reason Scott Coltrane wanted to know not just whether involved fathering is good for women and children, but whether it is associated with a decrease in aggressive relations among men. To answer this question, he drew from a second random data base of close to a hundred pre-industrial cultures measures of men’s public displays of aggression, strength, and sexual competition and looked for the cultural patterns that were associated with lower levels of such behavior. And, parallel to the findings of his first study, he found that the most consistent predictor of peaceful and cooperative relations among males was men’s routine, nurturant involvement in childcare.[53]

At this point, the residue of the doctrine of separate spheres is tenacious enough that we do not have many longitudinal studies on the relationship of involved father presence (as opposed to father absence) to child outcomes. But at least one start has been made in collecting relevant data. For over a decade and a half, Yale psychiatrist Kyle Pruett has been following almost twenty working and middle-class families of varying ethnic backgrounds in whose households fathers have been the primary caretakers of children from infancy on, while mothers – although also very active in childcare -- have been the primary wage earners. Pruett has reported interim results from this ongoing project in two books so far, the first written when the firstborns of each family were about to start school, and the second as they were about to enter adolescence.[54]

Pruett’s findings underscore the advantages of involved co-parenting for good developmental outcomes in children of both sexes. When the firstborns in his sample of families were assessed prior to their first birthdays, there were at or above national norms on standardized cognitive tests and ahead of schedule in personal and social skills. As toddlers, regardless of sex, they seemed unusually attuned to and comfortable with whatever physical or social environment they were in. By age four, “they were avid explorers of their backyards, bus stops and grocery stores, confident that something interesting would always turn up.”[55] Pruett also noted the ease with which they moved between stereotypically girls’ and boys’ play: “While their peers were concentrating on joining the ‘gender gang’ they were moving comfortably back and forth between gender groupings at daycare, playgrounds and birthday parties.”[56] Their imaginary play was particularly rich with images of caring fathers, yet not to the exclusion of mothers. These children clearly regarded both their parents as procreators and nurturers of human beings.

By age eight, most of the children were involved in nurturing activities themselves – raising or breeding a variety of plants and pets, helping to care for younger siblings, taking responsibility for various household chores. Because most of their mothers remained highly involved in their lives, Pruett surmises that “having a father and a mother devoted to the nurturing of a child was a pervasive culture in these families. Children identified early on with nurturing as a valued, powerful skill and role, and wanted to explore their competence in this area.”[57] By ages ten to twelve, they continued to interact comfortably with friends of both sexes. At an age when most youngsters are becoming more sexually self-conscious, these children enjoyed cross-sex friendships that included birthday parties and community and religious events, and they preferred friends who shared their less restrictive view of gender roles. Pruett concludes that having two highly involved parents produces “a bedrock trust and comfort with male and female relationships, so that [their] gendered aspects may be less salient than their overall quality.”[58]

Concluding and Looking Ahead:
Overall, and in a wide range of cultures studied, the kind of parenting by mothers and fathers, that predicts the best child outcomes in terms of intellectual and social competence, is neither rigidly authoritarian nor blindly permissive. Rather, it is appropriately authoritative – that is, centered around age-appropriate limits and gradually-increasing independence for the child, in a context of warm concern and reason-based but somewhat flexible rules.[59] We have seen how a combination of nurturance and expectation of excellence on the part of fathers helps to foster intellectual achievement in daughters. The same combination is crucial for sons in North American society. In terms of limits, involved fatherly presence acts as a check on boys’ culturally-promoted aggressiveness as they grow up. Knowing the hazards and temptations of growing up male, adult men contribute to the socialization of young boys in a negative sense simply by seeing through them more readily and being willing to confront and redirect hyper-masculine ‘acting out’ before it reaches epidemic proportions.

But just as important are the positive effects that involved fathers can have on boys. By reassuring their sons that they are valued and loved as unique persons, fathers can implicitly certify their sons ‘masculine enough’ to get on with the more important business of being human. In other words, highly-involved fathers can relieve sons of the temptation to prove themselves adequately masculine by engaging in truculent and misogynist activities, and can thus help free them to acquire more adaptive – and less rigidly-stereotyped – relational and work skills.[60 ] So the bottom line is this: children of both sexes need to grow up with stable, authoritative adult role models of both sexes in order to develop a secure sense of gender identity that then – paradoxically – allows them to relate to each other primarily as human beings, rather than as gender-role caricatures.

This does not require the total elimination of stereotypically-gendered activities at all points in the human life cycle. It is no mark of progress for people of either sex to be shunted from the rigidly-scripted doctrine of separate spheres to an equally-rigid androgyny. But the positive effects of co-parenting do highlight the virtues of gender-role flexibility over the family life cycle. Nor does this require that children’s primary caretakers always and only be the child’s biological parents.[61] But it strongly suggests that there are limits to the diversity of family forms that we should encourage around the core norm of heterosexual, role-flexible co-parenting.[62]

However, if role-flexible co-parenting is to become a possibility for more people, then both cultural and structural changes will be needed, so that marital, family, and other gendered relationships can be strengthened in a way that is just and equitable for everyone involved. To this end, in my second lecture I will examine another emerging body of research, along with practical examples involving Christians and other concerned women and men, that can help us toward this goal.

1 Ibid., No. 586 (Text by Marie J. Post, 1974)
2 Ibid., No. 581 (Text By Marie J. Post, 1974). Interestingly, Post (born in 1919) has only one hymn in the 1976 C.R.C. Psalter Hymnal, but a total of forty-five in the 1987 edition, which suggests either that she was very busy in the eleven intervening years, or that the psalter hymnal revision committee was more alert to the prevailing currents of feminism than the denomination at large, during a time when arguments about women in church office were at their zenith.
3 For an excellent overview of the Christian tradition of hospitality and its application today, see Christine Pohl, Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1999).
4 Abraham Kuyper, When Thou Sittest in Thine House: Meditations on Home Life (1899), trans. John Hendrik De Vries (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1929), p. 189.
5 Ibid., p. 186.
6 Abraham Kuyper, Sovereiniteit in Eigen Kring (Amsterdam, J. H. Kruyt, 1880), p. 35. Trans. James E. McGoldrick, Abraham Kuyper: God’s Renaissance Man (Auburn MA: Evangelical Press, 2000), p. 62. For an appreciation of Kuyperian thinking about sphere sovereignty in relation to marriage and family(and its connections to similar thinking by other Reformed and also Catholic theologians) see Browning, Marriage and Modernization, especially ch. 6 and 8.
7Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism: The 1898 Stone Lectures at Princeton (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1931).
8 For further details see James D. Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans,1984) and also James D. Bratt, ed., Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), as well as Lugo, Religion, Pluralism and Public Life.
9 James D. Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in North America (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1984), p. 26. See also Kuyper, When Thou Sittest in Thine House.
10 Lewis Smedes, Sex for Christians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), p. 26.
11 (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1976, 1984). Smedes was also the first Stob Lecturer, in 1986, on the topic “Making and Keeping Commitments in Contemporary Society.”
12 Steven Bouman-Prediger, For the beauty of the earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care (Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2001)
13 George M. Marsden, The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Non-Belief (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).
14 For example, James W. Skillen and Rockne McCarthy, eds., Political Order and the Plural Structure of Society (Atlanta GA: Scholars Press, 1991).
15 See note 12.
16 Trans. John H. DeVries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1928)
17 Trans. Marian M. Schoolland (Grand Rpaids MI: Eerdmans, 1948)
18 James D. Bratt, “Raging Tumults of the Soul: The Private Life of Abraham Kuyper” Reformed Journal 37 (November 1987), pp .9-13 (quotation from p.11.)
19 These breakdowns dated from 1858 when he was twenty-one years old, from 1876 when he was thirty-nine, from 1894 when he was fifty-seven, and from 1905 when he was sixty-eight. See James D. Bratt, “Abraham Kuyper’s Public Career,” Reformed Journal 37 (October 1987), pp. 9-12
20 A range of works articulating this position can be found in the book catalogue of Christians for Biblical Equality (founded in 1987), , 122 West Franklin Ave, Suite 218, Minneapolis, MN 55404-2451. Some examples are Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says Abut a Women’s Place in Church and Family (Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 1985), Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, Equal to Serve: Women and Men Working Together Revealing the Gospel (Old Tappan NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1987), Stanley J. Grenz, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity {Press, 1995), and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, Gender and Grace: Love, Work and Parenting in a Changing World (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990).
21 For a survey of C.S. Lewis’ opinions on gender relations, as well of those of other contemporary gender essentialists, see Sally K. Gallagher, Evangelical Identity and Gendered Family Life (New Brunswick N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002), especially ch. 3. Elisabeth Elliot’s gender essentialism is outline in Let Me Be a Woman (Wheaton IL: Tyndale, 1976), The Mark of a Man (Old Tappan N.J: Revell, 1981) and The Shaping of a Christian Family (Grand Rapids MI: Baker, 2000). The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, founded in 1989, has a website, or can reached at P.O. Box 1173, Wheaton, IL 60187. A variety of positions is also seen in the debate on women in church office that began in the Christian Reformed Church in 1970 and which, by 1995, had settled on the quasi-congregational solution of allowing individual classes to decide whether or not to ordain women as elders and ministers. See the C.R.C. Acts of Synod (Grand Rapids MI: C.R.C. Publications) of 1970, 1973, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, and 2000.
22 As quoted in Jane Dempsey Douglass, “Christian Freedom: What Calvin Learned at the School of Women,” Church History, Vol. 53 (June 1984), p. 162. See also Douglass’ Women, Freedom, and Calvin (Philadelphia: Fortress, Press, 1985) and William J. Bouwsma, John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988). Bouwsma notes (p. 138) that Calvin acknowledged that females were the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection, and took this to mean that God had temporarily taken the apostolic office away from men and committed it to women. Throughout church history there have been other variations on the theme of male headship versus gender equality. For detailed examination of these, see for example Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God Talk (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983); Kari E. Borresen ed., Image of God and Gender Models in Judaeo-Christian Tradition (Oslo: Solum Forlag, 1991); and Don S. Browning, David Blankenhorn and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, eds., Does Christianity Teach Male Headship? Equal Regard and Its Critics (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 2003).
23 Abraham Kuyper, De Eerepositie der Vrouw (“The Woman’s Position of Honor”): (Kampen: Kok, 1932), trans. Irene Konyndyk, 1990. pp. 9, 29. See also Van Leeuwen, “Abraham Kuyper and the Cult of True Womanhood,” and “The Carrot and the Stick.””
24 Kuyper, “The Woman’s Position of Honor,” pp. 19-20 (his emphases).
25 Lisa Sowle Cahill, Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994).
26 For an analysis of Kuyper’s shifts over time on the issue of women’s place, see Van Leeuwen, “The Carrot and the Stick.”
27 Ibid. , pp. 13, 28 (Kuyper’s emphasis). For a more contemporary defense of this position see for example Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ (Ann Arbor MI: Servant Books, 1980).
28 For a further analysis of pagan residues in Evangelical gender essentialism see Faith Martin, “Mystical Masculinity: The New Question Facing Women” Priscilla Papers, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Winter 1998), pp. 6-12.
29 Abraham Kuyper, Antirevolutionair Ook in Uw Huisgezin (Antirevolutionary Also in Your Family): (Amsterdam, J.H. Kruyt, 1880), p. 47.
30 Kuyper, “The Woman’s Position of Honor,” pp. 29-30.
31 But for a contrary reading of Kuyper on ethnicity, see Peter J. Paris, “The African and African-American Understanding of our Common Humanity: A Critique of Abraham Kuyper’s Anthropology,” in Lugo, Religion, Pluralism and Public Life, pp. 263-80.
32 See for example Lee Hardy, The Fabric of This World: Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1990), especially ch. 3.
33 Cf. Matt 25:14-30.
34 See for example Nancy Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: “Women’s Sphere” in New England, 1780-1835 (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1977); Carl Degler, At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present (New York” Oxford, 1980); and Sheila M. Rothman, Women’s Place: A History of Changing Ideals and Practices, 1870 to the Present (New York: Basic Books, 1978).
35 In some earlier times and places – e.g., the Greco-Roman period of the New Testament – a gendered public/private dichotomy was normative at least in the elite urban classes. See Browning et al., From Culture Wars to Common Ground, ch. 5; Van Leeuwen, My Brother’s Keeper, ch. 3; and, for a more complete historical survey, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman: Women in Social and Political Thought (Princeton University Press, 1981).
36 Joan Williams, Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What To Do About It (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 21.
37 Ibid., pp 21-22. See also Steven Mintz and Susan Kellogg, Domestic Revolutions ( 1998).
38 This gendered division of labor into male ‘instrumentality’ and female ‘expressiveness’ was enshrined in the functional sociology of Talcott Parsons, and not significantly challenged until the second wave of feminism began in the 1960s. See especially Talcott Parson and Robert F. Bales, Family Socialization and Interaction Process (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956).
39 Williams, Unbending Gender, p. 23.
40 Browning, Marriage and Modernization, pp. 37-38.
41 See for example Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (London: HarperCollins, 1990).
42 See also Van Leeuwen, My Brother’s Keeper, especially ch. 5,6, 8, 9 and 10.
43 However, well into the 20th there was still a substantial legal apparatus, to the detriment of women, connected with the doctrine of separate spheres. Among other things, husbands were legally entitled to their wives’ domestic labor (and entitled to forbid their engagement in extra-domestic employment), legally entitled to make them move wherever husbands wanted to live, and legally the only spouse in a marriage who could obtain credit from lending institutions. Although husbands were legally bound to provide for wives and children, women were legally bound to obey husbands, and to give up their surname, their wealth, and some part of their status as individuals. Wives’ status was thus like that of a child minor today. See Williams, Unbending Gender, ch. 1, and Nancy Cott, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2002).
44 Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender (University of California Press, 1978); Scott Coltrane, Family Man: Fatherhood, Housework and Gender Equity (New York: Oxford, 1996), especially ch. 2. The word ‘risk’ is important here: heavy smoking raises the risk of lung cancer, even though the disease is not inevitable in all cases. So too, asymmetrical parenting raises the risk of producing misogynous males, though some for a variety of reasons may escape this result. But in both cases, it is better to avoid exposure to the risk-producing element in the first place.
45 Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America: A Cultural History (New York: The Free Press, 1996), pp. ix-x.
46 Leonard Tessman, “A Note on Father’s Contribution to His Daughter’s Way of Loving and Working,” in Father and Child: Developmental and Clinical Perspectives, ed. Stanley H. Cath, Alan R. Gurwitt and John Munder Ross (New York: Wiley, 1982), pp. 219-38.
47 David Blankenhorn, Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem (New York: Basic books, 1995), p. 47.
48 Samuel Osherson, Finding Our Fathers: How a Man’s Life is Shaped by His Relationship with His Father (New York: Fawcett, 1986), p. x.
49 Scott Coltrane, “Father-Child Relationships and the Status of Women: A Cross-Cultural Study,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 93, No. 5 (1988), pp. 1060-95. See also Van Leeuwen, My Brother’s Keeper, ch. 6.
50 For example, Stephen Goldberg, The Inevitability of Patriarchy (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973); David Buss, The Evolution of Desire (New York: basic Books, 1994).
51 Barry S. Hewlett, Intimate Fathers: The Nature and Context of Aka Pygmy Paternal Infant Care (Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press, 1992).
52 See for example Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson, Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (New York: Ballentine, 1999), especially ch. 3-5, and Scott Coltrane, Family Man: Fatherhood, Housework and Gener Equity (New York: Oxford, 1996), especially ch. 7.
53 Scott Coltrane, “The Micropolitics of Gender in Nonindustrial Societies,” Gender and Society, Vol. 6, No. 1 (March 1992), pp. 86-107. This kind of competitive male posturing is historically associated with men’s ‘cultures of honor,’ a feature of the Greco-Roman world that was greatly (though not completely) challenged by the Gospel as detailed in the apostle Paul’s epistles. For a further discussion, see Van Leeuwen, My Brother’s Keeper, ch. 3 and Browning et al., From Culture Wars to Common Ground, ch. 5.
54 Kyle D. Pruett, The Nurturing Father (New York: Warner, 1987) and Fatherneed: Why Father care is as Essential as Mother Care for Your Child (New York: The Free Press, 2000). It should be noted that most families in Pruett’s sample had fathers as primary caretakers not for ideological but for pragmatic reasons (e.g., father had lost a job, but mother still had a well-paying one). So the sample, though not random, is skewed neither by class nor by ideological bias.
55 Pruett, Fatherneed, p. 62.
56 Ibid., p. 62.
57 Ibid., p. 64
58 Ibid., p. 72.
59 Diana Baumrind, “Parenting Styles and Adolescent Development.” In J. Brooks-Gunn et al., eds., The Enclyclopedia of Adolescence (New York: Garland, 1991). This is a departure from earlier theories normalizing a gendered division of parenting styles which cast fathers as ideally having ‘conditional’ (i.e. more authoritarian) and mothers having ‘unconditional’ (i.e., more permissive) love towards children. See for example Eric Fromm, The Art of Loving (New York: Harper, 1956).
60 Frank Pittman, Man Enough: Fathers, Sons and the Search for Masculinity (New York: Putnam’s, 1993).
61 See for example Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen and Gretchen Miller Wrobel, “The Moral Psychology of Adoption and Family Ties,” in Timothy P. Jackson, ed., The Moral and Theological Context of Adoption (Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, in press).
62 See Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen, “The Case for Heterosexual Marriage,” Radix, Vol.28, No. 3 (Spring 2001), pp. 4-7 & 22-26.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Is God Masculine? Part Three: What do we mean by "masculine"?

I continue my blab on "Is God Masculine" by focusing on the terms "masculine" and "feminine" themselves. In fact, as a guy, I'm going to focus on the word "masculine" in particular in order to try and illustrate why the post-structuralist (post-modern) discussion affects this whole thing so much.

What do we mean when we use "masculine"?

Here's the most pertinent Webster's definition:

masculine n 1: a male person 2: a noun, pronoun, adjective, or inflectional form or class of the masculine gender 3: the masculine gender

All but useless. If masculine is only another word for "male," we don't really get far. And when applying the word to God, things get downright baffling, since God has no genitals nor any body to identify himself (yes, we'll stick with male pronouns for now) as male. I loved the last definition "the masculine gender" which is circular in the extreme. What is the masculine gender? Males. Are we done yet?

Nope. Let's try another couple definitions of "masculine" (I grabbed these following more or less at random from the web):

"[T]he dominant character type; biological masculinity refers to the male gender; psychological masculinity refers to the dominant character type; also used as a noun to refer to a masculine individual. synonyms: extroverted, dominant, assertive. analogs: feminine, introverted, submissive, yielding." [from Ninth Street]

So "masculine" equals "dominant." Hm. Andrea Dworkin, Oprah, Dorothy Day... masculine? I don't think any of them would especially want to be called "masculine," though all of them were / are dominating personalities. Extroverted... does that mean Soren Kierkegaard was feminine? Assertive. I picture in my head the old sky gods and earth goddesses, the former in all their phallic active glory and the latter in their supine and submissive compliance. No, I'm not a believer in these definitions. For one thing, they suggest imagery rather than actually defining much in the way of specifics.

It could be argued (and in fact seems sensible on some levels) to suggest that all males have some feminine in them and all females have some masculine in them. I often talk semi-seriously about my "feminine side." But is that formulation really helpful? We're still talking about something terribly difficult to define.

One more try at a definition:

"Having the qualities of a man; suitable to, or characteristic of, a man; virile; not feminine or effeminate; strong; robust. That lady, after her husbands death, held the reins with a masculine energy. (Hallam) "

Not much new here. Assumptions abound. "Having the qualities of a man" assumes there are qualities which only men have. Is that true? Virile. What a can of ugly that word opens. "Not feminine or effeminate" is unhelpful in that it attempts to define masculine by what it allegedly is not (without telling us what it, or its alleged opposite, is).

Here's where the post-structuralist stuff comes in. These folks suggest that language is often a mask for power, and whomever controls the definitions of language often ends up controlling said society / organization / family. So, if we can get people to believe that God is Masculine, and further can cause them to however subtly understand the feminine as something in opposition to (or at least a lack of) the masculine, we can create a society and/or Church where the "feminine" (women) are marginalized from leadership and even within themselves to view womankind as an inferior sex.

Right about now, someone is wondering if I'm suggesting some sort of androgyny here. Some of the post-structuralists do indeed deconstruct gender itself, ending up with either as many genders as their are human beings ("gender" being as individualized as a "roll your own" cigarette) or no genders at all -- androgyny. Neither I, nor any other Christians who find post-structural arguments compelling, would agree with that radical idea. As a Christian, I believe the Word when it says God made humankind "male and female." That's two genders by my count.

But -- at least in my present understanding -- what I am suggesting is that while "male" and "female" are useful terms, "masculine" and "feminine" are far more ambiguous terms. We often if not usually do not really know what we're talking about when we plug one of these terms into our reasoning processes, our theological constructions, or our personal and public relational worlds.

Just one for-instance, which actually is touched on by a few of the definitions above. Have you ever heard (or even yourself applied) the word "feminine" to a guy who was perhaps high-voiced, small, shy, "geeky"? How about a male who seems overtly immature (though if he is sufficiently good-looking, low-voiced, and famous, he might be still called "masculine")?

Conversely, a woman who has a low voice, is muscular or stocky, has a short haircut and doesn't wear make-up, may be pejoratively called "masculine." Yet in all of that, the term fails to clearly explain anything, other than the feelings of unease around and even rejection of the individual being so labeled.

I'm not saying some of us may truly be right about a person's immaturity, or at times (though less often than one might think) about their sexual orientation. But is describing either maturity or sexual orientation with terms less about facts than value judgements really helpful, much less the biblically loving way to interact with them? Even if a person (as I do) believes that homosexuality is not God's plan for us, what purpose is there in basically guessing if another guy is homosexual or not based on "unmasculine" manners or tone of voice? I, who have sinned this way myself, do not think it is right or loving.

But, to get back to the God-thing... what do we then mean by "masculine" or "feminine"?

Honestly, I do not know. And, as I noted in my previous installments, I do want to believe that God is both masculine and feminine, yet am slowly moving toward the idea that He is neither. Not convinced yet, but finding the terms themselves so problematic that I'm not sure they're worth anything.

One of my very best friends of thirty years -- a woman, mind you -- disagrees with me on this issue. Yet I think her problem with me is that I am as of yet unfocused on the difference between male/female and masculine/feminine. Her fear is that I think there are no intrinisic differences between men and women at all, other than the obvious physical ones. And my trust in her discernment about both the Word and me over the years causes me to pause and take stock of her unease.

Have I gone too far here? Is an egalitarian-based corrective needed for Jonny? Gee, I'd love to be set back on the straight and narrow if in fact someone else has sorted more of this out than my feeble bulb has been able to do so far.

A personal note... (as in my "feminine side" kicks in with a vengeance?)

Here's my biggest fear of, and beef with, the masculine/feminine nexus reflected in the world and Church. See how much you resonate with the following statements, which (I suggest) are all rooted in the idea of "God is masculine."

* God is a Conquerer God, coming against sinners and an unrighteous world much as an invading male's body comes against his unwilling victim's body. Get it? Divine Rape does not turn me on.
* God is fascinated by order, "roles," pyramiding submission schemes. (The God of Love seems radically missing from such configurations, which at time take on a downright fascist fascination in absolute lines, divisions, symmetrical numbers and grids, and the extensive use of black and white.)
* God as condescending male father figure. Oh, he is my Father. I know this perhaps more than many reading this, at least if they've not experienced the agony of abandonment and divorce and familial break-up. He is certainly my Father, and I his child, but this parental role needs no condescention and frankly needs no maleness/masculinity. If there is any place where masculine and feminine (providing they exist) converge, it is in the roles of Father/Mother. A good father nurtures; a good mother protects. Parental love is fierce and gentle, selfless and (to the child) sometimes unyielding. But the condescending white male figure we often find superimposed upon the Blessed Divine Parent is unworthy of us.
* Christian Men are to lead, Christian women are to follow. (Some days, that makes me want to cry; other days it makes me burst into uncontrollable laughter.)
* Wives submit to husbands, and husbands "lovingly lead." (Uh, yeah. Nice abuse of Ephesians 5. Didja forget verse 21? And if only wives are to submit, are only husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church?)
* A strong [as in "masculine"?!] military is vitally important to a Christian America. (Think I made that up? It -- minus my bracketed bit -- was part of the Moral Majority's original blueprint for America. It's worked out so well, hasn't it?)
* A female is even physically created to recieve and submit, and a man is created to penetrate and dominate (lovingly, the Christians would add).
* Gender "roles" are biblical. (One of these days, I'm gonna go off on "roles" and why I think they're downright satanic... )
* Women missionaries should not preach or teach (Southern Baptists' current stance)
* Women's domain is properly the home and child-rearing (What amount to Home Economics degrees for women only are as of this year offered at the Southern Baptists' foremost Seminary.)

If we look at one another as male and female, called together in God (whether he be both "masculine and feminine" in his being or neither masculine nor feminine, being rather Infinitely Mystery in that regard) we perhaps can live truly under Scripture and truly in an intersubmitted, interrelated, trusting and transparently egalitarian community. I live in an inner-city Chicago community (Jesus People USA) struggling to be egalitarian and also to be true to our common calling in Jesus Christ. We fail often in both categories. But even the failures are, in many ways, often blessings drawing us closer to Him and also closer to the truth about our absolute need of Him -- and of one another.

If you've gotten nothing else from my bumbling, I hope you get that. And I apologize for some ranting here -- I do gets mesef woiked up.

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Is God Masculine? Part Two: Genesis 1:27 Egalitarian but Ambiguous

Part one, which is more a loosely fillled junk drawer of ruminations, led me to try and focus this portion of the program down to one specific. One specific verse, anyway...

For this episode, let's assume the egalitarian / mutualist theologians are correct and that God is not wholly or even primarily Masculine. (Non-egalitarian folk are still welcome to read and check in w/ opinions!)

Genesis 1:27 is where I as a layperson would begin in any discussion on gender essentialism and Scripture. And no wonder. It is the very first verse of Scripture which includes us humans in God's story. I would think we'd pay it close attention.

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." - NIV (The oft-preferred hierarchalist English version)


"So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." - NRSV (The only true and absolute version of the Bible, because I said so! [Okay, I'm kidding.])

Now, on the face of it, that sounds like an egalitarian verse if ever there was one. God creates mankind / humankind in his image. And then, in the second and third phrases of the verse, we see an apparently expanding repetition of that fact. The NRSV interprets the second phrase as "created them" rather than the NIV's "created him" -- not vital but helpful to me in that it already opens up the mutuality of humanness as male and female in equivalence.

But the second and third phrases get interesting. Phrase One: "[I]n the image of God he created them;" Phrase Two: "male and female he created them." I am hoping the reader sees the conclusion coming. The two phrases, seen as a direct parallel (the second one further unpacking as well as repeating the first one), lead to a fairly clear conclusion that "in the image of God" is to be equated with "male and female." At least, that's how I've read it for quite a while, and have heard others seemingly agree with my brilliant exegesis.

Now, if the above is true, doesn't that mean that God is both Masculine and Feminine, and that the writer wanted us to know that in no uncertain terms?

Mmmm... maybe.

Except, upon further perusal of egalitarian resources and writers, I've discovered that many egalitarians would not agree. For instance, the above Genesis 1:27 verse could also be read as merely indicating that we are made in the image of God, both male and female being so made. The gender issue could be viewed as roughly analogous to hair color or skin color, having no "meaning" to God outside the biologically limited purposes of propogation of the species and (per Song of Songs) the joyful pleasures afforded each gender in their marital enjoyment of one another. Genesis 1:27 merely affirms that both men and women are created in God's Image, and therefore neither is less "human" than the other or less "in God's Image" than the other.

If that is the case, inferring that God Himself has masculine or feminine within his character is not a necessary conclusion at all. I was intrigued during my reading to note that Marva J. Dawn (in her "Truly the Community" which I'm using as devotional material) says in a footnote:

"Out of my concern to reach the widest audience possible, I have chosen to refer to God with the masculine pronouns he, his, and him. I recognize that these pronouns are inadequate, for God is neither masculine nor feminine, but more than all our words can ever connote."
That simple, brief summary stopped me dead in my tracks. Was (am) I anthropomorphizing God myself by reading back into the Godhead masculine and feminine attributes which instead are part of the creation among many species including human? Hmm. And oddly, another egalitarian commentary on bible verses having to do with God as Feminine in Scripture seemed to be right down my original idea's track, but end abruptly with this:

"As we seek to follow biblical inclusivity, let us also affirm the consistent witness of the church, namely, that God is neither feminine nor masculine (gender), neither male nor female (sex). God, who is transcendent Spirit, possesses no physical body, yet accommodates to human limitations by using physical, relational, gender-laden images for self-disclosure. Some of those are feminine. Inasmuch as God inspired the biblical authors to be inclusive, who are we not to be?" [Dr. Margo G. Houts]
At present, I'm thinking, pondering, and trying to gather information here. I really liked my "God is both masculine and feminine" riff based on the Genesis 1:27 phrases, but admit that it may well be a case of sloppy exegesis allied with human bias (my own!). As we all know, that's biblically and intellectually a no-no. But I'm not entirely convinced yet, even after reading Marva's footnote, Margo's article, and even some other folks with the same idea who have unpacked it a bit more.

I realize in much of this discussion, I'm probably recreating the wheel. That is, someone out there in the Egalitarian / Mutualist universe certainly has biblically unpacked this to a far greater degree than I've imagined. In fact, I am fully aware I may not even be asking the foundational questions yet, if in fact I can use "foundational" while being a moderately post-structuralist kind of guy.

I may in my next bit wrestle with what "masculine" and "feminine" actually mean. That oughta be funny to watch. But it also might help me (and anyone willing to participate) to also sort out the masculinity / femininity in God thing. I hope.

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Is God Masculine? Part One (The Overview)

Sometimes the biggest cans of worms are opened with the simplest-sounding questions.

What follows is extremely "beta" and perhaps "alpha" in quality as far as being in any sense "finished" or "authoritative." (The latter term to me is not a very useful one anyway.)

Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen can be blamed for the most recent gyrations I've been making re women, men, male, female, feminine, masculine, and many related subjects. Her use of one term -- "gender essentialism" -- flipped tumblers that further clarified some things for me as I've continued reading on what it is and means. But it also opened doors to new questions, many of those more for other egalitarians than for the so-called "complementarians" (whom I prefer to call what they are: male hierarchalists).

So here's the question that I think lies behind many of the other questions:

Is God Masculine?

Well... on one hand he is called "Father" and "He" the majority of the time in Scripture. And most of us, when picturing God in our minds, have either Jesus' face or an oversized, bearded male's body (Michaelangelo's "Creation of Adam" is one example). That mix of apparent biblical evidence and traditional cultural detritus stops many faithful folk from considering the question any further. They would answer, "Yes, of course God is Masculine!"

But what they have not figured on is that even hierarchalist theologians (or at least the thoughtful ones) know that masculinity and maleness are not the same thing. God is NOT male, despite Michaelangelo's depictions of him being so. Rather, as Jesus says, "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24, NRSV).

It is inevitable that we anthropomorphize God. We can hardly help ourselves. And God seems more than willing to allow us, as the very finite creatures we are, to do this within certain boundaries. The Word does it, often in analogy and allegory, in order to aid us in comprehending the otherwise incomprehensible Holy Infinitude of God Almighty. Does God walk around with a giant penis (or vagina)? No. He doesn't even have a body!

So what exactly do we mean by even asking if God is masculine? What do we mean by the word "masculine" in the context of Spirit?


Invariably, we fall back on using ourselves (esp. if we're male!) to extrapolate what masculinity is. Testosterone? God hasn't got it. That's a biological, thus body, thing. Strength. Well, God doesn't have muscles, because that's a body thing. He certainly does have strength -- an infinitude of power able to merely speak and bring creation into existence. But is this strength really "masculine"?

And when considering God being masculine, we also have to consider God NOT being feminine. That is part of where this word "essentialism" comes into play. Let's trace some of the potential theological pitfalls.

As Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen powerfully showed via her talks at the Cornerstone 2007 Festival this summer, a Christian luminary no less than C. S. Lewis fell into a series of errors rooted not in Scripture, but rather Greek thought, by his promoting gender essentialism.

In a nutshell, and these are my definitions (not to be blamed on M. S. V.), "gender essentialism" assumes that all creation is gendered in one way or another. Further, it is gendered precisely because it mirrors God's own Nature, which is in the west almost always assumed to be Masculine. (Some would say "primarily" masculine, but that doesn't really help.) Further discombobulating things, it is assumed that since a Masculine God created man first and woman second, and that Eve (as created in man's image rather than God's, as Adam was) caused the fall, God also created a male-ordered hierarchy wherein the masculine (God) leads and initiates over the feminine (the spiritually and mentally and physically weaker sex).

Now of course the above has been ameolorated somewhat by hierarchalists trying to keep up with women's forward movement in our modernist culture. A woman did not officially run the Boston Marathon until 1984, and the story of women in athletics is one almost entirely creditable to the feminists most Christians love to hate. Yet the proof that women's bodies are capable of stupendous athleticism, and womens' minds are capable (potentially even moreso as far as multi-tasking than mens'?), and that women can lead, work, and achieve in the public sphere every bit as well as their male counterparts, forces thinking hierarchalists to recalibrate their rhetoric.

Yet among evangelicals, the idea of "roles" "functions" and all the old hoary myths rooted in the gender hierarchy myth, itself rooted in the Masculine God idea, continue. In some cases, such as that of the Southern Baptist denomination, they have actually been strengthened in order to disenfranchise women back to their "proper God-given roles."

As an egalitarian (not my favorite word) or a mutualist (better), I and many other bible-rooted Christians reject the hiearchical view of God as Masculine. But as we'll see in my next post, that doesn't solve things and doesn't even really (even from a mutualist viewpoint) answer the question, or the additional questions the original spawns. Such as:

What is masculine?
What is feminine?
Who says these things (is there any biblical evidence for such definitions?)
If masculinity and femininity are only human constructions, what does that do to the concept of "male" and "female"? (In short, are we falling into a sort of androgynous gender fog?)
Egalitarians-only question: Is God neither masculine nor feminine, or both masculine and feminine?
And so on...

I don't promise to answer all or any of these questions. But I will try to explore them a little so others can start asking further questions and maybe helping us collectively come up with a few answers...

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Jon Takes the Eucharist Quiz

Here's something lighter I got via a friend, Lainie Petersen. A quiz on what theologian I most resemble in my beliefs re the eucharist / communion / Lord's Supper...

And the winner is:

Eucharistic theology
created with
You scored as Zwingli

You are Ulrich Zwingli. You believe that bread and wine are symbols of the absent Jesus. You believe in interpreting Scripture reasonably.













Zwingli?! Who'd a thunk it? Hehehehehe... I do refuse to go along with chopping up church organs, one of Zwingli's less helpful activities during the Reformation era...