It seems to me that a lot of conservative Christian women these days are suffering from a lack of vision. For many of us, things have begun to improve, but there’s been a lot of poison in our perspectives–a feeling that if we couldn’t do what the men were doing, then maybe God had nothing for us to do; that maybe we’d been forgotten, left behind…like the pink tools on the workbench were second best, and the blue ones were getting all the use. In contemplating how this could have come about, I thought of the following story.Once upon a time, Mrs. Jones gave her two children, Bobby and Suzy, chores to do. Bobby was told to take out the trash, and Suzy was assigned dishwasher duty. Then Mrs. Jones left for an all-day homeschool conference, and Bobby and Suzy got to work.
After emptying the bathroom wastebaskets, Bobby walked through the kitchen on his way to the trash bins in the garage. “Mommy thinks I’m smarter,” he boasted. “That’s why she gave me the best job.” Suzy didn’t say anything.
As Bobby took the first big black trash bag down the driveway, Suzy saw Mr. Peterson wave as he pulled out of his driveway. The kitchen door banged as Bobby walked back through, announcing, “Mr. Peterson thinks I’m such a hard worker. He knows that I really love Mommy because I do such important jobs for her.” Suzy shoved the silverware drawer shut and stared at the mountain of dirty dishes.
Bobby pulled the trash bag out of the kitchen garbage can and headed back towards the garage. “You have to really be responsible to take out the trash,” he called over his shoulder, “and strong.”
“I’m responsible,” said Suzy to the dish soap. “I’m strong. And I love Mommy. I could take the trash out. Probably better than Bobby. Then Mr. Peterson would think I was a hard worker, too.” She dropped the plates recklessly into the dishwasher and threw the dirty forks into the silverware tray. “This is a ridiculous job. No one should have to do dishes. We’ll use paper plates for the rest of the day, and then I’ll take the trash out.”
Bobby didn’t really mind using paper plates. At first it seemed a bit strange, but he quickly forgot about it. If Suzy didn’t want to get the regular stuff out, it probably didn’t matter. He did notice, however, when Suzy started lifting the kitchen trash bag out to take it to the garage.
“Hey, you can’t do my job! You’re supposed to be in charge of getting the dishes done! Mommy assigned the trash to me!”
Suzy looked at the one lonely pan they had used to reheat their leftovers. “Are you saying that all I’m good for is washing one little pan while you take out bag after bag of garbage?”
OK, now let me ask you a few questions.
- Based on the job assignments, which child do you think Mrs. Jones liked better?
- Based on the job assignments, which child do you think Mrs. Jones felt was smarter, harder working, and more responsible?
- Based on the job assignments, which child do you think had the best opportunity to show love to Mrs. Jones?
Remember your answers; we’ll come back to them.
This little story reflects something that I think has happened in the Church. God handed out some assignments, too, and many men and women have responded very much like Bobby and Suzy did.
God told men to be leaders in the Church and gave them shepherding and preaching roles. He gave women a lot to do as well. In 1 Timothy, in a discussion of the kind of widows the Church should care for, we get a picture of the life a godly woman should live.
…having been the wife of one man, Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. –1 Timothy 5:9-10
We can find another assignment for women in Titus 2:3-5, where they’re commanded to teach younger women
…to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.
But then, somewhere along the line, (with no input from God on the subject) we decided that men had the best jobs, and the idea developed that maybe God thought men were smarter (you know, because it takes so much more brain power to preach than it does to make complete strangers feel welcome in your home). And then we started thinking that people with the visible jobs were the hard workers, the ones with strong faith, who really loved God. And women, who knew in their hearts that they also had strong faith and loved God, decided that they wanted to be the leaders, too. Probably they could do a better job than the men, and then everyone would see how hard-working they were.
Those jobs God gave to women started to look pretty ridiculous. No one should have to bring up children and relieve the afflicted.
And then we got out the paper plates. Birth control can save us from needing to bring up more than one or two children. The strangers can just check in to the local Holiday Inn. As for the saints, they can wash their own stinky feet (the bathroom’s the first door on the left). If you’re feeling afflicted, I’m sure there’s a nice ministry somewhere that addresses your need, or maybe a government program. Have you looked online? “Diligently following every good work” sounds so nebulous. Who knows what that means? We still like to teach younger women (and older ones, and men!), but God’s curriculum doesn’t seem so relevant these days. After all, no one needs to be taught how to do dishes when we have paper plates.
There were a few dissenters, who missed eating off china, but, for the most part, the paper plates went unnoticed by most men in the Church, even the conservative ones…until it came time to take out the trash. Then the conservative, Bible-believing men woke up, and said, “Hey, you can’t preach! God assigned that to us. The Bible says you’re supposed to be silent in church and not usurp authority (1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Timothy 2:12).”
And then the women looked around at a lonely world where no one seemed to need them, and said, “Are you saying all I’m good for is popping out a couple of kids and keeping my square foot of pew warm?”
OK, now back to those questions I asked a little while ago. Could you tell from the job assignments which child Mrs. Jones liked best, or how smart, hard-working, or responsible Mrs. Jones thought each of her kids was? Did one or the other of them have a better chance of showing love to their mother?
No, of course not. They were just jobs. Each child had an equal chance to work hard and show love to Mrs. Jones simply by being obedient in the specific jobs she had given them. The trouble started, not because Mrs. Jones thought one of her children was more capable than the other, or even because one job was intrinsically better than the other, but because her children arbitrarily decided that one job was better and that the job’s superiority somehow meant something.
And so it is in the Church. There is nothing intrinsically better in teaching an adult Sunday school class than there is in relieving the afflicted. It’s just that some people arbitrarily decided that there was. And the consequences are far worse than extra trash in the landfill. Those jobs that God gave women are actually really important, and the Church genuinely suffers when they don’t get done.
The pride, the jealousy, the misrepresentation of God’s purposes, and the fact that half of the assignments He gave the Church have been turned in for paper plates mean that we’re falling far short of fulfilling God’s design for His people. We’ve all gotten so used to this stunted, imbalanced type of church–where everyone vies for one group of jobs and neglects the other–that when people get their Bibles out and read that women aren’t supposed to be preaching and leading, it doesn’t even occur to a lot of them that there is so much we are supposed to be doing…and if we tackled half of it, we’d be so exhausted it would be laughable to think we’d even have time to preach. Instead the message is often simply, “Sit down and be quiet,” or, in other words, “Paper plates are totally fine; just hands off the trash.” Hence the lack of vision.
The solution is for all of us to be humble, to love and appreciate our brothers and sisters and all the jobs that God has given us, and to open up that dusty cupboard, get out some real dishes, and see how exciting it can be when we’re all showing love to God through obedience.