By Brandon Smith
In a recent article for Christianity Today’s “Her.meneutics” blog, Amy Simpson makes the case that women should be more sensitive to stay-at-home dads because such men are a small percentage of the population and likely feel like outcasts of sorts in the parenting community. Referring to her husband’s role as a stay-at-home dad, she understandably realizes the problems that he faces and is sensitive to it. Simpson is a gifted writer, and I genuinely appreciate what she wrote and the tone she displayed. As a complementarian, though, this piece caught my attention and even caused a bit of alarm for me.
Clarifying the Terms
Before I go on, allow me to clarify a few things.
Among other matters, complementarians agree on this essential point: husbands should humbly lead, protect, and provide while women should humbly support his leadership and joyfully work in the home. This argument comes from all over Scripture, including Gen. 2:15-20; Eph. 5:22-33, 6:4; 1 Tim. 5:8; 1 Pet. 3:1-7; Titus 2:1-6; Col. 3:18-19, and more. The secondary specifics of how this plays out from family-to-family vary slightly, but complementarians agree that men must take responsibility for provision of their families.
For our purposes here, I don’t want to argue semantics on secondary issues. That’s another post for another day. I would much rather engage Simpson’s article in two major ways.
Citing conclusions from Hanna Rosin’s book The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Simpson posits:
If this truly is the “end of men” and traditional masculinity is becoming less dominant—perhaps even less relevant—in our world, women face a brand-new opportunity for grace. This is true in all our interactions, and especially true in the domestic arena, where we have long held sway. Will we allow men to express themselves in the home, or will we turn the tables and shut them out, as some men historically have done to women outside that domestic sphere?
If she’s right about equality of roles, then women should show incredible grace to men in their domestic endeavors. Unfortunately, we must rely on Scripture rather than cultural trends.
As I’ve stated before, masculinity is very clearly defined by God. All Christian men are called by God to lead their family (Gen. 2:15-20; Eph. 5:22-33, 6:4; 1 Tim. 5:8; Col. 3:19; 1 Pet. 3:7) and this includes a specific “job” description. God’s endorsement of manhood includes provision, protection, bravery, sacrifice, fidelity, and many other assignments. This is fulfilled through taking charge, working hard to earn an income, and discipling the family as a sort of shepherd of the home. What this does not appear to include – according to the forthright passages that I’ve already mentioned – is being a homemaker.
Regardless of the shaky foundation of sociological realities, Scripture is objectively and authoritatively stable.
Statistics Laid Bare
Simpson gave a stimulating statistic to further her argument:
Trevor [Simpson’s husband] was an at-home dad from the time our oldest was 9 months old to the day our youngest started kindergarten. We opted for this arrangement more than a decade ago, when at-home dads comprised 1.6 percent of all stay-at-home parents in the U.S. In 2011, that percentage had risen to 3.4 percent. That’s 176,000 at-home dads raising more than 332,000 children.
Perhaps we should take a moment to consider that many of these men experienced uncontrollable factors that led to these percentages. In our current economic climate, unemployment and underemployment are real issues facing families. Additionally, many men suffer from disabilities, work part-time while finishing school (in order to better provide in the long-run), and so forth. So, I don’t want to be unkind and attack men who truly want to provide for their families but have limitations.
On the flip side, there are certainly families who make the decision for the husband to stay home. And that’s their decision. What I’d caution for the Christian family is to carefully ponder the Scripture offered here. God has much to say about the home.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that these statistics may point to a larger point. Sure, the statistics of at-home fathers have risen slightly as egalitarianism makes a harder push into mainstream media and politics. This is good news for those who seek such forms of gender equality. I would submit to those folks that that 3.4 percent is still a miniscule number and this leads me to believe that the egalitarian camp is merely fighting against a natural current that they may tread, but never stop. If God has truly placed leadership into the hearts of men, as I believe that he has, then these trends will not prevail. The percentages may even grow, but men will still be men. And stay-at-home dads will likely still pursue their God-given desire to take the reins even when misguided by cultural pressure.
Toward a Better Conversation
Complementarian brothers and sisters, culture will continue to press on what we believe to be true and we must be bold. In your boldness, show the character of Christ and love for those who revile you and disagree with you. May we spur one another on toward a better reflection of Christ and his Church in our marriages and our interactions with culture.
To God be the glory.
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