Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ask RC: Stay at Home Dads?

Does the Bible have anything to say about “Stay at home dads”?

It is a potent sign of the depth and scope of sin in our lives that we are able to find ourselves missing all those road signs that read- Warning- perdition ninety miles ahead and then Hellfire- next exit and then Beware of falling sulfur before stopping to ask for directions. Here is a cultural phenomenon that either goes utterly unnoticed by most evangelicals, or merely raises eyebrows with the most conservative in the crowd. Yet, thirty years ago even the heathen would be ashamed to even consider such a notion. We file this under “Questions of gender roles” which sounds so neutral and scholarly, just like we like it. It is instead all about what it means to be a man.

Now I think it a wonderful thing for a husband and father to stay home. Once upon a time most husbands and fathers did just that. The notion that work is something we do out there, away from our home, is historically a new one, and on balance, an unhealthy one. For more on this let me commend Allan Carlson’s wonderful work From Cottage to Workstation. Where a man provides for his family is not in the end the issue. That he must do so is the issue.

Paul writes, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Timothy 5:8). Failure to provide for your family is not only clearly a sin, it not only is demonstrable proof that one is not within the kingdom, but it means the man is worse than the rest of the unbelievers. That is a rather potent condemnation. It is a scandal.

Now comes the rationalizations, and the qualifications. The challenge is knowing the difference. Neither Paul nor I would have any quarrel with a man who is genuinely unable to work due to illness. These are the kind of hard cases that make for bad laws. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the man who sits on his backside and sends his wife out to work for others so that he has his needs met. There is a word for such a man. In between is the man temporarily out of work, then the man who is able to provide, but not in the manner to which the family has become accustomed, then the man whose wife’s earning power surpasses his own. Because there is this spectrum we are tempted to leave the question utterly unanswered, to shrug our shoulders, and leave it up to each family’s discretion. Trouble is we therefore throw over the plain teaching of Paul, and the Holy Spirit.

Men, plain and simple, are called to provide for their families, not merely to see that they are provided for. Those who therefore live off the production of their wives, or their neighbors (through government welfare programs), fall under Paul’s condemnation here. We, if we approve, likewise fall under condemnation. What we need is plain talk, grounded in God’s Word. Househusbands are an abomination.


Anonymous said...

I'm curious, I'm a stay-at-home dad right now. I am a member in good standing at a PCA church. I am a complemtarian. I don't love this set-up. My wife was working part time and I was full-time until I lost my job. Then I took a lower paying job working nights. We never saw each other except on the weekend. Then my wife's workload increased 15 hours per week (she was exhausted working in the middle of the night every night etc..). So I quit my job to let her go full time and I'm homeschooling our kids. I believe in gender assignments. I'm not at home because I'm lazy. I guess, I just think it's a little harsh, completely un-pastoral, to call me an abomination.

R.C. said...

If you were answering Paul, who wrote inerrantly, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, instead of me, what would you say brother?

Anonymous said...

I find it hard to believe based on the context of the verses that he had gender assignments in mind since that was not an issue, the passage addresses caring for family who could otherwise not care for themselves. So, I don't think based on what I know of Paul, that the conversation would come up. So, what I'm saying is, I think you're reading a cultural phenomeon from our time back into Paul's. At the same time I think the stay-at-home dad phenomenon is a result of feminism, but there is no undoing of how businesses operate in this respect. Let me ask you this, if I cannot replace my wife's salary with enough money working 40-50 hours per week (and I mean to get by, not to live at a luxury level), should I work 80 hours per week so that she stays home with our kids. This whole thing is about our kids. Should I send them all to daycare? Should I put my son in public school? We wouldn't even be wrestling with these things if we didn't care about our kids. I'll be honest, if I went to get a job (and maybe God would bless me with a better situation that the one I'll describe, but I'm being realistic) that pays what we need it to, I will work most likely as a retail manager working 55-60 hours per week. Church will be a rare occasion, some weeks will require 6days a week, etc... I'm being realistic here. Would you advise something like this at the expense of my family? I wish it was different, and maybe it will be, in the mean time, I still assert that abomination is over the top. I didn't know what to make of you calling me brother in your post, but I do appreciate your response. God bless.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to make sure you didn't think I was being sarcastic with the comment on I didn't know what to make of you calling me brother. It was a honest statement and I was concerned it would sound sarcastic. Also, I appreciate you and your father very much.

R.C. said...

Thanks for the continuing conversation. Before I address your comment I want to address the weakness of this form of communication. "Brother" served two purposes. First, I don't know your name and thus don't know how to address you. Second, my piece challenges your choices, and my comment challenged you again with Scripture. Both can sound harsh and uncaring. But I believe you to be sincerely asking the question, and wanted you to hear grace in my tone. Hope that helps.
To the question at hand. I agree Paul didn't have "gender assignments" in mind. He isn't writing about divvying up the jobs. He is writing about what it means to be a man. My wife used to pay our bills and balance the checkbook, while I bought groceries and often cooked meals. Those are questions of gender assignments. Who is providing is a far more basic, fundamental question, which is, ironically, what Paul is talking about. It's ironic because it's an issue that would be almost safe to assume. That is, in virtually every culture in the history of the world, men provided, going back to Adam. Look at God's description of their dominion roles. My counsel then for you would be to bring your wife home, lower your lifestyle, work long hours, and stop thinking you know the future. What I'm hearing (though again, from a friend asking sincere questions) is, "But if I do the right thing, bad things will happen." Doing the right thing is always the right thing. God bless.

Anonymous said...

You're opinions would not sound harsh if they didn't include damnation language (in your original post). I'm familiar with similar language by Mark Driscoll, and even if I would be worse than an unbeliever to both of you, I can still say that I appreciate your ministries. I don't feel that tone from you now in your responses and I appreciate you taking the time to respond. This is not a topic I would have ever liked to wrestle with, but I believe that the abomination title is unfair in many situations. We are not talking about leaving destitute family members to fend for themselves, that makes sense as a comparision to an unbeliever. That fits 1 John, James, and Jesus' saying about "corban...", but it doesn't fit the same in situations that have to do with our economy as so forth. I agree, the right thing is always the best thing. I want to honor God in my decision making and I want what is best for my wife and children also. This is a tougher question for me since I have to look to principles rather than imperatives in the Bible, and the principles I know seem to be able to go both ways. Please pray for my family to see clearly God's will in this matter (and I know you believe you know what that is based on your understanding of Scripture, which I'm sure is more extensive than mine), and that He will also enable the things that He wills. Thanks.