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Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Make Room for Daddy.

Christianity Today's indispensible weblog offers up two valuable articles on the fatherhood issue.

First is a book review of a recent work comparing the competing schools of thought regarding the role of men in marriage:  "equal regard" versus "male headship" (neither of which, as it turns out, is a completely accurate description of the viewpoints, but hey). 

As one who falls more or less into the latter camp, the debate looks thought and worthwhile, given this lengthy sample from the review:

 Co-editor David Blankenhorn sets up the problem. Blankenhorn, who advocates for fatherhood in a father-impoverished culture, recalls interviewing a group of African-American Pentecostal women at their church on the south side of Chicago. He asked the women, "Is the father the head of the family?" They all said yes. When he asked them what that meant, they said, "Working hard to support the family financially … leading the family in prayer at meal times … and … taking the family to church on Sundays." Blankenhorn pressed them: Aren't women capable of leadership? They smiled knowing smiles back at him. Of course they could do all the things they wanted men to do, they patiently explained. But they want men as heads of families because the "alternative is drugs, prison, and early death. That's the choice that our men must make, and we praise God for those who make the right choice."
Blankenhorn calls the appeal of these Chicago women the best argument he has heard for male headship in marriage. But in doing so, he shifts the meaning of the term, and headship becomes code for responsibility.
Don Browning, a second co-editor of the book, argues against notions of male headship. He recognizes that one of great social achievements of Christianity and Judaism has been the "stabilizing of male responsibility and giving it sacred meaning." But he argues that Southern Baptists and the Promise Keepers are wrong in believing that "a little soft patriarchy is the price to be paid for male responsibility."
Browning briefly pits Ephesians against Aristotle to show that early Christian ideas for ordering households were significantly out of step with prevailing Hellenic notions of male headship. He characterizes the early Christian view as "equal regard," meaning "both husband and wife treat each other as equals—as persons—and never as means to other ends, i.e. as objects of manipulation." This relational framework means that the equal-regard advocates in this book do not come across as ideologues committed to an abstract ideal, but as scholars concerned for healthy marriages.
Browning thus sets the stage for Van Leeuwen, the book's third co-editor, to set forth her argument that "'proof-text poker'… betrays a very low view" of Scripture because it treats distinct passages as factoids rather than as parts of a "redemptive-historical flow." Here Van Leeuwen sketches the views she set out more thoroughly in her 1990 book, Gender and Grace, that male domination is an effect of the Fall and should not be read back into creation (or, presumably, projected forward into the economy of salvation).
Fortunately, pro-headship author Robert Godfrey rises above proof-text poker. Godfrey points to the representative nature of the head of a family, tribe, or nation in biblical thinking. This is an anti-modern notion, but it reflects the reality that people exist in webs of relationships that provide their identity. Without rediscovering the representative role of the head person, we cannot understand biblical discussions of salvation, church life, or family life.
John Miller, emeritus professor at Conrad Grebel College, begins the book's second half by asking: Can a gendered problem (male irresponsibility) be cured by a degendered solution (equal regard)? There is an instinctual rightness to Miller's challenge. But because of Van Leeuwen's essay, the challenge is misplaced. In her hands, "equal regard" is clearly not degendered. Each sex has its own particular temptations to overcome in order to work out the meaning of Christian love in the context of marriage.

The second article is a brief interview with the magnificent Maggie Gallagher, who continues to radiate common sense:

I don't know that I would see male headship as the primary strategy. But I firmly believe that mothers and fathers both matter a great deal to their children, and that marriage is the way that you get that for children. You cannot raise a generation of men to be good family men unless you tell them that husbands and fathers matter a great deal.
One of the things sociologist Brad Wilcox shows is that conservative Protestants, who are the only group of people actively advocating for male headship in our society and for a strong vision of gender difference, oddly enough turn out to produce husbands and fathers who are more like the "new man," that is, a warm, engaged, attentive father. And their wives report that these men are also more appreciative, and the wives are happier than the average wife or the wives of religiously unaffiliated men. This is true only for conservative Protestants who go to church. If you're a nominal conservative Protestant and you just pick up on the headship ideology and you don't have the idea of love and sacrifice for the sake of your family, it turns out badly.

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