It has been quite a while since I added an entry to my series on women in ministry, first introduced many months ago. You are welcome to review what I said previously, here, here, here, here, and here. A lot has happened since then and I'm not sure whether or not I will be able to finish it. But, I have found inspiration recently, so I have seized upon that in order to offer the following post. This was not "on the schedule," but hopefully it will offer some good food for thought.
Friday afternoon, after much tortured speculation in the media, Sen. John McCain announced the identity of his running mate: Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska. She is a 44 year-old wife and mother of five, who has served in a number of capacities, from the PTA, to City Councilmember, to Mayor, to Governor. Recent reports show that US conservative evangelicals are enlivened and encouraged by this choice, for Palin is staunchly anti-abortion, not to mention a lifetime NRA member and opponent of same-sex marriage.
When I began to conceive of this blog post a few days ago, I didn't plan to reference Gov. Palin. And, I should clarify that I have no desire to comment on Sen. McCain's choice, nor even to discuss VP picks or politics in general. Instead, I find in Gov. Palin's appeal to evangelical voters an interesting tension that highlights a personal ideological struggle with which I have labored for some time: the overwhelmingly popular claim among evangelicals that God's ideal for women is for them to be a "stay-at-home" moms.
Now, I know that many of my evangelical brothers and sisters will protest that this is oversimplifying their position. That is to say, they would never condemn a single women who devotes her life to missions for not becoming a stay-at-home mom. Nor would they ever condemn a mother forced to work by her family's economic circumstances.
But at the end of the day, the predominant belief among evangelicals (and perhaps I should clarify, mostly white, middle-class evangelicals) is that it is the best case scenario when a woman is married to a man and caring for their children "at home." And, despite any protests, I know for a fact that many women are made to feel like incomplete women because they aren't married or because they cannot give up work for a life "at home." Books are written about it. Conferences are put together for it. And magazines obsess over it.
And that's one of the reasons I introduced this post with Gov. Palin. In my observation, the exuberant evangelical response to her is in tension with their familial ideology. On Friday, the world was introduced to Gov. Palin, she was flanked by her lovely family--husband and five children, the youngest of which was born with Down Syndrome in April. There is no doubt that it takes tremendous skill and ingenuity to manage a household of this size, let alone while she serves as the executive leader of Alaska. Gov. Palin is an accomplished woman and probably a great mother. But, in the end, she is definitely not a stay-at-home mom.
Even so, after McCain's announcement, political activist, James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, released a statement praising Gov. Palin as an "outstanding" choice for vice president. Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission leader Richard Land has unashamedly admitted to recommending Gov. Palin to McCain as a VP pick. And, even the typically outspoken advocate of stay-at-home moms, Al Mohler, appeared to hedge his bets, saying, "If I were her pastor, I'd be very concerned for her and her family. But it looks as though she's found a way to integrate it all in a way that works."
[UPDATE: Since I posted this blog entry, SBC pastor Voddie Baucham has written a scathing critique of McCain's choice of Palin as VP, using a consistent view of women's roles. His conclusion is that Palin is really the "anti-family" choice. I do not agree with this assessment. But, feel free to read the original article here.]
Sen. McCain's choice of Gov. Palin has put evangelicals in an interesting position, I think. At the same time that they are thrilled with her socially conservative credentials, I think that if they stop long enough to think about it, they will realize that she poses a challenge to their commonly held belief that women are meant to inhabit the "home realm" with children, while men inhabit the social realm and lead. What will they do with someone like Gov. Palin? I don't know. I suppose we'll find out in November.
So, why am I picking on Sarah Palin? And why am I picking on stay-at-home moms? Well, let me say that I am definitely not picking on Gov. Palin. I congratulate her on her achievements and wish her well. And, I am definitely not picking on stay-at-home moms. I have no beef with women who are financially free to be the primary caregivers of their children and devote their days to working long, arduous hours, managing households and training up the next generation. I have no problem with them at all.
The issue I have in mind for this two-part post is the ideological perspective that women are intended by God to be stay-at-home moms. And, in Part 2, I will address one of the major reasons I think this ideology falls flat in the reality of God's world, the narrative of human history.