What Does "Workers at Home" Mean?
I've been talking to some moms lately who wonder if it's okay to contribute to the economics of their households. I'm not even talking about being gone from home from 7:45 AM till 5:30 PM. I'm talking about women working from home.
A few biblical passages come to mind...
The woman in Proverbs 31 had kids and was selling belts and buying a vineyard from her own income. This was a well-to-do woman, but she was still contributing to the economics of her household. When Paul admonished Titus to encourage older women to teach the younger how to be "workers at home" (Titus 2), he was talking about women in a culture in which, to our best understanding, more than 85 percent of the industry happened in the home. There was no such thing as a factory worker and a stay-at-home mom. Both husband and wife were usually stay-at-home parents; both raised kids, taught kids, and participated in industry.
People did ironworks or basket-weaving or meat curing or whatever at home. Dorothy L. Sayers more than sixty years ago--even before second-wave feminism--wrote a marvelous piece in which she noted that much of the restlessness of women happened after the more interesting, mind-engaging work was taken from the domicile (international trade, equipment purchase, negotiation, people contact) and put in factories. Couples began to see raising kids as women's work rather than as a partnership (moms parent; dads baby-sit). On those few occasions when dads took the kids and the kids drove 'em crazy, it was often reasoned that women had some special inner thing that made it easier for them to deal with the constant whining and bickering and tedium. Many failed to appreciate the deep intellectual sacrifices their wives were making in order to raise their kids.
We say that the ideal is for moms to be at home, but that's only half of the story. The ideal is for both mom and dad to be home with kids. Now, that doesn't mean they're down on the floor playing with kids all day. Rather, they take their children with them as they support the weak, help the suffering, engage in meaningful (and not so meaningful) work, and get the job done.
We sometimes hold up the Ricky-and-Lucy model--or the Ward and June Cleaver model--as the ideal. We teach "if only..." the church today would get back to that ideal of Ricky going to the club while Lucy cleans or Ward going to the office while June vacuums wearing pearls. (The TV producers say she wore them only because she had a long neck, but I digress.) Truth is, the divorce rate skyrocketed when the men took off for the factories and left their wives at home. It was as high, in fact, as it is now--at a time when it was much more difficult to separate maritally. The effect of the industrial revolution on the family was devastating.
Some point to Paul's admonition that "if a man does not provide for his own, he is worse than an unbeliever" as a proof-text for man-as-breadwinner. Right out of 1 Timothy. It even has six pronouns in many English translations. It's all about a husband providing. Or is it? Actually, in the Greek it is "someone" and "one's own," not "he/his." The context is talking of widows and caring for them, and the passage is actually more focused on women caring for their mothers and mothers-in-law than it is on men (see 1 Tim 5:16). (Imagine a culture with no nurses. Who bathes the patient?) It's certainly not talking about the man vs. the woman bringing home the pork.
Such questions tell us something about our culture. Bottom line: we are rich. We may not think we're rich compared to Bill Gates, but more than two billion people on our planet live on less than two dollars a day. I wonder if any of them would raise the question about whether it is godly for a woman to earn income...
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