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Editorial: The complementary role

Men and women are different. This idea has always been under attack because all truth has always been under attack. Recently, the attack has been to blur the lines between men’s and women’s roles or to erase gender itself.

When we take what God has ordained and add to it or subtract from it, we cause problems. The Pharisees added to the Law, and Jesus told them they were actually throwing stumbling blocks in the path of those trying to follow God (Matt. 23:13-33). When we redefine men’s and women’s roles into something God did not intend them to be, we cause problems for both because the roles no longer complement each other.

For example, when we say the husband should be the provider and the wife the nurturer, we limit both roles. This view has led to fathers who live in the home but are emotionally absent from the care of their own children and mothers who do not exercise talents God gave them for church or outside ministry because they believe they should only be concerned with their home.

These stereotypes have caused societal problems beyond the home and even the church. Men are less likely to win custody of their children in a court battle. Why? In part, because of the traditional view that women are designed to be nurturers and therefore are better at taking care of children. The same view that can keep men out of nurseries in churches can keep men out of their children’s lives completely in courthouses.

But where do we find the role of breadwinner for the husband in the Bible? 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” 

But this verse is in the greater context of providing care for widows, people who in that society had limited means of living. It can and should direct us not to neglect family members who need our support and expect the church or the government to support them. Distancing the verse from its context is dangerous at best.

And we should not use the concept out of context either; God talks about gender roles in the home in more than just one verse or chapter. We should add to 1 Timothy 5:8 other verses on the subject, such as Ephesians 6:4, which gives direction to fathers on how to raise their children. The man’s role in the household should not be relegated simply to provider or breadwinner; he is also a husband and father to any children he and his wife raise.

The role of the woman in the household extends beyond nurturer as well. In fact, the Proverbs 31 woman is a wife, mother, businesswoman and more. She oversees the budgeting of her household (v. 15), she buys property (v. 16), she discerns economic value of merchandise and works late into the night (v. 17) and she works with and gives to those in need (v. 20). “Nurturer” does not encompass everything a woman contributes to her household and her community.

Whenever we assume or enforce a stereotype on someone because of his or her gender, we become like the Pharisees adding stumbling blocks where God has made a path. God has already defined men’s and women’s roles in a perfectly balanced way; redefining those roles cannot hurt one without hurting the other. Sexism against one gender is sexism against both.

This truth is important to keep in mind when we have discussions on gender. Because we live in a fallen world, there will always be tension between the gender roles. As we deal with this tension, we should remember that it is not a question of “men’s versus women’s issues.” Any problem that affects one gender affects the other.

If we remember this truth, we can have the conversations about gender discrimination we need to have. More importantly, we can collaborate on solutions. And most importantly, we should let Scripture guide our thinking about men’s and women’s roles.