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Billboard sparks debate over gender roles

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (BP) — A North Carolina billboard that reads, “Real men provide. Real women appreciate it,” has generated discussion of gender roles and work.

While some say the sign expresses a biblical principle that men should provide financially for their families, others argue provision is a shared responsibility not limited by gender roles.

The controversial message appeared in late February on a billboard along Interstate 40 between Winston-Salem and Greensboro, according to media reports. The billboard’s owner told the Raleigh News & Observer the company that purchased the ad space wishes to remain anonymous.

A crowd in downtown Winston-Salem protested the message after it had been on display about a week, NPR reported. In addition, a GoFundMe campaign to purchase an opposing billboard to read “Gender equality benefits everyone” had raised $4,400 of a $10,000 goal as of March 2.

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, told Baptist Press the original billboard “merely exhorts passersby to live up to their fullest potential as healthy Christian families, as outlined in 1 Timothy 5:8,” which states a believer should “provide for his own … household.”

Fitzgerald, a trustee of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in written comments, “Our state is filled with men and women who appreciate and respect each other as they work together to provide and meet the needs of their families. The outrage expressed by feminist groups and other activist groups over this simple statement is indicative of forces in our culture that seek to emasculate men and erase the gender lines between the sexes.”

Another biblical argument that husbands should take the lead on earning income was articulated in the 1991 multi-author book “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.” In a chapter on “the high calling of wife and mother in biblical perspective,” Dorothy Patterson argued Genesis 2:15 gives “the husband the responsibility of providing for the family.”

Patterson, wife of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson and professor of theology in women’s studies, noted there may be “times when a woman should seek employment outside the home” during her childrearing years. Yet she lamented, “We are coming to a day when woman’s employment outside the home is the rule rather than the exception, leaving no one to give primary attention to the home and to producing the next generation.”

Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality, articulated an alternative view to BP. She said “caring for the family” and earning income within a family “is a shared responsibility of those created in God’s image as male and female” and not a “gendered role.”

God’s statement in Genesis 3:17 that Adam would obtain food “by means of painful labor” is descriptive only, Haddad told BP, and does not prescribe a pattern of husbands’ being the primary bread winners.

Similarly, Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 5:8 that a believer should “provide for his own … household” reflects a cultural aversion to females’ working “outside the home” in the ancient world but not a gendered biblical principle, Haddad said.

The abiding principle is that “we have work to do and we need to do it responsibly.”

“I don’t see gender vocational roles explicitly or implicitly [taught] in the biblical text,” she said.

Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., told BP that 1 Timothy 5:8 “at least means in our culture … that the husband is to work if he can, and he is to provide for his family.”

Land, former president of the ERLC, added, “That doesn’t mean he has to be the sole provider. You could have situations where the wife makes more than the husband, and that’s not a problem.”

The exemplary wife in Proverbs 31:10-31 earned income, Land said, noting the concept of fulltime jobs for men away from home is largely “a product of an industrial society.” Prior to 1920, “when 80 percent of Americans lived on farms,” husbands and wives often worked together in agriculture.

An abiding general principle is that “it’s very difficult for the husband to be the head of the home,” as Scripture commands, “if he’s not” at least contributing significantly to the family’s finances, Land said.

Adding a caveat, he said there may be rare seasons of life in which it is acceptable for a husband not to provide income, as when a wife works while her husband attends graduate school or when parents help support a young married couple while both spouses finish college. Such seasons, Land said, prepare the husband to provide well in the long term.

The Baptist Faith & Message, Article XVIII, states, “A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ.”