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FIRST-PERSON: The Hilary Rosen controversy & a lesson for Christians

MADISON, Ind. (BP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton and Hilary Rosen have more in common than their first names. The secretary of state made a famous political blunder back in 1992 when her husband Bill was campaigning for the presidency. In responding to a reporter’s query about her active role as the first lady of Arkansas, she retorted: “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.” Though she quickly tried to clarify that her intent had not been to demean stay-at-home moms, many felt this comment provided a window into Ms. Clinton’s worldview. Critics said that from her perspective, the domestic side of womanhood might be a choice a woman should be free to make, but she clearly would rate it as an activity of lesser significance than pursuing her career in the workplace.

Rosen, an adviser to the Democratic National Committee, has recently committed almost the same blunder as Ms. Clinton. In comments made recently to Anderson Cooper on CNN, she took a swipe at Ann Romney, saying: “Guess what, [Romney’s] wife has actually never worked a day in her life.” Following the pattern of Ms. Clinton, Ms. Rosen has already tried to clarify that she meant nothing demeaning to homemaking women. The Obama campaign has also been quick to distance itself from this statement and has called for an apology.

As a pastor who has spoken publicly many times a week for more than 20 years, I have a lot of sympathy for those who make awkward misstatements. We all wish we could have some things back at times. However, I do think that we must also acknowledge that sometimes what comes out like this can accurately reveal our hidden values and assumptions. In this case, I think it is clear that the comment shows that Ms. Rosen sees homemaking as a less significant activity than holding down a job in the workforce. Thanks in part to the success of the feminist agenda, that attitude has become almost a part of the air we breathe in America. What came with the promise of freedom and liberation has really proven to be a toxic poison.

I would argue that a decline in the ideals of motherhood and the domestic life has greatly contributed to the explosion of societal ills with which our country struggles every day. The underlying and unspoken assumption of those who urged women to abandon the home in favor of the workforce has been that childrearing and other traditional pursuits of domesticity can easily be handled in the evenings and on weekends. In truth, home and family management is vastly more complicated and demanding than that. Only 100 years ago, America’s universities offered “home engineering” as a field of study. It was taken for granted that “domestic science” was a rigorous and demanding field and that proficiency in it could be improved with study. The major land grant universities in America, created because of the Morrill Act of 1862, became the primary vehicles by which American women could be equipped with this knowledge that would enable them to be successful domestic engineers. I can still remember seeing the title “domestic engineering” chiseled deep into the limestone cornice of a building at the land grant college of my youth. If it seemed an odd phrase in the early 1980s, it must seem positively stone-aged to today’s students.

Call it what you will — domestic science or home engineering or home economics — but running a household and rearing successful children is both demanding work and a dying skill set. We need not view Ms. Rosen’s comments as a “gotcha” moment which can be converted into a nice political smear advertisement. Instead, what we ought to do is evaluate why these ideas that homemaking and childrearing are second-class endeavors are prevalent and what they portend for our collective future.

Christians need to realize that this attitude is widespread in our society and that, as with all cultural norms, we are subject to buying into it without being conscious we have denied the Scriptures in the process. In the church where I serve as pastor, our women’s ministry recently reorganized with “Titus 2 Groups” as a core component of their strategy. These mentoring groups are based on the recognition that this text of Scripture provides a timeless blueprint for the Christian home:

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored” (Titus 2:4-5).

As this text would indicate, staying at home is not the same thing as not going to work. Ms. Rosen’s ill-chosen words of derision are a teachable moment for those of us in the church to ask whether we have let our own attitudes toward domestic life be captured by the culture or by the Word of God.

It perhaps also needs said that the Bible allows great freedom for a woman to involve herself in the workplace. One has only to think of the model woman of Proverbs 31 to see that a woman’s place need not be restricted to the home. However, there is little danger of a contemporary Christian being misled by the culture at this point.

Women who have made the choice to devote themselves to their children, family and home life need our admiration and praise, not our disdain.
Paul Brewster is pastor of Ryker’s Ridge Baptist Church in Madison, Ind. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Paul Brewster