A Response to "Real Family Life" by Dennis Rainey

A few years ago, my wife was listening to the local Christian station (KSBJ) and heard a 90-second sound bite from Dennis Rainey. The transcript was here:http://www.familylife.com/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=dnJHKLNnFoG&b=3794787&ct=4923145

Well, Elaine heard it and was fired up furious. She wrote to “Real Family Life” people and got a response from Glenda. For fun, I wrote a response to Glenda (I never received a response). Here is that exchange from a few years ago.

I'm sure that Dennis Rainey's ministry has done much for the kingdom of God, and for that I am truly grateful. My point here is not to slam that ministry. I have one and only one point in this blog post: to demonstrate the profound misreading of a biblical text when you do not read it in historical and literary context.

Here is the correspondence:
Elaine’s email:
QUESTION: My name is Elaine Pendergrass, and I am a Children’s and Preschool Minister, as well as a wife and mother of 2 young children. I have heard several things that disturbed me on your broadcast regarding stay-at-home moms, but today was by far the most disturbing. I heard Dennis Rainey encourage families to encourage their daughers to embrace their “calling” to be wives and mothers in the home (rather than working in whatever field God calls them to work). I have never heard people told what they were called to do except for girls/women to be stay-at-home wives and mothers. The Bible does not paint this view for women (even in Proverbs 31). Instead, women are called (just as men are) to follow God’s lead, whatever “career” that may be, whether outside of the home or inside the home. I have been called to be a wife, mother, and children’s minister, and many other women are called to work outside of the home, as well. Now thousands of people have heard the message that they should encourage their daughters to follow a call to be wives and mothers who stay at home, and this may not be God’s call for their lives. I encourage you to prayerfully consider any more messages like this, or ones that may make those women who are called to work outside the home (or must do it out of the necessity of providing financially for their families) feel guilty. I encourage you to look in the Bible for what God truly said about His calling, and I pray that others were not tainted by this broadcast.

Glenda’s Email:
From: mentor-1@TC.familylife.com [mailto:mentor-1@TC.familylife.com]
Sent: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 8:20 AM
To: Elaine Pendergrass
Subject: Broadcast Feedback
Dear Elaine,
Thank you for writing FamilyLife and for your feedback regarding Real FamilyLife’s “Motherhood as Career” broadcast that aired May 7.
Please consider that a complete theology of this hot topic could not be discussed in this brief 90 second program, but you can read the transcript at:
The pendulum has swung so far away from home and motherhood that Dennis was reminding us of the value of both in God’s economy. That does not mean he is opposed to education or other opportunities for young women. You might want to know that Dennis and Barbara’s daughters went to college and worked before marriage.  His oldest daughter, Ashley, is still involved in the broadcast as co-host with Bob Lepine on the weekend program. This part-time position, however, does not prevent her from fulfilling her role as wife and mother to five children.
The virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 is a good example of an intelligent woman whose priority is her husband and household, but she can still handle business transactions as well as having a heart for the poor.  Because of the admiration she receives from her husband and children, little doubt is left as to her faithfulness to God and the family.  That is a lot different than a “career” in which the mother is away from her children more than she is with them.
We do understand there are cases where a mother will find it necessary to work outside the home (e.g. financial distress, single parenthood, etc.)  However, we also believe some couples have made career and lifestyle choices that result in de-emphasizng the mother’s role as nurturer.  Therefore, we are committed to presenting a biblical framework through which couples can rightly evaluate their priorities.
God bless you and please let us know if we can serve you further.
Yours for godly families,
Glenda

My response to Glenda:
Hello Glenda,
Thanks for taking the time to respond to my wife’s email (given at the bottom). I was excited to see what response your organization would give (if you gave one at all). As you can imagine, this has been a healthy discussion in our home throughout the years, especially since we’ve chosen – both of us – to work outside of the home.

I thought that I might respond to your email and the implicit theology you present. I have three degrees in biblical studies and theology and have taught in schools and churches for about 12 years. I’m currently a pastor of an evangelical church and professor of religion. I don’t say that to impress. I only want to make the point that you and we are Christians, and that I’ve had some professional training on how to read the Bible.

I just wanted to offer a few points in response. I know that this will probably make no difference in your programming or Dennis’ theology. But, just in case there hasn’t been healthy disagreement with your company’s message before, I might be able to offer some constructive comments. To help elucidate my comments, I’ll give your information first and then respond.

Please consider that a complete theology of this hot topic could not be discussed in this brief 90 second program, but you can read the transcript at:
My wife’s point wasn’t that whenever you speak about a woman’s role in 90 seconds, you should proffer an entire biblical and theological explanation. Rather, her point was that in 90 seconds, to offer such a one-sided opinion on this “hot topic” is not a good idea when there is so much at stake. This is especially the case when there is no biblical support for your argument (more of this below).
The pendulum has swung so far away from home and motherhood that Dennis was reminding us of the value of both in God’s economy. That does not mean he is opposed to education or other opportunities for young women. You might want to know that Dennis and Barbara’s daughters went to college and worked before marriage.  His oldest daughter, Ashley, is still involved in the broadcast as co-host with Bob Lepine on the weekend program. This part-time position, however, does not prevent her from fulfilling her role as wife and mother to five children.
Here, you have made two points: (1) “Home” and “motherhood” have left God’s “economy” (I’m not sure what this means); (2) Dennis’ daughters went to college, and work, at least one of them, part-time, because apparently she is unable to work full-time and be a “wife and mother to five children.” For some reason, her motherhood would be stripped from her if she were to work more than 39 hours a week. I’ll now respond to these two points:

(1) I’m uncertain how the home and motherhood have left God’s economy so I can’t speak to that. If by that you mean that we in the West have tended to value consumerism and “climbing to the top” at the expense of building up our families, then you are correct and that is easy enough to defend biblically. This, however, does not mean that a mother having a career outside the home is therefore evil or wrong or sinful. Moreover, you should condemn fathers in the same breath you are condemning mothers, and not to do so is plainly sexist.
(2) Your second point concerning Dennis’ daughters’ roles is irrelevant to what you’re arguing. You are arguing that it is a binding, biblical, God-given mandate that every woman should not spend time doing anything else (for monetary gains? Can they feed the homeless more? Do mission work more?) more than they spend time with their families (cf. your comment: That is a lot different than a “career” in which the mother is away from her children more than she is with them.) In other words, just because Dennis’ daughters might not be able to be sufficient, Godly mothers to their families if they work full-time, it does not mean that no other mother on the planet can do it. Moreover, it does not mean that God is displeased with every mother who does work full time.

The virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 is a good example of an intelligent woman whose priority is her husband and household, but she can still handle business transactions as well as having a heart for the poor.  Because of the admiration she receives from her husband and children, little doubt is left as to her faithfulness to God and the family.  That is a lot different than a “career” in which the mother is away from her children more than she is with them. . .Therefore, we are committed to presenting a biblical framework through which couples can rightly evaluate their priorities
And this is the weakest part of your argument. You are in fact not giving a “biblical framework” for priorities, you are using part—not all—of a chapter from Proverbs to make your entire theological foundation for women not working outside the home.  This begs the logical question: why choose the end of chapter 31 as God-binding, but ignore the rest? Let’s see what the text actually says:

Proverbs 31:1 (NRS) The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him:
2 No, my son! No, son of my womb! No, son of my vows!
3 Do not give your strength/value/worth to women, your ways to those who destroy kings.
Why isn’t Dennis giving 90 second sound bites concerning how men should never give over their “strength” (= the Hebrew can mean “value” or “worth”) to women (v. 3)? The reason why the author of Proverbs is saying this is because it was axiomatic in the ancient world: women were inferior to men. Every single race and nation believed that, even during the time of Jesus. If you’d like some good literature on this topic, I’d be happy to suggest it. The point here is that only men have value/worth/strength, and they should not relinquish that to women. Surely your organization doesn’t teach this, does it?
6 Give strong drink to one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress;
7 let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more.
Moreover, why isn’t Dennis giving 90 second sound bites concerning how men are supposed to get poor people and distressed people drunk with wine in order to cope with their conditions (v. 6-7)?
13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away.
15 She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls.
Does my wife need to be a textile maker (v 13)? Do we have to buy food that is not made nearby our house (v 14)? Does my wife need to buy servant girls? What if we can’t afford it? Are we sinning if we can’t buy more than one servant girls? (v 15) What about US laws concerning slavery?
16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
As long as she doesn’t spend more time planting the field than she does with her family, right? What if we can’t afford a vineyard in this economy?
18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.
What if we have electricity? And the point here is that she works all night long. This ideal woman won’t stop working.
21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson.
We’re sunk on this one: we live in Houston. It’ll never snow. Also, we have clothes that are other colors than crimson. I assume Dennis’ family only wears crimson, while his wife wears “fine linen and purple” (v 22).
And on and on and on.

My point is simple but profound: you are stripping Bible verses out of context to make your pre-determined point. This is not the best way to have integrity with Scripture. Surely, if the part of Prov 31 that is written concerning women is supposed to be a God-given mandate for all women at all times, then the first part of Prov 31 is a God-given mandate for all men at all times. But, I bet Dennis doesn’t believe this is true. I bet he’s not handing out Bud Lights to homeless people on the weekends because he doesn’t want poor people to feel distress. Ripping verses out of biblical context is the fastest way to develop heresies. These few examples show that the Bible cannot be taken out of biblical and historical context, and his radio broadcast (and your response) does just that.

We do understand there are cases where a mother will find it necessary to work outside the home (e.g. financial distress, single parenthood, etc.)  However, we also believe some couples have made career and lifestyle choices that result in de-emphasizng the mother’s role as nurturer. .
I’m assuming that “career and lifestyle choices” means “she gets a full-time job that is not at home.” I’m sorry; I don’t understand how a mother’s working to gain income is a stymie to her ability to be a “nurturer.” I have known plenty of Godly, Christian mothers who were and are very nurturing and they worked 40 hours a week.

Dennis Rainey: My daughter Rebecca was gifted in gymnastics. One time I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She replied “a gymnastics instructor”. I thought about it and then told her, if that’s what God has for you, nothing would make me happier. But, if He calls you to marry, and gives you the privelege of being a mom, I would be just as proud of you.”
Dennis! Come on brother, you cannot really mean to assume that a woman cannot be – at the same time – a gymnastics instructor AND a mother! Really? This is merely absurd. I’m not sure he meant to express that assumption or not.

That story probably makes some people cringe. Some might even say that I’m trying to resurrect the Ozzie and Harriet home of the 1950′s. Well, the church is now staggering under the weight of broken homes, yet we continue to push our daughters toward the marketplace — at the expense of the family.
Again, here are two more assertions, and not an argument. You have yet to demonstrate that (1) “broken homes” are caused by women in the marketplace; (2) women are theonly cause to broken homes. Why be so blatantly sexist? Could men have something to do with “broken homes” (whatever that means)? Is it not much more extremely likely that it is not “the marketplace” that is the devil, but rather, the parents who are slacking on their responsibilities? Do you really put all the blame on “the marketplace”? And if so, why is it that men can handle the marketplace, while women cannot? Is it because you do not think fathers should be “nurturers” or just as active in the home as the mothers are? If you do, you will have a really hard time defending from the Bible or church tradition the belief that fathers can be active in the marketplace, and still be good fathers, while women are apparently incompetent in such a role.

One final thought. To become a wife and a mother, according to the scriptures, is a noble endeavor. The time has come for Christians to reaffirm these biblical roles for our daughters. Listen to this last girl, and what she wants to be when she grows up.Girl 3: “I want to be a mother of twins,a boy and a girl.”Dennis Rainey: You know that’s great. I’m Dennis Rainey, and that my friends is Real Family Life.

Here, yet again, you make this assumption: being a mother = not being anything else. Why in the world have this false dichotomy? On what moral, biblical, or logical grounds can you seriously believe that mothers cannot be, at the same time, mothers AND artists, managers, entrepreneurs, (and I won’t even mention their role as ministers in this response), and anything else a man can do? Again, what is it that makes women so feeble, incompetent, or inferior to men that men can be active in the marketplace and still be a “father,” while women must choose between the marketplace and motherhood?
Well, I’m done. To make clear my points:
  1. Please don’t strip biblical passages out of context to fit your preconceived philosophies on the home. Of course, you can do what you’d like in the privacy of your own home (though I still don’t recommend it). But, from one Bible teacher to another, please don’t do this for tens of thousands of people to hear. This teaches people that the Bible is like an “inkblot” – it can mean whatever it is you want it to mean as long as a few people agree with you. Surely, we as Christian exegetes can do a better job.
  2. I would love some good, biblical grounds for arguing that women cannot or should not be in the marketplace. You will have to dig in different ground than Prov 31. So far, I can’t find one bit of evidence in that one, particular part of our 66 books (for Protestants) of the Bible that defends your point that women must choose between “marketplace” and “motherhood.” This is especially the case when Prov. 31 is speaking about women who work constantly in the marketplace! The very passage you think is evidence works against you. Furthermore, there is nothing in Prov 31 at all that says mothers must spend more time with their children than in the marketplace. If we read closely, we can easily see that the author of Prov 31 is trying to paint the ideal – and never to be found – superwife and supermother according to the standards of 4-5 cent. BC Israel (v. 10: “A strong/valuable/worthy (the same Hebrew word as in v. 3) wife who can find?”)
Finally, it’s worth noting that my mother was “in the marketplace,” my wife’s mother was “in the marketplace,” and all of my friends’ mothers were “in the marketplace.” And on top of all it, my Dad left my family! My mom raised me alone for seven years, while working multiple jobs. How is it that I, and several of my friends with similar stories, ended up healthy, well-adjusted people if it is a God-given mandate that mothers in the marketplace make broken homes?

If your point is that parents – and not just mothers – are failing their families when they abandon them to other things or prideful ambitions (with examples?), then why not just say that? Or better yet, why not encourage parents, since this world is tough enough as it is. How about praying for mothers on the air for 90 seconds to ask for God’s wisdom as they try to provide for their families and be the best Godly mom they can be. And of course, spend the next 90 seconds doing it for fathers.

And that would be “real family life.”

Thanks for your time,
David W Pendergrass, PhD