I recently came across a fascinating piece of propaganda called “Men as Providers.”
It was an article published on the Council of Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW)’s blog several years back. Their stated mission is to “set forth the teachings of the Bible about the complementary differences between men and women.”
So far so good.
But as I delved into the article I realized that the advice given, as noble as it sounded, was precisely the line of thinking that almost shipwrecked my marriage a few years back.
Since this rhetoric is so pervasive in conservative church culture, I thought it’d be worth a quick analysis here.
The article opens with the claim “Christian men are called to provide for their families.”
Hard to disagree with that.
Then 1 Timothy 5:8 is used as authoritative backing of that claim:
“But if any man does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
There are two red flags here.
One is that shameful rhetoric is entirely unnecessary. You should always be suspicious of an argument that opens with shame.
Shame is a fear trigger. Being shamed means you are rejected by the group. And when your mind is in a state of fear, it cannot think rationally. And the elimination of rational thought is the necessary condition for making people receptive to false ideas.
Shaming can be used for good, of course. That’s what Paul does. But that brings us to the second red flag:
The author is using Paul’s words in an entirely different context!
If you look up Paul’s argument in context, it goes something like this:
Do not scold your elders.
Honor (true) widows:
- A widow’s children or grandchildren should learn to reciprocate love by providing for their own mother/grandmother (i.e. the church should not intervene)
- A true widow is a woman who has no family to provide for her
- A woman who squanders her resources is as good as dead
- A man who refuses to provide for his own [widowed relatives], and especially his family [mother, grandmother] is worse than an unbeliever.
Qualifications for a true widow:
- Not under 60 years old
- Remained married to her husband
- Known for good works
So we see that the point of Paul’s rhetoric was to shame men who refused to provide for their poor old mothers.
But this context is not even hinted at in the article. Instead, the rhetoric is re-purposed for something entirely different:
One of the most God-glorifying pictures of the gospel is when a man puts his childhood dreams to the side, steps up to the plate, gets a job, and valiantly cares for his family.
Now we see the true intention of this article: to motivate men to give up on their dreams and settle for a job that is less desirable to them.
The author says that “this is a man dying to self and living for another.”
Finally, the author concludes with this:
Our hearts break when we see a man who selfishly refuses a job because it does not align with his dreams while his wife and kids suffer. We are not alone in condemning this man. Scripture condemns him too. He is worse than an unbeliever.
By “suffering”, I’m assuming the author means having a smaller kitchen than her friends, having to shop at a thrift store, and not being able to travel. 21st century life is difficult.
Kill the Dream, Kill the Marriage
The irony of this advice is this is the exact line of reasoning that got my marriage in trouble in the first place.
I married my wife while in college. During my junior year I realized I was wasting my time and wanted to drop out and go into business.
But my wife didn’t want me to because she valued college degrees and the economic security it represented. So I stuck with it and got my degree.
When I graduated college, I had no marketable skills. And these supposed jobs that hire anyone with a college degree didn’t exist.
But I realized one thing about myself: I was an entrepreneur at heart. I knew that, with the right skills and perseverance, I could make money on my own.
But it took longer than expected. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
So my wife begged me to get a regular job with a steady paycheck. So I found a writing job that paid $12/hour.
I absolutely hated that job. The company was dishonest and constantly took on clients that we couldn’t help. I was instructed to lie to get writing opportunities and had to write about topics I had no real-world qualifications to write about.
I wanted to quit the job. But my wife wanted the steady paycheck.
I told myself I was doing the right thing by gritting my teeth and “providing for my family.”
I felt like a trapped and emasculated man. I began to despise both myself and my wife.
I began to vent my frustrations on her. Our sex life dried up. I started making stupid financial decisions out of desperation to escape my hated situation.
It wasn’t until I quit that job and reclaimed pursuing my mission that our marriage got back on track.
Don’t buy into the shameful rhetoric.
A must do what he was created to do.