When Tobin Grant, political-science professor at Southern Illinois University, analyzed General Social Survey data from 2006, he found that nearly half of evangelical Christians agreed with this statement: “It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” Forty-one percent agreed that “a preschool child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works.” For these evangelicals, a woman’s place in the world is to get married, bear children, and support her breadwinning husband.
Katelyn Beaty—the managing editor of Christianity Today, America’s largest evangelical Christian publication—has set out to change this notion of gender. Her new book, A Woman’s Place, claims to reveal “the surprising truth about why God intends every woman to work.” This declaration may surprise many of her magazine’s 80,000 print subscribers and 5 million monthly website visitors. And it may also rouse many of her fellow evangelicals who believe her ideas defy the Bible’s clear teaching, if not qualifying as outright heresy. While Beaty knows criticism may be coming her way, she is making a conservative Christian case for working women.“I’m wanting to tell wives and mothers that there is so much inherent goodness in the call to work and that we needn’t pit certain types of roles against each other,” Beaty said. “There are ways to be a devoted wife and mother and a devoted CEO. In the church, we need to make space for women who feel called to both at the same time.”
The 31-year-old Beaty wasn’t always so outspoken about this idea. Three years ago, she broke off an engagement with her fiancé and was promoted to managing editor on the same day. With her dreams of marriage and motherhood sidelined at least temporarily, she embraced her leadership role. But Beaty said she has experienced some resistance as a result of her gender….Much of Beaty’s thinking might sound uncontroversial to those outside of her religious community, but her ideas may rankle many insiders. While most Americans support equality of rights and opportunities for women in every social sphere, many conservative Christians have resisted this view. One such Christian group is the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), which was founded in 1987 to combat feminism and promote the idea that God has assigned men and women have “distinct and complementary roles.” Part of the rationale for their work is what they perceive as a “widespread ambivalence regarding the values of motherhood [and] vocational homemaking” within American culture. CBMW believes husbands are to be the primary providers for their families and offer leadership as the heads of their homes and churches. Wives are called to be submissive to their husband’s leadership and “forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority.”Owen Strachan, the president of CBMW and co-author of The Grand Design: Male and Female He Made Them, agreed with Beaty that God intends both men and women to work. But he said the work they are called to do is distinct. Men are to be the primary breadwinners—Strachan once controversially called stay-at-home dads “man fails”—who should not be “working at home” like women. He said the Bible teaches that a woman’s “intended sphere of labor” is the home. Deviation from this model is sinful, in his view….Beaty does not seem discouraged by the possibility of opposition. “For every stereotype of the Christian who is patriarchal in a negative way, or who wants to hold women back, I’ve encountered more Christians, even conservative Christian men, who have woken up to the weird gender dynamics in the church and the ways that women are quietly sidelined,” she said. “There’s a greater desire among those Christians to empower the women in their lives. They just don’t quite know how to do it yet.”