To Launder or Not to Launder? Christianity Today Hosts Debate on “Dad Moms”

Some of you took note of the “Dad Mom” post I ran a couple of weeks back in reference to a commercial by Tide detergent.  The ad showed a man folding laundry and avowing that he loved “being awesome” and working at home while his wife brought home the bacon.

I wrote a short response to the commercial which drew an intense response on the part of evangelical egalitarians.  Christianity Today took note of the conflagration on Twitter and elsewhere and soon agreed to run a two-part debate on the subject between Laura Ortberg Turner, daughter of prominent California pastor John Ortberg, and me.  As of today, both parts have been published.  I strongly encourage you to read them both.

Here’s a snatch from Laura’s piece, which critiqued my original blog post:

More even than that, however, is the notion that Jesus would have insisted on maintaining a masculine image that would have kept him far from the laundry room, the kitchen, and anything that might smack of femaleness. It is hard to imagine the Jesus who washed his disciples’ feet and cooked them breakfast and said that slaves were the model of greatness turning up his nose at laundry as something beneath his masculine dignity. We can imagine many figures in the ancient world who would have ferociously guarded their masculine dignity—Samson, Alexander the Great, Caesar Augustus. Jesus, it seems to me, would be at the bottom of that particular list.

Here’s some of my response to Laura:

The question, though, is whether I am to take on the burden of such work as a man. My read of numerous scriptural texts is that I am not. I try to help out where I can, but I am called of God to break my back to provide for my family so that my wife can care for my children and also my home in order that they and it might flourish. The pattern for such a life comes from texts both obvious and less expected. Genesis 3:16 shows that the Fall brings the curse to bear on the woman’s sphere of cultivation: children. Verse 18 shows that the Fall brings the curse to bear on the man’s sphere of cultivation: provision, whether located in the four walls of the house or outside it. We are redeemed from the curse, but not from God’s wise plan—and childbearing and provision are not effects of the Fall.

It is men who are out in the fields and tending the sheep in the Old Testament, not women; that seems so plain as to be obvious. The proverbial husband is outside the home in Proverbs 31, providing and leading, while the proverbial wife cares for and nourishes the home and family. Titus 2:5 upholds exactly this kind of arrangement. Women, not men, are to work at home.

I would encourage you to go to the Her.meneutics blog and read both pieces (Laura’s and mine) and scrutinize them according to Scripture.  It is not my word that should be trusted, after all, but God’s.

I appreciate the CT Her.meneutics blog hosting this debate and for giving this self-professed “Dad dad” a chance to talk respectfully about disagreements in the evangelical camp.  It’s clear that Laura is a sharp thinker and a strong writer, and I’m always thankful for a principled conversation.

Now, if you will excuse me, I’ve got to get back to “being awesome.”


  • Suzanne McCarthy


    I have often been curious as to whether there is any verse in the Bible which establishes the husband as provider. In Gen. 3:17, the ground is cursed. My understanding is that in ancient agriculture, that is the hoe culture, preceding the plough culture, women were the main tillers of soil as we see in Africa today. In the nomadic culture, women and children took part in animal care. Women provided most of the textiles, the major commodity, and ground the grain. This was literal physical back-breaking provision for the family.

    Proverbs 31 gives a picture of a woman making all provisions for her family in back-breaking and arm strengthening labour. The husband sits in the gates and does not labour.

    Women in the NT like Lydia, Dorcas and Prisca worked alongside men. I am not aware of ANY verse in the Bible which indicates that men provide, rather than that we are all as adults responsible to provide.

  • J.R.

    Owen, I’m a complimentarian and have to say that your arguments didn’t bode very well for our side (ie, being a Godly man according to the scripture).

    In particular your conclusion was the most troublesome, when you wrote:
    “Now, if you will excuse me, I must be off. I have a full day ahead: from 9-5 I need to provide, from 5-8:30 I must plug in with my wife as a Christ-shaped, self-sacrificial leader, and then I must rest..”

    Absolutely no mention of Fatherhood here connotes exactly the tap root of modern feminism.
    My question generally: Are you the head of your home or not??

    Seems you (and the whole 50′s mindset that you apparently represent) inadvertantly delegate the role of head to your wife — AND simultaneously deny her her Biblical role to live and serve in all aspects of God’s kingdom — specifically, the three reformed spheres of vocation.

    You essentially pin female children of God to the sphere of home, when they (we all) are called to fulfill callings in all spheres of God’s kingdom as — co-heirs in Christ — male and female in God’s Kingdom.

    Certainly, as a complimentarian I hold that there are distinctives for male and female in how these callings are applied. But your article here does not nuance these distinctives Biblically or geniunely at all. thanks.

  • Christian Gifts

    Thank you for your informative and thought provoking article. Everyday with Jesus is everyday fulfilled!!!

  • eddystonelight

    Owen, my wife sent me your “Dad Mom” article. . . gender roles and masculine immaturity have suddenly become hot topics in my church in Japan! I’ll keep reading; thanks for your thoughts.

    I would agree that many modern men have trouble coming to terms with their responsibilities to the women in their lives. It’s true, too, that families often work best if one partner can keep house. If everyone works, then the dishes pile up and no one gets to rest on the weekends.

    However, I have another exception to add to the lengthy list of them appended to your previous post: My wife has had a clear call from God to her specific job. I don’t — or at least I haven’t in the past. We’re both teachers, and we both work full-time, without kids of our own. For most of the years of our marriage, she’s flourished while God has moved her from one difficult, inner-city school to another. We have almost identical degrees, and I’ve generally worked as hard as her, but I’ve had none of the obvious fruits that she has had.

    At the moment, my star appears to be waxing at last, and it’s conceivable that in the future I will become the sole proverbial “breadwinner” — I am very ready for it! But it would be really hard for my wife to leave her job completely; she does it extremely well, and not by nature or accident. It’s impossible of course to prove that objectively, but please believe me as a Christian when I say that God has repeatedly placed her precisely where He wants her to be. I’m talking about teen moms framing letters of encouragement she wrote to them, and runaways seeking her out & being convinced to finish high school.

    Three or four years ago, I found myself under-employed, while Jenny held a full-time job. I subbed three days a week and pursued other avenues, but for about eight months I took the supporting role. It worked; it was phenomenal. I was able to keep the house clean, help her relax at night, and give her my undivided attention when she talked about her day in the classroom. There is an extreme value in having one partner help like that. I’m now working full-time again, and I’d love to have my wife stay at home and support me that way at some point in the future. I just don’t think it always has to be her.

    Suzanne has a good point when she says that, in agrarian societies, women often “man” the plows. Biblically, they sometimes even leave home to glean in the fields of others, in order to provide for themselves as well as for the poorer families. And while it does make sense to read the “childbirth” in Gen. 3 as a synecdoche for all of child-rearing (though that’s not the only reasonable way to read it), childhood and child-rearing are intensely culturally defined concepts. Women with nursing infants might not be able to help with the harvest, but as soon as the kids are old enough to stay out of the way, farming women often go back to work. Why should we take the serious farm work women definitely did in OT times and equate it merely with the very different task of keeping a modern, suburban home?

    As for Titus 2: Paul assumes that women will be at home; he doesn’t command that they should be. Elsewhere in the chapter, Paul assumes his society practices slavery; he doesn’t intend for them to. If women stay at home, they should keep busy; if there are slaves, they should be trustworthy. As far as I can tell, there’s no need to read this as either an echo of Genesis 3 or a divine mandate for keeping women out of the public sphere.

    • Rachael Starke

      Your last paragraph sums up my objections/concerns perfectly – the issue is one of fruitfulness, not mere location. By the standard you are arguing, Owen, even the Proverbs 31 woman was violating the mandate of Titus 2 by leaving the home and making money along the way.

      I appreciate this discussion, even if I don’t agree with the narrowness of the perspective articulated here. Complementarians need to be challenged to think, speak and live in way that displays the glory of God from all of Scripture, not just culturally-informed pet sections.

      • owenstrachan

        Eddy and Rachael,

        Thank you for your comments and thoughtful, respectful tone. It’s nice to encounter such a tone in a charged discussion.

        So you know, I don’t see a scriptural conflict with a woman making money while raising kids. I don’t think that Scripture anywhere holds up an example of a woman as a “breadwinner,” so to speak (and I challenge the other side to find such a text), but I don’t think that that means that a woman can’t contribute in myriad ways to the financial flourishing of her home. By the way, I am in no way suggesting that women did not contribute in many ways to their agrarian home economies. I’m sure they did, even as farming women do today (my family back in New England includes many farmers). The point, though, is that the man takes on the onus of such work. He does not see himself as primarily responsible for the kids; he must, according to the scriptural plan, take on the burden of provision. That, and not the 100 other issues one can discuss, is what my original “Dad Mom + Man Fail” post was about. It wasn’t about what women shouldn’t do! But I digress.

        For the record–and I’ve said this before–I’ve known Christian women over the years whose economic involvement in their family’s well-being has taken many shapes: starting a small business online, writing to support the family on the side, doing Avon or Tupperware or jewelry selling work, tutoring children, and much more. I’m completely, totally fine with that; female members of my own family may someday do some piano lessons on the side if they like. I see that kind of activity as resolutely Proverbs 31ish. May a thousand small business endeavors bloom at the hands of the complementarian woman.

        Where I do grow concerned, though, is when evangelicals act as if there are no basic roles assigned to men and women, as I think Scripture clearly teaches. It is not a matter of gifting or calling, it is a matter of fidelity to God’s plan. Yes, men nurture in certain ways, and yes, women can help provide. But unlike Tide’s “Dad mom” who folds laundry while his wife works, I am firmly convicted by the need to break my back to provide for my family. That I see as biblical. I am not, after all, called to be “working at home” in the Titus 2 sense. My wife is. She can definitely assist in Proverbs 31ish ways in the financial tasks before us.

        All of this sounds non-decorous, but it is an attempt to be 1) biblical and 2) chivalrous in (hopefully) all the right ways. Remember, my burden is not to limit women, but to rouse men. That was the point of the post, and that is the center of my thinking.

  • Suzanne McCarthySue

    I have puzzled a lot over Gen 3:16 and 17. I do think that verse 16 refers to child rearing and that it entails an enormous sorrow to both parents, expecially when children die young as so often happened. Remember David calling out to God when his baby died. Men are not excused from this grief.

    Likewise in verse 17 – men and women both eat, they both work the soil, and they both return to dust. Verse 16 and verse 17 are not to be understand as if verse 16 applied only to women, and verse 17 applied only to men. Not only men die, women die also.

    Since women share fully in the fate of men, in the back breaking labour of food provision, and in returning to the soil when we die, men, should in return treat women as fully responsible partners, as fully human, as fully designed to be providers and leaders.

  • Rachael Starke

    Owen – thanks for your clarifying thoughts – very helpful. Perhaps the crux of our “disagreement” is in the definition of “role” – you seem to define it more broadly according to activity, while I define it more according to approach. (And when I say you or I “define” it, I’m of course acknowledging both of our intent to be in agreement with God’s definition, not He with ours!) I put the word “disagreement” in quotes because I think, given the opportunity for something other than a blog comment dialog, we’d be sharpened by eachother’s perspective and find that we agree more than we disagree. :) I’d write more, but I’m off to help my husband by going to sign a bunch life insurance documents now – perhaps later. Full disclosure – the timing of this series is providential. I have three daughters, one of whom I’m about to start a Bible study with after she asked me “Mom, what makes women different from men, other than their…” And tomorrow I begin a (temporarily, is my prayer) full-time job, after ten years of being a Mom and part-time high tech consultant. Your exhortations don’t got unheard, and give me much food for thought. i think we’re in a unique season in church history, where the church is reexamining a lot of issues around gender-identity, seasons of life, and identity in Christ. One blog dialog isn’t going to answer all the questions, But it’s a start!

  • owenstrachan

    Great words, Rachael. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate your irenic tone. I’m guessing you’re right, that we agree widely here. There can definitely be seasons when a wife must work, whether she really wants to or not. I’ve seen that personally. This is a very tough economic time.

    I think you’re right about this period of time. There is a great deal to think about, particularly as the Christian cultural consensus collapses. My major concern, again, is that men be men.

    Many godly women will find all kinds of outlets for their various gifts, and I don’t have any problem with a wide range of activity that does not take the wife and mom away from her primary work. I do not, however, apologize in any way for believing that women are uniquely positioned to provide love and care to their children and home and that men are uniquely positioned to provide materially for their families. In terms of church history, that is a perspective broadly shared by the Reformers, the Puritans, and the Edwardseans, which is a matter that I think I or someone else needs to research and write about, because almost no one in this entire conversation at any point has brought up the wise voices from church history that practiced complementarianism. That is the overwhelming perspective of the church through the ages, and while that is not determinative for us, it is certainly important.

    Anyway, thanks for those thoughts, Rachael. Blessings to you in your Bible study with your daughter–what a great thing to do.

    • J.R.

      Owen, why have you chosen not to answer my agruments in #2?? Your Christianity Today article started off with you referring to the “Dad Dad” over against the “Dad Mom”, but yet you made absolutely no reference to actually being a Dad in your home.

      My problem with the form of complimenarianism as you’ve posed it is:
      1- The way you phrased it, it appears that you have or that you approve of the idea of delegating the head of the home to your wife.
      2 – You define your wife’s role in such a way that she is only permitted to serve in the sphere of the home (no mention of church and restriction from community outside of the home). Both of these seem very unbiblical, even for me as a complimentarian.

      The fact that you have engaged with other commenters and not me is perplexing.

  • J.R.

    I’m going to assume that Owen is under conviction and doesn’t have any response to these concerns. An answer to prayer. Praise God!

    • owenstrachan

      JR, I’m under conviction to respond to your cheeky response. In all seriousness, I don’t really know what you’re saying. No, I don’t delegate headship to my wife. No, she’s not permitted only to serve in the home. That’s not my take at all. Read the 9Marks piece that I linked to a few weeks ago on “The Genesis of Gender” to see more of my views on what women can do.