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Yes, You Can Be a Mother and an Egalitarian Christian

The Complementarian Christian teaching is that a woman's role is being a supportive wife and mother.  In their efforts to highly esteem motherhood, they prohibit other options for women to be worthy. They may say that God assigns women a 'complementary' subservient role with no authority or power and that wives are subject to their husbands in all things. They may say that Egalitarian Christians, in advocating for equal opportunities for women and men, are harming the family unit and are not really Christian at all.


Growing up with the idea that children were essential likely aggravated my pain during my time of infertility. The teaching that women must be wives and mothers to be honoured can be harmful. It is also unbiblical. After God created humans, God blessed them that they might be fruitful and rule over the earth. Having children was a blessing, not a command. And God gave the blessing to the man and woman; it is a blessing to both the father and the mother to have children. God gave the responsibility of taking charge of the earth to both the man and the woman. The Bible tells children to obey both their mother and their father (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1). Proverbs 31 attests to a variety of work that various women may do: provide food and clothing for her family (v. 13-15), buys and sells land, grows crops (v. 16-18), helps the community (v. 20), and she gives wisdom and instruction (v. 26). Neither the man nor the woman has more responsibility in the home or in the community.


An Egalitarian Christian does not oppose women being mothers. Affirming that all people are equal frees women and men to be awesome, involved parents. If you are a single mom, a woman with a career, in a relationship that requires a female breadwinner, or in a couple that requires a double income, you have come to the right place.


Egalitarian Christians know that all believers are subject to God's authority, not man's. Egalitarian Christians know that you become a Christian by following God, not by obeying your husband. Egalitarian Christians know that faith in Jesus means loving, respecting, and serving one another, regardless of gender. Egalitarian Christians advocate for women and men to use whatever gifts the Spirit gives them in whatever way God individually calls them.


Let me share stories of motherhood in three egalitarian marriages: my parents, myself and my daughter.


My Parents

At first glance, one may think my mother was traditional. She stopped teaching after her fourth child, had dinner ready when dad got home, did the dishes and housekeeping, sewed clothing, gardened, canned and froze vegetables, cooked for large groups, and contributed to the church bazaar and women’s groups.


But that is only half the story. My mother was an equal partner in their marriage, did bookkeeping for the family farm and was a co-owner of their farm. She became a community leader, advocated for farm safety, and recruited and trained Girl Guide leaders. She campaigned and was elected as a Trustee of the Board of Education and was a voice in negotiations about teachers’ salaries and other leadership issues. She also became a representative at the regional and national level church meetings, and she became the first layperson to be chair of the region for her denomination. She supervised student pastoral interns, giving feedback and advice to men and women preparing for ordination. She spoke from the pulpit to large groups about church policies, theology, fundraising and mission work.


Her husband believed that the Bible tells women and men to serve as equal partners. My father was not threatened by my mother’s notoriety. Yes, he


While my dad was traditional in some ways, being the disciplinarian and establishing his sons in farming, he encouraged my mother to go out and develop her public speaking and leadership skills. He was not threatened because my mother was widely known in church schools. He laughed to be known as the “husband of” in some church circles. His wife was excelling in her chosen fields, and he was proud of her sermons and successes.


My Generation

My parents encouraged an equal education for both their daughters and sons. As soon as we were eligible, we each got our driver's licenses and part-time jobs earning our own money. My father talked about the necessity of girls having an education and their own income. He shares stories of local women who were divorced or whose partners were unemployed, disabled or died young. He wanted us, as daughters, to be financially capable of taking care of ourselves. He encouraged my interest in a business major because it could provide good career potential. As a woman, I was in the minority in business school, and this remained the case when I became an investment broker and life insurance agent. When I graduated during a recession and began a career in sales, my dad helped me buy a car and shared sales strategies that he used when selling seed corn.

My husband also encouraged me in my field. He grew up in a home where his parents both worked as teachers, both cooked, both cleaned, both planned vacations, and both made financial decisions. My husband was not threatened when my business eventually grew and I became the higher earner. He was proud of my professional financial expertise and successes and we both thanked God for it.


I felt I was helping people by providing financial planning. However, I never considered that being a businesswoman would preclude being a mother. I desperately wanted to have children. After several years, doctors identified no clear cause of our infertility. We were in our 30s when we began an adoption application and learned that we were already too old to be accepted by some agencies and countries. In addition, my unpredictable commission income and my husband's short-term contracts were a disadvantage in our application. Our application to foster children was denied, citing our “naivety and lack of experience.” I felt depressed and hopeless. Reading the Bible stories of infertility as God's judgement on women and hearing churches teach the importance of motherhood reduced my ability to participate in family-style Christian gatherings.


Finally, fertility treatments were successful; God blessed us with twins, and later a third child. The experience gave me a lasting empathy for those who feel hopeless and gratitude and appreciation for our three daughters.


Being self-employed, I did not want to lose the business I had built, and I did not have income from maternity benefits, so I continued working at reduced hours. I did not consider the cost of spending time with our children; it was a joy and a reward to be with them. Our daughters had a loving neighbour babysit them when their father and I worked. They learned independence and social skills by being with a small group of other children with their babysitter.


My husband appreciated being in charge of our daughters when I visited clients in the evenings. His masculinity was not threatened by doing diapers, childcare or housecleaning. When I cooked, he did the dishes. If we were both too busy to clean the house, we hired a cleaner. We limited the children’s after-school activities to what we could manage, each of us taking turns driving them to programs. We each volunteered to lead programs and accompany the children on school trips.


I was providing an inspiring example to our daughters by being a working professional. They could see my accomplishments, watch me overcome setbacks, and celebrate my successes. We encouraged them to pursue an education and a career to suit their gifts. We gave our daughters the values of working hard, thinking about ideas, voicing their views, and respecting others.


Next Generation

We now have one grandchild, and his mother continued to pursue her education and career after his birth. Our son-in-law was accustomed to seeing his divorced Christian mom as head of the family. My daughter and her husband helped the church set up and take down chairs and make congregational breakfasts. My daughter was an elder at their church for a time. Our daughter and her husband shared parental leave so that each could have several months to bond with and nurture the baby. Neither was penalized in their career for this leave. During Covid, my husband and I each babysat our grandson one day per week, seeing it as an opportunity to build a relationship and watch him grow. I believe it benefited our grandson to see both male and female caregivers. Both men and women must model the fruits of the spirit: compassion, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-24). Our grandson benefits from knowing that both his mommy and daddy work and have something of value to contribute to society. Now our grandson is in part-time daycare and enjoys being friends with other children and learning from them.


What is Your Call?

three women
Elaine Kelly with her mother and one of her daughters

We are proud of our three daughters, whether or not they have children. God does not command or call every woman or man to parenthood.


My struggles with infertility made me critical of those choosing to have fewer children or no children at all. Now I see that it is neither selfish nor unselfish to have children. Neither being a mother nor being child-free is a higher calling. The Bible recognizes that some are called to remain single for assorted reasons (Matthew 19:12, 1 Corinthians 7:8).


Believing that life would be meaningless without children was harmful to me, and increased my pain at infertility. It would have been healthier to realize that God gives our lives meaning and purpose, with or without children. Each of us is gifted, equipped, and called differently, and our calling may change at various life stages. We have gifts that differ according to God’s grace, regardless of gender; they are prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhorting, generosity, leading, compassion, and cheerfulness (Romans 12:6-8). The church needs to honour those who are single or child-free just as it honours those who are parents. Let’s not define motherhood narrowly as those who work only at home. Parenting is a relationship, not a career alternative. All parents are full-time parents.


Being a mother is not God’s highest calling for a woman. When Jesus was speaking, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the womb that carried You and the breasts at which You nursed!” (Luke 11:26-28 NASB). This statement reduced the mother of Jesus to her physical reproductive organs, much the same as the Complementarian teaching reduces a woman's value to being a submissive wife and mother.


Jesus corrected that idea by replying, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and follow it.” Jesus does not honour women for their wombs and breasts; he honours women for hearing and following God’s word. That is the highest calling of all.




 

Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with historical fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:

  • Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, Book 1

  • The Sword A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role

  • Because She Was Called: from Broken to Bold, Book 2, A Novel of the Early Church, imagines Mary Magdalene's trip to testify before the emperor

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