Friday, January 13, 2012

Can A Christian Be An At-Home Dad?

This discussion stems from what has been going on recently at the blog Clark Kent's Lunchbox.  Ron Mattocks has been stimulating discussion about the role of men as fathers and it all started with a commercial from Tide.  Yes, that very same Tide commercial that I looked at from a marketing standpoint.  Ron started with the issue of the cultural acceptance of at-home fathers, but brought up a very interesting point in his most recent post about the Christian point of view when it comes to the subject.  There is an argument that at-home dads are further proof of the erosion of masculinity, but I would argue the opposite.  I've never felt more complete as a man, and there are reasonable people who have done a great job responding to such claims, especially by pointing out that Jesus was not very masculine by traditional definitions - he washed the feet of his disciples, he cooked them breakfast, he did not retaliate with physical violence, and he said that slaves and children were the models of greatness in his kingdom.

One of the items Ron posted (and began to pick apart) was this video of Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll and his wife, Grace, talking about whether a Christian man can be an at-home dad.  See what you think of their reasoning, and read on for my thoughts.  For the record, there are only two points in this entire video that I see eye to eye with Pastor Driscoll and those are that daycare is not the preferred method of child rearing (although I can understand that some people need it, and I don't judge someone for utilizing the service) and that your status as a human being isn't based on your possessions (but you'll see that he is not willing to abandon the thought that your status as a man is directly related to your ability to bring home a paycheck).


Apparently, this lesson is supposed to be based on Song of Solomon 1:8-2:7 which is a dialogue between young lovers that ends with a warning from the young woman to other young maidens to "not arouse love before it desires" which is often interpreted that a man should pursue the woman he desires and not the opposite (that's an entirely different topic).  As you will see, these verses are never mentioned and have nothing to do with what they actually talk about.  Maybe if they had stayed on topic, we could have avoided this mess.  But I digress...

"It's hard to respect a man that is unwilling to provide."

If I were reading this without further explanation, I would say that I agree.  A father that is a dead-beat and does nothing to support his family physically, financially, spiritually or emotionally is hard to respect.  There are, of course, lunatics out there that preach that all stay-at-home dads are lazy and are going to hell.  But I don't think the Driscolls are painting that broad a brush stroke, and they don't talk about eternal judgement (just possible church discipline) as a consequence of being at at-home dad.  What happens next is the beginning of the sweater unraveling.  Grace quotes 1 Timothy 5:8 "Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." (NIV)

"...worse than an unbeliever."

Let's look at the context of this passage.  I prefer the method of exegesis ("reading out of the scriptures") to isogesis ("reading into the scriptures" usually to prove a point of your own).  The context of the letter to Timothy from Paul is written with the knowledge that Timothy is struggling to care for a divided flock, and the people he is having trouble with are older than him.  It is known that they look down on Timothy for his youth, and do not respect him as a leader.  Paul is advising Timothy on how to interact with these elders in order to gain their respect and lead them toward unity.  In chapter five, Paul is talking about how Timothy can gain their respect by treating them with respect.  He then advises Timothy on how to handle the widows of his community.  Paul instructs Timothy to encourage the young widow to remarry and have a new family while older widows are to be taken in or taken care of by their families (verse 4).  Just before verse eight, Paul tells Timothy to have the church step in to care for widows if their families will not.  After verse eight, Paul begins to define the terms of how the church can identify widows.  So, unless Paul stopped his train of thought to deliver social commentary on men of the household and their willingness earn a paycheck, he is still talking to Timothy about families caring for their own widows in verse eight.  And if you look back at the Greek text, the translation can vary.  Some versions say "care for" and others say "provide".  Paul is saying that the family, especially if they are of the faith, should take care of their own widows as to not place an extra burden on the church.  Anyone who uses this verse to comment on stay-at-home dads has taken it way out of context.  Not only that, anyone who defines the word "provide" as simply earning a paycheck has a very narrow definition of providing for their family.

  "... how different our kids would look if he was home with them."

If the couple is in agreement that the wife is the better primary caregiver, then it would make sense that they feel that she should stay home with them in the best interest of the children.  What if this is not the case?  What if the man is better suited to be the primary caregiver?  Should the best interest of the children not dictate that the man should stay home?  The important part of this segment is - they are both in agreement over their decision - therefore, there is peace in the home.

"As women, we're built to be home with our kids." 

I'm not exactly sure what she means by this, but she repeats it several times.  Once a child has stopped nursing, the differences between a husband and wife taking care of the children are not as noticeable.  The myth that moms are naturally better at caring for children is just that - a myth.  Studies have shown that if men are given the same amount of time and support, they develop child care skills at exactly the same rate as women.  Both genders are awkward with a newborn, but through time and support can grow into caring, nurturing parents.  Dwayne Wade was built to play in the NBA, but he was also built to be a dad.  Yes, I realize that he earns a giant paycheck, but I believe he would fight just as hard to take care of his children because of his desire to emotionally provide for them as much as he can financially provide for them.

 "The Titus 2 Woman" vs. "The Proverbs 31 Woman"

Interpretation of scripture is a very difficult thing.  I don't pretend to be an expert, but I take it seriously enough to not try to support my own agenda with it.  In the beginning verses of the book of Titus, Paul is writing to Titus  (who is ministering on the island of Crete, a place where the locals do not have a good reputation) about how to get the church in order, set up elders, and instruct the people in the teaching's of Jesus.  In chapter two verses four and five, Paul writes, "Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God" (NIV).  If you don't read verse six, you don't capture the spirit in which Paul is writing. "Similarly, encourage the men to be self-controlled" (NIV).  Paul's entire point is to instruct the people to be self-controlled.  That would be particularly helpful if your people have a reputation of being "liars and thieves" as Paul said in Titus 1:10-13.  I would presume that Paul is instructing the women to stay at home in order to keep them from falling into gossip, as he warns against in various other letters to churches.  And depending on your translation, the words "subject to" and "submissive" refer to a reverence or respect and not an abusive, dominating relationship as men are to "love their wives as Christ loves the Church."  This is not as much a directive to stay in their homes as as it is a practical idea to keep women from gossip and making the church look bad to unbelievers.  I would also bet that most at-home dads would tell you that when their wives are home from work, they are "busy at home" as the scripture says.        

The Proverbs 31 woman is a very popular example of what a Christian woman should strive to be; however, this passage is never brought up by the Driscolls.  Why?  Because it does not support their point that a man should be working and a woman should be at home caring for the children.  The Proverbs 31 woman purchases land, starts a business (vineyard), trades for profit, gives charitably, sells the clothing she makes and is not idle.  The Driscolls and John Hagee (video link above, see: "lunatics") would have you believe that at-home dads are lazy.  At-home dads are no "lazier" than at-home moms.  We both do essentially the same job, and although we may go about it with different techniques (along with our own strengths and weaknesses), I would bet that none of us consider ourselves lazy!

"... to just toss that (motherhood) aside like it can by done by anyone, I would say it's a selfish view.  Our children need us."

I don't think that any at-home dad would consider his wife to be selfish.  Think of what she is giving up!  The selfless act is admitting that dad might be the better primary caregiver and being willing to bear the added burden of bread-winning.  Grace is right that her children need her.  My child needs her mother too.  Children need both parents, but unfortunately, life doesn't allow us all to stay at home with our kids.  She goes on to say that moms are "built to be able to recognize" all of the little needs that their children have.  As I said before, a father, when given the same amount of time and support, will recognize those things as well.  Again, we're talking about a father, not just anyone.  

"If you cannot provide for your family, you are not a man." - Mark Driscoll

Pastor Driscoll says that only men who are "injured, get sick or get cancer" are excused from being able to provide.  Any "able-bodied man" is to provide for the needs of his family as an act of worship to God.  He even goes so far as to say that being an at-home dad would be a case for church discipline!  On what scriptural grounds?  As we have already seen, there is no scriptural evidence to say that men have to work and women have to stay home.  The other supporting scriptures that speak about family talk about the condition of the heart and the attitude of the partners.  So, Mark, what is it that I am doing that deserves church discipline?  Earning a paycheck was killing my family.  I chose to stay at home to strengthen my family and probably save my marriage.  The condition of my heart did not change when my role at home changed.  If anything, I would say that my time at home has been beneficial to my relationship with God.

We already talked about the scripture he is quoting (1 Timothy 5:8) and how it is being taken out of context.  It is interesting that someone can say things like "your value as a human being is not dependent on your zip code or the material things that you own" but can then say "your value as a man is dependent on your ability to earn a paycheck."  "Provide" has a much broader definition, in my opinion.  If I take a job that is far away from my family, so far that I never see them, but I send them a big paycheck, what have I taught my children?  If I was actually lazy at home and did not support my wife in her role as bread-winner by doing housework, what example would I be showing my child?  If I earned a big paycheck, yet I verbally abused my wife and children, would I still be a man?

Mark quotes Romans 12:2 "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will," but he does not finish the thought of the passage that continues through verse six.  "For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us."  If a man's gifts happen to make him better suited to be the primary caregiver for his child, is he supposed to deny those gifts and force his wife into a role that she is not gifted for just to fit some "formula" for success?  Or is it better to work together with their unique set of gifts to do what is best for their child?

"... safeguard their marriage from divorce, they need to organize their home like that"

Mark talks about statistics, yet he does not offer any.  The top causes for divorce are infidelity, communication issues, abuse and finances.  If a family has chosen dad to be an at-home father, and his wife is willing to bear the burden of bread-winning, for the benefit of their children, then they are both in agreement.  Yes, things can change, but I know of several dads that have been at-home with their kids for over 10 years.  What happens if you try to organize your home in the traditional way and it is not working?  Should you sacrifice your family just to keep it organized in the traditional way?

"... you have to go to culture and then find worldly wisdom and then try and sanctify it"

Is Driscoll not trying to sanctify his own model?  Pastor Driscoll says that there is no example of an at-home dad in the scriptures.  I can concede to that, but I would also argue that there is no evidence that the model that he is suggesting is anything more than cultural.  The entire notion of a patriarchal society in which the man is the primary bread-winner and the woman is the primary caregiver is cultural.  Thousands of years of tradition don't make something "right" or "true" especially when it comes to creatures as complex as human beings.  I'm not aware of an instance that Jesus lays out this example as the formula of the "ideal" family.  The scriptures that I read about family typically have to do with the conditions of the hearts of those involved in the relationship and the behaviors that they practice with one another (Ephesians 5:21-30Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:15-25, 1 Peter 3:1-7Mark 10:2-12,  Matthew 8:21-22Matthew 22:24-30).  Paul was especially conscious of this with his instructions toward women, not wanting them to upset the culture with their new freedom in Christ.

The God that I study and the scriptures I read do not reduce life to formulas (which is what Driscoll is attempting to do).  Jesus always seems to be concerned about the condition of people's hearts, not their paycheck or their "position" (Pharisee, tax collector, blind, crippled, child, man, woman, rich, poor, etc).  In fact, Jesus' view of "family" would shock most traditionalists.  Jesus actually rejects his traditional family members in favor of his new family, the Church.  But that's a whole different lesson.  I hope that you have found this helpful, and maybe we can finally put this notion to rest that Christian at-home fathers are worthless, lazy and going to hell.  I have more important things to worry about, like my child waking up from her nap, and what Jesus himself said was most important in Matthew 22:37-39.


  1. I can't put into words how angry that video made me when I first saw it. I had recently made the change to become a stay-at-home-dad, and as, what I like to call, an Apprentice of Divinity, I was supremely pissed at his misuse of scripture and power as a prominent figure in Christianity.

    That was 2 years ago now, and the video still irks me. I've gotten over it, and no longer care what Mark Driscoll thinks about pretty much anything because of it. (well, that and he has said lots of things since that I disagree with lol) I think part of what really bothered me was that I had held him in such high esteem as a leader in the church and someone to look to who was knowledgeable about things I was studying.

    I really appreciated your even-handed exegesis, excellent examples, and solid conclusion.

  2. Wow, what an interesting video, interesting concept, and difficult issue. I don't even know where to begin to I will just leave it with a thank you for this thought-provoking blog!

  3. @christopher - I realize that the video is a bit older, but they still use it in promotion of Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll. My thoughts are, if it still exists, we still have work to do as dads to eliminate these kinds of ridiculous thoughts. This was my first time seeing it, so I wanted to do what I could to put it to rest. Thanks for the kind words.

    @Bruce - I told you the heavy stuff was coming on Friday! Aren't you glad you had that ninja cow post to balance it out?

  4. Brilliantly stated. I am a working Christian dad, but I am home a lot as a caregiver for my children and I believe my wife would agree we are both capable of doing so well. We approach our relationship to our kids differently, but we both do so effectively. Thank you for providing a high road response this issue.

  5. The answer to nearly every "Can you be a {insert random sin} and a Christian" question is yes. At worst, being a stay at home dad would amount to a sin. I'm not prepared to say it is or isn't and that's not my job. However, sins were washed away by grace. Matt, I think you nailed it with the comment about Jesus being more concerned about our hearts.

    I was impressed (and surprised) and how well researched and thoughtful this post was. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Just when you thought you'd had enough of Mark Driscoll, he recently said this ----> On Women In Leadership

    The Entire UK Interview

  7. I'm literally crying reading this. You have no idea how much hope this brought to me. I am not a father yet, but God has clearly told us that I will be primary caregiver.

    Driscoll is arrogant and seems to be hurting very much on the inside. I guess all there is to do is to pray for mark. Jesus is love and I don't hear any love coming from mark's heart. All I can hear is brokeness and condemnation which we know that Jesus did not come to condemn the world!

    1. I'm so glad that you found hope from this post. If you ever want to talk more about this, or about what it's like to be an at-home dad, let me know!

  8. I will say, this article is very well written. I have been (compared to the rest of my life anyways) a man after God's heart for the last 11 years. I found it very eye opening what you said about the Timothy Reference. It was a great point that he was talking about how to care for Widows. I never realized it, I have always kinda just blended it in as a generalization statement.
    I have been a stay home dad for almost 7 years now. I have a 3 year old and an 8 year old. We have a great home life. But I will be honest, there is sometimes that still small feeling that maybe I should be working and her with the kids. I don't know if it's God, or just guilt because of Pastors always adding the above comments.

    I will say, that we as believers have to be careful with the "attitude of our hearts", as the only test that we go by. You can have two men raising a child together, and if they think their hearts are right, then what they are doing is right in their minds. God's divine word is the only one true thing that determines right and wrong. Everything else is just opinions. This article does give a great insight into what God's word is saying.
    God Bless you all,

    1. Thank you for the reply. I think a lot of at-home dads still have the urge to provide monetarily. I know I still do sometimes. I do work an occasional part time job, and I would love to write and do some public speaking to bring in more income; however, God has given me a bigger mission - to raise my child to love him above all else. I know that if I can do that, I have "succeeded" as a father.

      And by no means was I suggesting that the attitude of our hearts be our only measuring stick for what is right or wrong. Our hearts are wicked and deceitful and will always lead us astray. When I was writing about Jesus being concerned about the "condition of our hearts" I was merely saying that He seems to cut right to the core issue - do you love Him more than anything else in your life? And is that love evident to those you interact with on a daily basis? Those are the two greatest commandments, and I think Jesus was great at getting back to those two points whenever the religious leaders tried to derail him and trap him.

      As for two men raising a child together, those men will have to stand before God as their judge, just like you and I, and answer for their actions here on earth. Whether them raising a child is "right" or "wrong" would be one of those gray areas (at least to me) that Jesus doesn't really speak about (and yes, I realize that Paul does speak about homosexuality). While I don't agree with the lifestyle, I also don't agree with Christians being unloving toward those people just because the Bible says that homosexuality is considered a sin. I think we, the church, can do a lot better job of loving than we do. I also think that we, the church, can do a lot better job of standing on principles without being full of bigotry or hatred.

  9. Thank you matt for this. I was just about to do the same biblical study on the passages the Driscolls mention in the video, but you have come up with the same conclusions I was starting to make as well.

  10. TheRealMattDaddyJune 28, 2012 at 8:51 AM

    Yeah, Mark Driscoll probably has a lot to answer for when he meets God face to face. If you haven't yet, check out the blog of Matthew Paul Turner. He features a lot of ex-Mars Hill members, and their stories describe severe spiritual abuse in most cases. There is no humility in anything that Driscoll does, and while I appreciate his orthodoxy on certain issues, there are other issues that he completely ignores scripture on - like removing pastors, for instance.

  11. My husband and I are considering adoption. We married later in life and have no biological children. However, due to our circumstances, it's likely my husband will be a stay-at-home dad or, at the least, the primary caregiver for the child(ren). We both agree with this arrangement, and considering we would adopt a boy, the two of them would be great together! Sadly, we have been around people the last few years who we both know would not be supportive of this and I'm frankly very concerned regarding how we would be treated within our own church if this occurs. How sad is it that we have become so sure of every little point of living that censure within a church would cause an otherwise well-intentioned couple to choose to not adopt a child? But, that is our situation right now... we are looking for a new church with the hope that how we choose to live, if not in directly conflict with Scripture, would not be part of how we are viewed.

  12. I am sorry that you are running into believers who would judge you for your decision to adopt a child and have your husband stay at home to be the primary caregiver. While I'm not sure that looking for a new church is always the answer, sometimes we are left with no choice. Being a part of a community is difficult. We are human beings who happen to be Christians. That means that we still have the potential to hurt each other. What makes us different from non-believers is our ability to rely on God to show us how to forgive as He does, to love like He does, and to seek restoration like He does. If this sort of message is being preached from the pulpit, it is very likely that you will change churches; after all, people usually attend/leave a church because of the pastor. Perhaps you could talk to your pastor about the arrangement you are seeking and whether or not he believes that it violates scripture. Then you would at least know where he stands. If you are concerned about judgement from fellow church members, I would suggest trying to stick it out for a while. Their judgment may not be rooted in scripture at all. It may simply be rooted in conservative values. Be open and invite discussion. If your husband is comfortable, have him plan an activity with this family where he can display how he nurtures his children. My own father-in-law didn't like our arrangement at first, but after seeing me in action with my kid, he began to change his mind and eventually became my biggest supporter. I recognize that it will be difficult, but if you have attended this church for a while, you probably have others who would support your decision, and it is important to have their support during a time of transition. Pray about it with your husband, and I hope and pray that God will direct you according to His will. Thank you for taking the time to comment here.

  13. Thanks for this. My wife and I are at a crucial crossroads right now, trying to decide if I should stay home or keep working. Your article really helps.



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