Carolyn Custis James is "not a kitchen wife"...

Note from Tim Bayly: Those clicking into this particular post from some other blog need to be aware that this is only one in a long line of posts on the subject of the particular theological commitments of Carolyn Custis James concerning the nature and meaning of sexuality. The other posts may be found on this blog's main page by searchin in the google search box on the left margin a little down the page. It would be helpful to read them all.

One reader points us to the following bio Mrs. James' provides us on her own blogger information page found here (but since scrubbed from that page).

Carolyn Custis James

Speaker, Author and Consultant

Author of When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference

Author of Lost Women of the Bible: Finding Strength and Significance Through Their Stories (forthcoming September 2005).

Consulting editor for Zondervan's Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament

Consultant for the Jesus Film for women.

BA in Sociology, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA

MA in Biblical Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

www.whitbyforum.com

Carolyn is her husband's favorite theologian. She is not a kitchen wife. She does not keep house, cook, clean or sew, but she reads an awful lot and often talks to women (and sometimes men) from all over the world about women's struggles within the evangelical church. Lately, she has been reading a lot on the plight of women in the Middle East. She helped establish Synergy Conferences for women seminarians and women in vocational ministries, which is sponsored by her ministry organization, Whitby Forum, in alliance with Campus Crusade for Christ International and Reformed Theological Seminary/Orlando.

Comments

Just a brief thought:

If we were to try and think of the most influential woman in the 20th century, the one most recognizable by the world and the Church at large, who would that be?

My guess would be that it would be Mother Teresa. (I don't mean to start a Catholic debate here, not my purpose).

What does that tell us about the nature of service? Deeds over against words? The power of cleaning and nursing?

Fred,

I'd heartily agree. She succeeded at a great many things feminine, and chief among them (other than the immediate purpose of her good deeds) was to adorn the doctrine of her church. Leaving aside for the moment the merits of that doctrine on other grounds,her life was a compelling demonstration of how good works adorn one's doctrine.

Would it be completely politically incorrect to quote a verse from Titus at this point???

Qualities of a Sound Church (Titus 2:3-5):

the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things-- that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.

Do as I say, not as I do.....

I guess God's Word is not applicable to her though, since she has such a much needed ministry in the church. She is excused and can abandon God's designed role for her just as many men and women do in the church. God just did not know what He was doing when He designed specific roles within the family and the church I guess.

~pw

Ok, sticking my neck out here....

This mini-bio on this woman, whom I knew nothing about before reading this blog, does not say that this woman has never been a "kitchen wife".

It says "She does not keep house, cook, clean or sew, but she reads an awful lot and often talks to women (and sometimes men) from all over the world about women's struggles within the evangelical church."

I have a dear friend who most likely would fit this description, though rather than say "evangelical church" it would say "homeschooling community."

Having raised and homeschooled three faithful children, she is now a consultant to homeschooling moms through a curriculum company. She works 40 hours each week providing this service, what I might call being a "Titus 2 Professional" and because of this, she has outside help in her home. I do not believe in any way she is blaspheming God by doing these things, she is just in a new season of life.

I maintain that each woman has a variety of seasons she goes through and each one will look different from the others. I might suggest that possibly this is true of this woman as well. When I read Proverbs 31, I cannot imagine any one woman doing all those things during the same season of life. And because her husband is respected at the gate, I would guess that it implies that her children are grown and faithful.

I would need more information about Carolyn Custis before I painted with such a broad brush.

Dear Karen,

No argument here with what you've written, but this final post is best read in the context of all the posts that preceded it. Those earlier posts and the thousands of words by Carolyn Custis James to which they refer are the backdrop for understanding what Ms. James says here about herself on her own blog bio.

For what it's worth, my wife helped start and served as the head administrator/principal of a Christian school here in Bloomington for many years, all the while being dedicated to the body of believers known as Church of the Good Shepherd, to her husband, and to her children. Now we have only two children left at home, but my ninety year old Aunt Elaine who has lived with us the past four years is unable to stand or walk. Mary Lee does everything for her. In a few weeks, Mary Lee will go to speak at another church's women's retreat.

Yes, there are "seasons of life."

But when a woman advises college men not to look for a submissive wife, and when she sells herself to her audience by writing that she "is not a kitchen wife," that "she does not keep house, cook, clean or sew, but ... reads an awful lot and often talks to women (and sometimes men) from all over the world about women's struggles within the evangelical church," one would have to be sinfully naive to miss her message, and sinfully fearful not to rebuke her for the errors of that message.

Warmly in Christ,

Tim Bayly

So for standing (again) on this issue, you are written off by Internetmonk as a member of the Truly Reformed "border patrol?" Isn't this the man who regularly rebukes ahistorical sentiments on his page? Or did I not "get" the comment?

Thoughts from another "repentant feminist":

At my church's fellowship occasions, the men all tend to end up in one room, and the ladies in another. I used to want to be in the other room where the men were discussing interesting theological matters while the women were discussing wife-and-mom topics. (Of course these are broad generalizations...other topics did come up on both sides.) But I think I'm learning that one of the disciplines of the mind is to pursue that which is perhaps less intrinsically interesting, but more intrinsically important.

If I insisted on pursuing the more theological conversation just to suit myself, I would be treating it as entertainment -- which would have the effect not of giving it more weight, but of trivializing it. Please note that I am not saying that women should never discuss theological matters or pursue theological understanding! But all of us should do the hard work of pursuing that knowledge that best befits our roles and callings.

I've absorbed a lot from these ladies over the last couple years. Even if I never have children of my own, I am better equipped to love *their* children, in keeping with the vow I make at each baptism. And the Lord is chipping away at my character flaws as I soak in their superior attitudes toward things such as housework. In short, I'm now wanting less to be like the men and more to be like the women.

It doesn't bother me so much that Mrs. James pursues theological interests. It doesn't bother me so much that she's not a domestic goddess. What bothers me is that she appears to be disdainful of home-centeredness as a lesser thing than theology-centeredness. If that is indeed her attitude (and I could be wrong...we have had a rather small sampling of writing from which to draw conclusions), then she's missed the point that these are both ways to pursue Christ-centeredness, which is about love, faith and obedience, not merely about intellectual understanding. She's falling into the besetting sin of Reformedom at large -- the belief that our rightness always equals righteousness.

I'll end this already too-long comment with a quote from Nancy Wilson's "The Fruit of Her Hands" (http://www.canonpress.org/shop/item.asp?itemid=402, p.75):

"One night as I was washing the dishes (which was the last hurdle before tucking in the little ones), my mind wandered off in that direction. Shouldn't I be leading Bible studies? Shouldn't I be involved in more active evangelism? Couldn't I 'disciple' someone? Didn't God want me to do something for Him?

"Immediately I realized what He wanted me to do. He wanted me to do the *dishes*. But I still wondered if there was something *else* He wanted me to do. And I realized that, yes, there was something else. He wanted me to do them *cheerfully*.

"As I reflected on this, I realized what I had known all along. God had called me to be a wife, mother, and homemaker. Because of all this, all the mundane things I did were sanctified, holy, purposeful, and honoring to God...."

I have read through the posts on James and while I don't agree with much of what you have quoted here, I do believe that you may have gone too far in questioning her commitment to her husband and child. Have you never heard of domestic help? Even the Proverbs 31 woman had domestic help. Her husband doesn't seem to have a problem with her.

Also, some of the comments made (either by you or others) makes me think that the consensus on this blog is that women can't be theologians (even theologians who happen to be stay-at-home moms). If that is the case, why are respected seminaries (Westminster, RTS, etc.) teaching women theology?

Ok, I went back and reread all the entries and the links, not wishing, in anyway, to be sinfully nave. I have just finished reading the PCA magazine article written by Carolyn Custis and am left wondering what the flap is all about. Taken in the context of her entire article, even the "warrior" comment makes sense. Indeed, it brought to my mind Ephesians 6 where the whole church is told to put on the whole armor of God. Men and women alike are in a spiritual battle and are admonished to be prepared. It also brought to mind a study I once did on the Proverbs 31 woman. In doing a study of the word "virtuous", I found that it is the same as the word "valor", as in "David's mighty men of valor." There is the command that we, men and women alike, must be strong and courageous and dominion takers. I saw no gender confusion in her comment. Here is a quote from her article:

"Likewise, when the apostle Paul arrived in the Greek city of Philippi and found a group of praying Gentile women (Acts 16:6-40), he didn't despair and begin looking for men. He simply sat down and began speaking to the women about Jesus as though teaching theology to women was an everyday occurrence. The consequences were significant, for these women figured prominently in the founding of the first church in Europe.

The crucial nature of woman's theology comes to the fore when God halts the whole creation narrative to say: "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper [ezer] suitable for him" (Genesis 2:18). The Hebrew word ezer, we have since learned, is a military word used most often for God as Israel's strong helper in time of dire need. God applied a military label to women, for the ezer is a warrior, man's strong ally in the battle for God's kingdom.

The possibilities before us are extraordinary, and everyone stands to benefit. The wife of a leading PCA pastor told me, "PCA men need to unleash our gifts." If they do, they are doing as much for themselves as they are for the church. One of the serious side-effects of roping off women's gifts within the confines of women's or children's ministries, is that men have effectively cut themselves off from vital ministry that they need and God intended for them to receive. It is still "not good for the man to be alone.""

In this particular article, I believe Custis is really only saying what Susan Hunt (whose books have long inspired me and where I first read an exegesis on "ezer") and others have said before her...women have spiritual gifts, women have ministry gifts and the body of Christ needs those gifts. How those are to be used is the point of discussion and is becoming more a point of contention all the time as women are being educated in seminaries.

It seems there are two ends of this spectrum and I am uncomfortable with both ends. At one end are those who would not want women to attend seminary and if they did they would use their "theological" training only in teaching children and younger women. They would not be employed outside the home, particularly in a church other than as a secretary or janitor and certainly would never be given any position in a church where they had any men who were under their authority. (I am not talking about being elders; in my mind, scripturally that is non-negotiable and I believe Custis is acknowledging that fact, as well, especially within the PCA.)

At the other end are those who would open up all areas of ministry to both men and women in denominations such as the PCUSA, American Baptist, etc. Again, I would find myself in disagreement with those groups.

And then you would have those, like myself, who are comfortable with the vision Custis is painting in that article. As a 31-year homemaker, homeschooling mother, grandmother, 12 year plus caregiver of my mother in my home, and all around cookie baker, I have embraced the domestic aspect of my Creator's design. I have loved being a wife and mother. I have loved nursing little ones, teaching them to read, challenging them to grow in the Lord, participating as they met their mates, thrilled at seeing 6 precious grandchildren. And I have been blessed to encourage many, many other women in their pursuit of this high calling.

But I also think that the church is missing out on many other gifts that women have to offer because there are too many heavy-handed, authoritarian men who believe men are best qualified to minister outside the church kitchen and nursery because they are men. Take for example the ever-growing what I call "hyper-partiarchial" movement that is warning young women that they are never to go to college. As my own husband has long wondered, why would men want wives and daughters who are only interested in domestic skills when that is only a part of their lives just like lawn maintenance in only a part of his life? I think it is to the position of these men that Custis is speaking. I also think that feminism, itself, was more of a reaction to this mentality than anything else. It was a wrong reaction, but a reaction nonetheless.

It reminds me of the people who scream "children obey your parents" which is a Biblical command, and then ignore "provoke not your children to wrath" which is an equally, and perhaps more important, command, given the responsiblity of those in authority to those under their authority.

The discussion of women's roles within the body of Christ is one that needs to continue. Personally, I was quite blessed by Wayne Grudem's article at the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website that can be found here:
http://www.cbmw.org/journal/editions/1-2.pdf

This article centers around all the things a woman CAN do biblically and says that those things ought to be the focus rather than all the things they CANNOT do and stresses that the "can do" list ought to be much longer than the "can't do" one. In my experience, this is rarely the case.

Oh, and I am disappointed that we have much less information about Carolyn Custis and her views than we have about R.C. Sproul's presbytery ruling and yet the grace afforded to her has been in very short supply in comparison. What gives?

I am tired of all this misogyny. Every time I hear ministering to other women called "only" ministering to women, I want to tear my hair out. Or referring to the distinctive daily realities of women and children as something "walled-off" - because, after all, adult male reality is the only kind that counts. Or a man (on the comments on another of these threads) requiring women to be "co-combatants" and despising those who aren't psychological clones of their husbands as "mousy" and "weak," pretty much publicly thumbing his nose at Scripture's explicit command that men honor and accommodate the weaknesses of women (1 Peter 3:7).

The whole logic of the argument - as its architects are hoping we won't notice, and as many of their followers (like some of your commenters above) don't notice as they obediently mimic the rhetoric - depends on the idea that women are not as good as men. Why would you object to "only" teaching doctrine to other women, unless you were assuming that women are not worth teaching??????? Why would you throw in gratuitous nasty remarks about how you don't have the same interests as other people (sewing) unless you thought you were better than them for it? Men don't sew, so sewing must be stupid. If you want to be smart and worthy, best give extremely wide berth to creative activities mainly practiced by women.

She obviously thinks that reading takes more smarts than sewing. That's really funny. I would give a lot to sew as well as I read.

I could have written that blurb; the only difference is it would have been a confession, not a boast. (Can you imagine a man writing "Bob is not a good provider. He does not earn a living, pay the bills, or build his own furniture. But he does spend lots of time reading and talking to other men"????? Sackcloth and ashes!) Yeah Carolyn, reading is a lot more fun than housework. Forgive me if I don't rush to give you the Nobel Prize for figuring that one out. I resent the implication that other women are too stupid to notice the reading/housework fun differential for themselves. Or is it actually that they're *smart* enough (or have, ahem, READ the Bible enough) to realize that what's more fun isn't the ultimate criterion for everything?

To Valerie - I have had experiences very similar to yours, but one thing I finally noticed is that the women *are* discussing theology after all. It actually takes superior insight to discuss issues of substance without constant recourse to the well-worn ruts of technical terminology, and spending time with women (both in and out of church) who do this as a matter of course has humbled me significantly. How stupid I was to mistake subtlety for simplicity, and a plodding insistence on the explicit and analytical for sophistication!

Elizabeth, you've really, profoundly misread my comment on the other thread. I didn't say housewives are mousy and weak (or, heaven forbid, that I "despise" women like my homemaking wife). I said, trying to think through what Mrs. James said, that what I think she was saying is that men shouldn't be *primarily* looking for a woman who is submissive *in a general sense*. I didn't even say I *agreed* with that, but I was trying to be somewhat gracious in my reading of what she was saying, as opposed to calling down fire.

My thoughts on this subject are far from set in stone, but I would appreciate it if thinking out loud wasn't punished with reckless name-calling and condemnation. Geez.

Keith, actually the thing that struck me in your comment was when you said "I know several pastors who married quiet and meek women, and those women just don't seem to have the stomach for the work their husbands do. I think a woman can be a very strong person but still submit to her husband, and maybe in the case of a pastor, he should marry a strong woman." This appeared to be a direct statement of your own thought, not an interpretation of Carolyn James. And I think it is wrong, because I do not understand why a woman should "have the stomach for" her husband's work. After all, it is *his* work. It sounded like you were saying that only a woman who could just as easily do the same things herself is a fitting partner for a man with a demanding vocation. In other words that the really strong, worthwhile women are the ones who are just like men. I would think a man who is strong enough to do a demanding job would also be strong enough to bear with the emotional tenderness of a woman, rather than relying on her to provide an extra dose of psychological toughness for *his* vocation. After all, who does the Bible say is supposed to be "giving himself up" for whom?

The whole tendency of talking about women this way - either you're a strong warrior co-combatant, or mousy and weak - is to devalue women who do not fit that definition of "strong." To me a strong woman is a woman who can do the things that are specific to womanhood, things which are not insubstantial. Like childbearing. Women who are not Amazons are made to feel like they are not measuring up, which is what I meant by despising weakness.

It is clear from Carolyn James's little blurb that she thinks very little of women who do things like cook and sew. Slighting such activities, without thinking of the real people who get included in the slight, is a commonplace of feminist rhetoric. I know a lot of the reason it has become OK to slight women who perform traditional activities or who are "mousy" is because we don't believe they actually exist - the feminist model has so overtaken our culture that we think all women fit it, and that other ways of being feminine are just an imposition of the nasty old patriarchy. I know that on some level this is intended to flatter women, a la the schoolyard chant "anything boys can do girls can do better!" But actually it makes matters worse by shaming women who don't fit the androgynous paradigm of "strength." Or maybe we think that only the feminist women are listening, or are smart/intellectual enough to follow the debate. But the non-feminist women are here, we are listening, we have the intellectual ability to read between the lines, and it's hurtful.

Thinking aloud is all any of us is doing, and I intended nothing with respect to you personally or your marriage. But objectively, your words were a good example of the culturally pervasive feminist habit of trash-talking women for their difference from men and that is why I included them in my rant about all the overt and subtle forms (of course nobody SAYS they despise femininity!) of it that have appeared on this blog in the past few days. The fact that you didn't mean it in a bad way - and I totally believe you on that - only goes to show how unremarkable contempt for femininity has become in our culture. I appreciate that you were trying to interpret Carolyn James charitably, but it would be nice to see Christian men worry more about graciousness towards the mousy and weak than towards brazen rebels.

But again, nothing personal. :)

Thanks, Elizabeth, and I agree with most of your post. But, it is a fact, I have known several women who are very meek, quiet, and introverted, who have lived through hell because of the pastoral work their husbands do. But, I think you're right, that their suffering could very well be a failing of their husbands to protect them.

And, also, I didn't say that weak women are not as worthwhile as strong women. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact that you interpreted it that way is evidence that you've misjudged the effect of feminist rhetoric on me. I imagine Mrs. James has probably been misjudged in the same way by many on this site.

>I imagine Mrs. James has probably been misjudged in the same way by many on this site.

Then she is not a very skilled theologian if she handles language that badly.

dave

Folks...

I see the word "meek" used many times in the previous posts, and usually in a derogatory manner. As the father of daughters, we were discussing what Peter means when he said women are to have a "meek and gentle spirit" (or sometimes translated "quiet and gentle spirit"). In our world, "meek" generally means "weak, wimpy, introverted"...in general, not a complement, and certainly NOT a characteristic you would want in anyone. However, upon further investigation, I found the same word is used in describing Jesus. And I found that the word has a much deeper meaning than we subscribe to "meek". A word picture does it best: To be "meek" is to have a countenance similar to that of a very large body of water on a calm day...perfectly smooth. When a stone is thrown into that water, it will ripple...but the ripples will be small, and will soon be absorbed, again leaving the calm. This is to be the countenance of a "meek" person...calm, and able to absorb the trials and tribulations of the world without a second thought.

THAT is a meekneess I would want for all my precious girls...daughters and wife! And quite frankly, I'd like to have that temperment as well!!!

Meekly,

Chuck

Michelle:

I have read through the posts on James and while I don't agree with much of what you have quoted here, I do believe that you may have gone too far in questioning her commitment to her husband and child. Have you never heard of domestic help? Even the Proverbs 31 woman had domestic help. Her husband doesn't seem to have a problem with her.>>>>

Yes! I'm not the ONLY one who came to the conclusion that she must have domestic help!

I should not have speculated about their nationality and/or gender. Maybe they are Haitian males.

The Proverbs 31 woman was a patriarchal wife in a patriarchal society. So, maybe those of us who are kitchen wives, who do the cooking, the cleaning, and even the ironing are the real feminists?

It's hard to keep up in a world of shifting definitions, especially when all of my dictionaries/lexicons fit the old paradigms.

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