During my life, I witnessed revolutionary changes in women’s roles. I attended an engineering university during the 1970’s and my freshman class was 11% female, the largest number of entering females in the university’s history. Today, my university has 30% female engineering undergraduates (1,400). My wife graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in Accounting and worked 29 continuous years for an energy company until she retired. My mother worked as a teacher after her youngest child started public school. She retired from the Texas public school system. I was surrounded by working women at home and in the office. But this is a more recent cultural phenomenon. My mother often said, “Women have many more choices today than when I was young.” She was right.
My daughter, a stay-at-home mom with three young children, gave me a book about faith and work from a woman’s perspective. Katelyn Beaty, the editor-at-large with Christianity Today, wrote A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World (Howard Books, New York, NY, 2016). When I attended seminary, a young female divinity student asked during a meeting with the Dean of the Faculty: “Why do we read so much theology written by old dead white men?” The reason is that for almost all of Christian history, women were not allowed to attend seminary or study theology. The good news is that gifted Christian women writers, like Katelyn, are now giving their perspectives on Christian women in the workplace and the home.
In her foreword, Katelyn raises an interesting theological question: “I could not understand how unpaid domestic work within the home was in any way more sacred than work outside the home. My understanding was that, ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving’ (Col. 3:23-24).” (page x-xi)
Katelyn actually answers her own question by quoting Colossians. One of the reformed theological beliefs was that all work that supported community and aided God’s kingdom was of equal value to God. Staying home to raise children, taking care of elderly parents, or performing volunteer work in the community is of equal value to God as working in paid vocations. God is not concerned about your specific occupation but is concerned that Christian workers support the community and work towards the new creation.
Katelyn articulates this theology later in her book. “Work is a core way we honor God, serve others, and remember that our allegiance to Christ and his kingdom trumps our other allegiances and roles.” (page 81) God is the giver of our individual gifts and through self-actualization, we master these gifts. We look to God for support in our vocation, but unless an individual is directly called by God for a specific task, there are probably a number of paid and unpaid vocations that one has the competencies to perform that benefit the community. All are of equal value to God when following the Spirit.
Katelyn states that “the women I spoke with liked work.” (page 3) Liking work is a human characteristic and not gender specific. We were created to work. Today, women have so many choices about vocations that I am excited about my granddaughters’ future because of the pioneering work of women during my lifetime who broke barriers following the Spirit – an important step towards the new creation.