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It’s Not About You — Or Your Commitment (The Second Blessing)

Our Evangelical foremothers in New York state were so moved by the Second Great Awakening but so tied to their family obligations that they translated the push for global missions into home missions. In 1833, Abigail Goodrich Whittelsey started Mother’s Magazine to encourage mothers in that calling — to win their children to Christ. The magazine warned about the dangers of corsets and birthday parties. Even sugary snacks were interpreted to be a religious choice.

By the Civil War, however, men had “professionalized” the magazine’s focus entirely, and the topics were more . . . well, bland. The copy was little more than sappy poetry and heavy-handed stories. The magazine changed its name after the turn of the 20th-century — to Family Circle.

From the winning the lost to the teaching the kids to rhyming the couplets to . . . well, “toning up your trouble spots.”

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When I was young, I was taught that really committed Christians were all missionaries. You know the bargains thrown out from the pulpit, “If you really loved Jesus, you wouldn’t be afraid to go to Africa! You would tell God that you’d go anywhere for Him. After all He did for you!”

I heard the missionary stories. You know, about Amy Carmichael and her providentially brown eyes. Ti-Fam, Witch Doctor’s Daughter. Hudson Taylor. Ringu. The missionary stories were always the best ones — tailored to elementary school attention-spans. Brief, action-packed, with cliff-hangers at the end of every telling. The missionaries were bigger-than-life heroes. Wow! So exciting.

And we kids loved it when missionaries came to speak. Slides! We all liked slides! It was TV for church.

And then I met them. The missionaries. I studied them. They were so . . . vanilla. They were so unlike all those stories I’d heard. Granted, they were probably exhausted from deputation, irritated by the American materialism, and just plain peeved at having another annoying kid messing with their display. But I didn’t know if I could be one. Did I really love Jesus enough to leave everything and go to the bowels of the rain forest and eat bugs? Could I be as passive as they were?

I was actually a “summer missionary” for two summers. It was hard, fulfilling work. But was it my “calling”? I didn’t feel like I fit.

Then they changed it on me. No longer were we told to go on the mission field. Around high school and college, the plea changed from “missions” to “full-time Christian work.” “If you really loved Jesus, you’d devote your life to His service. You’d be a minister, a pastor’s wife, or a Christian school teacher.”

Huh. Now this seemed do-able. I could stay here. No bugs on the menu here.  I could devote my life to service here. I loved my Christian school teachers. I could do that. At college, I thought, “I could do this college teaching thing. I can see that. That would fit.”

And so I did. I devoted my life to that particular second blessing — to becoming a local “religious professional.”

Did you notice what happened with that change in appeal though? From global missions to national work. From taking the Gospel out there to helping us here within our own segregated Christian world. From the Universe to the Province. From the Great Commission to . . . well, a lesser commission.

You don’t hear the “full-time Christian service” message anymore — and it’s not just because I am no longer in “full-time Christian service.” I felt the change before we left. I don’t know when it got dropped precisely. But it sounds kind of quaint when I remember it here. Now the appeal for the really-committed is narrower-still. Instead of going out to the world or going out to the church-school, we don’t go out at all. We stay home. Well, women stay home. Men, you can do what you want; it doesn’t really matter as long as the Little Woman is where she belongs.

So we’ve individuated the second blessing even further. From the world to the city to the home.

Is that really what we want? It might seem like we’ve so diversified the “call” (i.e. the “pitch”) to include everyone — not just the “vanilla” missionaries or the talkative teacher-sorts — but every household and every family. But at what cost? Do we realized how we’re being absorbed into the Hegemon where our message of Christ becomes well . . . just about “toning up”?

10 thoughts on “It’s Not About You — Or Your Commitment (The Second Blessing)

  1. I like this – it made me think.

    But I’m really struggling to try and imagine what changed. I’m really struggling with the “professionalization” analogy. I wonder if those exciting missionary stories were really some form of hagiology whose effectiveness quickly faded in with the dawn of global communication and transit (or globalism for that matter) Where I live I wonder if the stay-at-home moms in our church who talk daily with their Muslim neighbors (who are in the country for 6 months at a time) are more more affective at carrying out the great commission than our foreign missionaries who are still struggling to learn arabic.

  2. Hmm- I know you do a lot more research into this stuff than me, so I don’t doubt it is out there. I am curious as to who is saying this.
    I am assuming you are talking about more than choosing to be a SAHM. I would consider myself that though I also am an RN and work occasionally doing that. Neither my husband or I think of it the way you put it “the little woman is where she belongs” Anyway that is just an aside since I am pretty sure you would defend that choice to be at home. I guess I am just not hearing that in my circles. I have a lot of SAHM friends who LOVE it and that is why they do it. Not because that is what they feel is more godly. I also have friends who work full time for various reasons. We all run in the same circles. I guess that is why I am curious about who is teaching this. You may be planning to elaborate more:)

  3. I can often be a little slow to catch on, but are you saying we should make the Full Time Christian distinction?

  4. I wouldn’t diss SAHMs for several reasons. I *am* one. That’ the first. And second, that is a calling, sure!! Just like missions is a calling or other “religious professional.”

    I completely agree, Sam, that there’s something up with the hagiographic telling of those missions stories. In fact, I think *that’s* what I’m getting at. We’re “selling” missions. We’re “selling” religious professionalism. We’re “selling” SAHMommyhood.

    And that’s weird. That’s really weird.

    But I’m not ready to make that point yet because I don’t know what I even mean by that.

  5. Well, at least in my experience the “selling” of missions & other forms of full-time Christian service is alive and well in at least some branches of fundamentalism. I’m probably a bit younger than you yet remember *those exact same* stories from my childhood, the push to “surrender” to missions and full-time Christian service was enormous five years ago when I was a student in an IFB Bible college, and based on things I’ve heard my parents and siblings say, it’s alive and well in their IFB church today. That said, yeah. I think you’re onto something there. There definitely seems to be some similarity between the push for missions/full-time Christian service and the push I’m now seeing in Reformed-ish circles to be a SAHM. Being a SAHM is not a bad thing at all, but the emphasis on it being the only biblically acceptable thing – a “higher calling” and a woman’s only purpose in life (forget glorifying and enjoying God forever) strikes me as off.

  6. But I think that it’s always easier to romanticize the exotic – which missions was as long as the globe was largely inaccessible. I suspect SAHMs are more accessible and harder to spin. Most of us have met one through more than embellished stories – which means that the “sell” is probably more authentic.

  7. Interesting thread! I like the Catholic’ language of ‘vocation’. That both ‘marriage’ is a vocation, and /full time ministry, ie celbate priesthood, or married lay ( non clergy ) minister, ministry, is a ‘vocation.’ In Evangelical / Pentacostal christianity, when I and others, support para church ministries, and such ministers ‘go on the mission field’ to evangelize the lost and heal the sick, they thank us for our financial and prayerful support, explaining that, when they go on the field to serve God, ‘we go with them.’ Think of Billy Graham’s late wife, who stayed home to raise the children, while Billy served as the most effective and greatest statesman evangelist in the twentieth century! If she had not been willing to stay home and look after the kids, how could Billy have followed his calling as he did. Billy’s wife also taught the children’ to love their father. I don’t know if any of you have ever heard of the phrase, GIFT PROJECTION? It’s like this. A visiting missionary or evangelist, whose burden for missions and evangelism, motivates him to desire and want, as many people of any age, to be as ‘enthusiastic as he is’ about his calling, he is sending more than the message of the Gospel and the importance of christian service, to people and to children. He is putting a burden on people’s lives, unintentionally or possibly even intentionally. There is so much guilt used to get people to do things in the churches! There’s another phrase that may be better known or heard of. And that is “Performance Based Religion.” Unless people are always ‘doing’ something for the Great Commission, for God, people are just ‘not’ doing enough! And they had better get off their ‘lazy keisters’ as soon as possible! Making people feel guilty about service for the Lord is just not right, but is so widely used as an acceptable practice, how do we resist its negative effects/ and do that without being relegated and judged to the, ‘you’re just too lazy’ cheap seats? As far as women needing to know and be reminded of their so called ‘place’, isn’t it interesting how it is always the men who seem to be reminding women of this! And doing so to women they really have ‘no spiritual authority’ in these womens’ lives at all, to assume the entitlement right to tell them ‘their’ place!. like, what business is it of their’s, to suggest that they must submit to all the men in the church? These women submit to the Lord directly, because they are ‘adults’. And men and women each who are married to one spouse, submit to each other ‘equally.’ God never describes a ‘power imbalance’in the Bible , such as gender inequality. Such is simply not in Scripture. Only in the vain imaginations of men, whose convenient ‘misinterpretation of the Bible, and exaggerated / textual misuse of texts, are what is used by men to rationalize and justify their artifical, imagined superiority over women, towards whom they send such an unchristian, disrespectful false communication of inferiority. Something Jesus ‘never’ did. Men, who assume every Sue, Mary and Jane, in the church, have some holy obligation to submit to them simply because they re men? As adults we submit to God. As married adults we submit to our ‘own’ spouse, and that submission is as equals, not as superior to inferior. As women, we do not submit to every Tom, Dick and Harry, in the Church, simply because we are women. Simp,y because men ‘think’ they have a right to ‘demand’ this of women! As adults with fellow adults and pastors who are also adults, we respect each other, as equals before God,without any artificial one upmanship. without any artificial spiritual class system. The pulpit power broker mentality, and the ‘clerical religious firm’ in churches, run by pastors and deacons, is simply nota Jesus leadership model. No women is any less of a christian because she needs to work outside the home. God is a loving Father, who loves and respects his daughters. The sooner more of the men in the churches, learn to look at God’s daughters, as God the Father does, and follow Jesus leadership model, of humble, loving service, marriages will be renewed and transformed. Familes will follow in that renewal. And churches will truly reflect the Gospel of life, love, and respect that God has for people. If marriages, families, and churches are not really good news, because everyone is frustrated and unfulfilled from so many power imbalanced relationships, and churches are being run like professional religious firms, from pulpit- centric, pastor- -centric, man’s version of the Gospel churches, why should any of us be surprised, that people do not want to visit our churches and look for the Savior? If ‘we’ are not good news, the Good News cannot reflect through our lives and our churches. Marriage and motherhood is such a wonderful vocation. To be able to add to that, serving in other areas as well, makes a women’s life even more fulfilling. If men think women have no right to be anywhere else other than pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen, we need to suggest they view the Jane Fonda movie “Nine To Five”, and as they watch it, we will quote Proverbs chapter Thirty One to them. Women need not be ‘milquetoast’ mindless non thinkers to please men. Men who want that are insecure, and can’t trust. Gender equality should not be a ‘new thing’, but to some men, they think it is! Women have always served,both in the Old Testament Times and in the New. It’s always so much better to serve God out pf love for Him, rather than be manipulated into ‘should’ service out of guilt. Love, the right kind, is always the best motivation to service.

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