Let’s Talk About Head of Household Voting

So I haven’t written much on this blog in a while, and I thought the best way back would be a nice, juicy, controversial topic. Well, ok, it doesn’t have to be that opportunistic, but I’ve had the issue of church organization, specifically the practice of “head of household” grouping and voting, on my mind for some time. It is a common practice in my denomination (the Communion of Reformed and Evangelical Churches), and we even practice it at my church. It’s also very controversial, within my own church (though we are all well behaved about it) and among other churches that I’ve known. There are some people who are very unhappy with it, and the concern often raised is what a church’s means of representation says about its larger theology. There also people who think it’s really great. So let’s talk.

1) First let’s define our terms. It might surprise you, but people almost always equivocate on “the church.” Baptists have a different definition of the word than do Presbyterians, and Presbyterians have a different definition than do Lutherans, and Lutherans have a different definition than do Episcopalians, and they all have a different definition from Roman Catholicism, so let’s say what exactly we are talking about.

For matters of church polity and voting, we are talking about congregations. Continue reading

The Impact of Industrialization on the Family

I have been fascinated with Allan Carlson’s body of work for the last few months (you can see a book review I did of his latest book here) and have recently begun reading his book From Cottage to Work Station: The Family’s Search for Social Harmony in the Industrial Age. What’s noteworthy about Carlson is that he is arguing for a pre-modern conception of the family, one that might strike some readers as radically “conservative” and even fundamentalist in nature. Yet Carlson typically critiques industrial capitalism as the primary opponent of the traditional family, even being willing to employ Marxist arguments at times. Carlson is not himself a Marxist, of course, but he is willing to cut to the heart of the issue, and that typically involves an exploration of the notions of capital and the exploitation of labor. Here is a summary which will show you what I mean:

Industrialization tore asunder this settled, family-oriented European world. In historian John Demos’ words: “Family life was wrenched apart form the world of work—a veritable sea-change in social history.” The goods produced by factories using a division of labor rapidly displaced household-produced commodities such as cloth, shoes, and candles. The unique demands of the new machines, the construction of factories, and the need for labor discipline further severed the workplace form the home. In the new economic order, family living quickly ceased to have a dominant productive side. Family units tended to reorganize as places for shared consumption and shelter. Through legal changes abolishing the protections of rural tradition and guild privileges, labor became a commodity governed for the first time by a national, and eventually an international market. The reciprocal, complementary tasks of husbands and wives in household production were quickly leveled, and questions grew about gender roles in the new order. Older children, too, could forego the obedience demanded by lineage and birth and sell their own labor to manufacturers. In the industrial milieu, the inward-looking, autonomous, cooperative family changed into a collection of individuals in potential, and often real, competition with each other. As residual dependents, infants and small children had no immediate prospects for individual economic gain; the market mechanism left their fate uncertain. ~From Cottage to Work Station 2

Carlson goes on to explain that many have been happy to say that America avoided this revolution, since it was always “modern” from its inception. This is not the case, however, Carlson says. Indeed, America also reckoned with the rage against the machine, fighting back in important ways until the early part of the 20th century. Then it gave up the fight, and we subsequently saw the social revolution which is so familiar to us today.

 

What Makes a Man?

lebowski

It’s funny. I can look back on a life of achievement, on challenges met, competitors bested, obstacles overcome. I’ve accomplished more than most men, and without the use of my legs. What… What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?  Is it… is it, being prepared to do the right thing? Whatever the price? Isn’t that what makes a man?

Too many of our conversations about gender roles presume that there are certain social attributes which, taken together, make up the essence of the respective sex. To “be a man” is to be strong, hardworking, and determined, and to “be a woman” is, supposedly, to be meek, servile, and emotional. But this is fundamentally wrong. Continue reading

Men, Women, and Sexual Identity

gender-symbolsMy last post really should have been called “What are men and women, and how do you know?” I emphasized that second question, only scratching the surface of the first. I’ll try to say more about that one now. Also one commentator suggested that I read some books on the distinction between sexuality and gender. Presumably I wouldn’t be so outrageously backwards if I did so. Herein I have to make a confession. I have read “some books.” I’ve also read some other ones. It’s just that I have this old-souled conviction that the best way to understand humanity is through the study of the humanities. I’ll explain.

In our modern day, the assumption seems to be that “social sciences” are more reliable, because they are “science” after all. They rely on statistics, and we all know that statics are the way to go. In fact, at the political science conference I go to, it’s about 70% statistics. (I go to the theory panels, but you knew that.) And it’s not that statistics are nothing. It’s just that they are inherently democratic, and I don’t believe that wisdom is. I believe in external and objective truth, something which we can all pursue and be relatively persuaded of through reason, patience, and charity. We don’t determine such wisdom by amassing testimonials from eye-witnesses though. We identify self-evident truths and indubitable realities, which stand outside us all, and then we deduce and we induce. Science will be very helpful along the way, but science will only do some of the work. It will not do all of the work. It cannot do all of the work. This is because it is necessarily limited. It observes and sometimes predicts. It does not really interpret or “understand.” Science can tell no stories.  In fact, science itself rests upon a foundation which is pre-scientific, a set of assumptions about the nature of reality and knowledge, and these assumptions cannot actually be “tested” in the scientific manner without falling into a vicious circle. I probably should have told you that some of those books I read were philosophy books. Continue reading

Douglas Wilson’s Father Hunger

I received an advance reader’s copy of Douglas Wilson’s Father Hunger: Why God Calls Men To Love And Lead Their Families several months ago, but I didn’t manage to actually read it until a month later.  Atop that, after reading it, I had planned to write a review of it, but also allowed another month to pass.  So this is no longer “advance.”  Still, I very much enjoyed the book, finding it engaging on an intellectual level and helpful on a personal level– me being a new dad and all.  So I do intend to review Father Hunger here, but it will now be a series of posts, taking the various chapters in order as I reread them.  I’ll probably skip a chapter or two, or at least combine some, but for the most part I’ll be going through them individually.

You can find “20 Quotes from Father Hunger” over at the desiringGod blog.   As good as those are, I have to say that they are the “safe” ones, suited for the broader Evangelical audience.   I plan to give you the full Wilson treatment here, particularly highlighting all of his funny, manly, tough-talking, and almost-dirty-but-not-quite-because-we’re-talking-about-real-life stuff.  This book’s got some chutzpah, and long-time Wilson fans won’t be disappointed.  It is a blend of what you’ll find in his earlier books on marriage and family, with the obvious qualification that it is directed towards fathers.

Pastor Wilson also relies on the work of George Gilder’s Men and Marriage.  The thesis of that book is basically that men will either be horndogging scoundrels or they will get married, and for the sake of civil society, we should encourage the latter.   Pastor Wilson whimsically follows this theme in one of his subtitles: “Fight Crime, Get Married.”

At this point I would also want add the contribution of Denis De Rougemont’s Love in the Western World.  De Rougement argues that erotic love is at war with civil society, causing men to rush off into affairs, adultery, and even death.  The great antidote is, of course, marriage.  And while one might not agree with all of De Rougement’s religious and historical genealogizing (he connects it all to a medieval theological heresy), his basic point is true: the passions must not rule us but rather be ruled by us.  C. S. Lewis puts it more simply, “Love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be god.”

What this has to do with Father Hunger should be plain, and Pastor Wilson explains it ably.  Men have been lead away from Fatherhood by the supposed virtues of our modern culture.  They follow after romance, independence, and avarice, but the end result is not a dreamy blessedness, but rather permanent adolescence.  The only way out of this muck is to man up.  And so throughout Father Hunger, Pastor Wilson addresses the Biblical command for maturity, male leadership, and the goodness of marriage and children.  He explains the various competing ideologies in our society today and how they pull against marriage and fatherhood.  And he concludes the book with practical advice on how to be a father, directing it to those who currently are fathers, to those who will be fathers, and, most importantly, to those who have never had fathers.

Pastor Wilson’s first chapter, serving as the introduction, lays out the basic vision.  The solution to a broken society is to reclaim the concept of a well-pleased father.  When daddy ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.  And the only way to recover happy paternal relations temporally is to first recover them spiritually and eternally:

In human history, there will never be a more perfect father-and-son moment than this moment between Father and Son [alluding to Jesus' baptism in the Jordan river Matt. 3:16-17--SW].  This is the keynote–pleasure.  This is the pitch that a father/son relationship needs to match– “well pleased.”  (p 12)

And so it is that Pastor Wilson begins to show us how to be well-pleasing fathers and have well-pleasing families, all by finding pleasure in our father in heaven.  I will continue this review in the upcoming posts.