Thank you for writing—it was quite pleasant surprise to hear from you. So your cousin Dawson told you about our correspondence, did he? And you thought it would be festive to get some corresponding advice for you and your girl friends? I mentioned your letter to Nancy, and she said something along the lines of why not? Although she might be looking over my shoulder a bit more with these letters . . .
Because I don’t know your particular situation yet—I assume your next letter will fill me in—I think I would like to start by discussing the ecosystem your relationships are in. Or lack of relationships, as the case may be.
And so what do I mean by ecosystem? Relationships are like plants—they grow and flourish according to their own internal logic, meaning that a tulip grows as a tulip, a redwood as a redwood, an orchid as an orchid, and so on. Plants reproduce after their kind, which is the internal logic. But relationships (like plants) are also dependent upon external factors, like climate, soil, etc. Certain plants won’t grow in certain places. Huckleberries don’t grow at lower altitudes. Most lilacs don’t grow down South. Orchids don’t grow above the tree line.
Now if you and your friends are anything like the other young Christian women I know, your chief complaint has to do with the paucity of guys. Where are all the guys? Where did they all go? And then, when you are looking at the handful of guys who do hang around in your church community, you think to yourself, as the saying goes, “the odds may be good, but the goods are odd.”
And once this complaint has settled in, the tendency is to blame the guys for not showing up. Where are they? It is a natural question, but I actually regard it as a very natural mistake.
Now please bear with me here—I am going to extend my analogy some. The relationship “plants” are not growing and flourishing, and these relationship plants take a girl half and a boy half. All the girls halves you know are willing and eager to be Christian wives and mothers, and so the blame falls naturally on the guys, who are clearly failing to get off the dime.
But perhaps the relationships aren’t growing because the climate is not conducive to it. Oranges don’t grow in the Yukon.
Now the guys are affected by the climate, just as the women are, but that climate is much larger than any particular set of individual choices. The kind of relationships that Christians want to see growing are relationships that grow readily when the surrounding culture is supportive. When that surrounding culture is not supportive, as ours most certainly is not, it is consequently difficult for relationships to form readily. And it is even more difficult for godly relationships to form. It is like wading up stream when the current is running hard the other way.
The individual aspect happens when John decides to ask Suzy out, or to call her father in the interest of getting to know her better. That is the individual action of a “relationship plant.”
What are the factors that make up the climate? I am talking about parental exceptions, career paths, vocational training, the movies we watch, the sermons we listen to, the way custody is apportioned in divorce cases, the ubiquity of pornography, the social expectation that marriages will normally occur in the late twenties instead of the early twenties, abortion culture, women in the work force, and the way everyone is on guard against the patriarchy.
Many of these elements are noticeably present within conservative evangelical churches, and even socially accepted. Say that a young woman in the church applies to and is accepted to the Naval Academy, and she is telling everyone that she wants to fly fighters off carriers. In the average evangelical church, who will be the odd man out? The woman who has this goal, or the person who tries to register some level of concern about it?
And even those aspects of the world’s dominance here that cannot be openly embraced are issues where you see quiet acquiescence. Pornography will not be openly celebrated from the pulpit, but use of pornography within the congregation is nevertheless widespread. The more conservative churches would be the ones where you might find an accountability group or two trying to stem the tide.
So what I am saying is the fact that young people are postponing marriage, and the fact that we have numerous young women wishing that there were more guys around, and that the guys who are around would be more assertive and masculine, is in the first place a societal problem. It is not in the first instance a problem of John getting up the nerve to approach Suzy. That problem does enter into it, but it is a direct downstream consequence of what we have been telling John since he was two.
So the task of young Christian women is therefore two-fold. The first is the obvious individual one, one that applies to both men and women. Become the kind of person that the kind of person you would want to marry would want to marry. What does the Bible call women to do? Are you preparing for that?
The apostle Paul once warned a certain class of people not to “turn aside” after Satan. Just the sort of thing an apostle would tell Christians, right? Don’t turn aside after Satan. Seems obvious.
“For some are already turned aside after Satan.”
1 Timothy 5:15 (KJV)
But when this class of person was turning aside after Satan, what were they veering away from? What were they leaving behind? Well, the previous verse tells us.
“I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.”
1 Timothy 5:14 (KJV)
Paul’s instruction here is being given to the younger women—you and your girl friends. First, he wants them to marry, and you might be tempted to say that this is exactly what you want also. Isn’t that why you wrote?
But Paul might be defining the vocation of marriage a little bit differently than 21st century Christian voices do. A woman today might want to find her BFF, marry him, and then go hiking with him across Europe to create memories. But marriage is a vocation, not a scrapbooking exercise.
And Paul says that women who turn aside after Satan are women who avoid marriage, avoid having babies, and who avoid the domestic arts. That’s how women turn aside after Satan. And all God’s people said yikes.
This is going to reveal certain things to you about the second way you can contribute to a solution. When confronted by what the Scriptures describe as the central domestic calling of women, notice your emotional reflex against that. Notice the objections (and the acknowledged exceptions) that crowd into your mind. Notice how you want to talk about Deborah all of a sudden. All of that is the climate talking. All of that is how you have been catechized by that climate. All of a sudden this mysterious climate thing I have been talking about has become very visible. All of a sudden it is palpable.
So do what you can to say and do things that conflict with the soft feminist zeitgeist that is pervasive in evangelical circles. Become a contrary voice in the climate. Do what you can to subvert the dominant paradigm. Do what you can to challenge the dominant paradigm.
Someone asks you, as they always do, what you want to do after you graduate. You should say something like this: “I would like to have eight babies in a row. And I would like at least six of them to have chubby cheeks!”