Why embracing a woman’s dual vocations is about loving our neighbors

October 22, 2018

Author Virginia Woolf is famous for writing, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” 

Swinging the pendulum

Since she penned this quote, women have seen Woolf’s writing as a catalyst for understanding the restlessness they feel in their position in life. Much of the literature around Woolf’s time period (and later), centered around this “trapped-housewife” motif that Betty Friedan expanded upon in her later work. Woolf was trying to capture the idea that women have ambitions, dreams, and in many respects are multi-faceted human beings. A woman must have some level of autonomy and freedom if she is going to write, Woolf says. Or to put it another way, a woman must have space if she is going to create.

In a response to the push of second-wave feminism to get women out of their homes, Christians pushed to keep women in their homes. The impetus was noble. “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater,” we say. Instead we’ve made it all about the baby, and missed something in the process.

What Friedan was trying to accomplish was to show that women were bored. Woolf was trying to say that women need some space and freedom separate from the families they care for. Their solution was to leave the home entirely, arguing that women were better than what the home offered them.

And women were bored. Privilege had given white women (an important distinction) more time than they needed. Advances in technology made the once arduous task of housework and cooking not all that difficult. So like the good pendulum swingers that we are, we (as a society) swung the pendulum out of the home and into the marketplace. Christians saw a problem and swung the pendulum back—too far back, I think.

Trying to find a happy middle

But we are fully-orbed humans, and some women, feeling similar angst and restlessness that Friedan and Woolf expressed, are trying to find a happy middle. We don’t want to abandon other ambitions, but we don’t want to abandon home either.

Hannah Anderson recently interviewed Michelle B. Radford (an artist) for Christianity Today about this tension women face when they enter motherhood, but have a deep desire to create. She begins this way: “Instead of viewing motherhood as a barrier to her artistic calling, Radford has learned to embrace the inherent tension between the work of raising a family and the work of creating fine art.”

Having children made me realize that being a writer doesn’t define me, but motherhood doesn’t either.

I had a lot of expectations about what I would do once I had children. After pregnancy losses and infertility, I was just so happy to be pregnant that giving up any pre-kid aspirations seemed like a no-brainer. Like Radford, as the reality of motherhood set in, I couldn’t shake a desire to create, to write, to think, and to process the new world I found myself in. In many ways, I didn’t know how much I needed words and writing until I had small children to care for. Without the outlet to write, I would get frustrated. I needed space to think and write, or I couldn’t be present for my kids.

So our family adapted and found time, even in small increments at first. But with each paragraph I wrote, I had the energy to go home and care for the children God placed in our life. Having children made me realize that being a writer doesn’t define me, but motherhood doesn’t either. I need both to serve faithfully. The pull that Radford had to both create and care for her kids deeply resonated with me, and I imagine does with many other moms as well.

There is a real struggle in our Christian sub-culture to define womanhood and motherhood in terms of sacrifice, and it is a sacrifice (all of parenthood is, really). But instead of making it about dying to self, we define what that death should look like. We assume it always means the death of a dream or death of aspirations, when I’m not sure that is always the case. It definitely involves a re-orienting of our aspirations, and maybe even a tabling of them for a while. But the one who sacrifices the most is not always the one who gives up the most. Sometimes the one who sacrifices the most is the one who sacrifices time for hobbies, or bedtime routines, or even sleep (as needed). The sacrifices abound in the Christian life, but we shouldn’t define the sacrifices always in terms of abandoning one vocation (creativity or marketplace) or another (motherhood).  

Driven by love of neighbor

The impetus that drives me to continue to create, even when it’s hard and I don’t have much time, is the same thing that drives me to want to be a faithful mom. Radford says: “All of us have more than one vocation, but they all have a single purpose: to love and serve and care for our neighbor. I began to realize, too, that my vocation as a mother and my vocation as an artist had the same person—God—calling me. There’s a unity to my different vocations.”

I want to be a good writer because I want to serve the God who made me a writer. I want to be a good mom because I want to serve the God who made me a mom. These “dual vocations”, as Radford calls them, work together because God is a God of order and unity. Sure, there are times where one vocation gets more of my time and energy. In my current season of life, my mom vocation is that one. But women’s lives ebb and flow, and it won’t always look like this. And that’s okay. We need a more robust understanding that to be human is to be a multi-faceted being. No person is defined solely by their vocation—or multiple vocations.

The guilt women face over these dual vocations is real. I feel it. Radford felt it. Many feel it. So what’s the solution? I think Radford is on to something when she talks about neighbor love being the driving force behind our work. When motherhood and writing are more about my neighbor (either the little neighbors in my home or the neighbors in the outside world), then I am free to work where God has placed me. We are all called to love our neighbors with the ways God has created us, for the good of the world that he has made. The challenge is figuring out what that looks like, but it should never be a cause for false guilt of mom-shaming.

As the world we live in becomes increasingly global, and work is less tied to a concrete place, these conversations will only increase. For a long time, the only option women had was to choose one vocation over the other, and many did. Now women have the opportunity to grow into their dual vocations and find what Radford has found, that embracing both makes us more fully-invested humans.

Virginia Woolf, Betty Friedan, and even our conservative Christian culture have attempted to swing the pendulum of female vocation in a myriad of directions, but we all would be better served by a more middle way—where women can use their gifts in the home and the marketplace for the good of everyone in the world that God has made.

Courtney Reissig

Courtney is a wife, mother, writer, and speaker. Born in California, raised in Texas, all with a couple stints in Michigan before finally graduating from Northwestern College (MN). After doing some graduate study at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, she met her husband Daniel and fell in love. They now … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24