Last month I received a link to the following article that ran in Time Magazine entitled Meet the ‘Selfless’ Women of the ‘Stay at Home Daughters Movement’. I had never before heard of the Stay at Home Daughters Movement (SAHD for short) so the information came as quite a shock. Especially given that the article was written in what I would call an uncharitable manner.
Since that time I came across another article on Christianity Today’s blog for women, Her.meneutics (if you aren’t following this blog you SHOULD be!), that offered an arguably more balanced perspective on the movement. The post was called What Is the Stay-at-Home Daughters Movement and it was written by Karen Swallow Prior, a professor at Liberty University. I also highly recommend it. She summarizes the movement as follows:
Essentially, adherents of SAHD believe daughters should never leave the covering of their fathers until and unless they are married.
Of the movement’s strengths as listed by Prior, she included their emphasis on non-traditional, higher education and their high regard for the father-daughter relationship. I agree with Prior, and was pleased to read a review of the movement that did not throw the baby out with the bath water. While I disagree with many of SAHD’s conclusions, we can still learn from this member of Christ’s Body.
However, along with Prior I also share some concerns. Fortunately, Prior said them better than I could have in the following excerpt:
But the real issue is less “to stay or not to stay” than the underlying principle for doing so. While SAHD advocates cite ample scriptural passages to support their orthopraxy (the practice of their orthodoxy), the principle underlying that practice seems to me to lack explicit scriptural support. This principle is what they claim is a clear divide between “public and private” (terms less connected to biblical language than to Enlightenment concepts) or separate “spheres of dominion” for men and women. Vision Forum Ministries states that “men are called to public spheres of dominion beyond the home,” and “the God-ordained and proper sphere of dominion for a wife is the household and that which is connected with the home.”
It’s possible that this bipartite division is more a social construct than a biblical one. If separate spheres were extrapolated from biblical language and principles, it is more likely such realms would fall along a more complex, tripartite division like family, church, and society. Such a trinity of spheres complicates neat alignments with the God-given binary of male and female.
Perhaps this helps explain some of the problem. For while the SAHD movement calls for daughters to “be helpers to their mother and blessings to [their] entire family,” their attentions appear largely focused on the ministry and business of the fathers. (By the way, none of the fathers, apparently, work at the local automotive plant.)
After I read that section the first time, I read it back to my husband word-for-word because I thought it was so dead on! The distinction between public and private spheres for men and women is indeed a liberal construct, not a Christian one. And as the last line implies, the SAHD ideology would be difficult to live out in a family living within a low economic bracket.
Now, I am always wary of setting up straw men that are easily knocked down, especially when the leaders of the movement aren’t here to defend themselves, so I must affirm that if these women feel led to stay at home with their fathers in preparation for marriage, then more power to them! Does that mean that ALL women are called to do the same? Certainly not. As mentioned above, we have to be very careful of belief systems that develop out of our financial privilege or personal convictions, lest they exclude entire populations within the Body of Christ.
What is the take-away lesson here?
In the face of these disagreements it’s important to remember that there are central issues to the Christian faith, but there are also debatable ones. Mark Driscoll refers to this difference as close-fisted and open-fisted issues. Some doctrines, such as the Trinity and the divine nature of Christ, are “close-fisted” doctrines. We do not let go of them. They are non-negotiables. On the other hand, there are also open-fisted beliefs, such as speaking in tongues or worship style. When it comes to the open-fisted beliefs, we can have union with other Christians even if we disagree with them.
I believe that SAHD is an open-fisted belief. I disagree with some of their conclusions (some very strongly!) but they are still my sisters in Christ. In contrast with the many articles that have slandered SAHD without mercy, a response of kindness and gentleness is, I believe, more faithful to the character of Christ.