Motherhood is denigrated in our culture, sometimes even within the church. This stifles our witness on behalf of the unborn and the women who are their mothers. Something similar could be said of the denigration and abdication of fatherhood. But that is for another day.
There are many examples—such as calling abortion “a medical procedure”—of the not-so-subtle seeking to sever the bond a mother has with the child in her womb. Rarely does one find the word mother in abortion literature, unless a woman says she isn’t ready to be one. But we expect that from abortion culture.
Another example, to my mind more insidious, can be found in the following quote from the work of James Davison Hunter, a well-respected sociologist who has written wisely and incisively about modern cultural conflict. Let me say, by way of disclaimer, that I am not entirely sure whether Hunter is speaking in his own voice or raising plausible objections. I suspect the latter—a thoughtful sociologist, Hunter works diligently to keep his perspective at bay. In either case, his words uncover a common cultural perception. Regarding abortion he writes:
A male pro-lifer’s objections to abortion implicitly endorse a division of labor in which women, by virtue of their anatomy, are largely relegated to the role of caregiver and therefore made dependent upon an economically independent male. A pro-life male, especially one who relies upon Scripture or a socially conservative religious and moral tradition (as many pro-life advocates are inclined to do), may respond, “This is the way it should be, particularly through the child-rearing years.” The problem is that childbearing and child rearing need not necessarily be linked. Pro-life men could just as easily stay at home and allow their wives to work; moreover, day care could be encouraged as another alternative for families where both parents prefer or need to work.1
Leave Scripture aside. Note the word “relegated.” To relegate is to downgrade or demote. The word betrays an alarming value judgment about child rearing—which is that a woman’s role in the workforce is an upgrade from her calling in the home.
Furthermore, the words above assert that female anatomy is the reason women are “relegated to the role of caregiver.” I assume he alludes to breastfeeding, since technically that is the only post-birth task a man cannot do. Strangely, it sounds as if the nature of their breasts is the only difference between a woman and a man when it comes to caring for an infant. Are we really to believe that how God fashioned a woman is incidental to her calling, that her body is irrelevant to who she is? That is not to say that motherhood defines all she is, or that her worth depends upon her being a mother. But to deny that her body is a sign pointing to something fundamental about who she is relegates her indeed.
Finally, consider the implication that something is amiss about being “dependent on an economically independent male.” Dependence is not deficiency; it is how God designed the world to be. We are all dependent. The wealthiest man in the world needs someone to grow his carrots.
A woman who raises her children is not relegated to anything. She undertakes a calling as important, glorious, wearying, and difficult as any outside the home. Moreover, it is a calling she is fit to undertake. Chesterton exposes the absurdity of such thinking when he describes the calling of a mother:
To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labours, and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes, and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? . . . A woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.2
Exposing what is hidden in plain sight, Chesterton elevates our conception of motherhood. And perhaps implicitly shows us why so many men and women today increasingly find their life in the workforce, not in the home.
The church, of course, knows better, as do many Christians. But the way of thinking Hunter cites is commonly absorbed, albeit unwittingly, by many of us within the church. If we are to have a hope of undoing abortion culture, we must recover an appreciation of the sanctity of motherhood. And use our voice to proclaim it.
1 James Davison Hunter, Before the Shooting Begins: Searching for Democracy in America’s Culture War (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 70-71. The book is well worth the read.
2 G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (Mineola, New York: Dover, 2007), 99-100.