READER LINDA DE VUYST OF NUEVO, CALIF., WRITES, "I would like to praise men (and women) who, not giving into temptation, stick with the spouses of their youth." So would I. One underlying assumption of many socialist women who spoke up at the Chicago conference I attended late last month (see p. 16) was that all husbands cheat on their wives and Christian husbands are the worst, because they're not just adulterers but hypocrites as well.
Physical or psychological adultery fuels many tragedies and ideologies, including feminism. Miriam, a graduate student at Socialism 2003, spoke of a 28-year-old married friend with four children and what she thought was a loving husband: "During the last couple of years I've been getting the urge to become a mother, and this couple was my model." Miriam said that last fall her friend's husband took her aside and said that since his wife did not work outside the home they had lost contact with each other. The husband said he no longer understood his wife's interests and didn't even know what to get her for Christmas. He asked for Miriam's help and sympathy: "I found that incredibly disturbing."
Socialism 2003 attendees listened attentively to lecturers who made the 1917 Russian Revolution history's high point not because of economic change but because Lenin attempted to overthrow the Christian idea of marriage and family. One speaker, Tristine Adie, orated about Soviet decrees of complete sexual freedom and communal living for most Moscow and Petrograd residents. She later acknowledged that people lived together because they had no choice, and that Josef Stalin "turned back the clock" when he came to power; nevertheless, the brief golden age "shows how quickly home life can be socialized" when necessity and opportunity knock.
One young woman, who complained that her mother doesn't believe in socialized child care-"She says, 'I took care of two kids by myself, why can't others do it?'"-responded, "I'm tired of hearing that young women are inferior if they can't hold onto someone. The Russian Revolution is such an inspiration about what is possible." Fueled by personal frustrations and examples of hypocrisy, she had latched onto a fantasy. So have many others: Few go all the way to Marxism, but feminism is one of the regnant ideologies on college campuses.
Some Christians try to beat feminism by joining it. A few pretend that men and women are the same except for reproductive organs. Others support unisex translations of the Bible. Many blush at biblical descriptions of husbands as the servant-leaders of their families. But a transition that occurred 2,000 years ago points to a Christian way of fighting the frustrations that lead to feminism; it could be summed up by the words in one of Otis Redding's memorable songs, "try a little tenderness."
Look at life for women before Christ. Classical scholars used to muse about "the glory that was Greece," but ancient Greece was glorious neither for slaves nor those near-slaves known as wives. An Athenian wife was not allowed to eat with her husband's guests nor leave the house without male escort. Spartan women probably had more freedom but were still kept "under lock and key," according to the second-century biographer Plutarch.
Greek men viewed women as inferior from birth (as in China today, baby girls suffered infanticide far more often than boys) and into adulthood. The great fifth-century dramatist Aeschylus had his chorus declare about women, "Evil are they and guileful of purpose, with impure hearts." Later, in Rome, husbands could divorce wives who went outside without a veil and could kill them for committing adultery. The historian Tacitus wrote that women were by nature cruel, and the humorist Juvenal thought that women were so low that "there is nothing a woman will not permit herself to do."
Those customs and attitudes changed in Greece and Rome with the coming of Christianity. (For more on this, see Alvin Schmidt's Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization.) Jesus set the example by speaking tenderly to a Samaritan woman and two Jewish women, by letting women follow him, and by appearing before several after his resurrection. The Apostle Paul wrote tenderly of women who were leaders in pulling together Christians in Colossae, Ephesus, Phillipi, and Laodicea. Note that Paul and others did not write about altering the pattern of male headship. Instead, they suggested that a husband should be willing to lay down his life for his wife, as Christ laid down His for the church.
Christianity is not an ideology. It's not primarily even a theology. It's a faith in One who showed us how to live and think and speak: with firmness toward shepherds who lead sheep astray, but with tenderness toward the sheep themselves.