Grateful to my wonderful wife for our discussions which have led to this article.
The idea of having a domestic servant today would be inconceivable for most people, especially for a pastor’s family. Can you imagine if such were the case at your congregation’s parsonage? What would people say? Wouldn’t they say, “How much are we paying our pastor? I don’t get a servant, why should they?” Yet, historically, many pastors had such so they could minister better. The Book of Common Prayer presumes such in stating that in family prayers the whole household, including servants, should be assembled twice daily for prayers. Luther’s Small Catechism presumes it, not for everybody, but it isn’t even a matter for blinking at. “Master” Luther could be wrong but then Scripture, Old Testament and New, presumes people have servants as well.
We might say that people today don’t have such, unless they are rich. But all sorts of folks have all sorts of domestic help. They have landscapers, plumbers, house cleaners and day-cares. All of these are modern forms of the old-fashioned “live in” help. Yet the old-fashioned “live in” help is today considered snobby, aristocratic, and down-right inappropriate – and movies like The Help definitely don’t help. Oddly, in much of conservative Christianity the external “help”: the landscaper, plumber, house cleaner and day-care is not quite the thing either.
There is a strange concept running around much of conservative Christianity that presumes that a household should be self-sufficient, except for help from friends. Where did this come from? It isn’t from the Puritan work ethic because, well, some Puritans had servants… and sometimes slaves. And in this phenomenon of self-sufficiency the Pastor and his wife are supposed to take the lead and be an example to the rest of the flock. Folks, it’s exhausting and it isn’t quite his job.
It is interesting that for a culture so committed to anti-Communism, such a Marxist (anti-bourgeois and egalitarian) ideal would become the ideal too. After all, the Free Enterprise System says that civilization has a division of labor. The plumber can fix the sink faster than you can and move on to the next house, so pay him. If he charges too much, find another plumber. That’s Free Market. Yet the idea espoused in much of conservative Christianity is that the Christian husband must become all things to all aspects of the masculine. He must mow the lawn, fix the sink, chop the firewood to save money on utilities, and bring the bacon. He should train his sons to do the same. The wife must clean house, wipe nose, cook meal and pop out children and never show a bit of frazzled-ness. She should train her daughters to do the same. Training children is great and saving money is great, but it could be said as well that “time is money” and there is plenty of training to go around even when the “help” has left. I do not judge.
To lack any of these skills is looked upon as compromise and inadequacy in many circles. If you use a day care or don’t home school, you don’t want to raise a Christian home. If the wife goes to work, even part time, she is a feminist. In fact, in a reactionary movement against Feminism, much of conservative Christianity has fallen into a trap from which it is likely to suffer for some time because we have been reactionary AND because we have looked to Scripture for all sorts of things: hints at the qualities of a godly woman, hints at what the head of a household looks like, but we have forgotten the blessed liberty with which Christ has made us free.
There is nothing wrong with Christian couples giving other Christian couples some anecdotal and loving advice. There is something incredibly wrong with the judgmental cookie-cutter way in which some circles wish to build up a holy America (read that, “dictatorial cult”), instead of a community which lives under the Word of God. In the Christian community, one is free to home-school, public school, classical school, boarding school, military school or parochial school to one’s heart’s desire. You are free to do so. Christ does not condemn you. In the Christian community, you are free to use a day care, allow your wife to go to work, use electric heat, or seek to limit the number of children that you have in the ways and under the circumstances sanctioned by Scripture, when investigated seriously and in good conscience. You are also free to prayerfully have as many children as you want. Christ does not condemn you; neither should the Church. Good counsel should be sought, but lifestyle choices will rarely be uniform.
Now for some reading this, my statements are obvious and they would never have thought otherwise. But for some reading this, you know exactly the sort of culture or tendencies illustrated. Often in conservative circles, we have heard “different strokes for different folks” and “judge not lest ye be judged” used to the detriment of our society so much that we have forgotten that there is a sense in which this is true. We have watched as congregations are torn apart over things not quite as silly as which color the carpet should be, but other matters such as day-care, homeschooling, vaccination, and breast-feeding, Sunday school or home catechism, or whether or not children should be in the sanctuary or in the nursery.
Ultimately, such judgmental behavior comes down to three things: 1) Fear 2) Pride 3) Envy. Young parents are hypersensitive and so one way to defend one’s practice is to heap condemnation on the opposite opinion. (How often does a defense of homeschooling turn into an attack on public school? Beloved, this ought not to be.) Older parents and grandparents are fearful that mistakes be made, and can be overbearing.
Pride is manifestly obvious; people think their way is better. And Envy is particularly dangerous as it sees the good that is produced in another, different situation and suspects it of evil and, ultimately, seeks to destroy it. This happens when we see a different family dynamic and a different way of handling it and suspect that it is wrong because it is not our way of handling it. In such a scenario, every short-coming often becomes a reason to pick apart another family and every triumph in that family becomes a reason to seek further for flaws. This is Envy.
For a pastor, these issues are tiresome; they tear apart congregations and they hurt the pastor’s own family. The pastor is tempted to become the sage of all wisdom on all issues. (Such has always been a temptation.) But it leads families into slavery to the cultic pastor’s various opinions. It is not the wise application of God’s Word to a variety of families in the congregation, a sign of real pastoral care. It is not wisdom at all. It is the way of folly.
Finally, some advice to young pastors from a pastor and a pastor’s son: If you need to hire some help, budget it and do it. It isn’t a sign of failure on your part or your wife’s. Your job is to help others in their chaotic lives. It is not a part of your duties to endure domestic chaos as a result. Your home should be a haven of blessing and of peace, ready, if you feel called, to entertain on a moment’s notice. But not all pastoral personalities are personalities well suited to the task of constant maintenance; indeed, few are. And people are constantly bringing their chaos to call, which distracts us from maintaining our domicile. Just because other pastors and pastor's wives you know are able to manage it does not require you to. If a congregation condemns you for it, then work them through the issue, live with it or find another congregation - because if they aren't happy about this, they will probably never be happy with you.
Fr. Peter Geromel is Assisting Priest at Church of the Incarnation and an adjunct professor of Philosophy at Northampton Community College. Educated at Virginia Military Institute, Hillsdale College, Reformed Episcopal Seminary and the University of Dallas, Fr. Peter has authored Sublime Duty: Its Emphasis in The Anglican Way, Christ & College: A Guide from The Anglican Way, and Frankincense & Mirth on High. He manages Traditional Anglican Resources.