Katelyn Beaty Advocates for Working Women In Her Book “A Woman’s Place”

(Bettmann / Corbis via Getty)
(Bettmann / Corbis via Getty)

An evangelical Christian and avowed feminist argues that God intends every woman to work.

The final episode of Leave it To Beaver aired in June of 1963, but many conservative Christians still promote a vision of womanhood reminiscent of June Cleaver.  When Tobin Grant, political-science professor at Southern Illinois University, analyzed General Social Survey data from 2006, he found that nearly half of evangelical Christians agreed with this statement: “It is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” Forty-one percent agreed that “a preschool child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works.” For these evangelicals, a woman’s place in the world is to get married, bear children, and support her breadwinning husband.

Katelyn Beaty—the managing editor of Christianity Today, America’s largest evangelical Christian publication—has set out to change this notion of gender. Her new book, A Woman’s Place, claims to reveal “the surprising truth about why God intends every woman to work.” This declaration may surprise many of her magazine’s 80,000 print subscribers and 5 million monthly website visitors. And it may also rouse many of her fellow evangelicals who believe her ideas defy the Bible’s clear teaching, if not qualifying as outright heresy. While Beaty knows criticism may be coming her way, she is making a conservative Christian case for working women.

“I’m wanting to tell wives and mothers that there is so much inherent goodness in the call to work and that we needn’t pit certain types of roles against each other,” Beaty said. “There are ways to be a devoted wife and mother and a devoted CEO. In the church, we need to make space for women who feel called to both at the same time.”

The 31-year-old Beaty wasn’t always so outspoken about this idea. Three years ago, she broke off an engagement with her fiancé and was promoted to managing editor on the same day. With her dreams of marriage and motherhood sidelined at least temporarily, she embraced her leadership role. But Beaty said she has experienced some resistance as a result of her gender.

In meetings with Christian men outside of the company, she often feels invisible. Sometimes it is as subtle as the way someone establishes eye contact; other times, she is blatantly ignored by her male peers. Beaty recalls attending a recent gathering with other Christian leaders in Kentucky where she was the only woman representing the evangelical viewpoint. As she and several male leaders stood in a circle chatting, another man entered the room and aggressively shook every attendee’s hand—except hers. The man didn’t even look at her.

“No one’s explicitly said to me, ‘I don’t want to talk to you because you’re a woman,’ or ‘I don’t value your insights because you’re a woman,’” she said. “It’s all in body language and subconscious symbols of who has the power in a room and who doesn’t.”

In addition to experiencing the tensions many religious women face, Beaty was transformed by the fulfillment she discovered in her work. Before her promotion, Beaty said she would not have hesitated to quit a job if she got married and had children. She once believed staying at home with children is a mother’s “central call”; she would have happily relegated the task of financial provision to her husband. But her thinking has changed.

“If that were to come to pass now, I’d be more proactive in finding a workplace culture that supports, in actual policy, the perfectly good desire that women have to hold their jobs, take maternity leave, and be a mother,” Beaty said.

As for most evangelicals, the Bible has played an important role in forming her beliefs. After carefully studying the scriptures, she concluded “there is a very strong biblical argument for the notion that women and men are equal in worth and dignity.”

Among the non-religious and those from more progressive faith traditions, the most surprising thing about this statement may be that anyone would consider it radical. But Beaty is making a bold claim, at least in some circles: She argues not just that God permits some women to work, but that God intends every woman to work. Her theology of work is connected to her beliefs about cultural impact.

“All women are called to have influence—cultural influence outside of the private sphere of the home,” Beaty said. “It wouldn’t necessarily have to be a career track, but certainly all Christians, including all Christian women, are called to have cultural influence outside the home.”

This begs a question: What about stay-at-home moms? While Beaty said she wants to affirm the value of the labor of motherhood, she considers it a separate category. While she isn’t willing to call full-time mothering “sinful,” she encourages women with children to assess their talents and put those to use outside of their households.

“When you talk about scales of influence or scales of societal influence, a woman who is staying at home with [her] children isn’t going to have as much influence on the direction of culture,” Beaty said. “We can talk about motherhood as a specific type of calling, but I’m not ready to professionalize it.”

A professional job involves certain aspects like a title and compensation, she said, and homemaking does not have such benefits. In the focus groups Beaty convened while researching this book, she said she spoke to many full-time mothers who long for this.

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SOURCE: The Atlantic
Jonathan Merritt

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