Saturday, January 26, 2013

Adult Daughters and Authority, Part 2

To borrow briefly from part 1:

"Daughters should be under their fathers' authority until marriage."
 "Daughters should realize that their father has insights into potential suitors that they do not have, and they should therefore avoid any romantic relationships that do not have their fathers' blessing."  

I've heard these, and variations of these, for as long as I can remember. I have many friends and relatives that believe them still, and I consider the ideas of absolute parental authority and parental authority in romantic relationships in particular to be some of the most insidious lies I have encountered. I see no support for them in scripture, and no way to support them logically or morally.

Besides the issue of whether or not obedience to parents from adult children is a biblical mandate, there are several other deceptions involved here. One is the idea that a daughter cannot judge for herself whether a man would be a suitable mate for her, and another (closely related) is the idea that a father will automatically be able to judge the motives of members of his own gender better than his daughter can judge the motives of those not of her own gender.

So- can a man judge other men better than a woman? The answer to this question depends a great deal on a person's view of gender, gender norms, and gender differences. If you believe that men and women are from different planets, metaphorically speaking, and that all men are/want/desire/struggle with x, while all women are/want/desire/struggle with y, then it makes perfect sense. If you believe that, while there may well be psychological as well as physical differences between the sexes, neither all women nor all men fit into a neat, tidy gender-specific box, then it is nonsensical. People are judged most accurately when they are judged as people, not as pink or blue cookie cutters. Not all men are alike, and there is no guarantee that a man will be able to see the heart of another man, simply because they share a gender. Personalities, giftings, callings, backgrounds, experiences, families, and all of the other things that make us who we are are generally NOT gender-specific, and those things reveal a person's character far better than any gender-based analysis. Also, the rigid gender roles leave out entirely hermaphrodites, homosexuals, and anyone else who does not fit within the "hetero macho male" or "hetero girly female" boxes. It is folly to assume that only men struggle with lust, emotional un-involvement, or insensitivity, or that only women struggle with self-acceptance, fear, or a lack of theological discernment, for example. Are there differences between the sexes? Sure. But this does not mean that men are more logical, that women are emotionally driven, that men are more sexual, that women long for security, that men feel stifled without an outside-the-home job, or that women are more fulfilled as homemakers.  It also does not mean that a man, by the virtue of his being so, has any more insight into another man than would a woman.

 Also, there is the idea that parents know better than an adult daughter what will make her happy and/or what is best for her, and the idea that fathers in particular are responsible to protect their adult daughters from poor decision-making. 
Are parents, fathers or mothers, responsible to protect their children from themselves? Assuming a fully-functional adult child, I again find no support for this idea, logically or biblically. Removing autonomy and the consequences of decisions will make a daughter or son unable to be independent, for if a person is used to being told what to do and sloughing off responsibility on authorities they will have no idea how to weigh possible consequences and live with the results of their decisions, or how to make a decision based solely on their own opinions and discernment without having the support of directives from above. Wrestling with hard decisions, learning our own strengths and weaknesses, and struggling towards the destiny to which we feel called are important parts of the growing-up process, and a parent who robs their child of these experiences can cripple them. Autonomous decision-making is also an important part of our relationship to Christ- how can we give Him glory with the choices we make if the choices are not ours to make? How can we hear His voice for ourselves if we have no practice doing so? (Also- while I won't take the time now to discuss it in detail, there is an insidious rumor going around Christendom that women are more easily deceived/ more needful of direction and oversight than are men. This is a lie, and a very damaging one. Neither scripture nor history supports it. )

Do parents sometimes have wisdom and insights that their child may not, due to their (we hope) more advanced maturity and knowledge? Of course. And a wise person will get council from their parents if they feel that the relationship warrants it and the parents share enough of a similar paradigm to make their advice apropos. But.... they will not always be right, and they will not always know best. Parents are fallible, flawed humans, as are their children. Parents have blind spots and weaknesses and biases too! Can God speak through parents? Of course. He can also speak through billboards, friends, music, sermons, movies, nature, evil dictators, tv commercials, political satire, cartoons, facebook, books, etc- God can reveal truth through anything and anyone. But this does NOT mean that an adult child should trust their parents' opinion of God's will more than their own. Any child of God who has accepted the gospel of Christ can hear His voice! Can God reveal His will through parents? Sure. But who bears the responsibility of determining what is the right choice and dividing flawed advice from good? The child- the one who has to live with that job,that spouse, etc. Another point here- not every decision is right or wrong- some are right or left. In the latter case, parents' opinions should weigh even less- if the choice is to be based on the likes, dislikes, personality, etc. that God gives all of us, it should again be the child who must live with the consequences who must make the choices. A person's personal preferences are important, and it is completely right and proper for them to take center stage in decision-making as long as there is no sin involved, no dishonorable behavior, no harming of oneself or others, etc.

A decision about marriage, specifically, is an important and very personal one. It will affect a person for the rest of their lives. So, according to my reading of scripture, the only decision makers here should be two spouses. It is up to them to do right, choose wisely, and live with the results of their decision. And should they choose foolishly, there is forgiveness and grace in Christ, always, and an equal share of opportunities for love and service whether you are divorced, married, or single.

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