Beulah Wood’s new book on the theology of family, “Families in the Plan of God,” will launched on July 27 at the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS) in Bangalore, India, where Paul Windsor is the graduation speaker. The book is aimed at theological colleges as a textbook. Here Beulah outlines some of the innovative theology in her book.
I am teaching an interactive class on family in a theological college in south Asia. Mothi Mary has organised her group to act a mother, son and daughter at breakfast. Daughter asks for a second helping. Mother says: “No. You do not need it.” Son asks for more. Mother gives him extra food.
The children are leaving for school. Mother gives son a cup of milk; none for the daughter. Mother welcomes the son from school with tea with milk. Daughter complains: “Mother, you did not put milk in my tea.” Says the mother: “No, daughter. We must attend to your brother’s needs.”
I ask Mothi Mary, middle-class, educated, raised in an English-speaking Christian family: “Where does the story come from?” “I was the daughter,” she replies. I am incredulous.
What is the name of the problem? It is not patriarchy, men ruling women. This is a woman disadvantaging her own daughter. Many daughters and wives are invalidated – not listened to in matters concerning their own health, education, work, home life or marriage.
How can we teach to counteract this injustice in families? Are there Bible principles?
Mothi Mary faces the patrilineal view of family that values sons far beyond daughters, and male family members far beyond women. Most societies have been patrilineal through the centuries, either in mild or extreme forms. Descent passes through the males and property goes to sons or the oldest son.
The extreme form occurs in many South Asian families that believe the family is the male line, which owns the privileges, money, property, and inheritance for the future. Females are members temporarily, as daughters in their birth family, or conditionally, as wives in their marital family – never fully belonging. The marital family appreciates them only if they produce a male heir, for that is why they were brought in. Without a son they risk eviction. The patrilineal family is males.
The Laws of Manu say: “Let a girl be born, but let her be born in somebody else’s family.” A popular Indian saying goes: “Educating a girl is like watering your neighbour’s garden.”
Wives feel themselves outsiders, blamed, pressurised, fatalistic, and helpless. Many pray urgently for a son. Daughters can feel inferior and rejected, lack identity and self esteem, feel forced always to adjust, and sometimes rebellious.
In contrast, the fathers and sons may feel proud, privileged, indifferent to the wishes of wives and daughters, and careless of others’ feelings. This is hardly just.
The only women who, in this system, become fully members of a family are those who give birth to a son, and this is not within every woman’s control. The woman who does have a son may love him greatly and cling to him, but also manipulate him. He has given her status and security. She assumes that his wife is competition for his affection. She builds up the males and keeps down females, for she has internalised the belief that males matter more.
Educated Christian women often cannot take part in decisions concerning their home and family. Women officers in a large NGO said: “If we go into the room when our husband is discussing family matters with his father or brothers, they stop talking until we leave the room.”
Not listening invalidates. Christians have not recognised the sin of invalidating another person’s wishes within marriage. You have failed to love your spouse if you frequently ignore or reject their needs or wishes.
In spite of the injustices in this system, many pastors and leaders are afraid to discuss the cultural issues in families, saying, “We must not interfere with the home. These relationships are ‘sacred.’” Sacred means “set apart.” Praise God, some homes are set apart for love and justice. Sadly, many homes are set apart for abuse, both non-violent and violent.
Many women have so internalised the views of society and church that they do not know things could be different. Christians must look harder, theologically and practically, at family. The patrilineal system treats some people well. Many it oppresses, ignores or destroys, very often daughters.
It is this view of women that causes the ill-treatment of women in marriage and trafficking and prostitution of women outside of marriage. Eighty percent of the women in prostitution did not go into it voluntarily. They will still be sent into prostitution by their families in 200 years time, if they continue to believe that males matter more than females.
Padmini’s parents had three daughters and then a son. Single, she gave years of dedicated social work and is now training as a theological teacher.
“We are a very close family,” says Padmini. “I get on wonderfully with my parents and my brother and his wife. But something is wrong with the system. Before my brother was one year old my parents signed over the whole family property to him. This is normal. My married sisters are cared for in their new families, but I will get nothing from my parents, since the house and assets all belong to my brother.”
The traditional view declines to leave property to wives or daughters, believing them incompetent and inappropriate for decision-making. Even where law now decrees that siblings inherit equally, this is uncommon.
Do we have a theological answer?
Paul taught the principle that all inherit. “If we are children then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17, Galatians 4:7). Since women qualify as heirs of God, that surely lays down a code for humans.
Daughters inherit. That is God’s design. “Justified by his grace, we have become heirs” (Titus 3:7). Peter confirms this: “This inheritance is kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4). To husbands he describes wives as, “Heirs with you of the gracious gift of life” (1 Peter 3:7).
If pastors and missionaries will teach correct theology, daughters and sons will both be welcomed and valued. Daughters will also inherit, young wives will be appreciated, and women and girls will cease to face the frightful abuses of the current system in so many homes.
• Supported by both Interserve and tranzsend, Beulah Wood is adjunct faculty at South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies, Bangalore, South India.