In The Monstrous Regiment of Women the Gunn brothers attempt to evoke the language of the Old Testament prophets and warn America of impending doom if they do not return to the gender roles that are laid out in a literal interpretation of the Bible. The film repeatedly references specific God-ordained gender roles that are not open for interpretation. Women are mothers and homemakers and husbands earn money and lead the family – no negotiation.
Even Christian ministry is considered a role that women cannot fulfill. According to the Christian patriarchy movement a woman’s home is her ministry and anything that distracts and takes time away from her family is a violation of her God given role. This ideology is very prevalent in Christian patriarchy literature. Nancy Wilson, author of The Fruit of Her Hands: Respect and the Christian Woman, stresses that a woman’s primary role is to teach her husband and children. If ministry conflicts with her roles as wife then she must ask herself the following questions about her ministry outside the home, “Who is the woman’s husband? Next we must ask many subsidiary questions. Is she fulfilling her ministry to him? Is her house in order? Is he leading her in ministry? Is her identity as a Christian woman centered, under Christ, around her relationship with her husband?” (19). (Side note: Wilson doesn’t even have the copyright for her own book. Her husband Douglas Wilson holds the copyright to his wife’s writing). This idea that women cannot be called into ministry and if they are they need to re-evaluate that call because it most likely isn’t from God is a very dominant theme in the Gunns’ film.
A Woman’s Sphere of Influence is Only Her Home
About halfway through the film the Gunns interview a family friend who had previously attended the Southern Methodist University (SMU) Perkins Seminary. The focus on the Methodist tradition is understandable from the patriarchy perspective, which views any denomination that does not support their ideology as out of line with the Christian worldview. The Methodist tradition has a long history of supporting women in church leadership positions and has officially ordained women as early as the 1920s (McAnally, n.d.). Yet, in the fantasy theme the Gunns create women cannot possibly be called to ministry because it conflicts with the call they already have received as a wife and mother. This supposition leads the Gunns to interview former SMU and Perkins Seminary student Kathleen Smith. Smith expresses a deep sense of unease she felt at SMU and the pressure that to pursue higher education, which she implies is not a Biblical calling for women. As Smith tells her story she notes:
“My husband felt a call to go into the ministry. He left his lucrative law practice. We moved, sold everything we could and moved into the dorm and began studies at Perkins School of Theology. The feminism at Perkins and at SMU was very open and very blatant. I had pastors tell me I needed to be in the ministry as opposed to being at home, and, ah, there was a call…. When I started classes, I was doing very well. I had top grades and I was learning a lot, but I was miserable. The children were miserable. My husband was miserable. I cried all the time, and I just constantly was asking ‘What am I doing? What am I doing?’ And one day I sat out on a bench outside of Perkins Chapel and I was crying. People were walking by and I didn’t care, and one of my dear friends came and sat next to me and hugged me and then she began to tell me that I needed to stop this. If I was a Christian and I was called to serve that I had to give up my husband and I had to give up my children. I knew she was wrong, but I went home and I asked my husband what I was supposed to do. ‘Was I supposed to leave you?’ He said, ‘No, God does not call us into conflicting service.” And, ah, I was released and I was free and I could believe the Bible again because it was true. I am so delighted to be home and to be a homemaker and a home keeper. We have five wonderful children, three of which would not be here had the Lord not delivered us.”
Challenging the Gunns’ Interpretation
Note this phrase from the interview: “God does not call us into conflicting service.” What do the Gunn brothers mean by that statement? Isn’t it obvious? Freedom is only available for women in the home. If a woman wants to be a stay at home mother, great. However, God does not distinguish who he calls in ministry based on gender. Priscilla in Acts and Paul’s epistles was a leader in the early church as well as other women who are mentioned throughout Paul’s writings.
Another example is the group of women mentioned in Luke 8:2-3 who followed Jesus around the countryside. Joanna, one of the women who followed Jesus, was married to King Herod’s steward. As Hull notes in her article “Empowered to Serve” these women followed Jesus at tremendous personal sacrifice and cost. The book of John also continually illustrates that Jesus saw women as valuable to ministry. He appeared to Mary Magdalene first after his resurrection, illustrating the importance he placed on women and their service to the Christian faith. Additionally, the sisters Mary and Martha were included in his times of teaching and were close friends of his. Thus, women in the Bible were not confined to just the domestic sphere. The Gunn brothers’ ideology attempts to convince us otherwise. Yet, a close reading of the many examples of New Testament women involved in balancing faith, service and family illustrate that we are often called to serve in multidimensional roles and live challenging, busy lives in service of our faith. The manipulation of religious language in Christian patriarchy literature and films must be closely monitored. We must fight back and not allow fringe groups to become mainstream in evangelical culture. Women can be called to serve and should be allowed to follow that call. It is not the place of any individual to deny the calling of another.
Tom McAnally. “Why do United Methodists Ordain Women When the Bible Specifically Prohibits it?” United Methodist News Service (n.d.).
Gretchen G. Hill. “Empowered to Serve.” Christians for Biblical Equality