The Atlantic published an article by Emma Green last week titled, “It’s the Moms who Get Kids to Church: A new study suggests women are the primary models for religious faith in many households.” As the title suggests, the article indicates the moms are out doing dads in having a more prominent and significant influence on the spiritual lives of their children. Relying on studies conducted by Pew Research and Barna, Green begins her article with these words:
It’s often the moms: the ones who do the cleaning and volunteer at school and know the ins and outs of their kids’ diets and health records. Men and women in American households may be taking on more and more equal roles, but there are some spheres in which women still dominate. And that, apparently, includes religion.
According to Green, women are keeping religion alive:
Gender imbalance has long been a part of religious communities. Women often keep churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship functioning—the Christian polling firm, Barna, even calls women the backbone of U.S. churches.
It’s the last phrase that caught my attention: “Barna . . . calls women the backbone of U.S. churches.” If the studies done by Barna and Pew Research are right, then when it comes to having a strong spiritual presence in the home and in the church, women have taken the driver’s seat. Insofar as the research accurately reflects the condition of many evangelical churches, the question is, “is this a problem?” My answer: yes. The problem is not that women are investing heavily in the spiritual lives of their children. The problem is not that women have strong spiritual convictions. The problem is not that women have a strong presence in churches. The problem is that men are not bearing the primary mantle of leadership in the home or the church.
At the societal level, the problem is even greater. The title of David Blakenhorn’s book published 20 years ago says it all: Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem. I would not call it an overstatement to suggest that fatherlessness is our country’s greatest problem. If a strong civilization is built upon strong families and strong families are built upon strong Fathers, then take Dad out of the equation and civilization as a whole begins to unravel. Of course I am not suggesting that mothers are less important or expendable. Mothers have a special and essential role within the family as well. The point is that society and the church will suffer greatly when Fathers abdicate their God-given responsibilities to someone else, even if that someone else is their wife.
From a biblical perspective, Green’s article is troubling, but it is not surprising. The failure of Fathers to lead their families is not a new problem. To trace the genesis (pun intended) of this problem we must go back to the beginning of creation itself. Genesis 3:6 indicates that when the serpent deceived Eve, Adam was right there with her. In that moment, Adam failed to lead, love, and protect his wife. He abdicated his God-given responsibility.
Prior to mankind’s fall in Genesis 3, we discover the beauty of God’s design for humanity as male and female. According to Genesis 1:26–28, both male and female are made in the image of God. Since they both bear the divine image, men and women are equal in their essence and their personhood. Yet, by God’s design, men and women are also different. Their differences are not merely biological but functional for their respective genders. In Genesis 2, we learn that God created Adam to lovingly lead, protect, and provide for his wife. God placed Adam in the garden to “work” and to “guard” it (Gen 2:18). Adam was to work the ground to provide for his household and to protect the boundaries of this garden-sanctuary from the evil serpent lurking on its borders (Gen 3:1). Genesis 2:16–18 indicates that God gave Adam the “law” not to eat from the forbidden tree before Eve was created. The implication is that it was Adam’s responsibility to communicate the word of God to his wife and by extension his family. Furthermore, Adam exercised his leadership role by naming his wife (Gen 2:23; 3:20). When Adam and Eve fell into sin, God came looking for Adam. God held Adam—the leader of his household—ultimately responsible for the transgression (Gen 3:9).
After Adam and Eve broke God’s law, they hid themselves among the trees. God came looking for them and called out to the man: “But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” (Gen 3:9). What a pathetic sight. Adam was hiding from God and from everything God called him to be. He was like a little boy afraid to own up to his responsibility. He hid from God and his wife because he had every reason to do so. His sin separated him from God and incurred God’s just condemnation. His sin opened his eyes to his own nakedness. He was no longer free to enjoy a harmonious, trusting, selfless relationship with Eve. Previously naked and unashamed, Adam now felt the need to self-justify and cover up his flaws.
As sons of Adam, the propensity to hide is in all of us. Hiding out for a few extra hours in the office is easier than coming home to do the hard work of parenting. It is much easier to hide out in the basement watching TV than to gather the family together for prayer. Fatherlessness can take different shapes and sizes. A family can be fatherless even when Dad is physically on the premises. Fatherlessness is a problem for families when Dad is there but not there. He is in the house, but entirely absent. He is disengaged and disinterested. He is present, but not spiritually, emotionally, intentionally, lovingly, authoritatively, and didactically invested in his wife and children. He is hiding from God, his wife, and his children.
God’s question to Adam is a question for all of us husbands and Fathers: Where are you Adam? Where are you Fathers? Unlike our Father Adam, we have no need to hide from God because through the gospel we are in a new and better Adam. The new Adam did not abdicate his God-given responsibility. If anyone had a reason to recoil from his God-given responsibility, it would have been Jesus. The Father sent Jesus to face the cross on our behalf. If there ever was a reason to run and hide, this was it! But Jesus set his face like flint to Jerusalem to fulfill his Father’s will.
The new Adam would not be deterred. His death would reverse Adam’s curse and restore mankind to God. For Jesus to overcome Adam’s failure, he was hidden on a tree of his own. Yet the amazing fact of the gospel is that when Jesus bore our guilt and shame as our new Adam, it was not Christ who hid from the Father, but the Father who hid his face from Christ. On the cross, the question did not come from Father to Son, but from Son to Father: Where are you, Father? Why have you forsaken me? I have no doubt that the Father would have loved to answer the cry of his obedient Son in the moment, but he was entirely silent. He was absent. This was not the absence of a cruel, disengaged, unloving Father—far from it! The Father’s absence was necessary to redeem us so that we would have to hide from God no longer. God the Father was absent because that is what our sin deserves. He was absent so that he could glorify the Son and the Son could glorify the Father.
Because of this gospel Christ has brought us into the enjoyment of the Father’s love. Christian men have no need to run and hide from being the men God has called them to be. We have no need to hide from God or our families even when we fail to exemplify true fatherhood to our children. Instead, we know that when Christ bore our guilt and shame on the cross, we died with him under the curse of God. If we died with him, we have also been raised with him to new life. We now enjoy fellowship with God the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. This gospel message frees us and empowers us to be the sacrificial, selfless leaders of our families. Our wives need us to believe that gospel and our children need us to believe that gospel. So Dads, let’s get our kids to church.