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Women: Don't miss out on the 'goodness of work'

Katelyn Beaty wants the church to look beyond motherhood

“Have it all” is a phrase that drives Katelyn Beaty mad.

“Of course, if we mean that you can have whatever you want at whatever time you want it, then no, you can’t have it all,” she says.

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“Can we expand our thinking so we can affirm women as both mothers and workers?” – Katelyn Beaty

But Beaty is worried that Christian women today are missing out on what she calls the “goodness of work” because the emphasis for women inside the church is still motherhood.

Beaty is a former managing editor of Christianity Today, what she describes as the “movement magazine” for evangelicalism in the United States. She was the youngest person and the first female in that position, and has gone on to write a book published in 2016 called A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World.

Beaty is in Australia at the invitation of Anglican Deaconess Ministries in Sydney, as a key speaker at ADM’s School of Theology, Culture and Public Engagement. She spoke to almost two hundred women this week about her vision for a more expansive understanding of what God wants for women.

“Can we expand our thinking so we can affirm women as both mothers and workers?” appealed Beaty. “As writers or doctors or managers? It doesn’t have to be ‘either or’. It can be ‘both and’.”

While that might sound like a ‘have it all’ argument, Beaty’s position is more nuanced.

“What we mean by ‘have it all’ is, can women have a fully engaged life at home with their children and in the household, and have a meaningful, engaged, fulfilling work life [outside the home]?”

“And what I hear a lot of women saying is, in that sense, you can have it all but not at the same time.”

“There will be seasons where one aspect of your call, one aspect of your vocational role, is maybe put on the backburner. But then later on, it comes to the forefront again.”

Those seasons, says Beaty, shouldn’t stop women from thinking deeply about how they can use their talents and skills outside the home.

In the church Beaty attended as a young woman, she heard teachings that emphasised motherhood as the most important work a woman could do; the “fullest expression of who God made them to be.”

“Coupled with that, there was a quiet steering of women away from a type of work that would take them away from their primary role of being mothers,” she said.

“Help women think more holistically about the many roles and challenges they might take on …” – Katelyn Beaty

Beaty is careful with her words – in our interview and in her book. She says she has seen many, many women thrive in motherhood roles. “This isn’t a denigration of motherhood,” she says.

Rather, she wants Christians to become more comfortable with the notion that even mothers can have professional ambitions outside the home, as well as being more open to what happens when women can’t or don’t have children.

“If the church feels like mainstream culture denigrates motherhood, the response to that is not to idolise motherhood,” says Beaty.

“It’s to help women think more holistically about the many roles and challenges they might take on in their given lifespan.”

Beaty’s views have not come without opposition. Within the evangelical tradition, Beaty’s egalitarian views – including her support of women’s ordination (a topic not directly addressed in the book) – have caused some friction. Notably, some who hold a complementarian position – the belief that men and women are created equal but have different roles – take issue with Beaty’s central argument that both men and women were given the call to work outside of the home.

As research for her book, Beaty interviewed many women who “embody multiple callings”. Beaty argues that the church needs to be more accommodating and less judgmental of women who choose to be both mothers and workers.

“Many, many women I spoke with for this book said they are better mothers when they are investing in a passion or pursuit outside their family,” she writes in A Woman’s Place.

“As Christians, we understand work to be a way that we can honour and love God and love our neighbour.” – Katelyn Beaty

As part of her Australian trip with ADM, Beaty spoke to a group of high school young women while in Sydney this week. “It’s a really exciting time to be a young woman,” said Beaty. “I think there are pathways and opportunities that are available today that haven’t been in the past.

“It’s exciting to see the ways that young women are envisioning what their futures could be.”

But as with all Christians thinking about their vocation, she reminded them “that our work and our professional lives aren’t just about self-fulfilment.”

“It’s not just about expressing ourselves or expressing our talents and gifts or even about a paycheck, though that’s important. But as Christians, we understand work to be a way that we can honour and love God and love our neighbour. And thinking about ways that our skills and talents and interests can be used in the service of God’s kingdom.”

“God made us rulers over the works of his hands,” Beaty writes in her book. She argues it is time to “recover that vision for all Christians” – and that’s women, too.

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A Woman's Place

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