Super Bowl LI has passed into the history books as one of the greatest games of the series. It ranks as that in my opinion, with the New England Patriots staging the greatest comeback in the history of the game. That, however, is not what made the event so monumental for me. It was one of those much-anticipated but often disappointing Super Bowl commercials that surprised me by grabbing my heart and wrenching it into an emotional mess. Oddly enough, it was an automobile commercial.
This jewel of an ad from Audi of America addressed an issue often considered a progressive or liberal cause. Christian and Messianic conservatives tend to relegate this issue to a lesser status than sanctity of life, sanctity of marriage, or even national defense. The issue is equal pay for equal work, the call to end wage discrimination against women. The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) explains the problem this way:
American women who work full time, year round are paid only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men — and for women of color, the wage gap is even larger. It’s long past time to close the gap.
According to my favorite Super Bowl commercial, Audi agrees. The ad ends with the words, “Audi of America is committed to equal pay for equal work. Progress is for everyone.” Yet it is not the end of the ad that captured my attention, but the beginning.
The story of the ad is a Soap Box Derby race. Several young drivers are assembled at the start line in their homemade cars, ready to coast down a hill to the finish line. The camera picks out two tough young men with their faces set to eliminate the competition, and then it comes to rest on a third driver: the only girl in the race. Her face shows determination, but it also shows concern, perhaps even doubt. Is she good enough to race with the boys? Should she hope to win? Can she even finish?
The race begins, and we follow her down the course. She negotiates perilous turns and obstacles, and evades a trap set for her by the two young toughs we saw at the beginning. As she approaches the finish line, she shares the lead with another driver, but in the last second edges him out and wins the race. Then we see her face again, a picture of relief, of exultation, and of unbridled joy. The face of her father mirrors all those expressions, and more: love for and pride in his child.
It is the father who tells us the important part of the story. As we follow the racers from start to finish, he speaks this monologue:
What do I tell my daughter?
Do I tell her that her grandpa is worth more than her grandma?
That her dad is worth more than her mom?
Do I tell that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued as less than every man she ever meets?
Or maybe I’ll be able to tell her something different.
Whatever you may think of Audi, or the NWLC (I certainly do not agree with everything they stand for), the wage gap is a real issue that speaks to an element of injustice at the heart of our civilization. Like all such issues, it is complicated. At the face of it, the question is paying fair wages to laborers. Men and women who work the same amount of time at similar jobs and at comparable levels of skill and experience should receive equal pay. But what if they are not working the same amount of time? What if the woman takes time out of the workforce to have a child, and then works less than full time as she raises the child? Even if she receives equal pay for equal work, as the years go by she still makes less money than her male counterpart simply because she is not working the same amount of time.
Or, more accurately, she is not working at a job that receives compensation in the form of money and other tangible benefits.
No one should ever doubt that the work of a woman in the home is any less strenuous than work in factories, offices, or farms. A wife and mother puts in more hours than the typical wage earner, gets fewer (if any) days off, receives little economic compensation, and deals with stresses and challenges that would boggle the mind of any NASA engineer. Since her work is largely in the home, her audience is quite small. Who sees what she does? Her family and close friends have the best opportunity to see, but they do not have the complete picture. The children do not see Mom working behind the scenes at the PTA, the food bank, the crochet group, or even taking a few minutes to decompress with someone who can commiserate with the daily trials she faces with those little ones. The spouse seldom has opportunity to observe her at work because he is at work himself during the day. The friends, sisters, mothers, and aunts are not privy to the continuous drama of negotiations with children, managing the household economy, and fine tuning communication with her husband.
There is compensation, of course, at least in the ideal sense. It comes in the little demonstrations of appreciation from those same children who prove so difficult to handle on a daily basis. It comes also from a husband who tries to understand, and does the best he can to listen to and encourage his wife in the midst of the thousand distractions and stresses that pull at him. Then there is the satisfaction, after many years, of seeing children grow up and prove themselves worthy members of society, with spouses and children of their own. All of this translates into that intangible compensation of love, honor, and respect.
At least according to Proverbs 31.
And this is where we get to the heart of the matter, and where it gets complicated. The problem is that the ideal seldom manifests in reality. In our day, and perhaps throughout all of recorded history, we have a tendency to confuse economic earning potential with intrinsic human value. Some would argue that this comes from the Bible; that according to Scripture women are of less value than men. In Leviticus, for example, it seems that YHVH Himself is dictating a difference of value:
Again, the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When a man makes a difficult vow, he shall be valued according to your valuation of persons belonging to the Lord. If your valuation is of the male from twenty years even to sixty years old, then your valuation shall be fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary. Or if it is a female, then your valuation shall be thirty shekels. If it be from five years even to twenty years old then your valuation for the male shall be twenty shekels and for the female ten shekels. But if they are from a month even up to five years old, then your valuation shall be five shekels of silver for the male, and for the female your valuation shall be three shekels of silver. If they are from sixty years old and upward, if it is a male, then your valuation shall be fifteen shekels, and for the female ten shekels. But if he is poorer than your valuation, then he shall be placed before the priest and the priest shall value him; according to the means of the one who vowed, the priest shall value him. (Leviticus 27:1-8 NASB)
Not only do we see in this passage an apparent discrimination against women, but also against the elderly. Are these people, and children and the poor as well, truly of lesser intrinsic human value than able-bodied men in their prime working years? Is this an example of archaic Old Testament injustice that is corrected only by the New Testament reality articulated by the Apostle Paul?
For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:27-29 NASB)
No, not quite. As in all things, we must consider context. That is why I searched for commentary on this question, and consulted with learned friends who have more understanding of the Torah than I. The answers were consistent: the commandments of Leviticus 27 concern economic earning potential, not intrinsic human value. The most comprehensive answer came from Barry Phillips of House of David Fellowship in Gloucester, VA. He wrote:
I did note however that 27:8 seems to indicate that the amount ascertained as a person’s value was the amount paid into the Temple Treasury. In the culture of Moshe’s day, a man had more earning potential than a woman. That results in two things: The greater earning potential equals more “value” as a wage earner, and by earning more, he could afford to pay more than a female. She was “valued” less with the expectation she could afford less.
The reality is that a Torah based society functions differently than our modern, Western value oriented society does. A man is expected to work and provide for his home and family, while the wife [note that men and women were expected to marry and raise a family, not live as single adults which is valued in our society] raised children and managed the home. This is also based on an agricultural society. Our technology driven world, where men and women compete for the same roles and jobs, doesn’t always fit well with Torah commands. The temptation then is to see the Torah as possibly irrelevant to our lives. The proper way to see this issue is that Yah’s values and roles chosen for us are not what we desire or employ. I think the social woes and spiritual decline around us evidences that we have rejected Yah’s wisdom for our much inferior version.
That being said, I do not believe that the Torah denigrates women, but rather sees them in a different light. Our education system and social commentators seek to pit men against women, and vice versa, constantly arguing over superiority, equality, reinventing roles, and redesigning family structures to suit their beliefs, and at times, their perversions. Yah sees us fulfilling His Character and Heart according to our masculine or feminine design. Let’s remember that all that is masculine comes from YHWH. Also, everything that is feminine comes from YHWH. Why do we seek to operate outside the design that He has assigned to us? The feminine role of nurturing, organizing, care giving, administrating the home, and giving foundational instructions to children is powerful and rewarding. It’s not to say a woman is incapable of duties more inclined to masculine attributes, but she operates in her world much better than a man would. She probably acknowledges that a man is inferior at accomplishing her tasks that I’ve described. Why is it sexist then to say that a man achieves his masculine oriented duties better than a woman?
Sadly, we are not in alignment with the Almighty’s design, as Barry has explained. What seems to be the truth in 21st century America is that economic earning potential and intrinsic human value are the same thing. Thus we arrive at the demand for equal pay for equal work, which on face value is reasonable, but hidden beneath it is the assertion that our society’s standards indicate women are worth less than men.
Actually, that assertion is not far from the truth, and that is why Audi’s Super Bowl commercial hit me on a profound emotional level. You see, I have daughters, and I know that their value is as great as any man’s. I know also that at some point they will become mothers, and that they will likely not earn as much money over their lifetimes as their husbands. Does that diminish their intelligence? Does it diminish their accomplishments in the work force or in other arenas? What about their ability to make a difference for good in the lives of those they meet? Or the honorable names they are making for themselves? Does it take away from their ability to think for themselves, figure out problems, find creative solutions, and help others do the same?
My daughters have value beyond estimation, regardless whether they are earning a salary or not.
And now the really hard part: There is a large segment of the population that does not share this opinion. Regardless what they might say, their actions and attitudes demonstrate a tendency to relegate women to secondary status. This is, of course, a prevailing trend among men, and as one might expect, it is evident everywhere. But there is one place where I have seen it displayed more frequently than any other:
In the church and synagogue.
Yes, it is among the most ardent disciples of YHVH that I have seen this value judgment of our sisters. From childhood I have seen women excluded from the pulpit, from positions of real authority, and from the deference due them for their hard-earned knowledge, experience, and wisdom. I have observed female family members and friends suffer silently as their opinions are disregarded and ignored. And I have agonized over the emotional scars left by years of such treatment.
I make no charges, but merely share the observation that we men tend to run roughshod over the godly women in our midst without even knowing it. I say “we” because I am just as guilty. If I am able to see this issue at all, it is only because of the women in my life who have helped me see. That includes a strong, brilliant wife who has taught me that my way of thinking and comprehending the world is not the only way; that her way of thinking and comprehending is just as legitimate. Not only that, but she has helped me to understand that a problem she perceives is a legitimate problem, even if I do not see it or share it. This was one of the hardest lessons; early in our marriage I had a tendency to ignore or minimize issues simply because I saw no problem. I praise God that she helped me learn differently.
Help also came from our two exceptional daughters who surprised me again and again with their ability to work hard, think hard, and play hard – and in the process gain wisdom beyond their years. And there are many others as well, such as my liberal academic colleagues. One of the most eye-opening experiences of my life was being the only male Christian conservative in a graduate seminar of highly intelligent and capable women at the University of Arizona. They helped me realize the myopic nature of my attitudes and understand what the world looked like through their lenses.
Let us consider this: if women and men are equally expressions of the Almighty’s character and nature, then each must have high value – I would contend equal intrinsic value in His eyes. Difference of roles (biological and otherwise) does not mean difference of overall value. If it did, then the Bible likely would not include such examples as:
- Deborah, the Judge of Israel who commanded the nation’s generals (Judges 4).
- Huldah, the prophetess whose godliness was so well known that even the king of Judah and the High Priest went to her to inquire of the Lord (II Kings 22:11-20).
- Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, who contributed of their own private means to sustain Yeshua and his disciples (Luke 8:1-3).
- Lydia, the astute business woman whom Paul and Silas trusted enough to stay in her home and provide for them while they ministered in Macedonia (Acts 16:14-15).
These examples and others give us reason to consider more carefully what our God thinks of the female half of the human race. Apparently He thinks more highly than we men do, which is why His Torah includes provisions to protect against the oppressions of men who deem their greater physical strength and economic earning potential as proof of their inherent superiority. Maybe we would do well to reevaluate what we have received through the ages and see if our gender relations, like so much else, require a reset in the light of God’s Word.