Here at NC Family, we are dedicated to preserving and protecting the family, which we know is one of the most foundational building blocks of any society. Public policy and the family are directly linked, and it is no secret that the family has been under attack in public policy and public sentiment for decades.
Dr. Carrie Gress, author of Theology of Home and co-director of the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Theology of Home project, advocates for what we know to be true: without the home and the family, civilization cannot function. Dr. Gress joins host Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s episode of Family Policy Matters to discuss the important “theology of home.”
“Our home is meant to be a foretaste of heaven,” contends Dr. Gress. “The idea behind the theology of home is to really focus on the value of home.”
If families build homes, filled with love and safety and hospitality, this then spreads out into the public sphere, continues Dr. Gress. The opposite is true as well: without thriving families, everyone suffers. “The family is the basic cell of civilization; when the family is corrupted, civilization is going to be corrupted.”
So Dr. Gress encourages all of us to build homes, and ignore the often critical public sentiment that “homemaking” is outdated and silly—especially for women—because thriving homes will lead to a thriving community, state, and nation. “We should all be thinking about how we can do both, where we are not abandoning our homes and our children because of public policy, but we’re also not abandoning public policy for our home. There can be a balance.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Dr. Carrie Gress share more about her work and the idea of a theology of home.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Here at the North Carolina Family Policy Council, we talk frequently about how marriage and family are the most foundational building blocks of society. As Christian-inspired ideals face an increasingly hostile reception from government and society, there can be a temptation to think that we can’t do anything to fix the situation. But today’s guest contends that our efforts in our own homes may have the greatest impact on society.
Dr. Carrie Gress is a Fellow at the Washington D.C. based think-tank, Ethics and Public Policy Center, where she co-directs their Theology of Home project. She founded the online women’s magazine by the same name and has co-authored books entitled, Theology of Home I and II. She’s a homeschooling mother of five.
Dr. Carrie Gress, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
DR. GRESS: Thank you so much for having me.
TRACI GRIGGS: Start off by telling us what do you mean by the term “theology of home,” and how is that connected to public policy?
DR. GRESS: That’s a great question. That’s actually two really big questions, so let me break them up a little bit. The first idea, “theology of home,” is really the recognition that our home is meant to be a foretaste of heaven, that when we’re in our homes we are meant to understand that we are loved, we’re safe, that we’re comforted, we are nourished, hospitality, all of these things happen at the home-level. We can also see this happen in heaven too, sort of the ideal of that. But there’s something in the human heart that really desires a beautiful home, and I think we see that even in the numbers, in terms of what people are spending on their homes; it’s a multi-billion-dollar industry at this point. And yet, we want more than just how to make our homes beautiful; we want to know why we should make them beautiful and why they’re important. And I think some of that has been driven home certainly by the lockdowns in the past year, moving beyond just this idea that our home is kind of a familiar hotel where we just sleep, and maybe get fed and that’s it.
So, the idea behind theology of home is to really focus on the value of home, but, you know, home doesn’t make itself; it also needs a homemaker. And of course, the notion of homemaking has become so out-of-vogue really for the last 50 years. And so we just thought—my coauthor and I thought—it would be a great idea to look at this and see how do we recapture this and see that this is vitally important, that this is really connected to these things that we’re spending our money on, and the desires of our human hearts.
So of course, the second piece of that that you asked is about how does this connect to policy. Certainly, as you and your listeners know well, there’s a lot of things that are happening in Washington that are actually corrupting the family or working against the family. And the family is a basic cell of civilization; when the family’s corrupted, civilization is going to be corrupted. So the idea is again, to sort of challenge a lot of these ideas that have become very popular in the public square, even for the last 50 years. You know, if you look at radical feminism, they haven’t actually had a change to their talking points. They can still throw out the word “patriarchy” and everybody sort of thinks, “Oh, well, that’s the problem.” Or, “homemaking is awful,” or all of these kinds of things that are brought up over and over again. But we want to look at how do we restore this; how do we use policy to buttress the family instead of incentivizing things that destroy the family?
TRACI GRIGGS: So you mentioned several times about why it’s important for the home to be beautiful, and I’m assuming that you don’t just mean decorating, right?
DR. GRESS: Yeah, no, I mean, there’s something deeper here. Of course we know beauty is something that isn’t just about luxury. Beauty is something that draws us in, whereas luxury is something that props us up. But no, the home really is meant to be beautiful, and I think when there is a home that honors Christ and lives by Christian ideals, people sense that and are drawn into it. And that’s one of the reasons why hospitality is certainly so important. There’s a beauty that happens there in the relationships and the nurturing and just all of those elements that make up a healthy home. So yes, it’s obviously not just meant to be a sense of luxury or sort of showing off, but it’s meant to really reveal God. We know God is beautiful, so using these visual material things to help reveal Him is vitally important. So absolutely, I think that’s an important element of the home. And I think also we’ve been told so much by the culture that women that stay at home or women who are Christians are kind of doormats, and yet that’s such a complete lie and it’s beautiful to see that we can use images, and this is what we did in our books. So, there we have a lot of illustrations and incredible photography to show people just how beautiful this life really can be.
TRACI GRIGGS: Those of us who study the family understand the many benefits that come with it, not just to the individuals in the family, but also to the whole community and really beyond. Could you just, for those of us that may not study this every day, remind us what some of those benefits are.
DR. GRESS: One of my favorites researchers that I’ve recently stumbled upon is a researcher from I think 1915—Unwin was his last name—and he did this great study. He wasn’t a Christian at all, but he was shocked by the results that he found. He did the study on cultures and he saw that whenever cultures abandoned monogamy, that they just did not have the energy or the life-force really to continue on as a culture. And I think it’s that kind of element, just that the power that really is harnessed in the family is so important. One of the things that Noelle Mering and I have really promoted is, again, this idea of how do we make this compelling and beautiful for people to see on a cultural level, whether it’s our books or magazines or in Hollywood or whatnot, because we’ve been shut out of media for various reasons. How do we make people understand that these beautiful things do happen, where you have a fulfilled mother, you have a happy husband, where the husband and wife work as a team, they don’t have to do the exact same thing, and they work where their gifts are. And then from that come their children who are then happy and then provide, and give back to the culture.
So that was one of the fun things about publishing our book was that we spent a lot of time thinking about the images. We’ve got dads who look happy and competent, which as you know, one of the things when you turn on TV today, you’re going to see a commercial about a very incompetent white man who doesn’t know how to diaper a baby or something. So it’s that kind of constant chipping away at men, and certainly not looking at women from a healthy perspective of what womanhood is. All those things are important.
I think even just if we look at women today, if you look at any of the metrics, are women happier today? You know, we’re told that we should be because we’ve instituted all of these elements of radical feminism. And yet the data just shows a completely different picture. You’ve got an increase in suicide, increase and drug abuse, STDs, substance abuse, all these kinds of things are pointing to some very unhappy women. So, it’s interesting to see then the fulfillment that actually comes when we are working with the order that God set about, that we can read about in Genesis for actually fulfilling our own lives and that of our whole family.
TRACI GRIGGS: You said that “women are the most under-appreciated evangelical force in history.” Talk a little more about that. What do you mean?
DR. GRESS: It’s interesting to look back at the church, back to Christ certainly, and to just see the role that women have played in bringing others to the church, to bringing others to Christ. Thinking about someone like Saint Monica; there would be no Saint Augustine if there was no Saint Monica, because of her prayers. And this is what women do: we influence our husbands; we influence our children; we influence neighbors. And we have this capacity to do that through our compassion and our love for others. So, I think we have been living with this mistaken notion that unless we’re really going along with radical feminism, with the culture, that we don’t have a voice, and in fact the exact opposite is the case. It’s really our goal to help encourage women to just understand what they can do with who they are as women, with these great gifts of compassion and of listening and of really being able to see things, the needs that other people have. You know, those are very powerful ways to witness and also love people and help them see really the love of God.
So, yeah, I think it’s an exciting opportunity we have when we start looking at it that way, instead of seeing ourselves as women who are only meant to just compete with men, that our goal is to be in control or powerful. In fact, we know from scripture that our goal is really to be fruitful, and we look at that very extensively in our book, Theology of Home II. What is this idea of fruitfulness and how do we live that out as women in any stage of life, any walk of life; there’s certainly fruit for all of us to be harvesting.
TRACI GRIGGS: How do you respond to people, men and women, who are inclined to withdraw from society. I’m thinking in particular public policy. Public policy is messy, you know, if you’ve ever entered into a conversation against abortion-on-demand, or even in your support of the family, I mean, you will get some major blow-back. What do you say to people who want to say, “I’m going to retreat to my home, my safe home, and just let the world kind of do its thing.” How do you respond to that?
DR. GRESS: You know, I think that there’s got to be a real balance because there are times that I noticed for myself, that I just have to retreat to my home and, you know, hide my head under a pillow, just block the world out and really go back to prayer and maybe make a retreat and sort of just reinforce myself. I think so many of us are called to be much more public than we are. Maybe it wouldn’t be so messy if more of us had a voice, I guess. But that’s an individual reality, and something that really requires a lot of prayer, really requires a recognition of what our gifts are and seeing how we can use them. You know, I think that this is a balance where they’re going to be stages. I know in my own life, when I had four small children under the age of five, there was no way I was going to be involved in public policy. There are seasons of life when we can do things and we can be involved and engaged. And it doesn’t have to be complicated; you don’t have to feel like you need to go to the steps of the Capitol. It can be even certain things like very simple things, like passing on a good book to somebody that is struggling with something. Certainly praying for others, being a prayer warrior for people that are out there on the frontlines, because that’s really, those are the people that are taking a lot of hits and they need that prayer and that protection.
I think that that’s the amazing thing is that we should all sort of be thinking about how can we do both, where we are not abandoning our homes and our children and whatnot because of public policy, but we’re also not abandoning public policy for our home. There can be a balance of doing both together with our different gifts.
TRACI GRIGGS: Right. And I love the comment that you made about seasons in your life. I think you’re right, that we don’t necessarily have to do it all right now.
DR. GRESS: No, in fact, as I’m talking, I have got four different spots of my home opened up right now for plumbing issues, so I don’t have a beautiful home right now. But my children know that they are loved, and it really is a season that you know, these plumbers will take care of this problem eventually. We’re all called at different stages of our life to do different things. This isn’t just for moms; certainly it’s for women of every walk of life, and it’s certainly for men of every walk of life. We have different gifts and they’re going to be used in different ways as we get older. And I think that’s the beautiful thing, the more that we say “Yes” to what God’s asking us to, the more we’re going to see our own gifts flourish and be used in ways that is in accord with His will, and in ways that will really transform the culture.
TRACI GRIGGS: Operating for that “audience of one.” I always try to remember that; I’m just trying to please God.
DR. GRESS: Amen.
TRACI GRIGGS: What impact can, or should it have on all of us to remember that we have been called to live at this particular time in history? It was not an accident that we were born now, is it?
DR. GRESS: I think that’s an incredible question because I think about that a lot with just my own children, when they’re afraid of things and we all feel that pinch, you know, what on earth is going on and why am I here? You know, why am I here? And yet, that’s the beautiful thing that God knows. He fashioned our souls in a specific way for this specific time. And we all have gifts. He’s going to put us where we are needed most. So rather than sort of feeling that frustration, or that fear, or that capacity to do something, we need to start small and from there, other doors will open and new things will come about. But absolutely, I think pressing into that idea that it’s not an accident that we’re here, that God really does have a mission and plan for our life. I think that should give us great courage and hope to really see what it is that He wants to do through us.
TRACI GRIGGS: We’re just about out of time for this week, but before we go, Dr. Carrie Gress, where can our listeners go to follow your work on the Theology of Home?
DR. GRESS: The best place is theologyofhome.com, or my personal website, carriegress.com.
TRACI GRIGGS: Dr. Carrie Gress, thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters.
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