Stephen B. Clark, Man and Woman in Christ.

Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Books, 1980.

Clark’s insightful book is divided in four sections: a scriptural exegesis on social roles; a sociological / anthropological look at social roles; a historical overview of how traditional societies based on social roles became technological societies of free individuals; and finally a picture of what society should and could look like were we to try and restore social roles in our current circumstances.

Clark’s discussion of male-female roles is grounded in his conviction of the family’s vital importance: “the roles of men and women in human life cannot be understood without understanding the structure of the family” (47). We can not become stable, healthy adults without a formation in a certain kind of family. This implicit understanding led traditional societies to structure social roles in such a way as to reinforce the male-female roles within the family. Social roles also acknowledged the complementary contributions and abilities of men and women: “role difference is based on a difference in their areas of responsibility: the wife’s primary responsibility is internal to the family, while the husband’s is oriented more to broader life of the people, both the Christian people and secular society” (285). Traditional societies recognized the masculine charism for public leadership and functional accomplishment and the feminine charism towards serving personal needs.

A major modern problem has been the abandonment of the feminine charism, either by ignoring personal needs or attempting to meet them in a functional manner. We have shifted from care within a realm of stabilized personal relationships to specialized welfare institutions, from “a social pattern in which relationship is the most fundamental consideration to a social pattern in which functional accomplishment is the most fundamental consideration” (472). The worst repercussion has been the loss of wider familial ties reducing the family to the “nuclear family.” Society has become functional, too, so that family members no longer need one another the way they used to: work, education, medical care, job training, life skills, friends and recreation can and are found outside the home. While the family becomes the last place where one can find emotional support, pure emotion and affection become the only bonds holding the nuclear family together; thus the families do not stay together. Marriages dissolve, children move away, the grandparents find assisted living: “the burden of emotional support falls more heavily on the nuclear family as kinship and neighborhood-type groupings weaken. The family becomes the only place in society where the individual receives stable, unconditional, overall concern. . . . [but] the breakdown of structural supports puts considerable pressure on the emotional bond, and in many cases the bond is too unstable to bear the pressure” (493-495). However, without strong families and communities, social roles become impossible to live and pass on.

Without social roles, we are unsure of who to be or what to do: “social roles do not suppress the ‘true identity’ of the individual, but instead provide the stable social context needed for personal identity to develop properly. Human beings cannot establish identity as individuals, apart from personal relationships and membership in various social bodies. An individual search for identity independent of other people will be unending. True identity, like true personality, does not precede relationship, but is instead produced by relationship” (589). Other problems include the loss of a place for the young, the old, and women in society—all of whom are trying to “find themselves” in our culture—as well as growing loneliness, personal insecurity, guilt, anxiety (such as Berger described), great desire for the approval of others, lack of self-discipline, and susceptibility to psychological problems. Clark sees that the “Christian task in the twentieth century is to reestablish truly Christian relationships” (577). Families must be strengthened and reinforced with real ties to wider communities. Single people are to find identity by assisting families and communities in embodying stable social roles and transmitting them to the young.

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