IT'S A BATTLE OF RELIGIOUS BELIEFS WHEN A LIBERAL CHRISTIAN CAREER MOM WHOSE STAY-AT-HOME HUSBAND COOKS AND CLEANS SWAPS LIVES WITH A CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIAN HOUSEWIFE WHO OBEYS HER HUSBAND'S EVERY COMMAND, ON ABC'S "WIFE SWAP"
This week on "Beckman-Heskett/Childs," a theologically liberal high powered corporate executive mother with a stay-at-home husband swaps lives with a born again Christian mom who believes women are created to be men's help-mates, on "Wife Swap."
Each week from across the country, two families with very different values are chosen to take part in a two-week long challenge. The wives from these two families exchange husbands, children and lives (but not bedrooms) to discover just what it's like to live another woman's life. It's a mind-blowing experiment that often ends up changing their lives forever.
Kim Beckman-Heskett (42) of Colorado is one of only three female vice presidents in her company. She works while her husband, Randall, stays at home and takes care of all of the chores, cooking and cleaning. A former preacher, Randall is now a self-professed modern Renaissance man, artist, poet and mystic who speaks 12 languages and possesses masters and PhD degrees in religion and theology. He is still a man of faith, but is skeptical of others he calls "bible thumpers" after 30 years of preaching and witnessing religious fundamentalism. Both Kim and Randall are devout Christians, but strongly disagree with literal interpretations of the Bible. They have a liberal approach to their faith, and Randall often incorporates humor in his beliefs and prayer. Kim doesn't believe that women should stay at home, "barefoot and pregnant," and encourages daughter Allison (12) and stepdaughter Hannah (12) to follow in her footsteps. The girls aren't required to do chores and are exposed to dating.
Kim travels to Rhode Island, where the Childs are born-again Christians who interpret the bible literally and use it as a guide for life. In the Childs' family constitution, God comes first, husband Christopher comes second. The family have to serve God at all times with a cheerful heart, and they follow the words of scripture to the letter. Lee-Ann is a stay-at-home mom who home schools her children, Laurie (18), Chrissy (18), Coburn (16), Columbia (12), Daisy (10) and Cambria (2). Christopher is an ultra traditionalist father who is head of his household and calls himself the "gatekeeper," setting the rules, enforcing discipline and expecting cheerful obedience. The children all must do a five-minute power clean before Christopher gets home from work. Mom is molding Coburn to be the man of the house so he can provide for a wife and family. As for the girls, she's training them to be stay-at-home moms who will live out God's calling in marriage and motherhood. Dating is not allowed for any of the children. Instead they pray daily for God to send them a spouse when the time is right. Lee-Ann is happy to be her husband's "help-mate," and says that women are the weaker link. The children feel it's ok to be at home as they feel safe, sheltered from the corrupting influences of the outside world.
Haven't seen the episode (don't own a TV!), but from what I've gleaned from the blogosphere, each family came away with strong feelings of disgust for the other. This reminded me of another second-hand description of Morgan Spurlock's 30 Days, which had a Christian fundamentalist mom join a household of gay fathers for a month. That's the happy trio above.
My friend Jodi (a fan of 30 Days, which, similar to Wife Swap, specializes in putting social opposites together) says that participants normally come away with newfound respect and compassion for people different from themselves. Not so with the Christian fundamentalist, according to Jodi: She left the gay dad family with her prejudice intact.
"Part of what’s so fascinating about this episode is how this woman, who is clearly neither stupid nor insane, can hold two sets of absolutely contradictory views: that foster care is terrible for kids and that Dennis and Tom are fantastic parents, but that all gay couples, including Dennis and Tom, should not be allowed to adopt, forcing more kids into foster care," writes the entertainment site AfterElton.
I know from a great deal of empirical research that evangelical families are much more flexible on the ground about gender roles that we might expect, with many stay-at-home dads among them--nothing gives me more hope that gender egalitarianism is the wave of the future.
But "evangelical" is an umbrella term that covers a lot of different traditions and variations. There is definitely a hardcore of believers who will never accept non-traditional gender roles or the gay and lesbian families in their midst, no matter how much contact they have with each other or what evidence suggests the parents are doing a good job.
Has anyone seen these episodes? Care to comment?