The crowd booed at last night’s debate when the Washington Examiner’s Byron York asked Michele Bachmann whether “as president she would submit to her husband.” They booed loudly and long enough to give her a minute or so to come up with a way to dodge the views she has expressly embraced in the past: views shared by the religious right voters she is courting in Iowa.
The question has been called sexist and even anti-Christian. Bachmann defenders are suggesting that it was a personal question and not appropriate for a presidential debate. Bachmann responded as though the question were personal, explaining that she and her husband love each other and that for them submission means respect.
But really this was a complete dodge. The question was not personal. It was based on her own statement that her decision to become a tax lawyer was one she did not agree with and one that was made under the leadership of her husband, through whom God directed her. The question last night was how the fact that she believes God leads her, through decisions made for her by her husband, would play out in office, were she elected president.
Neither was the question particularly sexist. I have no doubt that, if and when other candidates courting the religious right vote, speak to the fundamentalist Christian interpretation of the biblical texts governing men’s and women’s roles, and argue that wives are to be submissive, they’ll be challenged to explain just how far they take that view.
After all, in the conservative Christian world there is a spectrum of views on how these texts are to be read. Evangelical feminists argue that the Bible actually teaches mutual submission between men and women. But Reconstructionists, some of whom have influenced Bachmann, have suggested that, given the biblical order for families, women probably shouldn’t be voting. I wrote about Reconstructionist biblical patriarchy here.
While Christians traditionally hold that God is beyond gender (even while often using masculine language for God), in “The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy,” Doug Phillips asserts that God is male, and explicitly not female; that the human male is the “image and glory of God in terms of authority, while the woman is the glory of man.” That is, men are in the image of God in terms of authority over their households; women are created in God’s image in a decidedly different way, sometimes called “reflected glory.”
Even complementarians, who try to stake out a moderate position that sounds a lot like the squirming around Bachmann did last night, end up saying the essential differences in the way men and women are created make distinct roles for them in the family, the church, and in society necessary. RD contributor Kathryn Joyce wrote about them here.
In Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, likely the most important the articulation of the complementarian position (I’ll bet five bucks Bachmann has this on her bookshelf), authors John Piper and Wayne Grudem argue that it violates women’s essential nature to be in authority over men in any situation. Apparently (since she is running for president) Michelle Bachmann does not agree with their position entirely—although functioning as president with the “covering” of the authority of her husband could be reconciled within it. Asking her, and any other candidate who invokes submission theology, how it would apply to their actions as president seems entirely appropriate to me.
Bachmann still hasn’t answered—and she won’t—because there are still a lot of Americans who think women should submit men and stay home raising children. And she wants their votes.