When John Kennedy ran for president, he had to dispel the notion that the Pope would be calling the shots. Michele Bachmann’s Christian faith has put her in a similar position pertaining to her husband.
“Given the insistence of Christian theology on male supremacy,” Leslie Bennetts writes in the Daily Beast, “female candidates who put that religion front and center in their campaigns should be required to explain what that means in terms of how they would govern, if elected.”
When Byron York asked her what submission looks like in her marriage, the crowd at the GOP debate booed, giving her a few seconds to process the question. “Thank you for that question,” she responded icily. “What submission means to me, if that’s what your question is, it means respect.”
But is Biblical submission synonymous with respect? I respect the firefighters who protect the community, my jogging partner, and my children, but I’m not submissive to them. Of course, Bachmann knows what every Christian woman knows — the theological richness of submission is a counterintuitive scriptural principle that defies a 30-second response. Consequently, as a good politician, she deflected the question, simplified the concept, put it into words that everyone understands, and dodged a political bullet.
And a “political bullet” it was. What if she had responded to Byron York’s question in the GOP debate by saying, “Yes, Byron, thanks for asking that question. As a Christian, I am in fact under my husband’s authority.”
It would have been the end of her political career, as pundits everywhere started to call for her husband Marcus Bachmann to run for president instead. Bennetts encapsulates this question best when she asks, “If American voters elect her as president … who will be making the decisions — Michele Bachmann or her husband?”
However, the concept of submission is a bit more nuanced than our feminist sisters understand. Christian women are under the authority of their husbands. Submission is, as John Piper put it, “the disposition to follow a husband’s authority and an inclination to yield to his leadership.” This means that the man is the spiritual head of the household, that he should take initiative to make the family better, and lead with love.
However, the “head of the household” role doesn’t apply to the details of her job.
When a woman has a career, she has obligations in the eyes of God and man to fulfill that role. In my own life, I’m a wife, a mother, an editor for a magazine, and a “celebrity collaborator.” Even though I’m a conservative Christian wife, it would be absurd for my husband to grab my manuscript and say, “As the leader of this household, I demand that you delete this paragraph, which would be better suited for chapter two.” He’s my husband, not my boss.
However, this doesn’t mean that husbands don’t have a say-so over their wives’ professional aspirations. I frequently have to sort through which writing jobs to take and which to decline. On one occasion, my husband told me directly that writing a certain celebrity’s story was not going to be good for our family. Even though I’d already started the process of interviewing (and wanted to take the job), I declined. Since then, as I’ve seen other writers struggle with the task, it’s apparent that my husband’s inclination was correct. In this case especially, I was thankful for his leadership.
Bachmann also had a decision to make about the direction of her career. In fact, York referred to Bachmann’s statement that she didn’t want to pursue a degree in tax law, though ultimately deferred to her husband’s judgment on the issue. She rightly heeded her husband’s advice and counsel on the direction of her life. This doesn’t make her a passive non-entity who, if elected, would be the “Wife-In-Chief” instead of the commander-in-chief. There’s nothing in the Bible that says she must defer to her husband’s judgment in how she does her job. Moreover, she would have a legal, occupational, and — yes — Biblical responsibility to perform that task. In other words, when you hire a Christian woman, you aren’t really hiring her husband. Similarly, when you vote for a Christian candidate, you aren’t actually voting for her husband.
On The Today Show following the debate, Lester Holt asked Bachmann about her answer to the submission question.
“Are you happy the question was asked? Did it need clarification?”
“I was happy that I was able to talk about my wonderful husband,” she said.
“Was it important to clarify it, and do you think you did clarify your thoughts about it?” Holt asked again.
Bachmann once again went back to her original response, saying, “I respect my husband. He is a wonderful godly man, and he respects me.”
In other words, this issue is not dead for Bachmann, but the controversy says more about our culture’s lack of understanding of basic Christian tenets than it does about how we feel about women candidates for president.
— Nancy French is the co-author of Bristol Palin’s Not Afraid of Life and Home and Away: A Story of Family in a Time of War.