The Corner

Christianity, Politics, and the ‘Submission’ Question

It is a very sad thing to see seemingly smart people try to talk intelligently about things they misunderstand so horribly. This often happens when it comes to religion and politics. And it happened in last night’s Republican candidate’s debate from Iowa, when Byron York asked Rep. Michele Bachmann, because of her evangelical Christian faith, “As President, would you be submissive to your husband?”

The best response to such a snarky and uninformed question was not by the candidate, but from the crowd itself. They jeered loudly and passionately. Good for them.

First, the subtext of the question is that a devout Christian woman who takes her faith seriously cannot be her own person and that if we elect Bachmann, won’t she just be a female puppet of her husband? Mr. York is not the only journalist asking the question. It is really an obscene question, both in its blatant misunderstanding of Christian teaching and in the disrespect it shows the candidate as a woman and a wife.

First, Christianity is no backwoods belief system held by only a few scattered folks here and there. It is a major cross-cultural and historical belief system that has dramatically shaped nearly all of Western and much of Eastern culture. There is no excuse for an intelligent person not to have some familiarity with its teachings in both theory and practice. But alas, such is not the case.

Far too many like to use the “wives, be submissive to your husbands” teaching of Christianity (found in I Peter 3 and Ephesians 5:22) as some kind of proof that Christian women should submit themselves to being treated either like slaves at best or cavewomen at worst, dragged around by their Paleolithic hair. That has never been a part of orthodox Christian teaching or practice. It just hasn’t. And this is what was really behind the question. The Iowa audience got that right off the bat.

Bachmann’s answer was absolutely right. The Christian scriptures teach that husband and wife respect one another as one flesh. But submission is clearly not a one-way street. In fact, in I Peter, the text under discussion, Peter tells all of us, men and women, to “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him.”

A king is kind of like a president. So not only are all of us called to be submissive to others, but had Mr. York bothered to review the text he was questioning Bachmann on — seems like a reasonable thing to do — he would have found that the text actually calls on Mr. Bachmann, and all other believers, to submit to the authority of the president. Let’s break this down a bit.

Yes, Michele would be called, under her faith, to submit herself to the leadership and protection of her husband in their marriage. And I trust she is quite happy to do so. But no, it does not mean he is her boss, but rather that he is to — and this is critically important to understand — obey God’s command to him for “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Christian husbands are commanded to be to their wives as Christ was to Church. Christ’s burden is light. He does not lord His authority over believers, but instead laid His life down for his Bride. C.S. Lewis explains this basic Christian teaching:

Christian writers (notably Milton) have sometimes spoken of the husband’s headship with a complacency to make the blood run cold. We must go back to our Bibles. The husband is head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the Church — read on — and give his life for her. This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be, but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion, whose wife receives most and gives least.

That, my friends, is what Christianity teaches about marriage and therefore, what the Bachmann’s marriage seeks to emulate, no doubt.

But it also means, and this is more to Mr. York’s question, that Marcus Bachmann, as a faithful Christian, would also be called to be submissive to Michele, not in their marriage, but in her role as our nation’s leader. This is true of every president, male or female. President Obama has responsibilities as our nation’s president, but also as a husband and a father.

And a good president and his family don’t confuse the two. Nor should a good journalist.

A marriage has one set of rules. A presidency has another. And most people know the difference. And Christianity teaches (for those who do their homework) that submission is a two-way street, never falling unfairly on either husband or wife. It is an equal-opportunity calling. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have been women who formed the primary foundation and growth of the Church throughout the world and the centuries, as Rodney Stark aptly explains.

— Glenn T. Stanton is the director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family and a research fellow at the Institute of Marriage and Family. He is also author of the recent book Secure Daughters, Confident Sons: How Parents Guide Their Children into Authentic Masculinity and Femininity.

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