Was it fair to ask Bachmann about wifely submission?

Conservative columnist Byron York put a tough question to Michele Bachmann in last Thursday’s Presidential debate. Here’s how it went:

In 2006, when you were running for Congress, you described a moment in your life when your husband said you should study for a degree in tax law. You said you hated the idea. And then you explained, “But the Lord said, ‘Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.'”

As president, would you be submissive to your husband?

Bachmann responded to York’s query with this:

Marcus and I will be married for 33 years this September 10th. I’m in love with him. I’m so proud of him. And both he and I — what submission means to us, if that’s what your question is, it means respect. I respect my husband. He’s a wonderful, godly man, and a great father. And he respects me as his wife.

This particular exchange has gotten a lot of attention lately, and for good reason. Commentators tend to circle around three main issues: (1) was it a fair question? (2) was it relevant? and (3) did she answer well?

In at least one sense, it was not a fair question. The question is deeply theological, and it is difficult to imagine a comparable religious question being asked of one of the male candidates. Don’t hold your breath to hear this one: “Governor Romney, are you wearing your temple underwear? If so, how will the covenants it represents influence your presidency?” Or, “Speaker Gingrich, does your recent conversion to the Roman Catholic faith mean that your chief allegiance is to the Pope? Do you need to take a loyalty oath to the Constitution?” One could reasonably argue that such questions are relevant. But to single out the one female candidate for her religious views on such a question does seem a little bit unfair. It gives the appearance of a double standard.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to argue that York’s question is irrelevant. If a female candidate has publicly stated that wives should submit to their husbands (as Bachmann has previously done), then it is only natural to ask how the leader of the free world would submit to her husband. It just doesn’t pass the sniff test to pretend that the question is not germane. If Byron York had not asked the question, someone else was bound to at some point during this race.

Did Bachmann answer the question well? From a political point of view, the answer has to be yes. She did herself no harm by saying that “submit” means “respect” and that she and her husband respect each other. There is not a person in America who would view that answer as extreme or threatening. In fact, she answered the question like a good egalitarian would have answered it, and that view is well within the cultural mainstream.

From a biblical point of view, however, it was not a good answer. In Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18, and 1 Peter 3:1, the word “submit” really does mean “submit.” Of course the term implies respect, but it goes beyond that and requires wives to subordinate themselves to the leadership of their husbands. This view of submission is positively countercultural in modern America, and Bachmann likely would not have helped her candidacy by embracing it publicly. Nevertheless, it is what the Bible means.

It remains highly unlikely that Ms. Bachmann will come anywhere close to winning the Republican nomination, much less the Presidency. Her candidacy, however, does serve to remind us that no political party has the corner on truth. The biblical worldview is sometimes too radical even for political conservatives.

37 Responses to Was it fair to ask Bachmann about wifely submission?

  1. Allie August 13, 2011 at 11:40 am #

    Denny,

    Why is it that it is okay to ask Mrs. Bachmann about nuances of her theology but not Mitt? The media would not go within a nuclear fallout radius of asking Mitt, about his beliefs of eternal marriage and advancing into becoming a God. So why is it okay to ask these questions of Michelle.

    It is almost as if the media has a tacit agreement with Mitt and Mormonism, that it will steer clear of anything to do with his LDS beliefs, but the same is not true for an evangelical like Michelle. Double standard if you ask me.

  2. Kamilla August 13, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Denny,

    I’m glad to see you got the answer mostly right ;-)

    Yes, her response was remarkably Egalitarian and appears to place her in that category of those who are stated Complementarians but practical Egalitarians – something I think your colleague Russell Moore has written and spoken about.

    Yes, if the religious question is legitimate, it is legitimate to ask of all candidates as all of them profess some religious allegiance. We tend to focus on RC or LDS candidates because they are different from the garden-variety Evangelical Protestants we are more used to.

    But this question wasn’t simply about Bachmann’s religious beliefs. No one is talking about the elephant in the room – Bachman is a girl. The rest of the candidates on the platform were boys. And if I am not mistaken, none of those boys have professed submission to their wives in the way the one girl up there has professed submission to her husband.

    It wasn’t a deeply theological question. It was a question about her decision making, a question that arises precisely because she is different from the other candidates and the religious question really isn’t a legitimate comparison because that is an entirely different sort of relationshp. To put it another way: Obama isn’t crawling into bed at night with Jeremiah Wright, Romney isn’t doing the same with the First Presidency nor is Gingrich with BXVI. But Michele is, presumably, with Marcus.

    That’s why it is a godo question to ask.

  3. Denny Burk August 13, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    Kamilla,

    My take on this is not very different from yours (if at all). If the question was unfair, it would only have been in that one narrow sense. And it may have only been the “appearance” of a double standard rather than an actual one.

    The question was certainly relevant, and she would eventually have had to answer it. She’s fortunate to have York put it to her rather than a more antagonistic journalist. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which she might have been given a much tougher line on this topic. If she stays in long enough, she will get grilled on this.

    Thanks,
    Denny

  4. Christianes August 13, 2011 at 12:16 pm #

    Was it fair to ask Bachmann about wifely submission?

    yes, all questions are ‘on the table’ when a presidential candidate seeks office . . .
    any ‘secrets’ hidden from voters would interfere with their ability to do their civic duty properly

    And it IS NOTED that some candidates in the past have REFUSED to answer questions, to be interviewed by anyone other than ‘friendly’ news sources, and have been ‘advised’ by the ‘powers that be’ to avoid ‘Katie Couric’-type interviews, that can really give insight into a candidate’s make-up. I think it is ‘poor’ advice given to shield these candidates from the voters finding out the truth about them, and when voters are made aware that this is going on, they lose trust in those candidates big time.

    • Christianes August 13, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

      Sharon Angle comes to mind . . . the voters picked up on it and she didn’t get elected.

  5. Shirley Taylor August 13, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    No, it was not a fair question. I am egalitarian. While I am interested in what she had to say and her answer – which was a politician’s answer – this has nothing to do with whether or not she can lead the country. Is she parroting her husband’s opinions each time she votes?

    However, from what I have recently read about her, she believes that women must submit to their husband. That does concern me. It should concern every woman, and should concern men. Whenever a marriage changes a woman’s ability to think and reason for herself, that is cause for alarm.

    If Michele Bachmann believes thal all her actions should be filtered through what her husband thinks and desires, she has lost control of her being, and has surrendered it to another human. I can’t see that the scriptures teach that. It doesn’t make sense that Paul would teach women that the husband has now become her head as this would put the husband between a woman and God.

    I like Michele Bachmann, and wish that her religious beliefs did not matter.

    • Kamilla August 13, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

      Shirley,

      It’s good when a feminist such as yourself (I am familiar with some of your work) provides us with such a clear object lesson in what you all *really* think about women – that marriage can change “a woman’s ability to think and reason for herself”.

      Bachmann is obviously an intelligent and extraordinarily gifted woman. That she has apparentlly made the informed decision, of her own free will, to express her beliefs about marriage in complementarian terms is beyond your ability to understand, or it is such a hateful concept to you that you necessarily believe she has given up her ability to think and reason for herself. It never enters your mind that, because she has the ability to think and reason for herself she has made this decision to conform her belief and practice to a contemporary Evangelical expression of the orthodox Christian position on marriage.

      Kamilla

      P.S. to Denny – yes, I didn’t really think our answers divergent. Just focused differently.

    • AJD August 13, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

      Unfortunately, your view on a wife submitting to a husband is purely personal opinion and not what scripture teaches. Read Ephesians 5:22-33. Just as Christ is the “head” of the church, so the husband is the “head” of the wife. The wife is submitted to the husband in the same way that the church is submitted to Christ. It is not the other way around. This is not human opinion but the truth of scripture. Just because you don’t agree with it, it really doesn’t matter. God’s way’s are sovereign. Anything other than God’s way is humanism.

      To be clear, God has established this order to serve as a covering and a protection for the wife and not to establish dictatorship. There a huge difference between a benevolent husband and a malevolent one. The husband is also commanded to love his wife just as Christ loves the church. That said, if a husband strives for this, the wife will not see his role as a violation of her “being.” She will feel loved, valued, and honored. Just as the church feels loved, valued, and honored by Christ as he laid his life down for it.

      The moment we try to make God’s word yield to our reasoning or opinions, is the moment we bring God’s ways and his wisdom under submission to ours.

  6. Allie August 13, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    So Kamilla you believe you are allowed to ask about theological beliefs when it might tell us something about how you will make decisions or your decision making process? I think that is a fair point.

    But if we apply this to Mitt, there is still a double standard being practiced here. It would then be fair to ask Mitt about how his decision making process could lead him to see Mormonism as true when even the Smithsonian has said there is not a shred of evidence for all its claims about people, places, civilizations, technologies, and battles that it speaks of. I think it would be very illuminating to then know what kind of decision making process Mitt goes through to evaluate evidence and then make his judgments. This seems just as relevant and in need of explanation as does Michelle and roles within her marriage.

    • Kamilla August 13, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

      Not exactly, Allie.

      I don’t see any double standard here because, as I indicated above, this seems to be a question that is less about Bachmann’s religious beliefs than it is about her marriage (hence, my “crawling into bed” reference).

      I do think religous beliefs should be on the table and I might even want to know if Mitt Romney agreed at the time with the 1978 “revelation” that men with black skin are now eligible for the priesthood – but this is, in some ways, different than the question asked of Bachmann about how her specific religious beliefs about marriage will affect her decision making.

      Kamilla

  7. Shirley Taylor August 13, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    My work focuses on women’s equality and I have found that almost every conversation can be brought to that subject.

    Michelle Bachmann should not have been asked that question. Plain and simple. You would not ask Romney whether or not he believes that his wife should submit to him. Most Mormons do believe that, just as SBCers believe it, but it wouldn’t be asked.

    It is time we took religion out of politics. Whether you are egalitarian, as I am, or whether you are complementarian, we should keep church and state separated. If not, one day we will wake up and find that we have a church-run country.

    • Kamilla August 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

      Shirley,

      No man will ever be asked if his wife submits to him because no one cares – it does not affect his political decision-making whereas Bachman (who is a wife and not a husband) will be very much affected in her decision-making by her husband if she truly submits. Now that may be for political good or ill, but it is a legitimate question because it is a legitimate difference.

      As for your longed-for naked public square – it is a myth.

      Kamilla

    • Christianes August 13, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

      Shirley, just a thought . . . if we DON’T find out if Bachmann’s stand on this issue would affect all of her decisions in office, then we cannot vote confidently feeling that she would exclude her religion from her duties as President in the matter of the kind of ‘submission’ advocated by some conservative groups.

      We need to ask. We need to get an honest answer. Then, if we want to ‘separate’ religious imposition on someone’s Presidential decisions, we can act with knowledge one way or the other, at the voting booth.

      Otherwise . . . we vote in the dark . . . some people want us to be kept in the dark.
      I don’t think that you are one of them.

      • Shirley Taylor August 13, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

        Christianes,

        You are not going to get the truth from her. She did not answer the question. What you have to do is read more about her religion. I have received an email from one of my readers regarding her religious views and it is not good from my point of view. Perhaps other readers would agree with it, but I don’t.

        So asking the question was sexist, anti-religion, and demeaning to her as a woman.

        What you determine in the voting booth will have to be found out elsewhere.

        • Christianes August 14, 2011 at 12:07 am #

          we still need to get Bachmann ‘on the record’

  8. Shirley Taylor August 13, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    Kamilla

    “my longed-for naked public square” Whoa, where did that come from? And what does it mean?

  9. Kamilla August 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    “It is time we took religion out of politics. Whether you are egalitarian, as I am, or whether you are complementarian, we should keep church and state separated. If not, one day we will wake up and find that we have a church-run country.”

    That’s where.

  10. Shirley Taylor August 13, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    AJD

    The message Paul was trying to get across to the Ephesians was not about marriage.

    They knew about marriage. What they didn’t know about was how Christ related to them, and how God came into the picture. Paul tried to explain Christ to them. He told them to think about their marriage – how the husband has chosen the wife, and that the wife in turns shows her respect and submission to that husband. We, both men and women, are to be that way toward Christ.

    He said that a marriage was the best example he could think of show how Christ relates to us.

    He wasn’t giving them a marriage manual.

    The message is about Christ and his relation to the Body of Christ (men and women) and in this example, Paul remembered that men don’t always love their wives, and sometimes they beat them (you wouldn’t give yourself a black eye, don’t give them one). He knew the failings that could be in a marriage and he sought to set that straight.

  11. Shirley Taylor August 13, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Kamilla,

    I thought you were talking about a fig leaf. Sorry.

  12. Kamilla August 13, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

    “He said that a marriage was the best example he could think of show how Christ relates to us. ”

    Shirley,

    I am glad I don’t have your nerve in my tooth. Really, really, really so glad I could dance on the bar, especially after taking a quick tour of your website today. The best example he could think up? Really?! So, Paul was just this guy thinking up examples on his own?

    I’m guessing you’ve got a misprinted Bible. It seems to be missing 2 Timothy 3:16.

    Kamilla

  13. Shirley Taylor August 13, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    Kamilla,

    Perhaps you didn’t understand Paul when he said “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” (Eph 5:32)

  14. Kamilla August 13, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    Shirley,

    First, you miss the point of the reference. Let me help you – it is that all of Scripture is God-breathed. It’s not just a bunch of guys named Paul and Luke and Peter thinking up things on their own.

    Second, the Scripture reference you use goes to support the orthodox position on men, women and marriage rather than providing any support for your feminist position. There is no mystery in the sort of equality feminists espouse.

    On the contrary to my missing it – I embrace it fully and with joy. I love the mystery, the paradox, the unutterable beauty at the heart of Christian anthropology. That we are both equal and different. That the imago dei inheres in both men and women yet that God has created men and women differently.

  15. Shirley Taylor August 13, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    Kamilla,

    Thank God he created men and women differently. But your surmise that he did it for spiritual reasons won’t hold water.

    God created men and women differently for procreating, not for spiritual reasons.

  16. yankeegospelgirl August 13, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    Oooooh, interesting. Myself, I think I would consider myself principally opposed to a female president, but I would still consider voting for Bachmann or Palin if either of them won the nomination. The way I view it is that I don’t have to agree with a candidate on everything to vote for him (or her, as case may be). So this would be just one more area where I disagree with the candidate.

  17. Paul August 13, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    It’s a valid question, especially for the country at large, especially from this point of view:

    If we have a Mrs. Bachmann as president, do we, in all actuality, have a Mr. Bachmann that we know little about because he wasn’t the one campaigning, as president?

    It’s a perfectly reasonable question.

  18. Sue August 13, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    Its a fair question. Probably most egalitarians won’t agree with me, but I would question the legality of voting someone into office who has made a vow of obedience to her husband. In fact, I even wonder if someone who has made a vow of obedience should be allowed to vote. It seems that this gives two votes to the husband and none to the wife. How does it normally work for most complementarians? How do wives know that they are allowed to vote for their own choice?

  19. yankeegospelgirl August 14, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    I should say though that I do consider it to be a tacky thing to ask, even though Bachmann did sort of set herself up for it by talking at length about submission. The whole thing seems very awkward to me, because she was absolutely serious when she discussed things like her husband’s forcing her to study tax law (!) I mean seriously, what husband forces his wife to take a course in tax law??

  20. yankeegospelgirl August 14, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    Kamilla, you bring a smile to my face. :)

  21. Ryan Phelps August 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    And, moving on…

    Denny, it’d be helpful, at least to me, to take up this issue of wifely submission and the Presidency. When I first heard the question I had no idea what the “proper” response should have been. And I don’t mean rhetorically/politically. What is the proper theological response? And the deeper question that lies behind this is, Can a wife who submits to her husband in the way God has decreed faithfully take up the office of President? I honestly don’t know.

    Thanks!

  22. Donald Johnson August 14, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

    (1) was it a fair question?
    I think any question is fine for a candidate for political office. But they should ask similar questions of all candidates.

    (2) was it relevant?
    It is relevant to ask if she needs to obey someone if she wants to hold political office.

    and (3) did she answer well?
    I think respect is an aspect of submission. So it was a partially valid answer, given that it seemed to be a ZINGER type of question, I give her a pass for her answer.

    • Paul August 14, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

      Donald –

      1) what’s the point in asking Romney or Pawlenty or Cain that question, unless their wife is a Hilary-esque kind of figure who definitely came off as someone that might want to be an active part of policy making? Especially in light of the fact that especially on the Republican side, such a thing would be seen as taboo anyway.

      2) absolutely agreed.

      3) agreed in that she gave a very political answer. Disagreed that it was a zinger question. Especially since it can’t at once be fair AND a “zinger” or “gotcha” question. Debates are supposed to places where the tough questions are asked, and FINALLY, props to Fox News (never thought I’d say those words) for acting like a real news organization and asking hardball questions of the Republican party when they matter, and not just when they think they have a RINO on the stand.

  23. yankeegospelgirl August 14, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    It was a doozy of a question to have to answer, and she did as well as could be expected. But it still just doesn’t square with what she said before. Very odd, very odd… but I’d still vote for her as things currently stand. We’ll have to see how it all unfolds. Of course everyone knows Obama will be re-elected. That, sadly, is not really in question. He’ll win by hook or crook–quite literally.

    • Paul August 14, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

      Like Bush did with Florida in 2000?

      • yankeegospelgirl August 14, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

        You mean like Gore tried to do in Florida in 2000? Yeah, like that. Great comparison—thanks for the reminder.

        • Paul August 14, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

          ask AP about that. Oh wait, they’re part of the “liberal media.”

  24. RD August 15, 2011 at 9:47 am #

    I think Ryan Phelps has asked the most important question here: “Can a wife who submits to her husband in the way God has decreed, faithfully take up the office of President?”

    If you are a complimentarian, what is the correct theological position here? Would the apostle Paul support a woman who ran for president?

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