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.