Christianity,  Politics

Michele Bachmann and Wifely Submission

The Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog is hosting a discussion of Lisa Miller’s column on evangelical “feminism.” But don’t confuse this “feminism” with egalitarianism. Here’s what Miller means by “feminism” of the evangelical stripe:

A “feminist” is a fiscally conservative, pro-life butt-kicker in public, a cooperative helpmate at home, and a Christian wife and mother, above all. Rep. Michele Bachmann is Exhibit A. With her relentless attacks on big government and a widely circulated 2006 video in which she credits her professional success to the submission of her will to Jesus and her husband, Bachmann represents “a new definition of feminism.”

The roundtable discussion that follows includes three other women who offer reflections on the role of women in public life vis a vis the biblical teaching on wifely submission. Here’s a quick look at what each of them says.

Marie Griffith: “Bachmann reflects sea change in conservative Christianity

So long as they pay lip service to wifely submission–and so long as they balance feminine beauty with steel force–women like Michele Bachmann are now thoroughly accepted as public authorities in extremely conservative Christian circles. This is undeniably a sea change in conservative gender norms, a transformation that owes an enormous debt to the feminist movement that religious conservatives despise.

Janice Shaw Crouse: “Biblical submission and servant leadership

It is important to note that biblical submission is about harmony and well-being within the home and the relationship between a husband and a wife; it has nothing to do with leadership responsibilities, except that no one — even the president of the United States – should treat others with disrespect, expect a subservient spirit from anyone or demand total surrender of another person’s will.

Margaret Feinberg: “The Proverbs 31 politician

The role of women in the church is hotly debated with scriptural interpretations anchoring the positions on both sides, but the Bible remains nearly silent on the issue of women in the workplace, political or otherwise. In fact, the only two times we encounter stories of women engaging in politics–the Jewish ruler Deborah and Queen Esther–the Scripture seems to whisper affirmation.

Notably, not a single one of these contributors articulates a clearly complementarian view of gender roles. I wonder how the assessment of Bachmann’s candidacy would have been affected had they included a complementarian point of view.

Truth be known, there is no single complementarian view on the role of women in public life. The best summary of complementarian conviction is the Danvers Statement. Danvers reveals a consensus understanding of scripture on some broad themes but allows for differences on some others. For example, complementarians agree that the Bible teaches a principle of male headship that is rooted in God’s original, good creation. They also recognize that the New Testament specifically enjoins believers to order their homes and their churches in light of this principle. But Danvers does not give specific directives as to how these priniciples might apply outside of the home and the church.

Complementarians who apply male headship outside the church and the home do so on the basis of a broad biblical theme (headship as a creation principle), not on the basis of specific apostolic commands (see for example the guidelines from John Piper, pp. 44-45, 50-52). That is why John Piper and Wayne Grudem have said, “As we move out from the church and the home we move further from what is fairly clear and explicit to what is more ambiguous and inferential” (p. 88). Nevertheless, in settings outside of the church and home, Piper and Grudem encourage women not to assume roles of “directive” and “personal” leadership over men. Still, they are careful not to forbid any particular occupation to women:

When it comes to all the thousands of occupations and professions, with their endlessly varied structures of management, God has chosen not to be specific about which roles men and women should fill… For this reason we focus (within some limits) on how these roles are carried out rather than which ones are appropriate (Piper and Grudem, “An Overview of Central Concerns” in Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, p. 89).

My own view on these matters matches pretty closely John Piper’s. Piper spelled-out his views in 2008 when Sarah Palin was running for vice-president of the United States. For those who missed it before or who want a refresher, you can read what he wrote here.


  • Kamilla

    Not much that is “ambiguous” is needs to discern that there might be a problem with a wife who believes Holy Scripture commands her to submit to her husband also being his Commandrr-in-Chief.

  • henrybish


    I think the day is arriving when CBMW will need to make the decision to no longer be ambiguous on the issue of the role of women outside the home. One of the big reasons most find it so hard to accept the restrictions in church is because they are used to having women in authority over men outside the church.

    1Tim 2:12 is rooted in creation and if it’s application is going to be limited to the church then why is the command for women to dress modestly a few verses earlier, in the same context, not also limited solely to the church, so that the requirements for modestly do not apply to the workplace? (And the command for modestly is not even rooted in creation by Paul, unlike the authority/submission principle.)

    Credit to John Piper though, for his consistent approach to Sarah Palin’s bid for VP:

    … I am not able to say that God only speaks to the role of men and women in home and church. If our roles are rooted in the way God created us as male and female, then these differences shape the way we live everywhere and all the time.

    Add to this that the Bible does not encourage us to think of nations as blessed when women hold the reins of national authority (Isaiah 3:12)…

  • RD

    This creates a very sticky issue for conservatives who are also staunch complementarians. To me it simply reinforces the fact that most Christians do not practice a literal interpretation of the scripture in all cases. So many conservatives hold fast and firm to specific scriptures which they interpret to address a prohibition of committed homosexual relationships, yet they have no problem endorsing a more permissive spirit when it comes to women running for public office, holding corporate ceo roles or being in other positions of authority over men.

    If one insists on interpreting scripture to literally read that God’s plan for women is for them to be submissive to male leadership in the home and in the church, does it make sense that God would think it fine for a woman to be commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the head of the executive branch of the federal gov’t? Does a literal biblical interpretation require that a president Bachmann or a president Palin follow their husbands decisions on all matters pertaining to the administration of their official duties? Do Christians have an obligation to determine Mr. Palin’s or Mr. Bachmann’s positions relative to the expressed positions of their wives, should either Mrs. Palin or Bachmann become president? And what should our role be should we determine that the president is, in fact, acting against the authority of her husband on some issue? Do we write blog posts that loving encourage the president to follow the biblically ordained structure of male headship? And if we don’t, why don’t we??

  • Chris Taylor

    “Staunch complementarians”? By definition, complementarians are a bit wishy-washy (as witnessed by the lack of a firm stance on women outside the home and church) . It seems to me that someone can be ‘staunchly patriarchal’, but I’m not sure you can be ‘staunchly wishy-washy.’

  • Eddie Buchanan

    The fact that this is even being debated among people who call themselves Christians is nothing more than the result of feminism’s infiltration into the church. Scripture makes it clear, from beginning to end, that God made men and women different and intended them for different roles. In fact, no society can survive that disregards this differences. God is, by “The World’s” standards, sexist. God did not intend women for leadership roles in the family, church or elsewhere in society. Therefore, He did not design them for leadership.
    We see in Genesis that God established a patriarchal society. God made man first and then made woman as a helpmate for the man. Genesis 2:18 Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”
    Throughout Scripture, when God instructs his people to select rulers, he tells them to select men.
    “Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you.” (Deut. 1:13 ).
    The Hebrew word translated “men” in this text refers to males as opposed to females. The generic term for mankind, which would include women, is not used here, but rather, the gender specific word for men. If the choice of words means anything, then it is necessary to conclude that God intended that only men be chosen for the office of civil ruler. In Exodus 18:21 the same Hebrew word is used; in fact, in every other passage dealing with the civil magistrate, his duties, and his qualifications, men are in view (cf. Deut. 17:14-20 ; 2 Sam. 23:3 ; Neh. 7:2 ; Prov. 16:10 ; 20:8, 28 ; 29:14 ; 31:4-5 ; Rom. 13:1-6 ). The order of male headship established at creation applies to each of the three “governments” established by God: the family, the church, and the state.
    The description of the nature and purpose of the office of civil ruler applies to all rulers in all nations at all times. Thus, the same role that was assigned to magistrates in the Old Testament is assigned to magistrates in the New Testament (cf. Deut. 1:16-17 ; 16:18-20 ; 2 Chron. 19:6-7 ; Prov. 16:10, 12 ; 31:8-9 ). If the role is the same, then it must be that the qualifications are the same
    Titus 2:5 to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
    1Corinthians 11:9 “neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.” She was created in subjection and in subordination to her husband even in the state of innocence before she was deceived.
    1 Timothy 2:14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
    Regarding 1 Timothy 2:14, Barnes notes on the Bible states, “This is the second reason why the woman should occupy a subordinate rank in all things. It is, that in the most important situation in which she was ever placed she had shown that she was not qualified to take the lead. She had evinced a readiness to yield to temptation; a feebleness of resistance; a pliancy of character, which showed that she was not adapted to the situation of headship, and which made it proper that she should ever afterward occupy a subordinate situation.”
    This is reason women are referred to as the weaker vessel in 1 Peter 3:7, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”
    The idea that this has to do with physical strength is silly and there are no other verses in Scripture to support that.
    Feminism is nothing more than a symptom of pride. It’s rebellion against God and his established order. This rebellion is what Genesis 3:16, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you,” is speaking about. “Desire will be for your husband” means that the women will seek to defy their husband’s authority. The results of this rebellion by feminists, and many weak pseudo-men, have been devastating to society while the number of women who say they’re happy and plummeted.
    Sarah Palin is an obvious fraud. She doesn’t belong to any church, admits she considered having a abortion when she found out her baby had Downs Syndrome, and endangered her baby’s life so she could give a speech. With all the trouble she has at home she still sought a job that would keep her from her family a tremendous amount of the time. Her true colors came through when she told Geraldine Ferrero, “There are still the Neanderthals out there who pick on the petty little superficial meaningless things like looks, like whether you can or can’t work outside of the home if you have small children. . . . I would so hope that at some point those Neanderthals will evolve into something a bit more with it, a bit more modern, and a bit more understanding that, yeah, women can accomplish much.” And she apparently has no problem with her daughter making a career out of getting knocked up outside of marriage.
    Bachmann left her church two weeks before announcing her candidacy because some of it’s teachings might have cost her some Catholic votes. She then joined a mega-church led by one of the biggest false teachers and crooks in the country, Mac Hammond.
    Both of these women use Christianity and biblically illiterate Christians to bring themselves power and money.
    Isaiah 3:12 STATES, “Youths oppress my people, women rule over them. O my people, your guides lead you astray; they turn you from the path.” We are being warned.

  • Gina Dampier

    “but the Bible remains nearly silent on the issue of women in the workplace, political or otherwise.”

    No it doesn’t. What part of “keepers at home” do you not understand?

  • Donald Johnson

    Both patris and egals have pointed out that CBMW is inconsistent by not saying what is appropriate for women in society. My take is they want to be “big tent” on this, concentrating on women in home and church. But IF there really is a “Creation mandate” in Scripture for women to be subservient to men, then it applies everywhere, not just the home and church. The patris are at least consistent on this, but as an egal I see this as a case where consistency leads them away from what Scripture actually teaches.

    For those comps that like to quote Isa 3:12, you should know that the translation choices you quote are disputed by scholars and that there is a much better word choice that flows with the whole pericope that is used in other translations, see the NET for example,

    Isa 3:12 Oppressors treat my people cruelly;
    creditors rule over them.
    My people’s leaders mislead them;
    they give you confusing directions.

Comment here. Please use FIRST and LAST name.