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.