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2012 Presidential Election, politics, Theology

Was It Fair To Ask Michelle Bachmann About Wifely Submission?

 

In the GOP Presidential Debate in Ames, Iowa last night, Byron York of The Washington Examiner asked self-identified evangelical Christian Michelle Bachmann:

“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?'”

Some commentators have cried foul declaring the question to be unfair. One writer points out that Bachmann is not running for Wife-In-Chief and explains, “There’s nothing in the Bible that says she must defer to her husband’s judgment in how she does her job.”

Although it was a “gotcha” question, I do not find it to be unfair. I do think it would have been more appropriate to ask Bachmann this question in a one-on-one interview rather than singling her out for this sort of scrutiny during the debate. Santorum and Romney, for instance, were not asked similar questions regarding their Catholicism or Mormonism, respectively.

Whether or not the question was a fair one, it provides a good opportunity for an in-house “faith and politics” discussion for evangelicals. In an article posted before the debate (nice one!), Daryl G. Hart of Old Life wrote:

“Biblical teaching does require women to submit to their husbands and so journalists, whether for gotcha reasons or not, do have plausible reasons for asking how Bachmann’s evangelical faith would square her political power with the Bible’s call for wifely submission. (This is the same kind of question, by the way, that journalists put to Mormon and Roman Catholic politicians who seemed to be under obligation to authorities in competition with the U.S. Constitution.) The response, quite sensible, was to distinguish the spiritual aspects of Bachmann’s life from her political responsibilities. But if you can do that with Bachmann’s marriage, why can’t you do so with the civil institution of marriage more generally? After all, if biblical teaching demands that marriage be between a man and a woman (which it does lest anyone think I’ve gone soft), why aren’t evangelicals also calling for policy and legislation that would enforce biblical teaching about divorce, or about the way Paul describes the relationship between a husband and a wife? Also, if you are going to appeal to the Bible for certain aspects of public policy, is it really bad form for journalists to inspect Scripture to see how far such appeal will take a candidate? Saying that suggestions that evangelicals are theocrats is silly just isn’t much of a defense.”

Let me repeat a few of his points:

1. If you can do that [distinguish the spiritual aspects of Bachmann’s life from her political responsibilities] with Bachmann’s marriage, why can’t you do so with the civil institution of marriage more generally?

2. If biblical teaching demands that marriage be between a man and a woman…, why aren’t evangelicals also calling for policy and legislation that would enforce biblical teaching about divorce, or about the way Paul describes the relationship between a husband and a wife?

These are great questions and evangelicals (and all Christians) ought to think through them. Specifically, if we argue for our political positions using Scripture, as some do with gay marriage, how can we not do the same with other issues? In other words, we ought to be arguing for the legal implementation of biblical standards for divorce, for example, rather than picking and choosing. Also, how can we say it is unfair when politicians like Michelle Bachmann are asked to explain how “submission” in marriage will affect her presidency? As Hart points out, if we claim that these aspects of Bachmann’s life are to be distinguished, we will be charged with inconsistency and asked why we do not make a similar distinction with gay marriage.

Hart finds the answer in appealing to natural law: “If you believe in natural law or that the light of nature does reveal certain ethical norms, then it is possible for evangelicals to oppose gay marriage and abortion without appealing to Scripture and bringing up that unfortunate business about women wearing hats.”

This leads us to a discussion of those who reject natural law and embrace theonomy but that will have to be a discussion for another day.

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