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Should a Submissive Wife Run for President? The Case of Michele Bachmann

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by Claire Snyder-HallCrossposted from Tikkun Daily

In the Christian Bible it says, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything" (Ephesians 5:22-24).

Michele Bachmann says she is a Biblical literalist and claims to be a submissive wife. As documented on the Slate website,

In a speech at a mega-church in the Minneapolis area back in 2006, Michele Bachmann explained her decision to pursue tax law. It wasn't her choice, exactly. God had already told her to go to law school; God had also told her to marry a fellow named Marcus Bachmann. Now Marcus told her "to go and get a post-doctorate degree in tax law." This was not a particular desire of Michele's ("Tax law? I hate taxes!"), but she was certain God was speaking through her husband. "Why should I go and do something like that?" she recalled thinking. "But the Lord says, 'Be submissive wives; you are to be submissive to your husbands.'"

Bachmann's speech was captured on video and is available for viewing on YouTube.

The issue of wifely submission is a serious one for Biblical literalists, if not for all Christians (as well as Jews and Muslims, but we will put them to the side for now). The Bible clearly mandates wifely submission multiple times. If you do not want to simply ignore those inconvenient passages, there are three ways to deal with their challenge to our contemporary mores.

1) For liberal Christians, Biblical calls for wifely submission can be understood in historical context. From this perspective, "wives submit to your own husbands" is similar to "slaves obey your masters" (Ephesians 6:5). The argument is that Paul was not justifying slavery, when he told slaves to obey their masters. He was just saying that given the reality of slavery, they should obey. The same argument can be made about wifely submission. Both commandments are designed to create harmony in a particular type of society at a particular moment in history. And just as we have moved beyond slave-holding, we have also moved beyond patriarchy.

2) A second approach to submission is to emphasize "mutual submission": husbands and wives are supposed to be submissive to each other. This approach highlights the verse that calls on Christians to be "submitting to one another in the fear of God" (Eph. 5:21) and the ones that command husbands to love their wives:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband (Ephesians 5:25-33).

The concept of mutual submission is firmly rejected by conservatives like Wayne Grudem at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and he roots his argument in a literal reading of Scripture.

3) The third approach insists that Christians need to take the commandment of wifely submission literally. According to this position, the man is the head of the household and has authority over his wife. This is the position taken by right-wing Christians, and it is considered oppositional to feminism.

There is a huge cottage industry of Christian advice manuals that preach the third view, and they are mostly written by women. There are so many quotes I could use to illustrate their vision of marital relations, but one of my favorites is from Martha Peace's The Excellent Wife (2005):

You may be smarter, wiser, or more gifted than your husband, but you are still to respect the position God has given him. You are like the soldier who stands at attention, salutes, and says, "Yes, Sir!" to his superior officer.

As Peace explains it, the wife is commanded to submit to the will of her husband and follow his leadership in all things - unless he orders her to sin. In cases of disagreement, the wife should pray to God for a change of heart. However, "unless she is providentially hindered, her failure to comply" with "even very small and seemingly unimportant requests or directives" constitutes "not only insubordination to her husband but also disobedience to God" (143). As long as she submits to her husband's will, she will not have to worry come Judgment Day because her husband will be held to account, not she. She is in compliance with Divine will by virtue of her submission.

Beverly LaHaye, founder and president of Concerned Women for America (CWA), embraces the third version of wifely submission. In her book The Desires of a Woman's Heart (1993) -- which liberally cites Grudem -- LaHaye makes clear that "it is the man's responsibility to lead his wife" (128). LaHaye quotes Elisabeth Elliot to explain her point:

The role of the husband is the gift of initiation. This is a gift, not earned, not achieved, not dependent on superior intelligence, virtue nor physical prowess, but assigned by God [129].... The wife's role is a complementary one. To adapt herself to his needs, to respond to his initiation, to submit, to receive.. . . When the wife acknowledges that her husband is her head, she acknowledges that he is her source, her leader, her authority, and she voluntarily accepts the authority. She does it gladly, not in rebellion nor resignation, but in obedience to God. Her respect for her husband will not necessarily require that she keeps her mouth shut . . . but the buck stops with the husband [134].

LaHaye goes on to explain that despite their natural submission, many women today refuse to follow their G*d-given path. This is also part of woman's nature, according to LaHaye. Like Eve in the Garden, women today "are more emotionally responsive to misdirection" and more "easily deceived" than men. In fact, that is why God put women under the leadership of their husbands in the first place (113).

Not surprisingly, Beverly LaHaye's husband Tim LaHaye shares her view of wifely submission. In his book Understanding the Male Temperament (1996), he asks,

"Have you ever imagined what it would be like to be placed in submission to another human being on a twenty-four-hour basis, 365 days a year - for life? That is exactly what God demands of your wife" (229).

While this vision may sound repulsive to many, LaHaye insists that "God would not have commanded a woman to submit unless he had instilled in her a psychic mechanism that would find it comfortable to do so." That is why "woman by nature is a responding creature" (226).

Given my knowledge of the vision of submission espoused by the LaHayes, I was quite a surprised to see a different view of submission articulated on the CWA website, for the purpose of defending Michele Bachmann's qualification to run for President. The article was written by Janice Crouse, Senior Fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute, and it was first published in the Washington Post, as part of a forum on Bachmann's so-called "evangelical feminism."

Crouse makes three interesting points in the article. First, she argues that the mandate for wifely submission only applies to the marital relationship and does not apply to any positions of power a woman might hold outside the home.

In the context of women in 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. Thus, a woman who willingly submits to her husband -- and enjoys his equal submission, nurturing and cherishing -- does not have a similar relationship with the men at work. Some women in the workplace are the boss, the leader, the one in charge; other women are in subordinate positions, working under the direction of someone else. In any work situation, a Christian woman (or man) should be considerate of others and not treat others in a disparaging or demeaning manner. A Christian woman or man in leadership must lead and fulfill the responsibilities for which they are accountable both to God and to those whom they are serving in a leadership capacity.

Clearly, there is no problem with Mrs. Bachmann taking on a leadership position with her husband's permission. And I don't think anyone is suggesting that she should be submissive to all men. This issue is whether Mrs. Bachmann's husband has the authority to overrule her decisions or tell her what to do as it relates to the Presidency.

The second point Crouse makes is that wifely submission actually entails mutual submission.

The biblical passage is clear that both husbands and wives should submit to each other.

This claim was a surprise, since it cuts against the entire wifely submission literature that I am familiar with, as well as the conservative theology of Grudem and others.

Third, Crouse insists that the doctrine of wifely submission allows women moral autonomy to make their own spiritual judgments in cases where they disagree with their husbands and that women and men will both equally be held accountable before G*d.

Scripture does not suggest that women acquiesce to anything contrary to their own moral or spiritual principles or their understanding of God's leading in their own lives. Women are created in God's image, just as men are, and they have God-given potential for which they are accountable to God, just as men are.

While Crouse's claim makes sense, it goes directly against the claims of wifely submission advocates that a woman must submit to her husband in all things, unless he orders her to sin, and that he not she will be held responsible before G*d.

Apparently, CWA now allows for two very different interpretations of wifely submission. I guess that is good news!

But let me be clear about the point I am making. I would have no problem whatsoever with a female President submitting to her husband in personal terms within the privacy of their marriage. That would be her personal choice. What I do have a problem with is the idea of a female President who would be submissive in all things (read literally) to her unelected husband. And I believe the American people would have a problem with that as well. Remember how upset people were when Bill Clinton suggested his unelected wife would be co-President - with his "two for the price of one" comment?

So I would like a clarification from Mrs. Bachmann: Do you seriously consider yourself religiously bound to be submissive "in everything" to your husband? In other words, do you really think he has the authority to overrule any decisions you make in the Oval Office? If so, then why should we elect you President instead of your husband? If not, then why are you claiming to embrace the so-called Biblical literalist's version of wifely submission?

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