What the Bible Tells Us About Sarah Palin
Since the Republican Party suffered widespread defeat on Election Day, the GOP faithful have been debating whether the party should move to the proverbial political center or embrace the conservatism of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. What has gone unnoticed is that support for Palin is a repudiation of the Bible.
Palin, while lauded as a draw for conservative evangelical voters, actually fits uneasily into the theological worldview of the Christian Right. To be sure, Palin's politics are a close, if not exact match for social conservatives. She is strongly against a woman's right to choose abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. She is against same-sex marriage and for an expansive reading of the Second Amendment. She is a perfect candidate -- so long as evangelicals are able to look past her gender.
But supporting Palin's vice-presidential bid -- and her possible ambitions for 2012 -- requires evangelical voters to overlook the "complementarian" conception of the roles of men and women that holds sway among Southern Baptists and other evangelicals. Based on their reading of Scripture, they believe that men and women have distinctly different roles assigned to them by God. Women, in this perspective, are divinely mandated to serve as wives, mothers and keepers of the home. They are not allowed to serve as pastors, and they are obliged to submit to their husband in their own homes and in public.
The power of the belief that women are not eligible to lead came crashing into religious living rooms in September when more than 100 Christian bookstores, run by the Southern Baptist Convention, refused to publicly display an edition of Gospel Today magazine that featured five female pastors on the cover. The magazine had to be withdrawn from public display, said a spokesman, because the story "clearly advocates a position contrary to our denomination's statement of faith." Christians could only get the magazine by asking for it from behind the counter, a la Penthouse or Playboy.
How could it be that a female in the White House was acceptable at the same time that females at the pulpit posed a problem?
Albert Mohler, president of the Baptist Convention, offered an answer on his blog: Scripture is vague on the question of whether women can have public responsibilities and besides, Palin has fulfilled her wifely and motherly duties, he argued.
The New Testament clearly speaks to the complementary roles of men and women in the home and in the church," he wrote, "but not in roles of public responsibility. I believe that women as CEOs in the business world and as officials in government are no affront to Scripture. Then again, that presupposes that women -- and men -- have first fulfilled their responsibilities within the little commonwealth of the family.
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood argued that:
The Bible calls women to specific roles in the church and home, but does not prohibit them from exercising leadership in secular political fields. Rather, the Queen of Sheba is presented in 1 Kings 10:1-13 in a positive light in her interaction with King Solomon. Queen Esther offers an even better example of a woman who appropriately exerted influence for the good of her people without holding the highest position of national authority (Esther 2:17). In this light, we cannot categorically say that it was sinful for Queen Victoria to lead England as a single woman strictly because of her gender, nor can we condemn Governor Palin or any other woman for seeking the office of Vice President.
But, as any reader of the Bible knows, these are selective readings. Mohler and the council ignore politically inconvenient passages from the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy that make clear that men, not women, should rule.
Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. -- Exodux 18:21
Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you. -- Dueteronomy 1:13
In the the book of Timothy in the New Testament, a woman's path in life is outlined as follows:
I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
The charitable Christian will leave aside the implications of this injunction for Palin's notorious $150,000 clothes shopping spree, and ask how biblical fundamentalists can accept Timothy's teachings and still celebrate a female politician skilled in forthright rhetoric.
Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.-- 1 Timothy 2:8-15
The answer is: Not very easily.
For those who believe that there is an all-encompassing plan by God as delivered in the Scripture, the complementarian view is fundamental. The belief in specific gender roles with men being in leadership positions over women cannot be separated from the order that the Bible says God created:
But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. -- I Corinthians 11:3
Yet many evangelicals, excited by the worldview expressed by Palin, twist the otherwise inflexible words of the Bible to justify their political passion.
Not all have managed to make the leap.
"Those of us who seek a biblical reformation of the family and the defeat of feminism's vision for women look at the matter in a very different light," said Pennsylvania pastor William Einwechter, who wrote of the "Feminization of the Family" in 2005.
Sarah Palin identifies herself with the anti-Christian philosophy of feminism. She uses feminist terminology, identifies with feminist political objectives, publicly praises liberal icons of the feminist movement, and has built her lifestyle around the feminist ideal of motherhood and careerism. … She establishes the feminist principle that if a woman can do something, and she wants to do it, she ought to do it; there should be no constraints placed on her by her family, her church, or her society. She validates the feminist notion that it is fine for a mother to leave the care and training of her children in the hands of others while she seeks her own version of success in the world. Sarah Palin has brought to light the degree to which feminist ideology has triumphed in American culture and in the American church.
Even on the religious right.