News & Politics

Are Michele Bachmann's Views About 'Christian Submission' Even More Extreme Than She's Letting On?

The people, churches and groups that shaped Bachmann's thinking are far more anti-woman than most Americans fully comprehend.

Michele Bachmann told a barefaced lie the other day. She was asked in the Republican candidates' debate with the other Republican contenders, “As president, would you be submissive to your husband?" 

Bachmann answered: “Marcus and I will be married for 33 years this September 10th. I’m in love with him. I’m so proud of him. And both he and I — what submission means to us, if that’s what your question is, it means respect. I respect my husband. He’s a wonderful, godly man, and a great father. And he respects me as his wife.”

She either lied, has changed her mind, or she says one thing to a national audiance and another to her hard-right evangelical followers.

Here's what she said in answer to the same question in 2006: “The Lord says be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.”  

As Jill Lawrence noted:

Back in October 2006, recounting her life journey to an audience at the Living Word Christian Center, Bachmann talked about “receiving Jesus” at 16, studying hard, meeting her future husband at college, and earning a law degree. “My husband said ‘Now you need to go and get a post-doctorate degree in tax law.’ Tax law! I hate taxes—why should I go and do something like that?” she told the audience. “But the Lord says be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.” Bachmann said she never had taken a tax course, “never had a desire for it,” but “I was going to be faithful to what I felt God was calling me to do through my husband.” Later, when the opportunity to run for Congress arose, “my husband said, ‘You need to do this,’ and I wasn’t so sure.” She became sure two days later, after praying and fasting with her husband.

The real story here is that Bachmann understands just how extreme her part of the evangelical movement is. She also understands that a certain amount of godly lying will be needed to mask that. She understood that the question she was asked the other day was about a biblical teaching that is misogynistic to the core and advocates total submission of a wife to a husband. It is teaching she's signed on to long ago.

The people, churches and groups that shaped Bachmann's thinking are far more anti-woman than most Americans fully comprehend. 


There is a background to this.

The issue of wifely submission is at the heart of the entire anti-feminist agenda that shaped Bachmann. I should know. As I describe in my book Sex, Mom and God, the current crop of religious right leaders -- including Michele Bachamnn -- got their ideas and inspiration from my family’s work, books and film series. As theNew Yorker correctly noted about my late father and the movies I directed when I was his nepotistic sidekick:

[Bachmann and her husband] experienced a life-altering event: they watched a series of films by the evangelist and theologian Francis Schaeffer called “How Should We Then Live?” Schaeffer, who ran a mission in the Swiss Alps known as L’Abri (“the shelter”), opposed liberal trends in theology. One of the most influential evangelical thinkers of the nineteen-seventies and early eighties, he has been credited with getting a generation of Christians involved in politics. Schaeffer’s film series consists of ten episodes tracing the influence of Christianity on Western art and culture, from ancient Rome to Roe v. Wade… He repeatedly reminds viewers of the “inerrancy” of the Bible and the necessity of a Biblical world view. “There is only one real solution, and that’s right back where the early church was,” Schaeffer tells his audience. “The early church believed that only the Bible was the final authority. What these people really believed and what gave them their whole strength was in the truth of the Bible as the absolute infallible word of God.” …Francis Schaeffer instructed his followers and students at L’Abri that the Bible was not just a book but “the total truth.” He was a major contributor to the school of thought now known as Dominionism, which relies on Genesis 1:26, where man is urged to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”

Bachmann's Reconstructionist Gurus

Besides my father, Bachmann signed on as a follower of other leading “Reconstructionists” teaching “dominion.” And out of that movement came the big family, home-school movement that included a push to restore “traditional” roles of women.

This is a subject I know something about because I was the person who discovered and promoted one of the leading anti-feminist leaders who teaches absolute submission of women to their husbands -- and not in the “We respect each other” Bachmann-style whitewash.

In fact, the whole conservative evangelical movement Bachmann is part of is distinguished by its hatred of the feminist movement top to bottom.

In her hedging about what submission means to her, Bachmann has signaled with a wink and a nod to the Fox News crowd that she’ll have to soft-peddle some of her harsher views – at least as she’d theoretically apply them to other ordinary evangelical moms not running for president.

The Reconstructionist Patriarchy Movement

In 2009, over 6,000 women met in Chicago for the “True Woman Conference,” to call women to “Complementarianism” -- in other words, to join the Reconstructionist Patriarchy Movement called by another less-forbidding name. The organizers used their conference to launch the “True Woman Manifesto.” A clause in the preamble read, “When we respond humbly to male leadership in our homes and churches, we demonstrate a noble submission to [male] authority that reflects Christ’s submission to God His Father.”

“We are believing God for a movement of reformation and revival in the hearts and homes of Christian women all around this world,” the group’s leader, evangelical best-selling author/guru and “motivational speaker” Nancy Leigh DeMoss, said in her opening remarks.

Women are “called to encourage godly masculinity” by submitting to men, says the “True Woman Manifesto” those leaders assembled to sign. Women must “submit to their husbands and [male-only] pastors.”

According to this view of what I’ll call Godly Groveling Women, women must “honor the God-ordained male headship” of their husbands by allowing their men to rule them. Thus, selfish “rights” (as in the Bill of Rights) are “antithetical to Jesus Christ.” So The Godly Groveling True Woman believes that she must (as it were) rent her womb to God (and thus to a Reconstructionist revolution in whatever name) in order to embrace “fruitful femininity.”

For those who missed the conference, the way to a “Complete Submission Makeover” was made easy. According to the True Woman Web site, “Don’t miss out—take the 30-Day True Woman Make-Over to discover and experience God’s design and calling for your life! Join Nancy Leigh DeMoss on a journey through Proverbs 31, 1 Timothy 2:9–10, and Titus 2:1–5. For thirty days, we’ll send this email directly to your inbox, complete with biblical teaching; helpful links, printable downloads, and recommended resources.”

What Nancy Leigh DeMoss was doing with her Complete Submission Makeover was to extend the reach of a fringe fundamentalist movement—the “Quiverfull Movement”—into the evangelical mainstream. (The name of the Quiverfull Movement alludes to Psalm 127:3: “Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed.”)

Some Quiverfull leaders have argued against allowing daughters to attend college, as “worldly outsiders” might destroy their faith. Daughters, they say, should stay at home after they graduate from homeschooling. Daughters should practice being a “helpmeet” to their fathers, training to someday “serve” those godly husbands God will send their way. Some Quiverfull women are not allowed to drive. Others make lists of daily tasks to submit to their husbands for an okay. Quiverfull wives are carrying on at least one of Mom’s rules, however: They believe it is their duty to be sexually available to their husbands at all times. If a husband strays because of a wife’s refusal, it’s her fault.

Mary Pride

Mary Pride, the modern-day patriarchy/Quiverfull movement’s female founder, was frequently quoted at the True Woman Conference. Pride paved the way for the modern-era “submission movement” decades ago. She did so with my help.

Pride was one of my father's followers and began to write me fan letters in the 1970s after I’d emerged as a successful rabble-rousing antiabortion leader. By then I was doing the rounds, speaking at the biggest and most politicized churches of the day, including Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Baptist. I was even pursuing my own evangelical media side project: the business of publishing and promoting far right books.

As a moonlighting literary agent, I represented my parents, as well as Dr. C. Everett Koop, John Whitehead, and several other Religious Right and (emerging) neoconservative authors.

In the early 1980s, Mary Pride sent me a manuscript for her first book, The Way Home, which was to become the bible for the big-family/homeschool movement that Bachmann is part of.

Pride told her life story—how she “moved away” from her “feminist” and “anti-natal” beliefs and embraced Christianity. She explained how she found “true happiness” in the “biblically mandated role of wives and mothers as bearers of children.” Pride wrote that “the church’s sin which has caused us to become unsavory salt incapable of uplifting the society around us is [the] selfishness [of] refusing to consider children an unmitigated blessing.” In The Way Home Pride pitched huge families as the only way for women to be truly happy and the only way to change America and bring it back to its so-called Christian foundation.

Pride was interested in more than women just having babies; she wanted those babies indoctrinated. So Pride called for unleashing a new generation of godly homeschooled children onto the slumbering American mainstream in order to reform it.

Pride’s overnight success occurred for several reasons. She was a capable writer and was speaking to Jesus Victims who could be swayed by “the Bible says” arguments. Pride’s success was also yet more evidence of the backlash against Roe v. Wade.

Pride cashed in on the Reconstructionists’ semiunderground network of homeschool groups founded by Rushdoony that Michele Bachmann has been part of.

I was in a good position to launch not only Pride’s book but also any project I wanted to get behind. It was in this capacity as a brash young wheeler-dealer, literary agent/author/filmmaker to the Religious Right, and evangelical/pro-life link to the emerging neoconservative movement that I launched Mary Pride. And she, in turn, started a large movement that—like so much else that has come from the Reconstructionist-inspired Religious Right since the 1970s—flew under the radar of the mainstream media.

And if you want to know who Michele Bachmann's bedrock supporters are you could overlap everyone in America who is raising their children according to Mary Pride and Bachmann's donor list.

Many Reconstructionist-influenced pastors began using Pride’s materials almost as soon as they were published because (at last) here was a woman telling other women to submit to men. And as luck would have it, Pride and her husband were computer experts back when few people were. So Quiverfull adherents were some of the first Internet users to grasp the potential of home computers. Homeschool groups began to network, and Pride became the leader of the evangelical homeschool movement, which she, only second to John Rushdoony, created in its anti-American incarnation.

Anti-American Bachmann and Company

When I say “anti-American,” I mean anti-American as America actually is: multicultural, pluralistic, gay embracing, multiethnic, and based on a secular Constitution and the secular rule of law. Mary Pride and company would have claimed to be patriotic, but their loyalty was to a “Christian America.” They seemed to have nothing but contempt for America as it actually was.

The Christian homeschool movement drove the evangelical school movement to the ever-harsher world-rejecting far right. This happened because evangelical homeschoolers like Bachmann have been demanding ever-greater levels of “separation” from the Evil Secular World.

It wasn’t enough just to reject the public schools. How could the Christian parent be sure that even the evangelical schools were sufficiently pure? And so the Christian schools radicalized in order to not appear to be “compromising” with the world in the eyes of increasingly frightened and angry Jesus Victim parents.

The irony was that Pride preached a dogmatic, stay-at-home, follow-your-man philosophy for other women while turning her lucrative homeschooling empire into a one-woman industry. So Pride may be added to the list of powerful women -- like Michele Bachmann -- who just love those “traditional roles” for other women. And Pride’s successor in the patriarchy movement, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, was also one of those do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do best-selling career women doing high-paid speaking gigs while encouraging other women to stay home and submit to their men.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss happened to be the daughter of a former friend of my mother’s, Nancy DeMoss, who was instrumental in my parents’ rise to evangelical superstardom. Nancy DeMoss was also pivotal in the role of facilitator and financier when it came to seamlessly merging Reconstructionist ideology with the “respectable” mainstream evangelical community. I worked closely with Nancy on several projects. She generously supported my various Schaeffer-related antiabortion movies, books, and seminar tours. She also took “our” message much further on her own by underwriting a massive multi-million-dollar well-produced antiabortion TV and print media ad campaign inspired by our work.

Soon after the death of her wealthy husband, Arthur DeMoss, Nancy DeMoss became my mother’s friend and an ardent Schaeffer follower. She took over her late husband’s foundation as CEO, and besides underwriting several Schaeffer projects, she contributed millions to Republican and other far right causes (including $70,000 to start Newt Gingrich’s political action committee, GOPAC). She also helped the Plymouth Rock Foundation, a Reconstructionist-aligned group.

The De Moss machine will make Michele Bachmann's win possible, if she does win the nomination. This machinery has been crafted under the media radar for almost 40 years now.

Bachamnn Is an Extremist Anti-Feminist

This is the movement Bachmann signed on to when she fell for the hard evangelical anti-feminist line. The other people Bachmann lists as her theological mentors are all even harder line anti-feminist activists than was my father.

As the New Yorker noted, among the professors were Herbert W. Titus, a vice-presidential candidate of the far-right U.S. Taxpayers Party (now called the Constitution Party), and John Whitehead, who started the Rutherford Institute, a conservative legal-advocacy group. Titus was a longtime student of my father's. And Dad was a founding board member of Whitehead's "Christian civil liberties" Rutherford Institute, as I was.

The law review published essays by my father and Rousas John Rushdoony, the leading Reconstructionist/ prominent Dominionist who has called for a pure Christian theocracy in which Old Testament law—execution for adulterers and homosexuals, for example—would be instituted.

At Oral Roberts, Bachmann worked for a professor named John Eidsmoe, who got her interested in the burgeoning homeschool movement. She helped him build a database of state homeschooling statutes, assisting his crusade to reverse laws that prevented parents from homeschooling their children. After that, Bachmann worked as Eidsmoe’s research assistant on his book “Christianity and the Constitution,” published in 1987.

The Real Bachmann on Women

As we've seen, Michele Bachmann told an audience in 2006 that she followed her husband’s education path because, “The Lord says be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.” Her mentor, John Eidsmoe, makes a similar case throughout God & Caesar, his book on how Christians should engage in politics and government.

For Eidsmoe, the role of a woman is chiefly second class to her husband: “God’s Word gives women respect and respectability which they had never enjoyed in any other culture, and we must do what we can to preserve biblical standards. But it establishes the man as the head of the house” (p. 125). He writes:

Humans cannot function without leadership, at least not when they must live and work together. And the basic unit of authority in human society is the family. The husband is the head of the wife (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:23), and children are to obey their parents (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:2).

Husbands are to instruct their wives in things of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:35), and parents are to instruct their children (ps. 115-116).

He goes on to condemn the rise of feminism and criticize feminist scholars, saying they “violate the normal order” God put in place:

Many had planned all their lives to become housewives and mothers, believing such a calling would bring meaning and fulfillment to their lives. Now they are told by the feminists that it is ‘demeaning’ and ‘unfulfilling’ to be a housewife, and they don’t know what to believe. They are frustrated as housewives and feel guilty for not being ‘more,’ but don’t feel any inclination for anything else. And the husband, who planned all this life to be a traditional husband and father and thought he was marrying a traditional wife, feels threatened, insecure, and resentful about these changes in his wife. If the wife goes to work, he may resent sharing housework; that wasn’t what he bargained for when he entered the marriage (p. 124).

Right, Ms. President?

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Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Sex, Mom and God and Crazy for God: How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back.