Aug 12, 2011

The Stepford President?

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Days after the incarceration of polygamist Warren Jeffs, the Biblical view of marriage is in the news again. Michele Bachmann has put the issue front and center and not even because of her well-known opposition to gay marriage. During last night's debate in Iowa, columnist Byron York attempted to hold her feet to the fire over anti-feminist views that would seem to disqualify her for the presidency. Bachmann is on record as being a "submissive" wife.

At issue is a speech she gave in 2006 when she explained God's handiwork in her life path.

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.'"

The audience booed York's bold act of journalism as he attempted to address the incongruency between being a submissive wife and the leader of the free world.

Bachmann obfuscated.

"Thank you for that question, Byron," Bachmann responded with a wry smile. "Marcus and I will be married for 33 years this September 10. I'm in love with him. I'm so proud of him. What submission means to us, it means respect. I respect my husband. He's a wonderful godly man and great father.

"He respects me as his wife; that's how we operate our marriage," she continued. "We respect each other; we love each other. I've been so grateful we've been able to build a home together. We have wonderful children and 20 foster children. We've built a business and life together, and I'm very proud of him."

And fundamentalist leaders parsed.

"She answered it the most appropriate way in the context it was being asked. She was being asked a deeply theological question in front of millions of Americans," said Gary Marx, the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. "That's why there was such a strong and visceral booing over the very premise of the question."

. . .

"Most evangelicals know it's not easy to teach in a 30-minute sermon on Sunday. It's impossible to answer in a minute sound bite. Her answer about respect is the only one that can be given," he said.

I can think of another reason why the audience may have booed; because it's an incredibly uncomfortable question that forces modern-day fundamentalists to deal with the cognitive dissonance between what scripture actually says and what they'd like it to say.

CNN's interview with Dr. Alduan Tartt is quite telling. He begins by explaining that "all women" have to answer that question because they have to wear "two hats": wife and career woman. He doesn't  mention how many hats working husbands have to wear. Tartt then misstates the relevant scripture as describing mutual submission between husbands and wives. It says nothing of the kind. It says only that husbands must love their wives; not submit to them. From there he battles a straw man argument about the scripture being misinterpreted as meaning wives must submit to abusive husbands who aren't appropriately expressing God-like love.

The scriptural passage in question is one of those that I stumbled on during my born-again phase and said, what the...

"Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, " ~ Ephesians 5:21-26

The first phrase about submitting to each other is part of a long list of exhortations to all the Ephesians on how to behave in faith. It doesn't pertain to the husband-wife relationship. The rest is fairly clear. The husband is God's representative in the household, the wife should submit to him as she does to God, and husbands should be loving and protective. There is no gender equality in that scenario. It's entirely hierarchical (patriarchal) with God at the top and women at the bottom. To claim otherwise is sad and desperate.

Marcus Bachmann's brother laid it out fairly clearly in a recent Washington Post article.

Dr. Bachmann’s influence on his wife is an article of faith within the family.

“He is her godly husband,” said Peter Bachmann, Dr. Bachmann’s oldest brother, who lives on the family dairy farm across the eastern border in Wisconsin. “The husband is to be the head of the wife, according to God.”

He's right in the sense that if you believe the Bible is the word of God, it's pretty darn clear who's where in the pecking order.

This whole discussion puts me in mind of a discussion I had with my born-again friends in high school as to how there can be female pastors if women have to silent in the church.

"Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law." ~ 1 Corinthians 14:34

My friends argued that it was one of those scriptures that was appropriate to a particular time but no longer really apply. This always seemed to fly in the face of the literal Biblical reading that fundamentalism calls for. It's either the irrefutable word of God or it isn't.

That scripture also came to mind when I noted that Bachmann had made her speech about being submissive to Marcus in a mega-church. Silent in the church she is not. But that's far from unusual amongst female fundamentalists.

The more frightening thought is that Bachmann wasn't being a hypocrite when she claimed to be submissive to her husband as the Bible demands. Although I sincerely doubt she's in serious contention for the presidency, how would that work? Would Marcus be sitting in on all the meetings with other heads of state or the Joint Chiefs? People won't be voting for her husband. They'll be voting for her. I don't think anyone wants the first First Husband in US history to be the one calling the shots.

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