08.15.11

Stop Attacking Evangelicals!

Open season on the evangelical faith began with a valid question for Michele Bachmann about the doctrine of submission—and the armchair theologians were off and running with flawed interpretations.

Welcome to the last bastion of sanctioned bigotry: ignorant attacks against evangelicals.

Since Rep. Michele Bachmann was asked in a debate whether she would be submissive to her husband as president, the punditry has morphed into a morass of armchair theologians pushing flawed interpretations of what submission means in a biblical context.

Thankfully, nowhere have we seen this kind of behavior relating to Mormons (yet) or Muslims, but it’s open season on the evangelical faith.

Why exactly is it anyone’s business to know the specifics of how Bachmann and her husband interact in their relationship? It was fair to ask the question at the debate—after all, if she had said, “I believe that submission means my husband will tell me how to do my job as president,” that is important information. But that isn’t what she said.

It’s also not what any evangelical I’ve spoken to believes is even implied in the doctrine of submission. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who as an ordained Southern Baptist minister knows a few things about the Bible, explained it to me this way: “This is not about a woman being a doormat. It’s about mutual, reciprocal, selfless, sacrificial love.”

Sign me up.

Ironically, the complaint that is usually lobbed at conservative Christians is that they keep their women barefoot and pregnant. Now the anti-evangelical-Christian mob is up in arms because Marcus Bachmann told his wife she should be a tax attorney and run for Congress. Oh, the horror.

Ideally, spouses influence each other, and if Marcus saw a talent in his wife and encouraged her to pursue higher office, what is wrong with that? He didn’t say, “Run for Congress or I’ll beat you.”

Kathy Keller, the wife of pastor Tim Keller of the evangelical Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, speaks regularly on the Bible and gender issues. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, she knows of what she speaks. She told me: “Women and men who understand the Bible’s actual teaching on headship and submission will see instantly that this issue is being defined by those on the extreme left and the extreme right, who both caricature what the Bible teaches.”

She said: “A man’s headship in a marriage consists of imitating the way Jesus has died for … the church. In no Christian marriages that I know of does a husband presume to tell his wife how to do her job, whether that is homemaking or heart surgeon or commander in chief. For a woman, being submissive in your marriage means bringing all your giftedness into the marriage in support of both your husband and your marriage. If this isn’t an issue for married men, who if they are professing Christians should be willing to die for their wives, then it shouldn’t be made into an issue for a woman.”

Amen, sister.

But to survey liberal writers at various outlets—who are suddenly experts at parsing the Bible—you get a very different story about submission. What they all rely on is finding the fringiest of the fringe to tell them what submission is. Yes, there are people who distort the doctrine of submission to control and abuse women, but they are not representative of mainstream evangelicalism.

"In no Christian marriages that I know of does a husband presume to tell his wife how to do her job, whether that is homemaking or heart surgeon or commander in chief."

Worse, some have pointed to the Webster’s definition of “submission” to prove that what Michele Bachmann said in the debate was not an accurate representation of what submission really means. For those who are familiar with religious texts, historical and linguistic context is everything. Any given word as defined in Webster’s is not necessarily how it is defined in the Bible, especially since the Bible was translated from Greek, so it’s important to understand the original meaning of all the words.

Furthermore, look at the two highest-profile evangelical women in American politics—Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann—and tell me with a straight face that they aren’t treated with respect by their husbands. If you doubt that, I can assure you that five minutes with either lady will set you straight.