Monday, August 22, 2011

Michele Bachmann and Submission to Husband

Even the slightest in touch with national politics know about the flap of Michele Bachmann's submission to her husband issue. To start, here's what the Bible says about it in Ephesians 5:22.

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

Anyone who has an even rudimentary understanding of the Bible knows this section of Ephesians 5. It's easy to understand. The concern about Bachmann's "submission" goes back to her first campaign for the House in Minnesota. She appeared at a church in October of 2006 and discussed the importance of God's calling at critical moments in her life. In the midst of that, she said:

My husband said, "Now you need to go and get a postdoctorate degree in tax law.". . . Tax law? I hate taxes. Why should I go and do something like that? But the Lord said, "Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husband." And so we moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia, and I went to William and Mary Law School there. . . . Never had a tax course in my background, never had a desire for it, but by faith, I was going to be faithful to what I felt God was calling me to do through my husband.

OK. I'm not going to get into the nitty-gritty of her explanation, some of the details that seem loony to me about her "calling," but overall she's right that the Lord (through Paul) said to wives to be submissive to their husbands. Look at the above verse. That's what it says. And maybe that's not such a big deal for a woman running for congress. People aren't so concerned about her touching base with her husband on some of the bills she votes on. It's one vote of many and she's getting input from him on those.

However, what if she becomes president? If her husband tells her to veto a bill that made it through the House and the Senate, does she submit to him, based on the obvious understanding of "submit" even in the context of how she described it in her speech? That presents a problem. People wouldn't be voting for her husband as a president, but for her.

This case reminds me some of the issue of Roman Catholicism for John F. Kennedy. We hadn't elected a Roman Catholic president before him and one of the issues was a Roman Catholic's subservience to the Pope. Would we by proxy be voting for the Pope for president by voting for a Roman Catholic? That might sound like a joke to some people, but our country has moved a different direction than the longtime history of the state church and Roman Catholicism. Kennedy said that he wouldn't allow the Pope to make his decisions for him. Some people might applaud that, but I wonder what kind of Roman Catholic that would make him. If he didn't take his Roman Catholicism seriously, then would he take the Constitution of the United States seriously?

People don't take Catholics that seriously any more, and it seems obvious that they are not taking Mormonism too seriously either, as seen in the case of Mitt Romney. What kind of authority would LDS hierarchy wield over him? It's a question that perhaps some are not willing to ask because they are too afraid of making someone's religious beliefs seem too important or betraying some kind of dreaded intolerance.

I don't think the media is being fair with Bachmann in comparison to how they deflected President Obama's relationship to the Reverend Wright and his group there in Chicago. However, I believe it was a legitimate question to ask Bachmann in light of her own words on the subject. As president, would she be submitting to her husband in her decision making?

The liberal media just doesn't like Bachmann. They don't like her view of the world, so they are glad to use this against her. I know all that. I still like the window it opens on Bachmann and then the subject of submission to husbands at large. The most notorious exchange in this drama occurred in a debate in Iowa on August 11, 2011 with Republican presidential candidates. A moderator, Byron York, asked her whether, as president, she would be submissive to her husband.

Some complain that they would never ask that question of a Democrat woman. Or they would never ask a man that question. Or that it is an attack on a religious belief. No. Someone might ask that question because Bachmann herself earlier said that was how she operated.

After she was asked that question in that debate, she was asked it several more times, even as a liberal interviewer feels he's got to do that to show his journalistic independence. Beginning then, she began giving an answer that I do not believe. I don't believe her reply. She said that when she says "submit," she means respect. Her and her husband have respect for each other, and that's what she meant when she said "submit." I don't think she meant "respect" when she said "submit." I think she meant "submit" when she said "submit." Someone else told her the same thing in one of the Sunday news shows. But she persevered with that talking point---she meant "respect." Who's going to challenge "respect" that a husband and wife have for each other?

So what's worse? Was it the question she was asked? Or was it her answer that perverts the meaning of Ephesians 5:22 and changes what the Lord said? Is it better that women or churches or the world do not know what "submit" means or that Michelle Bachmann can get past this moment in her presidential campaign by abusing a verse in the Bible?

Women should submit to their husbands. Michele Bachmann should submit to hers. Submissive wives probably won't get to be president. Our country probably won't elect a woman who says she should submit to her husband. So we're left with women who won't submit to their husbands and what will that do for women in the country? Will they be better off with that view, just as long as they still get to be president?

Bachmann had "submit" right in 2006 and that didn't keep her from losing a seat in the U. S. House of Representatives. But now she's changed its meaning to help her win the presidency. She obviously doesn't think that "submit" will fly in a presidential election. And that doesn't work for me at all. Ironically, now I do lose respect for her. Tell the truth and deal with it. Now she satisfies the egalitarians, knowing that to the complementarians, it won't matter. They'll give her a break because they know how the game works. I don't think we should give her a break on it.

The world mocks the Bible. It mocks God's design for the family. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God's Words will not pass away. The Bible will stand. God's design will stand. Submission does not demean women. Perversion of God's Word is not a better way. Whatever mess we're in is because we haven't paid attention to Him. And if we allow someone who says she is a Christian to get away with it, it's not going to make it better. It's going to get worse.


Mike Aubrey said...

Well, regardless of what a good reliable exegesis of the text, I have to admit that her explanation of submission is rather reasonable considering the context and standard evangelical hermeneutical approaches:

Paul says in verses 22-24: wives [submit] to your husbands and husbands love your wives.

And then in verse 33 Paul changes it up and says: husbands love your wives and wives respect your husbands.

The fact that verses 22-24 and then verse 33 frame the whole section, it's definitely not an unreasonable interpretation. Paul clearly sees a relationship between respect and submission so much that he was comfortable with replacing one with the other ten verses later in the same pericope.

Gary Webb said...

Mike Aubrey,
Ephesians 5:33 doesn't say "respect"; it says "reverence". The Greek is phobew, which is translated with the English word "fear" 90 out of 93 times in the NT. One time it is translated "reverence", in Ephesians 5:33. It is certainly more than respect and has to do with reverential obedience or the same type of relationship that a Christian shows toward his Savior (Ephesians 5:22-24).
As to Mrs. Bachmann's explanation, I certainly understood her to be giving an answer that she new would make her relationship with her husband acceptable to the world.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks for coming by. I can't trust "standard evangelical," which very often has a gumby-like approach to meaning.

Paul distinguishes the husband's responsibility from the wife's, the parent's from the child's, and the master's from the slave's. In each of these cases, you have an authority. The husband, the parent, and the master---those are the authorities---and the Spirit-controlled wife, child, and slave will submit to that authority.

Submitting, placing one's self under higher human authority, does not make one lesser. Human authorities and their subjects are equal in essence but the former is greater in position. We see the same in 1 Corinthians 11:3.

Human authority is also how God operates. Even during the millennial kingdom, human authority will rule with Jesus.

"Love" (actually in v. 25) and submission or subjection (in vv. 22-24) are distinguished from each other and complementary. They are not the same. The same goes for v. 33.

We should decry the 2011 Bachmann spin on her 2006 statement.

Steve Rogers said...

As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths. (Isaiah 3:12)

Perhaps there is a broader principle to be discussed. Should women be in such an authoritative position as president? I'm sure this is politically correct but is it Biblically correct?

The other point I'd like to make is that too much hope is placed in electing a Christian to the White House in order to bring our nation back to revival or whatever. I read that only Israel is dealt with on a national spiritual level. Trying to make America a Christian city set on a hill is what led to religious persecution of our Baptist forefathers before the establishment clause was added. It is a Protestant view of government. Our hope is planting churches and winning fellow voters to Christ instead of trusting in a Christian politician. If Christians were as outspoken about the Gospel as they are about their politics more voters would be pulling the lever led by the HS and not their pocketbooks. Any thoughts?

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Steve,

Good to see you again. I think you're right on all counts. It was a good opportunity to think about biblical complementarianism again, however.

Steve Rogers said...

Bro. B,

I agree wholeheartedly. Keep up the good writing. You are a blessing to many.

Joshua said...

I would say that the current trend of having women in positions of authority is Biblical - in that it is exactly what the Bible should have us believe would happen in a nation that is turning itself away from God as fast as it possibly can.

I understand the context is Israel, but Isaiah 3:1-12 summarises perfectly what has happened in the US and elsewhere.

I also agree with Mike, that Bachman is giving a standard evangelical interpretation - a re-examination of a clear teaching of the Bible for political expediency and conformity to the world, carried out by divorcing a verse from the context of the NT and the whole of Scripture itself. That such disobedience and abuse of Scripture is now standard for evangelicals says much.

Mike Aubrey said...

Hi Gary,

I know the Greek. I generally don't use English bibles at all. You would do well to spend some time in a quality lexicon rather than counting how many times the word appears in the NT and how and when its translated a certain way. The reality is that Ephesians 5:33 says neither respect nor reverence. It *only* says φοβέω. Last time I checked there were no English words in the New Testament at all--mainly Greek ones with a few Aramaic ones thrown in for good measure.

Hi Kent,

I'm with you. I'm not much for standard evangelical hermeneutics myself--I used the phrase mainly because that's what Bachmann claims to be.

I'm not entirely sure, though, why you're talking about love and submission and love and respect being different. I said nothing about that. That the two words are in complementary distribution is rather indisputable. My point was only Paul replaces ὑποτάσσομαι with φοβέω. And on that note, I disagree with Joshua about taking a verse out of context. If anything, Bachmann is keeping the verse *in* context--the context of verses 21-33. Any problem I have with the interpretation isn't about context, but about semantics.

Joshua said...


You're obviously a well educated man, but you're currently leveraging that intellect to resist the truth.

Ephesians isn't the only teaching on submission. If her argument is built around just focusing on Ephesians, and then on a dodgy attempt to equate submission with respect, it's still flawed.

Verses have a context within the book they are written, but also within the teachings of the New Testament. Square up what she's saying with 1 Peter 3:1-6. Submit means submit. You know the Greek sir - what does that word literally mean?

I hate to quote Remonstrans, but you are proving his point:

"We saw how the Bible can say almost anything we want it to say. If God told us he was hot, we would find people telling us God was cold, tepid, sweet, heavy, sticky, slippery, rough, smooth, serrated, burnished, waxy, polished, soapy, dented, shellacked, non-stick, non-glare, non-ferrous, translucent, glazed, opaque, gold-plated, nickel-plated, silver-lined, flammable, combustible, galvanized, glossy, soggy, garrulous, parched, reticent, chalky, oily...anything but hot.

The one thing the Bible will never say is what we don't want to hear."

Joshua said...

Pastor Brandenburg,

You know Greek. Is there any rule of language that I'm missing that forces the word "submit" in Ephesians 5 to take on the meaning and limitations of the word "reverence" in Koine Greek? Is there something in the sentence structure that makes or even suggests that.

Like if Paul had used the word "obey" instead of submit throughout that passage, but still kept reverence in v33, does that mean that obey now has to be interpreted within the constraints of reverence?

Maybe it's a Greek thing I don't understand, but here is an example from English. If I gave my students the following command:

"Everyone needs to stand up and run to the oval. Do not stay in the building. Let every student see that they stand and move rapidly to the oval"

That would be clearly understood that I wanted them to run, even if I used the word rapidly in the third sentence. "Run" is specific and defined, and could even be seen as a subset of the possible meanings of "rapidly". Thus we have the following interpretations:

1. Teacher wants me to move rapidly. Correct.
2. Teacher wants me to run. Correct.
3. Teacher wants me to move rapidly but not necessarily run. False.
4. Teacher wants me to run but not move rapidly. Incorrect and impossible.
5. Teacher does not want me to run or move rapidly. Both false.

By Mike's linguistic logic, 3 could be correct because run has its meaning strictly regulated by "rapidly". Thus, I could say that my command wasn't to run but rather move rapidly.

Actually, after typing that out it seems that if that is the case, then the reader/hearer/interpreter gets to decide which definition suits their purpose the most. In this case, for the disobedient student the more general descriptor gives them more wiggle room to do what they want. Which I think is precisely the game Bachmann is trying.

At least from a non-Greek speaker, that's how this looks. I'll bow to any superior understandings of Greek thought construction.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Joshua,

I almost forgot about this, sorry. You are correct. The Greek word, translated submit, means submit, not respect. If I was going to explain it, I would say, "to place one's self under." Bachmann was obviously attempting to separate respect from submission, not have someone think they meant the same thing.