This is not a political blog. It is neither for nor against any party or candidate. But in the midst of the recent Republican debate a question was raised of Michelle Bachmann about how her beliefs in the biblical teaching on wives submitting to their own husbands (Eph. 5:22) would affect her service to our country if she were elected president.
I believe this is a unique context in which evangelicals can define our beliefs on this issue. Most often we are the one’s initiating this topic of conversation or defending against an attack. In this context, however, we have the opportunity to join an existing cultural conversation.
I do not pretend that what I have to say will represent all evangelicalism on this subject. But I do hope that these reflections can be a constructive part of the conversation. While I will discuss two areas in which I disagree with the Bachmann family and one where I would articulate their point differently, I do not intend for this post to question the genuineness of their faith.
I fully recognize that I am limited to responding to a sound bite (which may not accurately represent the Bachmann family), but since that is what is in the cultural dialogue, I believe it is appropriate to do so provided one speaks with humility and about the issue rather than against the person.
I merely think this is an important time for evangelicals to enter the cultural dialogue in a positive, edifying way. I greatly appreciate the fact that the Bachmann family is willing to express their beliefs and invite our country to a discussion of marriage where the husband and wife love one another and seek to honor each other. I believe that alone is a significant, positive change in most conversations we have about marriage and family in the political realm.
Disagree About Career Choice
I would disagree with the application of submission that Michelle Bachmann made about submission to her husband and the choice to study tax law in her 2006 statement. In my opinion this over extends the jurisdiction of submission. Choosing the field of work for one’s wife is not what it means for a husband to lead his family.
My wife has been a full time teacher, full time mother, part time financial coach, and considered taking up refinishing antique furniture. The only role that submission has played in those decisions is in determining whether our family was in a position whether those transitions were wise and feasible for our family given our season of life and financial status at that time.
Our initial conversations were about the priorities by which we wanted to guide our family and those things my wife would find most fulfilling. With agreement on priorities (without which marriage is generally messy; not just with reference to submission), the points at which submission becomes relevant would be feasibility and timing.
Irrelevant to White House
While I don’t know how it would have come across in a political debate or if it would have fit in her allotted 60 second response time, I believe the question about submission and the presidency should have been responded to as a bad question. Submission is a relational dynamic that applies to the home and not the work place.
When my wife was a teacher, her responding to me in a submissive way did not mean that she should have felt compelled to utilize each of my classroom management suggestions. Once we made a family decision that her teaching was a good choice for our family during that season of our lives, my role as her husband to her as a teacher became one of love and support, not leadership over her educational responsibilities.
The question she was asked framed submission in a way which implied submission removed the voice of women (both in and outside the home). Any articulation of submission which does this is one that I believe misapplies biblical teaching.
More Than Respect
With that said, I would have to disagree with Michelle Bachmann’s assertion that submission merely means respecting her husband. While Ephesians 5:33 says that a wife should respect her husband, Ephesians 5:22 calls wives to submit to their own husbands. If they were the same, both would not need to be said.
In a relationship that is life long and requires the sharing of so many precious assets (not just money, time, and house, but children, interests, and faith), someone must have a final say. I cannot fathom how any relationship between fallen people would function otherwise.
However, let me state this just as clearly and with equal confidence: any marriage that is relying upon submission regularly in its decision making is an unhealthy marriage that has much bigger problems than gender roles. If I asked my wife to submit to me in a decision and she resisted, then I would either assume I had failed to lovingly understand and display sincere value for her position or that we had problems in other areas of our personal-marital life that I was unaware of or neglecting. Either way, my next response as a husband called to love my wife as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25) is to listen better as I examine my own heart.