Saturday, August 20, 2011

Michelle Bachmann's Wonderfully Biblical Answer

This post comes a bit delayed, but if you were able to watch the Iowa Republican debate you most certainly saw the exchange where Bachmann answered a question about submission to her husband. The question caused an immediate negative reaction from the crowd, yet Bachmann graciously and clearly answered it anyway.

I should tell you that I am otherwise not a fan of Bachmann, and (at this point) I will not vote for her in the primary. But her answer to this question impressed me. But Stephen Prothero disagrees. In an opinion piece on, Prothero quotes Colossians 3:18 and writes: 
"As it should be obvious to anyone who saw this portion of the debate, Bachmann did not answer this question. She said she respected her husband. She said he respected her. But the question was about submission, not respect."
But it is Prothero who misunderstands. The companion passage to Col 3:18 is Ephesians 5:22, which is more well known and most likely serves as the basis for Bachmann's earlier comments about submitting to her husband. In Ephesians 5:21 Paul commands all believers to "submit to one another", and then he gives several ways that submission should take place. Verses 22-33 are specifically about the mutual submission within the marriage relationship. Verses 22-24 deal with the wife's submission to her husband, and verse 25-32 deal with the husband's submission to his wife. He then offers a summary of his entire argument in verse 33.

Bachmann turned the conversation to the issue of "respect", thus earning Prothero's charge that she dodged the issue. Was this simply political manipulation? Honestly, I won't attempt to discern any politicians motivation, but here Bachmann is clearly equating the word "submission" with the concept of "respect", which is exactly the point of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5.  In verse 33 Paul gives a brief summary of everything he has just said in verses 22-32.  For the men, he sums up his earlier statements (vv25-32):
"Let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband."
The first part of that verse is Paul's summary of verses 25-32, which Paul aptly states is about loving your wife as yourself. This seems clear and straightforward enough. But notice how Paul summarizes and describes his earlier discussion (vv22-24) about the submission of wives: "and and let the wife see that she respects her husband".  Paul now defines what he means by "submission"--it is "respect".

Submission, biblically defined, is seeing the value of the other and placing that person in a respected and honored status. Because of that status, you willingly defer to the one respected. For Paul, it was always about respect. Bachmann seems to understand this, even if Prothero doesn't.


  1. I am also not a huge fan of Bachmann and I liked her answer even less.

    A couple of thoughts regarding "mutual submission" Certainly Christians are to submit to one another (Eph 5:21). However as you say Paul's thoughts don't end there. Paul launches next into a series of examples of submitting to/obeying others using the example of husbands/wives, parents/children and masters/slaves.

    Paul uses the imagery of the church and Christ in Ephesians 5, verses 23-30. As Christ is the head of the church, so the husband is the head of the wife. The church submits to Christ and Christ loves the church so much that He gave Himself for her. Likewise the wife is to submit to her husband and the husband is to love his wife. Would you describe the relationship between the church and Christ as mutual submission?

    In speaking of submission and giving examples, Paul gives several examples as you point out, examples which continue into chapter six. Paul says that slaves should obey their masters. Is mutual submission expected there? Paul also says that children should obey their parents. Is mutual submission being demonstrated in those relationships? My believing children are not on equal footing with me, especially not now given their age. I love them but I do not submit to them. Likewise Paul tells masters who own slaves to stop threatening their slaves. Not that they should free them (although certainly one would hope that would be the case but the example of Onesimus and Philemon is instructive where Onesimus is now more than a slave but a slave still nonetheless, Philemon 1:16 ). The relationship between slave and master is still intact even though they ultimately have the same master in God. I just don't see mutual submission set forth as the standard in any of the three examples Paul addresses.

    Wives should submit to their husbands "in everything" just as the church submits to Christ in everything. Husbands should love their wives as Christ loves the church. Children should obey, i.e. submit, to their parents and parents, esp. fathers, should love their children and not provoke them to anger. Slaves should obey their masters and master should treat their slaves as is fitting in love, knowing that both slave and master (and parents and children, husbands and wives) have one who is Master over all. It is instructive that nowhere do we see anyone called to compel anyone else to submit/obey. A wife's submission to her husband is an act of obedience to Christ just as a husband's love for his wife is an act of obedience. We cannot and should not try to make anyone submit to us but we should seek to obey God out of love and obedience to Him.

  2. I also did not like Michelle's answer, but for different reasons.

    The example given was that she didn't want to do something, but her husband thought she should, so she submitted and did it. The question then was (in context) would you submit (do something you didn't want to do) to your husband while you are the president if he thought something should be done a certain way.

    Which is (while "dirty pool"), a legitimate question. While in office, there are lots of decisions the President has to make. If she thinks that the policy in Iraq, for instance, should be handled a certain way, but her husband thinks that it should be handled differently, will she go with what she thinks should be done, or submit to her husband and do what he wants?

    Even if you change "submit" to "respect", it seems from the example in the question that the version of respect she used implied that she obeyed her husband and went by what he wanted, so you could say she respected his opinion and did what he wanted... still, she didn't answer the question.

    So it boils down to, who will be the one who makes the decisions if she gets in the White House? Will it be her decisions, or her husband's by proxy?

    Another sort of related note- would he get all the information (state secrets, etc.) so that he could help her, or would he be working blind so that he gives advice without knowing the full picture? If so, there would be all kinds of problems- if she chose his advice, ignoring the other information she had, she might choose poorly, but if she ignored his advice, he would be hurt and probably think that she was not respecting his opinion.

    Showing your husband that you respect him while simultaneously bypassing what he says and doing something different because he is wrong is nearly impossible. He'll feel disrespected at the least.