Views & Voices

Michele Bachmann — (Submissive) Theologian?


Michele Bachmann has championed the “Christian” cause, sprinkling her speeches with scripture and holy buzzphrases. But one in particular caught my ear.

During the Iowa Republican Debate, Bachmann was asked about whether she would be submissive to her husband. She slipped right out of her earlier statements (and any fundamentalist credibility) when she basically said, “in our house, submission means respect”.

But what did Paul mean when he wrote, “Wives, submit to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord” in his letter to the Colossians? Or Peter, when he wrote “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands…” in the First Letter of Peter?

It comes from the tradition which Paul amplified in his letter to the Ephesians:

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 savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. (NIV) Ephesians 5.22-24

Pretty clearly not simple, mutual respect. Maybe another translation will help. Let’s try the King James:

22Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.  23For 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. 24Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

Nope, still clearly hierarchical. Paul is speaking from a clearly patriarchal tradition here- one where the husband is the head of the family, the boss, the Pope, the King- those are the images he uses here.

And they are meant very specifically and clearly: wives are the subjects of their husbands, as the church is subject to Christ. As a serf is subject to a king. Not partner, not even helpmate. Subject.

Not that I think this is right, proper or correct.

My understanding of Christian scripture is quite different — and I take an anthropological/interpretive approach — not a fundamentalist one. But if you’re going to proclaim to have fundamentalist Christian leanings, you have to be consistent.

The first century church was a product of its time — patriarchy was all the rage — and I think we’ve evolved beyond it. Well, mostly. But if Michele Bachmann is going to quote scripture, she can’t just pick and choose what it means. She can’t back off of it and maintain any integrity with/for her Christian base.

But she did. And she has. And the media is letting her:

AMES, Iowa – Appearing on “Face the Nation” Sunday, Rep. Michele Bachmann stood by her comment in Thursday’s Republican debate, insisting that when she said wives should be submissive to their husbands, she meant that married couples should have mutual respect.

In 2006, Bachmann said her husband had told her to get a post-doctorate degree in tax law. “Tax law? I hate taxes,” she continued. “Why should I go into something like that? But the lord says, be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.’”

Asked about the comment by CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell Sunday, Bachmann reaffirmed that to her, “submission means respect, mutual respect.”

“I respect my husband, he respects me,” she said. “We have been married 33 years, we have a great marriage…and respecting each other, listening to each other is what that means.”

O’Donnell asked Bachmann if she would use a different word in retrospect.

“You know, I guess it depends on what word people are used to, but respect is really what it means,” Bachmann replied.

“Do you think submissive means subservient?” O’Donnell asked.

“Not to us,” Bachmann said. “To us it means respect. We respect each other, we listen to each other, we love each other and that is what it means.”

Look at the story she uses to illustrate her point: Marcus Bachmann told her to get a degree in something she hated- and she did it because- according to a fundamentalist interpretation of scripture- she is his subject. She must submit to him. She later rejected this, saying it equals respect.

Well, maybe in the way a serf respects the King who holds power over him/her. But let’s keep looking. Hey! Maybe the dictionary will mention respect.

1.inclined or ready to submit; unresistingly or humbly obedient: submissive servants.
2.marked by or indicating submission: a submissive reply.

Okay, that didn’t do much for her case, either. Hey, maybe the Greek will help! What was the word in the Bible the writers actually used? Maybe that means respect…

“In the first instance, then, hupatassomai does not mean so much ‘to obey’—though this may result from self-subordination—or to do the will of someone but rather ‘to lose or surrender one’s own rights or will. 136 In the NT the verb does not immediately carry with it the thought of obedience … 137The idea implicit in the term is “to place under” (in the active voice). 138 As it is found in our text, the idea would be, “to subordinate oneself” or “to place oneself under.” In general terms, submission is the placing of oneself under the one to whom we submit. Since we are commanded to submit ourselves one to another, we are to place all others above ourselves. (source)

Whoops. Even worse.

Sorry, Michele. Looks like if you want to maintain scriptural consistency — and your fundamentalist/evangelical/christianist street cred, you’re going to have to say submit, subject to, submissive, surrender.

Presidential words, indeed.

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