Keeping women in their place

7301775 400x400In the early days after the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for the Republican ticket, the mainstream media ran quite a few stories wondering whether a female candidate with children should really be in such a position of authority and responsibility. Now they’ve decided to try really hard to get religious adherents to carry their water. The Associated Press chose one denomination — out of the many and various Christian groups that retain the traditional male-only clergy — to frame a story about whether females should be in secular power:

Within the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, a woman may not lead a church or a home. But prominent Southern Baptists see nothing wrong with Sarah Palin serving as vice president – or perhaps even commander-in-chief someday.

In other words: A woman can run the White House, just not her own house.

Did you know that Joe Biden’s priest can forgive parishioners’ sins but can’t keep them out of jail if they commit a crime? No, really, it’s crazy! It’s almost like we’re talking about two completely different things!

Did you know that churches can preach against gossip but they can’t make it a capital offense? Did you know that churches can witness to non-believers but they can’t force them to believe? It makes no sense since, like the Associated Press, we should view church and state as one big realm where the same rules apply to both groups, right? Oh wait.

Again, though, why not ask Roman Catholics how they can support Rep. Nancy Pelosi not just as a Member of Congress but the Speaker of the very House of Representatives? I seem to have missed those AP stories about how Catholics limit the priesthood to males but haven’t condemned Nancy Pelosi to eternal hellfire.

The headline the Dallas Morning News chose for this piece was “Palin a challenge to Southern Baptist view of women,” which sort of tells you what they want you to take from the article. Is that born out in the piece? Not exactly:

Interpreted from Scripture, the teachings on women are held close in thousands of Southern Baptist Convention churches where millions worship. Among them: “The office of pastor is limited to men,” and a wife should “submit herself graciously” to her husband. Earlier this month, more than 100 Lifeway Christian Bookstores — a retail chain affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention — pulled from the shelves a magazine featuring five female pastors on the cover.

Yet many in the denomination say the nation’s second-highest leadership post is an apple to the pulpit’s orange. Palin’s potential work in a McCain administration – or even as president in the event of McCain’s death – would be separate from her family life with her husband, Todd, and their children.

“There’s no disconnect or inconsistency whatsoever,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “We don’t go beyond where the New Testament goes. Public office is neither a church nor a marriage.”

In fact, other than one critic of the denomination’s conservative leadership, no one seems to think that Palin’s candidacy is a challenge to the Southern Baptist view of women. And even he doesn’t explain how it’s a challenge. So, um, good work with the story, Associated Press. Hope you accomplished whatever it was you wanted to accomplish.

There was a similar story in the Los Angeles Times, the hometown paper of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the team I’m rooting for in the postseason! The piece argues, as the headline says:

To some evangelicals, Palin’s career violates biblical teachings.

Now, keep in mind that prior to Sen. John McCain picking Gov. Palin as his running mate, he was widely considered to be suffering in polls due to lack of white evangelical enthusiasm. Since he picked Gov. Palin, his numbers have shot up to the levels George Bush enjoyed in 2000 and 2004.

So what is the story? Is the story that — contrary to the obvious stereotypes of the mainstream media — evangelical Christians aren’t a bunch of fire-breathing, misogynistic women-loathers? Is the story that white evangelicals are enthused by Palin? No, it’s that “some” evangelicals aren’t happy. The vast majority of the story doesn’t support the headline. It quotes evangelical after evangelical saying that there is no theological problem with women in secular leadership positions. But the reporter does find two (two!) people who disagree. Here’s one:

“The Palin selection is the single most dangerous event in the conscience of the Christian community in the last 10 years at least,” said Doug Phillips, president of Vision Forum, a Texas-based ministry. “The unabashed, unquestioning support of Sarah Palin and all she represents marks a fundamental departure from our historic position of family priorities — of moms being at home with young children, of moms being helpers to their husbands, the priority of being keepers of the home.”

See, he agrees with the Washington Post‘s Sally Quinn!

The story is actually interesting and includes actual Biblical support for why evangelicals don’t oppose women in leadership positions. With such a vague defining term as “evangelical,” it would be silly to expect anything other than a diversity of viewpoints about any number of things. It’s just that, with a horrible assist from the headline-writing team, it has this “on the one hand . . . on the other hand” quality that is not fitting for a situation where you have statistically widespread evangelical support for Palin versus two obscure pastors who oppose Palin’s candidacy.

A much better story was published by the Religious News Service. Rather than focusing on some microcosm of evangelicals who oppose Palin’s candidacy, it used that candidacy as a hook to discuss evangelical attitudes about women in positions of church leadership. It featured a variety of evangelicals who support female clergy and was much more informative. I’m sure this is because it focuses on religion more than politics.

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  • Brian Walden

    Ok, so the $64,000 question is how much of this is simple ignorance by the media and how much is intentionally pushing an agenda?

    I’m willing to lean toward ignorance (with maybe some of that ignorance being intentional). A lot of Christians even misunderstand this stuff, getting all worked up over St. Paul telling wives to be obedient to their husbands without realizing that he first tells husbands to be obedient to Christ. Unless a smoking gun turns up, I’m willing to let the media off easy on this one.

  • Steve in Toronto

    This issue is a lot more complex that your post suggests. Most of the modern evangelicals who support “male headship” in the home and in church base there position on the concept of creation order. That is that the subordinate (although not infearer) position of woman is intrinsic to God’s plan for the world not a result of the fall. If you take this concept as a given (and I want to make it clear that not all evangelicals my self included do) it hard to see how you can support putting a woman into any sort of leadership role except in the most extreme circumstances (there is no man available who can do the job i.e. Debra and Judith). If you know of any good counter arguments let me know but I certainly haven’t heard any. As a good Lutheran I am sure you would say that it is important to understand that we are talking about the left handed kingdom here but I can not think of any of the Reformers who have thought of a woman in civil leadership as anything but a horrible aberration just look at John Knox’s famous (infamous?) tract “The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women”. The fact is that most complementation evangelicals are perfectly comfortable with woman in civil authority but I think it has much more to do with uniquely American concept of the separation of church and state and the degree that the feminist project succeeded in penetrating even the most conservative parts of our culture has than anything intrinsic to their view of the bible.

  • Mollie


    You are correct. And I’m not saying that this isn’t a really good idea for a story. It is. I just think that the AP and LA Times did a poor job with it.

    The RNS piece, though completely ignoring either two kingdoms or order of creation language, is much better in that regard.

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  • Steve Rowe

    Sorry about the double post.
    As a aside take a look at these posts by Douglas Wilson they are an excellent example of how a thoughtful and principled complementarian is tying himself in knots try to figure out how to think about this issue

  • Bob Smietana

    The conservative resurgence wing of the Southern Baptist Convention has pushed the biblical subservience of women much harder that Richard Land has.

    Catholics, as far as I can tell, would not say that Nancy Pelosi is theologically ineligible to hold office. There are many prominent Southern Baptists who would.

    For example, Voddie Baucham, a prominent SBC preacher, said that a women in political leadership means that God’s judgment is on a nation, while on CNN recently.

    Here’s a partial transcript:

    PHILLIPS: Do you think that that is something — are you saying that shouldn’t be overlooked? I mean, do you think that women, in evangelical circles where women are not allowed to preach — let’s say that Palin and McCain do win and here you have this woman that could possibly be leading the free world, and yet, there is evangelicals voting for her that don’t even believe that a woman should preach at the pulpit?

    Could this change the face of how evangelicals believe in the woman’s role?

    BAUCHAM: I don’t think it will change the way evangelicals believe about women’s roles. I think it has sparked a discussion and quite frankly feminism has gained a foothold in many evangelical churches –

    PHILLIPS: Do you think it is a good thing?

    BAUCHAM: No I don’t. Not at all.

    PHILLIPS: Why not?

    BAUCHAM: Well because we are about the gospel. The culture does not dictate truth. The gospel dictates truth. My job is not to be a political pundit or a political activist, my job is to be a pastor and proclaim the truth of the gospel as clearly as I possibly can.

    PHILLIPS: Well wait a minute. What about the Old Testament and the prophet Deborah? She was a political leader, she was a wife, she was a mother. She was one of the biggest forces in the book of Genesis, so that is the gospel right there.

    BAUCHAM: She certainly was, and the fact that something happened doesn’t mean that it’s normative for the church. In Isaiah Chapter 3, for example, one of the signs that a culture is under judgment is that women are in leadership in their nations. So Deborah was actually a sign that things were very bad in Israel. Not a norm for the church.

    PHILLIPS: Margaret, I am curious to see what you think about this and what the reverend is saying.

    FEINBERG: I think that that is a fair perspective, Voddie, but I think we also need to look at Ephesians 5, which describes — it is saying that husbands are to lay down their lives for their wives, just as Jesus Christ laid down his life for the church. And in the same way, I think Todd has done an incredible job opening up the opportunity for Palin to use the gifts and the talents and passions that she has been given in order to make a difference in her community and possibly in our nation and world on a significant political landscape and affect.

    PHILLIPS: Margaret, does the reverend sounding a little sexist, or is it just me?

    FEINBERG: I would have to say the reverend is sounding a little questionable there. But in the sense that I believe that everyone, despite gender, has an opportunity to serve, to give and to play a role in making a difference in their communities, in their churches and around the world.

    PHILLIPS: Reverend, this could be an exciting time. This could break through. We are becoming progressive in so many ways. We’re seeing a black man possibly winning the presidency, we’re seeing a woman here that — on the Republican ticket — that’s rousing up evangelicals, possibly to think twice about the woman’s role in the church. This is fascinating times.

    BAUCHAM: They are fascinating times. And they are also frightening times. When you see Margaret Feinberg use Ephesians Chapter 5, which clearly says that a husband is head of the wife, in order to justify somehow with this slight of hand that Palin’s husband is laying down his life by allowing her to do that, No. 1 she is playing fast and loose with the text. And secondly, she is also ignoring the fact that Palin’s responsibility as a wife and mother is governed by scripture, not by whether we feel it is progressive about our culture.

    PHILLIPS: Margaret, final thought there?

    FEINBERG: Well, Voddie, I believe that is a narrow interpretation and a boxy interpretation of the text, as well as the role of women who in today’s working families — many families in the United States need both the man and the wife in order to work outside of the home in order to support the family. And to put that kind of burden on the family, whereby a woman must stay at home, I just don’t think that translates into many working class families today.

    BAUCHAM: Well, my job is not to translate into working class families, my job is to be honest with the text. And the text says, in Titus Chapter 2, verse 5, the woman is to be to the keeper of her home. Now I will not violate the teaching of the text in order to somehow sound more appropriate for the culture. I am a herald of the truth of the gospel and my job is to teach the gospel according to what the authors have said, not according to what I think the culture wants to hear.

  • bob smietana

    Thanks for your clarification. From the first read of your post, I thought you were saying that this was a non-story.

  • Mollie

    I always think Two Kingdoms stories are great stories! I just didn’t think these were very well done.

  • bob smietana

    For what it’s worth, I think we’ve got a better story on this issue at the Tennessean

  • Brian L

    How can Richard Land not be considered as part of the conservative resurgence of the SBC? There are different conservative factions within the SBC with different views of how to direct the Convention in the future, but Land was an insider and one of the major (personal) beneficiaries of the resurgence.

    Voddie Baucham is a well known and respected SBC author and pastor, but he is hardly the vanguard of mainstream SBC life. His voice is not indicative of “many prominent Southern Baptists.”

    Where are the quotes from Johnny Hunt (President), Morris Chapman (Executive Board), Thom Rainer (LifeWay publishing), any of the convention seminary presidents (like Al Mohler, who agrees w/Land), any of the heads of the missions agencies, Richard Land (oh, already got that one), or the views of any of the “big time” pastors in Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Nashville, Florida, South Carolina?

    CNN did the same thing the AP and LAT did: found one guy who feels strongly about the issue and presented him as the SBC voice.

    My vote is not for media ignorance. I think these are examples of intentional generation of media controversy.

  • SouthCoast

    “the mainstream media ran quite a few stories wondering whether a female candidate with children should really be in such a position of authority and responsibility…”

    Hah! Tell it to that Defender of the Faith, Queen Victoria, mother of 9. (And that Holy Roman Empress, Maria Theresa of Austria, mother of 16.)

  • Will

    To make sure we understand: What is a “complementation evangelical”?

  • bob smietana


    Good point. Land is part of the conservative resurgence. However, there are differing opinions on this issue of women in leadership in the conservative resurgence. Some hold that the biblical restrictions apply only to the home and to the church. Others see women as equal but subservient to men in all areas of life.

    For example, Land has been pro-Palin. Russell Moore, dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is not.

  • Steve in Toronto

    A complementation evangelical would be some on who believes that men and woman have different clear and distinct God given roles in the Home, in the Church and in some cases in the wider world (with the woman always in the subordinate position). Examples of evangelical who support the complementarian position include men such as Wayne Grudem, Albert Mohler, Mark Dever, Mark Driscoll, C. J. Mahaney, Richard Land, Ligon Duncan, Terry Virgo, John F. MacArthur, James Dobson and John Piper. please note these are not marginal figures they are very influential leaders in there respective denominations. Here is the Wikipedia article on the movement

  • Brian L

    Bob – you seem to have the only on-record quote of Dr. Moore .

    Your Russell Moore quote: “I think that the most exalted and glorious calling that a woman can achieve is that of wife and mother,” he said. “I would not see any higher calling.”

    The quote, on the face of it, is hardly proof of declaring Palin to be “theologically ineligible to hold office” or that Moore believes “God’s judgment is on a nation.” There is a big difference between acknowledging the “exalted and glorious calling” and prohibiting women to work outside of the home.

    Did Moore say more than that to justify lumping him with Baucham?

  • Brian L

    Bob –

    I also just noticed this nugget in your article:

    So, if elected, Palin could decide whether the U.S. should invade Iran but she couldn’t decide how to discipline her children without her husband’s input, according to conservative Southern Baptist beliefs.

    We’ve just noted that there is a range of conservative voices in the SBC. How do you justify this sweeping claim regarding “conservative Southern Baptist beliefs”?

  • tmatt

    BTW, folks, check out this interesting fact about Dr. Richard Land (doctorate, Oxford) and his family life. His wife?

    She has a doctorate and is a marriage and family therapist. A real dark-ages, live in a cave kind of situation. Not.

  • Sarah Webber

    Tmatt, thanks for the article on Land. It provided such detail about his life and family, as well as the nuances of his beliefs, that I found myself wanting to meet him and feeling like I already know him. He isn’t the kind of person who would make me feel that being a women made me a less worthy human being than if I were a man, which is how I have felt with other “conservatives.”

  • Sarah Webber

    Oh, and Mollie, you still make me laugh. :)

  • Will

    So evangelicals (or is it Christians) who are not “complentation” believe that men and women are interchangeable, like good radic-libs?

  • Will

    Was C.S. Lewis a “complentarian”?

  • Bombadil

    IMO, given the fact that C.S. Lewis married a divorcee, it’s quite probable that he was not a strict traditionalist where gender roles were concerned.

  • Will

    But what about his remarks on male headship — not to mention “Priestesses in the Church”?

  • Bombadil

    My guess is that Lewis might have been much more liberal in his personal life while espousing the received doctrine in public which was rather the social norm for people in his times.

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