A submissive (or raging?) Bachmann

In case you missed the debate in Iowa last night, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was asked if she would be submissive to her husband.

The question wasn’t completely out of left field, since Bachmann mentioned it at a gathering in 2006 when she said she initially hated her husband’s idea of studying a degree in tax law. “But the Lord said, be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husband,” she said. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York asked a question about wifely submission that was quickly booed by the audience.

It’s amusing that the egalitarian/complimentarian debates (whether husband and wife more equal in their roles or whether men play a larger role in leadership) are coming up in the presidential election; maybe tomorrow we’ll be asking them about their views on eschatology. For instance, if you watch this CNN clip, you’ll see the anchor grasping for another interpretations of Ephesians 5:24.

Although I didn’t see the question as sexist or completely irrelevant since she did mention it in the past, I hope that her response (“what submission means to us, if that’s what your question is, is respect”) settles it and we can move on from these kinds of questions to other issues.

The media sexism question came up earlier this week when we saw the Newsweek cover “The Queen of Rage,” which provided the art for this post. I’m not going to cry liberal media, but please do check out the previous covers of Sarah Palin and Newsweek head Tina Brown’s string of women on the covers (and you thought the Princess Diana cover was odd).

Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post thinks Bachmann needs to get her image under control. “It’s as if someone is dangling a treat (or maybe it’s a line of Scripture) to get her to look at the camera the way a photographer tries to get a kid to focus on class picture day.” Yeah, get on that, guys. Brown defends the photo and Bachmann has mostly ignored it.

There really isn’t much to talk about the actual Newsweek profile from a GetReligion perspective, except that the magazine attempts to sell the issue with the religiously oriented deck “Michele Bachmann on God, the tea party, and the evils of government.” Sadly, the article hardly touches on her faith and we don’t learn anything new.

One of the funniest articles this week about Bachmann and faith came from the Los Angeles Times with the headline “Michele Bachmann woos Iowa Christians, attends anti-gay service.”

Handing more ammunition to detractors who say Rep. Michele Bachmann has an aggressive anti-gay agenda, the GOP presidential candidate attended a church service in Iowa on Sunday in which the pastor labeled homosexuality “immoral” and “unnatural.”

According to NBC News, Bachmann attended a non-denominational church near Des Moines along with her husband Marcus. She was holding her personal copy of the Bible.

A reader sent me this sarcastic message: “What business does a church have talking about what the Bible teaches about sexual ethics??” Are we really surprised by any of this or think it’s worth a news story? Also, there’s a slight distinction here that perhaps reporter James Oliphant should consider. The pastor said, “We inherently know that homosexual behavior is immoral and unnatural.” He did not say the same about homosexuality. While these views may not be shared with the broader culture, they aren’t terribly unusual in this context.

Overall, while the media does need to do some scrutinizing and explaining of Bachmann’s beliefs and influences, we’re seeing some pretty embarrassing coverage so far of her faith and beliefs so far.

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  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com R.F. McDonald

    “[T]here’s a slight distinction here that perhaps reporter James Oliphant should consider. The pastor said, “We inherently know that homosexual behavior is immoral and unnatural.” He did not say the same about homosexuality.”

    Is this a meaningful distinction? Imagine a rephrase for a different quality.

    “There’s a slight distinction here that perhaps reporter James Oliphant should consider. The pastor said, “We inherently know that left-handed behaviour is immoral and unnatural. He did not say the same about left-handedness.”

    If I say that the surface manifestation of a particular characteristic is abhorrent, but that the quality of having this characteristic is not, what does that mean?

  • http://ontheotherfoot.blogspot.com Joel

    She was holding her personal copy of the Bible.

    I almost snorted my beverage on my keyboard at that. Is it really so strange that she should have a Bible of her very own?

    I also thought the phrase “anti-gay service” was pretty tone-deaf. Is it possible that there was some other theme besides “homosexuals are icky, so smite them, O Lord?” Or does the reporter not hear anything that doesn’t relate directly to sex?

  • http://catholicecology.blogspot.com/ Bill P.

    Great observations; it is fascinating to see commentators and reporters wrestle with St. Paul here in 2011.

    But the question to Bachmann on Paul seems like an instance where some—including more than a few journalists, politicians and preachers—cherry pick scripture to build a case without being mindful of its larger scriptural context or the tradition in which a text was written. The CNN story you link to tries to get at this, even if imperfectly.

    What the CNN interviewer did get right was that Paul follows the “be submissive” admonition for wives with this one for husbands: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her.” What I have not seen adequately explored is that love, in the Christian agapic sense, implies a rather radical submission to the other, and to the wider context of what marriage means to the common good. This seems to be a meaningful context for Bachmann’s earlier comments.

    Now all this begs the larger question, one which one of my most influential professors of theology once asked: “Why do we expect journalist to be theologians?”

    Well, they may not be theologians, but if a reporter is posing a question related to a line from scripture (even if the question is based on a previous statement by the person interviewed), might it not be prudent to familiarize oneself with the context of the text—or the tradition in which it was written? Might that not shed light on what the individual was saying?

    It’s no wonder the questioner was booed.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    RF Mc:

    What is your biblical reference for the sinfulness of left-handed behavior? Just curious.

    Or a reference from the Catholic catechism, the Koran or the Talmud would do.

    In moral theology, your statement is, well, irrelevant to serious coverage of an event in a religious context.

  • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ Christian

    Wasn’t Newsweek sold for a dollar last year? I expect the new management has a vision for what they have to do to recoup their investment, and this cover is part of that vision.

    Surely this piece on Bachmann is no surprise to anyone.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    She was holding her personal copy of the Bible.

    I had to laugh. If you grew up Baptist, at least in Texas, of course you carried your bible to church. It was even a check off on your Sunday School offering envelope, or something like that. I remember you got some sort of points for having your bible with you.

    The pastor said, “We inherently know that homosexual behavior is immoral and unnatural.” He did not say the same about homosexuality.

    Ms. Bailey –

    What do you mean by “homosexuality”, in this context? The term is vague, with fluid meanings. But you seem to have a specific meaning in mind. Thanks.

  • buddyglass

    Her answer with respect to submission is, IMO, a perfect example of “have your cake and eat it too” complementarianism. It allows one to separate one’s self from those weak-willed, syncretistic egalitarians while, basically, behaving exactly like one.

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com R.F. McDonald

    tmatt, in fact there are numerous Biblical–and other religious, and more broadly cultural–criticisms of left-handedness and left-handers. See http://bit.ly/rm6GU1 for an overview, http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.action?articleId=281474977234688 and http://www.theworldofstuff.com/lefty/ for more specifics). And yes, it goes back to the Bible among other places: the hundred positive references to right-handers and right-handedness outnumber the twenty-five–negative–ones to left-handers and left-handedness. Any number of long-standing cultural prejudices contributed substantially to the number of left-handed people forced to change hands in writing. (And yes, I know that wasn’t raised to the point of theology.)

    My point in raising the analogy was entirely serious, and entirely relevant to serious coverage of Bachmann’s theology. People inclined towards her mode of thought see the distinction between sin and sinner; they see that as a respectable argument. People who _aren’t_ inclined towards that mode of thought–like myself, I admit–see logic chopping there.

    I was serious with my question. If I say that the surface manifestation of a particular characteristic is abhorrent, but that the quality of having this characteristic is not, what does that mean? How, if homosexuality is supposed to be “immoral and unnatural”, are people who don’t think or aren’t sure that this is the case supposed to understand a conservative Christian perspective on homosexuality that doesn’t degrade the non-straight? What about people who _do_ see homosexuality as natural (as natural as, say, left-handedness)? How are they not to interpret that statement as an arbitrary moral condemnation of the individual as a whole? This, as Bachmann has been finding out, has serious repercussions.

    All this is a very real issue. What happens when this language just isn’t understood–or worse, understood sympathetically–by a majority of the American electorate? How will conservative Christians relate to the wider culture?

  • Greg

    Ephesians 2:22-24? What Bible y’all readin’? Although perhaps verse 22 of Ephesians 2 has some complementarian implications.

  • Raoul Walsh

    It’s now the LAT’s (quoting from a New Yorker profile) turn to address Bachmann’s controversial views… on the Renaissance:

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2011/08/michele-bachmann-is-worried-about-the-renaissance.html

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    They must be getting desperate. Let’s see, she liked a book, and therefore must be promoting every “crazy” idea and opinion expressed therein.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    So to those dastardly “complentarians” are the enemies of “egalitarians”.

    Could someone explain how “complements” excludes “equal”? I was not aware that “equal” means “same”. Or is “complementarian” the new “fundamentalist”?

  • buddyglass

    When someone is in authority over you then that presents an inherent inequality. While my boss and I are both human beings, and as such have equal inherent worth, for the time being he gets to tell me what to do. So our relationship is not one of equality. Were are not equals at work; he is my superior.

    If “submit” means only “respect” to Bachmann then she’s not much of a complementarian. A pretty good biblical case can be made that husbands ought also respect their wives. So if “submit” only means “respect” then she and her husband’s relationship isn’t any different than most egalitarians’.

    Given the remarks quoted in the article, though, I suspect it means more than that to her and she just didn’t want to cop to it during the debate. If she preferred not to study tax law but eventually did so only because it was her husband’s wishes then that implies a vote for Michelle Bachmann is actually a vote for Marcus Bachmann.

  • John

    Personally I think Michelle Bachman would be a disaster as President,, but I have to agree, Newsweek greatly overstepped the mark here. You have to wonderif there is some sort of bias towards religious folk operating here…

    Also, for the record, I wish someone in the media would make it clear that Evangelical Prostestant does NOT equal Christian in general. Makes it difficult for those of use who are Catholic or orthodox…

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Yes, but evangelical Protestants tend to use “Christian” that way themselves, with the implication that those who do not have their kind of “born-again” outlook aren’t really Christian.

    Marty Helgesen related ordering some biblical literature over the phone and being asked “Do you want the Christian edition or the Catholic one?”

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    buddy, do you “complement” your boss? I would find that an odd way of characterizing the relationship.

  • Dave G.

    Nice photo. Anyway, regarding this question:

    Are we really surprised by any of this or think it’s worth a news story?

    Actually, the fact that some consider it a news story is, itself, a news story. For instance, I noticed back when all the rage was about the counseling Bachmann’s husband did with homosexuals. I read several articles and watched several news segments. I noticed that some early stories ran based upon ‘inside sting operations’ that were uncovering what Bachmann’s husband was really up to. I saw a couple times those were compared to things like Lila Rose and Live Action.

    Then it dawned on me. In those cases, whether the stings against Planned Parenthood or ACORN, the goal was to uncover something illegal, something that was against the law. The scandal was that they claimed to have discovered illegal activity (whether they did or not is not the point). In the case of Marcus Bachmann, however, nobody was claiming he was doing anything illegal. The scandal was that he approached homosexuality in a certain manner not acceptable in various circles. That, as I read the stories and listened to the debate, was the scandal. Simply that he saw homosexuality a certain way. And in that, it was compared to the other ‘stings uncovering scandals.’

    To me? That was something worth more than a thousand words, and demonstrated the same thing that a story like this demonstrates.

    Oh, and I also laughed at the whole personal Bible quote. Again.

  • Dave G.

    Raoul Walsh,

    I read the link. There was nothing in that article that suggested I should trust its take on the Renaissance any more than Bachmann’s, if not less.

  • R9

    “Are we really surprised by any of this or think it’s worth a news story?”

    That a potential presidential candidate attends churches that preach this stuff? It’s at odds with modern progressive thinking, irrespective of how many years of tradition are behind it. So it’s a point of information about her. It might not be headline news but it’s worth mentioning, sure.

  • Dave G.

    At odds with modern progressive thinking? Sometimes I think the great coup of the modern media narrative is that anyone not conforming to progressive ideology is by default newsworthy, rather than asking if it isn’t a bit contradictory, and therefore newsworthy, to expect people to conform to an exclusive definition of tolerance and diversity.

  • Bern

    So far, nobody seems to have noticed that, pace Congresswoman Bachmann, it was not “the Lord” (Jesus) who urged wives to be submissive and husbands to love their wives . . . it was St. Paul.

  • R9

    If a candidate attended an LGBT event, that would be something to note too.

    You seem to want to get into the supposed intolerance of those preaching tolerance, which is another matter.

  • Bill R.

    My point in raising the analogy was entirely serious, and entirely relevant to serious coverage of Bachmann’s theology. People inclined towards her mode of thought see the distinction between sin and sinner; they see that as a respectable argument. People who _aren’t_ inclined towards that mode of thought—like myself, I admit—see logic chopping there.

    I was serious with my question. If I say that the surface manifestation of a particular characteristic is abhorrent, but that the quality of having this characteristic is not, what does that mean? How, if homosexuality is supposed to be “immoral and unnatural”, are people who don’t think or aren’t sure that this is the case supposed to understand a conservative Christian perspective on homosexuality that doesn’t degrade the non-straight? What about people who _do_ see homosexuality as natural (as natural as, say, left-handedness)? How are they not to interpret that statement as an arbitrary moral condemnation of the individual as a whole? This, as Bachmann has been finding out, has serious repercussions.

    This is a good question, and fortunately, there is (I think) a good answer to be found in the analogy to alcoholism. The fact that alcoholic behavior (e.g. getting drunk habitually, to the detriment of your health and relationships) is immoral and/or unnatural is relatively uncontroversial. So what does that make alcoholism? Or, perhaps the better question is: what does that make the alcoholic? People can have different opinions (e.g. about how much responsibility an alcoholic bears for certain alcoholic behaviors vs. being merely a victim of alcoholism), but it is not logically inconsistent to regard alcoholic behavior as immoral while viewing alcoholics as worthy of respect, dignity, and protection under the law. To denounce alcoholic behavior neither “degrades the [non-sober]“, nor “morally condemns the individual [alcoholic] as a whole”.

    Obviously, many will disagree (perhaps vehemently) with an analogy between homosexuality and alcoholism. Whether or not one agrees with it (or the broader conservative position), however, the analogy shows that an orthodox Christian view that distinguishes between the sinfulness of homosexual behavior and the inherent worth of the homosexual is not inconsistent.

  • Dave G.

    Bill R.

    Well said.

    R9,

    I’m not sure the two are altogether different, because I’m not altogether sure the two cases would be handled the same.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    As a life-long leftie, I was entertained by the links in #8.

    Entertained but not persuaded. For one thing, no one has ever “hated” me for being left-handed. Well, by father’s mother often remarked on the lack of lefties in dad’s bloodlines, but that was directed at my mother, not me.

    More to the point, in the bible the left and right citations are references with clear culturally background (does anyone not know the use of the left hand in mideast culture?), while proscriptions against same-sex acts (which proscriptions pervade the scriptures) are not references, but statements and commands.

    So tmatt’s objection stands, as it applies to journalism.

  • R9

    DaveG I don’t quite follow, can you elaborate?

  • http://www.abbottepub.com/tyndale21gospels.html Stephen A.

    Did anyone catch the Meet the Press interview with Rep. Bachmann Sunday?

    Host David Gregory tried to get her to say (and strongly implied that) she “heard voices” (ala schizophrenia) because she had earlier admitted she had “listened” to God’s will when choosing a career and running for public office.

    Talk about NOT getting religion!

    I don’t share her beliefs and am not likely to support her politically but as a reporter, I would NEVER be so ignorant of religion that I’d ask such a thing in that way.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    If a minister said “We do not regard same-sex attraction as sinful”, would that make the whole event a “gay service”?

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    Or is an “anti-gay service” one where people go to worship teh anti-gay?

  • Dave G.

    R9,

    I meant discussing the strange trend of intolerant tolerance isn’t different than looking at how the press is handling Bachmann’s beliefs. Why? Because I don’t think the press would handle ‘Bachmann attends church that doesn’t accept homosexual normality’ the same as ‘Ms. Smith attends LGBT event.’ Well, I know they wouldn’t because when pols do anything pro-gay, it’s not like the press makes a scandal of it.

  • http://aleksandreia.wordpress.org Hector_St_Clare

    Re: If a minister said “We do not regard same-sex attraction as sinful”, would that make the whole event a “gay service”?

    Good point.

    While I’ve never been at an evangelical service, I’ve been to my share of both Episcopalian and Roman Catholic masses. While the typical homily at either one doesn’t mention homosexuality (and that is an understatement) I suspect you’re much more likely to hear a pro-gay homily at an Episcopal church than an anti-gay homily at a Catholic one.

  • http://realclearreligion.org Jeffrey Weiss

    I thought the “submit” question was totally fair game. And that she dodged the question with her answer. Yes, the Ephesians formula is much more nuanced than is generally reflected by the MSM. But it has a pretty clear meaning and “respect” is not “submit.” More details here:

    Rep. Bachmann Should Submit a Different Answer

  • R9

    DaveG:

    Matters of handling and making-a-scandal aside (in which we just bog down into seeing as much bias as one wishes to), all I meant was that both would be worth mentioning in the context of “what have these potential candidates been up to lately”. And I reject the idea that attending an anti-gay service isn’t news just cos such beliefs are common in traditional christianity (which seems to be the gist of the complaints here?)

  • Dave G.

    R9,

    Mentioning yes. No problem there. But I just can’t suspend reality enough not to notice it’s the ‘how it’s mentioned’ that sets the two apart.


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