Sarah Palin, Maureen Dowd, and the Reality of Evangelical Paradox

Sarah Palin, Maureen Dowd, and the Reality of Evangelical Paradox September 18, 2008

Maureen Dowd has a fun if slightly snarky column on a recent visit to Wasilla, AK, Sarah Palin’s hometown. Dowd opens her piece with a comment by Carly Fiorina, the female former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, who has apparently said that Palin couldn’t adequately manage HP as a company. Of course, Fiorina failed at this attempt herself (as Dowd points out), so one wonders if Dowd hasn’t undermined her own dig at Palin by quoting her.

Dowd meanders through her column as she meandered through Wasilla a few days ago, making observations as she observes various groups and folks in the little town up north. She shows a general bias against evangelicals and their stances and seems to link the town and its moral backwardness with rural areas. Palin clearly has not come from an august city like New York but is disappointingly from “a town that is a soulless strip mall without side walks set beside a soulful mountain and lake.” Well, at least the mountain and lake are redemptive.

The piece fails to surprise, really. Dowd concludes it with a quote from an anti-Palin demonstrator who notes with a subtlety born out of the purest moderation that Palin is “one of the popular girls, but one of the mean girls. She is seductive, but she is invented.” There you have it. Palin isn’t a mother of five, after all; she’s one of Lindsay Lohan’s pack, just waiting to snicker about a girl for wearing spring colors in fall. Who knew?

All overwrought commentary aside, as I’ve thought about the Palin-McCain ticket, it strikes me that she presents complementarian evangelicals with something of a dilemma, a paradox. Those of us who believe that a man is to be the head of his home and the provider for his family face something of a difficult election choice when it comes to the Alaskan candidate. I’m not referring here to the issue of whether the Bible allows for women to serve in secular leadership capacities. That’s a matter I don’t care to touch right now, as it’s a pretty tricky one that takes careful thought and exegesis. No, I’m talking about how a Christian views Palin’s candidacy in light of Titus 2:3-5, which reads as follows:

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”

The key phrase here is “working at home” for women who have “children”. Paul’s burden in laying out this prescriptive picture of the Christian home is that “the word of God may not be reviled”, a powerful burden indeed. Complementarians understand this verse, then, to teach that men, providing for the primary financial needs of the home, are to free up women are to be homemakers and caretakers of their children.

So what does this mean for the discussion on Sarah Palin? Palin has five children. She and her husband have by the grace of God created a beautiful, sweet family. From my limited reading on Palin, she and her husband seem like great Christian people, those very much concerned to live godly lives and to love their children. I of course know very little, ultimately, about Palin, but that’s the read I have on her. She’s a professing Christian and seems to have backed up her profession with a godly track record. Yet on the issue of gender roles, I fear that she has stepped into a role reserved by Scripture for her husband.

Which places complementarians like myself in a bit of a stitch. I personally appreciate much of what Palin stands for politically and ideologically. In political terms, to boot, she is a dream, an almost inconceivable political creation, because her combination of gifts, personality and natural background make her an almost perfect trump card as a candidate. She is, incredibly, more magnetic and winning and heartwarming than Barack Obama, the golden-boy. Who would ever have thought this possible at this juncture? A few months ago, conservatives were preparing for inevitable failure as Obama hit one home run after another, politically speaking. Now, Obama’s on his heels; an ad I saw on the New York Times website mentioned how “to get Barack back on track”. Honestly, that’s incredible. How far the conservatives have come in just a few short weeks–and it’s due in considerable measure to the advent of Sarah Palin.

For which many conservatives give thanks. Those conservatives who are complementarian, however, find themselves in a paradox. We love Palin politically, but we worry about her familial role. Speaking personally, I’ll vote for McCain-Palin, I’m quite sure, but I’ll do so with a divided heart. I fear that Sarah Palin occupies the wrong role in her family, and I worry for her children as she could possibly enter one of the world’s most important and personally consuming occupations. This is no insignificant thing.

At the same time, though, evangelicals often find themselves in such positions in this world. We’re often not faced with the best of both options, but with a mix of things. There is real good married with real negatives in so much of what we must choose in this world, especially, one might say, in the political realm. Politics are tough on ideals and idealists. In the upcoming election, I think that strong complementarians like myself will taste this toughness. That won’t send me into sobs or stop me from voting, but it will give me pause as I cast my vote. In voting, as in so many things in life, I must live in paradox as a Christian. Soulful mountains beside soulless cities, indeed, until one day the King returns and all is made right.

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  • By the way, Alaska is abbreviated “AK.”
    AL is Alabama.

  • And I meant that period after “AK.” as a sentence ending period, not an abbreviating period.

  • owenstrachan

    David, thanks for the help. I need to go back to eighth grade and do some remedial abbreviation work.

    • Barry Walker

      Who really gives a crap what Dowd and her ilk think! Their man, BRO, is a one-termer, and that is if doesn’t get impeached first for not having a birth certificate. These people are scare to death of Palin.

  • Rick Proper

    Your exegesis of the Titus 2 (and others like it) passage needs some work. Let’s remember the necessity that all pertinent Scriptures need to be interpreted in the light of their immediate contexts, as well as in the context of Scripture as a whole.

    In contrast with the specific context of Titus the same author writes in Galations 3:28 “There is neither… male, nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Furthermore, the redemptive purpose and mission of Jesus is to redeem all humanity from the results of the fall, including the subjection of women. Check into the “cultural mandate” of Gen 1:26-27 to see if there be any gender bias.

    See in the OT how God used Miriam as both a prophetess (Ex 15:20) and a leader (Mic 6:4). He used Deborah as a prophetess and as a judge who led Israel… having authority over Barak in Judg 4:4ff and fulfilled in Act 1:13-15, 2:1-12). And the prophet Joel (2:28-29) foretold of the Holy Spirit that would be poured out on both men and women alike.

    The NT displays Jesus ministering to men and women without distinction, was counter-cultural in his openness to women as co-laborers, and don’t forget the pertinent examples we find in John 4:7ff, Mark 15:40-41, and Luke 8:1-3 that involve women bringing the Good News to others.

    As for the frequent mis-interpretations of specific passages such as what is found in Titus, Paul’s references were not intended to exclude women and single men from ministry nor leadership positions, but to exclude polygamous men. The same author is made consistent with this theme in Romans 16 as he refers specifically to Phoebe as a deacon.

    Therefore, I urge you brothers and sisters, in light of the whole of the Scriptures, fear not with trembling and divided hearts as you enter the voting booth this November. Our amazing, awesome, sovereign LORD will display His mighty power through whomever He wishes!

    All in love and under grace,

    Romans 6:14