Women, Submission, and Leadership

Dear Reader,

So apparently there has been some controversy about presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s fitness to lead govern that she has promised to be submissive to her husband. The heart of the issue us this: If a woman is under her husband’s authority, can she lead in civil government? Will her husband really be making the decisions?

I honestly don’t know where I stand on this. Initially I wanted to say that her submission is in the realm of her private life and she would not be obligated to submit when making policy or other decisions as part of her job. But Mrs. Bachmann herself has said that she only got into politics out of submission to her husband’s leadership. She herself was reluctant to go down this road. So clearly the two cannot be completely separated.

Submission works out different ways in different marriages. Non-Christians and even many Christians hear submission and think of a husband giving orders and a wife blindly obeying. But that it not always, and I hope not often, the way Christian marriages work. Depending on the personalities of the two people involved, submission can look like many different things.

I would have no problem with a male president consulting his wife on certain issues. In a good marriage, husbands and wives should talk over the things that are troubling them. But if a wife gives her husband counsel that he ultimately does not agree with, the decision is still his. What if the husband of a female president gives his wife counsel on that she after prayerful consideration does not think is the right way to go? In private life, I would say she should submit as long as the course of action he is proposing is not clearly contrary to God’s law. But what is the female politician to do?

But perhaps we should just accept that for a married female leader, even more than with a male, we are getting a team.  First ladies have certainly influenced their husbands. Is it so horrible if a first husband also has some influence? There are many things that affect a president from their own beliefs, education and backgrounds to their friends, advisors, and special interests. A godly husband hardly seems like the most dangerous of these possible influences.

But of course, this is not just another influence. It is a promise made to submit. It is a promise which must come before all others except our commitment to God Himself. It must come before promises to constituents. So can one who is under authority of a man (we are all under the authority of our Creator of course) be in authority?

In the church, the answer is no (or should be, biblically). Women, even unmarried ones, may not be elders or pastors. This is not about their intelligence or ability to lead. It is God’s decree. He has given different people different roles. A woman cannot lead in the church because she herself is under (or could be under) a man’s authority.

But does this translate over into the civil realm? The short answer is I just don’t know where I fall on this. What do you think? What do you think the key issues are?

Nebby

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2 responses to this post.

  1. You’ve done a great job asking the hard questions. The answers are not so easy, and I think God allows plenty of leeway here.

    My best understanding of scripture is that God has commanded women to submit to their particular husband, but not to all men in general. I have women supervisors at work, there are plenty of female politicians that represent me and that I “submit” to–I have to–it’s the law–or it’s my job.

    I’m actually just fine with that. I don’t have a problem with a woman having a leadership role in politics or at work where she leads numerous men, and at the same time submitting to her husband in family and personal matters.

    A husband might have some say in whether his wife works or not or what kind of job she takes, even how many hours she works–but I don’t think it makes sense for him to tell her what decisions to make in her own professional sphere.

    In fact, I don’t think that God necessarily wants women to be “submissive” people–any more than he wants all of us to Submit to God’s commandments. But he does want us to understand the authority structure and have wives submit to their particular husband. Christ was definitely not a “submissive” personality–far from it. He was strong-willed, stubborn, vocally honest and even blatantly rebellious in the public sphere. But he did always submit to his authority–His father.

    As far as I can tell, single women are under no obligation to submit to men in general in any way different from the ways a single man would be–whether in church, politics or business. Except, of course, single women cannot hold the priesthood and serve in leadership roles. But, in our Church, single men also cannot be bishops or hold other key leadership positions.

    If I’m incorrect, I’d be interested in which scripture contradicts this concept.

    Reply

    • No, I don’t believe single women need submit to men in general either. Submission is based in the marriage relationship. Though we are all told as believers to submit to one another. I woudl take this not as obedience to orders but as a willingness to prefer others to ourselves and not to demand our own rights.
      I also agree that a husband should probably not tell his wife what to do in the professional sphere. But what if he does? Must she obey? For Mrs. Bachmann she has made it clear that she entered politics at her husband’s request. So how are we to know he won’t make other requests of her in that regard?

      In our church men need not be married to be elders (our pastors are elders too). They do need to be “one-woman” men. I can see that being single and in a leadership position coudl lead to lots of temptations and possible msunderstandings for men.

      Reply

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