The Republican field may get the press corps on its knees yet. Between Rick Perry leading prayer rallies and Michele Bachmann considering God more a part of her life than a mere “safe harbor,” newsrooms may be praying for someone who doesn’t take their faith so seriously!
It all began during Thursday night’s Fox News Washington Examiner debate. My friend and former colleague Bryon York asked the Minnesota congresswoman: “In 2006, when you were running for Congress, you described a moment in your life when your husband said you should study for a degree in tax law. You said you hated the idea. And then you explained, But the Lord said, ‘Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.’ As president, would you be submissive to your husband?”
And he was booed.
Bachmann, without missing a beat, answered the question before she even started talking, with a smile.
After the Minnesota congresswoman won the Iowa straw poll in Ames Saturday, she did a round of Sunday-show interviews. NBC host David Gregory dug deeper on the submission issue, putting the question in some more context and pressing Bachmann.
And on much more than submission. He went exactly where he had to for full context: to God.
Gregory asked Bachmann: “To what extent is he a motivator for decisions that you make?” He pressed, with the sound of disbelief — pun intended — in his voice: “Would God guide your decisions you would make as president of the United States?” He went on: “There is a difference between God as a sense of comfort and safe harbor and inspiration and God telling you to take a particular action.”
Well, there sure is.
I’ve always had an uncomfortable relationship with the Sunday shows. As someone who has always taken an interest in politics, seeing its relationship to human lives, yelling at the TV on Sunday morning before or after church has never seemed quite right. Of course, maybe the problem has always been my yelling, not the day of the week the talking points are being delivered and challenged. But you see my point.
And if you were watching Meet the Press Sunday morning, you saw the clearest example yet of the problem.
The problem is far deeper than the day of the week or the time of day for a talking-head show. The problem is how we make God work in our schedule. The problem is that it could ever be considered mainstream Christianity to see God as nothing but a safe harbor and inspiration, like a lone quote on an inspirational calendar. David Gregory went on to ask whether she would appoint atheists in her administration. Meanwhile, how many Americans, particularly those in and around Washington, would consider the only qualified Christian one who didn’t actually take Christianity all that seriously?
I asked Nancy French, an evangelical writer, to address the submission issue on National Review Online on Friday. She wrote about how she frequently has to make decisions about what freelance jobs she is going to pursue and which she is going to decline.
She wrote: “On one occasion, my husband told me directly that writing a certain celebrity’s story was not going to be good for our family. Even though I’d already started the process of interviewing (and wanted to take the job), I declined. Since then, as I’ve seen other writers struggle with the task, it’s apparent that my husband’s inclination was correct. In this case especially, I was thankful for his leadership.”
Regarding the issue of Bachmann submitting to her husband’s direction, Nancy wrote: “Bachmann also had a decision to make about the direction of her career. In fact, York referred to Bachmann’s statement that she didn’t want to pursue a degree in tax law, though, ultimately, deferred to her husband’s judgment on the issue. She rightly heeded her husband’s advice and counsel on the direction of her life. This doesn’t make her a passive non-entity who, if elected, would be the ‘Wife-in-Chief’ instead of the commander-in-chief. There’s nothing in the Bible that says she must defer to her husband’s judgment in how she does her job. Moreover, she would have a legal, occupational, and — yes — biblical responsibility to perform that task. In other words, when you hire a Christian woman, you aren’t really hiring her husband. Similarly, when you vote for a Christian candidate, you aren’t actually voting for her husband.”
It is true that Rep. Bachmann is not running for “wife-in-chief.” But Nancy also made another excellent point: This submission issue is like John F. Kennedy’s papal issue. Is it the pope or is it Marcus Bachmann who is really running for president? It’s a question that is asked because there is a discomfort with real Christianity. Discomfort that anyone who struggles to make what they profess real in their lives knows all too well. It’s the discomfort we’ve had since the Fall. It’s the discomfort he came here for and died for. And unlike JFK, Bachmann does not appear to have any interest in backing down.
Her identity as an American, who appreciates that God has “shed his grace on thee,” is inseparable from her calling as a politician. It is inseparable from her life as a wife and mother. As a candidate, she presents herself as a fully integrated person. You don’t have to be contributing to her campaign or want her to be president of the United States to appreciate that.
There was a beautiful moment during that Meet the Press exchange where David Gregory, being the conventional feminist in the room, tried to make a little joke of it. “Congresswoman, I didn’t even have to check with my wife, and I know those two things aren’t equal: submission and respect,” Gregory said with a laugh.
But Bachmann wasn’t playing. There’s no hurtful female chauvinist power play in her. Men and women are not natural adversaries, and she’s not going to pretend otherwise — even for political gain. In the Bachmann household, she said, there is a “mutual respect.” Rather than our pop-culture view of the man as the dope of the household (just flip to one of those frequently running repeats of Everybody Loves Raymond and you’ll see it). “We are a good team together,” she said of her marriage. Going one step farther: In a Christian household, one would pray, the man and woman complement one another as they live out their vocations united in God, who has joined them together.
Whatever comes of the Bachmann candidacy, she’s presenting herself as an integrated whole, as a Christian running for president. She’s introduced a little sanity into the war-of-the-sexes nonsense we’re all too often comfortable exploiting for political, professional, even personal purposes. (Notably she seems to< a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/270994/forget-you-feminism-kathryn-jean-lopez"_blank">
have no time for even reinventing the f-word.) As men and women more openly tire of the pain the sexual revolution has wrought, she’s a candidate for our times, reasserting the conviction that nothing good comes from relegating God to an hour on Sunday, fit in between things we’ve decided matter more.