Sarah Palin and Female Submission

Hey, what’s up with this Sarah Palin? If she’s elected VP, won’t she sort of “have authority” over men? Like maybe 150 million of them! Do you think a hockey mom (self-described as a pit bull with lipstick) is practicing appropriate biblical submission? Will her husband Todd still get to be the decider on the domestic front? Will it be sufficient if, while Sarah is sending American troops into Russia or deciding to annex Canada, that Todd can decide whether the family buys or leases a Ford Expedition for moose hunting and diaper-runs to Wal-Mart? Will he still be “the head”?

I happen to belong to that weird bunch called gender egalitarians–people who actually believe God wants men and women to relate to one another in church, home and society as total equals. And guess what? I still believe the Bible is–when properly interpreted–God’s true and trustworthy word. I don’t think that the egalitarian view I espouse is a concession to be cleverly wrestled from Scripture; rather, I think it is the vision toward which the Bible’s inspired contents actually point. Yes, I have read 1 Tim. 2:11-15 and I am convinced I have a better handle on what it means than, say, John Piper or Wayne Grudem does–even though I admire the gifts, and do not doubt the faith commitments, of these talented Christian brothers. I’ve written a book defending my perspective against theirs: The Journey Back to Eden (Zondervan, 2005).

That’s where I stand. So personally I don’t have a problem with Sarah Palin running for President of the United States of America, at least not on gender grounds. But how about really conservative Christians? Don’t they have a problem with this nomination? Aren’t they a bit concerned about creeping feminism here?

David Gushee, a respected evangelical ethicist, has just written a very interesting blog article for USA Today, reflecting on the way so many conservative Christian Republicans are suddenly defending Sarah Palin’s right to be the President, even though their official view up until now is that a woman’s calling is chiefly to the home and to mothering. Up until the Republican National Convention, and John McCain’s maverick choice of a female running mate, many on the Christian Right would have insisted that a cute, perky gal like Sarah should be at home and submissive to Todd, her husband. And up until a few weeks ago most conservative evangelicals would have been adamant that Sarah Palin would certainly never be qualified, due to her sex, to speak from a pulpit or even teach a gender-mixed home Bible study.

Many hierarchically-minded defenders of Palin will explain their position like this: If Sarah Palin wants to be a tax-lowering, family values president of this entire country, then You Go, Girl. There’s nothing in the Bible to prevent her from assuming the highest public office in the land. But in the smaller spheres of church and home, Sarah (and the rest of female humanity, for that matter) must work within tighter restrictions and limitations. Why? Because that’s what the Bible seems to say–at least the way many conservative evangelicals interpret it.

What’s the divine rationale for allowing women to lead in one sphere, but not in these others? Most conservatives will shrug and admit they just don’t know. It’s as mystifying to them as it is to me, but they have to go along with it because they think this is what the Bible demands. A few have ventured to speculate about why the divine rules are different between the public realm on the one hand, and the church and home on the other. Some suggest that the church and the home are more important to God than government. Their basic idea is that in church and home we must operate closer to God’s top-down ideal for male-female relationships. This ideal is out of reach in the hurly-burly of public life, especially in Washington, DC, so God has been willing to cut us all some slack here. But in an ideal world–or when the Kingdom of God will someday come in its fullness–all human relationships will line up with God’s hierarchical gender template.

Personally I don’t find these explanations satisfactory. I find it more plausible that the restrictive view is based on a misinterpretation of the Bible’s teaching on how men and women are supposed to relate in the home and church today. Besides, conveniently dividing life into separate spheres simply doesn’t work out in real life–there’s too much overlap between them. Ask any working mom.

So in the end, we each have prayerfully ask this question from the heart: Are hierarchically-ordered Christian homes and churches really the best reflectors of God’s will for gender relations, or are they more like stubborn last bastions of male privilege? Count to 10 before you answer. Then check out Gushee’s article!

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