When the Washington Examiner's Byron York asked Michele Bachmann if she was submissive to her husband at the Fox News GOP debate Thursday night, the crowd gasped and booed. That's because wifely submission -- also known as complementarian theology -- is central to the faith of many evangelicals. York's question wasn't about religion per se, but was an attempt to probe whether, if Bachmann became president, America would be getting Marcus' decisions and not hers.
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Submission theology is built around the notion that God has a "design" for men and for women; that they are unique from each other and have their designated, God-given roles. The husband is the spiritual head of the household, the wife his obedient "helpmeet," the vessel for their children, devoted mother, and warrior for the faith. By committing themselves to those gender roles, evangelicals believe they are obeying God's commands. They see the wife's obligation to obey her husband's authority as actually owed to God, not her husband.
But the obligation falls on the woman to be obedient, even when the husband doesn't love her as evangelicals believe God commands.
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Regardless of the Bachmanns' relationship, candidate Bachmann's policy initiatives, as they relate to issues like gay marriage, abortion and funding for Planned Parenthood, stem directly from her "biblical" view of gender roles. "God's design" for gender roles is not limited to the issue Bachmann usually applies it to (opposition to gay marriage). God’s design, in her view, is for (Christian) men and women to get married to serve God, and for the woman to be a mother and a fierce defender of the "biblical worldview." Bachmann's worldview, which she sees as under siege by secularists, feminists, imaginary socialists and other boogeymen, must be defended for future generations. "An arrogant corrupt Washington elite," Bachmann insisted earlier this year, has "declared war on marriage, on families, on fertility, and on faith." (Sarah Posner, “What Michelle Bachmann’s submission theology really means,” Salon, 15 August 2011)
Michelle Obama's sacrifice
America seems to need reassurance right now that women professionals won't dominate their husbands. Submission "theology" was at play, after all, with our election of Obama, with how we were going to imagine Barack relating to Michelle, as opposed to how we'd imagine Hillary relating to Bill, as Salon.com noted at the time:
Damn it all, Michelle Obama has quit her $215,000 dream job and demoted herself to queen. Though the party line is that she's only "scaled back" to a 20 percent workload, I doubt her former co-workers will bother alerting her to many staff meetings. She's traded in her solid gold résumé, high-octane talent and role as vice president of community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals to be a professional wife and hostess.
Now, the energy and drive that had her up jogging before dawn and a gratifying day of work and family will mainly be spent smiling for the cameras. Just as we watch curvy, healthy-looking singers and actresses like Lindsay Lohan become anorexic too-blonde hoochies before our very eyes, so we're now in danger of having to watch the political version of that process: Any day now, Michelle Obama's handlers will have her glued into one of those Sunday-go-to-meeting Baptist grandma crown hats while smiling vapidly for hours at a time. When, of course, she's not staring moonstruck, à la Nancy Reagan, at her moon doggie god-husband who's not one bit smarter than she is. (Debra Dickerson, "Michelle Obama's sacrifice," Salon, 21 May 2007)
Liberals don't get much of a kick from Bachmann, but however much they're willing to press her on her submission, with their collective failure to admit they kind of liked Michelle hemming in her career a bit, I'm not sure they're exempt from liking the idea a considerable some as well.