Crouse writes as part of our roundtable on Christian women’s leadership, an expert discussion featured in parallel with On Faith’s Lisa Miller’s debut column, “Evangelical women rise as new ‘feminists.’” On Faith asks, “How do modern evangelicals understand biblical teachings on women’s roles? How would a President Bachmann balance biblical submission and political leadership?” Read Christian writer Margaret Feinberg on the Proverbs 31 politician, and scholar of American religion and gender politics, Marie Griffith, who writes, Michele Bachmann reflects a changing conservative Christianity.
Few biblical passages cause more confusion than Ephesians 5:21-33 that calls for wives to submit to husbands. It is bad enough that the secular world misconstrues those verses to envision Stepford wives; it is even worse when they try to fit Christian leaders into their distortions of the biblical principle of submission. Michele Bachmann, who has served notably as a United States congresswoman and is currently a presidential candidate, is now under scrutiny regarding how she could, as a Christian president, balance submission and leadership.
In the context of women in leadership, it is important to note that biblical submission is about harmony and well-being within the home and the relationship between a husband and a wife; it has nothing to do with leadership responsibilities, except that no one — even the president of the United States – should treat others with disrespect, expect a subservient spirit from anyone or demand total surrender of another person’s will. Thus, a woman who willingly submits to her husband — and enjoys his equal submission, nurturing and cherishing — does not have a similar relationship with the men at work. Some women in the workplace are the boss, the leader, the one in charge; other women are in subordinate positions, working under the direction of someone else. In any work situation, a Christian woman (or man) should be considerate of others and not treat others in a disparaging or demeaning manner. A Christian woman or man in leadership must lead and fulfill the responsibilities for which they are accountable both to God and to those whom they are serving in a leadership capacity.
An authentic Christian will carry out his or her professional work within the parameters of genuine courtesy, wisdom, strength and competence. There is no room for power games or one-up-man-ship; instead, leadership is exerted with an attitude of service and commitment to the common good. The demands of leadership are the same for both women and men.
While the biblical passage is clear that both husbands and wives should submit to each other, the Bible is equally clear that a Christian’s first priority is to submit to Jesus as Lord – “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Interestingly, no one is forced to believe or to act on any biblical principle because we have been granted the priceless gift of free will. The biblical guidelines offer parameters that ensure well-being in life and in relationships. That well-being begins with an attitude of humility and a willingness to “bend the knee” to God as the final authority in our lives. An attitude of willing obedience is essential for well-being, both for men as well as for women. Likewise, submission within marriage is a mutual willingness to yield. Those men who demand subservience do not understand submission. The Bible condemns any person who tries to dominate and intimidate another, whether male or female.
Obviously, there are situations that require decisive leadership with immediate action, but in general, a good leader — especially the leader of a family — consults and persuades rather than demands. Literally, the standard is to love one another enough to give preference to each other. The biblical model stipulates that a man be willing to lay down his life for his wife; it is his responsibility to nourish and cherish his wife. Further, there is nothing in Scripture requiring obedience to dictatorial commands, nor does the Bible advocate women staying in situations that are dangerous to them or their children. Finally, Scripture does not suggest that women acquiesce to anything contrary to their own moral or spiritual principles or their understanding of God’s leading in their own lives.
Women are created in God’s image, just as men are, and they have God-given potential for which they are accountable to God, just as men are. Many women today are finding the demands of leadership are not as fulfilling as the pivotal and influential roles they have at home as wives and mothers. Thus, as a Pew Research Center report indicates, many young women are leaving the fast track to spend more time with their families. Michele Bachmann and numerous other outstanding female leaders have found ways to “do it all” and they are thriving as they successfully juggle the competing demands of home and career. Many of them, like Congresswoman Bachmann, are evangelical Christians who are leading within the framework of biblical principles in an attitude of “servant leadership.”
Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D. is author of Children at Risk (Transaction Publishers, 2010) and the forthcoming Marriage Matters (Transaction Publishers, March, 2012). She heads the think tank for Concerned Women for America.