August 12th, 2011
12:10 PM ET

Bachmann faces theological question about submissive wives at debate

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN)– Thursday night in the Fox News GOP debate in Ames, Iowa, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, was asked by columnist Byron York whether she would be "submissive to her husband" if she were elected president.

Before the congresswoman had a chance to answer, a chorus of boos rang down from the audience.

"Thank you for that question, Byron," Bachmann responded with a wry smile. "Marcus and I will be married for 33 years this September 10. I'm in love with him. I'm so proud of him. What submission means to us, it means respect. I respect my husband. He's a wonderful godly man and great father.

"He respects me as his wife; that's how we operate our marriage," she continued. "We respect each other; we love each other. I've been so grateful we've been able to build a home together. We have wonderful children and 20 foster children. We've built a business and life together, and I'm very proud of him."

"She answered it the most appropriate way in the context it was being asked. She was being asked a deeply theological question in front of millions of Americans," said Gary Marx, the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. "That's why there was such a strong and visceral booing over the very premise of the question."

Marx, who was in the balcony at the debate Thursday, said that for Iowa evangelicals, this is a nonissue.

"Most evangelicals know it's not easy to teach in a 30-minute sermon on Sunday. It's impossible to answer in a minute sound bite. Her answer about respect is the only one that can be given," he said.

The question of wives being submissive to their husbands comes from a passage in the New Testament in Paul's letter to the Ephesians. The letter was originally written in Greek, and there are various translations of the Greek word Paul uses.

"Whatever someone thinks Paul means of submission of wives to husbands ... it doesn't leave any room for exploitation," said David Matthewson, an associate professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. "I would say her response was very consistent with the text."

In the New International Version translation of the Bible, the version most preferred by evangelical Christians and nondenominational churches, a camp Bachmann has said she belongs to, Ephesians 5:22-24 are translated as:

"Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."

The letter goes on to say in verse 25:

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."

"The English word 'submit' is as good a translation as any without using a bunch of words. The problem, though, is the word 'submit' in English carries connotations for most readers that may not have been there in the Greek," Mathewson said. "In English, we think of forced submission or exploiting. ... I don't think that's in the Ephesians passage."

In the King James Version, the first mass-produced English translation of the Bible, the word is translated as "submit."

In Eugene Peterson's translation of the Bible, "The Message," which aims to use more common English, he translates submissive as "understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ."

Historically, the fifth chapter of Ephesians has been taken in context of Paul's writings to mean Christian spouses should operate as loving equals, though the word "submissive" has long been a divisive one for Christian women.

"It seems it's been, in the 20th century, to have caused a lot of issues in North American Christianity," Mathewson said.

Former Alaska Gov. Sara Palin, another prominent evangelical politician, weighed in on the issue Friday in Iowa.

Palin told CNN's Don Lemon, "That's her opinion, that, to her, submission to her husband means respecting her husband, and I respect my husband, too."

Lemon asked, "If (husband) Todd said don't run, would you not run?"

"I can't imagine my husband ever telling me what to do politically," Palin responded. "He has never told me what to do when it comes to a political step, and I appreciate that. I respect you for that, Todd; thank you."

Bachmann identifies herself as an evangelical Christian. Her congressional office said recently that she has been attending a nondenominational church as her schedule allows.

She has shown over the years that she is fluent in "Christianese," using words and phrases that ring true to evangelical listeners.

She has long been a darling of evangelical voters, serving as keynote speaker at anti-abortion events in Washington and making the rounds at prayer rallies at the Capitol. It is one of the reasons she is expected to do well in Iowa, where the GOP base is filled with evangelical voters.

Her faith has caused a few bumps in the road in the campaign. Her husband's Christian counseling program came under fire by critics for a controversial therapy. She formally pulled her membership in her former church days before she formally announced that she was seeking the White House.

But Marx points out that fielding a question like this in a debate only helps her. "In Iowa, it reiterates that evangelical identity she has."

And, he noted, the last Republican to win the Iowa caucus in 2008, former Southern Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee, got asked a lot of questions about the finer points of his faith, too.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church and state • Michele Bachmann • Politics

soundoff (1,672 Responses)
  1. Acustatic

    There's lots of reasons why she is unfit to be President, let alone a member of the House of Representatives. Her answer on the default/debt-ceiling debate shows that she is completely unaware how the budget process works. That alone would be enough to disqualify her, let alone the other things she has said in her career.

    August 12, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  2. Brian

    @J_Bug... Is it any more reasonable that a baby is born to a virgin mother? The baby would grow up to walk around on water, turn water into wine, raise people from the dead, etc... He was then crucified on a cross, became a Zombie and flew away to heaven? Really now, why don't we ask that of the Evangelical Christian candidates? It's just as likely that Santa flies around the world every December to deliver toys to good children. ALL just stories to keep subjugates in line and obedient. Religion of any sort has some pretty absurd stories. Let's not just pick on one.

    August 12, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Asklepios417

      Islam teaches that Muhammad split the moon. Judaism, that Moses parted the Red Sea. Buddhism has the original Buddah being reincarnated in Tibet every 80 years or so. The modern revived Pagan religion teaches that Athena was born out of the head of Zeus.

      As a wise man noted, when there are many religions teaching strange beliefs, one grows skeptical of them all.

      However, as a small child I actually found coins under my bed the morning after I lost a tooth, and my very honest parents denied putting it there, so I have tangible proof of the Tooth Fairy's actual existence, so I'm going with that.

      August 12, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • Brian

      Hear, hear Asklepios417!

      August 12, 2011 at 11:14 pm |
  3. the Nut

    Wow.. Didn't realize there were so many people here at CNN that are so disgusted with the Bible.

    August 12, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  4. A Mom

    Whatever happened to separation of church and state???????

    August 12, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • sam

      It "happens" when they want to get the church out of the state~ But they will use it if they think it can get an interesting answer out of the candidate.

      August 12, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  5. TG

    A woman's role within a family is explained at 1 Corinthians 11:3, in which the apostle Paul said that "the head of every man is the Christ; in turn the head of a woman is the man; in turn the head of the Christ is God. " Thus, the headship principle was established by God, with him having no head.

    Within a family, the husband makes the final decisions, overriding his wife if he feels that the decision she would make is not in the best interest of the family. This headship principle even affects Jesus Christ, for he too has to submit to his Father, God, always doing what pleases him.(John 8:29)

    However, neither the husband nor the wife has the authority nor should desire it, to participate in any form or fashion within the political arena. Jesus told his heavenly Father in prayer concerning his faithful disciples: "They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world."(John 17:16)

    August 12, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Mike

      Complete babble

      August 12, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  6. sam

    I think the person in the video explain it pretty well. Just scanning through the comments, I have doubts people even cared to read the article or watch the video. and btw, I won't vote for Michele in a milion years anyway~ nor am I religious, but this video explains it pretty well.

    August 12, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  7. cepyoung

    All religioun shoud be banned under threat of death, and all religious cohorts should be executed.

    August 12, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • sam

      u'd kill off at least 50% of the world then, population control~

      August 12, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  8. Maxine

    Wow! There sure are a lot of generic quasi-theologians on this site..

    August 12, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  9. Cindy

    What's good for the goose, is good for the gander!

    August 12, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
  10. J_Bug

    I wonder when someone is going to have the guts to ask Romney publicly if he really believes that he will become a god of his own planet, keep his spiritual wife eternally pregnant and ultimately they will give "birth" to heir own Christ of their planet? Basic tennants of the Morman faith along with the secret spirtual name given to all women known only by their husbands who may then choose (or not choose) to "call" them to heaven. Ultimate submission ot females would be entrusting their "eternal life" to a man's decision to take her with him!

    August 12, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • CarpEnter

      He will answer that question as soon as he is done tying up the dog to the roof of his car, for their family road trip.

      August 12, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • Brian

      Is it any more reasonable that a baby is born to a virgin mother? The baby would grow up to walk around on water, turn water into wine, raise people from the dead, etc... He was then crucified on a cross, became a Zombie and flew away to heaven? Really now, why don't we ask that of the Evangelical Christian candidates? It's just as likely that Santa flies around the world every December to deliver toys to good children. ALL just stories to keep subjugates in line and obedient. Religion of any sort has some pretty absurd stories. Let's not just pick on one.

      August 12, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
  11. CarmenSo

    So let me get this straight. It is ok for the Republican candidates to wear their faith on their sleeves and use it as their platform to convince the faithful to vote for them based on their religions beliefs alone. But it wrong for them to be questioned about their religious beliefs and how it will effect their decision making while in office?

    August 12, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • sam

      I don't think you have it straight, I think it is okay to ask, and she was asked, and she did answer~ You are right though, why wouldn't it be okay?

      August 12, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • AngryVet2

      Good on you! This has been my point. If you use religion as a basis for your campaign then you must prepare to respond to questions about your faith. We can't change language, submit means just that, if the Bible says respect that means respect, but the translation is submit, so Michelle how do you submit to your husband, and I won't accept respect as your tanslation. Where is the liberal media when you need it?

      August 12, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  12. mocha moore

    For someone who believes in "submission" why is she running for president? Bachman has the biggest mouth of all! I think she has been lost in translation with regards to submission. If she wants to be submissive I could reccomend a hand $p@nking!

    August 12, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  13. Mark L.

    Just picked up a copy of Newsweek Magazine with that dastardly Michelle Bachmann's photo on the front cover. Glad I did too. I've been looking to put my old darts to use. At least now I have something to practive my dart-throwing skills...LMAO...Personally, I don't think she stands a chance, but if Michelle Bachmann were to become President, the immigration problem would be resolved. All immigrants would go back to their native land...ROFLMAO !!!!

    August 12, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • CarpEnter

      You mean, you will be sent back to Europe?

      August 12, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  14. svann

    That was a fine answer, yes. But is was also a fair question. Her previous quotation (if I read it correctly) had left a great deal of doubt as to how she viewed wifely submission and whether that would have ill effect on how she held her authority as president.

    August 12, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  15. Asklepios417

    Marriage has a lot of ancient customs attached to it, that most people aren't aware of.

    The husband carrying the bride over the threshhold, for example, derives from an ancient Greek practice that imitated bride-abduction, the really ancient way to get a wife. You found a good looking girl in a neighboring clan, and you carried her off by force.

    Nowadays this method of matrimony is strongly discouraged.

    August 12, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  16. Lola

    I believe in the separation of church and state and that government and religion should be kept apart. There is no one religion that everyone would agree on anyway...so exactly which religion is this woman talking about that she thinks should be the one used to run or government by? I believe in prayer even more and I am praying to my God Almighty that our government will never ever be taken over by a religious sect that attempts to run it. What a horror that would be! Think about the Taleban and what a mess they made of their country. I sure hope this Bachmann woman or anyone for that matter who wishes to force their personal religion on all the rest of us doesn't get elected to anything. Lord help us!!!

    August 12, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  17. Mark Baird

    I am not a fan of Bachman but this all about nothing.

    August 12, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  18. James

    I thought Christians claimed that the Bible is the infallible and absolutely accurate word of God. Now you're saying they don't even know what the words in the Bible mean? How can you claim to follow the tenets of something that you don't understand? Ridiculous and contradictory.

    August 12, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • svann

      If you really thought all christians think the same then you thought wrong.

      August 12, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • Yousef

      Trying to talk about something you don't believe in, and then make statements that "sound" and "look" good. You sir have revealed great ignorance.

      August 12, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  19. PaulC

    Ask her if she can pray unemployment away.
    Maybe she can negotiate with the Chinese to give us back a few jobs.

    August 12, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  20. Jerry

    The citation in the article to "Ephesians 2:22-24" is in error. It's actually 5:22-24. But the really important things is the verse immediately before that which everyone seems to omit in these discussions. Ephesians 5:21 says "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." The submission talked about in Ephesians is not about oppressing anyone. It's about respecting the roles that men and women have in the context of marriage. If you are Christian, these roles are different and God is simply asking the man and the woman to respect these roles.

    August 12, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • April2010

      Really? You can't see how this is misogynistic? "The husband is the head of the wife" "a women must submit to her husband in EVERYTHING" "a woman must respect her husband" I don't see anywhere in the bible where it refers to men having to respect women. I find it hilarious how people tip toe and dance around these blatantly derogatory statements

      For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.... However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

      August 12, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.