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. Reality

    Obviously, Mr. Marrapodi was a bit tired when he wrote his commentary i.e. it is Ephesians chapter 5 verses 22-24 not Chapter 2. Maybe a secret word filter is needed to check on the comments of said moderator. Strange that Marrapodi and his buddy can use words like "s-ex" and "h-o-mo-s-exuality" without using separators but we cannot because of the inane word filter forced upon us.

    Professor Chilton pulls no punches in criticizing one of the founders of Christianity. Basically Paul was a "prude". An excerpt for Chilton's book,

    "He (Paul) feared the turn-on of women's voices as much as the sight of their hair and skin..... At one point he even suggests that the sight of female hair might distract any angels in church attendance (1 Cor. 11:10). Simply add Paul's thinking about women to the list of flaws in the foundations of Christianity.

    Professor Chilton btw is a Professor of Religion at Bard College and a priest at the Free Church of St. John in Barrytown, NY.

    Hmmm, do you think maybe that Mo's scribes simply enhanced Paul's thinking about women when they wrote the koran??? Absolutely!!!!

    To be fair, however, most contemporary NT scholars have concluded that the Epistle to the Ephesians was written by a pseudo-Paul. Obviously, M. Buchannen should have noted this in her response indicating she is not well versed in modern Christianity. Ditto for Mr. Marrapodi.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
  2. Brian

    We do have some female ministers but they seem odd and out of place.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  3. Christina

    I agree with you 100%.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  4. Mike S

    Ah Come on!
    Don’t go around twisting the bible to fit your politics. Submissive means submissive.. The fact is that for most of Christian history women have had no rights. Furthermore, they still don’t. Ask this simple question: What are the chances of having a female pope? Zero!

    August 12, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
  5. Jon S

    Submission & submissive – "The state of being submissive or compliant; meekness; docile.

    OK, so this woman wants to be President, but she doesn't know what the world "submissive" means. Definitely does not mean "respectful".

    Apparently the religious types quoted haven't read up on their synonyms either.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  6. Christina

    I personally don't agree with Newt Gingrich on this either. It is a fair question because she did say it running in 2006.
    Cooks have an old saying " can't take the heat get out of the kitchen" this runs true to all professions as far as qualifications and perserverance are concerned.
    Obviously when she said it as most evangelicals she takes the biblical verse she quoted literally.
    She never did answer the question directly but hedged around it. She was being asked in a direct way if she would defer to her husbands opinions while in the office of president should she be elected.
    If so the office of the presidency requires a leader: someone who will lead according to the law and their own conscience. I don't believe a woman with this mindset belongs in the office of the presidency. She or He : whomever is in the office of president has to have effective leadership/decision making capabilities and cannot defer to spousal opinions. Presidential decisions need to be based on our laws. She knows tax law. I don't think she's a fit candidate. In the last election I voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary because I believe she has the chops as well as the education and experience to lead having served as senator of New York. I switched my vote to Obama when she lost. Shes the only female candidate I would vote for for president. At least she can be counted on to make common sense decisions without pushing her religious affiliation.
    I just read an interview of Michelle Obama and Jill Biden in AARP magazine and during the course of the interview it is clear by Michelle Obama's answers even she isn't privy to all that is going on at all times. She knows what he discloses to her. Executive decision making requires making those decisions without deferring to a spouse.
    Lets put it this way if shes going to defer/ submit to her husband in a literal sense then why isn't her husband running? I'm glad she has a loving respectful marriage. I just don't think shes executive material. Neither is Sarah Palin.
    Last I checked Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers wrote a letter
    to a Baptist church which stated it was a intention in the drafting of our original laws for there to be " a wall between church and state" . The well meaning christian evangelicals need to quit trying to sneak religious beliefs into the law. They have the right to practice as they see fit for themselves but not push their religious agendas. America was created as a result of religious persecution in Europe. People came here fleeing that.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • RogueRadiance

      Legendary response. I completely agree with everything you said.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  7. AMB06

    I don't understand why politics and religion mix at all during elections. I feel political candidates use religion to try and get the votes of those specific groups when in the end no matter the religion....the politician does nothing for any religious organization unless it fits into his/her agenda.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
  8. kingnpriest

    The origianl word for submit, in the Greek, means "to line up behind" In the Kingdom of God, wives line up voluntarily behind their husbands, and allow them to lead them spiritually. This is how the church responds to Christ, the head of the church. We voluntarily line up behind Him as He leads. Check out 1 Peter 3:1-7

    August 12, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • Spiffy

      Sounds like Se xism to me.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • herbert juarez

      sounds like spiffyism to me
      spiffy is unlikely to exist

      August 12, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
  9. TB

    CT, look at it this way. If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would have been taught and you would believe that Islam is the only true religion. You would believe it will all the same conviction that you have for your own religion. Religion is simply geographically-specific brainwashing. At what age were you introduced to your religion?

    August 12, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • tlama

      yer an idiot. u know nothing of what religion is. You have no understanding of faith. And I'm not even religious.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  10. norm62

    Whatever happened to that concept of separation of church and state that you guys keep going on about. Doesn't sound like much separation going on here...

    August 12, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  11. whatever8013

    yeah, she didn't answer the question, in a very typical slimey politician fashion. She's completely full of crap. Why do republicans keep putting these religious zealots up for nomination? I would let MB in my house, much less the white house.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Yep, but she did open her home to over 20 foster children.

      How many have you given a home? Or more, what have you done to help out society?

      I am on the fence about her but it's funny how the same thing you folks say about her is the same thing yall said about palin. I think many of you just hate any republican that is either a minority or female.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • pfeffernusse

      “Why do republicans keep putting these religious zealots up for nomination?”

      About 40 years ago, conservative evangelical Christians made a concerted effort to infiltrate and gain positions of power in the GOP. They were dominionists who felt that Biblical law should be the law of the land. They figured their social and religious conservativism would blend well with Republican political and financial conservativism. They succeeded. The Republican Party of today bears very little resemblance to the GOP of the pre-Reagan (or even Reagan era) Republican Party. It is run by and for religious zealots.

      August 13, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  12. MeatyPortion

    I'm sick of this absolute moron getting face time and being paraded as a viable candidate. On the other hand I can at least laugh at this idiot every time I click on a news website.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  13. tnmtl

    Why are they discussing religion?? They are running for public office not pope!!! We need leaders, not people who can say "praise Jesus"!

    August 12, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  14. paul

    these religious freaks are very very dangerous. anyone whose brain would allow them to believe these moronic religious stories should never be allowed to run for office. truth will trump religion.

    August 12, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • kingnpriest

      Sorry to disappoint you Paul, but Jesus Christ is the embodiment of truth. Revelation 1:8, Jesus is the Alpha and Omega! The first and last letters of the alphabet. Without an alphabet you are not able to convey any truth. He knows everything there is to know, and anything you may learn, he has known before you. Get Right and be Reconciled with God while you have a chance! John 3-be born again

      August 12, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  15. m

    Religion does not belong in politics anymore than politics belongs in religion. There have been a number of posts singing the praises of taking this country back 50+ years to a time when everyone had to believe the same thing or be called a "godless communist". We are quickly heading in that direction again. There are a number of blind sheep that proudly state they would rather have a false "Christian" in office than an atheist. Give me the atheist every time. Simple fact is they won't let religion get in the way of running the country. The founding fathers were wise to make it clear that religion and govenrment should not be one in the same.

    I have the legal right to choose & not choose a religion. To be married, single or live together. All of those are my personal choices and should not be subject to someone else's religions principals. That doesn't mean anarchy because there are "moral truths" that are weaved into all cultures and nationalities. However, extrmeists on both sides are the cause of problems now (yes, that includes "calling out Burt & Ernie"). People like Bachman & Perry are as dangerous as any other dictator throughout history. The reason is that it MUST BE THEIR WAY or you are an evil person. There is no compromise, there is no alternate opinions – only the "RIGHT" way to do things.

    America will become a very dangerous country if these extremeists get in the White House. Hate & intolerance will become the driving force in this country.

    August 12, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      The problem is that you start with decaring what should and should not be in public but you lost your argument at the end saying there should be tolerance. Part of tolerance is being mature enough to live with those that believe, look and sound differently than yourself.

      In the end you are not only an extremist you are using almost the same words. Think about it. ..... Gays have no business in politics , blacks, Jews , ..... Women. When you open with declaring that some part of society has no place in the governance of society, then you have ultimately lost the high ground.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • Epicurus

      He didn't say the religious have no place in politics. He said religion has no place in politics. There's a difference.

      America is not a theocracy.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • J

      So, are you saying that any person that professes any religious affilliation is unfit for office?

      August 12, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • J

      @Epicuris – You cannot seperate the two. Everyone has a religious (or anti-religious) position which influences their world view, life style, etc., including their politics. America in not a theocrisy, and to the best of my knowledge MB has not claimed to be a prophet from God and that if elected president she will mandate that every citizen become an evangelical Christian.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  16. Dr. Jerry

    Recently Michelle Bachmann's image appeared on the cover of a nationally known magazine, which shall remain nameless here. Bachmann and her campaign staff have complained that it makes her look crazy. At the risk of pointing out the obvious I must make the observation that you don't have to try very hard to make Michelle Bachmann look crazy.

    August 12, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
  17. Pants

    I wouldn't vote for her, but I'd sure bang her!

    August 12, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  18. joe

    As long as Bachmann takes the bible literally, why didn't anyone ask her about Timothy 1 2:12?

    "I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet."

    August 12, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Dr. Jerry

      Michelle Bachmann being quiet is, to quote Shakespeare, "a consummation devoutly to be wished."

      August 12, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • tati

      Good one

      August 12, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • kingnpriest

      That scripture is in reference to the church fellowship, not having a woman run wild and dominate the men. The woman was the one who was deceived by the serpent, not the man. Adams error was in listening to Eve, and partaking. This is why men are the leadership of the church, we are not so easily swayed by emotion.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Colin

      kingnpriest – some news for you....Adam and Eve was a Bronze Age myth. It never happened.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • farmerjane

      Kingn......whatever, you really need to get a grip. This off the wall dung you sling is making you sound like a mutant. GOD is about love and getting you up to his standards...........not human standards.........GOD standards and that comes from a one on one enlightment between you and GOD.........not man. WAKE UP..........Try something different.......Deepak Chopra

      August 12, 2011 at 10:53 pm |
  19. Doctortow

    She and her husband are zealots. Why can't we depart from these evangelicals? We don't need that in office. I want someone focusing on the budget and downsizing government....not spending time on their anti-gay agenda. I'm republican but I am all for civil liberties. Please folks, let's move beyond Bachmann and Perry.

    August 12, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
    • CT

      She didn't bring it up – they asked her. And at least she has the courage and conviction to stand up for her beliefs...I'm tired of these luke warm politicians working so hard to not offend anyone.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  20. Joe B.

    "Submit" isn't really the right translation of the original text anymore. "Heed" would be a better 21st century translation.

    August 12, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • *frank*

      Jonah was swallowed by a basking shark.

      August 12, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • TB

      Nice try. That's another problem with religious zealots...they "interpret" the bible (or whatever "holy" text they choose) to suit their agenda as they see fit.

      August 12, 2011 at 10:15 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.