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. Q

    @really?! – Clearly, you didn't actually read the PubMed article or any of the cited work.

    August 15, 2011 at 1:58 am |
  2. gtherockstar

    Politicians are actor that practice saying the right things to get what they want. While I respect Michelle Bachmans right to believe what ever she chooses to I have great reservations about the quality of any politicians spiritual life. How can you say you are a christian when half the time you talk you are making up some lie to get the result you want. If she were Pinocchio she'd have a hard time moving her head from side to side with a camera 5 feet in front of her. Not that the rest are any better. I live in Texas and Perry is a slick package with no substance. We have one of the worst public school systems in the country and he's done everything in his power to dilute it further. The supreme court took an oath grant corporations the status as citizens. As a country were in a fiscal tail spin unless you're in the upper 2%. While I'm not crazy about the White House I realize they were given a real fiscal turd coming in after 8 years dominated by the GOP. Just be thoughtful moving forward people because as bad as it is right now I believe it could have been a whole lot worse today than it has been. The GOP governs for 2% of the populous and gets the rest of the votes they need by pretending to have religion.

    August 15, 2011 at 1:57 am |
    • The Lionly Lamb of The Gods Does Roar

      @ gtherockstar & all otherlies

      Pertinaciously elevating one's own political agendaship(s), is a nowadays commonality. Afterall, did not the American Secularists around 1776's riotousness against British Imperialism conjure the Christendom's churched congregations to be as a rallying cry-out in order to be set free of such Diplomacies of British Rulership? Today's politiical agendaship(s) has become a personalism de-facto of "celebritoriousness" unbecoming "Post-Moderisms'" rather calamatous-natured mainstays continually degrading the lowered masses of the general populaces.

      August 15, 2011 at 7:07 am |
  3. Denise

    I really would like to see a clearer line drawn between church and state. The question is: As a candidate, and if she holds a higher office, can she separate church and state, or are her religious values so predominant in her life that she cannot make decisions for citizens without having her faith take priority. Every President, and any leader for free citizens, for that matter, need to make decisions that are not faith-based. Can she do that? I am not so sure, but the question applies to all candidates.

    August 15, 2011 at 1:44 am |
    • cestlavie3

      "need to make decisions that are not faith based." Really? Isn't there a little blurb somewhere about "all men being created equal", " inalienable rights", "endowed by their creator" that is the foundation to many of the decisions that ALL US presidents have made?

      August 15, 2011 at 2:22 am |
  4. cestlavie3

    It's amazing, the degree to which ignorance and stupidity can rise to twist and distort the Bible. There is no inequality or superiority in the marriage relationship found in Scripture. It is simply one of role and responsibility. God has established that the man is to be the head of the family and that the wife is to be submissive to that leadership. In this same context, God commands husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, which means unconditionally, irregardless of how you may be treated. Having been married 25 years, it's my opinion that the greater onus is on the husband.

    Dismiss the Christian faith as myth, allegiance to a sky fairy, whatever, but at least have some grasp of what it actually teaches.

    August 15, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • Denise

      I see. So its fine for someone like Bauchman to ignore her own faith, i.e. not being submissive to her husband in order to actually lead the country as president, but its not ok to put those same beliefs aside when imposing your will on other groups such as the gays. Ignoring bits and pieces of the bible in order to live sanely is fine so long as it applies to your own life, but when it applies to others... well that's apparently a different story.
      Submissiveness is not the same as respect. Maybe in evangelical speak, but certainly not in English.

      August 15, 2011 at 2:00 am |
    • cestlavie3

      @denise. Sorry, your logic has me completely baffled. And, on a side note, it's Bachmann.

      August 15, 2011 at 2:07 am |
    • Denise

      Submissive: of, tending towards, or indicating submission, humility, or servility.
      Submissive is not synonymous with Respectful. It has a specific meaning that trends towards servility. Now why would we elect someone to lead the entire nation who claims submissiveness to another person? Unless, that person is willing to put that trait aside in order to do the job of leading.
      If Bachmann can put aside faith imposed submissiveness to pursue her chosen vocation why is she unable to do that for other people? Strict adherence to faith is fine for you and not for me? I can put aside my submissiveness in order to do what I please, but I cant recongize that depriving others of their rights based on dogmatic faith is wrong?

      August 15, 2011 at 3:08 am |
  5. Cosmos42

    I think most sane people realize that having a religious zealot like Bachmann power is completely out of the question, but my question for those debating the meaning of their religious text is this: If the Bible is the word of God, then how could there possibly be any ambiguity at all about its meaning, especially when understanding its meaning apparently makes the difference between salvation and damnation? If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, then how could he fail to create a perfectly clear, unambiguous way to communicate his laws to the people?

    August 15, 2011 at 1:39 am |
  6. Jeepers

    Well, how submissive can a woman be to a man who is clearly gay?

    August 15, 2011 at 1:35 am |
  7. Chimere

    Its is so funny that America has thrown away the very thing that made it great. Now the word of God is been debated on. Little wonder a man is allowed to marry a man & same with women & yet they want to have children, if it was meant to be so then a gay man should be able to carry a child in his womb and give birth to that child after 9 months and a gay woman should be able to impregnate her fellow gay woman lover if they can't do that, then there must be something wrong somewhere. Take a look in Africa how families are organised you will find out that they divorce rate is next to zero. And yet we practice the principles spelt out in the bible. Children obey & honour thy parents so that your days may be long. We know that this is no longer the case in the US, children control their parents and you can see the results. Parents bring up your child in the way of the lord so that when he grows up he will not depart from it. Now we see senseless crimes been committed because America has failed to fellow this small but simple instructions from the Bible. America check your ways. Its time you go back to your roots. Go back & look at why your founding fathers put their trust is God it is what made America great loosing sight of that is what is causing you to fall.
    Note: the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. America are you still afraid of God? Is that why you are failing in everything?

    August 15, 2011 at 1:34 am |
    • stan

      Are you really saying Africa is better because of their low divorce rate, they are also largely not Christian so I guess you just showed that divorce rate is lower despite their non belief. Also check your facts, our founding fathers were far less religious than you make them out to believe. Jefferson was an atheist who cut miracles out of the bible, Franklin also was not an Christian, and may have even been atheist.

      Americans contention that we are a Christian nation, or that our founding fathers were largely religious is false.

      August 15, 2011 at 1:51 am |
    • pfeffernusse

      You’re argument against gay marriage is that gay and lesbian couples cannot conceive without outside assistance. All right. What about infertile couples? Should they be allowed to marry? What about couples that don’t want to have children? What about seniors that marry, well passed the age of menopause? All these people can’t or won’t produce children. Should we deny them the right to marry?

      In essence, your argument is ridiculous. When interpretation of the Bible is removed from the conversation, there is no logical reason to deny gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.

      August 17, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  8. Mary

    I was raised in the church as well and I'm Baptist. I don't remember ever reading in the Bible where a woman could not be a good commander and chief. We all know that most of the men we have had in office lately hasn't been all that impressive.

    August 15, 2011 at 1:33 am |
    • stan

      I guess you would miss it if you choose to only read parts of the bible that are often quoted, or taught in church. But the bible is filled with female oppression. Also tell me how is Timothy 2:11-15 telling us "submission" means "respect".

      "A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety."

      I am not saying I agree with the passages, I am saying don't make claims that are clearly false.

      August 15, 2011 at 2:28 am |
  9. tyler

    Wang is a really funny way to say penis. Say it....Wang. Seriously, why don't you all just go to bed. You're not gonna convince anyone. But I'll bet I convince you of this: "Wang" is hysterical. Say it again...real quickly...Wang. Awesome!

    August 15, 2011 at 1:26 am |
    • Les

      How is making a juvenile joke about a respectable and ancient Oriental name like "Wang" useful to this discussion?

      August 15, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  10. mark

    She gets on all fours, submits and takes it while screaming "no taxes".

    August 15, 2011 at 1:24 am |
  11. Mary

    Are you kidding? Did that same reporter ask any of the men standing up there if they plan to remain faithful to their wives?
    Submissive means to have respect for your spouse not to bow down to them.

    August 15, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • Free

      It certainly didn't use to mean having respect, did it? That's a very new interpretation, far apart from the 'obey' that Christian women were asked to vow to their husbands in marriage. Times change, however, and empowered Christian women have insisted that the passage really could not have meant that after all, so they changed the meaning, and forced the faith to evolve in order to match the present environment.

      Currently, in exactly the same fashion, empowered gay Christians and those who sympathize with them, are putting pressure on the faith once again to change for surely Paul did not intend to include loving same-se.x relationships in his injunctions. It's the ability of Christians to continually see new and improved interpretations of scriptures, ones that match their needs, that has led to the faith's continued success. There really never was a 'true' interpretation of the Bible.

      August 15, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • jimtanker


      What dictionary are you using. This just shows that chrisitans can delude themselves into believing anything.

      August 15, 2011 at 10:14 am |
  12. steve

    Huh? Is Dan on drugs?

    August 15, 2011 at 1:14 am |
  13. Faithful

    I think religion is really important in a person's personal life, for informing one's conscience, but this whole thing about dragging religion into politial discourse is very distasteful. Certainly the LAST person with any authority to speak on religious matters is a politician. You might as well ask a gorilla to perform brain surgery.

    August 15, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  14. pb

    keep this insane woman and all other evangelicals far far far away from positions of power. america's taliban, they are.

    August 15, 2011 at 1:10 am |
    • mark

      You got that right. What a whack job.

      August 15, 2011 at 1:26 am |
  15. Brian

    She side-stepped the question. Is the author so dense he doesn't see that?

    August 15, 2011 at 1:07 am |
    • isis1moon

      She sidestepped the question because the answer is no, she doesn't think women should be subservient to men and by saying that she alientates all those little locked up evangelical housewife slaves and their domineering husbands.

      August 15, 2011 at 1:18 am |
  16. jschau


    August 15, 2011 at 1:00 am |
    • pockets

      Religious people are the most frightening people on the planet. Religion is POISON...

      August 15, 2011 at 1:02 am |
    • Mary

      Fanatics are scary. Religion and God was why the country was started we all seem to forget that.

      August 15, 2011 at 1:37 am |
  17. jschau

    Why doesn't "she" talk about why the state shut her & Marcus down for abuse? I wonder?

    August 15, 2011 at 12:59 am |
    • Miranda

      Because her husband told her not to, apparently. So will the bumper stickers read "Bachmann's Husband 2012"?

      August 15, 2011 at 1:45 am |
  18. Glenc

    I attend a Baptist church. We do not allow women pastors, women deacons or women teachers of anyone older than 16.
    And all that is based on Biblical principles. Bachmann is not biblically qualified to be Commander In Chief.

    August 15, 2011 at 12:54 am |
    • Larobra


      August 15, 2011 at 1:09 am |
    • isis1moon

      ewwww, indeed.

      August 15, 2011 at 1:20 am |
    • mark

      What a happy little cult you have.

      August 15, 2011 at 1:28 am |
    • Glenc

      Just telling you how one of the largest segments of the American protestant movement sees it.
      Ewww all you like. There are many strong women in the Bible. There are no female military commanders.

      August 15, 2011 at 1:48 am |
    • Miranda

      The catholic church is very against women as well – all of their priests are pedophiles. Lookey there.

      August 15, 2011 at 1:48 am |
    • Peace2All


      Interesting... So, please give us your rendition of these biblical principles...?


      August 15, 2011 at 1:49 am |
    • Miranda

      Glenc – The first female four-star U.S. Army General was appointed over 3 years ago.


      August 15, 2011 at 1:53 am |
  19. Melvin Kurian

    I don't believe Bachman is in line with the Bible when she answered to the question on submission. If 'respect' is all what matters between a husband & wife, I think Adam had no room to tell Eve what you did was wrong by understanding his role in a family life before God.

    August 15, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  20. Jeff

    Mass graves for the pump and the price is set.

    August 15, 2011 at 12:50 am |
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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.