Last week Byron York came under fire for asking Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) during Fox News’ Republican debate whether she would be submissive to her husband as president of the United States. The audience boo’d the question audibly but Bachmann responded that “submissive” means “respect.”
The question stemmed from this profile of her husband Marcus Bachmann in the Washington Post, and Rep. Bachmann’s own statements.
In 2006, Rep. Bachmann explained her decision to get an advanced degree in tax law per her husband’s request. Bachmann said, “Tax law? I hate taxes. Why should I go do something like that? But the Lord says ‘be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husband’…I was going to be faithful to what I thought God was calling me to do through my husband,” said Bachmann.
The scripture she cites is Ephesians 22-24 which says:
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 same message is repeated in the New Testament in 1 Peter 3:1
The black community is probably not the core of support for a far right Republican Congresswoman like Michele Bachmann but they are deeply religious and socially conservative. It is possible that churchgoing black folks may actually agree with Rep. Bachmann’s interpretation of scripture. It is also possible that given cultural norms and the frequency of black female lead households that black women do not consider the teachings in Ephesians as a realistic bar to live up to.
The black church has a history of both putting women in a secondary and submissive roles. Men has traditionally taken the lead in the pulpit as well as in the home. Much of this biblical teaching is anti-feminist and the idea that a woman must defer to a man before making a decision in her own life, as Bachmann did with pursuing a degree in tax law, seems particularly out of the mainstream in 2011. Black women particularly of the younger generation resent this biblical teaching because it is often cited by men as justification for patriarchy. Rev. Matsimela Mapfumo the host of Make It Plain on Sirius XM Left says that historically most people stop reading at verse 24, but ”[t]he entire pericope is Ephesians 5:22-33. Only the first two verses address wives and most people stop there. [Historically] this was to justify sexism and abuse…This is one of the most misinterpreted scriptures. The remaining verses address husbands, and call them to greater submission to their wives.”
The additional verses that Reverend Mapfumo refers to are Ephesians 24-33:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
The scripture taken as a whole seems to say that while wives are to be submissive to their husbands they are only in compliance with biblical teachings if the husband is both submissive to God and to his wife. Reverend Mapfumo says historically in the black community very few men actually followed the second part of the pericope and yet sought to enforce the first two verses against their wives.
While Rep. Bachmann seemed to dodge the question by reciting a rote talking point without pandering to the religious right about “submissive” and “respect” being the same thing, it may have opened the door to another line of questioning. Rep. Bachmann may view her marriage as one of mutual respect but as president of the United States she will be representing the individual rights of women who may not share her religious worldview.
Black women have been resentful of this teaching for a reason. Bachmann’s evasive answer doesn’t create a sense of reassurance that she believes women have the basic human right of self-reliance and independent judgment. The ultimate irony is that this is the exact right Bachmann needs everyone to believe she has in her own life, in order to be fit for the job as president.