The Palin Predicament Resolved
A Response to USA Today
David Gushee has written an insightful article on “The Palin Predicament” (USA Today, September 15) and asked some very cogent questions of evangelical leaders who espouse a “complementarian” view of the roles of men and women (i.e., that men and women have separate but complementary roles). Mr. Gushee points to the essential contradiction in the view of those who say that Sarah Palin is qualified to be the vice president of the United States, but is unqualified to lead her own household or serve in a leadership position in the church. He wonders how those who “have spent most of their careers arguing that the primary responsibility of women is to tend to their homes and families” can now enthusiastically endorse a “mother of five with a grandchild on the way” whose political career does not permit her time to make her family her primary responsibility.
But Professor Gushee’s purpose is not only to ask questions; his ultimate purpose is to issue a challenge to conservative evangelicals. His challenge is simple: Because of your open support of an evangelical woman for vice president, are you also willing to rethink your faulty, “archaic theological vision” that prohibits you from allowing devout Christian women the full exercise of their gifts in all spheres of life, including the family and the church?
What I appreciate about Gushee’s article is the irenic yet penetrating way he exposes the flawed views and logic of the Christian leaders, denominations, and ministries that permit women to serve as governors of states and leaders of nations but forbid these same women from serving as leaders in their homes and churches. David Gushee lays bare the fundamental inconsistency of “two-point complementarianism” (i.e., the view that the headship of men and the separate roles of men and women apply in the family and in the church but do not apply in the social or civil sphere).
My appreciation, however, is not based on an agreement with David Gushee’s perspective on men and women in terms of roles or authority. It seems clear from what Professor Gushee has written that he is egalitarian in his views on men and women, and sees no problem with women serving in positions of leadership in family, church, or society. My appreciation is based on the fact that he has exposed from his own theological perspective the inconsistency of two-point complementarianism that I have sought to expose from my own theological perspective (see “Sarah Palin and the Complementarian Compromise”). I agree that the acceptance of egalitarianism in the social and civil sphere conflicts with a complementarianism that limits itself to the spheres of the family and the church.
My own theological perspective is that of the historic Reformed faith as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) and the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689). This perspective is founded on the theological presupposition that the Bible is the infallible Word of God and that man cannot truly know the meaning or significance of anything (theological or otherwise) until he submits himself to biblical revelation. Therefore, the ultimate standard of truth and ethics is the Word of God, not human reason or experience.
Consequently, I (and other Christians of the Reformed faith) believe that the question of the role relationship of men and women can only be answered by turning to Scripture. The Bible teaches that there is a positional priority (not an essential priority) of man over woman in terms of headship and authority, and there are distinct roles assigned to men and women by the Creator (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18; 1 Cor. 11:3, 8-9; Eph. 5:22-25; Col. 3:18-21; 1 Tim. 2:8-15; Titus 2:3-5; 1 Pet. 3:1-7). This created order extends to all spheres of life. Hence, when we submit ourselves to God’s interpretation of His own purpose in making mankind male and female, we arrive at a full complementarian view. This full complementarian perspective is three-point complementarianism because it advocates male headship and the distinction of male and female roles in family, church, and state. This biblical complementarianism keeps the lines of authority clear and the fulfillment of roles free of any internal contradictions.
And so, Sarah Palin does not present a predicament to Christians who hold to full complementarianism. We have rejected, on biblical grounds, the propriety of her quest for the vice presidency from the beginning. We believe that her political career violates her calling to be a wife, mother, and keeper at home (Titus 2:3-5). We believe her candidacy violates the biblical requirement that civil magistrates be men (Exod. 18:21; Deut. 1:13; biblical narratives, like the story of Deborah, do not provide clear examples of female rulers, and they should not be used to overturn the explicit doctrine contained in the many other passages that speak definitively to the issue).
Those holding to consistent male headship in every sphere (i.e., those who are full complementarians) think that the five questions Professor Gushee’s asks partial complementarians are valid questions that they need to answer. We also believe that their answers will only serve to show the internal inconsistency of their views on male headship and on the roles of men and women. Gushee’s questions are as follows:
Is it now your view that God can call a woman to serve as president of the United States? Are you prepared to renounce publicly any further claim that God’s plan is for men rather than women to exercise leadership in society, the workplace and public life? Do you acknowledge having become full-fledged egalitarians in this sphere at least?
Would Palin be acceptable as vice president because she would still be under the ultimate authority of McCain as president, like the structure of authority that occurs in some of your churches? Have you fully come to grips with the fact that if after his election McCain were to die, Palin would be in authority over every male in the USA as president?
If you agree that God can call a woman to serve as president, does this have any implications for your views on women’s leadership in church life? Would you be willing to vote for a qualified woman to serve as pastor of your church? If not, why not?
Do you believe that Palin is under the authority of her husband as head of the family? If so, would this authority spill over into her role as vice president?
Do you believe that women carry primary responsibility for the care of children in the home? If so, does this affect your support for Palin? If not, are you willing to change your position and instead argue for flexibility in the distribution of child care responsibilities according to the needs of the family?
Although David Gushee’s five questions were not specifically framed for those who hold to full complementarianism (one that applies in all spheres), we would answer his questions as follows: First, we do not believe that God’s Word permits a woman to serve as vice president of the United States. We reject egalitarianism in family, church, and public life. Second, Mrs. Palin is not an acceptable choice as vice president. We also believe that it is unbiblical for her to be directly under John McCain as his vice president and devote herself to his success. We believe she should be directly under her husband’s authority and work for her husband’s success. Third, our view on women and leadership is thoroughly consistent. We cannot and will not support a woman for the office of civil magistrate or for the office of church elder/pastor. Fourth, since Mrs. Palin is under the authority of her husband, she must submit to him ‘in everything” (Eph. 5:24). This all-inclusive submission to her husband’s position as head, not only would “spill over” into her role as vice president, it also, as part of God’s order, effectively precludes the validity of her serving as vice president in the first place. Fifth, because we believe that Scripture calls women to nurture and train their children and to manage their homes, we cannot endorse a mother of five children pursuing a career outside of her home; the Bible says that this causes the “word of God to be “blasphemed’ (Titus 2:5). The responsibility of caring for children is a responsibility that the family cannot give to others.
We also agree with Professor Gushee’s perspective that Sarah Palin’s nomination offers conservative Christian leaders the chance to reexamine their views on the role relationship of men and women, but for very different reasons. Gushee hopes that it will cause conservative evangelicals to jettison their “archaic theological vision that wounds millions of devout Christian women and restricts the full exercise of their gifts.” But instead of Gushee’s feminist inspired hopes, we hope that it will cause conservative evangelicals to rethink their inconsistent two-point complementarianism and see that God’s order for men and women applies to all spheres.
We hope that Sarah Palin’s nomination will cause Christians to see the extent to which feminism has infiltrated the Christian home and the Christian church. We hope that it leads Christians to reexamine what Scripture says about the beauty and glory of God’s plan for women so that they can be delivered from the anti-Christian vision of feminism that has deceived the church, and wounded millions of Christian women and Christian homes by leading wives and mothers to exercise their notable feminine gifts in ways and in places and for persons never intended by God.
A woman’s glory is not found in doing everything that a man can do. Her glory is found in doing those things to which she is called: loving and supporting her own husband, loving and nurturing her own children, and managing her own home for the glory of God.