Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When politics and theology collide

OK, everyone, this will be my last post about Republican VP nominee, Governor Sarah Palin. I prefer not to "talk politics" on this blog, but this particular matter intersects with evangelical theology. The following article by Robert Parham first appeared on Ethics Daily yesterday, Sept 9. I recommend it to my readers as good "food for thought" about theological consistency and the trickier elements of applying the complementarian viewpoint in real life. Enjoy!

Politician Palin Forces Theological Revisionism

Robert Parham

The nomination of Sarah Palin changed Southern Baptist fundamentalism quicker than Eve tempted Adam to eat the apple in the Garden of Eden, metaphorically speaking. The Republican Party's first woman caused Republican Party's first-line male clergy to revise their theology about women, while claiming they never meant what they said earlier.

Only 10 years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention thumped the Bible and announced in Salt Lake City, of all places, that the woman's place was in the home. More exactly, they added a family paragraph to the Baptist Faith & Message statement, which said that a wife had the God-given responsibility to her husband "to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation."

Their words were abundantly clear and literally interpreted. The wife had no other role, no other divine appointment, no other responsibility. No exceptions were made for women who work outside the home, either by necessity or vocational fulfillment. The woman was to be a household manager and to nurture children.

Their statement was economically unambiguous: the husband "has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family."

One of the two women on the Baptist Faith & Message committee, which wrote the family statement, said that women should never "be ashamed to be a worker in the home." She said that women were to be "helpers first of all to our husbands" and "homemakers are the backbone of our society."

The SBC president, who appointed that committee, would later say, "The wife should not be burdened with the necessity of working outside the home."

When he was chairman of the SBC's Council on Family Life in 2003, he said, "Particular attention should be given to the specific roles established in the Scripture for the husband and the wife in the areas of provision and management. The husband should be vocationally focused and able to provide for his family."

Now SBC leaders are reinterpreting their statement.

None does so more dishonestly that a seminary professor who wrote last week that "the Baptist Faith and Message does not address the question of women in secular leadership, only spiritual leadership."

Wow! Talk about mendacity.

All of a sudden their faith statement is about spiritual leadership. That's certainly not what the words say and what the leadership said. If they had meant to affirm women in the workplace, then they would have said so, which they did not, even in their interpretative document of their faith statement.

Another SBC official wrote that he saw no conflict between his denomination's statement on women and supporting Palin vice-presidential campaign. He said that men and women are "assigned different but complementary roles in the home" and "our confession of faith does not speak to the appropriateness of women serving in political office."

Well, no, the confession of faith doesn't speak literally to women running for office. But when his wife served on the committee that wrote the family statement, neither she nor he spoke up for women working outside the home.

In fact, when I said in June 1998 that Southern Baptist fundamentalists "hope to make June Cleaver the biblical model for motherhood, despite numerous biblical references to women who worked outside the home," fundamentalists responded with the claim they were only being faithful to the Bible.

Fundamentalists could have clarified that their statement was only about spiritual leadership and had nothing to do with women being employed outside the home. They could have said they valued and honored women pursuing their God-given talents in the workplace. Nope, they said their statement was all about the Bible.

So, why are SBC fundamentalists rushing towards theological revisionism?

Theological accommodation always arises in response to cultural change. Palin has changed the Republican culture, forcing SBC clergy either to say they can't support her because what she is doing counters biblical teaching or to shift their interpretation of the Bible. Their fear of being shut out of the White House, should she win, or blamed for Republican defeat in November necessitates their theological revisionism.

What the revisionist storm will wrought for Baptist women in church leadership and in family roles is unknown, except that it will not be what is was. And that's bad news for the patriarchal clergy of the Christian Right who hide behind the Bible in the pursuit of political power.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.


Jenny Clark said...

On this topic - I would also like to recommend the Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood's four part series: "Does Sarah Palin Present a dilemma for Complementarians?" The first of which can be found here:

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Thanks for the link, Jenny. Do you agree with David Kotter's explanation of complementarianism's application in the home and church and its application in civil service? Just curious...

Grace and peace,


jenny clark said...

I would say I agree with Kotter's application as outlined in his post on CBMW. There doesn't seem to be anything that stands out to me as contrary to Scriptural teaching on the role of women, the complementarian view, or my personal thoughts on the topic.

Was there something specific in what he said that you thought I might disagree with?

Steve said...

Well, I got yer explanation right here: that was then, this is now.

Besides, she's cute. Any questions?

CharlieMac said...

I wonder about complementarians. Their theology firmly defends part of a passage regarding Paul's statement on women. Yet they apply part of the same passage to certain women in that day and time, not today's woman. Some of the leading complementarians wives dress to the nines every Sunday.

Another example, and there are many more, is the fact that some Lifeway Adult Sunday School lessons are well written by women.

So my take on the subject is they have built in wiggle room. Thus they either apply the scripture or not depending on the circumstance.
Charlie Mac

Strider said...

Keep pointing out the inconsistencies and the absurdities of complementarianism. It is not a peripheral issue, it is a hammer that has been used to smash down 50% of the workers God is calling out to fight in a Kingdom war that is raging around the world. Come to think of it- a lot more than 50% considering our churches generally have many more women than men. The illogic and unbiblical understanding of keeping women out of the work of the Lord who has gifted them is beyond my comprehension.
So, don't stop writing Emily, we are with you.

UnderMidnight said...

I stay out of pilitics but I'll take a stab at this one.

It's probably because they're ass kissing whores and their theology has to remain inviting to the political entities whose asses they love to kiss. It's not about God. It's about power.

Either that or a woman vice president is less revolting than the thought of having a negro in the white house.

Jenny Clark said...

Strider - I am confused by your comment "keeping women out of the work of the Lord who has gifted them is beyond my comprehension"

Complementarians in no way argue that women should be kept from the work of the Lord, unless you are saying that the only gifting women are given is preaching. I am not sure where you have read that this is true of our viewpoint but it is incorrect.

jenny clark said...

Charlie Mac,

The complementarian view does not prohibit women from leading in positions that are in the secular field, including VP. Scripturally complementarians argue that women are not to excercise spiritual authority over men as outlined in Scripture (but I am guessing you know this and disagree)

I am not sure how this means that those who hold to complementarianism are applying the Scriptures incorrectly in order to give ourselves "wiggle room".

CharlieMac said...

Paul's words of advice to Timothy as found in 1 Timothy 2 are quoted by complementarians when I have discussed their view with them.

Well, not all of Paul's words, I am assuming you do were your best dress and also have your hair
"fixed" and wear gold and pearl jewelery to church.

Taking part of Paul's advice to Timothy and ignoring another part of the same train of thought is what I class as "wiggle" room.

Charlie Mac

Lee said...

Excellent post! Well said!

kayla said...

do you hate your church? it just seems to me that you are angry about a lot of the things the particular church you and your husband serve. furthermore, is it worth pointing out the "back pedaling" of the SBC who is NOT running for office, or the consistent back pedaling of Barack Obama who IS running for PRESIDENT?
if you wish to discuss politics, please feel free to do so. just don't follow NBC's lead. discuss politics in a bi-partisan manner, please.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...


Wow. From just a few posts, you seem to conclude quite a bit about my personal relationship with my faith community. The truth is, I have a great relationship with my church and I have a long-standing association with Southern Baptists. But, as most Southern Baptists will tell you, that does not mean that I agree with everything the leadership says. Surely you can understand that. I don't have to be angry to disagree.

As for my posts on politics, I'm not sure why you are accusing me of not being "bi-partisan." I haven't said much of anything about the presidential candidates. Also, my discussion of Sarah Palin has more to do with where it intersects the gender issues in evangelicalism than anything else. I thought I made that clear.

And, I don't understand what my perspective has to do with NBC. From what I can tell, I have quoted articles from Ethics Daily and the Wall Street Journal. What does NBC have to do with anything?

At the end of the day, Kayla, I'm sorry you're dissatisfied with my recent posts. But, since this is my blog, I think I get to decide what I write and from what perspective I write. I don't believe anything I've written thus far is partisan in any way. But, even if it were, that would be my decision, not yours.

Grace and peace, Kayla,


UnderMidnight said...


Joel said...

I think Parham is completely correct in pointing out the duplicity of the SBC. However, I think we should be careful not to equivocate the SBC's version (or old version?) of complementarianism with everyone's understanding of complementarianism. I'm pretty sure that though the SBC said the things Parham quoted them as saying, many, many others who would have called themselves complementarian at that time would have disagreed with the SBC's statements (I have called the SBC version of complementarianism 'Southern Complementarianism' in a post I recently wrote to avoid this confusion).

I think it is fair to say that the SBC may be being two-faced, but not that applying the complementarian viewpoint necessarily requires opposing Palin's nomination.

Steve said...

Oh - oh - oh! It's okay! Miss Sarah ain't wantin' to teach Hebrew.

Fred Smith said...

Parham has misconstrued much in his statement. He contends that SBC leaders have been "inconsistent" and questions their motive for doing so. This is not the case at all. Baptist Confessions of faith have been "summaries" ever since the early 1600s. They are not meant to be comprehensive. If the 1998 and 2000 statements don't "cover all the bases" it does not mean they deliberately meant to exclude what was not mentioned. The men--and women--who developed that statement were well aware that women work outside the home and that this is not unbiblical. It is, in fact, one way of nurturing and caring for a family. Parham can raise the spectre of June Cleaver if he wants, but she was NOT in the minds of SBC leaders who developed the statement.

Often when someone wants to discredit another person or group, the easy way to do it is to
1) take the most negative possible interpretation of their words and treat is as if that is the ONLY way the statement can be understood.
2) assume the worst possible motive on the part of the person or group (in this case for making the statement and then later for "contradicting themselves" by supporting Palin
3) engage in name-calling--in this case "fundamentalists". Southern Baptists do not use the term to describe themselves, preferring "evangelical" or "conservative," and tte term is always used by others as a disparagement. This behavior is unworthy of a man of Parham's professional standing, influence, and role as an Ethicist. Ethical behavior, and Christ's call for His body to "all be one" rules out name calling as a proper way to express disagreement with an idea.

In the end, Parham has set up a straw man of the SBC view, and kicked it over, thinking he has thus exposed "inconsistency" in the thinking of fellow believers in Jesus Christ.

As Baptists we are certainly free to disagree over all kinds of questions, including roles of women in Church and Society, etc. but such disagreement should be expressed in terms that are accurate and true, that are fair to both sides, and that are irenic--designed to bring the Body of Christ together around Him, not designed to upset and divide believers. Parham should be ashamed of his behavior in this matter, and should publish a revised statement that is accurate, fair, and true to the high ethics of Jesus.

Anonymous said...

Great reply, Fred.
Emily--You obviously have some hostility towards your denomination. Why don't you just leave Southern Baptists? I know what you will say as you stated to the person who commented on your political are just sharing it for feedback. However, you wouldn't expose your spouse for feedback of differences and disagreements, why would you try to expose other christians, or in this case denominations? You seem to feel compelled to post your opinions on a blog, but it only causes divisivness among believers. Maybe it would be wise to keep your feelings and public actions to yourself so you dont' cause others to stumble. Does your church really approve of this if you husband is a leader in the church? Or, are you staying for other motives??
You are a smart woman, but very unwise. Perhaps some of those older, stay-at-home women who actually have time to teach you could share some wisdom with you. Oh, I am a female, mother of two with a successful career, but I don't have the time.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...


Thanks for your concern. I appreciate you stopping by.

The relationship between me, my husband, and my church is not "on the table" for discussion here. If you think I'm "unwise," I relish your prayers. If you think my blog is "divisive," I would encourage you not to frequent it. Feel free to advise others to do the same.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to follow Jesus, trusting the Spirit to be my guide.

Grace and peace,


UnderMidnight said...

welcome to a lesson in irony. you seem concerned about emily's causing division by means of her blog entries, as if you are truly interested in unity, but you immediately suggest she leave her denomination in a contentious comment on her blog, not really relating to anything in which she intended to discuss.
Emily remains because unity and solidarity are things with which she guides her life, in spite of differences she may have.
Emily's life reflects something that your comment suggests is alien to you: integrity and dedication.
So even if you did have time I don't think there is anything useful that you could teach her.

Hell, you don't even have to stones to post under your username.
Go spread your anonymous rot somewhere else.