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More Hyperventilating About Sarah Palin

Denny Burk, new dean of Boyce College, the undergrad institution of my alma mater Southern Seminary, has written an excellent answer to one of the hyperventilating media types concerning “hypocrisy” surrounding evangelicals and Sarah Palin. It can be read with its comments here. It is also too good to simply say “follow the link,” so I’m going to reproduce the entire post here. Please read what follows carefully, thoughtfully, and prayerfully.

Responding to David Gushee

I mentioned on Monday that David Gushee penned an opinion piece for USA Today in which he criticizes conservative evangelicals who support Sarah Palin’s candidacy. He writes:

“It is an uncomfortable fact that many of the theologically conservative Christians who have endorsed Palin’s nomination would not be willing to endorse her or any other woman for service as pastor of their church. Women cannot serve as pastors in groups such as the Churches of Christ, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church in America, most non-denominational Bible churches, and an influential advocacy group called the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW).”

I belong to two of the groups that Gushee lists as transgressors on the gender question: the SBC and CBMW. I know, therefore, a little bit about the biblical and theological basis for the complementarianism represented in these organizations (though I am not claiming to speak for either one of them). With that in mind, allow me to respond briefly to the series of questions that he puts forth in his article. His questions are in bold, and my response follows each one.

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?

Before answering this one, we’ll have to clear away a flaw in the premise of the question. Gushee asks what our view is “now” as though the Complementarian position has somehow changed to accommodate the candidacy of Sarah Palin. Nothing could be further from the truth. For reasons to be explained below, mainstream Complementarians haven’t changed their views at all. Gushee may express his disagreement with Complementarian views and may even highlight what he thinks its flaws are, but he cannot credibly imply that Complementarians are shifting the biblical and theological rationale for their position. Anyone who has been following this debate and the literature over the last thirty years or so knows that this charge is false on its face.

In answer to Gushee’s question, then, we should take note that Complementarians argue for their view of male headship with respect to two realms: the church and the home. Complementarian conviction does not exclude the possibility of women holding positions of secular authority (including President of the United States).

Complementarians are merely following the New Testament in this focus. John Piper and Wayne Grudem have summed up as clearly as anyone the reason for this, “As we move out from the church and the home we move further from what is fairly clear and explicit [in the New Testament] to what is more ambiguous and inferential.” Perhaps the best summary of Complementarian conviction on this point is the Danvers Statement, and it limits the application of “male headship” to “the family” and “the covenant community.” The Danvers Statement does not make “male headship” a condition for leadership in the secular realm. That is why Wayne Grudem can say the following in his book Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth (p. 140):

“In the Old Testament, the civil government over the people of Israel was also the religious government over God’s people. . . Therefore we cannot assume that the general pattern of restricting civil government leadership over the people of God to men would also apply to the New Testament age, where the civil government is separate from the government of the church. The positive examples of women involved in civil leadership over nations other than Israel (such as Esther and the Queen of Sheba) should prevent us from arguing that it is wrong for women to hold a governing office.”

All of the Complementarian writings that I have quoted above were published well before Palin’s candidacy. The Complementarian position is long-standing and predates the current election cycle.

Do you acknowledge having become full-fledged egalitarians in this sphere at least?

No. We simply do not require secular rulers to live up to the qualifications of our ecclesiastical rulers. But this stance is not merely a question of gender. Many men who run for President, for instance, do not “manage their household well” as is required of pastors in 1 Timothy 3:4. So not only is Sarah Palin not qualified to serve as a pastor, but neither would be John McCain, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy, or any number of other male Presidents that we’ve had. But that doesn’t necessarily make them unfit for secular office.

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?

No. The reason that some Complementarians may find Palin “acceptable” is spelled out in my answer to the first question.

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?

It is fallacious and unbiblical to argue that what is allowed in the secular sphere must also be allowed in the church. For instance, Romans 13 says that the secular Roman authority was ordained by God. The secular authority in question was the Roman Emperor Nero, who is widely known as a tyrant and a murderer (who even had his own mother executed). On Gushee’s reasoning, then, should we conclude that tyrants and murderers can be pastors simply because God-ordained secular rulers like Nero happened to be such? Hardly. This is not a biblical way to address the issue.

Would you be willing to vote for a qualified woman to serve as pastor of your church? If not, why not?

No. How can a woman be “qualified” to do a work that the New Testament explicitly says she is not to do? “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12).

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?

Yes. See the following texts:

Ephesians 5:22-24 “22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”

1 Peter 3:1-2 “In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.”

My question to Gushee would be this. Don’t you agree with Paul and Peter that wives should be following the leadership of their husbands?

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?

I have already answered the first question in a previous post. To reiterate, Complementarians do believe that God has given mothers a special responsibility that centers on the raising of children and caring for the home. This is unambiguous in the New Testament. For instance,

Titus 2:4-5 “The young women [are] to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored.”

With respect to the latter question, no Complementarian that I know of has ever argued against “the distribution of child care responsibilities according to the needs of the family.” In fact, we have been arguing that in our culture the failure of fathers to be faithful fathers may be the most pressing burden upon families today. When there is disorder and dysfunction in the home, that responsibility falls on Dad, not Mom.

Much more can and should be said on all of these questions, but I hope this at least begins to show how Complementarians have been answering these questions over the years. I am glad Gushee is joining the conversation. I’m sure there will be more to come.

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