Friday, August 12, 2011

A dubious manifestation of "civility" on Michelle Bachmann's religio-political beliefs

I have to wonder if some liberals aren't so wedded to the idea that religion shouldn't matter in politics that they fell compelled to pretend that it doesn't matter. Even in the face of a political movement that dominates today's Republican Party and has clear theocratic goals. But the democratic tradition of separation of church and state didn't evolve over centuries by advocates of democracy pretending that actual clerical grabs at secular power just weren't taking place.

What made me think of this was this surprising Huffington Post piece by Jason Linkins, Michele Bachmann Asked If She Is A 'Submissive Wife' At Iowa GOP Debate 08/11/2011. Bachmann has publicly stated her position on the submission of wives to their husbands. As recently as 2006, she told a church congregation, "The Lord says: Be submissive, wives. You are to be submissive to your husbands." She has specifically said that as a young woman, she decided to become a tax attorney because her husband directed her to do so and she believed that a Christian woman should be an obedient wife.

It's a perfectly legitimate question whether she would allow her husband's preferences to determine her official actions as President. Fundamentalist fears in 1960 that John Kennedy would be taking political order from the Pope may have been founded on polemical misunderstandings of the Catholic Christian faith. But given the role that the Church had played in relation to the Italian Fascist and German Nazi regimes, and then its intense conservatism in the postwar period, together with the Vatican's position that the Catholic Church should be state church, had also produced considerable criticism and valid skepticism among liberals in the period between the end of the Second World War and 1960 as to the Catholic Church's role in politics.

Kennedy addressed the question about Church control of the American government during the Presidency for which he was campaigning in an address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on 09/12/1960:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President -- should he be Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials, and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all. [my emphasis]
It's difficult to imagine even an Democratic Presidential candidate today making such straightforward assertions of his belief in secular government. They would feel obliged to couch it in praise for "people of faith" and the good works of "faith-based organizations."

I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the first amendment's guarantees of religious liberty; nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test, even by indirection. For if they disagree with that safeguard, they should be openly working to repeal it.

I want a Chief Executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none, who can attend any ceremony, service, or dinner his office may appropriately require of him to fulfill; and whose fulfillment of his Presidential office is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual, or obligation.

... I do not speak for my church on public matters; and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views -- in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if the time should ever come -- and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible -- when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do likewise. [my emphasis]
Can Michelle Bachmann make such a straightforward statement of her religious independence? Can she tell us directly how her statement that her religious conscience demands that wives must "be submissive to your husbands" affects her willingness to act as the elected President sworn to defend the secular Constitution of the United States?

When conservative Byron York posed a version of the question to her in the Iowa debates last night, she gave the anodyne response that to her and her husband Marcus, "submission" means respect:

I respect my husband. He's a wonderful godly man and a great father. And he respects me as his wife. That's how we operate our marriage. We respect each other. We love each other. And I've been so grateful that we've been able to build a home together. We have five wonderful children and 23 foster children. We built a business together and a life together, and I'm very proud of him.
Which is the kind of sugary description of family life one would expect to hear at some Christian fundamentalist counseling retreat from a nice Christian lady giving her "testimony" of her marriage. With of course a few obligatory references to ups and downs and the occasional argument.

But in plain English, "submission" doesn't mean "respect." It means subservience and obedience. And Bachmann's response doesn't address the relevant and legitimate question: would Bachmann follow orders from her husband if he directed her how to exercise her responsibilities as President of the United States? We're talking about the most powerful political office in the world, whose occupant can launch a nuclear war on command based on her own authority. She stated publicly and clearly that she made her first major career choice based on her husbands direction in accord with her understanding that she was Biblically commanded to be "submissive" to husband Marcus. She should be willing and able to say exactly how she understands that Biblical command affecting her decision-making as President of the United States. Repeating for the thousandth time that she's had five kids and 23 foster children doesn't answer that question.

And how does Jason Linkins at the supposedly progressive Huffington Post react? He scolded that naughty conservative Byron York for even asking the question!

As I said at the time of the Post profile, "Bachmann's really comfortable being her own woman. She gets by in the House's "boy's club" just fine. When she wanted to issue a response to the State Of The Union address that would steal away from her party's official response, she asked for neither permission nor forgiveness. If Bachmann's been spending her career doing her husband's bidding rather than her own, it's not remarkably apparent." I'm honestly surprised this even came up as a question.
Of course, in the case of the first part of her career as a tax attorney, she has said explicitly and publicly that she undertook it against her inclinations at the direction of her husband in accordance with her understanding of a Biblical obligation of wives to be submissive to their husbands. And this is the religious ideology of the conservative Protestant groups with whom Bachmann so closely and so publicly associates herself.

But Jason Linkins doesn't find it "apparent" that anyone should ask a candidate for President of the United States about such a thing!

This is not a question about her denominational affiliation, much less about her acceptance of the Christian faith. It is a question about her own publicly-expressed view that wives are required by God to be "submissive" to their husbands even in their career decisions.

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