Culture & Society · Politics · Women's Issues

Women and Public Office: A Motherhood Debate

(The following chapter is from Instituted by God, 43-47)

Reaction to the designation of former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as the Republican nominee for vice president in 2008 was wide and varied. Some praised her voting record while others loathed her conservative ideology; some lauded the idea of a woman as the vice president while still others detested the fact Palin is pro-life. A few were outspoken critics that a wife and a mother would pursue political office, yet the majority viewed her selection as breaking through the proverbial glass ceiling.

So how should evangelicals view Sarah Palin, or any women in public office? Does Palin, among other females in politics, present a dilemma for complementarians (folks who believe the Bible teaches male and female, though created by God with equal dignity, worth, value, and essence, each have distinct roles whereby the male is responsible for lovingly exercising authority over his wife and the female is to offer willing submission and help to her husband)? Perhaps more importantly, though, does the Bible prohibit women from seeking public office or working outside the home? How are Christians to think biblically about this issue?

I submit that from the outset of this discussion, we must bear in mind—as I have mentioned in an earlier chapter—that the president is not Theologian-in-Chief but Commander-in-Chief. We are not seeking a spiritual head to feed us divine truths as elders inside the organized church are required to do (John 21:17; 1 Tim. 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9). And, quite frankly, the president is not held to the same moral standard as an elder is, though having a professing Christian in elected office is without question a tremendous advantage and blessing. While we can look to our spiritual leaders as the model we would want our candidates to emulate, we must not impose upon politicians the same standard; we must be careful not to apply the criteria for church on the kingdom of this world. The Bible does not require that, so neither should we.

But this appeal has not stopped some evangelicals from taking the paradigm of the church and home and applying it to the secular. This, I believe, is the unintentional mistake by people seeking to be thoroughly biblical. In so doing, they make the mistake of going beyond the teaching of Scripture and making dogmatic applications where God chose to remain silent (especially given the fact we live in a democratic republic and not a Christian theocracy).

In fact, the Bible does mention on occasion women who were called to specific roles outside the normal, specific roles given to them in the church and home. The author of 1 Kings 10:1–13 portrays the Queen of Sheba favorably when he notes her meeting with King Solomon; Queen Esther was specifically raised up as an example of a godly woman who appropriately exerted influence for the good of her people (Esth. 2:17); and, Deborah was chosen to lead Israel as a judge and prophetess and played a crucial role in leading the Israelites into battle, securing forty years of peace (Judg. 4—5). In light of these positive examples from Scripture, it is difficult to say categorically that women such as Lady Jane Grey, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Victoria, Margaret Thatcher, or Goldie Maier were violating biblical principles because they simply were born with the wrong set of chromosomes. I think it is a stretch to condemn women from seeking office for the sole reason that they are, well, women.

Having said that, however, and with the full understanding that the Bible is silent regarding any supposed gender restriction from secular officer, the question Christians must consider is if it is wise for a specific woman in a specific time in her life to seek public office (and, of course, we can and should ask the same question for any man as well). Needless to say, every situation is unique, and every situation would have to be evaluated separately. For instance, the answer for a female candidate seeking public office would invariably differ from that of a single woman to someone in her fifties with no children in the home to one who is married with six young children in the home, with the youngest suffering from a genetic abnormality. The answer to the question would undoubtedly be different in each of the given situations since the latter situation would make it difficult, though not impossible, to fulfill the high calling of being a wife and mother first, faithfully serving the home in order to satisfy her divinely sanctioned complementary role (Titus 2:3–5), a role that is just as pleasing and important to God (if not more so) as any form of public service. Nonetheless, a decision of that nature is best left between a couple and the counsel of their elders.

While it is normative that men serve as protectors and national leaders, God has indeed gifted certain women to lead nations (states, cities, towns, communities, etc.), and the chance of a woman running for president or garnering the nomination in this country is real. If God was pleased in times past to raise up gifted women who capably led nation in the past, we can expect God to work similarly in our day to lead us and rule over us, on occasion—especially given the abysmal record of men who have failed this nation so greatly on the issues of faith and morals. If the male rulers of America are lacking in this commitment to godly rule, then perhaps it is time for another Deborah to be raised up—someone who will guide the nation back under the submission of God by following His precepts. Be that as it may, it should be our hope that God will raise up Christian folks who are committed to upholding biblical principles, whether that person be a male or a female.

Having said that, this understanding of the role of women in civil government does not logically lead to women serving as pastors or elders in churches, nor does it lead to women “exercising authority over a man” (as some evangelicals have expressed fear). The kingdom of God and the kingdom of man are two completely different organization that, while each established by God, were not set up with the same conditions. The former has clear roles and divisions of responsibility delineated for both men and women and must be protected. But since the Bible is silent on the latter, any attempt to transfer the requirements for the church as the binding criteria on secular public servants is asking too much. Let us remember to be firm where Scripture requires us to be but gracious when it does not speak as clearly. Christians tend to get into trouble and cause needless division when they try to go beyond what God has plainly revealed.

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