Palin Puts Baptist Men on the Spot

The nomination of Sarah Palin changed Southern Baptist fundamentalism quicker than Eve tempted Adam to eat the apple in the … Continued

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.

Robert Parham
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  • Believer

    Joe,Welcome home.I read your story somewhere else and was deeply touched. Thank you for sharing the reality of God’s love in your life. You are making an eternal difference in people’s lives now.I guess it’s amazing for you to see how our society and culture view those that have accepted the Grace that is in Christ Jesus. May their eyes be opened, may they hear with their ears.I leave you with words from the Apostle Paul:”I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Phil 1:3-6

  • samuel

    Great essay. Thanks for calling these “leaders” on their revisionism.

  • Anonymous

    Palin’s former pastor, Tim McGraw, says that like many Pentecostal churches, some members speak in tongues, although he says he’s never seen Palin do so. Church member Caroline Spangler told CNN, “When the spirit comes on you, you utter things that nobody else can understand … only God can understand what is coming out of our mouths.”Do we really want Sara Palin in VP chair, heartbeat away to be President of United States of America if she speaks in tongues or gets carried away by spirits?

  • Keith

    Mr. Parham,I’m glad that Sen. McCain selected Gov. Palin as his running mate. I am a member of the proverbial base she has energized.I’m also glad because the CBF (and its many de facto propaganda fronts like the Baptist Center for Ethics) needed another reason to speak out against the SBC’s 2000 Faith and Message. After more than eight years, opportunities to slam the SBC and its statement of faith had been coming a little less frequently.Can you please stick to the issues of the 2000 election and what Palin stands for rather than going all retrospective on everybody and boring the dozens who actually read this with your anti-SBC rhetoric? It’s almost as if you started licking your chops once you realized McCain’s VP pick would somehow afford you an opportunity to slam your sworn SBC enemies.You’ve hit on the 2000 Faith and Message…what’s next…Palin’s love of coffee caused that fateful meeting at New Orleans’ Cafe du Monde in 1979 leading to the SBC’s conservative revolution?

  • joshua

    Religion is always taking credit for the kinds of social progress they once stymied. And our history books are the worse off for it. But when you criticize religion, or call out its hypocrisy, there is always at least one faithful commenter (like Keith) who, because they have no other defense, resort to unfounded accusations of prejudice and bias. Of course, these are the same people who believe religion is above reproach. Or is just their religion that is so? God’s on their side, right?

  • Jim

    The Fundamentalists smell power looming and will happily change their mind if it gains them some political pull. But this is not new. Fundamentalists (of every stripe) have always only and ever been interested in power- which is why they deserve the same condemnation as the ‘Theologians of Glory’ Luther so mightily excoriated and why they are anything but ‘Theologians of the Cross’.

  • keith

    Joshua,I’m not resorting to “unfounded accusations of prejudice and bias.” I actually think Mr. Parham makes some semi-reasonable points in calling out Southern Baptist warlords for their, as he sees it, revisions of their opinion on the role of women outside the home. I dismiss Mr. Parham’s points and see them for what they are – means to attack the SBC and slam the 2000 version of its Faith and Message – but they are semi-reasonable.Mr. Parham exhibits no prejudice or bias, per se.He does; however, seem to savor having a means to grind another ax with the SBC. Mr. Parham’s group is a propaganda front for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.Unless one has a remote clue as to the dynamic between the CBF and the SBC…opining about my comment would be misguided and irrelevant.

  • Edmond Smith

    The southern baptists have historically believed a woman’s place is in the home. Isn’t it strange they could so suddenly, and conveniently, change their views for political reasons and “modernize” an antiquated thought system. It should be no surprise. After all, it wasn’t until 1995 the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution renouncing its racist roots and apologizing for its past defense of slavery. Wow, let’s see, thats 113 years since the Emancipation Proclamation (1882-1883) which most Southern Baptists refused to endorse at the time. An antebellum religion trying to catch up to the modern world? Can we really respect these political opportunists who just happen to be intense advocates of State’s Rights?It’s outrageous our Nation has given these whacky hypocritical wing nuts of Christian right fundamentalism any semblance of credibility in our national political debate.

  • rb-freedom-for-all

    Didn’t the Southern Baptist Church split from the main Baptist church back in the 1840s because it wanted to use the Bible to justify slavery?”The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is a United States-based, mostly conservative[1] Christian denomination. The name “Southern” stems from its having been founded and rooted in the South. The SBC became a separate denomination in 1845 in Augusta, Georgia, following a regional split with northern Baptists over the issue of slavery in the US South.””The SBC did not officially renounce using the Bible as a justification for slavery and white supremacy until June 20, 1995 when they issued a formal ‘Resolution on Racial Reconciliation.'” Ibid.In other words, these people are long-time racists in America. What validity and credibility could they possibly have on any issue at all, much less anything to do with morality? You’ve got to be kidding!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!These people reflect the devil’s work more than Jesus Christ’s!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Why would you give credence to any word they have to say???????????

  • Alan Bean

    Thanks Robert. You can find my take on Al Mohler’s piece at: Alan Bean

  • bill

    As Christisans we are called to high standard of integrity, and we are called to avoid hypocrisy as this leads to doubt about our integrity. Pointing out that the Southern Baptists have favored women as homemakers prior to Palin is constructive criticism. If a women can have a super career like governor or VP then it would seem that So.Baptist wives can certainly be CPAs or car wash attendants too. And in some cases where Baptist wives have greater pay or benefits it would seem they could be the “official” breadwinner, and the father may take the lead in household and childrearing duty in support of the breadwinner. Is it not hypocritical to say that wives should be homemakers in one case, but not in Palin’s case?This criticism leades many of us Christians into churches that welcome female leaders at all levels, and do not assign roles to gender. May God continue to bless the Southern Baptists as they wrestle with these subjects.

  • AgentG

    It does appear crystal clear that the SBC and other Christian Right organizations are primarily interested in their own political power.

  • washpost18

    why are SBC fundamentalists rushing towards theological revisionism?—-Rhetorical question, but I’ll answer anyway; the “Liars for Jesus!” has engaged in situational ethics for years. Why change now?

  • Lee

    It just goes to show you- the church is Christian, even if the leaders are not. They lie about matters of faith to help their political buddies. Shame on them, and shame on the Baptist Church for allowing such evil leaders to distort their faith and mislead their congregations!

  • Adelaidea1

    The evangelical right is blood thirsty. They never see a war that they don’t like. They will vote for McCain who is an admitted serial adulterer. I haven’t heard them condemn the pregnancy of unmarried, 17 year old Bristol Palin.How they distort the Christian message! Jesus was a peace maker and cautioned repeatedly about the sins of fornication and adultery.And the “faith”based initiative–giving our taxes to preachers–isn’t that unconstitutional?

  • Virginia Harris

    The careers and candidacies of both Senator Clinton and Governor Palin will alter the future role of women in theology and society, but it could never have been predicted.Just as no one could have predicted that the tragedy of World War 1 would lead to women winning the right to vote in America and England.I’d like to share a women’s history learning opportunity…”The Privilege of Voting” is a new free e-mail series that follows eight great women from 1912 – 1920 to reveal ALL that happened to set the stage for women to win the vote. Powerful suffragettes Alice Paul and Emmeline Pankhurst are featured, along with TWO gorgeous presidential mistresses, First Lady Edith Wilson, Edith Wharton, Isadora Duncan and Alice Roosevelt.There are tons of heartache on the rocky road to the ballot box, but in the end, women WIN!Thanks to the suffragettes, women have voices and choices!Exciting, sequential episodes are great to read on coffeebreaks, or anytime.Subscribe free

  • Al

    Ah, the mind’s ability to rationalize anything is once again on display, as the Baptist’s reinterpret their policies and positions on what the Bible says. Great article.To any thinking person the Bible is a book of metaphors, fables and allegories….with little or any of it to be taken literally.Does it point to sublime principles, yes. But if taken literally it points to endless verses that contradict one another.The Southern Baptists pick and interpret the ones they wish to elevate. But it is all human interpretation. God has no part in the rationalizations of the human mind.The heart should confirm intuitively the conclusions of the intellect, especially in spiritual matters. To me, something doesn’t feel quite right about the dogma most any organized religion promotes.Further, if everything is black and white, as so many are fond of saying, why are there over 1200 different Christian sects in the US alone and over 30,000 in the world (per all of it is the product of ego, and human judgments and opinions, and worth very little next to your own conscience about what is right and wrong.Vote for real change this November!

  • Arminius

    AL,Right you are, Man is not a ‘rational’ animal, he is a ‘rationalizing’ animal. The Southern Baptists proved this totally, with a complete flip-flop from their 2000 proclamation of ‘The Little Woman, Bless her Heart, must be at home…’ to ‘Go Forth, Oh Empowered Women, and take the White House! (but meanwhile cook and take care of the kids)’. It gets worse. Dobson, an ultra-right wing religious dominionist, dedicated to remaking our Constitution into a perverted version of his twisted beliefs, previously condemned McCain for being an adulterer and anything else that crossed his mind. But when St Sarah the Moose Slayer entered the race… oh, my goodness! Suddenly Dobson proclaimed the sanctimony of the republican ticket! The hypocrisy of Dobson, and many others on the right, makes me want to puke, and fear for our freedom.

  • NotSoGreatScot

    Personally, I am more disturbed by this quote from the statement of faith and message. “It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations.”I assume that “all nations” includes the USA.

  • Wesley F. Comer

    Isn’t it ironic that to be able to support the Republican ticket that all of these “men of God” are revising what they have said? Tells me that these folks are basically dishonest. Or that their faith in what their stated beliefs are is very, very low, indeed. I think it is probably more the former…basically dishonest.

  • Brambleton

    Al,Let me clue you in to something. The Bible is both remarkably simple and inherently complex at the same time. It is not one or the other as you seem to assume.Whether you believe it to be true or not is for you to decide. My role is to share the love of Christ with you. Period. Contrary to what others might say or do, I am not instructed in any way to forcibly convince you to give your life to Christ. In other words, I can warn you that the train is coming, but I cannot push you off the tracks.Regarding the number of denominations you pointed out, that is obviously to be expected as each individual interprets various Scriptures differently. However, we are all Christians. And while I might disagree with a Presbyterian over infant baptism, we firmly agree on what really matters.Finally, perhaps you can tell me how voting for Joe Biden represents change? Or how good is “change” when it means I’ll now have to wait six months instead of six days to have my non-emergency medical procedure performed?The Audacity of Hype. Beware the Warren Harding Effect.

  • Lee Tillis

    When Sarah Palin was selected VP canidate my first thought was what are the Baptist going to do with this? Baptist or any other denomination that teaches women are to be in the home and not leaders or teachers over men. I was sure the claim would then be they meant in the church. WOW! It is amazing to me how God would be ok with a woman leading a country but not want her to spread His word, at least to men. I believe in scripture when a woman was used by God to lead, example: Deborah, Judge, it was because the man wouldn’t do the job. Is it true that Billy Graham’s daughter spoke at a convention and the ministers turned their chairs around facing their backs to her? Hummmmm

  • Kert

    I think that maybe this article is a little hard on Southern Baptists. I’m not one, but I respect their doctrine. I think they are trying their best. The only person I have a real problem with, is someone who is unwilling to change.It is a hard job to maintain doctrine, with forces from every direction trying to sway you. Many time the forces are simply and agenda and don’t really care about you. I’m sure if Southern Baptists took a different approach and rejected Palin they would get other critisism. While there are some valid points made in the article, I don’t know if they need to be shared. The Southern Baptists are a denomination and they don’t force their doctrine on people outside the church. They are working out their faith within the organization as they should. Remember that no denomination has a monopoly on biblical truth and I believe many are trying their best. Let’s respect everyone and try to portray humility when we disagree.

  • Glyndle Feagin

    Thanks for your article, Robert. We met a number of years ago. I teach at Wayland Baptist U. in Plainview Texas. Paul Sadler is our Division Chair. I do not have much to add. I will say, though, that, as you point out the SBC fundamentalist are showing their true colors and, especially their ineptitude as interpreters of Scripture.It is ironic that, probably, the last thing the SBC fundamentalists should really want is for Palin to become Vice-President, or, perhaps, President, someday. For, then, a great many people likely will have grave difficulty understanding how a woman can be fit to be pehaps to be President of the United States but unfit to be the “Senior” Pastor of a local Baptist church.

  • Kert

    I’ve known some Southern Baptists and none were trying to restrict my rights. They also were not haters. Very loving people actually. I was sincerly impressed with their hospitality. I doubt they have tried to restrict your freedoms either. They are simply working through the doctrine of their faith that they are responsible for. The doctrine applies only to their members. Kind of makes sense that they should have control of their own organization.Remember this country was founded first on religious freedom and also on freedom of speech. Both things they are freely using here. I see many rights being used and protected. That’s the way America should work.I try not to be too critical of people I am not really close to. That is why I call for humility. I don’t want people scouring comments I made for inconsistansies so they can write articles pointing them out. I don’t you would want that either. I’m just encouraging tact.

  • Aaron Blumer

    You’re reading way too much in the SBC statement in Utah. You’d have to go back *quite* a few years to find a time when SBC held that *all* women must be homemakers.

  • Stephen fox

    I have made at explicit at my blog what I think is a more significant area of exploration in re the Palin/McCain ticket than the one Parham explores here.

  • Debbie

    I find it strange that so many are willing to accept the notion that “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” on the one hand; on the other hand, “Wives submit yourselves to your husbands”.Augustine and others have much to say:St. Augustine writes on 1 Cor 11:3: “For the man is the head of the woman in perfect order when Christ who is the Wisdom of God is the head of the man” (Against the Manichaeans 2, 12, 16). As it is stated clearly in Ephesians 5:22-33, Augustine uses Christ’s headship over the Church as the model for the husband’s headship over the wife. He makes no reference to “mutual submission” or anything of the sort, either here or in his other writings. In another place he writes: Nor can it be doubted, that it is more consonant with the order of nature that men should bear rule over women, than women over men. It is with this principle in view that the apostle says, ‘The head of the woman is the man;’ and, ‘Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands.’ So also the Apostle Peter writes: ‘Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord'” St. Clement of Alexandria expresses the same sentiments regarding 1 Cor 11:3: The ruling power is therefore the head. And if ‘the Lord is head of the man, and the man is head of the woman,’ the man, ‘being the image and glory of God, is lord of the woman.’ Wherefore also in the Epistle to the Ephesians it is written, ‘Subjecting, ourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the Church; and He is the Savior of the body. Husbands, love your wives, as also Christ loved the Church. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies: he that loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh.’ And in that to the Colossians it is said, ‘Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as is fit in the Lord’ (Stromata, Bk 4, Ch 8). The Greek exegete, Severian of Gabala writes on 1 Cor 11:3: Since man did not make woman, the question here does not concern the origin of woman. Rather it concerns only submission. (Pauline Commentary from the Greek Church, 15:260). St. Thomas Aquinas says the same on 1 Cor 11:3, even using Augustine as further witness to this truth: For though the wife be her husband’s equal in the marriage act, yet in matters of housekeeping, the head of the woman is the man, as the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 11:3). (Summa Theologica, Treatise on the Theological Virtues, Question 32, Article 8). For the higher reason which is assigned to contemplation is compared to the lower reason which is assigned to action, and the husband is compared to his wife, who should be ruled by her husband, as Augustine says (De Trinitate xii,3,7,12). (Summa Theologica, Treatise on Gratuitous Grace, Question 128, Article 4). Not only are these witnesses straightforward about the wife’s obligation to submit to her husband, notice again that none of them refer to “mutual submission” (or any similar term) in interpreting the wife’s responsibility to her husband or in the understanding of the spousal relationship in general. Moreover, the Fathers and Aquinas understand “submission” in the legal sense (i.e., the wife is obligated to submit; the husband is not) and apply that sense to the Scriptures they are interpreting.

  • Debbie

    Sorry, one other note:The woman who chooses to marry, however, takes on the duty of obedience. The reason for this is that sacramental marriage is a symbol of Christ’s union with the Church, and in that most sacred union, the partners are not equal in authority any more than they are equal in the amounts of love they can and do give.They are not equal in the amounts of authority or love they can give. This is really strange stuff.

  • John Michael LaRue

    I’m a Southern Baptist. I’m training to be a pastor in seminary.I made a decent attempt to answer some of these false assertions about what Southern Baptists believe (including quoting straight from the horses mouth…Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and contributor on the on faith panel).But of course, it got skipped over. The arguments ignored. Continue on thinking as you want to think.

  • Debbie

    Moreover, the Fathers and Aquinas understand “submission” in the legal sense (i.e., the wife is obligated to submit; the husband is not) and apply that sense to the Scriptures they are interpreting.

  • Donna Chandler

    When it was announced that John McCain selected Sarah P. for vice president and it was made known who she was I was surprised and pleased. I don’t know that I agree with all of her decisions, but I believe a good deal of what she is all of us would like to have the charactristics she displayed.