Evangelical consistency and the church/state divide

This week saw the media bring a sharp lens to McCain’s vp pick, Sarah Palin, and amidst all the vetting furore and babygate controversy some commentators have also questioned the duplicity of the religious conservative voting block in sitting comfortably under a woman leader. Is it disingenuous for complementarian evangelicals to believe that the God-ordained roles prohibit women from authoritative church leadership positions and then endorse a woman as leader of the nation?

The OnFaith blog of the Washington Post set up a round-table to discuss this question and invited commentators from varying convictions, Christian and beyond. I was impressed with the broad sweep of pundits: N.T. Wright, McLaren, Spong, Mouw and several others all weigh in. The conversation would have benefited with more from the complementarian persuasion but John Mark Reynolds (from the excellent Scriptorium), I thought, does a good job, while others do bring out the point that the roles of civic and religious leadership may have distinctives and callings that may not necessarily see overlap.

On this issue, the brilliant scribe and satirist, Doug Wilson has posted a few thoughts on his blog that I considered were due liberal recapitulation:

The idea that women should be excluded from civil office, period, is an exegetical question, and one that I believe that can be settled because of the perspicuity of Scripture.

A curse is pronounced on a people in Isaiah 3:12 that is relevant to this discussion. It is possible that this is not referring to actual women, but to girly men, to effeminate men. To men of arrested development, and a junior high approach to sex. Bill Clinton comes to mind. In other words, the men who rule are being called womanish, or childish. Like calling Ralph Nader matronly.

Like I said, that is possible. But I take it in the more straightforward sense — that a society is under a weight of judgment when it has a dearth of men capable of exercising godly rule. This could happen because the men are all dead, or gone, or they are abdicating wimps. In any case, I believe this really would be a judgment on a society. But it has nothing to do with — for example — Elizabethan England, one of the most masculine societies our civilization has ever produced. Whatever was going on in that day, Isaiah 3:12 wasn’t in the mix.

Because a husband is the head of his wife, for a wife to rule in the household inverts God’s order. But this does not mean that a wife cannot ever rule a household. In Acts 16, Lydia is very clearly the head of her household. This means that she had no husband, but without a husband, the household was her household. Given her status as a wealthy merchant, and the average size of that kind of household back in the day, she probably had a couple hundred people serving in that household.

Because men don’t usually all die at the same time, and because they are the heads of their homes, most businesses will be run by men. Most corporations will be run by men. Most societies will be run by men. This is as it should be, and I find nothing to complain about. Who is complaining? Not me, said the little black duck. But when the weird circumstance comes along and a male senator dies, and the party installs his widow in his place, I find nothing to complain about there either. Here and there this kind of thing happens, and I don’t care.

This kind of normal anomaly is exactly what we find in Scripture in the case of Deborah.

Deborah did not say that the glory of Sisera’s death would go to a woman because Barak had obeyed her first summons. She did not say that there was any problem whatever with him functioning as a general under a female leader in Israel. She did not say, nor does the text say, that there was anything wrong with what she was doing. The text does not breathe a hint of disapproval, and I would suggest that it is dangerous for us to treat this as anything other than what it appears to be in the text — a curious but lawful exception to the way things usually go.

St. Paul bars women from rule in the church. So should we. Paul teaches that men are head over their wives. So should we. Luke teaches that a woman can function in a household without a head over her. So should we. The writer of Judges, without blinking, tells us of the faithful rule of Deborah, a mother in Israel. We shouldn’t blink either, not if we begin and end, where we should, with the Bible.

Read the rest.