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Evangelicals differ on whether Palin's career fits biblical model

Some believe her work outside the home has turned 'husbands lead, wives submit' on its head.

October 01, 2008|Teresa Watanabe | Times Staff Writer

In a white-steepled church along a stretch in picturesque canyon country, the preacher laid out the basic blueprint of a godly marriage: Husbands lead, wives submit.

Speaking recently before hundreds of worshipers at Placerita Baptist Church in Newhall, guest preacher Chris Mueller affirmed the view that loving male headship and gracious wifely submission are God's plan for spouses.

Placerita, like many conservative Christian churches, teaches that a wife's role is to be her husband's helpmate (Genesis), "workers at home" (Titus) and submissive to her husband in everything (Ephesians).

So how do these congregants square such teachings with their support for Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the conservative evangelical Christian who is aiming to become vice president while her teenage daughter is pregnant, her infant son has Down syndrome and her husband took a leave from work to serve as "Mr. Mom," as People magazine put it?

"It's probably presumptuous of us to figure out how she is going to balance all of this," said Pat Ennis, a Placerita congregant who heads the home economics department at The Master's College, a Christian institution in Santa Clarita. "The most important thing is that she can do it in God's strength."

Ennis reflects nationwide polling showing widespread support for Palin, Republican Sen. John McCain's running mate, among evangelical Christians. Earlier this year, some evangelicals criticized McCain for not speaking as openly about his faith as some candidates.

But according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, his standing among white evangelical Protestant registered voters has risen from 61% in June to 71% in a poll conducted Sept. 9-14. Evangelical Christians form the bulwark of the Republican voting base.

And many, like Ennis, see no conflict between Palin's candidacy and biblical teachings on women's roles.

Many say that biblical restrictions on women's leadership apply to church and home, not the secular world -- clearing the way for a woman to run the nation but not a congregation. And so long as Palin's husband, Todd, approves, they say, her career conforms with teachings on wifely duties.

But to others, this view contradicts biblical teaching.

"The Palin selection is the single most dangerous event in the conscience of the Christian community in the last 10 years at least," said Doug Phillips, president of Vision Forum, a Texas-based ministry. "The unabashed, unquestioning support of Sarah Palin and all she represents marks a fundamental departure from our historic position of family priorities -- of moms being at home with young children, of moms being helpers to their husbands, the priority of being keepers of the home."

Voddie Baucham, a Texas pastor who has criticized the Palin selection as anti-family in a series of blogs, said that the overwhelming evangelical support demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice biblical principles for politics. "Evangelicalism has lost its biblical perspective and its prophetic voice," Baucham wrote. "Men who should be standing guard as the conscience of the country are instead falling in line with the feminist agenda and calling a family tragedy . . . a shining example of family values."

In an interview, Baucham said the hundreds of responses he's received are running 20 to 1 in his favor. But he said he has also been castigated for "breaking ranks" by some, who argue the election is too important to raise divisive issues.

He and other like-minded pastors disagree. "It's more important for us to truthfully represent the priorities of Scripture than it is for us to win an election," Phillips said.

Palin may have taken center stage at the moment, but the evangelical Christian world has been buffeted for years by growing tensions between those who support egalitarian roles for men and women and those who promote "complementarianism." That's the view that God values men and women equally but granted them distinctly different roles.

Some of the debate centers on whether the Bible allows women to serve as civil leaders. Vision Forum leaders argue that it does not. They cite passages in Genesis, Isaiah, Ephesians and elsewhere that they say establishes male headship over women and are critical of female leadership.

Others counter that restrictions on female leadership apply only to church and home. They include Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky; and Randy Stinson, whose Kentucky-based Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was established to combat growing feminism in evangelical churches.

Most of the debate on Palin, however, centers on whether a mother with young children is violating Scripture by running for such a demanding office as vice president.

The key biblical verse at issue is Titus 2:5, which many evangelical Christians believe lays out God's command to younger women to be workers at home subject to their husbands.

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