After eight years of George W. Bush’s “culture of life,” which included well over 4,000 U.S. military deaths in Iraq and an estimated 1.25 million Iraqi deaths, abortion is back on the front burner, thanks to the presence of Sarah Palin on national television. Few were “energized” about John McCain before she entered stage right on the TV screen. Sure, pace James Dobson, they had still planned to “get drunk and vote for McCain” if the weather was decent on Election Day, but now voting has (once again) become a matter of Christian duty. Ann Coulter summed up the mood of conservative Christians in her column, titled “The Best Man Turned Out to Be a Woman.” Contrasting Mrs. Palin with other potential running mates, the fellow barracuda struck: “As for former governor of Pennsylvania Tom Ridge and Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, the other also-rans, I can think of at least 40 million unborn reasons she’s better than either of them.”
Conservative Christians are eager to see themselves in Sarah Palin. She likes guns. She’s a fiscal conservative. She knows the name “Pat Buchanan.” She knows what secession is. She’s pretty cute. She has five children. She’s even a churchgoer, and at a church or churches that believe the Bible, even if those churches don’t quite interpret it the same way. All of this would have been window dressing if she wasn’t clearly and demonstrably against abortion. Oh, but she is.
So now we’re excited, energized. Sarah Palin is on our team. She’s more on our team than John McCain is. She grandfathers him into our team. She’s John McCain’s better angel. She’s our angel. Whatever she does is great, and whatever they say in attacking her is just wrong, wrong, wrong!
Christian conservatives are a savvy lot when it comes to politics. They have their years of grassroots experience in the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition. They have learned from Rush, from Sean, from Bill, from Ann how to argue with a liberal and how to ignore the defeatist media. Turn that argument around. Track was conceived out of wedlock? You’re dang right he was. Sarah Palin’s not afraid of sex and marriage! She hasn’t thought much about Iraq? Heck, while you liberals are out there “thinking,” she’s sending her boy to the front lines! Bristol is pregnant out of wedlock? See above, pin-head! The Palins ⁄babies!
In fact, every left-wing liberal-media criticism just underscores the fact that she is the perfect candidate. We need someone who is tough to stand up to the liberals. We need a pit bull. We need an Ann Coulter with lipstick.
And what about Hillary’s glass ceiling? If that’s all you care about, if you really want to be on the right side of history, how about this: We want a woman in the White House more than you do. “Our motto,” says Ann Coulter, should be this: “Sarah Palin is only a heartbeat away!”
Now comes the ultimate hypocrisy from the ugly left: Sarah Palin has young children, including one with special needs. How can she choose government over home?
Well, that’s just an outrage, says the pro-family Christian Right. Here is Richard Land, the public voice of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a leader on the Christian Right:
Clearly, [Sarah Palin’s] nomination’s tapped into something, which I can observe as a white male but can’t experience. My wife says to her Sarah Palin is what the feminists’ movement was all about. You can have a family and a husband and a career, that you can do it all. My wife has a Ph.D. in psychology, she’s in private practice as a psychotherapist.
I find these questions about “how can she take care of her children and be vice president” sexist. Nobody asked that question to any of the male candidates. That’s a family decision. As long as she and her husband are comfortable with it and they seem to have done a wonderful job with the children they have, it’s nobody’s business.
Leave it to the left to be sexist. Christian conservatives know better, and they have worked for change for years. Debating atheist Sam Harris in a Newsweek forum, America’s pastor Rick Warren noted that “All of the great movements forward in Western civilization were by believers. It was pastors who led the abolition of slavery. It was pastors who led the woman’s right to vote. It was pastors who led the civil-rights movement. Not atheists.”
After the fires of the Second Great Awakening, the old lights of established churches gave way to the new lights of revival, men free of authoritarian mantles, churches free of authoritarian polity. Feminists and evangelicals made common cause. In many cases, the two groups have been one and the same. Their chief constituency was the emerging Christian woman reformer, who was sensitive to the needs of children and minorities. She bought Beecher’s Bibles and sent them to bleeding Kansas. She kept farm children from toiling in the heat. She raised her hatchet against the demon liquor with Carrie Nation, who called herself a “bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn’t like.”
And yet, there was the realm of politics and government, the He-Man Woman Haters’ Club with its glass ceiling and mahogany bar. If women could vote, argued that famous advocate for creationism in public schools, William Jennings Bryan, America would change. Women, said Bryan, are people too: “Shall the people rule?”
At the Democratic National Convention in Denver, exactly one hundred years ago, Bryan wanted to add universal suffrage to the party’s platform. The very moral health of America was at stake. Of course, even back then there were naysayers—like Bryan’s daughter Ruth, who told the Rocky Mountain News that woman suffrage would actually diminish the role of woman in society. “I believe it would lessen her influence,” she said.
Right-wing nut jobs sabotaged the platform push in Denver, some of them arguing that women should focus on their own husbands and children at home. To the women who wanted change, this was an outrage. “Of all the ridiculous ideas,” squawked Utah delegate Mrs. Henry J. Hayward,
the very silliest is that suffrage interferes in any way with household or maternal duties. An interest in the questions of the day brightens a woman, takes her out of the daily rut of dishes, dusting and sweeping and gives her a common bond of interest with her husband. She can help to make conditions right for her children and can guide them with more wisdom. Then, too, a child must naturally respect a mother more when that mother is allowed a voice in the government.
If only Mrs. Henry J. Hayward, a Mormon and mother of nine, could have seen the stars align behind Sarah Barracuda, with baby Trig strapped on her chest, balancing work and family while firing her 30.06 through the glass ceiling.
We can hear echoes of Mrs. Henry J. Hayward in the energized apologies that are being sounded by conservative Christian pro-family and pro-life leaders. The Rev. Peter S. Sprigg, a former Baptist pastor who works for the Family Research Council, sees liberal misrepresentations of the traditional Christian view of women behind some of the criticisms of Sarah Palin:
The liberal stereotype of social conservatives, especially evangelicals, is that we think women should be perpetually barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, rather than pursuing careers and assuming leadership roles in the political realm. So shouldn’t a mother of five (including a pregnant teen and a special-needs infant) be a homemaker, instead of trying to govern Alaska or run for vice president?
Well, yes—if she chooses to.
You see, the notion that women have a natural calling, confirmed in Scripture and established in the tradition of Western civilization, is really an illusion, a fantasy dreamed up by liberals. Conservatives know better.
The Christian Right seems to be answering a question that the left isn’t really asking. The left is more interested in alleging hypocrisy when it comes to the out-of-wedlock pregnancy of young Bristol Palin. Barney Frank and Gloria Steinem are in a tizzy about the obvious failure of Alaskan abstinence programs, but they aren’t suggesting that a mother shouldn’t hold political office. That suggestion is bubbling forth from the blogosphere, from a small number of dissatisfied conservatives—homeschoolers, mothers of large families, the fringe elements who wouldn’t likely vote for McCain anyway.
Conservative Christian activists sense that the question is looming in the backs of the minds of at least a fair amount of voters, and so they are answering it under the pretense of responding to liberal-media attacks. A small number of them are engaging in bizarre debates over Deborah driving a stake through Obama’s head or Esther using her “hotness” to save Israel. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and regular talk-show guest, is wrestling with the issue:
I am doing my best to be honest—and not hypocritical—about how I see this new situation. I could not imagine this in my own family, nor, I am confident, could the vast majority of those conservative Christians who are celebrating the nomination of Gov. Palin as Vice President. I have full confidence that my wife Mary can lead and run anything, from General Motors to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Nevertheless, I also know that I, along with our children, would find our worlds turned upside down. Beyond this, I believe that she would be less happy, less fulfilled, and less strategically deployed. She runs a program that influences the lives of hundreds of women and serves on the board of directors of our local crisis pregnancy center, but her most significant impact will be on the lives of two children who cannot imagine life without her—and without her active engagement and motherly love.
Then again, Mohler observes, he has pictures of Queen Elizabeth and Margaret Thatcher on the walls of his (presumably theological) library. There must be exceptions to the rule; it is a matter of calling, and Sarah Palin may have chosen a different calling.
So why, then, is Dr. Mohler struggling to be honest and not hypocritical? Because, as his leftist interviewer points out, Southern Baptists stop short of allowing women to choose to pursue the ministry. Furthermore, Southern Baptists (along with a host of evangelicals) still believe that, as the Baptist Faith and Message puts it, “A wife . . . has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.”
Is there some contradiction at work here? No, says Mohler. “The reason for this is simple—the New Testament does not speak to this question [of women choosing a career in politics] in any direct sense.”
And yet the New Testament does have a few clear things to say, including this favorite passage of homeschooling mommies with large families, from Titus 2, in which Saint Paul commands “young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”
That phrase “keepers at home” is a sticker. It means a great deal more than hockey games and PTA meetings. It implies a God-given role for women—marriage, children, household. Of course, it also implies an entirely different culture, one in which there is such a thing as a household with both a head and a keeper. But this culture is not merely the one Saint Paul happened to find himself in: It is the one he prescribes, the Christian one. And there is no exception made for moose-gutting pit bulls with lipstick who feel called to be the next Margaret Thatcher.
Deep down, I suspect that more thoughtful Christian conservatives such as Mohler know this. That might explain the hemming and hawing: “It would be hypocritical of me to suggest that I would be perfectly happy to have Christian young women believe that being Vice President of the United States is more important than being a wife and mother.”
And yet the Christian Right cannot find a verse in the New Testament that says “Woman, thou shalt not be President.” Of course, they will struggle to find one that says “Woman, thou shalt not have an abortion” as well. Nor will they find one that says “Man, thou shalt not—indeed, thou canst not—marry another man.” What they find and cite are passages that mention that God knew Jeremiah in his mother’s womb and knit together David in the secret place, that children are a blessing, that thou shalt not kill, that homosexual behavior is sinful, that He blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.”
The Christian Faith is not pro-life or pro-marriage or pro-heterosexuality or Creationist. It is the truth about all that God made and the way that He made it.
That Faith cultures life by accepting what has been revealed: It does not create an abstract “culture of life.” It obeys the will of God for mankind, as seen through nature, through Creation, specifically in Scripture, and as witnessed by tradition. Saint Paul knew this and argued from the received wisdom. He grounds his command to women that they submit to their husbands and conduct themselves with “shamefacedness and sobriety” in the natural order: “For Adam was created first, then Eve.”
Take away an implicit belief in the natural order, and what are you left with? Abstract, liberal arguments about human rights, about women’s rights, about “complementarianism,” about different roles in different spheres, different callings in different times. You are left with professional Christian women crusaders who forsake their own children to save those of the world, bulldogs with hatchets for whom shamefacedness is weakness, “First Dude” Mr. Moms who nurture while the wife is “standing up to the old boy network.”
G.K. Chesterton wrote that woman suffrage is abusive to the female sex, amounting to the “modern surrender of women.” In fact, he added, involving women in politics is not an act of feminism but of masculinism—of making women into men. What does it tell us about today’s Christian conservative leaders, or about the pro-life movement, that they want to thrust Sarah Palin into the White House, baby in tow? That they are turned on by Ann Coulter, or by a moose-gutting barracuda? What sort of moral and aesthetic chaos has infected the “culture of life” that it would abuse a woman in the name of saving babies?
Modern democratic politics, said Chesterton, is really about drunk men hollering at each other in a bar, about exaggerating their importance in order to win coercive power over others. Inviting women does not sanctify the bar: It degrades the ladies. “If you don’t like the idea of men shouting at each other at the ‘Blue Pig,’” he said, “you will not like its shadow.”
In its shadow is Bristol Palin, deliberately humiliated before the whole crowd. And yet her mother wants power—the power to effect change. She risked young Trig’s unborn life to stand before John McCain, her amniotic fluid leaking, and deliver a speech that would energize him. And because of it, she was invited to the Blue Pig to shout at the other side along with the rest of the louts. And she accepted because she has been schooled by her father, the “First Dude,” her churches, and her Conservative Movement in the fine art of masculinization. She doesn’t blink. She is a proud Feminist for Life.
Assume for one fleeting moment that the vice president, not the president, appoints federal judges and Supreme Court justices. Assume that Cindy McCain is wrong and that her husband really does want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Assume that McCain doesn’t really want to abort frozen babies and use their tiny bodies for research. Assume that McCain doesn’t think that a child conceived in rape deserves to die, if the mother so chooses. It is still a violation of the natural order, on which conservatism and Christianity depend, to abuse a mother and her children. The way of faith honors women and respects women, refusing to strip them of their dignity by thrusting them into the base, crude, and meaningless game of modern democratic politics, filled with lies and exaggerations.
We don’t need to reread the story of Deborah in the original Hebrew; we don’t need to search history for examples of queens or prime ministers or matriarchs. Christians rooted in the natural law simply know that there is no greater good than for a woman to be what she was made to be, and their efforts to that end collectively are a culture of life. It is not enough to teach Creationism; we must believe in and respect the created order. Conservative Christianity apart from the natural order is neither conservative nor Christian. It is a monstrous mutation of the Enlightenment—the religion of choice apart from revelation, the religion of change in the face of tradition.
If an energized America makes history in November and puts John McCain in the White House, Sarah Palin will not have time for a lot of trivial, insignificant things that matter little to the abstract culture of life—to fix snacks for Piper, to take her to and from school every day, to help her with homework and stay home with her when she’s sick. And when it’s time for her grandchild to be born in January, she’ll have an inauguration to attend to instead of her daughter. But the glass ceiling will be shattered, and its shards will have fallen on her and her family—and on the conservative Christians who valued the principle of life over life.