I don’t often comment on American politics. I suppose I tend to leave that to Americans, but that doesn’t stop Canadians like Kevin Sam giving their opinions. But I have made some exceptions for Obama, here and here, so partly for the sake of balance I will give some initial reactions to the surprise nomination of Sarah Palin as Republican candidate for Vice-President. In fact it was such a surprise that it seems Jim West confused her with Michael Palin!
From what I have read, including this BBC report and some others and this Wikipedia profile, Sarah Palin sounds like the kind of person I could support, if I could stomach Republican policies in general, especially on social issues like health care and on Iraq.
It seems that Palin is a good Christian. At least this is how she is portrayed by the conservative World Magazine. This article says that she attends Wasilla Bible Church, which is non-denominational and evangelical. David Ker among others suggests that her denomination is Assemblies of God, but the evidence for this in fact suggests only that when she was a junior high student (so perhaps before the Bible Church opened in 1977 when she was 13) she attended Wasilla Assembly of God, and that when in the state capital Juneau she attends Juneau Christian Center which appears to be Assemblies of God. This all seems consistent with what was written at the Christianity Today politics blog. So, while she has not rejected her Pentecostal upbringing, her current preference is slightly different.
Palin is not at all the stereotypical conservative Christian woman. She has not stayed at home to manage her home and home school her five children (well spaced over 19 years), but has built her own career. Yet she chose to give birth to her Down’s Syndrome son earlier this year, rather than have an abortion because of his condition. She likes hunting and fishing, not typical feminine pursuits. Given her background in small town Alaska, where guns may be necessary protection from marauding moose and polar bears, I can almost forgive her membership of the National Rifle Association; but she will need to realise that policies which work in Wasilla (population under 6,000 when she was mayor, homicide rate zero in 2005) are not necessarily appropriate in Washington DC (population 588,000, homicide rate 169 in 2006 even after dropping by half since the early 1990s).
The interesting issue is why 72-year-old John McCain picked 44-year-old Palin as his running mate. The consensus seems to be that this was political expediency, picking a young and unusual outsider to balance an old Washington insider, to mirror the Obama-Biden ticket. That certainly makes a lot of sense for McCain, and explains his surprising choice. However, I think it is a good choice – or perhaps not, because it increases the chance of a Republican victory which could have all sorts of other serious repercussions for world peace, and for the health and welfare of poor Americans.
But anyone who votes for the McCain-Palin ticket has to reckon with the real chance that Palin will become President and Commander-in-Chief of US forces, a chance that is enhanced by McCain’s age. So they should not vote this way unless they think that Palin could be an appropriate President.
So this brings me back to the question which I first raised in comments on John Hobbins’ blog (note that there is already more than one page of comments on this post including at least three by me) and then again at Complegalitarian: is a woman Vice-President acceptable to conservative Christians, who are mostly at least in theory complementarian? If not, McCain might find himself losing a substantial number of votes just because he has a woman on his ticket.
Now some complementarians limit women to submissive roles only in the church and in the family. But others teach that women should never be in positions of authority over men even in the secular realm, and so would certainly not accept a woman as President or Commander-in-Chief. Among these is the well-known Bible teacher John Piper, who, in the book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood which he co-authored with Wayne Grudem, on pp.17-19 of this PDF file, wrote:
Mature femininity does not express itself in the same way toward every man. A mature woman who is married, for example, does not welcome the same kind of strength and leadership from other men that she welcomes from her husband. But she will affirm and receive and nurture the strength and leadership of men in some form in all her relationships with men. This is true even though she may find herself in roles that put some men in a subordinate role to her. Without passing any judgment on the appropriateness of any of these roles one thinks of the following possible instances:
- Prime Minister and her counsellors and advisors.
- Principal and the teachers in her school.
- College teacher and her students.
- Bus driver and her passengers.
- Bookstore manager and her clerks and stock help.
- Staff doctor and her interns.
- Lawyer and her aides.
- Judge and the court personnel.
- Police officer and citizens in her precinct.
- Legislator and her assistants.
- T.V. newscaster and her editors.
- Counsellor and her clients.
One or more of these roles might stretch appropriate expressions of femininity beyond the breaking point. …
But as I said earlier, there are roles that strain the personhood of man and woman too far to be appropriate, productive and healthy for the overall structure of home and society. Some roles would involve kinds of leadership and expectations of authority and forms of strength as to make it unfitting for a woman to fill the role. …
The God-given sense of responsibility for leadership in a mature man will not generally allow him to flourish long under personal, directive leadership of a female superior. J. I. Packer suggested that “a situation in which a female boss has a male secretary” puts strain on the humanity of both (see note 18). I think this would be true in other situations as well. Some of the more obvious ones would be in military combat settings if women were positioned so as to deploy and command men; or in professional baseball if a woman is made the umpire to call balls and strikes and frequently to settle heated disputes among men. And I would stress that this is not necessarily owing to male egotism, but to a natural and good penchant given by God.
It will be fascinating to see what John Piper and other complementarian leaders have to say about Palin as a candidate Vice-President. Interestingly Al Mohler, who doesn’t allow women to teach in his seminary, predicted Palin’s nomination back in May in an article about her Down’s Syndrome baby, but with no comment on whether she would be suitable. The only specific clearly negative comment I have seen is from Carmon Friedrich, called a “mover-and-shaker in patriarchy” by Molly Aley who quoted him:
Does God not ordain the means as well as the end? Why does she get a pass on the leadership issue and career mother problem just because she has the right views on abortion and helps make McCain more electable? If Christian complementarians/patriarchalists get behind this choice, then they undermine all their arguments for the creation order as the reason for opposing women in other areas of ministry. The Word of God calls the civil magistrate a “minister of God.”
Well, now we can look forward to more mothers telling their daughters, “You can be anything you want to be…even vice president!” How is this woman able to be her husband’s helpmeet and be a proper mother to her little ones with such huge responsibilities in her job?
On the other hand, the World Magazine article I mentioned earlier, despite the magazine’s generally complementarian position, comes close to endorsing Palin. And James Dobson is reportedly elated at the news. So how can these complementarians have this attitude? Perhaps it is that these people have a one track mind about politics: the only thing they care about is a candidate’s position on abortion. But then McCain who is not pro-life will not force through anti-abortion legislation for the sake of his VP, so anyone who votes for these two because she is pro-life is voting irresponsibly. Or perhaps John Hobbins is right on the facts, although wrong on the morality of them, when he writes the following astonishing endorsement of hypocrisy:
Consistency is the hobglobin of small minds. Ordinary people tend to get this instinctively. Eggheads like Piper and Grudem, maybe not.
It’s obvious that many people read P & G’s books without coming to agree with the notion that a woman by definition is unfit to be President of the United States, or drive bus, for goodness’ sake.
Well, let’s wait and see. If leaders like Piper come out against Palin, at least they are being consistent, and they may convince enough of their supporters to make a significant dent in McCain’s vote. If they don’t, they will be shown up as hypocrites. It will be interesting to watch!