In the wake of the vice presidential nomination of Gov. Sarah Palin, much news media attention has been given to the manner in which evangelical Christians who affirm the biblical prohibition of women serving as senior pastor in the church is assumed to apply to the role of women in society. Oftentimes, the assumptions are incorrect, especially when applied by a secular news media unable (and sometimes unwilling) to understand evangelicals.
God speaks with general bedrock principles, which one must then apply appropriately, and all do well to refrain from aligning against what God has clearly decreed in Scripture. Clear and consistent biblical principles foundational to faith are without contradiction, yet may stand in contradistinction with appropriate ways to accommodate the equality and diversity existing in the biblical creation order (Gen. 1-2).
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As a theologian, whether the subject is submission or maternal nurturing, my responsibility is to equip women with a thorough understanding of Scripture—translating the Hebrew or Greek text, analyzing the passage verse by verse, considering the broader context. Interpretation further requires including the whole of Scripture, being aware of writings from the earliest interpreters of Scripture, noting what other commentators have said about the passage—yet without dictating to any woman how she is to inculcate these principles into her life.
The ancient text of Scripture has timeless principles, which are to be incorporated into life in timely ways. I have written as a wife and mother concerning my own passionate commitment to give my full energies and creativity to the tasks of managing my household, helping my husband, and nurturing my children, which for me means varied and diverse tasks. In the midst of many “ministry assignments,” first and foremost I must manage my own household, doing what helps my husband and continuing interaction with our children and grandchildren.
Interestingly, almost three decades ago my husband returned from a meeting in Washington and awakened me with the idea that I must run for Congress! Fortunately, I convinced him that I did not have the time or interest in pursuing such a goal. However, he believed that families with godly values and a moral compass would lose spiritual freedoms if we did not exercise our responsibilities as good citizens. “We” in his mind meant me, his primary helper, and this Texan traveled to New Hampshire to work in a strategic congressional campaign while my husband juggled his duties as college president and solo parent for a week.
How Sarah and Todd Palin made the decision for Sarah to become the Republican candidate for vice president is not public knowledge. They are obviously committed to one another and to their family, yet they have a passionate desire to serve their community, state, and nation. Probably they discussed the matter at length. Seemingly they agreed together as a couple that this commitment was one they were compelled to make.
My personal understanding of the divine mandate does not give me authority to dictate to the Palins how they pursue family goals. However, their decision does not change my passion and message encouraging every woman
to make the home and family her all-consuming task. However, my heart is warmed to see Sarah Palin including her family in this awesome challenge, naturally balancing her baby on her hip and unashamedly nursing her baby. The Palins are also exemplary in not distancing themselves from their teenage daughter, despite her unfortunate choice, but rather expressing unconditional love for her, accepting consequences and handling a private crisis in a public venue appropriately.
Deborah, the prophetess and judge who ruled Israel, described herself as “a mother in Israel,” whether a descriptor of her national role or reference to her own children. She is also identified as “the wife of Lapidoth.” Deborah delivered God’s words—not from a synagogue platform, but directly, and seemingly privately—to Barak, the army commander. Her venue for “judging” was “under a palm tree,” probably in her own yard. Deborah and Barak, as well as another woman named Jael, contributed to the deliverance of Israel from the Canaanites.
God’s moral standards are not compartmentalized but are universal, extending to everything in His created order. There is no higher appeal than Scripture. There are few prophetesses and only one female judge in the biblical history of Israel, a scarcity which may have to do with applying the creation order beyond the home and church, in the sense of cautioning people and nations about changing course too quickly.
Although for a woman who chooses to marry to be called to service beyond her home is not the common and natural outworking of the creation order God set in place, women, as men, can be called to extraordinary service as was Deborah, whose assignment was not in contradiction to explicit prohibitions in Scripture but rather in contradistinction to what Scripture describes as the norm.
Yes, we should pray for Sarah Palin and her family. We should thank God for a heart for public service, which seems to reside throughout her entire family. She and her husband, together with their children, have already worked through the challenges of serving the people of Alaska while maintaining their family ties. Such commitment does not eliminate problems and challenges within their home, all of which are exasperated by a probing and judgmental public. Nevertheless, as they rise to this occasion with an uncommon strength for an appointed time, I pray that at the end of this tenure of public service, they may return to private life to immerse themselves in the unbounded joy of family fellowship and nurture.
For a wife and mother to be called into government service has never been the norm—not because a woman does not have the giftedness and intellectual prowess to do the job but because her assignment in managing the home and helping her husband and nurturing her children is not only one of great magnitude but also one of overwhelming importance to the nation!
Can there be the integration of faith and public service? Can you justify in Scripture that a wife/mother/soon-to-be grandmother espousing evangelical faith should present herself for public service? God Himself, whose thoughts are not our thoughts and ways are not our ways (Isa. 55:8-9), upon seeing an upside-down world full of internal decay (Isa. 29:16), may well have called up this woman whose character and values enable her “for such a time as this” to stand in the gap in a disintegrating social order (Esth. 4:14).
Dorothy Kelley Patterson is a homemaker and avid advocate of the restoration of the home as central to the assignment of God for women who choose to marry. She holds a PhD from the University of South Africa. She is Professor of Theology in Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. For more information, see Dorothy Patterson, The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991), or Dorothy Patterson, “Where’s Mom” found online at www.swbts.edu/wheresmom. Florida Baptist Witness does not endorse candidates for political office.