December 18, 2008 / Uncategorized

Yet another insult to women: Obama chooses a sexist pastor for his Inaugural


An almost all-male Cabinet. A speechwriter who thinks sexual assault is funny. A senior advisor who’s on record with his belief that innate inferiority, not discrimination, is what’s keeping women back.

And now, with another twist of the knife, President-elect Obama has invited Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Inaugural.

Rick Warren.

Most of the outrage surrounding this choice focuses on Warren’s opposition to gay marriage and reproductive rights. But there’s something else about Warren, something the women of America might like to ponder as they watch this worthy pray aloud at our new President’s swearing-in: this is a man who believes that wives should be subservient to their husbands. Marriage is not an equal partnership, in Warren’s view, but a dominance hierarchy, a union between a superior and an inferior. Kind of like a boss with one employee.

As explained on Warren’s Ministry Toolbox site by Beth Moore, a suitably submissive wife: “It is a relief to know that as a wife and mother I am not totally responsible for my family. I have a husband to look to for counsel and direction. I can rely on his toughness when I am too soft and his logic when I am too emotional.”

(Does this remind anyone else of Larry Summers and the poignant saga of “Mommy Truck and Daddy Truck”?)

Now, some of you might be saying, “But Rick Warren is a Christian, so of course he believes that. He’s just going by what’s in the Bible, right?”


It is entirely possible to be a deeply committed Christian and simultaneously reject the old-fashioned notion that wives must obey and submit. Many Christian denominations have long since relegated the wifely submission business to the dust-heap of obsolete doctrine, along with various other antiquated rules and regulations. The New Testament, like the Old, is chock-full of archaic notions and sheer weirdness that no one dreams of obeying anymore.

Yes, there are verses in the New Testament telling us that wives must submit to their husbands. But there are also verses telling us that:

  1. Women must not pray or prophesy with their heads uncovered (1 Corinthians 11:5)
  2. Women must not braid their hair (1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 3:3)
  3. Women must not wear gold (1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Peter 3:3)
  4. Women must not wear pearls (1 Timothy 2:9)
  5. Women must not speak in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:11-12)
  6. Men must not pray or prophesy with their heads covered (the reverse of the rule for women) (1 Corinthians 11:4)
  7. Men should not have long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14)
  8. People must not drink water (exclusively?) (1 Timothy 5:23)
  9. People must not take oaths (Matthew 5:34, James 5:12)
  10. Slaves must obey and strive to please their masters (Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22, Titus 2:9-10, 1 Peter 2:18)

And that’s not even getting into all the contradictory admonitions (pray in public or not? get a divorce or not?).

Rick Warren's wife, Kay Warren: speaking in church, wearing gold.

Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren:
speaking in church, wearing gold.

The plain fact is that each Christian denomination must choose which parts of the Bible to follow and which parts to ignore. The parts that don’t fit with a group’s modern understanding of faith are jettisoned as “not relevant” in today’s world. The parts that do fit are labeled “eternal truths.”

Some Christians take an intellectually rigorous approach to the issue. Southern Baptists like Rick Warren do not. They ignore the prohibition on gold and pearls, they allow women to minister in certain very restricted roles, and they seem downright carefree when it comes to oaths, drinking water, and hats. But wifely submission? Oh, that’s an eternal truth. Gotta keep that.

The bottom line is that men like Rick Warren insist on the doctrine of wifely submission because they want to. It suits their personal ideology of male supremacy. If it didn’t, they could easily find very good reasons for putting it aside, just as they’ve jettisoned the no-talking-in-church rule. (As it happens, the wifely submission and the “keep silent” verses in Paul are of a piece: most scholars regard these as later interpolations, probably designed to counteract women’s prominence in the early church.)

Rick Warren is a male supremacist. He’s a man who picks and chooses his Bible verses to buttress his preferred beliefs. Selecting him, of all people, to deliver the Inaugural invocation is yet another insult to the millions of women who voted for Obama, trusting — despite the sexism of the campaign — that Barack Obama would prove to be a champion of equality.

What might have been: Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church USA

What might have been: Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church USA

It’s not as if we have a shortage of Christian ministers in this country. Obama could have chosen a progressive, like Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, thus sending a powerful message of religious faith twinned with social justice.

Is Obama simply intent on wooing conservative evangelicals, six weeks after the election? Though even that speculation is a tiny bit unfair — to evangelicals. As we saw with Sarah Palin, it’s entirely possible to be a conservative evangelical Christian and still believe in gender equality. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Or is it something else?

The other day a friend asked me if Obama was actually going out of his way to insult the women of America. “Is he doing this on purpose?” she wondered aloud.

I’m starting to wonder myself.