One must tread carefully when asking a woman if shes a submissive wife.
I did so by asking my wife through email in the guise of doing field research for work.
She cracked a joke in response. (No, Im not at liberty to repeat it in public.)
Last week during a debate between those vying for the Republican nomination for president, asked the only woman on stage, Rep. Michele Bachmann, if she would be a submissive wife even if she became president.
Bachmann, who will be in town later this week, is one of the three seemingly viable candidates for the nomination.
Bachmann answered deftly after the crowd shouted its disapproval that such a question was even asked.
It was asked because Bachmann has made her religious beliefs one of the tenets of her candidacy. In 2006, while running for U.S. Congress, Bachmann happily recounted why she studied tax law. She was being a submissive wife to a husband who told her to do so and felt it lined up with what God wanted for her life, she said during a speech.
The deeper we get into the campaign, the more such questions will be asked of Bachmann and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. His public praying for rain during the Texas drought became big news, as did the prayer fest he hosted a week before entering the race. (Romney has had to give a speech on religious freedom and diversity because many in the Republican base arent quite familiar with or fond of his Mormonism, but he hasnt used religion the way Bachmann and Perry have.)
For South Carolina, Bachmanns and Perrys views will play a critical role in the coming months. They both are hoping an energized religious base, first in Iowa early next year, then weeks later for the S.C. primary, will propel them to the Republican nomination.
Thats part of the reason Bachmann will be back in Myrtle Beach at noon Friday at the Myrtle Beach Sheraton Convention Center as part of her bus tour through South Carolina.
South Carolinians care about many things: tax rates; the economy; the deficit; the trajectory of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those are issues that impact every state. But South Carolina is one of a handful in which religion plays an outsized role, especially Evangelical Christianity, like that practiced by Perry and Bachman in particular.
Thats why their candidacies arent only a referendum on them, but on deeply-held, widespread beliefs in this state as well. And thats why Bachmanns answers to questions that fall uncomfortably on the ears of the uninitiated submissive wife? are important.
Its not offensive to ask someone to explain beliefs she has repeatedly claimed are near and dear not just to her private existence, but that would also guide her decision-making as a public servant.
Besides that, the term submissive wife is not seen negatively by many Evangelical Christians. They believe people take offense when they dont understand it from a biblical worldview, which has more to do with the belief that the husband is the head of the household and that husband is ultimately a servant of his family and faithfully follows Gods dictates about right living, including self-sacrifice for the sake of his wife and children. When done well, the belief renders useless any debates about the term because everyone is loved and listened to and the family unit and marriage are better because of it.
But no amount of explanation will allow many others to believe the interpretation of that biblical teaching is anything but antiquated and the cause of more family instability than cohesion, particularly given this countrys history of gender inequality.
Whats most fascinating is that it is being discussed in the context of a woman who is one of the most visible members of the U.S. Congress, one of only three people who seem to have a real chance to challenge President Barack Obama next November, and which comes on the heels of the 2008 election cycle that almost produced the countrys first woman president.
No matter your view, it cant be said that Bachmanns life and power resemble that of the women of 1st century Christianity, when wives and daughters were considered the property of their husband or father.
Bachmann may or may not be the right candidate for the GOP.
And she maybe submissive. But that doesnt mean shes weak or powerless.