When the Gospel is Out of Season, It’s Open Season on Christians – A Reflection on a "Meet the Press" Interview
I would like to a look at an excerpt of an interview I saw recently of Michele Bachmann. David Gregory is the interviewer and the Show is “Meet the Press.” What I want to examine is Mr. Gregory’s displayed attitude to the Christian Faith and how it reflects an increasingly negative assessment of what is often called “Biblical Christianity.” The assessment is clearly and thoroughly negative, which is not surprising these days. Perhaps I should rejoice, for the Church, to be faithful, will often be hated and considered a sign of contradiction. But another part of me says we ought also to be clear to point to and uncover the growing hostility to the traditional Catholic and Christian faith, lest a perfect storm take aim on us. It is that vein that I raise some of the concerns expressed here.
The general tone of Mr Gregory’s questions to Mrs. Bachmann regarding her faith is, You don’t really believe all that backward biblical stuff do you?….You don’t really take all that stuff too seriously do you?……You don’t really mean to tell me you’d ask God for advice and then do what he told you, do you?….You wouldn’t actually try to apply your (backward) faith to actual, and real decisions you’d make in office, would you?….And by the way, aren’t you Christians really a bigoted crowd when it comes down to it? Like any professional interviewer he uses a “pleasant tone” bu the upshot of his remarks is that the historical Judeo-Christian view is indefensible.
Let’s take a look at the transcript of the interview. As usual, the original text is in bold, black italics and my own remarks are in plain red text.
Disclaimer: I am not indicating, by my remarks support or lack of support for Michele Bachmann as a candidate. I am honestly undecided about the 2012 Presidential election.
MR. GREGORY: From the economy, I want to move on to another topic that’s deeply meaningful and important to you, and that’s your faith in God. This is something that not only motivates you as a person, inspires you as you try to live a virtuous life, but it’s also been very important to your political identity as well. OK, fair enough, if she chooses to make it part of her political identity it’s fair game for the press to question her on it.
MR. GREGORY: And I want to ask you about, not only the role God plays in, in your life but to what extent he’s a motivator for decisions that you make. One example that’s gotten some attention is some remarks you made back in 2006 about your career path, which you’ve talked about here, and I want to play a brief clip of those remarks.
(Audiotape, October 14, 2006)
REP. BACHMANN: My husband said, “Now you need to go and get a post-doctorate degree in tax law.” Tax law! I hate taxes. Why should I go and do something like that? But the Lord says, “Be submissive, wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.”
MR. GREGORY: Is that your view for women in America? Is that your vision for them? –
Translation- “You can’t really be serious about advocating this backward Biblical principle!”
Well actually, Mr Gregory, this Biblical teaching appears in a significant number of passages of the New Testament. You may not agree with it, but listen to your tone. You could have asked more neutrally, “How do you think most women in America will understand or interpret your embracing of this?” or perhaps, “Would you like to clarify or distinguish your remarks?” or yet again, “How do you understand the concept of submission?”
What Mr. Gregory does not seem to understand is that many Christians actually believe there is a place for this principle in marriage, and many pastors (including this one) actually teach this. To be sure, the concept of submission is balanced with the command that the husband love his wife as Christ loves the Church. But this is an ancient Christian teaching that deserves more respect than Mr. Gregory shows.
I wonder too, though many interpretations of Islam contain far more restrictive notions for women than any Christian view, if Mr. Gregory or any reporter would question a Muslim with the kind of disdain he shows here to the Christian faith? You decide.
REP. BACHMANN: Well, I–during the debate I was asked a question about this, and my response was is that submission, that word, means respect. It means that I respect my husband and he respects me.
MR. GREGORY: Right. Congresswoman, I didn’t even have to check with my wife and I know those two things aren’t, aren’t equal.
REP. BACHMANN: What’s that?
MR. GREGORY: Submission and respect.
REP. BACHMANN: Well, in our house it is.
Actually I think I agree with Mr Gregory here, though certainly not his “gotcha” tone. Mrs Bachmann is, equivocating and watering down the text more than a bit. (I want to devote more time to this “unpopular teaching” on marriage tomorrow on the blog).
That said, I understand Mrs Bachmann’s “predicament,” in that he has her in a kind of “gotcha” moment, where he tries to make her (and traditional Christians) look absurd and foolish. There is little time on live TV to do the kind of work necessary to properly explain these sorts of biblical teachings. She obviously wants to get on to “safer” issues.
And frankly, though many of us Christians want our favorite politicians to be our heroes when it comes to faith, we have to remember that they are not theologians and certainly not martyrs. With rare exceptions, like St. Thomas More, politicians just aren’t the sort to take a lot of heat for the faith.
REP. BACHMANN: We’ve been married almost 33 years and I have a great deal of respect for my husband. He’s a wonderful, wonderful man and a great father to our children. And he’s also filled with good advice. He…
MR. GREGORY: But so his word goes?
REP. BACHMANN: –pardon?
MR. GREGORY: His word goes?
OK, he’s calling the question and wants clarification, But again notice the tone: “You can’t be seriously be suggesting that a husband actually has headship are you?”
REP. BACHMANN: Well, both of our words go. We respect each other. We have a mutual partnership in our marriage, and that’s the only way that we could accomplish what we’ve done in life is to be a good team. We’re a good team together.
A disappointing answer, to be sure. In effect she is setting aside the teaching when she says, “Well, both of our words go.” If both go, neither go, there is just impasse.
The fact is, in any family, organization, Church, or government, there has to be headship. Someone has to be available, to whom all look and agree, that his answer is the final one to which all the members are bound. In most matters, consensus can be built, and this is what Mrs. Bachmann seems to refer to in the second half of her answer. But, there are just times when disagreements cannot be overcome, and a final authority is needed to make a decision binding on all. Without this, there is simply endless division and a battle of wills.
The Protestants jettisoned the Pope and they have had endless divisions ever since. For, if no one is Pope, everyone is pope.
Headship is just necessary, even if one thinks it a “necessary evil,” it is still necessary. Even our bodies have a head to unite our members. An organism with two heads is a freak, and an organism with no head is dead. You just have to have a head.
And the Scriptures assign this role to the husband. More on this in tomorrow’s blog.
MR. GREGORY: To what extent does your relationship with God mean that you take cues from God for decisions that you make and that you would make as president. You’ve talked about God inspiring you to marry your husband, you know, telling you to marry your husband, to get into politics, to take certain decisions about your career, as we just talked about.
REP. BACHMANN: Well, I do have faith in God, and I learned it right here in Iowa. I was born in Waterloo, Iowa, I’m heading up there to say thank you to everyone who instilled my early values in me. And that began at our church. My parents took us to church every week. We went to a Lutheran church, First Lutheran in Waterloo. And we were–they prayed with us at night, and we prayed before we prayed before we had meal time. They really instilled wonderful values in us. And I recognize that I’m not perfect and that I need God in my life, and that’s really…
MR. GREGORY: God has guided your decisions in life. Would God guide your decisions that you would make as president of the United States?
REP. BACHMANN: Well, as president of the United States, I would pray. I would pray and ask the Lord for guidance. That’s what presidents have done throughout history. George Washington did. Abraham Lincoln did.
MR. GREGORY: But you said that –God called me to run for Congress. God has said certain things about, you know, going to law school, about pursuing other decisions in your life. There’s a difference between God as a sense of comfort and safe harbor and inspiration, and God telling you to take a particular action.
Again, note the implied tone: “You’re not gonna, like, pray, are you?” You’re not going to ask God to guide you or influence your decisions are you? I mean really, come on! A President praying and seeking guidance from God?! Get serious woman! This is a critical job and we can’t mess around with all that superstitious stuff! OK, look, it’s OK to ask God to give you strength, but don’t suggest to me that its OK if God tells you to stand against abortion rights, or Gay Marriage. You have no business allowing your faith to influence your thinking and certainly not your choices! Not that’s just going too far!
REP. BACHMANN: All I can tell you is what my experience has been. I’m extremely grateful to have a faith in God. I, I see that God has so blessed this country. We’ve heard that song that he’s “shed his grace” on the United States. I believe it. He’s been very good to our country. And I think that it’s important for us to seek his guidance and to pray and to listen to his voice. Imagine that!
MR. GREGORY: Would you appoint an openly atheist person to be a member of your administration, your Cabinet or even as a judge to a court?
Note the implication that a believer is likely to be a bigot, or to be unjust and exclusionary. In supposing this to be a likely scenario Mr Gregory engages in a bigotry of his own. Most Christians I know are well able to interact with non believers in hopes of building bridges. We are also able to distinguish between sacred and secular domains. Frankly with all the bad Catholics running around Congress, and more than a few on the bench, a few principled atheists might not be too bad. (I say this not with glibness, but with great sadness).
REP. BACHMANN: Well, my criteria, would be first of all, “How do you view the Constitution?” If you uphold the Constitution, if you’re competent, and if you’re–if you, if you share my views, then you can get appointed. That’s my litmus test is, do you stand for the Constitution, are you competent, and do you share my views.
MR. GREGORY: Right, But an atheist would be acceptable to you as a member of your administration?
REP. BACHMANN: That wouldn’t be a question I would ask.
MR. GREGORY: OK. I want to also ask you about your interpretation of the Bible and your feelings about gays and lesbians. You have said in recent years that opposition to same sex marriage is defining a political debate in this country. You’re opposed to it, you’d like to see a constitutional ban against it in this country. And during a speech that you gave in 2004 at an education conference, you spoke openly and in detail about gays and lesbians. And I want to play just a portion of that speech and have you react, react to it.
(Videotape, November 6, 2004)
REP. BACHMANN: It’s a very sad life. It’s part of Satan, I think, to say that this is gay. It’s anything but gay. … It leads to the personal enslavement of individuals. Because if you’re involved in the gay and lesbian lifestyle, it’s bondage. It is personal bondage, personal despair, and personal enslavement. And that’s why this is so dangerous. … We need to have profound compassion for people who are dealing with the very real issue of sexual dysfunction in their life and sexual identity disorders.
MR. GREGORY: That is the view President Bachmann would have of gay Americans?
I will say, many evangelical Christians lack proper nuance when it comes to speaking on this matter. I think it is proper for us to be very careful and measured in describing our stance on the question of homosexual activity. We ought to avoid unnecessary hyperbole. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is more nuanced and careful, but clear that the homosexual orientation is intrinsically disordered and homosexual activity is sinful:
Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (CCC # 2357-2359)
All this said, Mr Gregory and surely the secular world will not accept even this more careful statement. And frankly it isn’t that different from what Mrs. Bachmann said. Yet this is the principled Catholic stand. I wish Mrs Bachmann had been more careful and hence I cannot per se object to Mr Gregory’s followup question above. But it is clear that the ancient Judeo-Christian teaching on this matter is increasingly being called “hate,” and “judgement.” We must continue to insist that there is simply no way we can approve of Homosexual activity based on a principled and consistent reading of both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
REP. BACHMANN: Well, I am running for the presidency of the United States. I’m not running to be anyone’s judge. I do stand very…
MR. GREGORY: But you have judged them.
This is the typical view of the secular world: “If you disagree with what I do, you are judging me.” In a world where tolerance is one of the only virtues left, “judging” is the only sin left. The fact is, we don’t have to judge what is sinful, God has already done that, and He has every right to judge. We can but only report what God has revealed in his Word and in Natural Law.
REP. BACHMANN: I don’t judge them. I don’t judge them. I am running for presidency of the United States.
MR. GREGORY: Is that the view of gays–gay Americans that President Bachmann would have?
REP. BACHMANN: Well, my, my view on marriage is that I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. And that’s what I stand for. But I ascribe honor and dignity to every person no matter what their background. They have honor and they have dignity.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think that gay Americans hearing quotes like that from you would think that that’s, that’s honor and dignity coming from you about their circumstance?
REP. BACHMANN: I am not anyone’s judge…
MR. GREGORY: Right.
And so the interview continued.
I do think Mrs. Bachmann said some things in a way that were not helpful in terms of the image of the faith, but, that said, the substance of her views on the matters above, are mainstream Christian and Catholic. It is true, some among our number debate the specific details and articulation of these teachings, but they remain clear biblical teachings held by many and essential to the patrimony of our faith. They should not be consigned to freak show status by otherwise “tolerant” media types. The tone of dripping contempt articulated by Mr Gregory for things such as the headship of the husband, prayer and sought guidance from God, and the immorality of homosexual activity, are not just directed at Mrs Bachmann, they are directed at the traditional Catholic and Christian faith.
Further, and more dangerously, the traditional Catholic teaching on homosexual activity, as articulated in our Catechism, is increasingly being called “hate speech.” We ought to be very sober about these particular attacks, for soon enough, they will build to legal and social sanctions. This is already happening in places like England and Canada where clergy are being arrested and fined for articulating orthodox Catholic belief on homosexuality.
I am interested in your views, especially of Mr. Gregory’s tone and presuppositions of the Catholic and Christian faith. I might ask that you avoid comments of a purely political nature. As you know, this is not a blog about politics. It is about the Catholic Faith and culture.
Photo Credit: Screen shot from the Meet the Press video below.