Hannah R. Anderson lives in Roanoke, Virginia, with her husband and three young children. In the in-between moments, she is a freelance writer and blogs at www.sometimesalight.com. She is the author of Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image (Moody, 2014). You can follow her on Twitter.
Recently, Great Britain celebrated Queen Elizabeth II as the longest ruling monarch in their history; as of 4:18 pm on September 9, 2015, she had reigned "23,226 days, 16 hours and 18 minutes - over 63 years, seven months and two days." Interestingly, two other queens make the list of Britain’s longest ruling monarchs: Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth I, placing 2nd and 7th respectively. Apparently, there’s a great deal of truth in Abigail Adams’ observation to her husband, John, that “of the few Queens who have reigned for any length of Time as absolute Sovereigns the greatest part of them have been celebrated for excellent Governours.”
Unlike our cousins across the pond, however, the United States has never had a female head of state. (To be fair, it took England nearly 700 years for their first female leader so it may simply be a matter of time.) But with the election of the first African-American President in 2008, many people believe that a female President is not far behind. With Hillary Clinton leading in Democratic polling and Republican hopeful Carly Fiorina holding her own, many are wondering: “Will 2016 be the year that a woman becomes President of the United States of America?”
Yet, for some, the question is not whether a woman could win the White House but whether she should? The same feminist movement that nurtured Hillary Clinton’s political aspirations also created a deep divide in the American church over male and female roles. We have spent the last forty years dissecting precisely what men and women can and can’t do in the church and home. These questions have naturally spilled over into broader society so that those with a conservative understanding of gender are left somewhat befuddled by the possibility that the next US President might be a woman. Is this a good thing or not?
In order to think clearly about this question, conservatives must remember this: Male headship does not mean unilateral male rule.
Some conservatives, while vocally adhering to male/female complementarity, are in fact practicing a form of chauvinism. This particular type of chauvinism rests on a hierarchical understanding of gender that extends to all male/female relationships. It is the belief that all men are called to authority and leadership; and all women are called to submission. The practical result is that the biblical concept of male headship mutates into unilateral male rule.
But this is not how the Scripture speaks of headship. Instead, Paul calls wives to submit to their “own husbands.” And within the context of the church, both women and men submit to ordained elders. While maleness may be part of the equation for answering who can serve as an elder (or as a husband, for that matter), it is by no means the main or sole qualification. Maleness, alone, does not give a man the capacity to rule. In fact, at Creation, we see God extending the call to rule and reign to both the man and woman.
Instead, a truly complementary vision for male/female relationships understands male headship as a function of specific covenantal relationships—particularly the roles of elder and husband. Within these specific relationships, men commit to using their inherent physical and societal privilege to protect and honor those with less physical and societal privilege. In return, women, of their own volition and agency, submit to their care.
Why is this important to answering the question of whether a woman could be President? If male headship is not universal, we do not need to worry whether a woman's leadership as President would extend over men. What we must evaluate is whether she is living in proper submission to the authority in her life--the very same thing we must evaluate for a male candidate. Any person, man or woman, who does not know how submit will also not know how to lead.
The virtue of submission is even more vital for leaders in a representative republic. Within the political framework of the United States, the President must share power with other duly elected officials. We refer to the President as the “Head of State,” but the President is the head of the executive branch of government which must work in coordination with the legislative and judicial branches. And all these branches must submit to the rule of law as expressed in the Constitution.
Given these realities, perhaps the question conservatives need to ask is not “Should a woman be President?” but “What do we lose if a woman never wins the White House?”
Conservatives must remember that we honor gender differences not to maintain traditional power hierarchies, but because we believe in imago Dei. We believe that when God created “male and female in His image,” He intended for His nature to be revealed through both men and women. If the distinctions between men and women are blurred, His nature will also be blurred. By extension, if women are entirely absent from certain areas of life, certain aspects of God’s nature will also be absent.
Consider how women’s suffrage changed the priorities of the US government. Prior to 1920, child mortality rates remained relatively unchanged despite groundbreaking advances in bacteriology in the previous century. The problem wasn’t lack of knowledge but lack of public education on the source of disease and infection. But broad education required funding and political will; it didn’t become a priority until women—who, as mothers, had an invested interest in infant and maternal health—could speak into the political conversation through their votes. Politicians quickly realized that their own power would be in jeopardy if they didn’t listen to women’s concerns; and so in 1921, one year after the passage of the 19th Amendment, the federal government passed the Sheppard-Towner Act (also known as The Promotion of the Welfare and Hygiene of Maternity and Infancy Act). Over the next decade, child mortality rates finally began to drop.
In the ensuing years, the “woman’s” vote has become increasingly aligned with liberal social positions like abortion. While conservatives have been trying to decide whether a woman should speak into politics at all, liberals have had free access to speak for all women. This must end. As Katelyn Beaty writes, “In a postmodern culture in which personal experience is given much authority, women can make a powerful contribution... Abortion is not a ‘women’s issue’; rather, it is a human issue that affects women uniquely.”
As conservatives we believe that our maleness and femaleness are gifts from God. To truly honor gender, we must also believe that one of the greatest assets a woman can offer broader society is her very womanhood. When a woman is allowed to rule as a woman—instead of adopting male characteristics to be elected or being used as a token for male interests—we all benefit. Her distinct experience of the world as a female image bearer will allow her to offer insights and speak into situations that no man can. As conservatives, we should not fear this; in fact, we should welcome it.