Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee has been roasted in the media for his apparent ignorance of front-page issues. But who would expect the ordained Southern Baptist minister to flub his church's position on marriage?
At a debate sponsored by Fox News last week, Huckabee, who has made his faith a central component to his campaign, was asked about his public endorsement of a controversial 1998 statement on family and marriage by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the organizing body of Southern Baptists.
The statement, which ran along with signatures from Huckabee, his wife and more than 100 other prominent figures, said that while "husband and wife are of equal worth before God," the wife "is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband[.]"
"Women voters in both parties harshly criticize that," Fox's Carl Cameron said to Huckabee. "Is that position politically viable in the general election of 2008, sir?"
"The point," Huckabee responded, "is that as wives submit themselves to the husbands, the husbands also submit themselves, and it's not a matter of one being somehow superior over the other."
Not exactly, according to a man who may be the Southern Baptist's leading authority on the statement. Richard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, helped draft the statement. According to Land, the statement says that while the husband and wife are equal before God, "the wife does not get veto power over the husband's decision."
"Somebody has to be in charge," Land explained. "The Bible says the husband is in charge." While the husband should "solicit his wife's views," ultimately "he is going to make the decision."
The reason, Land said, is that Southern Baptists believe that "God holds the husband accountable for the household."
So did Huckabee misstate the Southern Baptist position on marriage? Land, who refers to the former Arkansas governor as "Mike" and says he has known the candidate since 1980, shied away from criticizing his Baptist brother.
"I guess the best way to answer this is, you can be technically correct or substantively correct," Land said.
Others give a more direct assessment.
Huckabee's explanation was "not what the statement said," Rev. Alan Brehm told ABC News. The only way Huckabee or anyone could sign the 1998 statement if they believed that husbands and wives should submit to each other, Brehm said, "would be to cross their fingers."
Brehm was a Southern Baptist theologan teaching at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1998, when the SBC adopted its new position on family and marriage. The school's leadership asked all instructors to sign a document saying they agreed with the new position, Brehm said. Believing the SBC's interpretation of the Bible was incorrect, Brehm refused to sign it.
When Brehm describes his position on marriage, it sounds remarkably close to Huckabee's explanation at last week's debate. The Bible advises "a mutual attitude of humility and respect for husband and wife," Brehm explained. But the SBC statement "said the husband is the head of the household."
Brehm said the school's leadership made clear the statement was not open to interpretation. Unwilling to sign a document claiming to believe something he didn't, Brehm resigned from the school. He is now a Presbyterian minister. He says he is not going to vote for Mike Huckabee.
A spokesman for the seminary told ABC News that the school generally required its faculty to sign off with Southern Baptist positions.
"It's an understood message you agree with the Baptist Faith and Message to work at the institution," said Dr. Thomas White, vice president for communications, referring to the SBC's statement of beliefs.
A spokeswoman for the Huckabee campaign said that the candidate's personal position on marriage was the important thing. "From the governor's perspective, what's relevant is his position," said Charmain Yoest.