Remember Mike Seaver? Once upon a time, Kirk Cameron was known only as his Growing Pains character, a teen troublemaker with a heart of gold. That was before Cameron blasted gay marriage on CNN, debated atheists on Nightline, and distributed copies of On the Origin of Species with an introduction connecting Charles Darwin to Adolf Hitler. Cameron’s name now stands for fundamentalist fervor, and Mike Seaver is, in effect, no more.
With that in mind, it may be time to say goodbye to D.J. Tanner. Candace Cameron Bure, who played the oldest daughter on Full House, has spent the last several years quietly building her brand as a conservative Christian author and speaker. And now, she seems to be positioning herself as the women’s issues version of her polarizing big brother.
Where Kirk is energized by “end times” theology and evangelism, Bure talks marriage and motherhood. She wrote a 2011 “faith-based weight-loss” book called Reshaping It All, which made it to No. 13 on the New York Times list of advice bestsellers. Her website is filled with chatty blog posts on juice cleanses and parenting. And she speaks regularly to Christian women’s groups about her faith. Last summer, she headlined a 10-day trip to Israel that offered fans a chance to “follow in the footsteps of Jesus” with her for $3,595 a head.
This might all sound like the kind of soft-focus religiosity familiar from the Hallmark movies she stars in, but Bure’s theology is not lite. Her Christian testimony, posted on her website, credits the apocalyptic Left Behind series and a book called The Way of the Master, given to her by her brother, with energizing her faith: “I saw that I was a horribly bad person by God’s standard,” she writes. “I know that without Christ, the eternal consequences are devastating.”
This month, Bure has been promoting her second book, Balancing It All: My Story of Juggling Priorities and Purpose, a cheery guide to juggling work, family, faith, and other responsibilities. In Chapter 7, she writes about her relationship with former professional hockey player Valeri Bure, whom she married at age 20 after Dave “Uncle Joey” Coulier introduced them. After sharing a supposedly charming anecdote about how her future husband fought to have his name listed first on their wedding thank-you cards because “he was the man of house,” she writes:
My husband is a natural-born leader. I quickly learned that I had to find a way of honoring his take-charge personality and not get frustrated about his desire to have the final decision on just about everything. I am not a passive person, but I chose to fall into a more submissive role in our relationship because I wanted to do everything in my power to make my marriage and family work. ... I submit to his leadership.
“It is meekness, not weakness,” she said, expanding on the idea in an interview at HuffPost Live. “It is very difficult to have two heads of authority. It doesn’t work in [the] military, it doesn’t work—you have one president, you know what I’m saying? ... When you’re competing with two heads, that can pose a lot of problems or issues.” When the interviewer asked if she allows her husband to make the final choice even “at the detriment of your family,” she said yes, but emphasized that her husband takes her opinion seriously and she trusts him completely.
This point of view is shared by many evangelical Christians, and they can find plenty of Bible verses that appear to back them up. In the New Testament book of Ephesians, which Bure cites in her book, the apostle Paul writes, “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.” By referring to her husband as the “head” and calling herself “submissive,” Bure signals to fellow believers that she is a “complementarian”—a follower of a doctrine that holds men and women have equal value but “complementary” roles to play.
The conversation between “complementarians” and “egalitarians” can get heated within the evangelical community, which has room for a wide spectrum of views on the question of women’s roles at home and in the church. Sarah Bessey, a popular egalitarian blogger and author of the recent book Jesus Feminist, took on Bure’s interpretation of Christian marriage in a widely shared blog post last week. “The idea that, as a wife, I would need to ‘become passive’ or smaller or somehow less in order to make my marriage work is damaging and wrong,” she wrote. “I submit to my husband. And he submits to me, too. And together, we submit to Jesus. ... Not only is the idea that wives alone are to submit to their husbands poor exegesis, it is damaging.” Bessey is a proponent of “mutual submission,” a doctrine that holds that Christian husbands and wives should submit to each other equally.