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.
Considering that Bure is doing book promotion, her recent interviews have to be considered a success: She’s getting plenty of publicity. Outlets including CNN, Us Weekly, and the Daily Mail covered her comments, and The View made her a “hot topic” of the day. An essay posted on xojane referred to her as a biblical literalist—it’s doubtful Bure would identify this way—and sniffed that “the infallible word of God tells her to let a burly, hockey-playing Russian make all of the decisions.” (I reached out to Bure for an interview, but her promotional schedule prevented her from talking to me in a timely fashion.)
Bure has done little to tamp down the fray, posting a photo of herself flexing to Facebook, captioned, “Nothing weak about this- people talk about what they don’t understand.” As the controversy spread, her Facebook page filled up with sympathetic comments. “I almost lost my marriage by being the ‘feminist’ and trying to always be in control,” one woman wrote.
There have been previous hints that Bure is eager to throw herself into the culture wars. After Chick-fil-A’s CEO spoke against gay marriage in 2012, the actress tweeted a photo of herself and her son eating the fast food on Mike Huckabee’s “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day” with the caption, “We love chikin!” For a double dose of Christian right signifiers, her son sported a Liberty University T-shirt in the photo. Last spring, she criticized Kanye West for titling his album “Yeezus,” tossing in a Jay-Z burn along the way: “That is way too close, and so is ‘Hova’ for ‘Jehovah,’” Bure told a radio host. “It totally bugs me. I have issues with that. ... There’s a million other names out there, too, and you could have chosen one that is not one letter off from Jesus.” And in 2008, she publicly recommended a controversial Christian parenting book called On Being Babywise, which the American Academy of Pediatrics previously warned was associated with infant dehydration and “failure to thrive.”
But none of these comments have gotten her the attention that her thoughts on marriage have, and she seems keenly aware that there is room in her community for an evangelical Anne-Marie Slaughter. In Balancing It All, she writes about trying to get back into acting soon after her first child was born: “I had read the stories in the magazines about women who were doing it all and seemingly with a perfect balance. Women were supposed to be empowered and have it all.” You can see where this is going. Something had to give, especially because her husband’s hockey career had him traveling so frequently, and so she decided to stop working while her children were young: “I’m a woman, and it’s in my God-given nature to be the nurturer and caretaker at home.” Her hiatus wound up lasting 10 years.
But Bure also acknowledges in Balancing It All that the transition to becoming a stay-at-home mother was not easy for her and that she is thrilled to be easing back into her acting career now that her children are older. “God gave me the drive to work,” she writes. “Of course I love my children and want to take care of them. That simply has nothing to do with also loving to work.” She points out that the “Proverbs 31 woman”—an archetype of perfect womanhood described in the Old Testament, in a passage beloved by evangelicals—both works and cares for her family. And she encourages readers not to feel guilty about hiring help for things like housework and child care if they can afford it: “We need to recognize that other women are just as capable of deciding what is best for their families as we are for ours.”
Bure is not an anomaly within her community: The evangelical research firm the Barna Group found in 2012 that while American Christian women overwhelmingly say that “mother” is their most important role in life, 72 percent also get satisfaction from their careers. For Bure’s audience, it is a relief to hear her, well, balanced approach articulated in public. And “submissive” wives who feel assaulted by a broadly egalitarian culture are happy to have her on their side. As one fan put it on Facebook, “My husband came home and told me about your interview yesterday. He was explaining how they were giving you a hard time for talking about being a submissive wife. … He said you did a great job explaining it in the scope of scripture. On behalf of women who strive for a Godly marriage everywhere, thank you.”