In light of the events of the past few days (here I refer not to the AFC and NFC Championship Games, but to the Presidential Inauguration and Women’s March on Washington), I have decided to share some of my thoughts on what it currently means to be a woman – and more specifically, a Christian woman – in the United States of America.
Donald Trump is the legitimately elected president of this country, and as such, he is entitled to a certain degree of respect. As an American, I believe this to be true because democratic elections, the peaceful transfer of power, and respect for governmental institutions are absolutely essential to the continuation of the American ideal. This is what our country was built on, and if we choose to abandon it because of our disdain for the person who won the election, then our concern for protecting the country will in effect end up hurting the country.
As a Christian, I am required to respect those in authority over me by biblical command. The classic passage on this topic was written by the Apostle Paul.
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
There are a number of other scripture references I could pull out to make the same point, but suffice it to say that while the exact form of government in a particular territory may be designed by human beings, the institution of government itself was established by God, and He in His sovereignty allows rulers to be raised up and brought down. Therefore, both as an American and a Christian, I must respect those in authority over me, not on account of their own personal qualities, but by virtue of the offices that they hold.
Having established this basic principle, I must also acknowledge that human rulers are far from perfect, and if ever we have had a leader in this country who seemed to lend legitimacy to that statement, it is our current president, Donald Trump. Now, there are a number of areas in which I strongly disagree with President Trump’s stated policies: international trade, immigration, and the Middle East would be three big ones. Yet, the issue I would like to address in this article and which has been brought to the forefront by last weekend’s protests is his treatment of women.
Let me start by reviewing the long and sad history that President Trump has with the female sex. His first wife, Ivana, was granted an uncontested divorce from him after he carried on an affair with Marla Maples. The sordid details were all over the tabloid media. Trump went on to marry Maples after they had a child together. That marriage ended in divorce after four years. He is currently on his third marriage. Lots of people get divorced for lots of reasons, but this track record alone suggests that he has some issues relating to women. Trump admitted in a 2009 interview that his first two wives struggled to compete for his affection, as he was often more interested in work.
Over the years, Donald Trump had many appearances on Howard Stern’s radio show and made a series of comments deemed offensive by many. He told Stern it was fine to call his daughter, Ivanka, a “piece of ass”. He said that when women reach age 35, “It’s called checkout time.” When asked in 2006, “Do you think you could still be banging 24-year-olds?”, his reply was, “Oh, absolutely.” That was when he was age 60. He claimed that he and his wife, Melania, had engaged in threesomes. He joked about having sex with contestants in his beauty pageants. This is but a sampling of the type of comments he made, in addition to other conversations that are too graphic for me to discuss here. You could potentially attribute this all to braggadocio and a desire to drive up ratings, but more on that later.
Beyond the comments made to Howard Stern, there have been more serious allegations. His treatment of women who participated in the beauty pageants that he owned – Miss Universe and Miss USA – has been well documented. Among the most troubling accusations, to which we have more than one witness, is that he would walk in on women when they were naked. Trump has engaged in multiple wars of words with females in which he has used demeaning language. Then there was the Access Hollywood footage that was leaked to the press last fall, in which Trump bragged to Billy Bush about groping women, kissing them against their wills, and engaging in marital infidelity. In his second debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump famously dismissed the comments as “locker room talk”. Yet, at least fifteen women have accused Donald Trump of sexual harassment or assault. There was also that moment in the third presidential debate when Trump called Clinton “such a nasty woman”. I could go on and on along this line, but I think we all know by this point the kind of track record that our president possesses.
Here I wish to take a moment to stress the importance of words. Trump has repeatedly suggested that his offensive comments do not represent his true self. They are jokes or “locker room talk” that all men engage in and that do not suggest any ugliness in his heart. This represents a lessening of words themselves. Trump is essentially claiming that words do not matter: they have no actual substance or connection with his actions.
This goes against basic human observation and scriptural truth. On the one hand, we all know that a person’s words are connected to their beliefs and desires, and it is our beliefs and desires that determine our actions. Yes, we all joke around from time to time, but when you have three decades worth of statements from the same person saying the same kind of thing, then that is either what they actually believe or they are a liar. As a Christian, I can also point to the teachings of Jesus Christ on the subject.
For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.
The women of America – indeed, women the world over – are correct to conclude that President Trump has demeaned them. They are correct to conclude that there is an ugliness in his heart. I have heard very few people make any attempt to refute this point. Among my close acquaintances are people who voted for Trump, some more enthusiastically than others. Even those who are vehemently supportive have not attempted to defend some of the comments that Trump has made. They acknowledge that such words were inappropriate. Even if we are to say that the fifteen women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct are all lying (this seems rather unlikely), his words alone make necessary his repentance.
Consider that Access Hollywood video and how it makes a mockery of the millions of women who have indeed been victimized by sexual predators. Such things are not simply “locker room talk” to them, but the type of horrors with which they are forced to live on a daily basis. It is because of such things that the evangelical pastor and author John Piper, who is not liberal in any sense of the word, declared this past week that Trump was “morally unqualified” to be president, while acknowledge the biblical requirement of Christians to respect those in authority.
So where do I stand as a female living in America? I have a president who seems to have little respect for my gender – who thinks it is ok to make demeaning comments, engage in sexual misconduct, and possibly even commit sexual assault. Such limited apologies as he has made are wholly inadequate and provide no hint of true repentance. 2016 was certainly a bad year for women in America: not because Clinton lost, but because Trump won.
Therefore, I think it entirely right that as he begins his term in office, Donald Trump should be reminded that the women of America will not accept his words and behavior. He must be held to a higher standard. This is about equal dignity, plain and simple.
The concept of equal dignity for all human beings is both American and Christian. As to it being American, consider this section of the U.S. Constitution.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
United States Constitution, Amendment Fourteen, Section One
Here we see that the rights of American citizens are the same for every person. This was made even more explicit regarding the right to vote in the Nineteenth Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Throughout American history, that initial statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” has been seen to properly include both genders, as those two constitutional amendments make clear.
In addition to being thoroughly American, the concept of equal dignity is also Christian. Scripture teaches unambiguously that both genders were created in the image of God: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27) Within Christianity, all are equal regardless of ethnicity, gender, or social status, as the Apostle Paul taught. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
According to both of these standards, President Trump is in error, for he has failed to uphold the equal dignity of women. (One could also argue that he has failed to uphold the equal dignity of others groups, but I must tackle one thing at a time.) What then must we do? We are required to respect our rulers, but what happens when those rulers are behaving in a clearly immoral manner?
As an American, I give thanks to our Founding Fathers, who though far from perfect and by no means divinely inspired, put in place a system of government that included a certain amount of accountability. The separation of powers between the different branches of government and the systems of oversight that they created were their true genius. Also very important was the Twenty-Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which limited the amount of terms in office one president could have. The very fact that presidents have to stand for re-election after four years is another source of accountability. As the tendency in any system of government is for the executive – in this case, the president – to take on more and more power, these safeguards are absolutely essential regardless of which political party is in charge at any given time.
Beyond these institutional sources of accountability, Americans also have a duty to pay attention to what their representatives are doing, to petition them with any grievances, and to act as informed citizens who will call their leaders to account. It does not do for any of us to be willfully blind, whether we like our rulers or not. The right to peacefully protest is enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is not only a right, but a duty incumbent upon all Americans. We must not suffer under the tyranny of either the majority or the minority. We cannot depend on government to always hold itself accountable.
As a Christian, I am also required to speak truth to government. This does not contradict the command to respect those in authority. In fact, sometimes rebuking a person is the most loving thing you can do. Think now about the many prophets who spoke truth to power: Nathan confronting King David about murder and adultery, Isaiah confronting King Ahaz about his lack of belief and improper foreign alliances, John the Baptist confronting King Herod over incest. From these actions alone, we see that when a ruler is engaged in gross moral misconduct, it is not only permissible but actually godly to call them to account.
In addition, scripture makes clear that the laws of government are less binding than the laws of God. When the Apostle Peter and others were brought before the Jewish Sanhedrin and commanded not to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, they answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29b) Both scripture and Christian history are filled with tales of believers who suffered death rather than violating the commands of Christ. Therefore, scripture does not allow for tyranny (Think of all the warnings for leaders in the book of Proverbs!), nor does it require Christians to forsake scriptural truth out of the fear of men.
It is right to call President Trump to account for his words and deeds. Specifically in the context of this article, we as Americans – Christian or otherwise – have a duty to make our voice heard and ensure that women are treated with respect. There is nothing wrong with protesting against immoral behavior.
But what about the Women’s March on Washington and the accompanying protests around the nation? I say that there is absolutely no problem with people protesting. It is not a sign of disrespect for the presidential office, but actually the opposite. However, I do acknowledge at least one troubling aspect of all of this.
There have been numerous media reports of tensions at the march between “pro-choice” and “pro-life” women. This gets to the core of the argument over what feminism means today. Can you be a feminist and not support wide ranging abortion rights? People have strong opinions about this, and it seems to have led to disunity.
I am not at all surprised by this development, but am nonetheless saddened. We do not need women to be dividing right now, even over an issue as important as abortion. Surely what we all need is to send a unified message in favor of equal dignity. Politicians cling to power by focusing on such ideological differences, appealing to the lowest common denominator, and proceeding to divide and conquer. Donald Trump’s words and actions are offensive to all women, and all women should be allowed to join in a protest against them, either formally or informally. In fact, men should be protesting against them! Leave the other debates for tomorrow: this is the most pressing issue on the table right now.
Indeed, the very fact that many liberals continue to shun any women who hold pro-life views and declare them to be self-hating, out of touch, and unsupportive of women’s rights…this is how you lose elections! At the moment when your party’s presidential candidate has just been defeated by Donald Trump – yes, Donald Trump – you need to question your appeal and think about how in the world you can gain more votes, not alienate more people.
The ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States of America is a dark moment for women because of what he has said and done, as well as what he is likely to say and do in the future. His elevation lends legitimacy to those words and actions. It says that sexism is not some terrible thing, but rather something we can laugh off and still manage to secure the most prestigious job in the world.
However, there is also an opportunity here for women. There is a real sense of urgency to articulate the ideal of equal dignity. People are paying attention – they are passionate. If we are able to remain united and not give in to petty divisions over important but ultimately lesser issues, then we can make a real statement. We can say that even though we respect the office of the presidency and the rules by which our nation operates, and even though we will protest peacefully and debate with one another courteously, we must stand up for what is right. We cannot allow sexism to become the status quo any more than we should tolerate a status quo of racism.
I truly hope that those on both sides (or neither side) of the political aisle will join together on this issue. Respecting women is not a matter of partisanship! It ought to be the business of every political party and every single American. Let us carry out that business together. Let us stand up for women and call our leaders to account.