Trump hasn’t gone.
In some ways, he will never be gone.
While media stars continue to fall like ash from a burning effigy as a result of their abuse of women, we wonder why some are untouchable. Others of us wonder what all the fuss is about. The reality is that even if Trump fell over his mistreatment of women, this media storm is really just a flash in the pan. His ilk will continue as they always have. Women will be groped. Abused. Molested.
It’s just another day in the office, the home, the street, the church.
I have been dismayed that the outrage from the Christian world has been so muted; and then defensive. And then there are the Christian men, bless them, who after the #metoo flutter on social media, heralded a new day of patriarchy smashing. I wonder if they understand what that means. The #churchtoo of recent days tells us we must start within, with our own theology and behaviour.
One of the things I have come to cherish about Christian faith is the radical commitment to the poor, the marginalized, and yes, the women, that is reflected in Scripture, present in Jesus’ life, and at least potentially in the life of the church. It was clear to me one day while standing on the temple mount in Jerusalem, having been separated out from the men at the wailing wall, and shouted at to cover myself to my wrists and ankles as we climbed the stairs above, that only Jesus had a place for women where I could feel free.
And so it is amazing to me that Christians perpetuate the separate treatment of women echoed in other religions when our faith is so radically different from that. I wonder if they realise how culturally-led they are, and how far from the gospel. Here again is a place where the church should lead, but instead often lopes along with its gospel tail between its legs while panting for the approval of a self-designated male elite that mirrors the world.
Some men have had a lot to say about all of this, in vocal attempts to ‘smash the patriarchy.’ None of them (that I have read) have tackled what is surely one of the key issues in the objectification of women that leads men everywhere to think they can stare, grab, fondle, and grope without permission. That is, the offence of the woman’s body. The temptress. The one with the apple. Come and eat! This portrayal reflects more a cultural view of women’s bodies than a biblical one.
If anything is going to change, and most of us are not convinced it ever will, then surely Christian men need to be among the first to simply stop watching porn. Yes, pornography: the ultimate commodification of human beings for the individual gratification of other human beings. In a Barna study, 57% of pastors and 64% of youth pastors admit to have struggled with porn. 81% of teen and young men seek out porn at least occasionally. Other studies have reflected similar numbers across the male population both inside and outside of the church. Unsurprisingly, this is the culture we inhabit.
While it is true that the numbers for women viewing pornography are also increasing, it is clear that men are driving the numbers, and the availability of porn. Although women may also become addicted to porn, the proliferation of these stories deflects attention from the significance of how the ‘male gaze’ is being conditioned in a pornified society.
For some Christian men, the embodied female thus becomes an offence in its very presence. For example, John Piper, when asked about whether commentaries written by women should be used, he indicates the difference between using a map prepared by a female urban planner (acceptable), and taking directions from a woman in person (unacceptable). The body of the woman in person becomes a theological offence that is biblically unsustainable.
It doesn’t take much moral imagination to consider how the objectification of women through the use of pornography may spill over into day-to-day encounters and relationships between men and women. We may think it doesn’t, but that’s not how character works. Even Oscar Wilde was able to admit that, ‘every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character….what one has done in the secret chamber has one day to cry aloud on the housetops.’ This is not to heap guilt upon guilt but to call a generation to refuse the commodification of women. Make it a movement. Not as a moral policing, but as a shared inner commitment to the women you love and wish to see thrive.
To the women I know in leadership, especially the younger women, I say this: hold your head up. Know that you are a body and a brain and a soul. Refuse definition by commodification. Surprise the world with your gifts. Serve the church as though you are serving Christ. He does not objectify, commodify, gaze, or grope. Instead, we have the song of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who bore life to the world in her womb, to reassure us that God sees the humble and he knows what we experience:
He doesn’t see and ignore. He is mindful of the humble state of his servant.
He scatters those who are proud, he brings down rulers from their thrones, and lifts up the humble. He feeds the hungry and sends the rich away empty. He remembers to be merciful forever.
For the women who lead, preach, and teach, in the face of all that our culture is throwing at us, this is for you.
Keep going. Never stop, keep doing what you’ve been called to do. Know that you are loved, empowered, wanted, needed. The God of the universe says so.
Someday, Trump and all those who objectify, bully, and grope will indeed be gone.
In the meanwhile, you are not alone.