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Nasty Women

I’m sure that I am not the only one who thought that the irony of Donald Trump calling Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman” was quite remarkable.  If there was ever a case of the pot calling the kettle black Trump calling anyone “nasty” was it.  Many people were outraged by his comment and called it sexist.  But many more women have claimed the title proudly.  You can now buy “A nasty woman for Clinton” T-shirt online.  Elizabeth Warren is using the phrase at political rallies.

I’ve been thinking about women in the Bible who might have been given the title “nasty woman” and find there are quite a few candidates.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Tamar.  (Genesis 38)  This Canaanite woman dressed as a prostitute and had sex with her father-in-law to have a child.  She ended up being praised in the book of Ruth and listed in the genealogy of Jesus.
  • Ruth.  (From the book of her own)  I don’t know why she is often portrayed as meek and submissive.   I am in awe of her boldness in leaving her home country, sticking with her mother-in-law at all costs, and taking daring steps to initiate the relationship with Boaz that gets her too in the genealogy of Jesus.
  • Vashti.  (Esther 1)  I know I am not supposed to admire her but, gosh, here is a woman who would risk her life and lose her title rather than be a sex object for her husband’s drunken friends.
  • Esther.  (From the book of her own)  Was willing to die for the people of God.  Her bravery is even greater because you can see how she really had to suck up her courage with prayer and go boldly to her husband against the rules so she could face down the wicked Haman.
  • The Samaritan Woman. (John 4)  Engaged the Jewish man Jesus in a theology discussion at the well, learned that her true worth before God was greater than she could have ever believed, and returned home, no longer in shame, to be a bold evangelist.

Women of God, never….NEVER…let anyone stop you from being bold and confident in your faith and everything in your life.  You are half the church.  If someone calls you nasty, you are in good company.

Presidential Morality

One of the interesting trends in our electorate is the percentage of people who feel a candidate’s personal morality is not a big factor in determining who they will vote for.  In 2011 we saw that 44% of American voters thought that this was not a big deal.  Within this number it was noted that 42% of Catholics agreed but only 30% of evangelicals did.  I remember seeing some smug condemnations coming from within our faith family that bordered on the “I thank [God] I am not like this Man.” 

Fast forward to 2016 and we can see changes.  A current poll shows that the number of Americans who see personal morality as not significant has increased to 61%.  The percentage of Catholics who agree is up to 58%.  Unfortunately for evangelicals we can’t pull out our smug speeches from 2011 because the percentage of evangelicals seeing this as not significant has increased to 72%.  Instead of being the most concerned about personal morality we now are those least concerned.

This can only be explained by the reality that most evangelicals are not voting for Trump but against Clinton.  We are largely for Trump despite his morality, not because we share it.  Why is this?

I’ve spent the last few days reading evangelical commentary on the election.  I’ve read and charted 73 different opinion pieces. I thank many of you for using e-mail or Facebook to send me some of them.  It is clear that many of us are conflicted.  Poor Wayne Grudem was for Trump, then flipped to being unable to support him, and has now flopped back to being for him.  But at the end of the day there was a pattern in the comments.  Three issues dominated the evangelical opinions – abortion, religious liberty, and the definition of marriage.  A few mentioned racial justice, which is good, but you can see what is on our minds.

This makes the evangelical flip on attitude about personal morality understandable.  It is not that we are unconcerned about it; it is that, rightly or wrongly, this is over-ridden by the big three.  We all know exactly where Clinton stands on those issues and most of us don’t like it.  Evangelicals may not trust Trump but they hope, perhaps desperately, that he will support them on these issues.

In the meantime we, like the rest of America, are growing weary with this election and can’t wait for it to be over.  We expect to trudge to the polls and cast a vote that does not make us happy.  Voting, the only real way we can say “this is what I stand for and what I want my country to be,” is becoming a task akin to a visit to the dentist.

But let me close with a silver lining.  I read this article in the satirical Babylon Bee assuring us that “Christians across America are looking forward to questioning each other’s standing before God as they discuss…the looming election at large.”  Being salvation inspectors has always been a reliable evangelical hobby.  We now can have fun declaring, whatever our views, that,as the B says, “It’s a convenient way to tell true from false believers, since no one who disagrees with me politically is a true Christian.”

So What?

These are difficult days for evangelical voters.  In the aftermath of the release of Donald Trump’s vulgar language on an Access Hollywood bus we are in a quandary.  How can we vote for such a man?  Many Christian leaders who have endorsed Mr. Trump for President are now struggling.  A few, like Wayne Grudem, have withdrawn their support and several others have deplored Trump’s comments but been silent about their endorsement of him.  Still others, like Jerry Falwell Jr., have doubled down on supporting Trump.

Falwell has managed to infuriate many with his accusation that “establishment Republicans” may have planned to leak the tape at precisely this time in an effort to destroy Trump’s candidacy.  His  accusation, which was full of the usual fact-free assertions and vague disclaimers that typically are in conspiracy theories, made for painful reading.  So did his “we’re all sinners” comment.  That last one is the line grasped by so many Christians who find themselves in an ethical dilemma.

I found this line of his morbidly funny:  “I’ve got a wife and a daughter, and nobody wants to hear their women talked about in that manner.”  While it is laudable that he tries to express his outrage at the sexism in Trump’s tirade he manages to, at the same time, indulge in a milder form of sexism himself.  “nobody wants to hear their women talked about in that manner?”  Their women?  Why not just “women?”  What purpose does the added “their” serve?

But for Falwell and others it seems as if Trump has only one remaining virtue – he is not Hillary Clinton.  One author has called this a “Flight 93 election”  effectively saying we may not pull off the effort to stop Hillary but if we fail we all die anyway. If she is elected the country is doomed.  Some have even suggested that history itself may come to an end; that this act will usher in God’s final judgement.

The primary argument for this is that if we don’t try America is finished. And all I can say to that is – So what?  I’ve been hearing about America’s impending doom since Hillary’s husband was elected.  The chant got worse under Obama and is now a scream.  But let’s assume they are right.  Why shouldn’t the faithful few feel both protected by God and vindicated as His prophets if this happens?

It almost sounds like they are afraid that, on the morning after Hillary’s election, the sun might come up, the clocks might keep ticking and the country just moves on.  What if nothing worse happens than we become a despised and (earthly) powerless minority as Christians have been for most of time and still are in many countries?  What if we have to give up being a powerful political voice in favor of being lights shining in the darkness?

The fading evangelical attraction to Trump is a fear-based, almost despairing, bet.  We are like hopeless gamblers down to our last few dollars placing them all on a risky long shot.  We probably won’t win but we have to try anyway.  It is interesting that Trump, with his many casinos and Trump University, has been taking advantage of such suckers his whole adult life.  Why should we join that group?

Don’t want to vote for Hillary?  Fine, I get that.  Don’t want to see her as President?  Me neither.  But I can’t see why fear of losing our privileged political place – something that is happening anyway – should make us wring our hands.

This Weekend in Politics

There are a few things I’ve learned about Presidential politics after this past weekend’s news and debate:

  1. After the release of his Access Hollywood tape I’ve learned that Donald Trump is just as vulgar as I thought he was.
  2. After the release of her speech including her claim to need both a public and private stance on issues I’ve learned that Hillary Clinton is just as much a conniving politician as I thought.
  3. When Presidential debates resumed in 1976 after a 16 year hiatus one of the purposes was to keep the discussion both civil and about the issues. It was assumed that a face-to-face meeting would be more polite.  That hasn’t worked.
  4. The all-time low approval ratings for both Trump and Clinton will probably continue to fall.
  5. It appears that “he is worse than I am” is an acceptable defense on character issues.
  6. Back in the 90s my Republican friends assured me that Bill Clinton’s personal failings were reason enough to never vote for him. They are now telling me that Trump’s personal failings can be safely ignored in the voting booth.
  7. I haven’t a clue as to what Jesus would say if I asked Him how to vote but I suspect He sees my decision as far less essential to my faith than most Christians are telling me.

When the sun broke through

I watched last night’s tedious VP debate and, as time went by, grew more and more depressed by the relentless “He’s horrible/She’s horrible” attacks on Trump and Clinton.  I almost turned my TV off in disgust but I am glad I did not.

At the end, moderator Elaine Quijano, who until that point had gone 0 for 29 in trying to avoid being interrupted, asked Kaine and Pence to tell of a time when there was tension between their faith and their political obligations.  And, lo and behold, in their answers the sun broke through the fog.  Both men gave thoughtful and relatable, albeit very different, responses.

Kaine, a devoted Catholic, talked about the tension between his faith-based opposition to the death penalty and his need, as governor of Virginia, to enforce that penalty.  He made the clear and heartfelt case that in a democratic society we can hold and promote faith-based positions but need to allow others to differ.  Still more, he said that as an office holder you sometimes had to enforce things you profoundly dislike.

Pence, a strong evangelical, was equally articulate about his faith-based passion for the unborn and his opposition to abortion.  You could easily sense, in this soft-spoken man, that this was an emotional issue for him and that he would never stop pushing for a way to drastically reduce the number of abortions.

It delighted me that here were two men running for high office openly and unashamedly talking about their faith.  Still more, it was clear that these were not just canned political sound bites intended to score points with their political base.  (Although they did score those points.)  We were left free to disagree with either of them as they disagreed with each other.  I had the overpowering desire to see them debate when, and under what circumstances, we should try to make our faith-based beliefs the law of the land.  Alas, that was not going to happen.

Nevertheless, it was a joy to behold a faith discussion among politicians on the national political stage.  In a land that seems increasingly secular and pluralistic it gave me hope that there is still a place in our political discourse for people of faith.  Frankly I think that a lot our country’s problems – poverty, race relations, immigration, health care, etc. – could be better solved if people of various faith backgrounds (including atheists and the non-religious) sat down to talk.  I’d be happy to see both Kaine and Pence at that table.

The Big Bet

I saw this article on the satirical website The Onion the other day citing fictitious polling data that tells us that “Hopeless Resignation Receives Massive Post-Debate Bump” following the first Presidential debate. Like all good satire it has a ring of truth to it.  I particularly like the mocking closing statement that “if current trends continue, hopeless resignation is likely to reach a historic high in the polls by Election Day.”

Yep.  One of those two debaters is going to be our next President and it seems as if most people are trying to decide which of them is least likely to be a total disaster.  Most of my fellow Christians are basing their support for Trump almost solely on the ABC rationale; “Anybody But Clinton.”

Just this week Phillip Yancey lent his voice to the (small) chorus of prominent Christians mystified by Christian support for Trump when he said “I am staggered that so many conservative or evangelical Christians would see a man who is a bully, who made his money by casinos, who has had several wives and several affairs, that they would somehow paint him as a hero, as someone that we could stand behind. … To choose a person who stands against everything that Christianity believes as the hero, the representative, one that we get behind enthusiastically is not something I understand at all.”

Yancey was in Spain at the time and perhaps that leads him to not understanding why so many back home feel that way.  The reality is that most of my conservative Christian friends know very well what Trump is like.  We know that he pairs vague ideas with an alarming temperament; that he’s a racist, a sexist, a demagogue, and a bully.  That he lies so constantly and so fluently that it’s hard to know if he even realizes he’s lying.  We see his complete lack of a sense of shame in anything he says or does.  But polls show that nearly 80% of us plan to vote for him anyway.  Why?

It seems to boil down to a big bet many of us are making.  They don’t like the direction our country is going on moral and social issues.  They are acutely aware of the diminished influence the principles of our faith has on national laws and opinions.  They see Clinton as certain to continue to not only allow but support this trend.  In this, while I don’t share the opinion that she is a ruthless agent of some nefarious agenda, I do believe that their concern is real.  She will not be an advocate for “our side” in the roiling culture wars.

And so many Christians have decided to place their bets on Trump.  They see it is a long shot.  They recognize the irony of trusting a man who has only recently, and only vaguely, supported the social issues that are important to conservative Christians to vouch for them.  I suppose that, if you are willing to place a long shot bet that this guy is the one who is going to stem the social tide that you see as flowing against our faith, you can.

I don’t think that most of my fellow Christians believe Trump’s many promises.  They have no hope he is going to make store clerks say Merry Christmas and little hope he will get us justices that support traditional values.

Rather I think many conservative Christians see Trump as something like a human hand grenade that they want to toss into a Washington that has let them down.  They have little or no hope that the aftermath of that explosion will produce a return to the good old days.  But they pray that the carnage will produce something, anything, that is better than what we have.  That is truly a big bet; a bet that believes hopeless resignation is the only alternative.

Post-debate musings

I’m trying to understand the reactions to Monday night’s debate and failing.  Polls, the real ones not the ones that Trump quotes or even makes up, seem to show that most people believe that Hillary Clinton won the debate and I am not sure why.  Let me be quick to say I am not claiming that Trump won so don’t congratulate me on my ability to see that “the media is biased” or excoriate me for supporting him (which I don’t).

To me it seemed that Trump was his normal self with his bombastic content-free claims, his distant relationship with and/or disregard of facts, and his rude interruptions and comments.  Indeed, his funniest moment was when he congratulated himself for his restraint in not mentioning Bill Clinton’s marital indiscretions because Chelsea was there.  Not only does he think it is laudable for not making noxious comments that most civilized people would never make; he manages to mention them by openly stating he is not going to mention them.

Clinton too was pretty much what I expected.  She had clearly prepared what she was going to say and how she was going to say it.  Her calm “stick to the script” demeanor would have easily won a homeschool debate club contest for 12-year-olds.  But in the Trump-filled alternate political universe we have stumbled into they seemed as artificial and pre-packaged as a box easy-cook macaroni and cheese.  Her funniest moment, well moments because it happened several times, was when she gave an artificial laugh at something she clearly did not see as funny.  You could almost see the instructions “If Trump says this, laugh.” on her notepad.

The general consensus is that, if anything, Trump was under-prepared and Clinton was over-prepared.  I’d agree if it didn’t sound so much like Goldilocks’ assessment of the 3 bear’s porridge.  But whatever the cause I’d say that each missed a golden moment or two.  Trump took one half-hearted shot at Clinton’s e-mails and then simply let the matter drop.  I’ve yet to hear a coherent answer from Clinton on that issue.

Clinton missed two golden moments.  Trump called his paying no taxes “smart” and on his profiting from the collapse of the housing market said, “That’s called business by the way.”  Clinton just let the comments pass.  I have trouble believing that Trump’s working class white voters, many of whom took a beating in that collapse, would be cheered to learn that he made a killing on that misery that collapse has caused or feel that it was a great thing that billionaires didn’t pay taxes.

I doubt the next two debates will be any better.  (I’m not including the VP debate where we try to decide who is best for the job of being sent to places the President doesn’t want to go herself.)  In the meantime I will keep working on my growing list of “How does this compare to what Jesus would say?” moments.