Speak Truth to Lena Dunham

Speak Truth to Lena Dunham October 27, 2016

The news of Donald Trump’s vulgar comments is a little stale but criticisms of the Republican presidential nominee by evangelicals deserve some attention. In fact, the wider world’s dismissal of Trump’s vulgarity is striking because the outrage that folks express makes it seem as if they’ve never seen cable television. If anyone has ever watched Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, that person has some awareness of the way men talk about women both inside and outside locker rooms. That’s not a justification for speaking lustfully about women. It’s simply a question about how sheltered evangelicals who condemn Trump are.

For instance, when Andy Crouch writes this

Indeed, there is hardly any public person in America today who has more exemplified the “earthly nature” (“flesh” in the King James and the literal Greek) that Paul urges the Colossians to shed: “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry” (3:5). This is an incredibly apt summary of Trump’s life to date. Idolatry, greed, and sexual immorality are intertwined in individual lives and whole societies. Sexuality is designed to be properly ordered within marriage, a relationship marked by covenant faithfulness and profound self-giving and sacrifice. To indulge in sexual immorality is to make oneself and one’s desires an idol. That Trump has been, his whole adult life, an idolater of this sort, and a singularly unrepentant one, should have been clear to everyone.

And therefore it is completely consistent that Trump is an idolater in many other ways. He has given no evidence of humility or dependence on others, let alone on God his Maker and Judge. He wantonly celebrates strongmen and takes every opportunity to humiliate and demean the vulnerable. He shows no curiosity or capacity to learn. He is, in short, the very embodiment of what the Bible calls a fool.

are we to presume he is surprised that men talk about women the way Donald Trump does? Are we also to think that Christianity Today magazine is stalwart in its refusal to traffic in vulgarity (or writing about it)?

Yet, the condemnation’s of Trump’s immorality rarely if ever shows up in the magazine’s coverage of popular culture. Consider the way writers and editors have gone overboard to give Lena Dunham’s vulgar show, Girls, the benefit of the doubt.

For instance, Allissa Wilkinson renders the easy sex in Dunham’s show this way:

Girls certainly expresses what this looks like in a world where there’s no other moral duties except those you set for yourself. Douthat argues that this is why “reactionaries” like the show—because it illustrates this imperative and its pitfalls. As many commentators have noted, the characters’ overriding problem is a sense of anxiety: they are anxious about themselves, their relationships, and their jobs and money, certainly, but they are far more anxious to make sure they are finding out who they are, whatever the cost. Most of the show’s plot conflicts derive from this anxiety.

Nothing wrong with trying to look at Girls that way, but why not also attribute such anxiety to Trump? Or why the inability to see through his moral barbarity and look at it charitably (especially when Christians are supposed to be long on forgiveness?

The reason seems pretty obvious. You don’t lose anything in condemning Trump. When it comes to the GOP’s nominee, fundamentalism is winning. But if you come down against a hit-show on HBO, you risk looking like a rube.

That means Christianity Today can read “locker room” talk as code for sin:

The very phrase “locker room talk” operates much the way sin operates. Give sin a name that minimizes and excuses its seriousness. Bestow upon it a royal title such as “just,” and the sin isn’t made right, exactly, but it becomes understandable, acceptable even, especially when it is understood as something that occurs in that space cordoned off from the rest of life.

But try issuing that verdict on Lena Dunham’s dialogue.

John Fea wonders if evangelicals who support Trump have lost their moral integrity:

I also wonder if those evangelicals who have endorsed Trump have forfeited the right to speak to the moral coarseness of American culture. Let’s remember that these evangelicals are supporting a man who, if he gets to the oval office, is one of the leading representatives of the shock-jock (Howard Stern), Hollywood, reality-TV, sex-infused culture that Christians have been fighting against for a long, long time.

I would agree with Dr. Fea a lot more if he were as quick to take on Christianity Today‘s reviews of movies and television shows where writers can overlook immorality to recognize artistic merit.

Is politics really so different? Is it impossible to look past moral lapses and see policy gains? I admit that it is hard to make that calculation with Trump. Who knows what he stands for? But for so many evangelicals who thought Jerry Falwell (Sr.) and James Dobson approached politics too moralistically now to be playing the moralist card is one of the aspects that makes this presidential contest almost as entertaining as Larry David.


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