Sexual Consent: The Evangelical Blindspot

Sexual Consent: The Evangelical Blindspot October 10, 2016

harassmentThe American public is still reeling from the election drama that escalated over the past weekend. One breaking story after another kept blowing up our newsfeeds every half hour or so, straining our collective capacity to process so many outlandish moments, it makes us numb.

“Oh, look, now he’s invited all the alleged former mistresses of his opponent’s husband. To a nationally televised debate. To sit on the front row. This, too, is normal for this election cycle.”

At this point, virtually nothing can shock us anymore. It’s become absurdist political theater. Watching the Donald pace and scowl behind Secretary Clinton in last night’s town hall style debate seriously made me worry that the man would lose his cool and do something violent. The moment he grabbed the chair in front of him, I could only think of his days putting on a show for the WWE, shamelessly manufacturing a display of unhinged violence just to get the crowd riled up and boost the ratings. You couldn’t help but wonder if he might get so worked up he could grab that chair and threaten to hit her with it. His body language was unnerving.

Can you imagine having to watch the debate, with him walk around the way he did, hovering over her while she talked, if you yourself were previously a victim of abuse? A number of my friends can tell you exactly how that feels, and I can assure you that dynamic did not escape their notice.

“It’s Just Locker Room Talk”

This particular debate reached the tension level it did because, just 48 hours before the debate, a tape was released capturing a “hot mic” moment in which Trump bragged to (now suspended) talk show host Billy Bush about how easily he can have his way with beautiful women. He used crude language and joked about needing a tic tac before greeting their beautiful host since he wasn’t sure when the impulse would strike him to reach out and kiss her. As if she had any interest.

But interest on her part never entered the equation. In fact, that is the one missing element in every part of what we heard on that recording this past Friday: When Trump is around friends joking about sex, he never seems to factor in whether or not the targets of his advances really want him to make a pass at them.

I’ve been a party to many a locker room brag fest, and I’ve heard plenty of grandiose claims from guys who probably aren’t capable of a third of what they want their buds to think they can pull off. But I don’t recall any friends of mine joking about making things happen whether the woman wanted it or not. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I can recall one or two occasions, and in both cases, the other guys were creeped out and they either spoke up, or else they just learned not to “go there” with that particular guy anymore. It made enough of us uncomfortable that we quietly decided to avoid getting caught “out and about” with that one.

What bothered us this past weekend wasn’t that Trump used a “four-letter word” (technically it was five) in describing his escapades. It wasn’t that he was joking in private conversation about his own virility and love of beautiful women. It was his utter lack of regard for consent in his joking, and his unabashed reveling in the imbalance of power that allowed him as a rich and famous celebrity to take whatever he wants from women whether or not they want him in return. That’s what made us all sick to our stomachs about the kind of man we heard in that recording.

A Blind Spot for Evangelicals

Quickly, evangelicals came to Trump’s defense. Or rather, they defended what they see as his enduring superiority over Clinton in the race to the White House, despite this latest revelation (e.g. Ralph Reed, Franklin Graham, James Dobson, and Tony Perkins to name only a few). Over the last three days, I’ve heard any one of the following from multiple sources:

  • “You do it, too! Everybody plays along with locker room humor. Your talk is just as coarse.”
  • “You have no room, since you look at porn, and you watch movies with language that’s even more foul!”
  • “You can’t say a word, since you yourselves celebrate lasciviousness, immorality, lewdness, and impropriety!”
  • “What you do is no better than what he did.”

First of all, in the list of logical fallacies, this is what they call a tu quoque fallacy, which diverts attention from the thing under consideration by deflecting the conversation back to the speaker. It’s judged a fallacy because it’s bad argumentation, even if psychologically effective among the easily diverted.

In effect, we are saying “This man’s attitude toward women is deplorable,” and they are responding with, “Well, you people regularly celebrate the very things you’re now trying to denounce.”

No, actually, we don’t.

Because, you see, it’s not just that this guy brags about trying to have sex with married women. And it’s not just because he uses “dirty words” in private conversation when he’s alone with the boys. If that were all that was happening, we wouldn’t all have a lot of room to judge him (although you’d think church leaders would see this as a deal breaker, and yet they don’t).

What crossed the line for us, making this more than just crude humor behind closed doors, was that the way he spoke about women in that recording indicated that he feels his money and celebrity entitles him to take advantage of women who haven’t even shown a hint of interest in being propositioned by him. His words were “rapey,” plain and simple. And frankly, it’s equally disturbing to realize that so many Christian friends can’t tell the difference. They’re too worked up that he said a dirty word to notice that the absence of consent is by far the larger issue at stake, here.

This is a blind spot among evangelical Christians.

Why? Because consent has never been very high on the priority list of biblical Christianity, especially where women are concerned.

In the Bible, for the most part, women are viewed as property. Granted, by the time the New Testament era rolls around, the surrounding culture has evolved enough to see women gain a bit more power and influence in society. But that development originated with the rest of the world, not with the nation of Israel or even with the church that followed thereafter.

In a number of places, we are informed that we are all property. “You are not your own. You were bought with a price.” In the minds of the writers of the Bible, consent just isn’t really a thing.

Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

Granted, this is talking about the divine authority over his creation, but notice the point of the analogy: You don’t get a say in what happens to you, according to the apostle Paul. Ultimately, you are a pawn for him to move and direct wherever he pleases. The notion of self-ownership, autonomy, and “free will” just didn’t seem to come up in the pages of the New Testament.

With source documents like that, where would conservative Christians ever pick up a notion that a woman owns her own body, and can determine for herself what happens to it? Does their preferred legislative agenda indicate they have done so?

It’s Not Too Late to Get Out

Revelations about Trump’s behavior haven’t stopped with Friday’s released video. We are told there will be much more, but it hardly matters. At this point evangelical Christians have seen all they need to see. If they haven’t decided yet that this man doesn’t share their perspective on the world, they’re not going to figure it out.

They bought his sales pitch, hook, line, and sinker. He needed their vote (because without evangelicals, the GOP is history), so he promised them he’d appoint judges who will outlaw abortion and gay marriage (nothing else seems to matter to them anymore). Evangelicals have become so desperate for cultural relevance that they’re willing to hitch their wagon to his shooting star, never processing the fact that you can’t really believe anything a con artist tells you. That’s why they’re known as con artists.

Growing up in church does a real number on your ability to detect empty promises.

It’s possible Trump will eventually offend so many, so deeply, that more evangelicals will abandon ship. Evangelical scholar Wayne Grudem already has, and Russell Moore (godblessim) has remained critical of the real estate mogul from the very beginning. Eric Metaxas doesn’t seem to have reached his vomiting point yet, but perhaps it’s only a matter of time for him as well.

I’m losing my ability to care what they think. If they can’t see how fundamentally bad for our country this man would be (and already has been), I cannot make myself respect their opinions about the way the world works, or what it needs. They’ve failed the test of consent and personal autonomy and have focused instead on being outraged by “dirty words.”

Maybe a landslide defeat in this election cycle would finally shame them into re-evaluating what they want their impact in the world to be. Right this moment, the primary thing they’ve been able to accomplish is to give the least qualified presidential candidate in history a fighting chance to win. Thankfully, it appears he will only urinate on it and throw it back in their faces. Maybe next time they’ll ask harder questions of their presidential candidates.

[Image Source: Adobe Stock]

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