It has been a mind-bending, head-spinning few weeks. We’ve heard and watched Donald Trump say abhorrent things about women; many folks, me included, responded to these comments.
Trump has been rightly condemned for his remarks. They are beyond the pale. We should note, however, that Trump’s comments and behavior fit rather well with an amoral, sex-at-the-center kind of age. America has largely vanquished the moral scolds–including many evangelicals–from the public square. Though it is unspeakably fuzzy in nature, many people believe the lazy secularist line about politics and religion: “This country is founded on the separation of church and state!” Add in the push to mainstream transgender and homosexual identity and you wind up with a polis that is essentially shorn of any tie to religion.
So, keep score here, friends: this is what we’re told we should want. We should want a world without religious practices and sexual standards. The old orthodoxy, we are instructed, needs to crumble. In its place comes a new sexual regime, one in which you can do what you want, and nobody can be involved in your bedroom decisions. In such a framework, we are not accountable to God or really to anyone else. Provided consent is in the mix, anything goes.
We cannot miss the strikingly double-minded nature of our culture. The same zeitgeist that created Trump, that aided and abetted him, now wishes to cut him down. It is true that Trump’s appetite exceeded his rule-keeping. But for decades, Trump has been acting like modern sexual mores free him to act. He can be a lothario without shame. He can destroy marriages without a second thought. Outside of consent, he can do what he pleases, and we should not only allow him to do so, but cheer him for doing so.
This brings us to a second awful reality: under the new sexual regime, women suffer most. Frequently, Christian men are portrayed by the media as being awful for women. These sorts of men rob women of agency and treat women unkindly, we commonly hear. But here is the truth: Christianity calls men to die to their wickedness. As Gavin Peacock and I have written, it trains men to treat women with great kindness and holiness. Through its doctrine of conversion and grace-fueled sanctification (growth in godliness), it disciplines men and gives them a standard of behavior to meet–namely, Jesus Christ himself.
It is true that Christianity does teach a certain order in the home and the church, and that is not popular in modern culture. After all, submission is bad–actually, no, it’s not. It’s bad, except when you’re submitting to a sexual predator who abuses you for fun. Such is female “empowerment” in the age of 50 Shades of Grey. In contrast, Christian men are called to be loving “heads” of wives, laying their lives down for women, putting sin to death (Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). We treat younger women as sisters, and older women as mothers (1 Tim. 5:2). If men seek to harm and prey on women we know, we do all we can to stop them, bringing them before both civil authorities and the church (1 Cor. 5:9-13). The same faith that calls men to lead women in the home and the church is the faith that calls men to reverence women.
If you cut out the masculine call to nobility and leadership, be assured that men will be very glad to cut out the part about morality. Men already, by their sinful nature, want to gratify their lusts. This is why biblical religion is so efficacious: it simultaneously ennobles men as it calls them to account. But if you neither ennoble men or call them to account, guess how they will behave? Without standards–save only for consent–they will, at least some of them, act much like Trump has acted. As you see in Trump’s case, his super-sexualized vision of life includes even his daughter. Even she is nothing more than an object, nothing more than a piece of flesh to be rated on a “Hot or Not” scale.
In such a pagan culture, we see how vital the church’s vision of sexuality is. So much of what we must do in days ahead is help men and women who have been sold a false picture of the new sexual order recover from it. Pastors must train young men in Christ-powered self-denial, holiness, and reverence for women. Churches filled with kind older women need to help young women see that their worth lies not in their sexuality, but in their status as an image-bearer, and in the gospel of grace. This work is going to be one-person-at-a-time kind of work. It will require patience and commitment. In other words, it will be what most ministry truly is: anonymous, gradual, sometimes frustrating, speckled with encouraging progress, and ultimately glorious.
The sexual revolution is not finished with its work. Donald Trump is not the apotheosis of this project. It has many more men and women in its sights. It will be very glad to ensnare them, teach them its codes, partner with their depravity, and then destroy them. This is not a new project. It is an ancient one (see Gen. 3). In response to it, the church’s call is not to scrub itself of its teaching on the sexes. It is not to gender-neutralize its discipleship. The church has the chance to give young men and women a counter-cultural vision of their manhood and their womanhood. It can show them the telos of sex and the pathway to joy.
It can help them see with fresh eyes the happiness of holiness, the beauty of the complementary sexes, and the glory of God. In doing so, the church constitutes its own sexual revolution, one that puts the culture’s version to shame.
Image: Donald Trump, image by Marc Nozell, Merrimack, NH, Feb. 2016, from Wikimedia Commons