Powerful men have often found that their power is itself a powerful aphrodisiac. Six decades ago President Jack Kennedy used his office and power to enable several affairs with different women. Kennedy was infamous for his sexual appetite, once boasting that he needed to have sex every day. Many in the church rightly condemned his behaviour.
Two decades ago President Bill Clinton was accused of having an affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky had sworn under oath that she had had no sexual contact with the president but was later found to have been lying – as was Clinton, who denied having had any sexual relationship with his intern, famously declaring: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.‘ He also testified ‘there is not a sexual relationship, an improper sexual relationship or any other kind of improper relationship’. Again the churches were quick to condemn the ‘immoral’ president.
We now come up to the present date, where Trump has been accused of having an affair with a porn star known as Stormy Daniels. Again there is no need to go into the salacious details which will doubtless be endlessly and breathlessly revealed over the coming months and years, despite the confidentiality clause she has signed.What I remember most from that period is that when he was accused of lying and perjury he made the incredible statement, ‘it depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is’. It was a realisation for me that the post-modern chickens had well and truly come home to roost. ‘Post-truth’ and ‘alternative facts’ were around long before President Trump.
Reuters Clergy and supporters pray for Donald Trump at a rally before the 2016 presidential election.
I think there are significant differences between the previous affairs and today’s.
Although both Monica Lewinsky and Stormy Daniels profited from their indiscretions, Lewinsky was given a much harder time. She was mocked and vilified for her affair. She was accused of being a predatory ‘tramp’ and for a number of years tried to lie low, although she did make over $1 million for a book and interviews and eventually became a ‘celebrity’ in her own right.
Stormy Daniels on the other hand has done anything but lie low. She is suing for the right to tell all, using social media to promote herself and exploiting her new found fame to go on tour with a strip shown entitled ‘Make America Horny Again’. Is the reaction to the two women indicative of a deeper change within the culture? Is this evidence that Americans are much less moralistic about sex? Or perhaps that they are moralistic in a different way?
For me the bigger change is in the churches attitude to the three presidents. On the whole the evangelical churches condemned Kennedy and went ballistic about Clinton. The self-styled ‘moral majority’ could hardly contain their indignation at an immoral president who was found to have lied and yet remained in office. But what about today?
While some leaders like Russell Moore (Southern Baptists), Thabiti Anyabwile (The Gospel Coalition) and Max Lucado have been explicit (and courageous) in their condemnation; others have been somewhat less forthright. Franklin Graham declared ‘it’s just a news story’. Jerry Falwell Jr suggested that ethics and the presidency should be kept apart and Tony
Perkins of the Family Research Council told Politico magazine, ‘We kind of gave him – “All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here.”‘ (A mulligan is a golfing term for getting a second chance.)
Of course the secular liberal media have jumped on this apparent volte-face of the ‘moral majority’ in the face of presidential immorality. They have accused the church of hypocrisy and selling its soul, just so it can have conservative justices on the Supreme Court and a president speaking out (but doing little) about some ‘conservative’ social issues.
Well I am an evangelical Christian of the most dyed-in-the-wool theologically conservative sort and I find the silence/support of evangelicals on this issue more than a little depressing. I have no doubt at all that there are fine Christians in the Trump cabinet (as this fair and balanced report from the BBC indicates) but it is hypocritical of some evangelical leaders, who would doubtlessly be taking to the airwaves condemning a President Obama if he had done a tenth of what President Trump is alleged to have done, to ignore or even defend ‘their’ president. It is as though John the Baptist had said to Herod, ‘Because you are on our side we’ll let you off with your little indiscretion with Herodias.’ After all, John had a voice in the palace and what was the use of antagonising the king when he could use his influence as ‘salt and light’? Instead John fearlessly proclaimed the word of God and literally lost his head as he prepared the way for the Lord.
I fear that some evangelicals have lost their spiritual heads and been blinded by the prospect of influence and power. It’s time for them to get regain their minds, show some heart and get back their prophetic voice.
No one expects Donald Trump to be a saint, any more than we should have expected it of Kennedy, Clinton or Obama, but if anyone is dumb enough to claim any presidential candidate as the ‘Christian’ candidate, they had better have the decency and the courage to hold their candidate to Christ’s standards, not the standards of the locker room.
All political leaders are, according to the Bible, God’s servants, whether they are Caesar, Stalin or Reagan. This does not mean that we owe them unconditional support or obedience (we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s). In some cases, as Calvin argued, there is even a case for Christians to participate in the overthrow of an unjust ruler. But it does mean that we owe all our political leaders three things: respect, prayer and a prophetic voice that declares to the nations and the leaders of those nations, ‘Hear the word of the Lord’.
I find it deeply ironic that in a nation that has historically recognised the clear distinction between church and state, it is some church leaders who appear to be confused about the difference between spiritual and political power and seem to prefer the latter.
This article was first published in Christian Today