Monday, May 09 2016
I had a great deal of time in the car last week driving from Chicago to Omaha and back again. As I often do when I’m alone in the car, I listened to Christian Radio. During that time I heard more than one preacher focus his sermon’s cross-hairs on the degeneration of the American family. The ammunition against this rampant decay, was a cry for the re-establishment of “God’s hierarchy” in the home, particularly in the relationship between husbands and wives.
The argument was familiar, Ephesians 5:22 and I Peter 3:1, “Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands,” was the cry and each of the preachers, as if they were sharing the same sermon notes, suggested the decay of western civilization could only be stopped if women and men knew their rightful order. All these conservative scholars were careful to proclaim that submission was not license for domination because the husband had to answer to God for his behavior, but wives would answer to God for their acquiescence to the Biblical order. It is a doctrine known as complementarianism, which suggests that women and men (yes there are only two genders in complementarianism) are equal in the eyes of God and heaven, but have different and "complementary" roles and functions on earth.
Even if the husband is not a Christian, goes the argument, a virtuous Christian woman could win him over by her complementary submission. Likewise a Christian husband could win over his wife by his capacity to take charge of the household as God intended it to be. Only when husbands and wives fell in line with God’s authoritarian structure, then and only then, could families be blessed and America be made strong.
That’s when I understood how the doctrine of complementarianism is responsible for Donald Trump’s ascendency among evangelicals.
Several articles have been written attempting to explain the phenomena, how an irreligious, unrepentant, fandering, billionaire could so quickly win the hearts of the evangelical right. I’ve heard pundits suggest that there is a variance between church attending evangelicals, who distance themselves from Trump, and self-identified evangelicals, who embrace him; but the statistics don’t seem to back-up the theory. Similarly the argument that evangelicals are like everyone else; they're fed up with the political system and ready for a dynamic change created by an angry outsider. But this doesn’t account for the endorsements for Trump by evangelical leaders proclaiming him as "God’s choice" in 2016.
The issue is quite simply the rest of the authoritarian ladder in the doctrine of complementarianism. There are more than two rungs. Below the husband and wife are the children, and below them, as one preacher told me, are the pets. And above the ordered family-unit are the elders of the church, and over the elders are the secular authorities, to which the household and the congregation submit according to Romans 13. Above the governing authorities is, of course, God; but politics are about the rung just over the church, which is over the husbands, who are over their wives, who are over the children, who are over the hamsters.
The reason Trump's popularity fits, perhaps even subconsciously in the complementarian mind, is his unambiguous capacity to be all the things necessary to wear the mantle of authority without apology. If it is the job of Christians to submit to those above them as the natural order of things, Trump makes submission the natural response to his style.
His non-collaborative, assertive, bombastic style is a perfect fit for a community desperate to live out the will of God through willing acquiescence to the authorities above. If Trump is wrong that’s not our problem, he will have to answer to God for his short-comings. We on the other hand, teach the complementarians, will be judged only for the quality of our submissive selves.
Others in the Republican Party lament that The Donald is not a true conservative, and if conservatism were merely defined by moral values, they are correct. But there is a different interpretation of conservation found within the evangelical camp, a conservation of order not values. These conservatives wish to preserve the “proper” hierarchy of things, which becomes natural when there's a self-confident bombast at the top.
May 9, 2016