This whole week world news has been inundated with the “Trump tapes” – Donald Trump talking about committing sexual assault. For many American Christians this was the breaking point of their support of Trump; but worryingly, some have come out swinging for him, deriding his comments as being “just locker room talk”.
In light of this, I find this week’s lectionary reading absolutely fitting:
Luke 18:1-8 (NIV)
The Parable of the Persistent Widow
1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
It’d probably be easier to claim one of two things. First, we could say that it’s better to skip politics in sermons. Politics are divisive and so on. But to do so is to keep Christianity in a box it was never meant to fit in. Jesus certainly wasn’t apolitical; quite the contrary! Politics as a system needs conscientious Christians as participants. Secondly, we – in non-Western countries, especially “the global south” – might well ask, Why should we care about Trump? But to say that is to ignore the fact that, for better or worse, American politics has an effect on us all. If someone like Trump is gaining momentum in one of the world’s most powerful countries, the whole world needs to be concerned – because of what is his ascent indicative?
It’s no accident that the protagonist in Jesus’ parable is a widow. As women in an extremely patriarchal society left unprotected and often penniless, widows (and orphans) were extraordinarily vulnerable. Without men to represent or care for them, women weren’t heeded by men such as the judge in the parable. Despite the major prophets’ exhortations, these women were exploited, ostracised, rejected and ignored.
When someone like Donald Trump feels entitled to “grab women by the pussy” – to sexually assault them – and when this behaviour in a presidential candidate isn’t met with universal condemnation, that leaves us with answers to a whole lot of uncomfortable questions. Questions about the full humanity of women. Questions about the importance of women’s human rights. Questions about just how far we woman have come in this enlightened age.
The answers are unpleasant.
The answers are dangerous.
Ironically enough, the very Christians who should be most vocal about the full humanity of women – women being image-bearers of God, “male and female he created them” (Genesis 5:2) – have been at the forefront of dismissing Trump’s behaviour, of coddling his narcissism and entitlement, his abusive tendencies, his ego and his explosive incompetence. He has bought silence and approval with superficial promises; by pandering to religiosity and bigotry. But if they are still silent, then the price must not have been that difficult for them to pay in the first place.
In Jesus’ parable, the widow’s insistence on justice – fair and equal treatment – is lauded as a godly act – an act of obedience and faith. In our sermons this week, we have the option of backing off #TrumpTapes and the unpleasantness of politics and sexism. We can live in denial about what’s being said about women, and our churches’ own latent attitudes towards them. Or, like the widow, we can be persistent in our demand for justice. We can keep demanding it of the world, knowing that we are backed up by a God who values justice. We can keep asking, as women and for women: “Protect and defend and give me justice against my adversary” (Matthew 18:3 AMP).
But: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find [persistence in] faith on the earth?” Or will we have abandoned our posts for false promises or placating sermons?
Blessings for your sermons,