If I were living in ancient Rome and decided to write a piece on the Manhood of Emperor Nero and how it compared with manhood in the Bible I am sure I would have been arrested, thrown into a smelly, dank dungeon and had my head promptly cut off. He was a mad tyrant who blamed the Christians for the burning of Rome. It’s a reality of the world’s tyrannical governments that have existed and even still exist today. But because we in America have this unprecedented freedom granted by the First Amendment in our Constitution we are among the few, really, in the history of the world who are allowed to hold our leaders accountable and call them out on their actions and behavior regardless of whether they are good or bad. So should we? As Christians?
Well, it depends.
The classic New Testament examples that we should draw our attention to would be the stories of John the Baptist confronting the ruler Herod for his adultery and Jesus confronting the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Herod was a Jewish leader and son of a Jewish king and the Pharisees were Jewish priests. John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ rebukes were in line with what the Apostle Paul taught:
it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God… (1 Pet. 4:17)
These cases present certain limitations in that it was “family” that was being held accountable. While we see Herod and the Pharisees being called out on their actions, nowhere in the New Testament do we see any of the emperors or governors outside of the Jewish domain being rebuked. If I were in ancient Rome I would not even think of doing a write up to hold Cesar Augustus accountable to his words and actions because he did not claim to be a Christian, and those who are not Christians we are not called to hold accountable. For them there is only a plea, “Repent and be saved.” The Bible teaches us to hold those within the Household of God, and especially leaders, accountable. Donald Trump claims to be a Christian and thus of the Household of God. He claims that the Bible is his “favorite book.” For too many Christians this has caused a bit of a dilemma because such a man is now asking them to be their earthly leader and vote for him. How can such a man represent us? What do we do? Believe him? Discredit his claims? Reject him altogether? Vote or no vote, the answer is simple. He needs to be held accountable by the Church, his “family”. And lest we let ourselves be confused, this is not an accountability to the citizens of the United States of America, to the White House, to the U.N., or the UNESCO, or anything on earth for that matter. This is a much, much higher level of accountability. It is to the Word of God alone. So let’s take a moment to call into view Trump’s apparent form of manhood as the Word casts light on it. Pushing all the chaotic panic of mainstream media aside, which has utterly vilified him beyond recognition, we will take a sampling of a few of his own words and actions. I took it upon myself to read some of his books including Art of the Deal, Crippled America, Think Big and Kick Ass, and Never Give Up and though these were not memoirs nor said much at all about his personal life they did shed some light on his way of thinking, acting, and feeling in this world. The books are meant to be counsel to others on the road to success. This ambition to teach people and instill values combined with his claim to be a follower of Christ makes it doubly important for the Church to hold him accountable.
In a debate on March 3, Donald responded to an earlier remark of Marco Rubio about the “size of his hands”. Donald Trump responded, “He referred to my hands…If they’re small, something else must be small. I guarantee you, there’s no problem. I guarantee.” And with that Trump assured us that he had no issue with the size of his “manhood”. It’s unprecedented to say the least to hear something like this in a presidential debate.
The Bible is not shy with its material and teaching on sexual conduct or misconduct. It is real and serious. However, boasting about the size of your family jewels and linking that to the strength of your manhood is not a virtue in the Bible. There is one place in Scripture where this same sort of banter about comparing one’s manhood with another’s endowment takes place. It’s in the first book of the Kings:
The young men who grew up with him spoke to him, saying, “Thus you shall say to this people who spoke to you, saying, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, now you make it lighter for us!’ But you shall speak to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins! (1 Kings 12:10)
Most English translations are modest with this verse but the meaning is clear. This kid Rehoboam had such an ego problem that he completely belittled his father’s manhood by saying his little finger was thicker than his father’s you-know-what. This was how he chose to build up his own manhood–by putting down dear ol’ dad’s. Rehoboam was a foolish son and ruler who forsook the wise counsel of elders in favor of his kid friends. Although Trump didn’t put down anyone else’s manhood in this way, this kind of talk is still relegated to the immature high-school locker room. I remember neighborhood kids talking like this all the time when I was young. We were twelve-year-olds.
The Proverbs teach that “like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” (Prov. 25:11) But these kind of proud words are the words of fool. “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly.” (Prov. 15:2)
Sexual boasting appears to be a trademark of Trump’s campaign. It’s lined with remarks about how good he is with women, his prowess, and his swagger. The image is appealing to a vast number of men in the United States who have been left feeling empty-handed in the wake of all the recent political identity movements over the last several decades. Men of this generation are being discriminated against in a way they never have before. Think about it. We are talking thousands of years of male sins being dumped on one generation all at once. A younger man just waking up in this world is finding himself buried underneath such an impossibly heavy pile of shame and dirt that you’d think he was a Nazi at the end of World War II. “He was born a male. He is therefore to be labeled a “privileged one”. Off with him!” they scream. “See to it that he gets no benefits, help, mercy, or honor!” And so the young man wanders off, ashamed of himself for no reason other than…being male.
Prowess has been a nearly universal facet of cultural manhoods the world over for thousands of years as discussed at length in David Gilmore’s book Manhood in the Making. Yet snap-chat images of various forms of “glorious manhood” come and go, sweeping off with them countless lost men from all across the land, all of whom have undoubtedly felt some deep level of abdication or rejection by their own society. What are they to do? Society has condemned their maleness and yet given them no legitimate way for redeeming themselves. And when figures like Trump break onto the public stage we wonder why they receive so much male support and where from. Interestingly, Trump’s form of manhood and the media’s condemnation of it only seems to fuel the support and grow his power.
The Bible is crystal clear on how we are to treat women:
Treat…older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. (1 Tim. 5.2)
It couldn’t be plainer. The level of respect and honor for women taught by the New Testament far exceeds any status quo of our society.
Trump apparently has a thing for revenge, getting even, and fighting back. In the intro to Trump’s book, Think Big And Kick Ass, it’s written,”Make your own rules, get even, and kick ass. That is what Trump is all about.” This attitude, the author claims, has helped him in all spheres of life including making him a “better husband, and a better father.” His wife, he says, “loves this attitude”. Chapter 1 is titled after the the most common question men ask themselves these days: Do You Have What it Takes? Trump teaches that you are “on your own” and you’re going to have to fight back against those who try to take advantage of you, stand up, and kick ass. He says, “If you don’t get even, you’re a schmuck.” His advice is “When people wrong you, go after those people, because its a good feeling.” “People will see it, and they will respect you for it.” “Always fight back and get even.”
Ok. How does this measure up to biblical manhood?
There is a level of gumption, fortitude, and courage present in the biblical picture of manhood. It is entirely biblical for a man to “stand up” and take action as in this great story of Moses:
Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew water and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock. (Ex. 2:16-17)
Standing up when circumstances call for it and not sitting passively on our rears is at the height of biblical manhood. Thinking big and getting out there to fight in a world fettered in evil is noble, right, and even expected in God’s men. However clear lines exist and one of the clearest of them all is with regards to vengeance:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:19)
If the word “never” in this verse means what I think it does—and I think it does—then we are never to seek revenge.
Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”(Luke 6:28)
Again, it couldn’t be plainer.
Another quote from his book: “Marriage needs a prenuptial agreement” “It’s too risky not to get one”
This is not biblical. Marriage is not seen as a low-risk, free refunds, try-out product in the Bible. Jesus didn’t say that Moses allowed divorce because he just wanted everyone to be happy. He said he allowed it because of the hardness of people’s hearts (Matt. 19:8).
Get your heart right with God, and you’ll have a much better marriage.
Consumerism, among other things, has led the American mind to think of marriage as just another commodity in life as in “It’s all about you” and “the customer is always right.” The biblical precedent for marriage is a profound oneness. It’s much more than a cooperation, or partnership, or team, or companionship (all of which are inherent parts). It’s a oneness. So how about instead of a prenuptial agreement we learn to choose wisely?
A true man, the biblical man, has his bearings fixed after the manhood example of Jesus. Already, Trump’s form of manhood is significantly off for some pretty important aspects. However there are some spot-on points in his writings.
In Crippled America, Trump includes a short chapter on his values. In lieu of his divorce, he admits that he was not a perfect husband and could have done a better job at it. This is good to hear. It’s a quaint confession with a slight air of humility. However there’s not much more he says on his personal shortcomings. We accept this confession but God commands much more.
Trump’s coaching style in his books encourages people to have a positive attitude and confidence in yourself in the face of adversity. He tells us to read about people who’ve been courageous against long odds. This is a respectable word. Positive attitudes are increasingly hard to come by these days. Remember the attitudes of TV actors in the 50s and 60s? You know, the era blamed for nearly everything wrong in America today? The Wizard of Oz value standards back then were super positive—kindness, forgiveness, meekness, gentleness, sacrifice, compassion, and integrity—values far removed from modern television. Even a mere 20 years ago television shows regularly portrayed the process of interpersonal struggles and reconciliation. The shows seemed to always end with everyone making up with each other and then laughing about some off-shoot randomness. But no more. Today its all about the process of interpersonal struggle and revenge. Trump goes on to tell us that we need to have the right perspectives on failure and “see them as opportunities.” He tells us not to get suckered into thinking you have “bad luck” because “problems are part of life”. How true this is. However Trump’s previous point that you are “on your own” is part of the problem. How many of us can say that we have not felt like failures? I think none of us. But to see our “failure” as an “opportunity” truly requires someone else’s eyes. This is why no one can succeed at life alone. The feeling of failure utterly blinds us to the truth about a situation. Too many people, isolated and cutoff from others by an overdone individualism in our country, are suffering from the ‘failure syndrome’ and letting it destroy their lives when all they need to do is connect with others.
Self-confidence is always needed for a generation steeped in an identity crisis. It’s part of understanding our true potential and living it out. How about this kind of coaching for encouragement in the face of adversity:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds… (Jas. 1:2)
Yes? The Apostle goes on to tell us that adversity is a testing ground for personal growth and development. Right now we are in an era of adversity. We need all the coaching we can get.
From this brief observation we can see Donald has some serious problems with his understanding of manhood. His influence as a leader is wrapped up more or less in that hyper-individualized, Don Quixote-like image of manhood. He’s the lone ranger, the renegade, practicing a corrupt honor system that celebrates the manipulation and seduction of women, honing the art of deception, showing aggression, being violent and vengeful, and having no real goals in life other than self-aggrandizement. It’s the rampant self-centeredness made popular in the late 16th century by authors like Dr. Faustus and Don Juan. Leo Braudy, one of America’s leading cultural historians and author of From Chivalry to Terrorism: War and the Changing Nature of Masculinity, made extensive study of masculinity from an academic standpoint. As it turned out, Braudy’s studies of the self-absorbed egotism and manipulativeness of “assertive male individuality” actually led him to add the historical character of Satan to the lone ranger list as “a prime type” of this false system of manhood.
Yes, we know from where this kind of manhood comes from.
Indeed, the beauty of the Church is the Gospel of Grace that it preaches. There is grace aplenty for anyone, including a man like Trump. But it’s not a license to ignore its obligations or standards of conduct and righteousness. So long as Trump professes Christianity and that the Bible is his favorite book, we the Church will hold him accountable to it. Biblical manhood is not lone or renegade. And it is most definitely not self-aggrandizement. It’s Jesus.