Columns » Autumn Tolbert

Trust and obey

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This past week marked an anniversary of sorts for the country. A year ago, the Access Hollywood audiotape of then-candidate Donald Trump claiming to get away with sexually assaulting women finally exposed the truth about man the GOP had chosen as the nominee. He was a disgusting, cruel, entitled misogynist. I thought our nightmare was over because surely religious conservatives would no longer support such a person for the nation's highest office. My optimism did not last long. Over the next week, evangelicals began downplaying his comments as "locker room talk" and "just boys being boys." Preachers compared him to King David and calling him an "imperfect vessel" and a "baby Christian." He got a pass because they trusted he would end abortion. The same week the world learned the truth about Trump, we also learned that, for some evangelicals, no deed or word was too terrible as long as he claimed to be "pro-life." It was worth it, they said, to end abortion.

This week, we saw an unraveling of that logic. It was never about abortion. It is about imposing an oppressive view of the world where straight, white conservative males are in charge and women, people of color, immigrants, LBGTQ, and anyone who dares challenge that view are divisive and unpatriotic. While Vice President Pence stages expensive, tax-payer-funded public tantrums over football players quietly protesting racial injustice and police brutality, Trump ends the Obama-era mandate that required employers to provide coverage for birth control. A move that studies show will actually increase the number of abortions. A number that was, by all accounts, on the decline.

In order to support this decision, one has to completely disregard science and facts to believe that women and men will somehow have less sex if birth control is unaffordable. One also has to disregard the truth that birth control is an important medicine that treats a number of physical conditions. But ignoring truth seems to be the new normal in a country where no women are invited to help write proposed health care bills, free speech is considered unpatriotic and the most powerful men in the country consist of one who treats women like objects to be ranked and graded on her physical attributes and another who believes women to be so tempting and sinful he cannot eat alone with one without his mother-wife present. All the while, a narrative of "America First" is pushed in order to isolate us from our former allies. It's as if we are living in the midst of "The Parable of the Rich Fool" and we have yet to learn our lesson.

I have a sort of parable of my own. Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to travel to Paris with my family and visit the Lourve. Best I remember, my sister pointed out Paolo Veronese's painting "The Wedding Feast at Cana." For those of you who are not art historians or have forgotten your church geography, the painting is a depiction of the wedding celebration where Jesus is said to have turned water into wine. If you've never seen the painting, let me tell you it is something else. It is over 30 feet long and 20 feet tall, filled with fancy dressed men and women feasting on fruits and cheese. There is a band and animals, including dogs, cats, and even a parrot.

As we stood there, I remembered how I was taught over and over in my teetotaler church that it wasn't really wine Jesus created from water. It was really just grape juice despite the original text using the word for wine. And he didn't do it because people were simply having a good time at a wedding and wanted to keep on drinking, it was because the water must have been unsafe to drink. Right there in front of that painting, I realized how far some on the religious right will twist truth and common sense and even a story about a good time at a wedding to fit their agenda of control.

Now, I know enough about art history to know the painting is not meant to be an accurate depiction of the biblical event, but what I saw in it was an unraveling of the logic behind my church's teachings. Of course, it was wine that the wedding guests were after. It was a party. It was a feast. And it wasn't just me who thought that way. I wasn't sinful or bad for questioning those conservative teachings.

Here was the largest painting in the Lourve showing a different version of events than what I had been taught. It was showing the version that made the most sense. I'm ready for the Trump supporters to wake up and realize they are being sold a false version of the world. They are being sold a version where good is evil and freedom is bad and nothing makes sense. I try to be optimistic that each new ridiculous Tweet or unhinged speech will do the trick. But I'm losing hope that his supporters will ever question whether electing this man was worth it as he supports policies that seem to hurt the weakest and least powerful among us. They continue to view him as the Christian choice. I'm afraid as long as straight, white conservative men control the government and the church, Trump will stay in power. "Trust and obey," they continue to sing on Sundays. Trust and obey.

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