You know it’s a different kind of silly season when I, a person ordained to the Christian ministry (otherwise called a “man of the cloth”), am about to rise to the defense of a former porn star. But it is a defense more akin to Jesus’s defense of a woman brought to him, caught in the act of adultery: akin, but not exactly the same, on several fronts.
Rudy Giuliani’s recent derogation of “Stormy Daniels” in – of all places – a geographical location, mere miles from where Jesus displayed grace and forgiveness and maintained the dignity of a woman, is not only ugly, not only despicable, but the kind of behavior that delivers society deeper into disrespect and dysfunction.
As the hypocritical men who brought that woman to Jesus to be stoned, so are Rudy, and his boss, Donald Trump: the latter who – yet to deny that he slept with the porn star; and the former, whose sexual behavior has led to ugly divorces, three marriages, his girlfriend being banned from the mayoral mansion by his wife, and he himself being kicked out of the mayoral mansion. What a record! But as the hypocrites all disappeared when Jesus confronted them, I won’t recommend holding your breath that Rudy would disappear (Trump has been uncannily silent on this Stormy Daniels matter).
I can find nothing redeemable in pornography. It depersonalizes, dehumanizes, objectifies, and does a number of other unhealthy acts upon a human being, and to the act of love. I cannot defend it. But I can defend a woman who used to be an actress in (and therefore a provider of) the pornographic industry as a human being of worth, when she is intentionally described as less than deserving her own piece of human and female dignity, by a man whose skeletons are still actively shouting out on megaphones from their closets. Then, for the man who is yet to deny that he slept with this woman (while married to his own third wife) to break his silence and join this ugly comment by agreeing that Giuliani’s comments were fair, is hypocrisy in the extreme.
Various hoteliers are on record that when Christian conferences are held at their hotels, the use of pay-per-view TV and pornographic channels spikes, indicating, as one of them quipped, “you’ll know they are Christians by their porn.” The deafening silence from Christian leaders who themselves pummeled a president 20 years ago for unacceptable sexual behavior (except for Franklyn Graham has spoken up to actually give Trump a pass) is notable. This too, is hypocrisy.
When this kind of behavior prevails among ordinary people, it is already bad. When it comes from our leaders, it is infinitely worse. Although the furor that surrounded that other president was 20 years ago, and things and times have changed, the issue should not change: we expect the office of president to be associated with decorum, honor, dignity, fairness, grace and gracefulness. A president should not bring the office into disrepute. Rudy Giuliani is an official spokesperson for the current American president. In that regard, when he speaks, it is the president speaking. This article is not even addressing Trump’s tweets, or his mean, nasty and racially charged comments, his nearly 4,000 certifiable lies since taking office, or his dangerous policies that roll back gains made, and justice for the poor, the marginalized, the consumer, the immigrant, and the minority. My focus here is narrowly on Trump and Giuliani. In this narrow regard then, this kind of behavior, coming from the nation’s number one leader, is beyond doubt, is leadership. And that leadership is delivering us into degradation, depravity, and dysfunction.
The question is this: If this is what “leadership” from above is offering us, what shall others of us, “below” do? Among us is an army of persons who have studied leadership, have been entrusted with leadership responsibilities, are mentors, who know about challenging the process, who know about dealing with toxic leadership, and more. What shall you, dear reader, do? My suggestion: let us not get carried away by the nastiness; stand your ground. Be gracious and forgiving. “Forgiving” doesn’t mean “overlooking” or “avoiding challenge”; for on the flip side of forgiveness is confession. And persons who are not moved to confession should be challenged to get there. Exercise humanity and compassion; these are marks of great leadership – not the brawn, boastfulness, and battering that bullies use as an excuse for leadership. In times like this, even the best of us can get caught up in the loss of these attitudes. I am first among those who need be reminded of this risk.
Reclaim your leadership today. “Below” is underrated; “above” is often overrated. Let us lead from below until somebody from among us decent ones percolates up to the top, once again.
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Michael Friday is an organizational leadership specialist, working through Transition Ministries, American Baptist Churches, USA. He is author of And Lead Us Not Into Dysfunction.