Stormy Meet Melania: The Evangelical Exception Which (Dis)Proves the Rule

It is an odd conjunction, evangelicals excusing porn star escapades, allowing for the support of white supremacists, and willing to offer up endless excuses of a biblical nature for the most grievous character flaws. It demonstrates the infinite flexibility of a gnostic Christianity to coordinate the “flesh” so that it does not impinge on the spirit (and vice versa).  Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council suggests Trump’s sex with porn stars is like a “mulligan” in golf.  A “mulligan” is a shot that is not counted in the final score which usually occurs when first teeing off.  It is the exception that proves or founds the rule.  If golf incorporated unlimited mulligans there would be no game, yet to get the game up and running there must be exceptions to achieve full enjoyment. Trump is allowed his mulligan in the way the original father is allowed access to all of the women in Freud’s primal horde.  The father’s transgressions with his daughters is the exception (to the universal taboo of incest) which gets the game/the tribe up and running while at the same time delineating its absolute taboo. Trump, as primal father, has full access to transgressive enjoyment on behalf of his primal horde. For him it is mulligans and sex without rules as he embodies the founding moment for a new order – evangelicals trumpet his election as a seismic shift. The more he transgresses the more he demonstrates his embodiment of the law – which he cannot possibly violate. He is truly God’s chosen leader – our David (as evangelical leaders have claimed) allowed his Bathsheba and his Uriah.  He was raised up, as Paula White has claimed, like Esther for precisely this moment. He is the founder of a new age in which his obscene enjoyment absolutely delineates between the sacred and the secular.

To get this logic up and running the realm of the exception must be sealed off from the rule it founds. The sons of the primal father cannot presume to enjoy his realm of transgression, yet it is precisely his transgressions which provides the rules of the realm (his incest is the absolute taboo).  As Jerry Falwell Jr. explained, “Jesus said love our neighbors as ourselves but never told Caesar how to run Rome – he never said Roman soldiers should turn the other cheek in battle or that Caesar should allow all the barbarians to be Roman citizens or that Caesar should tax the rich to help (sic) poor.” Only by allowing Caesar full power – the power of the taboo – of killing Christ – is the realm of the sacred made available. We need the obscene Caesar to delineate – to kill Christ – so that his death can open heaven to us. Jesus must let Caesar be Caesar and Romans 13 must be read in isolation from the rest of Romans as if obedience to the state (rather than a radical subordination aimed at undermining the state) is the only option.  One must allow that the principalities and powers are a realm apart from Christian concern so that Christ is killed by the state and Christians enjoy the benefits. This Christ does not defeat the principalities and powers but works in conjunction with them. Or to state it in the more prosaic terms of the prosperity Gospel, believers can make a killing on earth (financially and otherwise) and this is a sign of spiritual salvation.

The logic of “doing evil that good may abound” depends upon some form of this two-tiered arrangement (heaven/earth, sacred/secular, spirit/flesh, soul/body) in which the evil rendered in one realm (flesh, earth, secular, body) pays dividends in the other realm (spirit, heaven, sacred, soul). The same logic gives us the notion of doing evil or harm to a particular individual for the benefit of the greater good.  Jack Bauer of 24 is endlessly pushed to torture and murder so as to save the world. This fictional character captures the “necessity” of water boarding and other forms of torture carried out by the U.S. government. The logic is simultaneously that of penal substitution and of those who killed Christ – one man must die that the nation/many be saved. The evil done to the one accrues to the benefit of the Others.

This works out nicely for those who enjoy the benefits of evil – the wealth, power, sex, freedom, or simply good health (mental and physical) afforded by being an oppressor and not one of the oppressed. This two-tiered system seems to churn on endlessly in religion and politics, but the one place reality sets in, short of dying, is clearly marriage. Stormy Daniels is apparently not a mere mulligan for Melania. Marriage is the one place a two-tiered system self-destructs (though evangelicals have attempted to put it into place in complementarianism).

Our culture puts something like a final existential load on romance so that it is the equivalent of the spiritual or soulish realm. The sacrifice of earthy/mundane relationship or marriage in pursuit of ethereal romance sets the two-tiered economy into motion.  The problem is, marriage cannot survive in this economy. Romantic love cannot fulfill transcendent/religious desire, so that to keep this myth alive serial romance and serial marriage consume relationships under the totem of final love/enjoyment. Neither can marriage thrive when it is reduced, as Immanuel Kant would have it, to a contractual agreement to manipulate one another’s genitals.  A contract with Stormy does not a marriage make.

The practical approach to marriage we witnessed in Japan – semi arranged marriages which allowed couples to compare resumes and then meet – succeeds, at least statistically, in comparison to this country. However, rising rates of divorce in Japan among those reaching retirement age indicates a practical arrangement does not suffice.  Men who have spent there working life, largely absent from the family, are referred to (by their wives) as “garbage that needs to be disposed of.” Husbands have fulfilled their practical role and are now in the way. So, the flesh imbued with too heavy an existential load will prove inadequate. On the other hand, reduction to mechanics and pragmatics leeches out the meaning necessary for a flourishing relationship.

The necessity of tying the “one flesh” arrangement to Christ and the Church gets at the necessary obliteration between a two-tiered arrangement. Christ constitutes a politic and culture as much he does a marriage. Melania and Stormy, Caesar (worshiped as god) and Christ, can abide together only under the evangelical myth of mulligans, exceptions, and the autonomous secular.  The principalities and powers are being subdued by the reign of Christ, as the prince of this world is being cast out. There is no exception to prove his rule. Those who relegate his rule to an isolated sacred space prostitute their faith to secular rule. They will receive the prostitute’s payment at the expense of the marriage supper of the Lamb.

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Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.

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