Van Ens: Unzipped living careens toward lechery
A century ago, on August 18, 1920, Tennessee was the 38th state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This vote fulfilled the requirement that for an amendment to be added to the Constitution, it needed approval from three-fourths of the states.
The 19th Amendment intended to even the judicial scales tipped against women. It guaranteed them the right to vote, have financial independence from male domination, and shielded women from paternalistic indignities.
Judging by how Baptist Jerry Falwell, Jr. embarrassed a pregnant woman whose cut-offs were unzipped and midriff exposed, he is not fazed by the 19th Amendment’s guarantee to treat women as equals in voting booths. It was more fun for Falwell to post a suggestive lecherous photo on his Instagram account.
This inappropriate photo features Falwell with his arm around the pregnant woman he identified as his “wife’s assistant.” He, too, has his pants unzipped. The low-brow picture was snapped when this twosome enjoyed a summer outing on a yacht. Falwell sorely offended tee-totaling Baptist supporters of Liberty University by holding a glass of dark-colored liquid, which could be mistaken for shots of Jack Daniels whiskey.
Until recently, Falwell served as Liberty University’s president, succeeding his tele-evangelist father who founded the school. The deceased elder Falwell led the 1980s Moral Majority during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Having disgraced his office and tarnished Liberty University’s Christian image, trustees voted to immediately place Falwell on an indefinite leave of absence. His crass conduct compromised the school’s ban on drinking alcohol, lacked decency, and strayed from the biblical ethic of “putting to death what is earthly in you,” such as “impurity, passion and evil desire” (Colossians 3:5).
Falwell had previously besmirched Liberty University’s reputation as a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump. He bragged to The Washington Post in 2019 that nothing Trump could do would force conservative Christian leaders to withdraw their endorsements for Trump. “I can’t imagine him doing anything that’s not good for the country,” Falwell declared.
After Falwell rallied evangelicals to bless Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, Mark DeMoss, chair of Liberty’s executive committee, resigned. Bible-believing DeMoss blanched at Trump’s hurtful insults, such as mocking people with disabilities. This conduct clashed with Liberty University’s Christian principles, believed DeMoss.
Still, the trustees did not try to collar Falwell over past sins. The photo taken on a pleasure craft, however, of his unzipped pants as he stands with drink in hand alongside a woman wearing unzipped cut-offs proved the adage true: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This photographic indictment riled key Liberty University supporters.
Falwell lamely offered a sexist excuse, saying he commiserated with this woman’s plight. “She’s pregnant, so she couldn’t get her pants on,” he told a snickering host on Lynchburg, Virginia’s radio station WLNI. “And I had on a pair of jeans that I hadn’t worn in a long time, so I couldn’t get mine zipped, either. And so, I just put my belly out like hers.”
Contrite or feigning remorse, Falwell purred, “She’s a sweetheart, and I should never have put it up and embarrassed her.”
Merely an innocent guy horsing around in clean fun with a woman unzipped, some say. No, gender power imbalances tilt this playful interlude against women. What hampers the full implementation of the 19th Amendment a century after its passage are abusive sexual relationships OK’d by some Christians.
For instance, the Southern Baptist Convention ranks as the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. with approximately 15 million members in 47,000 churches. “A six-part Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News report a few years ago found more than 250 SBC officials and volunteers who were convicted of sex-abuse crimes over the past 20 years, and some 700 victims. It also revealed cases in which church members and leaders scorned victims and masked accusations of misconduct against popular pastors,” reported The Wall Street Journal’s assistant editorial page writer Nicole Ault.
After sexual-abuse scandals stained the Roman Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts, what’s acceptable conduct for Falwell and his conservative cohorts has not been met with national outrage.
The Southern Baptist Convention ordains only men as pastors. Believers say men and women have different roles to play in church, at home and with work. This faulty theology usually ends up creating “the misogynistic, sexist culture in the SBC,” says Professor Karen Swallow Prior, a faculty member at Liberty University.
Ensuring women’s right to vote and protecting these rights against predators is part of the 19th Amendment’s intent. Its practice is missing in some Christian churches when the likes of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s unzipped behavior belittles women through blatant sexist behavior.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.