By Vanessa Ryerse
As a freshman in college, I was cast in the lead role of the play Antigone. A week ago, today, I was back on campus with my husband and my daughter. We toured the campus and visited all the important places, even gaining entrance into the costume room where members of every cast would sign the wall. That play changed my life. It was the door that would open my heart and mind to who I am today.
Later that day, we were settling to bed at a hotel, watching the breaking news about Trump's terrible (albeit not surprising) conversation, recorded eleven years ago. Talking heads were going insane, suggesting this was the end for Trump, that he would back out of the race, etc. etc. I was so tired. I went to sleep.
Back at home, I attempted to settle back into my routine, but my mind grew increasingly troubled as I watched Trump's version of an apology and the resulting commentary that followed from people I know...some of them even part of the cast of that play that so altered my life. My stomach ached. I couldn't sleep. I obsessively read article after article on Facebook.
Their reaction goes something like this: Well, yeah. What he said was bad. But we've got to think about the Supreme Court. We've got to have pro-life judges! We've got to have judges that believe in traditional families! Besides, it's only words. Women don't seem to mind trashy talk in dirty books and movies and tv shows. Kind of hypocritical, don't you think?
Antigone is a Greek tragedy. We utilized a translation that had been modernized. I found it online and read the whole thing through, hearing it in my memory in our own young voices. The gist of the story is that Antigone has two brothers who have killed each other in a civil war. Their uncle Creon has taken power and to settle the matter, gives one brother a hero's burial and one brother is left to rot, unburied, as an example to the people. Antigone is young and engaged to Creon's son. She has her whole life before her. But leaving her brother unburied meant that his soul would wander forever and he would have no rest in the afterlife. Knowing it would cost her life, she buries the body and defies the king. They exchange a lengthy debate, but ultimately, she cannot be dissuaded. Decency and human dignity must be upheld. Even if her brother was not a good man. It is a moral double-bind. A logic vs. heart decision.
At the time, we planned to create allusions to the pro-life movement within the production, but as rehearsals went on, the idea was dropped. We hoped that the words of the play and the story itself would be enough to say that dignity of human life was worth protecting, even dying for, in the face of powerful leaders who would not uphold it.
There are important political agendas and there is basic human decency and you cannot skip one to get to the other.
"What a person can do, a person should do." Antigone says flatly.
Trump's words and actions have ripped open a wound in the souls of women. An article about Kelly Oxford's Twitter question to women (here) left me nearly paralyzed by memories and shame. But for women like me, who grew up in the evangelical/fundamentalist church, there is a something especially venomous about this. You speak of being pro-life. How we must hold our noses and vote for Trump because of the babies. But please, can somebody tell me, who of you is standing up for women?
For years, you told us that women shouldn't go to work. Our duty was homemaking and taking care of the children. You told us we can't teach the Bible to boys older than twelve. You told us we could never be pastors. You told us that we must be modest because our brothers in Christ were relying on us to “not cause them to stumble.” You had us kneel down before you to measure our commitment to God...or our skirts...we didn't know the difference. You made us so self-conscious that when we looked in the mirror, we learned to be a little plainer, a little uglier, a little less. You told us that we were the keepers of our purity, while the boys scaled the walls to gawk at us in the locker room from the ceiling. When the girl got pregnant, she had to get up in front of the whole school and apologize. When the man molested girls in our school, you gave him a love offering and sent him quietly on his way "for the sake of the gospel." And he molested again. When the missionary abused the missionary kids, you told the girl it was her fault. And he abused again. When we got to Bible college we talked to the other girls: "At your Christian school, too?” You told us over and over again that we could never really be equal because of the curse. And when we got married, you expected us to be attractive, but never sexy. You told us to never say no to our husbands, especially on Saturday night so that he wouldn't be lusting after other women in the church on Sunday morning. You created a collective culture of ignorant mistreatment, inequality, abuse, assault, and objectification, in the name of Jesus.
And now, you would lead those women to vote for a man to lead the whole country in that tone. For the greater good, of course.
In 4th grade penmanship class, I practiced my cursive writing with this quote: "It's never right to do wrong in order to get a chance to do right." -Dr. Bob Jones Sr. The repetition of penmanship practice led to the permanence of the idea in my mind.
And that is the crux of the thing for me. I have friends who will vote for Trump because of finances or military concerns, and I'm ok with that. But for those of you who want to believe that you will achieve some greater good for the Kingdom of God by voting for someone who denigrates other human beings, in the words of Antigone, "I spit on that."
This is not about who you vote for. It is about what you think you are accomplishing. Do not assume that the Kingdom of God is the same as the empires of men. It is not built on the backs of those who can be assaulted into submission.
You can't make the world safer for babies by making it more unsafe for women.
Vanessa has been amused and amazed by Robb for over 20 years now. Together they have had many adventures, not the least of which have been parenting, pastoring and church planting. Vanessa is the mother of four children, and she is an introvert, a coffee-drinker, and a thinker.