This guest article is written by Rev. John Preus, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Clinton, Iowa.
The Emperor’s Fig Leaves: Feminism and the Draft
When the emperor wore no clothes, the subservient crowds were fooled by their own self-willed blindness and refusal to judge the situation by objective standards. The fear of their hearts trumped the light of their minds. Who were they, after all, to trust their own eyes when the emperor, being wiser and more refined, obviously knew better than they? They bamboozled themselves out of a cowardly deference to imperial opinion. And yet, the real humor of the situation is that the emperor himself was also bamboozled by conmen who took advantage of his own cowardly deference to public opinion. If only the people knew that the insecurity of their own hearts was no different from the insecurity that prompted such a naked display of shame in the first place! Ha!
The more we consider this story, the cleverer we see the lesson really is. The emperor is afraid of the crowd’s judgment. The crowd is afraid of the emperor’s. And so the clever tailors con both crowd and crown, tapping into their mutual fear of disapproval. It was the same fatal weakness in both noble and peasant upon which the entire scam depended. They capitalized on the social pettiness that is common to all men – to fear man more than God – to regard how something is perceived more highly than how something really is. Truth is a construct, so it goes – an experiment of sorts to see what ultimate goal might be reached in pursuing it.
Only one little child knew nothing of such “truth.” He knew what he saw. He knew what was self-evidently shameful. Being yet impervious to the social pressure to believe what is roundly deemed expedient (if not realistic) to believe, he retained his God-given discernment and innocent sense of urgency to light a candle to the darkness. And how did he do so? He laughed! He pointed out the obvious. He mocked the absurdity with an air of confidence that the plain truth was manifest to all. But what a fool was that boy! For while the emperor blushed, the crowds hushed – and both out of the same sense of shame and suppressed knowledge that the boy was absolutely right. So while the emperor bared his shame, and the crowds confirmed their status as pawns in someone else’s game, the scamming tailors escaped with gold, the self-satisfied sense of victory, and, not least of all, the self-justifying excuse that he who is willingly deceived is the most magnanimous donor.
There is a willing deception in the pretense that it is acceptable for women to fight alongside men in battle. But laying aside the issue of female conscription for now (which is too manifestly barbaric and immoral to deserve a lengthy response), we must first back up. When did the emperor first bare himself? Was it not when his pride compelled him to devise a new garment that would reflect his relevance in a changing world? Was it not the dawn of feminism? Are we allowed to say this yet? Or is it more complicated than that? Has this grand and glorious movement been woven from finer threads than I imagine?
Under the guise of modern progress and equality, conmen have flattered the lords of our culture. They promised glory. They assured the noble and haughty emperor that what they can weave for him has never been seen before and will incite gratitude and devotion the world over. But instead of honor, they invite him to don a lie – a lie that the masses have been eager to adore with consent and imitation – a lie that has compelled them to wear and boast of the same nothing-garment like teeny-boppers mimicking glamorous celebrities – a lie that deprives men and women of feeling comfortable in their own skin or of finding honor in their own God-ordained vocations. But this lie renders them all naked before those who are content with their childlike wisdom – those who are satisfied to acknowledge the self-evident without feeling compelled to prove what all creation already knows. The emperor’s got no clothes! The lie that demands the silence of such a frank assessment is the lie of feminism. Let’s just say it – despite the blush and scorn of the emperor and above the loud hush of the crowd!
Feminism confuses equality with sameness and drives a wedge between Helper and Head. Feminism teaches that women are oppressed when relegated to the domestic life. The strength of this lie, at least at first, was the fact that in any age of sinful men there was no shortage of anecdotal evidence that men were cruel to women. Go figure! And so the campaign to throw out the baby with the bathwater was fueled by enraged women and sympathetic men. Progress made no provisions for the increasingly obsolete need for the old domestic duties that once brought women gratitude and honor. And so new clothes were sought. But abandoning the apron and tender hand, the uniform and gun were offered instead. Women, your greatest honor shall now be found in what the millennia have denied you. Your honor shall now be found where duty of a monstrous sort demands your sacrifice.
Feminism teaches that the duties of mother and homemaker can only bring contentment if such a vocation is first weighed and judged as something that a woman deems personally fulfilling. Never mind the examples and specific encouragement that the Holy Spirit found fit to offer our wives and daughters. Feminism is the lie that the freedom a man has in the world to pursue honor should be granted to women as well – lest men keep all the honor for themselves. But it’s a lie. And if I am oversimplifying anything here, consider that the voice of the candid child must first be heeded before the grownups rack their brains to devise a suitable chant to raise in defense (or subtle explanation) of the emperor’s new clothes. Consider with the censured little boy what is obvious before we moderate his words with assurances that it’s more complicated than all that, dear child!
The freedom a man is granted in civilized society to pursue honor outside the home is the freedom to bring it home to his wife and children. It is the freedom to speak with his enemies in the gates. It is the freedom to provide his wife and daughters the raw material from which they will spin and weave domestic tranquility and social sturdiness. What they weave is beautiful. What they clothe their children with and honor their husbands with can neither be bought from traveling salesmen nor outsourced to so-called professionals. It is the distinct honor and privilege of those queens and maidens of domestic life to care for and nurture the life of the home, the very foundation of community and culture.
The freedom a man has to enjoy such mobility in society comes with both purpose and responsibility. The purpose is to uphold the work and sacrifices that are indispensable in their own right – the work of godly women of all ages – yet largely hidden from the hustle and bustle of the public square. His freedom to do those things that for millennia have been reserved for men and denied to women is granted to him precisely because the freedom it affords women is so very precious. It is the freedom to be mothers without being tugged from the home. It is the freedom to serve in feminine capacities without being expected to compete with men. It is the freedom to continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control. It is a freedom in rare commodity today because women – long before they may be conscripted to war – are conscripted to sing the praises of feminism, lest they come across as ungrateful for the “freedom” this doctrine has attained for them. And so because men have abandoned their purpose, they have also compelled women to share in their responsibility. Is it any wonder, really, that a culture which teaches its daughters to compete with men in business, academia, science, and even sports is also a culture that dismisses the threat of my daughters being conscripted to fight men overseas in bloody warfare? Surely the emperor was naked before this latest of feminist victories.
But perhaps the emperor was already naked even before the dawn of feminism, pathetic man that he is. Perhaps the eventual triumph of feminism was just the occasion for the emperor, as it once was for his father Adam who likewise listened to the voice of his wife, to first get the funny feeling that he was not wearing any clothes. Perhaps the reign of feminism has simply provided the emperor that age-old temptation to hide his complicit guilt by partaking in the sin he blithely watched play out – when, if not like God, his wife was promised she could be like him. Perhaps the whole reason he felt the need to wear new clothes was because he had already soiled his own and shamed himself by shirking his duties as king of his realm – his duties as a man, as lord of his home, as head of his wife.
Such is the progress of men.
But concerning the manifest threat and rotten fruits of feminism, surely our churchmen and conservative leaders are not so daft. Surely they have seen the writing on the wall. They have known for some time that the emperor is naked. They retain some of that puerile innocence that recognizes shame when they see it. The emperor is naked. Feminism is a dangerous creed. Put some clothes on him! Honor thy mother! But they, it seems, have underestimated what kind of garment he needs. Instead of identifying feminism for what it is, we have simply identified various fruits which it has borne. Abortion is opposed. Good. Homosexuality is opposed. Good. Divorce and fornication are opposed. Good. But to whatever degree we have spoken well on these issues, they have amounted to bracelets and medallions to cover the naked body of a fool. The emperor is naked. What kind of garment does he need?
Women will be compelled to register for the selective service. They will be drafted. They will be forced to give up their honor as women and to die in who knows what kind of military venture our nation might embark upon. All of this is going to happen as surely as birth control led to abortion, as surely as no-fault divorce led to rampant fornication and homosexual “marriage,” as surely as the emptying of the home and the confusion of roles between men and women led to female pastors in the church. The one follows the other as the threads of decency are pulled and the whole cloak unravels before our eyes.
What the emperor needs is not fig leaves. He does not need a skimpy covering of man’s devising. Fig leaves might cover this problem or that – they might address sodomy or abortion individually – but they do not truly cover the shame of the emperor. Fig leaves are confused by most as laurels that mark some grand achievement. They mislead the masses even as the self-appointed spokesmen of virtue applaud themselves for having cautiously avoided scandal without offending those who have already stumbled into the snare. They thus serve to sanctify shame rather than truly cover it. The emperor first needs to be told what the child is saying. He needs to know he’s naked. Our leaders – both in church and state – need to identify the glaring issue of feminism. Before he can be covered – before our culture can offer some suitable garment to cover the grave error that feminism has borne, it must first learn to fear God more than man and to regard what is true more highly than how it is received. So much more must our churches and theologians learn to confess the truth amidst the ridicule of the crowd. We must call a spade a spade and oppose the confusion that feminism has wrought as clearly as the child who mocked the emperor’s new clothes.
Our Synod is dealing with a serious threat. In order for us to manage, we must urge our leaders and all our pastors to speak clearly to the issues of women in the church as well as women in the home, and even women in society. Picking and choosing fights with which we imagine we might win our people rather than just speaking the whole truth in love, is nothing but fig leaves for the emperor. It may not be as evil as pretending he’s fully clothed, but it ultimately solves no more problems. While fig leaves might appear to acknowledge some guilt, they do so while presuming that the shame can be covered without fully identifying the full extent of the evil. They insinuate that the emperor is not totally naked, but simply needs a better tailor. Fig leaves say that there is nothing necessarily wrong with what the emperor is wearing. He just needs to straighten his collar and fix his posture. But God will not cover a man who is merely unkempt. He casts off such a man into the outer darkness of willful deception and divine judgment. God will only cover the one who bears his shame and recognizes his need to be clothed again. The only evangelical way to deal with our sick culture, therefore, is to expose the pride and insanity that has compelled him to flaunt his imaginary new clothes in the first place. While we try to moderate the reckless denunciation of the child among us, the emperor grows all the more pompous in his shame. Exposing himself to our children, he is now imposing himself on our daughters. And so we come again to the threat of conscription of our women – the latest in a long progression of attacks on God’s order of creation.
As I see it, female conscription is the final gagging of the wise little boy. It is the final binding of the little girl who once snickered with innocent approval at her brother’s bold announcement. “He’s right,” she says. For the sake of our next generation – for the sake of our daughters and for what makes them so precious to the generation that may yet follow, let us join them in their denouncement of what has offended their tender eyes. The emperor is naked! They’re right.
Pastor John Christian Preus is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Clinton, Iowa.