Professor of Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, Oregon State University


How do people who think of themselves as decent Christians support politicians like Donald Trump and Roy Moore? How do they champion policies that discriminate and disadvantage and sometimes even do violence?

Part of the answer may lie in their decency itself.

Latin American theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid identified decency as a concept utilized within colonialism and patriarchy to ensure maintenance of the social order that benefited wealthy, white, male colonizers.* What was outside the approved behaviors of wealthy white men became “indecent.”

Althaus-Reid notes in Latin American culture referring to a man as decent means he is economically honest and proper in his social exchanges. A decent woman is one who doesn’t engage in sexual behavior outside monogamous heterosexual marriage. She says these decency codes control men and women’s behaviors, politically and personally, and keep dominant social, political, economic, and religious structures intact. Christianity has often participated in and reinforced these norms of decency and the oppressive institutions they sustain.

Decency assumes narrowly circumscribed standards as defined by the dominant social order. People who uphold and abide by these standards are then decent people.

If we follow Althaus-Reid’s logic about the gendering of decency, we also recognize that women and men, LGBQ and straight, cis-gender and trans/gender non-conforming people, whites and people of color are held to different standards of decency. Men are decent when they obey the law and when they conform to the carefully crafted patriarchal scripts of white, heterosexual male gender and sexual behavior. Women are decent when they avoid sexual behavior outside normative heterosexual marriage (although the sexual double bind means they still must present themselves as sexually alluring to men while maintaining their purity).Read more here: