The Challenge of Authenticity

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Despite a substantial campaign war chest and a high-profile position, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has withdrawn her 2020 presidential candidacy.[1] Consistently polling well below 1% nationally—often between .1 and .2%—Gillibrand was far below the 2% polling threshold required by the DNC for participation in the next Democratic primary debate.[2] But how can this be? After all, when she first declared her candidacy, Fox News host Tucker Carlson observed, “Gillibrand is fascinating because she so perfectly embodies the attitudes and the vanities of the modern Democratic Party.”[3]

As a staunch champion of women, Senator Gillibrand ran an unabashedly feminist campaign at a time when, as the New York Times reports, “women are ascendant in Democratic politics, and polls show a record gender gap between parties.”[4] She was the only candidate who made running as a woman, for women, the central theme of her campaign. The Times reports, “Her first words on national television describing her rationale for running were that she is a ‘young mom.’ Her first big speech as a candidate took place at a women’s march in Des Moines. Her first fund-raising event was hosted by a women’s group in the Bay Area. And her first question from the press—about her likability—she derided as ‘sexist.’”[5]

Senator Gillibrand has made electing women to Congress a personal cause. She anchored her candidacy in issues of women’s equality with a strong emphasis on abortion rights,[6] earning a 100% rating from the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL: Pro-Choice America.[7] She told National Review that, if elected president, she would repeal the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban,[8] and she told Chris Wallace during a Fox News town hall that it is a woman’s right to determine if and when to kill her unborn baby at any point in her pregnancy.[9] She even pledged to screen nominees for judgeships based upon their willingness to openly support Roe v. Wade.[10]

When Senator Al Franken (D-MN) was accused of sexual misconduct toward women, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was the first within her caucus to call for his resignation.[11] On the Senate floor and before news cameras, she ardently supported Dr. Christine Blasey Ford when she accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault during his Supreme Court nomination hearings.[12] She even said President Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency because of his inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky—despite his having campaigned and raised money for her, and despite Hillary Clinton having written the forward to Gillibrand’s book.[13][14]

Regarding her former policy positions, Gillibrand has been sufficiently repentant. She said she is “embarrassed” of her former policy positions regarding gun control and her A-rating by the National Rifle Association (NRA) when she was a House member.[15][16] Similarly, she is “ashamed” of her former policy positions regarding illegal immigration.[17][18] Today she is opposed to an effort to build a wall along our southern border,[19][20] and she lauds the virtues of sanctuary cities.[21]

Among the presidential candidates, she was arguably the most apologetic of her upbringing and former “convictions,” the most ashamed of her white privilege, and the most “woke”—continually pandering to every group approved by the social justice community. She was the only presidential candidate to campaign at a drag queen club, and on the first day of Pride Month, she unveiled an LGBTQ+ agenda that would mobilize two federal agencies to fight LGBTQ+ discrimination while also using the Department of Justice to classify LGBTQ+ individuals as a “protected class.”[22] She was the first candidate to call for a third gender option on birth certifications, and she even vowed to fight LGBTQ+ homelessness.[23]

Gillibrand frames her political views in moral terms.[24][25] She is intersectional.[26] She supports the idea of paying race-based reparations.[27] She supports giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.[28] She has called for the end of “for-profit prisons” at the border, a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, and the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).[29] She co-sponsored a bill guaranteeing federal jobs paying at least $15 an hour, plus benefits.[30] She supports Medicare-for-all.[31] She supports the Green New Deal, and she co-sponsored a resolution “recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal.”[32][33]

Moreover, she made every effort to demonstrate to voters that she is fun, relatable, and accessible. She announced that she was exploring a presidential run on the Late Show with Steven Colbert,[34] and she shared video footage of her workout routine on Instagram.[35] On the campaign trail, she has sipped shots while dancing in a gay bar,[36] played beer pong, swapped dresses with a drag queen, and arm wrestled a college student.[37]

In summary, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has presented herself as moral, fun, accessible, and so incredibly intersectional and woke that there simply isn’t sufficient space even to highlight her major positions. According to the Washington Post:

On paper, she’s set herself up to succeed: Gillibrand has never lost an election in her 13-year career in politics. She’s an advocate for women and families at a time when the law has been lapped by societal sentiment. She’s progressive enough to have supported Medicare-for-all since 2006, but she had enough bipartisan reach to get Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to vote for her (as yet unpassed) Military Justice Improvement Act, which would protect those sexually assaulted while serving. She also co-sponsored the 9/11 first responders bill.[38]

Why then has she been unable to win the hearts and minds of Democratic voters who are passionate about such issues? Even after two nationally televised debates, and after spending 80 cents of every dollar raised by her campaign to promote herself, she has barely managed to register above zero in the national polls.[39][40]

Perhaps Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is her own greatest obstacle. She is viewed by many as inauthentic—always willing to change her positions to cater to public opinion. Even David Paterson—the New York governor who appointed Gillibrand to fill Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) Senate seat when she became Secretary of State—observed that Gillibrand’s policy positions immediately changed from moderate to radical, saying, “She had very middle-of-the-road points of view. It just kind of appeared that she sort of flipped. I think in retrospect, it would have been better to evolve.”[41] Similarly, the Washington Post observed that while Gillibrand has said, “I will stand up for what I believe in,” “What she believes quickly changed as she moved from House to Senate.”[42] The very day of her appointment to the Senate, she changed her position on gun control.[43] Furthermore, the Post reports:

Gillibrand overhauled her political identity during this period, abandoning the conservative positions that made her popular upstate and embracing or even moving further left than the liberal consensus on guns, immigration, Wall Street and same-sex marriage. As the Democratic Party itself moved left, she staked out positions popular with the party’s swelling base of liberals, a posture most evident when she called for abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. She has voted against President Trump’s agenda more than any other senator. Gillibrand’s evolution seemed to reach its apex last week when she introduced herself as a candidate for president and a fighter for liberal values.[44]


Moreover, there appears to be a disconnect between what she says she believes and what she does in practice. She claims to be a champion for women, devoted to seeing more women appointed to positions of authority, but she has consistently voted against women nominated to run some of our nation’s most influential agencies. According to the National Review, Senator Gillibrand has voted against:

  • Kirstjen Nielsen as secretary of Homeland Security
  • Elaine Chao as secretary of Transportation
  • Betsy DeVos as secretary of Education
  • Heather Wilson as secretary of the Air Force
  • Linda McMahon to run the Small Business Administration
  • Seema Verma to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
  • Kristine Svinicki to run the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  • Neomi Rao to run the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs
  • Pam Patenaude as deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development
  • Courtney Simmons Elwood as CIA general counsel
  • Sigal Mandelker as under secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence
  • Jennifer Gillian Newstead as legal adviser of the Department of State
  • Gina Haspel as CIA director

Several of these were not controversial appointments, such as Mandelker who was confirmed 96–4, Newstead 88–11, and Svinicki 88–9.[45]

Similarly, Senator Gillibrand has voted against four of the five female federal appeals court nominees:

  • Amy Coney Barrett for the Seventh Circuit
  • Joan Larsen for the Sixth Circuit
  • Allison Eid for the Tenth Circuit
  • Elizabeth Branch for the Eleventh Circuit[46]


Fair or not—true or not—when Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is willing to suddenly and dramatically change her position on issues she repeatedly classifies as being fundamentally moral, and when her actions fail to align with her rhetoric, it is tempting to conclude that she is inauthentic—that, at her core, she is not truly the radical woke Democrat that she claims to be. As such, her best efforts to persuade others regarding important issues—or even to convince people that she is someone they would like to get to know better—are undermined. Her level of influence is limited because people simply don’t accept that she truly believes what she preaches—that she won’t act differently under pressure.

So, what does Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s resignation from the 2020 presidential race teach us as Christians? It reveals that society actively resists inauthenticity. It is a reminder that what we say and do matters very little if people don’t believe that we are sincere.

So, what does it mean to be authentic? Unfortunately, there is a popular myth circulating among Christians today that authenticity means allowing others to see our faults. As such numerous Christian leaders are emphasizing their weaknesses to prove that they are just as messed up as the next person in a misguided attempt to be authentic.

In truth, authenticity has very little to do with allowing others to see how confused and broken we are. If we turn to Scripture, we find a definition of authenticity in Ephesians 4:22–24, “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

In Relevant magazine, Stephen McAlpin sums up this passage by saying, “An authentic person is one who is both privately and publicly putting off the old self and, by God’s grace, putting on the renewed self.”[47] Isn’t this what Jesus called us to in Luke 9:23? “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Why should people who are looking to see whether we are as messed up as they be encouraged to listen to us if we prove to them that we really aren’t that different from one another? Rather, we should be continually embracing our new redeemed nature from God. In other words, we should be living according to whom God says we truly are rather than according to our old nature (Rom. 6:6; 1 Cor. 6:9–11; Gal. 3:26–27; 1 Pet. 2:9–10). When we do, we can be angry without sinning; we can be honest with one another; we can speak in a ways that edify others; we can forgive those who offend us, and we can be kind to others (Eph. 4:26–32). In short, when we consistently embrace who we are in Christ, we can sincerely represent a radically different lifestyle and hope—even under pressure—to a world that is desperately seeking authenticity (1 Pet. 3:14–15).

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Timothy Zebell

As a former missionary to Asia for twelve years and the author of several books, Timothy is passionate about helping people understand the relevancy of God's Word in today's world. His goals are to help Christians discern truth from error, empower Christians to speak into cultural matters with relevancy, and to help Christians capitalize on the opportunities that these matters provide for sharing the truth about God and His gospel message.
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1. Merica, Dan. “Kirsten Gillibrand Drops Out of 2020 Presidential Race.” Politics. CNN, n.d. Last updated August 28, 2019, 9:02 p.m., ET.

2. Peele, Anna. “The Ignoring of Kirsten Gillibrand.” News. Washington Post, July 8, 2019.

3. “Tucker: Kirsten Gillibrand the Victim?” YouTube video, 7:03. Posted by “Fox News,” February 20, 2019.

4. Lerer, Lisa and Shane Goldmacher. “‘This Is My Space’: Kirsten Gillibrand’s Unabashedly Feminist Campaign.” New York Times, February 12, 2019.

5. Lerer.

6. Burns, Alexander. “Gillibrand Drops Out of 2020 Democratic Presidential Race.” Politics. New York Times, August 28, 2019. Last updated August 30, 2019.

7. “Issues.” Kirsten Gillibrand United States Senator for New York.

8. McCormack, John. “Gillibrand: Repeal the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban.” The Corner. National Review, June 28, 2019, 10:09 a.m.

9. Hains, Tim. “Kirsten Gillibrand at FOX Town Hall: FOX News Uses ‘Infanticide’ as a Red Herring in Abortion Debate.” RealClear Politics, June 3, 2019.

10. Burns, “Gillibrand Drops Out of 2020 Democratic Presidential Race.”

11. Goldmacher, Shane and Matt Flegenheimer. “Kirsten Gillibrand, Long a Champion of Women, Finds the Nation Joining Her.” Politics. New York Times, December 16, 2017.

12. Mosbergen, Dominique. “Kirsten Gillibrand Slams GOP Senators as Patronizing Bullies for Kavanaugh Response.” Huffington Post, September 27, 2018, 7:50 a.m., ET.

13. Goldmacher, “Kirsten Gillibrand, Long a Champion of Women, Finds the Nation Joining Her.”

14. Steinhauer, Jennifer. “Bill Clinton Should Have Resigned Over Lewinsky Affair, Kirsten Gillibrand Says.” Politics. New York Times, November 16, 2017.

15. Rocha, Veronica and Brian Ries. “Kirsten Gillibrand Takes Questions at CNN Town Hall.” CNN, n.d. Last updated April 10, 2019, 1:23 a.m., ET.

16. Toure, Madina. “Sen. Gillibrand ‘Embarrassed’ by Past Conservative Stances on Guns, Immigration.” Observer, February 12, 2018, 11:44 a.m.

17. Chasmar, Jessica. “Kirsten Gillibrand ‘Ashamed’ of Past Moderate Views on Illegal Immigration.” Washington Times, April 10, 2019.

18. Kaczynski, Andrew. “How Kirsten Gillibrand Went from Pushing for More Deportations to Wanting to Abolish ICE.” KFile. CNN, n.d. Last updated January 31, 2019, 12:36 p.m., ET.

19. Carney, Jordain. “20 Dems Demand No More Money for ICE Agents, Trump Wall.” The Hill, April 17, 2019, 1:30 p.m., EDT.

20. Schneider, Elena. “Gillibrand Goads Trump with Speech in Front of New York Hotel.” Politico, March 24, 2019, 2:34 p.m., EDT.

21. Lim, Naomi. “Kirsten Gillibrand ‘Embarrassed’ of Not Understanding ‘Gun Violence’ When NRA Gave Her an A-Rating.” Washington Post, February 11, 2018, 7:00 p.m.

22. Korte, Cara. “Kirsten Gillibrand Unveils LGBTQ Agenda on First Day of Pride.” News. CBS News, June 1, 2019, 9:52 a.m.

23. Korte.

24. Wallace-Wells, Benjamin. “Kirsten Gillibrand and the New Faces of Moral Reform.” New Yorker, March 8, 2019.

25. Wallace-Wells, “Kirsten Gillibrand and the New Faces of Moral Reform.”

26. Wallace-Wells.

27. Breuninger, Kevin. “Reparations, Criminal Justice Reform and Trump: Democratic Presidential Candidates Make Progressive Pledges at Al Sharpton-Led Convention.” Politics. CNBC, April 5, 2019, 8:05 p.m., EDT. Last updated April 5, 2019, 9:05 p.m., EDT.

28. Casiano, Louis. “In Latest Reversal, Gillibrand Now Supports Letting Illegal Immigrants Get Driver’s Licenses.” Fox News, January 17, 2019.

29. Viebeck, Elise. “‘I Will Stand Up for What I Believe In’ Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Says—but What She Believes Quickly Changed as She Moved from House to Senate.” Washington Post, January 20, 2019, 8:00 a.m., EST.–but-what-she-believes-quickly-changed-as-she-moved-from-house-to-senate/2019/01/19/1534b4ce-1b55-11e9-9ebf-c5fed1b7a081_story.html.

30. Paddison, Laura. “What Is a Federal Jobs Guarantee?” Huffington Post, July 6, 2018, 5:46 a.m., ET. Last updated July 6, 2018.

31. Peele, “The Ignoring of Kirsten Gillibrand.”

32. A Resolution Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal. S.Res.59 Cong. (2019).

33. “Gillibrand Joins Senator Markey, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez And Other Members Of The House And Senate To Introduce Historic Resolution To Set Framework For A Green New Deal For America; Landmark Legislation Comes After Gillibrand’s Public Call Last Month Urging Her Senate Colleagues To Solve The Climate Change Crisis, Eliminate Carbon Emissions, Modernize Our Economy And Create Good, New Jobs For American Workers Throughout New York And All Across The Country.” Kirsten Gillibrand United States Senator for New York, February 7, 2019.

34. Goldmacher, Shane. “Kirsten Gillibrand Officially Enters 2020 Democratic Race.” Politics. New York Times, March 17, 2019.

35. “Gillibrand Dragged on Social Media for ‘Cringeworthy’ Workout Video.” Fox News video, 3:26. Posted by n.a.

36. T., Brett. “Kirsten Gillibrand Cuts Loose in a Gay Bar in Iowa, Sipping a Shot and Modeling Her Pride Month T-Shirt.” Twitchy, June 8, 2019, 4:38 p.m.

37. Goldmacher, Shane. “Kirsten Gillibrand Is Struggling. Will Abortion Rights Be Her Rallying Cry?” Politics. New York Times, May 17, 2019.

38. Goldmacher.

39. Burns, “Gillibrand Drops Out of 2020 Democratic Presidential Race.”

40. Goldmacher, “Kirsten Gillibrand, Long a Champion of Women, Finds the Nation Joining Her.”

41. Viebeck, “‘I Will Stand Up for What I Believe In’ Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand Says—but What She Believes Quickly Changed as She Moved from House to Senate.”

42. Viebeck.

43. Viebeck.

44. McLaughlin, Dan. “Kirsten Gillibrand’s Empty Gender Rhetoric.” The Corner. National Review, May 15, 2018, 4:59 p.m.

45. McLaughlin.

46. McAlpin, Stephen. “‘Being Authentic’ Is More Than Just Being Honest.” Relevant, December 16, 2014.


Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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