Some Christian Thoughts on the Culture’s Recent Outrage Over Sexual Harassment, Impropriety, and Abuse
All eyes are now focussed on a serious issue in our society: what seems a pandemic of sexual harassment, impropriety, and abuse. While the latest iteration of this is mostly focussed on politicians, the issue in one form or another has often been in the news: the Hollywood culture, the Catholic Church’s pedophile priests, workplace sexual harassment, and so forth. How does or should a Christian assess the news? Several Biblical answers are worth keeping in perspective.
1. The fundamental problem is not simply acts of wrongdoing but a wicked heart, sin against God, and human depravity: The following passage might be an epitaph for any number of the persons guilty of sexual sin now in the news:
Psalm 36:1-4 Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. 2 For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated. 3 The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good. 4 He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.
The pervasiveness of sin is the human plight; it does not rest on the shoulders of only a few among us. Quoting the Old Testament, Paul says,
Romans 3:10-18 "None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 13 "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." 14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known." 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."
Sin is not only the condition of every person who sins; it is also the condition of humanity because we live in a sinful world:
Romans 5:12 … sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin….
Moreover, sin against others is also sin against God. As King David says,
Psalm 51:4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
The #Metoo tweeting by persons accusing someone of sexual abuse is helpful insofar as it undermines the power of persons who thought themselves too powerful to fall. There is strength in numbers. Yet there might also be a #Metoo tweeting by us all that we, too, have sinned. As Jesus taught us to pray,
Matthew 6:12 … forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
2. The solution to the human plight comes from God Himself: While no one is righteous before God and, instead, deserves death for sin, God has provided salvation through Christ Jesus. As Paul says,
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
David, too, knew that only God could help the human plight. No sinful person can satisfy God’s standard of righteousness. David said,
Psalm 32:1-2 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
Some religions hope that humans might do enough good to find approval from God. Some teach ways to try to climb up to God. But Christianity speaks of how God came to us, for only salvation from God will save us from our plight of sin. Paul says,
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
3. Selective moral views in the culture: From a Christian standpoint, a focus on sexual harassment, groping, and rape is a positive aspect in an otherwise increasingly post-Christian culture. Just when we thought the leaders of postmodern culture would have us reject any absolute and just when they were winning the population to the view that morality is merely a subjective preference instead of an equally plausible alternative, most everyone is now affirming that some behaviours are categorically wrong. At least not all moral issues upheld by the Church have been jettisoned.
Unfortunately, only sexual ethics involving ‘freedom’ are condemned: one person doing to another what the other does not wish. Biblical sexual ethics is not based on freedom but on the conviction that only sex within marriage between a man and a woman is ‘undefiled’ (Hebrews 13.4). We view the affirmation of—even advocacy for—homosexuality and transgenderism in the culture as equally immoral. Casual sex, premarital sex, couples living together before marriage, adultery, divorce in order to marry another are all common within our culture. They are all condemned as sin within Scripture. Pornography and filthy speech are very much a part of Western culture, where freedom rather than accountability and responsibility is supreme. For Christians, the sexualisation and promiscuousness of Western culture is far worse than simply the selective sexual perversions now in the news.
4. A Path to restitution: One thing that stands out in the current news is the lack of a Christian pathway to restitution for sinners. We might begin by noting that this is somewhat understandable in a post-Christian culture. Perhaps only one of the persons recently accused of sexual harassment claims to be a Christian, and he denies the charges. Yet it is ever so sad to witness cultural outrage towards some people who may have sinned years ago and the only ‘moral’ response is condemnation and calls for their resignation. Missing is the call to repentance, the person’s request for forgiveness, the hope of God’s absolution of sin, restitution to right relationships with God and others, and transformation by the renewing of depraved minds (Romans 1.28; 12.2). It is as though the only choices are denial or dismissal.
Take the example of King David. He used his power as king to have a man, Uriah, placed at the front lines of battle so that he would die in order that he, David, could marry Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, with whom he had already committed adultery (2 Samuel 11). Now, there’s a scandal that might even make Washington shake! Yet, King David is remembered also for his repentance, famously captured in Psalm 51: ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!’ (vv. 1-2). The people of God can attest to God’s loving character and forgiveness of all who repent for they themselves have been forgiven by God:
Psalm 103:11-12 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
5. Hypocrisy: Christians are aware that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3.23). They know by heart the words, ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1.8-9). To deny that we have sinned is to deny the need for the cross of Jesus, for Jesus died for our sins. As Peter says, ‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3.18). When Jesus said, ‘Judge not, that you be not judged’ (Matthew 7.1), he was not saying, as most people erroneously believe, that Christians should not judge sin. He was saying, as the rest of Jesus’ words clearly show, that we should not be hypocrites. Jesus declares the humble, repentant tax collector justified and the self-exalting, self-righteous Pharisee not (Luke 18.9-14).
What is worrying about the present focus in a selection of sexual sins in the news is the probability that there is a lot of hypocrisy going around. This is not to say that judgement is wrong, but it is to add wonderment regarding the immense amount of hypocrisy as accusations fly. Paul charged self-righteous Jews of his day with hypocrisy:
Romans 2:17-23 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth- 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.
Perhaps the starkest example of the culture’s hypocrisy over sexual impropriety comes from Hollywood. An industry that consistently teaches immorality through its narratives in both its movies and the sordid lives of many of its stars is hardly in a position to be outraged over sexual impropriety. The Hollywood culture is based on and dependent on sexual impropriety.
6. The Church is called to a far higher standard of righteousness than the world: Christians have little reason to hope for righteousness from those who reject God. Their focus is not firstly the sins of our culture. Their focus should be on their own calling to live holy and blameless lives in love (Ephesians 1.4). We are to ‘cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed’ (1 Corinthians 5.7). We are not a club for recalcitrant sinners but are to ‘Purge the evil person from among you’ (1 Corinthians 5.13).
In sum, Christians are aware of more kinds of sexual improprieties that the selection of several in the news, understand them as ‘sins’ because they are also offenses against God and His commandments, and warn that, while judgement is important, we should beware of hypocrisy. They are aware that humanity as a whole is under the grip of sin: we all need to repent and receive forgiveness from God through Jesus’ substitutionary death on our behalf. None of us can hope that our good outweighs our bad. Christians also have far more to offer than accusation and punishment. The Church offers a communal life in Christ that includes repentance, forgiveness, absolution, restoration, and transformation to sinners. It is also to look to itself in living to a higher standard of righteousness than the world. Indeed, Jesus Christ ‘is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption’ (1 Corinthians 1.30).