There are so many times in my life when I ask the question, “Do we really have to say this out loud?” I ask this when I have to remind a child that poking their injury will indeed continue to cause pain and they should probably stop. And now we apparently have to say, to grown men of all people, that sexual assault, rape, and pedophilia are not ok and have never been ok. I would say I have no words, but you all know that’d be a lie.
The news has really been dealing with the concept of sexual harassment and assault lately. The sad fact is that generations of women have grown up receiving warnings of the “big bad wolves” of the world, being told “it’s just the way things are” and “boys will be boys.” It’s a shame, really. As a man, my parents raised me to treat women with respect, as human beings, not as something to be handled with kid gloves. Sure, I was taught to hold open a door and do what I can to make them comfortable, but that also applied to how I was to treat men as well. I was taught the Philippians 2 method – consider others better than myself.
I have heard that many of these allegations are politically motivated. I would disagree and say that this is the first time that women have felt safe enough and believed enough to actually come forward with these things. Going through sexual assault brings with it a lot of shame and self-doubt, which makes talking about the experience difficult. And, previous to now, most women were told to sit down and be quiet and not mess up some guy’s career or life. This year, however, from sheer number of allegations alone, several high-profile men’s actions were brought to light: Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and more. Women finally have a society/culture they feel safer sharing their stories.
I would love to say that now that the process of outing these men has begun we can finally put all of this to rest and proclaim throughout the land that women will never have to deal with harassment and assault ever again; however, that would be naïve. It would also be naïve to think that there aren’t still men who will do whatever they want as long as they feel their power or cunning can shield them from repercussions. Women cannot be the only ones fighting this battle, defending themselves, decrying their persecutors with no one listening or taking them seriously until the overwhelming weight of multitudinous testimonies finally forces doubt aside by sheer volume.
The church should really stand up and treat sexual misconduct like this with the seriousness it deserves. We should follow Jesus’ example, who believed women, relied on women for material support during his ministry, and took their side in disputes. (See John 8, the story of the women caught in adultery. I have always found it telling that she was caught, but the man was nowhere to be found, which showed the religious people’s priorities.) Jesus’ message was one that each person was to be seen as having value, as being worth our time, as being a creation and child of God. Even the lopsided equality we have now is due to the inherent value placed on each human being in Judeo-Christian theology: from Exodus’s and Deuteronomy’s commands to look after the weak, powerless and foreigner as well as the many protections for women, to Jesus’ treatment of women and the role of women in the early church.
We, as the church, should not tolerate this kind of treatment of women – the crown jewel of creation. (Artist’s final creations are considered the master work, and women were created last, the finest part of creation.) We should take women at their word when they claim harassment. (I am well aware of the “crying wolf” that is often cited here to counter allegations. Those cases should be handled on an individual basis, and not used as a way to discredit half the population. And ask yourself, how many people would be willing to wreck their reputation, job prospects, and bring shame on their family on the slim chance that someone believes them and acts against a perpetrator?) We, as the church, should take the lead in educating men on consent, common decency, and that sexual misconduct of this nature is a zero-tolerance situation. We should remind women that they have a right to say “no” to any unwanted contact, that they have a right to speak up and be believed, and that their personhood is not threatened by having suffered. Women should expect to be sheltered and protected by the church after dealing with abuse, assault, or harassment. We should neither give men the benefit of the doubt just because they’re men, nor doubt women because they’re women. As a society, we’ve known about this stuff for far too long without doing a single thing about it. As a church, we should feel great shame about the lack of attention we have given to women who have suffered and persevered under abuse, assault, and harassment. We should repent, and begin the hard work of honestly evaluating the way we as a church and society handle these cases, and more importantly how we treat fellow human beings who have dealt with the pain and shame that comes from these situations.
And, sure, we can have guidelines like the Billy Graham rule and other fences around these situations, and can follow proper protocol, but it boils down to a heart issue – especially in men. Jesus said that if we think just following rules will prevent sin, go ahead and cut off every limb and cut out every sensory organ, making yourself physically incapable of breaking any rules… and become the most black-hearted, sin riddled torso that ever lived. The heart/attitude is the root of action. Change the hearts, change the minds, and change the culture.
How do you talk to your kids about consent, sex, and how to treat others? Have you discussed with your kids what to do in situations where sexual harassment or assault happen? Have you thought about how to respond if someone confides abuse, assault, or harassment to you? Have you thought about how to respond if your child confides abuse, assault, or harassment to you?
Remember, how you talk about those who have survived abuse, assault, and harassment (alleged or otherwise) will decide whether or not your child feels safe talking to you about their own experiences. Will your child feel safe to talk in your home?