Harvey Weinstein, the Broadway and Hollywood producer has been accused by more than a dozen women of sexual assault and rape. While I believe a person is innocent until proven guilty, the accusations against Weinstein have unleashed a wave of courageous women stepping forward to say, “Me, too.”
I’d like to pretend such things don’t happen in church world, but they do. Kay Warren (wife of Rick Warren) and Beth Moore have stepped forward to describe their own encounters with predators. My acquaintance, Molly Marshall, shared that her married Elementary Greek instructor at seminary hit on her in the seminary library. When she did not respond to his advances, her grade was lowered from a “A” to an “A-.”
I remember interviewing a Children’s Pastor candidate who told me she was on her knees, working in a supply closet, when her pastor came by and remarked, “I like to see a woman on her knees.” His tone made it clear he was not talking about prayer.
Jesus told us lust is the same as committing adultery. The word Jesus used means to crave something intensely. Lusting is not noticing a woman is a woman, or that a woman is attractive (or, for that matter, that man is a man or a man is attractive). Lust is seeing a person as an object. Lust is craving a person to merely satisfy your own appetite. Jesus told us we are more than our appetites (as opposed to Freud).
Every one of us has given in to our appetites. Almost every man I know, including myself, has objectified woman at some point in time. I feel ashamed of my juvenile attitudes. I have sought to make amends as appropriate for actions of the past. I think every man should. I know women can lust as well, but I am not able to address that point of view.
When we read stories about Harvey Weinstein, we must say, “Me, too. There have been points in my life when I let my sexual appetite take control.” When our sexual appetites take control, we make people like a candy bar we crave. God made us to be more than objects – that’s the belief of Jesus followers.
As Jesus followers, we should not expect non-Jesus followers to live by Jesus’s values. I don’t think we should delight when Hollywood gets caught in a contradiction of its own values. We must confess there is a sexual assault issue in the church we cannot ignore. We have no room for self-righteousness.
We declare courageously Jesus offers a different way of seeing a person’s worth. A person is valued not because of their sexuality, but because they are created in the image of God.
But more than this, the church must ruthlessly confront any effort to exploit a person sexually. There must be no double standard for male or female. No one in church should ever fear sexual assault or suggestiveness.
We may say something we think is funny, but it is harmful. When we realize we’ve caused offense in Jesus’s church, we must apologize at once and seek forgiveness. We must call out those whose “hugs” are pathetic attempts at sexual gratification, and tell them such behavior is not tolerated. We must speak truth that suggestive sexual comments have no place in the body of Christ. All people need to feel safe in Jesus’s church.
When a pastor or a church leader is guilt of sexual assault (verbal or physical), that person needs to step away from church leadership. No matter how gifted they are as a leader or a preacher, we cannot allow them to stay in a position “for the sake of the ministry.” There are hills worth dying on and this is one.
Years ago, I was teaching on lust on a Wednesday night. One of our more conservative members spoke up to declare the problem was not men, but what women were wearing. If only they wore more clothes, he said, lust would not be a problem for him.
I thought a moment, then replied there was a flaw in his argument. No one can make you lust, just as no one can make you sin. Sin is your choice.
His response, “Preacher, when a woman takes off all her clothes in front of you, I have no choice but to lust.”
I didn’t want to explore what that statement meant. But God gave me the words I needed at just the moment. Before I knew what was coming out of my mouth, I said, “It’s her choice to take off her clothes. It’s my choice to close my eyes.”
Make the choice that honors Jesus.