Article Oct 9, 2017

A no-tolerance policy for sexual harassment

There is another scandal in the news. This time it involves allegations that a longtime Hollywood movie mogul used his power and influence to sexually harass numerous women across several decades. And this is but the latest example. Similar scandals have recently brought considerable upheaval to the conservative cable network, Fox News, which witnessed the departure of both executives and on-air talent in the wake of multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

There is a lesson here: The failure to appropriately harness our God-given sexual desire is not a partisan issue; it happens indiscriminately on the Left and the Right. But an issue of even greater consequence lies beyond the problems of Hollywood and the media. For far too long, sexual harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct have plagued the church and harmed her witness.

Sexual harassment and human dignity

Sexual harassment is an issue of human dignity. If we affirm that every person bears the image of God, then we also affirm that every person possesses an intrinsic and inviolable dignity (Gen. 1:27). Making aggressive and unwanted sexual advances violates a person’s dignity and personhood. But to speak plainly, recognizing this principle isn’t usually the problem. There is almost universal agreement among Christians that sexual harassment is bad. Instead, our problem is that we often fail to recognize subtle breaches of this principle, or worse, fail to take the appropriate action when we do.

Sexual misconduct should scandalize us. God hates it. And we must not tolerate it.

Sexual harassment is more than physical abuse. It can manifest in a number of different forms—including verbal and non-verbal communication—all of which can devastate and ruin lives. For this reason, Christians need to be attentive, not only to our actions, but to all of the ways we interact with others to ensure that we are treating those around us with dignity and respect. We must not assume that our behavior is permissible simply because it doesn’t cause any physical harm. Sexually-charged words and actions that stop short of physical contact can be just as threatening and just as wicked.

Dealing with sexual misconduct

No one should feel safe to be an abuser. There is no position of authority that should insulate or excuse a person for inappropriate sexual behavior, and certainly not in the church. Authority requires accountability.

For victims, there should be no shame in speaking up. If someone comes forward with accusations of sexual harassment, those allegations must be handled with the utmost seriousness. Anyone subjected to sexual harassment or abuse should be met by the church with grace and compassion. Further, those possessing knowledge of such abuse should make every effort to be sure the matter is thoroughly investigated, and that the appropriate actions are taken. And it must be said, in the case of abuse involving a minor, call the police. When warranted by the circumstances, Christians should immediately contact the appropriate authorities without guilt or hesitation.

A word to Christian leaders

As Christian leaders, we should go out of our way to be sure that everyone around us feels valued and safe. Sexual harassment should be an issue of zero tolerance. The church is not a “Boys Club.” It’s a family. We should repudiate displays of misogyny and bravado and champion a culture of unity and mutual respect.

Authority is a stewardship. Anytime a Christian finds themselves in a place of elevated authority, they must remember that they are no longer standing on equal footing with those they are called to lead or serve. In such cases, there is an increased risk of manipulation and abuse, and extra measures of caution should be taken This is why Peter exhorts pastors to be attentive to their conduct as they shepherd God’s flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4).

Christian leaders should aim to live as examples. Our heralding the gospel’s message of redemption would be of little value if the message is undermined by our misconduct toward the men and women Christ died to redeem. The last thing we should do is allow our actions to present a stumbling block other than the gospel. There is simply no place for sexually-charged language or innuendo among those entrusted to lead the people of Christ.

Ending sexual harassment

Sexual misconduct should scandalize us. God hates it. And we must not tolerate it.

Jesus said those who love him will keep his commandments (John 14:15). To obey Jesus is to esteem the imago dei. And Jesus said the world would recognize his people by their love (John 13:35). Ending sexual harassment gives the church a chance to do both. God help us. The world is watching.