It’s not often a single tweet seems to explode into an enormous movement. But on October 15, 2017, a Hollywood actress posted a tweet in response to the growing awareness of sexual abuse that was being uncovered in the movie industry. She wrote,
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.
Alyssa Milano was not the only person speaking into this issue and encouraging others to share their own stories, but it was her effort and this tweet that gained instant traction. The hashtag quickly became viral. The original tweet was posted around midday, and by the end of the day the phrase “Me too” had been used on Twitter over 200,000 times. Within a year, it had been used 19 million times—more than 55,000 uses each day.
Many celebrities shared their stories, immediately raising the profile of the hashtag. Hollywood was quickly engulfed. Other parts of the entertainment industry soon followed. Stories of harassment and abuse quickly spread in realms of politics, media, academia, and religion. A parallel #ChurchToo hashtag began to emerge as survivors of assault in churches or by church leaders shared their own experiences.
The #MeToo movement has shone a spotlight on the prevalence of sexual assault. It is thought that in the region of 20 percent of American women have been sexually assaulted in the course of their lives. Exact figures are hard to come by, of course, as these are extremely difficult stories for people to share, for a host of reasons. But many have been able to be open for the first time. We are gaining a truer understanding of the prevalence of these brutalities. Men, too, are opening up about experiences of sexual assault and harassment. Some men are also acknowledging failures in their own past behavior toward women.
#MeToo and the command that convicts us all
It is in this context that we can see the challenging teaching of Jesus with fresh beauty: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28).
We’re used to hearing this verse applied to our attitude to others, and rightly so. Jesus is targeting those who might assume that this, of all the commandments, is one where they can be confident of obedience. But not so. According to Jesus, adultery happens in the heart long before it ever happens in the bed. It is not just about what we do with our genitals, but what we do with our eyes and our minds. It concerns our attitude and thought-life, not just our physical actions. By Jesus’ reckoning, none of us is innocent. The commandment convicts us all.
The value of our sexuality
But while Jesus is targeting the person doing the looking, it is worth noticing what he is saying by implication about the person being looked at. She is not to be looked at or even thought about lustfully. Again, Jesus is not solely concerned with physical boundaries but mental ones. Clearly this applies to any of us irrespective of our sex. But, given the prevalence of sexual assault by men against women, it is significant that the scenario describes a man looking lustfully at a woman. He is saying that her sexuality is precious and valuable; that she has a sexual integrity to her which matters and should be honoured by everyone else. He is saying this sexual integrity is so precious to him that it must not be violated, even in the privacy of someone else’s mind.
This is staggering. We tend to think that someone’s thought-life is their business alone, and that what they think about in their own head has nothing to do with anyone else. But Jesus challenges this. This looking-with-lustful-intent is so serious precisely because the other person’s sexuality is worth so much. We’re not to look at others with lust not because sexuality is so cheap, but because it is so valuable.
This is something we see consistently reflected through the whole Bible. Following his adulterous behavior with Bathsheba and the arranged killing of her husband Uriah, David confesses his sin to God in these terms: “Against you, you only, have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4). We might think this is David conveniently overlooking the human cost of his sin and simply writing it off as “a spiritual matter.” But the opposite is in fact true. David is recognizing that his violation of Bathsheba’s sexuality, and the cruel termination of the marriage in which that sexuality was expressed, is ultimately high treason against God himself—precisely because it is God who places such high value on our sexual integrity.
The rise of the #MeToo movement gives us an opportunity to commend the sexual ethics that Jesus gave to us. Our culture is starting to tacitly acknowledge something it has not always affirmed: that our sexuality matters profoundly. What we do with (or to) someone sexually is not just physical. A physical violation of someone is wicked and damaging enough; a sexual violation can often leave even deeper wounds. Sexual injury is not the same thing as a grazed knee. Our sexuality gets to the very heart of our personhood. It’s why Jesus is so protective of it.
Something so glorious as our sexuality has the capacity to be so profoundly damaged (and damaging to others) precisely because God has designed it with the capacity to do something so significant. The one-flesh union between and a man and a woman has not only the possibility of producing new life, but also—if framed by and honoring of the covenant of marriage—to reflect something far greater: our union with Christ. The Bible frequently and unawkwardly describes our relationship to Christ in marital language. No wonder we’re discovering how much our sexuality matters to us. It matters profoundly to God.
Is your church doing all it can to confront the abuse crisis? Stay tuned to learn how the ERLC and the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group is providing practical help for SBC churches, including the new curriculum. It's time to make our churches safe from abuse and safe for survivors.