October 19, 2017
You know that line about the best-laid plans? This week, I had planned to do part 2 of my blog from last week, but then news of the Harvey Weinstein scandal erupted, and it raised a number of issues that I’m working through. I hope you’ll work through them with me.
You’re probably aware of the story to which I’m referring, but here’s a quick overview. On October 5, the New York Times published an article describing how one of Hollywood’s most powerful moguls, Harvey Weinstein, had been sexually harassing women—most of whom were young and whose career success Mr. Weinstein could make or break—for decades.
The testimonies were slow to start, owing primarily to the fact that many women were afraid to speak out and risk their careers, but in the last week or so the floodgates have opened and person after person has described similar encounters in a pattern of predatory behaviour that’s hard to comprehend.
That’s led to a campaign on social media platforms known simply as “me too” (or, in social media parlance, #metoo). Anyone who has been a victim of unwanted sexual attention has been encouraged to post those words to social media in an effort to show how widespread the problem is.
I’m not frequently on social media, but I’ve checked my Twitter feed and the number of times the hashtag is showing up is alarming. But I don’t have to look far to find a #metoo story, because my wife has not just one, but several.
This is a huge problem. And as the dad of a young daughter, all of this makes me want to go off the grid, build a log cabin, and keep my loved ones away from people for the rest of our lives.
But that’s not the call of the gospel. As I said in my sermon last week, it would be safer for the lambs to stay inside the pen where the wolves can’t get them, but that’s not where Jesus has placed us. He’s sent us out of the pen, lambs in the midst of wolves, to proclaim the truth of the kingdom and call sinners to repentance.
The question I’m asking myself is how to be a force for good in this.
Let’s start with the essential stuff. If you have been the victim of unwanted sexual advances, know that what happened to you is not okay, no matter how “innocent” it seemed and no matter how insignificant you think it is in light of what’s happened to others. And that goes for both women and men who have been victimized.
Second, I know that there are so many men out there who, like me, can’t fathom why a man would think this kind of behaviour is acceptable. It boggles the mind.
Those two factors together are what’s creating the cognitive dissonance for me. I’m not “part of the problem,” but there is clearly a problem. The fact that I can’t see it right in front of me, like I can with so many other kinds of sin, doesn’t mean that it’s not my problem. It’s everyone’s problem. And silence is what keeps the problem going.
It’s difficult to unravel the underlying social and cultural causes that give rise to the environment where this kind of behaviour is permitted to continue, and I have no insight into that subject anyway. But from a theological perspective, here’s what I think is happening.
As many have pointed out, sexual assault isn’t actually about sex. It’s about power, control, and dominance. It’s about sinful human beings doing what they’ve always done: trying to be the masters of their universe and assert their control over creation. If I am the only one in authority over my life, then what I say goes, and nobody can tell me otherwise.
But the illusion of control is a scheme of Satan designed to cause chaos. You never have complete control over your life, despite what you may think, and when you inevitably begin to feel that control slipping, you become desperate to gain it back, usually at the expense of other human beings.
The problem here is our inability to live in surrender to our King and allow him to rule and reign in our lives.
And the only way to fix that problem is to accept our responsibility as disciples of Jesus to proclaim the truth of his kingdom and to commit to living under it ourselves. Because in the kingdom, each person is a beautiful creation, formed in the image and likeness of God, and deserving of dignity and respect, not because of any merit of their own, but because of God’s determination.
The problem of sexual assault can’t be solved through better education, social pressure, or even hefty penalties for perpetrators. Those things can be effective, but only to modify behaviour. They don’t fix the core issue.
Only Jesus can fix the core issue. Only Jesus can address the real cause. Only Jesus can lead us into the kind of fulfilling gospel life that eliminates the need for us to assert our own dominance.
Only Jesus can give us hope. And hope is what both the victims and the perpetrators are missing.
If you’re a perpetrator, you need to know that there is hope. What you’ve done is unacceptable, but it’s not beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness and his grace. But that forgiveness requires repentance.
Don’t shrug it off. Don’t justify it. Don’t excuse it. Own it. Confess it. Seek forgiveness from those you’ve wronged (but only if they’re willing to hear it, and don’t be surprised if they aren’t), and from God. Repent and change. Take yourself off the throne of your life, once and for all, and allow Jesus to take up his rightful place.
And if you’re a victim, know that there is hope. You’re not alone. Many others—too many others—have experienced the same pain, and you don’t have to suffer in silence. What’s more, Jesus is with you in your pain. He knows the shame and guilt you feel—the shame that you’ve worked so hard to bury. He doesn’t condemn you. He loves you. He’s for you. And he is calling you to place your shame at the foot of his blood-stained cross and allow him to redeem it and transform it in his name.
Don’t shrug it off. Don’t justify it. Don’t excuse it. That’s not what grace is. Showing grace doesn’t require you to suffer in silence.
And whether you’re a victim, a perpetrator, or someone who’s neither of those, the responsibility that we have as disciples of Jesus is the same. We must proclaim the good news of the gospel of Jesus.
When we remain silent about abuse, we allow the problem to continue. And when we remain silent about the gospel, we put the only truly effective weapon we have to combat the problem on the shelf.
One final note: whether you’re a victim or a perpetrator, sharing your story can help you find freedom. If you don’t have a safe place to share it, you can email email@example.com. I’m the only one who sees those emails, and I’d be glad to help you figure out where to go from here.