This month, the news media has been awash in allegations of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein.
Weinstein is an influential Hollywood movie producer with a history of donating money to liberal politicians. In early October, both The New Yorker and The New York Times reported on allegations that Weinstein had sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, or raped a series of women. The stories included information about legal settlements with female complainants, as well as alleged retaliatory actions by Weinstein against women who refused his advances. Worse yet, reports have indicated that Weinstein’s sexual misconduct was an “open secret” in the movie business for quite some time.
As a result of these reports, Weinstein has been ousted from his own company and removed from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; in addition, his wife has announced that she intends to divorce him. Following the Weinstein scandal, women have come forward to accuse other men in Hollywood of sexual misconduct. On social media, the words “me too” have become “a rallying cry”; the #MeToo hashtag is being used by women to state that they have experienced sexual harassment or assault. Social media has been “flooded” with these messages.
The Harvey Weinstein scandal has shed new light on the problem of sexual misconduct in America. In a fallen world, the brokenness of human sexuality manifests itself in a variety of forms, including adultery, fornication, pornography, homosexuality, and sex crimes. While sexual misconduct occurs in many different contexts, the Weinstein scandal has brought attention to the all-to-common scenario in which an individual (usually—but not always—a man) uses a position of power to pressure or coerce a less-powerful individual (usually—but not always—a woman) to engage in sexual behavior. If the perpetrator is powerful enough, his sexual misconduct may be kept secret by victims and others who are “in the know” due to fear of retaliation or fear that they will not be believed. Sexual misconduct of this type doesn’t just occur in Hollywood; it also occurs in the U.S. military, in halls of government, in businesses, in schools, and—tragically—in churches and families.
Beyond expressing our disgust at sex crimes and our empathy for those who have experienced sexual misconduct, what should Christians do about this problem? New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation doesn’t have all the answers, but we humbly offer the following suggestions:
- Remember who we are and who we represent. In I Timothy 5:1-2, Christians are instructed to “intreat…the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity” (I Timothy 5:1-2). While these instructions may primarily relate to relationships within the Christian community, they are instructive as to the attitude that Christians (and Christian men in particular) should have toward others. Purity should characterize all our relationships. Furthermore, Christians should never abuse power or authority. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said, “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25b-28).
- Examine our own hearts and lives. Have we engaged in sexual misconduct or sexual harassment? Remember: We can harass others with our words as well as our actions. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Do our words pass that test? Or do our compliments, jokes, or innuendos send a different message?
- Be part of the solution. If Christians witness sexual misconduct or sexual harassment, we should not ignore it, minimize it, or laugh it off; instead, we should confront the sinful behavior. Is my workplace a safe place? My church? Are appropriate norms observed to guard against sexual misconduct (e.g. no closed-door meetings with members of the opposite sex)? Are policies and procedures in place to deal with potential misconduct? Is there appropriate accountability for persons in authority? If an allegation is made, is it taken seriously? If there is an allegation that rises to the level of criminality, are the civil authorities contacted? When sexual misconduct is alleged, attempting to deal with the problem “in-house” is one of the worst mistakes that can be made. Are there any “open secrets” about sexual misconduct in my workplace, church, and community? In the case of Harvey Weinstein, it seems that many, many people knew of his predatory behavior for years and said nothing. Do not protect wrongdoers through secretkeeping. Doing so allows them to continue preying upon others.
- Support persons who have experienced sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct can damage the physical, mental, relational, and spiritual health of those who experience it. As Christians, we should support them, encourage them, and listen to them. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
- Teach boys and young men that sexuality is a gift from God to be expressed within the context of marriage, not a weapon to be used to dominate or control others. Christian men should be known as providers and protectors, not predators.