Last week, I answered a specific question posed by a reader about sexual misconduct and modesty, and how they might or might not relate. Not surprisingly, there was some disagreement in the comments section. A few times, I found myself defending against charges that I wasn’t siding with victims. Which, for those who’ve been around me lately, was surprising — I’ve been ranting quite a bit to people I know personally about how thrilled I am with this whole #MeToo movement.
In hindsight, I probably should have explained my whole take on the situation before answering last week’s question, so when a related question landed in my inbox, I decided it was worth tackling:
I was writing to ask just now about your thoughts on the plethora of sex abuse allegations….
Do you sense or feel any effect on frank discussions of sex with this sex abuse scandal going on? Any reluctance to really say what’s on your mind, or how you’re feeling? … How about other readers? Do they sense any inhibition or freeze up in the wake of all this, or do you sense it from them?
… I get the feeling that distrust of men has escalated with each new report or allegation. Not that I have been accused of anything even verbally. It’s more a sense of malaise taken to a new level.
I have a LOT of thoughts about the plethora of sex abuse allegations. How much time do you have?
Since you probably have other things to do than read a thesis-length treatise on sexual harassment, abuse, and assault, I’ll keep my thoughts to the highlights and trust readers to understand that I cannot cover every aspect of this topic in a single blog post.
In short, I’m 100% behind victims coming forward and telling their stories, others believing and taking them seriously, and harassers and assaulters paying a price for their inexcusable behavior.
As someone who advocates for sex in marriage by God’s design, I’ve been involved in many discussions, read many resources, and heard many stories about where married couples are sexually. And I know with absolute certainty that spouses who have been sexually harassed, assaulted, and abused have a more difficult time embracing God’s gift of intimacy.
But I want to look at this issue biblically, so let’s take two stories from the Bible that deal with this topic.
Joseph. After being sold by his brothers into slavery, Joseph was taken to the home of an Egyptian officer named Potiphar. Then Genesis 39:7-12 tells us:
And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.
But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.
Definitely sexual harassment.
Now, Joseph didn’t report her actions. As a slave, to whom would he have complained? Who would have believed him? Indeed, we find out that, despite being promoted to a high position in Potiphar’s household, he wasn’t believed when Potiphar’s wife claimed that Joseph was the one doing the harassing. Instead, he was thrown into prison, where he remained for more than two years.
Yes, God redeemed that situation (see Genesis 50:20), but sexual harassment wasn’t God’s doing. It was an injustice done to Joseph.
Tamar. Tamar was King David’s daughter by one wife, while Amnon was his son by another. Amnon declared that “I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister,” but it wasn’t love. Rather, “Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her.”
Just think about that: He was upset because he thought he couldn’t “do anything to her” — a completely selfish perspective. Yet he did do something: He pretended to be ill and asked for food to be brought to him by Tamar. 2 Samuel 13:7-14 explains:
David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat.
“Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”
“No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.
Amnon used deceit, verbal pressure, and finally his physical strength to sexually assault her. Then Amnon’s obsession turned to hatred, and he threw Tamar out.
Later, verse 21 says, “When King David heard all this, he was furious.” That’s it. Their father, the king, was furious, but he did nothing. Nothing whatsoever! The outcome was that an even more furious Absalom determined to get rid of both his brother and his father, thus becoming a thorn in the kingdom for several years. And Tamar? She lived out her days in her brother’s home, feeling utterly ruined.
What if the people around Joseph and Tamar had responded differently? What if Potiphar’s wife had been caught harassing him and Potiphar had sided with his servant instead? What if King David had held his predator son responsible for his sin against Tamar?
God worked His sovereign plan in spite of these bad events. But these incidents took a toll on their victims.
If these events happened today, what side would we be on? How might we intervene? And what does our answer tell us about how we should respond to the current slew of sexual misconduct allegations?
1. We cannot ignore sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. Ignoring what’s happened won’t make it go away (just ask King David), and we need to be squarely on the side of the victims.
This problem didn’t just start happening. It happened to Joseph and Tamar thousands of years ago. And it’s happened throughout history in various ways. Sometimes, the misconduct was more overt, sometimes more secret … but it’s always been with us.
What’s new is the public airing of accusations, spurred on by the #MeToo movement that began with stories about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, a man who was clearly disliked by many. But as I write this, the most recent powerful man to face consequences for sexual harassment is Matt Lauer, a TV anchor long beloved by his audience. You see, perpetrators run the gamut of people we might have known to be bad to people we really thought were good.
But sin that is obvious and sin that isn’t aren’t different to God. He sees it all.
Who can hide in secret places
so that I cannot see them?”
declares the Lord.
“Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:24)
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13).
We have to be willing to believe accusations, whether the sinfulness comes from someone we expected it from or someone we didn’t. Yet in the wake of many revelations, some people don’t want to believe certain allegations despite credible witnesses and corroborating evidence.
Let’s face it: To each story, we bring personal baggage, prejudices, and politics. But we have to intentionally set those aside and let our Christianity outweigh our biases or longings for truth to go one way or another.
Consider that Potiphar wanted to believe his wife. So he did. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t a sexual harasser. Let’s not make the same mistake.
2. False accusations will also happen. Among the many credible victims, there will be some opportunists who make up allegations. Joseph was wrongly accused of being a sexual harasser, and it cost him dearly. Being labeled a sexual harasser, assaulter, or abuser can carry serious negative consequences, especially in our current climate.
It’s terrible when resources and good will are wasted by the deceit of someone claiming a violation or crime that never happened. For example, if law enforcement are tied up investigating a fabricated “rape,” that’s less time they have to spend investigating a real rape. Not to mention the damage to the person wrongfully accused.
However, false allegations aren’t as common as one might think. I did a bit of research and took a rather skeptical approach, leaning toward “yeah, some people lie.” Even then, it’s maybe 1 in 10 accusations that are false. And false allegations tend to be personal, like an accusation of abuse that accompanies a child custody battle. When repeatedly rejected and left with Joseph’s cloak in her hand, Potiphar’s wife had a reason to lie about what happened. But most accusers don’t. What would be the payoff that’s worth the cost?
But let’s take our cues from the Bible again. You’ve probably heard about the “two witnesses” standard in the Bible:
“One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Deuteronomy 19:15).
“Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19).
Clearly, God doesn’t want people to go down for something they didn’t do. And this is why allegations with more than one accuser, or several, are more credible. Most harassers and assaulters don’t target a single person; they repeat their misconduct.
However, it’s interesting that a few chapters later in Deuteronomy, sexual assault is dealt with this way: “But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die” (Deuteronomy 22:25). In this scenario, there are no witnesses but the young woman herself — “for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her” (v. 27) — and yet she is apparently to be believed.
Regardless, Deuteronomy 19:16-19 also says:
If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you.
Our responsibility is to make sure there’s a “thorough investigation.” Most allegations are not false, but an accuser could be lying and we should take that into consideration.
3. We have to draw distinctions. Joseph’s story and Tamar’s story are not the same. They were both victims who deserved compassion and justice, but Joseph getting harassed was not as bad as Tamar getting raped. In fact, despite the horrible jail time, Joseph came back, got married, and had children (Genesis 41:45, 50). Meanwhile, Tamar lived out her days with her brother Absalom, “a desolate woman” (2 Samuel 13:19-20).
Some of what’s gotten lost at times in all of the current revelations is understanding that sexual misconduct exists on a continuum. We cannot lump everyone in categories of “predator” and “victim.” Yes, those are accurate labels in many ways, but equating one person’s verbal harassment with another person’s sexual assault is ignoring degrees that matter. It’s like slapping and stabbing are both violence, but we intuitively understand that the latter has a greater impact on the victim and deserves a far worse consequence for the perpetrator.
Romans 5:6 says, “God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’” Likewise, our treatment of the perpetrator should be equal to the crime.
That said, our treatment of sexual harassers, assaulters, and abusers has historically been unequal to their misconduct in the sense of being far too little, and the current movement to stir up tangible consequences for those who have behaved so poorly is long overdue. For the vast majority of those getting a bit of comeuppance right now, my response is “About time!”
Yet, I’m also cognizant of the need to avoid what my father referred to as “falling off the other side of the horse.” That is, when you’ve leaned too far to one side, it’s tempting to over-correct by leaning too far to the other side. I haven’t seen much of this happening yet, but we should guard against it by making truth and justice our guiding principles.
4. The antidote to bad sexuality is good sexuality. The questioner in particular asked: “Do you sense or feel any effect on frank discussions of sex with this sex abuse scandal going on? Any reluctance to really say what’s on your mind, or how you’re feeling? … How about other readers? Do they sense any inhibition or freeze up in the wake of all this, or do you sense it from them?“
I can’t speak for my readers, but I haven’t sensed anything different. What I do know is that I have no reluctance to say what’s on my mind. (Which is probably what gets me into trouble sometimes…)
But I firmly believe that the antidote to Satan’s terrible messages about sexuality is God’s truth about sexual intimacy.
If we want a world in which fewer people sexually harass and abuse and assault others, we need to proclaim what God says about our bodies and our hearts and our sexuality. God says that we have intrinsic worth and are not to be used or abused by anyone for their power or pleasure. God says that sexual activity belongs in the covenant bond of marriage. God says sexual intimacy is to be consensual, mutual, and intimate.
When more of us understand what sex is supposed to be, as created by our Heavenly Father, we’ll be better able to spot those times when someone is behaving outside of His will. We’ll know when we’re being harassed or abused, recognize that it’s not the victim’s fault, and take steps to stop it. We’ll have courage to pursue the best of sexual intimacy and oppose the worst behavior in the sexual realm.
And yes, questioner, we’ll know it’s not all men. It’s nowhere near all men. So many good and godly men exist. For me, one of the best outcomes of the #MeToo movement has been watching my two sons, high school and college age, respond with just as much disgust at creepy men who harassed and assaulted women. They don’t understand why any man would do that.
We women would be wise to remember that, even if the men in our lives sometimes don’t fully understand all the ways in which we’ve been impacted by sexual harassment and assault, most of them would never do what the harassers/assaulters have been accused of doing. Let’s keep our perspective that too many men are behaving badly, but it’s still a small minority.
Like I said, I didn’t cover everything I could say (even though Leo Tolstoy himself would be proud of my wordiness). Perhaps you can summarize your thoughts more succinctly in the comments!
So what’s your take “on the plethora of sex abuse allegations”?