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A great sexual reckoning

A flood of harassment cases reminds us that sex is sacred and transgression is costly. Yet even in a fallen world, faithful men and women can treat one another with honor


Weinstein, Spacey, Louis C.K., Lauer, Conyers, Franken, Farenthold, Goodman, Rosenberg, Hoover (clockwise from top left) AP

A great sexual reckoning
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Apparently sex isn’t for kicks anymore. From the halls of East Coast academic institutions to the malls of mid-America and the West Coast backlots, for decades now sex for sport has been taught, modeled, and marketed. Serial sex partners; sex outside of marriage; sex as an initiation rite onscreen, on campus, and to get ahead seemed a norm we could live with. The sexually pure became oddballs and losers. When comedian Louis C.K.’s show Louie featured the character Ellen Farber, a Christian virgin, it was all for laughs. And audiences did.

Then the tables turned abruptly this year, and sex became sobering front-page business as accounts of office intimidation, sexual assignations, sodomy, and even rape felled in swift succession titans of entertainment, politics, journalism, and business.

By one count accusations of sexual misconduct hit 36 men in high-powered positions during the six weeks following the October downfall of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Like Weinstein, many of them took swift leaves of absence or faced suspension or outright firing. In Los Angeles, New York, Scotland Yard, and elsewhere, authorities launched criminal investigations into the most egregious cases.

Sexual harassment or assault claims extend beyond elite circles. Within 24 hours of a #metoo post by a young mom on Twitter, 53,000 people made Facebook and Twitter entries under that hashtag noting their own experiences of harassment or worse. Hiding behind the glamour of sexual freedom, it appears, lurks a pathological bent toward using it to intimidate—often with steady blows to the conscience, sometimes with outright violence.

Also quickly apparent: Sexual misconduct behind closed doors has a steep public price. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., agreed to resign his seat under pressure, while three Republican members of the House and longtime Democratic lawmaker John Conyers resigned over allegations, depriving constituents of representation.

Reports of misconduct in state legislatures also sprang up. In Kentucky, state House Speaker Jeff Hoover stepped down over a sexual harassment settlement with a female member of his staff. In Massachusetts, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg took a leave of absence after four men accused his same-sex spouse, Bryon Hefner, of groping or kissing them while bragging of his access to power. In Ohio, freshman lawmaker Wes Goodman, cheered as a millennial face for family-values voters, resigned after acknowledging inappropriate behavior, allegedly soliciting sex from men. In both California and Illinois, hundreds of women signed complaints detailing legislative cultures where inappropriate behavior was commonplace.

Taxpayers paid directly too. The congressional Office of Compliance paid $84,000 to settle one sexual harassment complaint against Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas.

Outside Washington, the sudden disgrace of Weinstein, House of Cards star Kevin Spacey, and comedian Louis C.K. has put hundreds of people out of work in the entertainment industry. Today show host Matt Lauer’s abrupt exit from NBC jeopardized the network’s $500 million in revenue generated from the program.

Christians are far from insulated in paying a price. Roy Moore’s candidacy, despite his reputed pattern of misconduct, divided church leaders. The Goodman case reportedly was known by Christian leaders even as faith-based fundraising continued on his behalf.

The onslaught comes at a strange moment. Under former President Barack Obama, American women of all ages gained a universal right to contraceptives when insurance coverage for birth control became mandatory and parental consent protections for girls 12 and older disappeared. The Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015. In 2016 Americans elected a president who once appeared on the cover of Playboy, one with a long tally of sexual misconduct allegations and undisclosed settlements, even though in an audio recording he bragged pointedly about sexual assault.

When Donald Trump won the presidency with 80 percent of the so-called white evangelical vote—the very segment of society that long decried the dangers of a sex-saturated culture—Americans seemed to be acquiescing to such behavior in the halls of power. Pundits foresaw problems for President Trump, but none predicted the Trump era would usher in a season of national sexual reckoning.

THE BIBLE, IN THE WORDS of one theologian, can be summed up from Genesis to Revelation as “boy meets girl.” The God-imaged man of Genesis is both male and female, the rib taken from Adam’s side becoming at once a separate, complementary creation and remaining one flesh. Men are straight lines and women are curves, and from the beginning they drew close—yet the first couple betrayed each other, quarrelling over what exactly happened in the privacy of the Garden and who was at fault.

Cast from the security of Eden, God’s people are dogged by sexual infidelity. King David probably had six wives, and things went downhill from there: Solomon had 700, plus 300 concubines. Yet the truest depictions of the relationship God desires with His people in the Old Testament are found in the account of Ruth and Boaz and in the poetic Song of Songs—monogamous relationships between two devoted, faithful lovers.

In the New Testament, church leaders are to be “the husband of one wife.” When it comes to Jesus Christ’s relationship to His people, God uses bride and bridegroom imagery. The whole of the Christian canon ends with a New Jerusalem, God’s people as “the Bride, the wife of the Lamb,” consummated—in graphic and one could argue even sexual imagery—by the light and riches of a glorified bridegroom Lamb.

Go ahead, be a romantic, God seems to say, but lust only after your one spouse. Stay true. It’s so hard, reply nearly all who people Old and New Testament stories, especially the power brokers. Yet the overwhelming message is that God remains true, and that’s where men and women find their strength and go for mercy.

When there’s failure, men remain the overwhelming scoundrels in Biblical accounts and news stories. A nationwide Quinnipiac University poll of American voters in late November found 60 percent of women said they had experienced sexual harassment, two-thirds of it in the workplace, while 20 percent of men reported facing sexual harassment of any type.

But women should not be let off. The unfaithful, deceiving female is also a prominent Scriptural type. “The lips of a forbidden woman drip honey,” says the writer of Proverbs, “but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death.” When God uses Hosea to highlight Israel’s unfaithfulness, he tells the prophet to “take to yourself a wife of whoredom,” and depicts the sinning nation as a promiscuous wife and an indifferent mother. Depraved Babylon in the book of Revelation is a “she,” a prostitute supported by earthly kings and the devil himself.

For the large number of women who live in fear of reporting sexual harassment, some use accusations to absolve themselves or to entrap prominent men.

It’s in the way we are made that women are yielding and men are persuasive, and the line between persuasion and coercion can blur. But making women more a part of workplace, church, and charity organization—not only to set male-female relations policies but in every area where their talents apply—is a way for women to own their responsibility, too.

AFTER NEARLY FOUR DECADES in the workforce, I’ve never faced anything close to sexual harassment from anyone I’ve worked with, and I have been mentored and respected beyond what I deserve. Like many—or most—women, though, I’ve experienced unwanted sexual advances in the course of doing my job. Overseas, a plate of fruit left inside my hotel room with a note from the hotel manager to come around later unnerved me enough to place a chair against my bolted door that night. A cab driver in Istanbul attempted to kiss me on the lips before I fled his car, and a driver in Damascus turned off the main road, wanting to take me to his home, just for tea, he explained when I shouted at him.

I escaped unharmed, but these and other encounters have a pattern in common with the stories we’ve been hearing: Predatory men will take advantage of a woman in just one lone moment, usually when she is not expecting it, when she is on the man’s turf and—whether only a little or a lot—is dependent on his favor.

Women need wisdom before such encounters, I learned early while working on Capitol Hill, where lecherous lawmakers and male staff members were well-known on the ground-floor hallway where I first worked. As a journalist I learned from a veteran female television reporter on my first reporting trip abroad the importance of vigilance: walking with purpose in a foreign city, not making eye contact with men, not being afraid to shout or draw attention to them when they acted inappropriately.

Faced with weighty statistics and the weight of man- and womankind’s history, employers should be asking in this moment what kind of environment they are creating for men and women to labor in together. As my colleague Jamie Dean advises, men and women should have guardrails in their conduct with anyone of the opposite sex who is not their spouse. Reducing it to a “Pence rule,” where male managers resolve never to be alone with a female colleague, may be wise under certain circumstances but in my view not as a general rule. It has the effect of continuing to treat women as second-class workers who represent too much risk to be alone with. That sets them up for further abuse.

At the same time, women need to feel adequate standing in their workplaces to resist undue time secluded with a male supervisor. Practical ways to accomplish both things include a glass door into the boss’s office rather than a solid one. We all need this kind of transparency, but we also need opportunities for private conversations.

For me, the value of positive male role models can’t be understated. They give women confidence to repel compromising situations and a place to go for help. Two swimming coaches who felt the freedom to both yell and hug me had enormous influence for good in my teenage years. My male colleagues at WORLD have taken time not only to critique but to solicit my input in private conversations and group ones—a simple guideline more Christian organizations can apply.

Belz and her brother

Belz and her brother Handout

Plus, I am the privileged little sister of a brother who was kind (except for that one time in sixth grade), generous, and protective. Access to his world was a given, from playing touch football with his friends to putting tracing paper over his cursive handwriting, so desperate was I to be like him. A husband of 35 years who daily models putting others first also gives me confidence to be assertive in work situations at home and abroad. For women lacking such support, the church, and in particular we older men and women, must rally to bolster them, and to intervene when needed.

It’s this fraternal love we need more of in relationships outside of marriage, knowing how to be brothers and sisters, not potential romantic partners where every encounter is sexually charged. After all, the promise of heaven is to live in eternity not as husbands and wives, but as brothers and sisters before God.


Mindy Belz

Mindy wrote WORLD Magazine’s first cover story in 1986 and went on to serve as international editor, editor, and now senior editor. She has covered wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Africa, and the Balkans, and she recounts some of her experiences in They Say We Are Infidels: On the Run From ISIS With Persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Mindy resides with her husband, Nat, in Asheville, N.C.

@MindyBelz

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TXfamily

I don't see why so many people are shocked by these scandals.  I can explain the root cause with two words: power corrupts.

Wcu9444

This is a very good article, coming from the heart with a helpful, balanced, and biblical perspective.  Thank you for clarity in the midst of the fog of voices surrounding this issue right now.

 

Salty1

Dear E Cole, my heart breaks hearing your story. I feel also for your father who must be a broken man!  Yes, there is evil in this world and what this rapist did was evil, but not all men are evil just like not all women are good. There are women who are just as evil as the man that preyed on you and your sister. Some of these women seek financial gain by bringing down powerful men by, for example, making false allegations of sexual misconduct.  We must be wise when we hear both the allegations of wrongdoing and the defense of those accused.  The women who come forward should be listened to as well as the men who put forward the case for their innocence.

I have been alive long enough to know the Democrats and left don't care about women for if they did they wouldn't seek to allow millions of baby girls killed by abortion each year.  They have covered up all kinds of sexual assault, rape and sexual slavery to further their political ends.  Weinstein was one of those monsters that Hillary and prominent feminists supported as he brought money in for their cause. Only at the end did they turn on him when it was evident that everything was being exposed. 

Concerning the mainstream media: if you watch it you will see a very clear political agenda using propaganda to benefit the Democrats. Ultimately, I care more about truth so I watch Conservative news sources. Sometimes they get it wrong too, but they are far better than the left. 

May God bless you and heal you my daughter in Christ.

Momof 13

Please stick with me.... I do have a point. Recently it was proven that an e-coli infected sick cow, if given grass, would recover 100% from the infection; no other medicine or intervention needed.  http://news.cornell.edu/stories/1998/09/simple-change-cattle-diets-could-cut-e-coli-infection These sick cows had been fed a steady diet of corn, cotton seed and other grain diets along with the 'litter' from the bottom of chicken houses because the feed cost was much cheaper than feeding grass/hay. The reduction of feed costs meant the feed lots could make a greater profit; crowd the animals into a very small space and 'finish' them with a diet that, up till now, had not been considered by farmers as viable. Unfortunately these new techniques had unintended consequences. Unhealthy food along with unsanitary conditions played into the explosion of e-coli into our food supply. The animals began getting so sick they would need great amounts of antibiotics just to stay alive. Those who suggested the change in diet never suspected nor saw coming the heath crises we would face when we switched grass for grain. No one ever questioned if the cows should be eating corn; only how much corn/cotton seed/grain can we give without killing them. No thought to the design of the animal. Herbivores were never designed to digest grains. That's what causes the problem in the first place; undigested grains in the gut feed the naturally occuring e-coli, making it flourish and shed into the feces of the cow. Instead, they were created with a completely different system that enabled them to digest grass and foliage. Can a cow eat corn and grow? Yes. Can a cow eat the 'litter' of a chicken house and get fat? Yes. But if that is all they eat they will get sick. Is this really what God intended for them? Is this God's best? A return to the intended diet brings health back to the animal.

God's design for women is clear in scripture. Women are to be keepers of the home.Women were created to be under the authority of man and will sinfully seek to throw off that authority. (Gen 3:16)  When we abandon that calling, the word of God is maligned (Titus 2). When we move into spheres and leadership positions that are not ours to enter there will be unintended consequences. Only a return to God's original design will bring peace. He gave us the home as a place of safety to operate from. I know the roar of opposition to this truth is deafening. Women are told from childhood that they can do anything a man can do; there is no difference between the genders. The world screams there is nothing special or unique about a woman's constitution that would 'limit' her from doing any and all things a man can do. Women should be encouraged to be aggressive and resist any societal norms that would limit her opportunities. Combined with all the other mixed messages, gender confusion has exploded in our society. Can a woman carry a gun into battle and shoot accurately (sometimes even more accurately) than a man? Yes. Can a woman do any number of tasks as well (if not better) than men? Yes. No thought is being given to if a woman SHOULD be doing these things. Scripture calls us "the weaker vessels" for a reason. This scripture doesn't diminish a woman's worth as many claim. In fact, the verse clearly says we are fellow heirs of the grace of life, equal in worth to the men. Our design doesn't limit us to household drudgery as the world would have us believe; it frees us to live up to the calling of God on our life and be fully feminine. Displaying to the world God's unique glory of womanhood is our chief end. We must learn that God's best is meant to empower us rather than resist or rebel against His good design. 

Hand wringing about how to fix the problem of workplace abuse is only deflecting the real issue. No one (other than God) is brave enough to suggest that the real question is not: What do we do to make the workplace a safer place for women? He has the audacity to say that women should have the safety of the home to operate from. The peace and safety we are desperately pursuing will be found in a return to God's plan. Any problems with the workings of that design are not from the problem of design but rather the effects of sin. May our eyes be opened to the attempt of the enemy to redefine our purpose. 

 

Wayne Asbury

Since it seems like the main focus of interest is the Graham\Pence rule, here are a couple things I'd like to add to the discussion.  I personally follow this rule because it has served me well through the years.  However I try to not be legalistic about it.  On two different occasions I helped two different women move a piece of furniture that was too heavy for them. Technically I was alone with them but I didn't linger there. If a woman needed a ride to the hospital in an emergency situation (as one comment already mentioned) the proper response seems pretty obvious. Rules are behavioral guidelines not moral absolutes that can't be bent for any reason.

Having said this, the one glaring flaw of the Graham\Pence rule is it omits the possibility of same sex attraction.  Maybe because 30 years ago when I was a kid, Christians simply didn't talk about that kind of thing. I come from an extremely conservative background (yes sir/yes ma'am, keep your hands to yourself, don't kiss a girl unless you're going to marry her,etc) and I'm grateful for the way I was raised. But it was OK for a group of us high school and college guys to go skinny dipping like Tom Sawyer and friends. I was a naive teen age kid who had no idea at least one of those guys was gay. 

My point? Rules can be good or bad but seldom if ever perfect which is why we need the lamp of God's Word to guide every step.  Psalm119.

GRACED

This rule can prevent openness with a supervisor if someone has to be around. Especially in small churches or small businesses, it could mean the one person you need to report is the only person around who can sit in on the meeting. The same principle can be handled with glass doors or meeting rooms that are visible, but soundproof. 

This rule can become legalistic. I had a supervisor once who followed this rule. He was a wonderful man, but when I needed a ride to the emergency room where my husband had just been taken for an accident, he wouldn't take me. I had to drive, shaking the whole way, because there was no one else around. 

 

GRACED

Thank you, E., for your bravery in sharing your story. I'm so terribly sorry for what you experienced. My heart breaks for your sister.

My childhood pastor sits in prison today for molesting boys. I found out some of them were in my youth group. 

We have to look beyond the surface, and be especially careful where charismatic people are concerned (not theologically - personally). They can deceive everyone because they are "so nice". We need to look at the fruit of the spirit and at the willingness to be open about struggles. If someone comes across as perfect they are likely hiding something. 

I too believe the women, because they had nothing to gain and everything to lose. Even if Moore was physically pure with them, he clearly made them uncomfortable. These women are just a few years older than me, and things haven't changed so much that it was suddenly ok in 1977 when it wasn't in 1983. My parents ran off a 20 year old who wanted to date me at 13. I can't imagine what they would have done with a 32 year old! 

SAWGUNNER

His terminology was a bit cruder of course-- but when mentioning the perils of sexual harassment and its potential to derail any hopes of a military career, an old NCO had it absolutley correct. Permit me now to Bowdlerize or paraphrase his more plebeian argot: "One would not and should not defecate where you eat. The two pursuits should be done far from ea other; truly "disjoint sets" if you think in terms of Venn diagrams. He recognized that young soldiers will of course similarly have occasional  "romantic impulses" but those should be pursued far from the in uniform duty day.

The challenge in our modern day is off duty or off work leisure pursuits all too often involve peers/coworkers.  A cautious, guarded approach befits any forum where alcohol or non work setting wardrobe are the norms.

For women the counsel of Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson seems wise beyond typecasting: If you are going to meet any male in a hotel room you should rethink that for the mere on its face perception it connotes. If the man opens his door wearing only a towel the appropriate movement is about face and LEAVE ASAP.

 

 

AlanE

Anonymous,

Perhaps because when evangelicals read the prophets, they nod and assent to the idea that Israel was not supposed to run to either Babylon or Egypt for help. But, when it comes to the current political situation, we as evangelicals tend to run to Egypt or run to Babylon (depending on your point of view) instead of following God.

Brendan Bossard

"A man's got to know his limitations," a famous movie character once said.  I do not see how the Pence Rule effectively treats women like second class citizens and makes them more susceptible to abuse.  All he does is protect himself and the woman from any abuse or gossip.  Pence knows his limitations, and acknowledges them with his rule.

Kirk

Thank you Mindy for your article and your perspective.  Knowing that we are all made in the image of God, knowing that Christ followers truly are brothers & sisters - must change the way we think and interact with each other. Your closing line, "...knowing how to be brothers & sisters, not potential romantic partners where every encouter is sexually charged" is wise, practical counsel. Reflecting on your article brings to mind C.S. Lewis' statement in The Weight of Glory, "“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

CLT

This is an excellent article on a difficult arena - men and women working together equally and respectfully in a fallen world.  As a Christian daughter gifted with the skills of my engineer father I worked as an engineer on nuclear power plants from 1976 to 2012.  Through the career God blessed me in many ways and I also experienced many challenges including different forms of sexual harassment.  I coped as best I could knowing that to speak of the harassment would result in losing my job.  Saying no as much as I could certainly impacted my job advancement.

But I wish I could say I found much support in the church.  Since I never married and had an unusual profession it has always been challenging to find close or lasting fellowship.  Christian women and men need to work harder to support us different sheep in God’s flock.

God bless World for addressing these issues from a Christian and wise perspective.

Sla3974

Mindy, I disagree as to the "Pence" rule.  I have been carrying out and enforcing that rule in the ministries that I have run for the last 25 years and for me as a local pastor before that.  It hardly meant that women were second class and neither were they treated as such.  When senior executive women needed to be present in an appointment we either both traveled separately or multiples traveled together.  It has not kept women in my organizations handicapped at all. But having watched multitudes of ministry leaders both male and female fall unnecessarily, and watching multitudes of individuals fall in the secular world, perhaps you can afford to walk precariously but I'm with MIke.

-Rev. Tom Laymon, President/Sr. Pastor/CEO, Sunday Breakfast MIssion, Wilmington, DE

HAN1762

As a father to both a daughters and a son completely agree that defaulting to the "Pence/Billy Graham rule" is not the answer and may, as you point out, set our daughters up for further abuse or put them at a disadvantage by not getting the same access as the men because of the perceived risk level.  It is important to note the "Pence Rule" philosophy started by the great Billy Graham originated over 65 years ago when men and women did not interact in the workplace nearly to the level as today - it was a totally different time and context.  Sure, avoiding all contact with women in a non-group setting may technically isolate agains accusation but simply defaulting to this is too simple-minded and impractical for many as we look forward to the next 10 years in our society so let's find some other solutions.  One starting place is a restored focus on righteousness in our churches and why the Bible spends so much time on it (referencing it over 700 times).  Walk into most churches today and you are going to get a heavy dose of Grace messages and a light or non-existent dose of the merits of the pursuit of Righteousness for fear everyone (men and women alike) flee from the building trembling about feeling "judged".  Hope abounds in Him!