Who is it today?
Who’s been outed as a sexual harasser?
The parade goes on, day after day; another famous person, it turns out, has been creepy all along. And the “outing” is happening because suddenly, people are starting to speak up.
Good for them.
Everyone I know hopes that the parade of perp walks continues until justice has been done for everyone. And maybe, just maybe (hope against hope!), this is the beginning of a sea change in our culture, one that changes fundamentally the way we address our sexuality. (More on that later.)
As I’ve watched all this unfold over the past few weeks, I’ve had a few thoughts that I’d like to share in the next few posts.
First, as I suppose everyone knows, most of these cases have been about a fundamental imbalance of power. Someone in power—perhaps a boss, or someone else in a position to affect the victim’s career significantly, seeks sexual favors from the victim, with the explicit or implicit promise of good career prospects if the victim consents or the threat of bad ones if she (usually she) refuses. Many of the victims said that they gave in because of this pressure. I’ve found it interesting to note that in this latest wave, some Democrats have finally spoken out against Bill Clinton’s misbehavior, more than two decades after the fact; is it just a coincidence that with Hillary Clinton’s loss in the presidential election, the Clintons are now not in any position to retaliate? Is the two decades of silence simply part of the same power imbalance?
This is a serious problem, first because it involves the deepest urges of every human, and second because it crosses cultural and chronological barriers: it’s been going on for a long time, and wherever human beings interact.
We would expect, then, that the Bible would have something to say about it. And it does.
We could start with Jesus’ teaching, specifically with the fact that he elevated love of others to the second great commandment, below only our relationship with God himself. If you love someone else, then you sacrifice your own well-being for hers; using others, whether against their will or not, to satisfy your own needs is precisely the opposite of how Jesus lived his life and how he expects us to live ours—indeed, how he demands that we live ours, with open threat of future judgment.
But the Bible speaks even more directly to what we’re seeing play out on our newsfeeds day after day. The Old Testament prophets raged against those in power who used that power to abuse others. Amos condemned leaders in Israel “who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted” (Amos 2.7), who “turn aside the needy in the gate” (Amos 5.12)—that is, who withhold justice from those appealing to the court system. Amos’s contemporary Isaiah joins the chorus, calling Israel to “seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isa 1.17). And more than a century later, Jeremiah turns his fire on neighboring Judah:
Execute justice in the morning [i.e., immediately], and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed, lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of your evil deeds (Jer 21.12).
Judah, as we all know, ignored the warning and spent 70 years in captivity in Babylon. After they returned, God sent more prophets to warn them against returning to their old ways. One of them, Zechariah, said,
Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart (Zech 7.9-10).
Is this all only for Israel? Did God judge other nations for allowing the weak to be persecuted by the powerful? You can find the answer to that question by reading the book of Obadiah. It’ll take you less than 2 minutes.
Micah lyrically sums up what God expects of those in power: Do justice; love kindness; walk humbly with your God (Micah 6.8).
Perhaps the clearest example of this kind of abuse comes from a surprising figure, King David himself, the sweet singer of Israel, the man after God’s own heart. In a moment of lust, he takes to himself another man’s wife. (Of course she assents; what choice does she have?) God sends the prophet Nathan (2Sam 12.1) to tell the satisfied king a story about a rich man who takes his poor neighbor’s one little beloved lamb to feed to a guest. The outraged David orders the rich man’s immediate execution. Nathan violently jerks the potentate’s chain with the simple words, “You are the man!” (2Sam 12.7).
Speaking truth to power. It’s a thing.
And governments should have protections in place to prevent the powerful from using their power to abuse the powerless.
That’s what God says.