by John Stonestreet
The curtain is being lifted on sexual predation. That’s good. And it reveals why we cannot abandon Christianity’s liberating vision of human sexuality.
The recent ugly revelations about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, coming on the heels of similar revelations about Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes of Fox News, has many American women saying “enough!”
Via a flood of posts on Twitter and other social media, women, using the hashtag #MeToo, are demonstrating that sexual harassment, assault, and rape isn’t a problem limited to a relative handful of high-profile creeps.
I applaud their courage. After all, among Christianity’s greatest contributions to the world has been its revolutionary ideas about the dignity of women. To not stand up for that dignity is to betray that heritage.
And to understand why betrayal is the right word, we need to understand the pagan world into which Christianity was born, a world classics scholar Sarah Ruden describes in her 2010 book, “Paul Among the Peoples.”
With the exception of a few highborn women, Roman women were often treated worse than Roman cattle. Even upper-class women were little more than possessions, and when it came to sexuality, they were at their husband’s beck and call and could be disposed of at will.
Slave women, which were a full third of Rome’s female population, could expect beatings and rape. The “fortunate” ones were sold into prostitution. Unwanted girls were left to die of exposure.
Into this world came Christianity, specifically the writings of St. Paul. As Ruden tells her readers, to call him an “oppressor of women” could “hardly be more wrong.” “Paul’s teachings on sexual purity and marriage were adopted as liberating in the pornographic, sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture of the time . . .”
Christianity “worked a cultural revolution,” she writes, “restraining and channeling the male Eros, elevating the status of both women and of the human body, and infusing marriage—and marital sexuality—with love.” In Ruden’s words, Christian ideas about marriage were “as different from anything before or since as the command to turn the other cheek.”
Of course, sexually-predatory males didn’t go extinct, but until just recently—and thanks largely to Christian influence—they couldn’t rationalize their predations, either.
But all that’s changed. As David French wrote in the National Review, “You can sum up the sexual ethic of the sexual revolutionary in one sentence: Except in the most extreme circumstances (such as incest), consenting adults define their own moral norms.”
He continues, “Consent is determined by the request, and in a completely sexualized culture, the request can come at any time, anywhere, and from any person you encounter—regardless of the power imbalance or the propriety of the location.”
Given the damage wrought by this change the last thing we should be doing as Christians is running from the clear, life-giving vision of human sexuality that liberated the pagan world.
Yet that’s exactly what many of us are doing. We’re rationalizing our own surrender to the sexual ethos of the day, even thinking ourselves “loving” and “tolerant” to abandon the historic Christian teaching on sex and marriage. But given the brokenness around us, it’s cruel—not loving—to withhold the truth in our confused culture.
But that’s not our only betrayal. Too often, in our churches and Christian institutions, we have turned a blind eye or pretended to not know about the sexual abuse or harassment happening within. That’s a horrific betrayal of people made in the image of God, as well as of the truth that can set them free.
And then there’s politics. Within five years, evangelicals went from being “the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.” That’s scandalous, and it’s biblically indefensible.
On no altar, especially not political expediency or cultural relevance, can Christians ever sacrifice the beautiful, life-giving vision of human sexuality that the Bible presents. To do so is to rob the world of a divine gift that has changed cultures in the past, and can do so again.