Stopping Sexual Assault

November 13, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Kevin Spacey

Credit: Netflix

Roger Ailes.  Harvey Weinstein.  Kevin Spacey.

These are just a few of the more recent names that have turned right-side-up the seamy underbelly of sickening sexual power-plays for the world to see.  Charges that these men sexually assaulted people with whom they worked have sparked a social media movement among countless victims of sexual assault, who are now declaring, #MeToo.  These men’s alleged sexual crimes have been roundly condemned, both in word and deed.  Roger Ailes, who has now passed, was ousted from the powerful cable news network he founded.  Harvey Weinstein was likewise booted from his own company.  Production on Kevin Spacey’s hit show “House of Cards” has been suspended.

Sexual assault is one of those issues on which all people with any moral center can agree: it should never happen.  So, why does it?  From a theological perspective, sexual assault can be said to be a result of humanity’s fall into sin, a fact to which the many gruesome stories in the Bible of sexual assault attest.  And no inexorable march of human history toward increasing moral enlightenment seems to be able to arrest the problem.

So, what can make a change, or even a dent, in the tragedy of sexual assault?

Our modern sexual ethics have, in many ways, been reduced to the word “consent.”  As long as people consent to any kind of sexual activity, any kind of sexual activity is permissible and, yes, even moral.  Indeed, in our sexually indulgent culture, it is considered immoral to restrain and contain one’s sexual desires, for sexual desire is considered to be at least a window, if not the window, into a person’s core identity.  But, as David French points out in an article for National Review:

The practical result of consent-focused morality is the sexualization of everything.  With the line drawn at desire alone, there is no longer any space that’s sex-free.  Work meetings or restaurants can be creative locations for steamy liaisons.  Not even marriage or existing relationships stand as a firewall against potential hookups …

 When everything is sexualized and virtually every woman is subject to the potential “ask,” scandals like those that rocked Hollywood, Fox News, and – yes – the Trump campaign become inevitable. And they’re replicated countless times on a smaller scale in schools and workplaces across the land. Desire is elevated over fidelity and certainly over propriety, so bosses bully, spouses stray, hearts break, and families fracture.

Mr. French is precisely right.  Sexual assault is a huge problem.  It is a huge problem in and of itself, which is why we must stand with the women – and the men – who are victimized by it and declare, “No more!”  But it is also symptomatic of another huge problem – a sexual ethic that has become so attenuated that it amounts to little more than a “yes” or “no” answer to an ask.

Andrew T. Walker, the Director of Policy Studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted last month:

So much cultural & personal hurt due to sexual sin.  Maybe the church should see its sexual ethics as a gift of common grace to the world.

 – Andrew T. Walker (@andrewtwalk) October 10, 2017

Mr. Walker packs a lot of profundity into 138 characters as he invites us to entertain a wholly different, and certainly a more robust, sexual ethic than that of our culture’s as the remedy to our sexual assault problem – a uniquely Christian sexual ethic.

The Christian sexual ethic is wholly different from our culture’s not only because its content is sweeping, as any glance through Leviticus 18 will quickly reveal, but because its very trajectory is countercultural.  In a culture that approvingly trends toward the permissive, Christianity vigilantly trends toward the restrictive.  This is why Jesus says things like: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).  In sexual ethics, Jesus goes far beyond consent.  He cuts straight to the heart.  Even what happens in one’s interior life can be an opportunity for sexual immorality.

Why would Jesus trend toward the restrictive with regard to sexuality?  Is He a prude?  Or a prig?  Or a Puritan?  Hardly.  He simply knows that with great power comes great responsibility.  And sex does, in fact, carry with it great power.  So, Jesus is inviting us to handle with care.  To quote David French again:

It virtually goes without saying that the sex drive is incredibly powerful.  Sex is also a remarkably intimate act that often has a profound emotional impact.  An ethic that indulges that drive while also denying the emotional significance of sex will inevitably wreck lives. The wise person understands that desire – even mutual desire – can be dangerous. 

It is time for us to take a step back and recognize this reality.  In a culture that lionizes consent when it comes to sexuality, Christians have something much more profound to protect and prosper sexuality – a conviction that sex is best when sex is contained, not so that joy in sex may be decreased, but so that joy in sex may be released.

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