Posts tagged ‘Sexual Assault’

More Sexual Assault in Churches Comes to Light

Although I find my theological and confessional home in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, I have long been partial to the Southern Baptist Convention.  I admire its commitment to the primacy of the gospel, the authority of Scripture, and the need for evangelism.  This is why it disturbed me deeply when, last Sunday, the Houston Chronicle, in conjunction with the San Antonio Express-News, published a bombshell report chronicling decades of sexual abuse by hundreds of leaders inside the SBC.  The report opens with the heart-shuddering story of Debbie Vasquez:

She was 14, she said, when she was first molested by her pastor in Sanger, a tiny prairie town an hour north of Dallas.  It was the first of many assaults that Vasquez said destroyed her teenage years and, at 18, left her pregnant by the Southern Baptist pastor, a married man more than a dozen years older.

How did her church’s leadership respond when they learned she was pregnant by their pastor?

When Vasquez became pregnant, she said, leaders of her church forced her to stand in front of the congregation and ask for forgiveness without saying who had fathered the child.

She said church members were generally supportive but were never told the child was their pastor’s.  Church leadership shunned her, asked her to get an abortion and, when she said no, threatened her and her child, she said.  She moved abroad soon after. 

The reporters who worked on this story uncovered 700 victims of sexual abuse in SBC churches over a 20-year time period.  But, as the president of the SBC, J.D. Greear, noted in a blog post:  “700 is not the total number.”  He knows that for every case that has been uncovered, there is likely a case that remains under-cover.

Sexual abuse scandals in churches seem to be everywhere these days, and victims are left with lives that are shattered and, in some cases, lives that are ended.  The report goes on to tell of Heather Schneider, a 14-year old girl who:

…was molested in a choir room at Houston’s Second Baptist Church, according to criminal and civil court records.  Her mother, Gwen Casados, said church leaders waited months to fire the attacker, who later pleaded no contest.  In response to her lawsuit, church leaders also denied responsibility.

Schneider slit her wrists the day after that attack in 1994, Casados said.  She survived, but she died 14 years later from a drug overdose that her mother blames on the trauma.

“I never got her back,” Casados said.

This abuse is evil and it must stop.

The question, of course, is: How does it stop?  Here are three thoughts that, though by no means exhaustive, may provide a starting place to address and curb sexual abuse.

Care for victims.

A common denominator in so many of today’s sexual abuse stories is that victims, rather than being supported and cared for, are dismissed, or worse, blamed.  A congregation grappling with a sexual abuse scandal becomes so focused on protecting itself as an institution that it forgets about its people.

Jesus’ care for sexually broken situations can serve as our model when we are confronted with cases of sexual assault.  In John 8, a group of religious leaders drag a woman before Jesus who has been “caught in adultery” (John 8:3).  Even if her encounter with this man was consensual, as it seems to be, the fact that the religious leaders do not bring the man to stand trial with her speaks volumes.  In a patriarchal culture such as this one, men could engage in sexual exploits and conquests, often, without repercussion.  It was, in fact, a boys’ club.  This case is no exception.  The “boy” is nowhere to be found while the religious leaders are howling for this lady to be stoned.  Jesus, however, sees through the religious leaders’ hypocrisy and cares for this accused woman by protecting her and ultimately rescuing her from her would-be executioners (John 8:7-11).

If this is how Jesus addresses a situation where a woman seems to have had some willful role in a sexual encounter, how much more should we seek to protect and rescue those who have had no willful role, as in cases of sexual abuse?

Bring darkness to light.

Sexual abuse continues because it is allowed to remain under the cover of darkness – many times for decades on end.  Bringing it to light may be the single greatest strategy to stop sexual abuse before it starts.  It sends a clear and present warning to any abuser that they will be brought to justice.  President Greear’s invitation to victims to “get help” is supremely important.  His list of crisis hotlines is worth reposting here:

  • The National Hotline for Domestic Violence number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
  • The National Child Abuse Hotline number is 1-800-422-4453.
  • The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network number is 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Again, Jesus can serve as our model for what bringing dark hurt into the light looks like.  In Mark 5, when a woman who suffers from a form of hemophilia seeks to secretly steal a healing from Jesus by touching the edge of His cloak, Jesus will not let her remain in the shadows.  He wants to speak to her in her pain.  He wants her to come into the light.  So, He seeks her out and, after she reveals herself, He tenderly calls her, “Daughter” (Mark 5:34).  May the victims among us be met with the same tenderness as they bring their darkest secret hurts into the light of open truth.

Recommit ourselves to a biblical sexual ethic.

There is no way around it:  the hypocrisy between what we who attend church say about sexuality and what we live out in our own sexualities is sometimes stunning.  The Christian sexual ethic is good.  It exalts commitment.  It encourages tenderness.  It dignifies humanity.  Sadly, many in our churches have spent so much time criticizing what happens sexually “out there” in the world that we overlook the sexual assault happening “in here” among our congregations.  Let’s remove the redwood-sized sin from our own eyes before trying to help others with the sawdust-sized sin in theirs (Matthew 7:3-5).  Each one of us in the church should be asking ourselves:  How am I falling short sexually?  How am I tempted sexually?  How can I get help?

The apostle Paul says that Jesus treats His Church like His bride (Ephesians 5:25).  What does this mean?  It means He loves her.  It means He is faithful to her.  It means He honors her.  It means He exalts her.  It means He seeks her purity.  It means He is willing even to die for her.

To address and defeat sexual abuse, go and do likewise.

February 18, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Jekyll, Hyde, and Mr. Cosby

Last Tuesday, Bill Cosby was sentenced to three to ten years in state prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand.  Though it was Mrs. Constand’s charges that ultimately landed Mr. Cosby in prison, she is just one of 60 women accusing the famous actor and comedian of sexual assault.

In an age where the ugliness of sexual immorality is bubbling to the top all around us, Mr. Cosby’s case is another reminder of what happens when power, lies, and lust all coalesce.  People get used.  Tracks get covered.  Spirits get shorn.

One of the things that makes Mr. Cosby’s case so difficult to process is the massive disconnect between the doting dad America knew as Dr. Huxtable on the Cosby Show in the 80s and the sickening nature of his alleged and, until recently, secretive crimes with multiple women.  “Hypocrisy” feels like too weak a word to describe his actions.

Dallas Willard once wrote, “We are a whole being, and our true character pervades everything we do.”  In other words, people may try, as did Mr. Cosby, to be one person in public while being someone completely different in private.  Eventually, however, everyone gets revealed for who they really are.  Dr. Jekyll inevitably gets mown down by Mr. Hyde.  Or, as Jesus puts it:

“There is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” (Luke 8:17)

The secret sins of Mr. Cosby eventually caught up to the perfect persona of Dr. Huxtable.  And now a legacy of laughter is clouded and a whole string of abused women are shattered.

The Bible testifies that human sexuality has been disordered for a very long time.  King David used the power of his throne to commit adultery and murder his lover’s husband.  A group of religious leaders tried to stone a woman caught in adultery, all the while speciously ignoring the sins of her male counterpart.  From marital unrighteousness to incorrigible self-righteousness, there is plenty of sexual sin to go around.

God calls us to something different and better than sexual licentiousness and laziness.  God calls us to a sexual commitment that is ultimately selfless instead of selfish.  The apostle Paul writes of marital intimacy:

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:3-4)

In a cultural milieu that can egg people on to chase what they want sexually, Scripture invites husbands and wives to serve each other tenderly.  Intimacy is not meant to be taken, but given.  It is not meant to be violative, but restorative.

Let’s take what intimacy is meant to be, and let’s make a promise:  this is what intimacy will be for me.  And this is how I will use intimacy for thee.  Your spouse will thank you.  And others who are struggling in sexual brokenness just might take note of you.

October 1, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Judge and #MeToo

Credit: Wikipedia

Last week was a raucous one in politics.  Last Sunday, The Washington Post published a bombshell investigative report detailing allegations of sexual assault against President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh.  Christine Blasey Ford, a professor of clinical psychology at Palo Alto University, claimed that Judge Kavanaugh, at a party in the early 1980s, when they were both in high school:

…pinned her to a bed on her back and groped her over her clothes, grinding his body against hers and clumsily attempting to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she wore over it. When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.

The details of this account, if true, are deeply distressing.  Yesterday, another accusation was leveled against the judge, this one concerning some sexually aggressive behavior in his college years during an alcohol-fueled party.  Hearings on the initial accusation are tentatively set to begin on Thursday.

While these stories continue to unfold, and facts, evidence, and debate continue to trickle – and, in some instances, flood – in, there are some important lessons for us to consider from what we already know.

We can learn something about honor.

Whether or not these accusations ultimately prove to be credible, this much is indisputably true:  we live in a culture that has lost its way sexually.  These allegations may turn out to be false.  But so many others have turned out to be, if the preponderance of evidence is to be believed, true.  Harvey Weinstein.  Les Moonves.  Charlie Rose.  Bill Cosby.  Al Franken.  Roy Moore.  Matt Lauer.  Kevin Spacey.  Steve Wynn.  And there are many more.

This must stop.  Sex is not a right, a rite of passage, or an unrestrainable drive.  Sex was created to be an expression of love and commitment, which sometimes results in the blessing of children, between a husband and a wife in marriage.  Committing to a woman publicly before God and a group of witnesses to be a faithful, gentle, and servant-hearted husband till death do you part is the most honorable thing a man can do for a woman before he lays a hand on her sexually.  Ripping sex out of this commitment and context provides a seedy breeding ground for sexual entitlement instead of gentle chivalry.

We can learn something about power.

Dr. Ford’s allegation against Judge Kavanaugh first came to light in the middle of a contentious and hyper-politically-charged Supreme Court confirmation hearing.  Sadly, partisans on both sides have proven to be more concerned about the political power in play than the moral rectitude at stake.  From a supporter of Judge Kavanaugh came an argument that it doesn’t really matter if the judge is guilty of sexual assault, because his good deeds clearly outweigh his bad deeds overall.  The judge should get a pass.  Conversely, a detractor of the judge who knew of these accusations as early as late July and decided to sit on them and not address them, now appears to be using them to maximize the political chaos surrounding Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination.

When partisans on either side engage in these kinds of arguments and actions, they insult justice.  The treat the terrible truths of two women’s claims or the shameful besmirching of a man’s character as less important than a political victory.  Human lives get trampled for the sake of maintaining and extending political power, which, by definition, sounds less like a democracy where human dignity is supreme, and more like a tyranny.

We can learn something about truthfulness.

There is really no way to assert that both Judge Kavanaugh and his accusers are being truthful.  Two women have made accusations.  Judge Kavanaugh has categorically denied them.  Contrary to some clumsy efforts to try to exonerate all parties, someone is almost certainly lying.  In a cultural consensus that seems all too content to bake deceit into some sort of pragmatic cake because “everybody lies,” and to downplay the need for the truth as secondary to other, supposedly larger, concerns, this case reminds us that the truth really does matter.  Lives, reputations, and, in this case, the public good are stake.  This is why, for the sake of justice, and for the sake of our country, I hope the truth comes out.

For now, we’ll have to wait and see.

September 24, 2018 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Loving Others Well: A Lesson from a Crisis at Willow Creek

Bill Hybels

For a year, from the summer of 2002 to the summer of 2003, I lived in a small town about 60 miles northwest of Chicago, where I served in a rural congregation as part of my studies to become a pastor.  During that time, on Wednesday evenings, I would regularly travel about half an hour east to attend the midweek service at Willow Creek Community Church.  Though the church and its model of ministry have raised certain concerns and garnered frequent criticism over the years, much of what I experienced there impacted me in positive ways.  I heard preaching that was full of Scriptural insight from pastors who not only preached the gospel, but saw the gospel in the text of Scripture in ways I had never before noticed.  I got to participate in moving worship, led by expert musicians, who were not only proficient, but humble.  Above all, I was captivated by the picture that Willow Creek painted of the Church straight from Acts 2:42-47:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

“This was the Church,” I heard time and time again, “and this is still the Church.”  It was a message that was both timeless and timely.

Willow Creek blessed me as I was studying to become a pastor.  This is why I was heartbroken when a story broke about a month ago in the Chicago Tribune that its senior and founding pastor, Bill Hybels, stands accused of making inappropriate advances toward females both inside and outside of his congregation.  While Pastor Hybels has denied many of the accusations leveled against him, he did admit that he placed himself “in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid.”  In some cases, he met alone with women in hotel rooms during his extensive travel on behalf of the congregation and the Willow Creek Association, an organization dedicated to resourcing the Church-at-Large.

In an article for First Things, Aimee Byrd takes on the scandal at Willow Creek and tries to lay out a way forward.  In her piece, she takes aim at the so-called “Pence Rule,” named for the current vice-president, who has publicly announced that he never shares a meal alone with a member of the opposite sex.  Ms. Byrd objects to the Pence Rule, writing:

To this rule Christians have added other prohibitions, such as sharing a car ride or an elevator, or even sending a text message to the other sex without some sort of chaperone… 

By putting up fences, we foster an individualistic, self-protective morality … We need to protect one another from abusers, not from godly friendship. That likely requires case-by-case boundaries, promoting the exercise of wisdom in different circumstances, rather than coercion both from predators and from imposed moral systems. The church should model real friendship, as well as call out predators. An expanded Pence Rule, with its basis in fear, won’t help us develop the discernment to know the difference.

As a man who follows the Pence Rule, I am less skeptical of the motivations behind it and more sympathetic to the benefits of it than Ms. Byrd is.  I have the privilege of working with many smart, kind, and godly women.  Yet, I would never put myself into a situation with one of these ladies where I was in a private setting that isn’t in my office during regular business hours.  This is not because I am scared of any of them, but because I deeply respect all of them and I want to guard not only my integrity, but theirs as well.  Just an appearance of impropriety can not only destroy reputations, it can confuse and burden a church that has to try to figure out whether or not an appearance of impropriety was, in fact, actual impropriety.

The crisis at Willow Creek reminds us that no person is immune from the wiles of human sinfulness.  Anyone, given the right opportunity and the right temptation, can self-destruct and deeply wound others in the process.  This is why guarding our actions and our interactions is so important. Guarding our actions and interactions can also have a way of deepening our love for others.  When we guard our actions and set boundaries, our hearts do not necessarily drift from people.  Instead, they can actually be propelled toward people.  After all, when we take the time to set appropriate boundaries in our relationships, we are saying that the people with whom we are in relationship mean so much to us that we are willing even to endure certain inconveniences – like refusing to be alone in private settings with them if they are of the opposite sex – out of respect and love for them.  We would never want to put them in any situation – even innocently and unknowingly – that would somehow compromise them or us.

When you love and care for someone, sometimes, it’s not just about what you do.  It’s about what you refuse to do.  It sounds like Bill Hybels may have lost sight of this.  Let’s use his loss as our lesson – for the sake of each other and the Church.  And let’s pray for Willow Creek, the women who have come forward to tell their stories, and Bill Hybels.  This scandal, with all the attention it has received, has wounded not just Willow Creek, but the Church.  The Church, however, has as its foundation a wounded Savior who endured.  It will endure too.

April 30, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

2017 in Review

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2017 is officially history.  And what a whirlwind of a year it was.  As we gear up for what will more than likely be another fast-paced year in 2018, it is worth it to reflect on some of the biggest news stories of this past year and ask ourselves, “What lessons can we learn from what we’ve experienced?”  After all, though the news cycle is continually churning out new tragedies, scandals, stresses, and messes to capture our immediate attention, the lessons we learn from these stories should linger, even if the stories themselves do not.  Wisdom demands it.  So, here is my year in review for 2017.

January

By far, the biggest story of January was the inauguration of Donald J. Trump into the office of President of the United States.  After a campaign that was both contentious and raucous, many were on edge when he was inaugurated.  As our nation increasingly fractures along partisan lines, Mr. Trump’s presidency continues to inspire both sycophantic adoration and overwrought incredulity.

February

A debate over immigration led the headlines in February as fallout over President Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from nations with known terror sympathies – including Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen – came fast and fierce. The president’s travel ban was, until very recently, the subject of endless court battles.

March

The headlines jumped across the Atlantic in March when Khalid Masood, a British-born citizen apparently inspired by online terrorist propaganda, drove an SUV into pedestrians on the Westminster Bridge, leaving four dead and forty injured.  After crashing his vehicle outside Parliament, he ran, fatally stabbing a police officer before he was fatally shot by law enforcement.

April

In one of the strangest stories of the year, Vice-President Mike Pence was both criticized and, at times, even mocked for refusing to dine alone with any woman who was not his wife or one of his close relatives.  Many people interpreted his boundary as needlessly prudish.  Mr. Pence viewed it as a wise way to guard his integrity.

May 

Another story of terror echoed through the headlines in May, this time in Manchester, England, when suicide bomber Salman Abedi detonated himself at an Ariana Grande concert leaving 22 dead and 59 wounded.

June

The terrorist attacks continued in June as seven were killed and another 48 were wounded in London when a vehicle barreled into pedestrians on London Bridge.  Three attackers then emerged to go on a stabbing rampage.  Also, Steve Scalise, the majority whip for the House of Representatives, was seriously wounded when 66-year-old James Hodgkinson opened fire during a congressional baseball game.

July

President Trump and Pope Francis offered to provide medical care for the family of Charlie Gard, a baby born with mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome.  A judge in the UK, where the Gard family resides, ordered that Charlie be taken off life support because he saw no hope for Charlie’s recovery, which prompted the president’s and the pope’s overtures.  Charlie was eventually removed from life support and passed away.

August

James Alex Fields killed one person and injured nineteen when he plowed his Dodge Challenger into a group of counter-protesters at an event called “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was protesting a decision by the city to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  Hurricane Harvey also ripped through Texas, devastating the Coastal Bend, the Houston area, and the Golden Triangle on the Texas-Louisiana border.

September

Hurricane Irma churned its way across Cuba, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, the Virgin Islands, Antigua, Barbuda, and, finally, Florida, leaving mass devastation in its wake.

October

The worst mass shooting in American history took place when James Paddock broke the window in his hotel suite at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and fired onto a crowd of country concert goers below, killing 59 and injuring hundreds.  In a much more heartwarming moment, the Christian Church celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

November 

On the heels of one mass shooting came another – this time at a tiny church outside San Antonio in Sutherland Springs.  26 people were killed when a gunman opened fire on the congregants inside in the middle of a Sunday service.  A sexual assault epidemic also broke wide open, as man after man – from Hollywood moguls to politicians to television news personalities – were revealed to have engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior.

December

Devastating wildfires ripped through southern California, scorching thousands of acres and forcing hundreds of thousands of residents to evacuate.

These are only a few of the stories from 2017.  There are, of course, countless others that I did not mention.  So, what is there to learn from all these stories?

First, when I compare this year in review with others I have written, I am struck by how, in the words of Solomon, there really is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  Other years have featured other terrorist attacks, natural disasters, mass shootings, and political upheavals.  Even the freshly revealed charges of sexual assault chronicle things that happened years, if not decades, ago.  The news cycle seems to have a certain, sordid rhythm to it.  The news may be saddening, but I’m not so sure it’s surprising.

Second, if anyone ever needed a bit of empirical verification of the biblical doctrine of human depravity, the news cycle would be a good place to find it.  Both the drumbeat of dreariness in our news cycle and the fact that we, as a matter of course, are often more riveted by horrific stories than we are by uplifting ones are indications that something is seriously wrong in our world.

Finally, at the same time the news cycle testifies to human depravity, it must not be forgotten that, regardless of how bad the news cycle gets during any given year, hope seems to spring eternal for a better set of stories in the coming year.  Yes, we may brace ourselves for the worst.  But this cannot stop us from hoping for the best.  Such a hope is a testimony to the fact that God has “set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) – an eternity when everything that is wrong in this age will be set right in the next.  We cannot help but yearn for that age to come.

So, here’s to hoping for a grand 2018.  Yes, the news cycle may indeed take a turn toward the sour, but we also know that God has promised a new age to come, even if we do not yet know its day or hour.

January 1, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Scandals Keep Coming

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It’s far better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust any human. It’s far better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust any human leader. (Psalm 118:8-9)

If there were ever words we needed to read, re-read, and take to heart in the chaos of our heady political milieu, it would be these.  Our human leaders fail us again and again – time after time, leader after leader, politician after politician.

The latest political failures come conveniently in both a left and a right form – a liberal scandal and a conservative one.  On the liberal side, there is U.S. Senator Al Franken from Minnesota, who was revealed to have groped a radio newscaster during a 2006 U.S.O. tour.  The senator has issued an apology, but there are already questions boiling under the surface as to whether or not this kind of behavior was common for him.

On the conservative side, there is the candidate for the U.S. Senate, Judge Roy Moore from Alabama, who stands accused making unwanted advances at female teenagers in the early 80s and, according to the two most serious allegations, sexually assaulting one girl who, at the time, was 14 and attacking another girl who, at the time, was 16, by squeezing her neck and attempting to force her head into his groin.  Judge Moore was in his 30s when the alleged assaults took place and he has denied the allegations.

Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer have called for an investigation of Senator Franken by the Senate Ethics Committee, a move which Senator Franken himself supports.  Politicians on both sides of the aisle have called on Judge Moore to drop out of the Alabama Senate race, with some interesting exceptions.  Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler defended the judge’s alleged actions using what can only be described as a tortured – and, it must be added, an incorrect and incoherent –theological logic, saying:

Take the Bible – Zechariah and Elizabeth, for instance.  Zechariah was extremely old to marry Elizabeth and they became the parents of John the Baptist.  Also, take Joseph and Mary.  Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter.  They became parents of Jesus.  There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here.  Maybe just a little bit unusual.

Alabama Representative Mo Brooks defended Judge Moore more straightforwardly by calculating the political cost of electing a Democrat to the Senate instead of a firebrand conservative like the judge.  He said:

America faces huge challenges that are vastly more important than contested sexual allegations from four decades ago … Who will vote in America’s best interests on Supreme Court justices, deficit and debt, economic growth, border security, national defense, and the like?  Socialist Democrat Doug Jones will vote wrong.  Roy Moore will vote right.  Hence, I will vote for Roy Moore.

Whether among Democrats or Republicans, it seems as though the stakes on every election, every seat, every position, and every appointment – yea, every scrap of political power – have become sky high.  A national apocalypse, it can feel like, is only one political loss away.

New York Times columnist David Brooks recently bemoaned how our perceived astronomical political stakes have turned politics itself into an idol for many in our society.  He wrote:

People on the left and on the right who try to use politics to find their moral meaning are turning politics into an idol.  Idolatry is what happens when people give ultimate allegiance to something that should be serving only an intermediate purpose, whether it is money, technology, alcohol, success or politics.

In his column, Mr. Brooks quotes Andy Crouch, who is the executive editor at Christianity Today, and his excellent description of what idols do in his book Playing God:

All idols begin by offering great things for a very small price.  All idols then fail, more and more consistently, to deliver on their original promises, while ratcheting up their demands, which initially seemed so reasonable, for worship and sacrifice.  In the end they fail completely, even as they make categorical demands.  In the memorable phrase of the psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover, idols ask for more and more, while giving less and less, until eventually they demand everything and give nothing.[1]

This is most certainly true.  All idols fail.  This means that if we fancy our politicians to be saviors who can rescue us from the wiles of our political opponents and some looming national apocalypse, those for whom we vote will inevitably fail – sometimes modestly by an inability to pass key legislation, and other times spectacularly in some grave moral collapse.  Senator Franken and Judge Moore are just the latest examples of this.

David French, in a recent article for National Review concerning the Judge Moore scandal, wrote simply, “There is no way around dependence on God.”  These scandals serve to remind us of this profound truth.  The fact that our politicians fail should grieve us, as sin always should, but it should not scare us.  After all, even if a national apocalypse should come, it is still no match for the Apocalypse, when, instead of a politician, a perfect Potentate will appear to set the world right.  That’s not an apocalypse of which to be scared; that’s an apocalypse by which to be comforted. I hope you are.

_____________________________

[1] Andy Crouch, Playing God:  Redeeming the Gift of Power (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 56

November 20, 2017 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Stopping Sexual Assault

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.

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

A Rape At Stanford: Recovering Our Humanity In A Culture Of Perverse Sexuality

Stanford University.jpg

The names have changed, but the situation is far too familiar.

Three weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about a sex scandal at Baylor University that featured violated girls, entitled football players, and a campus administration who looked the other way.  Now, another sex scandal has captured headlines – this one at Stanford University – that involves a violated girl, an entitled party goer, and a judge that many are saying looked the other way by sentencing a rapist to an embarrassingly paltry prison term.

The entitled party goer in question is Brock Turner.  He is convicted of violating a 23-year-old girl who, though not a student at Stanford, was attending a fraternity party where she had too much to drink, passed out, and was found behind a dumpster with Turner “lying on top of her unconscious, partly clothed body…Witnesses intervened and held the attacker for the police.”[1]

The judge could have sentenced Turner to 14 years in prison.  Instead, he got six months.

The victim recounted her experience of waking up from her assault in terrifying detail in a letter she read aloud in the courtroom to her rapist:

The next thing I remember I was in a gurney in a hallway. I had dried blood and bandages on the backs of my hands and elbow. I thought maybe I had fallen and was in an admin office on campus. I was very calm and wondering where my sister was. A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I still remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person. I knew no one at this party. When I was finally allowed to use the restroom, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing. I still remember the feeling of my hands touching my skin and grabbing nothing. I looked down and there was nothing.[2]

It was at this moment that she realized what the officer had said was true:  she had been raped.

The victim’s letter is gut-wrenching.  But the response of Brock Turner’s father Dan to this crime is stupefying.  He defended his son, saying:

As it stands now, Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan. 17th and 18th. He will never be his happy-go-lucky self with that easygoing personality and welcoming smile. His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear and depression…His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life.[3]

Yes, that’s what this was:  “20 minutes of action.”  Just the phrase makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

This tragedy is nauseating. It is disgusting.  But I am afraid we may not learn much from it.

We now live in a world where it is acceptable for college students to hook up using an app where they can register their legal consent for sex unless, of course, one of the consenters indicates they are intoxicated.  Did I mention that this app was created by a group of parents of college-aged children?

We also live in a world where a self-declared “feminist father” can sport a shirt that reads:

RULES FOR DATING MY DAUGHTER 1. I DON’T MAKE THE RULES 2. YOU DON’T MAKE THE RULES 3. SHE MAKES THE RULES 4. HER BODY, HER RULES

Just so I am not misunderstood, I am in complete agreement that no one should ever be forced to engage in any sort of sexual encounter against their wishes.  Period.  To violate a woman’s rules for her body is, by definition, rape.  And it is abhorrent.

But something is missing.

When sex is reduced to concepts like “consent” and highly individualized “rules,” the bar for sex has been set way too low.  It has been set a place that is sure to leave a trail of broken hearts, broken relationships, and broken lives.  Sex is about consent.  But it’s not only about consent.  It’s also about commitment.  Sex is about rules.  But it’s not only about rules. It’s also about trust.  And I can’t stop there.  Sex is also about love.  It is also about marriage.  And yes, as a Christian, I cannot help but note that it is ultimately about God because it is, in its very origin, a gift from God.

Something tells me that God is not pleased when His good gift is drug into the dumpster.  Literally.

Brock Turner took a dumpster dive to the bottom of the moral barrel when he raped this young lady.  But let us not forget that this moral barrel comes with a staircase to the bottom.  And when we, as a culture, are willing to walk down step after step of sexual compromise, sexual selfishness, and sexual confusion – when we, as a culture, reduce sex to consent and strip it of nearly everything with which Scripture imbues it – what makes us think we won’t trip and land at the bottom like Brock?

Jesus reminds us that the first step to sexual disaster happens long before our clothes come off with the wrong person in the wrong circumstance for the wrong reasons.  The first step to sexual disaster happens when hearts go wrong: “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).  Sexual disaster doesn’t start with a rape case that captures headlines.  It starts with a lust that perverts a person’s heart.

The problem with lust is that it sacrifices a person’s humanity on the altar of personal twisted desire.  A meeting that is quite literally designed to give life as it often results in the blessing of children actually takes life as one person uses another person to satisfy himself.  This is why Dan Turner can write about his son’s “20 minutes of action.”  Because for Brock’s dad, that’s all sex is – action with no affiance, amusement with no affection.  It is certainly not the meeting of two people and the mingling of two souls.

The paragraph I appreciate the most in this young lady’s statement to her attacker is her last one.  She says to girls everywhere:

You are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you.

From a woman who was treated as far less than human comes a reminder that her – and our – humanity nevertheless endures.

May our sexuality rise to the occasion of our humanity.

________________________

[1] Liam Stack, “Light Sentence for Brock Turner in Stanford Rape Case Draws Outrage,” The New York Times (6.6.2016).

[2] Katie J.M. Baker, “Here Is The Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker,” Buzzfeed (6.3.2016).

[3] Morgan Winsor, “Scathing Letter to Father of Stanford Sex Offender Brock Turner Goes Viral,” ABC News (6.9.2016).

June 20, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Baylor Scandal: Reflections on Human Sexuality

He manufactured one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the history of college football.  And now, he’s out of a job.

Art Briles began his career at Baylor in 2007 when the football program was the pitiable laughingstock of the Big 12.  But since 2011, Briles led the Bears to a 50-15 record.  The team went from being the doormats of the Big 12 to being the darlings.  But while he was winning games, Briles was also covering up sexual assaults by his players.

The details of Baylor University’s sexual assault scandal are shocking.  ESPN’s Outside the Lines reports that, in several instances:

School officials either failed to investigate, or failed to adequately investigate, allegations of sexual violence. In many cases, officials did not provide support to those who reported assaults, in apparent violation of Title IX federal law … Baylor did not investigate a sexual assault report made against football players Tre’Von Armstead and Shamycheal Chatman for more than two years, despite the school’s obligation to do so under federal law. They never faced charges.[1]

In another report, Outside the Lines told the story of a victim who, when she reported to university officials that she had been assaulted, was told, “There is nothing we can do, because the assault happened off campus.”[2]  In a particularly disturbing twist, it was also revealed that Baylor recruited defensive end Sam Ukwuachu, even though “officials either knew, or should have known, that Ukwuachu had a history of violent incidents at Boise State.”[3]

All this has led not only to Art Briles’ dismissal, but to Athletic Director Ian McCaw’s sanctioning and to University President Ken Starr’s demotion.  It seems as though a desire to win football games overshadowed the basic moral imperative to make sure the players of the team behaved nobly – both on and off the field.  Human dignity and decency was sacrificed at the altar of winning seasons and bids to bowl games.

It is a tragedy that the university administration did not address these horrific acts of sexual violence quickly and forcefully.  But it is an even deeper tragedy that such acts happened in the first place.  That any person is ever raped betrays the fact that our society fundamentally misunderstands and distorts sex.  It is time for us to remember what sex is and what it is for.  So let me state this as a clearly as I can:

Sex is meant and designed by God to be a servant.

All too often, sex is treated as an end to itself.  It is a pleasure to be chased.  It is a thrill to be had.  In the case of these Baylor football players, it seems as though it became a right to be demanded.  In the wake of the LGBT movement, sex has become a cornerstone of a person’s identity to be celebrated.  But sex is none of these things.

Sex is meant and designed by God to be a servant.

Sex was never designed by God to be an end all or a be all.  Instead, it was given to us by Him to serve other, greater purposes.  Here are three of those other, greater purposes.

1.  Sex is meant and designed by God to serve unity.

There is a reason why, when the apostle Paul warns against committing sexual immorality with prostitutes, he asks, “Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body” (1 Corinthians 6:16)?  Paul asks this because he knows that sexual intimacy unites people in a powerful way.  Despising such unification by sleeping around before marriage or committing adultery while married does not empower people sexually.  It diminishes their dignity.

2.  Sex is meant and designed by God to serve procreation.

The biology of this statement is self-evident enough, as a bit of reflection on our very existence, in conjunction with a visit to the maternity ward of any hospital, will reveal.  But this biological reality has its roots in a divine creative arrangement.  When God creates men and women, He commands them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28).  God gives sex, at least in part, for procreation.  And though sex does not always result in children, to casually reject sex’s procreative possibility altogether is to reject one of God’s goals for sex itself.

3.  Sex is meant and designed by God to serve your spouse.

This, finally, is why rape is so dreadful.  Rape is heinously and hideously selfish.  An intimacy that is meant to be a way to serve, honor, love, and cherish one’s spouse is taken as a way to engorge and indulge a lustful desire.  Such a use of sex is tragic – and evil.

Ultimately, the Baylor sexual assaults – along with their concealment – are only symptoms of a deeper problem.  Our culture’s view of human sexuality has turned selfish.  We don’t want to serve unity, so we have sex outside of marriage.  We don’t want to be bothered with children, so we go to extraordinary lengths to prevent – or even to terminate – pregnancy.  We don’t even want to serve the very person with whom we are being intimate, so we rape or, at the very least, engage in listless, loveless, mechanical sex.  This is where selfish sex has gotten us.

Baylor’s administration covered up sexual assault.  And now, many in that administration are forced to pay a steep price for their sins with their jobs, their reputations, and their futures.  Perhaps it is time for us, as a society, to stop making excuses for and covering up selfish sex before we too incur a steep price for our sins.  For selfish sex cannot only take a toll on our bodies in the forms of pain and disease, but on our souls in the forms of broken hearts and regret.

Sex is meant for better than that.  And we are in need of better than that.

________________________

[1] Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach, “Police records detail several more violence allegations against Baylor football players,” ESPN (5.19.2016).

[2] Paula Lavigne, “Baylor faces accusations of ignoring sex assault victims,” ESPN (2.2.2016).

[3] Jessica Luther and Dan Solomon, “Silence at Baylor,” Texas Monthly (8.20.2015).

May 30, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Why “No” and “Yes” Won’t Cut It: Turning the Tide of Sexual Assault

College CampusIn the wake of a horrifying barrage of sexual assaults on college campuses, university administrators – and now whole state governments – are scrambling to turn the tide. The California legislature passed a law at the end of August requiring what is referred to as “affirmative consent.” The measure requires not only that a person not say “no” to a sexual encounter, but also that he or she offer “an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.”[1] In other words, a person must say “yes” to a sexual encounter. Interestingly, according to the legislation, this “yes” need not be verbal. It can also be communicated through actions. Or, if you prefer, it can even be communicated electronically.  Just like everything else in our high tech world, if you want to make sure you’re having consensual sex, there’s an app for that.  Of course, trying to discern what constitutes affirmative consent, even when you have an app, is no easy task. Emma Goldberg, a member Students Against Sexual Violence at Yale, admits: “It’s obviously quite difficult for administrators to adjudicate affirmative consent, and there is always room for improvement in enforcement of these policies.”[2]

Ultimately, the problem with affirmative consent laws such as the one California lawmakers have passed is not that it is too strong, but too weak. Feeble legislative attempts that require mere consent will not and cannot address the deep moral realities of human sexuality.

Robert Reilly, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, recently published a book dealing with modern sexual ethics. In the introduction, he insightfully notes that differing views on sex are rooted in different conceptions of reality:

There are two fundamental views of reality. One is that things have a Nature that is teleologically ordered to ends that inhere in their essence and make them what they are. In other words, things have inbuilt purposes. The other is that things do not have a Nature with ends: things are nothing in themselves, but are only what we make them to be according to our wills and desires. Therefore, we can make everything, including ourselves, anything that we wish and that we have the power to do.[3]

This is a stunning analysis of the worldview that permeates and shapes our sexual ethics. In a myriad of ways, we have worked to separate sex from its natural – what Reilly would call “real” – ends. We defy sex’s procreative reality with abortion. We fight against sex’s emotionally intimate reality with our hookup culture. We have placed sex and its moral entailments squarely in the confines our wills. If we want to have sex, sex is moral. If we don’t want to have sex, sex is immoral.

The fact of the matter is this: our wills cannot provide an adequate moral framework and reality for human sexuality. The contrail of shattered families, wrecked finances, and broken hearts that our sexual wills have left strewn in our societal sky is proof positive of this. Furthermore, teleological reality has a funny way of continually smacking us squarely in the face, no matter how stridently we may try to escape it. Through sex, babies will continue to be conceived. Because of fleeting trysts, people will continue to be riddled by regret. Sex will continue to impress its reality on us, whether or not we want it to. Perhaps we ought to start living in that reality rather than seeking to escape it.

In a society where we pretend that our mere wills can determine the morality of sexuality, states and universities can do no better than to legislate a “yes” before sex, no matter how insufficient, impotent, and fraught with adjudicative hair splitting such legislation may be. But as Christians, we can affirm that God had purposes in mind when He created sex. Therefore, as the Church, we can call for sexual ethics to be in line with these purposes and not just with our desires. So for those on college campuses, I ask, for the sake of God’s will and your wellbeing, to consider waiting not just for someone to say “yes” before you have sex, but to say “I do.”

It’ll work out a lot better.

_____________________________

[1] Aaron Mendelson, “California passes ‘yes-means-yes’ campus sexual assault bill,” Reuters (8.29.2014).

[2] Richard Pérez-Peña and Ian Lovett, “California Law on Sexual Consent Pleases Many but Leaves Some Doubters,” The New York Times (9.29.2014).

[3] Robert R. Reilly, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014), xi-xii.

October 6, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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