Words are a funny thing. We use words to label people—even ourselves. I label myself as a moderate conservative. I tend to be conservative on issues of personal morality, yet progressive on issues of social justice and care. Extremists on both ends miss the big picture. Those on the far right like to focus on personal piety and responsibility. Those on the far left like to focus on social issues and justice, but neglect personal righteousness and holiness. From my perspective, the middle ground is the place where the Church is supposed to live—caring about piety, personal righteousness, social issues, and justice.
My belief that the Church should occupy the middle ground is what drives my concern with the current presidential race. Actually, “concern” is not the right word. I’m deeply troubled and bothered. This is not a post about politics. Rather, it’s about issues brought up in the race that are now part of the national conversation. Let’s talk about sexual abuse and the treatment of women.
First, sexual abuse is never okay.
That seems like something we shouldn’t have to say, right? I don’t know of anyone who’d say, “Sexual abuse is okay in some cases.” It doesn’t happen. We’re all on the same page: sexual abuse is never acceptable. But it seems that we have to take it one step further in our conversation. Let’s add:
“Joking and/or fantasizing about sexual abuse is never okay.”
This is where the nation has split recently. I’m grieved by the number of self-proclaiming Christians who brush off such language as “locker room talk.” While it may be the way those outside the Church talk about sexuality, it’s not supposed to be the way Christians talk. It’s not just about our behavior, but also about our thoughts.
It’s not me saying this—it’s Jesus. Jesus liked to take Old Testament laws that were based on behavior and revamp them to bring in motive and heart issues. In the Gospels, we repeatedly see Jesus say, “You have heard it said _________, but I say to you _________.” The law forbade murder; Jesus forbids hate. The law forbade adultery; Jesus forbids lust. It’s not just the action, but the heart.
“Locker room talk” is a heart issue that grieves Jesus. Such talk demeans the Imago Dei—the Image of God—within our community. It doesn’t matter if it’s men talking about women or women talking about men. It has no place in God’s Kingdom. If the Church belongs to Jesus, then we ought to take a stand against such talk.
This is where we return to my opening statement about living in the middle ground between personal piety and social justice. As a matter of personal piety, we should refrain from coarse and abusive language. Do not mistake “locker room talk” for anything other than abusive language. The idea of going up to a woman without her consent and accosting her is sexual assault and abuse. Our righteousness should shudder at the very thought.
On the flip side, our sense of social justice should cause us to rise up and defend those who are on the receiving end of this kind of abuse! Christian, we have a holy obligation to stand against the sexual abuse of our brothers and sisters, but too often we are silent. Time and time again, we see the Church being a place where abuse is not dealt with. We may say that it is not acceptable, but we do not do anything to defend the abused or make sure that the Christian community is a place where abuse doesn’t happen.
I’ve had some online interaction with Jory Micah, a Christian feminist and pursuer of Christian equality. You may not agree with everything she talks about, but her passion for protecting women from abuse and abusers is admirable. In her passion and zeal, she even told women that, if their church is not a safe place, it’s time to move beyond the walls of their church and out among the marginalized, where it’s safer. Yes, that’s a paraphrase from my memory, but that was the gist of it. She set off a horde of detractors calling her “Jezebel,” “heretic,” and other nastiness.
While her words seem abrasive, please hear the motive behind it. As a minister, I would never tell an abused spouse to stay with the abuser. Even though I don’t suggest divorce, I do not tell people to remain in abusive settings. I counsel people to get out of the abusive home and find safety. Likewise, if the system is abusive, why do we counsel abused people to stay and keep getting abused? This is not a condemnation on the universal church, but on local churches that do not protect abused people or seek to create a safe community.
I had a chance to talk with Jory and ask her some questions about faith. She is part of a church planting team. She believes in the One True God and the deity of Jesus. She fully affirms Acts 4:12—that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to humanity by which we must be saved.” She isn’t promoting heresy, but an attempt to move people out of harm and into a safe community.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)
Allowing abusive language and behavior to remain in our midst does not do justice or love kindness. All Christians should denounce “locker room talk” for what it is: ungodly and abusive language. We should not be making excuses for it, nor should we diminish the weight of the words, no matter whom it comes from.