They are Time’s “person of the year.” The magazine calls them “The Silence Breakers,” the women who pioneered the “#MeToo” movement and came forward to report the sexual harassment and abuse they suffered from politicians, Hollywood actors, and news media personalities. Though these reports are disturbing, they provide an occasion for our society to rethink some very important issues. Here are a couple of truths that I believe we as Christians should stress in this conversation:
First, as a society we must strive to provide justice for both the accuser and the accused. There can be no justice when victims are intimidated or shamed into silence. Those who use coercion and threats to get what they want from others need to be held accountable for their actions. Bad behavior toward women must not be excused by an assertion that “this is just the way that men are.” Yet we need to make sure the rights of the accused are protected as well. Though mob-type efforts to oust individuals accused of sexual misconduct from their positions may seem expedient, “due process” is still essential for justice to be done. Yes, we should be inclined to “believe” those who claim they have suffered sexual harassment or abuse, but we must always remember that false accusations are a possibility. All human beings are sinners, and accusers as well as the accused are capable of acting badly. The suffering of those falsely accused can be almost as horrific as what victims of sexual abuse endure.
Ensuring justice in cases of sexual harassment and abuse can be extremely difficult because there are often no outside witnesses, and things can easily boil down to “he says, she says.” However, just because justice may not be easy to obtain doesn’t mean it should not be earnestly pursued. Working to provide safe ways for victims to come forward is essential, because it is much easier to discern what actually occurred between two people three months ago than it is three decades or even three years ago.
Secondly, we need to identify a path of redemption for those guilty of sexual misconduct. Our society would benefit greatly if those who behaved badly would acknowledge they have done wrong, apologize to those they have harmed, provide appropriate reparations when possible, and seek to avoid repeating their bad behavior. Yet without the possibility of redemption, without an opportunity for some kind of second chance, there is little motivation for the guilty to own up to their actions. Our secular culture seems incapable of providing this type of redemption, but it is something in which the Christian church specializes. The belief that God graciously forgives all who turn to Jesus Christ provides the basis for true redemption. This does not mean that people should be able to avoid the legal or professional consequences their wrong behavior merits. It does mean, however, that those who experience God’s forgiveness have a reason to not give up on life, but to instead devote themselves to treating others with respect and kindness.
It is perhaps this desire that motivated a politician who resigned after being accused of sexual misconduct to attend a Bible study led by Sen. James Lankford. According to the website Politico, this individual had never attended the Bible study before and usually expressed disdain for people embracing traditional Christian beliefs. Yet apparently his recent problems are causing him to consider a path he previously dismissed.
Though it is often an ugly process, bringing deeds of darkness into the light can bring healing and hope to victims, perpetrators, and our society as a whole. Let us pray that is what happens in our nation in the days ahead.