What would Jesus say to women about #MeToo?
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February 17-18, 2018
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Part 1: What would Jesus say to women?
I think you’re all aware of the #MeToo movement that started several months ago when Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of multiple acts of sexual assault. The women who accused him were for the most part familiar names, actresses whom we know and admire. Once the silence was broken, a tidal wave began.
On October 15, actress Alyssa Milano sent out a tweet that said, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘metoo’ as a reply to this tweet.” She woke up the next day to find that more than 30,000 people had used the hashtag #MeToo. She burst into tears. Within 24 hours, it had risen to 12 million.
A couple months later, Time Magazine released its “Person of the Year” issue. The 2017 Person of the Year: the Silence Breakers. It’s a thoughtful and troubling article, with stories that will make you sick, and make you angry. I recommend you read it.
In an earlier article Time cited a recent poll that indicated 48% of women who are currently employed in the U.S. say they have experienced either sexual, verbal or physical harassment in the workplace. That’s almost half—half of the working women in our country! And that doesn’t include millions of women who have experienced abuse at home, or sexual assault on dates and other non-work settings. Or the estimated 300,000 American children who are abducted and sold in the slave trade industry in our country, almost all of them young girls. (I hope you read the article on this in Tuesday’s Spokesman Review.)
What is wrong with us that men feel free to treat women so terribly? Men: take a deep breath. I know that not all men are guilty—many of us are not. Many of us treat women with respect and care. So I’m not tarring all of us with the same brush. And I know that 1 in 6 men were abused as children, and millions of them are struggling as adults to overcome their own abuse. Next week, when we talk about what Jesus would say to men, I’m going to suggest not only that bad men must change, but that good men must step up and protect. Be a man—that means protecting women and children, not abusing them. And we must help damaged men to heal. But today is about the ladies.
Since the #MeToo movement began, hundreds of men have been outed as sexual harassers or worse. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg. We’ve only seen the front edge of what I think will be a tidal wave of change. This has gone on far too long, and in the words of many women who are justifiably angry: “Times up!”
So…why am I talking about this? I was encouraged by a pastor I respect, Dr. James Emery White, to engage this subject. For me, it’s about Jesus. We are followers of Jesus. We are living in the midst of a monumental culture shift. What does Jesus have to say about this? As a follower of Jesus, I care about what Jesus has to say; I’m sure you do too. We’ll see that Jesus has some very important things to say on this subject, things that need to be heard.
Over the next three weekends, I want to talk with you about these three subjects related to #MeToo.
What would Jesus say to women?
What would Jesus say to men?
What would Jesus say to all of us?
Jesus has strong things to say about all forms of sexual aggression, and so should we. You may be surprised by them; you will certainly be challenged by them. And if you are a Jesus follower, you will want to live by them.
Today we start with, “What would Jesus say to women?” And the first thing Jesus would say is:
- Me too.
Does this surprise anyone? Jesus would say to any woman who has been the victim of abuse or assault, “Me too.”
As far as we know, Jesus was never a victim of sexual assault. But He was certainly a victim of physical abuse and assault of the worst kind.
For three years, Jesus was repeatedly hounded, harassed and attacked by those in power. Eventually, He was arrested in the middle of the night, and tried before a kangaroo court on trumped up charges. He was unjustly convicted and sentenced to death. The Roman governor, Pilate, knew that Jesus was innocent on all charges, yet handed him over to be beaten and crucified anyway. Pilate knew that Jesus’ opponents had rigged the trial and wanted Jesus dead for their own self-interest, but he refused to stand up for the innocent. When the crowd shouted, “Crucify him,” Pilate caved in to the their shouts rather than doing what he knew was right. Instead of standing with Jesus against the unjust, Pilate publicly washed his hands of the whole affair and declared himself innocent of Jesus’ blood. But his silence and his refusal to act made him complicit, not innocent. His silence sent Jesus to a brutal beating and a terrible death. Hold that thought.
Jesus knows what it feels like to be the powerless victim in the hands of the powerful.
Why is this important? If you have been the victim of harassment, abuse or assault, I want you to know that Jesus understands. You can go to Jesus and know that He will hear your prayer and understand your pain and anger. Jesus will believe you. Jesus will stand with you. And because Jesus understands and stands with you, we who are His followers will too.
I know that last statement raises some eyebrows, because the church has a checkered history in this area. We’re all aware of the scandal of sexual abuse by clergy in many denominations made worse by being covered up by the church, rather than being dealt with honestly. Hopefully, that is changing. And sadly, some victims of assault and abuse have turned to the church for help and gotten a cold shoulder, instead of the support they deserved. Even worse, sometimes the church has sided with the perpetrator rather than the victim, with the one in power rather than the powerless and oppressed. I’m sorry. We’ve got to do better. We’ve got to represent Jesus, who says, “Me too.” Jesus understands and is willing to help, and as followers of Jesus, we need to as well.
Consider the story in John 4 of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan women at a well. Jesus violated the customs of the day by engaging this woman in a conversation. Men didn’t talk in public with women they didn’t know; Jews didn’t talk with Samaritans. Jesus ignored both of these social conventions and engaged this woman in conversation. And it wasn’t just a transactional conversation—give me a drink of water, and done—it was a deeply personal and theological conversation. They talked about God and true worship; they talked about her life and her relationships. And Jesus offered her “living water”—eternal life—and told her that He was the long-awaited Messiah. She was the first person to learn that Jesus is the Messiah. All of this was very unusual; Jesus was shattering social conventions.
Who was this woman? Samaritan nobility? Someone important and powerful? To the contrary, she was an outcast, a woman who had been married five times. It is possible that all five husbands died, but far more likely that she was 5 times divorced. In those days, men had the right to divorce; women only rarely had that option. So this is a woman who was used by men and rejected—five times over. And now she was living with a man who wouldn’t even bother to marry her. Can you imagine how she felt? The pain she carried? She came to the well at noon, in the heat of the day, alone, to avoid the scorn of the other women. What do you think she expected from Jesus? I think she expected more of what she’d always gotten from men: more scorn; more rejection; more pain. Instead, she found a man she could talk with—deeply and honestly. She found a man who listened to her and understood her pain. She found a man who valued her as a person, and offered to give her a new and different life. She found a man who understood her.
This is Jesus. He understands your pain. To anyone who has suffered, Jesus would say, “Me too.”
Second, Jesus would say:
- That’s wrong.
What’s wrong? Sexism is wrong. Sexual harassment is wrong. Sexual abuse in wrong. Sexual assault is wrong. Date rape is wrong. Unwanted sexual aggression in any form is wrong. All of that is wrong.
And when it happens to you, it is not your fault. It doesn’t matter what you wore. It doesn’t matter what you said. There is no excuse for these kinds of unwanted sexual advances. Period. It’s not your fault. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not suggesting that women be careless in their dress, their words or behavior. I’m simply saying that there is no excuse for unwanted sexual aggression.
In the Time magazine article, many of the women who had been harassed or assaulted felt a palpable sense of shame, and they wondered if something was wrong with them. One of them said, “I kept thinking, Did I do something, did I say something, did I look a certain way to make him think that was O.K.?” Let’s be clear. It was not your fault. It doesn’t matter what you did, or said, or how you looked—it doesn’t justify sexual harassment or assault. It’s not ok. It’s wrong.
Jesus is clear about this—the Scriptures everywhere condemn this kind of behavior. In fact, we as Jesus-followers are uniquely positioned in our culture to speak about this and clearly say, “That’s wrong.” In our last series, I pointed out that many people today are moral relativists. It is very popular to say, “Truth is relative. You have your truth, I have mine. No one can say what is right or wrong. Each person has to decide what is right or wrong for themselves.” Very popular—but unrealistic. No one in the Time article was spouting that nonsense, even though many of them would claim to be moral relativists. They were all very clear: this is wrong. No one who has been harassed, abused or assaulted acts like a moral relativist. No one says, “I can’t say that was wrong, just that I didn’t like it.” Nope—they are all saying it’s wrong.
But we as Jesus’ followers speak from a different base. We believe in truth, and in true moral right and wrong. Unlike our culture, we have a firm base from which to speak. God is there, and God has spoken, and God has said this is wrong. So for us as Jesus’ followers, this is not the latest cultural fad or a bandwagon we’ve just jumped on—we’ve been saying this for thousands of years. This kind of sexual aggression is wrong!
Classic example: the story of David and Bathsheba found in 2 Samuel 11-12. King David was walking on the roof of his palace one evening when he saw a woman bathing. She was very beautiful, so David sent for her and slept with her, even though she was another man’s wife—and that man was one of David’s most trusted lieutenants! This was a blatant abuse of power. David was king, and thought he could take whatever he wanted, including another man’s wife. He thought he was above the law. And Bathsheba was powerless to stop him.
When Bathsheba turned up pregnant, David needed a coverup, so he called her husband, Uriah, home from the battlefield to sleep with his wife. But Uriah was more noble than David thought, and refused to sleep with his wife while his brothers were in the field engaged in battle. So David sent him back to the front with a note to his commander to see that he died in battle. With Uriah dead, David took Bathsheba as his wife. Adultery, murder, cover up—and it looked like David got away with it.
2 Samuel 11:27 But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.
God knew. And God didn’t like it.
Enter Nathan the prophet. He came to David with a word from the Lord in the form of a parable. “A rich man had many sheep, and had a poor neighbor who had only one. To the poor man, that lone sheep was a member of the family, raised with his children, fed from their table, it even slept in his arms! One day, a guest visited the rich man, but rather than taking one of his vast flock to prepare for dinner, he took the poor man’s lamb and served it to his guest.”
David was furious. He shouted, “The man who did this deserves to die!”
Nathan pointed a finger at the king and said, “You are the man!” Nathan spoke truth to power! “You are the man who deserves to die!” Nathan laid out everything David had done in secret and announced God’s judgment. Clearly, what David did was wrong. God said, “That’s wrong.” It’s interesting that Nathan didn’t judge Bathsheba. She wasn’t called on the carpet for her part of the adultery. Why? Probably because she didn’t have much choice. She and her husband were the victims of the king’s aggression and power. So the prophet told the king, “You are the man—what you did was wrong.” David’s sexual aggression against Bathsheba—that’s wrong.
I could pile up Scriptures here—the entire Bible clearly treats all unwanted sexual aggression as sin. It’s wrong. But Jesus took it even farther.
Matthew 5:27–28 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Jesus took one of the Ten Commandments—“You shall not commit adultery”—and elevated it to a new level: the heart. Jesus taught that we should be sexually pure not only in our actions and words but even in our thoughts. The man who follows Jesus not only refrains from all sexual aggression in word and deed, but even from entertaining such ideas in his mind.
Jesus took it farther still when He gave the Great Commandment: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength—all you’ve got—and love your neighbor as yourself. This not only prohibits doing anything that hurts another person, but commands us to take positive action to benefit them. Love does what is best for another no matter what it costs. Love your neighbor. This is what motivates Jesus-followers.
In our culture that objectifies women—if you doubt that, look no farther than the books, magazines, websites, movies and music that treat women as sexual objects. In our culture that objectifies women, Jesus treats them with respect as daughters of God, and calls His followers to do the same.
Jesus is clear: unwanted sexual aggression is wrong. That’s wrong. Why is that important? Women have often refrained from speaking out for fear of retaliation or rejection, or not being believed, or that people will blame them (“What did you do?”) or minimize the behavior (“Boys will be boys.”). Jesus isn’t going to blame you or minimize the behavior; Jesus says it’s wrong. You can come to Jesus and trust him to help.
And that’s the third thing Jesus would say to women.
- Let me help you.
By all accounts, being sexually harassed, abused or assaulted is a devastating experience. Millions of women have been affected, and many don’t know where to turn. In the Time article, actress Ashley Judd discussed Weinstein’s attempt to coerce her into bed, and said she immediately began telling anyone who would listen. But there was no place to report this, no way to stop the abuse or the abuser. The article goes on:
“When movie stars don’t know where to go, what hope is there for the rest of us? What hope is there for the janitor who’s being harassed by a co-worker but remains silent out of fear she’ll lose the job she needs to support her children? For the administrative assistant who repeatedly fends off a superior who won’t take no for an answer? For the hotel housekeeper who never knows, as she goes about replacing towels and cleaning toilets, if a guest is going to corner her in a room she can’t escape?”
Where do you turn if you are the victim of unwanted sexual aggression? Well, women are now going public—and being believed. That’s good. And more workplaces are taking this seriously—that’s good. But I want to suggest that you also turn to Jesus, that He wants to help you heal.
Jesus came to save us. The word “save” originally meant not only to rescue, but to heal, to make whole. Jesus came to heal you and make you whole. In the gospels, we see Jesus doing this for many women who had suffered.
Mary Magdalene’s name appears 12 times in the gospels—more than almost any other woman. Luke tells us that Mary had been cured of evil spirits and diseases—she had suffered a great deal, and Jesus had healed her, and she had become one of His followers. By the way, this too was unconventional. In Jesus’ day, rabbis didn’t have female disciples—only men. But Jesus had many female followers, and Mary Magdalene was one of those because He had healed her.
Luke 7 tells the story of a “woman who had lived a sinful life” (probably a euphemism for a prostitute) who snuck into a dinner party for Jesus. When the host rudely refused to offer Jesus the common courtesies of welcome, this woman rushed to Jesus’ feet, washed them with her tears, dried them with her hair, and began to perfume them with the tiny vial of perfume she carried around her neck. The religious leaders were offended that Jesus let such a woman touch him. They looked down on her as a sinner, a slut. Jesus jumped to her defense, and in front of them all said to his host,
Luke 7:44–50“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
This woman who had suffered much at the hands of many men found healing from Jesus.
Or consider the woman in John 8 who had been caught in the act of adultery and dragged before Jesus for judgment. It takes two to commit adultery—where was the man? There was a double standard in that culture, just as there has been in ours for years. Men could do what they want and get away with it. But Jesus rejected that double standard. When asked if they should stone the woman, Jesus said to these men,
John 8:7–11 “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
This woman who had suffered much at the hands of men found healing from Jesus.
Jesus says, “Let me help you.” Let me help you heal. And let me help you forgive.
I know that strikes a nerve for many women. “I’ll never forgive him for what he did to me.” Please understand what I’m not saying.
I’m not saying that you should just ignore the behavior or not report it. You should report it. You should not ignore it or brush it under the carpet.
I’m not saying that you should stay in an abusive relationship, that you should put up with the abuse and forgive the abuser. I’m not saying that. You should report it. And if it continues, get out of there.
And I’m not saying this is no big deal, so just forgive and forget about it. It is a big deal and it’s wrong!
What I am saying is that when you’ve done what you should to stand up for yourself and protect yourself and end the abuse, then you should also ask Jesus to help you forgive. Why? It’s not to let them off the hook—it’s for your sake! You need to forgive for your sake, so that person, that wrong won’t have a hold on you any more. The meaning of forgiveness is “to send away.” And at some point, for your mental, emotional and spiritual health, you need to send it away, let go of it. “I’m letting go of this and sending it away. I’m not going to hang on to it, nurse it, and let it fester in my soul. I’m not going to let this person, this act own a piece of my mind, heart or soul any longer. I choose to forgive.”
I’m not saying it’s easy. But it is important and Jesus wants to help you heal, and part of your healing is forgiveness.
What would Jesus say to women about #MeToo?
“Me too. I know what it is to suffer at the hands of the powerful. I understand.”
“That’s wrong. Unwanted sexual aggression in any form is wrong. I stand with you.”
“Let me help. Let me help you heal and forgive.”
Matthew 11:28–30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Come to Jesus.
We’re going to have pastors and prayer team members up front today and in the Welcome Center around the corner. And if you’d rather not talk today, but later in private, you can text this number. If you’d like prayer, please come. Jesus is here to help. I’ll invite the prayer team to come while I pray, and I want to encourage to come back next week for what Jesus would say to men.