By Dr. Chuck Pitts, Adjunct Professor of Old Testament, Houston Graduate School of Theology
The recent report in the Houston Chronicle on sexual impropriety by church staff members in Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches is disturbing, but I’m not writing about the SBC. Rather, this series of articles continues to highlight a problem in our society. The #MeToo movement and recent Kavanaugh hearings (and myriad of similar accusations) seem to express a lingering narrative in our culture.
First, our culture has a history of misogyny and patriarchalism (and racism, but that is a topic for another time). In the patriarchy that defines most of the 5,000-year history of civilization, men have viewed women as not only inferior, but often as property. The Old Testament if rife with such stories (Judges 19, for instance). Men controlled their daughters and then their wives. Women were condemned for adultery, even to death (note that the woman caught in adultery in John 8 was condemned although no man was accused with her). While most of us would never consider a woman property, or even inferior to men, we need to admit that we cannot live without being influenced by our culture. Why do all these men keep getting accused of sexual harassment and misconduct? Can we admit that we see sexual harassment and misconduct even though the behavior has been acceptable in our culture for hundreds (maybe thousands) of years. We must name it and fight it—if we hope to live above it!
Second, the church appears to have done too little to help alleviate the problems that so often accompany misogyny and patriarchalism. When I read Jesus’s words in Matthew 5 concerning killing, anger, adultery, oaths, retaliation, and love for enemies, I am struck at the expectations of these words. I have often paraphrased these verses. “Any person can love friends, but I expect more of you. I expect you to love your enemies.” “Any person can deal out judgment and anger, but I want you to love.” To me, these verses call us to a much higher standard. The Ten Commandments set a standard that is much too low. Let’s aim high! Let’s aim to be the church that society looks to and says, “There go some good people!”
So, what lessons can we learn? First, we need to have honest communication. In Matthew 18, Jesus teaches about dealing with offense. The first step is honest communication, and as Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount this communication needs to be done without judgment. Second, the church needs to lead the way in protecting the hurting, offended, and oppressed. Throughout scripture, failure to care for the weak and unprotected (i.e., widow, orphan, refugee) is a cause for serious judgment from God. Third, in our post-Christendom world, should the church not be the leader in transparency, openness, and authenticity? I, for one, wish that more people thought of the church and Christians like this, don’t you?