Sexual harassment - what did Jesus teach?

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His sexual indiscretions may have been the British media’s worst kept secret, but they were never allowed to become public knowledge until almost a year after Jimmy Savile’s death in October 2011. Harvey Weinstein, it seems, was also well-known for his mistreatment of women, but Hollywood could not offer him the same protection. Recently, aged 65, his own brother felt the need to sack him because of his attitude to women. ComRes recently conducted a poll for BBC Radio 5 Live in which they spoke to more than 2,000 people. The figures released, here for example, state that it found that 37% of all those asked said they had experienced sexual harassment, ranging from inappropriate comments to actual sexual assaults at work or at a place of study. Breaking the figures down further, the report said that 53% of women and 20% of men reported inappropriate behaviour towards them with a sexual content. What is unclear is whether in all these instances the harassment came from a member of the opposite sex, which is what one normally assumes, but is that always the case?

Once begun, the flow of accusations against people in public life has continued, causing a storm-surge in the British Houses of Parliament and seemingly the suicide of a Welsh Assembly Member. In this piece I want to explore the background to the attention which has been focussed on Weinstein and others since he was ‘outed’, to set modern behaviour in an historical setting and to ask if Jesus Christ warned about the dangers of such behaviour.

Teen culture in the sixties

I am one year older that Weinstein, so our teenage years were jointly spent in the decade of “Free Love” as it has become known. Savile was our senior by some 25 years. His rise to fame first became significant as the manager of three dance halls in the late 50s and early 60s. His radio career, initially on Radio Luxembourg and later with the BBC, began in 1958 and this raised his profile nationally. He presented the first Top of the Pops on BBC TV in January 1964. All these led to his prominence at precisely the same time as sexual “freedom” was becoming the focus of the record-buying, music-loving teen culture of that decade and the next.

The 1960s were the decade when the word groupie took on a new meaning. It was assigned to teenage girls or young women who would hang around stage-doors, hotels and other places to get as close as possible to members of the many hit-producing rock bands which flourished at the time. It is thought that this term was first used by members of the Rolling Stones around 1965. Later it seems that some stars made a distinction between fanswho they assumed wanted brief sexual encounters amongst other things, and ‘groupies’ who travelled with musicians for extended periods of time, acting as a surrogate girlfriend.

My point in relating this is to show that during these years Savile and other prominent disk jockeys became as much the stars as the bands whose music they were playing. Musicians and DJs alike were idolised by teenage girls in particular and, freed from what had for some time been the traditional restraints, these men saw no reason not to take advantage of what the era of so-called “free love” offered them. Other recent cases have exposed similar attitudes amongst media personalities of this and subsequent decades, Rolf Harris and Stuart Hall for example both having been convicted of sexual abuse beginning in the 1960s.

In the big picture of human history, the sixties are not unusual as a period of sexual promiscuity, but for the generations alive today they mark the point when global attitudes to sexual practices began to change. This sexual revolution is still ongoing and whilst it is widely applauded by many, I believe it has become a Pandora’s Box out of which great problems are emerging, rather than the promised cure for the human race’s many ills. In the West every one of us has been influenced in one way or another by this removal of boundaries, our thinking shaped by the many “progressive” views which it has encouraged. Perhaps back then no-one other than George Orwell envisaged the all-pervasive communication system that the internet, and particularly social media, would become. With its help the locks have been removed from many cupboards, out of which are falling multiple skeletons. The question therefore must be asked, are these past and present public figures now reaping anything more than what they have sown, especially their wild oats?

A longstanding issue

Harvey Weinstein has been consistent in his defence that everything he did was with the “consent” of the women involved. In this he distinguishes himself from men like Savile, Harris and Hall who all stand accused of abuse of girls below the age of consent. Weinstein’s assertion is being disputed by many of the women who have gone public with their claims that he sexually harassed or abused them. What does his defence tell us about Western societies today? BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme is slightly younger than me. In October it celebrated its 60th birthday and in the preceding weeks listeners had been invited to send in their thoughts on how life in Britain has changed over that period. As I expected, several of the fifteen or so segments broadcast over four months focussed on sexuality and gender. This is probably a reasonable reflection of the way our society has become preoccupied with sex, having previously tried to sweep it under the carpet. However, society’s carpet would never lie flat as the piles of accumulated muck refused to disperse.

Sex has preoccupied significant numbers of people for millennia. History is full of it, often to the detriment of those involved. It was prominent in many ancient cultures; many of the gods of Greek and Roman mythology were sexually indisciplined. The Kama Sutra, believed to be have been compiled about two thousand years ago, is well known for its descriptions of sexual acts. The Bible goes back even further with its accounts of sexual immorality. The first, from around two and a half thousand years before the Kama Sutra, may have provided inspiration for some of the mythological accounts of sex between the gods and women. In Genesis 6 we read, “the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them.” That occurred shortly before the Cataclysm of Noah’s day through which The LORD wiped out a corrupt global society. The human race did not heed the warning though; one of Noah’s sons was disciplined by God shortly afterwards for taking delight in inviting his brothers to view their drunken father’s naked body. The immoral lifestyles which preceded the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah five hundred or so years later are well known. Less familiar may be the accounts of two of Jacob’s children; his only daughter Dinah was raped by the son of a local leader, whilst Judah, Jacob’s third son, visited a woman he thought was a prostitute, but who turned out to be his neglected, twice-widowed daughter-in-law. These five instances, all recorded in the first book of the Bible, illustrate how far back into human history this issue reaches.

The West did not rediscover sexual promiscuity in the 1960s, it just took the covers off it. One only has to lift the carpet of English history to find it rampant amongst both the rich and powerful and the poor and oppressed. For instance, many National Trust properties have tales of sexual scandal in their back-stories. Lyme Hall in Derbyshire is well known as the set for Pemberley in the classic TV portrayal of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (BBC 1995). Less well known is the fact that one of the estate’s former owners, Colonel Thomas Peter Legh (1753-1797), had seven illegitimate children by seven different women, six of them being born in the final year of his life. The eldest one, Thomas Legh, had to be formally adopted by his father so that he could inherit the estate. On a recent visit to another NT property, Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire, I heard a talk about the life of Sir (Bowater) George Hamilton Vernon (1865–1940), 2nd Baronet. He was a very unhappy character, but it seems that he brought his woes upon himself by continually having sex with the daughters of friends and neighbours. In Argentina, where he owned a ranch, he was advised by friends to leave the country after his nearest British neighbour found out that he had had intercourse with all three of his daughters. This man was so enraged that he offered a reward to anyone who killed George. It was because of George’s infidelity that his wife Doris left him. His most stable relationship was during his last ten years when he lived with his secretary and companion, Ruth Horton. It seems he cared for Ruth sufficiently to make sure she was away from Hanbury when he committed suicide by shooting himself in a bedroom there.

I have not cited Colonel Legh and Sir George because they were particularly notorious examples of bad behaviour amongst those with privilege, but to make the point that Harvey Weinstein is not unusual in his abuse of his position to gain sexual favours from women. Read the story of Dinah in Genesis and you will see how her rapist tried to use his status to cover his wrongdoing. Judah had to admit that his daughter-in-law had been “more righteous” than he had. One cannot deny that Zeus, the chief amongst Greek gods, used his power and position to satisfy himself sexually. Like others, Weinstein may have been deluded by the modern notion of free “love” as a licence for promiscuity, without realising that with power comes responsibility. When pressing himself upon his many victims, it appears that he was too arrogant to realise that their submission was not actually consent but an expression of fear for their own well-being, be that their physical safety or their career prospects. Actually, I suspect that men care little for such semantics when they are seeking to satisfy themselves sexually. Ask any man who has groped a stranger in a crowd if he sought their permission first.

Whose problem is it?

The Greek myth concerning Pandora seems to me very much a man’s tale which puts all the blame for humanity’s problems onto a woman. Perhaps, as the first woman on earth, created by the artistic god Hephaestus on the orders of Zeus, she is a reflection of Eve created by Jesus Christ with the authority of His Father. To this day the Jews place the blame for sin upon Eve, even though the Christian New Testament places that responsibility very firmly upon Adam. It is very easy to understand why the actions of men like Savile and Weinstein fan the flames of feminism, which in seeking to lift women up, often tramples men down. On the other hand many, including some judges, have been accused of blaming the victims of rape and other sexual aggression for inviting bad behaviour from their attackers. Let me be clear: whilst I think that women would be wise to consider behaving in ways that did not put them at unnecessary risk, men cannot be exonerated when they take advantage of their stupidity. Many years ago I witnessed a drunken man fall over in the street. Almost immediately a car stopped and it looked as if the driver went to help the man. Then after a few moments he walked back to his vehicle and drove away. It was only afterwards that the man realised his wallet had been stolen. Had he not been drunk, it is very unlikely that he would have been robbed. One person’s foolishness does not justify another taking advantage of them.

So in the following paragraphs let me attempt to answer the dangerous question; are sexual harassment and assault mainly male problems or is the drive to physically force oneself on another person for sexual gratification, something women equally struggle to control? On the whole what the Americans euphemistically call “locker-room talk” is rarely heard amongst women. On the whole ladies don’t wolf-whistle at men nor do they wind down their car windows and shout sexually suggestive comments at men even if they are topless. Most strip clubs are aimed at men, as are brothels. Yes, today there are male strippers, more glitzy acts like the Chippendales and male escorts for lonely (and often rich) ladies. One has to wonder though if what has become known as “ladette culture” arises solely from the personalities of women or because many of them feel they have to be like men in order to be better than them.

In most cultures where polygamy is tolerated, it is polygyny (one male and two or more females) which predominates. The 1980 Ethnographic Atlas listed a total of 1,041 such societies, whilst listing just 4 which practised polyandry (one woman and two or more men at the same time). Other say that this figure should be around 50, but even so it is still much smaller that those cultures where multiple wives are accepted. Whilst the law does not allow any form of polygamy here in Britain, the Government is unclear on how to respond to cases where under Sharia law men have married several wives. Back in the 1970s when I was a detached youth worker in central Manchester, I knew several young men who had children by a number of young women. Nothing unusual in that you may think, but what was surprising is that those women tolerated sharing “their man” with others by giving him a home for several months until the strains in the relationship became too much. Often he would then move in with another of his girlfriends, going round the circle of women repeatedly. I consider this informal practice as a modern form of the harem, and like its ancient predecessor it highlights the fact that men generally have more sexual drive than women.

Whilst accepting that men are at a higher risk of sexually harassing and abusing others, we need to note that they do not reserve their aggression simply for women. So far I have not mentioned the actor Kevin Spacey who has been in the headlines because he has now been accused by multiple other men of making sexual advances towards them. He has also been vilified for announcing that he was homosexual in response to the first of these accusations. Please note though that just as in the Savile and Weinstein scenarios, Spacey’s colleagues were not only aware of his bad behaviour but had collectively turned a blind eye to it for some years.

Earlier this year I came across an exhibition at Chester Museum called “Pride in the Past” which sought to trace the history of homosexuality. The picture is of one of the first in a series of boards on display, and it focussed on sexual morality in the Roman Empire. With the title “Roman Sexuality”, the first two paragraphs state something I already knew, but they are useful confirmation:

At first glance the Roman attitude to homosexuality appears close to our 21st Century understanding, and often this can make the Roman era appear like a gay paradise. In reality, however, the rules of Roman society were stricter than they first appear.

Male Roman citizens were free to indulge in any sexual practice they wished, providing the person was of age, not a woman married to another citizen, a beast, or too closely related to them. Non-citizen males, e.g. slaves, adolescents and unmarried women could all be objects of a man’s passion, providing the man acted as the active partner - that he was the one penetrating the person of his desire. To be penetrated was considered unmasculine, and not befitting the position of a male citizen.”

It seems that in Roman culture men were considered to have been born sexual, but with no particular restraint on how they fulfilled their desires. As recognised in the text, this is very different from today where most lobbyists insist that sexual preferences are fixed rather than fluid. My main point however, is that Roman culture put very few restraints on the sexual activity of its male citizens as long as they were considered dominant in the relationships in which they sought to fulfil their desires. Like the mythologies of these ancient cultures, it seems that their sexual guidelines were written by men for the benefit of men.

In today’s Western cultures there is a much greater feminine influence on public morality, as the latest scandals perhaps reveal. Some may welcome women taking the lead role, but that does not guarantee that they will solve the problems of human sexuality and the emotions surrounding them. In a very helpful article Gavin Ashenden, one time Queen’s Chaplain and now a Missionary Bishop, has collated the results of various pieces of research on homosexual and lesbian “marriages” and relationships. Here I will focus on just one aspect of the evidence he puts forward, that of violence in lesbian relationships. Quoting Dr Suzanna Rose who produced the “Lesbian Partner Violence Fact Sheet”, he reports that lesbian intimate-partner violence produces 66% more domestic violence that heterosexual marriages [reported in Advocate]. He also quotes from a study submitted in 2012/13 to the British Parliament which provided evidence that lesbian marriages were the most unstable of all partnerships. Whilst around 15% of heterosexual couples’ relationships failed within 5 years, in lesbians ones the failure rate is double, at 30%. He also quotes a section on research in Sweden where male unions were 50% more likely to end in divorce than heterosexual marriages, whilst in all female partnerships the failure rate is nearly double that for all male sexually active relationships. History and current research therefore demonstrate that whilst historically many men have been aggressive and selfish in their search for sexual pleasures, women cannot claim total collective innocence.

Before moving on to consider what Jesus said about human sexuality, let me point out one more observation from the above. The morality of Rome did not serve it well. Like other cultures which cast off sexual restraint, the empire fell apart just as Paul had previously assured Roman Christians that it would. (See his letter here.) He was confident about its destiny because he knew that no society can discard moral restraint in one area and retain it in others. There can be little doubt, given the dominant mindset in today’s Western cultures, that we are on course to reap the same fate as those once great societies. German philosopher and one of the founders of German Idealism, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, is credited with being the first to say, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” The west is in the process of proving Hegel right in that respect.

Eyes, hands and hearts

Churches and Christians are often criticised for always going on about sex. Any honest analysis of events will demonstrate that it is normally those who who seek to undermine Christianity who bring up the subject, presumably they believe for their own advantage. The fact is that over the years churches have often failed to speak out about the need for sexual discipline, and have at times positively profited from the lack of it. For instance when the Romans established themselves in London, Southwark became their Soho. According to Paul Slade by AD75 Southwark shipped in slave girls from all over the Empire to keep its brothels staffed. These brothels persisted for many centuries and when King Stephen’s brother Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester, purchased Bermondsey Abbey in 1149 the abbey was granted its ‘liberty’, enabling this Bishop to make his own laws - distinct from the law of the land - for the Abbey and the streets around it. Twelve years later Bishop Henry granted licenses for some of Southwark’s “bath houses” to function as brothels. Richard Anderton, author of The Devilstone Chronicles, states that these brothels remained open, and under the control of the Church, until the reign of Henry VIII who tried to close them in 1519 and again in 1546. His son Edward VI however reversed the ban. Anderton adds that Elizabethan theatres in Southwark, such as the Globe of Shakespearean fame, were aided in their prosperity by “the presence of the brothels, bear pits and other forbidden pleasures”. With such a back story, is it any wonder that the established church of today is having difficulty addressing sexuality in the early 21st century?

Jesus did not have such difficulties when speaking about the need for sexual discipline, though most fail to recognise how blunt He was. Most Christians know this assertion from what we call His Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Mat. 5:27-28.

Of course Jesus was quoting from the Ten Commandments when He referred “to those of old”, but compared to the Mosaic Law, Jesus raised the bar much higher. The Law dealt primarily with outward actions, but Jesus declared here that the real problem was within each one of us and not simply what we do on the outside. Adultery is a whole-body activity - it is impossible for two people to have sexual intercourse without it involving every part of their bodies in some way. In this simple statement Jesus focusses our attention on just two important parts of our being. One of these is physical and the other is that part of us which we find hard to describe. By “heart” Jesus did not mean the muscle which constantly pumps blood around our bodies, but that part of us where thoughts, desires and emotions meet. When we tell someone that we love them with all our heart, then we too are not referring to a part of our physical body, but to that hidden and very powerful part of who we are.

Jesus therefore warned His audience that the real issue is not what they do, but what they imagine in their inner self. Think for a moment of pornography; sexually explicit images and text have no physical effect on people, but through the eye they sink deep into a person and stir up their imagination and their fantasies until they begin to desire to experience what their heart has been feeding itself upon. Whilst printing, film and electronic communications are relatively recent inventions, pornographic images in the form of carvings and paintings abound throughout the history of civilisations. Jesus was not therefore addressing modern men alone, when He warned specifically of the dangers of a roving eye when it came to their relationships with women. This is an age-old problem and He was calling men in particular to face up to it and to discipline themselves. Let us remember that as our Creator He was aware of all the earlier events of history; as the co-editor of what is still the world's best selling book - the Bible, He included in it accounts of some very sordid events. Jesus was fully aware of the extent of the problem when He asserted that men should face the fact that their attitudes towards women were as sinful as the act of committing adultery.

What I find remarkable is that at my age I have still never heard any Christian point out the connection between the two verses I have quoted above and the two which follow them. These read:

If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” Mat. 5:29-30.

Am I the only one who can see that these two warnings develop further what He had just told them? Now I know that many self-identifying Christians, including many evangelicals, brush these statements aside as not to be taken at face-value. Consequently they fail to engage with the thinking behind His reason for speaking in this way. The context could not be clearer. He is teaching on the practicalities of being a follower of His and how we prepare to be citizens of His coming kingdom. He had already addressed anger and its connection to murder, and He would later teach about lying and oaths, revenge and grace, anger and forgiveness and so on. In these verses He highlighted human, and in particular male attitudes to women and sex. The same theme runs from v27 through to v32 - men need to respect women and not treat them as potential sexual playthings.

I hope I don’t need to press this any further, but for those who doubt my assertion that these verses are specifically about sexual discipline, let me remind you that the eye and the hand are the first two parts of our bodies through which men are tempted to have wrong relationships with others - mainly with women, but as we have seen, also with men. We should therefore ask if Jesus was advocating self-mutilation when He addressed the crowd in these terms? We live at a time when the prevailing philosophy is naturalistic, i.e. that there is a totally physical explanation for everything. People and animals, we are told, behave as they do because they are collections of chemicals which have evolved life. Those who argue in this way take their lead from Charles Darwin and his notion of the “survival of the fittest”. Animals, including humans they argue, are what they are today because they have fought to survive in a dog-eat-dog world. These struggles involve far more than who gets the best food; sexual dominance is often put forward as the reason behind strength, size, colouring and even features such as cocks’ combs. It was because of this view that Richard Dawkins coined the phrase “selfish gene” to describe this struggle to be the best and to mate with the best. To such people, efforts by men to “chat-up” and eventually mate with the best women are nothing more than the expression of our biology. If that were really the case then perhaps a face-value reading of what Jesus said could be the answer, though atheists like Dawkins would also deny the concept of sin. After all if men’s eyes are biologically programmed to assess every potential recipient of their sperm, if their hands cannot be restrained from testing the texture and quality of their flesh, then losing those parts of their bodies may be a better solution than castration!

It is unfortunate that because many people consider the Bible to be a “Holy Text” and a religious book, they fail to recognise the sarcasm which Jesus in particular used. For example he was very sarcastic about the Jewish religious leaders of His day, nowhere more so than in Matthew 23. If we are to truly understand his instructions to men about their eyes and hands, then we must also detect the probable tone of His voice in these words. As we have seen, they are preceded by His direct connection between the eye and heart – between lust and adultery. I am sure men defended themselves in those days just as they do today; “Not my fault! I couldn’t help myself! I couldn’t stop looking at her cleavage. I don’t know how my hand ended up on her thigh.” I think if men were ever asked what motivated them to look at women, especially naked ones, they would find it hard to answer. This not because they were being evasive, but because they don’t understand themselves and therefore find it very hard to explain their behaviour to themselves, never mind others. Ask them what they enjoy about touching a woman’s body, especially what we call their “private parts” and I think they would struggle just as much. Equally I am sure that women too have similar difficulties explaining what goes on in their heads and hearts. All of us therefore can fall back on the defence that we cannot help ourselves, and it is that excuse which Jesus is addressing in these two statements.

On a later occasion, in a discussion with Peter about acceptable and unacceptable food, Jesus said to him:

Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” Mat. 15:17-20 [Emphasis mine]

This ties in completely with what we have noted about His Sermon on the Mount. Murder, adultery, lies, blasphemy - they all have their roots in our thoughts not in our actions, in our real inner self not in different parts of our bodies. Once we appreciate that Jesus knew the true nature of men and women, we cannot accuse him of promoting self-mutilation when He said, “If your eye” and “If your hand” make you do that which is wrong, then get rid of the offending piece of your biological body. He was simply being sarcastic about the feeble excuses men used then and still use today. He wanted them to realise that He knew what they already understood - if their eyes and hands strayed, it was not because these body parts had a life of their own and were out of control, but that they were simply following the directive of their corrupt inner selves. His teaching put the responsibility on men (and women) to discipline their hearts in order to keep their bodies in control. In today’s secular culture “It’s only naturalis a frequently quoted excuse. Jesus’ response here was, “It’s not natural, it’s sinful!

The dilemma of today’s culture

The political buzz word for some time has been “progressive”, implying that, like life, society is evolving into something better. Underlying this concept is the view that religion, and Christianity in particular, is regressive, imposing unnecessary restraints upon people. “Let us break such chains and set ourselves free” is the rallying cry which echoes through all Western and some non-Western cultures. Thinking they have “grown up”, many people assert that there is no Creator whom they should seek, no God to whom they are accountable. If only we could get all nations united, if everyone would agree with us, they believe, mankind could be his own saviour. Yet the more they try to get things right, the more their world falls apart around them. Local and global events demonstrate clearly that humans are not essentially good; they are, as Jesus said, bad at heart. The “peace and love” envisaged in the sixties has failed to materialise. There is neither peace on earth between cultures, nations or individuals, nor is there genuine love for those we live amongst. On every side crime has increased, rich and poor communities alike are beleaguered by drug abuse, families have been torn apart in a multitude of ways. The promise of “free love” has not taught men to keep their eyes and hands to themselves. Despite the failure of their social experiment, the majority of the progressive elite are unable to acknowledge their responsibility for the way things are turning out. Instead of remorse, their pride encourages them to press ahead with further irrational experiments which lack any foundation in science or common sense. Like pied pipers, they lead successive generations away from wisdom and safety.

Why are so many prepared to dance to their progressive melody? Certainly, their promise of a better future is a powerful lure, but on its own is it sufficient to allow the blind to lead the blind? One of the more powerful attractions of the call to secularism is not simply that it does away with deference to divinity, but also that it discards the concept of sin. This is particularly attractive in the post-Christian cultures of the West. No longer are we duty-bound to follow our Creator’s rules - we can write our own. Consequently, sin is what we want it to be, and we can declare good anything which we want to enjoy. One such axiom provided Weinstein with what he believes to be his justification. Immorality, he believes like so many others, is not wrong if it is consensual. Yet his victims beg the question what is consensual? Who gets to decide where that line is to be drawn? Is consent in the face of fear actually consent? For many years there have been groups lobbying for the age of consent to be progressively lowered, especially in regard to homosexual activity. We sneer at the child brides of medieval Europe and some present day cultures, but some modern Western men and women still want to fulfil their sexual desires with young children. Is acceptability to be the only arbiter of what is good and right? What would happen if crafty lobbyists successfully campaigned for the rights of men to grope strangers in public? Do I need to remind you that recent cultural change has been driven not by the desire to restrain bad behaviour, but by the call to respect people and to allow them to be themselves? Such freedom is always abused by ‘the powerful’ and they do not need to be as prominent as Savile, Weinstein or Spacey – even most ‘little people’ are in a position of power over someone.

Let’s be honest about ourselves

Perhaps the real cause of its unpopularity is that the Bible is very honest about how selfish men and women can be. One of its clearest descriptions is in Romans 3:10-17, which is very blunt about human nature and its shortcomings. It ends with the statement, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Secularism declares that to be a good thing, whilst the Bible is equally clear that there is great danger in such a mindset. Returning to the sexuality of Greek and Roman gods, the lack of restraint in many of them is lauded in their myths. Today the European Union celebrates the Rape of Europa by Zeus in two statues (one in Brussels and the other in Strasbourg), as well as on its 2 Euro coins. In striking contrast, both the Old and New Testaments always describe a lack of sexual self-discipline as a detriment to those who permit themselves such licence. Jesus was clear in the way He spoke about such behaviour; immoral thoughts were just as bad as immoral actions, and He declared roving eyes and wandering hands to both be sin. I know that is a word which will cause offence to many people today, but I don’t apologise for using it. We need to be clear about the true nature of self-centredness.

The three named villains of this article, Savile, Weinstein and Spacey acted out of self interest. They pursued their own pleasures no matter how their actions affected other people. I have only once served on a jury. The case we heard was of an average man who raped an average woman and he, like them, tried to excuse his actions. The very first message Jesus announced was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Mat. 4:17 & Mark 1:14-15. We always need to repent - change our minds about - the things we have done wrong, things which start in our hearts then spread to every other part of our conscious and subconscious selves. Human nature finds it very hard to accept responsibility for what is in our hearts and minds. We want to defend, some may say justify, ourselves and this often at the expense of others. We have well-developed skills of not facing up to how self-centred we can be. We see it in others all the time, but don’t like to admit that we too are sinners and in drastic need of help to change.

In John’s account of the life of Jesus we can read about a real-life incident when Jesus defended a woman who had been sexually indisciplined against a crowd of religious but hypocritical accusers. You will find it in John 8:1-10. Knowing what The Law taught and that, as we have seen, Jesus condemned adultery, these religious people brought a woman to him who had been caught in the very act of intercourse with someone other than her husband. Referring to what Moses had written, they tested Jesus by asking Him for his opinion on what they should do with her. They claimed that Moses said she should be stoned. John, perhaps on purpose, only tells us part of what Jesus did in response to this trap set for Him. First He gave permission for the one amongst them who was without sin to initiate the stoning - thus not contradicting The Law. John then records that Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with His finger but does not tell us what He wrote. Whatever it was, the effect was dramatic for by the time He looked up, all the accusers had walked away. John adds from his own observations that the older people backed off first followed eventually by the younger ones. All, he says, were “convicted by their conscience”. It is frustrating that we are left to speculate about what it was that Jesus wrote on the ground. There are many suggestions. The one which I favour is that He wrote in full what the command they were quoting actually said. Here is it from Leviticus 20:10,

The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.” [Emphasis mine]

Could it be that here we see another example of men excusing bad behaviour by other men to further their own hatred of Jesus? Had they failed to apply the letter of the command they were asking Him to follow? In their haste had they forgotten that He knew The Law better than they, because He understood its intentions? It may be of course, as some suggest, that the Jews had fallen into the practice of putting all the blame on the women and letting their fellow men walk away from their sins. One can understand that, but never justify it, for those responsible for applying the legal sentence were men. No doubt they were well aware of their own failings and did not want themselves to be treated in the way they should have treated others. Whatever the reason for their partial application of the Mosaic Law, we should not forget that there was one person there who was qualified to throw the first stone at this woman - Jesus Himself, for He had never rebelled against His Father. Did He enforce the commandment on her despite the absence of the man? No, He didn’t. Instead He asked her if anyone had condemned her, to which she replied “No-one, Lord.” His response was two-fold. First He said “Neither do I condemn you; go your way.” Then He added, “From now on sin no more.”

Perhaps we need to learn from Jesus’ response to this woman as we watch the steady flow of the powerful and the privileged being singled out for their lack of sexual self-discipline. Like today’s celebrities and politicians, she had also failed herself, her family and more importantly her God. Jesus did not excuse the attitude of her heart, nor the action her heart had led her to take in committing adultery. However in whatever it was He wrote, He seems to have condemned the hypocrisy of her accusers. The self-righteous in particular need to remember constantly that before their Creator they are just as guilty of self-centred, self-important mistreatment of others as the person they are calling out as a wrong-doer. It is also important for us to realise that whilst Jesus did not condemn this woman for her actions, He warned her not to carry on as she had been doing. Jesus did not water down her guilt - by telling her not to sin again, He clearly defines her action as sin. His instruction is also a call to her to repent, for if she was to obey this she needed to change her attitude to God, to her family (especially her husband if she was married), to her friends and acquaintances and importantly to herself.

Whilst I do not expect everyone to heed the lesson of Jesus’ heart for this woman’s welfare, I pray that some will, including some of the “mighty” who as I write are ‘falling like flies’ before the ongoing flow of accusations. If anyone is to learn from their own mistakes, be they sexual or otherwise, then there are important steps they will need to take. The first is to face up to the “S” word. What they have done is to sin, not just against God, but they have thought selfishly about others and carried those thoughts through into actions. They have also sinned in their attitude to themselves. Seeking to change our attitude to our Creator, to others and to ourselves is the first step of repentance, but it is not the only one. Repentance yields the fruit of being changed into a different type of person, but that change always begins on the inside, in our deep inmost self and works its way out into our actions, rather than the other way round. Changes only on the outside are by definition superficial and commonly wear off in time, sometimes almost instantaneously.

There is one more thing which those who want to turn from their selfishness will need to accept. It is simply this - that in trying to change ourselves, both men and women are equally unable to get to the root of our own problems. We need help, not just from others, but from the One who made us. Trying to rid ourselves of every attitude which hurts us and others is about as effective as a person who tries to lift themselves off the floor by pulling on their ankles. A person who has fallen into a slurry pit is not showing signs of weakness when they cry for help to get them out; they are simply recognising the reality of their situation. To ask for help from our Creator, we need faith. Faith is a confidence that He exists and that He responds positively to anyone who searches for Him. When a person does that with determination, He has promised that He will let them find Him.

Belief in the existence of the God of the Bible and the fact that He cares for those who put Him first has been a great influence on many societies in the Western world. In my lifetime they have exchanged that confidence for the belief that there is no god and mankind is in charge of both the present and the future. This is called progress, yet it has not been able to throw off the incredible potential in men and women to do the wrong thing, to harm others by violating them in many different ways. Whilst I don’t expect our societies as a whole to turn from their new-found confidence in godlessness, I want to assure you that there is still time for individuals to ask for help from their Creator. That opportunity will not last forever; it is not there now for Jimmy Savile. I hope that some of those who now stand accused in the dock of public outrage will take the opportunity to let their disgrace motivate them to seek their Creator God. I also hope than any who read this article who have not yet experienced the same mercy that Jesus expressed to an adulterous woman, will not stand back and excuse themselves from asking for His help in releasing them from their sinfulness. You may not know where to start looking for Him; can I suggest this short appeal for help is a good place to begin:

I don’t know if you exist, but if you are the rescuing God the Bible claims you to be, please help me to find you.”

Jesus promised “I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)

Randall Hardy – November 2017

© Copyright Randall Hardy – November 2017
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