Sexual Harassment and Racism in America

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

C. S. Lewis made an important observation in his 1946 essay titled, “The Decline of Religion.” Many had cited the decline of attendance in the chapels of the various Oxford and Cambridge colleges as a sign of the decline of faith in Britain. But Lewis observed that the decline had not been gradual, but occurred at the very moment when chapel attendance was no longer required. The sixty persons who had attended became five attenders overnight. Lewis pointed out that those five had been the only dedicated Christians all along, but it was the dropping of the compulsory requirement which revealed what had, in fact, been the true situation all along.

In the past few months we have seen an avalanche of prominent people accused of sexual harassment throughout our country. It has spanned the entertainment industry (e.g. Harvey Weinstein), politics (e.g. Al Franken), news media (e.g. Matt Lauer), sports (e.g. Larry Nassar), and even the church (e.g. Andy Savage). It would be wrong to assume that there has been a sudden rise in sexual harassment in our country. Rather, these despicable acts have been taking place for decades in the shadows. Many women felt powerless to speak up and confront their abusers. Now, it is like the house lights in the culture have come up and we can see what has been taking place day in and day out throughout our land. The “compulsory silence” has been lifted and now we can see the vile and degraded nature of our culture in a way which has been kept hidden but was there all along. The #Metoo movement which was launched in October of 2017 has become a long needed cultural permission slip which allows the truth to be known, as painful as it is.

The screaming headline which we must read is this: We are a culture mired in deep sexual brokenness. This is not just a problem of the rich and prominent whom we have seen disgraced in recent months. This is a sin embedded deeply within the culture as a whole. The pathway to healing always begins by facing the truth, however painful it may be. As Christians, we welcome this because the Scripture teaches that this is the trajectory of divine judgment. Jesus taught that “what you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke 12:3). In other words, in the final day of Judgment, there will be no more hidden sins, but all will be brought out in the open. Thus, the #Metoo movement represents a means of grace to us all, because it prefigures, however imperfectly, final judgement. Yet, by the lights coming on now rather than later, it allows space for repentance, forgiveness, and restoration before that great and terrible day. Our culture, of course, doesn’t yet understand the power of repentance and forgiveness, but we are learning something about the power of truth emerging in the midst of a long night of deception and acquiescence. The dramatic collapse of so many prominent people’s lives, marriages, and careers may serve as a warning to those who would contemplate such actions.

In the same way, recent racist comments from our President about Haitians, Salvadorians, and Africans in recent days is shocking, evil, and embarrassing. Yet, such comments have been said quietly in homes and offices all across our country for many decades. The houselights on racism have also come up. We realize afresh how naïve it may have been to think that the Civil Rights movement washed the root of racism out of our country. The Black Lives Matter movement, however imperfectly, turned on the cultural “house lights” to reveal systemic racism in our country which we have conveniently swept under the rug. Racist attitudes persist and must be confronted. Governments can change laws, but laws are powerless to address the root of the problem, which is found in the human heart. Jesus said, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders” (Matthew 15:19). To change the human heart requires a divine initiative. As Christians, we believe that the only hope for our culture, or any culture, is in and through the power of the gospel which first establishes us as in bondage to sin and Adam’s “helpless race.” Only then are we able to see ourselves as we truly are and receive the power and the grace which comes through the ministry of the Triune God.

As a Christian serving at Asbury Theological Seminary, I believe that all cultures are uniquely contoured by God’s grace. Not only are all persons created in God’s image, but the cultures they inhabit also reflect many beautiful facets of God’s grace and handiwork. There is not a culture in the world which is void of many beautiful and admirable traits. Also, sadly, every culture is mired in sin and the brokenness which cries out for redemption.

There should be no place in our hearts, minds, or actions for racism or the degradation of women—anywhere, anytime, or any place. As Christians, we must categorically denounce it. We also understand that there is no hope for our culture, or any other, without the transformation which comes through Jesus Christ. We must model exemplary behavior in even the smallest detail. Paul says it well when he admonishes us: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3). Through our lives and actions, we must prove ourselves to be “above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Now, as much as ever, our culture needs the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ to be embodied by the people of God in every home, school, and work place throughout our blessed, but defiled, country.


  • Matt Ayars says:

    Amen and thanks for this, Dr. Tennent.

  • Author says:

    It’s true these issues have been around forever but what we see today is being manipulated for political reasons. It’s not just coming to peoples attention now, it’s simply being used by people as a means to a political end. Misogyny and sexual assault were in the headlines in the 90’s with Bill Clinton but nothing changed because the people who are making the most noise now supported Bill Clinton then. Trumps opponents want him out and they will do whatever it takes including creating a culture of unacceptability for misogyny (and our culture should NOT accept it) if that iwll help get Trump out (btw I do not excuse Trumps mistreatment of women any more than Clintons -it’s appalling!). The point is that I don’t see hearts being changed through this at all. Women who are making speeches against mistreatment of women are the same women who had supported Bill CLinton and Harvey Weinstein knowing that they mistreated women. Individuals need to surrender their lives to Jesus CHrist before real heart changes occur. Same with the racism. It’s very real and unacceptable but BLM shouting “F**k White People” is hardly a step in the healing direction. It’s also hard to deny that we have seen improvements in race relations when a country of 65% white people have elected a black president for 2 consecutive terms, We have had African Americans serve on the Supreme Court, as Secretary of State, as National Security Advisor, Attorney General etc… so racism is a problem but I see the current cultural climate as more divisive than healing. Confederate Monuments should all come down.. but no one complained about them during Obama’s tenure and they were all standing then. So I don’t intend to be cynical but what our culture is doing with this now is not going to change people. We need pray for changed hearts and be a light in our world to demonstrate unity in love.

  • David Goss says:

    Well said, Dr. Tennent. As I write this I sit in a coffee shop in Santa Barbara where the 101 freeway is still closed due to the recent mudslides. Our city with its patterns of traffic, business, leisure, etc. has been jarred from its foundations. But we have to have hope.
    Our tragedy comes at a time when our country is being jarred culturally, from its foundations of race, power, and politics. In our city, we have to have hope. For our country, I choose to have hope as well. Things need to change and all this upheaval may be the much-needed catalyst.

    • Isabel Wong says:

      Thanks Dr. Tennent’s article. The article is a good reminder. I agree that to solve the root of the problem, is to change the human heart with a divine initiative (or the power of gospel). However, the fact is the sins are not limited to non-Christians, but also Christians who used to be serious followers, but were disappointed in many aspects (marriage, work, church life, etc.). Therefore, sometimes I really doubt if the power of gospel is fading.

  • Dave Miller says:

    Dr. Tennent, I believe the President described countries using the vulgarity. That is different. Plus what do you call countries that have murder rates 10 times the US rate, are listed as corrupt, violent, poor, with high infant mortality rates? I do not believe you would move your families to any of them. Yes, the President’s choice of words was awful and insensitive; but these are failed states at the least. That is why people are so desperate to leave them. My neighbor comes from one of these countries and has just recently brought his daughter here. He describes his homeland in unflattering terms. His family had to live behind barbed wired topped walls. His daughter was threatened repeatedly. Ugly. We should admit that there are countries that are awful places.

  • Ernie says:

    “recent racist comments from our President about Haitians, Salvadorians, and Africans in recent days is shocking, evil, and embarrassing.”

    Dr. Tennent,
    Please don’t allow yourself to be duped by the media or hate groups into believing that what the President said was racist, to do so would make you a complicit in bearing false witness.

    It is so clear that he was merely stating the obvious…that these countries are miserable places that we as a nation seem to be favoring needy people in regards to immigration policy and maybe we should be, by policy, be favoring the well-off countries and people that can more likely contribute to and improve our country.
    The accusation of racism is a serious one, that is to be reserved for critical thoughtful judgement.