How Romans 1 Rebukes Those Who Excuse Sexual Harassment and Abuse

Photo by Maranatha Pizarras on Unsplash

Earlier this month, Joe Kim wrote an article about Creation that was supposed to launch a series on the Christian Worldview and Redemptive History (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation). My plan was to follow up Joe’s article with an exploration of the Fall and then move on.

I can’t write the article I wanted to write. I had planned to look at the Fall of Humankind through a more philosophical lens than this.

But I had to stop and reorient myself. Today is not a day for a philosophical treatise on the Fall. Our social media feeds and newspapers are awash in evidence of depravity and, in our current cultural moment, the depravity of men specifically.

I have been stunned into silence by the current conversation regarding sexual abuse and sexual harassment. From complaints and a taped confession of sexual harassment and assault by the President to #metoo to the downfall of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey to the disgusting saga surrounding Senatorial candidate Roy Moore to #churchtoo, I have watched and listened as woman after woman has bravely come forward to identify their abuser or recount their abuse.

I’ve watched with tears. I’ve asked that the Spirit would comfort and heal the victims. I’ve considered myself and asked the Lord to convict me of any way that I treat women with less than the dignity and respect they deserve.

And I’ve been dismayed at the way that some men and women who claim the name of Christ have either gone to great lengths to defend and excuse political allies like President Trump and Roy Moore or have put the blame on the victims for the way they dress and present themselves.

Evangelical Christians shouldn’t have to be reminded that sexual assault and sexual harassment are always wrong. But, again, I am left disappointed by my own.

I’m an Evangelical. And we certainly understand sexual sin to have concrete forms. Homosexuality, pornography use, sex outside the bounds of marriage; articles and even books abound with these topics in mind.

Sexual harassment and sexual abuse seem to have received less consideration. That could be because LGBT rights, the easy accessibility to pornography on the internet, and the explosion of youth ministry-related books (where sex before marriage is a constant topic of discussion) have dominated the cultural conversation and therefore filled the shelves of Christian bookstores.

We may have also assumed that all Evangelicals understood that this kind of harassment and abuse was wrong. After all, we don’t need book after book trying to convince people that murder is wrong (although abortion and the death penalty do get their fair share of treatments).

I know I assumed it to be true. But my assumptions have been under assault for a little more than a year now.

I assumed that Evangelicals would overwhelmingly reject a Presidential candidate who admitted on tape to sexually harassing and abusing women. We didn’t.

I think I have to stop assuming that Christians see these issues through biblical theological lenses rather than political ones. Because some of the loudest critics of Hollywood have also been the loudest supporters of President Trump.

How is this possible? How are we, Christians with a supposedly high view of Scripture, able to rationalize or ignore sexual harassment and sexual sin when politically convenient?

I’m left to assume (again) that many evangelicals don’t have a proper category from which to understand sexual harassment and sexual abuse. And so, over the next few posts I will explore how the Fall has impacted the relationship between men and women. By placing sexual harassment and abuse under the category of the Fall where it belongs, hopefully no one will be able to defend what Scripture shows to be indefensible or excuse those who commit this sin.

But before I can continue into those theological discussions, it is important to begin with a scriptural rebuke to those who do have that category and yet continue to defend those who have sexually harassed and abused our sisters. Brothers and sisters, if this is you, Scripture calls you to repentance.

A Rebuke from Romans 1

Evangelicals point to Romans 1 as a key text in the controversy surrounding homosexuality. But there is a vice list after those verses that is often ignored or downplayed in favor of the popular debate. It includes expected sins like murder and envy along with unexpected sins like gossip and being disobedient to parents.

They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:29-31)

The list is not exhaustive but is synechdochal, which means the list represents every conceivable sin (note the inclusion of “inventors of evil”) as a results of turning away from the Creator and toward created things.

Important for our conversation, the chapter ends this way:

Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:31)

The final indictment of humankind is that we not only practice sin but nod approvingly when others sin.

It’s supposed to be different for Christians. Because of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, we are both declared righteous and gifted with the righteousness of Jesus himself. As righteous men and women, we are charged to work out our salvation, continually asking the Spirit if there is any wayward way in us. We are in the process of being sanctified and are supposed to be growing in our hatred of sin as we grow in our love for the Lord.

When we read Romans 1 we should immediately repent of the ways we still fall short. It is a rebuke to all who sin or approve of others sinning. It is a rebuke to those Christians rallying around President Trump and Roy Moore.

Is this rebuke deserved? Yes. Those Evangelical Christians that continue to stand by men like President Trump and Roy Moore, who willfully ignore the abuse and objectification of women (and in the case of Roy Moore, children!) for political gain, need to heed the rebuke of Romans 1.

It is sinful to ignore someone’s sin for political expediency or because they are friendly toward you. As the wise man said, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”

We have all fallen short. We must all place ourselves under the rebuke of Romans 1 and allow the Spirit to convict and sanctify us.

And, fellow Evangelicals, we must treat women better. We must listen to women when they describe the harassment and abuse they have endured at the hands of men. More than that, we need to believe them and help change the systems that allowed this evil to run rampant.

When our fellow Christians willfully ignore the rebuke of Romans 1, we must lovingly confront them. Let us display to the world that the Church will not stand for the devaluing of women. Let the world see us unequivocally condemn sexual harassment and abuse.

Let us eschew political gain for the paths of righteousness that God has set before us.

Marcos Ortega

Marcos Ortega (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is an Assistant Pastor at Goodwill Church (Evangelical Presbyterian Church) and lives in the Hudson River Valley in New York with his wife and two daughters.

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