Sexual Harassment – Why It’s Wrong and a Vision of a Better World

Sexual Harassment – Why It’s Wrong and a Vision of a Better World November 27, 2017

Library of Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California
Library of Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California

In the last few weeks, many prominent leaders in the United States have been accused of sexual harassment. Some have admitted their errors and apologized. Others have denied the accusations or have made excuses for their behavior. At least at this point, it appears that the accused are all men. Otherwise, perpetrators and victims span the spectrum: politically, religiously, racial-ethnically, and socio-economically.

Yet, in spite of such diversity, it seems that almost everyone agrees that sexual harassment is wrong. Even those who once harassed others appear to recognize the wrongness of their ways.

What I was not hearing in the news stories, however, was an explanation for why sexual harassment is wrong. In what I’d see on television and read in the media, a moral case against this kind of behavior appeared to be missing. Moreover, I had not encountered a positive vision of human relationships that champions a harassment-free society. . .

. . . until I completed the Sexual Harassment Prevention training at my workplace. As you may know, I’m the Executive Director of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Seminary.  Fuller, following the law, requires all of its administrators and supervisors to complete a sexual harassment prevention course. I did mine a couple of weeks ago, aware of how relevant this kind of training is in today’s world.

As a part of this course, I re-read Fuller’s Policy Against Sexual Harassment. It contains, as you would expect, detailed information on what kind of behavior is inappropriate. But it begins with a strong statement of why all of this matters, why sexual harassment is wrong, and what kind of world our hearts yearn to live in. I’d like to quote the initial portion of the policy here:

The two great commandments are these: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart . . . soul . . . and mind” and, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 39). As man and woman are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), so in Christ there is neither male nor female (Gal. 3:28). Followers of Jesus are not to lord it over one another (Matt. 20:25-27), but are to be in mutual submission (Eph. 5:21). Christians manifest these truths by their mutual service and love in the Body of Christ.

Sexual harassment is a violation of Christ’s commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. It denies the image of God in the other, and it negates our oneness in Christ. Sexual harassment often involves an abuse of power. It invariably interferes with shared ministry and rends the Body of Christ.

With these things in mind, together with the realization that when one member suffers, all suffer together (1 Cor. 12:26), Fuller Theological Seminary establishes the following policy with regard to sexual harassment.

Fuller Theological Seminary expects that the dignity of all people, female and male, will be revered and celebrated in behavior, attitude, and the use of language by each member of the seminary community. This expectation is grounded in the belief that Scripture affirms mutuality and care for the other, explicitly forbids behavior which arises from the abuse of power, and teaches that men and women together are created in God’s image and for God’s glory. The seminary is therefore committed to creating and maintaining a community in which students, faculty, administrators/managers, and staff can study and work together in an atmosphere free of all forms of harassment, exploitation, or intimidation, including sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment is a barrier to learning in the classroom and to productivity in the workplace. Faculty, administrators/managers, supervisors, staff, students, and trustees have the responsibility for participation in the creation of a campus environment free from sexual harassment, an environment that bears joyful witness to the God-given worth of all persons. Every member of the Fuller community should be aware that the seminary is strongly opposed to sexual harassment and that such behavior is prohibited both by seminary policy and by federal and state laws.

[Then comes a clear statement of what constitutes sexual harassment, behavior that is prohibited by the policy.]

In the Fuller statement, we find a succinct rationale, from an openly Christian perspective, of why sexual harassment is wrong:

  1. It violates Christ’s command that we love our neighbors as ourselves.
  2. It denies our dignity as people created in God’s own image.
  3. It negates our oneness in Christ.
  4. It is an abuse of power, which is contrary to the call of Jesus.

This policy also affirms a rationale that could be found at secular as well as religious institutions: “Sexual harassment is a barrier to learning and to productivity in the workplace.” Yet, it adds a distinctive Christian vision of “a campus environment free from sexual harassment, an environment that bears joyful witness to the God-given worth of all persons.”

I find this last statement particular moving. I want those who work with and for me to experience their “God-given worth” in the context of their work. This means that they should not be harassed sexually. But it means more than this. They should have confidence that their minds, hearts, souls, and bodies will be treated with the utmost respect. They should know that they matter, not only because of the work they do, but also because of who they are as people created in God’s image and claimed by God’s love in Christ.

Eliminating sexual harassment is a worthy goal and it’s past time we dealt with this as a society. There are many reasons why someone should not harass another person sexually. But I am eager to strive for more, to seek a world in which all people experience their “God-given worth” in every part of life.

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