I have been engaged in preparing a message on the text of 2 Samuel 11: 1-15 which records the sin of King David with Bathsheba. One finds themselves a bit uncomfortable when the scriptures reveal an unseemly side of a biblical hero. While I wrestle with the need to understand the repeated choice of calling Jesus the ‘son of David’ given this account, I am more perplexed by the confusion found both within and without the church on the issue of sexual harassment.
It has most recently been defined by the ‘Weinstein Effect’ that emerged with sexual misconduct accusations against movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein. Today, the “Weinstein effect” is a global trend in which people come forward to accuse famous or powerful men of sexual misconduct.
This has had a chilling effect on the relationships between men and women in the workplace and in the church. The recent rash of resignations by noted church leaders and educators is due witness.
I felt it necessary to understand this recent phenomenon given the fact that sexual harassment has been a part of human existence since the Garden of Eden. More on that in a moment. Let’s begin with a common definition.
Sexual harassment is defined as bullying or coercion of a sexual nature and the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors. Sexual harassment includes a range of actions from mild transgressions to sexual abuse or assault.
One out of every three women has experienced an overt act of sexual harassment in their lives as have one in nine men. We have all seen it played out in our workplaces and community. We have all found ourselves standing too close to that edge in our comments and flirtatious teasing. But there is a legal definition to such harassment.
Sexual harassment occurs when a person is subject to unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature to such an extent that it alters the conditions of the person’s employment and creates an abusive working environment.
There are two types of sexual harassment recognized by federal law: quid pro quo and hostile work environment. Quid pro quo refers to situations where employment decisions such as hiring, firing, or promotions are contingent upon the employee providing sexual favors.
No, not all workplace harassment is illegal. The laws enforced by EEOC do not prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious. For workplace harassment to be illegal, the conduct must either be severe (meaning very serious) or pervasive (meaning that it occurred frequently).
Sexual harassment ranges from annoying to illegal. There was a time when it was “accepted” as a form of hazing, the price of being a woman in the workplace. Teasing, groping, and worse were often tolerated, as was employee termination if a woman didn’t provide sexual favors to her harasser. That began to change as women sought redress through the courts in the 1970s and ’80s. A growing body of legal precedents and the passage of laws strengthening the Civil Rights Act have made the threat of a sexual harassment lawsuit a serious financial risk for companies today.
The 1978 book “Sexual Shakedown: The Sexual Harassment of Women on the Job” by Lin Farley raised the public profile of the issue and is often credited with bringing the term “sexual harassment” into popular use.
In 1980 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stated that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, issuing regulations that defined the offense. The “hostile environment” legal precedent was set in 1986 in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson. Now, sexually charged remarks were grounds for a lawsuit. As a result, employers’ liability grew, and plaintiffs’ burden of proof diminished.
The Civil Rights Act of 1991 expanded those rights of women to sue and collect damages for sexual discrimination or harassment. The “reasonable woman” standard entered into law in 1991 with Ellison v. Brady. Cases would now be considered from the point of view of the complainant instead of the defendant.
What went unspoken by every man was the question of how many times in his past has he crossed the line and subjected a female to unwanted comments and even inappropriate behaviors. How far could this pendulum swing and who all could be caught up in it.
But it was the interview of Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer and one of the most prominent female executives in Silicon Valley, that offered me some hope of an effort for justice and not vengeance.
“We need to make sure the people accused believe there’s due process,”, she said in an interview. “There will be claims that aren’t true, and if people feel there’s going to be no process for vetting, that’s where the backlash against women comes.”
But, Sandberg added, the opportunity to address what women commonly face cannot be allowed to slip away. Sexual harassment “has always been about power,” she said. “We cannot have a rash of people coming out and people getting fired and then back to business as usual.”
Sexual harassment is by its nature an exertion of power over the less powerful. While it is played out in the field of sexual interplay, its bite is found in the ability to threaten the health and welfare of another if there is failure to submit.
In the text of King David’s sin, the Hebrew word ‘laqakh’ describes the actions of those agents David sent to fetch Bathsheba. It wasn’t an invitation since ‘laqakh’ literally mean ‘to take’. While some commentators seem to soften the incident with the accusation that she was bathing on the roof to be seen, the scriptures only list David on the roof. The King just didn’t send for her. He took her.
God designed human sexuality to be expressed in monogamous, heterosexual marriages. All of our sexual attention should be reserved for our spouse only. Ideally, we should not even have sexual thoughts about anyone else, including prospective girlfriends and boyfriends.
Paul’s instruction to Timothy is important here: “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Timothy 5:1–2). The biblical mandate is for our purity to be “absolute.” The fact is that sexual harassment would never take place if everyone treated everyone else with this type of consideration and respect.
From the biblical viewpoint, the only lawful sexual relations are to take place in marriage. Matt. 19:1-6, Eph. 5:22-33. These relationships are to always be voluntary, not forced even by the husband or the wife. 1 Cor. 7:1-5.
Therefore, what the world condones, voluntary sexual freedom outside of marriage is condemned by the Bible. (Gal. 5:19-22.) Further sexually charged speech and actions such as looks toward those that are not your spouse (husband or wife) are condemned by the Bible. (Matt. 5:27-30, Eph. 4:29, 5:1-17.)
Yet, I was still left wanting to understand what would prompt such a man after God’s own heart like David to pursue another man’s wife. While the scriptures affirm the guilt of all who participate in such immoral behaviors, I needed to go back to the beginning to understand how broken this relationship between men and women can become. All the way back to the Garden of Eden.
Genesis 3:16 (NRSV)
To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
While God cursed both the man and the woman to live with the burden of labor in their existence here, there was an additional description of the curse attached to the woman. The burden of that curse is not in the woman’s desire for her husband but in his exercise of domination over her in this world.
History has given ample witness to the lengths of abuse that domination has taken over the generations. We live in a patriarchal society. Men both physically and socially hold advantages over the woman. Christ Himself noted that only in Him could there be the elimination of this difference. (Galatians 3:28)
This enmity between men and women is as old as our flesh. The opportunity for men to exploit the same is there. Even for a good King.
David’s sin came with a great price of death, rebellion and sorrow. For what he did, we would only see it as justice. The same must be expected and granted for all who are abused by such domination of man or woman. If not here, then certainly there.