When does sexual harassment take place? “The past few months has ushered in a unprecedented level of awareness and shock at the pervasive experience of sexual harassment,’ notes Roxanne Stone, editor in chief of Barna Group. Barna asked Americans to identify specific acts that they considered to be harassment. “Nearly half of all American adults admit to experiencing or witnessing sexual harassment at some point in their lives.” The nature of the behavior was either verbal (77%) or physical (67%). “The answer differs based on gender, but Americans say that sexual harassment is most often about being touched or groped (women: 96%, men: 86%) or being forced to do something sexual (women: 91%, men:83%).
Three in ten adults (29%) report that they have been sexually harassed. Women are nearly three times more likely than men to report experiencing sexual harassment. The reported noted women (73%) were more likely than men (57%) to say the sexual harassment they experienced or witnessed was physical. Women also give accounts of verbal sexual harassment just as much as physical (74% verbal and 73% physical). Men feel or recognize harassment more often as verbal (men: 81%, women: 73%).
The data from Barna seems to reinforce what I have observed in my years as a pastor. Men are more likely to be the ones doing the harassing rather than women. The harassment is mainly verbal with men in the church. It is interesting that such things as staring (19%:women, 18%:men ), winking (18%:women, 12%:men) and light-hearted flirting (women:12%, men:12%) were far down the list. I mention these three items because for Christian men who desire to live in moral purity and sexual integrity, these items matter.
Men, my testimony is that light-hearted flirting matters. Our attitude toward women speaks louder then our words. We are held to a higher standard. Moral purity which is the foundation of sexual integrity begins in the heart of a man. Remember Jesus’ words, “But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already commited adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27). Proverbs 6:23 warns men, “Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes” (Prov 6:25). Job said of himself, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1)
If Christian men are going to be trusted, worthy exemplars of moral purity in relation to women, it will have to be demonstrated in our more hidden responses to women. For example, I have tried hard to never send the wrong message to women. I have purposed to “countinence” the face of a young woman and not her body. As the old saying goes, “You can look at the menu, but don’t order.” For men “staring” and “winking” are off limits. They send a mixed message. When it comes to “making sexual comments about looks/body,” experienced by 86% of the women in the Barna report, the man of God should know better.
The Barna report ends by noting, “We are now beginning to grapple with the intensely sexual ideas that have been allowed to define gender relationships, not to mention the extremely complex power dynamics at play in society where men still hold the majority of top-level positions…..Pastors and spiritual leaders….must be ready to talk with their members……Churches have an opportunity to be leaders in this disorienting conversion.”
I agree totally. As men of God, we can lead the way through the present day wasteland of sexual dysfunction between men and women. But we need to head the words of Proverbs 4:23, “Guard you heart above all else, for it is the source of life.”