Voices: Digging deeper into the undercover sin of sexual harassment

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I love action movies, particularly watching secret agents spying on other organizations, countries or gangs. I’m fascinated by the skills and courage needed to accomplish their mission successfully.

Perhaps that’s the reason I love the movie The Fast and The Furious, in which a skillful and ruthless gang boss (Vin Diesel) takes the bait of an equally skillful and courageous undercover cop (Paul Walker). The undercover cop was excellent in presenting himself as a fellow gang associate in order to gain trust, influence and power.

Like secret agents and spies, there are undercover agents in our lives difficult to discover unless we are willing to identify, confront and make the firm decision to address them. Our society—including our Christian institutions—is plagued with these undercover agents—otherwise known as sin—such as pride, selfishness and superiority.

Sexual harassment is just one expression of these undercover sins.

The theme of sexual harassment has dominated the news cycle over the last year. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media outlets are dominated by the topic of sexual harassment, especially following the most recent news about Southern Baptist churches.

The #MeToo movement has exposed this prevalent undercover sin from the White House to houses of worship, from Catholics to Baptists, and from public schools to Christian educational institutions.

How can we bring light to this undercover sin? More importantly, how can we prevent sexual harassment from happening even in our churches?

Defining the problem of sexual harassment

To address the problem, we must define sexual harassment. Clearly identifying sexual harassment allows us to understand the real enemy.

When people hear about sexual harassment, they often think about rape and sexual abuse. However, sexual harassment is more common than—and even a precursor to—rape and sexual abuse.

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Sexual harassment includes any uninvited comments, behavior or conduct about sex, gender or even sexual orientation.

The Department of Education publishes the following definition in its Title IX Resource Guide: “Sexual harassment includes verbal acts and name-calling, as well as non-verbal behavior, such as graphics and written statements, or conduct that is physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating perpetrated against a person’s will or where a person is incapable of giving consent.”

The Title IX code applies to all educational institutions—public and private, including Christian.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides a similar definition for sexual harassment that applies to workplaces, including houses of worship.

The problem of sexual harassment has no boundaries and has affected many communities of faith, Christian educational institutions and families. As a result, I based my doctoral dissertation on ethical leadership in Christian institutions and to explore the effect of ethical leadership on the work environment, employee performance and turnover rates.

The root of the sin of sexual harassment

The Bible asks a powerful question that may help us find the root of the sin of sexual harassment: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you” (James 4:1 NIV)?

The desires of our human flesh are the root of behaviors like sexual harassment. The behavior—the action—is only the manifestation of that deeper problem: our fallen nature, our pride and our selfishness—in short, sin. Sexual harassment is sin in the spirit, the soul and the mind of a person.

Sin is nefarious, twisting good things into evil. In a society in which so many think and feel they are superior to others, it is not strange that something like sexual harassment—under the guise of love, care and compassion—has penetrated our churches, Christian schools and other parachurch organizations.

Dealing with sexual harassment at the root

God has a solution to this deep problem: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV).

The Lord can heal our hearts, our churches and our country, but we must humble ourselves and seek God’s face. If we seek God’s face, we will see his face in other people, most notably people we used to consider less than ourselves. When we seek God’s face, then he will bring the healing we need.

Unfortunately, we treat the symptoms more often than the problem. Andy Stanley wrote in Enemies of the Heart: “The problem, of course, is that treating the symptoms masks the real culprit. Worse, it delays treatment of the problem, thus leaving the problem to worsen.”

We must make sure churches do their due diligence in training their leaders, running background checks for those working with youth and children, and creating effective processes to deal with sexual harassment.

Even more, we need to make sure we are making disciples of Jesus Christ who are spiritually, emotionally and mentally healthy and who are equipped to deal with a broken world trying to fill a void only God can fill.

Our actual battle is not against sexual harassment but is about the practice of the Christian life through true and consistent discipleship.

Luis Juárez is a doctoral student of education administration at the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor in Belton and currently serves at Baptist University of the Américas in student affairs, ministry engagement and church relations. He also has been a youth and college pastor for 12 years and is married to Cesia Juárez, an MBA student at Dallas Baptist University.

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