2017 ended with a seemingly endless litany of sexual harassment scandals among entertainment personalities such as Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer and political figures including Al Frankin and Roy Moore. Using the hashtag MeToo, women across the country joined the conversation and relived stories of humiliating harassment and assault in their workplaces. The sheer number of victims was staggering.
Obviously, any sexual activity in a workplace with someone who isn’t your spouse is off-limits to a Christian trying to honor God. Beyond the sexual component, research indicates that sexual harassment is less about sex and more about power. Sexualized jokes and innuendos maintain a workplace where men are comfortable even if women aren’t. Quid pro quo offers give those already in power tangible evidence of their status. Assault demonstrates that one person has power over another.
Those means of managing power are completely inconsistent with Jesus’ teachings. Matthew 20 describes Jesus’ disciples arguing about their status in His new kingdom. His response focuses on reversing the power dynamic that they knew. He explained, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” In addition to sexual lines that are off limits, harassment comes from a view of power that is wholly unchristian.
At the core of the issue is an attitude that one person is worth less than another. The harasser, intentionally or unintentionally, values him or herself more than the target of harassment. If the issue is a hostile work environment where sexualized jokes and demeaning comments abound, the harasser’s assumption is that his or her fun is more important than the personhood of others. If the issue is more acute where the harasser makes a job offer or promotion contingent on getting sexual favors in return, the harasser believes that his or her gratification is more important than the humanity of the target. Both are at odds with the Biblical view that men and women are created in the image of God. If you believe others in your workplace are created in God’s image, how can you treat them with anything less than 100% respect?
So how can you, as a Christian, avoid unintentionally harassing others or respond to harassment in your workplace? Here are four ideas.
- First, show respect for the people around you. Nothing squashes sexual harassment and discrimination more than respect. Regardless of what you think about the people with whom you work, do you honor them as God’s creations? Loving others as yourself means that you treat supervisors, coworkers, and subordinates with respect and dignity. You might start by cultivating an attitude described in 1 Timothy 5:2 as you treat older women as your mother and younger women as your sister.
- Second, be sure that you judge people only on their job-related competence and character. Part of what makes harassment so demeaning is that the victim is being judged on something other than his or her competence. If you are in a position of authority, be sure that you emphasize only job-related competence as you exercise that authority.
- Third, listen to the people around you. If someone is uncomfortable with something, pay attention to him or her. Avoid dismissing another person’s feelings. If someone reports harassment to you, take it very seriously.
- Finally, while some may be comfortable with hugs and arms around shoulders, it’s better to err on the side of less physical touch. A safe rule of thumb is to stick with handshakes and high fives when interacting with people at work.
Sexual harassment is everyone’s responsibility. As a Christian, you are working with people created in God’s image. You owe it to Him to treat others with respect and dignity. Beyond that, we as Christians also have a responsibility to look out for those around us who have less power and protect them from those who abuse power advantages.
Johny Garner has a Ph.D. in communication and is an associate professor at Texas Christian University. He studies organizational communication. Tweet him @johnygarner or see more of his writing at http://www.mondaymorningchristianity.com.