4 Lessons for Christians from the Harvey Weinstein Scandal

At the 2013 Academy Awards ceremony host Seth MacFarlane read the names of the five actresses in the supporting actress category, and said, “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”

No one finds that joke funny anymore.

Last week the acclaimed and influential producer was accused of serially abusing women. While the number grows daily, to date almost 30 women—including many famous actresses—have accused Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax, of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and/or rape.

The accusations have scandalized Hollywood, not merely because of Weinstein’s behavior—that was apparently an open secret—but rather because so many influential people knew and said nothing. Now the entertainment community wonders why they remained silent.

It’s tempting to mock the movie industry for such blatant hypocrisy. They frequently preach to us about their superior values; meanwhile, they were overlooking abuse in their midst. But instead of gloating we should consider what we as Christians might learn from the horrific, decades-long cover-up. Numerous lessons could be learned, but here are four specific takeaways we should consider:

1. We are skilled at rationalizing abuse when it benefits us.

Would you be willing to turn a blind eye to accusations of sexual assault and abuse if it might benefit you in some way, either directly or indirectly?

Of course not. Unlike the denizens of Hollywood, we Christians have stringent moral standards. As servants of Christ we recognize it is our duty to protect the powerless and vulnerable from harm.

And yet . . . in the last election we had a choice between two candidates who have both contributed to the systemic abuse of women. One major party candidate had more than a dozen credible accusations of sexual misconduct against him, and had even been caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women. The other candidate had spent years aggressively covering up credible accusations of sexual assault and harassment against her husband, a former U.S. president. In both cases, the candidates attempted to shame the alleged victim into silence. Despite these actions, millions of Christians were willing to not only overlook the misdeeds of these politicians but were even willing to reward them by giving them the most powerful job in the world.

But that’s different, right? We had no choice but to cast a vote to support our preferred candidate, because otherwise our political enemies would have gained power. We had Supreme Court nominations on the line. We had important political concerns that could be set back for decades if the other party won. And, after all, the other side was as complicit in sexual abuse as our candidate was. We therefore shouldn’t be held responsible for making the best of a bad situation. 

Sounds a lot like Weinstein’s apologists, doesn’t it?

The point is not to shame those who voted in the last election—we can’t change the past—but to call on all Christians to recommit to our values by refusing to support abusers in the future. It doesn’t take much courage; all it takes is for us to stop rationalizing our decision to ignore abuse, even when doing so benefits us either individually or collectively.

2. We make an idol of work.

How much money would it take for you to turn a blind eye to accusations of rape? What sort of job offer would entice you to remain quiet while a man continued to abuse or rape women?

Again, we can’t imagine we would ever stoop so low as to discount credible accusations of sexual assault simply to protect our own economic security. Yet I’ve heard numerous Christians defend actors and actresses in Hollywood by saying they were justified in not speaking out, because challenging Weinstein could have cost them their job or work on future projects.

I can’t fathom such justifications. Over the course of my life, I’ve had about three-dozen jobs. Many of those jobs I’ve enjoyed, and some I’ve even loved. But there is no job in America you could offer me that would entice me to cover up for a rapist.

I don’t say that because I believe I'm a moral exemplar or because I’m particularly courageous. I’m neither. I say that because I’m the adopted child of a holy God. I say that because I can’t imagine standing before my King and Father and saying, “Sure, maybe I should have spoke up for those women, but you don’t understand, it was a really, really good job . . .”

Some people may have a legitimate reason for choosing their livelihood over protecting others. But most of us have no excuse. We need to prepare to respond in a way that doesn’t cause us to sacrifice our integrity to keep our paycheck. If you’re more concerned about maintaining your financial security than you are in protecting women from a known rapist, you need to reconsider your priorities.

3. The powerful aren’t always as powerful as we assume.

Weinstein abused women for three decades because he was believed to be too powerful to challenge. Yet once he was challenged, his power quickly vanished.

No one should blame the victims who refused to confront him directly. Having already been victimized by the man they were under no obligation to risk suffering more abuse from him. But the people not directly victimized, who knew about the abuse and still did nothing, are all, in one way or another, morally culpable.

Some of those who turned a blind eye truly were too powerless to make a difference. But many others were multi-millionaires with reputations and power to rival Weinstein’s. They likely didn’t fear Weinstein’s power so much as they feared losing their own influence.

As the rapid fall of Weinstein has revealed, though, it wouldn’t have taken much effort to put an end to his spree of harassment and abuse. And, so far, few are suffering for standing up to the once-dominant producer.

Unfortunately, not every situation is as cost-free as this scandal. Many men and women do suffer for speaking about against their abusers. We must not dismiss such concerns. Yet all too often we assume powerful men and women are untouchable—and because of that belief we make it a self-fulfilling reality. By our continued refusal to stop them, they appear unstoppable.

Even though we are still to slow to act, our culture is growing increasingly tired of making excuses for abusers. Even in the secular world of Hollywood people are finding it doesn’t take much moral courage to end the scourge of sexual violence. If the Hollywood elite can challenge the status quo, why shouldn’t we, backed by the most powerful kingdom in the universe, be willing to stand against sinful worldly power?

4. We are often too quick to restore fame and power.

Before he was fired from the company he co-founded, Weinstein sent an email asking many of the most powerful people in show business to serve as character witnesses. In the email he wrote,

My board is thinking of firing me. All I’m asking, is let me take a leave of absence and get into heavy therapy and counseling. Whether it be in a facility or somewhere else, allow me to resurrect myself with a second chance.

As one anonymous observer has noted, “This might be the most brazen example I have ever seen of the humanist doctrine of second chances. The phrase ‘allow me to resurrect myself’ is simultaneously laughable and heartbreaking. Laughable because no one can resurrect themselves. Heartbreaking because that is exactly what he needs.”

The idea that Weinstein can serve as Jesus to his own Lazarus and “resurrect” himself is the pinnacle of hubris. But Weinstein’s concept of how a “second chance” works is all too common in Christian circles.

Even before he finished apologizing, Weinstein had his path to restoration all mapped out: issue a public apology, take a short absence from the spotlight, follow up with therapy and counseling for “sex addiction,” and then the “resurrection” in which he returns—suitably chastened, of course—to fame, power, and public acclaim. All of that should take about six months, a year at most.

This is also the thinking of many Christians, especially celebrity pastors, who have abused the trust of the public and their congregations. Many of us were shocked when televangelist Jim Bakker, who served an eight-year prison term for fraud, returned to a broadcasting ministry nine years after getting out of jail. Today, we’re surprised if a scandalized pastor waits nine months before he returns to the pulpit and the spotlight.

The point is not that Weinstein or anyone else is beyond forgiveness and restoration. As Christians we have all been given a “second chance” and shouldn’t begrudge any other sinners from a new life. But in most cases, while forgiveness may be immediate, the process of restoration should take time. It should also not be assumed to be automatic. When a person has repeatedly abused his power and betrayed our trust he needs to not only repent but also to prove he can be trusted not to harm others in the future. 

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