What Jesus Says About Sexuality in a #MeToo Age

It’s not often that a single tweet explodes into an enormous movement. But on October 15, 2017, Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet in response to the growing awareness of sexual abuse in the movie industry:

If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.

Milano wasn’t the only person speaking to this issue and encouraging others to share their own stories. But this tweet gained instant traction. The hashtag quickly became viral. The original tweet was posted around midday; by the end of the day the phrase “Me too” had been used on Twitter more than 200,000 times. Within a year, it had been used 19 million times—more than 55,000 times each day.

Many celebrities shared their stories, immediately raising the profile of the hashtag. Hollywood was quickly engulfed. Other parts of the entertainment industry soon followed. Stories of harassment and abuse spread in realms of politics, media, academia, and religion. A parallel #ChurchToo hashtag also emerged, as survivors of assault in churches or by church leaders shared their horrific experiences.

The #MeToo movement has shone a spotlight on the prevalence of sexual assault. Around 20 percent of American women have been sexually assaulted. Exact figures are hard to come by, of course, since these are extremely difficult stories for people to share, for a host of reasons. But as many are opening up for the first time, we are gaining a truer understanding of the prevalence of these brutalities. Men, too, are opening up about experiences of being sexual assaulted and harassed. Some men are also acknowledging failures in their own past behavior toward women.

Command That Convicts Us All

In this context, we can see Jesus’s challenging teaching with fresh beauty: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27–28).

Adultery happens in the heart long before it ever happens in the bed.

We’re used to hearing this verse applied to our attitude to others, and rightly so. Jesus is targeting those who might assume that this, of all the commandments, is one where they can be confident of obedience. Not so fast, he’s saying. Adultery happens in the heart long before it ever happens in the bed. It is not just about what we do with our genitals, but what we do with our eyes and our minds. It concerns our attitude and thought life, not just our physical actions. By Jesus’s reckoning, none of us is innocent. The commandment convicts us all.

Value of Our Sexuality

But while Jesus is targeting the person doing the looking, it’s worth noticing what he’s saying by implication about the person being seen. She is not to be looked at or even thought about lustfully. Again, Jesus is not solely concerned with physical boundaries, but mental ones. Clearly this warning applies to both sexes. But, given the prevalence of sexual assault by men against women, it is significant that the scenario describes a man looking lustfully at a woman. Jesus is saying that she is precious and valuable; she has sexual dignity, which should be honored by everyone else. This sexual dignity is so precious to Jesus that it must not be violated, even in the privacy of someone else’s mind.

This is staggering. We tend to think that someone’s thought life is their business alone, that what they think about in their own head has nothing to do with anyone else. Jesus disagrees. Looking with lustful intent is so serious precisely because the other person is worth so much. Love honors (1 Pet. 2:17), but lust degrades and objectifies. We forsake lust not because sexuality is so cheap, but because it is so valuable.

We see this value consistently reflected throughout the whole Bible. Following his violation of Bathsheba and the arranged killing of her husband, Uriah, David confesses his wickedness to God: “Against you, you only, have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4). We might think David conveniently overlooks the human cost of his sin and writes it off as a “spiritual matter.” But the opposite is true. David is recognizing that his violation of Bathsheba’s sexuality, and the cruel termination of the marriage in which that sexuality had been rightfully expressed, is ultimately high treason against God himself—precisely because God places such high value on our sexual dignity.

The rise of the #MeToo movement gives us an opportunity to commend the sexual ethics Jesus gave to us. Our culture hasn’t always agreed with Jesus that what we do with (or to) someone sexually is not just physical. A physical violation of someone is wicked and damaging enough; a sexual violation often leaves even deeper wounds. Sexual injury is not the same thing as a grazed knee. Our sexuality gets to the very heart of our personhood. It’s why Jesus is so protective of it.

Something so glorious as our sexuality has the capacity to be so profoundly damaged (and damaging to others) precisely because God has designed it with the capacity to do something so significant. The one-flesh union between and a man and a woman has the potential not only of producing new life, but also—if framed by and honoring of the covenant of marriage—to reflect something far greater: our union with Christ.

No wonder we’re discovering how much our sexuality matters to us. It matters profoundly to God.

Editors’ note: 

A version of this article appeared at ERLC.com.