There is disgust and outrage at the recent public revelations of Hollywood Mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexually predatory patterns of behavior, and rightly so. The things he has been accused of doing to women are immoral and illegal, and now he is now reaping what he has sown. This is right and just. As Paul told the Galatians (6:7), we are fools to ignore the fact that there is a moral order to the universe and that a holy God is this universe’s source and sovereign.
In our fragmented culture there is a tendency to view everything through partisan eyes and to use news stories like this one to keep score. Some of the people who excused the sexually predatory patterns of behavior of Donald Trump as “locker room talk” and “boys just being boys” when they were publically revealed during the Presidential Campaign, are now some of the loudest voices condemning Democrat benefactor Harvey Weinstein just as some of the people who were publicly outraged by President Trump’s sexually charged accounts of his behavior were not similarly outraged when President Clinton’s sexual transgressions were revealed. This politicization of our moral sensitivities is a moral outrage in and of itself!
The things that are morally wrong and outrageous when political and social progressives do them, are the same things that are morally wrong and outrageous when political and social conservatives do them, and I believe this because the standard of morality, the sense of right and wrong that serves as my moral compass, is not something that I have subjectively selected by looking into my own self-centered and self-seeking heart but that has rather been objectively established by a God who speaks and shows Himself in time and space. I believe that it is the Law that takes the moral measure of both me and the world, and that the moral crisis of this, and every moment, is the Genesis 3:1-7 strand of rebellion to what God says is “holy, right, and good” (Romans 7:12) that’s woven deeply into our spiritual DNA as human beings. “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1) is the pivot on which I believe morality turns. Has God told us what He expects of us as human beings, or are we left to our own devices?
Hugh Hefner died at the end of September, and most of the national news reports of his passing that I heard, surprisingly – at least to me – eulogized him as a “good” man. Now, let me go on record and say that I didn’t know him personally. And while I am personally familiar with his work, I certainly didn’t know his heart. But using the Gospel’s – “you will know them by their fruits” – criteria (Matthew 7:16), I’m not sure that “good” is the word that I would have used to describe Hugh Hefner. “Rich” – to be sure. “Famous” – without a doubt. “Influential” – certainly! Even – “iconic” — culturally “defining.” But “good”? Probably not.
In Christian College I had a professor who, when I’d say “I’m good” in response to his frequent question about how I was doing, would always tell me – “I wasn’t looking for a moral judgment!” You see, that word “good” has moral implications, and traditionally minded Jews and Christians, not to mention Muslims, would all agree that the moral content of what’s “good” gets defined for us by the character and the command of God.
Part of what it means when I as a Christian address God as “holy” is my acknowledgement that I believe that He has some clear expectations for my behavior as an individual, and for our behavior as a society, and that as our Maker, God has every right to have these moral expectations and to make these moral demands on us. It is His world after all – we “live in His house” – and so He gets to make the rules. Fortunately, the rules He makes for us are neither arbitrary nor oppressive. In fact, they actually serve my well-being individually, and promote the “common welfare” for our society at large. As the late Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel put it –
God gave us his laws to protect us. People so often view the Law of God in such a wrong way – condemning and restricting – rather than as something that brings beneficial and enjoyable results. In reality, violating God’s Law brings sorrow, misery, hopelessness, and despair.
When I individually, and when we collectively, fail to live up to God’s expectations as they find expression in the Law, not only is God displeased, but I find that I am being self-destructive and that we are undermining the “common good.”
In an order for Morning Prayer that I often use, I make this petition –
Imprint upon our hearts such a dread of thy judgments,
and such a grateful sense of thy goodness to us, as may make
us both afraid and ashamed to offend thee.
“Afraid” and “ashamed.” That’s what I inwardly feel whenever I transgress the Law of God. When I do things that God has told me not to do, and when I fail to do things that God has told me to do, there is guilt, and there is shame. Guilt because of what I have, or have not actually done. And shame because of who I have become when viewed from the vantage point of who I was created to be. And that gap widens with every choice I make and with every action I take that rejects what God has told us is “good.”
The power of the Gospel, on the personal level, is that the saving work of God in Jesus Christ, to borrow the language of a familiar hymn, is “of sin the double cure.” It saves “from wrath and makes me pure.” The Gospel “saves from wrath,” which is God’s inner opposition to anything that is, or to anyone who is “hostile or indifferent to His will.” This is the result of the rebellion of our sin in the heart of God – it displeases Him and thereby creates a barrier between us. The cross of Christ removes this hindrance (Ephesians 2:14-18; Hebrews10:19-22). Furthermore, the Gospel “makes me pure,” which has to do with my own sense of self–identity and self-worth that gets damaged when I behave in ways that are less than that for which I was made. The Gospel deals with the shame of this as well by restoring me to my true status and standing as a child of God. In the language of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it brings me back to “my senses” (Luke 15:17).
A preacher in chapel in Christian College told us that we should stop excusing our bad behavior by always saying that we are “only human” when we sin. “No,” he said, “When we sin we are actually being less than human.” There is a dignity and grandeur to our humanity in the “original goodness” of Creation, nothing diminished or debased about it at all. It’s only in Genesis chapter 3, with the story of the fall, that this changes and the shine on our humanity gets tarnished. The rebellion of our sin not only separates us from God, it also separates us from our own true selves, and it is in the saving work of Christ by which we become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) that we are “born again” so that we can walk in “newness of life” – becoming who we were always meant to be.
So, what does any of this have to do with Hugh Hefner and Harvey Weinstein?
Well, Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy Philosophy” involved a conscious rejection of what God tells us is right and good. It removes the good gift of our sexuality (read the Song of Solomon to get an accurate perspective on the Bible’s view of sex) from the proper context of consensual, monogamous, permanent, and covenantal relationships. Hedonism (the pursuit of pleasure; sensual self-indulgence), promiscuity, and a lack of reverence for the personhood of women are just some of the more blatant ways that the “Playboy Philosophy” has shattered lives and caused painful injury to people. And for a picture of what this looks like we need look no further than the sordid stories of how Harvey Weinstein related to women for decades.
My theologically traditional friends are all pretty clear about the way that the “Playboy Philosophy” damages us as individuals by reducing us to our urges and by encouraging a self-serving permissiveness while my progressive friends are all equally clear about how the “Playboy Philosophy” damages society by degrading women and commoditization of sex. And as a Christian whose faith is consciously being formed and informed by a continuing engagement with Scripture, I’ve got to say that I think they’re both right because this is all clear.
Chuck Smith started Calvary Chapel in Southern California in the mid-1960’s, and he described its ministry in those early days as being a field hospital where the casualties of the sexual revolution came to be treated with God’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance in Jesus Christ. He explained –
The misuse of our sexuality is a cause-and-effect proposition. God says, “If you do these things, then you’re going to hurt yourself and others.” I want people to learn the wisdom of the Law of God: God isn’t trying to keep us from having a great time; God’s trying to protect is from calamity. Sometimes when I’m driving on the freeway and somebody recklessly cuts in on me, I feel tremendously angry. My temptation is to lean on the horn and shake my fist at the jerk. After all, he’s endangering my life and the lives of my grandchildren with me, and even his own life. I want to protest loudly.
But then as God deals with those feelings, He replaces them with prayer: “O God, help us all get home safely. People like that guy are crazy. It’s only a matter of time before they’re going to hurt someone if they continue like that, so Lord, please get us and him home safely.”
And when I see the devastation, the wreckage, that sexual promiscuity has wrought, again I want to scream” “You fools! Don’t you know that you’re going to hurt yourselves and those around you? Can’t you see that we’ll all lose if you keep on like that?” But again, God calms me down and replaces my frustrated cry with a prayer: “Lord, they’re crazy. They’re going to hurt somebody. Help them to get home safely. And help me to show them the way.”
For many of us, one of the greatest sources of our personal shame and guilt is our sexual history. I don’t know anybody, preachers included, who wouldn’t be mortified if the ways that sin has distorted our own sexuality and damaged our sense of self should ever come to light. We are all ashamed, and we are all guilty. Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy Philosophy” says that the best way to rid yourself of these feelings of shame and guilt is to rid yourself of any repressive thoughts or beliefs that would restrict the free expression of your sexual desires. “If it feels good, do it” is how the old slogan of the sexual revolution went. Hugh Hefner was its chief promoter and Harvey Weinstein is its most current poster child.
In contrast, the traditional teaching of Christianity is that the right way to deal with our guilt is to get it forgiven, and the right way to deal with our shame is to be changed. As A.W. Tozer used to say, we all need to be “saved from,” and we all need to be “saved to.” We all need to be “saved from” the damaged and damaging patterns of our distorted sexualities. And we all need to be “saved to” lives that are being transformed in ways that better reflect God’s original creative intent for us. Christians are not perfect people, but we are people in whom the trajectory of our lives is moving towards wholeness in every dimension, including our sexuality. DBS +