Weinsteins at Westminster? It's time for the Church to start being offensive

It's really easy to join in the chorus of condemnation at the predatory behaviour exhibited by powerful people in Hollywood and Westminster. Harvey Weinstein appears to have lit the blue touchpaper. Now there's Kevin Spacey, who chose to announce he was gay in the context of accusations of sexual assault against an under-age boy, enraging – well, everyone.

No doubt there's more to come from Hollywood, but in the meantime the far less glamorous location of Westminster is providing its own material for outrage. A Labour party activist, Bex Bailey, says she was raped at party event and discouraged by a party official from reporting it; Damian Green, the Prime Minister's deputy, has been accused of inappropriate behaviour by Tory activist Kate Maltby; and other stories of bad behaviour are circulating, including a list of (unproven) allegations against 40 Tory MPs.

Accusations of sexual misconduct by MPs have surfaced.Reuters

It's everywhere – powerful men (almost always) are using that power to gratify their lust on people who don't want their attentions but are afraid to say no. And of course, it's in the Church too. A female priest blogged about it and spoke to Christian Today – there are senior clergy who regard their junior colleagues as fair game, and who aren't called out for it.

Who could possibly defend behaviour like this? Not me, certainly. It's even worse when it's in the Church. How do people rise to positions of influence and authority without enough self-knowledge to realise they can't treat people as their personal playthings? It would be entirely baffling, without that resource of theological anthropology that continually reminds us of a fundamental Christian truth: that we are sinners who will do bad things because there's a twist in our souls.

However: this is all seductively straightforward. It's the sort of righteous horror that would correctly be judged 'boring' in a Radio 4 'Thought for the Day' slot.

If Christians are saying nothing different from anyone else, there's not much point in us. And the interesting thing is not so much the public outrage, as what happens next.

Influential people exposed as sexual predators have been destroyed forever in the most powerful court on earth: public opinion. They have no future, no respect, no pity and no way back. Associating with them is to be infected by them. They are toxic.

For Christians to talk about the possibility of repentance, forgiveness and restoration is offensive. It is seen as soft on sin. The assumption is that it's because no one cares about the victims. It's equated to comments like those by broadcaster Anne Robinson, who suggested modern women were just too fragile and should be more robust. And because of its shocking record regarding challenging abusive behaviour in the past, when truly wicked behaviour was ignored or hushed up because of the reputational damage it would cause, the risk is that the Church colludes with this. The more we denounce bad behaviour today, the more we'll show how we've move on from all that and can be trusted again. So denunciation of sin and sympathy with the victims, instead of arising from from a heart for the poor and vulnerable and a passion for righteousness, becomes a form of cheap virtue signalling.

Let's be clear: no one can justify Weinstein-like behaviour, in Hollywood or in Westminster. But anyone can denounce evil. The Church is called to go further: to call sinners to repentance, and to offer the full and free forgiveness of Christ to all who want it. It's hard to argue for mercy when the whole world is howling for vengeance, but that's what we're for.

Does that mean the Weinsteins of the world just get a free pass? Of course not: that would be idiotic. They should be called to account, in the law courts if appropriate. Clergy who abuse their authority and victimise colleagues or parishioners should be disciplined too. But vengeance – the reduction of any human being to a symbol of evil, such that the only appropriate consequence of their action is a total rejection and abhorrence of them forever – is not something the Church should ever condone. It is a privilege belonging to God, not to society, and when the Church stops talking the language of faith and starts talking the language of culture, it's been corrupted.

So yes, let's condemn this behaviour by all means. Let's try to make sure we aren't complicit. Let's support the victims and pray for them. But let's not be fooled into thinking that's all we have to do. We're a Church, not a tabloid newspaper. Let's pray for Weinstein, Spacey and all those sleazy Westminster predators too. They're children of God. God help them.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods