What the Church can learn from Harvey Weinstein

The list of women claiming they were harassed and assaulted by film mogul Harvey Weinstein grows ever longer. Actors Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie have joined it, and Weinstein's wife has left him. She told People magazine: 'My heart breaks for all the women who have suffered tremendous pain because of these unforgivable actions.'

Harvey Weinstein has been accused of sexual misconduct.Reuters

It's all pretty sordid. A New York Times piece exposed Weinstein, the brains behind blockbusters such as Pulp Fiction, The English Patient and Shakespeare in Love, as a sexual predator. One woman said she was forced to have oral sex with him. In an audio tape, Weinstein admits to groping another. There's plenty more of that kind of thing. He's accused of using his influence in the film industry to pressure women – young women in particular – to doing things they really didn't want to do. He has denied these accusations – it was all consensual, he says, and he never retaliated against anyone who refused him.

Well, be that as it may. Unsurprisingly, there's been a queue of former friends and acquaintances lining up to denounce him; Weinstein is toxic. And there's no reason to suspect that Barack and Michelle Obama, for instance, knew anything about his behaviour.

There's a lot of hand-wringing going on in film and media circles as people struggle to learn the lessons of the Weinstein affair. But Christians shouldn't imagine it has nothing to do with them. The culture that allowed Weinstein to flourish is not entirely alien to us, though we might like to pretend it is.

Because here's the thing: plenty of people knew about it. Women knew, because they talked about it among themselves and warned each other. But men knew too – and here that knowledge is of a rather different kind. Because while women might have been afraid of Weinstein, there's a certain masculine culture that might have found his behaviour rather enviable. Here's a man who could do whatever he wanted, to whomever he wanted, and no one would stop him. He's too rich and too powerful. His personality is too big. He's untouchable. He played, in other words, to a type of masculinity that's about power and dominance – including sexual dominance.

When President Trump was exposed during his election campaign as having made lewd comments about women, his words were dismissed – even by the evangelicals who voted for him in such huge numbers – as 'locker room talk'. In other words, he was just being a bloke. It's this kind of attitude that allowed Weinstein to flourish, and the remedy for it lies exactly in the locker room.

In other words, the idea that it's OK for men to talk about women in one way in mixed company and in another way when they're just guys together has to be challenged – and not only in wider society, but in the church as well.

There's a brand of toxic masculinity that's infiltrating church circles too. Under the guise of promoting 'biblical gender roles', it risks validating the worst sort of male behaviour by telling men women are there to be dominated. Of course, no pastor is going to defend Weinstein-like behaviour – but there's a continuum between telling men that women should be under their authority, and the sense of entitlement that leads straight to abuse.

No one in their right minds defends the sort of thing Weinstein is alleged to have done. But Christians should never be surprised when people do bad things. The real question is, what sort of relationship culture allows that sort of behaviour to flourish and go unchallenged?

And for Christians, there's a further question: what sort of relationship culture are we building in our churches, and does it truly honour men and women equally?

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods

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