Grateful for this anonymous contribution:

The man who sexually harassed my wife at work was fired this week. Here’s a light-on-the-details summary of what happened. When she began a recent job, her supervisor quickly started in. “I wish your skirt was a little shorter.” “That’s a nice tight sweater you’re wearing.” There was also the delegation of demeaning tasks, the demands to drive 30 minutes out of town to grab dry cleaning, the not-so-subtle attempts at the holiday party to get her drunk. Though she was soon promoted as his peer, the harassment continued. Sexually charged memes, sexually explicit photos, all the things that the #MeToo movement has brought to light. My wife reported the harassment to her supervisors who privately chastised the man. But they claimed he was “too connected” with the Human Resources department and it would be futile to report it up the chain. When the department updated their biannual sexual harassment training, the man walked out of the seminar joking about the presented material. He couldn’t have cared less about it.

When a director quit, my wife predicted that her harasser would likely be promoted and would become, once again, her supervisor. She made the decision to find new work before that could happen. She did so in another department with the same employer, and the timing couldn’t have been better — her harasser had indeed been given the promotion. In the last few days before the job switch, she mentioned to HR in passing that sexual harassment was a major reason for leaving. Word got to the higher-ups, and they asked her to file a report.

To say that the #MeToo movement inspired my wife is an understatement. Her attention was fixed on the flood of harassment testimonials that followed the Harvey Weinstein exposé. One day last fall, on her drive into work, she hesitantly asked my opinion on whether she should post the hashtag online. I confess to you, reader, that I wasn’t a supportive husband in my response. I advised against it, thinking that without context, a pastor’s wife posting #MeToo could blowback negatively on my church work. I was selfish and blind to my wife’s very real struggle. The next day, I apologized for thinking more about my work than her wellbeing, and suggested she didn’t need my approval for her social media posts. Immediately after my apology, she pulled out her phone and posted the hashtag. I can’t speak for other husbands, but I know a part of her #MeToo was testifying, “I too have a husband who doesn’t get what I’m going through.”

As more women came forward with reports in public, my wife wrestled about whether to file her own report as HR had requested. Being the wife of a pastor, her thoughts often took a deeply theological turn. Here are some of the thoughts she worked through:

  • “What about this guy’s wife and kids? What happens to them if harasser gets fired?”
  • “He’s good at running the program — won’t the program suffer without him?”
  • “I believe in grace for everyone, so how can I snitch? Haven’t I broken work’s HR policy before?”
  • “Did I play a part in this? Did I lead him on? Should I have changed my wardrobe? It’s not like I’ve ever told him ‘stop’.”
  • “What happens if I don’t report him and he does something to other women, or to the vulnerable population this job serves?”
  • “If my directors, who I respect, don’t see it as a big deal, maybe I’m in the wrong?”
  • “Jesus says always forgive, or I won’t be forgiven. I’ve forgiven him for the harassment, so how can I report him? Will that mean I am not forgiven?”

Even by asking some of these questions, it validates many of the concerns raised by critics of a grace-centered Christianity. The accusation that a grace holds nobody accountable and perpetuates a system of oppression is common, and as my wife and I wrestled through this moment together, that accusation seemed to have real teeth. Wouldn’t it be very Christ-like to sit quietly under affliction and let God dole out the punishment later?

This is where a correct application of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s phrase “cheap grace” actually applies. When people use the phrase “cheap grace,” they imagine that a pool of unlimited mercy inspires people to kick puppies, watch porn, and litter — acts they engage in because they know there’s always forgiveness. Not only does this mythical Christian libertine not exist, but it has nothing to do with Bonhoeffer’s original intention. Here’s his full sentence:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.

In other words, cheap grace is gospel without law, and as any student of the law/gospel paradigm knows, God’s Law is holy, righteous, and good. Only having one of the two is like walking on broken glass wearing only one shoe — there’s lots of pain, and you don’t get very far. The Law is God’s holy shove to a people who would stand next to a pool of infinite mercy and refuse to dive in.

Doing nothing, we decided, was the offer of cheap grace to my wife’s harasser, and cheap grace is not grace at all. So what avenues were open to students of law and gospel theology? With her less-than-stellar pastor-husband tagging along to help with reflection and prayers, here are a handful of other theological matters that influenced her decision:

First, there’s Jesus’s admonition to love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us. We took this to mean that the starting point of any decision to act was to consider what actions would lead to the best outcomes for this man. He might be my wife’s enemy, but we were once enemies of God, and so being an enemy is no longer a disqualification from love. Not that we dove in on this point with any enthusiasm, of course. But we will testify that after a prayer or two for the man who sexually harassed my wife, the whole issue felt different, as if the issue was in God’s hands. Whatever power this harassment had over my wife, she will testify that prayer for her enemy lessened it.

Second, there’s St. Paul’s insistence that we are all sinners, and all have fallen short of God’s glory. We took this to mean that without God’s grace in our lives, we too could become sexual harassers in some capacity. Much like in AA’s step 4, naming a resentment and also recognizing our own shortcomings kept us humble, “acting” on the problem rather than “reacting” to it. We anticipated that she could make a better decision without being fueled by anger, fear, or the desire for revenge. Had we grown up with lesser fathers, had we been taught harassing behaviors in our teen years, or had we coped with life’s struggles by filling our minds with pornography, either of the two of us could have exhibited the same harassing behaviors.

Third, we recognized that the harasser has an eternal soul. For many Christians in the west, there is a real cognitive dissonance between the fight for earthly justice and a universally loving God who doesn’t judge anyone for anything. It’s this strange theology which judges Harvey Weinstein as public enemy number one yet imagines God somehow has no eternal consequence in mind for him. The recognition here is that if the harasser continues his current pattern, God will have strong, possibly damning, words for him in the afterlife.

After prayer and days of consideration, my wife concluded that filing a report with the Human Resources office might be the most loving and gracious thing she could do for her harasser. To paraphrase Flannery O’Conner’s crazed prophet in The Violent Bear It Away, sometimes “the Lord’s mercy burns.” Many are the stories of marriages that have been saved by infidelity, of lost jobs that open new opportunities, of dark nights of the soul that God redeems for divine goodness. Saints speak full of gratitude of their prodigal pasts, and the persecuted proudly show their scars and give thanks that God gave them the privilege to suffer in his name.

St. Paul shares that if someone in church has gone off the rails and won’t accept help, the church should kick them out. The reasoning behind this advice has nothing to do with church purity. St. Paul advocates that they be removed from the fellowship and “handed over to Satan,” meaning that they should face a world without God’s grace to recognize how much they need it. In other words, St. Paul says that they need more law in their life so they’ll be humbled and “be saved on the last day.”

This was a serious decision she did not come to lightly, and it’s not one we would necessarily recommend in all circumstances. We would not recommend, for example, handing your spouse over to Satan so he or she will do the laundry more often, though handing a spouse over to Satan may be the key if addiction or substance abuse is the issue. The same is true for the kiddos. Coloring on the walls may not be the occasion for bringing down the hammer of God, but when they turn 30 and haven’t moved out to find real work, certain measures may be in order. It was clear to my wife that no amount of mandated training, policy review, private chastisement, or trust in supervisors would end this destructive behavior in my wife’s harasser. Our hope and our honest prayer is that this man would come to the end of his rope and find a Jesus who can forgive sexual harassers and provide them with a healed and truly loving heart.

It is true that the law/gospel theology does not always fight injustice in the same way the rest of the world does, but it is unfair to say that it does not care for justice. The scandal of law/gospel theology is that it cares both for justice and for the condemned, the offended and the offender. It was a helpful guide for my wife to navigate a painful situation with honesty, clarity, fairness, grace, and integrity.

Here’s what happened after the report was filed. Several other women in the organization came forward with stories about this man as well. My wife’s reports were corroborated, others shared their own reports, and the man who sexually harassed my wife was fired. From my perspective, which may not count for much given my previously noted track-record, it’s one of the bravest acts I’ve ever witnessed a human being accomplish. She was able to retain the integrity of her faith while risking her career and her reputation to release her fellow women from a tremendous burden.

I showed my wife this reflection, and she requested that I add the following note: it was terrifying and the most difficult thing she’s done in her life thus far, but it was worth it. If anyone is in that same place, feel free to use her experience as a guide for how to move forward.