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Sexual harassment: Ky. Gov.’s ‘moral clarity’ commended

FRANKFORT, Ky. (BP) — Amid sexual abuse and harassment scandals involving a bevy of politicians, entertainers and journalists, Kentucky’s outspoken evangelical governor has called for the resignation of all state officials who have settled sexual harassment lawsuits.

Within days of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin’s statement — which drew praise from Kentucky resident and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. — Kentucky’s Republican Speaker of the House resigned his leadership post and another GOP House member was temporarily relieved of his chairmanship of a key board. Both legislators admitted settling sexual harassment lawsuits and apologized for moral shortcomings while denying legal wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, two Southern Baptist seminary professors — one a woman — have weighed in with biblical perspectives on sexual harassment and assault.

Bevin, whose party gained control of the Kentucky House last year for the first time in a century, said at a Nov. 4 news conference the alleged sexual misconduct of some individuals in state government was “reprehensible” and had “not been denied” while “increasingly becoming corroborated by additional voices.”

Not naming anyone, Bevin went on to say, “Any elected official or state employee who has settled a sexual harassment claim should resign immediately,” according to media reports.

To “every elected official in Kentucky,” Bevin said, “You either publicly condemn or you publicly condone this type of behavior, period. There is no hiding out. There is no middle ground. This is not about specific individuals…. It is about specific behavior. It is about a culture that is despicable, that is vulgar and that is unacceptable.”

GOP House Speaker Jeff Hoover, who allegedly had signed a sexual harassment settlement, initially condemned Bevin’s remarks but resigned his leadership post the next day, according to the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s news resource Kentucky Today. He admitted the settlement as well as “inappropriate text messages” and “banter” but denied committing sexual harassment. Hoover will retain his seat in the legislature, he said.

State Rep. Brian Linder admitted Nov. 8 that he also signed a sexual harassment settlement agreement and said he was considering resignation, Kentucky Today reported. Linder apologized “for my actions that have led to this grief and embarrassment” and was temporarily relieved of his co-chairmanship of the state’s Pension Oversight Board pending an internal investigation of the sexual harassment claim.

Two other Kentucky lawmakers and one legislative staff member also allegedly have settled sexual harassment claims, Kentucky Today reported. The state’s House Republicans have hired a law firm to investigate the sexual harassment claims.

Mohler said Bevin’s “moral clarity and candor on this issue stands out not only in the state of Kentucky but, frankly, in the entire national conversation for the fact that it is so laser-like.”

Bevin did not say all individuals accused of sexual harassment should resign, Mohler noted Nov. 8 in his podcast The Briefing. Rather, the governor implied morally upright people should “invite … investigation” while stating their innocence “emphatically and publicly.” Mohler clarified he was speaking “morally” and not addressing nuances of lawsuits or criminal proceedings.

Bevin made a significant donation to establish Southern’s Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization in 2012. He was the subject of a feature article last year in Southern Seminary Magazine.

In light of the broader news of sex abuse scandals in America, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Katie McCoy wrote that Scripture “neither covers up nor ignores sexual assault.”

Presenting an exegesis of Deuteronomy 22:23-27, McCoy stated, “Biblical law recognized rape as a violent crime against a woman,” with lack of consent as “the key factor” in establishing the victim’s innocence of any wrongdoing. Scripture, McCoy added, also suggests a woman’s claim of sexual assault typically should be believed.

“The severity of sexual assault in God’s Law compels us to hear, protect, and defend the dignity of every woman, especially the one who breaks her silence about rape,” McCoy, assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern, wrote in an Oct. 24 blog post.

Owen Strachan, associate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote that the litany of sexual assault and harassment reports in the media stem from Western culture’s false belief that “once we lose the constraints of sexual order … we’ll all be happy.”

Happiness, Strachan wrote in an Oct. 13 blog post, “is not what is playing out in America.”

“Absent moral duties and religious constraints,” Strachan wrote, “men are behaving horribly, and women are by and large unprotected. Men are preying on women; women are taken advantage of.”

An alternative to sexual perversion, Strachan wrote, is for Christians to “create cultures of purity.”

“We can train young women to flee ungodly, wicked men, and to reject a culture of sexual exhibitionism while embracing modesty and God-defined beauty. We can help all the church see that their identity, the core of their being, is not sexual, but spiritual,” Strachan wrote.