Editorial - A Teaching Moment

Film producer Harvey Weinstein’s reprehensible behavior hardly came as a surprise to many of us who have heard for decades about the infamous “casting couch.” As the resulting #MeToo movement on social media began exposing story after shameful story, the collection of scandals and damaged reputations grew far beyond the borders of Hollywood. Celebrities and public personalities of all stripes have been put to shame. Powerful and influential journalists have fallen from grace. Senate and congressional careers have collapsed in ruins.

Sex scandals are not new and not confined to one country. Britain has seen its share over the decades. One of the most famous was the Profumo affair, which involved Britain’s Secretary of State for War and 19-year-old would-be model Christine Keeler. It was a scandal heard around the world and is still remembered today. The affair is believed to be the reason for Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s resignation and the defeat of the Conservative Party in the 1964 general election.

Other famous sex scandals involved former President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, and former Congressman Anthony Weiner, who should have known to keep his clothes on and stay off social media. Even King David was guilty of adultery, and compounded the problem with murder in a vain attempt to cover his sin. These are human tragedies, and each individual involved paid a heavy price. Some wrongly believe David got away with it, but not according to the Bible (2 Samuel 12:10–14).

woman refusing mans advances

The purpose of this editorial is not to pass judgment, but to take advantage of a golden teaching moment. There are calls for the United States Congress to receive sensitivity training—classes in how men and women are to conduct themselves. Others claim this is unnecessary, as this should be common knowledge. Those who are guilty knew better! Perhaps there is a bit of truth to both sides of the argument.

You have no doubt heard the expression, “If you sleep with dogs, you’ll have fleas.” We could dispute whether this statement is true in every case, but I think we get the point. The lesson is that we are in a world filled with flea-infested dogs, and it affects us far more than we care to admit.

Sensitivity training for Congress would no doubt include such behaviors as the following: What is inappropriate to say to someone of the opposite sex? What is inappropriate touching? When, if ever, is it appropriate to hug someone, and is there a proper way to hug? And what about kissing?

Some of this was addressed at past Living Youth Camps. We should never assume that young people KNOW what is appropriate and what is not. After all, if our leaders have forgotten how and when to speak, touch, hug or kiss, then perhaps we should not feel guilty about addressing these things in the Church of God! Should we assume everyone knows how to behave? Is it not right and good to teach how to show respect for one another?

Our world has changed dramatically over the last several decades. We also have a blending of cultures, and sometimes we fail to discern what different customs mean. Do you remember President George W. Bush walking hand in hand with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah? That was a strange sight that most Western men would find very uncomfortable! However, it is quite normal in that part of the world.

The Bible speaks of a holy kiss (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20). What does that mean and do we violate a command if we fail to greet one another with a kiss? This was a subject of discussion in the Church of God when I started attending services in 1964. Those promoting the idea were, not surprisingly, almost exclusively single men! They argued that the Church should keep this command literally, not realizing (not wanting to realize) that this was a cultural practice in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean world of the first century. But if the New Testament were written today in parts of the Western world, it might read, “Greet one another with a firm handshake.”

Kissing on the cheek is practiced in many cultures around the world, such as Quebec, Canada, where men and women give “air kisses” to one another. They touch cheeks and kiss on one side, then the other side, and sometimes go back to the first side again. I never figured out whether to start on the right or left, and why some were two kisses while others were three! Further, I never found anyone who could explain the latter question! One thing I did learn. You do not really kiss the cheek, because if both parties tried to do this at the same time they would twist their heads off chasing one another—thus the “air kiss”! Then again, sometimes there is a kiss on the cheek, each taking turns. This is often practiced among Caribbean islanders.

There are cultures where children kiss their mothers and fathers each morning and before they go to bed at night, even into adulthood. We might see benefit in this custom, but it is not something that should be imposed in every family. Teens and preteens, especially boys, may find that difficult to handle if not practiced from an early age. Different cultures and different families have to work those things out for themselves.

The custom of hugging was not in vogue in England or the United States where I spent my formative years. An exception was among relatives and more generally among some ethnic groups, but if boys and girls hugged, it meant there was a romantic component. Hugging was not done casually, as when going back to class after lunch, or when you met in the hallway between classes. Hugging was reserved for those who were “a number.” That has changed, and guidance appears necessary. Routine hugging on almost every opportunity takes away a certain shyness that once postponed further intimacies. It reminds one of the refrain in the Song of Solomon that some understand to be counsel against stirring up emotions prematurely (2:7; 3:5; 8:4).

Dancing is another sensitive subject. My father-in-law was Russian (or Ukranian, or Polish—that part of the world was often in flux), and it was common for everyone to dance with everyone. Aunts would dance with aunts, men would dance with all the women, whether married or single, and no one had a problem with any of this. Carol’s father danced with anyone who could keep up with him. Even in his 90s, his biggest complaint was that the music was not lively enough. He did not like it slow—he wanted fast dances!

Carol and I personally prefer not to slow dance with others. There are exceptions, such as relatives, the bride or groom at some weddings, or a teen that my wife wants to encourage to get out onto the dance floor. Square dancing is obviously an exception as well, but when it comes to slow ballroom dancing, we prefer dancing with each other. Dance styles may be different in the Millennium when old men and young will dance together (Jeremiah 31:13).

Very early in our marriage, several of us received an invitation to a member’s home for dinner. After dinner, the man put on some music and began a private dance party for the several couples who were there. This man danced with all the ladies in a style that made my wife uncomfortable. He held the ladies too close and dipped them backward from time to time. We decided that evening on our way home that in the future we would only dance with each other, with a few exceptions mentioned above. There is safety in this rule for both of us. We don’t impose it on others because of cultural differences. My parents attended dances several times a week for exercise. They were both quite comfortable dancing with others. At my father’s funeral, a number of dance and bridge partners commented on what a true gentleman he was and how he treated ladies with respect.

Some members want the Church to make rules for everything, but we must take into account some cultural differences. God clearly created variety in the human race. However, in the Living Church of God one culture must overrule all others. God’s values must prevail over those of the god of this world, and we must never forget who is currently directing the course of modern culture.

God instructs women to dress modestly. My wife and I were in the tropical Philippines where we spent the Day of Atonement, and one memory from that day is most instructive. As a whole, the women of the Philippines, both in the Church and out of the Church, tend to dress modestly. They value stylish, modest dresses that are sufficiently long on the legs and high enough at the top to avoid flaunting cleavage. Israelite nations can learn a lot from them.

There are many ways to cozy up to sexual immorality, but God inspired the Apostle Paul to give the licentious Corinthians a warning. “Flee sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Let’s evaluate the act of “flirting” with this admonition in mind. According to Psychology Today’s webpage, “Flirting is a time-honored way of signaling interest and attraction, to say nothing of mutual awareness. It is a kind of silent language spoken by men and women around the world” (“The Art of Flirting,” psychologytoday.com). It is likely that Potiphar’s wife employed flirtatious behavior with Joseph prior to her demand, “Lie with me” (Genesis 39:7–12). Of course, some kinds of flirting may be appropriate when single and courting, but are never with someone else’s mate.

A recent news report specifically mentioned proper and improper hugging as something that needed to be explained in sensitivity training for Congress—training to explain how to physically and verbally communicate. If our state and national leaders need this instruction, is it not appropriate for us to give similar guidelines? What we taught at LYC is that there is no need to hug every time you leave an activity, meet at lunch, or say goodnight following Evening Reflection. Side hugs or “A frame” hugs may be appropriate at times, but the full body press should be reserved for the married. Some Church members fail to understand the difference. I have had the latter imposed upon me on more than one occasion. I think it was always done innocently enough, but to the wrong person it sends a bad signal.

It is commonly understood etiquette that the woman should be allowed to determine whether a hug is appropriate. Let her make the first move, but even here, if you sense there is more than “a holy kiss” principle being communicated, do the same thing we recommend to women who run into men who impose unwanted hugs. Put your arm out straight and firm, and offer a handshake. If that does not work, let the person know that you would prefer to shake hands only.

The sexual harassment scandals that rocked America at the end of 2017 provide a teaching moment. It is not good enough to speak only in vague generalities. Yes, we can go too far with what some call yardstick religion, but we must not be so vague about such things as modesty that the word is defined in a thousand different ways by as many people. There are behaviors that are unholy, but we must be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15–16).

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