This past week Aziz Ansari, a successful comedian with a critically-acclaimed Netflix show, became the most recent focal point of the #metoo movement, when an anonymous woman Ansari had a one-night sexual relationship with described their encounter in cringingly specific detail (be aware, that link contains sexually explicit language).
The difference between this story and the myriad others rocking Hollywood is the debate it’s garnered over what sexual assault is, what sexual consent looks like, and whether Ansari did anything wrong. Without going into details, while the accuser’s account certainly depicts Ansari as boorish, clueless and selfish, it’s hard to determine how clear the woman was about her discomfort throughout the situation. After the story broke, The New York Times ran an opinion piece claiming Ansari was mostly guilty of not reading the woman’s mind.
As I have grappled with the story and how I feel about it as a follower of Jesus, husband and leader in the church, I’ve become convinced this is a cultural conversation the church must engage in, both for the world’s benefit, and for ours.
Pornography Is Ruining Our Relationships (Including Aziz Ansari’s)
A noticeable aspect of the Ansari story is how sexually aggressive—not abusive, but certainly demanding and selfish—his behavior is. In the aforementioned New York Times editorial, writer Bari Weiss sees pornographic roots in Ansari’s behavior, noting, “The feminist answer [to this accuser’s story] is to push for a culture in which boys and young men are taught that sex does not have to be pursued as if they’re in a pornographic film.”
There has been an increasing cry against pornography coming from surprising, often liberal, sources. The science is increasingly absolute, and feminism is increasingly realizing that porn use and the dignity of women can’t coexist. I recently had a conversation with an atheist and proudly feminist friend of mine, and in our conversation was surprised how willing he was to admit that—maybe—pornography trains the human brain to see someone as a sexual object in a way that crosses over into real sexual interactions.
There has never been a better time than now for the evangelical church to loudly proclaim that pornography is the fundamental rejection of the imago dei inherent in all women and men, stripping them of their dignity and turning them into digital sex objects for human consumption.
Sex Isn’t Meant for Strangers
One of the largely unmentioned aspects of Ansari’s story is how he and this woman were essentially strangers. Much like with pornography, casual sexual experiences early in a relationship, “hooking up,” is accepted by culture as a sex-positive, healthy activity between consenting adults. Many people look at the Christian sexual ethic of sex staying within marriage as not only unrealistic, but repressive and harmful, but the Ansari story shows that this “sex-positive” approach has its own share of problems.
First, it’s important to state what should be (but isn’t) the obvious: Sexual assault, harassment or abuse is demonic. No one should ever experience it, and it is never the victim’s fault if it happens. Ever. However, there is a difference between victim blaming, and saying that sexual intimacy between strangers is going to be filled with awkwardness, insecurity and embarrassment which could make it very hard for both parties to read the other person’s emotional cues. It creates moments where so little trust and intimacy has been built between two people that one person may have a hard time saying “no” in a clear, direct way.
Or to put this another way, God didn’t intend strangers to have sex. It doesn’t matter how culture tries to get around it, sex is intimate, connecting, vulnerable and significant, and when two strangers engage in it they are fighting against the very purpose it serves. Now is a powerful time for pastors to remind people why God’s view of sex is better than what’s happening in the world, and how His sexual ethic elevates the dignity of both parties involved.
Women Need a Voice at the Table
The most powerful conversation I’ve had on this topic—and I’ve had many—was with my wife. I was initially antagonistic toward the woman who shared so many lurid details, and felt the entire incident did more harm than good to the #metoo movement. My wife disagreed. She said that if she’d read this story as an 18-year-old, and heard people talking about how overly aggressive and boorish Ansari was, she would have realized, “Oh, apparently guys shouldn’t act that way.” At that point in time, this would have been news to her, as every guy she knew acted like Ansari, or worse.