Pastor Jeff Harris’ Doublespeak on Whether Women are to Blame for How Men Treat Them

modesty

Jeff Harris, pastor of Grace Point Church in San Antonio, Texas and founder of Missional Association, says that a man’s sin is never the fault of a woman, yet he turns right around and says scantily, “sinfully” clad women are indeed culpable when horn dog males act inappropriately towards females.  Here’s what Harris had to say on the subject:

Sexual harassment fills the headlines of our culture and the discussion is long overdue.  It is good that those who’ve been harassed now feel empowered to name those who have perpetrated unwanted advances, groping, and even rape.

Let me be clear—a man’s sin is never the fault of a woman. A provocatively-dressed woman doesn’t make a man sin. A sensuously-acting woman doesn’t cause a man to sin. The issue is that, in our culture, we don’t look at provocative dress or sensual acting as sin. This is not blame-shifting, because an individual’s sin is their own. But, it does take place in an environment we are all responsible for. I believe there is a facet of this complex, multi-faceted issue that needs to be part of the larger conversation.

We live in a culture where the Supreme Court deems porn as “the right to freedom of the press” Ha! We live in a culture where women wear yoga pants and bra tops as everyday fashion, seemingly unaware of the tenuous balance between dressing for style or comfort and dressing attractively (as in, “to attract”). Think about the word for a moment: “attractively.”  Attracting what?

In 1 Timothy 2:9 in the Bible, we read this instruction:  “Likewise I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments but rather by means of good works, as befits women making a claim to godliness.”

Modesty is lost in our culture. The intersection of sexual objectification and sexual allure results in all kinds of distorted behavior. We have legalized the objectification of women and socialized provocation of men.

Sin is sin! Men who objectify women have distorted and diminished women as conquests for their own gratification. Women who dress immodestly turn themselves into an idol to be sought after and adored. When the two are left unabated in a culture, you get a combustion of sin.

I’m glad we are talking about harassment and the vile practice of using fame, power, or position as a platform to foist oneself upon a colleague. I also think if we called immodesty sin the discussion would be far more common and the culprits would be far more numerous.

Most women I know would be shocked by the way their dress is seen as sexual by the men around them. They are unaware because they have been desensitized by an immodest culture. Modesty is not old-fashioned; it is common sense. Men who sexually harass are called “Predators” but you don’t often hear of the sexually-provocative referred to as “Prey.” At some point, the sexual revolution gave women a free pass. They want the same rights as men but not all the responsibility.

A man should be responsible not to harass a woman just because he has power, position, or fame.  A woman should be responsible to present herself in a way that doesn’t scream “want me,” “watch me,” “be attracted to me.” Saying it’s a man’s problem if he glances at the yoga pant-wearing soccer mom at the dentist office is simply naïve as well as disproportionate responsibility shift. The man has the responsibility to guard his heart and eyes. The woman has the responsibility for modesty (to not draw idolatry-like attention to herself).

….

Now, as the accusation of harassment is enough to ruin one’s career, don’t be surprised if some guard rails are put into place. This is not to say harassment is caused by provocative dress; it’s not. A man has to own his own sin. They do coexist within the same environment and a woman must own hers. But first, our culture must acknowledge it.

Harris wants it both ways. He rightly wants to hold men accountable for their behavior, but he also wants to hold women accountable for men’s behavior too, while, somehow, someway, ignoring how men (and women) view and process women dressed in attractive ways. Harris chooses to parrot the Puritanical, anti-human Bible as justification for his pronouncements on the matter instead of demonstrating a basic understanding of human biology and nature.

Women wear what they do for many reasons, as do men. One reason even the good pastor should understand is that humans dress in manners that make them attractive to the opposite sex (or the same sex). When women dress in ways that call attention to their beauty and physicality, they are playing their part in a dance that has been going on for thousands of years. I don’t know of a man who married his wife for her ugliness. Why, out of the all the young women at Midwestern Baptist College, did I set my affection and desire on a dark-haired, shy pastor’s daughter? Her sewing skills? Her typing skills? Her cooking skills? No, I knew nothing of those things when I first met Polly Anne Shope some forty years ago. What I “saw” was a beautiful, attractive woman, a lady who quickly became the love of my life, and remains so to this day.modesty 2

I am not a woman so I can’t speak to the motivations of women when it comes to their wardrobes. Women are free to dress as they please, and men such as Harris have no business shaming them into dressing in ways that make men feel “comfortable.” If a man finds himself sexually attracted to a woman, it is one hundred percent his responsibility to act appropriately. Honest men will admit that they find other women besides their wives, partners, or girlfriends sexually attractive. Duh, right? Looking (not leering) is a healthy, normal male response to women whom men find attractive. What is not appropriate is sexually harassing women, physically assaulting them, or taking advantage of them. Sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, and all-around creepy behavior is never appropriate even if a woman is standing stark naked in front of a man.

Men are expected to own their sexuality and behave appropriately. There’s nothing wrong with a man expressing interest to a woman, but when she says, no thanks, that’s the end of the discussion. Continuing to pursue a woman who has said “no” is harassment. And it goes without saying that using one’s position of authority and power to take advantage of a woman is morally reprehensible and culturally frowned upon.

Evangelical pastors have been blaming women for male ill-behavior for as long as I can remember. Using the Bible as justification for their pronouncements, pastors teach women that they are gatekeepers given the responsibility to ensure that men don’t “sin” with their eyes (ignoring the fact that women can be and often are just as visually driven as men). How about we go all Biblical on weak, helpless, lustful Christian men and pluck their eyes out. Jesus said in Matthew 18:9:

 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.

It’s time for men, Christian or not, to own their sexuality. Men are totally responsible for how they act and respond to women, regardless of how they may be dressing or behaving. No man is so helpless that he cannot control his behavior. Offenders choose to blame women because doing so allows them to continue treating women as objects, and not fellow human beings worthy of respect.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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10 Comments

  1. Karen the rock whisperer

    It seems that he’s saying that men behaving badly toward women is a sin, but also that women inviting men to even ***think*** of behaving badly is a sin. He’s on the hook for sexual harassment, to say nothing of rape; but she’s on the hook for “making him look”. Because looking is somehow on par with sexual harassment.

    Um, no.

    It’s as though men can’t possibly be guilty of bad behavior without women also being guilty of *something*, anything, to even the score.

    Okay, some women do dress inappropriately. For a few years I worked as an engineer in a department where our secretary, while very competent and helpful, was determined to dress like a streetwalker. I got pretty friendly with some of my male colleagues after we worked hard together, and more than one of them begged me to tell them WHY she was so determined to look like a whore. I had no idea and told them so. I was sure as hell not going to bring the subject up with her. It wasn’t my problem.

    But these guys whine about ordinary women’s clothing. They wouldn’t know a pair of yoga pants if it bit them, but someone’s told them that yoga pants are sexy. Likewise, a proper “bra top”– aka exercise wear– is pretty damn unrevealing, by design. If a woman is attractive, she could be wearing ski pants and a puffy jacket, and she’d still be noticed. I call BS on the “If only you women dressed more modestly we’d behave better refrain.” It’s total BS.

    A story came across my Facebook feed the other day about a slim young man (teen) who favored long curly hair. He got catcalled, turned around, and the miscreant saw with shock that he was male. “Oh, I’m sorry man!” said the catcaller. Don’t know if the story was true, but if it is, it epitomizes the whole situation. A man felt okay about behaving badly to another person on the street because he thought that person was a woman. In the same way, I suspect Evangelical men justify looking or behaving badly toward women because they’re women, and not deserving of respect.

    Reply
    1. howitis

      I think that might be a true story…in high school I had a couple of male friends who wore their hair long, and one of them even poodle-permed his hair! (In his defense it was the 1980s, when “hair metal” music was a thing, and they were both wannabe rock stars.) Both of them had incidents where they were catcalled by men who mistook them for women. I remember one of them (poodle-perm guy) telling me how he was catcalled while walking through the mall by a man who had to be at least 40, who said something like “Hey baby, do you have a sister? Bring her over to my place for a threesome!” My friend whirled around and told the guy “If had a sister I’d kick your perv ass!” He said the catcaller basically jumped and ran the other way, and my friend was pretty sure he soiled himself.

      As to why women, especially young women, wear their “f*ck me” clothes to work (I once worked at an office where they fired three receptionists in a row for apparently not being able to tell the difference between work clothes and club clothes)…patriarchy, basically. We still live in a society where it doesn’t matter how intelligent, confident, successful and accomplished you are as a woman, you are considered a societal failure if you don’t have a boyfriend or husband. And in order to get a man, you have to dress in a way that attracts men, and society has set certain standards for attracting men…short skirts, high heels, low-cut tops, heavy makeup, etc. Eventually a lot of women grow out of this, but it remains pervasive, especially among younger women who are less secure. I figured out in high school that the whole thing was bullshit; I was kind of a “goth chick” who wore a lot of black and refused to wear makeup or style my hair (think Ally Sheedy’s character in “The Breakfast Club,” that was basically me) and it used to piss off my mom. She was always on my case about doing my hair, and she was always buying me makeup and shit I didn’t want. “If you don’t dress up a little you’ll never get a date for the Prom!” she’d say, never mind that I didn’t give a shit about the Prom. (And 30+ years later, I consider it a badge of honor that I didn’t waste money and time on a prom.)

      That doesn’t mean I think that women should dress in gunny sacks to keep horndog males from catcalling them or worse. We all know that doesn’t work, because too many “men” are nothing but weak, emotionally stunted animals in male bodies. But I do think women need to ask themselves, why do I dress this way? Do I wear short skirts and high heels because I like them, or because I absorbed some bullshit patriarchal message that I have to dress this way to be considered attractive to men? I dress for my own comfort and safety, period, and if men don’t find it attractive, frankly I don’t give a damn. I still managed to attract a husband who is a very good man, and we have been happily married for more than 20 years.

      Reply
  2. GeoffT

    I see irony when comparing this to gun control. Somehow everybody can be trusted with guns, limited only to those who have mental problems, these problems only becoming apparent after they’ve shot twenty people in a shopping mall. These same men who, quite literally, are allowed to walk round carrying weapons akin to those of mass destruction cannot be trusted to control themselves at the sight of an attractive lady in tight pants and halter top!! That’s evangelical homeschooling for you!

    Reply
  3. Lynn123

    Was it her sewing skills….? Lol my first laugh of the day, thanks Bruce!

    Reply
  4. Brian

    The sainted Paul was a dubious friend to humanity and just plain rude where women are concerned, no matter the age he lived in. He walked on the road and hallucinated and afterwards became a real messenger from God. What the hell right has any twit walking on the road to tell a woman or anybody else how to dress for effect? These misogynistic wackos have been around for a long time: The Bible tells me so!
    Pastor Jeff Harris did his level best to hide his prejudice against women throughout his preamble to the final message: Women drive men to improper behavior and well, it isn’t really even their fault because society has stopped listening to crazy Paul on the road seeing things. But no, pastor, you don’t get away with your sick little hatreds here. You have your church to spread your virus freely. Here, you’ll get a dose of another perspective. It will never cease to amaze me how patient people are with men who insult them for a living.

    Reply
  5. ObstacleChick

    My reaction to this pastor’s statements sent my blood pressure up a few points. Bruce, your level-headed comments brought my BP back down. Thank you.

    Here’s an issue that I have with the concept of modesty – it is completely based upon perception. Living in a multi-cultural area, I see different groups with different standards of “modesty”. My typical work attire – pants and a shirt or sweater, sometimes with a jacket, violate’s several groups’ standards of modesty. I am violating the Hasidic Jews’ concept of female modesty by wearing pants and no wig or headscarf (and if I wear short sleeves, that is a violation). I am violating the Muslims’ standards of modesty by not wearing a hijab (and if I wear short sleeves, that is also a violation). These are just a few examples. So by this pastor’s standards, an evangelical Christian woman who is wearing a knee-length skirt and a short sleeve top is “bringing it on” if she walks by a Hasidic Jewish man and he decides to assault her – because she is not dressing modestly enough for the Hasidic man (no head covering, arms partially uncovered, possibly not wearing opaque stockings). Even women wearing burqas – literally covered head to toe in loose clothing – can be sexually assaulted. Not sure what’s sexy about a burqa.

    As a woman, I cannot possibly be expected to be cognizant of every group’s standards of modesty. Why cannot people – women and men – be taught what sexual harassment means and to not do it? Why blame victims for “bringing it on” or being culpable in some way?

    Also I take exception to the assumption that women don’t look at men and find them attractive, and that women must be the gatekeepers because somehow men are not capable of looking and keeping their hands to themselves. This is ridiculous. Every human being should be responsible for keeping their hands to themselves.

    Reply
  6. Becky Wiren

    Thanks Bruce. I’ve lost all respect for this type of thinking. I also don’t get all the crying from some guys on Facebook etc, who are so afraid they will “accidentally” harass a woman! It’s like they don’t understand that all they have to do is treat her with respect like they would a fellow man. The concept totally escapes them.

    Reply
    1. howitis

      In my experience, the problem with a lot of those whiners is that they don’t know how to treat anyone with respect, period. Not men, not women, not children, not anyone. They are weak, selfish, immature babies who never grew up. They have no empathy or compassion and no capacity for self-awareness. And I’m not sure that’s something that can be learned as adults; it has to be taught or learned in childhood, and maybe some people are born with an empathy gene of some sort. My husband is an incredibly kind and respectful man, but he was raised by a dad who was a terrible bully. His dad never hit his mom, but he regularly reduced her to tears with incredibly cruel words. After one particularly bad day when he was about 13, my husband vividly remembers writing in his journal that he would never treat a woman–or anyone–the way his dad treated his mom. I don’t know where that self-awareness came from, but I am grateful for it, every day. Maybe we just need to fundamentally change the way we raise boys.

      Reply
  7. Angiep

    1. This was my LOL for the day: “How about we go all Biblical on weak, helpless, lustful Christian men and pluck their eyes out.”
    2. Rapists don’t need unusual visual cues to incite them to rape. I’ve read comments by rapists of *children* that the child somehow enticed the rapist by exhibiting sexually suggestive behavior.
    3. People who sexually harass might look for an easier target that they think is “asking for it.” But face it, it isn’t really tied to how their victim is dressed. There are just too many real-life stories of girls/women from all walks of life being victimized. I was sexually harassed by a manager at my high school McDonald’s job WHILE WEARING MY UNIFORM.
    4. There is NOTHING wrong with people trying to be attractive to the opposite (or even same) sex. It is part of our evolution that ensures the survival of our species.
    5. The whole concept of “sin” is what gives people like Jeff Harris ammunition in this argument. I’m amazed at how he twisted the narrative from, “harassment is bad” to “immodest women creating harassment are bad.” Even though he keeps claiming everyone is responsible for their own behavior, he is just using his sermon to beat up women.

    Reply
  8. Sonya

    Funny, just a few months ago I found a man passed out at a party. I had him brought to the couch, gave him a blanket and a trash can and left him alone. Too bad men can’t do the same. Speaks volumes as to their LACK of morals and character. Speaks even more volumes to lack of morals when you blame the victim. May you rot in the same place you condemn these women to with your disbelief and blame of for things MEN DO to them. THIS is why religion is taking a big dump worldwide. We’re sick of it! You jerkovs blame the victim, hide behind your religion and then spout straight excrement from the pews. ROT!

    Reply

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