When #MeToo made waves in 2018, women and men who were victims of sexual assault were empowered to come forward and share their stories. Together they aimed to ignite a conversation about sexual ethics and the role of consent in sexual relationships. When you go to college, depending on what type of institution you attend, you might hear a faculty member present the campus’ procedure for reporting sexual assault, and she or he may include a brief description of what does and does not constitute consent. You may already be familiar with some of this language from your high school’s code of conduct or heard it used in discussions, panels, or presentations.
The conversation around consent is incredibly important as it, in many ways, awakens our culture to the evil of sexual assault. It expresses the necessary truth that sex is not to be used as a weapon of power, to take something from someone, or to treat another person as an object. If you or someone you know is the victim of sexual assault, it is imperative that you know and believe that you are not responsible for what happened to you — you are not at fault or guilty of any sin.
I don’t know about you, but it has been equally fascinating and challenging for me to watch the conversation around consent that is taking place in secular culture. It seems that the general population in our world is trying to reconcile its casual attitude toward sex, while ignoring the reality that sex is anything but casual. It is fascinating, though, that the world tries so hard to defend consent and does very little to defend authentic love. It is challenging because, from my perspective at least, this defense of consent apart from love seems to do more harm than good.
Ultimately, it comes down to one undeniable reality that the world seems to ignore: sex and love go together.
God has a design for sex… it involves love.
We know what love is because we know Jesus. He showed us what love is by giving Himself freely, for the redemption of us all. By this total gift of Himself, He invites us into the new life of the resurrection — a life that lives in the defeat of death.
Created in the image and likeness of God, we understand that everything about our design, including our sexuality, expresses a truth about God. This is why we believe that sex was designed to express love — sex was given to us by God to express the laying down of life that is lived out by a husband and wife.
Because sex is meant to express love, this very good thing that God has given us becomes deeply distorted when it becomes about use, selfish pleasure, abuse, or power. The consequences of this distortion are made evident in the conversations that surround #MeToo and consent.
And secular culture clearly gets this — secular culture recognizes that there is something very wrong with misusing sex. Secular culture knows the problem well — there are circumstances in which people use sex to hurt people — but has offered an insufficient solution in consent.
Consent is good, but is it good enough?
I want to be clear and emphasize that the conversation about consent is a good one. It’s important, it’s necessary, and it gives space for the authentic freedom that God created us to live in. The fact that this conversation is taking place is encouraging, as we know that it protects and empowers many women and men. Consent is good, and any act of authentic love — sexual or not — requires consent since authentic love is never forced but responds to the free will of the beloved.
However, the solution that secular culture has offered is insufficient because it refuses to identify the massive elephant that everyone wants to pretend is not in the room: Sex and love cannot be dissociated from one another without causing harm. The world wants to fix broken sexuality with consent, but Jesus has shown us a better way; He has shown us that all brokenness is redeemed, transformed, and elevated by love.
Consent is an agreement, but love is a gift. Consent without love can still be degrading because a person can consent to things that do not involve a true gift. Love is so much more than simply participating in something another person agrees to; love is what happens when a person lays down his or her life for the beloved. Love is what happens when a person says, “I want what is good for you,” and expresses that with their actions.
Consent doesn’t heal. Love does.
Since the conversation around consent is encouraging, yet also not enough, you and I have to be bold in engaging the conversation and offer the “solution” (if you can call it that) that will challenge but also satisfy the hearts of the world — we have to offer authentic love. This means boldly declaring that love — not consent alone — will heal our broken hearts and wounded natures. This means sharing the truth that you believe you were created with intention by a God who is love. It means you will express with your life that you were created for love… and that love is expressed in many ways, one of which is marital love. It means you will engage these conversations around consent with patience and charity, always sharing the narrative of the power of transcendent love, and the limits of human consent. The culture will demand consent in sex, but, as followers of Jesus, we must live love.