That God loves Harvey Weinstein will seem an obvious truth to people of faith. What is equally obvious is the righteous contempt for Weinstein to which we might now feel entitled. Harvey Weinstein’s alleged behavior is not simply repugnant; it’s criminal. My stomach has turned to read of—and now listen to—his sexual aggression against women. “I’m a famous guy,” he says on the audio recording captured during a sting operation in 2015. He is heard pleading with Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez to stay in his hotel room. She resists. “Why yesterday you touch my breast?” she asks, her voice plaintive and persistent. “Just come on in, I’m used to that,” Weinstein answers. “Five minutes. Don’t ruin your friendship with me for five minutes.”
For this week at least, Harvey Weinstein is chief of sinners. (His fall from grace is predicted to have more lasting effects, one reason the Weinstein Co. is considering delaying the release of ‘The Current War,’ for a spring 2018 release.) On the pages of The New Yorker and The New York Times, Weinstein is like a centerfold for modern transgression: public man destroyed by private transgression. Or worse: public man destroyed by private transgression enabled by complicitous silence. It seems an entire industry—office assistants and company executives, agents and the publicists—delivered vulnerable women into his barbarous paws. Their sin is complicity.
There are sins we tolerate in the modern age—and sins we don’t. The Weinstein scandal bears out these culturally-derived laws of moral transgression. Licentiousness is, of course, never the problem. As Matthew Walther has written in The Week, “The sexual act, we tell ourselves, is a simple matter of exchange between consenting partners.” Consent is the crude law for governing what is and is not sexually permissible.
Exploitation, on the other hand, is out. Harvey Weinstein wielded power over young actors whom he invited into his hotel rooms for “work” meetings, inviting them to give him a massage, watch him undress, take their clothes off, or whom he forcibly raped. Weinstein made award-winning films: on his relative favor, stars could rise or fall. That he recklessly abused that position will damn him.
But there is also further violation, this one most telling in terms of what it reveals about our contemporary ethic. It’s not simply that Weinstein acted the part of predator; it’s that he’s hypocrite par excellence. He publicly championed the rights of women; he marched in women’s rights parades; he endowed chairs at prestigious universities in the name of prominent feminists; he raised millions of dollars to support scholarships for women directors at the University of Southern California; he donated to the campaign for the first woman American president. The public progressive appears to have been a private lecher.
We have, of course, a sitting President damned with an audio recording not unlike what Ambra Battilana Gutierrez recorded of Weinstein two years ago in a New York City hotel room. Trump confesses on that recording, in the crassest of terms, having tried to sleep with a married woman: “I did try and f*#@ her. She was married.” He also confesses to a willful abuse of power: “Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Our president’s language degrades even further: “Grab ‘em by the p---y. You can do anything.” Trump did eventually apologize for the recording, and evangelicals seemed to have graciously accepted. They overwhelmingly voted him into office.
Did the church give Trump a pass, a pass that Hollywood now rescinds vis-à-vis Weinstein? Weinstein was fired by his own board, and none of the top Hollywood agents whom he called on to publicly defend him agreed to do so. By contrast, after the release of the audio recording, prominent evangelicals continued to support the Republican nominee. Four of every five self-identified evangelicals voted for him. (I did not.)
To the degree that evangelicals have tolerated Donald Trump’s bad behavior, I don’t think it’s a matter of simple political pragmatism (e.g. Supreme Court nominees). I think it’s also because we’ve always accepted him to be a flawed character. The great consolation seems to be that our thrice-married, bombastic and belligerent president has never pretended to be a saint. In this way, Donald Trump is the ultimate hero of authenticity in the age when “staying true to yourself” is the only criterion for virtue. Our president’s virtue, if we were to call it that, has been his straight-talking candor, his rejection of the political and contrived. Insofar as we’ve known him to be a compromised figure, at least he’s been a consistent one.
There is a degree to which the evangelical church shares the complicity of Hollywood. But the sins we hold in common aren’t simply our common silences when abuse happens in our ranks. The church, like Hollywood, is guilty of elevating authenticity as the ultimate virtue. Hollywood now judges Weinstein, not simply for his crimes, but also for his hypocrisy. That he is a sinner is evidenced by the cleaving of his public and private selves. Not dissimilarly, some evangelicals have largely excused Trump’s bad behavior. Perhaps we’ve convinced ourselves, better a flagrant sinner than a fraudulent saint.
To be sure, all of us is either flagrant sinner or fraudulent saint. When casting stones or finding specks, we are most helped to consider the weight of our own moral failings before considering another’s. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon the church to name sin and declare outrage, especially as countless women take to social media, telling their stories of sexual abuse, aggression, and rape.