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A recurring feature in the News these days is people complaining that someone has subjected them in the past to inappropriate or offensive suggestions or touches, usually of a sexual nature. The tale of such misdeeds can go back years or even decades. It is often a way of disgracing some famous or respected person, but it can also simply be a way of getting revenge for some past hurt or indignity. It is usually men who are the culprits or the accused, and usually, though not always, it is women who are, or claim to be, the abused. Too often, when these accusations are brought to light, I can only think, “Why didn’t you just slap his face, or tell him to keep his hands to himself?’

It may seem unlikely, but Jesus taught us a better way to handle such examples of inappropriate behaviour. His guidance covers all sort of circumstances where someone has done something that has hurt or offended us, and perhaps surprisingly he is talking about such things happening even within the church.

“If someone sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won him over, but if he will not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church (the vicar or elders, or in a secular context, the boss, whoever he may be). If he refuses to listen even to them, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax-collector (exclude him from the church or, in a secular context, get him sacked).” (Matthew 18.15-17)

So much trouble of all sorts could be saved if we learnt to do this in our lives, both in a secular and a religious context. If it is a matter of inappropriate remarks or touching, of course it takes courage to confront someone who has offended you. But come on, you ladies or you men, say it at the time, not wait days or even years before you speak up. It is so much easier and so much better to confront such behaviour on the spot than to prove it days or even years later.

Is it so difficult to say to someone, “Please, don’t say things like that to me,” or “Please, take your hands off me”? Said firmly but clearly, it should be enough in most relationships, to put an end to such behaviour, and make it possible to restore the relationship without causing a major break down. Likewise, if the behaviour does persist, then you have the chance of getting other people on your side, before the subject becomes public and so much more painful.

Having said all of which, there will be occasions when there is no reconciliation or repentance on the part of the wrong-doer and the relationship must be brought to an end. This may be a much more traumatic and hurtful outcome if the offender is in fact someone in authority, and in that case it may be your own membership or job that is terminated. But better that, surely, than the present practice, which seems to be sitting on the offense for ages before digging it up, too late to do any good.


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