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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Russell Brand: beyond sexual consent

Content warning: This article includes discussion of sexual assault.

Accusations of sexual assault have dominated our headlines again. I’m angry, but I’m not surprised, because the story hits the intersection of the two loudest narratives in our culture. 

We are a society who preach expressive individualism as gospel. ‘Be your authentic self,’ and ‘don’t let anyone tell you what to do’ – especially in the area of sexuality.

We also care about power and its misuse. God’s heart for justice bubbles to the surface in our desire to topple anyone who exploits people under their care.

At the junction of these cultural stories lies Russell Brand. He admitted in 2014 that ‘I want attention. I want women. I want drugs. I want food. I want, I want. I exemplify the problems of our culture.’

He had sex with hundreds of women on his journey to fame and – for a while – the public lapped it up. Now, it’s alleged that not all of that sex was consensual.

In the fallout that has followed, statements from many former Brand ambassadors – from individuals to TV channels – assert that we need answers.

I agree.

But I think we need to ask a deeper question.

Do we need a better sexual ethic than ‘what consenting adults get up to in the privacy of their own home to is up to them’?

The sexual revolution promised more sex with more partners. We told ourselves there would be no casualties.

The premise was that sex is no more than a physical activity, without emotional or spiritual cost. Our experience and Scripture paint a different picture: in sexual union, we become ‘one flesh’ with another (Matthew 19:5). Sex is as sacred as it is beautiful; its capacity to divide as potent as its potential to join. It’s much more than a hobby.

Of course, consent is critical. If Russell Brand has violated this standard then his victims have been grievously violated. But the power of sex is such that consent alone isn’t strong enough to bear its weight.

The deep sense of revulsion we feel in response to sexual abuse is valid because the dignity of another image-bearing human being has been transgressed. But we must also ask whether we have lost something of sex’s proper place.

As frontline conversations turn to Brand, may we decry the abuse of power, gently critique expressive individualism, and invite deeper reflection on whether consent is a robust enough container for the power of sex.

These questions need to be asked.

Phil Knox
Phil is Evangelism and Missiology Senior Specialist at the Evangelical Alliance, and author of The Best of Friends.

 

Comments

  1. There is an additional issue at play here. That is, the foundation of Judeo Christian law upholds the innocence of a person until they are found guilty… presumably in a court of law. Whether Brand is guilty or not we do not know but he is wrongly being tried in the kangaroo court of the media/press.

    By Martin Klopper  -  29 Sep 2023
  2. Thank you. I agree and am old enough to remember how Mary Whitehouse was pilloried.

    By Daphne Clifton  -  29 Sep 2023
  3. I very much doubt if RB had any Christian followers. I saw him two or 3 times (that I remember) and felt very uncomfortable hearing him.
    I wonder how many young people he has harmed just by being allowed to be in the media.
    It makes me so sad that young people are not protected more.
    Good role models are few and far between.

    By Louise Ross  -  29 Sep 2023
  4. Well said and thank you

    By Sue  -  29 Sep 2023
  5. A sad but apt reflection on these times. The dogmas of tolerance and inclusion silences the positive case to forsake all others in a life long exclusive union in a Christian marriage.
    Breathless consent is like dental floss when contrasted to sober, settled, vows.

    Whilst conceptually red lines exist, consent is also a continuum. It can be given willingly, reluctantly, or under duress or under intoxication. Also perceptions of consent may change in the light of day and ongoing events. Sometimes we feel manipulated. The scope of many of these issue lie beyond the realm of legality but like every revolution their are many casualties of the sexual revolution.

    By Dave Johnson  -  29 Sep 2023
  6. Probing questions, thanks

    By Bruce Gulland  -  29 Sep 2023
  7. Absolutely spot on about the emotional and spiritual cost which I witnessed repeatedly in the consulting room during 30 years as GP. ‘There is no such thing as casual sex’ is I recall Lewis Smedes’ punchy one-liner from his ‘Sex in the Real World published decades ago. He was right then and now about that at least.

    By Trevor Stammers  -  29 Sep 2023
  8. An interesting comment there at the end… ‘whether consent is a robust enough container for the power of sex’. For even when some consent to sex at the time there can still be emotional fallout which then can affect our mental health and self-worth. Sadly I think we seem to be going back a stage in many ways to the ‘if I desire it I should have it’ and no one should be able to stop me or even worse I will render them incapable of doing so. Do we need to go back to learning how control how we respond to what we desire in many areas of our lives? How to handle that power safely for ourselves, for others, for the environment, so it’s good for for our mind, body and spirit. How do we hold desire well? There are plenty of illustrations in the bible of it being done well and badly, maybe that is where we invite wisdom in.

    By Shayne  -  29 Sep 2023
  9. God’s laws and morality are good for human individuals and society. Our Western society is too individualistic. We should not just be concerned about person freedom but personal responsibility for the good of others

    By Prudence Eliapenda  -  29 Sep 2023
  10. There are two sides to this story. I too was appalled by the behaviour of the younger Russell Brand. But this is the whole issue with drug use, it numbs the conscious self and the capacity to feel shame. During lockdown I came across his more recent podcasts and what I saw was a changed man, wanting to be a better man, partner and father. I saw someone working hard to find peace and spiritually, someone (unlike Andrew Tate) showing remorse. It’s possible all if this was theatre but it didn’t seem that way. Not wishing to whitewash past wrongs at all, but what about Christian forgiveness? More recently, Brand was trying to save others from going down the wrong path that he took. I haven’t heard any mention through current media coverage of the recent broadcasts speaking of trying hard to work on self control, and be respectful towards his current partner, who he is clearly in love with. Love is a great healer, especially God’s love, and sinners need God’s love the most.

    By Mrs Sandra Taylor  -  1 Oct 2023
    • I am glad you said that . My son recently saw him on a live show ,I have watched his meditation podcasts and yes ,I believe he is not that former person . Quite where justice goes now is unclear but I hope he wants to finally be part of the “unmuddying” of the waters and be part of a larger healing process than just his .

      By Sally  -  13 Oct 2023
  11. What is missing from this commentary is that Russell Brand is a deeply spiritual person!
    I have heard him speak a few times, and he admits to being a deeply flawed human being who has been out of control on various occasions!
    He strikes me as an authentic human being!
    And striving to become more so!
    Surely this is what Christ encourages us to strive towards!
    His honesty is encouraging!
    And who in this email chain does not have skeletons in the closet, which if exposed by media, would not be in the same boat?!!
    Let’s take the plank out of our own eye before attempting to engage with the splinter in other eyes!!

    By Brian  -  1 Oct 2023

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