Just a couple of months ago, our great city was turned upside down by the arrival of Hurricane Harvey. Time has passed, but the images and implications of Harvey are still with us and will perhaps be engrained in our minds forever. The images of fellow Houstonians, thousands of them, emerging from the floodwaters from rescue boats, trucks and helicopters were overwhelming. Harvey hit both rich and poor and impacted every stream of society.

On the Monday after Hurricane Harvey, I tore myself away from the news to take some much-needed time to pray for my city. My mind was filled with images of my husband, sons, first aid responders, and even the Cajun Navy! My heart grew tender thinking about them refusing to do nothing in the midst of danger, panic and fear. I had been watching with wide eyes and a full heart as good men (and women) were risking their own safety to rescue people stranded in flooding cars or hanging on to tree branches and street signs. People saw the damage and the needs, and immediately took action.

Our boys were becoming men right before our eyes, and we blessed them to go and help because the time and opportunity had come for them to take their place as good men in this city who – in that moment of truth – chose to do the right thing.

God used Hurricane Harvey to remind me, confirm in me, the truth that men were wired to defend and protect. This was the heart and soul of the City of Defenders campaign.  City of Defenders was launched by our Alliance at the beginning of 2016 as a response to the demand for sex trafficking and exploitation in our city and in cities around the world. It is a call to men to acknowledge that if systemic sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking are to ever end, more men, in all sectors of society, must rise up and use their spheres of influence to affect change.

What I did not see coming was another kind of devastating storm that had been brewing and was about to make landfall. Another “Harvey” emerged in the news, which led to unprecedented revelations of sexual abuse and harassment. The Harvey Weinstein story sparked the #metoo campaign on social media that suddenly provided a space for hundreds and thousands of women to gain the courage to speak up and tell their own stories of painful abuse. The act of sharing stories and realizing how many other women have had similar experiences was cathartic and powerful for many survivors. Yet in all likelihood, it barely scratched the surface. The reality is that there are masses of women and young girls and boys around the world who are silently drowning in sexual abuse and violence – and their voices are silent.

For many men, the revelation that their wives, their sisters, their mothers and their daughters and friends were victims of sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation was deeply shocking. There was a palpable sadness, with the question left hanging, “How did I not know?”  Likewise, you wouldn’t know it just from looking at the surface, but Houston, like every city in the world, is full of sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking. There are women in our backyards being sold in brothels disguised as “massage parlors.” There are traffickers using social media to woo and manipulate high school girls right from under our noses. There is an epidemic of pornography addiction unlike anything the world has ever seen. Kid on kid violence has escalated because of the horrific violent pornographic scenes they are watching that they then act out. There are thousands of men buying sex off of backpage daily. Over a year ago, a father was arrested for selling his own four-year-old daughter off of Craigslist. The ad was titled, “Play with Daddy’s little girl.”  And while it is easy to point fingers at such extremes of moral deprivation – at that total stripping away of all dignity and respect – at what point, when it is no longer so extreme, do we tolerate it?  At what point do we become complicit?

The Church needs to be engaged and leading these conversations. Change must begin with us because the truth is that pornography addiction and the victimization of women is alive and well in the Church, and this should not be. Sexual sin is so grievous because it perverts what was meant to be good and makes it something damaging. It starts off in disguise, in what is deemed culturally acceptable. But somewhere along the way, courage becomes cowardice, sacrifice turns to selfishness, protection turns into oppression, and the consequences are spiritually and emotionally devastating – like the force of a relentless hurricane.

The goods news we find in scripture is that, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds more” (Romans 5:20). Because of Christ, there is hope and there is healing. My prayer and hope for Houston is that in the aftermath of these storms we would do things differently and rebuild a better city – one without an underbelly. One with nothing to hide or be ashamed of. One where men are defenders and protectors of women and children, not just in boats, but in the way they refuse to participate in jokes or words that deny the intrinsic value of women, or tolerate women and little girls being made objects of lust and abuse in pornography.

Men of God have a unique and powerful opportunity in the world right now to rise up and speak out against what is happening.  In a Christ-exalted culture, the oppressed are defended and lifted up. Women are honored and treated with dignity. Let’s build a perpetual shelter of protection in our city that says we honor the women in our city, and it’s never okay to buy or sell a woman or child off the street or online; it’s never okay to talk about women and girls as sexual objects in the locker room; it’s never ok to stay silent when you know what just happened was wrong. This is about following hard after Jesus. It’s about our deepest moral values. It’s about those men who refuse to do nothing.

Thankfully, these men exist. But many more heroes are needed to aid the devastation that isn’t as obvious to see with the naked eye – or that we don’t want to see. We need a culture change, and this will mean letting change begin in our own hearts.  We need to let our grief and brokenness lead to repentance and a deep moral and spiritual revival throughout our nation.

This can begin here in Houston. It can start with us. Let us pray that our city will be known, not as a hub for strip clubs and sexual exploitation, but instead as a city where its men will brave a storm and launch a mission to rescue, help and protect the honor and dignity of every man, woman and child. More men of courage are needed at this hour!

Written by Leigh Kohler
Executive Director