Why Aren't More Christians Talking About Bill Cosby?

The Christian silence on Cosby's abuse allegation is part of a long, sad tradition.

At the time of writing, there are more than 20 women who have named themselves and forwarded allegations of sexual abuse and sexual assault against comedian Bill Cosby.

Please, let that sink in. Twenty women. [Update: 21. Another woman came forward just this morning.]

I haven’t heard much from the Christian community on Cosby. Or others, like R. Kelly or Woody Allen, all who have seen a resurgence of allegations in the past year.

R. Kelly's record still did well, and the Internet's favorite British crush, Benedict Cumberbatch, read the "sexy" lyrics. Woody Allen still went ahead with a Broadway production and a movie (and will, in all likelihood, continue to churn out another film next year and the next), despite Dylan Farrow’s devastating account of allegations of sexual abuse.

The accusations against Cosby surprised us though: We think of Dr. Huxtable lecturing Theo about money and responsibility, about taking Rudy and her friends out for a fancy meal (and all Kenny can talk about is croutons). We think of Cliff and Claire dancing around their living room, and we think how we wished we had parents like that. Of course, the evidence to the contrary was out there: there was the Spanish fly routine from 1969, the same year Joan Tarshis was allegedly assaulted. There were the rape jokes in the 1977 film A Piece of Action. Social media has led to these bits resurfacing.

The Bible does not hide these sins from us, and we need to deal with them.

But one of the only notable references to Bill Cosby in the Christian community has been from Freed-Hardeman University, when Bill Cosby’s appearance at their annual benefit dinner was cancelled. Before this statement, the university stood by their “commitment” to Cosby for the dinner. In both statements, FHU President Joe Wiley invoked the call to prayer for “healing and peace,” and the recognition that “we know that names we have seen in the media represent real people who will be affected long after FHU’s dinner has passed.”

While FHU’s reversal should be applauded, their statement stands out as one of lone references to Bill Cosby in Christian circles. The silence suggests that it is easier to believe that Cosby deserves our benefit of the doubt over the 20 (and counting) alleged victims.

This isn’t new for us. We only need to turn to the Bible for horrifying examples of women being abused and then ignored, or even silenced, while their abusers go forward.

There is Lot being asked to send the two angels out for sex, but then instead offering his daughters (not to mention their drugging of their father so to ‘carry on the family line); there is Dinah, the little-mentioned daughter of Jacob, who was "violated" by Shechem, who “loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her” and only avenged by her brothers once they returned from the fields, as Jacob kept silent. There is the recounting of the Levite and his concubine, who stayed at the home of an old man, who proceeds to offer his “virgin daughter and [the guest’s] concubine” to the villagers who demand the Levite for sex. The concubine is raped and left for dead, and the Levite dismembers her body. The old man’s virgin daughter is never mentioned again. There is Tamar, daughter of King David, who was raped by her half-brother Amnon, and when her brother Absalom finds her, he tells, “Do not take this thing to heart.” Two years later, he kills Amnon, but we only learn that David was "furious," but nothing more.

We still hold Jacob and David in veneration, even as they acknowledged the crimes done against their daughters, yet did nothing. And what of the concubine? Do we forget her because of her ‘lower’ status?

Although we may prefer the stories of our biblical heroes acting valiantly and faithfully, the Bible does not hide these sins from us. It presents the stories as examples of the brokenness and evil of mankind, and we need to deal with them—and the message is being shouted at us.

Just because a few of our Biblical forefathers did not act justly does not mean we should follow in their footsteps.

Our silence doesn't serve God or victims of sexual violence; in fact, it serves quite another figure. As a Church, we need to speak truth to power. We need to acknowledge the horror of Cosby's crimes. And yes, I choose to believe that he did commit crimes, not because there are many allegations, but because there was even just one.

We are not called to isolate ourselves from the world. We are not called to ignore what happens in the "secular" realm. Our silence only serves the abuser. This is much is plain in our own Christian community. One just needs to look back to this summer at the fallout from sexual abuse allegations (then proved) at Covenant Life Church in Maryland. In these cases, forgiveness has been plead, whether on part of the abuser or those who shielded the abuser and assailant. There are overtones of a redemption narrative: the individuals commits a sin; the individual "repents" and is accepted back.

Perhaps we, and not just the Church, have remained mostly silent because Cosby made us feel good about ourselves.

No more. There is certainly hope for redemption for Bill Cosby like there is for all sinners, but we can’t simply "forgive and forget" what he has done. While Boz Tchividjian, founder of GRACE, is specifically talking about child sexual abuse, his point still holds: sexual abuse “is not a private matter, but rather a public offense against the victim, society and humanity as a whole.” When we deal with sexual violence, it is not a time for silence. It is not the time to cite Matthew 18:15-17.

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The same Jesus that said the words written in Matthew 18 regularly spoke truth to power against the religious authorities of His day: He called them a brood of vipers, white-washed tombs.

Bill Cosby is not a part of the Church, but he is a part of the greater fabric of our American culture. Perhaps we, and not just the Church, have remained mostly silent because Cosby made us feel good about ourselves. Through The Cosby Show, he made us feel that racism was a memory, not a reality; with his “pound cake” speech in 2004, his emphasis on a nearly "Protestant work ethic" made us feel better about our fitted and "proper pants." And if we, as the Church, can hardly speak out against those in our own community, how do we have any witness of the Gospel left?

We don’t. Our own silence and our unwillingness to demand justice and take up the cause of the "least of these," the victims, the survivors of sexual violence, condemns us.

And if Cosby does come forward and admit the alleged crimes, it doesn’t mean we can go back to mindlessly watching The Cosby Show. Grace does not mean silence. We may choose to forgive, but we cannot forget.

Top Comments

Gina Joy Burpee


Gina Joy Burpee commented…

Honestly, it has nothing to do with how he made us feel. None of us know for sure what really occurred, and to speak about something that you were not witness to, nor remotely related to or involved in is ignorant. The Word says that if you witness a brother in sin, to confront them about it. Most of us do not know him or the victims personally since we are the general public. Our part is to pray for justice to be served and for him to be brought to true repentance. The phrase "forgive but not forget" is not biblical, nor is it wise.When Peter denied him, Jesus still loved him and never reminded him of his sin.
Silence does not mean lack of action. Prayer speaks much louder.



Josh commented…

I'm surprised that Relevant allowed such an article to be posted as they could be sued for defamation by posting it. As Christians, we should not rush to judgement of anyone. We do not know for absolutely sure that Bill Cosby raped anyone. All we have is the untried testimony of 20 people. Our judicial system is based off the need for a prosecutor to prove without a doubt guilt to 12 capable adults. That has not happened yet. It is unwise and unloving to jump in with mob in baying for blood. It doesn't matter whether the person is beloved and worth millions, or hated and poor, each person deserves their chance to be considered innocent until proven otherwise.




Karlin commented…

For me, it's not a he said/she said. And that's not the point. Even if he is guilty, calling out a celebrity from the pulpit is incredibly unnecessary, as if rape isn't condemned as a whole by Christians and everyone else. Our job isn't to add to the noise by stating the obvious, it's to break the noise with the message of grace and love without compromising moral truth. Relevant, please learn from the thoughtful feedback on this article.

Sarah Cowart


Sarah Cowart replied to Karlin's comment

"As if rape isn't condemned as a whole by Christians and everyone else." Nothing shows this better than taking a stand against rape in real life situations. Otherwise, do we really oppose it? If it's only hypothetical opposing, the opposition is completely useless.

Rachel Huitsing


Rachel Huitsing commented…

Really? Who says Christians aren't talking about Bill Cosby? Just because meta conversations are not taking place on the web does not mean that nothing is being said. Perhaps subject matter like this, so delicate and sensitive to all parties involved reminds us of our need to speak face to face and pray hand in hand before the throne of God. Be careful taking judgement into your own hands. These women may be just as broken and full of selfish ambition as Cosby, as we all are. Grace is involved in waiting and seeing what is true and what is false. Let's not forget that if not for God's grace we are all in the same boat.

Blake McDaniel


Blake McDaniel commented…

Relevant is becoming increasingly irrelevant with its obsession with pop culture and lack of regard for Biblical truth. I commend the believing community for not commenting on Cosby. He may very well be guilty, but he also may very well not be. At this point all we have are a growing number of decades old accusations. No evidence. No indictment. Silence is the appropriate response until that changes.



Tracy commented…

This article raises questions of identification for me. First, its title implies that "Christians" are not talking about this. Have we checked the religious identity of everyone in the media to know that none of them are Christian? Or do we merely claim Christians who write for religiously affiliated media.

I also wonder how we can say that Bill Cosby is not a part of the church. A quick internet search would suggest that he claims both his Methodist and Baptist family roots, yet he is not a frequent churchgoer. But we haven't heard him say he isn't a Christian, or doesn't know any pastors.

That said, those of us who have followed this story know that charges are not likely to come, because these incidents (fine, alleged) happened too long ago to prosecute. That said, I think the point of this article is correct -- 20 women who come forward should be a sobering number. Either this is the worst case of railroading someone you or I have ever heard, or Mr. Cosby has committed felony abuse. Nobody who reckons with the stories, or with the long legacy of power and misogyny you begin to document should be quick to dismiss the allegations of 21 women. What do these women want? I'd guess, they'd like young women not to be afraid that if they come forward about abuse from here on, by anyone, others will believe them, and that quite possibly, their abuse was not isolated. One can only imagine what they told themselves as young women about what happened to them at the hands of America's Favorite Dad.

Benjamin Spears


Benjamin Spears commented…

I think it's hard for Christians to respond to "allegations". While I really appreciate this article, I think that most people are willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt until there is an actual conviction. The allegations are certainly disturbing, but I'm not willing to talk about what he "did" until it is in fact proven in a court of law that he did those things.

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