News of Phillip Schofield’s affair has been dominating the headlines, and with it, his denial that he groomed the young adult he knew since the age of 15. What exactly is grooming, and what does the Bible have to say about it?
Oxford English dictionary defines grooming as: "the practise of preparing or training someone for a particular purpose or activity." When we think of Jesus leading his disciples he was preparing them for their roles in the early church. The Bible sees us as sheep needing to be led, to be shepherded into following Jesus. But in a fallen world, without a close relationship with Jesus, this human tendency to follow others, can be manipulated to lead people astray.
Sexual grooming is: "The action of attempting to form a relationship with a child or a young person with the intention of sexually assaulting them." In the UK sexual grooming is illegal, even if no other crime takes place.
Phillip Schofield, who it was revealed had a sexual relationship with a junior colleague, commented that this was "unwise but not illegal", and yet whatever the exact nature of their relationship there was undoubtedly an imbalance in terms of age, experience and power.
Whatever the exact nature of their relationship there was undoubtedly an imbalance in terms of age, experience and power.
His case is not the subject of criminal investigations, as there is no evidence that a crime took place. Yet, when we think of the biblical "grooming" Jesus did to lead his disciples, we can clearly see that these examples of using position and power to influence young people is a dark inversion of the shepherding relationship.
The Bible tells us: "Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." Matthew 10:16. It serves as a roadmap on how to behave ethically, and innocently but also to be on guard for those who do not. The Bible tells us to: "Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothes but inwardly are ravenous wolves." Matthew 7.15. From the very first manipulation of Eve by Satan, there are warnings about the need to be aware of those who tell lies, and manipulate.
In Numbers 14 God pronounces judgment on all the Israelites over the age of 20 who do not believe in him, even after all the signs and wonders he’d performed while leading them out of Egypt. At the tender age of under 20, God gave his children grace, understanding they weren’t quite ready to take full responsibility for themselves.
We can see in examples of using position and power to influence young people, that there is a dark inversion of Jesus' shepherding relationship.
It’s vital, as a Christian community, we look out for the wolves among us, and protect those who may be considered "adults" in the eyes of the law, but in the eyes of God are still vulnerable. While 18 may not be "illegal" for a sexual relationship, it is certainly a vulnerable age and the Bible makes it clear that manipulating people whatever the age is never okay.
We all need a shepherd, Jesus, we all need to look out for the flock and notice those who might be not what they seem, or are leading others away. We all need God’s word to be a lamp to our feet and a light onto our path, because without it we may not see the darkness in disguise.