On October 15, 2017, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”
If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet. pic.twitter.com/k2oeCiUf9n
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) October 15, 2017
Twitter and Facebook exploded with responses. She tweeted in hopes that persons would grasp ‘the magnitude of the problem’ after the unfolding revelation of Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behavior towards women.
Within 24 hours, there were 12 million Facebook posts and over a million tweets with the ‘MeToo’ hashtag. The numbers continue to grow. I’m sure every person online in North America knows someone who posted ‘MeToo.’ The numbers keep growing. How will the church respond? #MeToo Click To Tweet
A couple days later, I posted #MeToo on my Facebook page. I struggled to push the ‘post’ button. I felt vulnerable. Pushing that button reminded me of all the secret and unnamed experiences in my own stories of sexual harassment and sexual assault. I had learned early that neither male relatives nor male leaders in the church were safe. I would rather sit on a bus with a stranger than with certain relatives or with some Christian leaders.
My #MeToo Story
A short time after I came back to faith in college, it was the pastor of the local church and a youth leader during a mission’s trip who were inappropriate towards me. I had already experienced such things prior to committing to Christ, but I didn’t expect it from his leaders in his churches.
The youth leader was a middle-aged man, who making a pretense of picking something up from his home while driving me to the airport, tried to rape me. I got away and out of the house, but I had to get back into his truck and push off his touching until I got to the airport. I didn’t speak of it to anyone. From earlier experiences, I knew what would happen. I knew I would have to prove it. I knew some people would blame me, taking his version of the story. I knew I would have to face him again. I was 19. He was in his 50s.
Such experiences create a profound sense of isolation, overhanging sadness, and a constant feeling of being unsafe and unseen for anything more than a body. However, that experience and others were nothing compared to the anger and despair I felt when my own daughters were sexually assaulted by ‘Christian’ men.
The Sound of Silence
Sexual assault and sexual harassment are realities for women, children and men. However, the church largely dismisses or ignores my story and millions of others. Why might that be so?
- Many churches have a theology of maleness and femaleness that feeds the assumptions that women are temptresses; women are weak as critical thinkers; women are emotional and tend to exaggerate, and; they are passive aggressive in behavior. On the other hand, ‘boys will be boys.’ Men are the preferred human form because of the male genderization of the Father God and because the Savior came as a male. Therefore, men are considered stronger in character as well as physically in body, are clear-headed and rational, and decisive; thus better fit for leading and being head of household.
- Many churches have an ecclesiology that keeps women in special reserved places, serving children or other women, and excludes them from environments where decision-making, leadership, moral authority, and preaching occur. Women are not ‘equipped’ for those roles.
- Many churches accept the consumer culture that consciously feeds and promotes the norm that women are primarily sexual and are shoppers (for men, marriage, and things).
As with racism, sexism is systemic and represents deeply engrained, un-reflected biases that values the athleticism, mind, and leadership prowess of males and that suspects the perceived sexy, emotional and reactive nature of females. These are all false dichotomies that lead to the secret culture of physical and sexual abuse and assault that women, and sometimes men and children, find in the church.
On the other hand, for those churches who are Biblical, egalitarian, and missional in bearing witness to the corrupting forces of sin and the distortions of secular culture, there are things we can do. And silence is not one of them. Many churches have a theology that feeds the assumptions that women are temptresses Click To Tweet
4 Ways to Respond Faithfully to #MeToo
As the magnitude of the problem continues to be revealed, how can we respond faithfully? Here are some suggestions:
1. Accept and believe the magnitude of the problem.
Churches have AA groups for alcoholics which represents 1 in 17 adults. Churches have marriage enrichment groups to address the divorce rate in the US which is 4-5 of 10 adults. Yet every 98 seconds someone in the US, a man, woman, or child is sexually assaulted. That means that by the end of a typical 60-minute worship service on Sunday, almost 37 men, women, or children have been violated in some way. Accept and believe the magnitude of the problem. Believe the magnitude of the problem. #MeToo Click To Tweet
2. Preach, teach, and talk regularly about it.
Preach, teach and talk regularly about sexism, rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment in small groups, retreats, classrooms, and from the pulpit. Bring these realities out of the dark, so that persons who have been sexually assaulted know there are safe places, and they are no longer isolated. By not addressing these things publicly in churches, the victims of sexual assault remain alone and feeling shameful with no path to healing.
3. Set clear guidelines and provide safe channels of communication.
Create clear sexual harassment guidelines in the church, so if a woman, man, or child experiences any inappropriate touch or comment, or worse, in or outside of the church, they know where to go and what to do. If there is not a place to talk or a way to safely report, sexual assault continues. The Bible has a lot to say about these things. Rape is considered an abomination in Scripture and an indication of the disintegration of the social and moral fabric of a society.
4. Invite those who are ready to share their stories and be healed.
Find safe and loving ways to hear the stories of persons who have had an experience of sexual assault. Have a yearly cleansing or healing service or ritual and liturgy that gives space for people to name the event and grieve the experience. Bring these persons out of the dark and into the light of a loving and safe community. Find ways to give them spiritual and therapeutic support with spiritual directors, therapists, and others who have found life in Christ and have become new creations.
When Jesus spoke these words, he spoke them for me and others like me:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free. Luke 4:18