Whether or not you respond with #MeToo - and I'm deeply pained for you if you do - perhaps we all relate to #ChurchToo. Read on as theologian Carolyn Custis James offers a challenge to push for lasting change on this vital topic.
Pushing for Lasting Change!
By Carolyn Custis James
The #MeToo movement that began when a few brave Silence Breakers went public with allegations of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace has, at the moment, captured a lot of public attention. Just last week, Oprah sounded an optimistic note as she envisioned a new day "when nobody ever has to say 'Me too' again."
Power over women is deeply entrenched in every culture and is as old as human history. Yet, as we have seen with other crises, the fervor of the moment can quickly evaporate as the media cycle moves on. We turn to other problems, other priorities, other crises. #MeToo stories continue, but go underground again. And perpetrators are protected and all too often repeat their crimes.
During the current public outcry over sexual violence against women, more #MeToo stories keep coming. These stories are accompanied by cover-ups, private high-cost settlements, and outright discrediting and vilifying of female accusers even within Christian churches and organizations.
If, as Christians, we hope to have any moral credibility in the battle against violence of any kind against women and girls, we need to look closely at #ChurchToo stories - and why they are happening unchecked or handled in ways that only re-abuse the victims. This of course requires concrete action to insure victims can count on the church offering safe haven for help and healing and that church leaders will hear and take their allegations seriously. It also involves insisting on the professional help of counselors and law enforcement to investigate what actually happened and to help leaders avoid mishandling and making matters worse.
Furthermore, it means being willing to look honestly at ways the church unwittingly sends subliminal messages that a woman's testimony doesn't rise to the same level as a man's. We need to ask ourselves, why when sexual immorality occurs in a biblical narrative, the default reaction is to blame the woman and forgive or excuse the man.
That practice started early on when Church Fathers pointed the finger of blame at Eve and all her daughters as "the devil's gateway." Already, the scales of justice were tilting in favor of men.
Remarkably, the church has a unique opportunity, indeed a calling, to engage this battle. The Bible contains its own #MeToo stories. Yet all too often pastors tend to skip over, censor, or emphasize something else in stories involving sex that they deem inappropriate for a G-rated congregation. But these passages are powerful opportunities for bold preaching on the evils of violence and the abuse of male power against women.
Consider some examples?
Does Lot pay any price in the court of public opinion for his readiness to turn his daughters over to a mob of sexual predators? What about the fact that the patriarchs we venerate were human traffickers - two (Abraham and Jacob) who used slave girls, Hagar, Bilhah, and Zilhah for sex? Would anyone call that consensual? Have you ever heard a sermon that described what happened to these girls in candid terms? Who takes up their cause and gives them voice today? Who uses these #MeToo stories to condemn sexual violence against women?
The story of King David and Bathsheba is most often portrayed as "adultery" implying mutual consent. The weight of blame usually falls on Bathsheba who is accused of seducing David. Significantly, the Prophet Nathan rejects that theory when he calls Bathsheba a lamb and accuses the king of abusing male power and of rape.
What message do we send to #MeToo women in the pews when we silence #MeToo voices in the Bible and reinforce the reputations of the perpetrators? What message does it send to leaders, the inevitable first responders to #MeToo stories that surface? How does the tendency to denigrate biblical females contribute to leaders disbelieving, silencing, even blaming a Silence Breaker and circling the wagons to protect the reputation of the man accused?
I'd like to think Oprah was right to say "A new day is on the horizon." Even more, I'd like to believe the church will lead the way - by taking a stand and speaking truth to power. May we openly decry the evils of violence, give voice to the voiceless, and put on display a gospel brand of male power that engages the battle against this evil, first in the church and then in the wider world.
For more information - #SilenceIsNotSpiritual is a call to action to the Church to stop standing by and start standing up for women and girls who experience violence.
Carolyn Custis James is an award-winning author who thinks deeply about what it means to be a female follower of Jesus in a postmodern world. She blogs at carolyncustisjames.com, at Missio Alliance and at Huffington Post/Religion. Her most recent books are Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World and Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women. She is adjunct faculty at Biblical Theological Seminary.