Wise …and gentle
As would be wholly expected, there is a growing swell of backlash and criticism of those using #MeToo and #ChurchToo to draw attention to sexual misconduct in our culture. I get it. I even agree with some of it.
There is little doubt that there are those who are (ironically) abusing it for personal gain or even vendetta. False reports of sexual assault are rare, but every false allegation is wrong and should be dealt with accordingly.
Additionally, within the ranks of Christendom, we tend to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to anything with origins in the secular mainstream. There are some angry, foul-mouthed, inarticulate, illogical voices in the #MeToo choir, but as both a leader in the body and a victim, I’m asking the church to listen anyway – to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.
The problem is messy … really messy
Like trauma, #MeToo and #ChurchToo are messy. It makes sense that this dam of silence would break open with a wild, reckless torrent that is slicing through society. Whatever you think about all of this, one thing is sure – this involves a lot of people. This is not a movement being led by anyone – it’s a phenomenon of individuals publicly declaring that they have been the victims of everything from unwanted sexual advances to gang rape and childhood sexual abuse – and that they have been largely silenced by the very systems of power perpetuating the abuses. Also like trauma, it is a confusing deluge of stories that will take time to sort out and make sense of.
It’s going to take patience and wisdom, and a great deal of truth-seeking, but I contend that all sexual misconduct is inherently wrong, and it is, therefore, worth wading through the mess in order to pursue righteousness. I also contend that despite the inarticulateness and offensiveness of some of the voices connected to #MeToo and #ChurchToo, that we should listen discerningly. Any problems associated with the way things are coming out are worth sifting through to seek to understand what victims are trying to say. Someone angry about their abuse should not be chastened because of their anger – they should be listened to in spite of it. It will require godly insight for hearers to get past the bitterness and hurt and listen to the message behind it.
I’ve heard men complain that they are afraid of being wrongly accused no matter what they do or don’t do. I’ve heard them complain that harmless flirting is now being called sexual harassment, and that they are afraid to help children in distress for fear of being labeled a pedophile. I’ve listened to concerns that believing victims without due process will lead to witch hunts. And though sexual misconduct is almost never committed publicly, I’ve even heard it (absurdly) suggested that allegations not be taken seriously unless there are at least two witnesses. Brothers, I understand these concerns – they spring from rational objections and need to be taken seriously, too. I’m not advocating that your concerns be dismissed, but you may need to get used to feeling uncomfortable with some of this process. It may actually be the means God uses to increase your compassion for those who have been treated so unjustly and insensitively. These things are worth working through with reason and compassion – wisely and gently.
The problem is massive
We have a massive and, until recently, largely unaddressed problem. The church has the problem, too. Until we address it with honesty and humility we will effectively continue to contribute to it rather than offer any real solutions. None of the concerns that men have – no matter how valid they might be (and they are) – should be used to dismiss or silence the women crying out for justice.
No arbitrary “grading system” of severity – with unwelcome sexual advances being at one end of the continuum and violent sexual assault being at the other – should be used to dismiss anything on that continuum. They are all wrong and no one should be pressured into tolerating any of them. Not all of these offenses result in trauma, but all of them are inappropriate and unacceptable – and they have been rampant. The lumping of all the offenses on the spectrum together into one complaint might be confusing, but the reason for this is actually pretty straightforward: all of these offenses involve the abuse of power for sexual gain. Period. And no Christian anywhere can make a case for this being acceptable – ever. In fact, we absolutely must say just the opposite. But we can do it with wisdom and gentleness.
This is going to be incredibly difficult for a long time
I know that listening to story after story of sexual abuse is wearisome. But it is necessary because defending the vulnerable is right, and we cannot begin to understand the magnitude of both the offenses and their impact without listening to those affected. It might be helpful to remember that the weariness in listening to the stories – even thousands of them – cannot compare to the agonizing burden being borne by the ones living them.
Jesus told his disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so, be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Mt 10:16) Snakes sense danger coming a long way off. They constantly monitor their surroundings for the approach of predators and effectively ward off both stealthy and brazen attacks with decisive and effective offensive abilities. I can’t help but think that this is an appropriate choice of analogies when considering confronting sexual predators hiding in sheep’s clothing.
Likewise, at the same time, we are to be gentle – innocent, harmless – as doves. Also an apt analogy when considering caring for the abused.
Jesus really can redeem this
There is an answer to this. This is not hopeless. The evil involved in this is incomprehensible – but greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world. Beloved church, let’s not be dismissive or fearful of a messy – but necessary – call to attend to the scourge of sexual misconduct, crimes, and abuses in our midst. There are many things that need tending to in this – calling perpetrators (and the complicit) to account, tending to the wounded who have been violated, addressing the larger issues of systemic power imbalances, and looking for ways to teach little boys and girls, teens, and adults how to interact with one another in ways that honor God and his image-bearing likeness we all share, are just a few. But please don’t let the enormity of the problems tempt you to try to ignore that they exist. Jesus does provide answers for all of us – victims, perpetrators, and those on the sidelines whose heads are spinning because of the confusion and overwhelming size of it all. He will give us wisdom when we ask for it.
Let’s help one another be wise… and gentle.