Enough with the #MeToo stuff already, right?
It’s not going away, is it? Every week more men are being confronted and exposed by angry women. Enough already, right?
Christian women are among those reporting, too, however, we, the church, are very uncomfortable with angry people. We want things quickly tied up into neat theological packages. We think that because we can read from the “angry” parts in our Bibles to the bits that talk about settled trust in God’s righteous dealings with wrongs in the space of (maybe) ten minutes or so, that our anger, grief, or pain should be dealt with in about the same amount of time. Sometimes we’ll give it a week or two, but that’s about our limit. We know that’s silly, but still, we recoil when we hear someone express how the crimes of those in power have impacted their lives and made them angry. So enough with the angry women and all the tiresome dredging up of old wounds. Just move on, right?
Beloved church, it’s time to wake up.
John 13:35 says that people will know we follow Jesus because of our great love for one another. But the very, very sad truth is that a woman can call a Domestic Violence hotline and get more care and compassion than she can from far too many churches if she tells someone there she has been victimized. They believe her story – we want her to prove it. They listen to her halting, disjointed words that are almost impossible for her to get out – we get frustrated because she doesn’t make sense. They ask questions that help her think – we don’t say anything because we don’t know what to say. They offer real and material assistance to help her get safe and get out of the destructive relationship – we debate whether or not she should go. They follow up with her to make sure she is stable and safe, they offer counseling, and make sure her children are ok, too. We… usually don’t.
We have no excuse. We are wrong to ignore this – painfully, willfully, persistently wrong. We can no longer claim ignorance. #MeToo won’t let us – neither will the statistics that reveal the church has the same problem the rest of society has.
When the #MeToo movement hit social media I wondered what the response in the church would be. To my great disappointment, it has been largely a continued silence or a collective whine about how angry all these women are. (Individuals are crying out for justice, but churches are not.) There was even an article touted by people I respect called #MeToo, But God, which was a call to neatly (and quickly) tie up the package of pain that these women bear into tidy theological boxes that make us feel more comfortable but actually increase the pain of the already wounded.
I think that a part of our problematic response is that things like #MeToo lump all manner of sexual misconduct into one complaint. We publicly agree that all sexual misconduct is wrong, but we privately acquiesce to some of it. Sexual innuendo in the office doesn’t really seem that bad to some. “Harmless” touching doesn’t seem like something to really get that upset about – women have been dealing with that sort of thing for millennia, right? Well, I would argue that is part of the problem. But even if you think those sorts of claims can hardly be categorized as “sexual harassment” please be careful of your blanket responses to the “lumped together” complaints, too. Many of the #MeToo participants have been attacked, abused, and treated as worthless garbage by those who exercised positions of power or authority over them or were supposed to love and care for them. They have been traumatized and typing six characters on a social media post is the closest they’ve ever come to telling anyone.
These are your family
Beloved church, we cannot continue to have so callous a disregard for the broken and the suffering in our midst. We must learn what we need to know in order to come alongside the hurting in a way that actually offers comfort and care. These women are our sisters, mothers, daughters, and friends. They are sitting in the pew next to you. They are teaching your children, holding your infants, and helping you love Jesus. They are your family.
I agree that the only hope in all of this is God’s redemptive work, but I also know the desperate struggle of wrestling with the dual realities of the abuse of power and God. The agonizing wrestling that seeks to reconcile a good God knowing about the abuse and him doing nothing to intervene is not as simple as adding ‘but God’ to the end of ‘me, too.’ Think about how difficult it is to get to the place where you might be able to say, “I was molested, but God,” or, “he raped me, but God”… Try to fill in the rest of that sentence “… had a perfect plan for my life that included violence that radically changed everything and distorted all that I believed before”?? While this might be true, I hope you can see that it is an intensely difficult truth to grapple with – one that requires a great deal of wrestling with God over a long period of time.
Adding, ‘but God’ will make you, the listener to the story feel much better. But it won’t help the woman in your church fighting for faith.
Grieve with those who grieve without insisting they say things in a way that helps you feel more comfortable with their pain. If you can do that, you may indeed comfort them and eventually have the standing in their lives to help them discover the ways they can include the, ‘but God’ parts – when they’re ready to do so. Taking them there because that’s what you want to hear is neither comforting nor helpful. You end up being like Job’s friends and have the potential to add more pain and do significant damage to an already wounded person.
Let them be angry if they are angry – you probably would be struggling with anger, too. But don’t stop there – ask them if they would be willing to tell their story, then listen way more than you speak. The story may come out in bits and pieces, it might not seem to make much sense, it may be fuzzy and unclear (kind of like the #MeToo narrative) – listen anyway, and don’t draw conclusions about where you think she ought to be. Just be there and listen, and try to imagine the gravity of what she is telling you. She has witnessed evil incarnate and that is no small thing. Please be gentle.
Redemption will be revealed, but not by you
There is redemption to be revealed in every one of these stories, but the victim needs to uncover it. But listening (or not) will reveal something about us, too. Standing with someone in pain is also painful. None of us wants to stand there for very long without relief. Your presence in their pain communicates a great deal. Do not underestimate this. But ignoring it communicates something, too. It communicates that their grief does not matter to us, that their painful wrestling with God is not significant, and that what we value most is theological accuracy and not the human being wrestling with it. I have been blessed by a few faithful comforters along the way. But I have encountered far too many who have lacked the strength and courage it takes to walk alongside suffering well.
This coming Sunday is Right to Life Sunday. It is about the dignity and value of each life. It is not essentially about life vs death, but it is about the inherent value and worth of each human being made in the image of God. Sexual trauma shatters that image for each victim. We see ourselves as worthless, invisible, and discarded. And part of that message comes from being silenced into obscurity. You can help restore it if you simply listen and seek to understand.
Jesus showed us how when he entered into the grief of, and wept with, Mary and Martha over the death of their brother, Lazarus. He went to them, and he wept with them, knowing full well that the very next thing he was going to do was show them, ‘but God’…