What do you do when even the “good guys” don’t get it?
Not long ago I had one of the most perplexing conversations I’ve ever had.
While I was waiting to speak with someone else after the morning worship service a man – a leader – came up to me and started a conversation. He is one of the good guys. Kind. Compassionate. Caring. His wife is beloved. His children are happy and stable. He genuinely works hard – and gladly – for the welfare of the flock.
And that is why this conversation was so perplexing.
He leaned over to me, and in an effort to be lighthearted and engaging, he said, “Did you notice that it was the women who were the ones who commented on what the angels were wearing?”
I blinked in disbelief in what I had just heard. I couldn’t help but simply stare at him with an open-mouthed lack of response.
He was referencing the sermon text, Luke 23:32-24:53, which covers Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, and the events that followed. The text mentions that when the women who went to Jesus’ tomb with spices for his dead body, “two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.”
He continued, “Isn’t that just like women? I can be talking to my wife about something and she can’t remember any of it, but then she’ll say, ‘Oh yeah! That’s the night I was wearing my skirt with the frills on it and the big flowers,’ and then she remembers.”
I didn’t recall it being recorded that the women mentioned this in the text – surely it came out at some point, but the Bible doesn’t draw any attention to the women talking about clothing. I finally said, “I don’t think the angels’ clothing was really all that important to anyone at the time.”
And then I couldn’t help myself. Since he was still standing there, willing to continue in conversation, I said, “Actually, what I did notice from that part of the story was that Jesus’ resurrection was revealed to those women first, that their immediate response was to share that glorious news with his disciples, and that the men didn’t believe them. And it occurred to me that men not believing women, simply because they are women, regardless of the veracity of what they are saying, is still a problem.”
Now it was his turn to blink with an open-mouthed lack of response.
I went on, “_________, with all due respect, and I mean that sincerely, what you just said is offensive. We have a serious problem with men thinking that women are dimwits who don’t care about serious, theological truths and issues that genuinely matter. This thinking is such a distortion in the church that it makes this a place that is ripe for abuses of power and authority to take place. At the heart of this is an attitude of superiority and a devaluing of women. While we give verbal ascent to both sexes being equally made in the image of God, we don’t really live it out as we should. It’s not a joke.”
To say that he was surprised by my response is an understatement, but to his credit, he was willing to continue to engage. But the way the conversation went after this has sent me spinning for months. He said, “OK, tell me this. Don’t you think that the whole #MeToo stuff is going a bit far? Don’t you think that there’s a lot of claiming of victimhood when it’s not really true? I mean, guys are afraid to flirt now – what’s so bad about a little harmless flirting? Everyone is so worried that they’re going to be accused of sexual harassment that they can’t even ask a woman out on a date. And what can a man possibly say in his own defense? Don’t get me wrong, I agree that sexual harassment is wrong, and we shouldn’t tolerate it, but I have to ask, in light of all that is coming out with the #MeToo stuff, what about the men?”
The truth is, I wanted to yell at him – rail at him. I was honestly flabbergasted at what he had just said. “What about the men?! Are you kidding me??” THE MEN? I’m sorry – did you just say that OUT LOUD?
Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to not want to embarrass either of us, and the inkling that he was genuinely asking me a sincere question. An annoying question, an ignorant question to be sure, but a sincere one, nonetheless. And so, I answered him as best I could. I tried to give him a little education on the scope of the problem. I gave him a few statistics – and told him that every study done shows that the problems of abuses of power are equally as bad in the church as they are in society in general. I explained to him that #MeToo encompasses every kind of sexual misconduct from unwelcomed sexual advances (including some of the “harmless flirting” he mentioned) to gang rape and sex trafficking and every unimaginable thing in-between. And I tried to explain to him that even in our congregation – this group of God’s people that we both love dearly – it has been exceedingly difficult to have anyone understand the nature and impact of being a lamentable member of the #MeToo “stuff”.
His response to all of that made me sad. Really, really sad. He said, “I know, I know, but what about the men?” I had tried to address many of the reasons that sexual misconduct should be taken seriously, but I hadn’t answered his biggest concern – that he might be falsely accused. I tried one more time. “___________, false accusations are wrong. Period. There is never, ever, an acceptable reason to accuse someone of wrong-doing when it isn’t true. You will never hear me defend that. But the reality is that the incidence of that is very, very low. Yes, we need to be on-guard that men are not also victimized by false allegations. But please, please don’t get hung up there. The problem of sexual misconduct is incredibly vast. Many have been victimized by it and many continue to be. It causes life-long suffering in many cases. It stems from a fundamental view of women as less than – less entrusted by God spiritually, less intelligent, less wise, less worthy of respect simply because they are women. It comes from attitudes of entitlement – why should women have to endure ‘harmless flirting’ if it’s not wanted? What do you say to your daughters when men view them as nothing more than merchandise for their own greedy pleasure rather than human beings with dignity, worthy to be respected? Please – you have got to look at this differently. You have to see how un-Christlike this is! You have to see the opportunity for men to stand up and be the ones correcting other men from viewing women this way – in the work place and in the church.”
He said, “Oh, I definitely see where this kind of thing is a problem in the workplace. But I don’t agree that we have that much of a problem in the church. We value women here as co-heirs with Christ – equal but different…. Hey listen, gotta run. It’s been great chatting with you. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
And that was that. I have no reason to believe that any of what I said (or anyone else for that matter) has resonated with this man. There has been no acknowledgement of this, no follow-up of any kind. And so I am left saddened by the ineffectiveness of my words and the depth of misunderstanding revealed in his.
The saddest part of this for me was that he is one of the “good guys.” A man who loves his family, is well-regarded in the church and community. He cares about people – he really does. He just doesn’t value us all the same way.
This is the level of ignorance we are dealing with – all of us. Things like male privilege, white privilege, national superiority, and every other kind of thinking that creates an “us” and a “them” are so ingrained in us that it will take a huge amount of effort to fundamentally change the thinking that is involved around these inherent wrongs. It is profound. It is not universal, but it is pervasive, and those who are blind to their own ignorance are the hardest to reach with the truth of it, however kind or caring they might otherwise be.
I have puzzled over this conversation many times since it happened. It has served as a reminder that many of my brothers (and sisters) have a long way to go in understanding so many basic things. But so do I, for it has also served as a reminder that Jesus has been incredibly patient with me. He has had to speak slowly and clearly to me because I am frequently too dense to understand what he is saying. He has had to repeat things many times because I am prone to forget what he just taught me. And he has had to lovingly rebuke me when my stubbornness (or laziness or arrogance) has interfered with progress on the path of righteousness. I want to be like him – loving enough to slow down and be clearer, loving enough to be patient and kind in the face of sluggishness, and loving enough to be unalteringly committed to truth and righteousness even when it is unwelcome.
This is what we do when even the “good guys” don’t get it. This is what we’re called to.