Archives

The Tragedy . . . and Hope Of ‘#MeTOO’

I have been horrified by the thousands of women (and men) who have posted ‘#MeTOO’ on Facebook recently in response to the egregious sexual misconduct of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Every status I have read has filled me with both thankfulness and grief. I am thankful for the courage and the bravery of those who have shared their stories. I am grieved that the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment is still so widespread and still so unacknowledged, and that it has taken thousands of voices on social media revealing their personal pain publicly to convince the world of the extent of this problem. Bolstered by centuries of patriarchal dominance over women, powerful and thoughtless men have heaped sexual harassment and abuse on women because they could. In more recent decades, as women have gained success in career fields previously closed to them, they have been accosted by sexual predators at every turn. Now, sad and horrifying stories abound on Facebook and elsewhere – told by women of all ages and walks of life –  about assault and abuse, not only in the entertainment field, but in business, government, academia, and the church as well. Male authority have taken tawdry advantage of women in exchange for using their influence or workplace position to assist those women in ‘breaking the glass ceiling’. “Locker room talk” has been accepted with a wink and a nudge, and predatory behavior against women has been a young man’s ‘rite of passage’ for far too long. We can only wonder how many more women are carrying these terrible stories around, afraid to tell them. We hear stories from friends and strangers, stories of pain, abuse, assault and harassment; we can no longer say that we did not know or ‘that is just the way things are’. “#MeTOO’ demands a response from all of us.

Unfortunately, for Christians and many other faith groups, their respective holy books are ready sources for the misguided belief that women are possessions, and do not deserve a place in society equal to men. From the beginning of recorded history, women (and female children) have generally been counted in the tribes as part of the chattel. Their purpose was to keep the home, procreate, care for children and, primarily, be in the background, much like a slave or indentured servant. What we now consider inappropriate and even abusive sexual behavior was sanctioned within the culture and tribal system.

For too long, men have participated in and benefited from a culture that allows, profits from, and ultimately, rewards abusing women. And, more to the point, men HAVE and ARE doing this. Even words spoken lightly with the intent of a compliment have frequently had the effect of placing women in compromising positions. Male silence when they have seen a woman objectified… their failure to use their dominant power to create safe spaces with clear expectations about consent in touch, conversation and action … is inexcusable. Although women assuming more and more positions in society will help to eradicate their sexual abuse and assault, there is an important role that men must assume in correcting this long-standing problem.

It is the responsibility of women everywhere to stand up, no matter difficult that may be, and say ‘enough!’ A problem cannot be rectified if there is not a clear definition of the root cause. Announcing ‘#MeTOO’ on social media does not solve the problem – but it is having a significant purpose:

  1. to raise the awareness of the general population that their mothers and sisters and daughters and even grandmothers have been subjected to demeaning misogyny;
  2. to affirm and strengthen those who have suffered in silence because of fear of reprisal, or guilt, or a feeling that ‘they were the only ones’.

Many harassed women who felt alone have now found the strength to add their voice to the ‘#MeTOO’ campaign.  And there also are many men who have realized their actions were inappropriately demeaning and have posted their objection to such words and actions, along with heartfelt support for their female friends and family.

However, raising awareness is NOT going to eradicate the problem. It is the responsibility of both men and women, mothers and fathers, all citizens of our country, to take action. Women and girls should be taught, reminded, and urged to call up short any who harass or abuse them; parents, families, and society MUST make a strong statement that this is no longer permissible or acceptable behavior.

Sexual harassment is not about sex – it is about POWER. . .  the power men hold over women and children in this society. It is time for women to speak up and demand respect and equal power in the workplace and society. It is time for little boys and girls to be taught to respect one another as equals. Just as we teach children about inappropriate touching, we need to teach them not to accept inappropriate words.

We like to think of the church as a refuge from the brokenness and sinfulness of the world. We like to think that, within the Christian community, we are kinder to each other, that we are better at “doing unto others.” But the truth is: we are not immune. The sound of ‘#MeTOO’ echoes within the walls of the church. Every female clergy I know has experienced at least one incidence of sexual harassment. Victims are sitting in our pews, our classrooms, and our church offices. Too often, neither a Christian community, gender, age, marital status, nor pastoral authority has protected us.

The church must take responsibility for their culpability in the acceptance of this behavior as a social norm. It is time for faith communities to oppose every form of sexism toward women. We must create an environment where there is zero tolerance for harassment, abuse and violence. We must remind our communities that Jesus preached we are to ‘love each other as brothers and sisters’. Our churches should be seen as safe havens, where we treat one another with compassion and respect. These should be places where no one has to worry about being harassed, demeaned, assaulted.

We should all feel sick and sad over the continuing stories of women suffering verbal and physical assaults. Today it’s in the spotlight, and that’s important. But as fast as news comes to our attention, it becomes ‘old news’, and we move on to the next thing. My fear is that ‘#MeTOO’ will fade away as another topic takes its place – that all the discussion and identification of the types of harassment and its impact will become a shadow in the mind, and we will go back to the ‘same old, same old’. Men and women must continue to speak out; and the church must lead the way in creating new norms of social behavior.

We in The Episcopal Church and Saint John’s can exercise leadership in our communities to increase fair treatment, respect, and love in all aspects of our communal life.

How can we do this?

  • By shifting from masculine-only and patriarchal language in conversations and services to non-gender inclusive language;
  • By making our young people aware of their important role in creating new and kinder social norms of behavior between genders in all phases of their lives;
  • By ensuring that our worship, formation, and activities do nothing to reinforce disrespect of any person or group;
  • By supporting gender parity and mutual respect of all persons in our civic life (government, schools, organizations, entertainment);
  • By raising awareness of problems of misogyny wherever they are found;
  • By confirming and affirming those who speak out.

That is my hope – that true and lasting good may come from this ‘#MeTOO’ campaign. That following the courage of younger generations, we can stand up, speak out, and make the church and our world a better place for ALL of us.
 
 

Written in response to the ‘#MeTOO’ campaign after disclosure of sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein and other prominent men, 1 November 2017

Moving toward the Promised Land: The Reforming Catholic Confession

About 500 years ago, as the legend goes, a small-town German Augustinian[3] friar named Martin Luther nailed his ’95 Theses’ on the door of the Wittenburg Cathedral. This action was the most obvious of many events during the 17th century that marked the rejection of the many of the tenets and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, and led to the Protestant Reformation.

Luther believed that Scripture alone was the sole authority (Sola Scriptura) for doctrine, and that Christ’s death fully satisfied the penalty of sin. The Protestant mantra became: justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. This was a sharp divergence from the Roman Catholic doctrine that salvation came from works and faith (Sola Fide).

Luther had no intention of leaving the church he hoped to reform, but his theological fury led to his inevitable excommunication as a heretic and the splintering of Christendom. As a result, with the help of Philip Melanchthon, Luther precepts became known as the Lutheran religion. From this Reformation Movement what developed was the church known today as ‘protestant’.

Now, 500 years after the Protestant Reformation, one of the most common charges against the Reformers is that they divided the Church. What’s more, once the division came, inevitably division after division followed, with fragmentation, splintering and dissension; there are now approximately 33,000 different protestant denominations in the world.

On September 10, 2017, over 250 prominent scholars, pastors, and church leaders drawn from every continent and spanning most Protestant theological traditions and Communions (Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, Free Church, Nazarene, Pentecostal, etc.), released a theological statement affirming the essentials of the Reformation. Its Protestant authors contend that in this 500th anniversary year, the document must be a “catholic” statement in the best sense of the word.

This Reforming Catholic Confession (A “Mere Protestant” Statement of Faith to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation) is a document which outlines the main theological commitments held by a large majority of Protestant Christians since the Reformation. The purpose of such a statement is to “demonstrate the remarkable commonality that exists throughout the world among Protestants on the core elements of Christianity”, claims Jerry Walls, an author and professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University.[1]

The Reforming Catholic Confession contains 12 articles that outline shared beliefs in such basic Christian tenets as “The Triune God,” “The Atoning Work of Christ,” “The Gospel,” and “The Church”.

The beliefs are followed by 25 “why we say what we say” explanations that capture key cornerstones and dimensions of the Christian faith. The final section of the Confession states the resolve of the authors to honor the distinctions among the variety of Protestant traditions, but to aim for even greater unity in the Body of Christ.

It is much like the creation of the Nicene Creed, developed in 325 CE, as a statement of faith that could be professed by all the faithful. It is a negotiated statement among the leaders of the various factions of the church at that time, and is still used by a majority of Roman Catholic and liturgical churches.

As in 325 CE, no single group of participants gets everything they wanted to express in the document, but they nevertheless arrive at a mutually agreed upon declaration. “The question is not ‘Does this statement say everything you would want it to say, but ‘Can you agree with us thus far?'” Walls said.

It is called a “catholic” confession, to reclaim the word (little ‘c’) “catholic”, meaning the church universal. The document is an attempt to recover the speaking of truth in love between divisions of the church, Too much dissension and negative rhetoric between members of the Protestant churches has come down through the ages. This is an attempt, much like the Nicene Creed, to emphasize what we all share, rather than how we are different.

Phyllis Tickle, a renowned authority on American religion once said:

“Every 500 years, the empowered structures of institutionalized Christianity, whatever they may be, become an intolerable carapace that must be shattered so that renewal and growth may occur. Now is such a time.” [2]

In a PBS interview, Tickle referred to this

 “[e]very 500 years” theory and said, “the church has a giant rummage sale.” She said, “Christianity is in the midst of a new reformation that will radically remake the faith.”

There is still much analysis to be done on The Reforming Catholic Confession by varied denominations of the church universal, but this may well be the beginning of a ‘modern’ reformation, working to bring disparate factions of God’s faithful into closer communion with each other. The statement has already been translated into French, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish.

The complete document can be found at http://reformingcatholicconfession.com/.
 
[1]      http://www.christianpost.com/news/over-250-protestant-leaders-sign-reforming-catholic-confession-on-essentials-of-christian-faith-198747/?utm_source=newsletter
[2]      Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why (Emergent Village Resources for Communities of Faith), Baker Books/Emergent Village-Emersion Books, 2008
 

[3] Thanks to Tunney Lee King, who corrected me: Luther was an Augustinian friar.
 

Written for Connections, Diocese of Southern Ohio, 1 October 2017

The Diaconate: A Call to Leadership

diaconal crossWhen one looks at the clergy structure of the Episcopal Church, it appears that there is an inherent chain of command: bishop >> presbyter >> deacon. This could give the perception that Vocational Deacons are ‘ecclesiastical followers’, who carry out the instructions of the clergy ‘above them’. In reality, however, Vocational Deacons can be and must be leaders. They lead within their congregations, within the communities they live and serve, and they lead in representing the laity to the other clergy.

According to the Episcopal diaconate ordination vows,

    You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship. You are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.

    At all times, your life and teaching are to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself [1]

This part of the diaconal vows comes first; deacons are to go out into the world, ministering to all they meet.

Letting deacons find their own ministry, based on their own interests and inclinations, helps to create successful leaders. They go out into the world as disciples of Jesus where they can do the most good. They are less constrained by parish politics; they can be imaginative and energized people who inspire and motivate, based on vision and call.

A good leader concentrates on people and solving the issues and problems of the day. Their passion drives them to the forefront of an issue or project, and the strength of their conviction continually encourages others to take up the cause. A leader has a purpose that goes beyond the present, and pushes for a better future. Strong leadership springs from a caring and concern for other people and a clear vision of better solutions.

By nature of the diaconate ordination, deacons tend to ‘think out of the box’; they function in the community at large, where there may be no distinct lines of standard behavior or function. They have a vision of what the future can be, and they work diligently, both within the church and out in the world, to move toward that vision. Deacons read the Scriptures, pray, study, worship, and maintain fellowship with others[2] to help provide guidance and awareness as they pursue a project or goal. These are all attributes of a committed leader.

Deacons also assist in liturgy and other functions within the local congregation and diocesan-wide. This, too, is a part of their vows. Deacons may be counselors, mediators, and often walk through the end of life with parishioners with whom they have established a relationship.

But, ultimately, if left to answer the call from God and fully live out their intricate role in the church, a deacon must provide valuable leadership, not only to the church, but also to the world about them.
 
[1] Book of Common Prayer, page 543
[2] Ordination vow:As a deacon in the Church, you are to study the Holy Scriptures, to seek nourishment from them and to model your life upon them
 
 
Connections, Diocese of Southern Ohio, June 2016