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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

What Now?

The election is over – and there are many people cheering and others who mourn the results and have great fear in their hearts. I am sure that, among the people here at In The Garden, we have people on both sides of that emotional line, and those who don’t think they are affected at all. Politics has a way of emphasizing our differences while ignoring all those things we have in common.

With the election of Donald Trump, and yes, he was elected by the people no matter what anyone says, certain people who have felt unheard, neglected, marginalized and demeaned have seen this as permission to speak and act in ways that are socially unacceptable. But Trump gave his followers permission; he is quoted as saying:

“For the most part you can’t respect people,” he has said, “because most people aren’t worthy of respect.”

And this is what that kind of rhetoric has spawned.

African Americans have been approached by people who ask ‘How do you like being a N* again’? Most of us cannot understand that depth of hatred in these people; we had assumed that we had come pass that. Obviously, we have not.

swastikas-in-clintonville
Swastikas have been painted on synagogues and racial slurs like ‘kike’ and ‘Jesus killer’ have been shouted to people coming out of temple. And there is a row of swastikas on the bridge here in Clintonville. . . in our own city!

Latino children in Michigan were attacked by a hooligan gang of white kids, beaten up and told they were not welcome at school or in the country while chanting ‘build the wall’. I have a friend with a six year old boy, who, having heard Trump threaten to deport all Mexicans, asked his father the day after the election if his little Mexican buddy would be at school – children do not understand that campaign promises are not instantly implemented the day after an election.

We have a huge group of this melting pot we call America who now fear for their lives. The Muslim community, who live peacefully and contribute to our nation, are afraid. One of the Muslim students who provides sack lunches for In the Garden was verbally attacked on the bus by two men saying: “I can’t wait until Trump takes office and we can kill ‘all of them.” His friend said, “I can’t wait until we can take that scarf around her neck and strangle her.”

God is NOT a supporter of hatred, bigotry, sexism, homophobia. We must remember, that these people are also God’s children. We must respect their right to express themselves, whether they act in a civil or uncivil manner. It is possible to respect the dignity of every human being while refusing to participate in our own oppression.

We, as marginalized people, and I count myself among them, must rise above the gutter and show that we will not allow ourselves to be further pushed down by society. As Michelle Obama said: ‘If they take the low road, we must take the high road’. Remember, no one can make us feel inferior without our consent. We need to stiffen our backbone and stand tall and not let ourselves buy into their definition of who and what we are

As scripture says:

I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:39)

It is not going to be easy, but for most of us, life has never been easy. We must continue to persevere, wrapped in the knowledge that we are all children of God, beloved children of God. Jesus told us

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, (Matthew 5:11-12)

We can only pray that things will get better soon; that calmer and more civil heads will prevail. . . that Americans will return to the concept of being one united country. But until it does, we need to remember that we are not put on this earth to sow seeds of dissent, but to love one another and live our lives according to the teachings and example of Jesus. We are to

Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

But we cannot sit passively by as injustice reigns. We can and must fight against the rhetoric and acts of injustice in peaceful ways. We need to be vigilant and stand firm and speak out against acts of verbal and physical violence. Find a group that you can join, and work to make America the inclusive melting pot we are supposed to be!

Let us pray:

Gracious Creator, we are hurting. I ask that you help us overcome the evil that enslaves us. The evil the promotes hate of all forms. Help us to see Christ in all people and accept Love over hate. Amen.
 
 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 13 November 2016