It has been called a “reckoning,” this long-overdue flood of stories from victims (mostly female) of sexual assault and misconduct pouring in through a variety of different platforms over the last year. In courtrooms, on Twitter, among family members, and in board meetings: the confidence and connection among women and girls to share their experiences have been powerful. I am proud to live in a time of such bravery; I am heavy-hearted to live in a time that necessitates it.
Nevertheless, with the Women’s March, Time’s Up Movement, #metoo and @churchtoo Social Media take-overs, it seems that spaces—one after another—are being infiltrated by the mighty feminine spirit of No More. A woman like me might even start to get the sense that policies could change, eyes might become more watchful, and men and people in power might think twice before overstepping those crucial lines of consent (physical, verbal, emotional).
I have been encouraged to see, over the last set of months, female judges defend the bodies of gymnasts, female politicians voted into office with their commitments to equality, and Hollywood circles implode with exposés of twisted authority. So many tables are being overturned for women who have experienced abuse, harassment, unease, mistreatment, or anxiety regarding the world in which we exist—where girls like me learn at young ages to carry their keys between their knuckles and to watch over their shoulders at all times.
Today, I celebrate the truth-tellers and community-organizers who have helped the movements find a group-voice. I celebrate the ever-swelling wave of disclosure that I hope does not end until everyone who wishes to move their pain by unveiling their stories has done so. I celebrate the environments that are making room for such sharing, trusting such sharing, and allowing themselves to be deconstructed and reconstructed on behalf of such sharing.
But here’s what grieves me. I am grieving that we do not hear very much about churches that are willing to be those very environments. It would take only a few minutes of reading through the #churchtoo Twitter hashtag or talking with any number of women, girls and boys who have experienced the inappropriate words or actions of church leadership (often silenced by church theology) to know that our current Christian institution is not above the needed reckoning.
And yet, it seems that we are not witnessing much of a movement for making spaces to share, listen, and heal within our faith communities. Sure, an article will circulate every few weeks about another pastor being exposed and sometimes fired. But what I wish to see is the surge of sanctuaries that are intentionally carving out room for their people, offering counseling time with their pastors (or better yet, paying for counseling with professional counselors), changing their language and sermons, and rethinking their policies to better protect their people. All of their people.
It has felt to me that because the reckoning pertains to women-empowerment, and women-empowerment tends to be labeled as feminism, and feminism tends to be associated with the political Left, churches committed to “not talking about politics” are less willing to do little more than remaining quiet on the matter. And I mourn that things like abuse, harassment, or dehumanization could be so co-opted that a church might, at best, regard them as an issue of politics and not a plight of God’s people.
Last Sunday, our pastor spoke on John 9. She taught about the blind man whom Jesus healed unconventionally and to the extent that he was no longer recognizable to those who knew him. (Some might say he re-humanized him.) And yet, the religious leaders and the neighbors in his midst were too busy arguing about where to place blame for the miracle and on whom that they missed the very moment they’d been given to engage in what God was doing. They were “deeply divided in opinion,” the scripture says.
At the end of the sermon, the congregation was invited to write the words him, her, me, or them on the back of floral slips of paper to place in the offering plate. The papers privately indicated that there were people in their lives who had experienced abuse, harassment, and neglect. As I (the church’s community arts director) sifted the slips this morning to make an art piece for the altar, I gave thanks for the deeper space that had been made, and I lamented the pen markings in all the different handwriting and the stories they represented. The space made (however momentary) gave me hope.
It is my prayer that the church (ours and the Church at large) will continue to accept our place in this time. May we recognize how crucial it is that we not allow ourselves to be so “deeply divided in opinion” that we miss the very moment we’ve been given to engage in the healing that God is doing. And may we take a place on the front lines of change for the women and girls who will come after us.