// by Tyler Zach //
No one could have predicted the social media storm that occurred after Actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, write ‘me too’ as a reply.” Her tweet popularized a #MeToo campaign that was started by Tarana Burke over over ten years ago. Burke told Ebony that she launched “Me Too” as a grassroots movement to provide “empowerment through empathy” to victims of sexual abuse, harassment, exploitation, and assault.
Milano’s tweet came directly after the Harvey Weinstein scandal went public. Weinstein was a big-name Hollywood producer who allegedly used his power and status over many decades to sexual assault and harass women.
Within 24 hours of Milano’s tweet more than one million people on Twitter posted the #MeToo hashtag indicating that they have experienced sexually abusive behavior. An additional 12 million on Facebook came forward as well.
But #MeeToo is not just for the victims. It’s for all of us. It’s a hashtag that demands our attention and a gospel response. Here are some insights and practical ways that I think we can respond.
Women are strong but vulnerable.
In a Christianity Today article, Hannah Anderson admits that we live in a world that is positively trying to change our view of women. We have been talking a lot about the themes of empowerment and success. Therefore, female vulnerability, Anderson says, is not something we’d like to talk about but should. She explains:
“As personhood goes, women are as strong and as gifted as men. But if we gloss over our physical differences, we’ll also gloss over the dangers we face… For women, #metoo is an uncomfortable but necessary reminder of our physical weakness and mutual dependence on men—something I’d rather forget if I’m totally honest. I’d rather focus on the ways that we are brave and strong and gutsy. But I’d be foolish to believe these strengths could compensate for physical weakness when I encounter an evil man. And I’d be negligent if I didn’t teach my daughter this, as well.”
The church has an abuse problem.
Many people have come out sharing horror stories from within the church. One woman wrote,
“The co-pastor of my dad’s church and my father, they both molested me. One around 6 the other around 16, I will probably never heal.”
Another woman shared,
“Memory stands out – youth worker (20s/30s?), church sleepover, determined to sleep next to me and share my pillow. I was 13.”
I’m witnessing this play out locally as well. As a new pastor, I’ve encountered one situation already where a young girl admitted that she was abused by a relative while growing up and her former church leader didn’t do anything about it because of his friendship with the family. In addition, even as I write this article, news broke about a junior high pastor in my city who was charged with sexual assault of an underage girl.
The problem is not just “out there” but also within the very walls that we worship in every Sunday.
Every “Harvey” will be brought out into the open.
As I watched the story of Harvey Weinstein unfold I thought to myself, “What happened to Harvey is a small glimpse of what will happen when Jesus returns.” As we read in Luke 8:17, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” Jeremiah 23:24 warns, “‘Can anyone hide in the secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord.”
What is done secretly in the dark will eventually be exposed in the light. Weinstein was not the first to assault a woman and certainly will not be the last. However, in the end, God will bring billions of abusers into his courtroom and pronounce judgement.
Behind every victim with a #MeToo hashtag stands a guilty man or woman who will have to stand before a just God. No abuser will go unpunished. This truth should bring some comfort to the millions of victims out there who have been terrified and humiliated.
#MeToo, But God.
Blogger Summer White wrote an insightful post called #MeToo, But God. In the article she writes about how “me too” is not the end of the story for the Christian:
“‘Me too’, while it may offer a temporary comfort of not feeling alone, does not offer the hope everlasting that is offered to us through the blood of Christ… This is why saying ‘me too’ is not enough… For while you may say, ‘me too’, please don’t forget to say, ‘but God.’ Because God does not leave us in our miserable wilderness. Because God sees the injustice. Because God sees your pain. He IS the God who sees you. He is the God who has redeemed you and will continue to redeem you (Phil 1:6). The world doesn’t have this hope. The world can only say, ‘Me too.’ You and I can say, ‘Me too, but God.’”
Your courage can be someone else’s confidence.
The #MeToo viral campaign is a great example of the kind of exponential synergy that can happen when one person steps out in courage. Millions now are coming forward including many prominent female leaders.
Kay Warren, wife of megachurch pastor Rick Warren, shared,
“A pedophile molested me when I was a little girl. It’s taken decades to heal. #MeToo.”
Christian author and speaker Beth Moore tweeted,
“A well meaning mentor told me at 25 that people couldn’t handle hearing about sexual abuse and it would sink my ministry. It didn’t. #MeToo.”
One victim’s courage could lead to another victim’s healing. Your voice matters. Don’t be ashamed to share your story with a family member, pastor, friend, or spiritual mentor. Ask your discipleship group leader or small group leader if you can share your story. Who knows? There might be someone close to you with a similar story who would benefit from your courage.
For those of us watching our family members, friends, and church members post #MeToo, our response should be to quickly respond to them publicly or privately with words of affirmation and encouragement. Let them know how proud you are of them modeling courage and boldness for you! Go back through your social media feed right now and encourage someone!
Silence equals complicity.
“[Weinstein] shows how powerful men can get away with this when they’re enabled, literally having assistants deliver women and it was widely known for years,” says Anna Kirkland, a professor of women’s studies at the University of Michigan.
Alaina Love, a former senior level HR executive, adds, “I’ve run into more than a few cases of sexual harassment, where it became clear to me that other men in the organization had direct knowledge or at least a healthy suspicion about a male colleague’s inappropriate behavior.”
Therefore, Love concludes, “silence equals complicity.”
Is there someone that you need to report right now? To be silent is to be in sin. When we see and hear attitudes that harm or degrade others, we need to be a whistleblower even if we have to sacrifice approval, a role, or a job in order to see justice served. Jesus sacrificed his position, power, and status to help us. When it comes to injustice, we must follow his example no matter the cost.
The church needs to clean house.
Jesus said in Matthew 23:27-28,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Before we throw stones at Harvey Weinstein we need to first look within the walls of the church to make sure that we aren’t whitewashed tombs.
- Are we faithfully doing background checks to make sure the vulnerable are protected?
- Are we withholding information or reporting suspicious behavior?
- Are we putting up with demeaning or degrading language or attitudes?
- Are our pastors, staff, and lay leaders being asked accountability questions on a regular basis?
- Are we regularly praying for the purity of our leaders?
In terms of abuse prevention, one very helpful tip that my friend and fellow pastor Doug Stevens taught me early on was to listen and give trust to the woman in any counseling or church discipline case. One proactive way to protect the women in our churches is to take the woman’s words very seriously, create needed boundaries, and take extra precaution so that they are not exploited or taken advantage of. Even if the woman is found to bear some offense, it’s still wise in the beginning to have a default of giving the woman the benefit of the doubt, of extending trust and offering protection immediately.
Awareness starts in the home.
Hannah Anderson shares some great advice on having #MeToo conversations with our children:
“For me, this is where #metoo hits home: As a mother, I have a responsibility to prepare my children for the world by telling them the truth about it. I must teach my boys that the women around them are brave and strong but also vulnerable in ways they never will be, which means they must use their strength to care for them. I must teach my daughter that she faces a unique set of dangers. I want to warn her about these dangers not only in an attempt to keep her safe, but also so that when she encounters harassment (or God forbid, assault), she’ll never once think it was her fault. She’ll know that the problem is with the world—and not with her womanhood.”
I think it would be wise to take Anderson’s advice and make it a point to have a conversation with our our children now rather than later to prevent and protect them from sexual abuse before it starts.
“Male privilege” is a real thing.
Just as there is white privilege (which many white people don’t realize), there is also such a thing as male privilege (which many males don’t realize). Being an adult male in our culture is easier in many ways but males don’t know it because they aren’t in the same position of vulnerability. It’s harder for men to see this reality being in a position of power or privilege.
Therefore, men need to be careful not to roll their eyes at the #MeToo posts or be dismissive when woman talk about the dangers they’ve encountered and continually face on a daily basis. Men need to lay down their lives for women just as Jesus does for the church (Ephesians 5:25). That’s why men were created – to use their strength for the purpose of advocating and protecting women.
We are called to care for the most vulnerable.
As a challenge to everyone reading this, we need to realize that we all have varying degrees of strength, power, and ability to either help or harm the vulnerable. Vulnerable meaning anyone who is different from the majority or anyone who is lacking in power.
In addition to taking advantage of women, we all have the potential to exploit children who understand less, elderly who are fading physically and mentally, disabled who have physical and mental disabilities, minorities who are viewed as different, and the poor who are marginalized or rejected.
#MeToo should cause us to think about how we should respond to everyone who is in a vulnerable position right now. Church planters and pastors should ask themselves, “Who are the most vulnerable in my church and neighborhood and how can we serve them? As individuals, we should ask ourselves, “Who is the most vulnerable in my neighborhood and networks and how can I come alongside them?
Share this article now and tell someone else, “#MeToo is about you too!”