A Response to "Me Too" (#MeToo)
How Should We Respond to "Me Too" (#MeToo)?
Last week, in response to the recent news of Harvey Weinstein’s reported history of sexually harassing and assaulting women for decades, both men and women began posting the phrase “me too” on social media, and it went viral, becoming a rallying cry against sexual harassment, abuse, and assault, and all of the harm and trauma it causes.
Also last week, for the second time this Fall, theaters across the nation were sold out for the documentary film “The Heart of Man,” which follows the stories of both men and women who suffered sexual abuse as children, and the film shows how the resulting trauma from the abuse led them, as adults, to lead unhealthy and often promiscuous lives.
The “me too” postings along with “The Heart of Man” film sparked a debate in society about how we should respond to sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and all of the pain and trauma that come along with them. Hopefully we have finally realized that responding with fear and silence is only making things worse.
The film “The Heart of Man” is a Christian film, and it challenges Christians, in particular, to consider the question: How should the church respond to sexual abuse, sex and pornography addiction, and all of the lives damaged by sexual sin.
So what would be the best response?
Several years ago one of the churches I served had to face this question head on. This topic became urgent when they discovered their former pastor, a man in his fifties, not only struggled with compulsive sexual behavior in his personal life, but while he was pastor at their church, he had an ongoing, inappropriate relationship with a twelve-year-old girl in the church’s youth group.
These parishioners had never before had to deal with such a thing, and not surprisingly the congregation’s initial reaction was the “deer caught in headlights” response. Wide-eyed. Silent. Frozen. Then, before they had time to process the information, more news came: knowing he would soon be arrested, the former pastor took his own life. And the girl, who was now pregnant with his child, and her mother quickly packed up and moved to another town.
I was on staff at the church at this time, a part of a ministry team who tried to engage the congregation in a discussion on what the Christian response should be. How, as Christians, should we respond to the former minister, his actions, and his family? How should we respond to the young girl and her mother? What would a Christian response look like?
Unfortunately, too shocked and uncomfortable with it all, the congregation was not interested in exploring options. He was dead. She was gone. And understandably they simply wanted to put it behind them and move on.
Anything sexual makes us uncomfortable: sexual sin, sex abuse, sex crimes, inappropriate sexual behavior (no matter how a person might define the term inappropriate). It seems much easier to ignore these things and everything that goes along with them: the pain, trauma, dysfunction, and shame. Yet if we ignore it, then we also ignore the opportunity to heal it and try to prevent it from happening to future generations. And in terms of the church, in particular, if Christians ignore the sin, they also ignore the grace. Trans-formative grace is God’s response to the reality of sin, the trauma it causes, and the lives it destroys.
Of course no church congregation would willingly say, “Come to our church! We ignore sin here!” Just as no one in society wants to say, “Let’s ignore sexual harassment and assault and just get on with our lives.”
Yet too often that is exactly what we do. And this “ignoring” can take on two different forms.
The first is to run away from the issues because they are messy and fraught with all sorts of uncomfortable problems which have no neat, easy solutions. Because for the church to open its doors to people reportedly like Harvey Weinstein or their former pastor is to take a risk, a risk that some believe could threaten the church and its members. This mindset is fear based: if you welcome anyone, no matter how sick or wounded, then you too risk becoming sick and wounded as well as having to deal with the repercussions of the sickness and woundedness. It is better to not take the risk.
Yet the “The Heart of Man” film suggests excluding sinners is not the answer. It suggests the church must find a way to embrace sinners, so that God’s trans-formative grace is made available to everyone, even those guilty of sexual sin.
The second way some churches (and people) respond is to view the church as a hospital for sinners, as in the “we are ALL broken,” meaning we are ALL in the same boat, and so everyone’s an equal in their sin and pain and woundedness. Yet this response blurs the necessary distinction between the sinner and his victim (or perpetrator and victim). Yes, the church and society should reach out to both, but shouldn’t the way the people reach out Harvey Weinstein or the former pastor be different than the way they reach out to the actresses who were harassed and assaulted or to the 12-year-old, pregnant girl?
For example, in my former church, the congregation did not want to reach out to the former minister’s family because of the shame and embarrassment they, themselves, felt. They were ashamed and embarrassed that the pastor’s sins had taken place at their church. Sin like this is something that was supposed to happen someplace else, not in their church. Many felt his actions had tainted them.
They also did not want to reach out to the girl and her unborn child because they could not clearly identify her as a victim, much in the same way many in Hollywood didn’t always or easily identify Weinstein’s actresses as victims. One of the church’s members even spoke up and said, “Maybe the girl did something to tempt the pastor?” He pointed out the girl often wore clothes that were too short or too tight.
Just like the “Me too” phrase, “The Heart of Man” film has generated discussion and many positive comments from people glad to hear the call to begin addressing sexual sin by reaching out to both perpetrators and victims. But the film (and the “me too” phrase) has also generated some angry and critical comments from people who, like the folks in the church I served, would rather not deal with it and so want to keep the sin, the sinners, and even the victims, at bay.
But not dealing with problems won’t make them away, not even, as we have seen, with the Weinstein case.
So how should we respond?
I suggest we must work together to find a way to move beyond the fear, shame, and all of the uncomfortable feelings, and even move beyond the “what is the right thing to do?” debates, so that together we can explore the possibilities for hope, healing, and rediscovering trans-formative grace.
To this end, films like “The Heart of Man” and trends like “Me too” are helpful because they can serve as a starting place, a place where we can begin discussing and exploring options for both perpetrators and victims, especially since both lives are in turmoil. And in doing so, hopefully we can find a way to move past the silence of fear, discomfort, and shame, and together find a way to heal the trauma and pain and to help prevent it from happening to future generations.
Grace & Peace to you ...