THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
I’m not writing about elephants. Although I am dismayed to see the news about a change in the ban on importing trophies from elephant hunts in some African nations. I’m not writing about elephants but something more important.
We are in a “national moment” as controversies swirl around issues like sexual assault, the “dating” of underage girls by middle-aged men, and whether there is a commonly-accepted sense of morality that should guide our life together. There is a part of me that hesitates to address all of this because the subject is complex. I also fear that what I will say will be clumsy and less than helpful.
However, not to say something is an act of pastoral cowardice. Jeremiah 6:14 talks about false prophets who “treat the wound” of the people as if it were nothing. They minimize the pain, the sin, the brokenness, by saying “All is well, all is well” when nothing is well. Jeremiah says prophets who fail to address what is happening should be ashamed.
I ask your forgiveness for my failure to find the perfect words, but here is my best effort to say something about all of this.
NOT A NEW THING
The mistreatment of women –and, sometimes, men- at the hands of those who dismiss their humanity and see them as sexual toys is not a new thing. Every day seems to bring more cringe-inducing, heart-breaking headlines but this is not a new thing.
A trusted and respected member of our congregation pointed out to me that I, when telling the Hebrew Bible’s story of Queen Esther, failed to point out how she was trapped in a corrupt, sexist system where she was objectified and evaluated on the basis of her physical beauty. I emphasized Esther’s courage in speaking out on behalf of her people, but I missed addressing the sexist, corrupt system that took her from her family and placed her in a palace as a plaything for the king.
This isn’t a new thing.
Our friends, neighbors, co-workers, relatives, and fellow church members could tell stories of abuse and sexual assault from long ago (or yesterday). The mistreatment of persons at the hands of those who would dismiss them because of their gender, lack of positional power, or their race, using them to as a “thing” to satisfy their own needs, goes on.
THIS IS A BIG THING
The pain is real.
This is a big thing.
Many could tell stories about how real all of this…is.
The “Me too” posts on Facebook and Twitter have been heartbreaking.
Someone I love very much was raped as a teenager by a rogue police officer. When she told her parents, they blamed her. Her father and mother refused to stand up for her. Yesterday I read an article written by someone whose faith was wrecked, and whose ability to trust others, was badly damaged, because her pastor assaulted her. I had my own experience, as a high school student, with a male teacher that was deeply unsettling.
As a man, I am almost afraid to ask the women I know, the women I work with, the women I love, and the women I serve about their experience. Because I am not sure I can stand to bear the pain they would share with me. But we need to have the courage to ask. We need to have the courage to listen. And we need to have the courage to change.
I am so sad about the way so many women have been treated, spoken to, touched, demeaned, assaulted, and denied respect or professional advancement by men. What happens on campus at too many parties, what is being talked about in the Alabama Senate race; the allegations against actors, comedians, and others, is destructive and sad beyond words.
WHY THE SILENCE?
Some people are dismissive of the charges both women and men are making against those who assaulted them because of the length of time between the assault and the public complaint. The tendency of some to dismiss the legitimacy of the charges because of the delay is wrong.
When you talk to people who have suffered because of demeaning, sexist language, inappropriate or unwanted touch, many of them felt alone. They wondered if anyone would ever believe them. They also suspected that those denying charges would try and “flip” the blame back on them, saying they were doing it for financial gain or notoriety. The men and women kept quiet and carried the pain, the brokenness, around with them for years.
Now, and then, someone will share their story with me. A common thread is how they suffered alone, and in silence, for years before they dared tell another soul.
I AM A CHILD OF GOD
Our Jubilee College Ministry gathers on Wednesday nights, and I joined them for a robust discussion about how we see God. Then, the group of college students closed the evening with several worship songs.
In one of the songs, we sang, “I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.” As we sang the song, I closed my eyes and thought about the day’s headlines. I thought about the seemingly unending stories of lives broken by inappropriate touching, dismissive and sexist language, and assault. I thought about how our words and actions can inject fear into the lives of others, and I thought about how when we use other people for our own selfish purposes we can steal from them their sense that they are a child of God.
Maybe that is, for this short article, a good place to end: if what we say or do to another person will cause them to be afraid, or steal from them their confidence that they are a child of God, it is wrong.
God invites us to repent for whatever part we have played in how the gift of sexuality has been misused, and for those whose lives have been harmed by sexism and unjust systems.
God invites us to continue the conversation and work together to build a better future.
Paul, in Galatians 5:13, writes, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”
May the Spirit of God control us so that we will be a community where people are set free from fear, and reminded they are a child of God.
Invite your friends to join you at First Methodist for our Advent sermon series BROKEN DARKNESS
Grace and peace,