When God’s inside the hashtag

# Me Too

When the “Me Too” movement began, one of my long-time friends shared the hashtag on her social media page. She’d never mentioned her experience. I sent her a supportive note.

When we next met, she told me about her initial reluctance to go public for many reasons. Ultimately, she was swayed by the courage of other women. She hoped her hashtag would make a difference somehow.

So many women and men are speaking up about the sexual abuse they’ve encountered, knowing there will be a push-back in many cases – powerful men will dismiss them, church leaders will vilify them, people with agendas will attack them on social media.

Their courage is slowly changing how our society views sexual abuse and those who survive such abuse. The powerful are being held accountable – some, at least. A public conversation has started. New standards are being fashioned. Those who speak up are feeling empowered, getting justice and protecting others from abuse.

#MeToo is healing, holy work. God is inside every hashtag.

There’s another side to the story, of course. Powerful men – religious men, political men, corporate men – have dug in and resisted the divine quest for justice and healing.

And that puts each of us in position to decide where we stand, especially when people masquerading as religious leaders try to preserve the status quo.

Healing, holy work

We’ve seen it in the Catholic church. Those who were abused came forward and were essentially abused again by clergy who discounted and even shamed them. Working with God, they’ve finally brought the clergy to a moment of accountability and their church to a moment of reckoning.

The next step is to challenge the church’s broken, insular leadership structure that enabled and supported the abuse, even as clergy try to preserve it. God is working with the abuse survivors to bring about a reformation and a transformation.

In the past two weeks, we’ve seen the spectacle of Evangelical leaders insisting that a woman’s word about attempted rape doesn’t even matter – as though it doesn’t matter to God.

Many Evangelical leaders insist we should ignore a courageous woman’s “Me Too.” Franklin Graham said in an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network that Christine Blasey Ford’s account of fighting off rape doesn’t amount to sexual assault and isn’t relevant to any discussion.

It’s the good-old-boys’ line of defense: Shush the woman, support the man, sweep another horrific story of abuse beneath the sanctuary carpet to join the mountain of dirt already there. Pretend it didn’t happen. Move on.

A rejection of God herself

It’s that attitude which must be challenged and changed. Sexual abuse will continue so long as it gets the wink and nod of religious and social and political leaders.

That attitude must be called out for what it is: a rejection of God herself.

It’s a rejection of God who always sides with the oppressed and never with the oppressor, sexual or otherwise.

It’s a rejection of God who wants to get at the truth in every situation and never settles for silence or lies in the face of wrongdoing.

It’s a rejection of God who partners with women and men to challenge the male domination that has justified and enabled such evil things throughout human history.

It’s a rejection of God who always holds the hand of a survivor as they tell their story and never sides with those who try to sweep their story under the carpet.

It’s a rejection of God who says in solidarity: #MeToo.

Hearing God in a female voice

Female voice

Many courageous women are challenging powerful men who abused them. Those female voices have started a national conversation and brought about significant changes already.

It’s fitting that we’re focused on those voices as Advent begins. It’s a season for all of us to honor, encourage and hear the many female voices that challenge us, teach us, love us, and bring us into a deeper experience of God, if we let them.

Throughout history, female voices have been ignored, marginalized, and muted by those who think that only males should be heard. By contrast, the Jesus story places women front-and-center, right from the start.

 

All by herself

In Luke’s telling of the tale, a woman decides all by herself – a subversive thing, then or now – whether the Jesus story will even happen. Mary’s let-it-be gets everything started.
 
A courageous, hesitant, female voice brings God more fully into the world.
 
Mary’s role is shocking in a time and a place when only men made important decisions and women were treated more like property than persons. That’s only the beginning of this theologically radical and socially subversive story.
 
Luke’s version has Mary visiting her relative Elizabeth — two strong women — and talking about God’s passion for justice in ways that her son would later repeat, which is no surprise. After all, who teaches Jesus and molds him? His mom.
Jesus first learns about God through a female voice.
 
Perhaps that’s why Jesus is so persistent about ignoring and violating the rules in his society and his religion that try to limit the role of women. He constantly interacts with women in ways the religious and social leaders find scandalous.
 
There’s the famous story of Jesus visiting two sisters and one of them chooses to sit with him and discuss religion – a man’s realm – instead of joining her sister Martha in preparing the meal, as a woman was required. Jesus encourages Mary to do what she values.

Men will learn from the women

The story culminates in a crucifixion, and it’s the women who show courage and love while the men run and hide. Peter denies knowing Jesus to save his hide. The women? They risk their lives to be with Jesus up to his last breath.
 
And as the story goes, it’s the women who have the courage to go to the tomb. While the men are still hiding in fear, the women experience the still-alive Jesus. He tells them to tell the men about what they’ve experienced — the men will learn from the women.
 
Predictably, the men don’t believe the women and dismiss their accounts. They run to the tomb to see for themselves.
 
The same thing happens in every generation. Men choose to ignore the voices of women who have experienced things they know nothing about.
 
Today, many faith communities bar women from going to the pulpit and telling about their experiences. Women’s voices are marginalized and ignored, just like 2,000 years ago.
 

#MeToo

Our society considers a female voice less believable and less important than a male voice. When it comes to sexual abuse, for instance, a man’s shifting denial is believed over the word of so many courageous and prophetic women saying #MeToo.
 
It’s long past a time for change.
 
Let’s use this Advent – the season that starts with one woman’s courageous voice – to pay closer attention to all the female voices in our world. Let’s honor them and hear God still speaking to all of us through them.
 
May we let those voices teach us their truths, especially the truths that we’re reluctant to hear. May we allow their courageous and persistent “let it be” change each of us and our world all over again.

The silence on the bus

speak-out

Donald Trump’s voice is so jarring in the video as he brags about his sexual misconduct in extremely vulgar terms. There’s another voice that’s jarring, too, the one that laughs at all of the horrific things and encourages them. That other voice disturbs me just as much as Trump’s voice.

So does the silence from the other men on the bus.

You’ve probably seen the video. The presidential candidate essentially describes himself as an out-of-control sexual predator. He says he can’t stop himself from kissing a beautiful woman when he sees her. He says he gropes women because he’s a star and can get away with it.

It’s so dark and twisted that it makes me ill. And with each horrific sentence, that other voice – the one of program host Billy Bush – provides a laugh track and heaps praise.

“Yes, the Donald is good! Oh, my man!” Bush gushes as Trump’s comments get more vulgar.

Finally, when Trump says he gropes women and inflicts whatever he wants on them because he can get away with it, Bush exults, “Whatever you want!!!”

There are other men on the bus, too. We see them get off before Trump and Bush. We can assume they’ve overheard the conversation. Not one of them interrupted and said, “You did what? That’s repulsive!”

Their silence is bothersome and familiar, too.

Nobody said: That’s repulsive!

We’ve all had times when we were in a group and something was said that violated our values, but we didn’t speak up and later wished that we had. Speaking up can be difficult, but it’s the most necessary thing to do.

And this is a good time to remind ourselves.

When we come across the bullies and predators in our world, we can respond with either revulsion or silence. Bullies and predators want to have people around them who encourage their awful words and deeds.

If we won’t applaud them, the bullies and predators want us to at least abstain from criticizing them. That’s why we’ve seen such a pushback against so-called “political correctness” by hate groups.

Some people want to go back to the days when they could openly use racial, sexual, ethnic and religious slurs – all types of hateful language – without consequence. They don’t want to be held responsible for the pain caused by their words and their actions.

Instead, they want everyone to condone them by deciding not to challenge them. And it’s at times like this that people need to stand up and say: No! This is unacceptable!

All of it is unacceptable

It’s unacceptable to suggest that all men act in these lurid and pathological ways. They do not. To try to drag all men down to your level shows how far you’ve lost your way.

It’s unacceptable to write it off as just locker room talk, all fun and games. Sexual abuse isn’t a game. Fortunately, we’ve seen a pushback from professional athletes saying that such language is not acceptable in their locker rooms.

It’s unacceptable to say that other men have done equally horrific things, so it’s OK to do the same horrific things. It’s not OK. You are still horrific.

Bullies and predators are encouraged by our silence

It’s unacceptable to try to shrug the whole thing off as just boys being boys. Instead, we need to describe it for what it is: A man being a monster.

Also, it’s unacceptable to go to the other extreme and say that one man’s attitude and actions can be dismissed as rare. The comments on the video remind us graphically that a rape culture exists. While not everyone is a bully or predator, there are far too many bullies and predators in the world. The only way to stop them from preying upon people is to stand up to them.

We must not encourage them in any way. Nor can we remain silent. Bullies and predators persist because of others’ persistent silence.

Living our values means speaking up

This goes for the bullies and predators in our politics, our families, our communities, our religions, our organizations. We have to stand firm and say that what they’re doing is wrong and must not be tolerated.

That’s not being politically correct; that’s living our values. And if we’re not willing to stand up for what we value, then we don’t really have values.

We live in a society founded on the idea that all people are created equal and must be treated with equal respect. We come from religious backgrounds that recognize we are all equally beloved children of God and must be loved as such. Each of us has a responsibility to defend those whom the bullies and predators want to prey upon.

What the bullies and predators want is our laughter and approval. Or, at the very least, our silent capitulation.

We must give them neither.