I haven’t written here in a very long time, but I’ve recently begun to share more of my story, and I wanted to capture some of it in a place a little more permanent than social media. Here it is:
Christian men, this one’s for you.
So, last night I made the mistake of reading the comments section on a recent article addressing the current accusations of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault by several powerful, prominent men. While doing so, l came across a line of logic that goes something like this: “In order to make sure none of our church/spiritual leaders (*read: men*) are trapped by this sexual harassment/abuse/assault hysteria, to make sure they are safe from accusation, we need to keep women out of leadership, provide a more separated working environment, and make sure that our leaders are never alone with them.” It’s a line of reasoning that says that the real problem here is proximity to women, and if you can just remove that, all will be well. It’s a tired variation of an old trope that usually just makes me roll my eyes and move on, but it caught me at the right moment and I tell you what:
I. Am. Not. Here. For. It.
We are not dangerous to you because we are women.
We are not desperate for your attention because we are women.
We are not less capable of leading (or less called) because we are women.
We are not responsible for your lust, your misogyny, your willingness to cheat on your spouse, or your bad behavior because we are women. (Also not responsible, by the way, are: our clothes, our level of sobriety, our physical isolation, our age, or any other real or perceived vulnerability.)
If our femaleness keeps us out of leadership, out of lunch meetings, out of your organizations, out of your power structures, it reflects on you, not us.
Furthermore, it reflects on you that you believe you are so incapable of honoring us, of admiring our beauty without lusting after it, of respecting and protecting our real or perceived vulnerability without violating it that you cannot be around us. We have carried the stigma and burden of the abuse and violation of women as though it is a women’s issue, and for us to fix, for far too long. We’re done with that.
Nothing we do or don’t do can fix what is broken in you.
Here’s the thing: Jesus isn’t afraid of the women we are. Jesus doesn’t see us as a danger, as a distraction, or as a problem to be solved. He is not willing to dismiss us as “collateral damage” that simply can’t be helped when we’re protecting the power structures of ministry. He does not believe “locker room talk” covers a multitude of sins. He did not tell you “boys will be boys.” He does not shrug his shoulders and say, “Well, bad stuff’s gonna happen, so . . .” and look away from our violation and suffering.
He is not the one who told you we were dangerous to you.
And when our vulnerability is violated, he is not here for it, either. No equivocations. No nods to politics or power. No looking for ways to discredit or further exploit our vulnerabilities. No justifications. No rhetorical tongue-twisters.
But here’s the other thing: I believe in you.
For a long time, I wasn’t able to. Men have hurt me, and not just my feelings. My ability and willingness to trust you got badly, terribly broken. What happened to me was hidden, and I kept breaking. But a couple of things happened to change that.
First of all, I met men who didn’t think I was dangerous to them just because I am a woman. They were my friends and family and my co-workers and bosses and pastors and I learned that I can be safe with them, both in the specific and the general. They were kind to me and they treated me with respect. They trusted my strength. They didn’t shame me for my vulnerabilities.
More importantly though, I healed. Well, to be precise, Jesus brought me healing. I don’t want to make it too all-fired spiritual or touchy-feely, but that’s the truth of it. He used you to do it, you men who were kind to and unafraid of me, and he used the women in my life — hundreds of them — who believed me and cried with me and listened and raged and taught and mentored and prayed; he used sleep and honesty and time; he used the brutal trust of forgiveness (and taught me that the person I forgive doesn’t have to be the person I trust); he used television shows and silence in foreign countries; he used #metoo; he used Facebook and MySpace and Xanga; he used sunrises and scripture; he used the peace of the sea; he used family and my siblings; he used tiny niece-nephew hands tucked into mine; he used laughter and late nights; he used gut-wrenching nights of wracking sobs; he used words and words and words; he used wandering and restlessness and he used peace and settledness.
Mostly, though, he used love.
And because of him, I believe in you.
But Christian men, make no mistake: something has to change. You—many of you—have to change. The way you speak and hear and think and assume and believe have to change. Systems and belief structures have to change. Power dynamics have to change. Theologies and doctrines have to change. Leadership has to change.
I don’t assume to know what all those changes need to look like (although if you’re willing to listen, I could share with you some of the things I’ve seen and heard and experienced that could point you in some useful directions), but l do know we won’t get there by avoiding each other. What I do know is that it will require that you work with us and that we work with you: that you don’t run from women, or keep our voices from the table, keep your distance out of fear or frustration. I do know you’re going to have to humble yourselves, embrace some things that make you uncomfortable, and hear things that are painful. I know you’ll have to fight defensiveness in order to really “get” what is happening. I know repentance and humility will be involved. And forgiveness.
Back in Genesis, at the very beginning, God gave the world to us to work for, for his glory. Adam and Eve may have been man and wife, but Man and Woman were coworkers in this Kingdom that was being built.
That hasn’t changed.
*I want to acknowledge that the “men hurting women” dynamic is only a slice of a problem of systemic supremacy and abuse, both inside and outside the church, that needs to be addressed. But it’s the one that showed up in the comments I was reading and the one I feel most qualified to address.