Monday, January 15, 2018

Confronting Abusive Power with Truth Telling and Empowerment

Unless you've been living in a cave, you are aware of a wave of women who have charged some powerful men of sexual harassment, abuse and assault.  They've done so at the risk of attention they did not want and of considerable reprisal.  Some men in the movie and media industries, in sports and government have been fired, others have resigned.  Not our president, who has also been charged, and has said that he can say and do anything and it won't matter.  His supporters have turned a blind eye and have held their nose for the sake of their political agenda(s).  I purposefully used the past tense in that last sentence with the hope that people of conscience will stand up and say "No!"  The moral fabric of our country is being tested!  No one is above the law or below the grace of God.

It is still hard, but more and more women are claiming their power by telling their stories, their truth, saying "Me, too!"  At a clergy book discussion group recently, Liz Candido, chaplain at Kalamazoo College, and member of the Presbytery of Lake Michigan, critiqued the "Me, Too!" movement in ways that surprised the group challenging us to hear the stories of powerful women who responded with a sense of empowerment and not just as victims.  On the way out the door, I said to her, "It seems to me there is an article in you wanting to be written."  Liz posted that article on her blog later that day, which I am sharing here.  Thank you, Liz.

Let me add, that the church is not immune from sexual harassment, abuse and assault.  Those who have spoken up have not always been believed.  They have paid a high price!  The church culture of secrecy and shame turned in the early 1990's with Marie Fortune's book, "Is Nothing Sacred?"  It has been the Roman Catholic Church which has born the brunt of media attention.  But most, if not every, church denomination has been touched by such crimes.  Perpetrators are often much beloved.  Church members often collude with perpetrators turning a deaf ear to those who speak up because of the felt need not to disrupt the gifts the accused provides to the church.  Read Ruth Everhart's book, "Ruined" (in the resource center) and her more recent article "A pastor's #MeToo story" in Christian Century, December 20, 2017 

Rev. Cully Culpepper, another presbytery member, in her work as a Presbyterian Disaster Assistance volunteer, has provided support for a few Presbyterian congregations who have experienced such trauma.  Yes, our church considers such behavior a disaster left in wake and wreckage of violated and lost trust!  Church councils have worked to change the culture of the church by instituting policies requiring boundary training for pastors and youth workers.  Such initiatives are also now required by the insurance companies.  Church leaders are in a unique position of power.  They are looked to by individuals for pastoral care, for helping them process confusing and painful experiences.  Such conversations are by nature quite intimate and require considerable trust.  Likewise, the church is a place of fellowship in which we pass of the peace, and often share hugs.  But what's in a hug? When is a hug innocent and appropriate and when is it creepy and inappropriate?  Women clergy have a sensitive radar about this.  Talk with them about it.

I began with, "unless you've been living in a cave."  It's time to step out of the cave, name archaic "caveman" behaviors for what they are, claim one's power, join the 21st century, and witness to the goodness and blessing God intends for right and just relationships.  It is no less that the exhibiting of the reign of God in the world!

1 comment:

Liz Candid said...

Thanks John. This is an excellent blog post and I hope a good start to a conversation. Also, thanks for the blog shout-out!